When I first heard that Vieland had captured Gevudan I wondered why they would bother. Later on when I uncovered their operation with the traitors in the Lodge Woods it made a little more sense. When I first heard that my jailers/guards/minders were taking to Three Rivers by way of Gevudan I said “Isn’t that village in enemy hands?” I was assured that it had been retaken by the brave men of the King’s Army. Our first indication that the statement about Gevudan being back in the poxy bosom of the Kingdom might be incorrect is when a few miles away the guy who’s name I didn’t learn and who never said or did anything both said and did something. What he did was catch an arrow in the thigh and what he said was “I’m shot.” Very calmly as if saying “hey look at that bird over there.”
I had mentioned several times to my jailers/guards/minders that wearing the uniforms of the Duke’s Guard this close to enemy territory was perhaps not the best idea but as usual I was ignored. I’m no expert on fieldcraft but I feel that when you’re moving through a warzone it’s best to do so in plain clothes. Bolbec, Findley, and Cavnas ran for cover as another arrow snapped the unknown soldier’s head back by hitting him in the face. I’ve seen a depressingly high number of people get shot through the face in the past two years. Granted I shot most of them but still. I went the other way with it, I let loose a very convincing scream of terror and ran towards the Vieland patrol that was shooting at us. As if I was a captive escaping from my captors, which is what I was.
As I ran towards them one of the bowmen took aim at me, but I shrieked and threw myself to the ground and he held his shot. A couple of Vielanders ran out of cover to drag me back off the road. From what I saw the Duke’s guards didn’t have crossbows or any other missile weapons so there was no return fire, but the Vielanders were still cautious. A fellow with a cloak that looked like a pair of damn bat wings wearing a stupid pointy hat asked me what the Hells I was doing. I babbled in a frightened tone about how the Kingdomers had arrested my mistress Lady Krebuleus for treason on account of she was conspiring with Vieland and they grabbed me as well. I cried tears of relief at being “rescued”, the whole bit. Batwings Stupidhat dispatches one of his soldiers to run me back to town while they continued their standoff with the Ducal Guard.
Gevudan wasn’t much to look at to begin with, now the place looks like it has been flattened by the stamping feet of giants. The village has essentially ceased to exist aside from a couple buildings that looked like they had been half burned. It was just a place for a Vieland military camp now. For a such a small unimportant place it looked like the fighting have been vicious – there were still bodies lying about and discarded pieces of equipment being picked over by some dead-eyed cattlemen under the guard of Vieland soldiers. One of the buildings still standing was Wolcott’s home, which is where the soldier took me. It was weird to be back at the sight of what was probably my most cold blooded killing. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but in retrospect I probably could have some up with a better plan. It was all bit a much.
The Vielander who had turned the place into a command center of sorts was sour looking fellow with blonde hair that came too far down his forehead. He tersely asked me who I was and what was going on and then proceeded to interrupt with more questions a third of way into any answer I gave. The only time he let me talk was when I told him about the Ulpine fleet on the Compass River. After he questioned me about that at length he gave me a stern gaze, not a real one, more like a teacher who thinks a pupil is being “cheeky”.
“So what you want from me madam? Your mistress was captured, her plan failed. Many men died because of her carelessness, letting the plan be discovered. And you expect what? Asylum? To be sent home as a hero? You’ll find cold welcome for any Kingdomer there.”
“I don’t want anything from you, I was brought here against my will. I wasn’t coming here to speak with you, I just wanted to get away from my captors. Truth be told I don’t care a nonce for your war and I resent that my mistress has made me a traitor to my homeland. But a traitor is what I am now. If you leave me my to my business I’ll leave you to yours.”
He snorted “I can’t have you wandering around my battlefield like a ghost.”
“What do you propose to do with me then sir?”
“You’ll be my assistant. You can start right now by fetching me some wine. If you are disobedient you will be disciplined. If you serve well you will be treated well.”
I raised an eyebrow “Ooh, disciplined huh? Kinky.” I put my feet up on his desk “You know I’ve been here before. This house used to belong to a man named Wolcott. We had sex and then I cut his throat. It was part of a scheme I was working, framing another guy for devil worship. It was pretty convoluted. I was a little too clever for my own good back then.” I produced a dagger from my secret pocket “You want to see how I did it? The throat part I mean, not the sex part, that was pretty standard. I’m sure you can imagine what that looked like fairly easily.”
For a military man he reacted in a gutless way, even for an officer, instead of drawing a weapon to defend himself he ran into the back room and slammed the door, shouting for his guards. I guess it’s not totally unjustified, he probably thought that I was a doppelganger or a fey tricksteress. By the time two guards came running in I had taken his form and voice.
I gestured “Get this door down now! Be careful, she’s a shapeshifter, so whatever you see on the other side don’t get thrown off. Whoever is in there grab them.”
The two men picked up the desk and hurled it through the door, smashing it to pieces, then awkwardly dragging out their commanding officer who was protesting that I was imposter all the while. They kept a hold of him but they eyed me warily.
“She’s trying to fool you, but she’s right you know, you don’t know which one of us to trust. Until further notice you should disregard what either of us says. You, stay here and make sure that neither one of us leaves, you grab the first officer you can find and bring them here – they’re in charge until we figure this out.”
The commander was apoplectic at being restrained by his own man while the other ran off to obey my orders “I’ll have you court martialed if you don’t release me right now Vanger!”
I rummaged around in the wreckage of the desk and found an intact bottle of Cherrywood Select Whiskey, setting up the chair and taking a seat to have a pull “I tell you what, this day is not going the way I expected.” I shook my head “You can’t put anything past these Kingdomers can you? Shapeshifting assassins? What’s next I ask.”
He looked at me suspiciously “Why didn’t you call me Vanger?”
I smiled shortly “Sorry son, but I have no idea what your name is. I hate to break it to you but I don’t know the names of every man under my command.” I raised the bottle to him “I’m sure as Hells going to remember your name after this though. Is Vanger your first or last name private?”
The man in his arms shouted desperately “Casan! Casan Vanger!”
The soldier looked at the man in his arms and then let him go – only to slam a knife into his back. Blondie’s eyes widened comically as he was stabbed and slipped to the floor. Vanger retrieved his spear and finished the job of murdering his commanding officer. He looked over at me with a happy grin.
“I knew the real you wouldn’t know my name sir, but now you do.”
I took another drink and then spoke in my own voice “I like your initiative soldier, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do when your friend came back. The bad news is you just killed your commander, which I believe even the Vieland military frowns upon. The good news is that I have a plan for us.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever see someone more crestfallen. And I know from crestfallen.