Autumn Morning -- Poryatu
Brec'han Le Bras
Le Bras Guards look tiredly at monsters making lines. Already 4 battles in 3 days, making tired. But still no breaking.
"Steady!" Brec'han says. Last time they stay strong, no break at end. Will do again. MUST do again.
"At the ease!" he says. There is time.
Autumn Evening -- Nid Tek
Brec'han Le Bras
Captain Magdalena march up and down table in tavern. "You smile? Who say okay smile? I fine you! I fine you!"
"Why you laugh?! I fine you! I fine you!"
Only Brec'han no smiling, no laughing.
Autumn evening -- Askileon Purlieus
Stone looked up at the cluster of people around the wagon, then turned and spat into the mud. The autumn sun beat down on her from high above in the grasslands as she weighed her options. The ox looked fine, but the axle was at an odd angle. Glancing behind the wagon, she saw the deep pocket formed in the road by the recent rainfall. The wagon must have hit the hole and snapped something loose. It would take her a handful of men to lift the wagon and replace the axle, assuming they had a spare around. If they didn’t, they could redistribute the load among the other wagons, but finding space for their supplies would take time. The worst of it, she knew, was not the cargo or the wagon, but the gaggle of men surrounding the wagon, endless debating what to do. “If someone doesn’t intervene and soon,” she thought, “we’re going to be here till nightfall.”
“We don’t need a new axle, just put a brace there,” one man said, pointing in the general direction of the wagon.
“You’re an idiot, we need to start stripping the wagon now,” another said, turning to his fellow baggage train worker.
“So what if it’s bent, we can make it to the camp before it needs replacing.”
“You could just keep walking,” Stone thought. “Catch up the other wagons in the train, leave this to someone else.” She chewed her bottom lip as she thought, before turning to look at the long line of soldiers and supplies marching ahead and behind her. With a heavy sigh she made up her mind and spat again into the mud.
“Alright you oafs,” she said, moving past the line of onlookers and up to the wagon before turning. “No wagon ever fixed itself by getting stared at, and the army is moving on without us.”
The men turned and looked at each other, before sly grins creased their faces. Stone already saw which way this was about to go, and made her voice louder to get ahead of it.
“There should be a replacement axle in Devon’s wagon, which should be about ten wagons behind us. I need two men fetch it, then bring it back here. This axle is not getting repaired –“
“Who made you overseer of the train?” One of the others asked, drawing some grunts of approval from the crowd.
“I’m just-“ Stone began, before getting interrupted.
“I didn’t see the Archmarshal appoint you or whatever with that red sword of his,” another said, now drawing laughs. “Could you imagine?”
Stone looked around at the other faces. Slowly the crowd had started to build up as more and more wagons were stopped, waiting to see if this problem would fix itself quickly or if they would have to drive around. Driving around the wagons would get things going again, but venturing even slightly off the road could cause more accident and even more delays. Stone knew, even though they were in friendly territory, the drivers wouldn’t feel comfortable steering onto unfamiliar track.
“What in the netherworld is going on here?” A gruff voice yelled out from behind the crowd. The people parted and Malkin, overseer of the Archmarshal’s column, shoved his way through. Malkin was a short, stout man from Fatexna, a grasslands region in Swordfell. Stone’s own tall and willowy shape, common in her area of the Divide Mountains, could not be more different from the overseer’s. Still, Malkin had an air and a voice that could compel people a few heads taller than himself into action.
Malkin looked at the crowd, then the wagon with a deepening frown. When he got to Stone, his frown deepened still. “Right,” he began, turning back to the crowd, “let’s get a brace on here and quick.”
Stone shook her head. “The track ahead isn’t any better, a brace will break before we get half a league.”
Malkin turned and fixed her with a hard stare. “And what do you want to do, miss Stone?” he asked, stressing the ‘miss’ before her name. “Strip the damn thing for parts and redistribute those provisions?”
“Replace the axle,” she said, staring back and down at him. “Devon will have the spares, it’s the quickest way.”
Malkin turned, waving her away with a flick of his hand. “We’d have to unpack the axle, then replace it. That will take time and will waste this one,” he said, pointing back to the broken wagon as he walked away.
This one is already done in, you blind fool!” Stone shouted, drawing stares from everyone around. There was silence for a brief moment as they looked at her, then back at Malkin. The lowlander had a look of shock on his face that quickly hardened to fury, face reddening. He opened his mouth to begin his tirade, when the sound of rapid hoof beats thundered around them. Stone turned to look to see an older man with grey and black hair, seated atop a large grey warhorse. He wore a white gambeson with a red sword at the shoulder. The Archmarshal’s own Captain Volkin, Stone thought. She had only seen the man a handful of times, and she had counted herself lucky for that.
“You’re falling behind, Malkin,” the Captain began, looking down from atop his horse. He rested his hand on the pommel of his sheathed sword, looking relaxed but stern.
“My apologies, sir,” Malkin began, swallowing his rage. “This wagon has a damaged axle, we’re preparing to brace it,” he replied, gesturing to a few workers to fashion the wooden and leather brace.
The Captain looked down at Malkin, then looked to Stone, who still stood in front of the wagon like it was a wounded animal and she was saving it from the wolves. She shook her head slowly as he glanced at her.
“And you?” the Captain asked, addressing Stone. “What would you do?”
“She’s-“ Malkin began.
“I didn’t ask you anything, overseer,” the Captain replied, still looking at Stone.
She swallowed hard, the sun seemingly much warmer than it had been a few minutes ago. “This axle is gone, sir. We need a replacement from ten wagons down, with five men we can have this done in ten minutes.”
“And the brace?” The Captain asked.
“This road is sh*t, sir. If all we do is put a brace on it, we’ll be back here having the same argument in another hour.”
“Your overseer disagrees,” the Captain said, turning to look at Malkin.
Stone scoffed. “He’s wrong about a lot of things, sir. Including his decision to take this road, and this axle.”
Volkin took a moment, then nodded at Stone. “See that it is done, I want this wagon train moving again in fifteen minutes or we will be leaving you and the wagon behind.” The Captain reared back at his horse and then sped off again for the head of the column, presumably to report to the Archmarshal himself.
With the Captain’s orders, the crowd dispersed. Two men running down to Devon’s wagon, while another three went to work on the broken wagon itself. Stone locked eyes with Malkin, whose face had reddened again with the Captain’s departure. He looked like he was ready to say something, but instead turned and stalked away, towards the head of the column. Stone sighed in relief before turning and helping the others lift the wagon and begin removing the broken axle.
Within ten minutes they had the wagon fixed and mobile again. The rest of the journey had a few other mishaps, but nothing that stalled the column for long. As they approached the forest’s edge in Sol, the column came to a halt and made camp by a soft stream. Stone was careful to avoid Malkin as the wagons were unpacked and the tents set up for both the workers and the soldiers. She was about to sit down and find some food when a pair of soldiers in red armor stepped in front of her.
They wore full plate armor and carried a halberd in each arm, with a sword at their hips. In the front of their armor was the sword of Lancaster, pointed down towards the ground. These were the elite guard of Archmarshal Grayson Lancaster, supreme military authority of Swordfell and a senior member of the Lurian Empire.
“You are Stone, are you not?” One of them asked, from behind his helmet.
“Y-yes,” she began, looking around as a few of her fellow waggoners watched on.
“Follow us, please,” the soldiers commanded, before turning and walking towards the heart of the camp. The second soldier fell in behind Stone as they marched through the maze of tents into the heart of the camp, where the waggoners typically did not venture. Here was where the soldiers set their tents and staging areas. Most were not in their armor, but traveling coats of gambesons, but all were armed. None could relax this far from Swordfell territory, especially not in regions where their enemy regularly launched attacks from.
The guardsmen stopped short in front of a large tent, the largest by far that she had seen. Stone had seen this tent before when it was packed up, taking up multiple wagons. It was the personal tent of Grayson Lancaster. Not only where there more Lancaster guards, but also guards in splendid gold and purple as well. At Stone’s approach, the guards stepped aside and allowed her enter. One guard held a flap open for her as she walked in slowly.
The first thing that struck Stone in the tent was the amount of paper in the room. Near her home in the Divide Mountains, they did not have many trees. Maps were often printed on the hides of animals, and the few books that she saw in her youth were owned by the local priest. Here in this tent, though, paper covered almost every table and a few walls. As her eyes adjusted to the candle light in the tent, Stone saw that they were maps. Maps of Swordfell, of the Empire, of Sol, Westgard, Arnor and more. In the center of the tent was a large table, with more maps and reports, as well as cups of wine. The tent was a busy place, with more guards standing in place near the exits. Aids and clerks ran about, carrying reports and reading out updates that made little sense to Stone. Something about naval approaches and food reports.
With the chaos around her, Stone had missed Malkin standing off to the side in the tent. Here, surrounded by the massive guards and professional soldiers, the man looked strangely small. Gone was the look of confidence that she saw earlier, now his eyes darted back and forth and his hands fidgeted at his sides.
“Why wouldn’t you have picked today’s road?” A voice called out, above the noise. At the sound, all other conversation in the tent ceased and eyes turned to a man leaning over a table with a series of reports on it. He wore a red gambeson with a black riding cape. His blonde hair was cropped short and his face cleanly shaven. He did not look up from his parchment, but Stone knew the Archmarshal when she saw him.
“The hills,” she said, before the words left her.
He looked up, blue eyes flashing with candle light in the tent. He nodded at her to continue.
“The storms here, they are low. They don’t pass over the hills, so more rain falls on this side than the other. The roads were drowned and slowed us.” She answered, as confidently as she could.
The Archmarshal stood up straight and approached her. She knew the Lancaster family was from Flowrestown, but the man was still tall. Unlike the hulking guards around though, he was more lithely built. Still, there was a coldness in his eyes that caused Stone to shiver involuntarily. Grayson gestured to a table with a map on it and Stone’s eyes crossed over the page. It took her a moment to realize that it was a map with roads on it, leading away from Unterstrom. Notations that she couldn’t read centered on the road they had taken earlier in the day, as well as other notations near the top corner of the page.
“What route would you have taken?” He asked, watching her.
Stone hesitated only a moment before pointing to another road on the other side of the hills. “Here,” she said.
Grayson glanced at the page. “That road would have added a league to our distance,” he replied, glancing at the paper.
Stone shrugged in response. “But the roads are better kept, we would have made better time, and been closer to Fellish territory, which we know better. Uh, my lord?” She added, realizing again where she stood.
Grayson looked up then at a man in the corner, surrounded by clerks. This man was wearing purple and gold, matching the guards she saw outside. The Emperor, she realized, her face becoming hot. Grayson and the Emperor looked each other for a moment, before the Emperor nodded, turning back to his scribes.
“Malkin,” Lancaster began, turning to the overseer.
“Sir,” Malkin said, standing up straighter.
“You are relieved of your duties. I’ll see that your wages for this journey are paid, but you are to leave this encampment tonight. I wouldn’t recommend you head north, is that understood?” The Archmarshal commanded.
Malkin merely sputtered, looking from the Archmarshal, then to Stone, and then back. “You’re dismissed,” the Archmarshal ordered, a guardsman taking Malkin by the arm and leading him out of the tent. Stone did what she could to hide the smile on her face.
“As for you, Stone, right? Is it just Stone?”
“We have simple names in the mountain, my lord,” she said.
A small smile creased his face for a moment. “I know, I’ve always enjoyed the ways of the highlanders. In any case, you are the new overseer of my column,” he said, matter-of-factly.
Stone’s jaw dropped and she was silent for a moment.
“Do you not want the job?” Grayson asked as a scribe handed him a small sheet of paper that looked like a letter.
“No, I mean yes I want it my lord,” she finally managed to stammer out.
Grayson nodded. “Good, we plan on moving out after the sun rises. We plan to move to the north east and need to cover around five leagues. I take it you recommend the low road,” he asked, gesturing to the map. Stone glanced, then nodded. “Then see that it is done, overseer Stone,” the Archmarshal ordered.
“Yes my lord,” Stone answered, bowing slightly before turning to walk out of the tent, another smile on her face.
“We aren’t going fast enough,” the Emperor acknowledged, looking up from his papers. He had a stack a head high next to him on the table, letters and requests from half the world.
“I know, but we gain nothing by hurrying,” Grayson responded as he took in another scouting report from Mimiravair. “Arnor and Avernus will show up again, but it is a long way to the north and back. Besides, maybe with her we will gain a half day.”
“We can’t stay out here forever, Archmarshal,” Bryron answered as he finished writing another letter.
“One more battle, before winter. We need to buy Sol time,” the Archmarshal replied, gazing over the map. More time, and a little luck.
Winter Day -- Askileon Purlieus
The route from Giask to Flowrestown had been a long one. It was not a trip uncommon to make for Goriad for he had made hundreds far worse, yet the motion of the waves had been aversely affecting his young son, Goran. The boy now barely two years old had not yet traveled so far by sea. Throughout the watery travels he had been sick constantly to the point where Goriad feared for his health as early signs of dehydration had begun to set in.
To battle the illness Goriad had given the boy a combination of fresh water and fruits, which seemed to work. Regardless, he had ordered the captain to make a stop in Poryatown where they laid docked for several days. He would not see his heir die over such a simple matter, especially not after going through so much effort to get him from his mother.