“Stop, stop. You’re pushing too hard. We aren’t going to get there tonight. We’ll need to make camp,” the Prince told him.
Privately, Luvian was happy to hear him say that. He knew his bandage needed changing; blood had been trailing down his leg for the last mile. How had he and Rushby run the entire distance?
The Prince glanced around a small, covered copse. “This will do for tonight. It’s nearly twilight. We’ll get there tomorrow. You set up camp and I’ll get some firewood.”
“No,” Luvian objected as he set basic necessities around their small camp. “No fire. It will alert enemies.”
The Prince thought for a moment. “You’re right. But we need to light a small one to boil some water.” When Luvian objected again, the Prince told him, “To sanitize your wound. And mine. I insist.”
Luvian sat down gratefully, the pressure off of his leg at last.
The Prince eyed him as he said, “Besides. If anyone is tracking us, fire and smoke will certainly be the least of our worries. That trail of blood will lead them straight here. We’ll have a look at that wound and change out the bandage.”
Luvian realized then that he was being directed by a Prince accustomed to having his orders carried out at all times, rather than a field Captain with soldiers who might have more experience and knowledge of the world than he. Luvian kept his mouth shut.
The Prince lit a small fire and boiled a bit of water. “Go on. Let’s see, then.”
Luvian grit his teeth and inched his trousers down to expose his wound. The blood had seeped through the velvet bindings some time ago, but there was nothing for it.
The Prince pulled out several more strips of velvet. “Sergeant, this is going to hurt.”
“That’s what you said the last time,” Luvian grumbled. He eyed the steaming water with concern.
“I did. But you might want to bite down on something just the same.”
“On what? A pine cone?” snapped Luvian as he glanced about the wooded ground.
“Anything but a finger.”
Again, Luvian recognized the Prince’s authoritative tone. He found nothing to bite down, however, and gestured as much.
“Then don’t scream,” the Prince returned in a quiet tone. He glanced around behind him, indicating the need to keep their presence quiet.
Huh. Don’t scream. Cheeky bastard. All the same, Luvian covered his mouth with his hand.
And in the next second was immediately glad he had. The water was not boiling, but hot enough to hurt nearly as bad as the removal of the bolt itself. He did not scream, but he did drive a groove in the ground with the boot of his other leg.
“There.” The Prince glanced up at him. “The worst is over.” As he tied tight velvet strips about Luvian’s wound, he murmured, “Who would have guessed, that imported velvet from Hardewold would have such excellent use in battlefield medical care?”
Luvian snorted. Certainly not he. Although they did make an excellent whiskey.
“Well, that’s it then. Do us a favor and cover up your ass?” The Prince’s mild jest brought a glare from Luvian, but he pulled his trousers up all the same. His wound was on fire, but he appreciated how much worse it would be had the Prince not dressed it. Mopping his head of perspiration, Luvian knew he’d need to thank him properly.
At the moment, the Prince was tending to his own wound. He was fortunate the arrow hadn’t lodged in his sword shoulder.
Finally, as they chewed on rations in the last remaining light of the day, the Captain suddenly sat forward. “Let’s have a look at these documents, shall we?”
Luvian slipped a hand under his armor and pulled the documents from beneath his tunic. Major Corlander’s blood had dried to brown stains on the parchment, Luvian saw as he handed the documents to the Prince.
The Prince met his eyes as he accepted them. “You took these from Corlander?”
“Major Corlander told me he had them and to take them to you, but died before he could tell me more.” Luvian repeated the entire conversation.
“A shame.” The Prince’s face took on a faraway look. “He was a good man, and a good friend. He was a faithful servant to my family, and I knew him my entire life.” He looked suddenly at Luvian. “A true and loyal servant to his last breath. I was told only that he had fallen behind, not that he had taken a wound.” He looked at Luvian then. “It would seem, then, that there is a threat in my own Command. A betrayal. A spy.” His eyes narrowed. “And I wondered why at each station we were attacked by such a rigorous enemy.”
“Sir, if you please, back at your Command, I was told that the last communication they had received from you was just this morning: ‘All was well, no problems to report,’ after two days of being gone.”
The Prince sat up, startled. “I sent no such message.”
Luvian stared at the Prince. “None, sir? Would it not have born your Royal Seal?”
“I sent no message at all. You noticed that we were far too busy to sit down and write messages. No birds about.”
“If I may ask, Sir, why did you choose that region to fight in?”
The Prince sighed. “Too many of my men died, and for no reason, back at Command. Right before my eyes. We were ambushed, no other word for it. And now I know why. I was given to believe that this region had only a little action. I needed to get out of that damnable tent. I wanted, I suppose, in some small way, to avenge the lives of my men by fighting out here.”
Luvian blinked. His respect for the man rose, royal or not. “Well, it’s probably that which saved your life. You might have gotten a gut wound to the stomach yourself, as did Major Corlander.”
“Ha. Whoever is behind this probably assumed I’d die out there on the battlefield instead. If my father found out I’d been fighting in the heaviest of battlegrounds, he would disown me.” A tired smile tried and failed to pass over the Prince’s face.
“Well, Sir, you did your men and your family, and your country proud out there. That I can tell you.”
The Prince’s blue eyes met Luvian’s. “Thank you, Sergeant.” He cleared his throat. “Let’s have a look at what Corlander died to protect, shall we?”
He unfolded the maps and tilted them in the dying sunlight. “I’m not sure this makes any sense. Why did he want me to see these?”
Luvian pointed with a stick to different regions. “My regiment died there. Mostly cornered by the Ormish and Ambsells, of which we had no prior intelligence. The 21st was supposed to meet us here. The 19th was supposed to be stationed there.” He continued to point at the few Northern regiments that he was aware of.
The Prince shook his head. “No. No, Sergeant, that’s not right. These two regiments were stationed here and sent to back up the 10th and the 14th until the Southern detachments arrived with supplies.”
Luvian stared at him. “Well, Captain, the dog’s wagging its nose instead of its tail because that sure as shit isn’t right. “I never heard no such thing. If anything, the North needed supplies.”
The Prince overlooked Luvian’s rebuke and shuffled to the next parchment. “This – this is all troop action. I don’t understand what he’s trying to tell me.” He shuffled through the next several parchments. “All maps!” he swore.
“With all due respect, Captain, was that not what his function was?”
The Prince sighed and rubbed his eyes. “It was.”
“Sir, it’s too late, we can’t see anything anyway. Put them up, Captain.”
“You’re right.” The Prince folded the documents up but then said, “Here. You keep them. You be my new mapper.” The Prince handed him the documents.
Luvian blinked. “Sorry, what?”
“Keep them. You’re the only one who knows the story of what took place between you and Corlander and saw for your own eyes the burned down Command Camp. You keep the documents. There’s obviously something that Corlander wants me to figure out that I’m just not getting. Besides, my face is far more recognizable than yours. If they take me alive, you can take those on to – to….”
The Prince was quiet for a moment.
“Sir, I think you need to consider that… your Command station is no longer safe.”
“Sergeant, I think I agree with you. But who to trust? Those two Lieutenants?”
Luvian pffed. “Hawthorne? Fannion? They may be idiots, but I’m not sure they’re traitors.”
“And that, Sergeant, is where I may be more experienced than you. Politicians and spies are not so very different – I’ve been surrounded by the former my entire life, and hopefully not the latter very often. Most notably, however, they both lie and put on excellent performances, an occupational requirement. So how would we know if anyone in my Command was a spy? Surely if he has sent me and my soldiers into ambushes without being detected, his competency as a spy is most renowned, wouldn’t you agree?”
“You will need a guard back at Command, then, Sir,” Luvian remarked as he tucked the parchments back under his tunic.
“Perhaps.For now, let us rest. I’ll take first watch. Get some sleep, Sergeant.”
Suddenly, Luvian awoke. It was daylight, morning, judging by the sunlight streaming through the trees. The Prince was dozing against a tree.
Keenly aware of both his sore leg and the need to piss, Luvian scrambled up. The Prince opened his eyes.
“What happened to second watch?” called Luvian as he relieved himself against a tree.
“Never came,” replied the Prince.
Luvian limped back and stared down at the Prince. “You should have woken me.”
“You needed the rest.”
Luvian did not argue the point and began clearing the camp. He drank several swallows of water from a waterskin and handed it to the Prince.
He accepted it and told Luvian, “Sergeant, I require your services for a few days longer.” Water dribbled down the Prince’s chin as he took several gulps.
“Of course, Captain.”
“I thought about a number of things over the course of the evening, and I’ve decided upon my best course of action.” The Prince let out a deep breath. “I will not be returning to Command. I’ve no idea what Corlander was trying to impart to me with those maps, but there is something of dear value in them, he made that clear. Keener minds than mine need to make sense of them. In short, my father needs to see them.”
Luvian blinked. “Your… your father? As in, the King? Of Romeny?” Bloody hell.
“Yes. For many years to come yet, I hope,” answered the Prince.
“Right. And, if I may ask, Sir, just where is your father located? Please don’t tell me he’s stationed out on the battlefield as well.”
“Well, no, of course not!”
“I thought I would ask, as you were out on the battlefield yourself, in the thick of it. Last place you ought to have been, by the way.”
“Yes, we have established that. And why,” snapped the Prince. “My father is at home in the capital, at Fairview Palace. Had your fun now?”
Luvian permitted himself a small smile. “Thought I would ask, at least.” Then he sobered. “Fairview is a few more days from here than your Command. I make it….”
“Two days with two wounded men, allowing for good weather. I know this land, if not its people,” the Prince informed him quietly.
Luvian wondered how much it cost the Prince to admit that.
“Here,” the Prince tossed him a thick branch, stripped of limbs and about as high as Luvian’s head.
“Use it to put your weight on.” When he caught Luvian’s surprised expression, he intoned dryly, “You’ll find I can be extraordinarily resourceful, you know, when I’m not fighting for my life in the wrong battlefield or stripping dead men of their clothing.”
Luvian chuckled and gave an awkward bow. “Your Highness.”
The Prince accepted the perceived gratitude but then warned Luvian, “And whatever you do, do not call me Your Highness. Even commoners not in the Army will turn in a Prince on the run for gold.”
Luvian knew the sad truth of that. With his good leg, he kicked leaves over the small campfire the Prince had made to heat water for their wounds.
“You know we’re going to look like deserters,” he observed. He tested out the walking stick the Prince had made. Sturdy. And if he was going to walk a good pace clear east to Fairview, he was going to need it.
“Yes. We’ll need to come up with a story.”
“For us both? I’m still able to fight.”
“Well, so am I,” Luvian returned.
“Our commissions are expired?”
“In the middle of a war? No. If we keep losing soldiers the way we have been, we’ll need farmboys out of the fields.” Luvian did not explain that only a quarter of the Army was comprised of commissioned soldiers; the rest were enlisted men who were fighting for their country.
He started chewing on his dried rations as they moved onward. Army rations were better than nothing at all, but Luvian would be glad to get some real food in his belly. The thought of the Prince not having a buffet of cheese and grapes and fresh meat, however, made his ration taste much better. But as he limped on his leg, Luvian was reminded that it was the Prince who had bound his wound and gone without a full night’s sleep so that Luvian could rest. He sighed inwardly.
The day turned into an eternal hell of limping and leaning on the walking stick that the Prince had given him. When they stopped to rest, he refused to admit just how grateful he was to sit down and take the pressure off his leg, though on occasion, he caught the Prince eyeing him with something like concern.
During the afternoon, the Prince asked suddenly, “Sergeant, I never asked. Where are you from?”
“Fairview, sir. Same as you. Though, my people are a bit less refined than your own, I expect.”
The Prince nodded and conceded to that observation with a rueful expression.
That gave Luvian a sudden idea. “You know, Captain….”
The Prince glanced over his shoulder.
“We may have the same story, being discharged for medical reasons, but no one will believe you’re just an ordinary man. All due respect,” he added.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Aren’t I wearing homespun clothing…?” The Prince stopped and looked down at himself. “What’s wrong with me?”
“Sir, it’s – well.” Luvian trailed off. They had agreed to pretend they were brothers, and that the Captain was escorting him home to their kin in Romeny. As they both were injured, they planned to exaggerate their injuries should they meet anyone on their way to the Palace. “No one will believe we’re brothers because you talk and act the way you do.”
The Prince frowned at him. “Like….”
“Sir, I’m a commoner. And I talk and act like one. You’re a royal, sir. You talk and act like one, with all your manners and your words.”
“Then what do you propose? How am I to act if we meet someone?”
“There. You see. I would never say that. How am I to act. What do you propose. Captain, if you please, Sir, just let me do the talking.”
“You! But –”
“Aye, sir. Not to take it personal, but I blend in. Would you say I’d blend in among your people, even if you dressed me up in silks and satins?” Luvian prompted.
The Prince’s blue eyes narrowed. “I see your point.” He cleared his throat. “Very well. But let us then make every attempt to avoid speaking to people,” the Prince eyed him sternly.
Luvian snickered. “What, you don’t trust me?”
“Careful, Sergeant.” With a heavy sigh, the Prince admitted, “You’re quite right, however.”
They resumed their trek, dry leaves crunching beneath their boots. “You shall have to teach me, then.”
Luvian started. “Sorry, what?”
“Teach me. To talk like – like you.”
“You mean a commoner. You were going to say a commoner.” At this, the Prince threw a baleful glare over his shoulder at Luvian. “And the answer is no. No. Huh-uh. No way. Not possible. I mean – all due respect, but – Your Highness – you just can’t.”
“I can, and I will. And you will teach me. And I told you not to use that honorific.”
Luvian snorted. What of any of that made a lick of sense? “Honorific? Sir, not a commoner anywhere has ever heard of that term, and if they have, they probably think it’s a disease they can catch. You see?”
The Prince grabbed at Luvian’s tunic sleeve. “And that’s why I need you to teach me! I insist!”
Bosh. This was ridiculous. Easier to stuff an egg back into its shell without a crack.
The Prince must have read his face, for he intoned in a deeper voice, “I insist.” And there it was. A royal decree.
And if he failed, what then? He’d lose his head? At the least, the Prince would sound ridiculous. Either way, Luvian would still need to do the talking should they meet anyone during the rest of the journey.
So they passed the rest of the afternoon with Luvian coaching the Prince on how to speak as a commoner. In awe at that sheer lack of understanding the royals had of their own subjects, Luvian restrained himself a number of times from simply staring at the Prince in disgust. For the Prince truly was attempting to learn, as an eager puppy might, but phrases such as why, of all things! and upon my word! were just not in the normal commoner’s day-to-day language.
His vocabulary was appallingly obnoxious. Luvian tried a number of times to explain that no commoner would use such words, nor even have heard of them. But the Prince was stubborn – by dark, as they sat against trees in their camp, he was trying to instruct Luvian on the benefits of his royal education.
Finally, Luvian’s patience snapped. “Oy! I don’t care about your bloody ed-u-ca-tion. With all due respect. Sir, half your subjects can’t hardly do their numbers and less than that can’t read. Do you think your precious vocabulary is going to impress them, should we come across one or two of them between here and Fairview? Sir?
“Let me tell you something. My mother learned her letters and her numbers because she and my father run a business, and they have paying customers. I learned from them. But most of my friends only make their marks and they can do their numbers enough to get their wages. Do you think, Sir, that they care about your Treasury up in the Palace, or these maps we’re carryin’? They just want to keep living their lives without anyone raisin’ their taxes so they can put food on the table for their little ones. If they know the names of all your siblings, that’s an impressive thing, Sir. Mostly, they just know you and your parents. They’ll never leave the couple blocks they live on. They count themselves educated if they know the names of kings in Delsynth and Hardewold, but they truly impress each other if they know all the names of the people in the Market Square. Readin’ and writin’ counts nothin’ to them.”
Luvian heard his street accent creeping in, but it was best that the Prince truly understand who his people truly were. He had some romantic idea of them, born and passed down to him, no doubt, by some tutor and his royal family. Luvian couldn’t fault him for his upbringing, but if he wanted to understand his people better, he needed to lose the veil that blinded his eyes.
The Prince had remained impassive during this outburst. Now, however, he said, “Are you done?”
Luvian snorted. “Not nearly.” But he said nothing else.
The Prince rearranged himself against his tree. Finally, he said, “I think it best that we pick this up tomorrow morning.”
Again, use of vocabulary. I think it best? This was going to be harder than he thought. Luvian shrugged. “I’ll take first watch.”
The Prince started to protest, but Luvian stopped him. “You hardly slept last night. I’ll wake you for second watch.”
Satisfied, the Prince nodded and laid down on his cloak. “Be sure to,” he murmured around a yawn as he rolled over and closed his eyes.