RAZE - a weekly fantasy web serial

RAZE – 044 – Unfitting

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It took us longer than I’d have liked to replace the bindings on my wound. We moved inside, onto the porch by the private garden, where I could hide my pain from those I commanded. In the light of a brass lamp, brought close so that we could see in the morning gloom, I stripped out of my uniform coat and we pulled away the sticky wrappings. I shivered, colder than I should have been, and the damp chill wormed into me everywhere but the wound, which burned. It seeped and was dark, but not yellow or sallow, as I’d been warned to watch for. Face screwed up in concentration, Estevo helped me wrap the new bandage. When I tried to thank him, he waved me off and complained of tiredness and went off to sleep.

Shortly thereafter, I led the way into Onappa-ka, to the sleepy square where merchants had just begun rolling back the oilcloth coverings of their shops or sweeping the half-dried mud from the walkways. The sun peeked up over the eastern flats through breaking clouds, and shafts of orange and pink gilded long lines between the low homes and shops. People got out of our way. The pain of my wound made hiding my smile a little easier. As we marched, though, I saw two more squads of Lonireil soldiers, not conscripts, but senior fighters. They marched through the streets with heads up and alert. Had de Trastorces increased the troop presence? Was this all for this Mire Storm, this Crade fighter? What was she?

At the gated entry of Yamurik’s grand house, the night guard came forward. This was another of Uruverres’ people, but from a different squad, with a different corporal. He jerked his head toward the house and spoke in a low voice, in Lonireilan. “You’re finally here. That stranger showed up before daybreak.”

The implied disrespect in his voice and manner of address was overshadowed by word of Mire Storm.

“Did she say anything?”

“We didn’t see her go in. She just walked out on the balcony with Yamurik a moment ago.”

My jaw worked. Should I have been surprised? “And no one saw her get in?” He shook his head. “Tell me. What is your job?”

“What?” The gate guard looked taken aback.

While we talked, his fellows, the other night guards, had been gathering behind him to head back to their bunks. They waited and watched our exchange, and at my question a few of them whispered to each other.

The guard was not quite as big as me, but he was older, and at the whispers behind him, his consternation turned to anger on his face. “What am I to do? We were told to be cautious around her.”

“You were told to watch the gates of Yamurik’s house.”

His lip curled. “We did. She got past somehow.” I waited for him to acknowledge my rank, but no such acknowledgement was forthcoming. His expression was unfitting. Behind me, I could hear my own squad shift on their feet. I imagined them glancing at each other with knowing looks. They could see my wound, the pain and weakness, the way this conscript disrespected my star. Why should they follow me? Wounded, weak, taking that kind of language?

“So, you failed in your duties,” I said.

He made a dismissive gesture and waved to his fellows. “We don’t have to listen to this Serehvani trash. Come on, shift’s over.”

“Conscript.” I raised my voice and he stopped, turned back to me with his chin raised. I passed my spear back to Ahdan. Ecena, my usual second during the day, had gone off to do the research I’d asked. Ahdan took the spear in the same hand as he held his own. He was the only conscript bigger than me. I stuck out my now-free hand at the guard. “Give me your spear, conscript.”

He did, responding to the order as intended. I took it, moving slow, and then brought the haft up as hard as I could into his face.

He fell with a cry. My side sent a bloom of pain spreading through me, but the guard fell with his nose streaming blood and the others with him started, as if to rush to his side, and then went more straight, more attentive, waiting beneath my gaze. I met each of their eyes in turn, and then went to the side of the man I’d knocked down, where he was raising himself on his forearm. With one kick, I stopped that. “Yes, sir,” I told him, kicking him in the ribs. He whimpered. “You say yes sir when I give you an order.” I lashed out again, releasing another bloom of pain in my side. Hopefully, the watchers were too distracted to notice any of my discomfort. “You failed in your duties. You failed Lonireil. Say ‘yes sir!’”

“Yes sir,” he moaned. I stomped on his hand and he shrieked again.

“Serehvani trash? We are Lonireilan. We are all Lonireilan.” I pressed down on his smashed hand, grinding it between my heel and the stone walkway. He screamed louder. Around the square, folk had stopped their activities and stared. “When you fail, we all fail!”

Finally, I released him. “Get this trash to a healer. More than he deserves.” I spat, retrieved my spear from a grinning Ahdan. He was Serehvani by birth, too. While the night watchers gathered up their comrade, the rest of us continued to Yamurik’s house.

My squad dispersed to their appointed posts while I went ahead to the main doors. A movement above caught my attention, and at the window I’d once thrown a man out of, I saw Yamurik and Mire Storm, looking down and speaking to each other.

By the time I made it up to Yamurik’s private chambers, however, there was no sign of Mire Storm. Yamurik stood alone in his houseclothes, a rich fur-lined robe and a warm cap, sipping coffee from a glass and copper cup.

“Where did she go?” I asked without preamble.

“Whom?” He smiled at me with his ruined eye over his cup.

“You know damned well. Mire Storm.”

“Oh,” he waved his fingers in a vague circle. “She left. Just as you came in. Didn’t you see her?”

I glared. “You are to report when she arrives. Alert one of my men immediately if she comes to you.”

“There’s nothing I can do to keep her out. Nor can you, I suspect, not without the entire dog-milking Lonireilan army.  Besides.” He took a loud sip. “She’s not here to bother any of you. We’re old friends.” Again, he grinned over his cup. “Good morning, corporal, by the way. Quite the display outside. I wonder if you will be treated to the same when your superior hears that you, too, let Mire Storm slip past you.”

I closed in on him, but he didn’t back away. “If you – “

“Please.” The smaller man held his ground before my advance. “You’re going to hurt me now? I don’t think so. I’m important. You’re a puffed up child. Go on and hit me and see what happens.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Your Uruverres or whatever her name is is here. Your superior.”

I glanced behind him, outside, and indeed, Uruverres was storming up to the gates with her own squad behind her.

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