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"What in the world do you need one hundred men for?"

"To take towns, my dear."

"But you said that Haverford was the last stronghold."

"It was. We were trying to reclaim lost ground. You had one thing right about us. We were arrogant. We thought our way of life could never die out. At the very worst, we thought we'd die defending it."

"But you didn't."

"No," I said, troubling with some stubborn wavy hair over her left ear. "No, I didn't."

"Might I ask..."

"No, you may not."


I exhaled, lowering my tools for a moment, "Life is a precious thing. One should not waste it on lost causes. One should not willingly die in vain."

"You are a deserter."

"There was nothing left to desert."

"What do you mean?"

"My men and I were recalled from our last campaign too late. When we returned, the Keep had already fallen. It was over. I disbanded my unit."

"You did not fight to take it back?"

"Even if we managed such a thing, it wasn't the walls that mattered. It wasn't the Keep itself. The keep was so much stone and mud. It was our kin and our culture that was lost. It was our art, our science, our religion, and our loved ones that lay smoldering on the hill. We had already lost all that was left of the Maridan Empire. Reclaiming the Keep would not have given us those things back."

Amina remained silent for a time. I lifted my comb and razor again, and breathed deeply to steady my hands. Should I have fought to reclaim the Keep? I had asked myself that every day of every year passing. The decision I made weighed heavily on my heart. Had I to do it again, I would have made the same decision, though. Reclaiming the keep would have given us our much-desired vengeance, and might have given us some sense of closure, but it would have been a truly cold comfort. It wasn't worth the lives of my men. Steady hands, steady. There is still rage in there, after all these years, isn't there? There is still guilt. There is still grief.

A razor and comb were not the best tools for this job. A pair of proper shears would do the trick much better. I had to make do with the resources at hand, however. After some amount of careful labour, I was relatively satisfied with my work.

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