Hewart listened to all the jingles of the ringmail, the leather creaking of the saddles, the thud of the horse hooves as they hit the grass, and the occasional low conversation of the men surrounding him. He loved it. He lived for it. It had been far too long.
It had been quite the battle to urge Sturgund westward when he wanted to wait at Newcastle for the Ice Queen. Ultimately, just as Hewart was on the verge of ordering his son a Royal Command, Sturgund resolved to change his course for Rockdale Motte all on his own, in such an innocuous manner that left Hewart suspicious.
Sturgund’s shield arm was entirely healed but the scar nevertheless served as a daily reminder that someone wanted him dead and had nearly succeeded. The encounter had left Sturgund a changed man. Whether the architect of that plan was the Ormon Queen or not was immaterial, for she had made combat plans – and mobilized her troops – without consulting, nay, even advising Hewart. In fact, Myrischka had reached out to Storden, of all the countries in the land, a neutral country, and bought the little runt Varley’s loyalty. Hewart was not happy with Myrischka.
Part of Hewart saw the brilliance in that, for that would secure her Storden easily. But what was left of the Ambsell-Ormon Alliance, an over two-thousand-year-old treaty? Hewart never once dreamt that he would wonder if Ormon would be casting its eye at his country….
And so Hewart went to war for Ambsellon, without Ormon. The Ormon Ambassador advised against it, but had no new information, nor no ideas of merit, given the circumstance.
Odd to see only his own banners, his own country’s colors among the ranks. He’d been fighting since he was a squire, and always there had been both Bear and Moose banners on the field. Well, the Ormon bitch had chosen her path, she could march down it.
Spies and scouts alike told him that her own large force was headed west behind him, but that she had divided some of it to add to a detachment of men in the EverWinters. The better part of her ground force would be following his some two days behind him.
Hewart had also dispatched his Navy, which he knew that right now, should be arriving within Clemongard waters. However, he had needed to rethink his attack, for the Western Queen was suddenly in possession of as many warships as he was, so for now, his best attack plan was the element of surprise. Hewart’s Army was stronger by far than Clemongard’s, so he would use that first, and his Navy second.
But – he would give much to know what his eldest son was thinking. Perhaps Sturgund was keeping his mind off the Ice Queen by educating his younger brothers of war. For truth, Treskin was too young to be out here. At fifteen… but he would not be in a command post of his own, he would be stationed with sixteen-year-old Stegreth.
What a blow to a boy’s pride, to be left at home at the start of a war just three months shy of his manhood birthday. Hewart would not do that to his youngest son, but nor would he allow him to serve in a camp without a brother to watch for him. Stegreth would take care of him. Stegreth had served nearly a year in the Army now.
However, war was war, and the line of succession must be secured. While his boys thought they would be in the thickest of the fighting, Hewart’s generals and colonels would be ensuring the most serious of protection. And Sturgund… Hewart was unsure of Sturgund yet. He’d watched the boy return to fighting condition in the castle practice ring. The boy – nineteen, but still a boy to Hewart – had practiced with an intensity twice a day until he’d overcome his injury and perhaps even bested his prior ability.
But Hewart knew his son. Something was driving him. Hewart would have to have a word with his back Commanders about making sure Sturgund stayed with the Army and didn’t leave in the middle of the night, or worse, attack on his own once the Ormon Army arrived. Once Sturgund got an idea in his mind, he was loathe to leave it alone, and Hewart could envision Sturgund looking for Myrischka….
The foolishness of youth. His son in particular. He just wouldn’t be able to leave it alone, would he….