From Copper to Crown
Many miles west of Tothmor lay the encampment of the Order. It was located close to the border to Adalrik and the jarldom of Ingmond, near one of the tributaries of the river Sureste to ensure fresh water. Serving as winter quarters for the army, the camp was well situated on elevated terrain and fortified on all sides by palisades. The open landscape meant that the sentinels had an unobstructed view of their surroundings, and sharp vigil was kept; the Order army counted only two thousand soldiers and three hundred knights, and they were outnumbered by nearly five times as many outlanders in all of Hæthiod.
Inside the defences, the camp was laid out in the typical disciplined fashion of the Order. The commanders’ tents lay one in each half of the camp as was the custom, and all the tents belonging to the soldiers and knights were placed in even rows, allowing quick movement down the paths and preventing disorder. One section of the camp served as rudimentary stables for the many horses of the army as well as a small number of cattle, and another had a collection of workmen. There were several smiths to maintain both weapons and armour but also to shoe the horses, replace tent pegs and nails, butchers and bakers to keep the soldiers fed, tanners to make leather and cobblers to turn it into boots, and many other occupations. In short, the camp was a small town of its own, nearly self-sufficient in every way except one; no women were allowed inside the palisades.
From the heath, appearing from the east, a man came walking. He was of ordinary height, clad in a traveller’s cape and hat; a staff in his hand gave him support as he strode forward. He was still more than thirty paces from the gate, but well within the range of arrows, when the guards hailed him.
“Who goes there?”
“Just a traveller,” came the reply. “I bring news of the outlanders that I thought your captains might wish to hear.”
The guard who had spoken looked at his comrade. “You ever heard of that before?”
The other shrugged. “Got to be a first time for everything.”
“Can we let him in though? What if he’s a spy?”
“Then I reckon they’ll hang him.”
“Right,” the first guard nodded contemplatively. “So that’s more his problem than ours.”
“I’d wager so.”
“What kind of news?” the sentinel shouted over the palisade.
“A column of outlander soldiers travelling to Tothmor, bringing supplies. An obvious target,” the traveller explained, “though if we wait too long, they will reach the safety of Tothmor before you can act.”
“You got any weapons on you?”
“A sword, that is all.”
“This is really unusual,” the first guard remarked to the other. “I’ve never had this happen before. Should we let him in? If he’s telling the truth.”
“Let the lieutenant’s thanes decide,” the second guard recommended.
“Right, right, make it their problem. Open the gate,” he called down. “You can enter,” he shouted to the wayfarer, “but any sign of trouble, you’re done for.”
“Much obliged,” Godfrey muttered and walked forward to enter the Order camp.
One of the larger tents in the southern part of the camp belonged to the first lieutenant. Apart from the typical necessities that a knight and his sergeant might require on campaign, it contained a few additions. Curiously, the customary map with troop placements was in this tent rather than the one belonging to the captain of the army. There were also a few stools and other pieces of primitive furniture. Baldwin and Matthew, squire and sergeant to the commanders, respectively, were using it while playing chess; Egil, apprentice to the King’s Quill, was watching and occasionally commenting on the game.
“It does not matter how many cunning plans you make, Brand,” declared the captain. He was in his early thirties, average of height and appearance. His expression revealed little about him, but his voice was calm and hinted of a man self-assured and poised. “You will not be able to lure the outlanders into open battle while winter lasts. And after that, we will need reinforcements to stand a chance against them.”
“You wound me, William, with your quick dismissal,” replied the lieutenant. He was much taller than his superior, though this was less obvious as they were both sitting down. There was a tone of gentle mocking in his voice accompanied by a sardonic smile on his face. “If we appear vulnerable, would they not march out to seize the opportunity and destroy us?”
“We would not only appear vulnerable,” William retorted brusquely, “that would be the very truth. If we move against Lakon, even if we should miraculously take the city, an army twice our size would march against us from Tothmor. Whether on open field or through siege, they would destroy us.”
“We need to act,” Brand claimed. “Any forces they have withdrawn beyond the Langstan will surely return as soon as it is spring. If our situation is pressed now, it will be doubly so by that time.”
“I will grant that we must assume their armies to grow in size,” the captain admitted. “All the more reason we must repeat our requests for reinforcements.”
“From where?” asked the lieutenant. “The Order has no further soldiers to spare and no lord marshal to expand our numbers. The jarls of Adalrik? They are too busy fighting each other. We are a stone’s throw from Ingmond, but we have not received the least aid from there.”
“Because the jarl hates you,” squeaked Matthew from the other end of the tent, looking up from his game of chess.
“Thank you, Matthew, that was necessary to point out,” Brand muttered, and his sergeant looked away. He was about to speak again when commotion outside the tent caught the attention of everyone.
Sometimes, an Order commander would surround himself with a personal retinue of the best warriors in his army; in battle, they served both to guard him and to act as a final resort, the last troops to send into the fight should it be going ill. In this way, they fulfilled much the same purpose as the thanes of a nobleman. While having such a retinue typically applied to the captain of an Order army, in this case it was the first lieutenant who always surrounded himself with a select few warriors when riding out to survey the area or the few times he had personally engaged in skirmishes with outlander patrols; when in camp, they were also the only ones to guard his tent. Because of this, the common soldiers referred to the lieutenant’s attendants as his thanes, and during the day, these warriors could always be found circled around a fire outside their master’s tent. One among their number stood out, however, being armed not with blade or bow but rather a lute.
“Himil’s balls, can’t you play something else,” exclaimed Geberic. The former sergeant to the jarl of Theodstan put down the knife and whetstone in his hands. “Listening to that bloody Sorrow is giving me a headache.”
“It’s the only one I know well,” Troy defended himself. “But I have been practising another.” He strummed his instrument a few times.
“I like it,” Nicholas interjected. “Have you ever played it for Sir Adalbrand? He is dragonborn too, he might enjoy it.”
“I hadn’t thought about it,” the bard explained. “To be honest, I thought more would be happening here. There would be battles and that sort.”
“Welcome to war,” Geberic laughed coarsely. “It is one month of waiting for every day of fighting.”
“Not always during a siege,” Troy mumbled, which ended the laughter.
“Was it a bad one?” asked Quentin. The grim-faced archer sat inspecting the fletching of his arrows, but he looked up as he asked the question.
“It’s the only siege I have experienced,” Troy began to say. “I can’t compare. It seemed bad to me. Too bad that I want to sing about it.”
“Don’t worry,” Geberic told him with an encouraging tone of voice. “When it comes to war, Lord Adalbrand is one of those people you give a copper petty, he’ll turn it into a gold crown.”
“Wouldn’t mind some coin,” Troy spoke with a half-hearted grin. “Even if there’s little to spend it on here.”
“Don’t you have a king for a patron?” Nicholas asked. “You won’t find sympathy here for your empty purse.”
“I suppose some call him king,” the bard admitted reluctantly. “But if you knew Leander, you’d cry rivers of tears for my plight.”
“Playing that lute makes me cry,” Geberic muttered, eliciting laughter.
“If you need coin, just promise for a few petties you won’t play,” Quentin snorted. “You’ll be the only bard in the realms paid not to play.”
“If this is how I am appreciated,” Troy retorted with an offended expression, “I am sure there are plenty of other campfires where they would be grateful for my presence.” He made as if to stand up and leave.
“Peace, peace,” Geberic told him. “Play that new song you have been practising, and I’ll make a share of my meal tonight for you.”
Mollified, Troy prepared his lute, but he did not have time to begin before he was interrupted. One of the sentinels posted at the gate appeared, accompanied by a traveller. As everyone looked at the newcomers, Troy’s eyes widened. “You! Geoffrey!”
“You know this fellow?” asked the guard. “He came up to camp and claimed he had important information for the commander.”
With all eyes turned towards him, Troy’s reply came haltingly. “Kind of. We met in Tothmor. I mean, he’s not a bad sort.”
“If I can be allowed to speak with your captain, I can also explain my presence and purpose here,” Godfrey told them.
“We’re not in the habit of letting anyone just walk up and get entrance,” Geberic declared, standing up.
“In any case, that’s for you to decide. I’ve done my part,” the guard from the gate told them and turned around abruptly, walking away.
“I bring valuable intelligence about the outlanders,” Godfrey claimed. “Your captain will want to know.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Geberic retorted with a brusque voice. He stood, his eyes glancing between the traveller and the other men. “You got any weapons on you?”
“My sword,” Godfrey replied and unbuckled his belt, extending it towards the other man.
Reaching to take hold of belt and scabbard, Geberic nodded slowly. “Fine. Nicholas, tell the lieutenant.” The archer got up and entered the tent first. “You enter next,” Geberic told Godfrey. “I warn you. Take one step too close to the lieutenant or captain, and I’ll gut you like a fish.”
“Consider me warned,” Godfrey smiled and stepped inside the tent, followed closely by Geberic.
Once inside, Godfrey’s eyes quickly swept across those present, from the boys in one end to the men in the other. His face remained expressionless as his gaze passed over Egil, and he turned his attention towards the knight, inclining his head in greeting.
“This man claims to have information for you, milord,” Geberic told them.
“And who might you be?” asked Brand, frowning.
“My name is Godfrey,” came the response. “Just an ordinary traveller.”
“Travelling in lands held by the enemy, swarming with their troops,” William pointed out, leaning forward.
“The reason why I snuck out of Lakon and why I am travelling west,” Godfrey explained. “Before I left, however, I saw something of great interest. The outlanders were preparing a supply train for Tothmor. Arms, provisions, great barrels of water, and what else the city might need.”
“How do you know it was headed for Tothmor?” asked William sharply.
“Where else would they send it?” Godfrey replied.
“How long ago?” Brand’s eyes were no longer on the traveller but on the map.
“I left Lakon two days ago, as did the supply train.”
“You reached our camp in two days from Lakon?” William questioned with raised eyebrows.
“I assumed time was of the essence.”
“How did you know where to find our camp?” William asked next.
“It is no secret that there is an Order army in Hæthiod. I walked in the direction of the river, knowing you would want to camp near fresh water,” Godfrey elaborated, “until I saw your camp.”
“What manner of guard do they travel with?” Brand asked.
“About a hundred men on foot.”
The lieutenant’s attention had been on the map, his brow furrowed in thought, but now he raised his head in sharp movement. “We appreciate your news. For now, you will have to remain in our camp under restraints until we can confirm you are reliable.”
“I expected nothing else,” Godfrey assented. “I only ask you take good care of my sword meanwhile. It is my most valued possession.”
Brand did not reply other than nodding at Geberic, who placed Godfrey’s belt and scabbard inside the tent. “Place him under lock,” he ordered.
“Though show him courtesy,” William added. “He is not a criminal.”
Geberic nodded and took hold of Godfrey, escorting him out.
“We should dispatch scouts at once to track this convoy down,” Brand pointed out, to which his captain nodded.
“Baldwin, see to it,” William told his squire, who complied and left the tent. “If this intelligence is solid?” he continued, looking at Brand.
“I will take fifty knights and ride out tomorrow,” the lieutenant declared. “Meet the scouts and destroy the train.”
“I’ll make sure our horses and equipment is ready,” Matthew interjected.
“Just mine,” Brand corrected him. “You stay behind in camp.”
“If it is a trap?” William asked.
“If any force too great for fifty knights to handle is this close to our camp, our patrols would have discovered them by now,” Brand said calmly. “Just keep that traveller safely under watch. Something about him seemed suspicious. A guarded behaviour,” the lieutenant frowned. “If he is a spy for the outlanders, we do not want him returning to them with accurate knowledge of our numbers.” In the other side of the tent, Egil said nothing.
Some activity ensued in the camp, as scouts quickly readied themselves and rode out while the chosen knights prepared to do the same the next day. Most sections of the encampment were quiet with only the usual chores and duties being carried out, though. In the evening, the butcher found himself in unusual company; he was busy hacking a pig into pieces when he looked up and ceased any movement. “Sir,” he stammered upon seeing Brand standing in his tent.
The lieutenant wrinkled his nose at the overpowering smell of dead animals. “I have a task for you.”
“Of course, sir,” the butcher was quick to reply.
“I need some twenty pieces of meat, each no bigger than a thumb nail,” Brand explained.
“Twenty pieces, size of a thumb nail. I do not care what animal they are from, but it must not be cured. Surely this is within your capabilities?” Brand glanced around the tent at the various slabs of meat.
“Of course, sir,” the butcher responded with a confused look.
“Put the pieces in a small leather bag once you have chopped them,” the knight continued his instructions. “Remember, they must not be cured in any way. Do not let the night frost touch them either. I shall require them tomorrow morning.”
“Very good, sir,” the butcher said, “but it will start to rot very soon.”
“I expect as much,” Brand simply replied and left.
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Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; certain tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.