Jacques leaned against the bulk of the siege tower, and drank his lunch. This was not something he’d ever seen himself doing, in the long ago days before he marched off to war , but had become almost second nature over the last few weeks, as the gruel they served got thinner, and thinner, and spoons got scarcer and scarcer.
It really wasn’t as bad as it sounded--it filled you for a little while, and warmed you for an even littler while, and the flavor wasn’t that bad, or at least, it didn’t linger long enough to really offend. You gulped down your gruel, and then you got back to work, building the siege towers that were going to let them take the white walls of Montalban. Jacques turned to regard the walls. He hated them. The way that they stood there, mocking his effort offended every portion of his being.
Of course, he hated the siege towers too, in some ways even more than the walls, but at least the siege towers were something he owned, or at least, had a hand in. The walls belonged to THEM, the enemy, the people who kept hurtling things at them, the people who wouldn’t be beaten, the people who sat their behind their walls, snug, and secure, with plenty of food, and who didn’t have damned armigers lashing their hides, and making them build siege towers.
Jacques sighed. His thoughts, he realized, were quite mad, when you got down to it. He knew that in all honesty the Montalbanese had every reason to hide behind their walls, and fight against an army that had come to kill them. But he knew that he had to hate someone to survive--hate them enough to kill--and he knew that you couldn’t hate the officers. At least, not enough so that they realized it. Which was one of the reasons he was actually glad he was serving under Breezy--the man may have been a bloodthirsty idiot, but he was… well, an idiot. Not like some of the other armigers, who were vicious and cunning.
He took another drink of gruel. It drove you mad, this life. He could understand what had happened to Simon now. He really could.
“Best get back to work soon,” said the old timer, who was already starting to lug some timber.
Jacques groaned. “Can’t I finish my lunch?”
“Better make it quick,” answered the older man with a shrug. “You know how mad Breezy is about his tower…”
Jacques gulped down the rest of the gruel, and then began to help the old timer with his load. “Do you think he has any idea how… odd it sounds, the way he goes on about the damned thing?”
“Of course not,” said the old timer. “If he did, he wouldn’t be Breezy.” The old timer shook his head. “I’ve known dafter armigers, but not many. But then--that’s what happens when you’re raised from childhood believing that war is in your blood. You get a man believing foolishness from the cradle, you wind up with a fool, more often than not.”
“Well, we’re the ones who have to follow him,” said Jacques. “So… more fools us for taking the king’s coin.”
“Speak for yourself,” said the old timer. “I served with Pelleas. Damned proud of it, too. He knew how to keep the armigers in line. And do it so they wouldn’t notice. Not like this… abomination of a force.” He shook his head. “Not that I mentioned any of this to you. Understand?” Jacques nodded, as they put down the log. “Well, once you take the coin, you’re one of the first men they pull until you’re older and greyer than I am now. Which is saying something.” The familiar whistle of a rock being launched from the walls came to their ears. The old-timer watched it slam into another camp, frowning all the while. “Damn it, I wish they would aim those at the towers.”
“Wouldn’t that… make our work tougher?” asked Jacques.
“Well, that would depend,” said the old-timer. “See, one of the fundamental rules of siegecraft is if you’re the besieged, you don’t let besieger finish up his engines if you can help it. They can help it--but they don’t seem to care.” The old man shook his head. “That worries me.”
“Maybe… maybe they don’t know that,” suggested Jacques hopefully.
The old man gave him a knowing, skeptical glance. “You want to bet on that, Jacques?”