A Silent Game of Spies

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She emerged from her tent to see the blue sky before her. A fine day for war. She scoffed. Was there such a thing a good day for war?

Selby wondered how many of her ships were left since last night. How many men were alive, wounded…. How many Ambsellon bastards had stepped foot upon her beaches. And if they were headed here, or further east…. No further riders had come in the night, which concerned her. She’d barely slept after the War Council had concluded last night.

At that moment, the Ambassador stepped out of his tent. He yawned and stretched. Selby immediately looked away lest she be caught staring. Keldrick. He was – interesting. She had been sure he would leave when the other Prince had. That he had not had taken her by surprise. But she was… comforted by his presence. Selby hated to admit it, for it felt like weakness, but there it was.

She believed it was that he was of an age with her, and that he supported her actions and directives, as an Ambassador, rather than many of her advisors and councilors, who offered second opinions and often condescended her. The Ambassador’s primary responsibility was to support her as an Ally, and he had done exactly that so far. He had even cleared his throat once last night in the War Council when they diverged from Selby’s actual plans. The Ambassador had said steadily, in a firm tone that brooked no argument, “I believe Her Majesty has already set out our plan of action. Any further discourse on the subject is a waste of our time, gentlemen.” Selby could not help but find him… comforting.

At the same time she found him distinctly unsettling. Perhaps it was his eyes. Cobalt eyes that, with a glance, figured you out completely. Selby wondered if that was why he had been chosen as an Ambassador.

But she found him curious, as well, for he fetched his own meals, saw to his own horse and bath water, insisted he get no preferential treatment. The men liked him. He had an easy smile and, if Selby hadn’t known he was a third son of the most powerful man in all the Land, she would have taken him for another soldier.

A Lieutenant approached her. “Your Majesty.” He bowed low.

“Lieutenant.” Instantly, every nerve was a-jangle. Selby glanced at the Ambassador, who had heard the Lieutenant’s approach. He immediately stepped to her side.

The Lieutenant eyed Ambassador Keldrick but said, “There was a second rider late in the night. We chose not to wake you, for the Ambsells retreated. We are holding them off, according to the rider. He said they retreated but look to be regrouping. Nine more ships lost, five boarded. They lost twelve ships and we have boarded eight of their ships, and had them surrounded until they retreated. That was at about three hours past midnight.” Then the Lieutenant bowed low.

Retreated. Selby closed her eyes for a moment, but only a moment. Then she nodded. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”

The officer turned and left and Selby turned to Ambassador Keldrick. “What make you of that?”

He looked surprised. “I – think you should take your wins when you get them, Your Majesty.”

Selby huffed. “Spoken like a diplomat.” She turned around to go into her tent. They were riding out as soon as possible today.

“Very well,” she heard the Ambassador say. Selby turned around. He was a bit pink in the cheeks. Had she made him angry? Intriguing. She stopped to listen.

“That was the first thing that came to mind, and something I’ve heard at Court more times than I can count. But true, nonetheless. If you want the truth, then… what I also think is – that they have probably regrouped and will continue fighting today now that they have a feel for our fighting maneuvers. Last night was a practice. Today, they’ll come at us hard, wins or losses.”

“Us?” queried Selby.

He faltered for a moment, then recovered with, “Are you not an Ally?”

She nodded.

The Ambassador continued, an eyebrow raised. “Was that too direct, Your Majesty?”

“I prefer the truth. Layering the truth with lies does me no good, especially now. I need direct answers from my advisors, and I rarely get them. Direct is refreshing, and, let me say, a requirement of your office. Are we agreed?”

He regarded her with something like respect. “Agreed, Your Majesty.” He nodded his head gravely.

She shook her head at him. “Please. Have I not told you to call me Selby?”

A half-smile brightened his face and he looked away. He seemed a very carefree person, she thought.

“You have, Your Majesty,” he returned.

She tossed her braid over her shoulder. “Then I request that you do so.” A smile almost came to her lips and she began to advance into her tent again.

But the Ambassador said, “I’m sorry, Your Majesty, but I can’t do that. It’s just – unseemly.”

Now Selby looked up at him square on. She placed her hands on her hips. “Unseemly. Are you calling me unseemly?”

He refused to look at her. “No, Your Majesty, it’s just that – as you are my Commanding Officer – it’s unseemly of me to call you by your first name, particularly when you are the Queen.”
Selby narrowed her eyes at him. She realized suddenly then that Mother did that to Father when she wanted him to do something for her. Immediately, Selby’s brow furrowed in consternation. She let her eyes relax, but asked the Ambassador then, “Very well, Ambassador Keldrick. But tell me something.”

He looked down at her.

“Are all of you Easterners such prudes?”

The question caught him entirely by surprise and his jaw dropped in a grin. Then he remembered himself and cleared his throat. “No, Your Majesty.” He struggled to hide the grin.

Selby recalled her brothers, all full of laughter and life, not unlike what she’d just witnessed in Ambassador Keldrick here. “Good. Perhaps there’s hope for you yet, Ambassador.” And she ducked into her tent.

After several last-minute briefings from various field officers, Selby was now stone silent as she rode her horse toward the front of the line. All she heard was the plodding of her horse’s hooves beneath her, the jingling of his trappings, and the victory marching songs her men were singing behind her. “To the Victors” was a drum song she personally despised, but military men loved it, and on the first day of war, who was she to deny them a song that enthused and encouraged them?

And there it started again. Selby sighed aloud.

“To the Victors”

In the end, the victors take the daughters

In the end, the victors take the sisters

In the end, the victors take the wives

To the victors go the swords (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the blood (Da-da-DOOM!)

In the end, the victors take the sons

In the end, the victors take the brothers

In the end, the victors take the husbands

To the victors go the armor (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the weapons (Da-da-DOOM!)

In the end, the victors take the wells

In the end, the victors take the livestock

In the end, the victors take the farms

To the victors go the crops (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the lands (Da-da-DOOM!)

In the end. the victors take the villages

In the end. the victors take the towns

In the end, the victors take the cities

To the victors go the plunders (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the possessions (Da-da-DOOM!)

In the end, the victors take the churches

In the end, the victors take the clergies

In the end, the victors take the priests

To the victors go the relics (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the riches (Da-da-DOOM!)

In the end, the victors take the forts

In the end, the victors take the towers

In the end, the victors take the keeps

To the victors go the banners (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the standards (Da-da-DOOM!)

In the end, the victors take the ale

In the end, the victors take the mead

In the end, the victors take the spirits

To the victors go the flasks (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the tankards (Da-da-DOOM!)

In the end, the victors take the duchesses

In the end, the victors take the princesses

In the end, the victors take the queens

To the victors goes the gold (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors goes the treasure (Da-da-DOOM!)

In the end, the victors take the palaces

In the end, the victors take the fortresses

In the end, the victors take the castles

To the victors go the kingdoms (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the countries (Da-da-DOOM!)

In the end, the victors take the dukes

In the end, the victors take the princes

In the end, the victors take the kings

To the victors go the SPOILS OF WAR! (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the SPOILS OF WAR! (Da-da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the SPOILS OF WAR! (Da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the SPOILS OF WAR! (Da-da-DOOM!)

To the victors go the SPOILS OF WAR! (Da-da-Da-da-Da-da-Da-da-DOOM DOOM!)

Ambassador Keldrick rode up next to her and just caught her expression of distaste.

“Do you have such songs in the East?” Selby asked.

“Of course,” he returned. “This very one, in fact.” The leather of his saddle creaked as he sat forward a bit. “Though I cannot say I ever expected to hear it during an actual war.”

Nor had she. Selby studied him. He made a handsome figure in his blackened steel ringmail, with the breastplate burnished with the rose sword of Romeny, his cloak flowing behind him. “Are you afraid?” Selby asked. She gestured at the thousands of men about them.

A breeze riffled a blond lock of hair as he regarded her. “I would be a fool to say ‘no’ after all the war stories I’ve heard from my father and my uncle and countless others about the Twenty Years War. But I think perhaps a bit of fear is natural.”

Selby looked down at her horse and smoothed his neck. She had never grown up hearing such stories, for she had sat in the bower or out on the terrace with her ladies-in-waiting, speaking of new fashions and visitors to Court, holding garden parties, and working at her stitchery. If she could go back to those days and tell her younger self that one day she would lead all of Clemongard to war as Queen, why, her younger self would collapse with laughter….

“And you? Are you afraid?” asked Ambassador Keldrick.

Odd question.

She looked up high at the perfect blue sky above them, then out at the waving banners to either side of them, the scores of horses and infantry….

“No. Not afraid.” Selby looked at the Ambassador, searching for a word. He waited patiently. “Angry.”

His eyebrows rose, taken aback.

Selby stared back over the men advancing toward the mountain. “There was a time, especially at first, when I was afraid. Now, there is just… anger.” Selby shrugged. There was nothing left but anger.

The Ambassador told her, “You know, my twin and I, we learned a great deal of responsibilities over the last few months, just before we learned of the war. And my father told us this. A best mate of his in the Twenty Years War told him that anger can be either a tool or a toxin, we have to be sure to make it the former.”

A tool or a toxin. Hm. Well, she would try to keep that in mind when she ordered her men to slaughter the people who had come to kill them with no provocation, mused Selby.

Aloud, she wondered, “The Twenty Years War. I wonder what they will name this war, and what we will tell our children about it.”

Ambassador Keldrick’s head jerked around to look at her. She glanced at him. He seemed surprised for some reason. So she said, “Perhaps this will only last a year at most, and be equivalent to a skirmish, hardly be worth a paragraph in a History of the Era text.”

“Let us hope so, let us hope so,” he returned. “Let us hope, more importantly, that there is an enormous victory for Clemongard today.”

Two Generals rode up. “Your Majesty, the men are in their places.” They would be protecting her, along with ArmsMaster Andeval, a small detachment of Royal Guard and Ericorian both.

But first – she had to address the Army.

Selby rode forth between the two Generals until her horse brought her to the center front of the entire line of the Clemongard Royal Army. She waited until all the Army – her Army – was staring at her, focused on her, before she yelled out at the top of her lungs,

“See this mountain? See this mountain that stands before us? It is in no way as strong as you are! We fight an enemy who hides behind this mountain! That enemy is the Northern Countries! Time after time they come for us, by land and by sea, and time after time, we push them back. The Northern Countries want Clemongard! Last year, they killed our King! Now, I, your Queen, stand before you, and I urge you to fight them! Just last night, Ambsellon opened fire on our Navy at Cliff Watch North! Our last communication was that our Naval formations are holding them back!” Selby heard cheers sound all over the ranks. She continued.

“Brave men, and women too, for I know you to be out there –” and random whoops went up from women all over the Army assembled before her – “Let us fight this Northern enemy, you who stand before me, Clemongard’s fighting forces, you protect Clemongard from the North, and the Coastal Countries! But you are more than just fighting forces! You are its brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, farmers, businessfolk, you are Clemongard’s lifeblood. All the land has need of a good queen, but what Clemongard needs is a great queen, and today, I will be that queen, for I will lead you against our Northern enemy!

“You are Clemongard!” A cheer went up from all the ranks. “You are Clemongard!” She rode up and down the entire row of the Army before her as another cheer rang up. “You are Clemongard!” The men roared their approval.

“ATTACK!” Selby screamed.

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