Judging from the state of the camp, the Ebony Cormorant Legion had been hard-hit by the battle. Usually there were dozens of men moving about the central grounds of the camp on some errand or another; now there were only a handful, and most of them had at least one bandaged wound. Kamendian noticed one man aiming a bitter glare at him. Probably he assumed Kamendian had kept to the rear and avoided injury through cowardice. Not an unreasonable assumption; under ordinary circumstances, no common legionnaire would be completely healed the day after a battle. Powerful healing was reserved for officers and nobility.
“I’d like to stop by the healers’ tent, if you don’t mind,” Tellias said. “Last night they preferred to keep their resources for worse wounds than mine, but if they’ll close this up now, it would be much easier to get around. Particularly if we need to impress other legions’ recruiters.”
The two men made their way to the ground in front of the healers’ tent. The tent was surrounded by wounded men lying on the ground, several ranks deep. Among them the healers moved, giving water to one, changing a bandage for another. Tellias caught the attention of one nearest the edge. He was an older man, and he wore the characteristic torc of the Hospitallers.
“Excuse me. I suffered a wound from a javelin in the battle. Last night, the healer who tended me didn’t have time to do more than clean and bandage the wound. I was hoping that now that the camp is calmer someone might be able to help me further.”
“Of course. Eh…let me find something for you to sit on.” The Hospitaller bustled off to another tent. He returned shortly with a stool, and rapidly seated Tellias and began unravelling the bandage on his thigh.
“Hmm. Well, you’re fortunate to have gotten such a clean wound. And whoever cleaned it did an adequate job. I think I’ll forego disturbing the wound again.” He reached up and placed two fingers on Tellias’ neck, muttered to himself, and placed the same two fingers in the crook of Tellias’ elbow. Then he placed both hands on Tellias’ leg — one above the wound, one below. A moment passed.
“Aaagh!” Tellias bellowed. “What are you doing?!”
“Helping your body heal itself. The pain will pass,” replied the healer. “Please stop squirming.”
A few minutes passed, with Tellias gritting his teeth and pounding his free foot on the ground the whole time. Finally, the healer released his grip. He rose and moved behind Tellias.
“What are you doing? Oh, no! Not there!” Tellias cried as the healer placed a hand on the back of his neck.
“What kind of soldier are you? This shouldn’t hurt as much, and if I don’t…well, I suppose at least your leg would be fine.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, if I don’t finish the process, the healing would drain all of your…manly energy, let’s say. But it is your body. If you want me to stop, I will.”
Tellias fumed. “Go ahead and finish, you torturer.”
After a few more minutes, which were at least less painful-looking, the healer removed his hands from Tellias and called for a salve. One of the assistants brought over an earthen jar, and the healer began to smear a yellowish paste onto the wound.
“This should help. The wound will probably seal up in an hour or so. I would avoid running for a few days, but you should be able to walk around with no trouble.”
The healer quickly wrapped a clean bandage around Tellias’ thigh and tied it off. Then he looked over at Kamendian. “Do you need any healing?”
“No,” Kamendian replied. “I’m fine, thank you. I–” He was about to explain that he’d been wounded but had been healed the night before, but the Hospitaller had a strange expression on his face. “Is something wrong?”
“No, no, not at all. I just thought I’d met all the war chaplains in this legion. Were you transferred recently? Or are you not of the Ebony Cormorant?” inquired the healer.
“I think there’s been some mistake. I’m just a legionnaire; I’ve been here for four years. I’ve never been a chaplain.” Kamendian replied in confusion.
“Really? You are a priest, though, yes?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“Strange,” said the Hospitaller. “You have the mark of divine favor right there on your forehead. It’s an unusual place for the mark of War, but it’s quite clear.”
Kamendian paled and clapped a hand to his forehead.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s self-explanatory, really. For those who have the eyes to see it, it says that you are favored by the Lord of Battles. Sometimes the mark also carries with it special gifts, but that would depend on how you got it. And, of course, after death you will be admitted into the Lord of Battles’ cohort. Weren’t you told all this when you were marked?”
“No. I didn’t know I had been.”
“That’s unusual. Most of the gods are very strict with their followers about handing out marks indiscriminately, and War more so than most.”
“I…think the person who marked me probably isn’t subject to the normal rules.”
“Not subject to the normal protocols? That seems unlikely…oh.”
The healer looked taken aback. He scrambled to his feet.
“A man or a woman?”
“A woman. It was after the battle, I think. I’d been wounded. I woke up on the field, and I’d been healed.”
“The Marquise of Nemi. This is interesting.”
Kamendian nodded. There didn’t seem to be much else to say.
“You should know that, to the best of my knowledge, Lady Morgami has never conferred the mark of divine favor on anyone else. Why she chose you I couldn’t say, but that does make you rather special.”
Tellias laughed. “Kamendian, how do you get yourself into these things?”
“I didn’t ask for this!” Kamendian snapped back.
“No one does,” said the Hospitaller quietly. “It may not be important; the Marquise is young, and she may have had a momentary whim. In either case, now you know. I should return to tending the other injured men. It has been a pleasure to meet you, Kamendian. May your path be a fortunate one.” So saying, the Hospitaller withdrew. Before Kamendian could struggle through bewilderment to say anything, a herald’s trumpet sounded at the other side of the compound.
“Men of the Ebony Cormorant, assemble!” the herald bellowed. His voice rang out across the camp. Men came struggling out of tents on every side, until perhaps two hundred men stood in the compound. The legion had numbered a thousand the morning before.
“This is it,” murmured Tellias. “They’re going to disband us.”
“His Excellency the Chancellor of the North, on behalf of His Majesty Anarias, Emperor of Sarangia and Defender of the Light, has decided, the threat of the Storm King and his allies being quelled, to retire the Ebony Cormorant, held until lately by the honorable Legate Orontes, may the gods take him under their protection.”
As the legionnaires made their way through the thick ritual language, murmuring began to rise up among the men. The herald plowed on, his voice booming out over the muttering.
“The retirement of the Ebony Cormorant leaves you legionnaires free of further obligations to the Chancery and Ministry. You may go wherever you choose. If you wish, you may seek a place at one of the other legions here encamped. Be aware that the Amber Lynx, the Tourmaline Wolf, the Carnelian Dragon, the Jade Bear, and the Jade Dragonfly have also been retired.
“You are entitled to whatever salvaged equipment from the battlefield you can carry, as your final bounty. In an hour’s time, at high noon, you will assemble in battle dress for the Legate’s passing ceremony. At that time, you will surrender your legion insignia. The Chancellor and the Emperor offer you their thanks. That is all.”