The good thing about soldiers is that they’re used to following orders. Before his partner could get back Vanger and I tossed the body of his commander into the bedroom (you know, the onewhere I killed Wolcott that one time) and shut the door. When the other guard came running back with a confused lieutenant (is there any other kind?) he backed up my story that the shapeshifter had slashed at us with shapeshifter claws and then ran away after Vanger valiantly and bravely stabbed it, hence all the blood. Aside from being used to following orders he was probably also motivated by the desire not to be executed for murdering his commanding officer. I have no idea how well the shapeshifter defense works in a military tribunal but if he stopped to think about it I wonder what he would have done. Thankfully he didn’t. The lieutenant was all excited about rallying the men to find the escaped spy but I threw a blanket over that enthusiasm.
“Belay that order Lieutenant, think about what you’re saying for a moment, how do you suggest that we find a person or creature capable of changing form on a whim? What you’re talking about would be worse than a wild goose chase. We know one thing, right now, for certain, I am the real commander of this outfit. So I am going to issue an order and that order will be carried out no matter who seems to appear and countermand it. Gather up all the other officers and bring them here Lieutenant, I need to address you all at that same time. If you get back here and Vanger is not with me DO NOT LISTEN TO ANYTHING I SAY. From now on Vanger and I are joined at the hip, that way you know it’s the real me. We’d be holding hands right now if regulations didn’t say that we can’t. If you see me or Vanger alone that person is an imposter. Now hurry up damn it, we don’t have a lot of time!”
Vanger looked desperately like he wanted to say something but the other guard was there trying to look like he knew what was going on. A few minutes later the Lieutenant came jogging back with a handful of captains and a major or two along with some various other hangers-on.
“At ease men. A Kingdom agent with the ability to disguise themselves as anyone in the area. But that’s not going to be a problem because these two men can right here right now vouch that I am the true commander of this outfit. Here’s what we’re going to do. Our Ulpine allies have captured the Compass River and cut off Three Rivers from the rest of the county. But as usual they need us to do the real work. Get everyone ready to move and head up the road to Three Rivers to join the assault. In three days I want you across the river and in four days I want you to be inside the walls.”
A tall peacock looking fellow frowned “But sir our orders are . . .”
I gave him a look “I know what our orders are Captain. They no longer matter. As of right now our only priority is capturing Three Rivers. Forget everything else.”
A commander master sergeant with a rugged sergeanty jawline piped up “What about the prisoners sir?”
“Turn them loose, they no longer matter.”
Peacock’s eyebrows shot up “But sir, our orders . . .”
“Captain don’t make me tell you again, forget those orders. There is a Kingdom relief force heading here right now and we’re not going to waste any more time and manpower on this anthill of a village. Capturing Three Rivers is the key to securing this entire region. So that’s what you’re going to do, is that clear?”
He nodded, somewhat nervously but more in the way of a pouty child.
“Now the important part. I can’t have Vanger sitting my lap the entire way to Three Rivers to verify my identity. Which is why we won’t be going. I am issuing this order now, proceed to Three Rivers with all haste and attack. Major you are taking command of this operation. But all you of you men here in this room take heed – of the Major or myself or anyone else, up to and including the King shows up and tells you do anything other than proceed to Three Rivers with all haste and attack DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. This is the order I am giving and nothing in the Heavens or Hells will change that no matter how reasonable it seems. If you see ‘me’ turn up in your camp place that person under lock and key. Is that clear? You are to proceed to Three Rivers and attack, this order cannot be countermanded by anyone. Is that understood? If the Major or anyone else gives a different order remove them from command and place them in chains. Any change in directions or tactics needs to be confirmed in the presence of the next man up the chain. I want each man here to say individually that they understand.”
Once all that rigmarole was done and they scurried off to start yelling and whatever else it is that officers do Vanger grabbed at me desperately.
“What are we going to do?”
I shrugged him off “Relax private, we’re in the clear, they’ll go off to attack Three Rivers and you can return home or back to your base or whatever it is soldiers do who get separated from their unit. You have to admit that’s a pretty good shapeshifter protocol I came up with there wasn’t it? Seems like something the army should train for. I think that’s pretty simple magic. It probably happens all the time, spies and whatnot.”
He hissed dreadfully in a whisper “But you’re the shapeshifter.”
I elbow him away “Back off me man, you don’t have to spit in my ear, I know. Look, you’re freaking out, just sit in the corner and don’t say or do anything and this will all over shortly.”
He slumped down in the corner like a man who’d been kicked in the head by an oxen. I finished off the commander’s whiskey while I ransacked his home. The man only had forty damn gold. What a rip off. I guess the Vieland armor doesn’t pay any better than ours. He had a suit of armor that weighed nine thousand pounds. Even mounted I don’t understand how they wear that stuff. I had Vanger help me load it onto the commander’s mount – a big ugly brute of a horse who looked at me suspiciously until I used my Beastspeech to chat with him and explain that I was his new best friend.
While Vanger was out messing with big hunks of metal armor it have me a chance to take a look at Wolcott’s secret stash, which I didn’t get a chance to check out last time. He didn’t have any gold in there for some reason – what kind of emergency stash is that – but he did have some useful items, including some scrolls and wands. Was Wolcott a magic user? I never got that sense. I guess some people learn how to use scrolls that other magic people make for them. Since there was nothing else to do I searched the rest of the place thoroughly while the Vielanders got themselves into marching order and Vanger sat in the corner looking traumatized. Some of these military types are shockingly fragile. No one they come back from war all crazy in the head.
It was only a couple hours until the Vieland force was ready to move, which I have to admit it pretty impressive. There were more them them than I expected, probably five hundred men –headed north on the road to Three Rivers leaving behind several dozen confused and bruised Gevudians. Vanger and I watched as they marched into the trees and out of sight. He looked at me urgently.
“What do we do now?”
I patted him on the shoulder “Don’t worry Vanger, I have a plan.”
I stepped out of Wolcott’s house/the commander’s post looking like myself, my disguise having well worn off by now, with a very nervous man in a Vielander uniform on my side. I beckoned all the Gevudaners over to listen to my pronouncement.
“Greetings fellow Kingdomers, I have negotiated your freedom. You’re welcome. I would suggest that you loot whatever is left here and get out of this area as soon as possible. Head north to Gib’s Tor maybe? There are not a lot of good options. You could head for Graltondown but I think that place is going to be sacked soon, and Three Rivers is fucked as well. Basically what I’m saying is that it’s everyone for themselves. I wouldn’t hang around in this forest for sure, there’s a lot of bad shit going down in here.” I leapt onto the commander’s horse “Anyway, goodbye and good luck!” I heard Vanger yelling behind me as I spurred my hoses away from the ruins of Gevudan.