Category: Confluence of Swords
Published: Tuesday, 06 February 2018 21:20
Written by Super User
“Are you ready, my King?” Aramas asked.
“Not yet. There looks to be less of them today than there was last night,” Bray noted. He was looking out on the throne room through a peep hole in the door of a side chamber.
“The Bernadice guests have left.”
“Last night I believe. I learned of it this morning.”
“Am I to understand they are distancing themselves from Nadia?”
“Perhaps they simply returned to Bernadice to seek council. It was the Prince and Princess who were here. The King did not attend.”
“Was there bad blood between Bernadice's king and my uncle?”
“Not that I am aware of. But that is a question for Barimus.”
“Who is Barimus that he would have such information?”
“He is the Nadian Spymaster, my King. There are others who will tell you of the politics between the two cities, but Barimus will know Bernadice’s true feeling towards Nadia. He was Artan's right-hand man.”
“Should I trust him, if he was close to my uncle?”
“He was one of the people who swore fealty to you last night.”
“I think you should trust no one until they prove themselves to you,” Lee added as she came up behind them. “Fealty oaths are only as true as the heart behind them.”
“I will walk softly, Lee. Do not fear. Did you sleep well?”
“No. The bed was too soft, and the room to stuffy, much like the people I see. Be careful who you trust, Bray. I dislike this place.”
“How can you say that?” Aramas blurted. “Nadia is the jewel of the north. There has never been a finer city. If your room is uncomfortable, I can have a Traveller's wagon brought to the garden and you can sleep there.”
“Easy Aramas, she means no disrespect, and I appreciate her candour.”
“Yes, my King,” Aramas answered, dipping his head in respect.
“I suppose you have to call me that now. Try not to overuse it. I need truth more than respect, and hopefully that is what I will get from these people. Does it look like all the commanders of the army and navy are present?” Bray moved away from the door to allow Aramas use of the peep hole.
“I believe so, my ... King.”
“Do they always dress so finely?” Lee asked after taking a moment at the peep hole.
“Yes, they are men of authority and have to display their station.”
“Do you think they wear those uniforms in battle?” Lee said.
“I hope not, but your questions bring another to mind. Aramas, has Nadia fought any battles or even skirmishes recently?”
“No, we have been at peace since your Grandfather defeated the old king of Bernadice and put one of your relatives on the throne. He was only thirty when he won that battle. That tapestry on the far left depicts the victory.”
“How about the navy? Are there many pirates on North Lake?”
“None that I know of. There was one when I was a page. He was captured and hung in the harbour. Your father did that. That tapestry use to hang on the far wall. It seems to have been removed. Should I try to find it and have it rehung?”
“No, we have more important matters to attend to. After the commanders leave, I would like to see the Spymaster. You can arrange that. Tomorrow I will inspect the army and walk the walls. Now let us go in.”
The next morning all six commanders paraded a select company of their men for the King's review. The commanders had wanted the review to be held in the court yard in front of the castle, but Bray had a different idea. He insisted on using the practice yard by the barracks. Even on the practice yard, the parade was a pretty affair. Each company was led by an honour guard carrying the unit's flag and a Nadian banner. Their uniforms were immaculate as far as Bray could see from his position on the platform. The ends of their pikes, the handles of their swords, and the buckles of the belts that crossed their chests all sparkled in the sunshine. The spit-shine and polish was to be expected for a royal review, but it told him nothing about how they could fight, and that was what he needed to know.
“When do the men train?” Bray asked General Tuskin.
“My men have been with me for many years. They are veterans. Further training is not required for them. I understand the younger Generals have their men training once a week. They are newer recruits and need it. Mine do not.”
“I would prefer to make that judgement myself, General,” Bray told him. Tuskin bristled at his words, as did the other two older commanders. Bray thought he detected a hint of humour around the eyes of one younger man.
“Ready for inspection, your Majesty,” the parade sergeant reported.
“Shall we, Sister?” Bray asked Lee.
“Your Majesty,” General Tuskin blurted, “an inspection is no place for a woman.”
“Women know nothing about fighting. She ... excuse me ... your sister will only be a distraction to the men.”
“Are there no women in the army?” Bray’s voice rose notable in disbelief.
“No Sir, a battlefield is no place for a woman. She would distract the men.”
Bray considered telling the man that both he and Lee had received their specialized training from a woman, but the incredulous look on the general's face and on the faces of the other older men told him it was a useless discussion to have. “I will keep her close. The men will have to suffer the distraction.” He stepped off the platform and walked to where the men were arrayed.
“Shall I have the men stand easy, Sir?” The parade sergeant asked.
“No, leave them as they are.” Bray walked along the rows of men. His first impression suggested a well-disciplined army, but an hour or more in the hot sun, wearing full dress uniforms, might change that. He concentrated on weapons. Pulling a number of blades from scabbards, he noted the grey metal that denoted Nadian creation. “Do they all have Nadian swords?” he asked.
“All are made by us,” one of the younger commanders responded. “Only officers with wealth can afford a true Nadian sword, the kind I believe you mean. They are rare, but our normal swords have a touch of the special metal as well.”
Bray finished his inspection. He was impressed with the discipline of the men. They stood without the slightest movement in the blazing sun, and their weapons were well cared for. The question remained, could they fight?
“Are there any practice swords readily available?” he asked the younger commander who had answered his question moments before.
“Yes, Sir, behind that door,” he said pointing to an open doorway in the wall of the arena.
Bray turned to the closest soldiers. “You six,” he ordered while pointing out the men he meant. “Run over and bring back six practice swords each.” The men turned sharply and trotted off. Turning back, he addressed the commanders. “Please select six men from each of your compliments to put on a demonstration. Have the rest of the men fall back to the walls and stand easy.”
All the commanders selected the men themselves, which gave Bray some hope that they knew their soldiers’ abilities. The practice swords arrived, and soon thirty-six men were warming up in the centre of the parade ground. Bray walked closer to address the chosen men.
“I need to evaluate this army, so we are going to have a contest. You will pair off and fight. The winners will advance the losers will retire. When I call an end to the contest, those remaining will receive a gold coin as a prize. Commence.” He turned and walked back to the raised platform. The men were still milling about choosing partners when he got there.
“More instructions may have been required,” Lee said quietly.
“I want to see if they can think as well as fight.”
The clack of wooden swords soon filled the air. Bray watched carefully. He was not impressed. He had seen better sword play by merchant seamen. As he expected, most of the soldiers under the command of the older generals were eliminated in the first round. At the end of the second round, only two of the remaining nine were older. Bray had seen enough.
“That is sufficient,” he said as he walked back out to the remaining nine. He reached into his pouch and handed out gold coins. “You are all dismissed. Tomorrow your Commanders will have training schedules ready for you.” He turned to walk away, but turned back when complaints reached his ear. “Is there something you wish to say?” he asked the men.
“What do we have to train for?” Someone called from the ranks.
“No talking in the ranks,” General Tuskin barked.
“Never mind, General. I will answer. You need to train because you are poor fighters, and soon you will be facing an army the likes of which you cannot even imagine. When that time comes, I need you to be the fighters I know you can be, but right now my sister could beat any two of these winners without raising a sweat.”
“I’d like to see that,” someone called from the ranks.
Bray turned to look at Lee. She was smiling as she nodded her head. “Then another demonstration is called for,” Bray announced. “But the fun should be shared, so we will take one of these fighters and the mouthy one from the ranks.”
At first nothing happened, but a commotion started in the ranks, and soon a soldier was pushed forward. Bray turned to the nine fighters who remained. He chose a soldier who had fought well during the contest.
“Are you game, soldier?” he asked the man.
“Prefer grappling over swords,” the man said, which brought a number of snorts from the rest.
“So be it,” Bray said. Lee walked over while removing her outer jerkin and handed it to Bray. The soldier from the ranks was stripping off his uniform as if heading for a brothel bed. Lee pulled her shirt from her pants and opened the last few buttons before tying the ends together, leaving her midriff bare. She stretched a few times and Bray had to pull his eyes away from the tight leather over her behind.
I miss Adel, he thought to himself.
The soldiers had moved into a circle around the fighters. Now the commanders pushed through the ranks to inside positions.
“Ready,” Lee announced. She stood and let the men advance.
The mouthy one made the first rush. Lee turned in a circle as he tried to grab her. She slapped his groping hands away and her elbow caught him on the back of his head, sending him sprawling in the dirt. The other man moved in swiftly. He attempted to straight arm her, but missed as she shifted left. Her hands landed on his arm and then her legs were around his neck and they were falling forward. Lee's shoulder hit the ground, but she rolled quickly to her feet. The soldier tucked his head in and rolled, coming back to his feet in a smooth movement that left him facing away from her. Lee never stopped moving as she spun and planted a foot alongside his head. He crumpled.
“You will train tomorrow morning and every morning until my sister tells me you are ready. In the afternoons, you will patrol with full packs,” Bray said. He turned to the Commanders. “See to it.”