Sunday, 8 May 2011
#SampleSunday – 8st May 2011
Part of The Last King's Amulet (books 3 is getting there, but is turning out to be hard work, I'm dancing as fast as I can).
On the march north, Sumto recieves some letters. (Orchids) is the daily password, and is obvious by this point but not if jumping in the middle like this, so I thought I'd just say that to avoid confusion. He has, I might also mention, sent Sheo (a friend and fellow noble) ahead of the army to recruit some troops for his own use... with dubious legality.
The next day was much like any other until the letters arrived. Two from the south with the same courier and one from the north. It was going to take me a while before I decided how I felt about the first two, the third sent me into an incandescent rage.
I was riding at the back of the crossbowmen, my men in a cluster behind and my charges following along nicely. That morning the thin mage, Ferrian, had been waiting for me to return from the morning briefing (Orchids). He had been formal and dignified, but even he could not quite hide his irritation at being in a position where he had to make a report about the doings of his fellows. If the battle mages and healers had complained to Tul he had not mentioned it. They were under my command. Though initially it had been meant as a sinecure it was still a fact, and they had begun to learn it. As long as they did their job I wasn't interested in how they felt, though for personal reasons I would rather be on good terms with them. If they didn't invite me to eat I would eat elsewhere, tonight I had asked to join Rastrian, phrasing it carefully so that he knew I would accept no refusal but so that it didn't sound like an order.
Ferrian's features had pinched up a bit. “My superiors have required me to report on our activities regarding security.”
His eyes nearly popped out of his head as he colored up.
“The correct form of address when making a report to your commanding officer is, Sir.” I explained it patiently and slowly so that he could understand.
He struggled with it for a bit. The colleges were powerful, personally the individuals were dangerous in a way that transcended politics, but in this circumstance I was making a point. Later, I might relax a bit toward the friendly cooperation that was more normal. There was a whole chapter on dealing with mages in almost every volume of warfare, and I was ignoring all of it. The arrogance of my class, I suppose.
“Yes, sir,” he relented but his voice was not much above a furious whisper.
“My superiors asked me to create this for your use around the area, sir.” He held up a wooden stake split with precision into four and bound together by a ribbon.
I took it and looked it over. One stake split into four. “And this will...?”
He sighed in exasperation, back on top due to my ignorance. “You stick them into the ground in a rough square and when anyone passes he will receive a debilitating shock and there is an alarm.”
“What kind of alarm.”
“The sound made when a block of wood is split. Twice.”
He shrugged. “I don't know.”
I just stared at him for a long, long moment until he realized what I was thinking and became embarrassed. No one likes their work to be treated with contempt.
“Perhaps we should test it, sir.”
“Thought hadn't occurred to me. Do it.” I tossed the stake back to him and he left.
I checked on my people and saw everything going smoothly. As I was doing this I heard two loud cracks, just like the sound of an axe hitting a tree but in quick succession. So. Loud enough then.
I mounted up and moved away. I didn't want to take charge of the stake device. I wanted him to do it if I decided to use them. I mean, people come and go in our area in the morning (me!) and at other times. I didn't want the damn thing going off all the time, so I had to give the matter a bit of thought.
“Your command, Kerral. I'll meet you on the road!”
“Yes, sir!” He snapped back and carried on about his business.
There were no gates for the temporary forts. We took craftsman in various fields with us on campaign. Some soldiers had come from the crafts and were used as labor in those areas where they knew what they were doing. Gates would be made for a more permanent fort, but for now we used a wagon at each of the four gaps where there would normally be gates. I headed for the southern gap as the east and north gates were in use.
I was just in time to meet the messenger, a fellow who had obviously passed back and forth between the city and the army more than once as he recognized me and called my name. His horse was lathered in sweat even though he must have changed it as little as eight miles back. He had two letters for me and didn't see why I should wait for them to pass through the command tent. I accepted it and then reprimanded him for doing it.
“All communications through the command tent.”
“Yes sir!” He saluted smartly and held out his hands for the letters.
“From now on,” I said darkly.
I sat my mount in the open gateway and cracked the seal on the first, larger letter and scanned the contents. It was from Orelia.
My dearest Sumto,
How glad I was to see you again. It grieves me that my family chose against you. I always felt we would be a perfect match but I cannot go against the will of my family.
It frightens me that you are going into danger. Tahal Samant is the choice of my family, and seems a good man. For his sake I hope you are successful in your mission. For mine, I hope you return to us safely, to a hero's welcome. I believe none of my family would frown upon my giving you a chaste kiss on your return. I prey you will accept all I would wish to give you in that single kiss.
I fear for you both and pray you both return whole and well.
My fondest regards
Orelia Isaula Habrach
I tucked this one in my saddle bag with the mental equivalent of shrug. The second was from Jocasta The message tube also contained a minute cloth bag. I shrugged and read the letter.
My sister is sending a letter and I think if I hurry I can catch the messenger without being seen. For some reason she is jealous and might intercept it.
I have been listening to the news from the north and collecting gossip. I do not know what your situation is there but can guess that you are not being told everything by your commanders. Jealousy does not only exist between sisters.
From what I can piece together I am certain that the Orduli and Prashuli tribes are joining with the Alendi in a mass uprising. The smaller tribes in the foothills beyond may also be involved but to what extent I cannot say. There are rumors of a rogue mage among the tribes, this I can only infer from some of the rumors I have heard from letters received by friends from the north. The tribes obey him from fear. There is talk of severed heads screaming all day and night, a chieftain who resisted his instruction to rise against us now walks the streets of his settlement as a dead man. The witnesses to this were quite graphic and there can be no doubt that she and her husband saw this thing.
I am afraid that the whole north is going to rise against you. You are in more peril than you know as are all our men. Please be careful and take such action as you can to safeguard yourself and your army. I will do what I can from here to rouse public opinion to act. Accept these gifts to aid you in the spirit they are intended.
I read the letter again. Dead men walking? Screaming severed heads? A rogue sorcerer? Gifts?
I looked at the bag, tucked the message away to read again later and opened the small black velvet bag. Inside was a two carat stone of brilliant vermilion. I closed my fist on it. Felt its warmth. Focused my thoughts on it and felt an awareness of its existence nudge itself into my mind alongside my own. It was a gift of great value. If only I had the knowledge to use it.
I stuck a finger tip into the tiny bag. There was nothing else. Peering into the message tube I could see a small glint in the bottom of the tube. So, there was a second gift. Opening the other end I eventually managed to prise it out. It was a small tube of varnished wood with two glass lenses, the larger edge ridged slightly and rounded. I recognized it at once. It was a sorcerer's loupe.
“How in gods' name did you get that?”
I never invoke the gods. And I mean never. Only when seriously, genuinely shocked.
All sorcerers of a college had a loupe, and students at the college were permitted to use one in order to learn spells. With it you could see magic, pure and simple. The longer you looked the more you saw. The college specialists made them, and damn few new how. Owned by the college, used by sorcerers and loaned to students. This one must have been stolen. I had never ever heard of a loupe being found outside college premises. I would bet everything I would ever own that none of the mages or healers here had one on him, or those with Orthand, no matter if he had twenty of each.
This was not merely a generous gift. A sorcerer's loupe was priceless.
The march was proceeding well, I thought. The men were standing up to the forced pace, we were still in friendly territory and we were making good time. My command was under control and I thought all was right with the world. Then the letter from Sheo arrived. I saw the messenger coming down the line, though I didn't know he was looking for me, I certainly hoped he was. I had been concerned about Sheo's lack of regular reports so I was glad to receive the letter and read it at once.
I am taking the cohort north east to the border with the Orduli.
“What?” Kerral echoed me, surprised.
“Nothing!” I went back to the letter.
I have received word of the sacking of a border town of Pulindus by a large force of barbarians. The lands between there and here are pretty well populated but there are no forces to stand in their way. Don't be angry with me, please. I am not trying to steal your thunder or use your men for my own self-aggrandizement. I simply feel that this needs to be done and there is no one else to do it. I'm sure you will use my intelligence well.
Sheo Tetris Fuliat
“You have the command, Kerral!”
I didn't wait for his answer but pulled out of the line and galloped my surprised mare to the head of the cohort, calling a warning of my reckless pace as I did so. Pulling up I saluted Tul with the letter clenched in my fist.
“You'd better read this, sir.” My fury sounded clear even in my own ears and I struggled to get a hold of myself.
“Yes,” he said, mildly. “I suppose I better had.”
I gave him the letter and waited while he read it, keeping pace all the while, my mare skittish and anxious under me.
After reading it twice he made to pass it back, then changed his mind. “No. I'll go.” He steered his horse out of the line and galloped off.
I watched him go. A little let down by his mild response. But he was acting. I just had no clue what he intended and there was nothing seemly I could do but wait. After a while I realized I had no further reason to be there and steered my mount off the road, walking her back down the line.
“Bastard!” I whispered fiercely to myself every now and again.
He had taken my command into danger without so much as a by-your-leave. It was a clear breach of discipline for a start. And he knew damn well I wouldn't... I held that thought. I might order him to act, but I wouldn't like it. In fact, I would have had to do as I did with the letter containing the fact of his actions even if it had only contained the request. And the request might be refused by Tul or Orthand. Needs doing, I thought, large force, no one else between them and us. Bastard. He might be right. How large a force? How the hell did he know where they would be when he arrived on the scene? How did he hope to stand against them if he found them? He was throwing my men away for nothing. He should have marched when he heard, but not north and east. He should have marched south, to us, to join our force with his new information.
When I pulled back into the line by Kerral I was still white-faced with anger and swearing under my breath. He raised an eyebrow but wisely didn't say anything.
“How far to the border?”
“About a hundred miles, I'd say.”
Four days to get to where he had been. Too late to be thinking about it. He was gone and lost. Forget it, I told myself, forget your cohort they are dead and gone.
Kerral didn't say a word.