Abuse of Power

 by Brian W. Foster

Auggie crept through the moonlit forest.

He chose a specific spot for each step. Despite his bulk, the resulting crunch of leaves and sticks blended into sounds of gurgling water and a gentle breeze stirring the canopy of treetops. The cool night air and the excitement of the chase made him feel alive.

How dare she ask me to give this up. The thought made him want to tear a limb from a nearby tree and crush it into splinters. If she knew how I felt, maybe she wouldn’t have asked, and we’d still be together. A quiet voice in the back of his mind reminded him of how many times he had told her just that. Fighting not to scream in frustration, he picked a patch of ground covered in moss and stepped on it.

Behind him, Benj employed far less care.

Auggie glanced back. Though he kept his voice low, he mustered sharp emphasis. “Are you familiar with the concept of sneaking?”

His friend replied in a conversational tone. “You said it’s another half mile to the camp. No need to stress yet.”

“One of these days, your carelessness is going to get me killed.”

Benj rolled his eyes. “We’ve done this a thousand times. Simple horse thieves aren’t a worry for you and your faithful companion.” He gestured at the dense woods. “How are you going to find the clearing in the middle of all this anyway?”

“You didn’t recognize the description the scouts gave us? The huge oak in the middle? A couple hundred yards from a cliff?”

Benj started to shake his head. “Wait. That bandit who robbed Lord Hebert’s country manor a year ago. The one who gave us the slip.”

“Took you long enough,” Auggie said. “We’ll follow the stream right to it. Now shut up.” Behind him, Benj’s movements blended as much into the surroundings as Auggie’s, and they soon reached the edge of a clearing.

A dim orange glow illuminated the middle of the camp, and a man sat facing the embers. Two dozen horses, some moving about and others sleeping, stood in a picket line on the other side of the fire. Snores emanated from eight bedroll-covered shapes scattered about the site.

Catching his friend’s eye, Auggie raised a single finger, pointed it from Benj to the ground. After gesturing at himself, he made a circular motion. Benj nodded.

Dark hues and roughened buttons replaced the royal blue and shiny gold trim of his uniform. His blond hair hid under a black cap, and a layer of mud covered the white of his face. To keep his broadsword from moving, straps fastened the sheath to his thigh.

Auggie kept his profile low and slid from shadow to shadow outside the ring of trees before encountering a twenty-yard stretch of unshielded turf. He eased onto his stomach and wormed his way into the moonlight.

As Auggie concentrated on the movements of the sentry, his hand found a stick. He pressed without thinking, and the dry branch crunched. The sound seemed to reverberate through the night.

Auggie froze and imagined sinking into the ground. Be the grass. His offending hand inched toward the hilt of his sword. A prone position is an ill-advised method for meeting the enemy.

He stared at the sentry and readied his fingers and toes to launch onto his feet. Invigorated by hanging on the edge of danger, he couldn’t imagine giving up the life of a soldier to sit in an audience chamber listening to advisers.

Holding his muscles tense and not breathing, Auggie watched. The sentry didn’t budge except to take another swig from a wineskin. Auggie sighed and crawled into the darkness.

As he approached the horses, he kept his pace steady and his manner unthreatening. Checking the left hindquarter of the first one, he found an unfamiliar brand, so he moved to the next. He nodded at the markings on the fourth horse and ghosted back into the night.

He and Benj snuck away from the camp, not stopping until far enough away to speak.

“A circle inscribed by a star,” Auggie said. “That’s the Greenfield’s brand. These are the guys.”

They pushed their pace and reached their horses, hidden in a shallow ravine. A half hour of hard riding found them at a fort.

After straightening their uniforms and cleaning the mud off their faces, the two entered a wood shack and requested an audience with the night commander. A page disappeared into the back and returned a moment later to escort them into an office.

Auggie saluted a gray-haired man seated behind a small desk. “Major August Asher, sir.”

“Lieutenant Benjamin Flynn, sir.”

The grizzled colonel didn’t look up from his paperwork. He signed his name and flipped a page. “Report.”

Grinning, Benj bugged out his eyes and puffed his cheeks. Auggie made subtle pats with his hands trying to get him to stop.

“Well?” The colonel raised his head and frowned. With Benj’s face reverted to normal, he caught only Auggie’s movement. “Is that how you were taught to stand at attention?”

Auggie squelched the urge to glare at his friend and moved his hands back to his side. “No sir.”

“I’m still waiting for your report.”

“We left Asherton a week ago to investigate accounts of a horse-thieving ring operating between the City and Ruferburg. Scouts related the presence of unknown persons ten miles from this fort. We infiltrated the camp and confirmed at least one horse with a brand matching the stolen property, sir.”

“Very well.” The older man returned his eyes to the paper on his desk. “Write the location and pertinent details, and I’ll see to it. Lieutenant Ebers will direct you to the visiting officer quarters. Dismissed.”

Neither of the junior officers moved.

“Sir, we’ve come all the way from Asherton.” Benj enunciated clearly the first part of the name of the City.

The colonel looked at them with an annoyed expression. “Yes. The major included that information in his report.”

“Sir, we’d like to be included in the apprehension of these men, to be in on the fight, to duke it out with them, so to speak,” Benj said. “You know, make them rue the day their mothers met their father.” The last word came out hard.

Not wanting to be caught moving while at attention again, Auggie could only glare at his friend.

“Major,” the colonel said, “how would you address a request by two officers unfamiliar with the troops here at this fort, who are visibly road-worn and weary, to join in a last minute stealth expedition?”

“Sir, I would deny the request and tell them to rest.”

“Good answer. Once again, dismissed.” He returned his attention to his paperwork. As the two junior officers turned to leave, he called out. “Lieutenant.”

They stopped and faced him.

The colonel met Benj’s eyes. “I know well who your friend is. A little tomfoolery is to be expected in the young, but try not to act like a complete idiot.” He bent to sign another sheet of paper.

Auggie stifled a laugh and rushed outside before letting his guffaws escape. His friend’s expression reminded Auggie of the time the duke caught Benj trying to peek at the maid in her bath.

“I swear,” Auggie said, “when I become duke, I’m making you my general. It’s the only fitting punishment.”

Benj froze. “You wouldn’t.” He stared with wide eyes. “Seriously, Auggie. You’re joking, right? You wouldn’t be that cruel?”

Auggie chuckled.

“I need a drink.” Benj’s pale face shone in the moonlight. “We passed a tavern in that village a couple of miles up the road.”

“I’ve been traveling for a week, I’ve barely slept in that time, and it’s after midnight. I’m not going anywhere except to find a bed.”




A dozen of the thirty tables held customers as Auggie stepped into the tavern. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”

Benj grinned. “Quit your bellyaching. It’s chilly tonight.”

“No. We’re riding at first light. You need sleep.”

Benj’s eyes scanned the occupants as he walked through the common room. “C’mon now, the memory of a nice bedwarmer is just what I need to keep me happy on the road.”

With a sigh, Auggie followed. “That’s not how a gentleman behaves, you know.”

“Gentleman?” Benj stopped and stroked his chin in an exaggerated gesture of thoughtfulness. “I’m more of a rogue.” He looked back, his eyes sparkling. “A handsome rogue. Besides, you’re one to talk.”


Benj found a table well away from the door and sat, straddling the seat and leaning the chair back on its hind legs. “You didn’t behave like you’d taken a tender’s vows when you were with Trina. Then you ditched her at the first opportunity.”

“I did not!” Auggie plopped into a chair opposite him. “She left me.”

“She told you to marry her or else. You chose the else.”

Auggie’s face clouded.

“Don’t look at me like that.” Benj laughed. “I don’t blame you. But don’t claim you’re different from me.”

Auggie’s eyes darted about before lighting on a tiny slip of a girl sweeping the floor in the far corner. “My conscience is clear.”

The fact that he couldn’t meet Benj’s gaze evidenced the lie.

“What about her?” Benj said.

The question drew Auggie’s attention back to his friend, and his eyebrows rose in question.

Benj pointed at a buxom woman with short brown hair. “To be my bedwarmer?”

Auggie shook his head and returned to staring at the girl in the corner. “I want no part of this.” Her face captivated him.

“Wow, look at her.”

Auggie glanced at the particularly busty red-haired young lady his friend indicated. He sighed. Without thinking it through, he pointed at the girl sweeping the floor.

“Her?” Benj frowned. “She’s filthy, probably hasn’t had a bath in a week, and her chest… Are you sure that’s not a boy?”

“She’s intriguing.”

“She’s wearing a sack.”

“Look past her clothes.”

A smile split Benj’s face. “I’d love to. Do you think I can get her to take them off?”

Auggie rolled his eyes. “Be serious for once. Look at her face. Nice lines. Those eyes glow green.” He stared at her. “And the dirt. Notice it’s only the smudges on her face? None under her fingernails. Her dress—which is three sizes too large, by the way—is immaculate.”

Maybe Benj’s attitude is the right one. I need something to take my mind off Trina, and that girl is just—wow.

Several years younger than Auggie’s twenty-two, she kept her face cast toward the floor as she worked. When she did look up, she met no one’s eyes. She avoided coming within ten feet of any patron.

The red-headed barmaid approached her. “When you’re done here, empty the chamber pot in the middle room. Poor chap is sick. Has it coming out both ends.” She laughed and skipped away.

The demure girl stared at the retreating figure. For the tiniest fraction of an instant, anger flashed across her face.

“Oh ho!” Auggie said. “She’s got some spirit to her.”

“That little thing?” Benj spat. “She makes a mouse seem strong.”

“You’re just not seeing her right.”

Benj stared at the major for a minute before cocking his head. “I never thought I’d see the day. You’re smitten.”

Auggie’s nostrils flared. “I am not.”

Benj chuckled. “Really?” He stood.

“What are you going to do?”

Benj grinned. “You’ll see.”

“Don’t you dare.”

The lieutenant marched toward her.

“Benj! Don’t make me pull rank.”

He gave no indication he heard.

“Lieutenant Flynn, return to this table. That’s an order!”

Except for the girl, everyone scrutinized the two officers. Benj grabbed her about the waist. She turned and slapped him. The sound echoed through the room, and a silence fell.

Auggie exploded from his chair and rushed to them as Benj released the girl and rubbed his cheek.

“You were right. She’s got spirit.”

Her eyes went wide as she studied the two officers. She shrank from them. “My lords, I’m so sorry. I thought… I mean, I didn’t.…” Fear haunted her expression. She looked as if she expected to be struck down where she stood.

Auggie pulled Benj behind him and carefully kept his distance. “You’re not the one who owes an apology, my lady.”

Her eyes bulged at the honorific, and Auggie stumbled over what to say next. He didn’t typically address chamber maids as nobility and couldn’t understand why he had on this occasion. Just go with it. Maybe she’ll be flattered.

At a head less than seven feet tall, he towered over her. He slouched in an attempt to appear less threatening. “Truly my lady, we mean you no harm.”

Her body remained tense. “Thank you, my lord. May I return to my duties?”

He should have excused her and been done with it, but he couldn’t seem to get those words out. “I feel terrible at the fright my lout of a lieutenant gave you. May I buy you a drink?”

May I buy you a drink? Really? Get it together, Asher.

For the first time, a hint of a smile touched her lips. “If it pleases my lord, I’d rather not.”

His heart jumped at the transformation of her face brought by the slightest glimmer of mirth. “Of course, my lady.” Inclining his head, he backed away a step. “I’ll do my best to ensure the owner of this fine establishment doesn’t learn you refused to earn him custom.” He had never felt like more of an ass.

Auggie turned slowly and stepped toward his table, waiting for a reply. She didn’t disappoint.

“My lord, perhaps I spoke too quickly. A bit of wine sounds nice.”

He and Benj seated themselves as the girl dragged herself to their table. Her reluctance made Auggie feel worse. What am I doing?

She slumped into a chair while keeping her eyes focused on wood stained by years of sloppy patrons. Auggie signaled for a serving girl.

The buxom redhead bounced to them. “Yes, my lord?”

The major ordered three glasses of wine. As the barmaid retreated, she glared at the pretty waif seated with the two officers.

Auggie cleared his throat. “Your coworker doesn’t seem to like you.”

The girl shrugged, her gaze not rising.

“Are you from this village?” Auggie said.


“Been here long?”


“What brought you here?”

She shrugged again. Benj stifled a chuckle by trying to disguise it as a cough.

Is she scared? How do I draw her from her shell? The direct approach? “There’s no need to fear us.”

Her eyes darted up and fixed on the sword hanging from his belt for an instant before returning to the table.

Why wouldn’t she be afraid? Two military officers. I’m a foot and a half taller than her and outweigh her by two hundred pounds.

He plastered what he hoped was a warm smile across his face. “If I killed every girl who slapped Benj, we’d have to close half the taverns in the duchy for lack of barmaids.”

Her face rose from looking at the table. “You do kill some of them?”

Horror clouded Auggie’s visage. “No! That’s not—”

Benj tried to choke back laughter and ended up in a coughing fit. The edges of the girl’s lips threatened to curl into a smile.

Auggie nodded. “So you’re teasing me now.”

Behind her, the door bursting open drew Auggie’s eyes. A short, slight man wearing a tunic and hose entered. Three men-at-arms dressed in black followed. They cast harsh glares about the room.

Two farmers sat near the entrance. Despite a half dozen empty tables in the area, one of the newcomers approached the pair of locals and gestured for them to move.

Auggie snapped his attention back to the girl. “What’s your name?”


Alaina Asher. Auggie grimaced. Double initials sound so stupid. He shook his head. What are you thinking? Get a hold of yourself, man.

She frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. “You don’t like it? Well, I’m sorry. It’s the only one I have.”

His mind spun as he searched for a way to deflect the offense he had given. “No, my lady. Something behind you distracted me. Your name is the very definition of loveliness.” He bowed his head toward her. “Please forgive my disgraceful manners.”

By her expression, she didn’t believe his excuse.

“Truly. A catcher and his men walked in.”

Her eyes went wide, and she glanced behind her at the four men seating themselves. “How do you know he’s a catcher?”

“That hideous outfit he’s wearing hasn’t been the court fashion in Bermau for two seasons.” Auggie shuddered at the thought of that particularly heinous year. At least he’d only been forced to adopt the style for a single ball. Thank the Holy One that Benj didn’t see it. “And his soldiers wear all black. If he were a merchant, he wouldn’t bother with livery, and a noble acting on his own behalf would have them dressed in his house colors.”

Trembling, she stared at the table.

“Not to worry. We won’t let any harm come to you.”

She met his eyes for the first time. “Quite a boast. No one has authority over them.” Bitterness tainted her voice.

“That’s not true.”

“He’s being too modest,” Benj said. “We’ve killed three of them.”

Her head swiveled between the two officers. “How is that possible?”

Auggie tried to shush the lieutenant.

“It’s easier when you’re the niskmo.”

“You?” she said to Benj. “You’re the duke’s son?”

Auggie sighed. “Guilty.”

He expected her reaction to change. In his experience, girls fawned over him when told of his wealth and power. Instead, she shrank further into her chair as if trying to sink through it.

Probably thinks it’s more likely we’ll kill her for slapping Benj. He kept his tone calm and reasonable. “The lieutenant makes it sound like we go around killing people for sport.”

Benj opened his mouth, and Auggie cast a withering glare at him. For once, Benj got the message and shut up.

“We had those catchers lawfully executed. It was no different than hunting bandits and bringing them to justice.”

“I’ve seen them.…” Her voice grew heated. She checked herself. “I’ve seen them coerce a girl into bed by accusing her of being a mage. No one did a thing.”

“Not while I’m around.” He froze. “Wait. They didn’t—”

“Don’t worry. My virtue is intact.” She bit off each word.

“The point is that they do have limits,” Auggie said.

“You really can protect innocent people?”

Auggie sighed. “I’m making it sound too easy. Each of those we caught took weeks to set up, and two more got away.”

A disruption drew his attention.

The catcher’s booming voice carried over the din of conversation. “Do you have any idea who I am? Bring the innkeeper at once.”

The barmaid serving the catcher’s table scurried away.

Seconds later, a thin man wearing an apron hustled from a back room over to the table. “My lord, what seems to be the problem?”

“My men and I require food and libation.”

The innkeeper exhaled as if he were expecting a larger problem. He smiled. “I can help you. What would you like?”

Each of the men ordered a meal and a flagon of ale.

“That will be four coppers, and I’ll get it right out to you.”

The catcher’s face grew bright red. “I am Emar M’unda, third to the earl of Nahda. I will not be insulted!”

The slim man backed away a step. “My lord, no offense was meant. All customers must pay for their meals. How else am I to feed my family?”

“I care not for your water-cursed urchins. One such as I should not even have to talk to one as low as you, much less expect to pay for the privilege.” Emar eyed the man from head to toe. “On second thought, perhaps I should investigate your family further. You seem the type to hide a mage.”

The innkeeper inched backward holding his hands in front of him. “There’s no need for that.”

Auggie leapt to his feet and kicked his chair out of the way. The clatter of crashing wood drew all eyes. He marched to the catcher’s table. He loomed over everyone in the room. “You will not make those kinds of threats in my duchy.”

Emar stood, followed by his three guards. Auggie felt a presence behind him and glanced to find Benj.

“Your duchy?” Emar said.

“My father’s, and mine soon.” The words caught in his throat. The duke’s failing health kept rumormongers chattering. Auggie didn’t know which he found more upsetting—the specter of losing his dad or life stuck in the castle.

Emar turned to the innkeeper. “Is this man’s claim true?”

Pale as chalk, the thin man bobbed his head.

The catcher motioned his men to be seated. He inclined his head a fraction though his eyes remained hard. “My lord, I have no quarrel with you.”

Auggie lowered his voice and relaxed his muscles. “I don’t know how it works in Kaicia. In Bermau, catchers do not threaten proprietors to gain free meals.”

Emar smirked. “By treaty, mage hunters are allowed to investigate where they will, from the scions of the nobility to the lowest scullery maid.” He cast his eyes at the back of Alaina’s head.

“I don’t think you want to go there, friend,” Auggie said. “Take your seat and pay the man for the food.”

Emar tossed a silver onto the floor. “Keep the change.”

The innkeeper grabbed the coin and scurried away.

“Good choice.” Auggie turned his back to the catcher.

Emar called to him. “Wait a moment, dukeling. I find interesting a barmaid who sits with such high company and refuses even to look in my direction.”

Auggie spun, and his hands clenched into fists. “She is none of your concern.”

“Is she not, now, dukeling? I seem to recall that it is my decision whom to investigate.”

Auggie felt a hand on his arm, and he shook off Benj’s grip. He turned to see Alaina cowered in her chair, her back to the argument.

Emar marched past the two officers and faced Alaina. He grabbed her chin and tilted her face up. “By order of the Three Kingdoms, I place you under arrest for the use of magic.”

Auggie surged forward. Benj grabbed both his shoulders, but Auggie plowed ahead, dragging his friend.

“Stop!” Benj lowered his voice after the shout. “This is neither the time nor the place. We can’t be seen flaunting the law.”

Auggie hauled the lieutenant a few more steps before relenting. Blast it! He’s right.Frustrated, he found a nearby chair and clenched its top rail. The pine snapped under the pressure.

Sneering, Emar pulled Alaina from the tavern.




After following the catcher and his men, Auggie dismounted in the woods a quarter mile from an armed encampment. “Benj! Stop checking the stupid horse and move it.”

The lieutenant remained maddeningly calm. “I thought I felt a hitch in his stride. If there’s a problem, better to find it now.”

Worry for Alaina consumed Auggie. He clenched and unclenched his hands around a rope as he waited for Benj finally to pronounce the animal fit.

For the second time that night, Auggie crept through a forest, though now the moon hid behind clouds. Anxiousness spurred him onward, and Benj lagged behind. “For the love of the Holy One, will you please walk faster?”

Benj glanced toward the sky, his face a mask of bemused exasperation in the faint light. “Earlier you.… Never mind.” He sped his pace.

Strong wind from an approaching storm obscured the sound of their passage, and they reached the camp a short time later.

Besides the catcher and the three men who had been at the tavern, four other black-liveried soldiers milled about the site. A picket line secured sixteen horses, and seven two-man canvas tents dotted the area around a monstrous purple and orange pavilion with a banner depicting an oared ship. Flames from a bonfire flared ten feet high.

A wagon near the fire drew Auggie’s gaze. It held an iron cage six feet tall and four feet to a side. Alaina stood shivering with her blank face pressed against the bars. Despite the fifty yards separating them, he knew tears caused the glistening on her cheeks, and his heart melted.

“We’ve got to save her.”

“Calm down, big man. I’m all about fracturing the occasional rule, but messing with a catcher is bad. Besides, he’s just yanking your chain. He’ll probably let her go in the morning if you don’t butt in.”

Emar’s voice boomed from the camp to belie the lieutenant’s opinion. “Make everything ship-shape, you sea-kissed dolts. We move her out at first light.”

Auggie eyed his friend.

Benj shrugged. “What is it about this girl anyway?”

I’m acting like a lovesick teenager. Auggie clenched his teeth and forced words through them. “She’s in there because of me. I shirk enough of my responsibilities. I won’t this time.” He sank to a knee. “We’ll wait for them to settle for the night and then get her out.”

An hour later, gusts of wind roared through the trees. Only a lone sentry remained outside the tents, and he huddled by the fire with his back to Auggie and Benj. Alaina hunched inside her cage, shaking, as large drops of water fell.

The roaring gales and splashing rain concealed the sound of Auggie standing. “Now. Follow me.”

He marched toward the guard. Forty yards became twenty became five. As the heavy footfalls approached, the man finally stirred. He turned and shouted a surprised yelp. Auggie’s fist hit his cheek, cutting the cry short, and sent him sprawling onto his back in the dirt.

Benj straddled the soldier, knees pinning downed arms. The lieutenant pressed against the man’s mouth with one hand and held a knife to his throat with the other. “Another peep and you’re done.”

Auggie trussed the guard’s limbs with the rope and gagged him with a dirty handkerchief. Alaina stared at Auggie with wide eyes as he climbed onto the wagon. “What are you doing? Get out of here!” Her words came as a hoarse whisper.

Her soaked dress clung to her, and he tried not to stare. “What?”

Her hands grasped the bars with a death grip. “Leave me be. Go!”

“My lady, these men will kill you.”

“This is none of your concern.” Her voice cracked.

“All this is my concern!”

Moisture welled at the corners of her eyes. “Typical noble. You do whatever you want regardless of the law or consequences. Get away from me!”

Auggie stepped back, and her expression changed to resemble a sad, abandoned puppy. Enough talk. He drew his sword.

A padlock held the door closed. Sticking his hardened steel blade inside the rusty shackle, he bore down on the hilt with his considerable strength. A loud screech reverberated above the noise of the pouring rain as the hasp shattered.

He ripped the lock off and clanged the door open. “Let’s go!”

She backed away tentatively until bumping into the opposite bars.

Auggie let out a growl of frustration. “We don’t have time for this.”

He ducked inside the cell and grabbed her. She offered only token resistance as he tucked her under his arm.

A groggy man emerged from the nearest tent, and Benj knocked him on the head with the hilt of his sword. With the entire camp stirring, Benj fled down the road toward the horses. Auggie followed carrying Alaina like a sack of potatoes.

He glanced back to see a swarm of activity. Three of the black-clad men raced after them while others mounted horses.

The ones chasing on foot had no chance of catching the three. Benj vaulted into his saddle. Auggie jumped atop his horse and pulled Alaina up behind him. As they galloped away, he looked at the pursuers.

He shouted at Benj, “Five riders a hundred yards back.”

“The fort?”

Auggie nodded. The dampness gave the wind a harsh bite, and Alaina plastered herself to his back. Though it made him feel like a cad, he reveled in the sensation of her body against his until he realized how much she shivered. He shrugged off his cloak and gave it to her.

His weight and the added rider slowed his horse. Over ten miles of frantic travel, he glanced back often to see the catcher and his men gaining. The thought of Emar again putting his hands on Alaina enraged him.

“Benj! We’re not going to make it. Take her.”

His friend pulled next to him. Reaching behind, Auggie grabbed the back of her clothes, his huge mitts gripping the neck of both her dress and his cloak, and lifted her like a wet kitten. Over her protests, he swung her onto the back of Benj’s saddle.


With the two galloping ahead of him, Auggie drew his broadsword in a smooth motion and turned to face the enemy. Startled, the lead soldier darted to the side to avoid a swing. His horse lost traction in wet mud running beside the road, and half a ton of man and animal crashed to the ground with a sickening crunch.

The remaining four pursuers halted. As they gathered to prepare a unified charge, Auggie spun and galloped toward the fort, opening a hundred-yard lead.

Benj, with Alaina clinging to him, waited as an iron portcullis inched upward.

This is going to be tight. Auggie flattened himself against his horse.

As the gate cleared the top of their mount’s head, Benj and Alaina ducked and burst into the safe confines of the stockade.

Not slowing from a full gallop, Auggie darted under the iron bars. He slashed at a coarse rope to drop a counterweight. The gate plunged closed and forced the catcher and his men to pull up shy of the barrier.

Auggie reined to a halt.

“Provisions?” Benj said.

Auggie nodded, and the lieutenant deposited his stunned cargo and rode toward the stable.

The major turned to a stormy-faced sergeant. “By order of the crown, keep those men from entering.” He collected Alaina and nudged his horse into motion in the direction of the kitchen.