Outside the tent, there was somewhat of a commotion.
The common soldiers, who were perhaps not quite as disciplined as they should be after weeks of running about in the forest, clustered at a safe distance and stared at the neat ranks of the Scarlets, whispering. The Scarlets stood rigidly to attention, their blood-red cloaks clean, their breastplates gleaming despite their surroundings, their eyes fixed on the middle distance.
And in front of them, standing quite casually, deep brown eyes faintly amused, was Prince Berengar, looking at Captain Reese. Captain Reese was not looking at Prince Berengar; this was because Donovan had him face-down to the earth, kneeling on his back with one of his arms twisted up to keep him there.
As Khoreia approached, her fine face rigid with anger, she recognised at once the Prince and her brother and slowed her pace, taking in the scene.
"My prince," she said, making the gestures of respect with a sincerity that was most out of character. "May I ask what has happened here?"
"Ah Khoreia," Berengar said easily. "Wonderful to see you, my lady. Is this man yours?"
He indicated the prone Captain, who spat out leafmould and cried out imploringly , "Khoreia, beautiful one, tell them to let me free-ack!"
Donovan had given his arm a painful wrench.
"Silence," he commanded, and smiled at his sister with something approaching malice.
"Have you been playing with our grandmother's love magics again?" he enquired, with venomous politeness. "She did always tell you, be careful to whom you apply them..."
Khoreia bared her teeth at him, then turned back to Berengar and bowed her head.
"What has he done?"
"Oh, he was most rude; I do not think he recognised me, but that is hardly an excuse, is it? And he's quite unacceptably scruffy for a captain. I was thinking of having him executed-slowly-with your permission, of course, if he belongs to you."
It was clear that, even if Khoreia did not wish it to be so, her opinion would not be listened to. Berengar had that faint, amused smile fixed once again on his face, and his eyes were watchful. Khoreia swallowed, and glanced over at the common soldiers; Sergeant Esben stood with them, his face impassive, his eyes hard as flints. And Khoreia knew that if their captain were executed, the sergeant would promptly remove his men. And while Berengar may not care, Khoreia herself did not trust him or the Scarlets.
"I would not...would not want to put you to the trouble, my prince," she whispered. "I can punish him myself-"
"Oh, it's no trouble," Prince Berengar cut her off almost cheerfully. "I've had one man executed already on this little jaunt. You did say he was dead, didn't you Private Arktophonos?"
He swung round quite suddenly and pointed at the man he had tasked to kill Corporal Mecho. The private's face blanched and he nodded hastily.
"Yes, my prince! Quite dead!"
"Excellent," Berengar purred, turning back to Khoreia. "So you see, it's hardly a trouble. But if you would prefer to play with him yourself...take him. I'm tired of looking at him grovelling in the dirt like that. But whatever you choose to do with him, make sure he's relieved of his command...somehow."
Khoreia nodded. Donovan rather reluctantly removed his knee from the small of Captain Reese's back and allowed the man to stagger to his feet, his face white and his eyes wild. Khoreia seized his wrist.
"If you would excuse me, my prince, I will go and ensure that he is properly dealt with. You will wish to look around the camp-take this man's tent for your own use. My prince?"
Berengar, his attention already wandering, waved a hand in dismissal and walked away, his squad of Scarlets marching after him in perfect time. Khoreia hissed through her teeth and strode away to her own tent, towing the unfortunate Reese behind her. As she passed the soldiers, who were watching in wide-eyed surprise and whispering anxiously amongst themselves, she clicked her fingers for Sergeant Esben to follow.
Back in her tent, she pushed Reese, who was obviously in a state of shock, into a chair and turned to look at the sergeant, who looked back at her without expression.
"Don't give me that," she hissed. "I know that you command these men more than this useless lump ever did. I also know that you will not stand for him to be killed. I do not want you leaving me alone with the Prince and his Scarlets, but Reese must be removed somehow or the Prince will have me removed."
Sergeant Esben put his hands behind his back and looked at Reese, who stared back blankly.
"Would the Prince examine th' common soldiers, ma'am?" he said slowly. Khoreia shook her head impatiently.
"Once, probably soon. But after that he will most probably ignore them."
"Then we put Reese in th' ranks, ma'am. Keep 'im here until Berengar as looked at th' men...tell 'im you're torturin' him or somethin', ma'am, if you'll pardon...then tailor his uniform and make 'im a private, say. He will be able to...inspire the men still, but Prince Berengar will not see him there."
Khoreia examined this plan for flaws, found none, and smiled a grim little smile.
"Do it, man. But if the Prince finds him still around, it will be your head that rolls."