Chapter Twelve

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The night passed without incident. Distya stood as the sky began to pale and looked west, away from the rising sun. To her surprise, she felt a pang of longing. They were not yet a day's travel from Minyavo, but that meant little to her in this moment. Her real home — the old capital by the sea, the place her aging parents still resided — what did sunrise look like there? She couldn't remember it as clear as before. She wondered if her parents ever looked east, toward Minyavo. Toward her.

The city there had once been called Shoriza when Distya was a child. She was six or seven when Vazhan declared it the new capital, changing the name to Minyavo — an ancient Tevarian word whose meaning had been lost over the ages, but had been the name of every capital as far back as their history was recorded. So the city was renamed, and the influx of soldiers over the years meant drastic growth of the small city Distya knew so well.

She remembered feeling irked at the changes, but it was a childlike annoyance. It faded as she grew to revere the soldiers, and Vazhan the most. There was no war, and the movement of the capital had been for the best military interest of the time — trade. Vazhan took it upon himself to bring prosperity to Tevar. He went daily through the city, meeting with artisans and shop owners and, best of all, Distya's family for the horses they raised. He was a man with a voice like the sand on the beach, warm and grainy, and to a young Distya he looked like the tallest man in the Three Kingdoms.

Years later realized he was no taller than she was now. When she finally made herself visit the statue in his likeness, the pedestal was the only thing keeping his head above hers. With her own pedestal she would be the same height.

There were other things she realized in her later years. Vazhan, in his many decades of ruling, had never seen war, whether because there was no conflict or because he chose to stay away from it. He had grown up in the north, influenced by Hatawan principles of pacifism. Though he did not have a strict adherence to them as Hatawans did, he preferred to improve Tevar from the inside.

So when war struck in Hatawa, he was not prepared. The seaside capital was far from the border of the troublemaking Coretians. He floundered, trapped between his admiration for the Hatawans and his desire to avoid battle at all costs. By then Distya was a soldier in the riders under Irya's leadership and could see the divisive nature Vazhan's uncertainty had on the others. They all had known him as Distya did and respected him for the peacetime work he did so well. But the soldiers' fear grew, increased by Vazhan's indecisiveness. One day he was sending a unit to defend Hatawa's southern border; the next, he was pulling back, alarmed that Tevar's involvement might draw unprecedented retaliation from Coreti.

Vazhan withered, gaining gray streaks in his dark hair, his sandy voice becoming pockmarked with sharp pebbles. The stress of war after a lifetime of peace chipped away at him. Still, he remained strong in body, his love for his people pushing him to remain a solid force as chief commander.

Then he died.

Irya took command immediately, as there was no time to waste in mourning. There wasn't a ceremony of death, and Distya never saw the body. Neither, as she found by asking around, did anyone she knew. It all sank away under Irya's claims that there would be a funeral after the Coretian threat abated.

As the war intensified and patrols increased, there was little time for concern about this. Rumors of Guardsmen crossing into Tevarian territory to steal supplies circulated, as well as fear from the citizens that they would be killed in one of these excursions. Irya's military policy, unlike Vazhan's, was clear: always keep foot soldiers posted at the northern border near Hatawa. She assigned her old horseback unit, thrust under Yurovin's command, to daily patrols along a 20-mile stretch of flat plain which granted easy entry to any Coretian who might try. And she prepared to move the capital east to provide a better military base.

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