The Spymaster

From Charred Marble

Ryack Tigh watched the large armies march away from the walls of Verdonsk. He stood in the shade of one of the towers which dotted the length of the wall. As they departed, he smiled slightly and left the battlements. The Spymaster of Ahm-Shere had cast off the disguise of a royal palace guard and now wore rich cloth, which marked him as a merchant. The dark tan cloak which he wore, concealed his face and form. He walked through the crowded streets, noticing that the city had been swelled with the people from towns and villages that had travelled to the protection offered by the city. Ryack Tigh blended into the crowds, and headed away from the shadow of the walls towards the interior of Verdonsk.

Ryack Tigh sat at a table in his room at the tavern he was staying at. On the table lay a map of Ahm-Shere, a bottle of wine, one glass and a knife. It had been two days previous that the armies from Ahm-Shere and Onk had left Verdonsk for the White Realm. The Spymaster of Ahm-Shere knew that it would take them a month to reach their destination of Thunderton. He only hoped they would reach Erkenbrand in time to keep him safe.

The thirty-six year old man leant back, sighed and poured himself another glass of wine.

Ryack Tigh had left his room at the tavern, after packing away the map of Ahm-Shere. He had business in the city this night, his true business. The Spymaster could not be everywhere at once, and so he had agents spread across the country. Still even they did not know who he was, beyond that he was the Spymaster.

After leaving the tavern, he had moved stealthily into an alleyway and put on his disguise. The only items he carried with him, a knife with a blade dulled by soot and the proof that he was the Spymaster. It was a small piece of wood, carved into the likeness of a shield, with several symbols upon it which proved his identity to those who knew of its existance. It had been passed down to him by his father, Fundiné Tigh, who had been the previous Spymaster of Ahm-Shere.

Ryack Tigh walked through the street, before turning to his left into a side street. He walked half way along this smaller street before stopping, checking that nobody was around and walking up to a wall. It seemed like a dead end, until he stepped through a small gap in the wall. It was an optical illusion, one which would make the wall seem solid and complete unless you stood close to it and looked at the right angle. He entered into the small courtyard, seeing the lone figure who waited there. Ryack Tigh said softly "Hawk."

The other man turned sharply, then relaxed and replied "Crow."

Ryack walked forward and held up the seal of authority before saying "Temur, what news do you have?"

The man, Temur tilted his head and said "Not much I'm afraid. Lord Muoran, the garrison commander for part of the north-west has been acting suspiciously lately. He's become secluded, isolated, his junior officer's are almost running the garrison themselves."

Ryack Tigh replied "That's nothing to worry about I think. The old man's just depressed, don't you remember, the anniversary of his wife's death two years ago has just passed. Keep an eye on the situation, but I think he'll be fine again in a while. What else?"

Temur nodded and continued "Murmurs from the southern towns. They've seen signs of former camp sites and some numbers of troops having moved about the area. But there are no tribes in those particular areas, and none of the military forces have been there either. It's someone else."

Ryack thought for a moment before asking "Maga Khan?"

Temur shrugged his shoulders "Perhaps, but we don't know for sure. It need checking out."

Ryack nodded "Yes, but I don't have the time to go all the way to the southern border just now. Anything else?"

Temur shook his head "No, nothing I've heard back on. Two days time and I'll have fuller reports from the north-east and the western border. Got to keep an eye on the market towns, now more than ever."

Ryack replied "Yes, of course. How are the people reacting?"

Temur answered "Worried, concerned. A few individuals who are more angry than others. Better than can be expected when a fifth of the army marches away to fight outside of the country and marches with an army of the Lizards."

Ryack sighed "Still, that could change at any time. The people must be made calm. I only hope this Rakdal Morlan is the right man to do that. I wish Muad'Dib had left someone else to that job, he's from the market towns. For all we know he'll just use this authority to try and stir up more of this independent feeling. Ahm-Shere needs to stand together, not fracture apart. Lord-General Erkenbrand should have had him discreetly killed long before now."

Temur nodded silently, not sure what to say.

Ryack said "Two days time then. The pass will be 'house', the reply will be 'name'. Two days Temur, let's hope they go well." With that he turned and left the small courtyard, returning to his room at the tavern.

Ryack got up early the next morning, before sunrise. He dressed in his merchant's clothes, but covered his mouth and nose with a piece of cloth held in place by the hood of his cloak.

Quickly leaving the tavern un-noticed, he travelled to the west side of the city. He entered a non-descript building, a guard moved from the hallway, sword drawn. Ryack revealed his seal to the man before hiding it away again. The guards here were all in Ryack Tigh's employ, and they had done a good job, given what Ryack had seen when he had travelled through the city.

Ryack entered the room and addressed the assembled men, several guards and the men they were guarding "Gentlemen. I trust you have had a pleasant stay here over the past few days?"

There were grumbles of agreement.

Ryack continued "It seems there has been a terrible 'accident'." He cleared his throat and waited just a moment. "Last night, the state governors' residence was burnt to the ground, everyone within was killed." He finished with a chuckle.

Ryack sat down at the table beside the men and said "We will wait here for a while, my people are in place and we will be informed when we should make our move. Remember, I am an agent of the Spymaster, my disguise will change when the time comes. You must remain impassive to my presence."

The three men nodded in agreement.

Ryack stood alone in the second room. He looked at the uniform he had put on. It was that of an Ahm-Sheran military officer. He picked up the helmet from the bed where it lay and placed it on his head, pulling down the visor. Now he looked the part of an Ahm-Sheran captain, Captain Vaughn. The Spymaster had created the false identity of the captain many years ago, and he always had one of his agents masquerading as Captain Vaughn who was stationed in Verdonsk. His agent looked very much like Ryack, in height and build. And the man was a great impressionist, able to make his voice sound exactly like Ryack when he spoke as Vaughn.

It was almost confusing, but the Spymaster was the only one with all the pieces.

He walked back into the main room and said to the others "It shouldn't be too long now." He noted that the other guards had changed into Ahm-Sheran infantry armour and heraldry.

Ryack spoke with the guards one at a time, making sure they knew what they were doing. Of course each was a highly trained agent of the Spymaster, but Ryack would always speak with his men to make sure everything was clearly understood. It was more a precaution on his own part really, as the Spymaster he knew that there were very few people he could trust. And even less who could be trusted completely, so even when he had recruited and trained these men, he would still test them and keep them on the right path.

Soon a large number of people had been gathered in Verdonsk's center square, and Rakdal and Alisha were standing on a small platform, speaking quietly with Mohal and another Senator. They all began to nod before Mohal and the other Senator stepped back and Rakdal stepped forward. "People of Verdonsk!" he called out, and the crowd began to quiet. "People of Verdonsk! Darkness is coming to the world. We can feel it in our bones. We can see it in the land. We can smell it in the wind. Everything is changing, and not for the better. Things are set in motion now which will forever change the face of Ahm-Shere, and indeed the world. Things will never be the same. There is a darkness, a darkness that is reaching to the farthest corners of the world and striking. The great city of Villiath, with whom my town and many other towns have long traded, has been razed, burned to the ground and its thousands of defenders slaughtered by some unknown force that left no indication as to what it was. The White Realm is beset by terrible dark creatures from the north, forcing a third of our army to leave our land and march eastward. Even here, in Verdonsk, you can see the signs of darkness's incursion. The state governors were murdered last night!" There were gasps of shock from the crowd. "Yes, my friends, murdered! Everyone would have you believe that it was an accident, that their fireplace raged out of control and burned them all to a crisp, but how often does that really happen? Something dark is at work here in Verdonsk, and I fear that we have begun to be invaded by whatever darkness is pervading the world! Friends, we must band together and face this darkness! We must support each other in this time of peril!" The crowd began to cheer in agreement, and Rakdal smiled. He turned and looked at Alisha, who was beaming, and she smiled back at him.

Ryack Tigh in his guise as Captain Vaughn marched into the square calmly, taking his time. Behind him walked three cloaked men and surrounding them were eight guards, some of his best agents in disguise.

The crowds did not part, but gradually the group made their way through the people until they were near the centre of the square. There were some shouts from the crowd, asking questions or voicing agreement with Rakdal Morlan's words. One man, an off-duty military officer from the looks of him shouted out "Its a fifth of our army! You make it sound like they've left the country defenceless."

"I assure you, that was not my intention," said Rakdal. "I apologize for my mistake, but I was only showing that the darkness that is coming is powerful and demands our attention. We must band together! We can no longer let petty differences between tribes, between city dwellers and desert dwellers, pull us apart! Now, more than ever, Ahm-Shere must unite as one!"

Many in the crowd cheered and the military officer seemed appeased by Rakdal's words. Another shout came up saying "Where are our leaders? Why have they all left in this?" This shout seemed to come from a woman further to the right.

Ryack waited, watching the crowd. It was not the right time yet.

"The leaders of Ahm-Shere are wiser men than I," said Rakdal in response. "They have their reasons for marching east, reasons I will not try to understand. They are wise, and they have ruled well for years; what they are doing will be for the best of Ahm-Shere."

More cheering, clapping and noise. The crowd was eating everything Rakdal Morlan was saying. Ryack Tigh could understand how the weight of the man's words carried, but he could also clearly see how those words could be so dangerous. Still he waited for the right moment.

There was another shout from somewhere in the crowd, although Ryack could not see clearly who was shouting. A man's voice rang out "What of the state governors? Who is in charge now they are dead?"

Ryack just had to wait for Rakdal Morlan's response, just a few moments more. He began to move slightly closer to the front, his men moving behind him.

"The Senate," said Rakdal. "Your elected representatives are the ones who will lead you until Erkenbrand and the others return."

Ryack Tigh moved clear of the crowd, just off to the left of where Rakdal Morlan stood on the raised platform. The three men moved with him and his guards kept the people out of the way and secured the area around the three cloaked men. Ryack, speaking as Captain Vaughn, with a much more pronounced and precise way of speaking to his own quiet tones said "Do you mind if I interrupt?"

"Of course not," said Rakdal, stepping aside.

Ryack Tigh stood up on the platform and said "I am Captain Vaughn of the Verdonsk garrison. While I cannot match Rakdal Morlan's fine words, perhaps with the information I am about to give I can provide the people with some comfort." He cleared his throat, giving the impression that he was not very confident about speaking in front of so many. Ryack continued "The Spymaster of Ahm-Shere shares the concerns of Rakdal Morlan about the darkness creeping into our grand nation. The Spymaster believed that with so many of the leaders of Ahm-Shere gone or leaving that enemies might take advantage and strike against those remaining. He knew that while men like Lord-General Erkenbrand, Muad'Dib or Mardat can take care of themselves, the state governors were easy targets."

He waited a moment, allowing his words to sink in. He continued "To this end the Spymaster moved the state governors in secret to a secure location as soon as was possible when the muster of the army was arranged. In their place were imposters placed in the governors' residence. Their great sacrifice will not be forgotten. The men who masqueraded as the state governors and their guards knew the risks and were glad to put themselves in danger for the good of Ahm-Shere. They should be applauded. The Spymaster brings a message of hope to all Ahm-Shere, the state governors are here alive and well." He motioned to the three cloaked men, who pulled down their hoods to reveal their identities.

Ryack finished "The Spymaster has arranged for the state governors to now be taken directly to the royal palace under the able guards you see here. They will remain within the most heavily and well defended building in all Ahm-Shere until this crisis is over. Thank you for listening and I will now take my leave." Ryack nodded slightly to Rakdal Morlan and stepped down from the platform as the guards began to escort the state governors away to the palace.

"There you have it," said Rakdal. "The state governors will now be in control."

There was another chorus of cheering. Ryack smiled slightly behind the visor of his helmet. Let him have his moment, the Spymaster thought and he began to head away from the square to accompany the state governors to the royal palace.

Turning to Alisha, Rakdal muttered, "There is nothing left for us to do here. Let us go." The two turned and quickly left the stage as the crowds cheered.

Once the state governors were safely escorted to the royal palace, Ryack Tigh saluted to the officer who had met them and took his guards away from the palace. He had to admit, being Captain Vaughn seemed so much more simple and rewarding at times compared to the endless complexities of being Spymaster. But Ryack was who he was, who he had been raised to be by his father. It was in his blood.

Another half hour saw them reach the building where they had held the state governors. The group quickly changed back into whatever clothes they required for their covers in the city. Each one of his agents had false identities, false lives which they led the majority of the time. As Spymaster he was the only one with more than one identity, but he considered his true identity to be simply Spymaster of Ahm-Shere.

Once he had changed back into the merchant's clothing of Ryack Tigh, merchant from Remmus, he left his men to go back to their duties. He travelled back to the tavern he had been staying at. There he would wait for his meeting the next day with Temur. Ryack thought, perhaps I'll return to Remmus after the meeting.

The next day arrived and Ryack Tigh got up and got ready. After eating breakfast, he returned to his room. There was little to do until the evening when he would meet with Temur again. The day passed slowly, but Ryack was a patient man, given his line of work.

When night fell over Verdonsk, and the stars and moon shone in the sky, Ryack Tigh went to the meeting place. He entered and said the password while holding up his seal "House."

Temur replied "Name."

Ryack approached and sat down on the stone bench which formed the only item in the courtyard. He said "What do you have to report Temur?"

Temur spoke "A few things Spymaster. We've had reports from the area around the market towns. A group of one thousand Fremen warriors have arrived there and are acting as additional guards for the towns. It seems Muad'Dib has given these warriors to Rakdal Morlan to help protect the market towns in the current crisis."

Ryack nodded "Hoping to re-unite the market towns with Ahm-Shere. Let's hope it works, but have the men keep an eye on it. If the situation changes, try to get the Fremen to leave."

Temur asked "Why make them leave?"

Ryack said "The Fremen are one of the most powerful tribes in Ahm-Shere. We can't afford to lose their support of the military and the royal line, and we certainly can't afford the Fremen to lose the support of the other tribes. We keep the Fremen on side, and we keep every tribe in Ahm-Shere on side by association."

Temur replied "Do you really think the tribes would try to break away from Ahm-Shere?"

Ryack said "I don't know, but nobody expected the market towns to do it either. Move on."

Temur continued his report "News from the western border. They've seen no more movements from the Lizards apart from the army which left with ours."

Ryack responded "Good. Perhaps we can finally secure the Lizards as allies, like the White Realm managed with the Lizards of Mu. Ahm-Shere can ill afford enemies any more if it can be helped. What of the southern border?"

Temur said "The border forts report no breaches from the Empire of Maga Khan. But still we are getting reports of unknown forces moving about down there. Now we have a clearer picture though, the signs of camps and troops indicate they are moving north-east, and seem to be at the border between the states of Umit and Remmus. They look to be heading towards Remmus."

Ryack concealed his concern and said "Remmus. Well, I will prepare provisions and make the journey to Remmus. From there I can hopefully find these unknown troops and have them dealt with if necessary."

Temur asked "Do you want me or any of the other agents to accompany you Spymaster?"

Ryack said "No, no, I'll go alone and meet with the agents in the area. I must go now Temur. I do not know when we will meet again, but the pass will be 'foot' and the reply will be 'claw'."

Temur replied "Very well Spymaster." Even as Ryack Tigh stood up and left the courtyard in a hurry.

Two hours later, Ryack had paid off his bill at the tavern, prepared his belongings and supplies and taken his horse from the stables. He made his way to the western gates and left the city of Verdonsk, heading for Remmus as quickly as he could.

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