Cursor's Fury

Chapter 17

Tavi slept in a tent he shared with several other junior officers. In the middle of the night, unusual noises disturbed his rest, and a moment later Max shook him roughly awake. "Come on," Max ordered him in a low, growling whisper. "Move it."

Tavi rose, pulled on his tunic, grabbed up his boots, and followed Max out into the night. "Where are we going?" Tavi mumbled.

"To the captain's tent. Magnus sent me to get you," Max said. "Something's up." He nodded down another row of tents as they passed, and Tavi looked up to see other figures moving quietly through the night. Tavi recognized the shadowy profile of one of the Tribunes Tactica, and a few moments later, the ugly, rough features of Valiar Marcus, the First Spear, appeared from the night and fell in beside them.

"Marcus," Max muttered.

"Antillar," the First Spear said. "Subtribune Scipio."

Tavi abruptly stopped in his tracks, and looked up. The sky was overcast, making the night very dark, though the clouds were low and swift-moving. Thunder rumbled far in the distance. Through gaps in the cloud cover, the stars glowered down in sullen shades of crimson. "The stars," he said.

Max looked up and blinked. "Bloody crows."

The First Spear grunted without slowing his pace.

"What's happening?" Tavi asked him, catching up.

The First Spear let out a snort but said nothing, until they arrived together at the captain's tent. The senior officers were there, much as they had been on the day Tavi arrived. Magnus and Lorico were both there, and passing out mugs of strong tea to the officers as they arrived. Tavi took one, found a quiet spot against the wall of the tent, and drank the hot, slightly bitter tea while struggling to blink the sleep from his eyes. Gracchus was there, and looking hungover. Lady Antillus was at hand as well, seated with her hands folded in her laps, her expression distant and unreadable.

Tavi had begun to feel almost as though he could string several thoughts together into something resembling intelligence when Captain Cyril entered, immaculately groomed, fully armored, the picture of self-possessed command. The quiet murmurs of the sleepy officers came to a sudden halt.

"Gentlemen, Your Grace," Cyril murmured. "Thank you for coming so promptly." He turned to Gracchus. "Tribune Logistica. What is the status of the stores of standard-issue armor and weaponry."

"Sir?" Gracchus said, blinking.

"The armor, Tribune," Cyril said in a rock-hard voice. "The swords."

"Sir," Gracchus said. He rubbed at his head. "Another thousand sets to go, perhaps. Inspections should be finished in another week."

"I see. Tribune, do you not have three junior officers to assist in inspections?"

Max let out a quiet, nasty little laugh from beside Tavi.

"What?" Tavi whispered.

"Legion justice is slow but sure. This is why the captain wanted you here," Max said. "Listen."

"Yes, sir," Gracchus mumbled.

"And in a month's time, you and your three assistants have been unable to complete this fundamental task. Why is that?"

Gracchus stared at him. "Sir, I was aware of no particular need. I had my officers working on several different-"

"Latrines?" Cyril asked in an arch tone. "Armor and sidearm inspections are to be completed by dawn, Tribune."

"B-but why?"

"Perhaps this isn't as important as your nightly binges at the Pavilion, Tribune, " Cyril said in an acidic tone, "but captains appoint a Tribune Logistica because they like to make sure our legionares have armor and swords when they march to battle."

Electric silence gripped the room. Tavi felt his spine straighten in surprise.

"Finish the inspections, Tribune. You'll do them walking on the road if you must, but you will complete them. Dismissed." Cyril turned his attention from Gracchus to the rest of the room. "Word reached me moments ago. We are at war."

A low murmur of responses went through the officers in the tent.

"I have my orders. We are to proceed west to the town at the Elinarch. The bridge there is the only one over the entire western leg of the Tiber River. The First Aleran is to secure that bridge."

The officers murmured again, low and surprised.

The Tribune Auxiliarus, Cadius Hadrian, stepped forward. His voice was deep and very quiet. "Sir. What about the stars?"

"What about them?" Cyril asked.

"Do we know why they've changed color?"

"Tribune," Cyril said calmly, "stars do not concern the First Aleran. Our only concern is that bridge."

Which Tavi took to mean that Cyril had no idea, either.

Valiar Marcus took a step forward from his place against the tent's wall, and said, "Captain. With all due respect, sir, most of the fish aren'.t ready."

"I have my orders, First Spear," Cyril said. He looked around at the officers, and said, "And now you all have yours. You know your duties." He lifted his chin, and said, "We march at dawn."

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