Blood of the Redd Guard - Part One (3 page)

Even so, Adar couldn’t tolerate it. And while it was important that there be a warning for any that would murder or claim to be a Radim in Adar’s territory again, he still couldn’t help but feel regret for those lives that had ended today.

Tere shook his head and lowered his voice. “I know that you want to change things. Melyah! I even agree with you on the need. Anybody can see the nine Radim armies are becoming complacent, but executions this close to Rarbon? You’re not just playing with fire; you’re dancing over a pit of molten rock with nothing between you and the lava but a bit of rope that’s already burning from both ends. As it was, you were lucky to get your commission as General with your own father working against you. Can’t you be more careful?”

“Do we have the time for care?” Adar asked, his voice quiet but his tone sharp. “Semal has been telling us for three years that the Hunwei should be here within eight. Need I remind you that we don’t have ships, metalmen, or any of the weapons of our fathers? What chance will we have at winning a war that we almost lost once, when our weapons aren’t even half as good as those of our fathers? At a time when the Radim armies have lost their edge and need to be sharpened? No, we must be bold. It is time to do all we can to get everybody ready.”

“They might strip you of your rank. What will you do then?”

Adar didn't answer. That was a real possibility, but there had to be some on the Council that recognized he was trying to instill a change in the way the Radim armies operated. He hoped that they would welcome the progress.

Up ahead, he could just make out the firebreak. It was now one of the cleanest stretches of ground maintained by any of the nine Radim armies. That had been the first thing he'd done upon his promotion to General. Before he and his men had done the work, there had been saplings that were more than a decade old in some places. There wasn’t a blade of grass growing anywhere now on the several hundred foot expanse between the wall and the tree line.

When Adar had given the order and required several thousand of his Radim soldiers from Napael army to help, there had been no small amount of grumbling among his assigned subordinates. Rather than call out the murmurs and complaints, Adar had surrounded himself with Tere and several others and they'd begun to work. He'd never been more grateful for Tere who had walked among his men pointing out that Adar was working with them.

Tere was correct, carrying out their own orders wasn't something Radim generals did, but it was time that changed.

“I agree that your efforts are helping you to bond with the men. It just shouldn’t come at the expense of relationships with the Council.”

“Point taken.” Over the course of the last several weeks, Adar had made time to train the new recruits and practice with the veterans. It wasn't enough for them to have heard how hard he worked, he wanted as many as possible to witness it firsthand. Granted, Napael army was over twenty thousand strong, with more than half at the outposts, so the number of individuals he could interact with in person was limited. “I’ll give what you said some thought. Perhaps I can tone down my methods, at least until I see how the Council responds to what I’ve done so far.”

“That won’t take long.” Tere sighed. “You can bet they’ll hear about today long before you turn over the prisoner.”

Adar nodded as they left the woods and walked out into the firebreak; it still smelled of burned wood, leaves, and grass. The stench brought a smile to Adar’s face. At the end of that day, the grumbling had disappeared and since that time he’d even heard his men bragging to others that their firebreak was the cleanest of the city. Not only had the discontent about his promotion among those of Napael Army dissipated, other generals had followed suit. Jakop Marel, the General of Arelo Army, had ordered his men to do the same thing.

Arelo’s firebreak hadn’t been as overgrown an Napael’s had been, in fact, it had been one of the better maintained, but now, just like Napael’s, almost every leaf or blade of green had been removed or burned to ash. Marel hadn’t worked in the field as Adar had, but the man had held his position for over thirty years and had long since cemented his authority with his men.

The fact that one of the oldest Radim generals had not wanted to be outdone had been a victory for Adar; a small one, but a triumph nonetheless. It was only the beginning of the influence Adar intended to have before this was all over and done with, but it was a start.

Adar growled at Tere. “How will the sword get sharpened if there isn't a stone to draw it against? How will the armies reclaim their power if there isn't one to lead the way? Even if the Council does their worst, I haven't given them grounds to dismiss me. Not yet anyway.”

“Your arrogance is the biggest threat to our cause. And they've done more to other generals for less.”

“But never to a Rahid. I have a unique opportunity others don't have. I won't squander it.” Adar nodded ahead to the walls. “Our biggest threat—aside from a Hunwei invasion—comes from within. Too many are complacent, they need to be awoken.” What Tere considered arrogance, Adar thought of as ignoring tact because of time constraints. “Not to mention those that work against us.”

Adar refrained from glancing ahead to the captive and wondered what stories he would hear once they got the man to talk. Was it possible one of the other Radim generals was behind the attack? How else could Adar explain the Radim uniforms that the bandits had been wearing?

He reined his horse to a halt and motioned for Tere to do the same. He spoke once the others were out of earshot. “The timing of today’s attack is not a coincidence.”

Tere nodded. “The thought has crossed my mind too. There may be something to your theory about Gardison.”

“You think the two are connected.” Much as Adar had appreciated the commission, he had wondered if someone had something to do with the untimely demise of Adar’s predecessor, General Gardison.

The general had been found dead at breakfast while eating in his barrack rooms. There had been an investigation by the city guard who had determined his death had been natural.

As time had gone on and Adar had settled into his new role, he had wondered about Gardison's death because he’d learned that Gardison had been a fanatic about taking care of himself and keeping in shape. Gardison had participated with the new recruits in some of the more grueling aspects of their training. He had frequently lead the morning and evening runs that went up the Inner Wall steps, across the connecting wall, and came down the Outer Wall steps. Many new recruits had emptied their stomachs on the way up while trying to keep pace with Gardison. Why would a man in that kind of shape keel over and die while eating a bowl of oats and berries? It didn’t make sense.

“I don’t buy your theory that it’s General Morgol,” Tere said. “I doubt it’s any of the generals. My money would be on one of the Council.”

Adar’s name had been considered by the Rarbon Council along with that of Molach Morgol, General Helam Morgol’s son.

There had been contention among the council about Adar's appointment and it had come down to one vote at the end. Before the announcement, Adar had noticed a peculiar look on Molach’s face; he had looked as though he had been reviewing the speech he'd been expecting to give. Even Abel, who had devoted much of his time behind doors to campaigning against Adar, had seemed assured that Molach would be the council's pick.

The shock on the faces of those in the room when Adar's name had been announced was nothing compared to that of Helam. During the announcement, Adar’s eyes had sought out Helam to gauge his reaction, and he hadn’t taken it well. His face had been made of stone, but his eyes had been heated enough to burn somebody. After the meeting was over, he’d stormed out of the Rarbon council meeting hall without talking to anybody. Most hadn’t noticed him because he’d been standing near the back.

“I admit I’m prone to think of Helam.” Adar’s chest itched and he reached for it, stopping his hand just before it got there. It was a habit that he was trying to break. The wound was five years old and should have stopped itching long ago, but it continued to bother him. It brought with it the pride he’d felt for his victory when he’d beat Helam in the tournament and the betrayal that haunted him from later that night when Helam had caught Adar drunk and taken advantage of the moment to give him the scar. The wound had become infected and he’d almost died. “But don’t be so quick to discount him. Helam is ambitious and a planner.” At times, Adar had wondered if Helam had lost the tournament on purpose. If that had been the case, what was Helam’s angle? Adar had rolled all sorts of different possibilities around his mind but had never been able to settle on a satisfying explanation.

The Rarbon city guard had asked him many questions about the attack after Abel had reported it, but Adar had maintained that he didn’t remember much of it. He’d known that his drunken accusation against Helam wouldn’t have done him any good. Most of the citizens would have believed that he’d been imagining things.

But that wasn’t the thing that brought Helam to Adar’s mind.

“If Helam was capable of killing General Gardison, it isn’t much beyond that to hire mercenaries to harass and kill merchants.”

“I get that you hate the man, but he isn’t a bad guy. He’s as worried about the Hunwei as you are. You don’t want to tell me what happened that night, fine. He’d be a better ally than a foe.” Tere hesitated. “The two of you have more in common than you think.”

Adar snorted. “Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because our passions align that our methods do as well.” He growled under his breath, he hated the distraction this all posed. Wasn’t it bad enough that they had the coming return of the Hunwei to deal with? Why did he have to get involved in political battles and turf wars with the likes of Helam as well? “Helam isn’t guided by principle.”

“Sometimes you aren’t either.”

“Yes, but his are intentional. Mine are mistakes, which I take great pains to rectify when I recognize them.”

If there was anybody else that could have prepared Rarbon for the return of the Hunwei, Adar would have gladly stepped aside. His father was the man that should have been leading them, but instead he was wrapping himself in political struggles that were as frivolous as they were petty. Helam’s methods were brutal and Adar couldn’t be certain of the man’s intentions.

Tere stared ahead at the walls and Adar couldn’t decide if he was either giving up on the argument or working on attacking it from a different way.

Adar sighed, and let the silence remain unbroken as he stared at the city as well. The walls of Rarbon were the tallest that Adar had seen during his travels, the next closest being the shining walls of Parout which didn’t even reach half the height of Rarbon’s Outer Wall. From a distance, it was easy to mistake Rarbon for a small mountain with the tiered steps of the Outer Wall, the taller Inner Wall, and the even taller Rarbon Palace which itself had the look of a mountain range with five towering peaks. The middle palace tower, at more than one hundred and fifty stories high, made it hard for many newcomers to pay attention to where they were going when traversing through the city.

For Adar, seeing the palace towers filled him with a bittersweet feeling. As a youth, he’d run around those halls, exploring as high into the towers and as low into the city catacombs as he’d dared. There were hidden rooms that had yet to be discovered and as many tales about the Palace as people in the city.

A few years ago, in one of those rooms, he and his father had witnessed the slow agonizing death of his mother, while an illness had ravaged her body for eleven months. By the end, the tension between his father and Adar that had always been there when he was growing up had escalated to something a few steps below a fully fledged war.

To Adar’s knowledge, Abel hadn’t yet tried to take his life, but his father had done almost everything else. When Adar's mother had passed away, the last remaining line of civility between him and his father had gone with her. Tere had been through it all with Adar, providing him someone to talk to and spar with, both of which did wonders for working out his tensions. It was Tere that always reminded Adar that the world wasn’t as cut and dry as he sometimes viewed it.

“We need to get back, Tere. Give it some thought. You may be right about Helam not being our guy and we should consider other candidates.”

“Agreed.”

As they crossed the firebreak and approached the south Rarbon gate, the guard door to the side of the gate had already opened to meet the patrol and a dozen guards had filed out. The gate had closed at sunset and now the only people allowed in or out would have to be a Radim soldier on duty or have a compelling reason to gain admittance.

On a normal day, Adar liked to admire the gates and try to puzzle out what they were made of, but he wasn’t in the mood. Unlike other city’s gates which were made from reinforced wood, all of the Rarbon gates were made from a material that appeared to be a mixture between metal and ceramic. The present day city architects were at a loss on how to replicate it.

During the day, the gate was left open and most could come and go once the guards had made a record of their name and purpose, the exception to that being if somebody on the wanted posters turned up. Most of the guard kept the posters committed to memory to keep people moving through the gate.

Adar jumped off Slasher. Even though the side door was tall and wide enough to allow a man on a horse, the portcullis at the top of the inside ramp was left half down to keep people from riding through the wall to the other side.

When he noticed that Keen Carlsen was the captain on duty, he grimaced. Keen was another lifer like Maual, but his dark hair was cut short and he wasn't breaking out of uniform by wearing jewelry.

Waving Keen over, Adar pointed at the man with the Stingeel earring. “Recognize him?” Keen was known for his ability to commit to memory the wanted posters. In the short time that Adar had known the man, he'd been impressed by his mental acuity and dedication to duty but little else.

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