Marlow had his own preparations to make. He’d elected to lead the second force sent to meet up with Dunstan and his men who had disappeared in the wilderness of Azarowa. Frustratingly though, he’d been replaced by Earl, a captain in the Knight’s Academy and an up and coming leader.
“The man is brilliant.” was all that he’d been told by the vice supreme commander as he returned from his room. Marlow kept his features neutral, even managing to force a grin, as he was told he wouldn’t be in charge. This ate away at him, reminding him yet again of his superior’s lack of confidence in his abilities. The commander seemed to sense his annoyance and took him aside to explain, “You are a great servant to the king. We know you’re a great asset to this mission. It’s time though that Earl takes on some responsibilities. We’ve felt that with your experiences, you’ll be able to provide him with the guidance and confidence that he’ll need later in his life.”
Marlow grudgingly agreed to the idea, but he would make sure that when all was said and done, he’d be the one whose name would be mentioned. Not this Captain Earl of the Knight’s Academy.
The group that he would accompany was thin. There might have been three Commissioners there and a few operatives from the Ranger’s Hall, but they wouldn’t be enough, not for him. At the time, he’d asked Aaren if he’d be joining the secondary force, “You know how I am, Marlow,” he’d stated after the announcement had been made, “I need to be a part of that strike force, we can’t afford to let Caledonia slip from our grasp.” he said shaking his head at the thought of an uprising from the rogue nation.
The other man had nodded at that. He’d call on some of his contacts from the olden days. It was about time he called them in on some favours. Marlow shook Aaren’s hand and headed for the chamberlain who was busy talking with the commander, “Just a moment, commander,” he began, “chamberlain, I’m offering my services to lead the secondary relay team. I have several acquaintances that I can call upon for aid.” he whispered that last part into the chamberlain’s ear, letting the man to think it over, “Fair enough.” the chamberlain replied, “Send word to your friends at once, you’ll leave an hour after dawn tomorrow.” Marlow nodded his thanks to the pair and decided he’d go by the scribe’s quarters to send several message carrier birds.
He shook hands with some of the other commission members on his way out and noted that Aaren and Eamonn were still in the room as he approached the stairs to the tower corridors.
Marlow knocked on the scribe master’s heavy door, waited and entered at the word of entry. He found a balding man seated behind a desk loaded with parchments and scrolls. The man sat back in his chair, rubbing his eyes as if trying to remove the fog of weariness that had started to overcome him. “Oh, my Lord Marlow. It’s been a while my friend.” he said in a cheerful tone, Marlow smiled at the man’s kind words. They were old friends after all. “Stefan!” he said, coming forward to embrace the scribe in a heavy hug. “How have you been?” he asked.
Stefan considered the question for a moment, then gestured to the stacks of paperwork on his desk, “As you can probably see, I’ve been rather busy lately.” he joked, “Now, what can I do for you?” Marlow produced three segments of parchment from his cloak pocket, “I was wondering if you could send these to some associates of mine?” Marlow handed the scribe the messages. Each folded perfectly in half. Stefan opened them, his eyes widened as he noted the destination of the third one. The first two were as expected, a message to the distant province of Kaneira, another to Emora, a province to the north of Faraday. The third raised his eyebrow in surprise and sent a shiver down his spine, “Tyressus?” he whispered. The old scribe master was startled by this development. Marlow remained straight faced.
“Caledonia might be the enemy of our country, but that does not mean that there are no friends to be found.” Stefan wasn’t convinced, Marlow took the message lightly from him, turning it upways and peered down on it. He used the soft light of the desk lantern to read it. “I saved this man’s life. He says that he wanted to repay his debt, even if it meant he was betraying his country. Besides, I may be able to pry some information out of him on Caledonia.”
Marlow took the quill pen from its well and made a change on the parchment and handed it across for Stefan to look at it once more. The scribe checked to see if he’d read it wrong and that he wasn’t about to send a carrier bird into the capital of Caledonia.
Marlow interrupted him as he spread his arms out and laid them firmly on the corner of the heavy desk, he cast an imposing figure. The light of the lantern wasn’t reaching his eyes, giving him an ominous appearance. “I need these sent before morning, they need to know we’ll be by the Lunar River by nightfall the day after tomorrow, I trust that you’ll see that it is done.”
Stefan nodded and Marlow removed himself without another word. It left the baffled Stefan sitting at his desk. The old scribe stared blankly at the parchment in his hands.
Marlow needed to go to his horse to pack some of his things before the night was out. The second company was leaving early in the morning and he wanted as much sleep as he could get.
Marlow descended down the stairs of the tower. The corridors were quiet this evening. His footsteps echoed as he entered through to the hall again. He was surprised to find it was empty. In the distance, the sound of horses drew him toward the courtyard.
“Commissioner Aaren, when do you wish to leave?”
The owner of the voice became known as he exited the hall. He stopped by the small verandah that enveloped the mouth of the hall. From here he could see the forward troop going about their final preparations for the coming mission. He looked down and across. He could walk the short distance to place the light of the torch pitched to the left of the ground directly behind the men. He could stay to the shadows, where they wouldn’t see him.
Aaren and Eamonn, he could see, were sharing a private word, likely to give the boy some confidence, Marlow thought. Aaren detached himself from the main group to answer the man’s question. Low ranking members of the scouts were always valuable to a force like this one. Aaren would be able to depend on them to share some of the responsibilities. Unlike the knights, he thought as he looked across at the small group standing proudly by their magnificent, gleaming horses. They were conversing loudly and laughing aloud as they joked together about something absurd, undoubtedly the most senior men among the group wasn’t present.
As far as he was concerned, they were good for one thing and one thing only, rushing the enemy. Standard infantry men as these were would have little to no concept of stratagem. They were sheep that rarely thought for themselves, forever relying on having someone above them to direct and lead them. From an early age, their creativity and ingenuity was stifled to make way for discipline and co-ordination. There were few swordsmen in their ranks that would gain Marlow’s respect. His sense of loyalty to a single man was the only reason he had elected to join this band. Dunstan was instrumental to the ongoing success of the kingdom, without him, the balance of power could shift dramatically if he were to be lost, and that balance would be difficult to restore.
Deciding he had heard enough, Marlow darted back along the field, he placed himself on the grassed area set between two of the marbled walkways, he mounted the staircase and caught the eye of Aaren as his old friend leapt into the saddle of his faithful horse, Storm. He smiled thinly and nodded his head in Aaren’s direction, it was an old gesture between them, it would was a show of confidence that luck would be on his side.
“We’ll meet again soon, my friend.” he said under his breath, and entered the shadows once more walking silently to collect his belongings.