flASH fiction: Volume 5: Rally for the End (14)

Rally for the End
Jason Pere

“You may stand easy. What news do you bring?” General Braveway asked. He scanned the tenuous dispatch rider up and down with a reserved eye. The Rayward veteran took in the sight of the weary young lad and had to remind himself to keep his composure intact. The sight of a solider performing their duty to perfection always managed to instill a hot and pleasant tingle in the base of the seasoned leader’s spine. The collection of hastily tended scrapes along with a cloak and armor that still had fresh dust layered on were testament to the rider’s sense of urgency, placing his own comfort and even safety below the precious correspondence that was in his charge.

The dispatch rider visibly relaxed his posture. Until he had been granted permission form the General, his back was stretched so taut that it might have broken under its own stress. While the youthful rider’s shoulders were relived of the weight of formality, the dark circles that hung under his eyes remained as testament of the harsh and harrowing trek that he had just come from. No amount of permission would be able to free the boy from the troubles found on the travelers path. The young man cleared some dust from his throat with a soft cough before he took a half a step forward and offered a sealed envelope to the General. Once General Braveway took the piece of paper from the rider the young soldier stepped back and resumed his silent vigil.

General Braveway looked down at the parchment in his hands. He let his fingers drift over the wax seal on the back of the envelop. He felt the rough and texture of hardened wax scratch against his skin. He gave a reverent moment to look at the image of Blackcloud’s spire embossed in the grey wax. As he held the piece of correspondence in his hands he became aware of the smoky scent that accompanied the humble scrap of paper. Feeling the simple object in his grasp somehow transported his psyche in front of a great hearth and roaring fire. He could have sworn that the phantom heat that the letter induced would had caused his skin to start sweating if her were to linger any longer in his thoughts. He pushed the sense of soft burning from his mind and ripped into the letter.

The leader of the Rayward army set his eyes lose on the ink spread over the parchment in his fingers. He drank in the text like a man dying of thirst would partake in a wasteland oasis. He made a commendable effort to remember his place and kept his face the stoic and reserved slab of stone that his visage was renowned for being. He even made sure to lift his glance from the reading every so often to check on the dispatch rider, who was valiantly keeping his post and awaiting further instructions. General Braveway enjoyed the moments when the younger man noticed him glancing up with silent authority. Once he finished reading he folded the parchment back along the center crease that it had come with and placed it neatly atop a pile of similar letters that rested on his desk.

“The news is favorable. Blackcloud is agreeable with Rayward’s proposal,” said General Braveway. He let his tone lift up and offer a softer quality about it. While he did not directly instruct the dispatch rider to speak in response, he made sure that his voice carried the needed invitation to speak.

“That is good news indeed, General sir,” said the rider. He straitened his back up like a tall tree reaching up into the sky as he spoke. Even though he was engaging the General in what seemed like a casual fashion, he did not allow himself to abandon the trappings of proper military etiquette.

General Braveway placed both his palms on his desk and leaned forward. He regarded the younger man with a haughty and even predatory quality. He could feel the dispatch rider’s desire to squirm and wriggle under his weathering stare from where he stood. The General let the rider sit in a state of insecure discomfort for one self-indulgent moment too long before ending the uncertain silence. “I can read what is written here just the same as anyone else but I am most interested in what is not written. And for that, I will require your council,” said the General.

“Excuse me, General sir?” responded the rider with a quizzical arch of his eyebrow and slouch of his shoulders that flew in the face of all discipline. Clearly the General’s statement was unexpected enough to force the young man to lose his sense of propriety.

“You spent time in Blackcloud when you delivered the message that I penned. You must have been received at the Spire, yes?” asked the General with a leading inflection.

“Yes sir I was escorted into the halls of the Spire during my time in the city,” said the rider with a tentative and uneasy pitch.

“So you got to see some of the members in Blackcloud’s court at the very least. I hear that they have a reputation for secrets and backstabbing like few others in Argaia,” said the General as he lifted his hands from his desk and started to pace back and fourth behind the large piece of carved and stained wood.

“Yes General sir. While I did not have audience with the royal family, I met with one of their closest advisors, a woman named of the Greatsky family so I was told. As far as a reputation for less than honorable means, I can not say anything about that,” responded the rider with a tone that he struggled to keep from slipping into timidity.

“In your dealings with the people of Blackcloud, did they seem genuine?” asked the General.

The rider took several reflective heartbeats to search his memory. He licked his lips a few times in a preparatory effort to speak words that he had not been given to speak by some ranking officer or other authority beforehand. Clearly, the young solider was ill accustomed to voicing his own opining in the presence of his betters. “Yes General sir, all seemed to be genuine. They spoke at no small length about their enmity for the dragoon. In fact they seemed quite thrilled to receive the letter you drafted,” said the rider.

“Excellent,” remarked General Braveway with a self-assured sigh of relief. He then patted the stack of letters on his desk as a master would pat the head of their hunting dog that had just returned with a pheasant in its mouth. “So that is the final response I have been awaiting. If all of these are to be believed then soon we shall see what promises to be the largest army of men Argaia has ever seen. The dragoon or their wretched winged masters will not stand a chance.”

“Clearly not General sir,” said the rider as he stood rooted in one place by trepidation.

“You are dismissed,” said the General. He kept himself from grinning as the rider turned and let out a deep breath of respite before leaving the tent. General Braveway sat back into the chair at his desk and picked back up the stack of letters that he had received from the various Argaian nations. He proceeded to pridefully reread each once far into the darkest hours of the night until dreams of conquest and the annihilation of the dragons and all their offspring took hold of him.