Home > Captain's Fury (Codex Alera #4)(10)

Captain's Fury (Codex Alera #4)(10)
Author: Jim Butcher

Marcus led the cohort up onto the walls over the wide-mouthed gate, where the men took up positions with practiced speed. He bellowed at the few who performed with slight imperfections, and had the entire Prime Cohort in position and standing ready before the legionares of the Seventh and Ninth cleared the city walls and came pounding toward them.

Half an hour passed in nervous silence while, behind them, refugees began a slow, confused retreat into the safety of the city's walls. Overhead, several Knights Aeris went flashing by, driven by torrents of wind, flying to and from the east. Marcus felt the familiar singing tension of fear that always came with preparation for a battle. Defending the city from an attack from this particular flank had been a worst-case scenario, and no one had thought it would actually come to that-but if the Canim had crossed the river, then he and the other men here, at the forward defenses, were about to have a very bad morning. Worse, every one of them knew it.

So Marcus spent his time pacing steadily up and down the wall, berating troops for an improperly fastened sword belt here, a small patch of rust on a breastplate there. His growled imprecations were creative, gratuitously foul-mouthed-and familiar. They were all the reassurance he could offer his men. They were all he could offer himself, as well.

Tribune Tactica Kellus, who had himself been a centurion when he first signed on with the First Aleran, paced briskly down the wall from the Ninth's position and nodded to Marcus. "Centurion."

Though as the First Spear, Marcus exercised command of the Prime Cohort, made up of its finest legionares, Kellus still outranked him. Marcus saluted, and nodded. "Sir."

"Have you any idea what's going on?"

He shrugged. "Reports of an unknown force east of here."

Kellus grimaced. "I know that."

"Then your guess is as good as mine."

"Another drill, you think?"

Marcus pursed his lips. "No. I don't think so, sir. I know the captain's mad for them, but this doesn't feel right."

Kellus grunted. "Can't be the Canim, can it? They've never been able to cross the Tiber in numbers."

"Maybe they worked it out," Marcus said. "Either way-"

"On the wall!" came a call from below.

Marcus turned to find a dapper, aging little man in the livery of a Legion valet standing below. "Good morning, Magnus."

"Permission to come up and speak to you?" called the valet.

"Granted." Marcus beckoned the valet, who hurried up the stairs and arrived on the battlements, laboring to catch his breath.

"Centurion, Tribune," Magnus panted, nodding. "We just got a messenger in from the captain. He wanted me to tell your men to stand down."

Marcus lifted his eyebrows.

"It was a drill, then," Kellus said.

Marcus frowned and turned to stare intently at the road to the east. "No," he said quietly. "I don't think it was."

For a moment, there was nothing but the haze of a morning that had not yet become warm enough to burn off all the mist. Then, ranks of marching soldiers appeared in the east. Two long, broad columns of them, in fact, came marching along on either side of the road, leaving room for the relief column's wagons and draft animals in the center. Marcus frowned, and began counting, before he realized what he was actually looking at.

"Two Legions?" he murmured.

"Yes," Magnus said quietly.

"And flying the blue and red," Marcus noted. "Like us."

The senior valet squinted out at the approaching troops. "Ah, I thought as much. These are the Senate's new toys. The Senatorial Guard."

Marcus grunted. "Arnos's pet project, right?"

"The Senator is used to getting what he wants," the valet replied. "And with the war stretching on, his arguments have gained much more support in the Committee, the Senate, and among the Citizenry."

"And now the Senate has its own Legions, too."

The old valet nodded. "Ambitious, that Arnos, commanding two-thirds the fighting power of a High Lord. He controls them completely."

Marcus blew out a breath. "So the good news is that the Canim haven't crossed the river." He said the next sentence a bit louder, knowing word would spread rapidly up and down the wall. "No fighting today."

"And the bad news," the valet said in a quiet tone, "is that-"

"The War Committee has come to Elinarch to play," Marcus said, his tone souring.

"Great furies help us. Yes."

"Thank you, Magnus," the First Spear said. "Looks like this has turned into your kind of fight."

The Legion's senior valet sighed. "Yes. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll toddle off and try to figure out where we're going to put everyone." He nodded to them and departed again.

Kellus came to stand next to Marcus, scowling at the incoming Legions. "We don't need their help here," he said. "We've held it ourselves for two years."

"We've bled for two years, too," Marcus said quietly. "I won't mind letting someone else do that part for a little while, sir."

Kellus snorted and departed to return to his own men, where Marcus thought he should have bloody well been standing to begin with. The young Tribune was right about one thing, though. Arnos's presence here-and in command of two full Legions, no less-was anything but a good sign.

Marcus knew who truly owned Arnos's allegiance.

An hour later, Valiar Marcus and his men returned to their quarters in the city, and Marcus returned to his own tent, aching for sleep. He drew the tent's heavy flaps closed, tied them there, and then began to unfasten his armor.

"May I help you, my lady?" he asked quietly, as he did.

There was a quiet, pleased sound from the direction of his camp stool, simple canvas on a wooden frame. The air shimmered for a moment, and a woman appeared there, seated primly, dressed in a rather plain russet gown. The gown did not suit her features, any more than an old rope halter suited a finely bred horse. She was lovely in a way that few women could match and none could surpass, dark of hair and fair of skin, seemingly in the flower of her late youth.

Marcus knew better. Invidia Aquitaine was neither young, nor particularly flowery. There was nothing delicate or fragile about her. In fact, he reflected, she was one of the more dangerous people he'd ever known.

"I'm not wearing my perfume," she said in a velvet-smooth alto. "I was careful to move nothing in the tent. I'm quite sure you didn't see me through my veil, and I made no sound. How did you know I was here?"

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