“First Controller Acetate!”
Christian turned away from the maps he was viewing. “Yes? What is it?”
A young man, no older than 20, had entered through the flap of his tent. He stood in front of him dressed in the black and red of Sarkards army, formerly known as the police of Ikalga. “Sir, there’s a bear loose nearby. We need your assistance.”
Christian allowed the maps to roll shut. He said nothing to the boy as he briskly made his way out of his tent, grabbing his saber as he left.
“Sir! Your helmet!” the youth called from behind him.
Christian held up a dismissive hand and continued through camp. He stopped and turned back to the soldier. “Where is Cyrus?”
“Ready with your horse, sir!” the soldier saluted as Christian trotted toward the stables of the camp.
He arrived a brief moment later, his pulse slightly elevated – a nice warm-up. Cyrus was waiting for him beside Christian’s favorite horse, which was already saddled.
“Good Cyrus. Have I ever told you that you’re the only one I can stand in this army?”
“Everyday, sir and I never get tired of hearing it!” the boy beamed.
“Alright, in that case, let’s take care of this bear.” Christian threw his leg over the horse and settled in the saddle. “Did they brief you on the location?”
Cyrus nodded and kicked his horse into a trot out of the camp’s temporary stables. This boy would make a good controller one of these days. His presence was the only thing that made Christian smile since they had left the comforts of Luria. Christian sat back and crossed his arms. His horse knew the routine without direction, to follow the young scribe’s horse.
The First Controller closed his eyes and meditated as best he could on top of a horse. What seemed like a few moments, but could have been many minutes later, Cyrus was bringing their horses to a stop. Christian opened his eyes and hopped off, landing and stretching.
“First Controller, shall I lure the bear?”
“Yes, but I’ve told you not to call me that, Cyrus.” Why did the boy insist on calling him by Sarkard’s made up rank?
“Sorry, sir,” the boy said as he pulled out the meat to attract the bear.
Christian sat and waited. He should probably stop thinking of Cyrus as a boy, it’s been almost 30 years since he first began aiding Christian.
Eventually, Christian stood at the sound of a low rumble in the distance.
“Cyrus, it’s coming.”
“Are you sure, sir? I didn’t hear anything…” Cyrus said, holding the meat.
Christian nodded and Cyrus trotted to the horses, packing up the meat. The scribe brought out a ledger and began to read. Christian closed his eyes and let his ears discern the beast’s location. He began walking in that direction and was soon rewarded with the bear emerging from the brush. It was a black bear, its mouth and claws stained with a dried blood. Was that from his men? No matter, he would have to take care of the nuisance either way. He didn’t revel in animal hunting like Sarkard and the rest of Luria but his loyalty to his soldiers’ safety was unwavering.
Christian withdrew his sword and did his usual practice slashes. The blade gleamed in the sun. He lamented in the fact that Cyrus would soon have to clean it again.
The bear noticed the First Controller and let out a low growl before approaching. Christian walked up to the bear and stood in its path, sword at the ready.
He took a deep reluctant breath and dashed toward the bear, closing the remaining distance. The animal reared up and attempted a head-height slash. Christian easily ducked under its attempt and slashed through one of the bear’s front paws. The bear howled in anger, blood dripping from its new wound. The bear limped toward him and slashed at him again, this time with the uninjured paw. Christian sidestepped the attack and deftly stepped in, stabbing the bear through its ribcage. A retaliatory paw came for his head and he rolled. Damn, he thought. He had wanted to avoid getting his uniform dirty. More work for Cyrus.
The man spun his sword at the bear in a small fury. Its paws flew at him but slowed as Christian slashed here and there, methodically wearing the bear down. Several wounds later and the bear struggled to move toward the First Controller. Christian eyed the bear, assessing the damage. That should do. He turned his back on the bear and went to hand his sword to Cyrus.
“First Controller, where have you been?” Sarkard snarled as Christian walked into the tent.
“Bear, Sir,” Christian said.
The elder man waited, only staring at Christian with his arms crossed.
“Bear, My Lord,” Christian said again.
Sarkard, the self-proclaimed King of Luria, had made changes to the way society worked, at least when it came to what was formerly Central Settlement. The King grinned a smile, satisfied to have been addressed by his proper title. “Good, good. You’ll get used to it.”
“Of course, My Lord.” Christian shifted on his feet while waiting for the old man to address why he called him here. Probably another amendment to the dress code.
Sarkard abruptly turned around and reached for a paper on the table, his robes fluttering. “Do you know how far we are out from Ikalga?”
“I’d guess two weeks, My Lord. Geography is not my forte.”
“Do you know why I called you in here then?” Sarkard asked. He seemed to enjoy wasting his subjects precious time. More time for them to view his DeLure red and black salamander family crest painted on everything.
Christian shook his head.
“Apparently, we’ve been having trouble with our scouting parties. Very few of them come back.” Sarkard paused. He resumed when Christian did not speak. “Do you know how much covelt I’ve invested in those scouting parties? And what have I to show for it?”
“I am not in charge of scouting, My Lord. But if you’d like, I can speak with Master Scout Mankey.”
King DeLure cackled. “My dear Christian, Mankey has been skewered on a stick for the past three days. He’s no longer with us.”
“Okay, who is the new Master Scout?” Christian asked, his patience waning. They were on their 4th Master Scout since they left Luria.
“I debated doing it myself but I have other… matters to attend to.” the King said with a grunt. “It’ll be you for now.”
Christian stared at the King. “Is that all?” There was no use in arguing. The King shook his head and waved Christian away.
Once out of the tent, Christians fists clenched. He should have seen this coming. The King poured responsibility after responsibility on him. He probably hoped for failure. King DeLure was no longer the Sarkard from years ago. Then, he was a purist but at least fair. This man was a sadistic madman. Killing, and power, and needlessly restructuring society was Sarkard’s life now.
That evening, King DeLure called a meeting. Presumably to introduce Christian as Master Scout. Christian rose from his nap and dressed in the tight black covelt robes the soldiers wore around camp. He made his way to the meeting, making only a brief detour to pick up his saber from Cyrus, who had cleaned it. His hand on the hilt of his saber, Christian walked into the meeting, nodding to each individual but recognizing none of them.
“Welcome, First Controller and Master Scout Acetate,” the King greeted him.
“My Lord,” he said as he took the closest empty seat.
King DeLure turned to one of the men, asking for a progress report. The man, oddly proportioned with the gut of a drinker but the skinniness of a teenage girl, stood up and cleared his throat. “We were supposed to hear from the unit we sent out a week ago but we’ve gotten nothing.”
“Do you need me to accompany the next group?” Christian asked, getting to the point.
“We’d like to consider all-” The man’s eyes went wide and he frantically reached around to his back, unable to grasp whatever was bothering him. He fell to his knees.
Christian ran over and behind the speaker. There were two knives in his back. Looking up at the canvas of the tent there were two rips. Someone had thrown them through and still managed to hit him.
“Call the nearest armed men in here,” Christian said. “Lay on the ground, now,” he said, leaving the King’s title out on purpose. Sarkard dropped to the floor and Christian unsheathed his sword and cut a large hole through the tent. He stepped through and glanced around for any clue of the attacker. There was none.
“Sir, there was a note attached to the dagger,” one of the men from the meeting called to Christian.
“Thank you,” he said as he took the note.