Some of Lord Kendrick’s troops were reluctant to come with William, until they saw the pass. After that, there was a consensus that there was no more point in staying to defend the pass. Combined with the fact that he was the highest ranking person around, and a lord, they went along with his orders. There was a question of loyalty to their previous lord, but after a few people got themselves killed trying to attack William they settled down.. The question of legitimacy was dubious. William had defeated Lord Kendrick in single combat, but he couldn’t claim his title as a lord since he already was one. Did they have to follow his orders?
The answer to that was they did. He had an army with him, and nobody could defeat him in single combat. William knew that it was a tenuous strand to control an army with, but he worked on improving that as they travelled. He gave speeches, explaining how their lives were wasted by poor tactics, and inferior fort placement. He didn’t directly say what he wanted to- that some of the lords wanted as many gevai as possible to die for their own gain. It was far too early for that. More effective was Jordan’s work on speaking to the troops and spreading rumors- true rumors, but ones that seemed hard to believe spread faster. Was there a conspiracy against William? Against the gevai? But who would do such a thing? William found this far more effective than speeches. Unfortunately, no matter what he did he couldn’t tell everyone everything that they should probably know.
“Where are our supplies?” Jordan had no problems opening up with direct questions to William.
William shrugged, “Back with the wagons.”
Jordan shook his head, “Not those supplies. The next batch of them that should be coming.”
“They’re not due for a few days.” William frowned, “Damn. We’ve been traveling toward them. That means something happened. What do you think?”
“There could have been trouble with weather… broken axles… any number of things really.”
“Indeed. However, what do you actually think happened?”
Jordan pondered for a few moments. “Bandits… are unlikely. Most of them were rounded up and executed or drafted. Most wouldn’t risk angering a lord with an army either.”
“Then what? An accident?” William raised an eyebrow.
“Unless all of the cart animals died and all of the guards with it got sprained ankles concurrently, I doubt there were any accidents. Perhaps a flooded river?” Jordan shook his head, “It seems extremely unlikely for all of them to be caught and unable to swim. Thus, it is most likely that the supplies were taken by someone who wouldn’t have to risk angering a lord.”
“Who would that be?”
“Well, I would posit a stronger lord… but the more probable answer is someone who thought you weren’t coming back. Someone who was told you weren’t coming back.”
“There are a few lords who have main cities on the route. If I had to guess, though, it would be Vimal Novak.”
“Why is that?”
William shrugged, “Lorelei put him on the list for a reason. Plus, he controls Opruta which is just up ahead.”
“Sounds like he needs to be taught a lesson.”
“Is that so?” William raised an eyebrow, “What do you think I should do? Stomp into his castle with no evidence and kill him?”
Jordan laughed. “Of course not. You need at least a sliver of evidence.” Jordan frowned, “Killing him might also be a bit excessive… or at least inappropriate. I have a better idea.”
“Well…” William stroked his chin, “First we do have to get evidence. I don’t want to get the wrong guy.”
For all of his talk, William wasn’t just going to barge into Lord Novak’s manor demanding answers. He didn’t need to make any more enemies… more specifically, he didn’t need to make people that weren’t his enemy into one. If Lord Novak was already his enemy, that was something different. For now, he was just suspected to be on the side of the older lords- including Lord Goddard. Lord Novak himself wasn’t old enough to be a co-conspirator, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t share similar morals or even join their ranks.
Before he got started with investigations, William needed to make sure the men were properly settled in. Opruta didn’t have nearly enough inns and boarding houses to hold two armies, and it was expensive anyway. Thus, they camped just past the city. It wasn’t really any better than out in the wilderness… except the city was still there. That meant everything a city had to offer- better food, drink… women. The soldiers were allowed to visit the city in shifts, since the various taverns wouldn’t be able to hold them all at once anyway. Taking a day or two to rest outside the city would be a good excuse for William to take the time to investigate.
As for how he would do that… William wasn’t sure. Would Lord Novak still have the wagons with his mark? The horses that pulled them? That was assuming he was the culprit. If he was, and kept anything marked, William could sneak in and find it, assuming it wasn’t in a random warehouse. The horses… William wouldn’t recognize specific ones, and any marks they had were removable. Otherwise it would be impossible to sell them. It could take some time, but given the possibility of it having been over a week horses wouldn’t be a great lead.
William started with asking around for military supplies coming through the city… but those who noticed them didn’t have much to say. A war was on and such supplies came through almost every day. Nobody William found had taken particular note of who owned what, or at least no one William found.
Fortunately, the answer came to him. It was no secret he was in the city- people might not take note of a specific convoy of wagons, but an army or two was a bigger deal. The evening of the first day, a man was escorted to William. “Sir. This man says he has information for you.”
William looked at the man. There wasn’t much to distinguish him from any other gevai commoner, but William happened to recognize him. He was one of the assistants who helped with delivering the supplies. “Nicholas, isn’t it?”
The man scratched his head, “Ah, it’s Nick, if you please Lord Rutten. We weren’t sure if… well, we were told you weren’t coming back. We didn’t necessarily believe that, but we couldn’t all just stay here waiting. I volunteered. Ah, I forgot to say. Your supplies… they were-”
“Stolen by Lord Novak?”
“Uh… yeah. Well, he said he was ‘commandeering’ them, but that’s the same thing isn’t it? How’d you know?”
“Lucky guess. Why don’t you tell me all the details.” William smiled, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. He saw Nick shiver under his gaze… but Nick, at least, had no need to be nervous.