II

Only fate could have caused Heddwyn to intercept the spy’s report when he did. Not only was it any spy’s report, but from a man who trusted that Heddwyn knew what he was doing. After reading it, he had to change his plans and he moved towards immediate attacking of Kartigon. Although he regretted that he did not have Major Pauldor to bring up the flank, he could not wait.

In spite of all his information, Heddwyn never expected Kartigon to fall so easily. The moment he moved against the town, the town itself surrendered. No one fought him or any of his men, even as he rode through the town.

Instead, their faces echoed the weariness his soul felt. Haunted, drained faces stared at him as the ever-present reminder that this war went on far too long for either side. Signs, from the scarceness of men to the shabbiness of the capital, told him it cost this country more than it bargained for.

The palace itself took more work to conquer, but even that fell within one day. All except for one, small room near the top of the tower. It was there that the lords congregated in hopes of holding out against Heddwyn’s wrath.

So Heddwyn let them wait. He gave them half a day to figure out what they wanted to do before he approached them. They should be smart enough to realize that with their town conquered, they had no choice but to surrender.

Heddwyn glanced at the soldier stationed outside of the room. “Anything yet?”

He shook his head. “No, sir.”

Heddwyn stared at the door and frowned slightly. “Very well. Let’s get them to move.” He took the two steps closer and rapped on the door. “Open in the name of the TArgoian government.”

Someone said something that he would never repeat. Some people scrambled around and he heard a shout asking for the translator. Heddwyn shook his head and rapped again.

“Open, I say.”

“You give us no promises of anything.”

“You deserve none, for dragging on this war for the past five years. Longer if you count your raids in the name of [the other country].”

“You have no proof we did any of that.”

“I do.”

They muttered something he could not understand.

“You have no choice but to surrender,” Heddwyn said. “I will guarantee your lives for a week. BEyond that, I want an unconditional surrender of the lords and king. The soldiers may keep their lives.” Heddwyn pulled out the terms he had already planned and  slipped it under the door. Not one of them would know he wrote it himself, assuming instead there was a translator somewhere. “There it is, spelled out in your native tongue.”

They said nothing for the longest time, as they studied his writing. He glanced at the soldier standing guard still for a moment, waiting patiently.

Finally, they spoke. “You demand the death of a Major Ketason. Why is that?”

Heddwyn paused and licked his lips. “Any man who boasts about killing a whole family of young girls deserves deaths, whether or not you are doing a massacre.”

“What is your proof that he did that?”

“A government announcement from ten years ago, boasting how you fooled Targo into believe that [the other country] had attacked them. In that announcement, someone printed that the then Lt Katason boasted to everyone who cared that he killed a blacksmith and his four children. It is on your records in your library.”

They began muttering again before they continued to the other item Heddwyn knew would be of question. “You count Lord Conward of Targo under those who are to unconditionally surrender. We have no claim to Targo’s politics.”

“I am certain he made a deal with you regarding his safety even if his foolhardy plan fell through. You were unwise to trust him as your source of military information for although he may have sat at the conceal seat during the war committee meetings, he could hardly understand enough of what was going on. His skill in war was that poor. Sign the paper and open the door.”

They paused still, although Heddwyn felt almost certain he heard some Targo spoken in the room. He waited a minute before rapping on the door again.

“Sign the paper and be done with it! You have my signature.”

“Commander, this paper is not guaranteed by the Targoian government. It is not a valid paper since you have no authority by which to give us this terms.”

“As the highest ranking military head that is currently stationed here, my terms will be valid for the next ninety days, during which the king will declare his own terms and present to you the full terms of surrender. Or he will validate mine. either way, those will be binding for ninety days.

“And before you argue it further, the second copy says the exact say thing in Targoian. Even if you do not think we will honor a Ketekey document, we must honor a document written in Targoian.”

For a moment, everything was silent. Then the door slowly creaked open to reveal a long, narrow chamber. A high table ran the length of it and around it sat various Ketekey lords. A servant handed him the papers, trembling the whole time, and backed away as soon as he took them. Heddwyn only glanced at them long enough to see there was a signature before looking around the room.

“Thank you, gentlemen. As I am sure your country does.”

“Explain,” the king said in Ketekey, “why do you want the major?”

The translator began to translate for him but Heddwyn held his hand up. With these documents, it did not matter what they knew about him.

“Major Ketason?”

“Yes.”

“Major Ketason killed my family,” Heddwyn said in Ketekey. “That is who he boasted of. I found out about three years ago. If anything, you should want the man dead. If he did nothing, I would probably not be standing before you this day.”

The lords stared at him, stunned speechless that he could speak their language. Heddwyn glanced around the room, and found exactly what he expected. Lord Conward sat in the corner, hoping Heddwyn would not see him.

“Conward.”

The man did not move.

“I never accounted you of any great intelligence, though I see now why you kept pressing me to accept your son. If you had not offered me your daughter, I might have actually allowed him entrance into my squad this time. But, what were you thinking when you informed a man with my wife’s last name how to kidnap her? Are you truly as stupid as that move appears?”

Conward’s face tightened and he rose, glaring at Heddwyn. “The man did not have it! I checked the copy your accountant gave me. The fake copy I might add. Do not think I am so dense to realize that you would not marry a slave girl out of the blue so closely to when I sent you the offer.

“But the man did not have the same name.”

“The fact that you needed to check,” Heddwyn said passively, “should have told you enough. But truly, you thought that Dylan, son of Miener, could not possibly be related to Jacey, daughter of Miener? For that’s what jijo and jija mean, or do you not know that language either? Yes, I noticed the translator was from Targo and for your benefit, not theirs.”

Conward gaped at him. “You have no respect–”

“I need not show any respect for man who gave his country over to these men. As of now, you are not a lord.”

Heddwyn turned to the soldiers who stood outside the room. “Take Conward to the prison and hold him.”  He turned and marched out. “And I want the lords in a secure room immediately, preferably outside of the palace and–”

“Commander!”

Heddwyn turned immediate as Major Pauldor ran towards him. He waited until he approached and saluted.

“A pleasure to see you,’ Heddwyn said.  “And just in time.”

Major Pauldor nodded. “Pardon, sir. My horse threw a shoe through the overpass and then you moved quicker than I expected.”

“No matter. I did not need you as much as I thought I would.” He began walking again towards the courtyard.

“I was told to report to you as soon as I arrived.”

“Yes. I am leaving. I have the Ketekey surrender and I am now going  back home.”

“Sir?”

“I want Conward moved as soon as possible. He was here. I want him in the capital. I already sent messages for reinforcements. YOu may have one group of Ketekey’s attack you, but the reinforcements should come within six hours of their attack, cutting it very short. I do not even know if they will bother though after what I have seen this town.

“As soon as there are more than fifty men here, I want the lords and Conward moved. I am sure that there will be other orders but those are mine. You still should be able to make it back to the capital in a week, as scheduled.”

Heddwyn pushed opened the door and walked towards the stables. “You are now in charge here, Major. I expect you will be promoted when you reach the capital.”

“What–about you, sir?”

Heddwyn looked at him. “By the time you make it there, I will be retired.”  He took his horse out of the stall and began to saddle it.

“But–”

“I was going to stay in the army until the war is over. It is over. I am done. I would advise Sergeant Tomosa as your second-in-command. He has some good ideas, just need some logic added. He will do well if you refine him.”  Heddwyn finished and began to strap on his pack. “I have more detailed orders left for you. They are not hard to follow. Just remember what I taught you.” He mounted and looked at him. “How was Jacey/”

Major Pauldor paused. “She–she was fine last I saw, sir.”

Heddwyn nodded. “Thank you for bringing her.”

He gave a small nod. “It was a pleasure serving with you, sir. I doubt I would have survived the war without you.”

“Thank Jacey for surviving the war at all.”

“Pardon?’

“Without her being kidnapped, I never would have found that Conward was a traitor, nor that I have needed to act without orders to save Targo. It is because of her the war is over, not me.”

“You give yourself too little credit.”

“I give myself enough.”

Major Pauldor saluted him. “I shall see you in Targo City then, when we return.”

Heddwyn nodded and slapped the reigns. With that, his horse trotted out of the stables and on the road towards home and Jacey.

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