Author Topic: The Outpost  (Read 652 times)

Description: The struggle to tame a part of the Frontier.

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Offline Lord Palatine

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The Outpost
« on: September 09, 2017, 08:06:46 PM »
This was pretty much written stream of consciousness, just sit down and crank out a story. It is first draft, no editing and I actually didn't read back through it before I posted it. It delves a lot into the politics of the realm, but does so indirectly, mainly as it effected the Frontier and the Army of the Frontier.

“Saddler Sergeant!” Corporal Bastion ran up to her. “The engineer centurion is down, as is the color sergeant, most of the warrants and the only officer are all down. You’re ranking.”

Saddler Sergeant Dame Daeliss Torbrandt, Cadet of the Palatine Order and Knight of Selnendrin in the Order of Valor looked around quickly from her perch atop a wagon. She was third in Rank and was placed over the reserves. As saddler sergeant she was held command of the tiny cavalry detachment and all reserve mounts and livestock. Now, she reflected grimly, she was in command of a cohort of ambushed soldiers pressed hard on the defensive. “Pull back the wounded, put them in the circle,” she indicated the hastily circled wagons behind her. She looked out as Bastion ran off, she’d admonish him later for not repeating his orders, but time was critical. “Pull back,” she shouted. “Shorten the line. Colors to me!”

She was satisfied to see the orders instantly implemented, the teamsters, cooks and surgeons dragged off the wounded they could reach and the circle of troops stepped back slowly as they fought, until they closed their gaps. “Shield wall!” She barked, and at this command all but the surgeons, even those not normally considered combatants joined the line, shields out to form a defense. “Archers, pull back and engage!”

She stood tall atop the wagons, occasionally dodging something hurled or shot at her, her shield high as she directed her battle. “Lance Corporal Silverleaf,” Break out and harass their rear. Threaten their wagons!”

Silverleaf had four mounted troopers and himself to carry out the order, but if she thought that this wasn’t enough, she didn’t say so. “Archers, cavalry out, mind your aim!” And they leaped their horses through a gap formed for them and spears and swords hacked their way through, leaving a man and a horse down. She put that from her mind as she lead them as a gallop toward the enemy wagons in the distance. As they closed Silverleaf saw why the Saddler Sergeant had issued this odd order. The attackers were slavers. By threatening the wagons they threatened their ‘goods,’ and their profits.

As her soldiers fought from behind their shields and the archers dropped or wounded their targets, tiny cavalry force swept through the wagons, spearing guards and hacking loose the chains that leashed the captives to the wagons. Then a cry of alarm rose from the enemy ranks and flames and smoke rose from the wagons. Everything they’d taken was now going up in flames, and discipline broke as men considered the many things of value in the crates, and the people they viewed as a valuable commodity was in danger of being lost. First a few, then many broke and ran, and Saddler Sergeant Torbrandt called out the names of five soldiers and ordered them to mount up and chase down those that ran. She dropped down from the wagon and drew her sword, calling for the colors to her as she stepped up to the shield wall where the enemy was thickest, and gave one of the oldest orders in warfare. “Follow me!” And she pushed ahead, the wall following her out like a wedge that separated the enemy into two force, as her circled forces deployed into line, and the flanks curled to envelop the enemy, forcing them into a knot that was slowly ground down.

A few were surprised that she didn’t call on them to surrender, but these were slavers and the penalty was death. The slavers knew this and wouldn’t surrender if fighting offered even the slimmest chance at avoiding the noose. And so, they died where they stood, fighting, but outclasses. A hundred dwarven engineers and the garrison force of fifty may have been ambushed, but they were disciplined and the longer the battle stretched, the better their chances as their conditioned responses tool hold and even outnumbered, they were a killing thing that ground their enemy like old meat.

Finally, Torbrant wiped the blood from her face and sword and cast her eye over the field. “Get our wounded to the surgeons,” she ordered. “Stack the enemy dead, gather their weapons and armor, gather anything of value for their prisoners.”

“What of the enemy wounded?” A soldier asked, a very young one at that. He was cuffed across the back of his helmet and went silent.

The butcher’s bill wasn’t pretty. Twenty-three of one hundred engineers dead, eighteen more wounded, six more not likely to live. Of the garrison troops, eleven dead, seven wounded and four likely mortally wounded. A third lost, compare to at least three hundred and fifty of the enemy, but the losses were bad. Now she needed to supervise building a fortified station with the commander and adjutant commander of the engineers dead, her own color sergeant, dead. Still, the army expected her to carry out her orders, and so she would. They were where they needed to be, they’d called a half and been attacked before they could establish their encampment. That would need to be attended to at once.

“Full camp,” she said to her gathered sergeants and corporals. “Entrench, stakes, dirt wall, and set the tents and latrines. The engineers will lay it out. That’ll take the rest of the day, tomorrow we’ll need a trench a few hundred yards away for the enemy dead. Ours, we’ll burn and send the ashes home when we can. She looked over to the dismounted cavalry  approaching with the freed prisoners. “Get a mess tent up and put them in it, they’ll need food, bath water and something clean to wear, quartermasters, do what you can. It’s been a long day, but it’ll get longer until we have a secure encampment. Dismissed.”

She waited until she was alone and clenched her fists and felt the muscles in her arms tense and then her whole body went rigid. “Bugger, bugger, bloody bugger, shite,” she snarled and let her muscles relax. Around her everyone sprang into action. Wagons were repositioned, field kitchens were starting to assemble, guards posted and were set to work as an engineer sergeant laid out the camp. He staked out the broad outer ditch that would surround the large camp and everyone fit to work started digging.

Lance Corporal Silverleaf led a woman to her, Torbrant gave her a cursory look-over. Pretty, she thought. A gem in the rough, clean her up and she’d be quite nice. Introduced Darana Gurdan to her commander. “How are your people?” Torbrant asked.

The woman looked as if she would lash out, but she saw the pallor of exhaustion under the blood smeared on her face, her eyes were dark-ringed and red. “Tried, scared, famished,” she replied.

“Thirty-four women, nineteen children,” Silverleaf added. “Some of them had it rough.”

The muscles of the Saddler Sergeant’s jaw clenched. “I’m afraid that all I can do for your tormentors, is to kill them,” she sighed. “And we did a thorough enough job of that. They are raising you a large tent, it should hold you all, for now, until we can give you more room. We’ll find what we can for blankets and clothes, for now we’ll have bath water and food for you, and we have what you’ll need to wash what you have, and patch it. We also have surgeons to see to your injuries, so we’ll do what we can. I’ll report your release to my superiors, and we’ll see what we can do to tend to your needs.” He rubbed her face with filthy gloves and sighed again as she removed her helmet and coif, her hair was wild on her head. “We’ll get you settled, then I need to secure this place, and tomorrow, see to my dead.”

“Thank you, for saving us,” Darana said quietly.

“We’re the Royal Army of the Frontier,” Daeliss smiled and gave a little shrug. “Or a sliver of it anyway. It’s what we do. Go one with you, get cleaned up and fed, and rest. It’ll be very busy around here for a few days, take that time to regain your strength. Lance Corporal, escort them to the Quartermaster, have him see to their needs.”

“How can she look so old and so young at the same time?” Darana asked Silverleaf as they led the way for the others through the camp.

“Command,” Silverleaf replied. “And battle, and exhaustion. She’s a few months shy of twenty-three. Young for this, but she’s good at this business.”

It was long after nightfall before the camp was secure. Ditch and earthen walls, guards posted and tents raised. She’d poked her head into the civilian tent after sending off her reports, most were sleeping but a few eyes shined in the light from the lantern outside the flap. She nodded and went to her own tent. She was a bit surprised to see a camp bed made over a pair of chests, and realized that it must have been reserved for Color Sergeant Crault, but he’d not need it now, so it passed to her as his replacement. A young head popped in the flap and surprised her.

“Do you make a habit of peeping into women’s tents?” she asked testily.

“Beggin’ your pardon, saddler sergeant, but no I don’t, I’m your orderly and steward though, so I wanted to see if you were ready for bath water and food.”

“I have a steward?” she said rather than asked.

“Station commander’s privilege, mum,” he shrugged. “I’m Harper, stay dressed, we’ll bring in your bath and then I’ll see to your supper.”

She laughed when she noticed the wooden tub and the stack of bath sheets on a bench beside it. Three men brought in several buckets of water, most were poured into the tub and the other two buckets left for her, still full. “Help you with your boots and gear, Mum?” he asked.

Harness and weapons were set aside, then her surcoat, breast and back plates, and finally the mail coat. She opened the hooks holding her arming jack closed and she could feel the heat pour off of her. Cool evening or not, that many layers held a lot of heat in with her. “I’ll tend to the rest,” she said as her second boot hit the floor. “I won’t be long in the bath,” she said. “so bring supper straightaway, and make sure I’m roused in time to be dressed before first call.”

“I’ll see it get reported, Mum,” the young man replied and scampered off.

Army baths are quick, she scrubbed with a brush, soaped and scrubbed again and wrapped herself in a bath sheet and leaned over the tub and washed and rinsed her hair. She was sitting at the table in the sheet with wet, braided hair when warm bread, a bowl of stew and a plate of stewed apples were placed before her, along with a pint of ale.”

“I don’t remember asking for ale,” she observed. “Did everyone have a pint, or just me?”

“Them that wanted it had a pint,” Harper replied. “The engineer sergeant gave permission to the cooks, he said you were busy and not to be bothered with trivia, but ale was called for after the battle and losses. He had the cooks tell them it were with your compliments.”

“That would be Sergeant Axling?”

“Yes, Mum,” Hapter agreed.

“Adjutant’s prerogative, and he’s next in line by rank,” she nodded.

“We’ll clear off your bath and I’ll see to your kit,” Harper said as he pulled a canvass curtain that separated her bed from the rest of the tent. “As soon as you’ve had your fill.”
“Have them clear out the tub,” she said. “I’ll use the baths, I’ve a warrant, not a commission, so I won’t lord a command this small over anyone,” she directed between bites. “And I’ll take my meals in the mess. I understand that it’s the first day, and a damnable day, but let’s get to routine straightaway.”

“I’ll see to it, Mum,” he nodded.

She considered correcting him, Mum was not a proper form of address, but the young man had served a man before, so a woman would throw him off entirely. He scampered off to see to her directions, she’d finished her supper and was in her bed behind the curtain. She heard the quiet shuffling beyond the curtain as she drifted off.

“Coming up on first light,” Harper’s voice came through the curtain. “Chilly morning as you’d expect. Bit of frost. Clear skies and light wind. Tea and cakes on the table, and your clothes are laid out. I’ll be outside the flap, call if you need me.”

“Very well,” she grumbled as she sat up, she realized as the chill air touched her that she hadn’t bothered with her sleep shirt. It was across the foot of her bed and soon on her. Tea and reports first. Three expected to die of their wounds were now expected to recover, in time. This brightened her mood. Seeing actual milk and sugar on the tea tray set a smile on her face, she was used to using milk candies in her tea, then she remembered the grumbling she’d done when they had to slow their pace for the small herd of cattle and other stock as they travelled.  Trust that bastard Crault to hoard these things to himself. She had a thought and called for Harper.

“Have the milk set aside for the children and wounded,” she said. “If there’s extra from that, then share it out for tea.”

Harper nodded and scampered off.

She found that her gear was cleaned and waiting for her, she felt a twinge of pity for poor Harper, he must have been up all night seeing to it. She was partly grateful and mostly annoyed by such treatment. She was used to doing for herself, and preferred it. Mostly. She donned uniform and armor and was bouncing to settle her armor and harness when she heard the bugle and drums sound first call.. The sounds of the camp rose as the morning scramble began and soldiers washed and dressed. She stepped out and took a deep breath of the morning air, helmet under her arm, she hooked it to her belt and strode through the camp as troopers poured out of tents at second call, lance corporals quickly inspected them and then corporals took charge of their squads, sending them off to their duties in the stables posts as stand to played. Finally came the loud notes of Stand To played, and every soldier fit for duty stood to their battle posts and she cavalry mounted.

Then Saddler Sergeant and Sergeant Axling walked the perimeter, inspecting the troops and insuring that all were in place as the morning ritual began the new day. Dawn was a common time to attack, so the full garrison of a post turned out at dawn and dusk, and inspections were performed and details assigned.

“Send the night watch to breakfast,” she ordered. “Mount the morning watch and send the rest to police the post.”

“Be a miserable morning,” Axling sighed. “We’ve raised ten funeral pits. We have oil enough, so we’ll attend to the cremations this morning. Do you want the post to observe, or should we keep them busy?”

“We’ll keep them busy,” she replied. “Too many dead. I don’t want them dwelling on it too much.”

“Between you and I, Centurion Urianius was no great shake as a combat officer, he’s part of the leftovers from the old Sixth,” Axling growled.

“Crault as well,” she nodded. “I came over from Firth Army as part of the reconstruction, the purge isn’t going fast enough.”

“Good lot, the Sixth, I’ve heard that we’re going to fall under the Marshall Oldwine, the one that beat the Imperials out west.” Axling said quietly.

“I’ve heard that too,” Torbrandt agreed. “Talk in the Fifth was that he was being raised to Lord Marshall of the Frontier.”

“Think it’s reliable?”

“I was Saddler Sergeant to Marshall Ironheart’s staff, so I generally got the good gossip,” she shrugged.

“How’d you wind up out here then?” He wondered.

“I wanted back out in the Frontier, staff was bloody boring, I won my spurs out here, and I didn’t relish making sure that the saddles were shiny enough for another day.”

“I’m getting out of my tin and I’ll start laying out the station walls and buildings after breakfast, I’ll keep them all as busy as I can.”

I’ll see that the surgeons attend to the dead,” she said quietly.

“Any idea when we’ll see replacements, or if we will?”

“No. I sent the reports last night, those that must be obeyed, won’t even be out of bed yet to start thinking about it.”

“There’s supposed to be a big push west any day now,” Axling said. “Replacement officers and warrants among them, and no telling what else.”

“I’ll remain skeptical and optimistic,” Torbrandt growled.

“How can you be both at once?” Axling grinned.

“I’m a woman,” She shrugged and grinned at the shorter dwarven engineer. “It is my prerogative.”

She stood off to the side as the surgeons filled the ten stone pits, each shrouded body was laid in carefully and carefully doused with a potent oil. They stepped back and at her signal, the bodies were set alight. She was glad they’d insured that the pits would be downwind, burned bodies were not pleasant. She watched for a long while, her face not showing the melancholy that threatened her. Any pausing to look at her saw only a tall woman, six feet even, broad of shoulder, narrow of hip and armed to the teeth, watching impassively, as duty required. She looked down a moment and walked away. It would take two hours of so to finish this, and then a while longer for it to cool, and then the ash would be recovered from the pits and sewn into a leather pouch, which would be added to the other effects of the deceased and sealed in a cask to be returned home. Many didn’t have this last bit of compassion, circumstances did not always allow the proper disposition of remains, and many a lonely grave or scatter of whitened bones marked the places where many of the Royal Army fell.

“Dispatches are in, Mum,” Harper informed her.

She opened the dispatch box, its contents delivered magically. She wordlessly lifted out a stack of stripes, color sergeant and passed them to her steward, who understood at once that her uniforms needed updating, quickly. Following instructions she slipped the leather-bound book from her inner pocket into the box and closed it. She read her new orders and looked to the dispatch box when it made a small noise, she drew out her book and opened it to see that her promotion had been duly entered, signed by Marshall Aldora Lawford, now commander of the Sixth Army. So, the purges were still in work. She further reviewed her orders and sent for Sergeant Axling.

She passed over the dispatches when he arrived. “Replacements and reinforcements are on the way,” she said as she rolled out the map and weighted the corners. “We’re at the crossroads, The Realm proper on the east road, Tamber on the West Road, Gamedian to the south and Dragonfire Lake to the north. I believe that they raided farmsteads to the north and were taking them gown toward Gamedian. They have markets along their border. This was a big group, three hundred and fifty at the least. Reading what they didn’t write, they see us sitting in a trouble spot, no surprise as we’ve both already seen the trouble. Tomorrow I’m sending out patrols. I’ll need to pinch your squad to supplement the rest and we’ll send them out by squads and cover a wide swath around us, start learning the lay of the land, and keep our eyes out for trouble.”

“We’re all at your disposal, Color Sergeant,” he grinned.

“Thanks,” she replied dryly. “When the cremations are done, I want a circle of trees around the site, maybe some paving stones and benches.”

He took the change of subject in stride. “There’s a good stone site not far from here, we’ll be quarrying stone for the station from there, we’ll find good stone for that as well.”

“Let’s assemble the engines and set them around the camp. It’ll increase our defense and free wagons to haul stone. I know we need to press on with the station, but I want the best defenses we can have as well. Holding this piece of dirt is our first priority.”

“Agreed,” he nodded. “We can’t build on ground that we can’t hold.”

“If they hit us, it will be when we are split between here and the quarry.”

“Again, agreed,” Axling nodded. “We’ll have to plan for that.”

“I am,” she smiled faintly. “scouts and other tricks and treachery.”


Work was slow over the next few weeks. The camp defenses were increased, the station proper was laid out, stone quarried and shipped, stock pens built, it seemed endless, and all accomplished under guard. Only two of those thought mortally wounded died, but their healing was slow, even with magic healing, leaving Color Sergeant Torbrandt wondering what poisons or worse was used on them. Something else for her to worry about, should another attack come.

Their guests, as she referred to the freed prisoners, were recovering from their ordeals as best they could. They’d determined to earn their keep and were taking many of the domestic chores from the soldiers. So time wasn’t needed to wash clothes, and clean the field kitchens, and soldiers were freed to other work. This pleased her. Darana Gurdan continued to speak for the guests as their representative. Daeliss was pleased by this as well. She thought that Darana would clean up nicely and she was quite right, she had inclinations in that direction, but kept them firmly in check. They did normally take dinner together in the mess though, Darana was an informal part of her staff, and she dined with the sergeant and the corporals every evening to discuss the day and future plans.

“Why do you have a boy tending to you?” Darana asked.

“He was with Color Sergeant Crault, when he was killed then the command fell to me and Harper with it.”

“Isn’t that a bit uncomfortable?” Darana asked. “Having a boy around all the time.”

“He’s been unobtrusive,” she shrugged. “He cares for my uniforms and kit and stays out of my way otherwise.”

“Shouldn’t you have a girl looking out for you?”

“Normally, but nothing about what we have is strictly normal. I have a patchwork command made up of an engineering cohort and my own garrison force. That doesn’t make for the most normal of commands. We’re doing well, Axling is good and we work together well, but we don’t have quite enough to do all that we need to do as fast as I’d like to see it done.”

“You need a girl to tend to you!” She rolled her eyes.

“Like you?” Daeliss teased.

“Could I?” Darana looked surprisingly interested. “What would I have to do?”

Daeliss looked surprised. “They are young people, generally between twelve and sixteen, they often come from army families and are looking toward a career in the army. They clean and care for weapons, armor and uniforms, keep their quarters, see to their meals and the like.”

“Sounds like a wife,” Darana grinned, leaving Daeliss wondering if she were being teased.

“Wives get more rewards for their hard work,” Daeliss grinned back.

“All in what you consider a reward,” Darana shrugged. “Will you allow Harper to show me what he does?”

“If you wish, but I don’t think it’s much of a job, and the pay is low.”

“There’s pay?”

“Five shillings a month, room, board and a horse in the field.”

“What is board?” Darana asked.

“Your meals,” Daeliss replied. “How old are you, have you ever married?”

“I am almost twenty, and I’ve never married, plenty came to court; but, none impressed.”

“Harper will send for you before first call,” Daeliss replied. “It is the call to roust the garrison, they dress, and turn out for inspection at the next call, tenn it’s off to the stables to grain and water the horses and saddle the duty mounts for morning patrols. Then the men don armor and belt up in time for stand to, that’s when the entire garrison turns out and mans their battle posts and we greet the sun as it rises and watch for danger. Then we mount the new guard watch, dismiss the night watch to breakfast and bed while the rest tend to garrison duties, then they eat and the day starts.”

“Don’t you people believe in sleep?”

“They sleep plenty,” Daeliss grinned. “Now off with you, morning will come early, you get to be awake before I am. In fact, you’ll be the one to wake me. Now, shoo!”

Darana was not army. She had no real experience with the army, aside from occasional patrols from the Frontier Army, and that was seeing them at a distance. Now, for the third week, she rose before the sun to wake Daeliss, laying out her uniform and tea, and helping her dress. The Color Sergeant sat patiently and sipped her tea as Darana braided her hair, the same style every morning.

She knew that the army spread their names across the north, but she had little hope that anyone was left after the raiders had struck. She saw her own family cut down, her father and brothers, her mother had died years before. Her elder sister Letha and her two daughters were here as well. He sons were too old for the bandits to trust, so they too were killed. Chained women had their uses, chained men did not. She would never shed a tear over the mass grave of the bandits. A few were worried about the soldiers, after all they had killed the bandits down to the last man, and they suspected even the wounded were finished as well, but most of them understood that slavers have no quarter, and would be offered none, and even those that surrendered would be hanged or feel the axe. Life in prison was a possible sentence, but there were no prisons in the Frontier.

Darana wasn’t sure what was going to happen with them. Some thought that they would be left here, some thought they’d be sent east to Calorem or some other Province to be resettled. The soldiers didn’t seem to speculate one way or the other, surprising considering she’d heard enough gossip to know that they spoke their thoughts freely; but, on this subject they held their own counsel, perhaps for fear of worrying them. She did also see that admiring eyes were common between soldiers and the guests. So far nothing had come of this mutual admiration, but she was sure that it would, in time. Time permitting.

She saw the sun break the horizon and the eyes of the soldiers on the east wall studied the horizon. She was a few yards behind Daeliss, who studied the blue shadows to the north, this was the direction from which she expected trouble. She admired the Color Sergeant. Tall, muscular, intense, a soldier, but not hiding from the fact she was a woman, even though she was bigger than some of the men. “Not yet, Garth, another morning with no threat on the horizon,” she heard Daeliss murmur to Sergeant Axling. This surprised her a bit, Daeliss was very careful to address all by their rank, and she’d spoken to her acting adjutant by name.

“Our reinforcements should be here today,” he nodded. “Are you going to send a patrol down the east road to see if they can find them?”

“I’m sending Silverleaf after breakfast,” she nodded.

At noon a shout drew Daeliss to the east gate. She could see Lance Corporal Silverleaf riding with a green pennant at her spear tip. The way that she waved the flag warned her that she larger group behind her was led by rank.

“Stand to,” Daeliss ordered, and the drums and bugle called all to their posts. As they drew closer Daeliss could see a corps flag, indicating a general approaching. She mounted the horse led to her and rode out just beyond the gate to meet them. She nodded curt approval to Silverleaf and her squad as they rode past her into the encampmant.

The General wore the livery of a Lord Defender of the Palatine Order, he pulled up short and returned her sword salute, both sheathed together. “General Jamen Meldresse,” he rode close enough to extend his arm, they grasped each other firmly at the forearms. “Newly commanding the Twenty-Third Corps.”

“Color Sergeant Daeliss Torbrandt, newly commanding this station, My Lord.”

“Tidy post,” he complimented her as they rode in together. “As I understand it, your garrison force and engineers are from the same battalion?”

“Yes, My Lord, both from the 1st Batallion, 4th Legion ,225th Brigade.”

“Very good, I’ve seen your losses, I’ve brought you replacements, and better mounts for your cavalry. As I understand it your horses came from Lord Eranbrand’s farms?”

“Yes, My Lord,” she said a bit coldly. “And are as good as one might expect from his studs.”

“Recently the saddler sergeant, were you not?”

“Yes, My Lord,” she nodded. “For Fifth Army staff before that.”

“You’re Talmar?”

“I am, my Lord.”

“You’ll know horses then,” he nodded. “Your new stock is from Talmarii and Calorem, Telbrantil and Bragg breeds.”

“That’s a fine improvement, My Lord,” she said with more enthusiasm.

“I’ve brought you a platoon of engineers to replenish the 5th Cohort, and we’ll be leaving the 5th Cohort, 5th Legion from your brigade to work the quarry.” He waved an officer forward. “Centurion Dalewine will establish a fortified camp at the quarry and concentrate his efforts on stone for your station, and a few other extras. He passed over a scroll case. Let your sergeant of Engineers know that these are the new plans. Your location here along the high road to Tamber will be rather important, especially with the crossroads and the trouble that you’ve seen. We’re going to build a hospital and station a squadron here. They’re in the column, coming up now, along with three troops of cavalry to replace your losses. We’ve also brought you rations and a full sutler outfit as well. You’re going to grow into a key station, in time, but for now it all needs to be built first.”

“Understood, My Lord,” she nodded. “I’ll see to expanding the field fortifications at once, and give the engineer warrants time to change their plans.”

“You fought a good action here,” Meldresse looked over at the long burial mound of enemy dead. “Three hundred and fifty dead to thirty six of your own. No one likes to lose a third of their command, but a bleeding the enemy ten to your one is impressive, especially when the enemy outnumbered you three to one is nothing to call a failure. Your sergeant Axling reports that the bulk of your losses were under the Centurion of Engineers and your own color sergeant, and that you turned the tide and won the battle. Something to be proud of.” He extended her a small medal, a Battle Star, won for commanding in battle. “And you’ll need these too,” he drew out a stack of shoulder stripes, a single white stripe set in a black background. “I know that those that reach the rank of Color Sergeant don’t like to trade them for centurion’s stripes, but if it’s good enough for Lord Marshall Oldwine, I think that you’ll be able to endure the promotion as well.”

“Yes, My Lord,” she said with lukewarm enthusiasm. “Thank you, My Lord.”

He turned over a heavy leather dispatch pouch to her. “Here’s all you’ll need for your new command, Centurion,” he said as he looked around. “You’ll see a lot of troops over the next few days. The command staff of the new Sixth Army is behind us, they’re going west to Tamber, then we have the Twenty Fourth Corps behind us, going to the western border of the Frontier. Then, behind them, the Second Army of Tamber. It’ll take at least two weeks for them all to march past, longer since they have families with them. Set up your brewery, you’ll enrich your garrison fund immensely off of all of that.”

“You’ve brought us a brewery, My Lord?” She seemed pleased.

 “Part of the garrison allotment,” he grinned. “Lord Marshall Oldwine is rather progressive in his views, and not shy about making them policy. Get those stripes corrected, and study your new orders. I have to take a company north and site a few more stations.”

“Luck to you, My Lord,” she saluted easily, and rode to her tent and dismounted, sending for Axling as she dismounted and went to her desk.

“I see why they call this the new Sixth Army,” Axling said after a long, low whistle. “They’ve replaced hundreds of officers and even more warrants.”

“It must have been bloody, or at least a barrel of red ink,” she agreed. Then she recalled the general’s observation about beer. “We’ll need to expand the encampment, double the size, and we’ll need a brewery, we’re getting everything we’ll need to run it, but we’ll need a building or tents or something. We’re going to have a few corps and an entire army marching past. It’ll take weeks for them all to pass. And we’ll have a sutler’s store and hospital to plan as well. She passed over the scroll case full of plans.”

“We’re already brewing ale,” Axling grinned.

“We are?”

“We had extra pots and pans and that sort of thing, a few of my lads are competent brewers, and barley is lighter than ale to transport, so we feel we’re saving shipping weight. Anyway, several of the women among our guests are very capable brewers, and they’ve been hard at work.”

“Your spirit of load saving warms my heart,” she said sourly.

“Spoken like an officer,” he grinned at the stripe on her shoulder.

“Get stuffed,” she growled.

An army of two hundred thousand, and its accompanying wagon train, spare horses, livestock and everything else one could imagine, was immense. Nearly a hundred miles long. Add to that the families accompanying them, and you add another hundred miles. One more addition, a corps of fifty thousand marching in front of them, and le line becomes almost ridiculously long. Fortunately, the supply train to replenish the station was at the head of the whole column.

Daeliss contemplated the stacks of crates and barrels and bags and...there was so much. She also found herself in command of a hundred garrison soldiers, fifty infantry, thirty cavalry and twenty engineers, add to that ten each of cooks, teamsters, smiths and surgeons. Then, as if that weren’t enough, there were eighty engineers, ten cavalry and ten infantry assigned to Sergeant Axling, who was under orders to report to her. So she had double the number of troops that her rank warranted, and a crowd of civilians. She shook her head and watched as the engineers and every trooper that she could spare digging the foundation trenched for the walls. The wagons with the building stone and others with limestone, shale and gypsum needed to make concrete were delivering their loads already. The kilns were already at work to heat the concrete ingredients, it would be a long process. Fortunately they had a few hundred tons of concrete in barrels, ready to be mixed with water and gravel to begin the work of pouring the footings. She was interested in the construction process, but it wasn’t strictly speaking her concern, officially. Since those walls would protect her and her command she was intensely interested.

She thought back to the first dinner that she had in the upper mess with her warrants a few days earlier. The Sergeants, corporals and lance corporals now numbered a bit over forty. “Every report I’ve read indicates a total changeover from the old to the new army. Rations have been changed, armor and kit will be changed, we came here to build then garrison a station, but the plans we’ve been ordered to built to are a key station, that’s six times the garrison as before. Between the engineering cohort and the garrison squadron, we have two hundred, and no idea if they’ll flesh us out to the total. We’re also building a full hospital, granaries, brewery, and storehouses. We’re going to be much larger than expected. The Sixth Army, the Army of the Frontier, now falls under the Lord Marshall of the Frontier. As many of you may know, Lord Marshall Oldwine is a veteran of long experience across the world. A year ago he was a color sergeant, and he’s being promoted faster than anyone that I can recall, the possible exception of King Ramon I, who passed up from Captain to King in six months or so. He doesn’t have a lot of the old bureaucratic thinking, so we can expect that he’ll break old thinking when it conflicts with situations at hand. In many ways I believe he still thinks like a color sergeant, he wants results and isn’t worried that they be pretty, just that they work. I believe he once said once it works, we’ll pour paint on it to make it look nice.”

There was a chuckle at this.

“Very long story short, we’ll be working our arses into the ground, I want us at the double for as long as the army is marching by, because once they’ve passed, we’re on our own again. Build now when we have a lot of hands to put to it, because later we’re back to patrols and doing it all ourselves.”

Now she watched the foundations and trenches and wells and cesspits all being dug and shook her head, she knew when she said it that she was understating things. Still, they had a drilling engine for the well, powered by horses it relentlessly bored into the ground to sink the well. The work was harder now, as they’d sited the station on a cap rock with a thin layer of soil over it. Another engine worked quite a distance out from the wall foundations, a much larger engine that bored a wider hold that would begin the work of a wide and deep cesspit. Good exercise for the horses, even if she hated to see cavalry mounts tied to engines. But she wanted the drills working around the clock. Tomorrow, the first massive stones would be laid for the wall foundations.

Relief came a few days later, Marshall Jamen Serpental of the Second Army of Tamber rode up to the gate and Daeliss scurried to meet him. “We’ve been asked to increase our pace,” he informed her. “so we’ll be leading a mixed corps behind us of ready companies to safeguard the families while the soldiers step it out. To that end, I’m having them build camps here, and we’ll have them fall out and muster for a second column. The families for the lead corps and staff are already through, so they’ll have to continue onward. I’ll also be taking cavalry with me and purging the north of bandits, too many reports of them massing. I’m leading you a Battalion of engineers to speed your construction here, and they’ll march with the families hen the army has passed. It shouldn’t tax your stores, but you may hear a lot of angry wives and husbands.”

“I’m sure some complaints may make it through to us, but they’ll mostly be directed toward the officers holding them up, My Lord,” she shrugged.

“All the better for me not to be here myself,” Serpental smiled tightly.

“The better part of Valor, My Lord,” Daeliss agreed tightly.

“Keep a good watch, Centurion,” he said as he turned his mount. “I understand that you have experience in the frontier, don’t forget what you learned.”

As he rode away Daeliss wondered, with great discomfort, why an army commander would know anything about an officer of the lowest commissioned rank would have any idea about her experience.

Six hundred engineers can work at great speed, especially when inspired by dwarven sergeants. Granite was quarried and carved into blocks a foot tall, two feet wide and three feet long and weighing half a ton each, and carried and placed with a combination of tall wooden cranes and muscle power. As each wall measured six hundred and sixty feet, it would take two hundred and twenty of these stones for each course, and four courses per wall. So each wall was eight feet wide and twelve tall, not counting towers and gate houses, so each wall would be at least 5,280 stones per wall, which meant quarrying, shaping and placing 2,640 tons per wall.

The numbers seemed like too much, but then she watched the dwarven engineers with their great saws cutting and squaring rough slabs encouraged her. She found that that the sergeants awarded an extra ale ration to the teams that cut the most each day, and that seemed to be a great incentive to them. At the beginning of the next week she stepped up and placed a jug of dwarven fire whiskey on a stone slab, and promised it to the squad that cut the most stones for that week. The results were even more impressive.

“Why are you building such a large fort?” Danara asked one night as she polished boots and Daeliss read her dispatches.

“I believe that they are going to make this a key station, with four stations assigned to it. That would put a small station, fifty soldiers, ten miles down each of the four roads. Crossroads are important for moving goods and people, so this spot is more important than it looks. We’re halfway between the eastern edge of the Frontier and Tamber. We also control the intersection of roads that go north and fork to Wisnore and Delloram, and in the South to Celestaer and Gamedian. Slavers use these roads, as do bandits. We’re going to help make those roads safe for people and merchant goods. There’ll be a lot of roads being repaired and used to their best purpose.” Daeliss smiled at her. “As the Army of the Frontier takes absolute control of our borders, as the armies of Tamber help clear the center, As the border provinces help clear out the bad seed that has taken root, then the Frontier will be truly part of the Realm, and the freedoms shared by all. It is a worthy goal, the goal of a lifetime.”
“But why now, not years and years ago?”

“Because the Realm has enemies, and many of them ring the Frontier, and they tried to lay their own claims, we had to fight wars and free other countries to stop them from being used to threaten us. We’ve broken empires and nations that wanted to destroy us, and now that we’ve broken the large tyrants, now we can break the small ones that lived under the protection of rogue nations. There used to be three armies out here, the Old Sixth, the seventh and the eighth. They were poorly lead by political appointees, chosen in compromises that allowed the armies to be raised. It took a lot, but the King broke the factions that raised such poor armies, and he dismantled two of the armies to build one good one, we hope it is anyway. Meanwhile, much of the old Seventh and Eighth were scooped up by the Grand Duchess of Tamber, and the Lord Marshall. He threw out the dead weight and found good officers and warrants, and trained them hard. Thousands of those that thought they were powerful, due to friends in Parliament, found themselves stripped of uniforms and sent packing in disgrace, because the Lord Marshall, then Marshall, answered to the Grand Duchess alone, and parliament had no say over them. I understand that several outraged men found themselves on the dueling field with Marshall Oldwine, Marshall Serpental, Color Sergeant Breecher and a few others. Their ashes were sent home, perhaps as a pointed reminder not to attempt tampering with Tamber’s Militia.”

Darana considered this a moment. “How do you hear so much?”

“Nothing moves faster through the army than a good story or rumor,” Daeliss grinned. “And the team of Oldwine and Breecher have flowed through the army since they took up with Lady Traveler. Marshall Serpental is something of a legend in his own right, and the fact he accepted a command, in Tamber, and has been so energetic in his duties that it has spread far and wide.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever understand the army,” Darana sighed and inspected the gleam of the boot. “Nothing seems to be direct.”

“Oh no, we’re fairly direct, follow the King’s Regulations or you get a thump to show you why you should,” Daeliss chuckled. “It isn’t until you see the upper ranks of the commissioned that things get convoluted.”

“If that word means not direct, I’ll agree,” Darana snorted, then she became still and silent for a few moments, enough that Daeliss stopped reading and studied her face. “They’ll be back, you know. The bandits, as you call them.”

“I know,” Daeliss assured her. “That’s why we’re here, to stop them.”

“They say they own the Frontier and no army can change that.”

“That is where they’re wrong,” Daeliss held out her hand to Darana, who rose and stepped to her. Daeliss felt the trembling in her hand and pulled Darana down to into a firm hug. “They can claim to own anything they want, let them raise their heads, and we’ll lop them off. Slavers have three choices in the Frontier, leave and hope we don’t stop them. The other two are the rope and the sword, we call the sword the yard of justice, because a yard of fine steel is the best way I know to tell them they own nothing.” She held Darana for a long while, until they heard last call. “Time to wash up for bed,” she murmured. Darana nodded and slipped out and returned a short time later with a bucket of steaming water and set it beside the basin. By then Daeliss was in her sleep shirt and Darana unbraided her hair and washed it over the basin and braided it again. “Would you like to stay here tonight?”

Darana nodded.

“Well, get yourself ready and come to bed, I’ll scare off the bogeys for you,” Daeliss teased, earning a small smile.

In the morning Daeliss found Axling just after first call. “We have all of the weapons and what passed for armor from the bandits still, I believe?”

“We do,” Axling confirmed.

“I want a stone and iron gallows built just across the road from the east gate,” she said. “One that can’t be burned. I want any bastard slaver that sees it to know that’s their fate, and I want anyone else that sees it to know we take our duty with deadly seriousness.”

“I like it,” Axling grinned. “Some of the higher command won’t though.”

“Easier to ask forgiveness,” she paused.

“Than permission,” Axling chuckled. “I’ll see to it. They’ll love building it.”

Centurion Daeliss Dorbant was in a foul mood, for the 6th day in a row she’d had a heated discussion with Centurion Varas Dalewine, Knight of the Sceptre and commander of the Fifth Cohort of Engineers. The man was a bloody incompetent. The only saving grace lie in the technicality that as commander of two squadrons/cohorts to his one, she held greater responsibility, and thus rank than did he. He’d tried to play the seniority card, but his orders listed him in command of a hundred, and hers two hundred. Plus support. She was also the Station Commander, and he was only there to build a station, so his command was on a temporary duty, where hers was stationed here permanently. So, every day they argued, every day their reports were sent up, and somewhat to her surprise, she was backed all the way up to company, and even corps level in each of their debates to date.

Privately, she loathed the little turd; well, mostly privately, Axling heard her mumble the epithet and concurred whole-heartedly.  So, the news that her legion commander, who had tried to side with Dalewine, was coming to the post was not something she viewed with any joy. Partly because she’d actually gone over his head when Legate Garthan had sided with Dalewine, and her Brigade commander had not only sided with her, but forwarded her protests to higher commanders. So, Dalewine and Garthan both hated her. She glanced out of her tent flap and shook her head. Dalewine was standing in the quad, waiting for the Legate’s arrival with undisguised satisfaction.

When she was notified that the Legate was in sight she emerged from her tent in her jack, sword belted on and wearing her baldric, complete with medals. When Dalewine saw this, he scowled. Where he was a Knight of the Sceptre, an order not recognized by the Royal Army, she was a Knight of Selnendrin, and the Order of Valor. A small gemstone on the medal that signified this showed that she was dubbed by the King Himself. There were also several battle stars, signifying command in battle, and several medals for valor in battle. Things that Dalewine could not boast of. Not that she was boasting. She was showing them who was Army. She stepped up into the saddle and waited a moment as Darana buckled on her gold spurs of knighthood, an honor forbidden to the Knight of the Sceptre. Dalewine’s face reddened.

“Permission to enter the post,” Legate Garthan said with some irritation. This surprised her, as commander of the legion and ultimately, her, he shouldn’t have to ask for this permission. Then she noticed that his Legate Stripes, three white stripes to her one, didn’t have the command crest of his legion set in them. Her own single stripe had her command crest for this post. “If you’d call your sergeants, we can tend to the business of the day. Your tent?”

“I have them assembled in the mess, Sir.” She replied.

They rode past Dalewine, who looked annoyed that he had to mount and ride along behind them, casting glances over his shoulder at the sergeant from the squadron accompanying the Legate followed them, dismounting with them and entering the mess. “You will note, Garthan said in a bitter tone, that I do not have the command crest, nor the command colors of the 4th Legion, 225th Brigade. I have been relieved of my post and currently the 4th Legion consists only of the 1st Battalion.” He opened a large dispatch case. “The bulk of the 2nd Battalion has been disbursed as replacements to other legions with combat losses as replacements. By Order of the Commander of the Sixth Army, endorsed by the Lord Marshall of the Frontier, the Count of Selnendrin and His Majesty King Ramon II, Command of the 1st Battalion is passed to Tribune Dame Daeliss Torbrandt, Cadet of the Palatine order and Knight of Selnendrin in the Order of Valor. Until two more squadrons are raised, your command shall consist of a cohort of infantry, a squadron of cavalry and the cohort of engineers under the command of Sergeant Axling. He passed orders to Daeliss and a second set. And, until this fort is complete, the 5th Cohort, 5th Legion, 4th Legion, 225th Brigade is also under your command and will serve under your orders until released by higher command.

Dalewine paled and swelled, his cohort was now assigned to this bitch? “Sir, there must be some mistake, with her history of enmity I cannot be expected to serve under her command!”

“You’re not,” Garthan shook his head. “You have been relieved of your command are ordered to quit the Frontier immediately and return to Hesterbur to await new orders.”

“This is outrageous! My family is highly placed and has many officers in the sixth and friends and family in Parliament!”

“The Sixth Army falls under the command of the Lord Marshall of the Frontier,” Garthan informed him. “By act of the Crown, and with the approval of Parliament and Prime Minister Silver, the Lord Marshall has the authority to replace anyone he sees fit. Further, as he is also the Commander of the Tamber Militia concurrently with his post of Lord Marshall, Parliament has little to no say over any appointment he should make, as he has the authority to raise officers in his militia and transfer them directly to the Army of the Frontier. Go pack your gear,” he passed him a sheet of parchment, and bring these warrants with you, they too have been relieved and will return with us. By Order of the Lord Marshall and approved by the Crown.”

Dalewine started to speak again. “Belt up!” Garthan snapped. “I have no desire to spend a moment longer in this place than I must, and you’re slowing my departure. Move your arse!” Garthan looked at Daeliss with no comradeship in his eyes. “If you’ll pardon me, I’ll wait outside the gate.” He turned and left without waiting for her to agree.

“Word to the gates, no salute as he departs,” Daeliss said to a corporal who left so quickly that he seemed to fly. Then she looked at the large dispatch box, it was a trunk actually. “They did this to humiliate him, Garth,” she murmured to Axling.

“It worked,” Axling agreed. “I imagine that he earned it.”

She nodded and first drew out her new stripes and called for Harper, now her orderly and not steward. “Take these to Darana and have her amend my uniforms, and bring me back a jack as soon as it is fixed, if you would.”

Harper grinned and left at a run.

“What next, Legate?” Axling teased her.

“Find someone to sew on Centurion stripes, Garth,” she passed him orders and stripes. “You’re now Adjutant Commander of the post and you’re still over the engineers. You’ll want to send word over to the newly designated 4th Cohort, 1st Battalion, and so forth. Put a foot to their arses, I want stone coming out of there faster.”

“A pleasure,” he grinned and sent for a lady he seemed to know by name to bring her sewing kit.

“Why are you so happy to get this promotion, I thought you didn’t like commissions?”
“I don’t, but I’m a wee bit fond of you, and can tolerate myself on a good day, so I’m not horribly depressed by the news, seeing as I hold us in such esteem.”

Daeliss looked at the Centurion, no, now two centurions that had entered with the former legion commander. “Centurion Harm Stonecutter, new commander of the 4th Cohort, Engineers?” She looked at them.

“He’s ridden ahead to insure that Centurion Dalewine leaves with a minimum of mischief, Ma’am,” one of them answered. He’s taken the replacement warrants with him, begging your pardon for his haste, but he promises to return directly after he addresses old and new warrants.”

“Perfectly fine, commendable in fact. Why does his name sound familiar?”

“Stonecutter is a nephew to General Stonecutter, the Engineer for Tamber Province. Before taking this post he held command over a platoon of Dwarven mountain infantry in the Fifth Army. He’s seen a lot of action.”

“Excellent,” she smiled. “Centurion Branen Hammerhand, commander of the 1st Cohort?”

“Here, Ma’am,” a bulky-looking Dwarf replied. “Formerly Color Sergeant, commanding a gate fort in Brashad-Quantar.”

“Welcome, Centurion,” she grinned faintly.

“Centurion Lyra Hawke?” She looked at the last. “Commander of the 2nd Squadron?”

“Here, Ma’am,” she replied. “Formerly Chief Scout to a legion I won’t miss.”

“Our apparently stripped legion?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” she replied. “I was chief scout for a Legion in the Calorem Militia until a few months ago.”

“Buggers can’t leave sergeants alone, can they?” Daeliss snorted, and they all chuckled at that.

“It looks like we have more to find tents and beds for, and more warrants to meet,” she shook her head, bemused at events. “Centurion Axling, go see to your uniform, I’ll do the same. The rest of you, I’ll have more news when I get through all of this, if the Centurions could meet me in my tent after you’re seen to your troops, we’ll sort this all out then.”

“I’m going to have a command tent erected for you,” Axling said. “You’ve avoided it until now, but we have one that came with the last batch of gear, and we don’t want to tied up the Warrant’s Mess with lunch coming up.”

Daeliss nodded at that. “See to it at once then,” she sighed and closed the trunk and hoisted it onto her shoulder and carried it out effortlessly.

Daeliss found it all to be a bother. Darana and Harper packed her kit and carried it out of the way, then a couple of squads took down her old tent and raised a much larger one. There was a counsel table, a map table and desks for the adjutant commander, battle ensign, quartermaster, color sergeant, paymaster, chief scout, and provost, all in a rather large central room. Her own desk was set in the back corner and separated by heavy tapestry walls. Not very decorative, but they helped cut down noise. Next to that her own sleeping quarters, also separated by heavy tapestries, and most ridiculously to her, with a private bath. Then the sleeping area for her steward. On the opposite side, behind the row of field desks, was sleeping accommodations for the orderlies and along the back wall the pantry and field kitchen for the headquarters.

“Bloody ridiculous,” she said for the twentieth-or-so time.

“I think it’s rather nice,” Darana said as she and Harper unpacked her again.

“We’ll be moving inside the walls in a week or so,” Daeliss grumbled.

“You have a much nicer place to live, and I can cook for you right here.”

“Hedonist!” Daeliss scoffed.

“Is that something naughty?”

“It can be,” Daeliss giggled, and hated herself for it. “In this case I meant someone that enjoys creature comforts too much.”

“What else can it mean?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Daeliss replied. “For now, I have a lot of reading to do,” she sat at the head of the table, where two young ladies, from among those they freed, laid out the contents of the trunk carefully along the counsel table.

That afternoon she and the other officers read through the qualifications and histories of the warrants under their command, Daeliss also read through her officers.  She took great pleasure in reading through the promotions. One of them brought her great pleasure, in part because somebody read her recommendations. She sent for that one and smiled when Lance Corporal Silverleaf entered the tent and saluted as she formally reported.

“You’ll need these on by stand to, Vonnie,” She said as she presented her with her corporal stripes and her new warrant. “You have 1st Squad, 1st Troop, Second Squadron. Make sure you’re troopers know who you are. The quartermaster will show you where your squad’s tents are.”

“Thank you, Legate,” she looked very pleased.

“Thank yourself, you earned it,” Daeliss grinned. “And don’t try and sew them on yourself, you’ll bleed all over them.”

Axling seemed to be in a slightly evil humor when he looked over at Stonecutter. “It didn’t take you long to see off Dalewine.”

“No indeed. I walked in, ordered them all to assemble, read my command orders, and has a half dozen or so pack him out and put him on a horse. He seemed dreadfully put out that I wouldn’t give him a wagon or let him take any gear on the cohort rolls. He seemed to think he needed his full tent and the gear assigned to it with him. Lost all but one sergeant, three corporals and a half dozen or so lance corporals. I have the new ones settling in and shaking things up already. Best to let them know now that things are going to be army standards, including no ale on days we miss quotas. Today is the first day they’ll see water with their supper.”

“Well played,” Axling chuckled.

It was tight, but the borrowed Battalion of engineers raised the walls before they were obligated to join the column and continue the march west. Rather than face the aggravation of watching the camp being uprooted and reassembled inside the station walls and the ten acres they enclosed. She rode out after stand-to, to look over the engineers of the 4th Cohort. Axling joined her with a few others from her staff. Everybody hated moving.

She inspected the hundred engineers and something stood out. “Centurion Stonecutter, it is my imagination or are some of these engineers...out of condition?” She amended what she was about to say.

“Some of them could bleed gravy and sweat butter,” Stonecutter replied. “They were fit enough for the Old Sixth, but they’re in the New Sixth, meaning they will either work off their belly bushels, or I’ll start them on their walk out of the Frontier.”

She nodded at this. “Hard work is a start. No ale and no sweets for anyone until this Cohort is in proper trim. Good diet and hard work should trim them up, have your warrants watch for shirkers and have them keep them hard at it. I don’t mind the savings in ale that depriving a hundred engineers will have on our stores; but, I’m sure that none of them will be pleased to have water with their suppers. Any that look out of condition that make the run in full gear and work at full pace will obviously be counted as in fighting trim. Some carry weight differently than others. But any that can’t will have it worked off of them until they meet standards, or we ship them back to the Royal Army as unfit.”

There were a lot of ugly stares pointed in her direction.

“Welcome to the Royal Army, not what you served in before, no one knows what that was,” she said as she met their glares, and stared down all but a few.”In the Royal Army we shall tolerate no malingering, sloth, gambling, drunkenness, favoritism, gluttony, or the unfit. You’ve fallen off of your quota, which means you aren’t producing what we need to build stations to hold and protect these crossroads. At present, we’re vulnerable to attack by large scale bandit raids. You more than the station, where we’re moving behind stone walls today. So, less scowling and more hard work,” she demanded. “If the engineers at the post are slowed in their building, the scowls of the shirkers that I see will be nothing compared to the dislike you’ll fee for me when I address the shortcomings. Centurion Stonecutter, be sure to reward hard work, and be sure to give sloth its due reward as well.”

It was something of a relief when life began to take on aspects of routine and normality. The soldiers stood their watches, the troopers rode their patrols and the engineers quarried and built. The headquarter building sat dead center with a wide parade ground surrounding it on all sides. The Hospital was built at the same time, both were fairly large structures, built over deep cellars. When the word went out that the sutler’s store and brewery would be built last, soldier volunteered to work in their off duty time to help the engineers that also volunteered off-duty time to build a permanent garrison store, they had one now, but the tent wouldn’t serve ale, the permanent one would. Their interest in the brewery was self-evident.

The ladies and children found their own niches within the garrison, some as laundresses, some in the gardens, some helping as nurses as needed and brewing and cooking. The children assisted as helping hands for the builders and in the gardens. Corporal Darl Haergan, the garrison paymaster, would normally spend his time overseeing the orderlies as he only needed an hour or so a day to see to his primary duties, the rest of his time he spent teaching those freed from slavers to read and write, a few hours of teaching after supper and before last call. Daeliss was impressed by his work and made mention of it in her dispatches. She did inquire if teachers were available in her many reports that her job now demanded.

The supply trains kept rolling, always heavily defended, she observed. And their cellars and storehouses began to fill at last. When they were fully supplied they’d be able to withstand a year’s siege, if necessary. The smiths were building barrels for the ale being produced at a prodigious rate by the brewing ladies, handy as the standard ration consumed nearly fifty gallons each day. There was a lot of eagerness for tonight’s supper, the scouts had brought down a pair of large bison bulls and brought back on sledges to butchering and to tan the hides. The garrison voted for one of the heavy pelts to be placed in the nursery for the children, and they voted for the second to go to her. She tried to decline, stating that her bed wasn’t large enough for such a thing, but they insisted and she relented, only to discover that the devious buggers had built her a larger bed, that now filled most her small sleeping room. She pushed it up against the wall to leave space for her armor rack and chests for her clothes. The heavy blanket would be on her bed before cold weather, but she’d worry about that later. 

Fresh bison, roasted on the pit would be a rare treat, they normally didn’t wander this far north. The timing was good as well as the longer patrols started in the morning, where her patrols would be out for five days, four squads out, covering all four directions. She wanted trouble found before it found them. Her concerns weren’t purely paranoia, though that was a healthy trait in a scout. Signs had been found that they were being scouted. She wanted to know who and why. Her cavalry would find out. They’d better find out. Silverleaf would find out, she had great confidence in the young corporal. She was frontier born and raised, she knew the ways of the lands and their scattered peoples.

The morning breezed was cool in her small sleeping quarters, Daeliss could boast of two windows in her corner room on the fifth story. This put her above the walls and up into the breezes. It was still too warm for the heavy bison covering, but she was sure that winter would be a different story altogether. She gazed out at the horizon, it was just starting to lighten. She stroked Darana’s back gently. “Time to wake,” she murmured in her ear. “Soon you must come wake me.”

“Silliness,” Darana sighed and stretched. “Do you believe that no one knows where I pass my nights?”
“You think they know?” Daeliss asked, surprised.

Darana giggled at this. “Of course, why else would they call me the Tribune’s Lady?”

“I didn’t know that,” Daeliss sounded surprised.

“Oh yes,” she snuggled in closer. “The quarter master, Sergeant Turnkey, asked if I were going to move soon, since my little room as a door into your private room, he thought we could use it as a dressing room and wardrobe. He even offered to send a pair of carpenters up to build shelves in there for us.”

“That’s a bit embarrassing,” Daeliss moaned.

“I embarrass you?”

“No, don’t be silly. It’s embarrassing that everyone but me knew that we were common knowledge.”

“Oh, Darana replied. “Some think it’s because there are no men here that you don’t command, so you’ve taken up with a woman.”

“That’s even sillier,” Daeliss ticked her side softly. “I don’t mind taking a man now and then, but I’ve always preferred women.”

“So you like men too?” Darana asked.

“I like women that are soft and loving and that want to spoil me,” she kissed Darana’s hair. “Men, I like a man that can give me a proper pounding.”

Darana rolled to look at her closely. “You submit?”

“No,” Daeliss grinned. “I just like strong men that are good for a hard night, and then make themselves scarce in the morning.”

“I submit to you,” Darana lowered her eyes. Daeliss placed a fingertip under Darana’s chin and made her meet her eyes. “Do I hurt you?” Darana shook her head. “Do I humiliate you?” Again, Darana shook her head. “Do I love you?” Darana looked uncertain and Daeliss caused Darana’s head to nod. “I do,” she said, “now, come kiss me, and then help me dress for the day. Today you’ll walk out with me, kiss me before I mount, and pass me up my helmet, as the Tribune’s lady should.”

It was some days later when Daeliss heard the bugle call announcing an urgent message. She hurried back to her headquarters and took the dispatch from Harper, now wearing uniform. “Orderly Harper, have them sound officer’s call and send a ready rider for Centurion Stonecutter and his staff. My compliments to the Centurion, and he is to prepare immediately to evacuate the quarry.”

She looked down again at the message. Dispatch paper is fairly expensive to produce, and so is only used in pressing circumstances. The circumstances that prompted Corporal Silverleaf to use it definitely warranted that use. She read it again and went to the map table, and that’s where her staff found her when they reported. “We have a legion-sized force coming at us from the Northwest. Bandits, but our scouts believe that they are deserters from the Old army of Delloram, when it was still an Imperial Province of Fortunel, or troops out of uniform from Koriche. She reports that they move with some discipline. At least two hundred mounted and eight hundred more of foot and archers. They had apparently split into smaller groups and have regrouped to march in our direction. She further believes that as soon as we’re reduces, bandits in the north will link up and raid, and drive south with plunder, which, as we know, means people as well as goods. I have sent out warnings to our brigade, company, corps, Sixth Army and the Marshall of the Frontier.”

She paused to let that sink in. Making such a pronouncement, should it not come to pass, could end her. At least under the old Sixth, they weren’t certain yet what the new Sixth and the Lord Marshall would do. “Their direction of march indicates that they mean to take the quarry unawares, attack us in detail and remove a quarter of our strength, and take the garrison supplies, wagons, horses, weapons and armor. Therefore, I mean to deny them that chance. We’ll pull everyone back here, I believe that they will use the encampment, or what we leave of it, the reports say that they have a baggage train, and she says at least twenty prisoners. They’ll want their wagons and plunder where they think we can’t get at it. To that end, I want to conceal a squad of scouts in the quarry. When they march out to attack us, they will burn all they can of the enemy’s provisions. I also plan to let Centurion Hawke and her 1st Troop have a bit of sport, they’ll like that, won’t they Lyra?”

“Lyra Hawke, as with most cavalry was a bit short and whip thin. Her smile was predatory as she nodded.

 They’ll ride out today and keep watch from the south west, where they can get at the quarry encampment from the rear. “Corporal Brace,” she turned her attention to her chief scout.  “Ora,” she reverted to her first name. “Pick ten of the best, those that you think can handle such a mission. Centurion Stonecutter will help you find the best place to conceal yourself. Pick your people quickly. For now, get the 4th Cohort here with all they can carry. We have a day at most, don’t dawdle.”

She returned her eye to the dispatch. “This is going to be a hard fight, we are outnumbered more than two to one, and they have fifty imperial ogres. A whole platoon of the spawn. They are tall enough to reach the tops of our outer walls, or place soldiers atop them. Wherever they go, the archer’s eyes should be on them, as should anyone serving the engines. Time is short, make the most of it.”

That evening she had her entire command, save the cavalry that had already ridden out, and those on the walls, before her. “Centurions,” she called loudly. “Are your commands ready for the defense?”

Two replied in the affirmative. Centurion Stonecutter stepped forward. “Nine engineers have stated a desire to leave the post before the fighting, they wish to be discharged at once.”

“There will be no discharges,” Daeliss replied firmly. “Anyone going over the walls will be meat for the archers. Those that refuse to do their duty will be tried, and their last post will be outside the gallows gate if found guilty. Those that refuse to their duty will take two steps forward from the line.”

She waited and none moved. “Very well, no need for the noose today. See that you do your duty, or I’ll do mine. Centurion, those that have requested discharge will report immediately to the Provost, they are defaulters and will be dealt with accordingly.” She looked over the rest of her command. “We’ve all of the advantages in this fight. Walls, engines, and you. They have to cross open ground, under the shot of engine and archer, just to get to the walls, and if they try the walls, we have steel to answer. A pint tonight for all, save defaulters, get a good night’s sleep. We’ll deal with tomorrow as it comes.”

It was dark in their room when Darana slowly undressed Daeliss for bed that night. “No nightshirt?” She teased her lover. Darana shook her head and smiled as she turned back the covers.

So much to worry about, she sighed, much later that night. Still, she’d made great strides in training her soldiers. A few bad apples remained, but they wouldn’t affect the rest. She hadn’t lied when she reassured her troops. They had a strong defense, and time was on her side if she could force a siege. The enemy knew that, they knew that help would be coming, or they did if they had any sense. That would force them to press aggressively. Aggression exposed their troops to her steel, and by thunder she’d bleed them hard.

Before dawn came the tap at her door. “Yes?” She called.

“Begging your pardon, Ma’am,” Harper said just loud enough to be heard. “Corporal Silverleaf begs leave to report with news.”

“Send her in!”

“Ma’am?” Harper sounded shocked.

“At once!” Daeliss was out of bed and the nightshirt dropped over her nude form as Silverleaf stepped into the room”

“Oh,” she said, “sorry!”

Nothing you haven’t seen before, Vanna, report!”

“Dawn, they’ll hit the quarry at dawn.”

“They’ll find it empty,” Daeliss grinned.

“Is it news?” Darana asked as she roused enough to speak.

“Yes, Love, see to my uniform, if you would, I’ll need it right away.” Darana shrugged into her own nightshirt before she slipped quietly out of bed and attended to it. Daeliss led Silverleaf to the stairs and they descended toward the map room.

“Nice to see you have someone,” Silverleaf smiled and whispered.

“It is very nice to have someone,” Daeliss replied in a normal voice as they stepped up to the map table.

“We stayed ahead of them,” Silverleaf traced their route of travel on the map with her finger. “We’ve thinned their scouts a bit. Sloppy buggers, they were, and left us no choice in that. But this close in our patrols should be expected. We saw the lights of the fires at the quarry works. Saw no people, so I’m guessing they are all snug in beds here?”

“They are,” Daeliss nodded. “Have they engines?”

“If they have them, they are in the wagons and will have to be built,” Silverleaf replied. She smiled at Darana when she accepted a cup of tea.

Daeliss also smiled and drank deeply. Sweet and milky, just the thing. “You expect them at dawn?”

“I do, that’ll put them a thousand yards to the east, two thirds of a mile, at the quarry. We have a bit of time yet.”

“First call an hour early, breakfast before stand to,” she addressed Harper and the two young girls serving as orderlies. “My compliments to the corporal of the guard and pass the order. First call, then everyone into armor and they’ll eat in full kit along the walls.” She watched Harper dash off after repeating the orders back. “Excellent work Vanna, have somebody see to your mounts, get something to eat and then bath and bed with you all. Sleep while you can, but don’t sleep through the entertainment of the day.”

Silverleaf nodded at that, saluted casually and took her leave. Daeliss returned upstairs to dress for the day. “Cold bath,” she said to Darana, then I’ll dress and eat and go up top to see what can be seen.”

“Warm bath,” Darana corrected. “I started the water before I came down.”

“You spoil me,” Daeliss gave her a one-armed squeeze as they climbed the stairs. “Are you going to bathe me also?”

“Of course, otherwise I’d be wearing more than this shift.”

Battles,” Daeliss growled, “have a terrible habit of popping up just when you have life as you like it.”

She walked the parapet at the top of the headquarters. Hers was the tallest building on the post, she was nearly seventy feet above ground. The sun was just shy of the horizon and she could see her troops along the walls, wolfing down their morning meal. The ladies of the fort were walking among them, refilling tea and black bean for them, their smiles brightening a dark morning. She could see the fires burning and could see fires wink as people walked between her and the fires. “They are in the quarry encampment,” she said quietly. Axling and Stonecutter stepped up beside her and saw the flickers. “We’ll forego stand-to this morning,” she thought aloud. “We’ll change the guard as normal, and send the night watch to breakfast and bed. Warn them to sleep dressed with boots and armor at the ready. Stonecutter stepped up to the wall and accepted paper and a quill from one of the orderlies. He wrote out the order on a crenellation and sent her off with it.

As they watched the horizon  a squad of ten dwarven engineers arrived and sat beside their ballistae, two per side, relieving the two soldiers assigned to watch from the roof.  They sat and drank their morning tea and peered out through the crenellations. From here it was roughly three hundred feet to the walls, the somewhat small but potent dwarven ballista could triple that, the ones along the outer walls had even further range, they were closer and larger, but at times like this, every bit counted. “Watch for the big ugly bastards,” the corporal told them as he walked the perimeter of the keep. They’ll be the ones to try and get them over the walls. Keep your eyes on the markers and when they cross, they’re your meat. Aim well, or I’ll know the reason why!”

Dae4liss smiled at this. “Mark your bolts well,” she said aloud. “Any of you put one in them from up here and a gill of whiskey to you all.”

“For each one we hit, Tribune?” One asked.

“For each one that you hit.”

“Well, right, send the buggers on then,” he said as he started marking the ballista bolts.

“They’re forming,” Axling said, pointing.

“I’m going to the west wall,” she said after a moment. “Centurion Hammerhand,” she turned to the commanding officer, 1st Cohort. “I’m leaving you two orderlies, keep a good eye out, and send word to me if you see anything worth reporting. I’ll have the color sergeant with me, watch for the colors and that’s where you’ll find me. I’ll also send up a flag signaler. I know you don’t want to miss the fight, but I need you up here. Centurion Axling, you’ll have the ready reserve, anything that comes over the wall, you contain it, the cavalry mounts are saddles, second Platoon, second squadron is your reserve. Use them mounted or on foot as you need them. Centurion Stonecutter, take personal charge of the engines and archers along the west wall. We have to bleed them.”

After they all acknowledged orders she went down the stairs quickly. She paused and let the others past as she took Danara’s hand. “Take the women and children to the hospital, they’ll be able to do the most good there, and it’s the most secure. If they get too anxious, there are kitchens in the hospital, keep them cooking and baking and tending the wounded.” She kissed her quickly and dashed off, calling for the color sergeant, who fell in with her as they walked briskly to the wall. Too soon for running.

“They’re in for it now,” Color Sergeant Tanner Brietag announced loudly as they walked toward the west wall and gatehouse. “The old lady is in her full tin and looking for a brawl.”

Daeliss chuckled and pulled her helm over her chain coif and ascended the stairs to the upper wall. “Signals,” somebody called out Daeliss turned and waved and read the flags aloud. “They are lining up in three ranks, looks like three cohorts wide for each rank. A thousand feet wide at least. Ogres in the center of the second rank. First rank is carrying heavy shields. Third rank is archers in the center. Roughly a cohort, with a cohort on either side, carrying scaling ladders. They have a troop of cavalry mounted. In the rear center.” She waved again to acknowledge the report and looked around and saw a signaler. “Tell the archers and engines to target the center, that’s what’s going to try to get over the walls. Axling!” she called down.”

“Here, Ma’am,” he said from behind her, then seeing her look at him and back down at the two catapults. “I can give them their aiming if I can see what needs hit,” he shrugged.

“Very well,” she glanced to the great axe clutched in his left hand.

“Never know when something could block my view,” he wiggled the axe. Always wise to have something to clear my line of sight.”

“I see,” she nodded and slapped her sword hilt. “I suppose since I’m here, I might as well lend a hand.”

“Sporting of you,” Axling agreed. “I’m going to start shooting ballistae at five hundred yards, longbows with flight arrows at three hundred yards, then the catapults will drop fire at two hundred yards.  I have triple crews on the catapults to try and speed the shooting.”

“Very good,” she nodded. “We’ll put the archers up here, on the wall, no sense having them shoot with no targets in sight. If their archers get too dangerous we’ll put them back down.” She looked over and saw the slow advance. “They’ll stroll until they’re in range, then they’ll charge,” she said. “The ballistae, even your fancy dwarven ones will be able to make about fifty shots. The archers are faster, we have a hundred with bows, figure a hundred dozen arrows until they reach the wall. If we’re lucky we’ll get off a half dozen catapult shots. Then we’ll be dropping fire down their throats.”

“Did I mention the caltrops?” Axling asked with a grin.

“Should I be afraid to ask?”

“Our smiths were bored, so they used all of the nasty iron left over from making the gallows, from the bandits’ gear, to make more. Also used worn horseshoes and everything else they could find. I could drop a few barrels full out at catapult range, when they reach ballista range. Then we can pour the rest over the walls, cripple the ones that try to climb the wall.”

“Do it,” she nodded. “Let’s see if we can make them nervous.”

“Dispatch,” Harper shouted as he scrambled up the stairs, he passed it to her and watched her read it.

“Action in the far west,” she said. “The Lord Marshall is in battle with an army comprised of troops from Gamedian, Koriche and Perenel.” She returned the dispatch. “That explains why they are coming at us so  stupidly. I’ll wager there’s action in other places as well that we haven’t heard of yet. This isn’t bandits, it’s a general attack to weaken the frontier.”

“They should have sent more than a legion, then,” Axling scoffed, still watching the range markers. “Ballista,” she shouted. “Shoot! Catapults, shoot!”

Bolts flew as fast as they could spin the wheels on each ballista, this shot the bolt in the groove, drew back the string, dropped another bolt into the groove, and shot it and it continued. One spun the wheel and the other aimed until it was time to refill the hopper. The catapults were harder work, they lobbed their heavy loads over the walls, 

The ogres bore relentlessly down on the wall. The officers promised them whiskey, ale, food, horses, plunder, but that really didn’t matter as much. There were women in the fort, and there were dwarves in the fort. Some said dwarven women too. The enmity between dwarves and hybrid ogres ran deep, they were friendly with the ogres that often shared their mountains, but the hostility between dwarves and the hybrids bred by the old Heron Empire ran almost ran as deep as the blind fury between ogres and hybrids.

The legion advanced in confidence. It was a small fort, only ten acres in size, and manned by troops from the poorest army that the Selnens had ever fielded. When the ballista bolts began chewing the shields of the first rank they increased their speed, they needed to come in close. Everything about this needed to be fast, he blessed his good fortune when he saw that they’d abandoned the quarry camp, he left his wagons and horses behind and moved straight into the field. Warthane Garek urged them faster, then heard cries of alarm and when he turned, he saw that the quarry camp was in flanes, and enemy cavalry was behind them. He ordered his own cavalry after them, and then had a cohort of a hundred drp back as a rear guard and shifted his forces on the run.

He turned his eyes forward and saw a soldier standing calmly on the wall, the colors behind her, he knew it had to be his opponent and knew that she was a woman. That calm wouldn’t last,” he scoffed, then saw sheets of arrows rise from the wall, then more, and more, they had at least five volleys in the air before the first landed, and they kept shooting. The range to the ballistae was closer now, and bolts drove through shields and the first rank began to fall faster. Then screams as men found the caltrops, and even some of the ogres dropped out. The formation was breaking, the center was hesitating, the flanks were spreading out. He screamed for them to return to formation when the flaming globes fell among them, screaming men fell burning, many ending themselves to escape the pain.

Garek ordered the ogres to charge the walls, their long legs churned and left the rest behind as they ran headlong toward the walls. The archers came forward and shot relentlessly into the charging wave. Garek saw the woman atop the wall raise her shield and she finally drew her sword, and it didn’t look like what he’d considered a woman’s sword at all. Come to it and the fact she was in plate was also surprising. Maybe she wasn’t on the wall, but the presence of the command colors showed him that he was wrong. She was there. More fell at the wall, screaming as caltrops shredded their feet. A line of ogres formed and boosted others up, two to list a third, raising a dozen up at once. Then the archers stepped back and shot over the line of dwarves. Then he saw an ogre fall back in a spray of blood from the woman’s sword, then the axes joined the fray and the fighting on the wall was brutal as the rest of his legion closed on the wall. They had to take the fort now, their own supplies were lost, they needed the fort’s goods to survive.

Blood covered her surcoat, was sprayed across her face and helmet, and her bloody sword lashed and flashed as she cut down the massive enemies coming over her wall. “Axling,” she shouted down. “Send out the cavalry and pull together a new reserve!”

She vaguely heard him acknowledge as she sank the point of her sword into the throat of another ogre, dying he grabbed her shield and pulled her over the wall with him, the shield coming loose, she landed heavily and rolled to her feet, drawing the standard issue short sword with her left hand and lashed out at everything around her. Axling saw her go over and paused to send out the cavalry from the east gate and ordered half of the north wall defenders to form a reserve under Sergeant Urien, the garrison’s battle ensign, as others rushed to carry out his orders Axling rushed back to the wall, fear for his commanding officer gripped him. He saw a dwarven corporal shout to her squad and they leapt down after her, into the ogres. Axling filled the gap with part of the reserve and too his own spot on the wall, hacking away at anything rising up at him. Below he could see Tribune Torbrant...dancing. That is the only word for her style, she spun and slashed and skipped away from the massive brutes trying to bring her down. The dwarves hacked their way to her and she formed them into a wedge and they fought along the wall and they actually pushed back many of the ogres from the wall as the rest of the legion reached them.

Then the 2nd Cavalry Troop struck the enemy’s left wing, they started with spears and lances and then rode back and forth across their rear, having switched to short bows, and they concentrated on the archers in the rear as the catapults, ballistae and archers from the fort savaged them from the front. Garek looked for his own cavalry and saw them trying to join with the rear cohort, but they were being savaged by the garrison’s 1st Troop. He turned back as he heard more screams and saw the fort’s defenders pouting flaming oil on those crowding the wall.

He pushed forward, he had to find this witch, she was holding them together, he had to break her. He saw an ogre grapple with her, her helmet and chain coif pulled free, the ogre saw her braided hair and fair face and he saw that she was a woman and shouted the fact to those around, the shout ended in a scream as she drove her short sword into his groin, and as he curled to fall she hacked his neck, leaving to connected to his shoulders by a strip of skin.

Half of the dwarves that had joined her were now down, dead or dying, and she and the rest ringed their fallen and fought over them. The wall was free now and the archers stepped up into the crenellations and shot down into the enemy below. Then another wave of soldiers leapt down within Axling as Stonecutter took command at the wall. Daeliss saw Color Sergeant Brietag, colors held ibehing his shield in one hand, and his bloody sword in the other. Daeliss swore loudly. “What are you thinking?’ She yelled as she disemboweled a man.

“The colors fight with their commander,” Brietag shouted and struck the hand from an ogre.

They drew in closer, trying to surround and squeeze  them, so they could hack them down in a press of bodies and steel. She saw her soldiers falling on the wall and before it. A commander had to maintain control in battle, but she knew that she was out of position to exercise any control, and so she let her control of her rage relax and  she fought with increasing fury,  followed by several of her own soldiers, she waded into the enemy.

Garek was appalled, he’d lost most his cavalry, his archers were shattered and lost in the masses of his disorganized lines. The garrison soldiers, even those outside the wall, were maintaining discipline, not only out fighting his own men, but outmaneuvering and outthinking them as well. Then he heard the horses again, the squadron had joined together and were savaging his rear and riding down groups that tried to flee the battle. He still had five hundred men, more or less. There were only fifty of them outside the walls, plus another hundred cavalry, and his men were starting to run. It was impossible for him to comprehend, in numbers alone they should be able to crush them.

Then he saw the witch commanding them, her blades flashed and slashed and carved his men like meat, and the dwarves at her heels were no less lethal. She raged and cursed and seemed to kill men in lots. Berserk,” he reasoned. If not she was close enough that it didn’t matter. He heard horses behind him and saw a cavalry bearing down on him, one bearing his own battle flag, his outrage was cut short as she rode him down, her horse turned quickly and he looked up to see her impale him with the heel of the flagstaff. Another trooper dismounted and placed his sword at Garek’s throat and pushed. Silverleaf lowered the flag for the trooper to impale the head on the point of the staff. She screamed her defiance and let the enemy see their commander’s head on his own colors, in the hand of a defiant enemy.
Stonecutter all but danced on the wall, pointing and shouting for the archers to shoot and cheering the engineers at the ballistae as they continued to shoot relentlessly.

Sergeant Forkbeard grabbed Stonecutter’s arm and begged for his platoon to be allowed over the wall. Stonecutter knew his frustration, his blood was up and he could not join the fight himself, his place was here. “Go!” He shouted at him, pointing at the enemy and called up the last reserve to hold the wall. Unleashing a fierce dwarven battlecry, Forkbeard led fifty more over the wall.

Darana saw the wounded carried past and fretted. She could see the fighting from a window, she despaired when she saw Daeliss dragged over the wall, but then saw others leap down to join her, saw the soldiers on the wall cheering her and knew she lived and fought. She would not allow herself to think otherwise. She heard a shout from below and ran down to see what was happening, taking up a hand crossbow and a long knife as she left the room.

Corporal Haergen, the pay master had a drawn sword and was facing three men, engineers she realized, three of those that threatened to desert. “Open the strongboxes and we’ll be on our way!” One screamed.

“No,” Haergen replied calmly. “Lay down your arms, and surrender.”

“You’re going to die anyway,” the man scoffed. “That idiot woman is already dead and going to kill you all with her.”

Darana calmly raised the handbow and triggered a bolt into the man’s belly. He screamed and bent over, clutching his gut. Another started to move for Darana and a young girl, one of the orderlies, buried a hunting knife in his thigh from behind, effectively hamstringing him. The last looked very confused and turned to run, but was stopped by Harper’s mace in his groin. “Dung,” Harper growled and bashed in his skull.

Darana had reloaded by now and both wounded men looked at her nervously, but Haergen stepped forward and cut down the man Darana wounded. Darana stepped forward and placed her sot in the chest of the hamstrung man, before Harper caved in his face.

“Step away from them,” Haergen said to the three of them. “You’ve no need to see this.” His own eyes turned to the bodies bleeding out.

“I’m the tribune’s lady,” Darana shrugged as she cocked and reloaded.

“I’m the orderly,” Harper replied. “This is my post.”

“I’m an orderly as well,” she looked at Harper and made a gesture and each grabbed a foot of  one the dead and dragged him toward the door.

The dwarves flowed like an avalanche over the wall, many said they were descended from the stone and they looked it now. Firkbeard ordered a wedge and they drove into the enemy, shields locked and short swords stabbing and slashing as they pressed  through their enemy. Archers and ballistae rained down ruin around them, the enemy was tightly packed around them, making the odds of a good shot more likely, no matter why they hit.

Daeliss stood, leaning on her sword, gasping for breath when Silverleaf’s squad rode to her, there were a few empty saddles and she and the color sergeant filled them. By inclination Daeliss was cavalry, and being in the saddle felt good, she knew that when the fury of battle wore off, but for now, she was still ready to fight. She looked at the flag that Silverleaf held. “That’s the flag they fought under?”

“It is,” she agreed. “We added the head though.”

“I see,” Daeliss grinned. “The black flag, they didn’t intend to give quarter. They were promising to kill us all.”

“Except those they saved to rape to death,” Silverleaf scowled.

“No uniforms, black flag,” Daeliss nodded. “No prisoners, they are bandits, not soldiers.”

Daeliss lead the cavalry with her toward the largest group, the one trying to surround the dwarven wedge. “No quarter to bandits and murderers!” She shouted as they drove into a collapsing flank, sword flashing. As they and the dwarves hacked their last traces of a formation away, they broke and ran. Scattering in all directions.

“Ride them down,” Daeliss ordered. “My Compliments to Centurion Hawke, and give her that order.” She rode back to the western wall. “Surgeons,” she called up to Stonecutter.

It was past midnight when Daeliss returned to her quarters. She moved slowly, with obvious pain and stiffness. “How much of that blood is yours?” Darana asked.

“Just this,” Daerliss pointed at her broken nose. “I think.”

Darana shelled Daeliss out of her armor, clucking and fussing over every scratch, but and bruise. There was a lot to fuss over, including a painful tear on the side of her foot. “Bloody caltrops, hate those things.”

Darana bullied her into a hot bath and scurried off to send for a surgeon. The water of the first bath was vile, Darana drained it and refilled the tub from the newly installed tanks on the roof. It took three baths before she was clean, then she found herself being prodded by the senior surgeon. He first reset her nose and used a healing spell that mended the cartilage and even took down some of the swelling. He also healed her foot, then left her with a sleep draught so that she could recuperate, he also left a jar of salve and gave Darana instructions for her care.

“You should stay in bed for a few days,” he told her. “But I know that you won’t.”

“You’re right,” she replied. “And no sleeping draughts either. Too much could happen and I need to be able to rouse if it does.”

It was a week later General Jamen Meldresse rode up with several thousand at his back. He rode past the ripening pile of bodies and the impaled head on the flagstaff that was set in the gallows platform. “Damn,” he murmured. He heard stand-to blown and saw Daeliss and her staff mounted and waiting for her at the east gate, now called gallows gate.

“Tribune,” he greeted her. “Seems that things became active in your quiet little hamlet.”

“A discussion of who belonged here that became fractious,” Daeliss replied in a depreciating tone. They rode to her headquarters and assembled around the table so she could make her full report.  “We lost fifty-one dead, a hundred and twelve wounded, that should recover, but are still under surgeons care. Another hundred or so walking wounded. We also lost eleven mounts. I’ve already forwarded my recommendations for decorations and recognition.”

“I notice that you haven’t detailed much of your own actions in the battle,” General Meldresse observed.

“Saw some action,” she replied laconically. “But I really only did my duty.”

“According to reports from your officers and warrants, you killed several ogre on your own and they guess that you killed close to two score on your own.”

“I didn’t really keep count,” she shrugged.

“Well, Tribune, others did,” he chuckled. “I’m afraid you’re going to be promoted again. Legate commanding 4th Legion, 225th Brigade, we never did get around to replacing the officers and filling the 2nd Battalion. I’ve brought the troops that you’ll need to correct that oversight. Unless you’d like command of a cavalry legion?”

“No, My Lord, I wish to remain here.”

“Excellent. You’re going to have five cohorts of Infantry, five squadrons of cavalry and two of engineers,” he slid her a roster. “You’re a bit over compliment for a standard legion, but outposts are manned a bit heavy.”

She heard shout and confusion outside, but ignored it as no one was bringing her alarms. “Oh dear,” she sighed. “More building, I don’t think this place will ever be complete.”

Then she felt a wave of disorientation wash over her and she realized that the room doubled in size. She shook her head and saw a man stride into the room, tallish and puffing on a rolled weed of some sort. “You didn’t warn her?” The man asked and Meldresse laughed.

“No,” He replied at last. “Legate Torbrandt, meet Thomas, Lord Traveler.”

She looked surprised but greeted him.

“He puffed on his weeds and grinned. “You now have forty acres inside your taller walls,” he informed her. “Your warehouses and barracks are complete, hospital is doubled, and your stables, sutler, and inn are complete as well. I suppose that only means that you, and some of your command just need to pack for a few days in Hesterbur.”
“I can’t go to Hesterbur, too much to be done.”

“You’ll only need a few days,” Mendresse shrugged. “I’ll see to things here while you attend to duties in the capitol.”

“I have duties in Hesterbur?”

“You and some others have an appointment with the Star,” he replied. “And I believe that you need to take the legate’s lady shopping.”


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