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Captain of the Guard: The Blade

August 26, 2019

They headed to the west gate and crossed the singing river that bisected the city. The river sang more of a dirge, because of all the effluent, which was why the princess always had her picnics north, by at least a good hour’s ride.

She claimed the ride was good for the appetite, and it was, but not because of the fresh air, or the exercise.

The west gate was no longer at the edge of the city. Nor was it a gate. Merely an archway where the gate had once stood, wilted flowers from the last parade, probably the one celebrating Ro, remained where they had been festooned.

The king favored parades, festivals and other celebrations. They generated a considerable amount of good will and patriotism at very little cost. All he had to do was proclaim a cause for celebration, and vendors would appear to sell food and flowers, he was already paying for an army, having them march smartly through the city was an added benefit. People would actually pay to proceed or follow the army through the streets.

The old gatehouse remained, at least in name, but it had been converted to a flophouse long before the gate had given way. The majority of the city wall had long ago found its way into the stone houses of various merchants, including the major’s manor. There were still small stretches of the wall here and there that would unexpectedly block an alley to the dismay of victims and occasionally victimizers of crime that fled the wrong direction.

King Argov did nothing to rectify the situation. Walls were expensive to build, repair and maintain. They had to be manned for the little gain they provided. He was a shrewd man though and found cheaper ways to provide defense.

He encouraged a militia out of merchants and retired veterans. He saw no reason to pay for it though. There was a reason the veterans were retired, and the merchants weren’t soldiers after all. The veterans were required to participate as part of their pension. The citizens needed very little incentive to join. The possibility of adventure, the pride that came from doing something for their country, even if what they were doing was marching around a lot and waving in parades, and the very real possibility of being able to lord it over a neighbor was sufficient.

Some tyrants feared an armed citizenry, but Argov didn’t, or at least he didn’t fear an armed part of the citizenry that had enough resources to buy a sword and march around once a month – The citizens wealthy enough to have a very real stake in the stability of the country.

The king had no illusions that in a war the militia were nothing more than something to harry an invading army as they marched into the city and in the case of fire a good volunteer fire brigade.

Through the gate Cedric and his men made their way to a small marketplace. In the center of the market was a statute the king had erected in honor of Ro. The king liked statutes and art. He was well known for commissioning art through out the country and sponsoring poets and plays as well.

Cedric felt a certain civic pride at that. The king’s taste in art was the kind that people everywhere appreciated, except for intellectuals that sneered and found it banal. Argov rightly understood that if you had to learn to appreciate a certain piece of art, it didn’t mean that you appreciated the art; you just appreciated the fact that you were more sophisticated than everyone else.

If you honor a local hero, it didn’t matter if the hero was from five hundred years earlier, people felt a certain amount of pride.  Disparage, or deface, that and people would hate you for generations. Argov built up the art for that reason.  An invading army can’t help but engage in vandalism.  People will accept the loss of homes, family, and possessions, but take their pride and they will plot against you forever.

The market place was not as full as it had been a year ago.  The business, although busy, was not as bustling as it had been. Slenna and the country were in an economic downturn.

A soldier did not usually notice this unless it turned into a riot or a protest, or when things were really bad, into a revolution.  What they did notice as they left the market, were destitute people watching them from the alleys as they passed through the streets.

They stopped when they heard shouts of anger coming from a nearby tavern – The Old Man with the Axe.  A sinewy man, dressed all in black, from his shiny boots, leather pants, silk shirt and his cape, which swirled around him, ran out the door.

Cedric noted the thin blade the man carried at his side before he caught a flash of dark eyes, a neatly trimmed mustache and a handsome, if slightly cruel, face.  Instead of dashing away from them, as Cedric had expected, he headed toward the captain and his men.  Three angry men came out of the tavern in close pursuit.

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