War Journals 1: A Certain Perfume

The tent was a familiar space. Certainly, he’d spent enough time on campaigns over the years for it to be more of a home than whatever passed for his actual home these days. The well oiled canvas had a few patches here and there from travel pains, but was largely in good order. Sif was handy with a needle, and Svetlanka hand set up and torn down the large tent more times than either of them cared to remember.

The trappings of the tent were sparse. A set of folding chairs, a collapsible table, the armor stand, and a cot in the corner stacked high with skins and blankets. Outside, the cacophony of a victorious army was at work. Drinking and revelry were abounding. The cook fires were still high with spring offerings; a welcomed change from the dried rations of winter. Their scent was nearly enough to cover the smell of the battle. Blood and bowels always marked a battlefield, when it was fresh. But as the heat took it, the scent would change towards something even less pleasant.

Sven chuckled to himself and pushed himself up from the table, striding to the tent and pushing himself out into the daylight. Men had cordoned off a proper campsite, but it was really broken into two parts. The area immediately around his tent were the sworn men of Runeheim, newly anointed in battle and still a bit wobbly in their expected duties. Ultimately the weaker of the two forces, but the more loyal. The second area was a bit less orderly, but rapidly growing in the afterglow of victory. These were the Karls; fierce warriors of the North drawn to victory as shit drew flies. Half of the assembled force had defected from the failing Hadvar Longstrider forces. Such was the way of soldiers of fortune; when things grew boring or the spoils thin, they would disappear in the night as shadows in the noonday sun. The old warrior let out a sigh, but still smiled happily.

“Eda!” he bellowed, looking about for the diminutive squire recently assigned to his command. She came up from behind a tent a few rows down, wiping her mouth and looking ill. The older fellow squinted at her. “Bit green around the gills?”

She nodded and opened her mouth to speak, but Sven waved her off. He found her wide-eyed trepidation charming, if overly naïve.

“We’ll talk inside, I need you to take a letter to Sir Ingvar,” he said, holding the flap open for her and gesturing to the writing kit on the table. The pages were blank, and clearly he intended her to write his dictations.

“Yes, sir,” she muttered, pulling quill and inkwell from the box. Sven turned his eyes back out on the field until he recognized one of the fellows from earlier.

“Lief,” he bellowed, pointing to a fellow who jumped in a startled fashion and scrambled towards the commander, bowing. “Has anyone found Hadvar Longstrider yet?”

Lief shook his head, “I don’t think so, sir.”

Sven gave a considering nod before speaking.

“Double the men looking for him. If his corpse is recovered, I want his bow and head,” he said. Lief gave a nod.

“And if he is alive, sir?” he asked, taking mental notes.

“Put him to the question. I want to know everything there is to know about this Lionslayer or killer or whatever he calls himself,” he said. “I believe Harold finds the work rewarding. You’ll find him in my kitchen deployment.”

Without further word, Sven slipped inside the tent again, catching the barest hint of perfume on the air. A slow smile set about his lips as he eyed the skins adorning his cot. When he noticed Eda looking at him expectantly, he cleared his throat and began pacing.

“Sir Ingvar,” he began as Eda scratched on the parchment. The task seemed to have grounded her a bit, though she still smelled faintly of sick and disappointment. “My force is currently East of Runeheim, along with those of the fire wizard and Lord Marshal. After our forces went their separate ways, I engaged Longstrider twice, and have decimated his forces. Casualties are negligible. As Runeheim lacks the infrastructure to support prisoners of war, I have instructed survivors to be put to the sword.”

There was a pause in the scratching along the paper as Eda faltered with the order he had given. She had been present when he issued it, of course, and she hadn’t seemed to care for it now either.

“Something wrong, Squire?” he asked in an amused, if cool, tone.

“It seems… unnecessary to kill these troops. Where is the honor in it?” she looked up at him with too big eyes. There was almost a plea to them that would have moved a younger man. Alas, for her, the grizzled figure before her had seen entirely too much blood to be swayed by the tears of youth.

“There is no honor in war, Eda,” he said. Frowning a moment, he settled in the other chair to be more at her eye level. It was important to educate squires in their knightly duties. “Honor is for duels and skald’s poems. We won’t sully ourselves by boasting of this victory in grotesque terms, but killing the enemy is always the objective in war.”

She frowned a bit and seemed unconvinced. Sven nods, and continued.

“Let us consider a moment,” he said. “Our enemy numbered roughly 800 fighting men and women, not to speak to their scouts, cooks, travel slaves and so forth. Of those 800, at least 500 lay dead in the field just an hour’s walk from here. The rest have fled or been wounded or joined with my forces here. Of the wounded and surrendered, reports have it at just over a hundred men and women who are enemies of the Throne.”

He cleared a small section of the table, so that he could draw with his finger and tap to elucidate his points.

“Runeheim has no prisons. Their stockyard is a literal tree with a chain wrapped about it. They are discussing if there are sufficient prospects to support the war effort through the winter. Further, I saw no priests or secular doctors in town, though I heard rumor of one,” he said, his tone growing more patient as she paled out before him. “Such as it is, these prisoners have wounds that will go untreated simply because we lack the capacity to heal them. They would be chained outdoors for want of a prison or camp. They would suffer from starvation from lack of harvest.”

Pausing a moment to consider if she was appreciating what he was saying. She nodded, but seemed hesitant.

“Our force will not be able to move if we are securing over a hundred warriors. And they would cast our own ranks in chaos if they managed to break free,” he said. “Our own force is made up of citizens that were farmers and merchants a few weeks ago. Hardly trained to the task of prison warden. And the rest of our forces are their former comrades-in-arms; not the most trustworthy wardens, I think you’d agree.”

For a long moment, the two were silent as she fidgeted with the quill.

“Can’t we just… release them?” she asked. It wasn’t a timid voice she used, but it was quiet.

“And give them a chance to raise up arms against us in the future? Seems foolish to me,” he said.

“How are we to win the North over if we slaughter their men?” she asked a bit more forcefully. He smiled.

“It is not my job to win the populace,” he explained. “It is my job to disarm and emasculate them to such a degree that the thought of rebellion sickens their stomach. Anything beyond that is a matter for the clergy.”

Sven clapped her shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze as if that settled the matter. Regardless of her mouth opening to voice further protest, Sven rose to his feet and continued the dictation.

“Let’s see, where was I… ah yes, put the prisoners to the sword,” he nods and begins pacing, lacing his fingers behind his back as he does so. When he speaks again, it is the bold voice of dictation, from a man expecting his words to be captured. “I haven’t the time to construct crosses, else I would begin to line the roads with the crucified fallen. Not that there is much in the way of roads out here. Dispose of yours how best you see fit, though I imagine that Sister Solace will want to issue words over them or attempt to convert or liberate the thralls. When time is less pressing, we will formulate a plan to handle prisoners of war more efficiently in the future. Perhaps, if Sister Solace feels the pangs of guilt at the treatment of those laid low, she will utilize her forces into more of a prison camp managing system and we won’t have to worry about it further.”

The elder pauses a moment in thought, that wasn’t a bad idea. Perhaps that would solve both problems at once… Something to explore later.

“We haven’t been able to secure the body of Longstrider, though I will know directly if he survived the conflict. Named men taken will be put to the question before execution. We should see about developing our logistical support, and perhaps see if we can incentivize some of the locals to collect the weapons of the fallen for use within our forces. I expect the forces of the Lord Marshall to retreat back to Runeheim at the first opportunity, but I will meet with the leader of the Fire Wizards to see if it is their intention to continue on with us or fall back with the rest of the troops,” he said, continuing his pacing. “I expect a full report within a fortnight on the state of the farmers. Yours in triumph, Lord Bryjar, honorifics, and so forth. Dictated, but not read.”

He gestures in a ‘so-on’ way. Waiting until Eda finishes the letter, before signing the bottom and sealing it with his signet ring.

“Take the evening to settle yourself, Squire Eda,” he said, clapping her on the back again. “Then I expect you to deliver that without delay to Sir Ingvar. Travel along the road the army has passed. There will be some scavengers among the dead, but they won’t be trouble if you stay mounted. Longstrider might be in the wood, or some of his straggling soldiers that avoided capture. If you come across any resistance, return, don’t engage.”

Sven offers her a smile and formal nod of dismissal. Eda, to her credit, only hesitated a moment before saluting and exiting the tent. The old warrior smiled as she retreated before turning his eyes to the sheets of his cot and their sweet, guilt laden perfume. Whatever sweet heaven might be promised to humanity beyond this life, it wasn’t for him. He would just have to find his own heaven here, regardless of the protests of his soul.

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