Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Volume 2: Fields Running Red--Part 4

Justinian Sigma stood on the battlements of Montalban and looked as the camps down below. He knew they were filled with his enemies, the men he was fighting. And he knew these foes of his were men very much like him, that had circumstances been other than what they were, he would very likely be among that number, fighting for what he’d imagine was the cause of right.

They are not bad men, for the most part, the former Sacristan reminded himself. Merely… mislead. We do this as much for their sakes as for the Montalbanese. So Justinian reminded himself, to keep hatred from growing in his heart. It seemed important to do that, after hearing so many horror stories of what this army had done as it made its way across the lands of the White Mountain. He shuddered slightly. We imagined evil was some far away thing, that lay across the river. And it was among us, the whole time, letting us do its work for it and call it good. Somehow, as he stood here, watching those tents, it made everything worse.

Somehow.

“Hey, Sigma,” came a familiar voice. Justinian turned to see Sacripant and Quiet standing there. The Marsh Erl raised an eyebrow. “Being all… pensive again?”

Justinian shrugged. “It’s my nature. Can’t help but think about how I used to be sworn to the banner of Leonais…”

“Well, technically, aren’t you still fighting for it?” said Sacripant, eyes turning to the army down below. “I mean--we’ve got the king on our side. Hell, Quiet and I owe him money…”

“I still say he was cheating,” whispered the Ghoul. “Nobody gets that good at foldol that quickly…”

“It’s… complicated,” said Justinian. “In theory, yes, the king is Leonais, for all intents and purposes, but in practice… well, it’s hard for one man to be a nation.” He gestured to the men outside, building their siege towers. “I don’t think those fellows would switch sides if Pelleas talked to them. Even if they believed it was him.”

Sacripant shuddered as he watched the men labor in the cold. One of them stumbled as he watched only to right himself and immediately return to work. “Damn it, they make me uncomfortable just looking at them. Do the people in charge actually plan on hitting us with an army, or just leaving a pile of corpses in front of Montalban?”

“Damned if I know,” said Justinian. “Never really went to war, remember. Still--this looks like an armiger operation at the bottom of it. As Rho used to tell it, they’re a bit… fervent.”

“Does ‘fervent’ mean ‘bloody-minded bastards’?” asked Quiet softly.

“Pretty much,” agreed Justinian. He sighed. “They’re--petty landowners. Often close to the Eastern Border. They get to bear arms in return for coming when the crown calls. They like to keep in practice.” He shrugged. “Most of them aren’t particularly high-ranking families, so they cling to what status they can. It makes… prickly. Apt to seize what prestige they can. And very, very contemptuous of those just a step below them.”

“Which in this case means working those poor guys out there to death,” said Sacripant, “so they can come in here and maybe kill us a little quicker.”

Justinian nodded. “That would be their plan, yes.” He glanced at his fellow Guards. “So… what did you two want to see me about? Before we got sidetracked by all this?”

“Iacopo’s got some bacon frying,” answered Sacripant. “Actually, it should be done by now. We were wondering if…”

Justinian bolted off in the direction of the mess.

Sacripant glanced at Quiet. “Well, that was rude.”

“What were you expecting? It’s bacon,” she answered.

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