Final Preparations

Factories along the northern quarter of the city for the production of goods like cloth, brewed ale, and construction materials. An old water-wheel provides power for half the city.
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Julen
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Final Preparations

Post by Julen » Wed Jun 04, 2008 3:47 pm

They were trying so hard to pretend that it was just like any other night.

As Julen and Rosemary undressed, they shared the events of the day. Rosemary updated Julen on the progress being made by the ladies in her sewing group. Julen told Rosemary about helping some of the refugees plant the pits and seeds they’d carefully salvaged from each piece of eaten fruit. Both of them discussed the situation with Uluki, wishing there was more they could do, wishing that their friends didn’t need to leave.

Then they lay down beside each other, drawing their naked bodies into a familiar embrace. Yet certain words still haunted the air like unacknowledged ghosts. They didn’t talk about the carving of spikes, or the supplies loaded into the wagon, or the final checks made on armor and weapons. Resting his cheek against Rosemary’s shoulder, Julen forced his mouth open. But all that came was a puff of dry air. When what he really wanted to say was: Tomorrow, I go into battle, and there’s a chance -- just a small chance -- that I may not come back. And if I don’t, I want you to know that it was worth it. Because it was for you. Because all the things I do, all the things which matter the most, they’re for you.

“I love you,” he finally managed. And, really, that was a shorter way of saying the same thing.

After a moment, Rosemary stirred in his arms. Julen expected her to return his declaration. But instead, she stared at the darkness beyond their bed. “Julen...before you go. There’s something I need to tell you. Something you should know.”

And so, she told him. About the other suitors, about what she’d done with them, about the child that had never been born. This time, Julen didn’t even struggle for words. There were no words. Instead, he brushed her hair aside, and pressed gentle kisses to the back of her neck, holding her against his warmth. How could she imagine that he might be angry? That he might blame her for something she’d done out of fear and desperation? Of course it stung that other men had enjoyed the gift he thought was his alone. Of course he grieved for the life ended too soon. However, when Rosemary finished, there was only one thing Julen truly cared about. “But you’re alright now? Uluki healed you? You won’t have anymore pain or bleeding?”

“Yes.” Rosemary looked up at him, her smile a little forced, trying to offer an apology he hadn’t demanded. “She’s says I can probably conceive now. We can start trying to have a baby right away.” Beneath the blanket, her hand moved to his thigh, but Julen caught it, holding it gently his own.

“Not...not right now.”

Hurt darkened Rosemary’s expression and she bowed her head. “I don’t blame you. After finding out about those other men, it’s a wonder you can still stand to touch me.”

“I don’t care about the other men. Screw them.” Too late, Julen realized that might not have been the best choice of words, but he stumbled on. “I care about you. And you’re my wife, not my baby machine. When we have a child, I want them to be conceived during an act of love, not something you’re doing because you think you owe me.”

Julen paused a moment, waiting for Rosemary to respond. But she remained silent, simply gripping his hand tightly, her fingers twined around his own. Two lives sewn together that could never be separated. When it became clear she wasn’t going to speak, Julen continued. “I know it hurts. But beyond that, I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. I don’t know what you want to do. If you...if you just want to forget, that’s fine. Maybe you never thought of it as being a child.” Again, Julen hesitated, hoping he wasn’t about to cross the line. “But if it was me, I’d want to mourn. So I was thinking, if you’d like, we could make a little marker and put it with my family graves. So you could remember her.” Obviously, Julen had no way of knowing if the fetus had been a boy or girl, and Rosemary might very well not know either. But in this context, referring to the child as “it” seemed wrong.

Rosemary’s shoulders jerked as she rolled over, pressing her face against her husband’s chest in a futile attempt to stifle her sobs. And Julen hugged her tight, whispering soothing nonsense, letting the outpouring of grief wash over them without dragging them down, like two shipwreck survivors who refused to drown.

Finally, Rosemary’s crying grew softer, and then ceased. When she tilted her head to meet Julen’s gaze, tears glistened on her eyelashes. “I do love you. Those men may have had my body, but you’re the only one who’s ever had my heart. What I gave you on our wedding night truly was something I’d never given to anyone else.”

“I know.” Tenderly, he kissed her mouth, drawing out her sadness like poison from a wound. And now her body responded to his with genuine arousal. Hands slid over flesh, coaxing every nerve to eager sensitivity. Breath fluttered from gasping lips. Then, in a groping tangle of limbs, hard penetrated soft, making them one until two cries pierced the silence and they spilled forth into each other.

“Come back to me,” Rosemary whispered sleepily, her eyes already drifting shut. “Whatever happens in Shim...please come back to me.”

“I will,” Julen answered, knowing that it was a promise he couldn’t make. But she didn’t want the promise. She just wanted the reassurance of hearing those words. So he gave them to her, as his own eye began to close.

And they slept, just like it was any other night.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Lightswords

Re: Final Preparations

Post by Lightswords » Thu Jun 05, 2008 7:42 am

Early morning, a hammer fell.

And there was Darir, being exactly where one would expect to find a dwarf; the forge. Not the courtyard, not the quarters, not the kitchen. The forge. By now he had long finished his assigned duty, but that would not stop him. Instead, he moved on from joining metal together in clusters of spikes and had gone to forcing wide crude loops of iron.

And he called this variety.

Partly he chose to be back at the forge from a sense of industrious pride, partly because the steady rhythm of hammer on metal and the sparks which danced from the fire to caress his earthy skin served to relax him, and partly because he enjoyed what he was working for. Nearly any dwarf-made creation would be followed by imaginings of them in action. Armour was made with the thought of saving a cherished life, a plough was made with the private prayer of keeping a family fed, even the nails and rivets were in his mind the embodiment of stability and dependability.

Lightswords had tried helping Darir with the local language. He thought himself more or less fluent and certainly proficient, but he was struggling with this new word 'vacation'. When his companions sought to explain the meaning he was utterly confused, the closest translation he could find was the Dwarvolk word for 'boredom'. In one conversation Karsimir described the meaning as 'extended rest', with the suggestion that human minds could become weary much the same as human bodies.

Darir was not weary in body nor mind. No, he was back at the forge, using brute force to bend metal as a form of relaxation. He was happy here. The fellow Lightswords were clannish, devoted, loyal, good men all-around. That had once surprised him, finding a group which reminded him so much of his own people. Normally humans just wanted better metal goods. Which he didn't mind, his own clan wanted superior metal goods to be produced by it's members. However, these humans wanted the steel to save lives, fill hearts and provide for those in need.

Which gave the dwarf a whole new respect for the metal, but more importantly, a respect for the people who put it to such use. A common dream among dwarf smiths was to see their steel become the foundation for great deeds, the sword of a legend or the like. Darir became eager, as close to impatient as he would allow, longing to see the good from the iron wrought by his hands.

Even when battering the iron into shape, he was careful not to alter it too much. While the crude make was not something he would ever admit to under normal circumstances, he wanted the source of the iron to remain clear. The identity of the metal he used was important for this latest work, and alas, this meant retaining the crude appearance of the iron.

And then, it was done. He deliberately chose not to quench the hot iron bands in water, for that would cool them too quick and overharden them, make them brittle. That he did not want.

Waiting for his workmanship to cool, Darir trundled out of the building and circled around it, passing the horses as he did. The forge was part of a farrier's workshop, and there were stables attatched to the back. Horses peered their heads over the stable doors at him, and he was conscious of being too short to peer back. That gave him an impetus to scour every square inch of courtyard floor for caltrops. He had been making them by the hundred, filling six large sacks along with Orin over the past day - last thing he wanted was for a caltrop, his forged caltrops, to lame an innocent horse.

Recruiting a handful of the wakened refugees for the task, in particular Sean and Ian, Darir set to work. Those who were busy taking their breakfast he left with a message for Julen to come and find him once up.

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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Julen » Sat Jun 07, 2008 3:15 pm

Julen awoke early the next morning, after a night of jittery dreams. Today was the day -- the day they returned to face the mercenaries. And his nerves felt like tiny insects were crawling along them. Julen wasn’t afraid that he might die. That would be unfortunate, but not the worst possibility. What Julen truly feared was making a mistake that cost the life of a fellow Lightsword.

Stop worrying. This isn’t your first battle. Karsimir will be there, he’ll know what to do. Just follow his orders and everything will be fine.

But the doubts in Julen’s head refused to be quieted. What if he panicked? What if he aimed an arrow too high or too low? What if he feinted to the left when he should have struck to the right? If one of his friends got hurt because of him, Julen wasn’t sure he could live with that.

As he struggled to calm down, Julen remembered seeing Karsimir bowed in prayer. The act always seemed to bring his friend such peace. Julen had never really been a praying man -- he couldn’t stomach begging for mercy from a god who seemed more intent on punishing people than aiding them. But Amaranda wasn’t like that. Beneath the covers, Julen’s hands curled into fists, and he closed his eyes. Tried to remember the beautiful vision he’d seen all too briefly. He didn’t know any actual prayers, so he just did his best.

Amaranda? I know I don’t have wings. I know I’m not your knight. I’m just an ordinary man trying to do the right thing. But if you could guide my hand a little, just enough to keep me from fucking up too badly, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

Strangely, when Julen opened his eyes again, he actually felt a little better. Gently, he pressed a kiss to the cheek of his sleeping wife. Then he slid out of bed. Today was the day -- the day they returned to face the mercenaries. And he would do his best. That was all any man could do. Worrying that it wouldn’t be enough accomplished nothing.

Soon after Julen went downstairs, Tulip approached with the news that Darir was looking for him. That surprised Julen. He liked the dwarf, and talking with him had revealed many values which they shared in common, particularly a high regard for family and community. But Julen wasn’t sure why Darir might need to see him on this particular morning. Perhaps he required aid with some final preparation. Julen could easily believe that the dwarf had been up all night getting things ready for the coming battle.

Julen thanked Tulip, then grabbed a thick slice of bread and a hunk of cheese -- Hatton and Triarius had somehow managed to come up with enough extra food rations to replace those Julen had exchanged for the return of his locket. Still munching his portable breakfast, Julen went in search of Darir.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Lightswords

Re: Final Preparations

Post by Lightswords » Sat Jun 07, 2008 9:14 pm

Darir was easy to find, as he was outside with a gathering all meticulously examining the ground in a path from forge to wagon. All were peered over, many sweeping their hands across the area as if struggling to find something. Apparently all seemed clear, since no major reactions were observed.

There was a strong possibility that the cavalry would lead their horses a different route from the stables to the entrance, almost certainly now that Darir had announced the subject to them. Still, that meant no horses with spikes in their feet, which was the result he wanted.

Currently the dwarf was stooped peering at the ground, despite the massive shield on his back. When he noticed Julen, he stood to his full height, which wasn't much higher than being stooped, and waved, moving over towards him with a strange alacrity.

"Mornin' Julen. How ye doing?" He gave Julen chance to answer, but soon continued. "Left somethin' by tha' forge for ye. Might be cooled now. I'll show ye." With that, he began leading the way. Not far, distance measured in yards.

In the workshop, Darir headed straight for a triple-armband of crude hammered iron connected by dark bronze strips which wrapped around each segment of the armband and secured themselves in place with the aid of bolts driven through. "Numidar's idea. Ye took down three of them when ye rescued Kaydee? We used the iron in their clubs to make ye a trophy." Taking the strange armlet, he offered it to Julen with unburnt fingers. "Some might tell ye that was a dumb move, but dumb or not ye move saved a young girl's life. We think ye earned somethin' for that."

Handing the award over, Darir tugged at his beard in thought. "Anyway, Karsimir will be here in a few minutes. We should get assembled. He wants to talk about tha First Lance when he gets here."

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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Sir Karsimir » Mon Jun 09, 2008 10:04 pm

This morning began like any other. Rising at dawn with the first rays of light, greeting the morning in early prayer. For that alone he was thankful, while routine was a small matter for Sir Karsimir, performing his prayers in what felt the proper fashion. Bathing first, a procedure involving much active scrubbing because the water was unheated so early in the morning. Later in the day, fires would be used to heat the water, although this hour did not allow for leisurely bathing.

Breakfast as well. Leeks, onions and garlic, along with mutton and bread. Instead of wine, he had flavoured water along with the squeezed juice of an orange.

What was most different of this morning was instead of donning his sword, he brought a short pollax owned by Varanghar. A hafted armament, with the head bearing two faces, one a highly curved axe-blade, the second a short and flat hammer-head from the other side. Out of the top projected a tapered spike. Overall, the weapon was near five feet long, with roughly four feet being the haft.

As always, he left Anstrun Manor to be greeted by his warhorse, who had somehow became saddled and barded when both were removed last night. As always, he had not the slightest idea how that happened.

Brushing the face of the destrier affectionately, Karsimir vaulted into the saddle and begun his ride to the compound. On his approach, a few hours would pass before they would be ready to move out. Everyone needed to be fully rested. There was morale to consider, and battling on short sleep was far from wise.

Which is why the First Lance had their watches early, so they would be rested in time for morning.

At the compound entrance, he dismounted as the stakes nearest the earth walls were pulled out for him to pass. Once within the sheltering earthen walls, he surveyed the group milling around searching. In particular, his two pages.

"Good morning. What is this?"

"Clearing caltrops sir." replied Ian.

"I will help." stated Karsimir.

Only once that was finished would he gather the First Lance to him.
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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Julen » Tue Jun 10, 2008 2:26 am

Julen’s curiosity became thoroughly aroused as he made his way through the group of stooped-over people. They appeared to be searching for something, with a diligence he hadn’t seen since Shim’s resident miser dropped a grain of salt in the snow. Not wanting to be the one who stepped on the object of their quest, Julen lowered his gaze to the ground, and began placing his feet with particular care. Unfortunately, this caused him to promptly collide with one of his fellow searchers.

“Oops. Sorry Zee.” Fortunately, Zee seemed unbothered by being bumped, and a responded to Julen’s apology with a toothy grin. Reassured that he hadn’t hurt her, Julen asked the question most recently planted in his mind. “What’s everyone looking for?”

“Spiky things.” Then, as if that answered everything, Zee resumed her search.

Julen was about to inquire if looking for “spiky things” was some morning ritual which he’d always missed until now, when Darir greeted him. Setting aside his inquisitiveness about one matter in favor of another, Julen joined the dwarf, eager to find out why Darir had wanted to see him. Darir’s query regarding Julen’s wellbeing was given a courteously short answer. Then, Julen followed him over to the forge.

At first, the strange armband puzzled Julen. It seemed a little crude compared to Darir’s usual work. But then, as Darir explained its origin, a sense of pride and gratitude filled Julen’s heart. By the time Darir presented the gift, Julen thought it was the finest trophy he’d ever seen.

“It was a dumb move,” Julen confessed, putting on the armband. “But if some good came from it, I’m glad. Thank you. I’ll wear this to help me save other lives. And to remind me that, when rushing into danger, it never hurts to bring a few friends.” A friendly slap against Darir’s shoulder emphasized the point.

Julen nodded his agreement to Darir’s suggestion that they get assembled. Karsimir had told him a little about the First Lance -- they were to be an elite group of mounted warriors who would accompany their lord. Since Julen had been a warrior for a far shorter time than anyone else in the compound, he didn’t expect to be chosen. But he was curious to see who would be.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Sir Karsimir » Wed Jun 11, 2008 1:37 pm

Eventually, Karsimir was convinced that there was no threat from the spiky things, he finished his sweep of the area. By then, those Lightswords whose presence he sought right now were all ready. Numidar, Gaelm, Sigvard, Thetta, as well as Julen and Darir. These were the ones he had sent for. And now they would learn why.

"Good morning. I see the First Lance is assembled." The greeting served as his first announcement. "Pleased to see you once again. Is all well?" Pausing, he surveyed the group for an answer. Being without a sword was a huge change to his appearance, much as if he had left behind his head. In the absence of a sword, he carried his new polearm in a sheath upon his back, crowned with a truly diverse implement of destruction including axe, mallet and spear. Because only one method of killing people attatched to the end of a stick was just not enough.

"Many of you will be nervous and restless, all fighters are before battle. What if we falter? What if we fail our comrades? What if ours is the small mistake which costs us the battle, the victory, and our lives? Every warrior has these doubts. So does every commander. I have asked all of you to trust me with your lives, and I will never lead a battle without that thought in my heart."

"Nor should I."

"I have the utmost trust with each and every one of you." The speech was unintended, he only planned to give a few words of reassurance before discussing the matter of the First Lance, but the words themselves came unbidden to his lips, ready for him to speak. So speak them he did. "You have all proven your skill, your valour, your discipline and loyalty more than once. On these, I have no doubts. That we are conscious of the risks is good, it means we care for each other's lives. That is an advantage. We defend each other, we support each other, and thus have a strength far beyond our numbers."

"I make no secret, we are outnumbered. That would be a very silly secret to keep. So? Who remembers the gang we fought? Nine of us destroyed fifty in one day. Most of you standing before me took part in that. For any who remind me that we fought not fifty at once but several smaller groups, I have two words; it worked."

"All of you who trained with me know my strategy in combat. Control the fight. Battle on terms that we decide. Our terms, our battle, our victory."

With that he moved to join the group and find a seat. A trace of humour crept across his face. "For the record I did not plan that speech in advance, but I think I will repeat it to the others before we leave. I trust no one minds?"

After that unexpected detour, came the matter he had originally intended to discuss. "My plans for the First Lance, for you, is my own team to bring with me and fight beside more than anyone else. We have a Lance of pikemen, a Lance of cavalry, a Lance of archers. Each has their function on the battlefield. All of you are skilled in close personal combat. All of you can form a shield wall." In fact, the one least suited to that would be Karsimir himself. "We have those skilled in ranged combat, Julen with his bow, Numidar's atlatl, Gaelm has even prepared a small catapult for the coming battle. None of this limits our fighting power when the enemy comes close. Later you will be trained to fight as cavalry. Your function will be to fight as a tactically flexible unit, and my personal team to where and when I cannot bring the full Banner."

"This will mean taking many of the same risks I do. Any who object to that, I will hear you. We have two hours before we march, so all are fully rested. Use that time for any personal preparations you wish to make, or to bring any wishes you may have of me to my attention. Two ways to calm nerves before we set out are prayer or exertion from combat practice."

On that note, he was quite prepared to wait the two hours until all were fully ready, and to attend any concerns brought before him until then.
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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Julen » Thu Jun 12, 2008 12:43 pm

Karsimir’s casual revelation of the warriors who would make up the First Lance was mostly greeted with solemn nods, although Julen thought he heard a muffled and triumphant “Yes!” come from Sigvard’s direction. He also thought he saw Sigvard engage in a gesture which looked suspiciously like fist pumping. Although, perhaps, it was just some odd Northlander salute.

As for Julen, the choices didn’t surprise him. They were among the first warriors to join Karsimir’s cause, and all had proved themselves in the defense of the compound against the deserters -- most had later proved themselves again during the raids on Snyde. Nodding his approval, Julen started to step aside, so Karsimir could address his elite troops without an unnecessary audience. But Darir grabbed his arm. “Don’t be daft, lad. He means ye as well.”

Julen blinked. At first, he wanted to protest, to tell Karsimir that he didn’t need to be included just because they were friends. His feelings wouldn’t be hurt. But then Julen realized that including a man he didn’t think was ready would not be seen as an act of friendship in Karsimir’s eyes. It would be the opposite, needlessly endangering the person for the sake of petty pride. If Karsimir had picked him for the First Lance, it was because he considered him a fitting choice, and so far, Karsimir had displayed eerily good judgment. Swallowing his surprise, Julen focused on the rest of Karsimir’s speech.

Again, Julen found himself nodding when Karsimir spoke about the same pre-battle anxiety which Julen had struggled with earlier that morning. It felt good to know these feelings were common in warriors, and not some mark of his private weakness. Certainly, if even Karsimir experienced doubts, how could they possibly be thought to indicate a feeble heart?

Chuckling rippled through the group after Karsimir admitted that his speech had been rather unintentional. Sigvard, however, apparently felt that Karsimir’s question deserved an answer. “It was a fine speech. You should give it all the way to Shim, so that our enemy can hear the voice of their doom. The wind will carry it to every tent, every stolen farmhouse, and those inside will quake as they listen to their bloody fates foretold. Glorious will be their terror! Mighty will be our victory! A song for the bards to sing down through the -- ow!”

Julen didn’t get a clear look at what stopped Sigvard, but he suspected Thetta’s elbow could once again be thanked.

Soon after that, the group broke up, and each warrior went to say their final goodbyes. Some were stern. Thetta looked grim as she lectured Sasha and Tam about everything she would expect from them while she was away, until an unexpected hug from Tam changed her expression to one of bewilderment and distress. Some were heroic. Sigvard all but pounded on his chest when assuring Jenny that he would slay all his foes before they even had a chance to see the color of his eyes, although his image as a hardened warrior took a small hit when he got down on all fours to give Bethany a final horsie ride. Some were simply the clasping of a hand or the exchange of an encouraging smile. Julen bid farewell to clan Uluki, wishing their days together hadn’t been so short, wishing he could at least look forward to more time with them when he returned.

But some words didn’t seem like goodbyes at all. Instead, they felt like old friends meeting once more. After Julen held Rosemary close, hoarding the memory of every kiss so that they could be rationed out to his heart during the coming days apart, he reluctantly drew away and joined Karsimir. “Well,” he greeted, smiling at his commander. “A lot has changed since we last made this journey, hasn’t it?”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Sir Karsimir » Fri Jun 13, 2008 12:57 am

"Indeed it has, my friend." A slow smile began to creep across Karsimir's face, drawn out by the thoughts which sprang from Julen's question. "We have both come very far." Julen had proven himself a fully capable professional man-at-arms who had fought and won against fearsome odds, while Karsimir was now a knight and successful leader in battle. "Many here have." He now thought of Sigvard and Thetta, who unhesitantly defended those in need. Numidar, who was finding a surprising solace in the faith shown before him. Krarug, who finally gained a home among his comrades.

Rather than dwell on his success, he chose instead to be humbled. Many battles changed much. They decided life or death for many. A destroyed force of warriors could mean the end of oppressors or protectors, could be the beginning of turmoil or the end of tyranny. These possibilities were what each and every Imperial officer was faced with in his duty. Which was what Karsimir had trained to be.

By now, Karsimir had made his own farewells to the compound, which included much bows and hand-kissing on his part. When the other Lances were awake, he gave them short drills and practice to ease the nerves and to assure their confidence in any techniques. Then he gave the speech. For the rest of the two hours, he helped any member of Broderorden Liechtenschwert with whatever skills they felt in doubt of.

And then they moved out. Route leaning north while heading east, heading towards the river and following it to the bridge. Far more courteous behaviour within the city than marching pikemen and cavalry through Main Street.

On open ground, he called a halt with upraised hand. "Here is our plan. We set up a base at Shim. Ditch, rampart and lash the stakes together to make a fence. Julen, you know the land best, any raised ground in the area aside from Kaledin Manor?"

"Once our base is ready, I will bring the First Lance. Small raids and challenges, to reduce enemy numbers before any serious battle begins. Any ideas? Any questions?"
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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Julen » Fri Jun 13, 2008 11:17 pm

The morning air still retained a slight chill as they marched away from Lightsword Hall. Despite the battle ahead, Julen’s mind strayed to thoughts of autumn. There wouldn’t be much of a harvest this year. Neglect had probably finished killing the sickly seedlings he’d managed to plant that spring. But there might still be some fruit on the apple trees, as well as berries and mushrooms in the woods for those brave enough to hunt them. Julen felt the stirrings of a longing carefully buried during his time in the city. Shim was his home. He knew it as intimately as he loved it. And, even overrun with mercenaries, he was eager to return to its familiarity.

Leaving the city felt like shedding a dirty skin, or emerging from a dark cave, and each step elevated Julen’s mood. By the time Karsimir paused to address them, Julen was almost whistling a cheerful tune. Unfortunately, his cheer wasn’t destined to last.

An interesting, although fleeting, look passed across Julen’s face when Karsimir spoke the name Kaledin Manor. He wondered where his friend had learned the mansion’s title -- it did not drop casually from the lips of those who dwelled beneath its shadow. Nor did the name of its owner. Did Karsimir know about Bela? And if he did, what did he know? Julen had deliberately avoided any mention of Shim’s custodian, mostly for fear that Karsimir would attempt to do something heroic and get himself killed. No one held Karsimir’s combat skills in higher regard than Julen, and triumphing over two demons in a single night was certainly impressive, but Bela was...well, Bela.

Aware that the chill morning couldn’t be blamed for the shiver that had just danced along his spine, Julen forced his mind back to Karsimir’s question. “There’s a large hill on Alger’s land. He generally uses it for grazing his sheep, but with all the mercenaries around, he’s probably keeping his livestock in their pens. I think that’s the highest ground, other than...you know.”

Julen approved of Karsimir’s plans for proceeding once they’d set up the base. However, when Karsimir asked if there were questions, he did have one. “What about the locals? Should we make any effort to enlist their aid? Or at least tell them what’s going on?” These were, after all, people Julen had known for most of his life. He didn’t want them to get hurt. Or to get confused about who was a mercenary and who was here to help.

Behind him, Thetta voiced her own thoughts. “The mercenaries may punish the villagers for our resistance. Or attempt to stop us by taking hostages.” She had seen both situations arise during her travels, and knew that they seldom ended well.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Sir Karsimir » Sat Jun 14, 2008 5:22 pm

"We fortify the top of the hill then." Karsimir hoped this would not damage the grazing land too much, although he knew far too little of farming to say. Ultimately, the spot was needed to provide a defensive position for his men-at-arms, and he was unwilling to take chances with their lives. At the least, they could make some effort afterwards to return the earth to as it was before.

As expected, both Julen and Thetta had brought up good points. Requesting the advice of one's warriors seems like a good practice, especially with warriors like these. Once again, he allowed himself a moment of admiration for the Lightswords in his command, then focused on the answer. Firstly he directed his answer towards Julen's suggestion.

"Involving the locals directly in the coming conflict will likely get them killed. You are right, organising the locals sounds like a good way to keep them out of the bloodshed and to make sure they are not easy targets. Julen, you are known to the people, they trust you and respect you, so you would be best suited to convince them." Knowing the general xenophobia of the area, these trying circumstances would make the locals even less likely to listen to guidance from an outsider.

Speaking now towards Thetta, although still including everyone. "That is all I can think of to protect the villagers for now. Do you know of any further steps we can take? My concern is that if we spread ourselves too widely we wont be able to protect anyone."

Aeson had a contribution. "I saw around fifty or sixty mercenaries inside the village itself. Most of them are just camped in the surrounding land, I think they are being cautious of the Guard. There was also a pack of monsters who started lairing in the woods." Guilty looks were cast sideways towards Blargen and Krarug. The half-troll quietly chuckled.

"What kind of monsters?" Rosalio asked from beneath his flat steel brim. The voice was smooth and deep, out of place on such a somber figure. He was a man who had fought against nine demons in his career, and bore the scars to prove it - deep, creased lines on his face and grey streaks in his curly black hair were not natural at twenty-seven.

The scout rolled his eyes back, not in mockery, but as though searching the inside of his own head. "Armoured trolls, harpies and goat-men. The leader looks like a cross between a man and scorpion."

Rosalio did not even blink. "Anything more you noticed?"

"The leader wore armour on his human body much like his scorpion shell. There were runes on it."

A nod from the witch-hunter. "He's dangerous. Probably has some magic. Mostly curses. How were the trolls armoured? Would their armour be any use to Krarug or Blargen?"

Aeson flinched and shook his head, less a sign of disagreement than the effort to shake off the memory. "The armour looked like it was attatched directly to the body. They kept bleeding around it, their skin near the armour ran like wax."

Another nod. No show of emotion. Rosalio remained impassive. "Their regeneration trying to cope with what was done to them. They must be in terrible pain."

"Yes." A faint whisper. While the sight of pain was something a soldier could deal with, a sight which many enjoyed to some mild degree, what struck him so deeply about the sight was how constant their pain was. They showed signs of utter agony, looking for something, anything to strike at in the hopes of easing their torture, but being held back by something inside them.

Finally, Karsimir cut in. "We want to avoid a fight in the woods. Our cavalry, pikemen and archers are all at a disadvantage there. The woods are haunted, there are things within which will know when an Angelsworn enters, that will bring a fight we don't need. Let's focus on how to protect the villagers for now."

Rosalio disagreed. "All the more reason we must strike at them swiftly. The manscorpion chose the woods because they're haunted. Whatever he's doing in there must be stopped. We need to defend the villagers against that too."
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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Julen » Tue Jun 17, 2008 11:46 am

Karsimir’s words made sense, and Julen nodded to indicate his agreement. “When we reach Shim, I’ll speak with the community leaders. They can get the word out. At the very least, people will know to lay low for the next few days. And hearing that help has arrived is bound to lift their spirits.”

Unfortunately, no similarly straightforward solution existed for the problems posed by Thetta. But disappointment refused to reveal itself in her expression. Instead, she simply lifted her shoulders a quarter inch, before dropping them. “I admit, I lack clever ideas. I only spoke on the chance that someone here might have an insight I’d missed.” Considering that almost everyone present was male, this came as a major concession. “Perhaps neither of those situations will occur. If they do, we’ll deal with them as best we can.”

Then, Aeson described the monsters lurking in the woods, and Julen’s eyes grew wider with each type named. Harpies? Goat-people? Some sort of scorpion atrocity? Julen had expected to fight men -- heavily armed men, men who were combat veterans, but men nevertheless. Learning that some of his opponents were of a much more grotesque nature made Julen itch in places he couldn’t scratch. But all his comrades appeared to be taking the news in stride, so Julen forced himself to blink several times, returning his eyes to their normal size.

And, as it turned out, Aeson’s next bit of information yanked Julen’s thoughts in a completely different direction. Like many farmers, Julen was not a huge fan of trolls. They tended to trample your crops, break your fences, and eat your livestock. But he also loathed the idea of any living thing suffering such horrible pain. And that loathing drove him to speak more boldly than he might have otherwise dared. “Karsimir is right, dark things lie sleeping in those woods. But they usually present no harm unless disturbed.”

“Perhaps we could send a small a group into the forest. A group which wouldn’t contain cavalry, pikemen, archers....or Angelsworn.” Julen hated to exclude Karsimir, but he didn’t see any way around it. “The group probably wouldn’t be strong enough to directly engage the enemy, but they might be able to use stealth to pick off some of the creatures. And if they could figure out how to free the trolls from that ghastly armor, the trolls might make valuable allies.” Despite his prejudices, Julen would much rather fight alongside trolls than against them.

Julen didn’t point out that he was probably more familiar with those woods than anyone present. Karsimir already knew that. If he decided to accept Julen’s suggestion, it was up to him to determine who he wanted in the group.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Sir Karsimir » Tue Jun 17, 2008 11:37 pm

All they had were possibilities. Which was not good. Karsimir never liked to deal in chance, not with the lives of innocents. This was much of the source of his courage, if any life was going to be risked by his tactical decisions, it should be his own.

"Best I can think of is we reduce the mercenary presence inside the village enough for a group from the village to bring the Guard. I doubt they will bring a large force because a group of foreigners say so, or a local speaking on our behalf. Once Shim has a stronger Guard presence, they can see to the defences." A faint smile formed at the thought. Possibly at finding an answer, possibly at not disappointing his Lightswords.

Feeling this was a hard decision, he focused his mind on what he learned as an Imperial officer. Always decide the terms of battle. Doing anything less would be needlessly risking the lives of his loyal armsmen. Hearing Julen's suggestion, it was a bold plan, with a fair understanding of tactics and attrition, but he shook his head.

"A good suggestion, but if the group is found it would be slaughter. I want to avoid that risk. We need to draw them out into the open, where we have every advantage. That, and I expect my healing will be the best way to remove that cursed armour."

Badagar stepped forward, holding the reins of his horse, sparing it the need to carry his weight away from combat. "And the harpies, my lord? They will be more dangerous able to fly freely."

"True." answered Karsimir, "But we need room to move when fighting armoured trolls. Aeson, how big are the goat-men?"

"Huge."

"Them too." continued Karsimir without missing a beat. "Arrows and spears. If we let them get close, we are going to take casualties. So we need to bring them down without ever allowing them to reach us."

Blargen had a suggestion. "He wants monsters, maybe I can approach without being attacked? Might help if we have a group attacking by stealth."

"And then what? We know what he does to trolls, I will not let that happen to you. I also do not wish to attack under the guise of truce." There was a tactical consideration to this; he may need to negotiate a truce, but this was also a point of integrity. All trust was sacred, even the trust of enemies.

Drax saw fit to comment. "So what first, sir?"

"I think first priority is to retake the village. Those people remain in danger, and their safety is our purpose. Hopefully we can stop the manscorpion and his troops from receiving supplies, force them out to open ground. Is everyone happy with that and ready to move?"
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Re: Final Preparations

Post by Julen » Thu Jun 19, 2008 3:19 pm

Murmurs of approval and agreement rippled through the assembled group when Karsimir proposed his plan for enlisting the aid of the City Guard. This seemed like an excellent way to protect the villagers while leaving the Lightswords free to engage their enemies in whatever manner would be most advantageous. Even Julen, who normally preferred to keep a healthy distance between himself and any representatives from Marn’s government, found himself nodding.

And kept nodding, even when Karsimir rejected his suggestion. No resentment or disappoint resulted from the decision. Julen trusted Karsimir to judge the best course of action. As long as something would be done to help the suffering trolls, Julen was content.

Although that contentment did waver when the discussion returned to harpies and goat-men. As if regular sized goat-men wouldn’t have been bad enough, it had to be huge ones. Perhaps, by way of compensation, fate would make the harpies very small. Julen imaged a flock of harpies no bigger than flies, and the rather comic picture did much to banish his fear. Returning to the present, Julen listened to his comrade’s suggestions with respect, but lacked any further ideas of his own.

Everyone seemed satisfied with making the village their first priority. And so, they once again began to march.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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