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Chapter 6: Stand Up and Be Counted

 
Chapter 6: Stand Up and Be Counted

The chaos of the battle has subsided now, and those tents that are salvageable have been saved from the flames of gnollish conquest. Under Alelip's painstaking care, the wounded have been stabilized and healed to the best extent possible.

Part of the quietness has to do with the number of survivors. Even the battle-tested fifth squad was pretty badly banged up, but the first four squads were beyond decimated. Only twenty-five soldiers of the original century answer the call when Sergeant Wyndshof takes roll near the central campfire in the grim hours before dawn.

1st Squad has but two lads left: Aryn Blest, the fresh-faced lad Marin and Alelip had saved from two gnolls, and scrawny young Ken Rivers. 2nd Squad boasts twice as many: Giles Baker, Hank Cooper, Hans Potter, and Rufus Withers. 3rd Squad answers with five: Nate Beck, Joshua Clairmont, Will Fellman, Luke Smith, and Mick Taylor. There is a bleak moment of silence when Wyndshof calls for the men of 4th Squad to sound off; they had been on watch at the time of the attack, and are unrepresented now. 5th Squad has fourteen veterans, more than half badly wounded but still fighting: Bill Adamson, Vic Binder, Butch Dawson, Jake Fender, Drew Innman, Matthew Kingsford, David Laughner, Ian Maresblood, Pete Olman, Alan Reynolds, Leo Stonecutter, Kyle Tanner, Drystan Untersanger, and Julian White.

The support staff is still intact, as Rives, Alelip and Marin held their own in the middle of camp and Betsey, Karina, and Alice remained safely ensconced in the chaperones' tent.

Leadership-wise, Strakker was slain defending the east end of the camp, and the other sergeants also fell in the field of battle. Wyndshof shakes his head and mutters something to himself before raising his voice to address the gathering. "Iron Hearts, while victorious today we have suffered great losses. Furthermore, our camp is within unsafe territory if the strength of our defeated adversary is any indication. While prudence might demand a swift withdrawal to Oakhollow, my judgment of the situation is that to do so would be exactly what the enemy expects, and that a withdrawal will leave us vulnerable to an overwhelming follow-on strike." He pauses, letting this sink in, before he speaks again. This time, he sweeps his vision across the fire-lit group, catching the eye of each in turn. "We will therefore break camp as soon as possible and proceed southeast to our designated duty station, the watchtower of Baden Falls. There, you will each have the opportunity to choose: to stand with your blood brothers and defend the tower as we were ordered, or to depart with the 3rd Eastgard Company and be reassigned to another unit. I will not make anyone stay with me--if need be, I shall hold the fort alone." He waits again, then gives a closing word. "Unless there are any questions, your are dismissed to begin packing the camp. It's going to be a rough hike--four miles uphill, in the dark, with carts. Make sure you're ready."

With that, he steps away from the campfire and heads for the captain's tent.

Standing from her "hiding" spot, Marin hears the speech and orders and after a few breaths she enters again the followers tent

"Alice? Karina? Betsey?" she asks, her eyes mistying again at the sight of so many injured but forcing them down approaches Alelip "Is... is everything alright?"

Altough she tries to keep calm and a steady voice in prescence of the soldiers, right now Marin appears very much her 15 years, trembling slightly and puffy eyed, but she takes a deep breath and starts again

"I know we are all tired, but we need to keep moving. Rives? Could you check the state of the carts and horses? The best one will be used to transport the soldiers than cannot make the way uphill, I'll check with Sergeant Wyndshof. Ladies?" seeing their tired and still scared faces, Marin sighs and hugs them strongly "I'm so glad you're alright... we need to start packing what we can, as the men will be packing the camp"

Letting go the hug, Marin smiles wanly at the group "Lets get going... they need us"

As the exit the tent, Marin takes a detour to the captain's tent and knocking on one of the wooden poles, she lifts the flap and enters

"Sir?" she call him shakily, trying her best to steady her voice "We'll... we'll set up the best cart so the soldiers too injured to make the journey uphill go there" she keeps silence for a moment, before sighing "And regardless of the decision of the followers, I'll stay at the fort. My arm and sword to fight by your side, My soul and life to defend our land, our freedom, and the lives of the ones who cannot fight".

Leo stood still and erect despite the bandage on his chest and the dull ache that acompanied it. Still he knew his choice had been made long before this speech. He now stood a seventeen year old man, yet he knew the bravest of the group were not standing before them. No they were with those who watched over their souls whoever that may be. Now each of them stood at a crossroads: to leave or to go. He knew his answer before the question was asked of him. While doubt and fear gnawed at the back of his mind he knew that he could go back to his hometown and live a sedate life telling of the only battle against gnolls he participated in. So when the speech was done he'd walk over to his own tent before starting to pack up his things in preperation for the march.

Drystan managed to keep a calm face throughout the inspection and the Sergeant's speech, but grimaced as soon as Wyndshof walked off. His heavily bandaged back hurt whenever he moved, but he'd managed to get by thus far. He began heading toward his tent to pack up, suppressing a curse with every step as he tore open a newly formed scab and a little bit blood began seeping from his wound, staining his crudely-repaired leather armor. Grandfather rarely mentioned such things when he told stories... and any wounds that did come up were either healed quickly, or a hero's defining mark... There certainly wasn't any healing time involved.

Drystan began packing his things in uncharacteristic silence as he reflected on the battle, biting his lip every time he moved too far. Well, hopefully I helped a bit at least... I may not be the best soldier here, but at least I stopped a few gnolls. He shuddered slightly as he remembered driving his spear into several of the creatures, the sound and smell of the battlefield, and the feel of gnoll blood flowing over his hands. Perhaps the front lines are not for me... He glanced over at Leo as he packed his things nearby, and smiled slightly. Quitting isn't an option either, though. Better not to let down the others here, or the folks at home...

He considered this for a moment as he eyed his waterskin, which lay on the floor just out of reach. Wincing at the thought of leaning over to get it, Drystan mused over possible options. Perhaps some of the other things that grandfather taught me would be useful, he thought as he remembered the few lessons in magic that his Grandfather had taught him. It's never been my forte, but perhaps... He wiggled his fingers slightly and muttered a few words under his breath, and let out a slight gasp as he felt something go out from him and slowly draw the waterskin to his hand. Glancing about to see if anyone noticed, he stashed the skin in his pack, and considered his options. Perhaps I should talk to the Sergeant about my minor talent... or look into becoming an archer. He tugged on his moustache slightly as he considered this, and then returned to his packing, trying not to put too much stress on his wound as he considered his options for the future. No matter what, I'll be sticking around. Best to keep such creatures from visiting Duncan and the rest of Eisenberg...


Alelip hears the Sergeant's speech, and, upon completion, runs back to the tent to start gathering up supplies and the wounded to Baden Falls. As he does, he sees Marin giving instructions to the chaperones.

After Marin leaves, he adds onto Marin's orders, saying, "Those who are unable to walk will need to ride up to the Falls in a cart. We should bring the cots and anything else that was saved out of my tent. Betsey, supervise the gathering of all of the supplies and I'll be back in a few minutes."

Alelip exits the tent, then begins looking at the damaged and destroyed tents, holding a dagger in his hand as he salvages some of the less damaged ones for bandages.

Rives nods his ascent and scurries from the tent. He hurries towards where the horses had been picketed, looking around nervously as if expecting a gnoll to jump out from behind every tent he passes. The scene around camp is sobering, for sure, and a few times Rives feels his cheeks flush as tears threaten to pour down his cheeks when he spots the remains of people he recognizes. He hadn't really made friends in his months here, but he had met a good number of the soldiers, followers, and tradesmen running errands for the Captain.

The Captain, Rives thinks. What am I going to do without the Captain here? He was my buffer against the rest of the army. Now what? Wyndshof can't really expect me to be a regular soldier.

Rives reaches the area where the horses were picketed and frowns in discouragement. He sees signs of uprooted stakes, slashed lead ropes, and butchered horses. The sight of the latter does in fact bring tears to his eyes. Those horses had been the closest thing he had to friends since coming to the camp. He knew their quirks and preferences. And the gnolls butchered them. And Rives was alone.

After a few minutes taking in the site, Rives takes a few deep breaths. By counting the slashed ropes and pulled stakes, it actually look like most of the horses escaped. They'd be back, Rives was sure. But perhaps not as soon as The chaperone and the healer... or anyone would like. Rives doubted anyone wanted to stay here for too long.

As Rives returned to the tents, he couldn't help but consider his fate. Defend the tower at Baden falls with a small fraction of the men needed to do the job or continue to wander with the army. Neither sounded appealing to him right now. He didn't know what he would do. The only thing he knew is that he couldn't afford to head back home...

After salvaging what he could from his own tent Leo walked over to the edge of camp where he couldn't be seen. Though at the moment he didn't much care if was seen or not. He knelt down on one knee before lowering his head and bowing his head to the slowly setting sun. There he'd start to pray to Pelor: For protection for him, his family, the other soldiers, for guidance for the souls of those who passed as well among a myriad of other things. After he stood he went to grab his stuff before before taking a deep breath and walking through the tent in an attempt to make sure the others were okay or as okay as the wholesale slaughter could leave young men.

After saying her decision, Marin saluted the Sergeant and went to join the rest of the people helping in what she could, keeping her mind busy with planning and directing the men in loading the carts sparing the best one for the injured.

With the corner of her eye she saw Leo walk away and, after fretting for a moment she choose to not to follow him and keep helping. Anything to think in something else than the battle and the nightmares that she is sure will come. Seeing Rives wandering alone, she waved to him

"Rives? I know this may sound ridiculous but... are you alright?"
she asks examining him for a moment and seeing his dry tears. Nodding to him she looks away "I've been crying too..."

Returning to the make shift hospital Rives reports, "Ma'am, the horses have mostly been scattered or slaughtered by the gnolls. I expect a handful of them will return to camp once the smell of blood and smoke lessens, but for the time being, I couldn't find any horses about. I did see a few carts and wagons that were in good enough shape to use. If there is still a cartwright among us, we may be able to cobble together parts from the broken wagons and carts to make a few more intact vehicles."

Giving him a small smile, Marin nods again

"Thanks Rives, you've been very helpful. I... I don't think we will have time to wait for the horses' return, but let's take it to the Sergeant. And I'll ask him about the carts. If you want, you can stay here and help everyone, or you can coem with me. You're the horse expert afterall"




 

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