The Riders of the King's Own

Mission Brief
Kul Nimay

Nyan rana yn Kul Nimay, di nyan yn Maralu.

Ah yes, the swordswoman speaks. I’m not completely incapable of communicating with words, only the spoken ones, but I don’t see them as a necessity. They’re used too often to hide what the speaker’s actually feeling. It’s so much harder to lie with your eyes. But this isn’t a deep and meaningful discussion of human nature, just a straight out retelling of a mission with the King’s Own.

How ironic.

Seeing as I’ve been lovingly appointed as General of this little group, I’ve been put in charge of giving the mission brief. It will be interesting to see how many of the guys read this once I’ve written it. The blade archers most definitely, Anganur I wouldn’t be surprised to see nosing into the file. How in Lin’s sweet name Rau managed to get them all to actually listen to the mission briefing, I’ll never know. I guess now I know why they’re mission briefs though. Anything longer than brief and I’ll have lost them.

Maybe it’s a male thing.

Two paragraphs and I’ve already made two deep and meaningful points on human nature. What can I say? I know people. And you wonder how I ended up as General.

Generally we get briefed on the next mission four to six days before we’re due to leave, giving us time to find everything we need, bid farewell to anyone who needs to be farewelled, and generally tie up any loose ends should we happen to die on the road.

Don’t any of you dare laugh. It’s happened twice in my time with the Own already, and much as we try to avoid it, it’s bound to happen a few more times before I’m forcibly retired myself. Of course, I hope for that to be by a Raykinian rather than by a Kazinian, but only time will tell.

For this particular mission, we’ve been given five days notice, which is probably just when this Aeia-damned heatwave will reach its conclusion. It would figure, that we’d leave the city behind just as there’s something of a reprise from the heat.

Nolryn and I were flaked out—wait. Should I be referring to him as Highness in this soon-to-be public document? Aeia no, I know him as Nol, so Nol he shall remain. Don’t anyone get the idea that you can call him by his first name yourselves though, because I can’t be held responsible for any injuries—to your person or to your coin purse—that you may sustain through the course of such actions.

So, Nolryn and I were flaked out yesterday in what is habitually the coolest room in the palace when Majesty dragged us to the throne room by way of a messenger. After simultaneous groans—there’s only one reason why the crown prince and General of the King’s Own are summoned to the throne room, plus it meant movement, which is never an enjoyable experience during a Raykinian heatwave—we trudged along behind the poor messenger towards the aforementioned room, which of course happens to be on the opposite side of the palace to where we were. Yes, Own life is tough.

The throne room, it must be said, is an impressive room, if somewhat ostentatious. Not as bad as the Llayans or the Kazinians, I’ll admit, but for a Raykinian room, it’s rather garish. Too much gold, I think is the problem, the single purpose of which is to impress said Llayans and Kazinians. The thrones themselves are carved from mahogany, which, as every Raykinian will know, is worth more than its weight in gold.

Majesty was not seated in his throne. It’s cushioned with velvet, very uncomfortable during a heatwave, and very impractical in that there’s no desk or maps handy. It works well enough for the less cartographically-inclined discussions with ministers for education and roads and whatnot, but debriefing for a mission with the Own needs a map, so we found him in his office off to the side.

Instead of being lined with gold and mahogany, Majesty’s study is walled with books and maps with various sheets of parchment scattered in what we can only hope is some semblance of order over every free surface. He was almost literally melted into the chair behind his desk—which is more table than desk. He may have once been with the blade archers, but any hint of fitness from that era has long passed.

“I hope you don’t mind if I’m half-dead while I’m briefing you,” he apologised wearily.

“Only if we can half-die while being briefed.”

“Knock yourselves out.”

Oh yes, those two are most definitely father and son.

“I’ve thought about what you were saying earlier, Nolryn.”

I blinked in surprise. Apparently our dear prince does have some good ideas. And here we thought he was bluffing the whole time.

“And since the outcome can’t be any worse than any other method we’ve tried, I figure we may as well try it your way.” More surprised blinks. “If this mission is pulled off without a hitch, then we’ll continue.”

It must be clarified now that a ‘hitch’ is basically a synonym for ‘death’. If we return from a mission with three broken legs and five broken arms, but nobody’s died, the mission is deemed successful. As Nol said in the introduction, there are reasons why we’re the highest paid in the kingdom bar the Generals. It must also be clarified that I, being General of the Own, don’t earn any more than the fourteen guys I work with. There’s not supposed to be any glory in this job, otherwise it could well cloud judgement, either mine or that of the men under my command.

Both Nol and I already knew from what Majesty had told us—that he was accepting Nol’s proposal—what the mission brief was, so we launched straight into questions. How many people have died already? Are the caravans still travelling to Silrona? Are there any professionals among them? Are they still rebelling against Silrona’s queen? How many are we up against? How much coin are we getting out of this? How many did you say we were up against again? And how much coin? Standard questions when faced with any business proposition, I should imagine.

I’m not entirely positive how long these meetings usually take during more pleasurable temperatures, but Nol commented afterwards that it was quite painless, so I can only assume they habitually take longer.

Lin save me.

From an hour after lunch right through until an hour after I would have liked to have eaten dinner, we were poking maps and asking questions, gleaning as much information about the mission as we could stand. Ordinarily we would then round up the other thirteen Maralu and condense that into about thirty heartbeats, but I’m a nice General. I don’t rule with an iron fist. Plus they weren’t all in a nice easy-to-trap group at the time.

So I sent out messengers to find each of them, most of whom were at the ‘Thrai or flaked out at home, and let them know to meet at dawn the next day, so they could all be home again and flaking out before the midday heat hit.

Like I say, I know people. As predicted, by breakfast they had assembled in my office, and I’d had them all briefed and back home before the heat of the day had reached its crescendo.

I have to say, mission briefing is one time when words would be useful, but we make do. Pointing at Silrona is usually enough to set the groans off. This particular mission though, as Majesty said, is a little different to how we normally tackle Silrona, in that we’re heading up there with our main purpose being to bear arms and kill some Kazinians.

In recent years, gangs of Kazinian bandits in Silrona and Sissillya especially have been attacking Raykinian trading carts as they travel through the regions, looting the wagons of any coin or other valuable possessions and, more often than not, killing every person riding with the caravan. On the odd occasion when the bandits have been merciful or lazy enough to leave the merchants alive, the news has been relayed down to Ni-Yana.

Trading stops, or at least slows, for the next few months while the valiant protectors of Raykin skip up north, do some valiant protector deeds, skip back down south and declare the trade routes safe once more.

Until now, our valiant protector deeds have been talking to various Kazinian officials—the queens of Silrona and Sissillya, ministers for crime, Generals of not only the Silronan and Sissillyan armies, but of the Kazinian army as well, and a few years back we even escorted Majesty into Assiraz to speak with Empress Shizaaqa. The fact is, Kazinians aren’t ones for talking.

The situation maybe dies down for a few months, but we suspect that’s more as a result of the Own’s presence along the trading routes and scaring off any bandit groups rather than any lasting effect brought on by whichever official we’ve talked to on that mission.

This time we’re being more proactive. The raw brief is to uproot every bandit group we can find between Raykin and the city of Silrona then return triumphantly to Ni-Yana. It’s no long term solution, but that’s just one mission. This is going to end up being something of a campaign.

The mission after this one will involve dragging the whole of First and Second Company up there, swordsmen, archers, blade archers and pikemen, and stationing them along the road for as long as it takes to make the Kazinians realise we don’t take lightly to our caravans being raped and pillaged. A year, a decade, we don’t know.

Of course, this then begs the obvious question, “Won’t Kazin retaliate?”

We’re hoping two things in this respect: that Kazin is too disorganised to actually initiate a retaliation, and that anything they are able to organise is too weak to deal with eight hundred of the best warriors in Raykin.

At present, there are at least fifteen separate armies in Kazin, one or two for each province and the two main Kazinian armies. The fight more often with each other than they do with Raykin. In most cases, the armies hate their Generals, the Generals can’t stand each other, the queen of the province has trouble controlling the Generals, the Generals do their best to outrank the queen, and everyone hates Empress Shizaaqa. Trying to get a simple “‘Fight!’ ‘Yes sir!’” out of anywhere in that kingdom is a near-impossibility.

I highly doubt they’d even notice our nicely organised little army until a year after it had arrived. That’s what we’re hoping, anyway. Silrona is likely the only region to care, and their army, should it respond, is only around four hundred strong, so they shouldn’t provide too much of a hassle. Our only worry is if the Kazinian army feels they should involve themselves, in which case Raykin… won’t be in the safest of positions. The full Kazinian army, at last count, had a good three thousand members. Raykin’s has seventeen hundred, less the eight hundred we’re stationing in Silrona. Nine hundred against three thousand. It’s not a happy prospect.

However, we’re not expecting the Kazinian army to be a problem. We could march all seventeen hundred of us into Assiraz and raze the city to the ground and they’d still be arguing over leadership and who should have the right to blow the battle horn. They’re not known for their organisational skills.

But that’s the next mission. This particular one is straight forward enough.

We’ve had reports that there are about ten groups of bandits causing problems right now, some with professional army personnel leading them, ranging between five and thirty members in each group, so let’s call it two hundred in all.

Two hundred against fifteen. Nothing we can’t handle. As we keep saying, there are reasons why we’re the highest paid in the kingdom save the Generals.

Of course, the odds aren’t quite as good as nine hundred against three thousand, but they’ll be in groups of at most forty at a time, and most of them have no formal weapons training to speak of. Fear not, gentle citizens of Raykin, we can take them. Or have already, as the case most certainly will be once this document is actually read by civilian eyes.

Which brings me to another point: Yoryl, Kaen, Anganur and any other Maralu reading this for the mission brief, you may stop reading now. There’ll be no further information to be gleaned from this, I’m afraid. Ask me or Nol if you still have questions. You all knew this document would be the raw basics anyway, with minimal technical references.

So there’s the mission brief, and now you know exactly what we’re up against. There are similar odds for every mission we go on, except that this time we’ll be attacking outright rather than essentially defending, so that probably swings the odds in our favour a little more.

This is how I think before every mission, putting things in perspective. There’s the raw number of fifteen against two hundred, but there are other things to factor in as well. If it was just us standing up against two hundred Kazinian warriors, we wouldn’t have a hope. We might be able to knock off a third of them, maybe, but not all two hundred.

So then you break it down. The two hundred bandits aren’t all going to attack at once. They’re spread along the road, and even if they banded two or three groups together, they couldn’t get more than forty together at once. We’ve taken on forty Kazinian archers before, and have emerged from the other side of battle with at worst three men with an arrow lodged somewhere on their person. These encounters have never been fatal though. It’s when numbers escalate to sixty or more that we get anxious.

And those are the statistics for professional archers. Bandits, with maybe two or three professional archers to guide them, would pose little threat if there were eighty of them. Two hundred at once would be cause for concern, but we’ve already established that there’ll be no more than forty in any one encounter.

That said, don’t take fourteen of your friends into Kazin and try to take on forty Kazinian bandits in one go. We’re not gods, but we have more fighting skill than anyone else in the kingdom.

So after the mission brief comes the preparation. I handed Haenel his list of requirements at the end of the briefing today, so he’s had a good giggle over that. Rau started the tradition of listing quite literally everything on that sheet of parchment, so that at first glance it’s the most daunting thing you’ve ever seen, but once you start breaking it down it’s just that much easier, and you have a bit of a giggle, especially once you reach item twenty-three. I’ll never forget Nol’s comment upon seeing that one before our first mission.

“I’m hardly going to walk over the bridge and say, ‘Hold up a moment, boys, I’ve left my horse behind.’”

I figured I’d keep the tradition going for any new member who makes it in. You end up crossing off all the ones that are going to come with you whether you thought about it or not—weapon of choice (sword, in my case), riding boots, army shirt, saddle, horse… And then there are some, like insect repellent, that’s only needed on certain missions. No insects will attack in the dead of the southern Kazinian winter. I’m tempted to leave my bow and arrows behind on every mission, but someone always thrusts the Aeia-damned things on me just as we’re saddling up to leave. They’re yet to serve any practical purpose. We have enough projectiles in the Own without having to add my less than adequate archery skills to the fray. Still, if it keeps them happy, I guess I should go find them.

Introduction      Week 1