Chapter 10
Unwelcome News

Officers' Quarters, Castle Darkwall, Gladius

"It is an unenviable task to be the bearer of bad news. Oftentimes the messenger is made to suffer even though he is rarely to blame for such tidings. Unable to take swift action in recourse, the recipient of bad news tends to lash out at the most readily available target. However, just because I understand the reasons for this tendency doesn't mean I approve of it."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

Beside the keep, numerous other buildings dotted the castle grounds of Darkwall: barracks, armories, smithies, stables, and the like. The officers' quarters, though they were spartan like everything else in the castle, provided considerably better accommodations than the lodging of the rank and file soldiers. One of the larger chambers belonged to Terentius, Captain of the Gladian Guard, who had been charged with the stewardship of the kingdom in Randwulf's absence. It was an enormous task to be put on the shoulders of someone of his limited ability.
He was soundly sleeping alongside his wife Edytha when a subordinate burst into the room without even knocking. Terentius and his wife woke with a start, but he was unable to think up a handy rebuke for the soldier's lack of propriety. Thankfully, Edytha compensated for his slow wits.
"What is the meaning of this!?" she shouted angrily. "Barging into the Captain's bedchamber at this hour! Forty good lashes and the loss of all rank and privileges will teach you some manners."
The soldier was struck instantaneously with the fear of the threat being carried out. He bowed as low as his body could permit.
"F-f-forgive me, sir, madam!" the nervous soldier stammered. "I only intrude at this hour because we have received news of utmost urgency."
Roused enough to speak for himself, Terentius demanded answers. "Out with it, man. What's happened?"
Looking up, the soldier stammered, "The, the mayor of Corinth... Count Publius Juvenal has been slain! Dozens more in the city are dead and wounded. On top of that, we have lost fifteen men of the Guard: an entire six-man patrol, three men at Punishment Square, a guard detail in Corinth and another in Cruz."
The news struck Terentius as a severe blow. The loss of someone of the Count's stature was staggering, particularly during the time he was charged with the safety of the kingdom. The other fatalities only added to the impact.
"When...? How...?"
"Two days have passed since the incident, sir," the soldier replied. "The commander of the garrison dispatched me as soon as he had gathered enough information for this report. We received word from Cruz just before I was sent here. Apparently a patrol passing through Cruz had caught some troublemaker and brought him to Corinth. Three of the six were killed in the struggle and the men posted at the south gatehouse were killed later.
"The troublemaker was taken to Corinth for the usual sport at Punishment Square, but his gang showed up and started to rampage in the city, killing the Count and dozens of others the crowd. They managed to escape in the confusion and we have not been able to launch a proper search yet."
"Why didn't the garrison commander send a detachment to hunt down these troublemakers right away?"
"Sir, there was chaos in the streets even as I was leaving. The Licinius family was leading half the city in a riot. It is taking all our manpower just to restore order."
"Well then, what can you tell me about the criminals?"
"Perhaps I can help you with that, sir," a voice intervened.
At that moment, another Guardsman, this one an officer, strode into the room and saluted the Captain. Terentius looked at him in confused surprise.
"Who are you?" the Captain demanded.
"Lieutenant Harald Svenson, sir," the officer replied. "I have been pursuing these miscreants for some time and can supply the most detailed information on them. To that end, I took it upon myself to come here to report to you directly."
Without hiding his irritation, Terentius asked, "Why didn't you tell the garrison commander so this man could stay behind and help put down the riots?"
"It's not my place to interfere with the garrison commander's decisions, sir."
"On with it," Terentius grumbled, irritated further by Harald's answer. "What can you tell me?"
"The Drunkard Prince is preparing for a full-scale rebellion," Harald said. "He has hired a foreign mercenary who calls himself Mark, son of Luther. He--"
"Luther!?" Terentius exclaimed. "Luther as in Luther the Guardian?"
Harald raised an eyebrow at his Captain's apprehension.
"I don't know, sir. Should I be familiar with that name?"
Terentius was gripped with fear. After Edytha placed her hand on his arm to calm him, he wiped away the sweat beading on his brow and motioned for Harald to continue. "Nevermind," he said. "Go on."
"This foreign mercenary is a fair swordsman," the lieutenant admitted, "I can't deny that, but he's not the only one the Drunkard Prince has hired. When I encountered him in Watercress, he was accompanied by a cloaked man with a lute who matches the description of the Minstrel Thief. Then at Rowan I confronted a lady swordsman who dresses as a man. She had a huntress with her who might be one of the rumored forest folk. They were with Drunkard Prince during the attack on Corinth. It's clear to me that the Drunkard Prince is building a cadre of hardened fighters to build, train and command a rebel army."
The story sounded suspicious, but Terentius was wholly oblivious to just how far Harald was bending the truth to manipulate him and pressed the lieutenant for more answers.
"What can you tell me about what happened before the attack in Corinth?"
"Well, sir, a patrol passing through Cruz was sporting with the Drunkard Prince within the bounds of our license when the mercenary and his cronies attacked them. By the time my squad came to their rescue, they had already lost three men. We succeeded in extracting them from the enemy's trap and took the mercenary captive. The others must have killed the men of the gatehouse after we left."
"Why did you not finish them off then?" Edytha demanded, eyeing Harald suspiciously.
"We were at a disadvantage, madam," Harald said. "The huntress is a nearly flawless archer and she had taken a position on the rooftops. Common patrolmen have no way to fight an enemy beyond the length of a halberd. Perhaps if the Captain would be generous enough to furnish me with a few crossbowmen..."
Edytha cut him off. "You can plead for manpower later, Lieutenant. Now tell us, why did your men leave Cruz instead of mustering the garrison?"
"If we had taken the time to gather reinforcements, madam, it would have given them the chance to regroup. We had one of their most prized members in our hands and took advantage of the momentum. Pardon me for saying so, madam, but the intricacies of strategy are weighty matters for a woman's mind."
Offended by Harald's impudence, Edytha's harsh tone took an icy edge. "Mind your careless tongue, Lieutenant. You would do well not to presume my knowledge."
"Just give me the rest of the report," Terentius interjected, tired of the back-and-forth between the lieutenant and his wife.
"Of course, sir," Harald replied, glad to be out of Edytha's piercing scrutiny. "After reporting our capture to the garrison commander in Eagle, we went on to Corinth, where we presented the prisoner to Count Juvenal. After that, we delivered him to Punishment Square. He was receiving his due when the members of his gang attacked. Not only did they kill the mayor, but also a great many innocent citizens.
"Surely we can't let this stand. Rebels and their sympathizers abound in the countryside. The law-abiding citizens of this kingdom demand justice, sir. Give me twenty men, and I can put an end to this once and for all."
It was all too much for the Captain to take in at once. While he was mulling over the details in an attempt to decide what to do, his wife stepped in to act in his stead.
"The Captain will decide later what assignment is warranted by your accomplishments," she said. "For now, go to the castle scribes and given them all the information they will need to draw up wanted posters. We will offer a reward of one hundred gold crowns per head, but they must be captured alive, understand? Have at least ten posted in each town, including the miners' camp down in the mountains, and have at least five signs along the road between each town. Send a copy to every country manor as well."
Terentius nodded in agreement, but Harald looked at him somewhat incredulously.
"It will take some time to write so many, sir. I wonder how useful such an effort will be."
"Just see that it is done," Terentius insisted, finally taking back control of the situation.
The lieutenant bowed slightly. "As you wish, sir."
Harald then saluted and the other soldier bowed before leaving the room. Once they were gone, Terentius scratched his head in a moment of awkward silence.
"Thank you..." he told his wife clumsily.
"Think nothing of it," she replied out of hand. "You had been woken too suddenly and your wits were not yet in order."
She was too kind, far kinder than he deserved. Even though she knew that he was not endowed with any abundance of intellect, she was one of the few people who never scorned him for it. Whether she sincerely loved him or was simply devoted to her station as a wife, he did not know, but he was thankful regardless.
Edytha was an elegant woman with sleek black hair and pale green eyes whose noble bearing was not diminished in the slightest by her union with someone of common descent like himself. She had been given to Terentius as a reward for his service during the war, but she did not bear him any ill will as most conquered people are known to do. Although they had not been blessed with children, their relationship had been a pleasant and comfortable one, more than he ever could have dreamed of having.
"Keep a close eye on that lieutenant," she warned. "I do not trust him. He lusts for power and will not hesitate to betray anyone to get it, even you. You must tread lightly, though. He is the son of General Leifson and you have many enemies among the Marauders. His Majesty's protection will count for little if you are dead.
"For now, let Svenson do as he will. I will get reports of my own on what has happened. I know he is only telling us part of the truth and even that has been hammered and molded into a shape that favors him."
"What do you think of what he's told us?" Terentius asked her. "Could the Drunkard Prince be plotting a real rebellion?"
"It does not seem possible," she replied. "I have never heard of him rampaging in Cruz or Corinth before. In the past ten years, he has done almost nothing except draw a horde of the drunken old men from Stormtree and rally in front of the castle gates until the guards drive them off. If he truly is a party to this madness, then it could prove rather troublesome.
"I am more concerned about this foreign swordsman, the one called Mark, son of Luther. It takes a special sort of man to gather a group both loyal and strong enough to brave a city like Corinth. If he is truly the son of Luther the Guardian, our situation is all the worse. It would mean that he is the one from the warlock's prophecy and that he is already here. The only reason His Majesty rode off to war in Byrn was to capture the Eagle in the East. The Marauders are wasting their time otherwise."
The musings of his wife filled Terentius with greater fear. What if what she said was true? If the King had left for the East to stop a single man and if that man had already entered Gladius, what would he do? As if she sensed his doubts, Edytha gently placed her hand on his shoulder.
"Wait a week and see what the wanted posters will yield," she said. "If the people do not come forward, then you can dispatch the hunter squads to seek them out. They never fail."
"Yes..." Terentius trailed. "Yes, that is a good plan."
Edytha caressed his cheek to soothe him. "For now, do not allow these cares to weigh on you too heavily. Go back to sleep."
Like an obedient child, Terentius lay back in the bed, but he could not sleep. What could he do to salvage the damage that had already been done? What could he do to prevent anything worse from happening? He did not know. The questions continued to build in his mind, questions that did not have easy answers.