While they were awaiting news from Eastern Alliance Scouts, Ronan had returned to his Guard Duty. And while he had been in the War Council, word had finally been released that Mirelle had grown up under the constant watch of a retired Lieutenant of the Twenty Years War… who just happened to run a very reputable tavern. Though where she had grown up would never be released, the Palace wanted to release this information now rather than it be discovered elsewhere by other individuals. It was hinted that she grew up far, far away from the Palace, and thus searching for her origin home would prove a futile endeavor.
This information was accepted with mixed reactions. Obviously, members of the Court were both fascinated and scandalized by this tidbit. They loved anything to gossip over and seized upon this as a juicy treat. Although they had found Mirelle easily a member of their own formerly, now they eyed her with curiosity, for her manners and graces were impeccable. Salacious questions had arisen as to whether she was legitimately born, though all could see the resemblance to the twins, Ronan fumed.
Even the common people were taken with her, though now more so, Ronan believed, for they thought of her as someone who knew how they lived, what their lives were like, a Royal who truly understood the commoners for once. Rumors were floating about that they were calling her the Princess of the People.
Ronan’s gaze found Mirelle on the terrace below, surrounded by the noblewomen of the court. She glided easily among them with a poise that belied the artless, laughing young girl from South Fairview. None would guess that the refined young Princess below had lived her life behind the bar of a brew house, taking orders from bawdy customers, cleaning tables, and serving ale.
He watched the young women of the court dance about her, hoping to divert her attention long enough to engage her in sycophantous conversation. An association with the new Princess of Romeny would prove advantageous amidst their social circles. Ronan flicked his eyes away, all that outwardly revealed his disgust.
The particular detachment of the Royal House Guard next to him whispering and snorting laughter amongst themselves was liveried more than armored. The House Guard was reserved more for men of high birth who were no longer Squires and continued to stay on at the Palace until their contracts with the King were severed by their lord fathers. No House Guards would ever be stationed at battle posts nor be assigned life-threatening missions, and most of them would stay on here during the war, Ronan was sure, or protect their own homes. Sugar, most of them.
While they were well trained in weaponry by the best of ArmsMasters, Ronan scoffed inwardly at the idea that any of these men would brandish a sword about for more than entertainment in the immediate future. Though not all the House Guard was so lacking in combat acumen, the poorly disciplined detachment of men next to him was hardly more than courtiers in uniform to Ronan’s mind.
“Oy, so, Sergeant Martel,” called Corporal Tarleton as he leaned lazily on the dusty sill of the bailey with a slow, cocky half smile. “Is it true that you knew the Princess before she was, well, the Princess?” Tarleton jerked his chin toward Mirelle in the courtyard below.
Ronan’s eyes narrowed as he faced Tarleton. “She was an acquaintance,” he returned shortly.
Tarleton’s smile widened. “A guard for an ale girl. I’ll bet you knew her, Sergeant. I should have applied for that station. That’s a girl I’d get to know real well,” he snickered as he threw a lewd smirk over his shoulder to the rest of the men.
Ronan nodded slowly, then stepped forward, the gravel of the bailey stones beneath his boots crunching. Private Hampton stood before him, alarm growing in his eyes.
Private Hampton immediately stepped behind Corporal Tarleton, fumbling in his haste.
Ronan advanced slowly until he was staring into Corporal Tarleton’s brown eyes. A light breeze riffled the fringe of blond hair across his temple. Silence fell over the unit, each man stiff with anticipation. Corporal Tarleton’s normally condescending expression finally faded. “Sergeant?”
“Corporal Tarleton.” Tarleton finally blinked hesitantly. “You are speaking of a member of the Royal House of Romeny.” Ronan kept his tone low and harsh.
Tarleton’s demeanor relaxed. “Yes, Sir, Sergeant.”
“Do you find this amusing, Corporal?” Ronan’s gaze bore into Tarleton.
“I, no, it’s just –” And then that cocky smirk crossed his features again.
Ronan grabbed him by the lacings of his uniform and slammed him into the cold stone bailey wall. Tarleton’s head bumped forward off of the rock and the man winced with pain. Then fury crossed his features.
“What the –! What was that for!” Corporal Tarleton immediately rubbed the back of his head, his eyes wide with outrage. “It’s just what everyone else is talking about!”
Ronan punched him in the face. He took immense pleasure in watching the Corporal slide to the gravel, bright red blood spurting from his nose, dripping down his usually smug countenance.
“Corporal Tarleton, you have grievously insulted Her Royal Highness of Romeny. Offending any member of the Royal House of Romeny constitutes a treasonous crime, punishable by execution or imprisonment. I trust that, as a member of the Romeny Royal House Guard, you know this.
“You will immediately report to Colonel Daxton. You will, at his convenience, recount all that has transpired here in full, and await my arrival. You are dismissed.” Ronan turned his back on the belligerent corporal.
“Private Hampton, advance.”
“Sergeant Martel, sir!” The young private awaited Ronan’s command. The entire company now stood a formal attention, their faces expressionless.
“You will direct this company of House Guardsmen in Corporal Tarleton’s place until directed otherwise.” The young private saluted smartly and stepped to the front of the House Guard.
Ronan would wager none of them would speak ill of the Royal Family again. Grimly, he looked out over the courtyard again.
“Your Royal Majesty.” Ronan bowed. King Rhutgard nodded in acknowledgment.
“Sergeant Martel.” Ronan inwardly was glad the King had not called him Ronan as he was wont to do.
“Colonel Daxton, sir!” He saluted Colonel Daxton firmly.
“Sergeant,” replied Daxton mildly.
“Sergeant, I understand why you did it, but did you have to break his nose?” King Rhutgard asked. He and the Colonel chuckled. “I need Lord Tarleton’s good will.”
“As you say, Your Majesty,” Ronan replied.
“Ah, cut the shit. Colonel?” Rhutgard gestured impatiently to Colonel Daxton.
“Sergeant Martel, please relate the events that occurred between you and Corporal Tarleton this afternoon.”
“Yes, sir. The Corporal’s speech was offensive to Her Royal Highness of Romeny. I disciplined him and sent him to you, sir.”
“He’ll make a politician yet. His father would be proud,” mused the King.
“With all due respect, Your Majesty, his only parent is Romeny now,” Colonel Daxton replied.
“Yes, that’s so. But both parents are proud of him today, I’ll say,” returned King Rhutgard gruffly.
“Sergeant, please relate with specifics all that occurred this afternoon,” Colonel Daxton told him.
So Ronan carefully recounted the events that led to Corporal Tarleton’s dismissal from the House Guard. “Allowing others to speak maliciously of the Royal Princess is hurtful to her and to the Royal Family, Your Majesty. I felt it should be immediately addressed.” He turned this last comment to King Rhutgard.
“You were right to do so. We expected some – opposition, of course, but within the ranks….” King Rhutgard trailed off, his face stern. “Well, then. We shall work quickly to dispel this – rumormongering.”
Ronan expected to be dismissed, but instead, Colonel Daxton asked, “And how would you punish the young man, Sergeant?”
Taken aback, Ronan replied, “It is not for me to decide his punishment, sir.”
“I did not ask who should decide the punishment of the young man. I asked how you would punish him,” returned Colonel Daxton solemnly.
Ronan thought for a moment. “Muck the stables for the rest of the afternoon. Sleep with the pigs this evening. All officer rank and rights revoked. Bunk with the men-at-arms. Promotions possible only six months’ minimum at a time each. Any further infractions of any kind will incur the severest of sentences.”
Colonel Daxton and King Rhutgard exchanged an amused glance.
“I was just going to send him home with a dishonorable discharge,” chuckled King Rhutgard. “Why not just send the boy home?”
“Your Majesty, in these uncertain times, we need every soldier we can spare.” Ronan answered gravely.
Rhutgard harrumphed, a slow smile crossing his face. “Sergeant, I like your way of thinking, it shows foresight. I’ve decided your punishment is much better,” he announced. “Colonel Daxton? Anything to add?”
Colonel Daxton shook his head. “Nothing, Your Majesty.”
“Good. But forgo the stable mucking. Let the boy have his face tended to instead. I don’t need Lord Tarleton’s complaining of his son not getting proper medical attention. If the boy lasts a month in men-at-arms’ quarters, I’ll be surprised. That will be all. Sergeant, Colonel, you are dismissed.”
Ronan stepped into the quiet alcove. He had been summoned by the Colonel, but found instead another uniformed soldier. The soldier’s decorated uniform identified him as a field Colonel, but Ronan did not know him.
“You would be Sergeant Martel, I’m assuming,” the Colonel said drily as he returned the salute with firm precision. Sharp gray eyes studied Ronan, and Ronan found himself admiring the Colonel, plainly an experienced career soldier. Bald with a slight but precisely trimmed fringe around the side of his head, his weathered face bore a strength that came only from combat.
“Colonel Daxton was –” here he looked down his nose and stared frankly at Ronan “unexpectedly reassigned – to one of our posts in North Romeny. I arrived here this morning to replace his command. I am Colonel Gregorick.”
Ronan took this news in with interest and noted Colonel Gregorick’s unmistakable emphasis when informing him of Colonel Daxton’s reassignment. So soon after Corporal Tarleton’s demotion, too. The Corporal had just left for home two days ago, Ronan had heard. He was sure the two were linked. King Rhutgard was crafty that way. Ronan decided the King was taking no chances with loyalties when it came to his daughter. Colonel Daxton’s reassignment was not punitive in nature as far as Ronan could discern, for little if any fighting would be seen there. But the post was far from political gain.
“Let us hope you and your unit have no further incidents such as what I was recently informed of. There is rank, and there is leadership. Be sure not to confuse the two.
Ronan saluted smartly and turned on his heel. The Colonel was right. If Ronan had led that unit better from the start, those soldiers never would have considered insulting Mirelle, but been her fiercest advocate.
They were going to be very busy today….