Of Armor and Bone: Chapter Fourteen
The evening brought a cold front in from the west, turning the moisture sitting atop the roofs of the buildings into crystals of frost. Kensley shot up from his bed, hearing the echo of cries outside. The cold air clung to his bare shoulders as he peered out the window above his cot.
The daylight had yet to show itself. In the dim torchlight outside, the perfectly aligned formation of soldiers posed with their swords and shields in defensive positions. Kensley yanked a fur covering off the hook on the wall and fumbled around in the low light searching for his shoes. A cold draft crept in under the doorway and across his feet. He shivered as his toes found the cold leather interior of the flimsy boots.
Holding his arms, Kensley closed the door lightly behind him and wandered out to look upon the formation still mid-training. Boughlin stood at the head of the group, miming directions to them, as Edrian looked on.
“This is quite early, is it not?” Kensley mumbled as he approached the general.
“This time, or not at all.” The General grumbled. “Else we risk being seen by Tuleforian spies. Imagine what we would forfeit should they know of our numbers.”
“I can’t imagine.” Kensley interrogated. “What exactly would we forfeit? You’ve kept us at arm’s length ever since we returned.”
Edrian folded his arms behind his back before letting out a long sigh that produced a wispy cloud of condensation. “I’ve already said too much. You will be informed when the need is there.”
“Sir, with all due respect, I must wonder if you would take this same stance if I were Mandabus… the Captain, sir.”
Edrian frowned and looked at Kensley out of the corner of his eye. “You are a born leader, I’ve seen, just as much as that man. But leadership isn’t the only thing important in waging a war.”
“A war, sir?” Kensley hummed and looked back out at the men. Their arms had been put away just as the light of the day had begun peeking over the horizon. “Should I remind you that we left the Tuleforian settlement in no shape to mount a counter attack any time soon.”
“Exactly.” Edrian grumbled. “Tulefore is a vast empire, strong. Nothing to take lightly. This is their home front. But chip away at the base of any boulder, and it will eventually crumble.”
“Sir-” Kensley stuttered as the General began marching back up in the direction of the crag where his quarters had been built. The formation of soldiers had split, and the men had slowly begun returning to their quarters.
The sunlight had begun to spill over the eastern face of the mountain. Kiaren marched down the hillside with the plank carrying her brother’s body balanced on her shoulder, the other end held by Shiloh.
The old mass funeral pyre had long since stopped smoldering, but the ground still smelled of musty and rancid ash. The Commander and her bodyguard slowly lowered the plank of wood down to the ground. Terren’s body was wrapped neatly in a thick layer of woven cloth. “If I may speak freely…” Shiloh hesitated.
“You know you do not need to ask that from me, Shiloh.” Kiaren nodded.
“I just…” The man fumbled. “I can’t help but feel regret for not being at your side then. It pulls at my heart.”
Kiaren wandered a few steps and began to pick at the pile of logs set out for the lighting of the pyre. “Do not blame yourself. I requested that you run drills with the soldiers so that they may be prepared in the case of another attack. After all, I trust you just as much as I did my brother.”
“I appreciate your words, Ma’am.” Shiloh murmured and began arranging the long, dry timbers around the body. “I hope you do not blame yourself either.”
Kiaren stood up and stretched her back. “I… I am prepared to do what I must to make sure the involved parties are brought to justice. Whatever that may mean.”
“You make speak candidly with me, Ma’am.” Shiloh noted.
Kiaren silently stacked the logs in a square pattern, before moving to the end of the plank. Her eyes met with Shiloh’s to signal for them to lift it atop the readily waiting pyre.
The commander pulled a small dark piece of flint from the pouch at her side before scraping it against her dagger, showering the canvas wrapped body in sparks. After a few more strikes, small lines of smoke began to creep up from the fabric, eventually turning into growing embers and licking flames. Kiaren stepped back, dragging her feet across the blackened ground.
“I will destroy that knight myself, even if it will take all my brute force.” Kiaren seethed calmly.
“You don’t intend to send another search party after him, do you?” Shiloh folded his arms and shifted out of the pillar of smoke that had begun to trail off into the air.
“No, that would be a fool’s errand.” The commander grumbled. “Besides, I doubt we’ve seen the last of him here at the base of this mountain. That sword of his is still at my bedside. Zethurus, too.”
“What do you intend for the mage?” Shiloh asked ambiguously.
“Magi have laws of their own that they must follow. He’s obviously broken one of them.” Kiaren turned away and looked out to the north. The dark clouds in the distance had begun to block out some of the sun’s rays, and a cold wind blew past them. “Not to mention his grievous lies and deceit. I would want nothing more than to bring him justice myself but… according to the treaty, we must offer him to the guild to be judged. If I would not send him to Arkyan myself, the royal court would be implored to do so.”
“He should be sent as soon as possible.” Shiloh insisted. “It’s imperative someone accompany him to ensure he doesn’t stray from the path.”
“And that someone may testify to what he’s done. We must send a letter by hawk to Arkyan to notify them of his coming arrival. Then, first thing tomorrow morning… I want for you to set off with him there.” Kiaren turned to the body guard.
“I can’t allow that.”
“It’s a request, but I can make it an order.” The commander stared him down. “You’re one of the few I can trust to do this now.”
“Even more so why I should remain by your side here!” Shiloh waved his arms.
“The sooner you leave with him, the sooner you may be back here. Look at the storm brewing. Not even Xiandol would be so bold as to try anything at this time.”
Shiloh stared down at his boots, before looking over at the flame beginning to consume the pyre. Tiny flakes of snow had begun drifting in from the wind coming down off the mountain, before melting in the blink of an eye in the heat of the blaze. “I shall go.” He mumbled. “For the mean time, let us return so that we may sit down for once and eat halfway a proper meal.”
“Are you ordering me?” Kiaren broke a half smile.