Chapter 4
Bug Hunt

AZ 1455 - Spring
Outside the Ruins of Delphos, The Darklands

Xenomachos sat brooding in his tent. He had not yet recovered from the visions that assailed him. Apparently during the last Herakles attack, the Queen's ruse was exposed when the Xotikan sorcerer posing as the King was killed. The men very nearly turned on her, but then she struck out at their minds, all their minds. No, to say she struck them would mean there was violence to her action. It was not like that. It was more that she poured out the entirety of her heart, sparing nothing, but Xenomachos felt that he nearly drowned in the flood.
He now knew the Queen better than he even knew himself. It was all so fast that there was little he understood, but the feeling it left behind... Not even with his wife, not even with his own mother did he feel so closely knit to another.
He loved her. There was no other word for it. Not the carnal sort of love but the love of the spirit that transcends the flesh, transcends time and space. But this was impossible. The Xotika were an unclean heathen race under God's curse. How could he feel the truest, purest form of love for such a creature? What terrified him more was that this love seemed stronger than even his love for God. For all Xenomachos' years of pious devotion, the Almighty had never revealed His heart as the Queen had revealed hers.
It was sin. He needed to confess, but Father Auguston died a few months earlier. What was he to do? Would he die with his sins weighing down his soul, dragging it down into the Abyss?
"Lord Xenomachos? Lord Xenomachos?"
Xenomachos looked up to see a herald peeking into the tent.
"Enter," he said.
The herald stepped in and stood up straight to salute him.
"Lord Xenomachos," the herald said, "Her Majesty has ordered the Second Legion to Saras to exterminate the Herakles there."
Saras was over a week's march from Delphos. They could offer no aid to their comrades from there nor could they expect any aid to come should the enemy prove stronger than their estimation.
"What of the front?" he asked.
He did not know why he spoke the question aloud, but the herald answered him, saying, "We are beset from all sides, milord. There is no front, rightly speaking."
A man of the herald's rank would not normally be so ready to answer a legate. Perhaps because he spoke up so promptly or perhaps because Xenomachos was simply distracted, he unwittingly gave voice to his thoughts, something that would be appropriate with a peer like Lord Aristides or the tribunes, but not this herald.
"We should not be dividing our forces," he said. "Our numbers are too diminished as it is."
"Should I tell Her Majesty that you wish to meet with her?" the herald asked.
The herald's presumptuousness made Xenomachos remember himself. Now was not the time to be questioning the Queen's orders, not to himself and especially not in front of the lower ranks.
"No," he said curtly. "Tell her we will set out at once."
"Very well, milord," the herald replied with a bow.
When the herald left, Xenomachos went to gird on his armor, not waiting for an attendant to assist him. Though he feared this mission was folly, he would do it. He would see it through... for her.