Chapter 6: Stand Up and Be Counted

 
Rives had been plodding along with the rest of the men, a dull ache in his healed arm. He took his turn at the yoke, but otherwise trying and wishing to slip from notice. He doubted the gnolls would look over them, if they struck again, but he was nearly as afraid of what would happen to him now that the Captain was gone. His fate with the army was seeming less and less clear. The stable hand position had suited him well. The added duties of page boy were a bit less enjoyable, he'd have preferred to be left be with the horses, but he made do. He was used to being a servant, after all. But now with the horses and the Captain gone, he was without a job, and therefore vulnerable. When people figured out the truth, he knew he was in for trouble.

As panic seemed to spread among the ranks at the murmur of "horses" and "cavalry," Rives' heart sunk in his stomach. Perhaps there was no reason to worry about the truth...

Wyndshof looks immediately worried when the alarm call goes up, but his expression quickly flattens and he issues a curt order. "Up lances!" he commands the walking soldiers among the company, drawing his own longsword and moving toward the front of the wagon train.

The horse sounds continue to approach, and those at the lead can hear the jingling of metal accompanying the dull thud of hooves on earth. Then, the forms of two riders break the horizon, silhouetted among the trees by the pale light of dawn--men in armor, not gnolls. They come to a halt as they catch sight of the company, and one of them calls out, "Who goes there?"

The sergeant's wrinkled brow relaxes and he responds to the challenge. "Iron Hearts, the 7th Company of Westgard," he calls out loudly, clearly relieved to be speaking to fellow soldiers. "We have many wounded from a gnoll attack last night, and must hasten to the watchtower." The back-lit scout raises a fist in salute and answers back, "March on, then, you are but half a mile from our walls. We will announce your approach." He and his fellow rider turn and gallop over the crest of the hill and out of sight into the forest.

Butch

Too tired to be all that relieved, Butch none the less heaves a sigh of thanks and then trudges back to the cart he had manned previously. With a wave of his hand, he sends the walking wounded back ot his place and resumes the cart's mantle. Almost there, he thinks to himself...

Drystan sighs in relief as the thankfully human riders come into view. Thank whatever gods are listening that we don't have to fight again.... He wearily returns to leaning on his spear, which he had readied on the Sergeant's command, and resumes trudging forward alongside Leo. Still in pain from his wounds, but glad that the journey to (hopefully) safety is almost finished, Drystan begins quietly whistling "The Wheatfield o'er the Hill," an old traveling song that was usually sung by farmers on their way home from the market.

As Marin hears the human voices, and that they're near their destiny, her legs finally give up with relief and exhaustion and she falls. Using her sword to help herself, she steadies her legs but she can't take more than a few steps before going down again, and again standing up.

Now she is not really walking, or even trudging. She just uses her sword as a walking stick as she stumbles a few steps every time

Relief flows through Leo as he hears human voices. He takes a deep breath as she glances over to the bushes. Exhaustion was about to take him as well, but there were others much worse off than him.

Alelip, upon hearing the riders announce themselves, puts the scimitar back in its scabbard, picks the walking stick back up from the cart, and then proceeds to put one foot in front of the other, as he was taught, and attempts to ward off the rapidly descending exhaustion.

Rives continues to march among the soldiers in the same shared stupor. He had been spared much the night before, instead of fighting he was helping the Captain don his armor one last time or then helping to tend the wounded. He tried not to think about his brief encounters with actual combat. Sparring in the stable yard, as good as he was, was one thing, but fighting for your life was something else entirely.

Rives felt his mind wander as he trudge the last bit onward to Baden Falls. He wasn't quite delirious, but his thoughts slow drifted back to his last days working on the estate and replaying that fateful afternoon when he killed his fellow stable hand, except in this version he was wielding an axe...

The news that the approaching riders are men and not gnolls washes across the beleaguered company in a wave of relief. Suddenly the wounds don't feel so painful, and those who had struggled to pull carts find renewed vigor to cover the last half mile. The sentiment is even stronger as the wagon train breaks out of the encircling forests into the clearing around the watchtower.

The tower itself is made of black basalt, square in shape and surmounted by corniced towers at the corners. The main gate faces north, and the track that proceeds forth from the iron-banded wooden structure runs parallel to the river that gushes below the falls. The falls themselves are along the east side of the tower, a series of drops and rapids rather than a single torrential drop. The south side of the tower looks out over a glassy lake that covers about half of the low plateau at the foot of the tall, dark, snow-capped mountains that form the backdrop of the entire scene. The rest of the plateau is taken up with thick woods.

Dispite the adrinaline surging though his veins or because of it when Leo got to the tower he fell to his knees out of breath. Fresh crimson stained the white bandages on his chest. He fought to let unconciousness take him to somewhere hopefully more peaceful where the screams and the clashing blades didn't echo in the back of his mind. At least there would be someone to keep the gnolls at bay for one more night. Saying nothing at the moment he'd close his eyes, silently praying to Pelor for the good fortune of no more battle or death this night. But he knew this was only the beginning of a very long war. A war that would tear both bodies and minds apart.




 

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