Valdemar 05 - [Vows & Honor 02] - Oathbreakers (3 page)

BOOK: Valdemar 05 - [Vows & Honor 02] - Oathbreakers
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“I've figured this was coming,” Justin had said, somewhat to Tarma's shock, “And not just because of that idiot songster. You two have very unique and specialized skills—not like me and Ikan. You've gotten about as far as you can as an independent pairing. Now me and Ikan, we had the opposite problem. We're just ordinary fighting types; a bit better than most, but that's all that distinguishes us. We had to join a company to get a reputation; then we could live off that reputation as a pair. But you—you've got a reputation that will get you high fees from the right mercenary company.”
Tarma had shaken her head doubtfully at that, but Justin had fixed her with his mournful houndlike eyes, and she'd held her peace.
“You, Tarma,” he'd continued, “need much wider experience, especially experience in commanding others—and only a company will give you that. Kethry, you need to exercise skills and spells you wouldn't use in a partnership, and to learn how to delegate if your school is ever going to be successful, and again, you'll learn that in a company.”
“Long speech,” Tarma had commented sardonically.
“Well, I've got one, too,” Ikan had said, winking a guileless blue eye at her. “You also need exposure to highborns, so that they know your reputation
just minstrelsy and moonshine. You haven't a choice; you truly need to join a company, one with a reputation of their own, one good enough that the highborns come to
for their contract. Then, once you
ready to hang up your blades and start your schools, you'll have noble patrons and noble pupils panting in anticipation of your teaching—and two not-so-noble aging fighters panting in anticipation of easy teaching jobs.”
Kethry had laughed at Ikan's comic half-bow in their direction. “I take it that you already have a company in mind?”
“Idra's Sunhawks,” Justin had replied blandly.
Warrior's Oath—you'd aim us bloody damned high, wouldn't you?” Tarma had been well taken aback. For all that they were composed of specialist-troops—skirmishers, horse-archers and trackers—the Sunhawks' repute was so high that kings and queens
been known to negotiate their contracts with Idra in person. “Good gods, I should bloody well think highborns negotiate with them; their leader's of the damned Royal House of Rethwellan! And just how are we supposed to get a hearing with Captain Idra?”
“Us,” Ikan had replied, stabbing a thumb at his chest. “We're ex-Hawks; we started with her, and probably would still be with her, but Idra was going more and more over to horse-archers, and we were getting less useful, so we decided to light out on our own. But we left on good terms; if we recommend that she give you a hearing, Idra will take our word on it.”
“And once she sees that you're what you claim to be, you'll be in, never fear.” Justin had finished for him. “Shin‘a'in Kal‘enedral—gods, you'd fit in like a sword in a sheath, Hawkface. And you, Keth—Idra's always got use for another mage, 'specially one nearly Masterclass. The best she's got now is a couple of self-taught hedge-wizards. Add in Furball there—you'll be a combination she won't be able to resist.”
So it had proved. With letters in their pouches from both Ikan and his partner (both could read and write, a rarity among highborn, much less mercenaries) they had headed for the Sunhawks' winter quarters, a tiny hill town called Hawksnest. The name was not an accident; the town owed its existence to the Sunhawks, who wintered there and kept their dependents there, those dependents that weren't permanent parts of the Company bivouac. Hawksnest was nestled in a mountain valley, sheltered from the worst of the mountaintop weather, and the fortified barracks complex of the Sunhawks stood between it and the valley entrance. When the Hawks rode out, a solid garrison
all the Hawks-in-training remained behind. Idra believed in creating an environment for her fighters in which the only worries they needed to have on campaign were associated
the campaign.
Signing with Idra was unlike signing with any other Company; most Hawks stayed with Idra for years—she had led the Company for nearly twenty years. She'd willingly renounced her position as third in line to the throne of Rethwellan twenty five years earlier, preferring freedom over luxury. She'd hired on with a mercenary company herself, then after five years of experience accompanied by her own steady rise within the ranks, had formed the Hawks.
Tarma had been impressed with the quarters and the town; the inhabitants were easy, cheerful and friendly—which spoke of good behavior on the part of the mercs. The Hawks' winter quarters were better than those of many standing armies, and Tarma had especially approved of the tall wooden palisade that stretched across the entrance to Hawksnest, a palisade guarded by both Hawks and townsmen. And the Hawks themselves—as rumor had painted them—were a tight and disciplined group; drilling even in the slack season, and showing no sign of winter-born softness.
Idra had sent for them herself after reading their letters; they found her in her office within the Hawks' barracks. She was a muscular, athletic looking woman, with the body of a born horsewoman, mouse-gray hair, a strong face that could have been used as the model for a heroic monument, and the direct and challenging gaze of the professional soldier.
“So,” she'd said, when they took their seats across the scratched, worn table that served as her desk, “if I'm to trust Twoblade and Dryvale, it should be me begging you to sign on.”
Kethry had blushed; Tarma had met that direct regard with an unwavering gaze of her own. “I'm Kal‘enedral,” Tarma said shortly. “If you know Shin'a‘in, that should tell you something.”
“Swordsworn, hmm?” The quick gray eyes took in Tarma's brown clothing. “Not on bloodfeud—”
“That was ended some time ago,” Tarma told her, levelly. “We ended it, we two working together. That was how we met.”
“Shin‘a'in Kal‘enedral and outClansman. Unlikely pairing—even given a common cause. So why are you still together?”
For answer they both turned up their right palms so that she could see the silver crescent-scars that decorated them. One eyebrow lifted, ever so slightly.
That explains a bit. Seems I've heard of a pair like you.”
“If it was in songs,” Tarma winced, “let's just say the stories are true in the main, but false in the details. And the author constantly left out the fact that we've always done our proper planning before we ever took on the main event. Luck plays wondrous small part in what we do, if we've got any say in the matter. And besides all that—we're a lot more interested in making a living than being somebody's savior.”
Idra had nodded; her expression had settled into something very like satisfaction. “One last question for each of you—what's your specialty, Shin‘a'in—and what's your rank and school, mage?”
“Horseback skirmishing, as you probably figured, knowing me for Shin‘a'in.” Tarma had replied first. “I'm a damned good archer—probably as good as any you've got. I can fight afoot, but I'd rather not. We've both got battlesteeds, and I'm sure you know what
means. My secondary skill is tracking.”
“I'm White Winds, Journeyman; I'd say I lack a year or two of being Masterclass.” Kethry had given her answer hard on the heels of Tarma's. “One other thing I think Ikan and Justin may have forgotten—Tarma is mindmate to a
and I've got a bespelled blade I'm soul-bonded to. It gives me weapons expertise, so I'm pretty good at keeping myself in one piece on a battlefield; that's damned useful in a fight, you won't have to spare anybody to look after me. And besides that, it will Heal most wounds for a woman—and that's any woman, not just me.”
Idra had not missed the implication. “But not a man, eh? Peculiar, but—well, I'm no mage, can't fathom your ways. About half my force is female, so that would come in pretty useful, regardless. But White Winds—that's no Healing school.”
“No, it's not,” Kethry agreed, “I haven't the greater Healing magics, just a few of the lesser. But I've got the battle-magics, and the defensive magics. I'm not one to stand in the back of a fight, shriek, and look appalled—”
For the first time Idra smiled. “No, I would guess not, for all that you look better suited to a bower than a battlefield. About the
we're talking Pelagir Hills changeling, here? Standard wolf-shape?”

—overall he's built like a predator cat, but he's got the coat and head of a wolf. Shoulder comes to about my waist, he runs like a Plains grasscat; no stamina for a long march, but he's used to riding pillion with me.” Tarma's description made Idra nod, eyes narrowed in
satisfaction. “He's got a certain ability at smelling out magic, and a certain immunity to it; given he's from the Pelagirs he might have other tricks, but he hasn't used them around me yet. Mindspeaks, too, mostly to me, but he could probably make himself heard to anyone with a touch of the Gift. Useful scout, even more useful as an infiltrator. But be aware that he eats a lot, and if he can't hunt, he'll be wanting fresh meat daily. That'll have to be part of any contract we sign.”
“Well, from what my boys say, what I knew by reputation, and what you've told me, I don't think I need any more information. Only one thing I don't reckon—” Idra had said, broad brow creased with honest puzzlement. “If you don't mind my asking what's none of my business even if I
sign you, why's the
mindmate to the fighter and not the mage's familiar?”
Tarma groaned, then, and Kethry laughed. “Oh, Warrl has a mind of his own,” the mage had answered, “I
been the one doing the calling, but he made the decision. He decided that I didn't need him, and Tarma did.”
“So besides your formidable talents, I get three recruits, not two; three used to teamworking. No commander in her right mind would argue with that.” Idra then stood up, and pushed papers across her desk to them. “Sign those, my friends, if you're still so minded, and you'll be Sunhawks before the ink dries.”
So it had been. Now Tarma was subcommander of the scouts, and Keth was in charge of the motley crew concerned with Healing and magery—two hedge-mages, a field-surgeon and herbalist and his two apprentices, and a Healing Priest of Shayana. “Priestess” would have been a more accurate title, but the Shayana's devotees did not make any gender differences in their rankings, which ofttimes confused someone who expected one sex and got the opposite. Tresti was handfasted to Sewen, Idra's Second, a weathered, big-boned, former trooper; that sometimes caused Keth sleepless nights. She wondered what would happen if it was ever Sewen carried in through the door flap of the infirmary, but the possibility never seemed to bother Tresti.
Tarma and Kethry had fought in two intense campaigns, each lasting barely a season; this was their third, and it had been brutal from the start. But then, that was often the case with civil war and rebellion.
Ten moons ago, the King of Jkatha had died, declaring his Queen, Sursha, to be his successor and Regent for their three children. Eight moons ago Sursha's brother-in-law, Declin Lord Kelcrag, had made a bid for the throne with his own armed might.
Lord Kelcrag was initially successful in his attempt, actually driving Sursha and her allies out of the Throne City and into the provinces. But he could not eliminate them, and he had made the mistake of assuming that defeat meant that they would vanish.
Queen Sursha had talent and wisdom—the talent to attract both loyal and
people to her cause, and the wisdom to know when to stand back and let
do what was needful, however distasteful that might be to her gentle sensibilities. That talent won half the kingdom to her side; that wisdom allowed her to pick an otherwise rough-hewn provincial noble, Havak Lord Leamount, as her General-In-Chief and led her to give
her full and open support even when his decisions were personally repugnant to her.
General Lord Leamount levied or begged troops from every source he could—and then hired specialists to fill in the skill gaps his levies didn't have.
And one of the first mercenary Captains he had approached was Idra. His troops were mostly foot, with a generous leavening of heavy horse—no skirmishers, no scouts, no light horse at all, other than his own personal levy of hill-clansmen. The hillmen were mounted on rugged little ponies; good in rough country but slow in open areas, and useless as strike-and-run skirmishers.
And by now Idra's troops were second to none, thanks in no small part to Tarma. The Shin‘a'in had seen no reason why she could not benefit her presumptive clan's coffers, and her new comrades as well; she'd arranged for the Sunhawks to get first pick of the sale-horses of Tale‘sedrin. These weren't battlesteeds, which were
let out of Shin'a‘in hands, but they weren't culls either, which was what the Sunhawks had been seeing. And when the Hawks had snapped up every beast she offered, she arranged for four more clans to bring in their first-pick horses as well.
So now the Hawks were better mounted than most nobles, on horses that could be counted as extra weapons in a close-in fight.
That fact was not lost on Lord Leamount, nor was he blind to Idra's canny grasp of strategy. Idra was made part of the High Command, and pretty much allowed to dictate
her Hawks were used.
As a result, although the fighting had been vicious, the Hawks were still at something like four-fifths strength; their ranks were nowhere near as decimated as they might have been under a commander who threw them recklessly at the enemy, rather than using them to their best advantage.
BOOK: Valdemar 05 - [Vows & Honor 02] - Oathbreakers
5.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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