Within a few hours, we were ready to continue on east. We marched right through Premit without incident. The remnants left to us were of the war waged unfairly. Many nearby refugees heard of our ranks and asked for food and shelter. The southern routes were dangerous and crowded, they claimed. They needed the help.
Despite my cold misgivings, my heart told me that I had to protect them at all costs.
Their towns had been destroyed enough that nothing was left.
If I could not keep these people in a stable environment or send them westward, I ordered them to stay close. I kept the trainable bodies in the rear with Etheridge and rotated them as guards for Princess Christina. The others (mainly women and children) were given menial assignments.
Then, we heard information about Whyte.
He was north of us. His troops remained on the Great Road and were on the way to Ploum. Nobody knew if he was going to run for the capital or keep us distracted. Without argument, I decided to attack him.
But I underestimated him.
We never got the chance…because Whyte got to us first.
Vengeance is mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them.
When we least expected it, the Tommel Army struck at us in small skirmishes. Bands would jump from trenches in the field, houses by the road and the high shrubbery of the meadows. We’d recover, but it’d be too late. As they ran off, with many on their asses, they’d disappeared like ghosts.
It spooked our company. Tales were exchanged constantly.
I could not have my camp demoralized.
Worse was to come.
The more we marched on in any direction, the more we realized that they surrounded us like a cocoon. By the time we began to turn northward, we found our way blocked. From our forced encampment to the rest of the kingdom, we gathered fewer intelligence and information. I could not reach anyone westward. Char was missing too.
We were blinded by a simple challenge from Whyte’s queen.
I had to make a move quickly, before the king was placed in check.
It was almost too late.
I wanted nothing more than to get the commander, but there was a thick wall of men to go through to get to Whyte. I had to be content with breaking free and taking out as much as I can before capturing Ploum. The last we heard, Whyte and his men were positioned along the other side of Premit and into Vicroy. They were trying to take their rear flank and invade what is ours while the rest took us on.
We were quickly running out of time.
When had the king been cornered? How? Why?
I decided that Seewald’s methods would have to do. Before everyone was too comfortable, I ordered everyone to pack. We were going to keep going, no matter the consequences. We could not afford to stop.
The elderly, weak and sick were placed on horseback and carts. They were pulled by men, rotating turns. Cleworth directed the rest. There was no comfort in the pace (the healers complained enough), but there was an urgency for our future safety. Nobody could challenge that.
But many questioned me anyway. They insinuated a political agenda to alternative battle plans. Others hinted that the more religious were swaying to another will of God. The Jastese were the wildest, demanding that they smash through without thought.
I dismissed all of it.
“We’ve come this far!” I’d tell them. “We cannot stop now. God will bring us all the way. Believe in me!”
My faith held them over, even the Jastese.
I pushed myself the same, if not more so, than they did.
Even as Whyte took the lead in his circle, we grew shrewder.
I gave into the Jastese demands and allowed them to take on the Tommel Army…behind us. I sent all of the Chiefs and more than three quarters of their supplies and men to our secured areas. They returned within three days, hollering with joy. They carried the heads of the officers and nobles who crossed them. The rest were left to rot where they died.
In the meantime, we forged on. Tommel dared to send their gorillas out, but we learned how to pushed them back. Eventually, we broke through one part of their circle, but Whyte was not there anymore. His men kept regrouping, though.
The confusion of recovering bought us the time. Town after town fell to us without resistance. More and more citizens joined our cause. We began establishing their government sector, only to be attacked by the Tommel.
The Tommel Army were only going to let us go so far.
It was infuriating.
But at least I managed to keep out of check.
In the middle of Premit, in the small town of Althane, I found the area stable and decided to settle for a few days. Because I had used the whip so freely, nobody believed the order until I announced it myself. Relieved, the camp unpacked and activities began tentatively, with singing and dancing. It grew in noise.
For the first time in a long time, I felt that I too could rest a little.
Despite the threat, things were quiet, secure.
By the time dinner was finished, I was by the fire with some entertainment of my own. Andrew passed around his flask and told tall tales, each worse than the last. Buckingham countered with some of his own, going as far as tossing a large log to prove a point. Rolff kept his head low to come papers sent by Idris and one of the Chiefs will pass by and slap the back of his head. Catherine was teaching Edward a new dance and my nephew loved nothing more than to show it off.
I ignored the growing argument between Rolff and Andrew and watched Edward. When Buckingham decided to jump in and start a whole new war, my nephew enchanted me completely. I applauded his efforts and praised him highly. Edward twirled and giggled and Catherine clapped in time to the nearby music.
Soon, Edward had to be put to sleep. He gave me a shaky bow and wished me a good night. Catherine took him. Without this distraction, I was almost forced to listen to the men fighting…had Cleworth not interjected and poured a bucket of water over Andrew’s head. With a whistle, Cleworth gathered his helpers and scrubbed Andrew down.
I never knew he had it in him.
I shook my head when that war switched directions. Annoyed, Andrew tackled every hand that touched him. Drunk, he almost tripped into the fire. Cleworth managed to grab him in time.
Exhausted, I decided that I should probably join Edward. I found his spot and laid on his other side. Feeling sure that we’d be well guarded for the night, I drifted off blissfully. For the first time since landing in Klenard, I felt safe. I knew where the board laid. I could pick it up at any time.
Or, so I thought.