The Savior – Snippet 06

Center’s voice cut into the vision in Abel’s mind. It is highly likely that the route took them through the Redlands itself. Observe:

Sunburnt face, sunburnt body previously pale from Northern climes. The young Hurthman had a name. It had been woven into his dont’s saddle to mark it as his property.

Center had, of course, noticed and recorded.

That name was Bara. Bara was also the Hurthish word for a type of small and harmless cliff-dwelling flitterdak.

Bara had always hated his name.

His own father had given it to him. To call your only son after a weak and easily frightened nothing of a cliff-hanging creature was low and mean. This may have been the first thing, but it wasn’t the last thing his father had done to humiliate him — that was thrice-damned sure.

On the way south, they’d climbed up the Escarpment trail it seemed forever, breathing their own dust and that their donts and pack animals kicked up. Bara rode in the front, just behind his father.

The band was made up of men who lived on the lower portion of the Escarpment in the village of Hurth from which the region took its name. The Hurth clans made part of their living by gathering the eggs of flitterdaks and their carnivorous cousins, the flitterdons, which nested among the Escarpment crags.

The Hurthmen made the other part of their living by engaging in forbidden trading with the Redland barbarians.

This was the reason Bigelow had used them. He needed men who could travel unmolested down Redland paths to spy on the Guardians, and yet who would not look and act like barbarians once they came back into the Valley. So he’d hired a Hurthman militia.

Now they were almost at the Valley Rim. Bara rode behind his father in the line of donts climbing the secret and dangerous paths.

Dar always with his back to me, and expecting me to trot right along, my nose to his ass, curse him. I’m eighteen; I’m my own man, thrice-damn him. I should never have come. I should’ve put my foot down.

Should’ve. Hadn’t.

But when they returned to Hurth, things were going to be different.

Bara wasn’t sure how he would accomplish this, but he was determined to strike out on his own, find some other way to make a living. Maybe he would make the frightening decision to move to the provincial capital of Orash itself, find some kind of work there. Or find another trade in Hurth itself. It was a town, wasn’t it, even if only a small one?

They had crested the Rim and ridden a short ways into the Redlands when, seemingly out of nowhere, a force of Redlanders appeared. They were at least fifty strong, warriors of the Miskowski tribe led by a Blaskoye noble from the look of it. The Miskowski wore russet robes, practically the same color as the surrounding Redland terrain. The leader, however, wore white robes edged with blue, the garment of the Blaskoye sheiks. Nowadays no tribe traveled or traded without its Blaskoye overseer sent by the Council of Law-givers and its new chief — a Blaskoye named Kerensky.

I’m my own man. I can turn around now. I don’t have to get involved in this.

His father smiled that crooked smile of his and stretched out a hand as one of those Blaskoye rode up. The Blaskoye leader grasped his father’s arm in greeting.

They would have a royal escort through the Redlands.

I’m still on the Rim. I can turn around now, go back to Mar and tell her I’ll have no more to do with Dar and his heresies. Him treating me like the Blaskoye treat them Miskowski, like slaves.

Then his father motioned Bara and the others forward with a flick of his hand.

Curse him. I can go back now. I will!

But he didn’t.

Because he was more afraid of his onrushing choices than he was of the Redland wastes. He may be a Valleyman, but he knew the way of living in the Redlands well enough, knew how to act. The Redlanders treated the Hurthish traders with at least some measure of respect. Here he could be sure of not being taken for a rube, as he might be in Orash. Or as the new village idiot, as he might be in Hurth

Here in the band of his father, Bara felt safe.

Wretchedly unhappy, but safe.

Safe from the unknown future.

Interpolation complete.

* * *

Accurate to the ninety-five point six percentile, Center intoned. Abel snapped out of his vision of the Hurthman’s progress. It had lasted, in real time, only the blink of an eye.

“If he’s the son of the leader, his name is probably Bara. And I can tell he’s been in the Redlands,” Abel said to Timon. “The Blaskoye led them down and put them on our flanks.”

Timon looked up toward Abel. “What? How do you know that?”

“I was in the Scouts, remember? I’ve spent time in the cursed place,” Abel replied. “Anyway, Bara’s a common Hurthish name. It means something like ‘Junior.’ Ask him.”

Timon gave Abel an inquisitive look, but turned back to the young man. He motioned for his squad to crank the ropes up a notch. Timon leaned over, turned the Hurthman’s head, and looked the young man straight in the eyes.

“Speak,” Timon said. “Speak, Bara of Hurth.”

Cursing himself and his father, Bara began to spill all that he knew. Abel translated. After this, Timon sent a runner to notify the regimental commander that the interrogation had reached a critical point. The first of the prisoners had broken.

* * *

Colonel Zachary von Hoff had been an instructor at the Guardian Academy, and then Abel’s commanding officer for his year in the planning division. Timon may have chosen his specialty after graduating the Academy, but Abel had his chosen for him — by von Hoff.

“Do you think the man who orchestrated the destruction of the Blaskoye horde at the Battle of the Canal is going to get a regular company command? Think again, Dashian.”

“My father led the Battle of the Canal.”

“And his son understood the use of the nishterlaub breechloaders, drafted the battle plan, and led the Scout charge that broke the final Blaskoye resistance,” von Hoff had replied. “I know this because your father told me as much in a written response to my inquiries. You see, I am writing the record of that battle for the Tabernacle archives.”

“My father exaggerates.”

“I think not,” said von Hoff. “In any case, you came into the Academy already a captain. Tradition dictates you leave a rank higher. To give you a company would be akin to military heresy. Not quite a breach of the Laws and Edicts, but close enough in our world. No, your specialty will be planning with an eye toward eventual brigade or district military command.”

So, whether Abel liked it or not, von Hoff had appointed himself Abel’s mentor. And when the Progar Campaign was announced, the Academy martial instructors had taken their primary posts: as brigade commanders. This was the Goldie way. Usually brigade-sized units within the Guardians were demobilized for much of the year. Most of the Corps’s day-to-day activity was garrisoning the capital and policing the Lindron District in company-sized troops. Brigade-size maneuvers occurred only in the yearly war games and practice drills.

An appointment as a tenured military scholar at the Academy was also an appointment to brigade command staff or higher. It was Goldie tradition that teachers must also be fighters.

As soon as von Hoff had taken up his brigade duties, he’d requested Abel as his executive officer for the campaign. Abel’s long and fairly content stint as Cascade District military commander had come to an end, as he’d known it would.

Center had predicted the call up nearly a year before it happened.

Von Hoff is no fool. He knows a good thing when he sees it, Raj had commented when the messenger delivered Abel’s new orders.

To accept the commission is a necessary strategic move, Center put in. Abel will now be in a position to affect long-range outcomes through individual initiative — with proper guidance.

But you’re not going to like this excursion up north, lad, said Raj. The Goldies are not being sent to Progar to police it or even merely to conquer it. They are going to make an example of the place. You haven’t seen that kind of slaughter yet.

How is that not policing?

If I were in Zentrum’s place, with his goals, I would burn the place to the ground and salt the earth with the ashes of the people.

There had been the Progar water heresy, which had been going on for decades. The people of Progar had developed ways to harness the abundance of water and the power of the quickly running streams in their mountainous region. Plus, there were rumors of experiments with metal and weapons even beyond the crossbows of the Hurthmen. There was some sort of modification of the musket underway. Modifying the rifle, as Zentrum had shown in Treville by burning the chief priestsmith, Golitsin, was utter nishterlaub. An unforgivable breach of the Edicts.