This is Part 1 of Angrethar, the story, from Aelflaed’s point of view, of the battle for the Wrathgate. You can see all of the posts in this story on the Story Archives page, by searching for the Wrathgate category, or through this link. As mentioned in the Intro, occasionally we cooperate on stories, and the majority of this first post is thanks to Tarquin (who inadvertently created an AMAZING tie-in with a later happening).
Saul Innis was tall, and young, and earnest – gristle for the grinder, coke for the forges. He took his duties as a courier very seriously, but with none of Fyodor Galliwick’s straight-backed arrogance, and the obvious fear in his eyes was leavened by dedication. And ay course, likely, by thit wee drink he had wi’ Geny, an’ whate’er it is she wis whisperin’ ta him. Tarquin smirked at the soldier as they strode away from the fire. Innis didn’t notice, of course – he was looking over his shoulder at Genise, who was watching him with eyes dewy with longing and, of course, deadly sharp with mischief.
Some f*ckin’ army.
“Aright, big lad,” he said cheerfully as they cleared the central wing and stepped into the relative calm of the outer camp, nobody even potentially in earshot but Yva Darrows, who was some yards away humming to herself and apparently mending a sock. “Wha’ manner ay business brings yeh here ta the belly ay the beast?”
Innis wiped the daffy grin off his features, all keen young soldier again. “Bad business, sir,” he reported soberly, and took a glance at Yva before continuing in a low voice, apparently satisfied that the shoeless madwoman was too busy risking hypothermia to eavesdrop. “Cultists in the ranks. They struck the medical unit around supper – poisons in the cookpot, and then black spells and knives. Nearly two dozen dead and another ten-odd out of commission. ”
“F*ck me,” hissed the northman, genuinely upset. More than thirty trained healers, on the eve of battle, was a blow to even an army as mighty as Fordragon’s. “Yeh’ve a raw deal, mate, an’ dinna mistake.” He cocked his head. “But Laird Bolvar kin hardly be wantin’ ta spread this word, ‘specially no’ ta the likes ay the Riders. Why’re yeh…” He paused, closed his eyes, and pressed the tips of two fingers to his temple. “Ah shiiite.”
Young Saul kept his voice carefully neutral. It sounded like he was reading from an official order, the ink of which was likely not yet dry. “I’ve been instructed to request, sir, that you send one of your medical personnel to the rear echelon of the main camp. I’m told that either non-combat or combat healers are acceptable.” He licked his lips. “We’re not picky right now, sir.”
Tarquin narrowed in on the admission of weakness.
“Ayeh, no’ picky an’ no’ in much place fir ta be makin’ demands, eh?” he snarled, and drew himself up to his full height, summoning that trained presence that might make the courier forget he had thirty pounds, ten years, and the weight of Alliance high command on this slapdash mercenary captain. “Angrathar leerin’ o’er us like the blackest mornin’ the world’s ta see, an’ yeh propose ta take my people fra’ me?” He stepped forward, the two men separated by the space of a jabbing, accusing finger. “Wir no’ Fordragon’s fodder, my lad. Wir the f*ckin’ Riders.”
Innis stepped back, avoiding Tarquin’s eyes. “I’ve received special instructions in your regard, sir,” he reported hollowly, looking as if he’d rather be anywhere but here. “A message from Commander Fyodor Galliwick.”
The breath literally hissed from Tarquin’s mouth, his teeth a vicious crescent in the grey. “Speak yir piece, then.” But Innis did not speak. Instead, he reached into the easily recognisable courier’s pouch at his hip, and drew forth the contents with fumbling fingers. Expecting a scroll tube or a folded parchment, Tarquin couldn’t identify the object that slipped from the young man’s hands and thumped softly on the snow. He waited until Innis bent down to pick it up, and when he took it in his hand, the rain of cold rage that burst on his mind was seeded with a new respect for their allies.
He let the “message” drop and pitched his voice low and easy, let the words speak for themselves. “Surely, Commander Galliwick widna be makin’ sich threats oan this eve. Surely his boss kens better’n thit. Especially wi’ sich casualties aready stainin’ the lists, he’d no’ be apt t’add anither. A terrible waste.” He glanced at the object on the ground, but his meaning was unmistakeable.
The courier swallowed and looked Tarquin ap Danwyrith full in the face. “I’ve been told, sir, that the night is young and you’re welcome to find out.”
What followed could not properly be called a silence, as it was occupied by the click-clack of Yva Darrows’s needle, the distant laughter and jeers of the Riders’ fire, and the further song and speech about fifty other such camps. But it had a weight nevertheless, and Tarquin waited until he was certain that Saul Innis had contemplated the possible abrupt end of his life before responding. “Yeh’ll have yir healer,” he said shortly. “Within the hour. Now piss off, an’ be sure ta give auld Fyodor my virra best regards.”
Innis nodded and somehow managed a salute. He reached down to pick up the Commander’s message, but Tarquin laid his hand on the soldier’s wrist. Innis jolted as if the older man were venomous. “Leave it, aye?” Improbably, the northman chuckled, and Saul quickstepped back and hastily started for his horse. “Yeh got a set ay balls oan yeh, Innis!” came the half-mocking voice after him. “Yeh live out the day, come an’ see me ’bout a job! Or talk ta Crownsilver!” Tarquin laughed again as the courier faded into the grey, his sardonic chuckle quickly taking on an angrier timbre and then fading altogether. He rubbed his temples with both hands and then turned toward the camp.
Behind him, a length of rope lay in the snow, carefully coiled and tied into a serviceable noose.
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