Here is an excerpt from my current work-in-progress Bone Weary, the fourth book in my Ascendant Realms series. You can read another portion here. Bone Weary is on track to be available before the end of the year.
In this scene, Wynne Landis (former leader of the besieged city of Rikonen) and Goshen Staad grapple with being forced by the newly elected religious leader to take command of an army whose mission is either to conquer Wynne’s homeland or start a war with a foreign power (Lappala) that’s come to the aid of his nation. The two are discussing with Vikram, the highest ranking remaining member of the army, about what to do about morale, desertions, ill-discipline, and how to get the city of Heveonen to not engage the army in a fight.
The Cathedral, the seat of the nation of Cassubia and the heart of the one dominate religion of this world, is led by the Patriarch who is using Wynne and Goshen to expand the depth of his power. Goshen was a long time paladin of this order and has been coaxed into leading a the zealot faction from the city of Bandra.
The Spires, where Vikram is from, is the common name for the city-state of Silvincia from which most of this army comes. The Spires have been blockading Rikonen for over five years.
Essia is the nation the army is moving into in its attempt to reach the city of Rikonen (Wynne’s home). To get there, the army must pass through the territory of the city of Heveonen. A foreign fleet from the nation of Lappala has arrived to assist Rikonen but the Cathedral, the Spires, and many in Essia think they are here to wage war on all nations.
Council of Three
“It’s quite simple—the men need to fight.”
Vikram was exhausted having to go over this again. However, no progress had been made. Since Wynne and Goshen had taken command of the Spires’ army goals had been completely revised, often for the better. They had clearly come in begrudgingly being installed by the Cathedral’s new Patriarch. Wynne was surprisingly astute; he asked questions often unsettling Vikram from his assumptions while also pushing for logistical and tactical options that hadn’t occurred to the Spires’ officer. It wasn’t clear to Vikram how Wynne had developed his sense for managing the army since Essians had never had any kind of military. Or, at least, any kind of military Vikram had ever heard of. But one issue had persisted and festered.
“They are soldiers; they’ll fight when they are commanded to do so.” Goshen like Vikram was sick of this discussion. The two had been bickering for weeks circling each other in an attempt to judge the other’s quality, to suss out exactly where the other’s loyalty lied. Yet neither were really listening to the other leaving them to go over and over again the same issues.
“You’ll forgive me, but no, they are not soldiers.” For Vikram, this was a retreading of debates endured with previous generals prior to this new Patriarch hoisting these two outsiders on him. “Most of this army is made up of profiteers and young nobles looking to make a name for themselves. Your order may be soldiers,” he jabbed his finger at Goshen’s chest, “but most of my army lacks the requisite discipline.”
“They are not my order.” Goshen growled resisting the urge to slap the Silvincian’s hand away from him.
“You command them now.” Vikram relaxed glad with having gotten a rise out of the newly promoted paladin.
Wynne didn’t look at either of them. He seemed wholly involved with the map before him on the wide oaken table around which the three stood. “Making it no longer your army.” Wynne said clearly without any judgment. Vikram winced at the casualness of the rebuke. Looking up, Wynne stared hard at each of the two would-be generals. “This is our army now, and we are attempting to use it appropriately.”
The two nodded, but Goshen couldn’t resist trying to get the last word in, “Still, there is little love between myself and my charge.”
Wynne waved him quiet attempting to refocus attention, “Regardless, this army is restless.”
“We didn’t have this problem on the march to The Cathedral.”
“Why was that, do you think?” Wynne asked suspicious.
Vikram shrugged, “Many units were given a free hand to requisition for themselves regional resources.”
Goshen scoffed cruelly laughing, “So what would you have us do? Ransack the land?”
“Of course not…”
“Because either you want this army to burn a path from The Cathedral to Rikonen…”
“I’m not suggesting that at all…” Vikram’s face flushed.
“You want me to have our army attack,” Goshen’s voice was piercingly accusatory, “but there’s nothing to attack but villagers.”
“That’s not true. It’s not just villagers.” Vikram shot back. “This army wouldn’t dare strike at The Cathedral’s lands.”
“Cassubians guard their own, eh?” Wynne muttered more to himself than to other two.
“No more than Essians.” Vikram’s retort drew a raised brow from Wynne.
“You’ve no qualms with killing the Essians?” Goshen asked.
“Again, I’m not saying that.” Vikram sighed.
Throwing his hands wide and then letting them flop at his sides, Goshen glared at Vikram, “Then what are you saying?”
Wynne broke in, “He’s saying this army is running out of patience. They don’t have the necessary discipline to stay on task and just march to the sea. They want to fight, to loot. And we need to figure out what to do about that.”
Turning to his friend, Goshen’s tone softened, “What would you suggest?”
“I don’t know.”
“Useful.” Vikram said surveying the map.
“It’s something we need to talk about is my point.”
“Aren’t we?” Goshen replied.
Wynne shook his head. He turned to Vikram, “Why didn’t you address this before the army arrived at The Cathedral? Why aren’t there protocols?”
“It wasn’t a problem until now.” Vikram was slightly embarrassed. “These young aristocrats and the thugs they drafted into their service…”
“Didn’t reveal themselves until they had to wait.” Wynne finished his thought.
Goshen seemed to relax. He saw how uncomfortable his counterpart was with just the memory of his former superiors. “Were you going to do something about it then?” He asked in a calm tone.
Vikram nodded slightly, “This isn’t the first time I’ve brought it up and not the first time I’ve had arguments about it.”
“I take it your previous consuls had a different take than we do?” Goshen attempted to ease the tension between them.
Shaking his head, there was not so much a defensiveness as a forlornness to his tone, “They had no interest in the issue. In fact, they didn’t think it one.”
“This was the previous general.” Wynne concluded.
“Who the Patriarch then murdered before installing us.” Goshen let out a sigh loaded with guilt and frustration.
Wynne tapped a figurine against the table seemingly absent-minded, “He seemed to embody the adolescent urge to fight you’ve identified in our ranks.”
“This army was assembled by his hand; it’s made up of his peers. I’m not the only one who saw it. I’ve seen good, seasoned officers infuriated by it, their concerns shirked off and the results.”
“What results?” Wynne asked.
“We lost troops during the Conclave. Some would call them deserters, but they don’t see themselves that way.”
Goshen nodded, “How do they see themselves?”
Vikram pinched the bridge of his nose then ran his hand over his face, “They’ve taken to calling themselves militias, but they’re no more than gangs.”
“Rovers.” Goshen punched the table.
Looking back over the map, Wynne muttered, “All the fears of The Cathedral, The Spires, and Essians…they make themselves the thing they fear.”
“So as to justify this mess…” Goshen turned away from the other two.
Vikram held out a hand gesturing for calm, “Let’s not be so dramatic.”
“Don’t.” Goshen turned cocking his head glaring at Vikram, then he asked “What would you rather?”
“I’d rather figure out how to discipline this army and put down these militias.” He replied assertively.
Goshen nodded, “Then that is our focus.”
“Our focus should be Heveonen.” Wynne put in adding “We can’t arrive at the gates of that city with essentially an armed rabble looking to sack.”
“True, we’d be the spark to tinder.”
“What can we do that doesn’t delay us moreso?” Goshen queried the table. “We’re already behind schedule. Pressing onwards would give the necessary illusion of progress towards battle and on the way we can get this sorted.”
Wynne shook his head, “I think that’s an extraordinarily bad idea.”
“I’ve yet to hear your idea.” Vikram ventured.
Goshen smirked, “Fine. We hold our position. We allow our veterans and my charges as you put it, the Bandran zealots, to discipline the mass. To train them or re-trained them, get them focused.”
Vikram agreed, “That would be necessary should we actually have to fight the Lappalans once we reach Rikonen. A poorly trained army, no matter its size, loses.”
“And we need to make sure we arrive with an actual army and don’t let our numbers dissolve.” Goshen added.
“We could use the Bandrans to find and quell the militias.” Vikram offered.
Goshen conceded, “Now, that’s not a bad idea.”
“It may satisfy the urge for battle while at the same time honing their skills.”
Wynne stood upright, arching his back and stretching as he turned away from the table, “Or it could exacerbate their condition.”
“Could we push on to Heveonen and use them to improve our quality and quantity?” Vikram offered tracing his finger along the map from their location to the city.
Wynne shook his head, “I doubt they will join our ranks even with me at the head this army.”
“True, an army at your doorstep doesn’t inspire trust.”
“Also, there’s little in the way of a Heveonen army.”
“Then why is it even an issue?” Goshen asked.
“Because the city is nearly impregnable.” Vikram tapped his finger on the mark of the city. “It was designed to be closed off, to stand as a citadel against The Cathedral’s desire to expand, to push Cassubia into Essia.”
“So we can’t take the city by siege?” Goshen said uncertain.
“We could, but it will take much, much longer than anyone would like.” Wynne said with his back still turned.
“And we can’t take it with this brood as it currently stands.” Vikram stressed.
“They don’t think so.” Goshen lamented.
“That’s the problem.” Wynne turned, his eyes narrowed. “But does it have to be an army?”
“What do you mean?”
“A smaller contingent going on ahead?” Vikram ventured.
“An envoy.” Wynne held out his hand with his fingers splayed.
“The force of the army behind them, one inevitably coming and stoking anxiety may be to our advantage.” Vikram was intrigued.
“Get them to open their gates,” Goshen was warming to the idea, “we could avoid confrontation and maybe even get some reinforcements for going onwards to Rikonen.”
Wynne continued, “All Essians want a restored Rikonen. If we told them the Lappalan fleet, which they already know, is plotting against the nation, it may be enough to have them overcome their distaste for The Cathedral and their anger towards The Spires.”
Goshen was skeptical, “You think they’ll just forget that The Spires started this whole thing with its blockade of Rikonen?”
“No, they won’t forget it.” Wynne shook his head approaching the table again. “But they may take delight in The Cathedral swatting down this Silvincian army and making it their own led by an Essian,” he tapped himself on his chest, “to liberate an Essian city from a foreign threat.”
Vikram shrugged, “Sounds far too hopeful and convoluted.”
Goshen blurted out a laugh, “What isn’t when we get to this level?” Looking to Wynne, “I can prepare a unit, you could leave by dawn.”
“Do so. While I’m gone, you’re in command,” Wynne pointed at the two soldiers before him “so you two will have to learn to get along better. Remember, we’re trying to put an end to all this and get as many people as we can back into their homes.”
“We’re agreed.” Goshen and Vikram said in unison.