April 17th - Westmoor
"I don't like this Moira," Yfain sat in the shade of her pavilion, his usually bluff demeanour replaced by furrowed brow and pursed lips, "We shouldn't be celebrating this dog's birthday."
"Do you think I hold any more love for Gregor than you? It was his treachery that cost the life of my friends Alexi and Lorrie Furion, not to mention my Imperial Cagilan Guards and of so many others. Civil War he called it, but in a democracy there is no place for steel in politics. No place."
"Then why are we here ma'am?" Iraen stopped the grinding wheel and looked up, though she was now chatelaine of the Dubhaine Estates in Oporto she still insisted on checking Moira's weapons and armour personally.
"To celebrate Fontan's survival my friends. Gregor plotted and schemed in secret for so long, a fat spider at the heart of a web of treachery, and yet even with all his connections - all his power and influence - he couldn't unseat the democratically elected government of Fontan," she paused, seemingly watching the knights practising in the lists, her mind's eye drifting back to that sunny day in Pedrera before the southern war.
She couldn't blame Perdan or Caligus for their decision to make war, it was the nature of Kingdoms to hunger for new conquests. But Gregor. No matter how she tried to connect the dots, she couldn't understand how he'd been able to commit so great a crime. Had his faith in democracy failed him? It seemed he was now content to serve a Queen, to bend his knee in homage as no knight of Fontan ever would, to kiss the proffered ring and swear allegiance not as an equal in arms but as a lesser kind of man.
Moira knew she could never do that. The ring of her steel was sovereignty enough for her, and within it she would accept no superior.
"You've got to admit it was a pretty piss poor government though that lead us to that," Yfain's wolfish grin reasserted itself as he remembered the torrent of letters and abuse in those last few weeks.
"Aye, a piss poor government indeed," Moira turned to the stack of correspondence on her campaign table, "but that's ever the way. The day we lose faith in democracy just because it allows idiots to rise to positions of power is the day we give up on the whole human race."
"How's that sword coming along Iraen?" it was the same wolf's head blade that Aeneas had presented to her, a token of reconciliation. She'd never had much time for his politics but damn if she hadn't admired the old Duke's integrity: too bad he'd succumbed to fever in the poisonous air of Kazan...
April 30th - Osslamar
Moira was up late studying a map of the northern plains by the light of a dimmed lantern. It was one of several drawn up by Bureau cartographers in the months since their last operations in the area, and whilst it lacked the detail she'd have liked for the eastern coastal provinces it was the best in Fontan. Outside the camp was silent, all except the pickets having long since retired to their beds.
Sleep. It had eluded Moira since that bloody slaughter at Sermbar Fields, and what little she'd managed to snatch when fatigue overwhelmed her had been dominated by vivid dreams: memories of the disbelief on the faces of her men as they watched the Lions retreat, leaving them to hold the line under the hail of Elven arrows. Of the forty men she'd lead to that battle only Yfain survived, and would the Lions shed a tear for any of those fallen? But try as she might to hold onto that anger she couldn't: respect for the Lions was too ingrained in the psyche of Fontan...
The latest reports from Rollo and his outriders suggested a small Elven force was mustering in Tallbar and she was considering whether to hold the recently captured palisade against them or instead pull back to the safety of the Sultanate's front lines. Her mission was mainly reconnaissance and her men had already been in the field for more than a week. Perhaps withdrawing for a refit would be the better option?
"M'lady!" Iraen thrust aside the tent flap with some urgency, "a dispatch just arrived by carrier pigeon. It bears the seal of our agent in Ashforth."
"I thought you were asleep Iraen," Moira adjusted the lantern, flooding the pavilion with a warm yellow glow. Her chatelaine should even now be overseeing the estates in Oporto, instead here she stood in her nightgown with a scrawny bird in one hand and a wax-sealed cylinder in the other."
"Hand it here and get yourself back to bed, one of us should be sleeping at this time of night," Moira reached out her palm and accepted the cylinder, cracking the seal and unrolling the expensive waxed paper.
"I'd rather wait m'lady, in case there's a reply," there was no arguing with the lass when she made her mind up, so Moira didn't bother.
It took Moira a minute to make sense of the words, and then another five minutes to ponder their import. The silence in the pavilion was palpable.
"Wake the men and have them pack up their belongings, they need to be ready to move out at first light. We'll do what damage we can here and pull back to Ashforth."
"Is it serious then ma'am?"