Stiger’s Tigers (Chronicles of An Imperial Legionary Officer Book 1)

Chronicles of an Imperial Legionary Officer

Book One:

Stiger’s Tigers

By

Marc A. Edelheit

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

CHRONICLES OF AN IMPERIAL LEGIONARY OFFICER BOOK ONE: STIGER’S TIGERS

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Copyright © 2015 Marc Edelheit
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Edited by Winslow Eliot

Cover Art by Piero Mng (Gianpiero Mangialardi)

Cover and Formatting by Telemachus Press

Published by Telemachus Press, LLC

http://www.telemachuspress.com

Visit the author website:

http://www.MAEnovels.com

ISBN: 978-1-942899-16-7 (eBook)

Version 2015.06.08

Dedication

To Peggy Edelheit, (mother and published author) who inspired in me a love of reading.

Chronicles of an Imperial Legionary Officer

Book One:

Stiger’s Tigers

One

Two very road weary riders crested the bald hill they had been riding up and pulled to a halt. Taking up much of the valley below, a vast military encampment surrounded by entrenchments and fortifications spread out before them in a shocking display. Smoke from thousands of campfires drifted upward and hung over the valley like a veil. After months of travel, the two riders were now finally able to set their eyes upon their destination, the main encampment of General Kromen’s Imperial Army, comprising the 15
th
, 18
th
, 29
th
, and 30
th
legions. These four legions had been dispatched by the emperor to put down the rebellion that was burning through the South like a wildfire.

The awful stench of the encampment had been on the wind for hours. This close, the smell of decay mixed with human waste and a thousand other smells was nearly overpowering. What should have been relief at finally reaching their destination had turned to incredulous horror. Neither rider, both of whom were studying their objective, had ever seen anything like it. Imperial legionary encampments were typically highly organized, with priority placed on sanitation to reduce the chance of sickness and disease. The jumble of disordered tents and ramshackle buildings laid out before them, surrounded by the fortifications, spoke of something much different. It told of an almost wanton criminal neglect for the men who served the empire, or perhaps even incompetence in command.

An empty wagon, the first of a sad-looking supply train, rumbled around past the two riders, who simply by inaction, refused to give way. The driver, a hired teamster, cursed at them for hogging up the road. Unable to take his frustration out on the two riders, he instead took it out on a group of dirty and ragged slaves, who had been sitting off to the side. The slaves, part of a work gang organized to maintain the imperial highway, were forced to scramble out of the way, lest the large wagon roll over them.

An overseer resting on a large fieldstone several feet away barked out a harsh laugh before shouting at the slaves to be more careful. One of the slaves collapsed and yet both riders hardly spared them a glance. Slaves were simply beneath notice.

The supply train’s nominal escort, a small troop of cavalry strung out in a line and riding alongside the wagons, was working its way slowly up the hill. Much like every other legionary the two travelers had come upon for the last hundred miles, the cavalry troop was less than impressive, though somewhat better looking in appearance.

Several empty wagons rumbled by and around the two, which saw additional invectives hurled their way. The two riders were legionary officers. They ignored the cursing, just as they had disregarded the wagons and the plight of the slaves. Where they had come from, it would have been unthinkable for someone to hurl invectives at an officer, who was almost assuredly a nobleman. At the very least, a commoner was inviting a severe beating with such behavior. Here in the South, such lack of basic respect seemed commonplace.

One of the travelers had the hood of his red imperial cloak pulled up and forward to protect against a light drizzling rain, which had been falling for some time. The other had the hood of his cloak pulled back, revealing close-cropped brown hair and a fair but weather-hardened face, marred only by a slight scar running down the left cheek. The scar pulled the man’s mouth up into a slight sneer. He looked no older than twenty-five; but his eyes, which seemed to miss nothing, made him seem much more mature and wise beyond his years. The slaves, having settled down in a new spot, watched the two warily.

As the first of the cavalry troop crested the hill, which was much steeper on the encampment’s side, the lieutenant in command, leading his men, noticed the two riders. The lieutenant was immediately struck by the intense look of the one whose hood was pushed back. He could not see the man’s companion’s features, but thought nothing of that. It was the one whose hood was pushed back who gripped his attention. This man was confident and sure of himself. Here was a man, thought the lieutenant, who seemed born to command others. The lieutenant took in the bars of rank, embroidered on the man’s cloak, as simple confirmation of what he sensed.

“Well met, Captain,” the lieutenant said as he pulled up his mount. The lieutenant’s lead sergeant also stopped his horse, curious as to the identity of these two officers. It was unusual to encounter an unescorted officer, let alone two, especially with the rebellion here in the South.

The cavalry troop continued to ride by, all the men wearing their helmets to avoid the drizzling rain but still miserably wet just the same. The lieutenant offered a salute, to which the captain simply nodded in reply, saying nothing. His gaze, along with that of his companion’s, whose face was concealed by the hood of his cloak, remained focused on the encampment below.

After several uncomfortable moments, the lieutenant once again attempted to strike up a conversation. “I assume you came by way of Aeda? A miserable city, if you ask me. Can you tell me the condition of the road? Did you encounter any rebels?”

The lieutenant shivered slightly as the captain turned a cold gray-eyed gaze upon him. The lieutenant wondered if the shiver had been caused by the eyes—which seemed as if they could nearly look right into his soul—or by the ever-present chill caused by the drizzle seeping down his back. It took a great effort not to look away. It was almost as if he was being challenged to look away in an effort to determine his character.

“We saw no evidence of rebels,” the captain replied in a low, gravelly voice filled with steel and confidence. It was immediately clear to the lieutenant that this captain was a hard man, who had seen his share of action. “The road passed peacefully.”

“That is good to hear,” the cavalry officer replied. “I am Lieutenant Lan of the 187
th
Imperial Horse Regiment. May … may I have your name, Captain?”

“Stiger,” the captain growled, kicking his horse into motion and rapidly moving off the crest of the hill, down toward the encampment.

The lieutenant’s eyes widened with shock. Stiger’s companion, without a word or a sideways glance, followed at a touch to his horse, leaving the stunned lieutenant behind.

“A Stiger in the South?” the lieutenant’s lead sergeant exclaimed quietly, once the two riders had passed out of hearing. “What’s a Stiger doing in this shithole?”

“I don’t know,” the lieutenant admitted sourly, turning away from watching the two travelers descend the hill. He looked up, briefly frowning at the overcast sky and the drizzle coming down. “Sergeant Mills, we have a long, hard, wet road. I believe it is General Kromen’s business to worry about Stigers, not ours.”

The lieutenant kicked his horse forward, ending further discourse. The sergeant spared a long glance back at the two riders, working their way down the steep hill, before kicking his horse after his lieutenant. Sergeant Mills shook his head in disgust, knowing trouble when he saw it.

“Gods help us,” he breathed.

***

The door to the guardhouse opened and after a moment banged closed like it had done countless times before. Heavy bootfalls thunked across the coarse wooden floorboards that were covered in a slightly muddy layer of dirt made slick from the rain. The floor had not been swept in a good long time.

“Name and purpose?” A bored ensign demanded, his back to the door. A counter separated the ensign from any newcomers. He was sitting at a table, attempting to look busy and important by writing in a logbook. After a few moments, when the ensign heard nothing in reply, he stood and turned with obvious irritation, prepared to give the new arrivals a piece of his mind. Seeing before him two wet and road weary officers, one a captain and the other a lieutenant, he checked himself.

Stiger locked the ensign with a piercing gaze. The ensign was old for his rank, which was generally a sign that he was unfit for further promotion. Instead of forcing such a useless man out of service, he was put in a position where he could do little harm and perhaps accomplish something useful. It had been Stiger’s experience that such men became bitter and would not hesitate to abuse what little power was available to them.

Flustered, the ensign tried again. “Name and purp …”

“Captain Stiger and companion,” Stiger interrupted, with something akin to an irritated growl. The captain slowly placed his hands on the dirty counter and leaned forward toward the man. The ensign, accustomed to dealing with lowly teamsters, drovers, corporals and sergeants, blinked. His jaw dropped. He stood there for a moment, dumbfounded, before remembering to salute a superior officer, fist to chest. Stiger said nothing in reply, but gestured impatiently for the ensign to move things along.

“Forgive me, sir,” the ensign stammered in apology. It was then, as the lieutenant who accompanied the captain pushed back the hood of his cloak, that he noticed Captain Stiger’s companion was not human. The ensign had never before seen an elf, yet there was little doubt one now stood before him. Adding to the shock of the moment was the fact that the elf was in the service of the empire. An elf serving in the legions was an unheard of occurrence. The ensign’s mouth dropped open even further, if that was possible.

“Lieutenant Eli’Far,” the elf introduced himself, in a pleasantly soft, singsong kind of voice that sounded human, but was tinged with something alien at the same time. Eli was tall, whipcord thin and very fair. His perpetually youthful face, complete with blue almond-shaped eyes and sharply pointed ears, was perfect. Perhaps his face, framed by sand-colored hair, could even be described as
too
perfect.

“I have orders to report to General Kromen,” Stiger stated simply, impatient to be done with the fool before him.

“Of course, sir,” the ensign stammered, remembering himself. He slid a book across the counter. “If you will sign in, I will have you escorted directly to General Kromen’s headquarters.”

Stiger grabbed a quill, dipped it in the inkbottle sitting on the counter, and signed for both himself and Eli. He put down the quill and pushed the book back toward the ensign.

“Corporal!” the ensign called in a near-panicked shout. The guard corporal poked his head into the guardhouse. He had seen the two officers enter and had been waiting expectantly. “Captain Stiger requires an escort to the commanding general’s headquarters.”

The corporal blinked as if he had not heard correctly. “Yes, sir,” he said, fully stepping into the guardhouse. The corporal was a veteran and had seen his share of service. He took one look at the captain and his companion, an elf, and knew trouble when he saw it. He sensed these two were not to be trifled with.

“This way, gentlemen,” the corporal said in a more respectful tone than he used with most other officers in the encampment. It was never wise to upset an officer, and even more irresponsible to provide affront to one from an important family, no matter how infamous. “I will escort you myself. It is a bit of a ride, sirs.”

The two traveling companions followed the corporal out of the guardhouse. They stepped back into the rain, which had changed from a drizzle to a steady downpour. Eli pulled his hood back up, once again obscuring his features. Stiger left his down. They retrieved their horses from where they had secured them and mounted up. The corporal also mounted a horse that was waiting for such a purpose, and led them through the massive wooden gate that served as the encampment’s main entrance. Stiger was disgusted to see the sentries huddled for cover under the gate’s overhang. Those men should have been on post despite the weather.

Stiger had thought it impossible for the stench of the encampment to get any worse, yet it became much more awful and unpleasant once they were clear of the gate. It made his eyes burn. He had only ever once encountered a worse smell. That had been years before, on a distant battlefield, with the dead numbering in the many thousands, under a brutally hot sun, rotting quicker than they could be buried or burned.

Massive numbers of tents and temporary ramshackle wooden buildings spread out before them, amongst a sea of mud flowing with animal and human excrement. It was simply nauseating. The three worked their way slowly through the muddy streets with rows of tents on each side. They came upon a small stream, muddy brown and swollen from the day’s rain, running through the center of the encampment. The stream was threatening to flood nearby tents.

A rickety wooden bridge, which looked as though it had been hastily constructed to ford the small stream, appeared at risk of being washed away by the growing rush of water. Unconcerned, the corporal guided them over the bridge and to a large, rough-looking building directly in the center of the encampment. An overhang and porch had been constructed onto the building, almost as an afterthought, but probably in response to the rain and mud.

Several staff officers on the porch loitered about in chairs, idly chatting and smoking pipes or playing cards, as the three horsemen approached. It was clear this was the main headquarters. A rough, planked boardwalk, that looked like it might sink into the mud at any moment, connected the building to a row of larger tents and other nearby buildings. The porch and boardwalk served the purpose of saving the officers from having to get their perfectly polished boots muddy.

A dirty and ragged slave, ankles disappearing in the muck, stepped forward to take the reins of their horses as the two officers dismounted. Stiger tried to avoid thinking about what was in the mud as his boots sank into it.

“Good day, sirs,” the corporal saluted and swung his horse around, riding away before anything more could be required of him. Truth to tell, the man was relieved to be on his way. It was said that bad things tended to happen around Stigers.

“This camp is an embarrassment,” Eli said quietly to Stiger. “It is very unfit.”

“I hazard half the camp is down sick,” Stiger responded in sour agreement. He had never seen a legionary encampment in such a state. “Let us hope we are not detained here for months on end.”

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