Damien lay on a lumpy bedroll in his tent, hating his duties as Chancellor after a bone wearying day. The small village of Greyfield had been full of panic. They knew about the Orc army heading their way, making most inhabitants want to flee.
Damien tried to calm the townkeeper, telling him that their own army would crush the Orc invaders, but that didn't do much to appease the townsfolk. He spent hours talking, assuring them that the King would protect them.
He did his best to pretend like he cared for their safety, convincing them that General Tarrik would defeat the Orcs in battle. While hoping Tarrik would do no such thing, since it would dramatically alter Damien's plans for the kingdom.
Actually, he couldn't care less what happened to the people of Greyfield. They did little for the revenue of the kingdom and all Damien wanted was to make sure that they wouldn't flee to the capital as refugees, like so many other villages had already done.
King Theowen was too accommodating to his subjects. The capital was overflowing with mouths to feed and once Damien's plans came to fruition he would take care of that problem, but for now, it would just have to do to keep as many people as possible in their small villages, far away from the city. Even if the Orcs ended up slaughtering them, there were always more citizens of Thecia in the south.
A cough sounded outside of his sanctuary.
Damien sighed, getting up onto his feet.
"Excuse me, Chancellor. I thought you would want to hear the news from the battlefield. General Tarrik's sent an envoy to deliver the good news." Damien's attendant was elated by the report.
Good news was not what Damien had been hoping for. Tarrik was competent enough, but he still didn't think he would have been able to defeat the Orcs in open battle. Maybe the beasts had underestimated the King's army and had been foolish, overconfident.
"Send him in!" Damien let himself drop into the only chair in his tent, mulling over what this victory meant for his plans. A jug of water was placed on a table next to him. He took a swig and waited for the envoy, already trying to figure out his next move.
A young man came in, bearing a sealed letter.
"Lord Chancellor, sir. I bring great news. General Tarrik has defeated the Orc army heading this way. We took some prisoners and many were slain." The soldier spoke with excitement and pride.
Damien noted that he said some and many, not all. That meant some had fled. He forced a smile on his lips, as it was expected of him when such "good" news was delivered. He raised his hand, gesturing for the report. "And our own casualties?"
The young man's smile faded. "We suffered quite heavy losses, my Lord. The Orcs charged the infantry, pushing them back almost to breaking. The Guardian Torren arrived with the cavalry just in time to crush their advance and drive them off."
Finally some good news, Damien thought. With many men killed or wounded he couldn't turn the victory into a defeat in the mind of those that mattered, but he could remind them what success had cost them. King Theowen's reckless behavior in starting the war and sending an unprepared army to clash with the Orcs will be remembered at his wake.
Damien broke the seal of the report and scanned its content. "What's this about a prisoner that escaped from the Orcs before the battle?"
"He was shot down before he reached the protection of the front line. He's alive, but seriously wounded. A giant of a man, I think he might pull through." Some of the envoy's cheery nature returned.
"He might have gathered important information during his captivity. Have Tarrik send him to me once he's in a good enough condition, if he survives that is." Damien wondered what it must have been like to be in the clutches of those monsters. How long had the man been suffering under their harsh treatment?
Damien shook off the thought and raised an eyebrow at the envoy. "Anything else to report?"
The soldier stood at attention with renewed pride. "No, my Lord Chancellor."
"Good! Then ride back to Tarrik and congratulate him. Have another envoy sent out to the King, he will be glad to hear of the victory. Also, have that envoy bring news to Commander Arensen. He should consider promoting Guardian Torren to Captain, it's quite possible that man's cavalry charge saved the army and all of northern Thecia."
"Yes, my Lord." The young man left the tent with a quick stride.
Damien took another swig from the jug, wishing it were a fine southern wine. His plans were drawing to a close and he wished to savor it. It wouldn't be long until Damien could give the signal for King Theowen's assassination.
It would look like an accident of course, the King's personal guard would see to it. Then only the young, sickly princess would stand in his way and the throne, but not for long. Her health was never in good standings and the loss of her father would surely break her. Who else would she have to guide her and the kingdom, but the trustworthy Chancellor? At least, until she followed her father into the grave.