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Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 20 – Unsettling Times.
Commander Massil, Captain Baith and the other senior officers that accompanied them were the last to show up for the briefing Beraut was holding. The upper echelon from the other military units had been in the wizard’s command tent for a couple of hours while they waited for the last group to arrive. They hadn't been merely sitting around though and had used the time to become familiar with one another, as well as discussing other important issues. They reviewed the chain of command and got to know the other officers in attendance, no matter whether they were part of the infantry, archers or cavalry. In addition to that, they were also getting to know the three senior advisors better as well, since the other races were not familiar with these high ranking aides to Beraut.
As soon as Commander Massil and Captain Baith entered the tent, the wizard and King Brolin made their way over so they could greet them warmly. Beraut and the dwarf king wanted to know if the two military leaders had encountered any problems along the way, since they'd arrived much later than anticipated. Commander Massil was quick to assure the pair that the only hardship they’d encountered had been the weather. He pointed out that the precipitation had slowed them down considerably and made the journey much more difficult than it normally would have been. He also assured them they had no other problems and nothing else out of the ordinary had occurred along the way.
Captain Baith was shocked that the Veledan commander hadn’t mentioned the altercation they had during the journey. After thinking about it for a while, the dwarf thought Commander Massil might be saving that little tidbit to go over with Beraut in private. Regardless of the reason he had failed to bring it up, Captain Baith was grateful it wasn’t going to be addressed at this time.
Once the commander finished informing Beraut and King Brolin about their trip, the wizard introduced each of the late arrivals to the others in the tent, especially those with whom they would be working. Once that had been accomplished, the wizard filled Baith and Massil in about some of the other matters they had missed and quickly brought them up to speed. Then, Beraut began the meeting and reviewed the battle strategy he planned to use. After that, he filled in those under his command about whatever information he had concerning their opponents, which included any strategies and techniques he felt the enemy might employ against them once the battle began.
The meeting between Beraut, his military advisors and senior officers lasted a little over an hour and during that time they managed to cover an enormous amount of material. As soon as all of the important details on the agenda had been addressed, Beraut kindly offered to share his accommodations with any of his advisors and senior staff that might wish to stay there out of the elements for the night.
Even though the other officers greatly appreciated the wizard’s generous offer, most of them opted to spend the time with their countrymen instead. They thought that by doing so it might help to boost the morale of their troops and give those under them a greater sense of unity on the eve of battle. As the others took their leave from the wizard, the senior advisors stayed behind to chat with their lifelong friend.
“You have done well to prepare everyone for the upcoming battle, but I’m concerned about some other factors that you didn’t mention,” King Dylan stated.
“What factors are you referring to?” Beraut inquired, as a look of confusion registered upon his face.
“There has been considerable grumbling going on amongst the various troops,” King Dylan replied, “which I suspect may have some credence. I think even you have to admit the weather we have been experiencing is definitely atypical for this time of the year. Are you certain the Dark Lord isn’t at least partially responsible for it, as a way of hindering our movements against him?”
“As I have told the others that have questioned me about this before, Your Highness,” the wizard responded, “the inclement weather does not appear nor feel magical in nature. Not only that, but I do not sense any supernatural presence involved. I’m afraid it is just an unfortunate coincidence, no matter how uncomfortable it is to bear, how miserable it makes us feel or how much difficulty it adds to our future task.”
“If I might mention something,” Balaster Rombaire interjected, “my biggest concern is that we haven’t heard from the western or northern armies yet. Do you think we will be able to survive without them?”
“I admit it will test us severely if neither army arrives on time, but I don't think that will happen. I’m fairly certain that at least one of those two groups will get to the battlefield and that will be enough to give us the advantage we are seeking,” the wizard answered.
“I wish to point out that Commander Elgin is a very dependable and capable officer,” King Brolin added in support of his military leader. “I’m confident he will fulfill his obligation, regardless of how many obstacles he might encounter along the way. Turning to other matters, have you had any contact with Kieren lately?”
“Unfortunately the answer to that question is no,” Beraut confirmed. “The last time I attempted to check in on him, the vision I received was not exactly what I was expecting. The image was extremely dark and, regrettably, I was unable to make out very much.”
“What do you think that means?” King Brolin wanted to know, seeing Kieren’s mission was extremely vital to their success.
“I’m not sure it means anything, other than there wasn't much light to see by,” Beraut answered, hoping to allay the dwarf’s concerns. “From what I was able to tell, each of the companions appeared unharmed and the mission seemed to be moving forward. Other than that I cannot say. The problem I'm dealing with is that the closer they get to Treblanc, the more reluctant I am to look in on them, for obvious reasons.”
“So do you feel that they are where they should be by now and are still making good progress?” King Dylan followed, looking concerned as well.
“Of that I’m not sure, because I couldn’t see their surroundings well enough to be able to judge where they were at the time,” Beraut confessed. “Even though I am unable to tell you more about Kieren's situation, there is one thing I am certain of at this point. There will be a chilling frost settling in on us this evening, as a result of the heavy rain and massive cloud cover.”
“Then I guess I’d better make sure my bedroll is placed near the campfire tonight,” King Dylan joked. “These old bones don’t seem to endure the cold temperatures nearly as well as they used to. For that reason, I will take advantage of whatever help I can find to make it through the night, so I will be ready for the demands of the next day.”
“Just be careful that you don’t get to get too close to the fire,” the wizard countered. “We don’t want it to accidentally turn into a crematory pyre.”
“Indeed not,” the king shot back. “I don’t intend to provide roast elf for any of the local scavengers to enjoy, no matter how tasty it would be for them.”
The pair took a few seconds to enjoy this playful banter, along with the other pair, before getting serious again.
“It is getting late and I think it is time for me to retire,” King Dylan commented, while changing the tone. “May your gods be gracious enough to grant you all a restful slumber.”
“Yes, and I should be going as well,” King Brolin added. “Pleasant dreams to each of you, along with my prayers that everything goes as planned and desired during the remainder of this venture.”
“I should be going as well,” Balaster Rombaire joined in. “May you all slumber peacefully and awake refreshed for what lies ahead of us tomorrow.”
“And may all of you also enjoy a dreamless and rejuvenating evening, my old friends,” Beraut responded. “I fear we will have a very arduous row to hoe tomorrow.”
Each of the three advisors nodded his agreement with the wizard’s last statement. Then, the trio left the tent to rejoin their troops. Once the others had departed, Beraut spread his bedding out upon the ground and prepared to go to sleep as well. He knew he would also need to get as much rest as possible to meet the demands of the following day. He certainly didn’t want to let the army down or fail in his commitment to Tarolia at this crucial juncture.
Slowly, the entire camp began to fall silent, but Beraut still had far too much on his mind to be able to fall asleep quickly. Since the subject of Kieren had been brought up earlier, the wizard couldn't get thoughts of the lad out of his mind. Beraut was worried about how his ward and the others were doing, along with being deeply troubled because he didn’t know for sure how the mission was going or where they were. Since the wizard realized he wasn’t about to fall asleep just yet, at least until he had discovered some answers, he got up and began pacing back and forth in his tent. He had a lot to think about and not knowing the information he desired bothered him.
As Beraut considered Kieren’s current situation, he worried about how his ward was holding up, since Kieren had been dealing with several issues when the wizard last saw him. Beraut was also deeply troubled about the underlying issues behind Madumda’s absence from being with his army. Even though Beraut hoped it was not the case, he began to question if the two events might somehow be connected. The wizard couldn’t help but wonder if the Dark Lord had always planned to arrive at his army’s campsite at the last minute or if his tardiness might indicate he had stayed behind to handle another, more pressing, matter. Could this possibly mean Kieren and his protectors were currently in jeopardy or their mission had already failed? The answer to those questions weighed heavily upon Beraut’s mind and he was tempted to take rather drastic measures to discover the truth of the matter.
Once again, these troubling thoughts caused Beraut to wonder if he should check in on Kieren, to see if he could learn something more about his ward’s current situation. Although the wizard desired to put an end to the uneasiness he was feeling about Kieren’s circumstances, he spent quite a bit of time debating whether it would be wise. He didn't know if he should attempt something as blatantly risky as contacting Kieren while he was in proximity to or possibly even in Treblanc. As much as Beraut wanted to find out how Kieren was doing, he eventually felt the prudent course of action would be to trust in providence and the skills of Kieren’s protectors. He needed to believe the warriors would be able to keep the boy safe and thereby ensure the prophecy would be fulfilled.
Reluctantly, Beraut accepted the idea that making contact with Kieren when he was so close to where Madumda was presently located would make it much easier for his nemesis to detect the communication and possibly even listen in. Since the wizard didn’t wish to take the chance that the Dark Lord might discover what they were up to, he resisted the temptation and didn't look in on the others. He had to keep Madumda from learning about Kieren’s true identity before it was time for their showdown. In the end, the wizard gradually resigned himself to the inevitability that he'd have to remain in the dark about where Kieren and his protectors were at the moment and how they were doing, so he went back to his bedding to lie down.
Beraut had barely made himself comfortable, however, when he realized he was being magically summoned. Since he wasn’t expecting to hear from anyone at this time, he thought it might be Kieren attempting to contact him. Could it be possible that the teen was trying to let him know about a problem his companions and he were currently facing or might he be seeking advice?
Even though the wizard felt such contact would be very risky, he had to respond. The boy might believe he had no other option after finding himself in a very dangerous situation or he may even have a question he felt only the wizard could answer. As Beraut pulled out his own medallion to see what the young man wanted, he quickly discovered it wasn’t Kieren contacting him at all. It was the minstrel, Daimon, checking in with him instead.
“I’m in Tunstan now,” Daimon began, once Beraut had pulled the image into focus. “I’m also quite concerned about some of the things going on here. I’ve seen several mercenaries that I suspect are aligned with Madumda and they are doing some very questionable things.”
“Such as?” the wizard pressed, subtly.
“Well, I observed one of them trying to get a soldier from Tunstan drunk at the inn where I was performing,” Daimon continued. “When the mercenary felt the man was sufficiently inebriated, I heard him asking all kinds of questions about the number of troops they had and how much information they’d gathered about the enemy army. I also heard him ask the soldier about possible marching orders, as well as about the details of his upcoming assignment.”
“That in itself is not unusual,” Beraut assured him. “It is a fairly common practice for spies to gather information by taking advantage of opponents that have had too much to drink, even if they have to provide the beverage to make it happen. Unless the person being questioned was a Tunstanese officer, who should be too smart to place himself in such a compromising position, I doubt the mercenary was able to gather any vital details. I don’t believe a common soldier would know about anything that could prove to be important to the enemy or that would drastically impact our upcoming mission. Even if he did, the information he might have would be extremely limited in scope and most likely only pertain to himself or a small group of his comrades.”
“Maybe that wasn’t as important as I thought then,” Daimon replied, slightly disappointed. “I think this is though. I saw a different mercenary drawing a detailed map of the town. I’m not exactly sure what features he was focusing on, but he seemed to be sketching and labeling everything. I suspect he was looking for possible military targets.”
“Now that news IS disturbing,” Beraut agreed. “It makes me wonder what the Dark Lord is up to and why he seems to be so interested in Tunstan at this late date. I would have thought that if he had been planning to move against the town, he would have done it well before this. I actually expected him to do something when Tunstan first started gathering intelligence information about his troops and their movement. This is indeed curious. Is there anything else that you wish to report?”
“Yes. There have also been quite a few confrontations between the different mercenaries and some of the local townspeople,” Daimon informed him. “Unfortunately, at least two of the locals were killed during these encounters, although I was unable to find out precisely who had initiated the confrontation or what any of the conflicts had been about.”
“I’m saddened to hear that there has been a loss of life already,” the wizard commiserated. “I suppose, however, that a certain amount of peripheral carnage is to be expected under the circumstances though.”
“So you don’t want me to tell you about any future conflicts between these groups?” Daimon wondered, slightly confused.
“Only if you learn about the circumstances behind such run-ins, but I’m glad you mentioned this now,” Beraut confirmed. “I wish to thank you for this information, because these details might prove valuable later and aid me in making future decisions. Even though not all of the information was of great importance, it is still useful, so you have done well. I want you to continue being extremely careful though and take care of yourself. I do not want you to take any unnecessary chances, but I look forward to hearing from you again, if anything else of this nature should occur.”
“I will let you know immediately,” Daimon agreed. “There is one other thing before you go. I’ve been feeling more than a little uncomfortable about being here and was just wondering how much longer you want me to stay in this area?”
“Is your uneasiness because of the conflicts and deaths that have occurred thus far or is this about something else?” the wizard wondered.
“Those things are part of it, but I’m also a little nervous because I’ve been confronted several times about why I suddenly showed up at this location,” Daimon announced. "It is a little better now than when I first got here, but shortly after I arrived some people started to question my explanation about why I was there. They didn't seem to believe what I told them, at least not completely, so they seemed to be watching me closely.”
“Why were they doing that? How did you respond to their queries?” Beraut wanted to know, since he hoped it wasn’t something the young musician had said that had roused their suspicions about him.
“I merely explained that I had been sent to Tunstan by my guild to perform at the inn for a while,” Daimon answered. “I told them it was just one of the places I'd been assigned to stop at after I had completed my apprenticeship.”
“And they didn’t believe you were telling them the truth?” the wizard asked.
“Not at first, but I think I eventually managed to convince some of them it was true,” Daimon confirmed. "Initially, they were all very suspicious about the timing of my appearance here, so they were watching me for quite a long time. It wasn’t until after I told them about some of the other towns and places I had played at after being on my own, before I think I began to convince them this was merely a coincidence. After they heard about those other establishments where I'd been, especially since a few of them were familiar with those locations, they slowly began to figure it made sense and started to come around. I don’t think they’ve been watching me quite as closely since then, but I’m not totally convinced about that either. I think a small group may still be trying to see what I'm up to though.”
“Do you think they’ve relaxed their suspicions enough for you to continue doing this task safely?” Beraut followed.
“I don't think everyone has dropped their suspicions about me completely, but I think I can still do the job, if that's what you want,” Daimon replied. "They still make me nervous, but I will continue doing this, if you think it will help. I just wanted to know how much longer that might be."
“I only want you to do this if you feel it is safe to continue and don’t put yourself at risk needlessly,” Beraut replied. “You have already supplied me with valuable intelligence, but your service will probably only be needed for a few more days. I imagine the mercenaries will soon be leaving Tunstan, so they can make their way to join up with the rest of Madumda's army.”
“I’ll stick it out then,” Daimon agreed. “I believe most of those aligned with Madumda have finally figured out my story sounded plausible, at least for the most part. For that reason, I think I may be all right to keep doing this. Even though I’m still more than a little uncomfortable about being here, I want to continue helping.”
“That pleases me greatly, because you are definitely helping,” Beraut confirmed. “Just be careful for a little while longer and this should all be over within the week?”
“I can do that and I'm glad to hear this is almost over,” Daimon answered. “I haven’t seen anyone following me around lately, so I hope they aren't just being more cautious and staying hidden better so I don’t notice them.”
“As I said, please don’t do anything that might draw unwanted attention to yourself,” Beraut advised him. “Just do whatever it takes to keep safe. Don’t worry about making regular reports to me either and just contact me if you discover something you think is urgent or feel it's something I should absolutely know about. Just make certain no one else is nearby when you decide to contact me, because I don’t want to take the chance they might eavesdrop in on one of our communications and discover how much I’m learning about them.”
“I understand,” Daimon replied. “I hope I’m doing everything that you wanted.”
Beraut could sense Daimon’s insecurity about performing his duties satisfactorily, since he had never done anything like this before. The wizard felt he needed to allay the minstrel’s concerns.
“You have been doing an excellent job and performing exactly as you should,” Beraut praised him. “It’s just that I don’t want Madumda or his associates to figure out that you’re working for me. I don’t want any of them to feel the need to interrogate you to make sure, because the techniques they might use could be quite painful.”
“I don’t want that to happen either,” Daimon confirmed, “so I’ll be very careful.”
“I definitely appreciate all you’ve done so far, because it is exactly what I recruited you for,” the wizard added, in all sincerity. “You've already proven you’re loyalty and value to the kingdom, so I am in your debt. I shall make sure you are well rewarded for your service once this conflict ends and we are victorious.”
Those final remarks seemed to have given Daimon the morale boost he needed, because he quickly responded to the wizard’s last comment.
“Thank you and I’m glad I have been able to help,” Daimon replied. “I am very grateful that you selected and trusted me to do this job for you.”
“And so am I,” the wizard agreed. “As I stated previously, you shouldn't have to stay there for much longer, because it appears as if the battle will begin shortly. It means this entire matter should be over very soon and it’s another reason I want you to make sure you are keeping safe. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you when we are so close to reaching a resolution to this matter.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll do as you’ve told me,” Daimon confirmed.
Shortly after Daimon had made this comment, the two of them terminated their conversation and went back to what they had been doing previously. Beraut immediately returned to his bedroll and attempted to get some rest again, although he was still unsuccessful in his effort.
The news Daimon had just given him, along with his lingering uncertainties about how Kieren was faring were still nagging at the back of Beraut's mind. Not only was he frustrated that he could no longer check in on his ward, but the wizard was also unable to figure out if Madumda was up to something else. This helped to shatter his previously healthy conviction that things were progressing well and the gods were, for the most part, smiling upon their effort. Since he couldn’t shake these nagging doubts any longer, he got up again and spent even more time trying to overcome the various concerns he still harbored.
For the next hour, Beraut paced back and forth in the tent, as his way of releasing the excess nervous energy and tension that had built up within his body. He also hoped it would increase the amount of blood flowing throughout his body and help to stimulate his brain, so he might be able to come up with a solution he hadn’t previously considered. After engaging in this unproductive exercise for longer than he deemed necessary to elicit the desired result, the wizard returned to his bedding and finally gave in to his exhaustion.
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