Genshal trudged after Sir Doyle with all the bad grace he could muster. Apparently in this man's parlance, 'go and get some rest' translated to 'spend several hours telling me everything you know, then follow me around all day so you can repeat it to all interested parties'. The past hours had been spent fielding insightful questions from Elric Grey's commanders such as “why aren't there any cavalry?” and “what do you mean you don't know how many mages?” Genshal had initially tried to explain that horses were not good at climbing over city walls, and that the magic contingent marched under great secrecy, but swiftly fell back on the security of ignorance when the questioning became too tiresome. Part of the code of the sell sword, when in doubt, pretend to be stupid. If you can't pass for stupid, at least be ignorant.
“Tell me again about the siege equipment.” Doyle asked as they walked.
“I didn't see any.”
“Don't light footsoldiers usually toe the artillery?”
“And you were in the only company of light infantry?”
“So if you didn't see any, there probably isn't any.” Doyle concluded.
“And you're sure you saw nothing of the mages?” Said Doyle.
“For the fourth time, no, I saw nothing of the mages.”
“Would you have noticed them if there was a large contingent?”
Doyle clicked his teeth in frustration, but kept walking. By this time in the day they were no longer walking alone. Their path through the city had been joined by a young lady whose name Genshal was neglecting to remember. Genshal enjoyed women, and this one was not unattractive, but he disapproved of their presence in war. Most women, he felt, were prone to breaking down in fits of tears or menstruation at the most inconvenient of times. Those that didn't were invariably a few furlongs north of lunacy, and not to be trusted an inch. This one was babbling to Sir Doyle about some map she had apparently found, and had numerous sharp objects strapped about her person. Genshal had pegged her as fitting into category two and was keeping his distance. For this reason he found himself walking a little apart from the group, and for this reason it was he who noticed the man squatting in the creek.
'Just another peasant' was his first thought; Gods new the city had enough of them. Refugees had clustered from miles around, determined to aid the revolution by eating all their food and getting in the way. A soldier’s eyes however are quick to pick up subtle wrongness with the world. When you live your life one skirmisher’s arrow away from an arrow in the throat, you learn to assess the scenery quickly. The creek was little more than an old tidal inlet, long since dammed and inexpertly drained of water. Now it was home to little more than long grass and an endless supply of mud; there was little reason for anyone to be down there. Someone, however; was, and not only was he where he had no reason to be, but across his back was strung a rather fine longbow. Genshal had seen Elric's army; farm-boys and forge-hands with cheap crossbows and not much else. Such bows as existed were being hoarded atop the walls to repel the impending invaders, not taken out for a pleasant stroll through knee deep bog water. Either the man in the creek was someone too important to stop, or he was dangerously out of place.
Genshal stood atop the ridge, contemplating how much to care about this development. From Dole's droning it was becoming clear that Elric Grey desired nothing more than a glorious and heroic death, but that would render this entire journey a waste of time. On the other hand, a man marching through a river of peat hardly constituted an immediate danger, and Genshal had learned the value of not provoking unnecessary conflict. For one thing, it led to a generally easier life, and for another, you didn't get arrows fired at you. Genshal disliked being shot in the head, so he remained atop the bank, looking down at his quarry just in case it did anything interesting.
“Do you see that?”
Genshal hated when people moved like that. He considered it common courtesy to make some noise when approaching another from behind, but the woman had moved with cat like stealth and was suddenly beside him, whispering in his ear and causing him to flinch sideways and then feel like an idiot.
“No.” He said.
“There's a man down there in the creek.” said the woman.
“He could be a spy.”
“He could be a drunkard.”
Genshal disliked spies. Every element of an army, from the general to the quartermaster, was prone to overestimate its own importance, but spies were the worst of all. Every one of them was convinced that it was only their sneaking keeping the whole army from total annihilation at the hands of some half baked plot they probably invented in the first place. Spies saw other spies behind every tree, and secret plots in every corner. Genshal was quietly convinced that most of them simply made it up in exchange for better rations and not having to get their hands dirty in battle. The woman might be right, but her paranoia coupled with Doyle's droning and his own lack of sleep had left him disinclined to be helpful.
“We should investigate.” she said.
“We? He's not my business. If you've got any sense you won't make him yours.”
Genshal hardly bothered to keep the sneer out of his voice, and at the sound of it the man spun around. He fixed on the pair a look of abject terror, and scuttled off between the rushes out of sight.
“There, problem solved.”
Genshal walked off, not giving the woman a chance to respond. If she wanted to poke about in the mud then she could be his guest, he had no doubt it would do her good to get her hands dirty. He, however, had not been hired for his espionage skills.
Another skill he had not been hired for was his political intrigue, but this did little to deter Doyle from dragging him along to what this rabble probably considered to be a meeting of the high command.
Genshal had seen both pretender kings before. Theron was a little young, Myres and little fat, but both seemed suited for leadership far more than Elric Grey. The man was of near diminutive size and possessing of a face several decades too old for his body. What possessed fools to follow this man was beyond him, idealism or stupidity presumably. The more Genshal saw of this army, the more he began to suspect that he fitted into the later category himself. The man was courteous enough as he interrogated Genshal for what seemed the hundredth time about the opposing army.
“That doesn't seem enough men to take the city.” Grey finally concluded.
“I don't know. Your defenders are contemptible.”
“Watch your tongue, sellsword.” This was Doyle, jumping to his lord's defence, but Elric Grey simply raised a hand and fixed Genshal with a pointed look.
“What is your name, Mercenary?” He asked.
“Well, Hyres, where I come from we speak of our fellow soldiers with a little respect. The people's army numbers 3000 men, each one of whom would gladly lay down his life for the cause.”
“I've seen them,” said Genshal, “Grocers and Farmers. Bravery makes for poor armour. Laying down their lives is what most of them will do.”
From that point on Genshal was excluded from the discussions, and sat bored at the table as a litany of rotating bodies bickered about rationing and troop placement. His eyes wandered round the table, seeking out the traditional hangers on. His eyes rested momentarily on a hulk of a man who seemed better dressed than the rest of the rabble. Grey hair sprouted from his head, and the others treated him with almost the same deference as Elric Grey himself. Genshal didn't recognise him, but a good rule of thumb was to never upset a man who might have fought Malfear. They tended to lack a sense of humour about things.
The men argued tiresomely about whether Theron was going to attack or wait for reinforcements, for all the world as if it mattered. Genshal was sure they would end up standing atop the walls, attack or no, rendering the whole discussion completely pointless. Then the woman, whose name was apparently Raven, chimed in with the unexpected revelation that she'd uncovered a secret Valian fleet sailing on the city. Genshal doubted it.
Since the revolution, Valial held no ports on the shore of the Gilded Ocean. Any fleet sailing on Vespar would have to round the entire Gorgon peninsula and would arrive long after the foot soldiers. It would also have to sail through a long, narrow channel with Theron's army on one side, and Myres' on the other. Either the woman was making it all up, or someone was pulling the wool over her eyes. Genshal doubted that many enemies would leave poorly cyphered copies of their plans lying around – possibly Theron was trying to force Elric Grey into an act of desperate stupidity, though from the sound of it the man would need little encouragement on that front. Three times already he had raised the possibility of throwing his life away to bring down Lord Theron, seemingly convinced that his cause would survive his death. Genshal didn't share his optimism. If Grey fell then his revolution would crumble. Shawn of their charismatic leader the soldiers, if such a word could be used, would break and return to their farms. No, keeping Elric Grey alive was the only was the ensure his continued employment – and that meant stopping him from dying to his own stupidity before he fell to superior numbers. Not an easy task.
It was as Genshal was contemplating how a man desperate to martyr himself could be dissuaded from doing so that there game a commotion from outside, and another figure was escorted into the command tent.