Authors: S. J. A. Turney
Tags: #Historical, #Fiction, #Rome, #Fantasy, #Generals
Favio shook his head. “You’re a strong man, general, but even you can’t make it that long. If you lie very still you might make it past a month, but if you walk and ride you’ll be dead in days I reckon. It’ll only take the one wrong move that jars that little shard on your liver and you’ll be gone in minutes. What happened today was just a scratch. Put a hole in your liver and this’ll seem like a little headache.”
Kiva growled. “I need at least a week.”
Favio nodded. “Well you’d best start praying then.”
Without looking any longer at the general, Favio turned and strode from the tent. Kiva growled gently. He’d survived a duel to the death, twenty years of war and a crucifixion. He damn well wasn’t going to lie down and accept this when there was still something to be done. And as for prayers…”
He ignored the sharp pains and pulled himself upright in bed, checking to make sure he didn’t leak once he’d done so.
He sat for a few minutes mulling things over. The plan was finally falling together and there were just a few things left to work out, but he had to make it until the armies met or it was all for nothing. He continued to turn aspects of it over in his mind until sergeant Cialo, now wearing the uniform of a rebel captain, strode in and saluted.
“Cialo,” the general smiled. “Sit down man. I need to discuss a couple of things.”
The veteran nodded and took the seat by the bed, leaning forward.
“I assume you want my report sir?” As the general nodded, he went on, unravelling a piece of parchment he’d drawn from his pocket and placing it in the general’s hands. “As complete a list of the lords in Velutio’s army as I could manage. There’s probably names missing, but nearly all of it’s there.”
Kiva nodded once more.
“And there are a number of lords among them who’re verging on walking out anyway. We’ve done our best to sow disaffection among them but, to be honest, commander Sabian’s doing that for us and far better than we ever could. There’s been some kind of rift between him and Velutio and I can’t for the life of me think why Sabian’s still serving him. I heard that they had two hundred and eight deserters in one night just before I left.”
“Good,” the general replied. “I hear you’ve brought more men with you. I’m going to have a very special job for you all when we meet Velutio in a week or so.”
Cialo frowned. “Not another spy job, sir? We can’t really…”
Kiva shook his head and interrupted. “This is more important. I can’t tell you about it yet, but it’ll keep you off the battlefield and out of the action, and it’s absolutely crucial if we want to bring this to a satisfactory end.”
Cialo continued to frown, but nodded. “If that’s the case, I’m your man sir.”
Kiva nodded with a smile. “I’ll talk to you further in a day or two. In the meantime, I hear Balo outside and I need to speak to him.”
Cialo stood and saluted before turning and walking out of the tent. Kiva watched him go with some satisfaction. There had to be something said for their cause if it drew the men of morals and values away from the enemy side. He was still smiling curiously when Balo entered.
“That’s a funny smile Kiva. What’s so amusing?”
“Oh, nothing” the general smiled. “It still hits me every now and then that we’re doing something great, positive and worthwhile. I spent so long being worthless that it feels odd. And it’s all the doing of a young blond lad who changed everything. Or maybe just me.”
“Did you bring me here to listen to you being soppy and feeling sorry for yourself, Kiva or for something else?”
The general looked up sharply, but Balo appeared to be grinning, insofar as he appeared to be permanently grinning anyway.
“Balo, I’m dying. Pretty quickly according to Favio.”
Balo nodded. “I’ve as much as told you so myself. It’s shit, but it’ll come to all of us in the end, and I don’t think I’ll be all that far behind you.”
“I need you to do something for me.”
Ten minutes later, Balo left the command tent, his finger pressed against his lip in thought. ‘Let’s hope the Gods are with us’ he muttered to himself as he made his way back down to the camp proper.
Favio growled up at the general. “You’re an idiot, Caerdin. You’ll be dead before the sun sets.”
Kiva smiled in return from the back of his horse as he settled deeper into the saddle with a small grunt of discomfort. The ridiculous harness that Balo and Favio’d come up with to prevent too much damage coming to him as a result of the horse’s motion was heavy and cumbersome and resulted in more than a little pressure in the lower back. Balo leaned over from his own horse and helped the general wrench one side of the contraption back into a more comfortable position. Behind them the newly-commissioned Captain Cialo of the Ninth sat uncomfortably astride a horse of his own. None of the three wore uniform, though Balo hadn’t yet touched one anyway. The three men were in rough travelling leathers, with their swords buckled at their sides and a full day’s rations attached to their saddle. A fourth horse was brought forward and the reins handed to the doctor.
“Favio, I don’t care what you need to do. Keep me going. If I die before I’m ready, I’ll be haunting the shit out of you from now until the end of time.”
A gentle voice called from the tent flap behind the doctor as Minister Sarios stepped into the open air. “Favio, whatever Kiva needs to do is more important than anything else right now. Do as he says. Keep him alive, even if you have to poison him to do it.”
The general nodded in recognition to the old minister and watched with barely concealed amusement as Favio slowly and clumsily mounted the horse.
“I’m not good with horses,” the man grumbled. “Never had to ride much on an island you could walk across in five or ten minutes.”
Kiva turned away from the amusing scene and looked down at the aging minister. “Sarios. Keep an eye on Darius for me. This is all going to come to a head in a few days and he needs to stay controlled and Imperial. He doesn’t have to command; Tythias can do that; but he damn well needs to look in control. If he continues to
the Emperor, the army will do anything he asks.” Turning back to Favio once the man was finally in the saddle, he smiled. “Come on. We’ve got to get gone as soon as possible.”
The four riders, with varying degrees of skill, began to walk their horses down the gentle slope and toward the gate of the temporary camp where the army had bedded down late last night. The actual fortifications were not of the traditional ditch, mound and palisade variety. With an army of fourteen or fifteen thousand combatants and all their varied support, the camp was massive and would have taken a day or more to build. Instead, a ‘hedge’ of giant caltrops had been placed around the camp, formed from the sharpened stakes carried by each soldier and also among the supply wagons. Soldiers patrolled at very regular intervals and each gate was under the control of a guard of ten men. The gatekeepers glanced up to see their commanding officer approaching, along with three peripheral members of the staff and hurriedly pulled the gate open. Kiva reined in his horse.
“I thought you were all given orders to challenge anyone passing in or out of the camp, sergeant!”
The sergeant, ruddy faced and out of breath saluted.
“Sir. Yes, sir. But you’re the general sir, travelling with a captain and one of the Imperial court, sir.”
Kiva growled. “No fucking excuse. When you receive orders, you follow them, sergeant. They’re orders, not suggestions.” He turned to the man who stood next to him. “You, soldier. You’ve just made sergeant. Take control of the gate duty and send this man to Prefect Tythias for disciplining.”
Next to Kiva, Favio grumbled. “You
be thinking of having him punished for that!”
“Can’t I, doctor? The man’s not going to be hurt, but I doubt he’ll make sergeant again and Tythias will want a few choice words with him.”
He looked down at the dumbstruck sergeant. “Go!”
The former sergeant handed his helmet with the insignia crest over to the man the general had indicated and, turning, marched speedily away up the hill toward the command centre. Kiva nodded and looked down at the new sergeant.
“I trust you’ll remember to follow your orders?”
The man swallowed noisily and then saluted before gesturing to his men. The unit fell in, blocking the gateway with their spears.
“Password?” he demanded of the four riders.
“Stadium,” announced the general and waited for the men to unblock the gate.
“Pass, friend” the sergeant called with another salute. Kiva nodded and began to walk his horse once more, passing out of the camp. Favio was still muttering under his breath and his brows met in the centre as he pondered on the military mentality. With a quick glance at the doctor, Kiva looked across at Cialo.
“You were a sergeant until very recently, Cialo. What would
have done with him?”
Cialo shrugged. “Frankly, I’d have had him beaten by his comrades for putting them and the camp in danger. That’s what we used to do in the old days.”
Favio glanced up briefly and then resumed his grumbling. Kiva nodded. “I agree. I’d have done that in the old days and, all being well, it’ll be like that again. Discipline, Favio, is of utmost importance in the army. Without it, you can’t rely on the man next to you. Everyone has to be totally trustworthy and reliable or none of it works. Things are a little different right now, but that’s because we’re only a few days away from a battle that surpasses anything any of us have ever seen. A little leeway is required right now unless we want to risk the same kind of dissatisfaction and desertion as Velutio’s seeing.”
Favio grunted. “And why check people
the camp anyway?”
Kiva smiled. “We’ve had spies in
camp and you can be sure they’ve done the same. If everyone’s challenged going in or out, we’ve more chance of controlling things.”
“Huh.” Favio returned his gaze to the floor.
Balo glanced back over his shoulder and, noting the increasing distance between them and the gate, cleared his throat.
“Now that we’re out of there, Kiva, would you kindly explain where we’re going? I saw Tythias’ face this morning and he didn’t look happy. Why’ve we got rations for a full day and why aren’t you two in uniform?”
Kiva smiled and Balo rolled his eyes. The general was still worryingly pale and winced almost every time he moved. Despite what he’d heard of Favio’s good reputation round the camp, he didn’t imagine that even the Gods could keep Caerdin upright for many more days. The general gestured to the two behind to join them and the four quickly pulled into a line, riding alongside each other over the grassy slopes and down toward the distant sea.
“I need to scout out the land ahead of us. I’m looking for specific things in a site for battle and I think I know where it needs to be, but I want to be absolutely sure and you and Cialo both need to know it in advance. Favio, I’m afraid that you’ve become my personal physician for the next few days or, in fact, for the rest of my life; whichever comes soonest.”
More grumbling ensued from the doctor while Cialo and Balo exchanged worried glances. Balo cleared his throat.
“Everyone will be wondering what you’re up to Kiva, spending all your time with Cialo, Favio and me. You’re their general. You should be with the commanders.”
“I will be after today,” Caerdin replied. “But I need to set certain things in motion first, or it’ll just come down to numbers and bloodshed.”
They rode for some time in silence before the turncoat captain began a marching song from the old days that soon brought on all four voices.