A lone candle sat upon a hardwood desk, casting a wavering light over the piles of paperwork that were scattered over its surface. The stone chamber where the desk sat was silent, except for the sound of a quill pen as it scratched its way across several sheets of parchment. The man who commanded the pen also commanded Britannia’s Royal Guard. At 52, Lord Commander Gerard Brenwall was still hale and hearty for his age. His features firm, his skin tanned and weathered. To his chagrin, there were streaks of silver invading his jet black hair, which he kept cropped short as he’d done since he was a youth. He sometimes wished that old age were an enemy he could rout on the battlefield. Though he couldn’t fight this foe, he faced it with respect; a soldier wasn’t always afforded the luxury of a long life. The candle’s light began to flicker. Looking up from his work from under bushy eyebrows, Gerard scowled at the candle. As if in response, the flame steadied itself. Grunting in satisfaction, he returned to his work. Since the Queen had commanded the Royal Guard’s involvement in the war with the Bane Chosen, the Commander’s life had become an endless parade of supply manifests, troop dispatches, and progress reports. The entrance to the guard’s barracks on the Castle grounds had been transformed from a room once used for greeting guests or doing a bit of light paperwork to a makeshift command center. A bookshelf had been hastily erected to hold important documents. Maps and other paper work were spread out across every available surface. Unable to find another place for them, several shipments of supplies had also taken up residence there. Crammed into the corner were several wooden benches, which were being used as a temporary waiting area. With her husband still missing and the steady advance of the Bane Chosen, there were rumors that the Queen had become desperate. Gerard had no time for rumors, so he paid them little mind. But he was concerned for his Queen. Unwaveringly loyal to the crown, the Commander found the possibility that Dawn was beginning to falter a disturbing idea. If troublesome thoughts and the Bane Chosen weren’t enough, he’d received reports that several bands of brigands had apparently become emboldened by the war. Last week, a supply caravan on its way to Britain had been ambushed near Cove, its cargo stolen and its guards killed. He fished the missive from a pile of papers and scrutinized it in the candle light. He stood and sighed. Folding the report and tucking it into his belt, he made his way to the door. He pulled on the wrought iron handle and poked his head out into the frigid night air, addressing one of the guards stationed outside. “Hail a messenger. Tell him to locate Sir Markham, he is to report to me at once.” —– It was several hours before the Commander heard a commotion outside. The door swung open, admitting a man dressed head-to-toe in black leather armor. He was tall, well-built, and an imposing sight. His face was covered in a cloth mask that he pulled down to his neck before saluting and addressing his superior. “Reporting as ordered, my Lord.” Gerard stood, extending his arm for a handshake. “Sir Markham, took you long enough.” He motioned for the Knight to take the seat opposite his desk. “I have something here for you,” he said, pulling the report from his belt and tossing it on the desk. “I apologize, sir. It took a while for your messenger to locate us.” Sir Markham sat and unfolded the parchment, holding it up to the candle for better light. “Brigands,” he muttered, and continued to scan the report. He looked up, “what are my orders, sir?” “Your efforts in the field have been exemplary. Your lightning raids on the Bane Chosen have harried them in several key areas. We’re making steady progress against them, much to thanks to the citizenry as much as our own efforts. However, the threat to our supply lines could undermine the little success we’ve had. I want you to track down the brigands. Gather a team, find out what the brigands are up to, and then take them out.” Markham stood and saluted. Pulling his mask back up over his face, he disappeared out the door and into the night. --- Cross-posted here on the Lake Austin EM Website.