Plans are made. The situation must be dealt with.
Chapter Twenty Nine:
Words of War
The camp slowly came alive as dawn sprang. Men drew on boots and tunics, buckling on swords and starting campfires. Some left with pails to gather water, others gathered sacks of grain and other foods. All ignored the horseman.
Robert’s horse stepped lightly through the paths ground into the grass. At his right rode Evroor, at his left, a servant named Hal.
“They lied to us,” Evroor growled.
Robert looked to the man, who was shorter than he but sat atop a taller horse. He stared ahead with cold eyes, lips pursed and hands clenching reins.
“They lied?” Robert asked. “They hid things, but did they lie?”
“You heard him say it,” Evroor glanced at Robert. “When he sent us to battle he did it under ‘the King’. I thought I was following King Krassos, not a commander. It makes a bit more sense now, that no Taks went to battle.” Evroor seemed to be ranting to himself. “I had suspicions before we left, but I had no idea what had happened. Did you see that Dragon Guard? The blond one?”
“I did,” Robert said. Odd that the man flinched at the fire. He looked afraid of it.
Evroor continued. “I spoke to him–briefly–before we left for battle. He seemed doubtful that the king had sent us off. He knew something was wrong when we spoke, and he said nothing. Lord Robert, we can’t follow a man who keeps secrets like this. He’s bound to lead us to death.”
“Really?” Robert balanced himself in the saddle. With one arm in a sling, it was difficult steering his horse down a different path. Worse, this was not his horse. His had died in the battle. This small gray horse was well trained, but he had to keep slowing it down.
“Yes.” Evroor spat in the grass. “It’s obvious we are expendable. We’re not his countrymen, it’s why he sent us out. He’ll use us, he may hide the truth. Think about it. If the enemy needs to be distracted, he may send us. If he needs to know the power of the enemy, he may send us. Whatever may risk his own men, he will send us first.”
Robert scowled. Evroor was right. “So what are we going to do?”
“I’m thinking.” Evroor looked around at the soldiers who rose for the morning. All Takinthad men, in their white surcoats emblazoned with the Sun and Star. Some men looked to the riders, but gave no notice beyond a glance.
“We should get word to King Dendlo,” Robert said at length.
“Of course.” Evroor nodded. “But the messenger is a Tak. That man ‘leading’ him might not allow a message from us to get out.”
“You don’t think he’s leading?” Robert asked.
“The soldiers here have sat for weeks. I’ve been here for two weeks, watching everybody sit around. I’ve heard their impatience, and days pass where no moves are made.” Evroor lowered his voice. “We need to attack the enemy. That Guard, the blond one, he did not have that bandage when we spoke. Something has happening. The ‘leader’ felt no need to brief us, though I am a general and you a lord.”
Robert grew angrier the more Evroor spoke. Fangog may be as deadly a place as the battlefield. “So,” Robert said. “We can’t get a message from here, why not find another fortress?”
“It’s possible,” Evroor muttered. His eyes were distant. Though he looked ahead, his gaze elsewhere.
They found their section of camp, marked with the Taroy Bear banner, and handed off their horses.
“Dismissed, Hal,” Evroor said absentmindedly.
The large servant bowed. “Yes, General.”
“Follow me, if you would, mi’Lord.” Evroor strode to his tent, which was taller than the others. Robert followed him past cook-fires and men polishing weapons.
Inside the tent, there sat a low table covered in parchments and quills. A portly man sitting in the chair sprung up when Evroor and Robert entered.
“Everything is ready for you, General,” said the man, gesturing toward the chair.
“Thank you Gril. Dismissed.”
The man pressed fist to heart. “Yes, General.” He left without another word.
Standing, Robert’s head almost touched the roof of the tent, but he took the chair across from Evroor, who now sat. The old general glared at his maps, and at papers holding reports of the surroundings. A fresh candle cast light over the words, but dawn light spilled through the open tent-flap.
“Lord Robert, how loyal are you? And where does that loyalty lie?” Evroor looked up at Robert, softening his gaze.
Robert shifted in his seat, leaning on one arm. “I’m loyal to my country, General. Not these Taks.”
“But our king told you to follow them.”
Robert hesitated. “Yes, that’s true.” One wrong word might put him in danger.
“Specifically, he told us to follow King Krassos.” Evroor spoke slowly, eyes lowering to the parchments. “With the king dead, and no heir, are we bound to that order? We were not told to follow that man who sits there now.”
Robert nodded. “What are you thinking?”
“Wraiths can die, and their armies are getting closer.” Evroor spoke as if distracted, his eyes running over the reports. “We still have many men. I think,” he looked up at Robert, “that we should leave Fangog. We head north and wipe out as many of the enemies as we can.”
Robert nodded. After the battle, the Breach Warden spoke of many small breaches opening to the north.
“In places, the Divide is thinning,” he had said on their way back to Fangog. “More of their army is coming through. And more wraiths. So many.”
“It could work,” Robert said. “But we will lose men. And with no reinforcements, the fighting will be hard. We will dwindle, and the enemy will keep coming.”
“I know this,” Evroor leaned forward, finger tracing a line of words. “I can send a letter to King Dendlo. I’ll ask for more soldiers. I’ll explain the situation. The Taks are no longer in the fight, it seems. We need help.”
Robert frowned. “The King sent us because we were the ones who could be sent. Remember, Veresses is facing its own dangers. He needs men there.”
“And we need men here.” Evroor leaned back, running gloved hands down his face. He stared up at the canvas roof. “I spoke to the Warden, while you slept. He approached me and asked to speak in private. I trust you, Lord Robert, and I think you should know this. But it must be quiet.”
Robert leaned forward.
Evroor looked at the lord. “The Warden said he can feel a power across the Divide. Apparently all Wardens feel it, but now he says it’s getting closer to our world. Or is growing stronger, he doesn’t know. The point is, he can mark exactly where that power is, on a map. Before it was a vague presence, he says.”
Robert scowled. He knew so little of the Wardens and the Second World. “What does that mean?”
The general’s voice grew quiet. “Something is approaching our world, and we are doing nothing to stop it.” Evroor leaned on the table, placing a hand over his eyes. He sat in silence.
Robert stood, feeling anxious. This was not a danger for soldiers. This was for the Breach Wardens to handle. Only, I fought a battle against the enemy. Soldiers are needed.
“We could send a letter anyway,” Robert said at length. “Explain the situation. Veresses will have to help. We are too few, and the Taks are not cooperating. Surely the king will see the need to send more men. If we fail up here, the enemy will get down into Veresses anyway.”
Evroor took his hand from his face, showing bloodshot eyes. He stood and straightened his belt. “Yes, it will have to be done. And maybe we will ask help from Margolad. We tell them Krassos is dead, they may come to help us.”
“That could work.” Robert’s stomach churned. “We could get the Dasorens here; they’re in the exact same position as us. Either way, I think we should head north and fight.”
Evroor met his eyes. “You do?”
“It’s as I said.” Robert tried to give strength to his voice. “Veresses may fall if we don’t end the threat. We are here, the Taks are doing nothing, so we should act. With the combined forces of the Veressans and Dasorens here, we took out a portion of the enemy–including a wraith!–with little casualty. We can do it. We don’t need to defeat the entire force. We don’t need to fight any battle we can’t win. We only need to thin the enemy’s ranks enough to give the Taks an easier time when they start fighting.”
Evroor clenched his jaw. “You’re right. It’s time we do something! Why not us? If anything, we make it clear to the Taks that the war can be fought.”
“Yes.” Robert’s fists clenched. Now he was ready to fight. This is what I came for! Not to sit in a camp for days on end. “We can get the Warden to fight for us, as well. We’ll spread news of our victories to all who will hear.”
“Yes.” A fierce light grew in Evroor’s light, and he gripped his sword. “Follow me.”
They left the tent, walking among the soldiers who sat at cook-fires or ran about errands. The Warden sat at one fire, warming his small hands. Around him, soldiers with weary eyes and bandaged limbs spoke and laughed.
Robert followed Evroor to the campfire. The soldiers moved to rise, but Evroor stilled them with a hand.
“Warden,” Evroor intoned. “Come with me, if you would. I have a plan to speak of.” He looked to the soldiers. “Gather the Veressan and Dasoren generals. Bring them to my tent.”
The soldiers rose, muttered “Yes, General,” and hurried off in different directions.
The Warden stood, smoothing his gray cloak. “Lead the way, General.”
END OF CHAPTER TWENTY NINE