They ran. Luvian marveled for a moment at Rushby’s speed and then concentrated only on matching it, and then simply keeping the red-headed scout in sight. Ignoring the clashing of sword-to-sword combat and battle cries of enraged men all about him, Luvian jumped over downed men and twisted to avoid rivals as he sprinted after Rushby.
Suddenly Rushby came to stop. “Do you see Command? Up there?” he yelled over the din of the battle, pointing toward a striped gold and blue tent in the distance. “That’s where we’re headed, in case you’re out here on your own,” he panted.
Luvian heard the unspoken words of every soldier underlying Rushby’s directions: In case I don’t make it…. In case I die…. He nodded shortly. With an intent look, Rushby saw that Luvian had divulged his true meaning and slapped him on the back.
“Right then!” Rushby dashed off, darting in between combatant soldiers. Luvian ran behind him, straining to keep sight of the scout around the men fighting all around him. He felt an arrow zip past his neck and thanked the gods he had not been one second slower.
Finally, Rushby led him into a heavily guarded Command Camp. He was right; it was in the thick of the fighting. What a ridiculous place to set Command, especially after the massacre of the last location.
“Stop! State your name and business!” Two guards with swords blocked Rushby and Luvian’s progress into the tent. They stopped, panting from their run.
Rushby stood tall. “Lieutenant Rushby, Scout First Grade, with Sergeant Luvian.”
The guards immediately snapped to stiff attention. “Lieutenant, sir!”
Luvian marveled, for he had not known he had been in the company of a Lieutenant, but said nothing.
“I’ve escorted Sergeant Luvian here on a private mission to Command personally from Major Corlander.”
The guards eyed each other nervously. “Sir, yes, sir!” They escorted Rushby – Lieutenant Rushby – and Luvian inside the Command Tent.
So Corlander was no liveried servant but a Major. If he’d known, he would have paid the man more respect….
Inside the blue silk Command Tent stood two Lieutenants in decorated uniforms leaning with frustration over a map of the region. Luvian glanced about the tent but found no Captain.
Luvian thought of Corlander’s words. “Get these maps to the Captain of this Command. Give them to no one else, do you understand? That is imperative. No one else. My name is Corlander. Just tell him my name and he will know.” He thought of all the man had sacrificed for the blood-stained parchments hidden behind his armor, and wondered just how deep the betrayal lay, if Corlander would not even tell Luvian the Captain’s name.
“And who are our guests, Corporal?” asked one of the Lieutenants.
The Corporal who had escorted Luvian and Rushby inside the Command Tent saluted and responded stiffly, “Sir, Lieutenant Rushby and Sergeant Luvian here to see you, Sir.” He turned to Rushby and Luvian. “This is Lieutenant Hawthorne and Lieutenant Fannion.”
Rushby nodded at him.
“Very well,” commented Lieutenant Hawthorne. “And why are you here?”
The Corporal drew in breath, but Rushby stepped forward and said, “Corporal, I’ll take it from here. Dismissed.”
The Corporal knew a dismissal when he heard it; he saluted and spun on his boot heel.
Rushby told the two Command Lieutenants then that he had escorted Sergeant Luvian from his position on the trail with important news only to be delivered to Command.
“Well, then, man, here you are. Out with it.” Irritation colored Lieutenant Fannion’s voice and his face showed plainly that things of far more importance than Luvian’s message required his attention. Luvian instantly disliked the man but refrained from retorting in any disrespectful fashion.
Luvian took a deep breath and stood to his full height. “Sir, I need an audience with the Command Captain.”
Both Lieutenants stared at him and he felt Rushby’s amazement next to him.
“Sergeant… Luvian? Whatever message you have you may convey to us.”
“With due respect, Lieutenant, sir, I was told to give my – message – only to the Command Captain.” Let there be ambiguity in his errand so that none could report details to a spy, Luvian thought. Such was the nature of his mission, after all.
Under his breath, Rushby said, “You’ve got brass ones, I give you that.”
The Lieutenant frowned and huffed, unaccustomed to disrespect. “And just who gave you such a – message?” He repeated Luvian’s choice of word but let it drip with acidity.
With no choice but to both ignore the bastard’s condescension as well as his prodding for information, Luvian replied, “Major Corlander, sir.”
The Lieutenants exchanged a glance and then the bastard strode around the table and leaned against it, tapping a quill to his mouth.
“Interesting, you see,” Lieutenant Fannion told Luvian as he cocked his head, “because we had heard the Major was dead.”
“Sir, he is now, sir. Attacked in an ambush at his last Command post and left for dead on his way here. Sir.” Luvian allowed his tone to remain even as he reported the facts.
The two Lieutenants shot a glance at each other. “Guards. Out. You, Rushby, you stay.”
The guards exited quickly.
Lieutenant Hawthorne, a dark-haired, rigid man, approached Luvian. “The Northern 20th? You’re a long way from home, Sergeant.” A steely blue gaze prompted Luvian for more details.
“Aye, I am. Not a soul with a sense of leadership in that regiment left. We decided to retreat and I made for the Command Tent for a Lieutenant to lead us. What I found was the whole site, bloody and burned to the ground. Ambushed. Not a survivor left, sir.”
The Lieutenants glanced at each other.
“Behind the camp, I found a trail of men who had escaped and followed it through the woods. It was there I found Major Corlander, with a gut wound, nearly dead. He told me what happened and tasked me with this mission. So, I’ve made it to your camp to find his Command Captain. His message is for him alone, by order of Major Corlander.”
Lieutenant Hawthorne and Lieutenant Fannion weighed his words. “Certainly you may give us the Major’s message,” Lieutenant Fannion finally responded. “After all, the import of a dying man’s mission – how sane was he, after all? He couldn’t have been in his right mind.”
Lieutenant Hawthorne considered. “Still.”
“Sir, I swore to give this message only to the Command Captain,” Luvian, now irritated, let go of conventional military terms of respect.
“I’m afraid that’s just not possible,” Lieutenant Hawthorne told him, his face stoic.
Luvian stared. “And why is that? Where is he? Is he in the mess tent, then? I’ll see him there.” He started to turn around.
Rushby laid a hand on Luvian’s arm. “Sergeant –”
“Sergeant, the Command Captain is not in the mess tent, more’s the pity.”
“Oy – are you two are running things? This is just as bad as back home. How are we supposed to win a war when the Captain is missing, the Lieutenants are idiots, and the Command is camped in the center of the fighting?”
“What did you say?” Lieutenant Fannion was furious.
Rushby tried to hold Luvian back, but Luvian himself was enraged. He strode to the center of the tent, brushing past Lieutenant Hawthorne and Lieutenant Fannion as if they were fleas. Pointing to the maps pinned to the table, Luvian demanded, “Oy – what’s this? Is this your local Regiment?” He did not wait for an answer but walked around the table, studying the war plans and shaking his head with disgust. He saw strategies for a forward movement to the east, which would leave the men bare to the west and the north. Luvian snorted.
“Who designed these? Some fool fresh from his daddy’s courtyard. And right there, in the middle of it all, Command. After the last massacre. And you wonder why we’re fresh out of men. We’re too busy defending your silken tents and your cheese and your grapes!” Luvian pointed at the corner where a table of refreshments stood.
“How dare you, sir!” Lieutenant Fannion stepped forward, his fair face reddened with rage.
“Oh, I dare, I dare. How dare you! Ask yourselves that, setting up in the middle of the worst fighting! We lose half our troops to circling around your silken asses, when instead, you should set up your camp up here, or here, or here! And let the real soldiers do the fighting!”
Luvian knuckled the map in safe, easily defendable positions. “We’ll send riders to and from with reports but you, you silken types, you’re next to worthless.”
“Sergeant!” Rushby warned him loudly.
“No, sir, I’ll be heard! The whole of my regiment is gone now due to some fool placing us in a near indefensible post. Real leadership, and real soldiers, not just pampered jackarses wanting to impress their daddies back home.”
He stared at the map. “Move this tent here,” he pointed to a remote location on the map. “By end of day, and let the soldiers start doing what they trained to do. That’s this tent, your mess tent, all of it. Here. Get out of the line of fire, by end of day.
“Now. Where is the damned Command Captain?” Luvian growled.
Lieutenant Hawthorne and Lieutenant Fannion exchanged glances.
“Well, he’s not dead, is he?”
“Oh, no, not dead. At least, not that we know,” Lieutenant Hawthorne rolled a hopeful eye skyward. But then he glanced at the map.
“Bloody hell. You’ve got him out there? Fighting? While you’re in here?”
“He’s rather hard to control – stubborn actually. Once he gets it into his head to do something, there’s nothing to be done for it,” Lieutenant Hawthorne explained.
“He’s got a point,” Rushby confirmed.
“Not you, too.”
Rushby held his hands out to his sides. “Sorry, Sergeant. It’s true.”
“And where is the Captain, then? If he’s not dead yet?” Luvian grated. All of them, idiots, especially the Captain.
Lieutenant Fannion glared at him and Lieutenant Hawthorne squinted at the map. “Here, I believe, last we had word. He left two days past.”
Rushby let out a long breath. That did not bode well.
Luvian turned his attention to Rushby. “And what’s there?”
“Well….” Rushby glanced at Lieutenant Hawthorne and Lieutenant Fannion and then abandoned all formality. “Only about the craziest area of the battle.”
Lieutenant Hawthorne’s eyes rounded and Lieutenant Fannion’s mouth dropped open.
“He told us there was barely any action there!”
“And that’s why you need more scouts. That area’s seen heavy fighting for days now. Either he knew that and duped you, or he had no idea and ran off straight into a maelstrom.”
Both Lieutenant Hawthorne and Lieutenant Fannion had the grace to look guilty.
“What was his last communication?”
“All was well, no problems to report, received this morning,” Lieutenant Fannion’s voice was unsteady. Luvian did not like the man a bit, but his shaken demeanor went a long way toward redemption.
“Well, let us hope all is still well with him, aye?” Luvian raised an eyebrow with disgust.
“You, Sergeant, are out of order!” roared Lieutenant Fannion.
“Please, Lieutenant, you are too kind. Now. Where can I get a fresh horse and some rations? It seems I have a Captain to find deep in the middle of enemy territory. With luck, I will not have to deliver my message to a corpse.”
“OUT! OUT!” screamed Lieutenant Fannion, pointing at the tent flap, his face incensed.
Rushby stirred Luvian around before he could say anything else. “Come along, come along, Sergeant, let’s not say anything else you’ll be sorry for.”
“Sorry? I’m not sorry! REMEMBER! BY END OF DAY!” Luvian bellowed to the Command Tent behind him.
“Brass ones, my friend, did I say? Big ones. You’ll be lucky not to court martialed for that scene in there,” Rushby steered him toward the mess tent.
“At least someone spoke sense to them, sir. May be the one time during this whole bloody war someone does,” Luvian ducked under the mess tent flap and picked up a bag of rations.
“Well, mate, it made for sheer entertainment, I’ll tell you that much.” Rushby picked up a bag of rations as well.
Luvian looked at him in puzzlement. “Sir, what’s that you’re doing? Stealing me an extra bag? That’s trouble, speaking of court martial.”
“Ah, well, just say you inspired me back there, Corporal. Doesn’t happen often, so bask in the compliment while you can. I’m taking you to the Captain.”
Rushby read the disbelief on Luvian’s face. “Well, move along, then, move along. We’ve an idiot out there to save, haven’t we? And if you tell anyone I called him that, I’ll disavow all knowledge of it. Besides, scouts know all the best trails, aye?”
Luvian accepted the scout’s help gladly. He stuffed the rations in his rucksack and turned to Rushby. “Where are the stables?”
Rushby shook his head. “No, mate, no horses. Cavalry makes for easy targets. The Ormish out there are mainly archers. Might well as paint your back red. We’ll run.”
Luvian’s mouth dropped open. “Run.”
Rushby smiled. “Ah, and the giant is suddenly speechless. Don’t worry, mate, you’ll make it. Just swing your sword if you have to and keep up.”
That worried Luvian. He was known for strength, not speed. “And if I lose sight of you?”
“Well. Kill the arseholes. And look for the Captain. He’s the idiot wearing the stupid gold and blue helmet. You’ll know it when you see it. Only –”
“I know, I know, sir, you never called him an idiot.” Luvian nodded and Rushby grinned.
“Now you have it. Ready, then, Sergeant?” They stood posed on the edge of the combat zone.
Luvian hoisted his rucksack and pulled his sword loose. “Aye. I am now.”
Rushby gave him a quick nod in return and sprinted off. Luvian followed him.
Several times, thick fighting forced them to stop. Luvian was almost glad, for at least fighting in one-man combat, he could regain his breath. Rushby whistled at him twice to break him out of the fighting. If the Captain was as thick as those other two mush-headed, mealy-mouthed morons, then Luvian feared for the regiment, and, indeed, the fate of the message Major Corlander had charged him to impart. What Captain would place himself in harm’s way and leave his subordinates behind to puzzle out the outcome of the war? Fool. Luvian sucked in air as he ran past Eastern Alliance and Ormish soldiers alike.
Finally, Rushby stopped ahead of him, panting. They knelt below the line of sight and gulped in water. Luvian swept his brow of dripping perspiration. “How much further?”
Rushby took in a few deep breaths, and then jabbed a thumb eastward. “Still some fighting up there, mind.”
“No different than what we’re in the midst of, I expect.”
“Aye. Just keep up your stamina and, of course, stay alive.” A tired smile lit Rushby’s features.
“Aye. I want to tell this Captain that you called him an idiot while you’re still alive.”
“Ah. I’d like to see his face on that. Right then, on we go, our Captain needs us,” and Rushby was off.
Just as they topped another ridge, the battle strengthened in intensity. Ormish infantrymen attacked Luvian and Rushby from all sides. Luvian worried – after all this way, it would be awful for Major Corlander’s message to get lost when he was so close to delivering it. He also worried – if the battle was this intense, had the Captain survived? What would he do with the Major’s message if the Captain was dead?
Rushby grabbed him. “Pay attention!” He yanked him forward. “He should be about this area, somewhere. Keep your head down!”
The two of them surveilled the area, dodging Ormish soldiers as they searched for the Command Captain. Luvian had no idea who he was looking for, other than a gold helmet. He was relying on Rushby.
Suddenly he saw a flash of gold. Craning his neck, he grabbed Rushby’s arm. “Is that him?” he yelled over the din of the battle.
Rushby strained his neck and pointed in the Captain’s direction in confirmation. Together, they ran up the ridge to the inner circle of guards surrounding the Captain.
“Captain! I’ve a message for you!” yelled Luvian.
The Captain was just a young man, his own age, Luvian would warrant, and hardly old enough to have achieved the rank of Captain. Nevertheless, he had no business being in the thick of this fighting, and he suddenly vowed to personally escort him back to the Command Tent.
A cross look manifested upon the Captain’s face. “I’m a bit busy, you may have noticed! Give it to someone else!” he yelled back.
“Captain, sir, I cannot. Major Corlander bade me tell you his name and that you would understand.”
An odd look crossed the Captain’s face then. “Fall back!” he called to his circle of men.
After the men had fallen back to a site where they were not being attacked, Luvian stepped forward.
“Sir, this is Lieutenant Rushby, Scout First Grade. He saw me safely here. My name is Sergeant Luvian.”
“Well met, soldiers. Lieutenant? Did you speak with Major Corlander?”
“No, sir, I’ve only accompanied Sergeant Luvian. I’ll be returning to my camp now, if it please you, sir.”
“As you will, then, Lieutenant. Take rest as you can and good will follow you.”
Rushby saluted the Captain smartly, who returned a salute and a nod of dismissal.
“Returning?” Luvian grabbed Rushby’s arm.
“I said I’d get you here. I said nothing about staying.” Rushby smiled toothily. “I have a regiment to get back to. Which you would do well to stay away from, given how you left it.”
Luvian snorted and grimaced a bit.
“But I’m going back to see that they move that tent. By end of day, aye? I’ll keep them in line for you.”
Luvian smiled. “Good man.”
They grasped forearms. “See you on the other side, then,” said Rushby.
“See you on the other side,” returned Luvian.
Meanwhile, the Captain had downed a fair bit of his waterskin. “Well then, Sergeant, let’s have it, what’s this message you were sent to give me? You have my full attention if Major Corlander sent you.”
Luvian glanced about them. Soldiers stood all about them and at any moment, those papers could be lost should he take them out. This was hardly the place or time.
“With all due respect, Captain, a quieter time and place would be best –” he trailed off.
The Captain snorted and gave a wide gesture about them with his arm. “Sergeant, if you hadn’t noticed, we’re on a battlefield. Where had you supposed we might find a quiet time and place?”
He had a point. Perhaps by night, when the fighting came to a rest for the evening.
“If you please, Captain, Major Corlander insisted. I meant no disrespect.”
“You keep mentioning Major Corlander. When did you last see him?”
“Not four hours ago, nearly dead from a gut wound in the woods. His Command Tent had been ambushed and he had escaped. He died, sir, in front of me.”
A look of regret passed over the Captain’s face. “I was in that Command Tent. Several of my men, the Major included, helped me to escape. It seems you were fated to meet each other if he has given you a message for me. He was a good man.”
“Some of his last words to me were to keep you safe. I –”
“Captain! Incoming!” yelled several soldiers all at once.
“Shit!” swore the Captain.
“Captain, with all due respect, you need to head north, out of the line of fire, and back to the Command Tent. They need you there!” Luvian insisted.
“I left Lieutenant Hawthorne and Lieutenant Fannion there. Perfectly capable!” called the Captain.
“Again, sir, with all due respect, Lieutenant Hawthorne and Lieutenant Fannion couldn’t find their thumbs if they shoved them up their arses!”
The Captain threw an outraged look at Luvian. “Sergeant, you have overstepped your bounds!”
Luvian swept the scene around him with an arm in imitation of the Captain’s earlier condescension. “Captain, where are the bounds on a battlefield?”
The Captain’s eyes narrowed and then an Ormish swordsman made it through. The Captain slashed downward with his sword, killing the man.
Luvian reconsidered the Captain. He had skills and was unafraid to use them, and he had experience on the battlefield, for crusted blood smeared his face and his armor. Albeit not a respectful swing in the eyes of an ArmsMaster, the Captain had buried his sword in the neck of their opponent with might and main, killing the soldier swiftly if terribly. Luvian decided he approved, even if the man was in harm’s way.
Their eyes met over two more unlucky opponents whom they dispatched. The Captain placed a bloody boot on another Ormish soldier so that he could yank his sword free while Luvian kicked an Ormish soldier’s beheaded skull out of his way.
“Very well. You’ve earned my respect, Sergeant. And, it seems, the Major’s, or you would not be here.”
“Sir, if you’ve any battle sense at all, and I think you have, you must return to the Command Tent.”
Pure disdain at the thought made the Captain roll his eyes.
“You have to lead the troops. We sent Command to the North so they’d be out of the way of the fighting….”
“We?” asked the Captain. “Who is this ‘we’?”
Suddenly nervous, Luvian answered, “Well, me. Just me, I did. Captain, sir, they were located in the center of the fighting and the men had to protect them instead of fight the enemy. What’s the sense of that?” He realized then that he was treading on dangerous ground. It may well have been the Captain who set that plan up. He might find himself swinging from a rope.
The Captain stared at him and then nodded. “And how did you accomplish this?”
“Well. I went in and – I yelled at them, sir.”
The Captain chortled. “Now that’s something I’d actually like to have been in the Command Tent for, just to see their faces. And how did they respond?”
“Lieutenant Fannion yelled at me to get out. But I think they’ll have moved camp. Lieutenant Rushby is assisting them,” Luvian told the Captain. “With all due respect, Captain, sir, you should be there. You’ve been out here, you know where the fighting is, you know where to place the men.”
The Captain studied him for a moment before saying, “Very well. You give a convincing argument. And you’re right. I know where to place the men best now.”
Luvian breathed an inward sigh of relief and a cheer.
The Captain pulled the nearest soldier aside – “Corporal, a word –” Luvian listened to him outline brief plans for his return to the Command Tent as soon as possible. The Corporal immediately saluted and turned to the rest of the Captain’s unit to inform them.
Just then, a group of Ormish infantrymen rounded the hill, roaring a battle cry.
“Captain! With me!” yelled Luvian, beckoning the Captain to the top of the hill so they could escape to the north. It would not be honorable, but nor would the Captain’s head on a spike serve any purpose.
The Captain struggled visibly with his decision: stay and fight, or run to the Command Tent. Luvian saw it on his face. He was going to stay and fight. Luvian knew he would do the same. Damn the man.
But more and more Ormons were pouring onto the battlefield. Luvian saw with horror the Ormons overtaking the small camp they had just been conversing in.
The Captain immediately made his way up the hill to Luvian, his eyes wide with the need to flee.
Luvian stretched an arm down and pulled him up. As they gazed down, the Captain murmured, “There’s no one left to call a retreat for….”
The entire site was swamped with Ormish soldiers. Almost as if they had been told the Captain had been there. Odd, Luvian thought….
And then an arrow struck the Captain. “Captain!”
“My shoulder – I’m fine. Damn it!”
Luvian turned to look at the Captain’s wound but an odd gleam caught his eye, a reflection in the Captain’s plated armor….
“Captain, get down!” Luvian hollered. He shoved the Captain down and threw himself into the air in front of him.
And then pain lanced through his entire left leg. A crossbolt – lodged in his thigh.
“Sergeant! Sergeant! Are you –” the Captain’s worried face appeared above Luvian.
“Crossbolt – sonofabitch! We have to go now! Keep low!” grated Luvian, the pain in his leg growing worse with each step. “Get behind that wagon!”
“They’ll be on us in no time.” The Captain’s face looked worried as he looked down at the arrow protruding from his shoulder.
The two of them dashed for the broken-down wagon and slid down behind it.
“You’re going to have to pull it out,” panted Luvian.
“Pull it out?”
“Don’t be such a baby. I can do it if you like. But I warn you, I’m not at my best at the moment, as you might have noticed.”
Luvian watched as the Captain winced. “Whatever you do, do it quick. We’ve got to get on the move. They’ll be looking for survivors.”
That made sense to the Captain and was all the impetus that was needed. The Captain sucked in a deep breath, gritted his teeth, grasped the arrow, and worked it out slowly. Blood flowed freely from the wound around it. Luvian gave the Captain credit for not crying out.
“We’ve got to get you to Command. But first you’ve got to get rid of that helmet. Anyone will recognize you in it.” Luvian reached over, grabbed it, and tossed it aside.
That was it, of course. The Ormish recognized the golden helmet. That was how they knew to attack the site they had just occupied. Damn.
The Captain suppressed his outrage as the logic of the idea slowly washed over him. Luvian craned his neck around the wagon and saw no one. Good. He stood up and limped painfully over to some of the dead soldiers.
“Well, come here then,” Luvian gestured at the Captain. If he disliked losing that precious, gold-plated helmet of his, he was going to like this even less.
“Your armor. Take it off.”
“Shush – you want to wake the dead, do you?” Luvian waved at him to squat down.
“Take the armor off – I’m sure you’ve got more of your fancy gold suits wherever it is you come from. The Ormish will be looking for a bastard in gold plated armor with a stupid gold helmet. So let this dead bloke wear it and they’ll stop looking for you.”
Luvian tossed the Captain the dead man’s helmet.
The Captain glared for a moment at Luvian and then began a painstaking process of jingling and stripping off the armor. Luvian belted it onto the dead man, though his leg was shooting jabs of pain up his side.
“Now then.” He walked a bit around the dead soldiers, looking for a man of the Captain’s height. “Here.” He nudged the man. “Trade clothes with him.”
The Captain’s eyes bulged out. “You’re joking.”
“No, no I’m not.”
“Do you have any idea who I am, Sergeant?”
“Right now, you’re a wounded Captain that I’ve got to get back to Command. Other than that, I really don’t care who you are,” Luvian stared at him. His patience was wearing thin.
“You really don’t know, do you. No idea.” The Captain seemed amused.
“Can we do this later, maybe, under cover, maybe when you’re wearing armor again? I’d really like to get back to a regiment, sir, if it’s all the same to you, no disrespect intended.”
“Where are you from? You and I have the same accent, I think.”
“As am I. I’ve pledged to serve my life to Romeny. As this ring indicates.” The Captain held up his hand, where a gold signet ring gleamed.
Slow comprehension washed over Luvian. He suddenly thought of all the things he’d said….
“Rhutgard Firthing of Romeny.”
“Yes, Sergeant. And I believe that you saved my life back there –” he gestured at Luvian’s leg, “for which I, and our country, will be forever grateful.” His penetrating blue eyes stared at Luvian. Romeny blue, he thought…. For once, Luvian found words deserting him.
“I – Your Highness. I – Forgive me, please.” He fell to his knees. There goes any thought of court-martial… he’d be lucky to see the inside of the Palace dungeon for the rest of his life. Did they still draw and quarter folks or just lynch them….
A bit amused, the Captain – His Royal Highness – held up a hand. “Still Captain, please. And did you really not know? Refreshing. I thought Major Corlander told you.”
Unsure what question to answer first, Luvian blinked, at a loss. “Captain, sir, Major Corlander told me only to get these documents to the Command Captain. I asked for a name, but he told me I would know once I arrived, and that telling me would endanger the mission.” He paused and then dared to add, “Captain, sir, Major Corlander believed that there was a serious betrayal. He knew not where or whom, but he believed it ran deep.”
The Captain nodded and kept his thoughts to himself. He then asked, “What documents are these? Major Corlander was my –”
Luvian stopped him with a hand. “No, sir! If we are being watched – we may yet be in enemy territory.”
Frowning, the Captain glanced around. “True. We should find cover. And have a look at that wound.”
Luvian stared at the Captain and swallowed with difficulty. How to tell the Crown Prince of Romeny that his clothing was unacceptable for this mission? He cringed. Well, there was nothing for it but plod on in his usual fashion.
“Ah. Captain, sir. You’ve yet to change your clothes out.” Luvian gestured to the dead soldier.
The Captain stared down at the soldier for a moment, his mouth falling open. Then, in a hushed voice, he pointed at the corpse. “I will not change my clothing with that man!”
Luvian sighed then, pain from the crossbolt stabbing up his leg. “With all due respect, Captain, what offends you more? The fact that the man’s clothes are a commoner’s, or that he’s dead?”
A glare and a frown met him, though the Captain remained silent.
“Truly?” Luvian’s temper blew. He wrestled the corpse’s trousers off and held them up to the Captain. “Here! Put them on!” A slight curl of distaste of the Captain’s lip as he accepted the trousers disgusted Luvian even more.
“I’m trying to get you back to Command and if you look like an expensively dressed fop, you’re going to stand out immediately. If you’re dressed like a regular man, at least you’ll stand a chance.”
The Captain slipped on the trousers gingerly and brushed them off. “They’re – itchy.”
“Itchy? You mean to say they’re not velvet? They’re homespun by a woman who made wool clothing for her husband to keep him warm. Begging your pardon, Your Highness,” Luvian bowed with exaggerated sarcasm, “but this is what your subjects wear every day.”
The Prince cleared his throat and looked down at the trousers he now wore. He brushed them again with his hands and responded with dignity, “They will be quite satisfactory.”
Luvian blinked. He had expected more of fight. Inwardly, he credited the Prince yet again.
“And with these? Do we dress him with these, then?” The Prince gestured with his velvet trousers.
“No! Burn them. We don’t want the enemy thinking you were anywhere near here or they’ll be on our trail,” Luvian told him.
“Burn them? But we can’t leave him – you know –” And the Prince gestured to the dead soldier.
“Uncovered?” Luvian supplied a more palatable word than naked. He chuckled to himself. The Prince was, after all, wearing a dead bloke’s clothes. He was quite sure that this was a war story that would never be hailed in the gilded halls of Fairview Palace.
“Still –” the Prince insisted.
“All due respect, Captain,” Luvian rolled his eyes behind the Captain’s back. He had a feeling he was going to be using that phrase quite a lot in the next few hours.
But the Captain was stepping over the few corpses that littered the area. “We can’t leave him – uncovered – like that.”
“Sir. I really don’t think he minds, wherever he is. He was a soldier. In fact, if he knew his trousers were going to be worn by a Prince, he’d be quite happy to have donated them and told all his friends about it over his cups in the pub later. We really must be leaving.”
But the Prince had found a cloak and had yanked it from beneath another corpse. Spreading it over the soldier from whose clothes he had taken, he said, “Now. He won’t be – uncovered.”
“He truly did give his services to the Crown, didn’t he?” Luvian observed solemnly.
“Yes, he did. Although I’m sure that’s not what he thought would be expected of him when he signed up to ‘donate his services’….” The Prince gazed down at his new clothes.
For some reason, Luvian found that funny, but folded his lips back to hide a grin. Of all times to laugh. His mother had raised a better man.
The Prince cleared his throat and coughed. Then he glanced at Luvian. Luvian saw that the Prince, too was holding back laughter, and they both burst out laughing. Soon, they could not stop, and they were bent over in hilarity. Luvian felt like a naughty child.
Finally, they stood straight. Both of them wiped tears from their faces.
“We must be going,” the Prince said.
“Aye, we must. But Captain – one last thing.”
Luvian pointed down at the Captain’s boots. Expensive, oiled black leather, probably water resistant….
The Captain grimaced. “No.”
Luvian raised an eyebrow at him.
“Very well – but I’ll not burn them. After I’m back at Command, I’ll have need of these, and certainly no need of someone else’s – boots. These were tailor-made,” the Prince insisted.
Luvian sighed but relented. Royalty.
They found a soldier whose feet were the same size as the Prince’s so he could wear a different pair of boots. Luvian threw the Prince’s boots into his rucksack, along with a combined collection of rations, flint, and water. Dislike was evident on the Prince’s face. “This is robbing the dead.”
“Captain, they don’t care a bit. If they were about to set out on a journey with them wounded, they’d do the same.”
This argument convinced the Prince and he nodded. “But first –” and he held up his velvet trousers. “Let’s have a look at your wound.
“It’s fine, Captain. We have to get along. Time to burn those trousers and move on.”
“Not until we tie that leg off. You’ll be bleeding the whole way and you’ll be a hazard to us both, between leaving a trail of blood for anyone to follow, and blood loss. You’ll pass out half way there. So go on. Drop your trousers.” The Captain snorted. “I had to. What’s wrong, Sergeant? Too scared to show your ass in front of your Prince? You’ve been doing it ever since I met you.”
Luvian glared at him. “Bloody hell.” He reached under his armor and unlaced his trousers.
Pulling the strings loose was the easy part. Pulling his trousers down – hurt far worse. Luvian inched them down little by little. The cold ground underneath his bare ass was the least of his worries – his thigh was on fire from the sudden movement.
“Go on, Sergeant. Stop whining about it, don’t be a baby, we’re going to have to pull that bolt out soon enough.”
Luvian glared at the Prince. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“Oh, you’ve no idea. But that – that is shitty, and it’s not going to be easy coming out.” The Captain pulled out some of the waterskins from the rucksack, and then started ripping his velvet trousers into strips.
“Wait.” Luvian grabbed his hand. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”
“Yes. Field first aid. I’m going to tie this off. Now bite down on this. It’s going to hurt.” The Prince shoved a thick chunk of wood in Luvian’s mouth. He would probably be glad not to hear Luvian yelling at –
And then his leg burst into pain. He screamed around the wood and bit down as hard as he could.
He looked down and the Prince was tying the strip of velvet into a tight knot. The Prince glanced up at Luvian and handed him a waterskin. “Drink. This is going to hurt.”
Luvian refrained from being a smartarse. His leg hurt too much and nothing sprang to mind other than wanting the pain to stop. He gulped at the waterskin and handed it back, panting.
The Prince drank from the skin himself, his eyes never leaving Luvian’s. Then he held up the wood. “You might want this back again.”
Luvian said nothing but inserted the wood back into his mouth. Then the Prince dumped water all over the wound. It felt like fire. He elected to close his eyes. He didn’t want to know when the worst happened.
He felt the bolt pull out of his thigh – he had no idea how deep it had been lodged. A muffled scream went on and on around the wood in his mouth.
And then he felt water flood his open leg. “Sergeant! Sergeant? The bolt is gone now.”
Luvian opened his eyes. Panting, he saw the Prince busily wrapping blue velvet strips about his leg to bind the wound shut. Oy! What he wouldn’t give for a bottle of whiskey! A string of expletives escaped him.
“I quite agree,” murmured the Prince.
After several more bindings, the Prince sat back, satisfied. He held up, with a bloody hand, a broken silver crossbolt. “Want it?” His voice was tired but mildly amused.
“Fuck, no!” Luvian, still panting, sat up and laced his trousers up. He noted how shaky his fingers were, as did the Captain.
Wordlessly, the Captain handed Luvian a full waterskin. “Take a few minutes, and then we’ll be off.”
Luvian nodded shortly. He gulped at the waterskin. This wound would take time healing. With luck, a Healer was stationed at Command. For now, he would have to ignore the pain and move as fast as possible. The import of his mission was now doubled. He no longer had just a Captain to see to safety, but the next King of Romeny. Bloody hell.