Luvian was losing patience. The Healer was clucking over his leg and her complaints were neverending. She mostly spoke to herself aloud but occasionally she addressed him outright. She had to cut the stitches open again and sew his wound back together, which alone put him in a sour mood, but she had given him woundwort, which helped numb the pain.
“I just can’t imagine why anyone would ever stitch that way. And velvet no less. Mm-mm-mm, what were they thinking. Bits and pieces of thread stuck in there now, lucky to be alive you are….”
“Oy, it was battlefield surgery. If it wasn’t for that stitching, I’d be dead. Better alive with shitty stitching than dead, aye?” he finally snapped.
The Healer huffed at him with a disapproving stare. The nerve of him, using profanity and speaking to a Healer thus, said her expression.
“You can go now,” she brushed him away with her hands.
That was fine with Luvian. He was tired of sitting with half his arse out in front of a woman he didn’t know. Women always had something to complain about, but he didn’t need one stitching his leg up while he was bare-arsed in front of her.
He limped back to his room in time to see the Prince leaving. “We’ve been summoned.”
“Right then, I’ll be out in a minute.” The Prince had probably burned his commoner’s uniform, Luvian mused. Whatever else he had done, a new Lieutenant uniform had been supplied for him. He did not feel like a real man in it at all, he felt like a dress-up doll, pampered and laced and shiny. Just like a noble, gods help him.
The Prince noted the new uniform. “If it doesn’t fit, just ask for the tailor, he can adjust it for you.”
“It’s fine, Sir, thank you.”
“What’s wrong, Lieutenant? Was the Healer not careful enough with your leg?”
The Prince snickered.
“Careful? Is that what you’d call it?” grumped Luvian.
“That’s just how she is.”
“Well, let me tell you, Sir, she was no fan of your stitches.”
“Well, nor was I. Do you think I’ve sat around embroidering my whole life? You were lucky I even had a needle.”
Luvian snorted. “You wouldn’t have needed a needle if you had been in the damn Command Tent, Captain.”
The Captain chuckled. “Fair enough. To be fair, would you have wanted to stay in that tent with those two?”
“Not an extra minute more than I had to be,” Luvian smiled as he limped. The woundwort was starting to wear off, but the Healer, damn her twittering, had given him quite a supply of it.
They entered King Galvin’s study together. “Ah. Back again. Very good.” King Galvin had a goblet of wine in his hand. “Red? It’s Ghivernish.”
Luvian shook his head. He’d grown up in a brewery. Wine was just not part of his palette. More importantly, he was on duty.
But the Prince signaled for a goblet. Luvian struggled from rolling his eyes. He would be so glad to get out of this palace and out of these pretentious clothes. He needed to get home and see that his family was well, since the Ambsells had marched through.
“Come, Luvian, have a drink. We’ve several hours before us. What will it be? Brandy?” asked King Galvin.
Luvian stared at the King. Brandy? Whoever drinks brandy? Where would you even procure it?
The Prince, however, read his face plainly and stepped in to save Luvian. “I think the Lieutenant drinks something a bit stronger, Father. You’re a whiskey man, aren’t you, Lieutenant?”
Luvian blinked. Well, then. If they were going to drink, then whiskey it would be. On the King’s gold, no less.
They spent the next two hours trying to make sense between the documents Major Corlander had sent and the misinformation the King had been operating with.
Frustrated, the Prince slammed his golden goblet down and ran his hand through his hair. “I need more. Guard! Bring us those two miscreants from the traitor cells.” He looked at the King and Luvian and said, “I need to know exactly where they have stationed their spies. We can’t rearrange our troops if we’re going to have them ambushed all over again. We’re stuck here in our own palace.”
“Only until the Ghivernish get here,” King Galvin held up a finger.
“Yes, I know, Father, but we are still stuck here. And we don’t know which of your people is loyal. You need to get rid of them all.”
The King’s blue eyes bugged out as he sat back in his chair. “All! Have you lost your mind?”
“Father, we trusted someone and they let people into Fairview. First, we will have to take back our city. Then, we not only have to cover the cost of rebuilding our city, but we have to feed and station troops here, and we have to feed our starving and soon, our sick. And we’ve likely run out of places to bury our dead, so the Rosh River will be polluted. We’ll need fresh water sent in. And we have no one to rebuild. We’ve lost our journeymen, our apprentices – our commoners are half gone. We’ll have no food ourselves. We’ll need those supplies redirected here.”
“Your Majesty! Your Highness!” A guard slid into the room, out of breath.
King Galvin said tiredly, “Yes, what it is it?”
“The two men in the traitor cells, Your Majesty. They’re dead. Hung. The guard who was watchin’ them, gone. No trace of him anywhere. Can’t tell if he done it hisself and run, or if he was paid off to look the other way and then run, but them two, they won’t be talkin’, Your Majesty.”
“Shit!” yelled Prince Rhutgard, swiping several of the maps across the desk and onto the floor.
Appalled at Prince Rhutgard’s reaction, King Galvin nodded to the guard and told him, “Very well, thank you,” dismissing him with his hand.
As soon as the guard had closed the study door, King Galvin stood up and roared, “Just what is the matter with you!”
“Don’t you see, Father? They were your link, they were connected to whoever is betraying us. They were killed to keep them from telling us anything!”
King Galvin stared at him for a moment and then walked over to the window. He stroked his beard, looking out at nothing. Luvian wondered what he was thinking.
Finally, the King turned around. “I want letters sent out to Hardewold, Shaw, Delsynth, and Ghiverny. I want the Eastern Shield Alliance to meet. Here, in Romeny. This guessing game can go on no longer. And make it clear to Hardewold that he needs to attend no matter what his hounds are hunting at the moment. This is imperative and if they do not attend, I will consider their lack of attendance a personal offense against our Alliance.
“I have no idea from where this betrayal has sprung, nor how deep it runs. It may have roots in each country, and we cannot afford to ignore it. We must stand together against this threat to the Eastern Shield. Someone is systematically dismantling our alliance from the inside. If Romeny has taken such a strong hit, imagine what Ghiverny, Delsynth, Shaw, and Hardewold have suffered. Our Alliance must plan together, not flop about like a dying fish on the shore. We will not let this common enemy take us down.
“Write that out, yourselves, in the best language you can. Send it with my personal seal. Two birds to each country. You send the birds yourselves. Rhutgard, you are right. I can no longer trust a single man in this Palace. You will be in charge of planning and I want you to start by finding me new men for my household. And fire that steward. I can lay out my own bloody clothes for a few damn days.”
For the next two days, the Palace was a flurry of activity. Prince Rhutgard and Luvian sent birds that very afternoon and were anxiously awaiting replies, but in wartime, did not expect any for at least a week.
The Prince had sifted through his father’s immediate staff. He admitted personally to Luvian that a number of them were utterly lousy at their jobs, but he would only dismiss them if he believed them to be falsely aligned – disloyal to the Crown. Employment would be scarce enough. Others the Prince sent out of the Palace without even allowing them to pack.
Luvian said nothing but raised an eyebrow at the third dismissal.
“Lieutenant? You have something to say?” the Prince demanded, reading the Luvian’s skeptical expression.
“They’re traitors. I’ve sent them to be with their own kind! They needn’t pack!” huffed the Prince with contempt.
The Prince stared at Luvian for a moment, realizing that Luvian was merely agreeing with him rather than voicing his opinion. “Well, then, out with it, man. What would you do with them?”
“I’d throw all their treacherous arses in the dungeon, all together. Along with two of my best spies, and a couple of guards I trusted. I’d have my guards leak that the torture was just unbearable and the prisoners weren’t surviving long enough to tell the royals anything of use. Then I’d let those bloody traitors start snitching each other out, one by one, like the rats they are.
“But that’s just me, Captain.”
The Prince listened to this suggestion with a mixture of shock and curiosity, as if seeing Luvian for the first time. He nodded slowly. “But Lieutenant, Romeny does not torture prisoners.”
“Maybe we should start. Captain.” Luvian returned his gaze evenly.
The Captain blinked at the rawness of the suggestion, horrified. “My father would never approve such a measure! Nor would I! Lieutenant Luvian, we are talking about the torture of human beings, of deliberately causing terrible, unimaginable, unthinkable pain to our fellow men. And women. Torturing – is strictly forbidden for a reason!” the Prince’s blue eyes were enormous with disgust and loathing at the thought while he berated Luvian.
Luvian waited until the Prince finished his tirade. “I’m sure the women, children, and men of Fairview who were raped, lynched, stabbed repeatedly, beheaded, and burned to death by the Ambsells would agree with you, Sir.”
As this sunk in, the Prince’s narrowed blue eyes fixed upon Luvian with resentment. Luvian decided that very few people spoke to him with such frankness.
Finally, the Prince ask through a clenched jaw, “And what would you have me do, Lieutenant?”
“Open the torture room. You do still have one down there, don’t you?” As the Prince’s eyes grew wide, Luvian held up a placating hand. “I didn’t say use it, I only said open it. That alone will make news. Rats will desert before you can throw them out. Once you start throwing them in cells, either they’ll hang themselves, or give our men information we can use.
“And keep a close watch on your new staff. See if any you entrusted with their positions suddenly sneak out. Have them followed – see where they lead and find out what information they harbor.”
The Prince looked thoughtful. “It will be hard to sneak any of our men past the gates, but it can be done.”
Then he focused on Luvian directly. “I make no promises with the torture room.”
Luvian shrugged. “Just an idea, Sir.”
At the noon day meal, the King asked for a report on his new household staff. The Prince and Luvian glanced at each other. Luvian looked down at his plate.
“I’ve got a plan that will… test the loyalty of all of your staff, Your Majesty. I think it a very good plan. I expect to start tomorrow.” The Prince did not miss a beat as he explained this aloud, though Luvian knew if King Galvin knew what the Prince was really planning, the Prince might find himself locked in the dungeon.
“Excellent,” replied the King around his goblet.
Seconds dribbled by like minutes, and Luvian held his breath. He knew the Prince was holding his own breath, scared that the King would ask for details.
Instead, King Galvin said, “I need a new report from the Treasurer. I have no idea what’s left to spend for Infrastructure, but whatever is left needs to be doubled, tripled. As soon as we get these damned Ambsellon bastards off of our doorstep, we will need to rebuild, and that will cost money. Lumber, steel, iron….”
Both Luvian and the Prince melted with relief.