Grand Marshal Alados Wolsey didn’t sleep. It was a habit he had picked up during the Needle Islands campaign. There closing your eyes meant losing them. Attacks from the natives were relentless, often lasting long into the night and continuing the following day. They had thrown themselves into danger seemingly without care for their lives or those of others. They were merciless, bloodthirsty and desperate. As much as he abhorred them for their grotesque inhuman appearances, he could at least respect them for their courage, however misplaced it had proven to be.
He had not been sorry to leave that part of his life behind. When the campaign ended and the cleansing was deemed sufficient, he had been glad to return home, to some semblance of safety and normality. If only it had been that simple. In truth, returning home had been a strangeness. Some part of him had been lost over those years of blood and fear. Nothing seemed to have meaning anymore. Everything seemed bizarrely dull or lacking in colour. In his darker moments he imagined himself still on those wretched islands, a part of his soul being ripped away from him, and dragged down into the abyss to join those who had been slaughtered.
It was the boredom that had surprised him most of all though. It was almost funny in a cruel way. He certainly didn’t miss being on the knife’s edge every waking moment, but he could hardly deny that, it had ever failed to be exciting.
It had felt more real too. Something the monotony of high society could never emulate. All the banquets and gatherings and never-ending small talk were like one big joke by comparison. It was all so empty and so false.
When he realised that, he knew that he could not stay at home any longer. The chairs were too soft, the rooms too clean, and there was nothing to convince him that he hadn’t simply died upon one of those long, cold nights and that this was all some terrible joke of an afterlife.
Not everything had changed though. Like a rock standing firm against battering tides, there had been only one person that remained exactly the same. His father had not softened one bit, nor did he look upon his son with remorseful eyes for the pains that he had suffered. Even after everything, he still remained disappointed.
‘Apologies, my lord.’
Alados’ thoughts were broken by the arrival of a man in the uniform of a lieutenant. He acknowledged the man with a nod and a welcoming smile.
‘Ketch, isn’t it?’ he said.
‘Aye, my lord,’ said Ketch. ‘Sorry to disturb you but we received a missive from General MukRaigh that I believe you will want to read.’
‘No need to apologise,’ said Alados, then added, ‘at least not until I’ve read what the good general wants. Let’s take things in their natural order, shall we?’
He held out his hand and accepted the roll of parchment, unravelling it gently and holding it to the candlelight.
As his eyes darted across the words he felt an annoyance growing inside of him. Most of the letter was incidental, just a report of their successes in the northlands and their plans for the foreseeable future. Near the end however, was a request to meet with him personally, ostensibly so that he could oversee the completion of an outpost, but Alados knew there was more to it than that.
Angrily he screwed up the parchment and cast it aside. From the corner of his eye he saw Lieutenant Ketch balk at the gesture, but he didn’t care.
‘General MukRaigh wants us to pay her a visit,’ Alados explained, keeping the anger from his voice. ‘She expects us to arrive within the week.’
‘Should I send her confirmation?’ asked Ketch.
‘No,’ Alados’ spoke the word more coldly than he had intended. It was not the lieutenant’s fault. ‘The general forgets she is not my superior, no matter what her standing may be with the parliament.’
‘So we will not be heading north?’ the lieutenant frowned in confusion.
Alados smiled as he observed the man more closely. He was a wiry fellow but with a face that boasted a strong jaw and two gleaming sapphire eyes. Such features were a rarity among the lowborn, and he had no doubt that there was a story behind that, but it was one he looked forward to discovering sometime during their journey.
‘We will be,’ said Alados, ‘but I am waiting on different instructions first. Tell me, have the scouts returned yet?’
‘Yes, my lord,’ said Ketch, ‘save for some large wolf tracks, they didn’t have anything to report. I’m sorry for not passing on the information earlier but I didn’t think you’d find it relev-‘
Alados waved his hand dismissively, but his brows set firmly in a frown.
‘That’s disappointing,’ he said finally, more to himself than to the lieutenant. ‘In any case, thank you for bringing me this information, lieutenant. See to it that the men are ready to move out come the dawn. We’ve much ground to cover.’
The lieutenant nodded an affirmative and saluted, before turning and walking off. Alados watched him for a time, his mind still pondering the true reason for the general’s invitation. Surely word of his activities had not spread so far and so quickly. No, it had to be unconnected. There was only one soul in all the realms that knew what he was planning, and he would never betray him.
No, whatever this was, it could not interfere with his plans. It was far too late for that.