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Chapter 14: The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

 
Chapter 14: The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

In the day after Ken is quietly ferried to the west side of the river for his dangerous ride, the four remaining Iron Hearts take stock of the situation in Old Badenshore. Commander Zane leads Alelip and his three charges on a tour of the defenses, pointing out the various barricades, booby traps, and guard stations that circumscribe the town's landward sides.

It's no Vigilance, to say the least. The makeshift walls are at best four feet high and show a number of weak points that could easily be determined from the outside. None of the nearby trees have been cut down to provide sight lines, and a number of the larger oaks have stout branches that actually extend OVER the walls. The traps are mostly modified rabbit snares, the tension and strength of which would be unlikely to pose more than a moderate inconvenience to attacking gnolls.

The men are worse. A total of five dozen have remained, but few of them have done any heavy lifting in their daily lives, and fewer still have swung a weapon. Their best weaponry are the various crossbows they each carry, but a quick demonstration reveals their accuracy against standing targets of straw is already suspect; hitting a running gnoll or hyena would be a feat of luck rather than skill. Furthermore, their reloading times are abyssmal; it is unlikely they will manage a second shot before being forced into melee.

The one bright spot is morale. Despite being a potentially heavily outnumbered and outgunned force, these volunteers have little or nothing to lose, and they are all fiercely loyal to Badenshore--though specific loyalties to the commander, Edward's late father, or some other authority figure may vary. They will not give up easily.

With limited resources and an unknown amount of time before the first gnolls arrive, the ragtag remnant of the 7th Westgard needs a plan to cobble together a real fighting force... one that can hopefully survive until reinforcements arrive...

Night hd not been as good as she thought, but better that she had dreaded given that she spent most ofthe night walking and burning off her anger. She still would not talk to Alelip more than monosylabes but at least she was obeying.

As she took a round, she shifted her focus to one thing that kept poking her mind and sighed. She knew she needed to do it but was not looking forward it.

"Ok, better end this as soon as possible" She needed to focus in helping to turn these men into soldiers.

Rives spends much of his time out in the stables with the horses and avoiding the others unless he is called for. The presence of real stables for the first time in months has provided the lad with a small amount of comfort as everyone else plans how to defend what is in his mind the undefendable. Sullenly he wishes he could take the horses out for some exercise, finding that he actually misses the sense of freedom he found while in the saddle, but the distant howls of gnolls in the forests still sound too close for the timid stable boy, so he is more than willing to stay near to town.

Edward's eyes fly open at the sound of screaming. "GNOLLS! WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!" Awake and on his feet in an instant, he doesn't even slow as he grabs his sword and shield and flies to the door. Taking the stairs four at a time, he's out the front door of the inn in less than ten strides, slamming through the front door and charging out into the road.

The dark street is empty and silent. He casts about wildly for the sounds of screaming and battle that had roused him from his sleep. He's there for several minutes, his heart thudding and adrenaline racing, before he realizes the nightmare for what it was. Just another damn dream... he decides finally, forcing his muscles to relax and shaking his head. Still disoriented, he looks around. Guess I should get going back to bed...wait, no, he decides, noting the faintest tinge of light beginning to appear on the horizon. It's almost dawn. I'm awake, I might as well stay that way.

Heart still pounding, he heads back inside and up to his room, dropping his sword and shield. His morning routine is down to a science: he gets a basin of fresh water, bathes, shaves, and gets dressed into his fatigues, putting everything he's not using together so it's ready to go at a moment's notice. Nearly everything is already done from the night before, so all he has to do is get Outlaw some hay. That finished, and the horse munching contentedly, he gives a tired smile and returns back inside to see about getting some food.

Edward is no cook, so breakfast this morning consists of hardtack and jerky, with some water to wash it down. Dawn finds him sitting alone in the inn's common room, sword and shield leaned against the table, chewing thoughtfully on his food and dipping the hardtack into his water now and then so it won't break his teeth. There's much to be done today: most of the day will probably consist of combat drills with the local militia. There's only one of him and three score of them, so it's been slow-going so far, but he hopes that he'll be able to enlist the aid of the
Yes, I know there are five Iron Hearts who came into town.
four veteran soldiers for some instruction, assuming they stay for a few days. Well, perhaps only three: Rives seems like he might need teaching more than being able to teach.


The sincere words and made Marin smile again and she noddd gratefully. Looking at what he was having for breakfast she snorted and quickly disguised it as a cough, though she didn't put much effort in it.

"That's not breakfast, Sir. You'll have no strenght to traing those men with only that. Give me 10 minutes and I'll whip something" she said grinning, taking what food he had left. Going to the kitchen she looked what they had and nodding started. True, she was no chef, but she could do better that those awful rations.

10 minutes later, Sir Edward had in front of him some cooked oats, bread and the same jerky softened with warm water and.. something else. Smiling, Marin put similar plates in front of her and started eating.

"Better eat it warm, sir. The jerky will turn hard again if you let it cool"

Alvin still found it difficult to sleep in a bed, among men. He was so used to just dropping to the ground in solitude, he almost preferred the floor. Some nights were better than others, but tonight was particularly bad. As hard as he tried, despite how tired he was, he couldn't make even a little progress towards sleeping. His stomach twisted in knots, and he knew it was because of the Iron Hearts being here. He'd eventually warmed up to Edward and Zane, but it had taken him awhile. He guessed it would take him just as long, if not longer, this time, as there were more of them than there'd been of Edward and Zane. Surprisingly, he felt most comfortable with Alelip, more than likely because of the little test he'd performed. He wasn't exactly friendly with the man, but he felt he could trust him well enough. He just hadn't paid enough attention to the others yet. It would come with time, he supposed.

With time to spare, he mulled over his comment that evening about fishing, that no one had really responded to. He wasn't really sure what he'd expected, but he guessed he'd been a little too hopeful that people would accept him despite his quirks. Not that they hadn't accepted him, per se, but...well, being ignored was better than outright derision, he supposed. He was comfortable enough with solitude. Comfortable enough to still desire it over human interaction, it seemed. Gods, but he needed to sleep. With a yawn, he quietly opened his door, tiptoed down the stairs, and went outside to the stables. Horses were uncomplicated, and they provided good company. Not that the area he had formerly inhabited had been replete with wild horses, but he'd warmed up to them more easily than he had with any humans. Horses hadn't wronged him, weren't likely to. They were simple creatures, and often friendly. Smiling slightly, he made his way among them, all of them asleep. Some were unfamiliar to him - the mounts of the newest additions to town, he guessed - but each had a unique air to them, a character he felt he could sense, even though they were asleep. He found one that looked particularly trustworthy, and curled up against its warm body, feeling as though he could finally rest.

***

He woke to the feeling of warm breath on his face as the horse sniffed him over, then promptly began to lick his face. He didn't mind at first, as he enjoyed the affection, but being assailed by a large, rough horse tongue was only charming for so long. He got to his feet soon enough, rubbed the horse's mane a bit, then made his way quietly back out, attempting to elude the attention of anyone who might be nearby, particularly the owner of the horse he'd just encountered.

Despite being highly uncomfortable with the idea of sitting and waiting for what seemed like certain death to arrive in the night, Rives found being in town to be refreshing. In camp the lad was last to bed and first to rise, spending as much time as he could with the horses. But with ample room in the inn and not having to bunk with others, he got to sleep in a bed for the first time in months, and he slept soundly and dreamlessly, awakening far later than the others. He enjoyed the true privacy he was able to get in his room, especially since it seemed everyone here wanted to be in the stables now.

He awakened and washed for the first time in what seemed like ages that he had had the opportunity to remove the uniform. He wished he had a spare anything to change into. His mother would be mortified - those rags needed to be washed, but he wasn't sure if even she would be able to get the blood, smoke, dirt, horse, and sweat out of them.

He redresses in the old, dirty uniform and proceeds downstairs, passing out of them inn quickly to the horses. They probably missed him and were quite hungry. And he needed their comfort as much as they needed him. As he works in the stables, shoveling out the manure into the heap in the small courtyard and shoveling in some hay, he begins to think more of what Marin had said the other day... She knew about him, but didn't think the others had a right to know. That was a small comfort. He wasn't sure what he'd do when he eventually had to tell them. He hoped that day would never come.

Caedmon took what rest he could that night, running over things in his mind. He thought of his home and once more wondered if it still stood, and if so, if it's situation was as dire. He did manage to finally drift off to sleep and did not spare time for even a yawn as the morning light brought him back to the waking world.

Splashing water on his face and pulling on his tunic and armor, the woodsman headed downstairs to begin. As he moved through the inn, he stopped to speak with those breaking their fast, simply informing them to tell Alelip that he would be out on the perimeter cutting back limbs and clearing the landscape. He had a few ideas for some traps to hinder the gnolls if they came and could always bring some of the locals around, as they should at least be able to use a knife and spade.

Once outside, the soldier rummaged through buildings until he found a saw and spade, along with any rope he came across. A couple of the militia were on watch and he gestured for them to follow him as he headed outside the barricades.

"We need to cut back these trees so that we can see what is coming and not allow the gnolls cover from our assault. These limbs here....here and there need to go. Cut them down and drag them back to the compound, we can use them to reinforcement some of the walls.", he points out to two of them before handing the third the spade and nodding for him to follow.

Caedmon led the boy to a set of trees on either side of what served as a road in this place. Running an eye over the trees, he looks at some of the nearby foliage trees and smiles. Perhaps the gnolls would know their trees as well as he did.

"Ok, here is what I need from you. Dig a narrow trench from each tree, all the way back to the barricades. It has to be deep enough to conceal a length of rope which will be tied to some trees we bind to these fellows. The idea is to secure them and when the Gnolls come charging in, we cut the lines and the trees falls, taking out a few and breaking the charge of the rest. Worse case, we have blockage they have to go around.", he speaks calmly, taking his saw and starting on a few of the bushier trees that would need to go in any case and dragging them back thee.

"Thank you, this is...this is excellent, Miss Marin," says Edward gratefully as he tastes his food. He was getting tired of cold rations, but he never had the motivation or the ability to prepare something more palatable. Eating politely but with speed born of both hunger and practice, he dusts his plate quickly and takes Marin's plate when she's finished.

When Commander Zane leads the newcomers on a tour of the defenses, he accompanies them. He helped oversee the construction of many of these defenses and even had an active hand in building many of them. However, neither he nor any of the townsfolk have any real experience or knowledge in building fortifications, so he's slightly embarassed at what he's sure is shoddy work.

"Corporal, may I have a word?" he asks after they finish their rounds and Cademon goes to improving the defenses. "I've been teaching the men basic battle drills, but there are quite a few of them and only one of me, and I'm not much of a teacher. Could I ask you and your men to meet me by the Water's Edge at noon? I'll be holding a combatives class, and I could use a few more instructors who've seen real combat."

Alelip wakes up with the rising of the sun coming through the window of the room he has selected. At first, he is slightly disoriented from sleeping in an actual room, as opposed to a barracks or in the great outdoors, but as he sits up in bed and pivots towards the rising sun, the memories of the past three days comes flooding back to him. As he slowly stretches and begins his morning ritual, he looks out towards the sun rising, and says quietly, "Forgive me what I have done, for I fear that I have written the death warrant for the remainder of the 7th." Despite having slept almost eight hours in a bed, a wave of fatigue strikes him, a fatigue of knowing too many lost and slain comrades lost in battle.

After composing himself, he slowly makes his way down the stairs into the common area, and sees Marin serving oatmeal to Edward. After watching for a moment, he steps out of the stairwell and says, "Marin, if there is any of that left, I would like to have some as well, please."

After breakfast is dispatched, he accompanies the commander on his rounds of the town, and finds that despite their zeal to protect their town, the defenses, such as they are, would provide little resistance to a determined band of gnolls... or bandits, as he recalls the initial exchange with the sentries. He mentally begins making a list of the improvements to the outer defenses that are needed when his thoughts are interrupted by Edward.

After listening, then asking him to repeat the first half of what he was asking because he wasn't listening as well as he thought he was, he mulls over the request for a moment and says, "Certainly, I would be willing to help, as would my unit, but there is a lot to be done over the next few days in order to get the town into a state where we could at least slow down an invading force."




 

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