She held off from making the shot for as long as her conscience could allow.
"Is there a message for me?" she asked the soldier from the depot, the tenth time she'd asked in the last hour.
The boy, who would have been too young to enlist prior to conscription, shook his head apologetically. "The delivery hasn't arrived yet, Captain Martoc," he said, voice high and squeaky. "I'll come find you as soon as it does."
Nodding, Pienya strode away, her armour clinking against itself, a slender sword at her back and her customary daggers sheathed against her thighs. She was ready to fight, as was the army, which lay poised, arranged into a loose formation that from a distance was intended to look like ordinary training clusters; with any luck, observers within the city would not realise that they were mobilising for an assault. Even the soldiers knew little of what was to come, remaining relaxed and jovial, the camaraderie of the battlefront fostering a false sense of calm and humour. She could tell the enlisted troops from the conscripts, by both their posture and their attitude: the former were professional, focused, while the conscripts were more glum and prone to moments of disruption and disobedience. It was the largest army in living memory, perhaps since the great war centuries ago, but it was not the finest. There was an inconsistency to how it carried itself; a slackness around the edges. It would be useful as a blunt force with which to bludgeon Bruckin, but Pienya could see only its flaws and weaknesses.
The city owned the view from the camp, framed against the mountains with its towers clawing up towards the sky. The lower city was concealed behind Bruckin's tall walls and gates, all twice as a tall as the average Lagonian building, with only the upper levels and towers visible from the fields. It was a vertical maze, looking from afar more like a complex series of pipes than actual buildings. The tiered city, pushed up against the mountainside, had chosen to build up instead of out, as if the city's designers had wished to drag themselves bodily up the mountains and escape from the valley entirely.
The King was a fool. She'd always suspected as much, though had never admitted it even to herself. She had assumed Guijus Tellador to be as one with Anja Tellador, and thus feared that to criticise one was to criticise both. That was no longer the case - possibly had never been the case - yet here she was, still subservient to the man and his idiot's understanding of conflict. War was the realm of professionals, not fit for armchair strategists more used to wine and feasts.
The generals, too, had disappointed her. Zdarton had always been a sycophant, happy to adjust his moral compass to suit the King and his own advancement. Stover, however, had struck her as a more capable person, confident enough in his expertise to hold his ground. The problem, inevitably, was that war was nothing more than theory for any of them - the Treydolain army, such as it had been prior to this moment, had only to concern itself with minor skirmishes, criminal gangs and other inconsequential unrest. They had never been truly put to the test, resulting in a slumbering complacency which was yet to fully wake.
A series of towers stood out from the rest, being taller and more concentrated than the rest in the city. The strategy tent contained stacks of maps of the local terrain and the interior of the city, from which both the original and new plans of attack had been designed. As the King had orchestrated his assault on the city, each instruction revealing his lack of experience, Pienya had quietly studied the city plans, identifying as best she could which tower on the horizon corresponded with the maps. After much cross-checking, she had identified a particular tower which served as the seat of governing for the city: it was where the Liefs lived and worked, and where the city council met and plotted. The tower, with its larger, oval higher floors, was clearly visible from the army camp, and its upper floors were dotted with windows. They were too distant to make out much in the way of interior detail, of course, even with Pienya's clarity of sight, but it might be enough.
YOU ARE READING
The Mechanical CrownFantasy
An explorer, a princess, a slave and a sword. A belief that the world can be better. The Mechanical Crown is an epic adventure full of intrigue, mystery and romance. When Tranton Seldon becomes the first to cross the mountains in hundreds of years...