Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

Published by

Airborn Press


   Home      Issue #9 In Charge
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EPISODE 9
in charge


Theobald, I realize that the night before we left on this expedition was a pleasant time with Lady Cate, but you must concentrate.

Huh? What?

Look at your soldiers.

While the lord’s attention had been more pleasantly engaged, the troop he was leading had lagged, and his men were now spread out all over the clearing.

“Halt!”

Theobald strode down the line of men, staring into each face. Then he stepped back and regarded them. He could see sideways glances.

They know what’s going on. This is a test.

And they’re about to fail.

No, my Lord. Better to laugh.

“Laugh? I’ll… Ah. I see what you mean. Our little joke, is it?

He faced the mercenary officer, shaking his head in sorrow. “Sergeant, where did you find this gaggle of geese? Flying south for the winter?”

“Uh…no, my Lord.”

“That’s too bad.”

“It is, my Lord?”

“Yes. Geese flying south are much better at staying in formation.”

“Ah, yes, my Lord.”

“So do you think you could line up this gaggle of geese for me, and march them around our little field, here, about twice, and then bring them back to this spot? Right to this spot? IN LINE?”

The Sword pushed the last two words firmly into the minds of the whole troop, so her Hand would not have to raise his voice. Their backs straightened.

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Well, away you go, then…” Theobald held up his hand a moment. “Now, that reminds me. My father once said that sometimes men need to run a bit before they learn to walk properly.” He frowned. “Or was that horses?”

Seeming to bring his mind back from far away, he smiled on the sergeant in a friendly way. “Let’s see how they do at walking first, shall we?”

The officer’s enthusiasm rose perceptibly. “Yes, my Lord.” He turned to the troops, his voice snapping out orders with admirable clarity, and they responded with equal enthusiasm. When they returned, not a man was out of place.

He was about to congratulate the sergeant when he realized that the men’s backs had become completely rigid, their eyes staring at some point just beyond him. He turned to see Lord Karsten, the commander of the expedition, striding towards him.

"Lord Theobald, we have a problem."

Theobald's mind jumped back to his troop, whom he dared not turn to see. What have they done, now?

He means he has a problem. Not us.

Oh. Theobald’s brow relaxed. "We do?"

"Yes. That messenger brought me bad news. My father is ill, and I must go to his bedside."

"I see."

No you don't. It leaves you in charge

It does?

Who else?

"And there lies the problem. What to do with these troops."

"The troops have to stay here. They have a position to maintain. We cannot leave this pass unguarded."

"Wouldn’t it be better to move back to a safer spot? Nearer to Skonric Castle, for example? Give you a chance to visit your new wife now and then."

He is playing a game. He wants your reaction.

To what?

Figure it out. Think!

The Hand's back straightened. "The troops must stay. Skonric is the senior family here. I will lead them."

Well done. Be firm. He must believe.

The other lord leaned back. "You will?”

"There isn't much choice, is there? Lord Nivar only commands the archers, and Lanzo is but a minor family at any rate. He won't do. Dobovar? We can't put our men under the control of a mercenary captain. He is too concerned with keeping his men safe. He would make a big noise, then bargain away the ground we hold."

Karsten leaned back. "I agree with you. Do you think he'll obey your orders?"

He will obey!

Theobald smiled. "He and I get along fine. We have the same attitude towards organization. He hasn't learned yet that my approach applies to battles as well as the setting up of camps and the marching of men."

The other young lord's eyebrows went up. "I see. Well, since the only other alternatives don't seem workable, I suppose you're in charge. Call Lanzo and Dobovar in; we'll do the handover officially and I'll give you the written orders."

* * *

When they were given the news Lanzo merely nodded, but the mercenary captain shifted in his chair, cleared his throat, then looked at Theobald and away again.

He’s trying to figure out how to refuse without insulting you, and wondering whether you’re important enough to worry about.

Theobald looked the mercenary up and down. “Captain Dobovar, I was sent by my father to ascertain whether this troop was being used effectively. Yes, my father, Lord Skonric, who is in charge of the dispensing of a third of your stipend. If we pull out now, what shall I report to him?”

Dobovar frowned but did not speak.

That set him thinking.

Karsten slapped a hand on the table. “So there we have it. I will be leaving within one candle. Lord Theobald, you are in charge. You are to set up our camp at the site we surveyed yesterday, and hold the pass against any and all invaders. I will show you the orders, so there will be no questions. I’m only taking my squire and one lancer with his groom, so you’ll be left with twelve lancers, their support, Lord Lanzo with his archers, and the Captain’s thirty infantry. That ought to be enough.”

* * *

It was a short march to the new location, which allowed them time to start a more permanent camp before darkness fell. Theobald and Dobovar had discussed the setup in detail the night before, and things went smoothly.

What do you think of the mercenaries, Sword?

A well-trained bunch. A few new recruits, but they seem to be fitting in.

Perhaps not that one.

She focused on the soldier her Hand had indicated. A large dark-haired man, armed as well as the rest, but dour of face. His sloping shoulders gave his stance a slouched look. No, he was actually slouching. To her surprise, his mind was open to her.

He looks Maridon, but his mind is clear.

That's worth looking into.

Theobald strode over to the soldier, who straightened his posture, but not much.

"What is your name, soldier?"

"Sarcag."

“That's not a Maridon name.”

“No,”

“No, my Lord.”

There was a pause. “No, my Lord.”

“Where are you from?”

“A little place youve never heard of…my Lord.”

“I am not uneducated. Try me.”

"Uh…"

"In other words you don't want to tell anyone. Don't worry about it. As long as you fight you'll get your pay, same as all the rest. You may go."

The man turned away without a salute or a word.

Good manners aren't one of his strong points.

It's the point of his sword we care about.

I will keep an ear out for him.

That would be useful.

His mind turned to the organization of the troops, and the Cat helped by bolstering his perception and focusing his attention on anything she felt needed it.

As the afternoon waned the camp grew up, and finally Theobald stood back and surveyed it with understandable pride.

What do you think, Sword?

I wouldn't want to lead them into battle tomorrow, but they've shown themselves capable of setting up a camp.

I suppose we should do some training tomorrow, then.

I have some ideas.

You have? Ideas about what?

Troop training exercises were part of my education.

Hmmm. We'll talk about it.

Yes, we will. You don't have any ideas, and if you are going to take command, you'll have to be in charge. Thus it has to be your exercise.

But it will be your exercise.

You are bickering. Concentrate. You need to take command of these troops quickly in case they are needed.

Right.

 He turned to his squire. "Kyler, please ask Captain Dobovar and Lord Lanzo to join us at the command tent. Tell them I want to assemble our forces."

"Right, my Lord." The boy sprinted away.

He's coming along.

It's a chance for him, as well as for me.

Let's make the best of it, then.

Where's the trumpeter?

The Cat searched. He's in that group over by the picket lines.

Attract his attention, please.

That's good, my Lord. You are beginning to use my skills. We must train him to keep you in his vision at all times, even now. She sent out a search, and the trumpeter's head came up, his eyes scanning the clearing.

Theobald made a signal with his hand to his mouth, and the man sprinted to his billet, joining them with his trumpet as they approached the command tent. Dobovar, Lanzo and a panting Kyler were already waiting.

"I think we are in good shape, Captain. I would like to assemble the men and tell them so. Also give them an idea of our orders."

The mercenary officer nodded formally, but a proud smile crept onto his lips.

Theobald nodded to the trumpeter, who strode to the centre of the camp and made his "All Report" signal loud and clean.

"Dobovar, let's have the mercenaries on our left, right there. Kyler, put the lancers to stand front and centre, and request Lord Lanzo to stand his archers to the right."

They watched the men form up, standing until silence descended. Then Theobald stepped forward and raised his voice: enough to carry, but not too loud.

That's right. Make them listen.

"That was acceptable, gentlemen, but I'm glad we weren't under attack." He let that sink in, his eye pinning three of the lancers, young blades who seemed to think this all a lark, until they stopped squirming.

"You have done a good job. This is now a workable military establishment, and I think we will be comfortable here for the next few weeks. As long as we are not attacked tonight."

He waited until the stir died down, and the eyes returned to him.

"No, our scouts report no incursions. But tomorrow it is to our advantage to build some basic defences. We will also want to develop strategies to use in case we are attacked. We are not here on an empty training exercise. There is a real threat of incursion from the Maridon side of the border, and this pass is a key point in the defense of Inderjorne." He flung a hand towards the picket lines. "The horses are especially vulnerable to archery from that copse of trees, so we will be clearing undergrowth and building a brushwood berm along that little ridge, there.

"However, that will be tomorrow. You have marched and worked today, and I will double the ale ration tonight. Kyler has the duty roster. When he has given you your assignments you are dismissed until supper."

The lower orders crowded around Kyler to be given their posts, and the lancers strolled away. Theobald indicated the departing youths. "How do you think they'll perform?" He grinned, "Taking into account that they are amateurs, of course."

The mercenary growled. "Oh, they'll fight, right enough. Mostly younger sons of minor nobility, with little hope of advancement unless they can make a name for themselves. More difficult to know if they'll follow orders."

"I think we will work on that tomorrow. I have some ideas to discuss with both of you. Lord Lanzo?" He stepped into the command tent, and the other leaders followed him.

Well done, my Lord. Now our real work begins.

And we are up to the task, Sword.

As long as we forget about Lady Cate, now Lady Caterina Skonric.

I hope you do not expect me to forget Cate!

No, I suppose not. Just don’t let her interfere with your duty. And as camp Commandant, your duty runs from about midnight to midnight.

The young Lord sighed. I take your meaning, Sword. I will do my duty, and more. She will be proud of me.

She already is.

Do you think so?

If you don’t already know the answer to that question, I am not the one to tell you.

All right. She is proud of me. She is worried, I know that. Do you think she loves me yet?

The Sword sent a great mental sigh. Concentrate, Theobald. If you want to get back to her in a single piece, concentrate!
 
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