As he watched Tellias and Tanuke argue out the proper selling price of twelve spearheads without shafts, Kamendian felt something block the sunlight on his back. He twisted to look. A man had come up behind him. His features were hard to make out with the sun behind him.
“Are you one of the ex-legionnaires Tanuke mentioned?” the man asked.
“I might be,” Kamendian replied. “What did he say?”
“That he was dealing with several former legionnaires who might be in need of employment. He didn’t sell you to me, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Kamendian chuckled. “The thought had crossed my mind.”
“Mind you, he offered to, but I’ve dealt with too many Quintanelles to buy merchandise that’s not immediately on hand. I am looking for men skilled with a sword, though. Interested?”
“Possibly. I’d need to hear more about the job.”
The man paused. “It’s a siege.”
“Not enough,” Kamendian said. “I understand that you don’t want to spread around the details of your plan, but I don’t know who you are or what you’re trying to do. I can’t commit to fighting for you without a better idea of what you’re up to.”
The man looked at Kamendian for a while. “All right. If that’s what it takes.
“I represent the royal family of Shammari. We’re trying to restore the rightful heir to the throne.”
“What?” said Kamendian. “The royal family of where?”
“Shammari. We’re in it right now.”
“That’s what I thought you said. You have some nerve recruiting for one of the Storm King’s client kingdoms in the middle of the Imperial encampments.”
The man stiffened. “I will forget you said that. I represent the rightful royal family of Shammari. They have been in exile at the Imperial court since the Storm King invaded Shammari fifty-seven years ago, and now they wish to reclaim their birthright.”
“I was under the impression the Empire claimed all the northern territories as part of the Grand Compact.”
“Your information is incomplete. The terms of the Grand Compact call for the bulk of the territories taken from the Storm King to be incorporated into the Empire, yes. However, the surviving royalty of the kingdoms which once ruled those territories were to be granted satrap status immediately. The Compact is also not completely relevant. The primary signatories’ commitments to the Shammarian throne have not been fulfilled, and it seems clear they will not be. Shammari therefore feels itself no longer bound by the Compact.”
“So you’re hiring mercenaries to take on the Empire? That seems stupid.”
“Yes, it would be. Which is why we’re not doing it. We’ve made an arrangement with one of the Ministers of the North. The Empire is unable to take the city of Shammari, but if we can take it ourselves, they will recognize the kingdom and provide military support against any future attacks by the remnants of the Storm Kingdom.”
“Hmm. That sounds more reasonable. So we’d be besieging the city of Shammari and then defending it against later attacks, yes?”
“Precisely. Will you accept the job?”
“Two more questions. What sort of opposition is there, and how much are you paying?”
“We’re paying our soldiers a tally each week. If you wanted to accept a position as a captain, we might have a place for you, given your experience; captains are paid a buckler a month.”
“Hm. Not too bad. The opposition?”
The man grumbled. “We aren’t positive yet. A small detachment of Storm Guards is apparently holed up there, and they have what’s left of one of the slave legions with them. There may be a few other allied units there, but they should be heading home, if all the signs are correct.
“We’re concerned that if we don’t act soon, the Storm Guards will get entrenched there, and that’s no good for anyone. The Storm King’s lieutenants will regroup eventually, and when they do, if Shammari is still in their hands, we’ll never get it back.
“From a more general point of view, if we take back Shammari, the Storm Kingdom won’t have a useful outpost this side of the mountains. That makes a major strategic difference in the long term.”
“How many men do you have?”
“I can’t tell you that. Besides, we’re still recruiting.”
“Are you in, or have I been wasting my time?”
“No, no, I think I’m in. Contingent upon speaking with my friend over there and upon you assembling a force large enough to make this attack survivable.”
“Fair enough. Your friend’s also a former legionnaire?”
“Yes. I assumed you’d be interested in the both of us.”
“You were correct. I should go now. When your friend and Tanuke finish arguing, ask Tanuke to show you where my party is encamped.”
“It would be good if I knew your name.”
“I am Ruval. And you?”
“Kamendian. That’s Tellias over there. Formerly of the Ebony Cormorant.”
“Ah! I knew Legate Orontes back in Sarangia. A good man. We all mourned his passing. Until later, then, Kamendian.” With those words, Ruval turned and left. Kamendian watched him go. Ruval had dark hair, close-cropped, he could now see. He’d never seen his face, though.
Turning back, he saw that Tanuke and Tellias were still haggling. The pile was significantly smaller, though. That was a good sign, at least.