“Coirpre, my son, this is the day you start to learn,” said Patraic, leading his son through the camp as the levies gathered and coordinated. “You are going to be king one day, and being king means that you will be in charge of men’s lives. Your subjects must trust you if they are to fight for you. Do you understand?”
“Papa, I’m scared,” Coirpre seemed ready to cry. The loud noise, the smell, the intensity around him was more than most 6 year olds would be able to stand.
“Good. You should be. War is scary. I’m sorry to bring you into this so young, but I have little choice.” Patraic brought his son to an armourers tent, run by an old mercenary veteran Patraic knew from his old campaigns named Neil. “You will be learning at my side as we fight to claim the kingdom, I intend to make sure you are ready when the time comes.”
“Am I gonna get a sword, papa?” Coirpre’s fear seemed to subside at the idea of becoming an adventurer like the old stories. He became even more excited at the sight of all the armour and weaponry laid about in the tent, the men getting fitted for new mail tunics, and the great old bear at work on the leather. Neil was finishing some leather plate when he noticed the two Crovans.
Patraic smiled. Coirpre was much like he was at that age, curious and bold. “Aye, a sword, a shield, and if you are a very good boy, maybe even a horse!” Gwen would disapprove, but Patraic was now in charge of teaching his son all he would need to know.
“A fine knight you will be, little lad,” said Neil, testing the muscles on the young boy before grasping his liege’s arm. “It is good to see you out in the field again, Patraic.”
“‘My Lord’, if you please, Neil.” Patraic grinned at the informality. Neil was the best leather worker in the isles, he could afford to be glib with a man such as Earl Patraic. “And yes, it is good to see you as well. I need some armour fitted for my son here, as he will be accompanying us on the campaign.”
“Ah, I have just the thing!” Neil disappeared into the stores of the tent, coming back with a small studded leather tunic with long straps at the side. “I made this for a nephew of mine many years ago, served him well. It’s adjustable, so it will grow as the little knight grows!”
“Perfect. Keep him with you for the time being, while he gets fitted. I have other duties.” Patraic kissed his son and left him with the old armourer.
As he walked to his command tent, he paused at times to greet and inspect various soldiers, knowing that they would be marching together for some time. Neither they nor he could afford any lapses in loyalty or duty.
“My Lord, the report is ready,” called Captain Sanifred. The Captain was another mercenary veteran from Patraic’s former band, now a proper leader of men and the head of the Dublin armies. Patraic jogged to the command tent.
Captain Sanifred, Steward Gilla-Patraic, Bishop Brennan and Earl Patraic of Dublin took their assigned places around the map table, the captain’s squire serving ale to all the men present. The tent was empty save the map table, but the table was covered in so many maps, reports and pieces of weaponry that its clutter made up for the rest.
“Gentlemen, report.” Patraic gestured for them to be at ease.
“Our full count is finished, between your levies and mercenary contracts, we number nearly three thousand fighting men, plus assorted camp followers. Furthermore, based on what I know of the rest of the island, the stores and weaponry of Ath Cliath castle is superior to our foes, so we will have an edge in quality, at least to start,” Sanifred smiled and turned to Bishop Brennan.
“I fear my news is not as welcome, My Lord, for your father-in-law, the King of Gwenydd, has declined to send any soldiers to your cause.” Patraic frowned and spat at this, but the Bishop continued. “He cannot commit men away from the English border, as bandits and raiders are causing much havoc due to the instability of the realm. He does promise to keep the Irish Sea free of enemies, both yours and his.”
“I only hope that will be enough, each sword arm is needed in a campaign like this,” Patraic sighed. He then looked to his Steward. “And you, steward? I trust your mission was a success?”
“Indeed, My Lord. Based on the reports I have received and the nature of our task, I recommend we start our campaign south to seize Leighin castle and the surrounding lands. The Lord Enna Ua Chenselaig has only recently inherited his title, and commands little respect of his vassals. His numbers will certainly be far inferior to ours, and by securing the south-east coast we can keep our imports secure.”
“Ua Chenselaig? Is this Enna the nephew of the old Murchad?” Patraic perked up at the family name of the old Lord of Dublin.
“He is indeed, and by eliminating their power base, there will be none left to question that Crovan is the rightful crest to fly in Ath Ciath castle.”
Patraic stood and stared at the map table. It would be a week’s march to Leighin castle, but he knew his Steward was right. A strong coastline would allow them to supply more men as they push inland, while eliminating the pretenders would help consolidate his rule.
He walked to the tent door and looked out. The position allowed him a good view of the mustering fields, which just happened to be pointing south. Patraic smiled, Gilla-Patraic knew him too well. He drained his ale and turned to the assembled captains.
“Then we begin. Captain Sanifred, alert the men that we march in two hours. Bishop, please convey my gratitude to my father-in-law, but inform him that alliances are about more than keeping boats afloat. Steward, I leave you in command of the garrison here and to plan our next move. Please have all necessary declarations sent to the Earl of Leinster that we are pressing our claim. Now if you will excuse me, I must collect my son so that we may ride to war.