An Owl on My Sceptre

by Joe

Chapter 8


Attached please find a full report on our San Diego operation.

I commend to your particular attention: Brigadier Spurgeon, Major Evans, and Captain (Reserve) DeLucca. This operation was well planned and faultlessly executed.

With your permission, I would like to award the 3rd Battalion of the 24th Regiment of Foot the Honour: Prince Royal's Own. I would also like to create a new grade in my personal order: With Swords, and award it to all involved in the operation.

Attached, for your approval, is a list of individual decorations that are warranted.

I know that you are busy with the war, but beg you to know of my earnest desire to meet you. It's been just over two years since Colin and I came here; you've been busy at the front, a slave of duty, and we cannot both be at the front together.

Your Son


Justin P

I pondered the dispatch for a second. My Father, the King, was already aware of all its details having been advised by Cameron who had made the trip as soon as we had finished. Still, the propriety and form must be attended to. I placed it in a King's Dispatch case and then placed the strap over the shoulder of the fox that was sitting on my desk.

We've not met before. Thank you for your effort. I smiled at the fox.

It is my pleasure and my duty, Your Royal Highness. I am Wilde. Journeyman Familiar. Soon to be in-service to the Apprentice Wizard Lawrence. I am entirely at your command.

Well that's excellent. See that he gets his milk.

Wilde bowed and snap-flashed away.

Cameron. At your earliest convenience I'd like a full briefing on the status of the Northern War.

You shall have it. It's a hard trip. Tomorrow?

That'll be fine.

And that really was excellent as Captain Tofts of the Royal Engineers, Humphrey, Gary Ashmore, Copenhagen and I had planned another railroad conference. This was always great fun. Shortly after his arrival, Copenhagen and Gary, armed with a credit card, had gone to Los Angeles to shop for books. They had brought back several arm loads of books currently in print, as well as a number that they'd located at an antiquarian bookseller downtown. The books weren't all about railroading. There were several art books, too.

Then Captain Tofts had become involved in the research and obtained blueprints and engineering reports from the locomotive works of Baldwin and American. I had requested additional assistance from the Royal Engineers and they were anxious to be involved as there wasn't all that much to do in Ellendale. Engineers, it must always be remembered, do like to do stuff. We had built a locomotive shop and were tooling-up to build locomotives. A separate shop was preparing to produce rolling stock. A mill in Kingstown was manufacturing rail, and we were just about ready to lay track from the locomotive shop. We had decided to start with the old classic 'American' i that had built the transcontinental railroad almost two hundred years ago. We were having great fun.

Another team of engineers were plotting and surveying different routes that the railroad might take to connect other cities with the capital.

My man of business, Albert, initially horrified by the expense of the project in its most basic form, gradually came to enthusiasm as the potential for profit became apparent. He was working with a team of financial people looking for additional possibilities and markets. When you considered the entire area of Ellendale, there was tremendous opportunity to move raw materials as well as manufactured goods from Vendili (Northern Germany) to Lucinia (Southern Italy).

Colin had assigned a rather languid Captain Hughes of the 24th to research the military use of railroads.

But what was most interesting at the meeting that followed, had nothing whatsoever to do with railroads. Humphrey appeared in a blue blazer, with gray slacks, a light blue shirt and a burgundy ascot. Lawrence, his apprentice, wore a light tan suit, with a pale lemon shirt, and a dark green tie in a paisley pattern, it was beautifully knotted. Young Gary Ashmore was in a handsome dove gray suit, white shirt, with the red and green regimental tie of the 24th. Poor Captain Tofts looked positively boring in his staff blues.

As we were exchanging pleasantries and preparing for our meeting, I couldn't resist. "Humphrey old friend, what happened to your robes?"

He glanced around; Lawrence and Gary were deeply interested in the array on the buffet.

"Well. It seems they're just not suitable. Except for formal wizardly functions, guild meetings and the like. Not suitable at all, my. My. I'd never thought, well, uh."

He seemed to seize the matter, "Lawrence just won't have it. He says they're just 'too gay'. Says I need to look like a 'proper' Prince's Man. What do you think? Is this okay?" He looked very troubled.

"You look very well this morning. I'm sure Lawrence would never lead you astray. He seems a very collected and responsible young man."

"And handsome, too," Humphrey added, he seemed slightly distracted. "And he had such a difficult time after his grandmother died. Tragic, it was. Quite tragic.

"I think I'm in love." He was plaintive; he looked forlorn, a far cry from the arrogant Humphrey of our first meeting.

It was my turn to be distracted. What, after all, do you say to the one person; the one person in your whole world, that you would have bet money was the least likely to ever start confiding in you on matters of the heart. And then, of a sudden, that person starts confiding in you on matters of the heart?

"Have you spoken to Lawrence about this?" I wondered with an almost cumbersome lack of originality.

"He kissed me." Humphrey looked at me as if he were dreaming. "Then he pulled my robe off." He sighed.

"Well. I hope you kissed him back."

I clapped my hands. "Time for the railroad meeting," I announced loudly and pompously. "Please take your seats gentlemen; we've a great deal to discuss."

Well, Cameron began; this is the situation with the Northern War.

The upstart 'kingdom' of the ice trolls is generally located north of what you would call the Arctic Circle in eastern Europe and western Asia with the Ural Mountains as an approximate centerline.

As you know, the geography here is roughly similar to what you're accustomed to, so I'll use the names you're most familiar with as we discuss this. There are other names in local use that may come into play later.

For years, there has been little contact between the Elven lands and the ice trolls. They were content to remain in the frozen north, and we pretty much ignored them. However, fairly recently, but long after we began to expand into what you would call Central Russia, we came into increasing conflict with the trolls. They would see improvements we had made, seemed to want them, and came and stole them, or destroyed them so that we couldn't use them.

Most of our improvements were permanent, and the ice trolls are semi-nomadic, so their objective remains basically unknown. They are very combative with a warrior aristocracy roughly similar to the Teutonic Knights of Earth history.

Everyone on Earth seems to think that all we do in the Elven lands, if they even read about them, is lay about idly after enjoying a four hour lunch with wine and violins. But in fact, we have economic issues pressuring us just like all the rest of the world.

Then, the miserable trolls started coming south attempting to take and hold land and convert it to their use. The local Elves started to arm for their own protection. They've formed six regiments of mounted rifles to combat the Trollian incursion. The King is there himself with the Earl Martial with four regiments of infantry, two of cavalry and six batteries of horse artillery.

The Trolls are a wily foe. They do not want to stand and hold anything. Even the lands that they seemed to want to appropriate for their own use, they will not actually fight for. They seem content to fight a delaying action and then they retreat into the frozen north, where they are at home and we are not.

The entire operation is complicated by the difficulty that the familiars have in moving around. For some reason, that we are attempting to ascertain, it is difficult for the familiars to move. A move that would normally take but an instant to make can take several days to make because of a resistance that the familiars encounter while attempting the move. It's like we're trying to move through jelly, or some such. Very difficult.

I looked at Colin who was receiving the briefing with me. What can we do to help? I wondered.

It's a question strategic and logistical, Colin observed. The enemy is moving in an area that we are unfamiliar with. Our familiars cannot provide effective reconnaissance, and we cannot get our troops where we need them in time to catch the enemy. Surely the Earl can see that.

With your permission, Colin turned to me; I'd like to visit the front. I'd like to have a familiar assigned to me for the foreseeable future.

I did not want this to happen. Particularly because the constitution forbade the King and the Heir from being in a combat zone at the same time. I couldn't go with him.

Surus is available and he has experience of war. I'll introduce you. Cameron concluded the meeting. We had a lot to think about. ii

Colin and Surus regarded each other with quiet dignity. They were in the palace garden on a grassy expanse between flower beds. Colin was a handsome youth in the undress uniform of a staff brigadier. Surus was a mighty elephant whose tusks swept the earth before him.

I am Surus. Hannibal did well when he listened to me. I've been vacationing in Africa. Flattening the odd ivory poacher. Great sport. They think they're doing the stalking. Then, all of a sudden, they're a pancake. Har! Humph! I hate them!

I've never worked with a mere brigadier before.

And I am Colin Spurgeon, Colonel of the Ancient and Honourable Company of Artillerists and Infernal Device Artificers. You know what that means and you know me. And you well know that I've been more than a brigadier.

Surus and Colin regarded one another with serenity. Then Surus seemed to gather himself, he raised his trunk and trumpeted a loud salute. The palace windows shook. Colin snapped to attention in turn and returned an exemplary salute. We will listen to each other, Colin stated.

"Humphrey," I called as he went bustling past. This time he was wearing a dark blue suit, a crisp white shirt, and a colorful tie neatly knotted in a half-Windsor. "Do you have a minute?"

"Sorry Highness," he had turned around to talk but continued to walk backwards. I noticed that his suit coat was lined with scarlet silk that flashed raffishly as he walked. "Must away. Lawrence has an appointment at Brooks Brothers today."

"Oh, well," I said to his rapidly retreating form. "Wouldn't want to interfere with Brooks Brothers. Or young love. I suppose." He was long gone by the time I finished my comment. I hadn't been very princely, not at all commanding; but I'd had a hard time not laughing.

Colin and I were in the library talking about the Northern War. He rang for service.

"Hello Donald," he smiled at the footman. "Would you take this note to my mother please. And give her my best."

Donald looked perplexed. He looked at the note, at the salver he would normally use to carry the note, and back to Colin with a pained expression.

"Beggin' your pardon, my Lord, but the Countess isn't in residence at the moment. Shall I have a wire sent?"

Colin looked the question at me.

"I don't know. Donald, we've been away and there's probably a note somewhere that we've not seen yet. Where is the Countess? San Diego?"

"No Highness, she's at the front with the Earl."

"Thanks, Donald that will be all.

"Well," I smiled at the love of my life. "I guess we'd better get you off to the front, too." I think my pretense was successful. It had been hard work smiling convincingly.

It seemed like only seconds elapsed. The invincible and unflappable Thomas had Surus packed and stood next to him while Colin and I kissed and said goodbye. Surus helped them mount and they settled in the howdah. All three of them regarded me for an instant. They disappeared with a snap-flash and I started to go all teary.

Arion glowered at his charge, at the papers in his hand, and then back at his woebegone prisoner.

The Artful Dodger felt miserable and abused. He had been here – wherever here was – for almost two months and it seemed like years. He'd been treated for his injuries; been fed, and basically well cared for; far better cared for than he'd ever been at the Rajah's.

Then there was his trial. No one had read him his rights. He wasn't told to remain silent; he never met anyone who claimed to be an attorney. He did not attend his own trial and wasn't told it was taking place. Someone in an ornate uniform had read to him from a clipboard that he'd been tried, and found guilty, and sentenced to twenty years at hard labor for kidnapping children into prostitution and drug induced slavery. Notice had been taken of his drug addiction and his own coercion so there was the possibility of parole based upon his good behavior. Then two men, dressed just like the one who had kicked him on the street, brought him here to the stable and left him to the mercy of the man who now held his papers.

"I am Arion. Head Groom to his Royal Highness. I'm in charge of this facility. We've not had prisoners here for a very long time. It will take some getting used to. However, if anyone tells you to do something. Well, you just do it."

The Dodger was dismissed into the care of another rather small man who told him he was, "Clair, the terror of the race ways…a jockey of renown."

Clair marched the Dodger through the stable and showed him a small cubicle with a cot and some other furniture. He was told this would be his room and he'd keep it, "tidy if ya 'noes wots good fer ya." Next to his room was a bathroom and he was ordered to keep it and himself clean. Then there was a large room full of all manner of saddles and other leather and equipment.

In another room he was handed some coveralls, boots, and bedding.

"Brekki at six. Chota hazri, which means little brekki, for the benefit of them as 'aven't traveled much, at eleven. Lunch at two. Dinner at eight." Clair disappeared.

The Dodger sat on his cot and cried.

Don't just sit there ye lummox. My daughter and I are needin' a nice curry.

The Dodger looked up in alarm. A huge horse with a no nonsense look about her was glaring at him As if things weren't bad enough, now he was being ordered about by a horse. But mindful of his instructions, he leapt up and was prodded along to, and then into, a large stall. He noticed that the doors into the barn, as well as the door into the paddock, were both latched open.

You're jist a wee lad so you'll need that ladder over there. See that shelf, that's where the brushes, combs and hoof picks are amongst other things. Start with my daughter.

And the Dodger went to work. Following an almost constant flow of information he learned that he was talking to Sorcha whose name meant 'Radiant' and that he was grooming Catriona whose name meant 'Pure'; the two were Clydesdales and "right proud" of it and he should be "honoured" to work for them; he was instructed as to how and when to feed them, and to keep their water full; he was taught to use a hoof pick; he was told that in honor of their heritage, he would be provided a kilt to wear in the future.

"A kilt," he squeaked.

"A kilt," Sorcha assured him. "With all the necessaries for work and play."

So a kilted Dodger in an undershirt and rubber boots had just finished cleaning his ladies' stall. It hadn't been too bad as both of his ladies had the freedom of the large paddock just outside their stall. Little Catriona had left only a few offerings in the stall. The ladies were in the paddock at the moment and he was taking a break leaning against the stall entrance. He thought it would be lovely to have a cigarette; but there were no cigarettes. He was beginning to recover from his drug addiction and he no longer hurt like he had been; he was resigned to the fact that there were no drugs here. Sorcha told him to forget it as he was now on a different planet. But that couldn't be. Could it? He knew that he was talking to himself but wasn't too alarmed as he wasn't talking out loud.

"Oi!" Came a shout from down the barn. "Yer Cunt!" And he looked up to see three youths approaching him fast, and it didn't look like they were planning on asking him to join them for elevenses, or chota hazri, as he had now learned to call it.

He thought, for a moment, to run. But where could he go? Then, with a heightened sense of doom, he recognized the largest of three boys charging him as the last person he'd tried to lead to the Rajah before he'd been busted. He waited, resigned, as fate prepared to land her next blow upon his person.

The Cyffylog boys would have done more damage to the Dodger if they'd struck him individually. Instead, while they knocked him about and caused some bruises, it was more a scrimmage than a real assault. Which was not their intention at all.

At Ease! At ease ye manky teuchters. I'll banjo the lot o' yer if ye don't stop this instant. iii

It was this mental yell that startled me and caused me to leave Kameyn with Elowin and start quickly toward the other end of the stable. Rounding a corner of the great "H" shaped building; I observed a grand Clydesdale mare confronting four boys in various states of discomfiture before her. She was threatening to kick decomposed granite from the floor on them with one great hoof. As I grew closer I noted that one of the boys was wearing a kilt and he was wearing it in the traditional manner. iv

A moment elapsed while the Clydesdale shoved and intimidated three of the boys away from the lad in kilts whom she was now standing protectively over.

This is my man! He works for me and my girl and yer not to be accostin' and meddlin' with him. I'm on the maternity leave and I'll not have yer shoutin' nor halloin' down the barn neither.

"But Missus, he's a roight drygwr! A bad 'un. 'Es been tried and convicted an all." Ralph was rallying to his cause and was wishing he'd hit the scumbag harder when he'd the chance.

That's as may be. But he's not had it easy like the three of you. He's not had a family to go home to for seven year now. He was ten when he found himself all alone. No mum. No tad to be proud of. No friendly Prince lookin' out for him.

"'Eres the Prince now," said Terence, or was it Harry.

All eyes turned to me. I was feeling rather dashing. Brown riding boots, tan jodhpurs, and a rust colored cable weave sweater; I was hatless as I'd been in Kameyn's stall when I heard the ruckus. I had finally yielded to repeated suggestions, discrete sighs, and raised eyebrows, so I was wearing military spurs with no rowel, and I'd started to carry a riding crop for dramatic effect, and not for use.

"Good morning Ma'am," I smiled at Sorcha.

"Men, you're looking more disheveled than usual today," I grinned at the Cyffylog trio.

"And I don't know you," I regarded the rather woebegone lad in kilts who was rumpled, but had restored his modesty.

"'E said 'is name was Lenny-shit-heel-bastard-arse-wipe when I grabbed 'im," Ralph contributed.

His name is Robert Connors and you'll keep a civil tongue in yer mouth lest I whomp you into the comin' week. And his mum was a Campbell and I'll thank ye very much!

The object of this discussion looked forlornly up at me while keeping his head down. "Herself has the right of it. I'm Robert Connors. And I'm a prisoner from San Diego." He looked back down.

"Herself? You call her, 'Herself'?" I was a bit surprised.

"She said to. So I do." This with just a touch of spirit.

"Sorcha, you're looking well. I've not seen you and your lovely daughter since delivery. You certainly appear to have everything under control here."

Well. I think it's going to be just fine, then.

"All right," I looked at my favorite trio. "Men," I strove to look stern. "You are members of my household; you are decorated members of my household. More is expected of you. Connors was arrested by you, Ralph, in the performance of your duty. He has then been measured and tried by other members of our household. They have done their duty. As you have done yours. So now it is up to Connors to see what's to be seen. No matter what might happen, you three must treat him like the gentlemen you are.

"Still, brawling is bad form. Particularly in the presence of a lady. I fine you each six shillings. To be deducted from your weekly pay and then turned over to young Connors here. He did not attack you. You will each apologize to him and to Sorcha and Catriona.

"You will always remember that you are Gentlemen of my Household. As such, you are gentlemen of Ellendale and an example to all of Ellendale. I will expect much more of you in all our tomorrows."

i These are the classic American locomotive that fought the Civil War and won the West. They are called "4-4-0's" as they have four pilot wheels, four drivers, and no trailing wheels. My favorite is Number 11 of the Virginia & Truckee named "Reno". She survives in private hands after a movie career in which she starred in High Noon among others. Another is the Eureka & Palisade Number 4. Noteworthy amongst movie fans for having starred in The Shootist, she is in private hands but still steams regularly on the Denver & Rio Grande Western.

ii It is time to provide some details with respect to the Elven Army. With a polished eye for excellence, the Elven Army is patterned on the British Army. This reorganization was completed almost two hundred Earth years ago during the Victorian period. The Regiment is of primary importance in the Elven Army and, as with the British Army, it is not really an army in the sense of the modern armies of France, or Germany. It is an association of regiments. However, even the term 'regiment' can be misleading. For example, the Royal Regiment of Artillery is actually a branch of the army and contains all artillery from horse artillery to siege cannon. Similarly, The Ancient and Honourable Company of Artillerists and Infernal Device Artificers is not a company, it is the research branch of the army.

Even so basic a unit as an infantry regiment can be confusing. Generally, an infantry regiment is composed of two battalions, one of which is a depot battalion and not actually a field unit. But sometimes there are three battalions, two of which are field units. In time of emergency, additional battalions are created out of the regimental tradition and lore of the regiment in question. There might be fifteen battalions of the 24th Regiment of Foot (15/24th) which would mean that one regiment actually amounts to an infantry division. No regiment has ever taken the field with more than two battalions present.

Interestingly, regiments are commanded by colonels, but those colonels are never in tactical command of a regiment. Appointment to a regimental colonelcy is an honor bestowed for distinguished service. This practice is not limited to the British or Elven armies; Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, is often photographed in the uniform of a colonel as he held one of these appointments and had served in this regiment in his youth.

All organizations larger than that of regiment are temporary. The Elven Brigade of Guards, two infantry regiments and two cavalry regiments, is technically a 'temporary' organization though it has existed for 244 years.

The Earl Martial is the hereditary commander of the army. His son, as the Prince Military, is second in command of the army. The Earl Martial is always the King's lover. It's part of the Constitution.

iii Dirty yokels on the brink of being beaten.

iv If you're unclear on this, I suggest 'Jamie's Quest' by Joel. Awesome Dude.

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