We broke camp before first light, and stopped for the mid-day meal early to ready for our entry. The casings are removed from our banners, and the three standard bearers move to the front of our procession. Cloaks are thrown back, emblems showing clearly, both Royal and Wielder, and weapons are to hand.
Taver, Alan and I ride just behind the banners: Battalion, Royal, and mine. Taver objects to Alan’s presence beside me, but I use mother’s favorite tactic, and don’t hear him. I have added my red vest and gloves, Taver has add a richer and less muddy cloak and Alan looks much more sorcerous than usual, although I can’t really put my finger on what he has changed. We all sit straight in the saddle, eschewing comfort for imposing.
We ride silently past the bridge crossing the river to our left. A trader is slowly leading his troop across one packed horse at a time, while men of the town are working on the bridge supports. Sometimes father complains they deliberately build the bridge vulnerable to ice build-up to provide a never-ending source of income for the town, but I know he has sent the best engineers in the realm at one time or the other to look for suggestions. Most of them were ‘build the bridge elsewhere’.
Everyone stops working to watch us as we ride by. I wonder if my guards notice being stared at. I wave sedately at them, in acknowledgement, but we do not stop. When we top the next hill, Blythe will be visible below us.
We are silent, all planning finished the night before. Five of our prisoners, when questioned out of hearing of the others, told the same story. Unease among the town guard. Messengers sent out by Orsin never returning. A revered Captain vanished, to be replace by a stranger brought in by Orsin. Mercenaries instead of City Guard standing duty inside the Keep. Father is right, this was an attempt to take the throne by assassination and stealth, not an open attack. The city doesn’t know what is happening, but they have seen enough to make them uneasy. And the watchers have seen more, knowing the only road being watched is the road to Misthold.
The sixth prisoner had claimed all was well, excepting the usual tempers and nerves caused by a harsh winter. Our sergeants had conferred, and then stripped him to the waist. Not the least surprised to see he wore the tattoo of the ShadowWalkers overlaid with a black bar.
It took both me and Taver yelling at them before my guards accepted they couldn’t just hang him. As far as they were concerned, he was one of the pack who had tried to assassinate the royal family, and needed to be dead.
We crest the top of the hill, and Taver gives a one word command. We urge our horses into a canter, and aim for the main gate of the city. Even the pack horses in the rear keep the set pace. Alan drops back even with the priests, as planned, leaving Taver and me leading the mass of horses and warriors. My cloak is thrown back, and the sword visible. The wind captures our banners, displaying them clearly. Everyone knows who is riding through the gate. The City Guard stand aside and salute as we enter; no questioning of the Wielder.
Taver stops in one of the main city squares, ignoring our men dispersing behind, expecting them to follow the plans made last night. He doesn’t get off his war steed, just beckons one of the city guard over.
“Summon your captain.” Taver barks his order. I also remain on my horse, looking stern. It is easy; if things go wrong, I could be fighting our own people.
Heads start poking out of windows and doors as we wait. And suddenly the streets are filled with people. I can almost hear the gossip spreading down the streets and across the city. The people are smiling, but… I turn to Taver.
“There are no children, or elders.”
Taver nods his understand, but doesn’t take his attention from the man striding toward us.
“Lord,” he begins when he is close enough to be heard, having enough sense, apparently, not to get too close to the great war steed Taver is riding, “My Lieutenant will show your men to barracks and I will escort you to Lord Orsin.”
Taver doesn’t answer. As planned, I urge my steed forward and draw my Sword. “Just a little lightening if you please, I want them awed, not terrified.” My Sword does not answer, but does do as I ask.
“Take him,” I command, without looking toward our men. They already know which four of them the command is for. They move fast, and have him secure before he can draw his sword. His lieutenant doesn’t try to help him, just looks on trying unsuccessfully to hide his satisfaction.
“Strip him.” Only his Lieutenant is surprised at his tattoo. “What is your name, Lieutenant?”
“Kale, Wielder. And he is not truly our Captain.”
I nod my agreement. “You are acting Captain until we find Conners.” Once the assassin had been unmasked yesterday, the other five were a wealth of information and opinions. If Kale hadn’t accompanied the impostor Captain I would have sent for him. “Tell your men to stand ready for orders from the Wielder.”
He salutes and turns to start giving his own orders. We pause for a moment as part of the battalion secures the main gate. The supply horses and their keepers mass to the side and the two ShadowWalkers are taken into one of the guardrooms on each side of the gate. The other five watchers are sent to spread the word through the city that the Wielder has arrived.
All of this is accomplished in a surprisingly short time, with a great deal of co-operation from the city guard and the massing citizens. Through it all, I sit rigid and stern trying not to run away in screaming panic at the expectations held of me, at the many faces looking toward me in relief. I’m not some hero out of a lore story. They expect too much. I hate it. And I had ridden here, demanded to ride here, counting on just this, counting on being able to turn the city against Orsin just by my presence on the other side. It does not make me happy to be right. Of course, I would not have been happy if we had to fight our way in, either.
Taver moves out, and I ride beside him. There are mounting crowds, watching, expecting.