Leader And Friend
“What’s the fuss, Jung?” asked Tomora Ynthon, looking up as his aide charged into his room. It was the second dusk since Tomora had returned to his unit’s camp; he had spent the day talking individually with his men, and was tired from a full day of receiving reports and giving orders. He was slumped in a large, ornate chair, fiddling with an empty glass.
“Commander Elkut sent a runner ahead,” panted Jung. “He’ll be here in about an hour.”
“News travels fast,” whistled the commander. “Very well. Elkut will be here soon to transfer command of the northern division to me. While I appreciate your dedication, Jung, you needn’t wear yourself out reporting something so simple with such urgency.”
Jung took a deep breath.
“The runner said to prepare for grim news.”
“Hahaha,” said Tomora, and Jung cringed. “Elkut doesn’t know the meaning of grim.”
“Y-yes, sir,” Jung said.
“Did you put Elkut’s runner up in the soldier’s quarters?”
“Very good. I will have you sit in on my meeting with Elkut.” Jung nodded as Tomora rose and placed his glass on the long wooden table which occupied most of the room. The commander walked over to a small dresser in one corner and retrieved from it two items: a tall black hat and a golden badge. He fastened the badge to his left shoulder and settled the hat on his head.
“I’ve never seen headgear like that before,” commented Jung. Mid-morning, Tomora had instructed the aide to be as openly curious as possible, claiming that it would help the youth learn his job more quickly.
“It’s common where I come from,” replied Tomora. “It’s called a ‘top hat,’ and it’s the sign of a gentleman.”
“A top hat, sir,” repeated Jung. “It looks quite sharp.”
“Good looks are important when you want to intimidate someone, Jung. Remember that for when you become an officer.” Jung laughed awkwardly. Tomora began rummaging in one of the dresser drawers.
“What are you looking for?” the aide inquired.
“Ah, I keep some paper and ink in this drawer,” said Tomora, turning to face his aide and pointing at the piles of thin white stuff. “If you ever need to jot anything down, feel free to grab some stationery from here.” Jung merely nodded in amazement. He had never seen paper before. “Anyway, I was looking for my best quill,” Tomora continued, returning to his rummaging, “because, as I said, good looks are important.”
After a minute the commander exclaimed, “aha!” and returned to the table, depositing upon it two sheets of paper, an inkwell, and an iridescent peacock feather quill pen.
“Preparations complete in what, three minutes?” Tomora asked. Jung nodded. “See, you didn’t need to wind yourself reporting. Go outside and guide Elkut here when he arrives, will you?” With a salute, Jung excused himself.
Tomora sat down in the largest seat in the room, paper and ink and pen before him, and waited.
Five minutes later, he heard footsteps approaching. He wondered who it might be—maybe one of the men he had yet to meet with? Someone knocked on the door.
“Enter,” he said, not sure what to expect.
Jung walked in, terror plastered across his face.
“C-Commander Ynthon, Commander Elkut is here.”
Tomora bit his lip as a tall, broad-shouldered man with a messy shock of black hair strode past Jung. The man looked to be the Byhryn image of perfection: bronze skin, intense black eyes, a face sporting multiple battle scars. The man wore a simple brown tunic and carried a winter coat under his right arm. He bore a golden commander’s badge like Tomora’s, though his was scratched and dull. Tomora seethed as the other commander walked over and seated himself. Why did he tell his runner to say one hour if he would be here within ten minutes? Tomora wondered. Did he want me to be unprepared?
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Commander Elkut,” Tomora nodded, concealing his displeasure with a cordial smile.
“This isn’t our first encounter, Psychopath Ynthon,” said Elkut, his voice deep and rough. “I believe we met approximately two years ago.”
“My,” said Tomora, unable to think of any other response. He had forgotten the name of the commander who had signed him into the northern division’s wizard unit, but thinking about it it made sense that the same commander would still be in charge of the northern division two years later.
“You sure spread your wings like a plague.”
“Plagues don’t have wings,” Tomora objected, unsure how to otherwise handle Elkut’s statement. A statement which, Tomora realized, would have been insulting had the man not delivered it with such beautiful apathy.
“Your spread your wings rapidly. Plagues spread rapidly. But never mind, I’m not good at fanciful talk.” Elkut glared at Tomora. “Ynthon. It was no surprise to me when you became captain of your unit, but a commander! What are the Councilmen thinking, I wondered when I heard the news.”
“They must feel that I can be useful in this new position,” Tomora shrugged, his new commander’s badge catching the lamplight briefly as it moved.
“They are senile and you know it if you’ve attended a congress. Listen. The rotting geezers think you have some grand plan for taking down Cresso once and for all, and they want to entrust you with a division and a half of troops. They want to entrust you, the famous Psychopath Ynthon, with a division and a half of troops!”
“I’d appreciate it if—”
“Let me say it one more time. They want to entrust you. Psychopath Ynthon. With all my men. And half of Commander Gyru’s.”
“… I am aware of this.”
“OF COURSE YOU’RE AWARE OF THIS!” bellowed Elkut. Jung, standing behind Tomora’s chair, cringed. “Listen, Ynthon. You may have been promoted to Commander by those geezers, but not a single one of my officers considers you to be my equal. You don’t win a rank by pleasing the fogies, you make a rank by gaining trust. I’ll tell you this right now: I am not handing you the reins.”
Tomora glared at the other man.
“Shall I take them from your corpse?”
Elkut cracked a lopsided smile.
“This one will be hard for you to digest, Ynthon, but murder isn’t the solution to everything. Do you think my men will follow you if you kill me in cold blood?” Tomora said nothing. “Don’t think they don’t know the stories. We all know who you are, Ynthon, and we all know what you’ve done. No, if you don’t want Byhr to become your new Cresso, you’ll avoid slaughtering me.”
“It wouldn’t be hard to make it look like the Cressoans did it.”
“Hah! And indeed they would have!” Elkut leaned toward Tomora and pointed at his head. “Look at that obnoxiously silly thing.” He pointed at the blank papers on the table. “Look at the crimes you were about to commit. In the end, you’re Cressoan. No matter how badly you want to blend in with Byhr, you’ll always be the psychopath from Cresso.”
Tomora propped himself up on his elbows. This Elkut fellow was completely different from any of Tomora’s subordinates. The newly promoted commander had assumed that his reputation would grant him control over anyone who knew of it, but here this man was, using it against him.
“Well, I’ll give you this, Ynthon. You’re quite calculating for a madman. Instead of plotting ways of killing me, why don’t you tell me the grand plan you have for conquering Cresso? The fact that it convinced the old men doesn’t mean it’ll convince me, but I’ll give you a chance.”
“I lead overwhelming forces into the mountains and destroy any Cressoan strongholds I come by.”
Elkut rose abruptly.
“Clearly the councilmen were just having a bit of fun at the expense of a man who doesn’t understand the world around him. I personally have never enjoyed laughing at the slow-witted, so I shall bid you farewell and pretend this meeting never happened.”
Tomora Ynthon followed the other commander with his eyes as Elkut showed himself the way out, saying nothing. Jung stood behind him, awkwardly shifting his weight back and forth from one foot to the other. The door slammed shut behind Elkut and Tomora’s eyes remained fixed on it.
After minutes of painful silence, Jung sought to speak.
“Did you inventory our supplies this morning like I asked?” demanded Tomora instantly, his gaze still locked on the door.
“Er, yes,” answered Jung.
“How many days of rations do we have at our current rate of consumption?”
“How about at the minimum rate?”
“We’re at the minimum rate right now, sir.”
“Did you look at all the maps in the storehouse?”
“The nearest Cre—”
“Three days’ march north of here, sir.”
“It sure is useful having an assistant,” Ynthon said. “Nearest Byhryn outpost?”
“Two days to the west. Commander Elkut’s carriage is returning that way.”
“Nearest Byhryn town?”
“Hunton, two days to the south.”
“How many healthy horses do we have?”
“Give me riding times to the three locations.”
“Half a day each to Commander Elkut’s outpost and Hunton; the terrain between here and Cresso’s southernmost outpost is too dangerous for riding faster than marching speed.”
“You’re good,” observed Tomora.
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’d like for you to carry a message to the men, Jung.”
“Tell them that we will remain here for one more day, during which I will hold meetings with the soldiers I didn’t speak with today. After tomorrow, we will head north.”
“North?!” exclaimed Jung.
“Do you not think I’m serious?”
“I think you’re serious,” responded Jung without hesitating.
“May I ask a question?” asked the aide.
“Go ahead.” Tomora still didn’t look away from the door.
“Are you planning to defeat the Cresso Empire with just the wizard unit?”
“I made it this far as a captain,” Tomora answered. “A commander is just another name for a leader.”
“That doesn’t answer your question?” Tomora laughed, a cold, heartless laugh. Jung shuddered. “I like to think that what I accomplished in the last two years is some indication of my power, however cheapened that indication is by the councilmen’s decision to promote me based on it. I’ll continue doing what I’ve always done—fight Cresso in Byhr’s name.”
“Yes, sir,” said Jung, and he made for the door.
“Oh, one more thing, Jung,” said Tomora. Jung turned, and his gaze met the commander’s for the first time since Elkut had arrived. He felt himself withering before the twin red orbs. “There’s a Harnecian in the unit, the shortest of the lot, unruly brown hair, admirable stubble. You’ll know who I’m talking about when you see him. Send him to me.”
“Yes, sir.” Jung saluted clumsily and fled the room, feeling sorry both for his commander and for the man his commander had sent for.
As he walked the short distance between Tomora’s quarters and the repurposed warehouse that housed the troops, Jung pondered the future. He had never experienced a real battle, but he doubted that forty men alone could do much damage to the Cresso Empire, widely regarded the most powerful of all the nations. It seemed suicidal to him for their troop to advance when it was low on supplies. His curiosity was also piqued by the appellation Commander Elkut had used in speaking with Tomora; Jung had heard rumors of his leader’s ruthlessness, but he hadn’t heard of “Psychopath Ynthon.”
Jung looked up from the path to glance at the storm clouds gathering over the northern mountaintops. He decided that he would ask one of the men sooner rather than later.
He arrived at the warehouse and timidly opened one of the large doors just enough to slip in. The forty wizards were gathered about in clusters, talking and playing keys.
“Lookie, it’s Ynthon’s assistant,” observed a man whose reddish hair marked him a westerner. The rest of the men looked up from their games and fixed their eyes on Jung.
“Hi,” said the commander’s aide.
“You a wizard?” asked the largest man in the room, a one-eyed Cressoan.
“No,” replied Jung.
“Can’t play keys with wizards if you’re not a wizard,” shrugged the man, looking almost apologetic.
“He’s not here to play keys with us, Jyunor,” snorted another westerner, a man with his red hair in two long braids. “Managerial types never mingle with grunts such as ourselves.”
“Aw, c’mon, Kilon,” chuckled an easterner, “look at him. He’s scared. Be nice.” This set several of the men in the room guffawing.
“So what is the kid here for?” asked the first westerner, frowning at the aide.
Jung blinked a few times.
“I’m uh, carrying a message from Commander Ynthon,” he said. The room fell silent. “He says, we’ll remain here one more day. Tomorrow, he’ll hold meetings with those of you he didn’t get to today. After tomorrow, we head north.”
“Sounds just like him,” laughed the one-eyed Cressoan.
“Stuff it, Jyunor. Stop acting like you’re buddies with Ynthon, would you?” The speaker was a small easterner standing atop a crate. Jung looked around and confirmed that this was the Harnecian Tomora had sent for.
“We are buddies,” Jyunor protested. “Friends before joining Byhr, and still friends today!”
“He’s a commander,” declared the westerner with braids, Kilon. “He’s not a normal human like us, anymore.”
“As if he ever was,” said a third westerner. “Psychopath Ynthon, a human?” This set off more laughter throughout the room.
“My point is, we’re just a handful of faces in a sea of them, now. He’s got a division and a half under him.” Kilon shrugged and shook his head.
“Naive,” chided a Cressoan. “You were enlisted by Commander Furte, and recently at that. When Ynthon and I were enlisted, we met Commander Elkut—the man who controls the northern division. He won’t hand men over to Ynthon, not without a fight.” At his countryman’s omission of his name, Jyunor grunted indignantly. The room ignored him.
“What are you saying, Komara? Didn’t the council command that the troops be given to Ynthon?”
“What I’m saying should be pretty easy to understand. Hey, assistant boy, Elkut was here just now, right?” Jung nodded. “He met with Ynthon?” Jung nodded again. “How did that go?”
Jung hesitated, not sure whether it was his place to answer the question truthfully. How would Tomora respond to his assistant single-handedly reducing the unit’s morale? Jung didn’t want to find out. He also didn’t want to lie.
“Um, I’m sure Commander Ynthon will address that when he sees fit,” he said after deciding that he valued his standing in the commander’s eyes more than he valued the trust of the wizard unit.
“Haha, I bet I’m right,” said Komara.
“Does that mean we’re on our own?” asked Jyunor. When Jung didn’t respond, several of the other wizards echoed Jyunor’s question. Finally, Jung gave in and shook his head.
“Guess you’re wrong, Komara,” smirked Kilon. Komara chuckled quietly but said nothing. “Anything else for the managerial type to manage while he’s here?”
“Ah! Yes.” Jung shrugged off the westerner’s spite and pointed at the short Harnecian. “The commander sent for you.”
“Where I come from, it’s rude to point at people,” responded the man. “You tell me your name, I tell you mine, then I maybe consider coming back with you to Ynthon’s quarters.” Jung gulped. “You can stop pointing any time, kid.”
Jung’s arms snapped to his sides.
“And I’m Huros,” said the Harnecian, leaping down from his perch. The man’s boots never hit the ground. He glided over to the astonished Jung and nodded calmly. “Ynthon is waiting, right?”
Jung didn’t feel too sorry for the man named Huros as they made their way back to Ynthon’s quarters through a light drizzle, rain drops rolling off an invisible barrier the Harnecian had erected around himself. Jung mostly felt sorry for himself, especially as the light drizzle became a heavy downpour and drenched him. The commander’s aide’s day had just taken several turns for the worse, and all he wanted was to curl up and sleep.