Gerard de Breze stared at the little collection of huts in the distance. “So,” he declared, “an enemy outpost.”
“A farming village, sir,” said the old man seated next to him. Breze had quickly found traveling in the region to be… puzzling, and had nearly taken his scouting party in… well, a circle, before the old man came forward to offer his assistance. He’d been here before, under Pelleas, when Lord Shaddad invaded, he said, and Gerard had little reason to doubt that. Still, it vexed, seeing that… commoner seated on a horse beside him, as if they were equals somehow. “The region’s filled with them. The Free Cities need food, and they can’t import everything from Leonais.”
Gerard gave a brisk nod. “Ahh, vassals. I understand. So, this one swears loyalty to the Lasliazes, then?”
“They might,” said the old man. “Or they might swear loyalty to the Faith. Or the Lord Protector. Or to the commune as a whole. You see, sir, they aren’t all vassals. The cities need food. The villages supply it. Some times the cities rule over them direct--but some times they don’t. A lot of is, is it worth the Duke’s time to rule it direct?” He chuckled. “You’d be surprised how often the answer to that is no. And all the wrinkles those villagefolk can come up to make it that answer.”
“Answer me, old man, and answer me truthfully,” muttered Gerard, his frown deepening. “Are we, or are we not in Montalban territory?”
“More or less, sir,” answered the old man, with an infuriating calmness. “The city claims this territory. The other Free Cities generally agree. However, the Free Cities aren’t like Leonais. There tend to be odd little exceptions in how land gets doled out.”
“Who will these people side with in this war?” snapped Gerard.
“I don’t know,” answered the old man. “It’d depend on how they view Montalban, and that covers a lot of ground. Hell, they may not even know there’s a war going on. We’re a bit off the beaten path.”
Gerard peered ahead once more. “Well, farmers, you say? That means they’ll have food. And that means there’s an easy way to answer your question.” He turned his horse back towards his men. “We will go ask them for supplies.”
The old man swiftly rode to the armiger’s side. “That is an idea. What will you pay them with? I don’t recall the Archon handing out any funds…”
“Pay?” Gerard stared at the old man as if he were mad. “Why would I pay? We are a force in the service of their Lord Paramount in both temporal and secular matters, fighting against traitors and apostates. They owe us food.”
The old man’s face grew very pale at that. “Begging your pardon, sir, but I don’t think you understand these folk. Farming is their livelihood. A man who grabs what they grow without paying is their enemy, no matter what colors he flies, and what power they pledge loyalty to. If you do this…” He considered his words for a moment. “There will likely be bloodshed, as not.”
Gerard smiled. “Well if there is, then we found and defeated an enemy. In addition to getting food. So, really, where do we lose?” He narrowed his eyes on the old man. “Those are my orders. Do you care to contradict them?”
The old man sat there quietly, then shook his head. “No, sir. Not if that’s your final decision.”
“It is,” said Gerard confidently. As the old man nodded and rode away, the armiger felt a surge of satisfaction. He’d shown that uppity commoner his place, and made a strong, daring decision, the sort that a lowly fellow like that could never make. This is why the Kings of Leonais needed armigers, needed men bred and trained for battle, to take the chances that men with milk in their veins never would.
On the whole, this was shaping up to be an excellent little war.