“Mad’m, why don’t you have a drink?”
Mariqah turned with a crate of nuts and bolts between her hands, and regarded the mercenary who had addressed her.
I’m sorry, what? she scoffed.
He smiled, standing around with a group of his comrades, “The sun’s nearly set, and there’s a war to come on the morrow. Shouldn’t you rest?”
She shook her head and smiled, You, lads.
Don’t be dumb, alright? Think up a new kind of mockery. Old ones get old.
The mercenary straightened, “But on a serious note, Mad’m, you’re working yourself into the ground!”
Well, with louts like you standing about and supervising the rest of us – those catapults and siege-towers aren’t going to erect and lubricate themselves.
The mercenaries bawled in laughter at that.
Mariqah sighed, noticing the slip she’d made, and rolled her eyes, Boy, do you guys make me feel old… she grunted, You’re work’s done then, I take it?
“Everyone’s work is done, Mad’m.”
What are you talking about?
“Only the grease-monkeys finishing up and the lads on the watch are still labouring, Mad’m. Again, you should rest.”
Mariqah paused, And who will do the cleaning?
The mercenaries regarded each other, but didn’t say anything.
No volunteers? Right, well – it seems I can’t rest just yet, she scoffed and turned away, besides I’ll’ve all night for that.
“Mad’m, we’ll help if you ne–”
Soldiers, said Mariqah, I’m the General here, and I demand that you continue the way you are! I have people sitting around the Map Tent who’ll have a hand in having me rest a while. You don’t need to worry. Rest, sleep, eat, have a drink of something refreshing as opposed to something intoxicating – because you’re the ones who’re going to risk your lives tomorrow.
“We all are.”
Well, yes. But if I have all of you watching my back – and there’s around 450 of you, minus all the elves – how much risk am I putting to my life really? Mariqah turned back and laughed lightly, Don’t fret, alright? You know you can’t talk me out of this. What is it with you people, eh? Why do you all try so hard to make a tyrant out of me? Don’t you like the way things are? she winked at them and walked away, through the throng of dark tents and towards the titanic constructions beyond.
They were half-a-day away from the walls of Skye – so Mariqah had instructed the building of siege-weapons early. With the man-power required to transport the weapons, Mariqah reckoned it would take double the time to get there – which was fine by her. She wouldn’t share words with Britney. There wasn’t need to, unless to curse her – and all the words wrought in Hell weren’t enough to curse Britney FeCamp. All the better that a siege should start at night, when the flames of destruction raining on those walls could truly be appreciated.
Mariqah dropped the crate at the foot of a siege-tower.
An elvish engineer smiled as he climbed down, “And these are for…?”
Extras, said Mariqah, should we need a few tune-ups on the way.
“Isn’t there… isn’t there a risk at all? Of carrying these things over to Skye?”
Everything has its risk, but we can start the siege sooner – perhaps immediately – if we’re prepared, she looked up at the towers, the catapults and the single battering ram; and admired the handy-work, You men have done a fine job.
“Well, we’re grateful for the novice support, the lemonade and the regular breaks, ma’am,” the engineer chuckled, his cheeks reddening slightly, “you’re quite the hammer-user.”
Mariqah laughed, I’m not handy. Not as handy as I ought to be. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat. The lemonade and the breaks have paid off and I’m quite astounded by the results, she took another moment to admire the construction, Never seen better work, I have to say.
“Don’t… don’t you have somewhere to be, ma’am?” asked the engineer, “Chatting with a humble engineer is hardly a priority.”
If you lads are all finished, then yes. I’ve a few men waiting about in our Map Tent for me.
“We’re done here.”
Good. Go get some food in you and take a rest. Busy day ahead of us.
The engineer nodded and walked off as Mariqah sighed. She sucked her cheeks in, before making her way back to the Map Tent.
Ead, Khadir and Ethelbald sat in silence (for the last hour and a half) as they waited impatiently for Mariqah to arrive. The three men had such little in common that they could barely find anything to speak about. Khadir had left the tent more than eight times just to get away from the sheer awkwardness.
“Where is that damned woman?” muttered Ead.
Khadir just shrugged, drawing lines in the ground with his forefinger, while Ethelbald muttered a short, “Aye…”
The flap of the tent moved and the whole tent took a sigh.
Aren’t you sorry bunch to behold… scoffed Mariqah as she stepped in.
“What took ye so long?” asked Ethelbald in a cross fashion.
I was helping.
“Who? And with what?”
Mariqah paused, My army, she replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, with preparations for the siege.
Ethelbald shook his head, “Ye couldn’t just leave ‘em to’t?”
Let me put this in a way you will understand, Captain – I’ve never given my men a reason to mutiny against me. I’m not going to start now.
Khadir piped in, “They aren’t about to mutiny against you. They wouldn’t dare.”
Oh, shut up, Khadir. Like you could possibly know that.
“Can we please just get to the planning?” said Ead, “Rather than argue about trivialities?”
The other three persons regarded him, and then Mariqah sat on the ground next to Khadir and nodded.
What have you three come up with, then?
They raised their brows and gave her a look.
You called me some ninety minutes ago…
“It was awkward… We didn’t know how to start… then things got kind of weird when a mouse ran in…” commented Ead.
Mariqah turned to Khadir, You’re better than this.
Khadir turned to her, “Why am I–?”
Because I know you, Khadir, and you’re better than this, she laughed at his reaction, but it seems we seriously need to get a move on, so let’s start with the scout-report.
Khadir brought out for a sheaf of papers and said, “Skye seems ill-prepared for a siege. The wells aren’t poisoned, the livestock continue to roam freely and the villagers remain outside the walls. They don’t seem to think we’re coming.”
Did our scouts talk with the villagers?
“About half of them have consented to join the army – clearly, they don’t quite like FeCamp ruling them–”
Ead chipped in, “The villagers fear her – the abductions that fill her prisons have quite literally terrified them. She’s not exactly generous either, hence the number of thieves in Skye.”
Khadir cleared his throat irritably, “Anyway, the other half have asked for our protection.”
Mariqah nodded, Granted. We’ll send one of the scouts to move them well away from Skye… maybe lead them to Ery. Ead, do you have any contacts within the kingdom?
“A few,” he replied.
Send him a message and tell him to let the village-people know that they’ll be leaving Skye soon – those who seek to leave – a scout will come for them. Those who wish to join us in combat should also be informed about the scouts.
Ead nodded, “I’ll get to it as soon as this meeting is adjourned.”
What about the terrain?
“Flat, grassy,” said Khadir, “Cake-walk.”
Mariqah scoffed at the term, Now about the army… she tapped her chin and took a sheet, turning it to the blank side. She clicked her fingers and Khadir passed her a pen, The march won’t be an easy one, seeing as we’ll be moving about the siege-weapons. We also need to reduce the number of horses we have.
“Reduce the horses?” asked Ethelbald, “Whatever for?”
Horses won’t be all that useful in the siege, and I don’t want them harmed. We’ll probably need them on the return journey… But we might need them. We only have a day to get to Skye – if we want to get there on schedule – and we need minimal breaks.
“With siege-weapons? Not possible, Mariqah, we will need some fairly regular stops!” said Khadir.
Hmm… Mariqah scribbled some notes on the page, I’ve made some calculations, Khadir. We’ll need about a third of the army to transport the weapons. Out of our 580 combatants, that would be 193.333… So, she continued to form a diagram, If we split the army into three – Ead can manage the first-third of 193, Ethelbald can manage the second-third of 193 and, Khadir, you can manage the last-third of 194. We’ll rotate the work say every three hours – one third will manage the weapons, the other third will march, the last third will rest on horse-back led by the marchers. That’s… eight rotations until we get to Skye.
“So, we’re to keep 194 horses?” asked Khadir.
We’ll have to pay mind to the engineers and the medics, Khadir. They’re handy, but they aren’t hardy. That’s, what? Another fifty horses to keep. I’ll grant the scouts their mounts too, until they get back from informing the inhabitants of Skye.
“It’s a sound plan. But horses need rest too.”
Mariqah nodded and paused, Every two rotations, we’ll take a short break for the sake of the horses – eat, drink, gather ourselves for a bit and let the horses graze – before we get a move on again.
“And what about you, lass?” asked Ethelbald.
What about me, Ethelbald?
“Are ye keepin’ no mount for yourself?”
Mariqah snorted, Where’s the fun in that?
“Ye’ll hold no height for your position?”
My position isn’t measured in inches, Captain. I’m a soldier before a leader, and I’ll toil with my boys. I’ll stay in Khadir’s group. We’ll split the army in the morning and explain this to them. Ethelbald, I want you to write to your quarter-master. He’s still back at the Evenstar and The Mary, right?
“That he is, lass.”
Tell him to watch the tide. It might not seem like it, but Britney is going to be prepared for this siege – and she has some powerful allies.
Ethelbald nodded, but Khadir laughed, “She doesn’t seem very prepared, Mariqah.”
Did the scouts get a look at the walls? The sentry patrols?
“They’re fairly common, but that’s normal.”
She’s not unprepared, Khadir, she’s… inviting us. She knows we’re coming. Britney’s arrogance is without bounds – and that’s me saying that. Even if she isn’t prepared – I’m not going to take chances. We let her go once, I’m not letting her go again, Mariqah scowled a bit, before continuing, I want the remaining horses distributed amongst the villagers we’ve decided to help. We’ll collect our mounts from them after all this has passed. Mark the horses, and we’ll know which are ours.
“I’ll get to that,” Khadir nodded.
“On the issue of the siege,” said Ead, “What’s the game-plan? You mentioned rescuing prisoners?”
I still intend to, Ead. We’ll be the first blow, yes? You and yours will go in first. We’ll enter the city through the points you’ve shown me. You will go after the prisoners and I’ll accompany you – but I’ll be going after Britney.
“You’re going to get yourself killed,” said Khadir, slowly.
If we start the siege and I haven’t put her down – she’ll run away. It can’t happen a second time, she regarded Khadir, knowing that he wanted to press his point but knew that there wasn’t a purpose in arguing with Mariqah. When her mind was made up, it was made up, When the prison-break party returns – whether I’m with them or not – Khadir, I want you to start the siege, she took his hand, We’ll meet later. I’ll see you after the battle, or in the after-life.