Filed under: Story Posts | Tags: Aromathus, Jeff, Journal, Novel, Offringa, Story, Tarn
June 2, 932
Well, it worked. That’s about the best I can say for what happened today. I could tell you more about the battle, but what’s the point? The bandit’s who attacked us are captured or dead, and they will not prey on innocents any longer. We sprang the trap at dawn, just as planned, and it worked perfectly. We only suffered two men killed and a half dozen with wounds of varying degrees – a slight butchers bill for the removal of a score and a half of bandits. And so, to quote the old joke, “There was much rejoicing.”
So why am I not happier?
Honestly? I’m not sure why I’m sad this night. I mean,besides winning a ferocious fight, we’ve been told that because of this mission, we will be skipping the graduation ceremonies. Not that I was looking forward to them all that much what with no one coming to see me become a soldier anyway. Nope, they’ve told us that we’re already soldiers, and that there is nothing another ceremony will do to change that. In fact, most of my command is being ordered to a little border town called Traazon Keep, and, as I am the only member of my unit with “noble blood” in his veins, I’ll actually be in command of the unit for the five weeks it will take us to arrive there.
Hells, I was surprised about that as anyone else. Of course, I won’t really be in command. Old Baldy is going along as well; according the orders that Mage Tiller received from Albeld, the garrison at my new post is depleted after a series of raids by several orc clans. From what I’ve been told, their garrison is depleted enough at the moment that we’ve been told to “expedite our arrival.” Or, in plain speak, we get to ride instead of march all those leagues.
So I should be happy, right? For the first time in as long as I can remember, I know what I’ll be doing, who I’ll be doing it with, and that I’ll actually enjoy doing it. On the other hand, I’m leaving behind everything I’ve ever known; on top of that, I’m leaving behind a lot of dead friends here as well.
Oh, I didn’t mention that yet, did I? Turns out Anhil was killed in the fighting yesterday. I mean, I’ve only known him for a few months, but he was the closest thing I’ve had to a real friend in as long as I can remember. So, yes. I’ll admit it: I’m pretty torn up about it. I’m trying to put up a good face and not let how hard his death is hitting me show in front of the other men, but his death hurts. Really hurts.
And he died in such a stupid, stupid way, as well! The battle was over; at least it appeared to be. We were routing the last surviving bandits out from their hold-out inside a pair of overturned wagons they were using for cover.They had to know they were beaten! Of course, I suppose they also knew they faced a death sentence if they surrendered. That meant we had to dig them out. And Anhil, being Anhil, called a group of men to him and led a charge.
Oh, they took the position all right. But those bastards took out Anhil in the process. One of the last arrows they loosed before our men were upon them found a chink in his armor, and that was that. Right between the joints in the mail plates covering his throat.
For what it’s worth, the healers say he didn’t have time to suffer. That’s a small consolation. On the other hand, I’m sure that won’t make his family feel any better. Unlike me, he had a family, even if he hadn’t seen them in years. I don’t know how much they’ll miss him, but anyone at all is more than would miss me if our positions had been switched.
Shrug. I can’t dwell on it too much. I’m a soldier now. A Kings Man! As Old Baldy said, nothing can change that now, no matter what happens.
I guess that does mean something; and that there is something to be said for the “brotherhood of arms.” I may not have any family to miss me, but I do have brothers in arms now. I do know that while the men may not have wept at the little roadside burial we gave Anhil and the others, but they’re wasn’t a dry eye, either.
At least I have that knowledge. Hells, I may die tomorrow in some other pointless skirmish, but even though my father may not want me, the army does. And that my brothers there will remember me – even if no one else does.
That has to count for something, right? At least this time I can say it does.
RIP, Anhil. You will be missed.
Filed under: Story Posts | Tags: Aromathus, Journal, Offringa, Serial, Story, Tarn
June 1, 932
Not much time to write tonight. Yesterday, we pushed hard, working to catch up to the bandits. Then, I don’t know how, but someone – or something – tipped them off. Result? They knew we were coming, and fled there camp. Thankfully, they’re still bandits. Fleeing into rough terrain may stop most people, but not the king’s soldiers.
That means that we pushed hard today as well, trying to “steal a march” on them. Oh, not all of us. Most of the men are still back at the head of the valley the bandits moved down, “demonstrating,” in military terms. In other words, 2/3rds of the troops are back there doing the best they can to look as loud and conspicuous as possible. Meanwhile, one of the Captains from Kooman’s Keep took the other third on a forced march to the narrow end of the valley, and all of the survivors of our training march where with him.
Why? We’re the attacking force, of course. Come dawn, the main force will stop “demonstrating” and begin their “attack.” The bandits, being bandits, may stand and fight, but will probably flee down the valley.
Straight into us.
In other words, they’re situation is hopeless, and they don’t know it. Either they flee into our trap, or they stand and fight, in which case we attack them from the rear shortly after the festivities kick off. Whichever happens, they’ll be dead by noon.
Well, that being said, I need to get some sleep. We marched forty miles today to get into position- not that we needed to march that far as the crow flies, but we needed to stay hidden. So we marched two or three times the length of the little valley, just to make sure no one saw us. Between that and a coming battle at dawn… Yep. I’m as tired as I’ve ever been.
Heh. Guess all that training in full kit really was worth while.
I’ll try to write more tomorrow, assuming I live. If not, and someone finds this… Well, I leave all my worldly possessions to Anhil. He’s been a true friend, and hopefully he can make use of them, somehow. Hells, if nothing else, he’ll buy a good ale for the men in my memory before he spends the rest on cheap ale and cheaper whores for himself.
With that, I better get some sleep. To continue after that last thought would just be too damn depressing…
Filed under: Story Posts | Tags: Aromathus, Jeff, Jeff Offringa, Journal, Novel, Serial, Story, Tarn
May 30, 932
Who would have thought that a bandit raid would have turned into such a major issue? I mean, sure, a crime was committed when those scum attacked us last week, but two hundred men to hunt down a couple dozen bandits? If I wasn’t so upset at the death of my comrades, I’d say it was overkill.
Yet, when we started out from the Keep at dawn this morning, that’s exactly what there was. One hundred professional soldiers from the Keep. All forty-plus able bodied men from my own unit. Father Khelvan and two of his acolytes. Grooms. Squires. Gra’than the scout. Even an apprentice mage, who, I’m told, specializes in third order magic – a battle mage, so to speak. Heh. Once the scouts find those bandit scum, they won’t know what hit them.
I certainly hope so. After all, who likes a fair fight?
Gra’than says he has the trail, and that their lair isn’t more than a couple days from here. “Tracking them,” he says, “Is about as hard as tracking a pack of mongrel dogs.” (Strange metaphor coming from him, I think…but that’s another story.) “They have no trail sense. They move as if they are the only thing out there, and as if nothing can harm them. They act,” he snorted, “Invincible.”
On the other hand, I do have to admit that, despite all the things they have stacked against them, the bandits do have certain advantages. They’re few in number (as far as we know), they’re mounted, and they know the terrain like the back of their hands. Yet, even so… they are only bandits. They can be the best organized and led bandits ever, they’re still only bandits. Unlike us, they do fight like a pack of mongrel dogs. After all, what else did we just spend the last six weeks learning how to do?
Yep. Discipline. Even a number of troops as small as this will use “proper” infantry tactics. Shield walls. Hedgehog pike formations. Linear formation tactics. And more – after all, what good are twenty men on horseback if they lack in ability to hurt us, simply because they can’t get at us? But that’s what discipline will do for an army. It’s why Averim conquered the orcs, defeated the Highlanders, and keeps the elves and dwarves at bay.
Or so the officers would have us believe. I mean, we recruits had that same training, right? And didn’t our officers tell us that we did nothing wrong? Yet, if that were true, then shouldn’t we have not lost anyone at all?
Heh. Truth is, even if a leader performs perfectly, he’ll still lose men occsionally. I mean, the other guy trains just as hard as you do, right? OK, maybe the bandits don’t. But they’re still not idiots. Idiots wouldn’t be smart enough to kill my comrades; these guys are.
That’s why we train. I think I’ve just realized that. I mean, the other guy trains to, right? So the key is to train more and better than he does. That way, when the arrows really do start flying, you’ll be more prepared than he is. That’s our advantage over the orcs – they’re bigger, stronger, and generally faster. But they fight stupid. Orcs “scream and leap,” relying on their ferocity and physical strength to win. These bandits are pretty much the same. Killing an unarmed merchant is one thing, but a king’s soldier? That’s a different story. We know how to fight. We won’t break and run at the first sign of blood, or a fallen comrade. And we’re smart enough to rely on each other to do the same thing.
I hope. I mean, I can speak for myself. I can speak for my comrades, too. I trained with them, after all. And these men from Kooman’s Keep are veterans, right? But…
I just hope that I can silence the doubts in the back of my mind. Either that, or ignore them. Because these men need to pay for what they did.
Or so I keep telling myself.
Filed under: Story Posts | Tags: Aromathus, Jeff, Journal, Offringa, Serial, Story, Tarn
May 28, 932
Well, we made it. Kooman’s Keep. I never thought a bare bunk room would look so good.
Kooman’s Keep is nothing like Vale Keep. Old Baldy tells us that this “fort” is far more normal. I knew that Vale Keep was big, I mean, one look at it and you can tell that. Like I said two months ago, Vale Keep is far and away the biggest place I’ve ever seen. So yeah, Vale Keep is big. But Kooman’s Keep seems tiny by comparison. I guess I just assumed that an army fort would be… bigger.
But, thank the gods, it’s big enough to do the job. We’ve turned over the two bandits we captured. They now have nice cozy cells in the stockade, and they will be tried as soon as a magistrate arrives from Vale Keep. Heh. Tried – and executed, with what they’ve done. The Empire of Averim does not look kindly on those who attack and murder the King’s soldiers. Even when they are only green recruits like us.
More important, they have reinforcements. A full company of regulars – another hundred men – to join us. Mounts and remounts for the officers. Supplies and provisions. A priest of Urnomax who has trained with the army to heal the worst of the wounded. And most important of all, a tracker. And not just any tracker. Gra’than isn’t regular army. Nope. He’s a mercenary, and a very interesting one at that.
He’s a gnoll.
Very interesting person, Gra’than. The dog people are a lot like orcs, I’m told – not that I’ve ever met an orc. From what he’s said to me in the few times we’ve spoke, most of his kind tend to follow Grummish, or go off worshiping some dragon as a god. “Silly,” he says. “Everyone knows dragons don’t have that kind of power.” I don’t know, though. Humans know even less about gnolls than we do about dragons – and that isn’t much. Hells, before now, all I knew was the old saying, “Never trust a gnoll, or he’ll bite you in the arse.” Heh.
This one seems honest enough. I mean, once you get used to the fact that he pants a lot and his nose is always wet, he’s a pretty normal guy. Of course, he wasn’t raised by his own kind – he says humans raised him, saving him after his parents were killed raiding a human settlement on the far side of the Ishkar river, so that might explain him as well. He won’t say more than that. I guess that’s his right.
But yeah, Gra’than is very good at what he does. After all, gnolls track by scent. (Yeah, I knew that – honest!) According to what the commander of Kooman’s garrison says, all Gra’than has to do is get a sniff of the scent of whoever he’s tracking, and he’ll follow ‘em back to their hideout better than any hunting dog or bloodhound he’s ever seen.
I hope so. We’ve been given a day to rest and heal up; thanks to Father Mahlcom, the priest I mentioned earlier, we’re all well now. He’s so good you can’t even see the wound Anhil took. Then, tomorrow, we set out to hunt the bandits down.
I’m just glad to be here at the fort. Yeah, I want to go hunt them down, just as much as the next guy. And I’m glad for Gra’than, and for the troops that’ll be coming with us. But for now, I’m tired. As tired as I’ve ever been, I think. And not just physically. Sure, I’m sore. But I’ve been sore before. Nope. It’s the fact that I’ve been through my first real fight.
Old Baldy and the good father tell me that’s normal. I suppose it is. But that doesn’t help the fact that I’ve hardly slept since that fight the other night, and that I don’t seem to be very hungry, either.
I’ve dropped some hints at the old timers, and they say what I’m feeling is normal, that the feeling will pass with time. They say that “your cause was just,” and that the killings we did were fair and right. Heh. I’m sure every orc’s momma tells him that before he sets out on a raid; and I’m just as sure that the bandits we killed felt the same way.
Oh, I know that they were bandits, and deserved what they got for preying on the weak. That helps – a little. I just hope that when we do leave tomorrow, we can find the scum who attacked us. Somehow, I can’t help but think that I’ll rest a little easier once those scum are brought to justice – even if I have to do it myself. Somehow, I imagine that I’ll rest a little easier when they’re gone.
Well, I hear the chow bell ringing. I’d better go try and eat some dinner, at least. If nothing else, it helps to not be alone. Alone, all I do is sit and brood. And I know that’s no good…
Filed under: Story Posts | Tags: Aromathus, Jeff, Jeff Offringa, Journal, Novel, Serial, Story, Tarn
May 25, 932
I will never forget the screams.
Not of the men. Oh, they were bad enough. What I will never forget is the screams of the horses. Horses aren’t like men, you know. A man can overcome his shock, his pain – his fear. A horse can’t. A horse is an animal, and when its sides are laid open by a sword, the only thing it knows how to do is react to the pain.
Thank the gods we didn’t have many horses with us. We were supposed to be marching, after all. But the bandits didn’t know that. They only knew we were passing through “their” territory, and that we didn’t have the horses needed to run them down if their raid went badly.
That was their plan, you know. Prevent any pursuit. That means they went for the horses first. They didn’t care that our half-dozen horses were only pack animals – just about as far as could be from cavalry mounts as they could be and still be horses. So before we knew they were there, the horses were all dead or dying. Horsebowmen, we later learned, striking from horseback. Not so much penetrating power as a bowman on foot, but more than enough to wound, even if shot poorly.
Then they were among us. Were we a merchant’s caravan, we’d all be dead by now. That’s what they must have been expecting. Merchants will set guards, but not enough to fight off twenty men on horseback. Not when attacking at night, certainly.
But we were different. Every one of our men was armed, even if they were attacking at night, and so when the first shouts of warning were raised, our men were grabbing for swords and helmets even as they ran from their tents. I know that saved us. Some of us at least. The others… Well, we did kill several of them before they fled.
We captured some of them, too. Bandit scum to be sure, but effective enough fighters. They thought we were a merchant’s caravan – never bothered to scout us out properly. Gods be praised that they were so long on fighting and short on brains. They watched us for parts of a day, and simply assumed we were merchants. Stupid bastards. Good thing for us they were, though.
I suppose that’s something open to debate, though, isn’t it? I mean, it would have been better for us if they’d had some brains and not attacked us at all. Now, eight men are dead, and seven more wounded to some degree or other. And six of those murderous swine are dead as well. Not that their deaths bother me – they were robbing murderers after all, but even so….
It’s hard. And it always will be, I suppose, knowing that I killed a man last night. The fact that he deserved it doesn’t make it any easier. And the fact that it was him or me doesn’t make it any easier, either. His blood is on my hands. And it always will be.
Old Baldy came to me later, after the fight was over. He told me I’d done well; that there was nothing that he could have done better or differently. That makes me feel so much better. Now, eight men are dead, and Anhil is sitting across the fire from me with a sword gash to his arm that may never heal right, seeing as how we have no healers with us. And the fact that Old Baldy assures me that we’ll come back here and hunt the scum down doesn’t make me feel much better either.
But we’re soldiers now. That’s what we do – fight and die in other people’s wars. All we on the sharp point of the spear can do is hope that the wars we fight and die in are worth it. For what it’s worth, the fact that I will be back here to hunt this scum down does help a little.
Now, though, we’re still a day or two out of Kooman’s Keep. Obviously, with the wounded men, we aren’t moving as fast as we were. It’s too bad we’ve got no horses left – we can’t even send anyone ahead for help. And like I said before, we’ve got no magic users with us, so we can’t call for help that way, either. So the pace is much slower now.
I’m just more tired than ever. Tired of marching. Tired of carrying on my back what the horses had been carrying. Tired of fighting. Tired of worrying about what’ll happen if the bandits come back.
Old Baldy is with us now, though, so some of the responsibility of command is gone from me. Not all of it, but enough that I can handle what’s left. Enough that I can handle it without crippling up in fear and doubt. Enough that I can sit here around the fire and collect my thoughts. But enough of that. I have other things to do.
Like making sure my sword is cleaned and sharp for whatever comes next.
Filed under: Story Posts | Tags: Aromathus, Jeff, Jeff Offringa, Journal, Novel, Serial, Story, Tarn
May 24, 932
Writing a journal by campfire light is hard work. Well, truth be told, doing anything by firelight on a night after we marched half a dozen leagues is tough. In fact, you won’t have to twist my arm to get me to admit I’m exhausted.
The first part of our little trip has gone well enough, even though I’m so tired I can barely stand. After all, the first day was easy enough. I just sat in the back of a wagon watching the prairie roll by. Honestly, the worst thing I can say about that day was that my butt was sore from sitting down on a hard wooden seat all day. They could have at least put some hay in those wagons or something. But no. That would be too much effort!
Ha. Pity that a sore bottom is the least of my worries. When Old Baldy dropped us off, he told us we were the better part of forty leagues from Kooman’s Keep. In other words, if we don’t put in twenty-five miles or so a day, we won’t make it on time. Twenty-five is pushing it, let me tell you. I mean, in theory, we could do thirty miles. For a day or two. With healers at the end of the line to magic away our hurts. But, “After all,” Old Baldy joked, “If Justarias’s legions could do thirty miles a day and fight at the end, so can you”.
Riiiiighhttttt. His reassurances an a gold piece will get me a drink of warm spit in a good inn back in Vale Keep. But it sure in all nine hells won’t get us to get all that marching done. And then we still have to follow the practice of the old legions and set up a “proper” camp each night, compete with a ditch, palisade wall, and watch towers. Never mind that there is nothing to make the towers and palisades with out here. I mean, come on! We’re in the middle of the bloody plains here! “Rules are rules for a reason, boys!” Old Baldy said. “If you can do this, you can do it anywhere, at any time. If not…” So reassuring.
So, yes. I am exhausted. And in the minutes it’s taken me to write this journal, every other man around me has already fallen asleep. And me? I honestly don’t know why I’m still awake. Part of it must be what the chuirgeons call “Adrenaline,” what ever that actually is. I’m told, though that it’s something in your blood that keeps you going when you’re wounded or excited or stressed – something like that. All I know is that I should be curled up inside the tent the good King was kind enough to provide for me, yet I’m too excited to sleep. After all, directing fifty men for two days now has had the opposite effect you’d think it would. Rather than be tired, I’m so keyed up, I don’t feel like I’ll have to sleep all night.
I’m sure I’ll pay for it tomorrow.
At least the sentries are awake, even if no one else. Of course, with the way my luck has been running lately, I may be wide awake now, but have to fight to stay awake when I’m supposed to be on watch in a few hours. Sigh.
Wait a minute. What was that? Oh, the wolves off in the distance are suddenly quiet. I wonder why? Huh…. Maybe I should go check in with the sentries. Or, on the other hand….
Filed under: Story Posts | Tags: Aromathus, Jeff, Journal, Novel, Offringa, Serial, Story, Tarn
May 21, 932
Well, Here we are, just a week from graduation. Time for the final field exercise – the one where we prove all the training they’ve crammed into our heads over the last two months was actually worth all the time and effort they spent doing it. That, and they also want to make sure we can survive in the field by ourselves.
Those of us that are left, at least. And that isn’t near as many as I thought there’d be. Turns out that even though the army is just about desperate for warm bodies, they actually do mean to stick to the standards they claim to. I guess that the saying of “a warm body is better than no body at all” isn’t really true. Well, maybe so in wartime, but really not even then. Yeah. Turns out that all that talk about nobles conscripting peasant levies is just that – talk.
Look at the Narvics, for example. The train their bowmen even more than we do ours. A Narvic longbowmen won’t be accepted into one of their field armies unless he can get off six aimed shots in a minute. And those are their “levies.” Yep. All those nobles who conscripted peasants, handed ‘em a pike, and said “Have at it, boys!” during the hundred years war were dumber than stumps. Turns out that all those peasants did was get in the way.
Of course, the nobles back west still think that way, I’m told. And when they fight their little border wars, they call up their levies, their nobles still complain about how all those “bloody peasants” are in the way of their fancy cavalry charges. Some people never learn. What good is a man when all he’ll do is break and run at the first sign of the enemy? All that does is cost the crown money and food – and the work of a man who’d be more useful tending his crops or shop.
But we know better out here. At least so I’m told. That’s why even though the Army of the East spends most of its field time performing mounted patrols and sweeps, we still spend all that time learning how to fight as infantry, performing the old-style drill from the days of the old empire, back hundreds of years ago. Back, I’m told, when we still fought as the Narvics still do – heavy infantry, marching everywhere on our own two feet.
Uggh. I hate to think about all that marching. But that’s what I’ve got to look forward too!
Especially in the immediate future. That’s our final exercise, after all. We’re to be brought by wagon out into the field – where, we won’t know, but at least a days march from here. Then, we’ll have to live off the land as we travel by foot to Koman’s Keep, a weeks march from here. Oh, they’ll give us enough food to survive, and the sergeants will be watching us from a distance, but this is to test our skills. See if we really can make it in the field. Working with mages and clerics for centuries. I mean, I know that sending people places by magic is hard, but from what little I know, words aren’t – that’s something even your youngest apprentice or acolyte can handle. So when will we ever be without at least one apprenctice mage when we’re in the field?
I know. I know. assume the best, but train for the worst. That way, when you really do step in dragon poo, you’ll know what to do. Uggh. If there is one thing I learned in all those classes, it was that. Who would have thought there was as much to being a soldier in the classroom as there was stabbing bad guys with sharp pointy things? Live and learn, I suppose.
At any rate, we leave t dawn. Those of us who are left, anyway. I have to admit, the attrition rate has been a lot higher than I thought it would be. We’ve barely got half the number of men left that we had at the start of training. Some men just couldn’t hack it. Some we’re injured and will go through training when they’ve recovered. Some, like Kholtan, just plain deserted.
At any rate, fifty of us leave at dawn. And it’s up me to make sure they arrive at Kooman’s Keep six days from now. I know I can do it. I’ve paid attention over my training, and I’m confident I can lead them there safely.
But I will admit to being a little scared, as well. What if something goes wrong? There will be no magic users along, like I said. We’ll be cut of, unless something truly major, like say, oh, a plague or a full-fledged orc war band comes along. So all fifty men will be looking to follow me.
I wonder if Justarias the Great was this afraid before he led his Hundred Companions into the breach at Dorfam’s Gate? Or if Lefricthalanassa was this afraid when he broke Narazon’s charge during the Hundred Years War. I suppose not. They were great leaders. I’m just a kid.
On the other hand, what could go wrong on a training exercise in the heart of the Western Marches?
Oh, yeah. Lots. Don’t remind me….