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Home > Captain's Fury (Codex Alera #4)(9)

Captain's Fury (Codex Alera #4)(9)
Author: Jim Butcher

Max grimaced, and said, "They're freeing slaves."

Tavi nodded slowly.

"How many?" Max asked. "How many do you think they have?"

"Can't be too many," Tavi said. "They don't have a lot of gear, if this man's equipment is any indication. And if they were raising really large numbers, Ehren's spies would have heard something about them. Which makes sense."

"How?" Max said.

Tavi nodded at the slave Legion below. "Those men know that if they lose, they're dead men, Max. Some slaves have it bad, but a lot of them don't. My guess is that the ones willing to fight are a lot less common than the ones who just want to stay low and quiet until the fighting is over."

"But those are going to fight like the crows are coming for them," Max said, his voice grim.

"Yes," Tavi said quietly.

Max was silent for a minute. Then he said, "All the more reason to order the attack. I know why you didn't do it. Great furies know I agree with your principles. But a lot of men are going to have to die to stop them now. You could have done that without a loss. It's going to cost us."

"It won't cost as much as creating a Legion of martyrs," Tavi said quietly. "If I'm right, then right now, four thousand slaves have taken up arms. If we'd wiped them out, Max, if we'd proven to every slave in the occupied territory that Alera didn't give a crow's feather about their lives, Nasaug wouldn't have four thousand fresh troops ready to fight. He'd have forty thousand terrified, outraged volunteers. Read history, Max. The Canim have." Tavi shook his head. "Men fight hardest for their lives-and for their freedom."

Max drew in a slow breath, his rough, appealing features drawn into a pensive frown. "This was a trap," he said quietly. "We were offered those warriors as bait."

"This could have been a trap," Tavi said, nodding. "But Nasaug doesn't plan operations with only one purpose if he can possibly help it. I think this was something else, too."

"What?" Max said.

"A message." Tavi rose, nodding to the downed scout. "Come on. We'd better clear out before his friends notice that he's missing and come looking for him." Tavi leaned down and rolled the limp man onto his side.

"What are you doing?"

"Making sure he doesn't choke on his own blood," Tavi said. "Let's move."

They moved at a crouch out to where they'd left the horses, hidden in a thick copse of evergreens. "Tavi?" Max asked.

"Yes?"

"Is that really why you didn't order the attack? Did you really think it was a trap?"

Tavi regarded his friend steadily. "You think I felt sympathy for them."

"No," Max said. "I bloody well know you did, Calderon. I know you. But we're at war. I'm not sure you can afford that. I'm not sure the men can afford it."

Tavi paused beside Acteon, one hand on the saddle, one on the reins, and stared at nothing in particular. "I think," he said quietly, "that I have a duty to Alera, Max. All Alerans." He took a deep breath and mounted. Then he said, his voice distant and very calm, "And yes. That's why I didn't kill them all."

Max mounted a moment later and rode up beside Tavi as they moved back toward the rally point. "That works for me." He glanced back at the ridge behind them and let out a low chortle.

"What?" Tavi asked.

"Your singulare has been walking around in your shadow for almost two years now. The first day he's not here, you charge out into the field and get yourself half-choked to death. He's going to be furious. So's Kitai."

Tavi let out a rough-sounding chuckle. It grated painfully in his throat. "Don't worry, Max. I'll deal with them."

Max's smile faded. "Senator Arnos was hoping to put a big new feather in his cap for this conference with the First Lord. He and the War Committee are not going to be happy about you letting those regulars get away."

Tavi felt his eyes narrow as his smile turned into a simple baring of his teeth. "Don't worry, Max," he said. "I'll deal with them, too."

Chapter 2

"First Spear!" bellowed a legionare's voice.

Valiar Marcus had spent more years in the Legions than many of the volunteers in the First Aleran had been drawing breath. Though he'd had the third watch, and been asleep for less than an hour, his feet swung off his cot and hit the cheap rug that he'd thrown over the bottom of his small, but private, tent. He already had his tunic and boots on by the time the legionare reached his tent.

"Centurion," panted Vilius, a young legionare in the cohort's third century. "We've got reports of movement on the road to the east. A large force."

"Bloody crows," Marcus swore. "The relief column." He struggled to draw conclusions, but his sleep-fogged mind wasn't cooperating. He shook his head with a growl and forced it to do its duty. "Captain will have the cavalry, the Knights, and the Battlecrows on the road. He'll try to hold the Canim off long enough to get the column into the city's walls." Fidelias turned to his armor and strapped into it, fastening the row of ties down its center front with fingers that flew with the effortless speed of long practice. "Prime Cohort will form up on the earthworks on the far side of the refugee camp. Tell Tribunes Martinus and Kellus that I recommend that they form up the Seventh and Ninth on First Cohort's flanks. We march in five minutes."

Vilius slammed his fist against the armor over his heart and dashed from the tent.

Once he was gone, Marcus grimaced and rubbed savagely at the clenching cramp that had formed on one side of his neck. He must have pulled a muscle, sitting up that fast out of a dead sleep, but crows take him if he was letting any of those young men see it.

Maybe he was getting too old for this sort of thing.

Five minutes later, the Prime Cohort, double the size of any other cohort at eight centuries strong, moved out of the heavily fortified gates of the town on the northern side of the Tiber. They went out at a run, boots striking hard in unison on the paving stones, then becoming a muffled thunder as the column wheeled out over softer earth. Marcus led the column beneath the wan, cloud-obscured morning sun, running beside the first rank and calling the pace. They passed through the tent-and-shanty-filled warren that stretched for half a mile in every direction around the town of Elinarch.

The earthworks at the far side of the refugee camp were not the simple packed-earth walls that the Legions had used for time out of mind. Instead, they had been built from clay taken from the bed and banks of the Tiber, then baked into a substance harder than most stone via the use of firecrafting. Those walls were fifteen feet high and twenty thick, and if they didn't have the sheer, obdurate strength of furycrafted battlement stone, they were far more serviceable than standard earthworks or a wooden palisade.

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