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Looking for a guy…

Not a journal entry, but a flashback to an earlier time in Gwenn’s life with the Resistance….

Cadet Gwenn Jade stared at the small, disheveled unit of “scouts” she’d been commissioned. After the success of her last mission, she’d been given a small command. Nothing big, but a handful of spies and scouts who were supposed to move ahead of the vanguard and report back with terrain reports, enemy engagements, and local demeanor.

They were far from the best scouts in the Resistance. Charitably, they were “a group of soldiers with few applicable skills.” She had a thief who was missing two fingers, thanks to having been caught. A drunkard who was known for his inability to gracefully lose at cards. A man-child who she was secretly hoping would go AWOL as soon as he realized his commanding officer was a woman. And Ordune.

She leaned over at the druid. “These are my guys?”

“Until you recruit others, my lady.”

Gwenn nodded. She’d already given up on getting Ordune to stop calling her that. He’d learned her identity the first time she’d met him, delirious with pain and fever, but he was gracious enough to keep her secret.

“I don’t particularly like them,” she whispered.

“Well… they lack certain qualities.”

Gwenn nodded. “I don’t mind thieves,” she whispered, nodding at the thief. “I mind thieves who get caught.”

“As you say.”

“Paolo,” she called to the thief. It wasn’t his real name, either– the Resistance was full of soldiers working under assumed and adopted identities. “Come with me.”

She walked with him around the Resistance’s winter camp, gradually steering towards the gallows. She asked him about his (fictional, no doubt) family, his past in the thieves guilds, his history with the Resistance. Finally, she stopped in front of the gallows.

“Paolo,” she said softly. “At some point in your life, you have come across thieves and spies who were better than you, correct?”

“Oh, aye, miss,” he replied, holding his mangled hand up. “Didn’ get this jus’ from the const’bull.”

“So, you know the kinds of people to avoid. The kinds of men who are more dangerous, more cut-throat, and more skilled than you?”

“Aye, miss.”

“Then here is your job under my command. Your only job. You will give me five names of men–or women– who are better at this than you are. Do you understand?”

“Aye, miss?” Paolo scratched his face. “Only problem is… two of ’ems in thar–” he gestured at the small building where those awaiting discipline were held.

“Good start,” Gwenn said, starting forward. “Get to it, Paolo– names. Three more.”

She approached the building, greeting the guard and showing her officer’s badge. Inside the small wooden structure, two men sat curled into opposite corners, facing away from each other. Gwenn approached one, a scrawny fellow with a shock of bright red hair.

“Good afternoon,” she said quietly to him. “What’s your name?”

“Fr-Frank,” the boy stammered, and Gwenn quickly realized he was, in fact, a boy.

“How did you get caught, Frank?”

“Wasn’t me! It was that lot–” he gestured across the tiny room at the other inmate. “Always makin’ cold promises–”

“I didn’t ask what you did, Frank,” Gwenn cut him off. “And I don’t give a damn what the other guy did. I asked how you got caught?”

“Bad luck, is all. Me n’ Percy wasn’t watchin’ for the guard when we nicked it–”

Gwenn nodded. “Why weren’t you watching?”

“It’s the camp– guards ain’t lookin’ for trouble inside, right?”

“Apparently, they are.” Gwenn reached a hand out, pushing the mop of hair out of his face. “You’re young, but you haven’t been doing this your whole life. Here…. let’s go for a short walk, shall we?”

When Gwenn returned for “Percy,” she had a list of three names in a slip of paper in her pocket. Percy gave her four more.

Of the seven, five had no records of disciplinary actions against them. They weren’t outstanding soldiers, by any stretch of the imagination. They kept their heads down, but always seemed to have just a little bit extra in their pockets for gambling and bribes.

Four of them were from up north. Gwenn’s chats with them were very revealing. Like so many in the Resistance, they were orphans, without family… and yet, none of them had that nervous anxiety she’d come to recognize in other orphans. Instead, they shared a nod with each other when, accompanying Gwenn, they walked past another fellow on her list.

They might have been orphans, and their parents might all be different, but Gwenn knew brotherhood when she saw it. These four– they were brothers.

Alain, Roy, Derek, and Worren– four nondescript soldiers who nonetheless had enough pay to gamble and afford their own kips. The more she asked people like Frank and Paolo, the more she learned.

Alain had a stranglehold on specialized ammunition. Nothing too out of bounds– it was a simple matter of the little extras that might mean a signal flare or not. Roy knew his way around the food stores– his kip always had fresh fruits and vegetables, even when the officers’ larder was empty. Derek had been stockpiling ritual components for ages– enough so that any shortage was swiftly dealt with… for a price. And Worren did a very nice turn in the medicine tents, plying alcohol-infused herbals.

As a supply officer, Gwenn had known there was someone working in the camp to manage the black market, but she’d had no idea they were this organized. And yet, her impression of each of them was that they were good at what they did, but none of them were masterminds. Someone was manipulating them, one step further back.

“I’m looking for this guy,” Gwenn told Ordune, showing him the page she’d been using to map their organization. Above the four of them, she had a question mark, with a squiggly line leading down. “I don’t think he’s in camp, but he may have an agent here.”

“How are you going to find him?”

Gwenn shook her head. “I don’t know. I could recruit one of the four– Alain would be a good pick– into my unit, but that wouldn’t make him loyal enough to talk.”

“If you can’t use the carrot….”

Gwenn nodded. “The stick.”

The sting operation was not easy, especially with her meager crew. She’d already released Paolo and made it known she was still recruiting. The hardest part was requisitioning enough gold to pay for a significant shipment of food. Gwenn made sure it was known that a winter feast would be held at midwinter, a little something extra while the Resistance stayed dormant and trained for the spring campaigns. She’d used her connections among the supply lines to order in several fat pigs– those weren’t the bait– and two carts of fresh harvest fruit. Apples, dried stonefruits, nuts, and a few bins of fresh herbs.

Ordune had frowned at the herbs, wondering aloud why they didn’t bother drying them, but Gwenn shook her head. “Sometimes, they’re better this way– and in this case, we’ll catch our thieves with mint fast than pipeweed.”

“As you say.”

When they caught Alain, he’d brought Worren with him to help haul away the goods, so she had the two brothers in her custody. Ordune kept Worren in the detention box while she questioned Alain.

“You understand you’re in a lot of trouble, correct?”

“Yes,” he said simply. The clarity of his expression worried her. He wasn’t worried. He wasn’t nervous.

This was the kind of man she wanted in her unit. But she needed that confidence to serve her, not whomever he was serving now.

“I can easily order your hand cut off for this trouble, you know that?”

“Yes….” still the calm eyes. “But you won’t.”

“Oh, won’t I? And why not?”

“You’re hoping I’ll tell you who I’m working with. But you don’t know me if you think that’s going to happen.”

Gwenn nodded. “Fair enough.” She poked her head out and handed a slip of paper to the guard outside. “Deliver that to Ordune, please.”

“But, miss– I mean, Cadet. I can’t leave you alone with the prisoner.”

“I’ll be fine, I promise.”

When he’d left, Gwenn took a knife out of her belt. She grabbed Alain’s wrist and pressed it down on the table. “Do you think it’s possible that I would do something as callous as torture you for the information, Alain?”

The soldier glanced down at her hand, unbelieving, then back at her face, shaking his head. “Don’t be ridic– AUUGH!” Gwenn slammed the dagger hilt into the back of his hand. The bones didn’t shatter, but he was rattled. It would hurt like the dickens, but leave nothing more than a bruise.

“Shake it off, soldier,” she commanded, pressing a point in his wrist that made the hand go numb, and Alain stop screaming, at least.

“Godddamnit! You broke my bloody hand!” The hand hung limply from his wrist, and Gwenn nodded.

“Perhaps,” she said quietly. “Are you ready to talk now?”

“Fuck you, bitch.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.” The ribbon of blood she opened in his face caused another satisfying, if blood-curdling scream from him. Again, she quickly staunched it, pressing a handkerchief to the shallow cut. He still would not tell her the name of his contact.

Fifteen minutes later, a knock on the door from the guard made Gwenn pause. She looked over Alain. “Your hand will heal in a week or two– you’re on rest duty until the healers say otherwise. If you don’t take care of that cut, you’ll end up with  a wicked scar on your face– I suggest you make up a good story to go with it.” No reason yet to tell him his wounds were superficial and would be gone in days. “And the charges against you and Worren have been dropped.”

“Dropped?”

“Unless you feel you haven’t been punished enough?” The relief on Alain’s face was palpable. “Good. Understand me, Alain. This wasn’t a warning. This isn’t how the Resistance does things. This is me, trying to get a job done, and I had to get through you to do it.”

“But I didn’t talk– you didn’t get anything from me–”

Gwenn smiled. “No, you didn’t. You’re a good man, a good soldier. We’re lucky to have you.”

Outside, she met up with Ordune. “Well?”

He shook his head. “I can’t figure it out. She’s nobody–”

“Who?” Gwenn stopped grabbing his arm. “Who’s nobody?”

“Firiel. The drow maid. She works in the laundry, mostly–”

“And?”

“And she was out hanging clothes, over there–” he gestured to a clothes line about fifty feet from the detention cell. “Then a little closer. Then–”

“That’s our guy,” Gwenn said firmly. She couldn’t place Firiel’s face, despite being fairly attentive to the camp followers. Ever since Thea had been so instrumental in Pilarrh, she’d paid attention to the non-combatants of the Resistance. But Firiel… she vaguely remembered a small woman, dark-skinned. “Drow, you said?”

“Yes. Drow.”

“All right. Let’s go–”

“Aren’t you going to bring her in?”

Gwenn shook her head. “Not right now. Let her come to us. Also….” she felt a wave of dizziness come over her. “I think I need to be sick.”

She hustled off to the privy to return her breakfast. The smell of Alain’s blood. The sound of him screaming…. She hoped Miss Firiel was as sickened by it as she had been.

If she’d had any other way to trap the girl, she would have used it.

Still shaking, but empty now, she stood up–

And found a dagger pressed against her throat.

“You an’ Ah need to have us a ‘lil talk.”

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