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Authors: Michael A. Stackpole

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At the Queen's Command

BOOK: At the Queen's Command
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THE FIRST BOOK OF THE CROWN COLONIES

AT THE

QUEEN'S COMMAND

Other books by Michael A. Stackpole:

DragonCrown War:

The Dark Glory War

Fortress Draconis

When Dragons Rage

The Grand Crusade

Age of Discovery:

A Secret Atlas

Cartomancy

A New World

BattleTech: Warrior:

Warrior: En Garde

Warrior: Riposte

Warrior: Coupé

BattleTech: Blood of Kerensky:

Lethal Heritage

Blood Legacy

Lost Destiny

BattleTech Core Novels:

Natural Selection

Assumption of Risk

Bred for War

Malicious Intent

Grave Covenant

Prince of Havoc

MechWarrior: Dark Age:

Ghost War

Masters of War

Star Wars:

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron

X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble

X-Wing: The Krytos Trap

X-Wing: The Bacta War

I, Jedi

X-Wing: Isard’s Revenge

The New Jedi Order: Dark Tide I:
Onslaught

The New Jedi Order: Dark Tide II: Ruin

Dark Conspiracy:

A Gathering Evil

Evil Ascending

Evil Triumphant

Once a Hero

Dementia

Talion: Revenant

A Hero Born

An Enemy Reborn

Wolf and Raven

Eyes of Silver

THE FIRST BOOK OF THE CROWN COLONIES

AT THE

QUEEN'S COMMAND

Michael A.
Stackpole

Night Shade Books San Francisco

At the Queen’s Command: The First Book of The Crown Colonies

© 2010 by Night Shade Books

 

Edited by Janna Silverstein

Cover art by Ryan Pancoast

Cover design by Claudia Noble

Interior layout and design by Ross E. Lockhart

All rights reserved

 

First Printing

ISBN: 978-1-59780-200-0

 

Printed In Canada

 

Night Shade Books

Please visit us on the web at
http://www.nightshadebooks.com

To Kat Klaybourne

Thanks for being my best friend and partner in the brave new worlds we explore every single day.

Acknowledgments

This novel would not have been possible without the aid of many: Kat Klaybourne for her insights and unflagging support; Jason Williams and Jeremy Lassen of Night Shade Books for taking a chance; my agents Howard Morhaim and Danny Baror for guaranteeing I had the time to do the job; Janna Silverstein for translating me into English, and Reinhold Mai for translating me into German.

Chapter One

April 27, 1763

Coronet

Temperance Bay, Mystria

 

C
aptain Owen Strake stood on the
Coronet’
s wheel deck, smiling as the ship came around the headland. The wind remained steady, but in the harbor the sea lost its chop. The angry clouds that had pounded the ship with nearly incessant storms had vanished, and the rising sun painted the sky blue. A light mist rose off the deep blue water.

Owen’s stomach began to ease and his flesh to warm. The crossing to Mystria had not been kind to him. Seven weeks of nausea had left him twenty pounds lighter and intolerably weak. Even disastrous campaigns, battle wounds, and long, cold retreats had never left him feeling so hideous.

The ship’s captain, Gideon Tar, turned toward Owen, smiling through weathered features as his steersman straightened the wheel. The First Mate bellowed orders sending men aloft to furl sails. “At least we beat May here, which I had not thought likely when we left Norisle.”

“I was counting the days.”

Gideon shook his head. “You were counting the
hours,
Mr. Strake. Or, Captain is more correct.” The sailor looked him up and down. “As wretched as you must feel, you wear the uniform well. Queen’s Own Wurms, yes?”

“Yes, and you’re being polite, sir.” Owen held his arms out to his sides. “I’m too small for it now. My wife had it tailored as a surprise. She’d be horrified.”

“You should have brought her with you. She could have taken it in.”

Owen shook his head. “I’m fair certain, Captain, my wife would have enjoyed the company of your wife and the other women on board, but she is delicate. I do not know how she would have taken the passage, but I do not think she would take well to the Colonies. She prefers her galas and society far too much.”

“And she was the one to whom you wrote all those letters?”

“Yes, and I would be obliged if you would see them back to Norisle when you sail again.” Tar nodded. “It would be a pleasure. I owe you at least that given your intervention with Mr. Wattling.”

“I appreciate how you handled the aftermath, sir.”

For the sake of secrecy, since the Tharyngians had spies everywhere, Owen had boarded at night. He had remained largely below decks until they were well away from the Auropean coast. Not even the ship’s small contingent of Marines, with whom he had bunked, knew who he was nor his rank until he’d pulled his uniform from his trunk that morning.

Captain Tar had known only that the man’s passage was of vital import to the Crown, and that no attention should be called to him. Owen had prevented a passenger from beating his servant to death—a violation of Owen’s orders to remain unremarkable. Tar had calmed things with Mr. Wattling, giving Owen time to absent himself.

“What fraud is this I see before me?” Wattling, a rotund man with a bright red face, mounted the deck and strode straight for the officers. “Dressing this man as a soldier will not preserve him. I ordered you to flog him, Captain Tar, and you will do so.”

Gideon raised his chin. “Mr.Wattling, may I introduce to you Captain Owen Strake, of the Queen’s Own Wurms.”

“I am not an idiot, Captain. Red coat with blue facings, the braid: I know the unit very well. A fraud, I tell you, and you shan’t get away with it. No, sir.” The large man hammered his walking stick against the deck. “You
redemptioneers
all do hang together. I should have known.”

“Do you suggest, sir, that I wear this uniform to deceive you?”

“Of course, damn you, I cannot say it more plainly.” Wattling’s piggish eyes tightened. “A Mystrian in Her Majesty’s service, perhaps, but a captain, never! Officers are gentlemen, and you are no gentleman. No Mystrian could be!”

Gideon Tar’s face flushed crimson.

Owen stepped toward the angry man. “Mr. Wattling, it has been a trying passage. I shall assume your ill-humor and poor manners are because of fatigue.”

“Assume what you wish…”

Owen raised his voice, his green eyes widening for emphasis. “Sir, you are
speaking
when you should be
listening
.”

Wattling raised his stick. “I will not have some grubby Colonial speak to me in such a tone. Flog him, Captain!”

Gideon Tar stepped between the two men. “I should remind you, sir, that you are on a ship crewed by ‘grubby Colonials’ and that it is yet a long swim to Temperance.”

Wattling hesitated a moment, then stepped back and barked out a harsh laugh. “You wouldn’t dare, none of you. Mystrians haven’t the fortitude. The moral defects for which you were shipped here are writ large on you all. You barely eek out an existence in a fecund land, but have neither the intelligence nor courage of true men.”

His cane became a scepter brandished. “I know all about you. I’ve read every word of Lord Rivendell’s
The Five Days Battle of Villerupt
. Had to. Set the type myself. I printed it on the very press in the hold of this ship. I know all about Colonial cowardice facing the godless Tharyngians.”


You
printed that sheaf of lies?” The moment he’d spoken Owen knew he had gone too far.

“Lies?” Rage cast Wattling’s expression in iron. Even his jowls ceased quaking. “I set every word as given to me by his lordship directly. Are you saying he lies?”

Owen shook his head. “He was not even at Villerupt. I was—First Battalion, Scouts Company. The closest Lord Rivendell got was L’Averne. Gout kept him from walking and his piles left him unable to sit a horse.” Owen almost added that medicinal brandy left Rivendell unconscious for the first three days, and hopelessly hungover for the last two, but thought better of it.

“This is an outrage! You slander the man.”

“As you slander the Colonials.”

Wattling shook his stick. “Are you saying the Mystrian Rangers didn’t break on the third day?”

Owen raised his chin and clasped his hands at the small of his back. “I am saying, sir, that they fought as hard as anyone. I was there.”

“Then you fled with them. Just another coward.”

“Mr. Wattling, have you any practical experience of war?”

Wattling refused to meet his gaze. “The Crown has not required my service.”

And you never saw fit to purchase a command.
“It rained incessantly during the campaign, sir. The men, Norillians and Colonials alike, were wet and miserable, cold. Half our brimstone was wet, our muskets rusting. Many men were barefoot. This ship’s provisions have been far better than any we had in the field. The rains turned everything into a marsh, washed out roads and bridges.”

“Soldiers choose their own lot in life, sir.”

“They do, so you have to think on the courage of men who, born in Mystria, would answer the Crown’s call and board a ship for a land they’ve never seen. A hundred and eighty men, three companies. Major Forest’s had little training or drill, yet by Lord Rivendell’s order they were to anchor the left, tight against woods his lordship deemed impassable.”

Owen shivered, memories coming back too fast. Brigadier General Richard Ventnor, later made Duke of Deathridge, had fought Rivendell’s troops well, pushing hard toward Villerupt. The Tharyngians had given ground and that third day, on the narrow plain of Artennes, it appeared the conflict would be decided.

“You should understand, Mr.Wattling, that in the first two days, the Mystrians acquitted themselves well, acting alongside my troops as skirmishers. At Artennes, the Platine Guards Regiment came through those woods on logging trails—wide logging trails. You remember the Platine Guards. They forced Lord Rivendell off the Continent two years earlier.”

Owen didn’t wait for the man’s response. “A battalion of skirmishers against Tharyngia’s elite guards. The Mystrians gave three volleys before they broke. Even then, they regrouped and continued fighting, harassing the Guards.”

“Be that as it may, they
broke
. They let the enemy through. They should have sold themselves dearly, dying where they stood. But they couldn’t have. It’s not in their blood. It’s not in
your
blood.”

“Oh, they fought. Their leader lost half an arm, and his command well over half its number.” Owen’s hands tightened into fists. “And I hasten to add, Mr. Wattling, that Lord Rivendell’s son, John, never answered the call to come to our aid. His inactivity is what doomed the left flank.”

“Another slander from a coward’s mouth!”

Owen lowered his voice. “It is in deference to Captain Tar that I do not demand satisfaction of you, sir, right here and right now. And because my uncle, Richard, the Duke of Deathridge, frowns on dueling.”

“Your
uncle
, sir?”

“My mother is his youngest brother’s wife. That would make him my uncle.”

Wattling’s jowls quivered. “But, sir, your name. Strake is a Mystrian name.”

“And so my father was Mystrian, a sailor like the good captain here. He met my mother, married her, and got her with me before his ship was lost to pirates. She later married Francis Ventnor.”

Wattling’s mouth hung open. “I had no idea, sir.”

“Nor could you have, since Captain Tar was under strict orders to keep my identity secret. My orders, you understand, from my
uncle
.”

“The Duke, yes, quite.” Wattling smiled slyly, his complexion still ashen. “I should have seen through it, of course, your disguise, to your breeding. No Colonial would have stopped me as you did.”

“Yes, about that.” Owen turned to Captain Tar. “You’ll understand, sir, if I prefer charges of assault against Mr. Wattling here. I would make it attempted murder, but I cannot ascertain Mr. Wattling’s intent in beating the boy.”

Wattling’s eyes widened. “You cannot, sir! The boy is a redemptioneer. He is indentured to me.”

“I can, sir, and I will, unless…”

“Yes?”

“You cancel his indenture contract and pay him a crown.”

“That is an outrage!”

“Captain, if you were to drop anchor here, and we tried Mr. Wattling, what would the penalty be?”

“Fifty lashes.”

“You cannot flog me! I am a
gentleman!”

Owen closed the gap between them in two easy steps. “No, sir, you are not. You are a pompous fool who has made the mistake of insulting the Mystrians who surround him, and will surround him. And let us not be coy, sir. If you were such a success in Norisle, you would not have packed your press and come so far over the sea. You’d hardly allow that Colonials can read, yet you bring a press to serve their need for reading material. Is it to make your fortune, sir, or to avoid paying a fortune to your creditors?”

BOOK: At the Queen's Command
12.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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