Authors: S. J. A. Turney
Tags: #Historical, #Fiction, #Rome, #Fantasy, #Generals
“My father wants me to learn how to protect our lands,” he lied, “rather than just reading about them. He’s signed me over to the captain for a year to train me. Paid him quite well I thought.”
“Ha!” Tythias laughed. “Should’ve come to a
unit instead of these jokers.”
“He’s not particularly a natural,” he admitted blandly, “but we’ll make a mean-spirited killer of him yet. Why d’you think we leave him in the company of this miserable old bastard” he added, gesturing at the medic.
Mercurias reached up and tugged on Tythias’ sleeve. As the two of them entered into a deep conversation filled with insults, Quintillian took the chance to stand and move close enough to Kiva to be heard quietly.
“Captain,” he said in a low whisper. “I need to talk to you privately.”
Kiva shook his head and slugged down the rest of his mug of drink before leaning forward and returning the whisper.
“No time tonight. Not with Tythias’ lot here. We’ll have to grab your armour from the smith and head out early tomorrow as well. We’ve got to change our route now, cos Tythias’ll be heading that way and I don’t want him to get in the way. I was never all that happy about going through Velutio anyway. Too much trouble there. If you really need to talk, it’ll have to be when we’re away from here.”
Quintillian nodded and returned to his seat, deep in thought. How was the captain intending to get them onto the island without going through Velutio? Tomas was the only one who knew the way through the reefs and he was dead. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kiva stop on the way to the bar, wincing and leaning on a table with his mug in one hand. The captain looked around to make sure his moment of weakness had gone unnoticed and spotted only Quintillian watching. Straightening, he pulled out the flask of Mare’s mead and took a large pull on the thing before he reached the bar and bought another drink.
Something in Quintillian’s considerable memory clicked into place for just a moment and the lad made his excuses to Mercurias and Tythias, neither of whom were paying him any attention anyway, and approached the bar. The innkeeper, having just served Kiva his drink, wandered down the serving table and reached Quintillian.
“Do you have a back room that I could use to read in?” the lad enquired. “A storeroom would be fine if there’s light.”
The barman looked him up and down.
“Septimus of the grey company, yes?” Without waiting for confirmation, the innkeeper pointed to a doorway. “You’ve all got accommodation upstairs. Any one of the first four rooms. Help yourself.”
Quintillian smiled gratefully and, turning, pounded up the stairs to the room. As he disappeared into the next floor, Mercurias cast a glance up the stairs after him and frowned. The first door opened into a comfortable room with three beds warmed by a brazier and lit by candles. The boy approached the small table near the window and gathered several candles together to light the table’s surface, upon which he laid Carso’s history. So Carso wrote crap did he?
Feverishly, Quintillian flicked through the book, looking for something. It had been a long time since he’d read some of these chapters, but if he could just find those few words, he was sure it was what he wanted to know. Forward and back he flicked, scanning the pages and the section headings until he finally lit on the correct chapter.
Here it was: “The Death of Wolves”. He only vaguely remembered it, but some of the events tied up too well for it to be falsehood. He pored over the first page, documenting the few actions the Wolves took an active part in after the death of his uncle. He continued over the other pages and then… There. The death of the Caerdin. Two of the Lords had been fighting over the lands near Serfium and the campaign had ended with the Lord of Velutio, chief claimant to the throne, ordering the destruction of lands and the burning of properties. Caerdin’s own villa had been put to the torch with his wife and family and all their servants trapped inside. Her name had been Livilla and she’d been related to the Imperial house. A beauty by all accounts and, in a revelation that threatened to make Quintillian laugh out loud, a distant relation of his. That would make Kiva a distant relation by marriage. He smiled for a moment and wondered how he might broach the subject with the captain. Probably best not to. He didn’t want to reveal too much and he was damn sure that neither did the captain. After all, that would be the most delicate of subjects: his wife and children.
Returning to the text, he flicked quickly through the next couple of pages which told of the revenge of Kiva Caerdin on the men who were responsible for his family’s death. Even in the graceful and objective tones of Carso, Quintillian saw horror and violence on a hitherto undreamed-of scale. Caerdin had not been kind. Not merciful. In fact, barely human in his quest for blood. There was a reference to a duel with the Lord of Velutio in which Caerdin was badly wounded. Would this be the same Lord Velutio now, or his son? Despite all his time on the island, Quintillian had never seen the man and knew precious little about him.
It was after this revenge was enacted that Caerdin disappeared from history. There was no mention of him or the Wolves from then on. Closing the book, Quintillian cradled his chin in his hands and stared out of the room’s window into the night sky behind the inn.
“I presume that’s why he doesn’t want us to go through Velutio then.”
A voice behind him spoke quietly.
“I told you not to take them as gospel.”
Quintillian turned to see the medic standing in the middle of the room. Dear Gods’ the man was quiet! The lad hadn’t heard him climb the stairs or open the door.
“What d’you mean?” he asked the medic.
“I told you it’s crap” the man replied. “Oh a lot of the facts are there, but not the meaning or the heart. It’s not enough just to know what happened without knowing why; causes and consequences.”
Quintillian scraped his chair back so that it faced into the room while the medic dumped his pack under one of the beds. He then sat on it and frowned. Quintillian coughed.
“Then why don’t you tell me?” he asked. “You know I’m going to find out anyway. Better to have the truth of it from his close companions than to misread something.”
Mercurias shook his head.
“No. It’s not my story to tell” he said firmly. “The only person who’ll be able to tell you it all is the captain, and he won’t do it unless he thinks you need or deserve to know. The only way you’re going to ever get any deeper with the captain is if you come clean with him completely. Tell him everything you know and all of your suspicions. Then he might feel remotely inclined to discuss some of this with you.”
“Are there actually people out there in the world who
want to kill him?” he asked.
The medic grinned.
“You met Tythias” he laughed. “
“Ah but they have in the past, haven’t they” Quintillian replied. “You’re not always on the same side. The captain shot at him last year, I heard.”
Mercurias shook his head sympathetically.
“Don’t be daft boy” he said. “Kiva’s not the best archer in the world, I’ll admit, but even a blind man with the shakes would be able to hit Tythias from around eight feet. Tythias is old school; one of the better officers from before the fall. I remember him in a Prefect’s uniform. He fought alongside the Wolves in the days it all made sense. No one in the company would ever try to get rid of him. Athas dotes on him.”
He patted Quintillian on the shoulder.
“It’s the Lords that are the problem, begging the pardon of your humble Imperial blood. The Lords’ll tear the world apart for their own greed. It’s just there’s no alternative for us these days. The common soldiers who hail from the pre-downfall army are all comrades of old and a lot of them remember that.”
He leaned back and slumped onto the bed.
“Except in Velutio of course.”
The sun was starting to project some heat at last. It had floated, watery, above the horizon for perhaps an hour and the Grey Company had been on the road an hour before that, leaving Tythias and his unit slumbering in the inn. Last night Mercurias had collapsed into a heavy sleep early, leaving Quintillian to read his text. The rest of the company had barged noisily up the stairs some time after midnight, finding their rooms while Tythias’ men made their way to the bunk room at the end of the floor. Almost an hour after the unit had succumbed to sleep, Quintillian had closed his book and, pushing back the chair, stood to retire, when some sixth sense made him glance out of the window. The solitary figure of Kiva could be seen walking slowly around the yard behind the Inn. The Captain had spoken little when the unit arose this morning and remained quiet and detached all through the march.
Athas had taken charge of the unit today and had announced a breakfast halt a few minutes ago, once he’d spied a grassy hollow by the side of the road. The dip was comfortable, with a higher ridge around the edge scattered with crooked rocks that formed an excellent defensive line. The company sat around the dell digging deep into packs for their dried beef and pork rations and the bread and cheese purchased from ‘The Rapture’. Kiva, less companionable even than usual, sat on guard by a large rock near the road. Quintillian laid down his kit, taking great care to prop his new blade against a tree. Turning, he stretched his shoulders, wincing at the weight and discomfort of the metal plates and leather jerkin that chafed between his shoulder blades. Athas had taken him to collect his armour while it was still dark and had helped him in to the heavy plated tunic. He
feel more like a soldier now, but it would be a long time before he could wear the heavily armoured tunic with as much ease as the others. Throwing his arms out to his side, he wandered around the edge of the dell until he reached the captain, who spoke without even turning.
“Now’s not a good time, Septimus.”
Quintillian frowned. It would take a long time for him to get used to a different name. He’d assumed the pseudonym would vanish once the unit were alone again, but no one had called him by his real name this morning. He gritted his teeth. There was never a good time with this man. He continued to walk until he reached the rock, where he turned and faced the captain. Aware as always of the difference in the way he was treated compared with the easy familiarity between the others, he attempted to adopt a more relaxed and professional attitude in front of the older man. He leaned back against a tree trunk and pulled a piece of dried blood sausage from his pouch. He’d never have believed people would eat such a thing when he was on the island. The sausage was bitter and thick and cloying and Quintillian had to struggle not to gag, though he was proud of the way he was now managing to take these discomforts in his stride. He looked up at the captain as he swallowed the mouthful and fixed him with a steady look.
“Captain,” he began. “I don’t think you’ll ever find the time. Frankly, although I realise that everyone thinks I’m spoilt, I’m the one who’s trying to clear things here. I think you need to start to speak to me as an equal. The amount of money I paid for your company at least deserves that, doesn’t it?”
Kiva raised an eyebrow.
“You want me to treat you like an equal, hmm?” the older man replied. “I can treat you like an adult, true, but don’t try suggesting to me that we’re equals in any way. You and I have nothing in common, lad. I’m not saying that I’m a better man; In fact I damn well know I’m not, but we’re far from equal.”
There was a moment of silence and Kiva gestured with his palm.
“You wanted to speak to me?” the captain relented with a distant look in his eye. “Speak.”
Quintillian sighed. The captain may well be the most infuriating man he’d ever met. How could Caerdin manage to make him feel so small and petulant when he
he was in the right? There was nothing for it now but to plunge in headfirst.
“Captain, are we safe enough from prying ears to talk? I don’t mean the unit, but we can move away from them too if you wish. I think you might want to.”