The tent flap opened, and an aide-de-camp ducked through. "Begging Your Royal Highness's leave to report!" he said. "The Regimiento Ligera de Borrachin and one regiment of the Arnauts have formed line opposite each other on the parade ground! At least some of the soldiers appear to be in arms!"
Joern Carlos swore under his breath. Rising to his feet, he drained the glass, tossed it aside uncaring, took up his uniform coat and swordbelt in one hand, and with the other seized the aide by a lapel. "Summon Capitan Cebolla and a troop of lanceros, you horse's ass...and get out of my tent!" He shoved the luckless aide back through the flap, sending him reeling into the dusk of the courtyard. The aide picked himself up, bowed hastily, and fled in the direction of the lancers' encampment as Joern Carlos buckled on his sword and donned the coat of Regimiento Principe Corona. "I want my horse here in thirty seconds," he bellowed, "and I'll gut the wretch who dares to bring it in thirty-one!"
In rather less than thirty seconds, he was swinging into the saddle. As he rode through the gate, he looked over his shoulder and saw Capitan Cebolla and perhaps a dozen lanceros a hundred or so paces behind, with more strung out in a ragged file receding into the distance and gathering night. "Follow me!" the Crown Prince called, and spurred his mount to a gallop, heading for the parade ground.
"What in the name of Lost Ulfda is the meaning of this madness?" demanded a hatless Colonel Don Miguel de Cartulina, proprietor of Regimiento Ligera de Borrachin. The object of the inquiry, a young fire-eater of a junior officer by the name of Teniente Cristobal Comedor de Fuego, looked coolly over his shoulder as he attempted to dress the ranks of the regiment as they jeered insults across the field at the Moers and were jeered in return. "There is no need for you to witness this, Don Miguel," said the lieutenant. "We have borne the insults of those enemies of the Faith long enough. Now the brigands have taken unconscionable liberties among the camp followers, and killed a soldier of the regiment who dared object. Two others are wounded; one will not likely live the night.
"They must be taught a lesson in manners, and it were better if the Colonel were to absent himself."
Don Miguel clapped a hand to his sword hilt. "Fool! Provocation or no, do you think to start a civil war all by yourself?" He turned to the line of soldiers. "Men of de Borrachin! I order you to stand down at once and return to your encampment! Obey now and I promise you will receive no punishment!" Well, you won't all be executed, he thought.
A hand on his sword arm. Don Miguel turned to find Teniente Comedor de Fuego and another junior officer he did not recognize in the twilight, the latter with drawn sword and pistol in hand. "I am most dreadfully sorry, Don Miguel," said Comedor de Fuego, "but I must ask you to depart. How you choose to do so is your choice."
Don Miguel spluttered, face purpling, but before he could speak, another commotion drew the attention of those nearby. A small party of horsemen clattered onto the parade ground between the gathering lines. The lead horseman spurred toward the colors of de Borrachin and reined up.
"Give me that, you worthless get of a whore!" shrieked the horseman, and Don Miguel knew the voice. His Royal Highness! Oh, that will cast oil upon the waters. Greek fire, more likely! If I am very very fortunate, the Almighty will strike me with lightning now, that I may not see what is about to unfold.
Seizing the Regimentsfahne from a stunned color sergeant, Joern Carlos wheeled his horse and, followed by Capitan Cebolla of the lanceros, spurred toward the outlandish (to the eyes of the Scandalusians) color party of the Arnauts. As he approached within twenty paces of the Arnauts, he tossed the regimental colors, pole vertical, behind him. Cebolla alertly plucked the Regimentsfahne from the air, and the Crown Prince seized the gonfalon-like banner of the Arnauts before any of the Moers could mount an effective protest.
Signaling Cebolla to follow, he wheeled again and rode up the lines to the end, where he turned and rode all the way back down. Three times he did this: then, returning to the center of the lines, fifty or so paces from either, he reined up his sweating, trembling horse and dismounted.
Joern Carlos accepted the Regimentsfahne of de Borrachin from Capitan Cebolla, drove the butt-spikes of each of the banners into the turf so that they stood unsupported, and drew his sword.
"Now!" he shouted, turning to face each of the lines in succession, "if you miserable catamites wish to see a man's blood, perhaps among you there are those with the courage to try to see mine! Eh? Kill me, if any of you have anything between your legs!
"Well? Come on! Go ahead! What are you waiting for? Deliver us all to the Gallians, to salve your pitiful pride, pride you have not begun to earn!"
As he harangued the opposing troops, he could see non-comissioned officers ranging up and down the lines, apparently exhorting the soldiers to stand down. In the deepening twilight it was hard to be certain, but he thought he might have seen an Arnaut start to level a musket, only to be clubbed to the ground by the man next to him.
Presently, both lines fell silent and still. After a moment, Don Miguel crossed the field, and an officer of the Arnauts did likewise. "Your Royal Highness," the latter said, bowing, "I am Tariq el Fadil, second in command of this regiment. The senior officer cannot be found, and I fear the worst. I regret that I was unable to prevent my men from acting as they have done." The darkly handsome, purple-coated, red-trousered officer faced the Crown Prince with steady gaze and composed features -- if not without fear, certainly with equanimity.
The Crown Prince mastered himself with an effort he made as extravagant as he could manage. Nodding curtly to the Arnaut officer, he turned slightly to take in both el Fadil and Don Miguel with a scowl. "This intolerable breach of discipline..." he began through gritted teeth and then favored both with another effort at self-mastery "...I am prepared to overlook, to the extent practicable, given unfamiliarity of each with the customs of the other, along with the unseasonable heat.
"Some gesture I must make owing to any killed or wounded in this affair -- it might be easier, el Fadil, were your commanding officer never to be found; we must take notice of a murder, but we may shrug at a mystery -- but I think it better not to inflame passions among our peoples in this delicate time.
"Here is my will in this matter," Joern Carlos said, raising and harshening his voice to be heard up and down the lines. "Your regiments will return to their respective camps and stack arms -- and colors -- along the road. These will be collected by Infanteria de Principe Corona and the Lanceros de Cuatrofenia. The regiments will participate in the remainder of the exercise without arms or colors, these to be returned at the conclusion of the season, provided there are no further incidents of any kind.
"You two" -- he gesticulated at Don Miguel and el Fadil -- "I shall hold personally responsible for the conduct of your commands. Fail me, and I'll have your guts for garters and your skulls for spittoons! You are dismissed!" Without another word or a backward look, he sheathed his sword, stalked to his horse, swung into the saddle, and rode off at a canter. Behind him, the lines began to break up, as non-commissioned officers took their troops in hand.
A performance worthy of the Henrovian stage, Joern Carlos thought. Again. What we do for those in our care....
Though he did not permit himself to sag in the saddle, he lowered his chin a little, and his scowl deepened.
(Editor's note: I had to make some changes to be consistent with prior accounts. Also, I wonder if I'm not getting a little too ambitious.)
4 weeks ago