A chorus of “Yessirs” chimed from his men, and three squads formed, then marched out of the camp and disappeared into the fading light.
The commotion in the courtyard drew a crowd of labourers out of the workshops east of the yard. Curious faces twisted into saddened ones as the workers ran towards their wounded friends. The dozen labourers grumbled insults and spat at the guardsmen jogging past them.
“The incompetence of your men has cost me workers. Again.” Hector Alphon, the master builder, moved to stand in front of Sanders, his finger outstretched and pointing at Roderick.
Hector’s blond queue fell to the base of his neck, and it took all of Sanders’ will to not reach out to grab it and drag the master builder away. If there were any other builder in the world equal to Hector’s talents, Sanders would hire him in an instant. In fact, Sanders would hire any builder with half of Hector’s abilities. Instead, Sanders was stuck with Hector, brilliant and stubborn, determined and inexhaustible, and much-needed.
“My men aren’t incompetent,” Roderick said. The general’s voice rumbled in a bearish growl, and he sucked in air in preparation for a tirade.
Sanders put a hand on Roderick. “I was there, Hector,” Sanders said. “The attack was fast and over before the guardsmen could respond.”
“I cannot complete the task you set before me if my workers are too terrified to do their jobs.” Hector turned to Roderick. “Your soldiers need to soldier.”
“There are injured that need a boost in morale,” Sanders said, nodding in the direction of the barracks. “See to them.”
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The horse’s breathing steadied, the panic in her eyes subsided. “Let’s get these men to camp,” Sanders said. He helped Aric, and the other guardsmen lift Pacome and the other two workers into the cart.
“Tools are gone again,” Aric said under his breath.
Sanders cursed every god he could think of, even the ones he served. The workers had dropped their tools at the beginning of the attack. Anything that wasn’t nailed down was fair game for the raiders.
The small procession of workers and guardsmen slogged back to camp.
The collection of tents, shanties, workshops, and a large wooden barracks, as well as Sanders’ shack of a house nestled in the heart of the forest. North of the kingdom of Kalit and east of the kingdom of Retkal, the camp sat remote and isolated, far from prying eyes that might discern Sanders’ real plans.
General Roderick ran out of the barracks, his dark-blue cloak flapping behind him, a platoon of men on his heels. The massive soldier’s hand rested on the hilt of his sword, his gaze on the wounded men being unloaded from the cart behind Sanders. “Erton, Kiyen, Marven. Take squads and patrol the perimeter.”
Roderick’s breath carried the stench of cheap wine, and his baritone voice rolled over the courtyard and the rough-hewn cedar planks of the barracks to the rickety guard tower at the far end. When Roderick barked an order, people all the way in Ravel heard it. If he yelled an order, it bounced off the walls of the Kalitese royal palace in Eotirali and rolled back towards the camp.
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