A Silent Game of Spies
Book One of The War of the Royals
By Brittanny Davis
Copyright 2018 by Brittanny Davis
For my mother, who first inspired me to write
This has been a Silver Lining Production
Sometime near the end of the Twenty Years’ War
Luvian dodged another arrow as he surveyed the rocky terrain. While it gave no soldier an advantage from twisting ankles in unseen holes in the dirt and tripping over rocks, it had chased the Eastern Alliance’s Northern 20th Regiment into a trap that was closing rapidly. Ormon infantry climbing up to the right, while Ambsellon archers scrambled slowly upward to the left.
Luvian strained to hear a retreat signal, but none came. He shoved his sword into the neck of an Ambsellon archer. As he yanked it out, he saw another soldier of his regiment. “We need to retreat!” Luvian yelled to him.
“Aye, but who to draw us back?”
An arrow penetrated his comrade’s shoulder. “Bloody hell!”
Luvian saw the man’s Sergeant rank barely visible under blood. “Sergeant, I’ll find a lieutenant. You draw the troops back. You be acting Lieutenant.”
The sergeant nodded curtly and yelled, “Retreat! Retreat!”
With very little persuasion, the 20th immediately retreated toward the east. Luvian found the unattended horse of a dead soldier and swung himself into the saddle. He kicked the horse’s sides, praying he wouldn’t catch an arrow in the back as he rode off in the direction of Command.
What bloody fool had stationed them there, he’d like to know. Some ass whose only experience with war was in his father’s courtyard, no doubt, he fumed.
Then he pulled his horse back. The Command camp was trampled and bloody, glowing embers in the dirt sending wisps of smoke into the air. Tents littered the campsite, ripped and burned, and dead soldiers of all rank scattered the ground with arrows and spears protruding from their armor and ringmail, their blood dripping into the mud with no prejudice.
Stunned, Luvian searched the ground for traces of the battle. Ambushed by a sizable mounted force, the battle had been over before half of them had swung a sword. Luvian’s eyes narrowed with contempt. Just the sort of behavior they had come to expect from this enemy. But a Command camp. That truly was loathsome.
As he urged the horse forward, Luvian’s horse whinnied nervously at the smell of fresh blood. The Command Tent itself was ruined, its burned shreds flapping in the regretful breeze. Luvian dismounted and ducked in the tent, not sure what he would find. He found no one, dead or alive; only ashes of the tent remained.
He certainly knew now why no retreat had been ordered. New ranks would be issued, of course. Luvian then set to looking among the dead for the Officer in Command. After stepping over all the bodies in the campsite, he found no Captain. Had the Captain escaped, or been taken prisoner?
Luvian set to looking for tracks outside the camp. Ah. In the bushes behind the Command Tent. Perhaps as many as ten men had trampled the bushes in a frantic escape, and two horses as well. At least someone had survived this massacre.
He led his horse through the bushes, following the trail of the survivors. He knelt and studied the ground. Blood. Luvian frowned. That did not bode well. At least one wounded. To have survived that ugly scene only to die on the trail would truly be a travesty. He kept his sword ready in case the survivors had been followed. He wanted no surprises.
More and more blood dotted the leaves of the ground. Finally, Luvian found a liveried soldier propped against a tree, his neck lolling to one side. Blood had drenched the man’s blue livery, still seeping from a gut wound. Luvian sighed. Gut wounds were a terrible way to die. A dagger lay in the man’s lap, left for him by his comrades, possibly for protection, but most likely to take his own life. The blade was clean, however. Death had claimed the soldier before the blade had been necessary. A blessing, Luvian thought.
He dismounted and knelt beside the soldier, reaching out for a memento to give to a loved one who would miss him. Command soldiers always had such trinkets.
Just as his hands neared the man’s uniform, the man drew in an enormous, rattled breath and sat up straighter, his brown eyes round.
Luvian was thrown back in shock. Luvian, you arse, why did you not check to see if he was alive!
“Sir, I – you. You’re alive! I thought you dead, sir.”
The liveried man reached out his shaking hand to Luvian’s, grasping him. “I fear I am not much longer for this life.” His widened eyes read Luvian’s uniform. “You. You are of the Northern Regiment.”
“I – yes sir, I am. I can get you there, just – just hold on a little longer sir. Let me patch you up –”
The soldier’s breath wheezed out in a weak attempt of a laugh. Even that winded him. “No, son. But you have a good heart.” He took another breath. “In my –” He paused, as a wave of pain overtook him. “In my inside breast pocket. Are the maps of all the Northern Regiments and –”
The soldier was fading fast. Maps? “Sir?” Luvian prompted him.
“Ah, the maps. Of all the Northern Regiments. Our Command was – ambushed. We were – betrayed. A spy.” With a sudden burst of strength, the soldier grabbed Luvian. “Soldier, it is now your mission. To get these documents to the Captain. You have no other mission. Do you – understand?” the man panted.
“Yes, sir,” Luvian replied solemnly.
“Good. You’re a corporal? I’ve just promoted you to a – a Sergeant. Sergeant –?”
“Sergeant Luvian, get these maps to the Captain of this Command. Give them to no one else, do you understand? That is imperative,” the man insisted weakly.
“No one else. My name is Corlander. Just tell him my name and he will know – I am in charge of all such – documents. See that he is safe.” Corlander sat back against the tree, exhausted.
“But, sir. How will I know who the Command Captain is? What is his name?”
Corlander smiled weakly. Blood dribbled from his lips. “Sergeant, in this time of war, I – I dare not tell you. But you will know. You will know. Give my love – to my….”
His eyes stared off suddenly, seeing nothing. Luvian sighed and closed their glassy gaze. He had seen more men die than he cared to think of during this damnable war. This man – Corlander – was a true hero, to the drawing of his last breath. And now Luvian was saddled with a new mission. Find the Command Captain.
He disliked rummaging through Corlander’s uniform with him still warm. But he found the maps and what looked like other documents as well. A brave man’s blood stained their parchment but they were still legible. Corlander had saved them from the attack and payed for his bravery with his life. Luvian found no trinket nor memento but would do his best after the war to find the man’s family.
Standing, he saluted Corlander. His horse whickered behind him. “What? He was a good man. He deserves it,” Luvian told his horse. Patting the horse on the neck, he swung up and urged him forward. His horse flicked an ear at him as if amused and plodded forward.
The attackers seemed quite arrogant in their assumption that they had left no survivors. Had Luvian’s own regiment attacked a camp, they would have dispatched scouts to ensure no one escaped. Just simple battle sense.
But now… the tracks in the dirt were spreading out. Which to follow? He had been sworn to give documents to the Command Captain. Luvian knelt and studied the ground thoughtfully. Why had the small company spread out?
They had divided to get the most important asset – the Captain – through enemy lines. By creating distractions to either side, and surrounding the Captain with the most men possible, the small company had snuck the Command Captain through.
Which meant, Luvian thought, that he was now behind enemy lines himself. He had only been approximately two hours behind his quarry. So where was the enemy now?
In silence, he followed the tracks the Captain’s team had left. Why had they turned back toward the north at all? The fighting was thickest in the north. But Corlander had insisted that they had been betrayed, so they had set out on a fool’s errand unknowingly. Luvian fervently hoped that the company was still alive – to have survived that massacre at the Command Tent, sneak through the woods all this way, only to step straight into a trap…. If he ever found the bastard who had betrayed them, he would crush his neck in his bare hands.
Finally, a familiar sound reached his ears. The sound of metal on metal confirmed what the Command Tent survivors had found – fighting had indeed been awaiting them.
Luvian patted Corlander’s documents safely against his breast and urged his horse forward, though he watched all about him for enemy scouts.
As he rounded the next hill, a spear landed in front of his horse, embedding itself in the dirt. Luvian swung out of the saddle as his horse reared. His heart pounding, he searched all around him.
“You!” a voice hissed. A red-headed man covered in leaves stepped onto the path before Luvian.
Luvian swung his sword around defensively.
“Put that thing away. What regiment are you with?” hissed the man, obviously a scout.
“Ha. All but demolished, I hear.”
Luvian’s eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched. “Oy! They were mates of mine. You’ll keep your mouth off them, may they rest with the gods.”
“Fair enough. A test. But partly true, I fear,” returned the scout.
“If decent leadership had placed us where we wouldn’t have been cornered, we wouldn’t be in such standing,” Luvian grated.
The red-headed scout held his hands up in surrender. “I quite agree, as it happens. A number of regiments were given false information, placed where they thought no enemy would attack. And then were ascended upon from all sides.”
Luvian thought of the last stand his comrades made before retreating. “Then who is to blame? We can’t fight this way.”
“Not my place to speculate, mate.”
Luvian thought of the maps he had been dispatched to deliver. “I’ve been tasked to deliver something to the – Command Tent. Know where it is?”
The scout rose an eyebrow. “The Command Tent? Well, that’s bloody well specific now, isn’t it?”
“Corlander sent me.”
The scout’s face changed. “Who did you say?”
“Corlander. Corlander sent me before he died.”
For a moment, the scout stared at him, then he seemed to make his mind up about something. “Come on.” When Luvian paused, the scout snapped, “Well, do you want to get to Command or no? I said, come on.”
Luvian reached out for his horse.
“Leave the horse. He’ll find his way to camp. Now keep it quiet.”
Luvian tried to emulate the scout’s silent footsteps with painstaking effort. After a while, the scout signaled for a stop. “Rushby. My name, that is,” he whispered. “Yours?”
“Luvian. Well met.”
“Aye. There’s fighting around that ridge, but it gets worse the farther we go. Command is set up in the thick of it. No sense.” Rushby knocked his curly red head with his knuckles. “Makes no sense to me, but maybe that’s why I’m a scout and they’re in golden helmets, aye?” He snorted quietly.
“Aye,” Luvian nodded agreement.
“We’ll be heading north, which is mainly Ormish soldiers. Infantry, a few archers, longbows and crossbows.” Rushby cocked his head as he sized up Luvian’s armor. “I can see you’re no stranger to the battlefield, so you’re aware of their tactics.”
“Aye,” Luvian growled as he glanced down at his armor. Muddy, splashed with dried blood, dented to one side where a heavy shot from a mace had bruised his ribs. The blue of his Eastern Shield tunic was scarcely recognizable now.
“Sergeant? Lieutenant…?” Rushby trailed off in query.
“Sergeant.” That would take some getting used to, mused Luvian.
“Ah. Well, Sergeant, we will be making our way there,” Rushby pointed. “Just follow me and whatever you do, don’t start playing the hero. Corlander sent you to Command and that’s your only mission.” Rushby stared at Luvian frankly. “Are you ready?”