Don’t forget to check out Part 1.
When you’re on the road on a smuggling job like this you have lots of little factors to consider. Wagons, rations, bedding, weather, medication… How heavy is the cargo? What’s the landscape like? It’s probably one of the most boring parts of the whole mercenary lifestyle. When I was in the Ordic army we used to march through mud and forests and up hills and down hills and I would happily do that in a heartbeat, rather than sit in a wagon day after day.
When you’re marching, especially when you’re an officer of any kind, you’re constantly moving. You’re walking up and down the line, berating, mocking, joking with the men. Keeping their minds simultaneously on the fact that they are marching off to stare death in the face but that they will not die because you’re there with them. You become like a little walking society. You don’t have to worry as much about the world around you because you have scouts and rangers out there, beyond your vision, creating a wall between you and the rest of the world.
When you’re driving a wagon, you sit. You sit and you worry and you look around and you imagine the road is playing tricks on you, that the Wurm is waiting just beyond those trees, around that bend, to swallow you and your stupid wooden carts whole. The noise of the wheels and the horses and the leather and mud makes conversation with anyone more than four feet away near impossible.
It gets worse when you actually do find something unexpected. Fear and paranoia spread quickly amongst a small crew, and I have to admit, I’ve never been one of those leaders who believes in hiding his feelings. This crew works on trust and loyalty, and you can’t breed that kind of atmosphere with a lack of emotion. When I’m afraid I need them to see it, so they know the situation is serious. When I’m angry I need them to see it, so they will fight back that much harder.
The first night on the road we got attacked. Bandits. Standard isolated-road-in-the-forest kind of stuff. Everyone did their job and no one got seriously hurt. Clara got a rude awakening in some of the applications of magic that I think may have shaken her more than I was expecting. I think sometimes I forget that there are people that see things like a man having a large portion of his skin being magically flayed from his body for the first time. She needed to see it though. she needs to know what The Life is like.
She also needed to see me angry for the first time. And Aksana provided me with the perfect opportunity. After the fight, she made it clear, in her oh-so tactful way, that she and her boss had hired the bandits to attack us. A test. I don’t like being tested. I have spent a long time working to make sure that this company has the right reputations in the right circles to get the right jobs. As far as the average garrison commander is concerned, we’re boisterous, but efficient footsloggers and guardsmen. Ask almost any pirate captain sailing out of Five Fingers and they’ll say we’re that, but also some of the best sailers, smugglers and ship-to-ship men in western Immoren.
But if you’re a Kayazy crime boss and you’ve heard of us, and are willing to hire us to smuggle your three tonne international incident and its warcaster across national borders, then I would expect you to believe the stories, true and false, about some of the things we’ve accomplished. That was her first strike.
The rest of the journey was uncomfortable. Not just because of the rain and cold, or the hard wooden boards of the wagons. I had built a wall between us and Aksana. Well, she built the wall. I just drew attention to it. This journey will be long and difficult, and while I doubt I’ll thaw that icy exterior, if I can isolate her and exclude her, she might make more effort to ingratiate herself with the rest of the group after some time. If not, and things go south between us and her, I don’t need the crew having any emotional ties to her clouding up their judgement, or making their trigger fingers hesitate.
It was a couple of days later that we came across the horse. A Khadoran warhorse cut open, its heart pulled out and missing. Fysan figured it out quickly, while Sergei panicked, muttering about the crows and the Witch of Khador. We left it and carried on quickly, but it was only a matter of time before they caught up with us.
Tharn. Big, hulking, ugly bastards that look, and smell, like they’re been shat out by a hungover Gorax. They came down on us quickly, and almost before we could form up, Stefan had taken one of their massive arrows through his thigh. It was looking bad for a while. The ravagers are tough, fanatical devotees to the Devourer and they don’t know when to drop. This was not helped by the fact that Aksana refused to leave her ‘sister’s’ side, and join the fight. Another warcaster could have definitely given us the upper hand in this fight. Her second strike.
It became obvious pretty quickly after the fight that we weren’t going to be able to save Stefan’s leg. The huge, filthy and gnarled shaft of the Tharn arrow had torn the flesh to shreds, severed arteries and shattered the bone. We had to act quick. Bert and I held him down as Sergei did the cutting.
It’s not the first time I’ve held a man down while he’s being mutilated, or heard a man scream in mourning for a limb. It most likely won’t be the last. But it’s never easy.
“The next time, you fight, or I’ll leave you and your sister hobbled in the mud to have your hearts eaten by monsters.” Those were the words I screamed at her. In front of the whole crew.
When I’m angry I need them to see it, so they will fight back that much harder.