Authors: S. J. A. Turney
Tags: #Historical, #Fiction, #Rome, #Fantasy, #Generals
“I’ve had enough of this” the big sergeant rumbled in his deep voice. “The kid needs help and he’s got money. We’ve no contract and we need the money.” He waved aside Kiva’s protests and continued. “I agreed never to gainsay you in front of the rest, but I’ve known you far too long to tiptoe around something like this. I know you think I’m a soft touch, but the fact is that I still care about things. You may be bitter and burning with resentment at everything fate’s thrown at you, but you can’t take that out on the innocent. You
you’re cursed, so you make your own misery.” He gestures with his hand open-palmed at the captain, but anger jammed up the words in his throat. With a sigh, he waved the arm dismissively. “Ah, fuck it.”
Athas turned away angrily and raised his arms in irritation, seething silently for a long moment before spinning back round and jabbing his finger at the captain.
“All right, if there’s no soul left there to appeal to, at least wake up and smell the money. If you don’t help that lad, you’re turning down easy cash for the sake of helping yet another petty claimant to the throne and I
you don’t give a fig about
Kiva knocked the sergeant’s hand aside and leaned forward, his face almost touching Athas’ and his voice croaky. “Don’t underestimate the shit I go through each and every waking day and the crap I live with in between. You of all people know why I am what I am. We don’t
bodyguard. We never have. It’s not the way we work. First over the wall and last off the field, remember? We always take it to
Athas reached out gingerly and placed his hand on the shorter man’s shoulder.
“I don’t want to make it difficult, but you know that we’re starting to get a reputation. A lot of the Lords won’t touch us anymore and after tonight, we’re unlikely to be heroes. We’re a unit and you know that not one of us would contemplate leaving; we’ve been together since before the collapse, so you
that. But your whole attitude to battle frankly scares our employers. You’re a risk. We could do with some steady work to help us with funds and maybe even boost our reputation.”
Kiva sighed. “Look, I know we run a lot of risks, but you tend to do that when you fight a war. I won’t do anything the easy way if it means…”
“I know that” Athas interrupted. “Gods, of all people, I know that. All I’m saying is you need to give the boy a break and you need to think of the men. They’ve fought five campaigns this last three months. They need a rest, but we keep getting stitched up over pay, so we can’t afford one and here’s your golden opportunity to do what’s right on both sides. Speak to the boy.”
Kiva sucked air through his teeth, turning over the idea in his mind. “Athas…”
“Speak to him” the big man interjected again.
Athas and Kiva stood little more than a foot apart, a determined look on the sergeant’s face. The captain sighed. In the face of the sergeant’s logic, he was running out of excuses. He folded his arms and exhaled.
“I don’t like it,” he muttered, “but you may be right. Ok, bring him in and I’ll see what he’s got to say.”
Athas nodded and wandered out through the door. Kiva watched through the window as the big man went to the pile of hay and gently shook the other two awake. He spoke for a moment and as Thalo made his way into the main room to sleep among the rest of the company, Athas and the boy made their way into the kitchen. Now that he felt calmer, Kiva noticed as the two entered the large cut down Athas’ arm and the wounds on the boy’s shoulder and leg. He looked up at Athas and gestured to the bench upon which he’d slept. While the two made their way across the kitchen, Kiva leaned through into the main room and looked around. Spotting the company medic next to the cold, burned-out fire, he threw one of the worthless tin coins he seemed to be permanently saddled with across the room and bounced it off the man’s head. The medic sat up, startled, and looked around the room.
“Mercurias, bring your bag into the kitchen.”
The medic followed the sound of the whisper and spotted Kiva standing in the doorway. Muttering miserably, he returned Kiva’s gesture and stood, stretching. The captain made his way back into the kitchen and took a seat on the rickety wooden chair opposite the other two on the bench. Moments later Mercurias entered, his usual sour, miserable look compounded by lack of sleep and a rude awakening.
“What the fuck d’you do that for?”
Kiva pointed at the other two and growled at the medic. “Enough lip. Take the sergeant upstairs and see to that arm. And when you’ve finished, come down and have a look at this lad.”
Still grumbling, the medic turned abruptly and walked out. Athas shrugged at his captain and then followed. A moment later, Kiva was alone with the young man. He looked the lad up and down for a long moment. The stranger made him feel uncomfortable, and he’d felt uncomfortable with no one but himself for so long that the feeling was unpleasant and unwelcome. He cleared his throat.
“Alright, lad” he began. “I’m Kiva Tregaron and these are the Grey Company. Athas and Thalo you’ve met, and the man who’ll be looking at your wounds in a minute is Mercurias. Now you know us, but I don’t know you. If you want any help I want to know who you are, what you’re doing in the middle of a battlefield, who was with you when they all got killed, where you’re going and how much gold you have and are willing to spare.
why you would suggest anything as dumb as you did when we met on the hill.” The captain sat in silence for a moment, and realised the boy was waiting for more. “Go on” he prompted.
The young man slouched slightly.
“Ok, my name’s Quintillian. I’m a scholar from a small off-shore community. I was sent with two colleagues to find an art dealer in Calvion. They knew where we were going and we had with us a cart containing some very rare and beautiful works. We need the money to help support the community. With the constant warring, things have become very expensive, and we don’t deal with the mainland very often. Our elders arrange delivery of what goods we can afford on a twice-yearly basis. We were on our way back to the island when we accidentally stumbled into those men in green. They killed Tomas and Enarion before we could even speak. They put me in a cage because I had gold and I suppose they figured there must be more somewhere. Fortunately the knots on the ropes that held the cage shut were childish and facile. I got them open as soon as it got dark and made my way away from their camp. Good thing, too; I believe they were planning to torture me to find out where I got the money. They took most of what I had on me and you saw what they didn’t take, but most of the gold is hidden in a bush somewhere on the other side of that battlefield. I need to get back to the coast near the city of Velutio and take a boat from there to the colony, and I need someone who can escort myself and the money to there. Before the battle, we had three hundred corona. I suppose I needn’t tell you what that’s worth to us?”
The boy looked up again at Kiva, but the Captain had a far-away look about him, as though he was paying only the slightest of attention. In fact, the boy thought he looked slightly sad; haunted even. He tapped a gold coin on the desk and the Captain focused his attention once more on the conversation.
“Three hundred corona?” he mused. “That’s a lot of money for a scholarly community. How much were you thinking of sparing?”
“A third of it?” the boy suggested with a shrug.
Kiva had been rocking his chair slightly on its rear legs as he listened. Suddenly the chair came down to the floor with a thud.
“A hundred corona?” the captain barked. “That’s crazy. You’d hire an army for that?”
“I don’t need an army, captain. I just need a little help to get home. A hundred corona
a lot of money, but if I take two hundred back to the island, it’ll have been worth it. Without your help none of that money will get back. Do we have a bargain?”
Kiva smiled an unpleasantly predatory smile that the boy thought didn’t suit him.
“What makes you think we won’t just get you a few miles out into the wilderness and gut you for the whole lot?” Kiva asked.
A laugh. Quiet, but with true feeling.
“I don’t think that’s who you or your men are, Captain Tregaron” Quintillian replied. “
that’s who you really are.”
“Knock that off” he spat. “I don’t want any more of your fantastic theories as to my origin. I
know the area round Velutio very well and you’re right. You’d never get back on your own. The Lord of Velutio’s probably the most powerful claimant in the Empire. And he’s not a very nice human being. Less pleasant than me and a lot less forgiving. Ok. You’ve got a deal. We stay here until Celio’s men have cleared the area and stopped patrolling for survivors. Then we’ll go get your money and take you to Velutio.”
The boy nodded at the captain.
“We’ll have to kit you out in some better gear though” Kiva said thoughtfully, tapping his finger on his chin. “Dressed like that you tend to stand out a bit. I’ll ask Athas to sort you some kit; I think we’ve got a few spare tunics here and there. You’d best head upstairs and see Mercurias before you bleed out completely. Get him to send Athas back down here. Oh, and that’s another thing before you go: as long as you travel with us, you’re part of the company. You follow any orders you’re given, whether they’re from me, Athas or any of the others.”
The lad, standing to leave, opened his mouth to object, but Kiva held his hand up.
“That’s the rule” he said with an air of finality. “Think of it as for your own good. If we give you orders it’s because we all rely on those orders for our survival. Also, it’s because you’re going to
one of the company as far as any outsider knows. If you don’t like the rules, feel free to piss off and find another unit.”
Quintillian stopped and then smiled as he turned back and made his way to the stairs.
“Aye, captain” he said with a grin.
Kiva sat in the dark and silent room, grumbling to himself. It was more money than the Grey Company had made the entire last year, and it’d only take a month at most to get him to Velutio. It was good business sense, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that the lad was going to be trouble and he was starting to get very edgy and fidgety. The first ray of sunlight appeared at the window, with a shaft of light that fell across the ceiling by the window. Kiva rose and paced back and forth for a moment.
He stopped and idly examined a large kitchen knife on one of the cupboards for a moment, before growling and storming across to the door. He was about to call upstairs for Athas, when he saw the bulky southerner turn the corner at the top on his way down. He was holding his arm gingerly and, as he reached the bottom and was more clearly visible in the pool of light from the kitchen’s lamp, Kiva could see the fresh stitch marks on his arm. They were not very neat. Mercurias really
in a bad mood. He gestured impatiently toward the kitchen and followed Athas inside and to the seats by the table.
“I’m very uncomfortable with this” he reiterated. “I’ve agreed to take the job on but I’m very uncomfortable, and not for the reasons you think. D’you notice anything familiar about the lad?”
Athas shook his head, blankly. “Nothing particular. Why?”
Kiva leaned heavily across the table and grasped Athas’ shoulders, pulling him close. The sergeant winced as the stitches pulled. Kiva ignored the look and gritted his teeth.
“I noticed it almost immediately” he whispered. “He looks so like his uncle it’s untrue.”
“His uncle? Who do…”
Athas tailed off and slapped the side of his head in irritation.
“It’s true. He even talks like the Emperor.”
Kiva motioned for quiet with his hands.
“Don’t use that word” he replied. “It’s dangerous around the wrong ears. Anyway, I don’t think he knows anything about his uncle. He’s got to have been a newborn when Quintus died. He looks like him; he sounds like him; he’s a scholar from Velutio. Hell, he said it was an offshore community, so I’ll bet they’re even on the Imperial Island. And he called me Caerdin, so he knows his history.”