"The latest reports say that the Deverenians are retreating. The scouts following them believe the army may be regrouping for a new attack."
Rathe looked Tyrius over carefully. "It would be far too much to ask that they were routed and are withdrawing." His jaw tightened as he leaned against the table in his tent. His eyes narrowed in frustration.
"Routed? I doubt it, sir. We may have beaten them back, but they will not stay that way for long." The chief scout's voice never wavered from the monotonous report tone. "They fear their generals more than they fear death."
"Smart of them," the elven general grunted. "I suppose this means we need to find a way to make them fear us more than even their generals." He turned back to his maps. "That will be all, Tyrius. Let me know when the queen's next report comes in."
The scout backed away, then paused. He looked to Rathe. "Sir..." He trailed off for a moment, then rallied. "Sir, the men are becoming restless."
Rathe glanced up from the maps, a muscle near his temple jumping. "We are all restless, Tyrius. I will not be able to rest until we are able to rejoin the queen and deal with this in person." He waved his hand over the maps and repots on his table. "Rather than trying to advise from afar."
"Is that where you were, sir? When you left?"
"No." Rathe bit off the end of the word, still studying the maps. He pulled one of Myreth Forest on top. "Leave me. Show the courier to a tent and let him to rest. I will let you know when my reply to the queen is ready."
Tyrius bowed his head in acquiescence and left the tent, leaving the general to his planning. Once the scout was gone, Rathe pulled the map of Andover from the bottom of the pile. He didn't like this. This battle should have been finished long ago, but it wasn't. Somewhere along the line, he'd lost whatever control he'd had on the situation here.
Control was something Rathe had always had over his life. Even as he had slept, awaiting the end of the geas, there had been a sense of control. A sense that, while he had given his future into another's hands, it was a promise he was able to give and receive. Even when his betrothed had left the elves and driven him nearly mad with his dreams, he had some semblance of control.
He turned away from the maps and reached into the pack he kept. He felt around and drew out a bundle of cloth. Pulling the cloth away, he exposed an arrow. To the untrained eye, it was not special. The shaft, made of wood common to the area, had been snapped behind the head. It wasn't the arrow itself that held Rathe's attention, but the fletching. He stared at it for a long time, lost in old memories…
The news of the army leaving Toris Kelt spurred Rathe to action. If it turned toward Andover, he had to be ready to attack. To that end, scouting parties watched the roads that led to the city. Movement along those roads could be reported back to the elven army in time to prepare.
The sun was high in the sky when word filtered into the camp of a returning scout party. Rathe left his tent, heading to the edge of encampment where several of his men had gathered.
"General." Tyrius nodded to him, then turned his eyes to the road once more.
The scout shook his head, his expression akin to a scenting dog. "Nothing yet. The scouts sent their runner back but he didn't see anything. We're waiting on the rest of the party…" He trailed off and pointed. "There."
Rathe turned to where Tyrius was pointing, a frown forming when he realized the scouts were carrying something with them. "You three," he said, pointing out several of his own men. "Go out and assist them with their burden." Once they were away, the general withdrew into the center of the encampment so that it would be more difficult to observe them from the city walls.
It was a little while before they arrived and stood before him. Rathe glanced at the shrouded figure they laid down, then to the scout group, his expression one of placid expectation.
One of the scouts stepped forward, clearing his throat. "I am Diodore," he said. "As you know, sir, we were sent to relieve the watch party on the southern road." When the general said nothing, he continued. "We arrived to find the designated area abandoned. We left Loic to watch the road while the rest of us conducted a search. When we found something, I sent him back ahead of us."
Rathe nodded to the shroud. "And this is what you found?"
Diodore glanced down, and then back to the general. "Yes, sir." He waved one of the others forward to uncover the figure.
"Hmm." Rathe moved forward, squatting beside the body. He recognized the man, though not by name. His gaze moved from the fallen elf's face to the wounds that had been inflicted. There was a rent in the flesh of his abdomen, which might have been a first strike, but the killing blow had been an arrow to the throat. Someone had snapped the shaft, leaving only the ragged edge of the wood protruding from the wound.
He finally stood, looking at Diodore, who had been standing silently. "Do you have the rest of the arrow with you?"
The scout looked uncomfortable for a moment, but he nodded and reached into his cloak. He withdrew a long, thin package wrapped in rough cloth. "We found others like this at the site."
Rathe took it, unwrapping the material and looking at the shaft for a moment. It took him that long to realize what he was seeing. Once he did, though, his jaw tensed and he nearly broke the arrow again as his hand tightened. He wrapped the cloth around it again, holding it out to one of those gathered around him, a young elf that could only be the runner, Loic. "Take that to my tent and place it with my belongings. I will deal with it later."
The youth took the package and bobbed his head in a nod, turning to do as instructed. Tyrius watched the boy, then looked to Rathe. "Your orders, sir?"
"We have wasted too much time on this city," the general said, turning to him. "You are my chief scout, Tyrius. Find who resists me in Andover. I want this nation over, so we can aid against the Deverenians."
The scout bowed his head. "As you command, sir."
Rathe wrapped the fabric around the arrow again. The very same arrow Diodore had handed to him that fateful day. Though he had not allowed any other to see it, Diodore and some of the others had realized the truth. The fletching was elven in origin. And there were not many who would have the courage to stand against the Queen.
It did not matter the speculation that he heard from the men. He didn't need their rumors. They were of no consequence when he knew who stood against him.
He placed the package among his belongings again, turning back to his table; his maps. The queen required his advice. He needed to turn his mind to that.
An hour passed before he left his tent, a bag in hand and holding a scroll which he gave to Tyrius. "Give that to the courier and let my second know that he has command of the encampment."
Tyrius stared for a moment, closing his hand around the scroll. "Of course, sir. May I ask why you are leaving?" He didn't expect a reply and so was surprised when the general nodded.
"I've something I need to do. Something that should have done ages ago," Rathe replied, hefting the bag. "I made a mistake by entrusting you to find those who resist in Andover." The scout opened his mouth to protest, but Rathe silenced him with an upraised hand. "Don't interrupt. It is not a failure of yours, but rather one of my own. I have known the culprit since the attack, but I had hoped that I need not move against her myself."
"Her?" Tyrius asked, brow drawn down in puzzlement.
The general merely nodded and turned toward the edge of the camp. It was time to end this, once and for all.