Discretion is the better part of valor.
The words came, unbidden, to my mind as our horses charged through the underbrush. Hoping they wouldn’t land on a sink hole or twist an ankle.
I made a mistake, dropping our guard, even for an hour, even to just play around.
“Anything you can do to surprise your enemies is a boon.”
We weren’t even really playing. I’ve used game-playing to teach teamwork, tactics, and to build physical strength and reflexes to green troops among the rebels. When I asked Firiel to make a boar’s stomach into a ball, I wasn’t just asking for a toy, but for necessary equipment.
“Nothing is ever wasted with you, is it?”
We reached a farmhouse shortly after sunset and found the owner hospitable. I made sure everyone was bandaged as much as needed, then took my turn on watch. It was almost a relief to muck the stables in the morning, though I can well imagine what Rob would have said, seeing me shoveling horse shit.
“Good practice for when you’ll have Councillors and politicians breathing down your neck.”
Rob. I miss you, Rob. You should have been here instead of me. You would have been so much better at this than I am. We could have won with your mind in the leadership.
When we reached Aethmell– smoldering, burned Aethmell….
I’d gone to the well to fetch water to wash with. Oh, and how many folk stories start with a maiden at a well! At first, Ordune was going to escort me, then Firiel was worried about… what, exactly, I’m not sure. That Ordune would see me nude? Her concern for my propriety is kind, but ill-placed. Ordune sees me as a little kid, I am sure of it. Plus, he’s already seen me naked, back before even Tristram joined our unit. Perhaps naked while bathing is a different thing from stripped naked so the healers can treat your wounds, though.
“Yes indeed, Kyala. A lady’s virtue is the greatest gift she has…. except her mind.”
In any case, I shooed Firiel off and took my “bath.” Little more than a splashing, but it did the job of getting the stink of horse and orc off of my body.
Yes, orc. I don’t mind the manure. I mind the orc-stench. Kalan J’Orrash caught us unaware in the woods. We pushed his men back and ran, but I fear that won’t be the last we hear from him and his men. We must take the offensive against him, and soon. I hate leaving enemies with their daggers poised at my back.
After my bath, during which Ordune was a perfect gentleman, if such can be believed, I sought out Firiel to make our bunks together, as we normally do. But I suppose she took some offense when I shooed her off earlier, or maybe she simply wanted her privacy. The gods know we are all in each others’ back pockets in camp, so I can hardly blame her. I certainly know far too much about my team, their little habits, their preferences and dislikes…. but maybe I’m the only one who notices? Perhaps. All I know is, I have a shopping list of treats for my troops for when we get to Elderwood.
That’s the other part of the rank, of course. Maintain troop morale. Morale was doing well enough, but having the orcs hand us our arses did not help. I thought I’d almost lost Emilien, back at Fimmelheim. He spoke as though he was going to leave us, find another merc army to join… but of course, I misunderstood and he was simply expressing… what? Loyalty? From a merc, loyalty is bought. Perhaps Emilien was saying that he no longer works solely for the gold.
I am not sure. It’s easy to speak loyalty when one is flush with gold and there’s food in your belly and a horse under your arse. It’s easy enough when you don’t have other options. Would he be so loyal if he knew my true name and the bounty he could claim?
Dare I test him?
Ah, in any case. Firiel had made her bunk inside a burned out smithy, and did not seem to be welcoming guests.
“Fish and company stink after three days. In-laws, after two.”
I set up my bedroll across a ruined street from her. There was certainly enough rubble between us, she could hardly have noticed me there. But… I cannot explain why I sought out that place.
Hell. I can explain, it’s just stupid. Firiel reminds me of someone, and I don’t want to lose her to death. Again.
See? I said it was stupid.
Well, mother hen or not, that’s where I camped that night. In the morning, we spoke with the former mayor of Aethmell and learned of their recent plight. I think we might have a true ally here, especially if we can do something about Lord Tanlin in Elderwood. Firiel came up with the plan for what to do with Lord Tanlin, so… well, at least it will be an interesting escapade.
And hopefully, by sticking to the towns and cities, we will keep Kalan J’Orrash off our tails. At least for a bit.