Chapter 15
The Eastward March

Uwncaster, Norland, Pendragon

"Sir Gideon! Sir Gideon!"
Gideon awoke confused and angry. In all his years of service, sleep never came easily for him and unless it was absolutely necessary, he bitterly begrudged any man who would rob him of whatever meager rest he could get. However, he was disciplined enough to get his bearings before spilling out his anger on the one who woke him.
"What is it?" he demanded, trying not to express more than a modest annoyance at being disturbed.
"We have word from the Crossroads, sir," the soldier who woke him replied. "It appears that Prince Cain is marching eastward."
Gideon immediately felt uneasy. His first instinct should have been to think nothing of it, but though it might condemn him in the end, he never could bring himself to see any good in Prince Cain. There was a foulness in him soaked down into the marrow of his bones ever since he was a lad. He would have no reason to return eastward so soon after the Council, not unless...
"How many men does he have with him?" Gideon asked.
"His entire army, it would seem, sir," the soldier said.
It was as he feared. Nineteen years ago, Prince Cain was passed over for the throne by his father's will and in all that time, he had been stewing in bitter anger atop his tower. It would seem that now he finally had the courage to strike out against his brother the King, but what could he and his rabble hope to accomplish?
"Has Lord Marius been informed?" Gideon asked the soldier.
"Yes, sir," the soldier replied. "His Lordship has sent a messenger on ahead."
Would Prince Cain even deign to treat with the messenger or had Lord Marius simply consigned some poor hapless fool to his death? There never was a clear accounting of the men under Prince Cain's command. During his patrols through Norland, Gideon estimated at least two thousand men sworn to the Prince. They would outnumber the garrison at least two-to-one. It would go poorly for them if they were caught unawares.
"Has the garrison been called to arms?"
"Sir?"
Did the soldier not realize their peril? Gideon repeated himself, this time more insistently.
"Has the garrison been called to arms?"
"Why would--"
There was no time to explain it to him and little to gain for the effort.
"Call my squire in here," Gideon told him. "Rouse the men of the Patrol and have them make ready."
"But, sir--"
"That was an order," Gideon said harshly.
Remembering himself, the soldier saluted, quickly saying, "Yes, sir. Right away, sir."
Command of the garrison was Lord Marius', so Gideon could do nothing but advise the Lord Commander to take action, but he could at least have his Patrol armed and ready. If nothing else, he could send riders on ahead to warn the King and the High City. If Prince Cain meant to do what Gideon thought he meant to do, then this night might be his last in the service of House Pendragon.

* * *

Because Uwncaster was named in his honor, Prince Cain was not pleased to see it put to the torch, but it was necessary. There was little hope of winning over the garrison to his cause, so he needed to strike first and wipe them out before they could pose a threat.
Nearly every sword and spear that could be bought in all of Norland now marched with him. Many of them had been made orphans by Cain's father, but while blood may be thicker than water, it was not thicker than gold. They would fight in his service so long as they were paid and that was enough.
He was fortunate Lord Marius was not so distrustful of him as old Gideon. Even with the garrison being taken by surprise, they fought man-for-man. The Prince's forces would not survive many battles that way.
Prince Cain had drunk too much wine while he waited for the battle to play out, so he stepped out of his carriage to relieve himself when Sir Bruno approached. Bruno had been his constant companion since they were boys, so this was by no means a new sight, nor did it deter him in the slightest from delivering his report.
"Your Highness, the garrison has been routed," he said.
"Any survivors?" the Prince asked.
"Some sixscore are being held prisoner, my prince," Forktongue replied, seeming to appear out of nowhere as he was wont to do, "to include Lord Marius and his household."
Prince Cain did not recall giving any orders to take prisoners. Did someone think they could afford to carry around useless mouths to feed on a forced march? To say nothing of the very likely possibility that the defeated soldiers would take any opportunity to stab their captors in the back. Some people did not have a brain in their heads. This was why he was in charge.
"Kill them all," he said. "The men can take what plunder they will until dawn when we set out again."
"We believe some riders may have escaped our net and will no doubt be riding to Caer Pendragon," Bruno continued. "Shall we pursue them?"
"Let them cry to my brother," the Prince sneered. "He will think I am after the High City."
"He shall be disappointed if he goes there," Forktongue said.
Just thinking of his brother made the Prince's stomach turn bitter. Soon he would be rid of him, hopefully.
"If that old snake does his job, he will be dead before long."
"And if not?" Bruno asked.
Finishing up, the Prince adjusted his breeches and brushed his hands on the skirt of his tunic. He turned to Bruno and said, "Then we will take him on a merry chase and stab at him when he least expects it. I want his head on a pike to parade before me everywhere I go in all the long and prosperous years of my reign."
"A pleasant thought, to be sure, my prince," Forktongue said in his usual unctuous manner.
Prince Cain curled his nose. While sycophantic hangers-on came with being a man of power of influence, you had to be wary of the ones who hid true ability and ambition behind an obliging facade. Forktongue was useful and furthered Prince Cain's own ambition, so he kept him around, but no matter how useful he was, the Prince would never let down his guard around him.
Bruno interrupted his thoughts, saying, "Your Highness, should we not seek to ransom Lord Marius and his family at the least? He is not wanting for allies and could fetch a handsome price."
It was the custom to ransom men of rank, a sort of gentleman's agreement that ensured a measure of stability in the land and preserved the regard for the highborn. However, it was not Prince Cain's intent to ensure stability. He sought to upend the established order and remake it according to his designs. There would be a new class of nobles, one loyal to him and him alone. No talk of ransom would cloud his eyes.
"All the gold in the land is mine by rights," the Prince said. "What need do I have of an enemy who will only use the life I spare to avenge his wounded honor? He dies along with the rest of them. Dig a pit for them or, better yet, leave them for the crows."
"The other lords will not forget this, I fear."
Prince Cain rolled his eyes. Bruno always was too cautious. If only he could find a lieutenant who had the boldness to execute the Prince's ambition.
"Let them remember and fear," he said. "If not, they can join Lord Marius. I may see that they do so anyway."
Indeed, he had no intention of sparing any of them, but he could not tell Bruno this. It would be a step too far even for a man of his loyalty. Forktongue, however, was not so restrained by foolish fear and sentiment.
"As is your right, of course, my prince."
Bruno gave the advisor a sour look but said nothing to him. Instead, he bowed to the Prince and said, "I shall see that we set out at dawn according to your command. Please, Your Highness, return to your carriage and rest."
His father enjoyed walking about the battlefields after a victory to survey the death and destruction his armies had wrought, but Prince Cain had no such interest in imitating his father's example. He had a wench and a new skin of wine waiting to be opened. He would have time enough to rest afterward.