[Author’s Note: This takes place during the beginning of Chapter 72, An Invitation to Dine, in Phoenix Triumphant. We start with James’s perspective to find out what’s been going on around the fortress and write the note Sarah receives in chapter 73, An Invitation to Dine (Part 2). The Skathains have been having fun behind the scenes.]
“What do you mean you’ve been losing men on patrol?” Wholawski was livid.
The Major hadn’t picked his timing very well, for the General was still peeved at Senior Captain Chester’s wounding of Sarah. There was some satisfaction on James’s part as he watched the man stutteringly tell them how men had been lost. It hadn’t been every patrol, though those at night told the most chilling tales of howling voices and men falling to the ground and disappearing into the night.
That explained the fear James had begun to sense in the dining hall, though the privates would fall silent at his passing.
“How many have we lost?” Wholawski’s voice had become deadly even.
“A, a, about f, f, forty,” the Major’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“Forty,” General Wholawski tapped his knife upon the desk. “And so how many does that leave my Fortress with for defense?”
“One hundred forty-eight,” James stated, as the Major stumbled for an answer.
With a flick of his wrist, the dagger Wholawski had been tapping the desk with, flew into the Major’s thigh. “I recommend, Major, that you leave this room while life still flows in your veins.” He reached over and pulled the dagger out. “Nor should you shirk your punishment upon the whipping post.”
James watched as the Major’s hand quickly staunched the wound. The man lumbered out, his weight a testament to the fact he deprived men of rations so that he could eat his fill. Wrinkling his nose James let out a noise of disgust.
“I agree,” the General stated as he turned to face his elite captain. “He will be whipped this afternoon, four hundred lashes, for all to see. Call the patrols that are out, in, so they may also witness his shame. And then you will lead a patrol out and discover exactly what is going on.”
“Yes General.” James bowed his head. “How many shall I take with me?”
“I will leave that to you,” Wholawski told him, “just be sure you bring the best of the best with you.”
“Yes General.” James moved from beside the man and out the door. He wondered if he’d be able to get a message to Phoenix that he was coming. He did not want die like the other patrols before this plan was seen through.
Since he knew which men he’d want to take with him, it was the matter of contacting Phoenix prior to his foray into the wood, that weighed most upon James’s mind. He had to ensure that Phoenix knew the men he brought would be a mix of those loyal to Wholawski, and those, who were loyal to James and his cause. It was a shame he couldn’t take Senior Captain Chester and be rid of him.
James stopped by his room and drew up a quick note. His uncle had very generously taught James to read and write. He only hoped that Sarah could as well.
Tonight, at dusk, I lead men out to uncover the cause of recent patrol mishaps. My Uncle will know who we are. You must make your move soon, or I fear your woman shall find her fate much the same as my Uncle’s daughter, and all the other women who have passed through these walls. I even begin to fear for the one we must rescue.
Then when he went to the kitchen to demand rations for his trip out, he left the note with Sharon to delivery to Sarah upon her next meal trip.
Walking about the fortress, James spoke with each of the men he had chosen. There would be fifteen, like a normal patrol and they would leave at dusk. When he reached the main gate, he stepped to west trumpet and sounded one blast, to call the men that were out in.
One hundred and forty eight men to stand against the nineteen Scouts sounded like insurmountable odds. However, James suspected that Lord Farquad had taken control of Pulago, quite possibly without a fight. Still if his uncle was alone it would be sixty-nine against the one hundred and forty. If his plan worked there would be ten less men on Wholawski’s side and four more on Phoenix’s. Still they were not good odds. A man with less could hold this fortress a long time against greater numbers.
If only he could drug the men as Sarah had done and call in a mist. They had the strange noises, if he was to believe the reports he’d been hearing. James only hoped that Wholawski would not do anything to Sarah while he was on patrol.