Kamendian insisted on waiting until the entire legion had paid their respects and destroyed their insignia before leaving to look for a spot in another legion. Many of the other legionnaires had no such compunctions, scurrying off as soon as they passed the pyre.
“Every minute we stand here makes it harder to find a space with one of the other legions, Kamendian. We’re not legionnaires any more, so let’s go,” Tellias hissed, looking uncomfortably after the departing legionnaires. Half of their own cohort had already wandered off.
Kamendian chose not to pay attention, instead turning to Captain Idrian. “What are you going to do now, Captain?”
The captain smiled sadly at him. “You don’t need to call me captain anymore, son. I’m going to be joining the Amber Peregrine. The Legate sent a messenger after the dissolutions were announced, and it seemed like the best choice that was going to present itself.”
Tellias leaned over. “I don’t mean to presume, sir, but do you think you could maybe take us along? We don’t have any prospects lined up just at present, and…”
“I’d like to, lads,” interrupted the captain, “you’ve both been good soldiers. But I don’t have the authority. I’m just going to be a simple legionnaire with the Amber Peregrine. The Legate’s taking men with command experience only. Likely he’s going to fill the ranks from the auxiliaries when we get to our new posting. Sorry.”
Tellias’ face fell. “Do you think any of the other Legates will be taking legionnaires?”
“Hard to say, lad. With the legions moving around to new postings, most commanders would prefer to avoid the trouble of mixing new soldiers into the ranks. Easier to wait until you’re safely camped and then draw from the auxiliaries. On the other hand, it’s none too prudent to leave a few thousand ex-soldiers roaming the north with nothing to do, but with things the way they are, I doubt the Chancellor wants to make any of the Legates angry by forcing them to take men.
“If you’re set on sticking with the legions, your best bet is probably to follow a legion to their new post and try to get noticed there. You might not make it into the legion proper — you’d be competing with auxiliaries they know well — but with your service records, you’d certainly be able to get a place in the auxiliaries.”
It was clear that a place in the auxiliaries did little to excite Tellias. He’d dished out more than his fair share of derision to the young men and boys who did camp labor and filled out guard shifts in times of battle, and the horror of being on the other end of the transaction was plain to see on his face. Kamendian suspected he looked no more thrilled himself.
The captain chuckled. “Well, if the auxiliaries don’t appeal, you could try following the Amber Peregrine and I’ll put in a good word for you when we reach camp. Nothing’s guaranteed, but your chances would be better.”
“Thanks, sir, but…I think I’ll try the other legions first.”
“Fair enough. I warn you, though, like as not you’ll end up selling your sword to one of these border lords. And if I hear any of my men have turned bandit, I’ll come take your head myself!”
“Yes, sir!” both men replied.
Idrian smiled. “Well, good luck to the both of you. If you find yourself wanting to take up the Imperial armor again, come find me and I’ll do what I can. The Amber Peregrine’s being posted at the Vannetasian border for the time being; you’ll find me there. Now you’d better be off looking for a new legion. I think a few have already broken camp.”
The captain was right. When they left the Ebony Cormorant compound, the Ivory Wolf was mostly gone, leaving only a handful of tents for soldiers too badly wounded to move.
“We’d better move,” Tellias said.
The Chrysolite Owl had taken on all the legionnaires it needed. The Malachite Dragon was planning to replace its losses from its auxiliaries. The Lapis Cormorant was only taking discharged legionnaires with command experience. And on it went, through every legion Tellias and Kamendian found still encamped. A number of the men they talked to cast scornful looks at Kamendian’s unmarked body.
“You’re a positive hindrance, Kamendian,” Tellias groaned. “Why’d you have to go and get miraculously healed?”
After a long afternoon of fruitless inquiries, they worked their way back toward the Ebony Cormorant encampment. “If we’re lucky, maybe we can persuade the cooks to cut loose some food for old times’ sake,” Tellias said hopefully.
“Legionnaire sirs!” came a hoarse voice from behind them. As they turned, they saw a small pale fellow rushing up to them.
“All offense, legionnaire sirs, please excuse. Your legion dissolved, I think?” the man said. He wore an ornate Vannetasian general’s coat made for a man a full head taller than him, and his pale yellow hair was woven into a mass of small braided strands. Probably a Quintanelle, from his odd phrasing. Everywhere Kamendian had traveled, he’d found Quintanelles trading with anyone and everyone who’d do business with them, and not a one of them spoke the common tongue like a normal person.
“What do you want?” said Tellias flatly. He was the acknowledged master of getting rid of beggars, madmen, and merchants.
“My desire, to make you wealthy. At the door, fortune knocks. Again, your legion dissolved, I think?”
“Our legion dissolved. In our pockets, no money. Go away.”
“Legionnaire sirs, wait! My desire, not to sell! To buy! In my pockets, good silver!”
Kamendian studiously continued not to look at the Quintanelle, but Tellias’ greed got the better of him. “I listen.”
“My name, Tanuke. In weapons and armaments, my soup I make. On the field of battle, unused many weapons lie. The legionnaire only to collect them goes. All others, punishment and death follows. For usable armaments, I will pay.”
Kamendian grunted in distaste. “We’re not going to loot the bodies of our friends to line your pockets.” He started moving again, puling Tellias with him.
“But your pockets, also lined! Storm Guards, your friends never! Your bellies, empty when upon honor and brotherhood they feed!” Kamendian didn’t stop.
“Your minds, if they change! Here I remain!” Tanuke called after them.
“Jackal,” Kamendian muttered.
“We have to make a living somehow. Like he says, it’s no dishonor to strip a Storm Guard. It wouldn’t hurt to make a few extra coins to keep us alive while we find something to do.”
“We already know what we’re going to do. We’re going to become legionnaires again.”
Tellias stopped. Kamendian turned and looked at him. “What?”
“Kamendian, I’d like to rejoin the legions as much as you would. But we’ve gone to every legion here, and none of them wanted us. We’re not going to be legionnaires.”
“There are other legions.”
“The ones that weren’t here? Why would they have any more room for new men than legions which lost hundreds on the field here? Or would you rather become an auxiliary, and carry water and peel roots for the next several years? Oh, I’m getting ahead of myself. Would you rather become a camp follower, in hopes of becoming an auxiliary? Because I wouldn’t. I’d rather be a mercenary. Hells, I’d rather go home and hunt swamp lizards! Maybe someday there’ll be a place for us again in the Imperial legions, but not today. Today, we have to figure how we’re going to survive. Tomorrow, we have to go find some decent equipment and find a job. And right now, we have to find some dinner.”
Kamendian tried to summon up a good counter-argument, but the words died in his throat. Tellias pushed him toward the camp, and Kamendian didn’t protest.
At the camp kitchens, Tellias sidled up to his favorite cook.
“How about a meal for a poor retired soldier down on his luck, cookie?”
“Eh? Oh, you again. No worries, Tellias. The Chancellor’s chartered the camp prefects from the disbanded legions to maintain camps for the wounded, so the legions can depart for their posts without leaving their healers behind. We’ll be here a while yet. No reason we can’t feed an extra mouth or two for a few days.” The cook produced a couple hunks of brown bread and ladled some chunks of stewed goat out for each man.
“Much obliged, cookie,” Tellias mumbled around a mouthful of bread. “Come on, Kamendian. Let’s go find a tent to bed down in for the night. Tomorrow, we start anew.”