FreeHolds Adventure, Cycle 3 Part 6a

FreeHolds Adventure, Cycle 3 Part 6a

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Part 6) Tipper


Tipper woke from old dreams, it took her a moment to realize where she was. The dawn was not far off. There were sounds of the camp coming to life around her; soldiers waking to another day, cooks preparing the fires for the morning meal. Sharlok’s army was only a three days march from Lekas. The old Pwhanna low-house and the ravine were a few yat behind them, some of the supply wagons with a few handfuls of soldiers had been left there. Scouts moved ahead of the army to gather information about the enemy’s position and their movements. She expected the first skirmishes to start soon, for the last few days Shalok’s scouts had not been doing well. The closer they came to Lekas the more of them that died.

It was not the war she had been dreaming of, that had happened a lifetime ago. This war was one she had tried to prevent. So far, despite her best efforts, she had failed.

Tipper stretched and sat up. She had a breakfast meeting to attend with Lady Sharlok and her officers. She was not looking forward to the meeting but she had to keep up appearances for at least a couple more days.

Tipper had hoped to be able to kill Lord Sharlok and then to rejoin her companions somewhere along the road or in Lekas if she was delayed. Had things gone poorly she might have died, either in the attempt to assassinate Sharlok or in a hanging tree shortly thereafter. Not once had she thought that she would instead be marching to war against Lekas.

She had killed Lord Sharlok and in the dissembling yarn she had spun after killing the man, she had implicated Roburns Trading Company as the culprits. The company and its employees were now considered enemies throughout Sharlok’s lands. Their assets had been seized and their people killed, captured or fled. Two wins as far as she was concerned.

The unexpected result of the story she had told and the assumptions of those who had questioned her was her position as the new ruler’s advisor. In many ways she had become Lady Sharlok’s right hand, despite not having sworn an oath to the young woman. In fact, she had refused to swear an oath, informing Ethie that she had obligations to her family that made such an oath impossible. Still, Lady Sharlok had insisted that for the short term Tipper would advise her. Once the business with Lekas was done she would be free to go.

So, despite her efforts, the army had marched on Lekas. Lord Keilam of the Western March had refused to proceed, he had instead taken his people and returned to his lands near Domkee. She had been happy to see him go, he had more sense than all the others put together. Lady Sharlok did not have the confidence of all those who had stayed, though a victory in Lekas would likely rectify that problem. Tipper had no intention of letting that happen.

She dressed, set her armour outside of the small tent and then crawled out. She stretched again, moved around a bit and went to the waste trench to relieve herself. Many others were likewise engaged, she ignored most of them, only offering a nod when someone acknowledged her. She went back to her tent to put her armour and weapons on. In that time the sun had started to show itself, brightening the sky.

Tipper went over to the eastern picket line, watching as the sun continued its ascension. No one sang the dawn around here. She wondered how her friends were doing, she expected that they thought she was dead. Nearly a month had passed since she had last seen them, no doubt they had been busy helping prepare Lekas’ defences under Andisal’s firm guidance.

A shout from the northwest end of the camp drew her attention. It sounded like one of the men on watch had spotted something of interest. She stayed put, watching the sunrise. There were another couple of shouts from the same direction, they sounded excited. Had there been contact with the enemy? It seemed like the wrong direction. Tipper took some deep breaths and watched the birds flitting through the waist high grass, feeding on insects. More exclamations sounded along the northern edge of the camp, something sure had the troops stirred up. Tipper gave up on her meditation and turned in that direction. There was a general movement from the camp to the northwestern picket line, dozens of sleepy-headed, curious people wondering what was going on. It seemed unlikely to be enemy action. The exclamations turned to cheers and jeers, punctuated by the occasional loud whistle.

Tipper headed in that direction as well. As the soldiers started crowding together their excitement increased. They were seeing something they liked. Tipper climbed up onto one of the wood carts where she saw a single rider, around a hundred paces from the picket line. The rider was mostly naked, brown skinned, standing on the back of a small reddish Pwhanna horse. Tipper was fairly sure it was Sefla. Therefore, most definitely enemy action. She remained quiet and watched. As the horse pranced eastward the rider did a handstand on the back of the animal. The soldiers cheered, some shouted lust-filled suggestions, a few asked what was going on.

Tipper knew what was going on. She scanned the grasslands for any sign of others, though she saw no one, she expected there would be a few people hiding out there. She returned her attention back to the rider, who dropped out of the handstand, straddled the horse briefly, then swung around its neck up onto its back, facing the rear. Sefla waved to the troops, discarding a length of cloth which fluttered slowly to the ground. There were more cheers, a few soldiers moved out past the picket line calling out to the rider.

Maybe this was the opportunity Tipper had been waiting for. She jumped off the cart and headed towards Lady Sharlok’s pavilion. Behind her, she heard one of the more experienced soldiers trying to get the others to stay in the camp, his efforts were drowned out by another round of shouts and jeers. Tipper ignored the first couple of people who asked her what was going on. The commotion continued, more people headed to the northwest side of the camp.

As she came up to the pavilion she could see Lord Magon of the Eastern March and two officers, the people she was supposed to be having a meeting with shortly.

“What’s the matter? Is there a fight?”

“No lord, there is a naked woman on a horse, doing stunts. The men are rather excited and I fear discipline may break.”

“Goodness, we can’t have that. No doubt this is an attempt to draw some of our men out from the camp. Can you tell Lady Sharlok we will be delayed?”

“Of course, Lord Magon.” She walked past the guards at the entry to the pavilion and went into the dim interior. The main area of the tent was being set up for breakfast, Kealotta was present, she usually oversaw the servants.

Tipper asked, “Is Lady Sharlok in her room?”

Kealotta looked at her imperiously, she did not like Tipper much, “She is presently being dressed. Surely, whatever the news, you can wait until breakfast.”

Tipper ignored her, she did not much care for the woman, too much of a busy body. Ethie was standing in a small copper tub being dried by a couple of servants. Tipper picked up the robe that Ethie treasured so much, and said, “I need to speak to Lady Sharlok, alone.”

Distantly they could hear the commotion from the edge of the camp. Ethie looked in that direction and back to Tipper with concern, then dismissed her servants with a wave of her hand. Tipper waited until the other two had left. Briefly she held up the robe, but before Ethie could slip into it Tipper quickly moved to the back of the tent and stood listening.

Ethie stepped out of the tub, “What is going on?”

Tipper made a shushing sound and waved her over, in a quiet voice she said, “I believe the camp may have been infiltrated by the enemy.”

Ethie’s eyes went big, she stepped closer, extending an arm towards the robe. Tipper held it for her, one arm, followed by the other. She set it gently across the young woman’s shoulders then slipped a hand over her mouth and an arm around her throat. In a voice loud enough to drown out the startled noises Lady Sharlok was making, Tipper stated, “The enemy could be all around us, Lady Sharlok. Some sort of distraction is taking place along the northern picket line. A rider on a horse. Except the rider is naked and does not appear to be armed. I have reason to believe that an assassin might take advantage of the situation and try to sneak into the pavilion to kill you.”

Ethie flailed as she was choked, Tipper continued to talk over the sounds of the struggle, “I believe the best bet would be to dress you like one of the servants, perhaps as one of the cooks or a camp follower even. Here let me help you with that. Are these the plainest garment you have? Very well then. Best to arm yourself as well and it wouldn’t hurt to put that fine-mesh mail on underneath. That skirt will work. Well then, I guess you’ll have to pretend to be a servant for the rest of the morning. Best not to worry about the jewellery. Lord Magon will be here in short order with a detachment of soldiers to escort you to safety… Yes, Lady Sharlok I would be pleased to help you with your boots. One foot first, very good then, there we go and now the other. These are very fine boots you have, Lady Sharlok. Ah, yes, here let’s put your hair up… and wear this scarf. That looks good, under the circumstances it’s likely the best we can do, no one will recognize you.”

Ethie’s struggles were nearly over, she no longer tried to call out, she clawed feebly at Tipper’s hand. After another few moments she stopped struggling all together. Tipper continued to choke her as she dragged the woman to her bed, she carefully set her down and paused to listen. She could still hear the men on the north side of the camp hooting and hollering about Sefla, while the officers tried to get them to settle down. Nearby, close to the supply wagons, she thought she heard a muffled scream. Maybe there was an assassin in the camp.

She stuffed Ethie’s mouth with a cloth, bound and gagged her as quickly as she could. There were sounds of combat from near the supply wagons. She rolled Lady Sharlok up in a blanket. She thought she heard the sounds of a rapidly expanding fire, the back side of the pavilion was buffeted as if by a strong wind.

Tipper dragged Ethie over to the tent wall and crouched down to take a look outside. Behind her she heard one of the women call out to Lady Sharlok, inquiring if she was alright. Tipper ducked under the side of the tent then pulled Ethie out. From within Kealotta called out for the guards.

Tipper stayed low. The camp sounded like it was falling into chaos. There was a lot of smoke in the air.

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