Alexander Lanstar sat at his desk in his headquarters, staring at a wall. He couldn’t believe that his own guards were so unprepared. They had said a spy had snuck in through the drain. The problem was that now several of his men were saying that it wasn’t a spy. They could have sworn that they saw an animal walking on the mountains. Maybe that’s what snuck in, they said. However, no one could find either a random forest animal or a Pons spy anywhere in the city. Neither of the two were common sightings in Sulci. There were only about two thousand people in the city. If there were a mysterious person, someone would have said something. A rumor would have started somewhere. If there were an unusual animal, they would have done something about it. But no one was doing anything, including his soldiers. The inefficiency made him extremely angry.
He was sure that Leroy Thesle was already having a fit about it. He was waiting for him to stride down, in all his puffed up glory, and verbally assault everyone in his path. He knew it would happen, and he knew he would have to prepare himself. He could not lash out, could not fight back, no matter how much Thesle annoyed him. He must maintain his calm. Thesle could spit and hiss all he wanted, but in the end it didn’t matter. I will still be in control of this army. He sighed. What does he want from me?
Alexander looked at his plans again. He had piles of detailed maps of Sulci and the surrounding areas, had spent literally years working on his perfect defense plan, and now, it had failed. Supposedly. He was growing impatient with the soldiers he had sent out. They were ordered to find out what had happened, if indeed anything had happened. If this has happened, they will pay for it. They will know what happens when they slip up. We are in a war. We need perfection. One little error, and look what happens. It will never happen again, not while I’m in command.
He stood up, not able to sit still any longer, and looked out the window. No one was on the streets at this time of night. He sighed again and paced the room.Where were they? He made himself sit back down. Come on now, you’re being foolish. You’re letting this whole thing fluster you. You need to calm down, get in command. Things will be put right. You’re worrying too much, like Diana always says you do. Diana… he had forgotten about their morning meeting. It came back to him now, and he felt something growling at him from inside. She had tried to be nice. Tried. The thought of it sickened him. She had to force herself to like him. He closed his eyes and looked down.
Well, not everyone’s going to like you.
Yeah, but I would expect her to, a little bit at least.
She didn’t choose this any more than you did.
But I didn’t think she would be repulsed by me. We used to be such good friends. What happened? Am I really that horrible of a person, that my old friend is completely sickened by the fact that she’ll have to marry me? He wanted so badly to call it off. He, for one, respected her wishes. If she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t have to. Just because I want to…
He felt the thing growling again. He had hid that from her. Ever since they had been very young, he had always had an… an attraction to her. He never acted on it. They were friends then, it wasn’t appropriate. When Leroy had approached him, he had imagined that she had requested it, that she had wanted it, that his dream had finally come true… until her coldness crushed him.
He remembered that as well. He had finally, for once, gotten permission to go on the hill, into the governor’s house, to see her. He remembered how spectacular she had looked. For once, she had not worn red. She had on the most beautiful green dress he had ever seen. He was completely immersed in the moment, completely excited that this was finally real. But she would not open up to him. She was completely oblivious. It was like a business affair, like they were negotiating terms. When he realized it was arranged, he stopped requesting to see her. It seemed out of pity that she had come down to see him, but it had never been anything more than their first meeting. Today, at least, she seemed to be trying. But he didn’t want her to try to feel something that wasn’t already there. He wanted to call it off, but Thesle would not hear it. No matter which title Alexander had, he could never trump Thesle’s authority… and that made him angrier than he would ever admit.
He stared at the wall again. He needed to distract himself from all of this. It just isn’t going to work, mate. You need to give it up, and you need to make her give it up too. Just deal with it. He looked at the maps again, but they didn’t mean anything anymore. A knock at his door brought him back to reality. “Yes.”
A soldier entered. His name was Rupert Barker. He was older, probably one of the oldest men he had. “Sir.”
“Have you determined anything, Mr. Barker?”
“I think they figured out how he came in, but as for where he is…”
“So you think it was a person, and not an animal.”
“I think we would know by now if an animal was wondering around Sulci. You know how the people feel about anything outside of the wall. The second a deer starts eating someone’s flowers there will be a bigger uproar than any Pons soldier could elicit.”
That’s exactly what I thought. “Tell me what you know.”
“This morning, very early, the guards at the right end – behind the prison, above the drain – moved from their posts. They won’t tell us why.”
“Who are these soldiers?”
“We have them in the supply house. It was the only place we could find privacy.”
Alexander stood quickly and stormed past Barker. The supply house was at the left end of the wall, opposite of the drain. Alexander had moved it there on purpose, in case something like this happened. Barker followed, had to nearly run to keep up with Alexander’s long, quick strides. Alexander threw the door open. Some off duty soldiers were there, standing around two men in chairs. They looked terrified. “Gentlemen,” Alexander said fiercely, “Could you enlighten me as to exactly why you chose to leave your position this morning? And who removed the dogs? We have dogs tied there for a reason.”
One man spoke up. “I… sir… we…”
“I have no patience for stuttering. You will tell me why you left, in an understandable and respectable tone, or you will be shot.”
The other man spoke now. “Sir, the dogs broke off.”
“Their chains broke. We had to go retrieve them.”
“Those chains are made of the best metal Sulci has. Are you telling me that the best metal in Sulci is not good enough to hold dogs?”
The first man spoke. “They ripped the chains out of the wall, sir.”
Alexander sighed. “Are you aware that someone snuck into the city while you were gone?”
The men looked at each other. “Sir, the other guards…”
“There is a reason why I have that area guarded. You were supposed to be guarding it. Other men are guarding other areas. Do you expect them to do everything for you? If you were going to leave, you should have found a temporary replacement. You know that.” The men were silent. “You know full well what I expect from my men, and you did not follow your duties. You had best not be seen anywhere near that wall again. I don’t need defensive hazards like you letting in spies.” He straightened himself out. “The rest of you will meet me at my office. We have a spy to find, or not find, if he is even here. Either way, this entire city will be turned upside down until we can prove, or disprove, that there is anyone dangerous here. And the next soldier that neglects his defensive duties will be shot on contact.”
There was a soft knock on the door frame. Alexander spun around quickly. Another soldier was standing there with something in his hands. “Sir, we found this. We have a citizen who is complaining that his house was broken into. We found these in the ally.”
Alexander approached the soldier. What they had found were clothes. They were ripped up and bloody. “Was anything taken from the house?”
“Yes. Clothes, some medical supplies, and a loaf of bread.”
Alexander smiled. A spy, yes, but a stupid spy. He turned back to the men he had just interrogated. “Gentlemen, congratulations. We do have a spy. From the looks of things, he is hurt and hungry. He should not be too hard to find. You will find him. Do I make myself clear? Search everywhere. And fix the damned dog chains.”