Background: Trella, a young slave girl recently brought to the village of Orak, has been given to Eskkar as a help mate, someone to keep him out of the ale houses at night. She has other skills as well, the most important one being her ability to think. Eskkar has just been appointed the Captain of the Guard, and has been charged by Nicar, the senior village elder, with planning the defense of the village. But another powerful noble, Drigo, has plans of his own that do not include Eskkar. The morning after their first night together, Eskkar meets with one of the senior guards, an older veteran named Gatus. Trella has been cleaning her new master’s one-room hut, and is now going down to the river Tigris to wash herself and her master’s clothes. Since Trella is unknown in the village, Eskkar assigned one of the soldiers, Adad, to watch over her.
from Dawn of Empire
Trella went ahead to the riverbank, then climbed down to the rocky bank. This late in the day only three people labored there. One was an elderly matron doing laundry, with her young granddaughter along to help. The remaining woman looked to be only a few years older than Trella.
Trella glanced back toward Adad and saw him standing where she had left him, about a hundred paces away. She took a few steps into the river and ducked down into the cool water, letting it flow over her entire body. When she came up for air, she turned her back to the bank and pulled her dress up over her head, then held it under the water and rubbed it vigorously between her hands.
Still not satisfied, she moved back to the rocks that lined the shore and smacked the garment several times against the rocks to loosen any stubborn dirt. After another rinse under the swift-moving water, she laid the dress on the rocks and moved back out into the river. This time she cleaned herself, rubbing the cold water all over her body. She finished up by ducking her hair several times, then moved back toward the shore, retrieved her dress, and pulled the wet garment over her head and wriggled it down around her body.
She picked up Eskkar’s clothes and washed them as well. As she finished wringing them out, the other girl came over to her, moving slowly through the water, her own dress bunched up around her waist.
“You are Trella, the new slave of Eskkar?”
For the first time Trella looked closely at the young woman. A large bruise covered her left eye and her lower lip was split and swollen. “Yes, my name is Trella. And you are…”
“I’m called Shubure. I’m a slave in Noble Drigo’s house.” She nodded toward a large basket containing wet clothing that sat upon the rocks. “I must finish cleaning my master’s clothing, then return to his house. His son may summon me to pleasure him again before supper.” She lifted her hand to her face.
In Nicar’s house, Trella had heard stories about Drigo’s son, and she felt pity at Shubure’s plight. Trella thanked the gods that Nicar, not Drigo, had not bought her. At least in Nicar’s home the master and his sons did not beat their women, not even their slaves. “Why did your master hit you, Shubure?”
Shubure ignored the question as she moved a little closer. “Tell your master to be wary, Trella. I think Noble Drigo is not happy with Nicar’s choice for captain of the guard.”
A chill went through Trella, not entirely caused by the cool water that swirled around her thighs. “What did you hear?”
Shubure moved back to the rocks and picked up a garment from her basket and dipped it into the water, though Trella could see that all the clothing had been washed. The girl looked around, to see if anyone was watching. The other woman still chattered with the little girl, and only Trella’s guard on the river bank looked in their direction.
“I didn’t hear much. But I heard Noble Drigo speaking to his son. He said that this Eskkar took too much upon himself and needed to be taught a lesson. One he and the other soldiers would not forget. Just that.” She shrugged and turned slightly away, concentrating on washing the already clean garment in her hands.
Trella said nothing, moving her own hands through the water. “Why did he beat you, Shubure?”
The girl turned back to face her, and Trella saw a shudder go through Shubure’s body. When she spoke, Trella could scarcely hear her.
“My mother is too ill to work. She does not have any copper to buy food for my younger brothers and sisters. They are all hungry. Soon my mother will have to sell them as slaves, as I was, just to keep them fed. So last night, after young Drigo had bedded me, I asked him if I could have a copper coin or two for my mother, to keep them from starving. I promised to work extra hard to please him, to do anything he asked.” Her eyes closed for a moment, as if reliving the memory. “He hit me once to shut me up, then again for bothering him with such things.”
A slave could be well treated or badly treated. In Nicar’s house, the servants had whispered about Noble Drigo’s treatment of his slaves and servants. A hard taskmaster, Drigo had even put one of his slaves to death a few weeks ago. The whispers said the son was even worse than the father in his dealings with the servants.
Trella had never been beaten at Nicar’s house, not even slapped until the night Eskkar took her away. Yet young Drigo had used his fist on Shubure merely for asking for a copper coin to feed her family.
She put those thoughts aside. Whatever Shubure’s misfortune, Trella needed to know more about Drigo’s plans. “Stay a moment, Shubure.” Trella turned away from the shore and opened the pouch that still hung around her neck. A few copper and silver coins were mixed in with Eskkar’s gold. She removed two copper coins from the pouch and re-closed it tightly before turning back. Putting her hand in the water, she waded closer to Shubure.
“Take these for your mother, Shubure. If anyone finds them, say you picked them up in the street.” Shubure’s hand met hers underwater, and the girl accepted the two coins. “If you hear anything else about my master, return here tomorrow. I will have two more coins for you. What hour can you come?”
“An hour after sunrise, Trella … Mistress Trella. I’ll thank the gods for your gift.”
Trella smiled at the compliment. Mistress Trella. For the first time in her life, someone had acknowledged her as the head of a household. “It’s little enough, Shubure. You’d better go, before they wonder why you dally so long and give you another beating.”
Shubure nodded and moved off, slipping the coins inside her dress and wringing out the garment as she climbed back to the shore.
Trella waited, ignoring the shivers, splashing water around her as if she still worked, until Shubure had disappeared back behind the jetties. Then Trella gathered her garments and climbed back up the riverbank.
As she walked back toward Adad, she could see his eyes staring at her body, her wet dress outlining her breasts and hips. What would have been a disgrace in her father’s house meant nothing now. No one cared about a slave’s clothing or lack of it. Adad finally remembered his manners, and looked away as he handed her the cloak. She rubbed her hair vigorously with it for a few moments, then wrapped it around her body gratefully. She started back toward the house, carrying the wet clothes in her arms and thinking hard about what she’d just heard.
Nicar knew of Drigo’s ambition to become the first man in Orak, to lead the nobles and decide the future of the village. Apparently Drigo had pressed that goal more and more in the last few months. But with the barbarians coming, Nicar believed that Drigo would leave, removing himself and his ambitions, perhaps forever, and solving at least one problem for Nicar. And Drigo had already spoken with Nicar, and insisted that they would all have to flee.
Nicar wanted the council of nobles to vote to stay and fight, to drive the barbarians away and save Orak from destruction. If Drigo did abandon Orak and the barbarians were driven off, he would find it difficult to reestablish his authority. But if Drigo persuaded the other nobles to leave Orak, at least until the barbarians moved on, Nicar’s authority would be weakened. When the nobles returned to Orak to pick up the pieces and rebuild, it would be Drigo who would wield the power and influence. He would take Nicar’s place as the first man in Orak.
The meeting to decide Orak’s fate would take place tomorrow morning. Eskkar would present his plan, Drigo would state his opposition, and Nicar would put it to the nobles for their decision. If the majority chose flight, then Drigo would ultimately emerge with more power and prestige than Nicar. But Nicar wielded great influence. If Eskkar proved he had a workable plan, and if Nicar chose to stay and resist, the majority of the nobles would likely side with him.
Trella stopped short, so suddenly that Adad bumped into her. They had passed back through the river gate into the village. She stepped away from the center of the lane and leaned up against the closest wall, hugging the wet bundle of clothing to her chest and ignoring the looks from those who passed by.
Until now, Trella hadn’t really thought about the consequences of tomorrow’s meeting. She’d helped Eskkar prepare and done all she could for him. But whether the nobles stayed or left was beyond her control and ultimately made little difference to her future. Eskkar would not give her up, and she could leave with him. There were plenty of other villages down the river that would receive a fighting man, especially one with gold coins in his purse.
Of course, if they all stayed and fought, Eskkar would win great honor and be able to establish a House of his own right here in Orak. That made it worth the risk of staying and fighting, though Eskkar had repeated this morning that he would not remain unless he thought they had a good chance to drive the Alur Meriki off.
If Drigo left and Orak survived, the noble would have lost face and honor, but would have saved all his gold, and would quickly reestablish his trading routes up and down the river. Then why would Drigo want to discredit Eskkar’s plan? Surely the arrogant noble would still benefit if the village held out, even without his presence.
What Trella had just worked out, Nicar must have reasoned as well. That’s why he told Eskkar not to worry about Drigo. Even Eskkar, though not politically astute, knew that Drigo’s choice mattered, that it would influence many in Orak.
But maybe Drigo had a different plan, something Nicar hadn’t thought of. Trella considered the alternatives that faced Drigo. They seemed simple enough: go or stay. Leave, taking everything of value with him, or remain, and risk his life and his fortune under Nicar’s orders. The choices seemed so straightforward, so clear. Unless Drigo had discovered a third course of action. She tried to recall everything she had heard about Drigo. Ambitious, arrogant and cruel to his servants and slaves, miserly with his goods and gold, always seeking more and more gold. But gold, she reminded herself, could be obtained in more ways that just buying and selling. For a man such as Drigo, the barbarian invasion might be seen as a blessing from the gods, not the disaster that Nicar foresaw.
And then Trella knew the answer. Knew that she had guessed Drigo’s plan, something even Nicar had failed to do. She straightened up. She realized that the front of her cloak had soaked through from the still-damp bundle that she held tight to her breast. Adad had been watching her from a few steps away, waiting patiently and silently for her. Trella looked at him, but then her eyes focused on the sword belted to his waist. She needed to learn something else, just to be sure.
“Come, Adad, we must get back. I must speak with Eskkar.”
* * *
Eskkar handed off his horse to one of the stable boys, then went to the well to wash the dust and horse smell from his body. He looked forward to spending an hour of pleasure in bed with Trella, and the anticipation made him smile. Afterward they would go to one of Orak’s better inns, one where they could get decent wine and food, a previously unheard-of luxury, before returning to their bed.
Coming back to his new quarters, Eskkar looked about in surprise. He noticed the new flaxen mats that covered nearly half the floor, then saw that the rest of the dirt had been cleaned and brushed evenly. The place looked almost as clean as one of Nicar’s rooms, though the poor furnishings and begrimed walls still left much to be desired. Nevertheless, even in the late afternoon sun, the room seemed brighter. The fact that Trella had managed all this in a few short hours whetted his desire. None of Eskkar’s previous women had ever cared much about cleanliness.
He’d just hung his sword up when Trella entered, a bundle of damp clothes in her arms. His satisfied mood began to vanish as soon as he saw Trella’s face.
“Master, we need to talk.” She looked toward the open doorway. Adad had gone, his duties done for the day. A new soldier already stood guard outside their door. She lowered her voice. “Can you send the guard farther away, so we can talk privately?”
The last of Eskkar’s feelings of warmth disappeared. He stepped outside and spoke to the guard, telling him to watch the doorway from beneath the tree. With the door closed, that would put the guard out of earshot. Eskkar returned, shutting the door behind him.
Trella had just finished spreading the clean clothes near the fireplace to dry. She turned and came into his arms, putting her face against his chest and squeezing him tight. He felt her body outlined by the damp dress and inhaled the clean smell of the river from her wet hair.
Before he could react, she stepped back, took his hand, and led him to the table. They sat facing each other, the way they had talked only that morning, but she kept hold of his hand.
“Master, I met a girl at the river this afternoon, a slave from Noble Drigo’s house. She had bruises on her face from where Drigo’s son had beaten her. She told me that Noble Drigo wants to do something to you, to ‘put you in your place’ before the meeting tomorrow. I fear that Nicar has underestimated Drigo’s intentions.”
A wave of anger went through him at the idea that Drigo might interfere with his new-found happiness and prosperity. Then he shrugged. It was probably just talk, women’s gossip at the river.
“What can Drigo do, Trella? He can refuse to fight and leave. Or he can stay, and ask that someone else be named captain of the guard. It doesn’t matter to me. I told Nicar I’d deal only with him. If the nobles don’t want to fight, or want someone to be captain of the guard, then you and I will take Gatus and a few of the men and leave Orak. We can move south or west and be far out the way of the Alur Meriki.”
“Who else could Drigo put forward as captain of the guard?”
Eskkar thought about that for a minute. Among the soldiers, only Gatus had enough experience, and Eskkar knew that Gatus didn’t want the job. In fact, Gatus hated Drigo and his men, and wanted nothing to do with them. The old solider had vowed that he’d stay only as long as they had a good chance at success. He’d been ready to leave before Eskkar talked him out of it last night.
Drigo had plenty of men working for him, all of them carrying swords as they strutted through the village. Their leader, Naxos, Drigo’s personal bodyguard, was dirty and crude. Neither Nicar nor any of the other nobles would be likely to entrust their lives and fortunes to Naxos, even if Drigo suggested him.
“I don’t know of anyone else in Orak, Trella. Unless there’s someone here I don’t know about, someone who has fought the barbarians and led men in battle.”
“How many soldiers does Noble Drigo have, Master?”
“They’re not soldiers,” he corrected her, annoyed at the usual villager confusion between hired guards and trained fighting men. “They’re big and they carry swords, but mostly they bully the farmers and tradesmen, men weaker than themselves or unarmed. They’re brave when there’s enough of them, but not one of them could kill the youngest Alur Meriki warrior.”
She looked at him but said nothing, and it took a moment before he realized he hadn’t answered her question. “Drigo has plenty of guards, more than any of the other nobles. Maybe nine or ten.”
The determined expression on her face made him consider his words. Each of the nobles hired his own guards, to protect property, houses, livestock, and himself. Paid better than the soldiers, they tended to drink and talk among themselves. They all looked down on the soldiers, and the soldiers had always given way to them. The guards knew Ariamus cared nothing about his men and would do nothing to offend any of the nobles, especially Drigo. “I think Drigo may have hired two or three more in the last few weeks.”
“And the other nobles, how many men do they have?”
Eskkar had already started down that path. Each of the nobles had at least seven or eight men. Even without Nicar’s guards, that meant the others outnumbered the thirty remaining soldiers. The last of his feeling of contentment vanished. Instinctively he looked toward his sword hanging on the wall.
Trella followed his eyes. “Would those other guards follow Drigo’s man, this Naxos?”
Eskkar took a deep breath and considered. “I don’t know, Trella. They’d do as their masters told them, but without orders….they’d probably listen to Drigo’s man.”
“Tomorrow morning I’ll go to the river again. Drigo’s slave said she would return an hour after sunup. You won’t meet with Nicar until mid-morning, and perhaps she may be able to tell us something more.”
“If she doesn’t get her throat slit for telling tales on her master,” Eskkar said grimly. He’d heard the same stories about Drigo’s household.
“I gave her two copper coins for what she told me and promised her more tomorrow, Master. If you approve.”
The polite request made him smile. As if he would refuse. “Give her a handful of gold, Trella, if she learns anything useful.” Eskkar certainly had changed his ideas about gold overnight. “I’ll need to think about what Drigo and Naxos might do in the next few days.”
She shook her head. “Tomorrow, Master. You do not have two or three days. If you are appointed captain of the guard, the people will rally around you. Whatever Drigo plans, I feel certain it will be tomorrow.” She squeezed his hand across the table. “What do you think he might try?”
He looked at her, wondering how she could be so sure of herself, wondering how she had gotten him so worried over a few chance words. If he’d heard the same words himself, he might have laughed them off or ignored them. But Trella’s perception gave them weight. Perhaps she understood why a man like Drigo would say them and what they would mean.
“I was surprised when Nicar sent for me. There must not have been anyone else he could turn to. If I’d said last night that Orak couldn’t be defended, Nicar would have given up the idea of resisting.” That much seemed true enough, he decided. “If I were gone, then…”
“Or if you were dead,” Trella said. “Then Drigo could take charge of the soldiers, get rid of the ones he didn’t need or couldn’t control, and Orak would be his.”
“But what would that gain him? The barbarians would still come, and he still wouldn’t fight them.”
“The barbarians won’t be here for months. Nicar said so. If Drigo controls the sixty or so soldiers and guards, plus any more that he might hire, then who could stop him from doing whatever he wants? Taking whatever he wants? He could loot the entire village, take the valuables across the river and hide them, then return when the barbarians have gone. With enough men and gold he would command what was left of Orak, then build it back up as his own. He wouldn’t need Nicar or any of the other nobles. He’d rule Orak alone.”
She waited a moment, but he didn’t say anything, so she went on. “Drigo didn’t count on you, didn’t expect you to convince Nicar. Now even the villagers are beginning to think of you as the one man not afraid of the barbarians. I don’t think Noble Drigo will like that.”
Eskkar’s anger suddenly rose up. He wanted Trella to be wrong, but her words rang with truth. Damn these nobles and their schemes. Now he’d gotten mixed up in them, was threatened by them. He struck the table with his fist, saw Trella’s eyes go wide. He got up and went to the door. Opening it, he called out to the guard. “Find someone to fetch Gatus right away. Then get back here to your post.”
He felt Trella’s hand on his arm. She’d followed him to the door. “Send for Adad also. You should keep him close by tonight. He was with me today and saw me talk to the girl. He might mention to someone that I spoke to one of Drigo’s women.”
Eskkar knew that Trella had gone to the river and that a guard had accompanied her. But he would never have thought of what that guard might do or say in his off-duty hours. He raised his voice and called after the already moving guard. “Bring Adad back with you! I want him guarding my quarters tonight. Hurry!”
He closed the door so hard it shook on its hinges, then stepped over to the hook where his sword hung. He took it down and belted it around his waist. The gesture might look foolish, but he felt better with the sword at his hip. The room seemed to close in around him, the air close and stale. “It’s almost dark, Trella. You stay inside for the rest of the night. I don’t think anyone will come here, but I’m not taking any chances.”
“Where are you going, Master?”
“Nowhere. I just need to think by myself for a moment, until Gatus arrives.” In truth he felt himself coming under her influence, doing what she wished instead of making his own decisions. He jerked the door open and went outside, shutting the door behind him.
He walked over to the tree, then leaned against it. The scent of roasting chickens hung in the air, floating in from the street. None of the soldiers had enough copper to pay for a whole chicken, but occasionally three or four might combine their coins to splurge on such a feast. Inside the barracks, the soldiers would be eating their supper of stale bread and boiled vegetable soup, relaxing and talking about the events of the day.
Meanwhile Eskkar had lost his appetite. He’d wanted to walk with Trella into the village tonight, showing her off to everyone, then stopping at one of the inns for wine and dinner. His hand clenched on the sword hilt in frustration.
Now he would stay in the barracks, afraid to leave his room, worried about a knife in his back. He didn’t fear any of Drigo’s hired bullies. Not alone. But three or four together could bring down any man. Again, the urge to leave Orak swept over him. Take Trella and go. There was still plenty of Nicar’s gold left. In five minutes he could be on a horse. The guards at the gate would open it for him, one way or another.
Eskkar swore an oath at Nicar, the nobles, Ariamus, the villagers who’d distrusted and hated him behind his back for years, and who now wanted him to save their cowardly lives and miserable property. He despised them as much as they feared him and his kind. To them he was just a tame barbarian, but one who would still turn on them if given a chance.
He should go, leave Orak. Nothing good would come of staying, trying to fight the Alur Meriki, gambling his life on the will and labor of these dirt-eaters. He’d take Trella and … she didn’t want to go, he realized. She hadn’t answered when he’d spoken about leaving, about heading south. There would be nothing for her, a noble-born girl of the villages, accompanying a soldier selling his sword. Damn all dirt-eaters, he didn’t even know if she could ride. Few enough women knew how to handle a horse. He swore again. More than that, he couldn’t leave her, not after last night.
The sound of voices approaching stopped his thoughts. The guard returned, accompanied by an annoyed Adad, interrupted at his supper. The two men slowed when they saw their captain under the tree, their talk cut short. He stepped toward them, his hand on the sword hilt.
“Stay together and stay alert. Don’t leave your post for any reason. Call out if you see anything suspicious. There may be trouble tonight. I’ll have more men join you later.”
He brushed past, ignoring their questioning looks, and went back inside. In the darkening room, he could just make out Trella sitting at the table. Without food in the room, she had nothing to do.
Eskkar closed the door, then went over to the fireplace and began building a fire. The task gave him something to occupy his hands while he thought about what to do. Finally he got the fire going and added more wood than necessary. He carried a burning stick back to the table and lit the new oil lamp Trella had purchased earlier.
Trella hadn’t said anything. When the lamp added its light to the firelight, he turned toward her. “Can you ride a horse?”
“No, master. But I’m sure I can learn.”
She kept her voice even, but he heard the hint of disappointment. She knew what the question implied. Eskkar felt disappointment of his own, but for a different reason. He’d taught enough dirt-eaters how to ride. Even for an apt pupil with strong hands, it would take at least a week to stiffen thigh and leg muscles properly, maybe longer. Assuming that Trella didn’t fall off the beast and break something. Still, she could always walk until she learned.
A heavy knock sounded on the door as Gatus pushed it open and stepped inside. “What’s going on? Why…” he saw the sword on Eskkar’s hip.
“Close the door,” Eskkar said. “We need to talk.”
The two men sat down. Gatus’ eyes moved from Eskkar to Trella and back. He’d left a smiling Eskkar less than an hour ago, and now an extra sentry stood guard outside. “What’s happened?”
“Nothing yet, Gatus. But Trella overheard something today at the river. Drigo’s men may try something, maybe to beat or kill me. It seems Noble Drigo is unhappy with Nicar’s choice for captain of the guard, and doesn’t want to wait for tomorrow’s meeting.” Eskkar turned to Trella. “Tell him everything.”
She related what she had learned at the river and added her ideas of what Drigo meant to do.
Gatus sat there, chewing on his lip, taking his time while he thought about this new information. Finally he turned toward Eskkar. “What will you do? I don’t plan on taking orders from that fool Naxos or even Drigo, not that they’d want me around. Maybe it’s time to forget all this foolish talk and leave Orak.”
Minutes ago, that would have been what Eskkar wanted to hear. But he’d watched Trella as she related the story to Gatus. He knew she wanted to stay, wanted him to stay, though she hadn’t said it. Suddenly he didn’t want to disappoint her, didn’t want to admit that he couldn’t meet Drigo’s challenge.
“No, Gatus. I’m going to stay and fight.” The words came out almost without thinking. “I won’t let Drigo’s bullies chase me off, not as long as Nicar wants me for captain of the guard. That is, if you’ll stay with me.”
He took a deep breath. Eskkar hated to ask any man for help, but he had no other choice. “I’m not sure which of the men I can trust.” Gatus had been in Orak for more than six years, and knew the men better than anyone, certainly better than Eskkar, who’d always shied away from forming any friendships.
“Mmm, most of ’em hate those guards,” Gatus said, scratching his beard, “but there might be a few fools eager to earn some of Drigo’s silver.” He took a breath. “But there won’t be more than three or four. If they try something, when will it be?”
Eskkar had thought that part through. “It has to be tonight, Gatus, or tomorrow at Nicar’s house. Either before the meeting or after it, I’d guess.” He turned to Trella. “What do you think?” Those words surprised him, too. He was treating her as an equal partner in the planning.
“Master, if anyone attacks you after Nicar has confirmed you captain of the guard, it will be taken as a challenge to Nicar. The other nobles will not like such a thing. But if they can beat or humiliate you before the meeting, then the nobles will not be eager to give you their trust, no matter who’s at fault, not with their lives and property at stake.”
“Well, that seems simple enough,” Gatus said. “We’ll just take all the men to Nicar’s, and if anyone gets in our way…”
“The other nobles might take that as a threat, Gatus, if you show up at Nicar’s house with thirty armed men.”
This time Trella had voiced her opinion unasked, but neither Eskkar nor Gatus cared that a slave girl was giving them advice. She went on before they could say anything. “And there must not be bloodshed, nothing to make the nobles think that they’ll be risking their lives at your hands.”
Eskkar tightened his fist on the table, but restrained the impulse to smash it down again. He’d faced death in battle often enough, but Drigo had more than enough gold to hire a dozen men willing to take their chances. The thought that a pack of curs would be at his throat sent a wave of anger through him, though he kept his voice calm. “Blood will flow, Trella. Unless we leave.”
“Blood in the streets will not give the nobles confidence in you, master. Can you not find another way?”
“Damn the gods.” This time it was Gatus who pounded the table with his fist. “My wife was happy to hear we were staying, even if it meant a fight with the barbarians. Now if we leave… if we leave with you, Eskkar, there’ll be women, children, carts, animals, a regular little caravan. I’d hoped we could stay.”
So he had three choices, Eskkar thought. Leave alone with Trella, lead a group of soldiers with their wives and children, or stay and fight both the nobles and the barbarians. Well, the time for prudence had passed. He couldn’t admit to being afraid in front of Trella and Gatus, and he wouldn’t take back his words. “We’re staying, Gatus, if you will.”
Gatus snorted. “Put it on my shoulders, will you? I’m too old to go wandering about the countryside, not while there’s a chance to stay here and drive off the barbarians.”
“Then we’ll fight,” Eskkar said. “We just need to have Nicar and the nobles confirm me as captain of the guard. After that, we can take care of Drigo.”
Eskkar felt better now that he’d decided. “Gatus, get some men ready tonight. Make sure no one leaves the barracks, and keep a dozen men awake and ready.”
“Yes, Captain.” Gatus stood up and gave Trella a grin. “You’ve earned your keep already, girl. You may have saved my head as well as your master’s from being broken. See if you can keep him out of trouble for the rest of the night.” He turned to Eskkar. “Will you still meet with the men tomorrow?”
“Yes, right before the Nicar’s meeting, just as we planned.”
“And what are you going to do tomorrow?”
“I’ll think of something before then, Gatus,” Eskkar said, then looked at Trella. “We’ll think of something, won’t we?”