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Chapter Sixty-Nine

Croaker posted himself where he could be clearly seen from the city. Murgen stood beside him with the standard. Swan set off in a boat the cavalry had stolen off the banks of the river north of the hills.

Murgen asked, You think hell come?

Maybe not himself. But somebody will. Hell want to make sure, one way or the other.

Murgen indicated the Shadowlander soldiers along the shoreline. You know what thats about?

I can guess. Mogaba and Lady both want to be Captain. She took care of Shadowspinner but thought it might be inconvenient if she told Mogaba. As long as hes trapped in Dejagore hes no problem.

Right.

Stupid. Nothing like this ever happened before, Murgen. Nowhere in the Annals can you find a squabble over the succession. Most Captains come in like me, kicking and screaming.

Most dont have a holy mission. Lady and Mogaba both do.

Lady?

Shes decided shell do anything to get even with the Shadowmasters for killing you.

Thats real sane. But it sounds like her. Looks like Swans gotten some attention. Your eyes are better than mine.

Somebody black is getting in the boat with him. Would Mogaba make up his mind that fast?

Hes sending somebody.

Swans passenger was Mogabas lieutenant Sindawe, an officer good enough to have commanded a legion. Croaker saluted. Sindawe.

The black man returned the salute tentatively. Is it you indeed?

In the flesh.

But youre dead.

Nope. Just a story spread by our enemies. Its a long tale. Maybe we dont have time for it all. I hear things arent good over there.

Sindawe guided Croaker out of sight of the city, settled on a rock. Im caught on the horns of a dilemma.

Croaker settled facing him, winced. His ankle had taken a lot of abuse coming south. How so?

My honor is sworn to Mogaba as first lord of the Nar. I must obey. But hes gone mad.

So I gather. What happened? He was the ideal soldier even when he didnt agree with the way I ran things.

Ambition. Hes a driven man. He became first lord because hes driven. Among the Nar, chieftainship was determined by a sort of soldierly athletic contest. The all-round best man at physical skills became commander. He joined your expedition thinking you weak, likely to perish quickly. He saw no obstacle to his replacing you, whereupon he would become one of the immortal stars of the chronicles. Hes still a good soldier. But he does everything for Mogabas sake, not that of the Company or its commission.

Most organizations have mechanisms for handling such problems.

The mechanism among the Nar is challenge. Combat or contest. Which is no good here. Hes still the quickest, fastest, strongest amongst us. Hes still the best tactician, begging your pardon.

I never claimed to be a genius. I got to be Captain cause everybody voted against me. I didnt want it but I didnt not want it as badly as everybody else didnt want it. But I wont abdicate so Mogaba can rack himself up some glory.

My conscience permits me to say no more. Even so, I feel like a traitor. He sent me because weve been like brothers since we were boys. Im the only man left he trusts. I dont want to hurt him. But hes hurt us. Hes blackened our honor and our oaths as guardians.

Sindawes guardians was a Nar word for which there was no exact translation. It carried implications of an obligation to defend the weak and stand firm in the face of evil.

I hear hes trying to stir up a religious crusade.

Sindawe seemed embarrassed. Yes. From the beginning some have clung to the Dark Mother. I didnt realize he was one of them-though I should have guessed. His ancestors were priests.

Whats he going to do now? I cant see him getting excited about me turning up.

I dont know. Im afraid hell claim youre not you. He may even believe youre a trick of the Shadowmasters. A lot of men thought they saw you killed. Even your standardbearer.

A lot of men saw me hit. If anyone questioned Murgen closely they know I was alive when he left me.

Sindawe nodded. I remain on the horns.

Croaker did not ask what would happen if he tried to eliminate Mogaba. The Nar would fight, Sindawe included. That was not his style, anyway. He did not eliminate a man because he was a nuisance.

Ill come over and confront him, then. Hell either accept me or he wont. Itll be interesting seeing where the Nar stand if he chooses mutiny.

Youll exact the penalty?

I wont kill him. I respect him. Hes a great soldier. Maybe he can continue to be a great soldier. Maybe not. If not, hell have to give up his part in our quest.

Sindawe smiled. Youre a wise man, Captain. Ill go tell him. And everyone else. Ill pray the gods remind him of his oaths and honor.

Fine. Dont dawdle. Since I dont want anything to do with this Ill be over as soon as I can.

Eh?

If I put off doing something unpleasant I never get around to dealing with it. Go. Ill be right behind you.


Chapter Sixty-Eight | Dreams of Steel | Chapter Seventy







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