“Mason!” Sir Bliss was walking toward us down the column. “We’re making camp, you’re wanted up front. And after you’ve finished getting Sir Hagan’s things set up, stay at his tent. Says it’s time for a strategy meeting.”
“Got it, Sir.” I looked at Ran as I gently lowered my pack onto its side. “Looks like you’re stuck setting up without me again.”
Ran shrugged. “We’ll manage.”
Sir Bliss looked over at Ran. “For you and the rest of your tent, orders are to set camp as normal, then collect weapons and armor from one of Sir Lloyd’s men and make them ready for battle. Spears, swords, and daggers. Don’t worry about keeping your fire small tonight, you’ll need the light.”
Ran opened his mouth, looking like he was going to argue for a moment, and then frowned and closed it again. “Yes, sir.”
Bliss nodded and moved past us, continuing to make his way back along the line, stopping at the next little group of soldiers to give them the same message he’d given Ran.
Ran shook his head. “They may not be able to hear us now,” he said, once Sir Bliss was out of earshot, “but they’ll certainly know we’re here once we’ve lit half a hundred campfires right under their noses.”
I frowned back at him. “Sir Hagan may not be perfect, but he’s not stupid either, especially not about this sort of thing. I’m sure he’s thought it through, and if he’s revealing us to the enemy like this I’m sure it’s because he thinks it’s the right move.”
Ran looked up at me, quiet for a moment. “I hope you’re right.” He sighed, making another cloud of vapor. “I’d better go get Oskar and Aler.”
“Yeah. And I’d better make my way up and get to work on Sir Hagan’s tent.” I clapped Ran on the shoulder. “I’ll see you later tonight.”
“Try to bring some firewood when you come back?” Ran asked. “Apparently we’re going to need a lot of it.”
I chuckled. “I’ll see what I can do.”
It seemed like the only thing lacking in the supplies the Concord quartermasters had provided for us was help. Since we’d left Tilaird, our unit had consisted only of soldiers, without the camp followers we’d relied on to cook our meals, clean our clothing, and provide us with drink and other comforts. For the boys who’d been recruited directly into Sir Hagan’s service, this was more of a return to normal than a lack of something expected; as the newest members of Lord Carson’s army we’d been last in line for assistance, and therefore had had to do most everything for ourselves anyway. Similarly, after serving Master Vardon for so long, the additional work I had to do for Sir Hagan seemed almost familiar.
For others, though, the difference was somewhat more galling. “Spirits hear me now,” Bat grumbled as he stirred the contents of the iron kettle that sat in a a brazier full of hot embers inside Sir Hagan’s tent, “if every member of our army’s Peerage ends up vomiting up badly-cooked sheep, the blame lays squarely with you, Mason.”
I smiled and shook my head as I rolled out a map on the table at the foot of Sir Hagan’s narrow bed. “It’s pottage, Bat, and not even made with fresh meat. You’re not going to kill anyone with salt mutton, and as long as the stuff isn’t literally on fire, it should be fine.”
“I’m just saying, this is not one of my natural talents.” He pulled the spoon out of the kettle and held it under his nose, narrowing his eyes as he sniffed the mixture. “Can’t tell if that’s the food or the fire I’m smelling.”
“Just add another couple handfuls of snow to the pot if it starts getting too thick to stir, or move it off the fire a little.” I pointed at the second smaller kettle, hung on a rack next to the first one. “You’re going to need more hot water for the wine anyway.” I shuffled a few more papers in my hands, trying to figure out where to arrange them, somewhat hindered by the fact that I could only read Euphenti about a quarter as well as I could speak it.
The tent flap was pulled open, and Sir Hagan stepped in, with Sir Tolan just behind him. “Of course, Robe,” Sir Hagan was saying, “there was no need to come to me over it.” The flap of the tent clicked shut behind them; the Euphentines had sewn small lodestones into the seams to keep them closed, little iron bars almost identical to the one in my jaw.
“Sir Bliss would have asked you here as soon as he saw you,” Sir Hagan continued, pulling a sheepskin mantle from his shoulders. “The fact that the message reached you more quickly than the messenger is regrettable, certainly, but not proof of malice. I can assure you that there was no offense meant.”
“Not by you, perhaps,” Sir Tolan said, sounding unconvinced, “but there have been questions of honor and unanswered slights between the Robes and the Lynotts almost since the time of the First Families. I’m sure he’d be only too glad to try to add another iniquity to those his ancestors have piled upon mine.”
I glanced up at Sir Tolan. I’d never really looked at the man closely before, never taken in much beyond his green and gold sigil, a knife over a chalice. He and Sir Hagan were similar in height and stature, though Sir Tolan had somewhat rounder features, and while Sir Hagan had kept his graying hair cropped close, Sir Tolan had let his nearly-black locks grow out, just long enough to tie back behind his head.
Sir Hagan turned back toward Sir Tolan, standing in the middle of the tent roughly halfway between me and Bat. “Spirits, Robe, Bliss swore an oath before Lord Carson and the head cantor of Cantlay to leave behind all concerns save those of his King, his Lord, and his country. So did I, and so did you.”
“And now Lord Carson is dead,” Sir Tolan said, “his authority merely borrowed, and the King has sent us all far, far away from our country, to a land where they hold gods higher than the spirits.”
Sir Hagan’s eyes went wide, and then narrowed in anger. “If you have had concerns about my borrowing Lord Carson’s authority, the time to voice them would have been in the inn at Shalebridge. When, as I recall, you said nothing.”
Sir Tolan locked eyes with Sir Hagan. “There was a need for order. Arguing then might have broken the unit entirely. Since then, though, some of the decisions you’ve made in Lord Carson’s name have been… questionable.” He glanced over at me; I tried to avoid meeting his eyes, looking down at the table in front of me, at the notes I still hadn’t finished arranging.
“From the moment we reached Kintinvale and I reported to King Creag, my authority to lead this unit has come directly from him.” Sir Hagan took a step toward Sir Tolan, staring him down. “Your oath to him still stands, does it not?”
Sir Tolan stared at Sir Hagan for a moment longer, and then looked away, turning his head aside. “Yes. Of course,” he said, lowering his voice.
“Good. Then you will forgive Sir Bliss his tardiness, and you will fight at his side in the battle tomorrow, just as you did when we stood in defense of Kintinvale.” He leaned in, putting a hand on Sir Tolan’s shoulder. “Yes?”
Sir Tolan gave a single nod, though he didn’t meet Sir Hagan’s eyes. “Yes.”
Sir Hagan exhaled, and then gave Sir Tolan’s shoulder a firm pat. “Thank you, Tolan. I’m sorry if you’ve felt ill-treated.” The tent flap stirred again. Sir Hagan glanced up at it, and then withdrew his hand and took a step back. “If you still have concerns, we can discuss them after.”
Sir Tolan glanced up at Sir Hagan, and then looked down again. “No. But thank you.”
“All right.” Sir Hagan stepped to one side, motioning toward the table as Sir Lloyd entered with another of Lord Keays’ former knights, a stocky man with a blue boar sigil whose name I’d never learned. “Come, sit. Mason, leave those papers there, and fetch these men something to drink.”