Poisonroot - Interlude 2
So another nice little excerpt from Anila's life. It's good to see things from another's perspective; it allows me to describe characters afresh and also keeps things from going stale. Also, I have plans for Anila. Plans.
The guard rooms in the Fennican north barracks stank of stale sweat and beer, despite no alcohol being allowed there. Anila wrinkled her nose and reached into her assigned cupboard for her uniform.
It had been a long month. After the caravan had arrived in Fennica, her father had assigned her to mingle with the guards. 'Familiarisation', he had called it. It had seemed more like an arbitrary punishment for a crime she hadn't committed.
She had signed up to the guard the following day. It was mostly men, of course; women weren't taken seriously. The recruitment officer had looked at her in her simple clothes, shrugged and given her a letter of recommendation to the North Guard, a large building near the northern city gate. She had gone there, ready for the worst.
It had taken barely ten minutes before she'd had to break a bone. Changing in the communal cupboard room, three enormous men, 'fellow guards', had tried to corner her and… do something, she'd never found out what. One had suffered a crushed nose, the second, two black eyes, the third the broken leg.
Luckily, the rest had taken the message.
Picking up the standard-issue shortsword, chipped and worn with misuse, and walking out to join her unit, she had to grudgingly admit that her father had been right. This was one of the best ways to learn a city. Not just the map; she could have run the streets for a week, memorised the bolt-holes and rooftops that were most useful. No, she had picked up the character of the city. Which guard posts were undermanned. Who to lean on for a loan. Where the food was stored. How many soldiers patrolled at what time. Not all useful information, to be sure, but one never knew.
"Mornin', sunshine," the sergeant said as she approached.
She nodded. "Good morning, Sergeant Kinn. Western wall today?"
"You know your patrol better'n any of the men, Private," he said, nodding appreciatively. "Yes, you, Johnson and Rickard. Try not to cause trouble."
She nodded again and moved past him towards the gatehouse. The North Guard operated out of a small fort, in effect, within the city walls, a holdover from when Fennica was smaller in size and much more likely to be attacked. Nowadays the trouble came from within; the Grand Accord had seen to it that the other countries of Ehrian kept within their borders.
At the gate she found the other two guards and, together, they started their patrol. The sun hid behind a blanket of cloud lending a chill to the air, but beneath the padded doublets they all wore Anila felt none of it.
Anila began to lose focus. This patrol was by far the easiest; wealthy houses and well-protected businesses were all that filled the northern quarter, sometimes known as the Ducal Quarter thanks to its most famous resident. She idly swung her sword back and forth, holding it loosely. Suddenly a little boy barged past them, knocking Anila into Johnson.
"Hey! You little snot-faced weasel!" shouted the outraged man. The kid just turned and stuck his fingers up in a rude gesture. They were nearly at the end of their patrol and Anila noticed that he was running towards some sort of commotion up ahead. She raised an eyebrow at Johnson and Rickard, then shrugged and went over to see what was going on.
The crowd was three-deep at what Anila realised was the river bank. She began to move people aside.
"Clear the way… Watch coming through… to one side, sir," she said, hearing her colleagues likewise moving through the barrier of people.
As she saw what was slicing through the river with mechanical ease, she felt her heart quicken in anticipation.
They were here.
She stared out at the enormous brass boat as it chugged along, steam belching from its funnel; the woman at the wheel was waving to the onlookers who had obviously never seen anything quite this interesting before. Most of the cries from the crowd were directed at the man standing on the prow one foot up on the railing, staring downriver.
"Look over here, it's Victor the Victorious!"
"He looks so much like his pictures!"
"He's come back to Fennica! We're saved!"
"Saved from what, I wonder," Anila muttered. Idiots. Any excuse to cause a hassle. "All right, you lot, move along. Let this man go about his business." She kept her eyes on the man who had shouted the last remark, waiting until he passed to grab his collar and spin him around.
"You," she growled. "What did you mean, 'we're saved'?"
"Whenever Victor comes somewhere, it's because there's a great need. He's here, so there must be something wrong, right?" the man said, his face red. He smiled beatifically. "It doesn't matter though, because he's here to save us!"
He ran off and she let him go.
"Idiot," said Rickard, coming to stand next to him. "Because the poor guy never goes and does his groceries. Or if he does, the grocery store needs saving from some terrible fate." He huffed and pushed his helmet back on his head. "Some people. Huh."
"Who was the gent on the boat?" Anila asked, certain she already knew the answer. His sword had caught the light, and there had been a boy next to him, mostly hidden behind him.
"That's Victor Junn. He was a huge hero in my parents' time, saved most of the cities in Lyria at least once from various stuff. Wild animals, criminal gangs, you name it. Guy had a series of books written about him. Now, I don't know; he's retired, last I heard." The big guard sniffed and spat a glob of something foul into the gutter. "Seems like something's brought him back. Wonder who the kid was."
'I know,' thought Anila, but she shrugged her own indifference and, together with Johnson, they finished their patrol.
As soon as she could, she changed back into the shirt and trousers she preferred here in the city. Then she sought her father out. For practice, she decided to use only windows as her entrance- and exit-points, starting from the guard house. It wasn't hard.
He was in the Throne Room at the Duke's palace. Stood slightly behind the throne, his black habit made him seem severe when arrayed against the colourful tapestries behind him. On the other side of the throne stood a fully-armoured knight. While she waited, Anila began to think of ways around the armour in combat. Heavy gauntlets? Gaps at the wrists on the inside of the arms. The leg armour? From behind with something blunt and heavy. The breastplate with its strong hammered-out wolf decoration? Sword under the armpits. The list was endless.
The Duke, a sunken mess of a man, was puddled in the large wooden throne as the business of the court went on around him. Rennin, the knight, seemed to be doing most of the talking as petitioners came forward, presented themselves to the Duke and made their case. Most wanted something from him; more land, a month extra to pay their taxes, for their eldest son to not have to join the standing army. Most were refused with a curt shake from the Duke's head. Her father stooped to whisper in his ear at regular intervals.
Finally the peasants began to disperse and Rennin left. The Duke slumped backwards in the throne, apparently asleep. Her father crossed over to the corner of the room. "Anila."
"They are here. The fighter and the boy; they don't look like much, though."
"When did they get into the city?"
Anila picked up an apple and began to eat it, talking around bites. "They came by boat. Some sort of engineered steam-thing. The man looks old; he shouldn't be a problem. The boy, young; I don't think either will pose a challenge."
Her father turned and surveyed the court. "The boy has been reported as leaving the monastery. Our agents have had eyes on him; it seems inconceivable that a mere boy would survive when other, far more well-trained, men and women were killed. Therefore, he must be involved in some way."
"A boy, though?" Anila sneered. "He's so little and ugly. Why would the Gargorians use someone so young?"
Her father chuckled. "My daughter, you will learn. Precisely for that reason; to make you question his motives. For now, you must trust me. Go. Perform your task. Bring them in."
Anila finished the apple and dropped the core onto a nearby plate. She nodded once to her father and left, slipping back out the same kitchen window she had entered through.