Kingmaker

The Feint

I watched the defeated Pitaxians disappearing on the horizon and couldn’t get my jaw to unclench. I kept trying to understand what it was that Irovetti was after, but his motivations seemed to slip away like oil on steel. Ratboy said that they’d been lying in wait up here for a couple of months, so the whole shitshow could be excused as Irovetti just not knowing what he was up against. But he’d just gotten a few days to take our measure and, armed with this new knowledge, he did nothing to bolster a crew that was utterly unprepared for the likes of us.

Maybe there was something else here that was more dangerous? But if there was something here that was a danger to us, shouldn’t it have eaten those poor devils? Finnegal keeps throwing out the word “haunted,” which is my fourth least favorite word in the world, but the longer we stay here, the more this feels like a distraction. There are armies to break and wars to win.

And yet…

Cayden fucking Cailean. Every time I hear the name, I think of a black hall a lifetime ago and a cask and whether I should have just left well enough alone and I choke back a curse against every meddling god who ever took it into their divine heads to muck about in the affairs of mortals. Is it so much to want to be the master of my own damn destiny? To know that no one put my boots in any direction but my own will? But thinking about that will get you thinking in loops faster than talking to Leilania.

So he set a trap and we walked into it, but we busted that trap to flinders in under a minute, so I count us still ahead on points. The purpose of a feint is that it leaves your opponent’s defenses wide open so you can give him a good stabbing. Funny thing is – what happens when your opponent doesn’t give a shit if he gets stabbed?

I have had enough of this smug son of a bitch thinking he can get by on nothing but wit and lies. In the end, a big brain with no sand is just a bunch of smoke. All the asymmetric thinking in the world won’t save you from the axe that just keeps coming.

Let the haunts come. Let the armies come. Let House Lebeda and the Swordlords and the whole civilized world come. There is no threat they can throw that will turn me from the one thing I do better than any of those poncy bastards.

I will fight.

View
Not what we expected

Jacek frowned, and furrowed his brow in annoyance – two things he’d found himself doing with increasing regularity over the past few years, which was, in itself, a cause for annoyance.

He stood out the front of the old abbey, looking down the terraced hill at a view of the Branthend Mountains. The early morning sun cast his shadow in front of him, although illuminated those peaks to his west in a crisp, clear light. He tried to ignore the grasses, which stirred despite the lack of a breeze to move them. Doubtless in other times the view would’ve been enough to sooth troubled thoughts, which was perhaps in part why the monks had settled there. But these were not other times; he had matters on his mind, and the view would have to wait.

It doesn’t make any sense, he thought.

No, stop. That’s not right. Think clearly. Start with the foundations of your knowledge, and build from there.

It seemed that Ray’s intelligence had been incorrect, the witch having been misled. At least, that’s what the available evidence appeared to point to: Jacek had detected no deception from either Ray or the wererat Gaitan. And there certainly wasn’t any suggestion that alchemical weaponry of mass-murder had been developed or stored here. This place was a false flag. But why?

Consider the facts. Irovetti must have known that, hearing of this news, I’d react. Maybe there are other such operations. But what did the Pitaxian want?

He tried to force my hand. If I believed that the weaponry was near to completion, I’d have to do something. Which I did. Either hastily assault Pitax, in which case I appear as the aggressor, and Brevoy’s support of Pitax becomes politically more palatable. It builds into our foes’ biased narrative about our nation. He gets his war, which he’s prepared for, and it seems like Ursundova is at fault.

Or, come here. Knowing that either I or members of my Council would investigate, he has his guards wait to try to kill us. It’s a gamble, but he has nothing to lose by it. If he slays one or more of us, it is a blow which will hurt us in the coming conflict, and might, again, provoke me into aggression. The haunt in this place may be an incidental bonus for him; it seems he chose the abbey as an out-of-the-way location, making a plausible cover. Perhaps Irovetti doesn’t even know of the haunt. And if the haunt were to kill us where his soldiers failed, again, a win for him.

Yes. I see it now. This place is a provocation to me. He doesn’t need alchemical weapons. He just needed me to believe they were here. The gambit costs him very little.

Given that:

Do such weapons exist, elsewhere? Possibly not; we cannot be sure.

Now that we have sprung his trap, and survived it, has some other part of Irovetti’s plan awakened? Again, we cannot be sure. But I will have to assume not, at least for now. Ray says we are not being scried upon. Has Ray been turned? Unlikely. And the Pitaxians were to deliver a report on our assault in person. If they’ve truly been here for several months, probably nothing is happening right this instant. And we’ve warned Kifu, so those members of my government who remain in the realm will be on alert, just in case.

So, these problems of the realm can be set aside, for a few hours at least. Which leaves us with the most immediate problem: exactly how can we rid the abbey of this haunt, if that’s what it is?

He turns, to see Leilania shouting down a well some distance away, Ray giggling while floating in the air near her. Oh, how I wish Davara were here.

View
Waning Moon Among Clouds
Leilania’s Misgivings About Ray

The waning moon hides behind banks of ominous clouds as the sun warms the western horizon with slow light. The moon tells me that today will be a hot, gray day, perhaps the hottest of the season thus far. The humidity is thick in the air and the breeze smells like rain. But the moon tells me that the storm is not quite ready to break…not yet.

The moon has spoken warnings to me when I needed them, but these warning were not always enough to keep me from danger. A case in point was a recent scouting trip to a haunted abbey at the base of the Branthend Mountains. Ray had received word that something evil was at work at this abbey, and the King’s council agreed that we should be the ones to investigate it. I was prepared to go, but not yet ready, when Ray teleported us to the hills overlooking the abbey.

Frustrated that I had not been asked for consent, I learned only then that Ray had had no real knowledge of the target of his teleport, and in so doing, had risked both our lives without so much as apology. This was bad enough, but Ray had not thought to bring Nibbs with us and was not inclined to spend the magic required to go back for him. So now I was hundreds of miles from Nibbs, without proper preparation of spells or materials, and with only Ray to get me home. To say the least, I was not pleased.

Despite my misgivings, I proceeded toward the abbey. On the grounds I found a squirrel who told me that the monks looked like people but smelled like rats. Forewarned, and disguised as a tiny beetle, I carefully infiltrated the inner most building of the abbey, avoiding anyone who might have discerned my true form. Inside, Ray’s warning was confirmed. The monks—or whatever had taken their places—appeared to be working diligently on vats of potions that could be deployed in the same method as the spell “cloudkill”. A single vat of this foul ichor could kill hundreds or thousands of people, leaving Ursundovan cities piled with bodies and ripe for conquering. The thought twisted my stomach into knots.

I infiltrated deeper into the building, until I found the evidence of a forgotten murder, perhaps the murder that had given the rat-things entry to the monastery in the first place. It was there that a haunt left from this horrid deed tried to do the same to me. I was able to resist the effect, but it was clear then that it was time to go. I exited the monastery, met back with Ray, and successfully teleported back to Ursundova.

Free of Ray, I reported to the war council. Though we still had not proof of Irovetti’s intentions, all signs pointed toward an imminent attack. Once sufficient amounts of the cloudkill potion could be amassed, Irovetti could use it to lead his armies to victory against any enemy they came across. It was resolved then that we should gather a hunting party and destroy the enemy’s weapon at the monastery before it could be released.

But before I could do this, I was given the chance to go North into Brevoy to meet with the Medyveds for the first time in seven years. Alek was looking quite different than I had remembered him—he had grown a beard and put on not-insignificant muscle. Though not my type, he had become quite handsome. I told him as much and he blushed.

The Medyveds were polite enough in their reception, but when I spoke to Alek in private he told me that they were a reluctant part of the alliance against Ursundova. Alek assured me that he would do anything in his power to stop house Medyved from supporting the war, but I wonder what power he actually has. If Lord Medyved has already decided to go to war against the woman who raised his child, what chance does anyone have of dissuading him now?

I said my good-byes and returned to Ursundova. Today we will go back to the Monastery, this time led by Jacek and his key lieutenants. Nibbs will not be left home today.
I sing to the moon and let her know that I follow her guidance. There is battle to do, but we are ready. Today’s actions may save thousands of lives. I pray that the moon will show herself again as this day wanes, if just long enough to bless our victory.

View
Along the shore

Jacek looked out across the Lake of Mists and Veils from the shore of Acuben Isle. After talking with his parents and brother he’d come here to gather his thoughts. To the South, on the other shore was mainland Brevoy, and further, far past that, his own realm of Ursundova.

Despite it being summertime, there was still a chill breeze in the air and the remnants of morning fog lingered. Fisherfolk and crabbers went about their business wrapped in heavy coats and cloaks, not unlike the one Jacek wore at the moment to hide his identity from the casual observer. He didn’t think it too likely that any would recognise him, but still. His family, the Lodovkas, ruled these parts. Some folk may remember him from his childhood, or as a young man in the temple of Abadar, or when he left as a bodyguard on that fated journey to the Stolen Lands. It would be better for people not to find out immediately that King Jacek Lodovka of Ursundova was here visiting his father, Lord Kozek Lodovka of Brevoy. It could precipitate the imminent conflict that Jacek was still hoping, in part, that he could lessen. It paid to be circumspect.

I wonder how many would be surprised to know, he thought, that my own father has not ruled out sending troops against me. Once a pirate, always a pirate.

Pirate. Even hinting at that word in relation to the Lodovkas could get you a beating if you weren’t careful. Still, if the boot fits.

If he did one truly good thing in his life, it was sending me into the service of Abadar.

Jacek stood and watched the boats casting and hauling their nets for a while. He loved Ursundova, but still missed the great Lake of Mists and Veils. The rivers and lakes of his new realm weren’t quite the same, somehow. He’d tried to explain it to Katya; others too, but all they felt here was dreary fog, cloying damp and the stink of fish. No matter how we try, or where we go, we can’t fully escape where we came from.

View
Dulce et Decorum Est
When swordsmen say goodbye

The Gentle Swan was the nicest tavern in Silverhall, with walls and posts of varnished pine that glowed golden in sun or lantern light. The crowd in the early afternoon was convivial and mostly made up of those soldiers who finished first watch and those waiting to go on for third. Armor and blades jingled as armed men and women traded stories and drinks. The castle for which the town was named could be seen out of the large front windows, the banners of House Lebeda flying from several posts.

It was hardly the first tavern Beast had walked into where his towering presence brought a dampening of the chatter, but it struck him all the same. He’d been a regular here for two years, taking a table along the wall opposite the bar and near the center of the room, where his men could easily see and find him. His favorite table was still there, now occupied by a blond-haired man with a full beard that hung down to cover the top of the ring mail he wore. Beast put on his best smile and walked over, and the blonde man rose as he approached. Even the dimmed sound died away into silence as the distance between the two men shrank.

“Edric,” Beast nodded to the blonde warrior.

“Captain.” Edric replied, holding his face carefully neutral.

“Haven’t been that for a while now.”

“Sir Knight, then.”

Beast laughed. “Call me whatever, but let me buy you a drink.”

Edric nodded towards the bar, and the tension seemed to slacken, if not dissipate. Conversations began as the two men sat at the table.

“Watch Sergeant Edric, now?” Beast inclined his head to the amulet that barely poked out from behind the man’s beard.

“Promotions are quicker if you take the jobs no one wants.” Edric paused as large wooden mugs of beer were placed between them. He hoisted his. “What shall we drink to?”

“Let’s make this one absent friends. Get it out of the way now.” The two raised their mugs, but did not touch them, then took deep drinks.

“You’ve already been to the Hall, I take it?” Edric did not make eye contact with Beast.

“I may have been living in the wilds of Ursundova for the last year, but I remember my manners well enough to not insult the Lady.”

“She was always fond of you.”

“She appreciated that I upset the apple cart every now and again.”

“So you talked.”

“We did.”

Edric looked around, “Where’s Finnegal?”

Beast tossed his head back at the door. “Sitting by the exit, fretting like grandma.”

Edric laughed. “Didn’t approve of your plan?”

“When does he ever?” Beast ran his fingers over a set of small holes in the table. “Anyone still do the knife dance?”

“Bailey tried, but hacked his pinky off. Priest put it back on, but everyone kind of lost interest.”

“Shouldn’t shirk something just because it’s dangerous.”

“No money in it.”

“That’s just managing the betting pool.”

“You…so wait, you knew there was betting going on?”

“Of course I did. Easy way to help veterans get their bonuses.”

Edric slumped. “You’re a devious bastard.”

“From time to time.”

The silence between them stretched into minutes.

“Captain, I…”

Beast interrupted him. “Still not your Captain, Edric.”

“Sir,” Edric’s pain was clear on his face. “I want to explain.”

“Nothing to explain. You’ve been given a task. Unless things change, you’ll see to it.”

“It would not be my first choice.”

Beast half-smiled, “I hope not. I’d hate to think I failed to make an impression.”

“Sir? You wouldn’t…Our armies are…”

“Huge, far bigger than anything the frontier kingdoms could cobble together in anything short of another few years.” Beast took another long pull on his beer. “And most of them have never been to any sort of war before. Doesn’t change a thing.”

“But you’ll…”

“I’ll do what I’m paid to do, Sergeant.”

Edric paled slightly.

“Don’t look like that. There was a time you thought you’d test me for the Captaincy.”

“I was an idiot.”

“Yes, but don’t lose your nerve now. Your men are watching.”

Edric blinked. “Still teaching, sir?”

“Good men can always learn more, Edric. And you’re a good man.”

Edric stared at the table for a long moment, then stood and raised his mug high. “A toast!” He shouted, and the crowd turned to face him. “To the Silver Company. I look around and see a score of faces who use to serve under that name. May we never forget where we came from, or who led us to where we are.”

Beast stood and raised his own mug. “Then let me add a note for the men-at-arms of House Lebeda. As I did not too long ago, I take my leave this morning knowing that you are warriors true. Our blood and the blood of our enemies have mixed and mingled over the fields of history. In that we are one, no matter the banner we march under.”

Everyone in the bar stood, and the air grew thick with the unsaid.

Finally, Edric spoke. “May men and women far afield now rest easy in their beds, knowing that we stand ready to do violence in their name.”

Mugs clinked and smaller toasts were muttered. Beast emptied his mug and slammed it to the table. “Good luck, Edric.”

“To you as well, sir.”

The Silver Beast walked from the tavern, every soldier standing as he did so.

View
Lem vs. Introspection Round 44
Lem Considers the Odds

Journal,

Things aren’t exactly looking up…they’re actually looking the other way.
Thanks to the Way Watchers, we’ve finally got a good accounting of the forces we’re up against on the western front. What we had hoped might be fairly small warbands of giants, bandits, and soldiers turned out to be just the opposite. I saw the Hill Giants with my own eyes—fifty or so in armor with Mastadons for their mounts. From what the Way Watchers tell us, Irovetti’s main army is even more formidable, consisting of thousands of soldiers backed by wyverns and other monsters. And as far as the Numerian bandits, no one’s been able to get close. Even in a best case battle where we can bring all our forces to bear simultaneously, they will still outnumber us by more than two to one.

Word from Brevoy is even worse. It looks like the Rostlanders and Surtovas have put aside their differences for the time being to focus on invading us. Apparently a deal has been struck that will divide Ursundova territories between the Rostlanders and Pitax if their campaign is successful. It came as no surprise to me that House Lebeda spearheaded the cause of this war. If there is a silver lining in any of this, it will be that I may be finally able to face the Lebedas on the field of battle to pay them the wages of guile.

And if things could be worse, Leilania has found that the enemy alliance has another trick up their sleeves. She has found evidence that they are manufacturing some kind of weapon at an ancient abbey to the west that has the ability to kill en masse. It seems that the enemy intends to bring this weapon onto the field of battle as a way of flushing us out of our walled outposts and fortified cities. Irovetti’s other armies have staged themselves on the border, but are waiting until this weapon is ready to lead them to easy victory. It’s agreed among Jacek’s war council that this is where we must strike first, to attempt to destroy the enemy’s most deadly weapon before it can be brought to bear.

In the meantime, our armies march west with all available haste. We have a little under a thousand men available to go to the western front without leaving our other cities undefended. While well-equipped, many of these men have never been in battle before. They will trust in our leadership to find victory. Given the numbers arrayed against us, we must be more than cunning. The only way we will win is by dividing the enemy armies and destroying them one at a time on friendly ground.

In two days our armies will converge on New Light. Hopefully, with the weapon destroyed, the Hill Giants will cross into Ursundova first without knowing that we are ready for them. If they do, with proper planning we can encircle and destroy them with our combined forces before the other armies can find their way across the border. One clean victory could discourage the others from moving directly to New Light. It is our best hope.

If we fail, I fear that a siege of New Light is inevitable. They city is well prepared in that respect, but we must be wary of putting too much faith in walls and towers. An army behind a wall is well-protected, but it cannot fight as it is meant to. And the enemy has advantages that we do not. We cannot afford to be complacent.

I am heartened at least by Jacek’s leadership in this time. The entire wealth of the Kingdom has been redirected to its defenses—the forges run day and night crafting weapons and armor. Jacek has also made entreaties to the houses in exile in Mivon. If we can have them harry the Pitaxians from the South, then the Pitaxians are unlikely to attempt a protracted siege. Irovetti cannot leave his capital undefended with the Mivonese ready to take advantage.

Honestly journal, there are so many moving pieces to this, so much to consider, that it make my head hurt. I do my best to offer good council to the King with Iomedae’s teachings as my guide. But it’s hard to know what is best, especially with all that is at stake.

I visited dad the night before last and told him what to expect. He took the bad news in stride, as he always does. Of course, he asked how he could help. I told him to do nothing, I told him to keep his head down until it was over. He didn’t like that one bit. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was forming a raiding party even as I write this. I love him for it.
Tomorrow Jacek will lead the attack on the cursed monastery. I will be at his side. We will be victorious.

And then the war will begin.

View
Half Moon Above Castle Walls
Leilania Makes Ready for War

The moon only shows half of her face tonight, but I find her light so bright as to be blinding. Alone, I stand on the walls of Tuskendale Castle and consider the task before me. I will send men to war. There seems to be no other choice.

The Rushlight Festival ended on a high note with Ibram winning the joust (with my help as his mount). We followed the preponderance of festival-goers back to the city of Pitax, where King Irovetti seemed happy to continue the festivities with a number of after parties. For the first time in several days, I was actually having fun. Then Jacek summoned us together and everything changed.

It seems that Kifu has been able to read the thoughts of the King and has concluded that war between our nations is imminent. Kifu tells us that Irovetti has created an alliance between Numerian outcasts, Hill Giant raiders, Brevoyan nobles, and his own soldiers to launch an invasion of Ursundova. Against such a wide alliance of enemies, I fear for my people. If we had been caught unawares, surely the damage to Ursundova would have been catastrophic.

But we were not caught unaware. Thanks to Kifu’s intelligence, we have the opportunity to strike first and defuse our enemy’s intentions. Jacek and the others have agreed that it’s the Hill Giants we should go after first, as they are likely to be one of the largest threats, but also some of the easier to scatter should their leadership be destroyed. We will sally forth from here to the West to find the Hill Giants and attempt to defeat them before they ever move onto Ursundovan soil.

From there, things will become trickier. We outnumber the Pitaxians and the Numerians by a large number, but cannot hope to compete with the armies of Brevoy if they come in force. Our only hope there is to convince Brevoy that an invasion would be too costly to be worthwhile. I have told the others that I will contact house Medyed and discuss the matter with them. Hopefully Alek still remembers me fondly after all this time. Hopefully he will understand that war is not the answer. And if only his or his family’s lives can be saved, it will still be worth the trip.

I am faced with the great contradiction of war. To win a war, people must suffer. I must choose to balance the well-being of those I know against the people of a foreign nation which I know less. However, I’m sure that most of those who will go to war, who will fight and die, have done little to justify their fates. We are doing what honor tells us to do, even if honor may be wrong. So now, we must kill them and theirs to keep them from killing us and ours. It is a logic of tragedy and necessity.

For now, I’ve sent my Way Watchers west into Pitax to investigate the reports of massed armies on the other side of the border. These men are already in harm’s way, even before the first declaration of war has been made. Again, there is no choice. They do what I ask not because they have to, but because they know it must be done. My watchers know what is at stake.

I look again to the moon and wish she had some melody for me this night. But this is a somber time, and the moon has no mirth to share. Perhaps it will be different when the fighting is done. Perhaps we all will.

View
Lem vs. Introspection Round 43
Lem Goes to War (again)

Journal,

Jacek and the court came back from Pitax with dire news. It looks like war is coming, and soon. The alliance they describe includes a host of enemies, with Brevoy among their ranks. The others, the Irovetti’s hired soldiers, some band of Hill Giants, and Numerian outcasts can be dealt with, but if the Army of Brevoy comes South it will be a different story. The Brevoyans outnumber us by more than four to one, and have spent the last several centuries practicing war upon each other. What’s worse, we share something like a two hundred mile border with Brevoy. We cannot contain them, cannot bluff our way through, or easily scare off their leadership. If Brevoy attacks, there will be blood spilt on Ursundovan soil.

There is some good news. If Brevoy had decided to invade a year ago, we would have been easily defeated. We had only a handful of men at arms at that point, and most of them were among Lani’s Way Watchers. Now we have militia ready in each of our major cities and mobile forces ready to respond where needed. We will not be an easy victim of their aggression, even if we are not victorious on the field of battle. We will make any invader pay for each inch of land they take. With luck, that price will be more than they are willing to spend.

With the shadow of war descending upon us, I am ready to defend my adopted home, as are my friends and allies throughout the Kingdom. Some of us have been here from the very start, but most have come along the way, seeking out this place and its promise of a new start and a new life. I have every confidence that the citizenry will rise in defense of Ursundova in a way that the leaders of Brevoy or Pitax could never hope for. We are united by common ideals and aspirations, not borders on a map. We fight for ourselves, not entitled nobility or tyrant kings. Though outnumbered and outflanked, we will fight for homes, not coin or glory. If there is even the slimmest chance of victory, I know our people will seize it.

Unlike many of my friends, I have been to war. My time at the Worldwound showed me the fortitude required to endure constant warfare—the total commitment and depthless courage required to fight day in and day out against a foe that could not be defeated. At the Worldwound I saw men break and hopes fail. I saw what war will turn men into. Please Iomedae, do not bring that horror to Ursundova.

Jacek and the others are scheming even now on a plan that will break the enemy alliance before open war begins. If we can keep our wits about us, if we can strike at the heart of those that would sow this conflict, perhaps Ursundova can avoid the bloodshed that has cursed the many other kingdoms that have occupied the Stolen Lands before us. At this point, it seems almost too much to hope for.

Tonight I will kiss my wife and hug my child and tell them that I go to war. Iomedae bless them, they will understand. They know I would not fight unless it was necessary. They know that our cause is just.

Iomedae teaches that the only reason war is ever justified is to win peace. If we must fight, if men must die, then let it be to earn a peace that can stand for years to come. Let our neighbors understand that Ursundova stands on her own. Let them know that we will endure.

View
Wandering the ramparts

Jacek strode the exterior walls of his castle, half-watching as some of his infantry practiced their drills in the grounds below. Beast knew that when he came to this part of the castle the King preferred solitude, to collect his thoughts. So he leaned against a wall, one eye on his charge, the other on the drilling troops, trying not to scowl when they marched ever so slightly out of step.

Jacek pondered on the sad fact that these new recruits may well soon see combat. Are they ready? Are any of us ever, truly, ready? Well, he thought, at least this time Ursundova’s foes aren’t supernatural.

He paused, thinking a little longer. That we know of.

He stood, hands resting on the parapet. What is the course? Follow the teachings of Abadar. A nation is like a city is like a building. Build on good foundations. Build in the right environment, with good material.

Who are against us? Pitax, Brevoy, giants, mercenaries, barbarians

Brevoy are not foes. We have friends there. We can, maybe, halt the faction who wish us harm.

The giants are a blight. They should be removed from the land regardless. We can, perhaps, remove their leadership to end or stall the threat.

The mercenaries, the barbarians. Who knows? We must learn more. Their ultimate loyalty, however, is not likely to be to Irovetti or against us. So there is hope they too may be turned or stalled.

Pitax… the people are not our foes, but Irovetti and his inner circle are. As the house, so the nation. Pitax is a house built on poor foundations. We must firm them up. Remove Irovetti, if he proves to follow through on his evil ambitions, and rebuild on solid ground. The people will prosper; the region will be stable; the land will prosper. Mivon may help us in this. The Builder’s will be done.

Jacek turned and motioned to the Beast to join him, walking back towards the castle. “Come. There are plans to craft.”

View
The Plan
Beast does some motivational speaking

The villa’s courtyard was packed with bodies, and all of them were armed. Men, women, dwarves, gnomes, and a tiefling milled around waiting for their captain. The murmuring was tense and hummed like a low guitar string plucked too hard. Finally, Finnegal stepped up on a bench at one end of the courtyard and raised his hands.

“Silver Company, heads up!” The murmurs descended into a susurrus as Finnegal spoke. “The captain will be with you in a minute, but it falls to me to bring you up to speed before he speaks.”

“When are we leaving?” cried a voice from the crowd.

“We’re not going anywhere.” Finnegal answered, igniting the hum again. “Pitax has aligned itself with a bunch of other factions, including Brevoy, to invade Ursundova.”

“We’re here as guardsmen, not soldiers!”

“You’re here as the Silver Company, and the Silver Company Does. Not. Run.” Something in the Numerians tone hammered the murmurs back down with each word. “We’d be outnumbered 100-to-1 if it was just us, but it isn’t just us. They’ve got some Numerian down-on-their-luck scumbags and a bunch of other mercenaries…”

“And Hill Giants.” The mention of the massive brutes sent up the murmurs again.

“How the hell do you even know that?” Finnegal regretted the question as soon as he’d loosed it, since the confirmation pushed the murmurs towards argument and shouting. “Look! Those of you who’ve been here since the beginning know, and you can tell the others – we are one of the finest mercenary companies in the River Kingdoms, and a big part of that is that we don’t break contracts.”

“But our contract…”

“…is to defend the King.” Beast’s voice boomed out and the courtyard descended into silence. “We are the King’s guards, but a King with a burned-out kingdom isn’t much of a king, or much of a paymaster, for that matter. We do what needs to be done and right now, the King needs soldiers more than he needs bodyguards.”

“But…”

“NO MORE BUTS.” Beast barrelled through to the center of the group. “This isn’t an argument and it isn’t a debate. Each of you were happy enough to take the King’s money when the worst you might face was a couple of drunks. Now there’s real danger and there’s way too much hemming and hawing. Let me be clear – any member of the company who wants to resign and return this month’s pay, you come see me in the morning. But if you’re going to take the coin, you’re going to pay the tolls on the road. Yes, there are Numerian scoundrels and Hill Giants and Gorum knows what else waiting for us down that road. But any member of my company that shirks his or her duty need not worry about any of that, because they’ll have to deal with me.”

Silence reigned in the courtyard and Beast stepped up on the bench, Finnegal hopping out of the way.”

“I have killed my way from one end of the River Kingdoms to the other. Just in the time I’ve been here, I’ve fought a dragon, demons, and a warlord who thought himself the reincarnation of Gorum’s own chosen. I have killed most everything that walks, crawls, or flies in this world. The only question you have left to ask is whether you want to follow me into battle or be on the wrong side when I get there.”

Finnegal watched the gathering anxiously. This was always a gambit with a new group, but these folk had that heady mix of fear and anticipation in their eyes. They would follow.

Beast nodded. “Drill starts at sunup. Don’t be fucking late.” As he stepped down, a voice finally called out.

“But what’s the plan, captain?”

Beast smiled. That had to be one of the old hands. “Ride until we find them. Kill them all.”

A throaty roar shook the windows and made the more peaceful residents of Ursundova wonder just what the hell was going on.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.