Part 12: Constructive dismissal

Nothing like the threat of an attack on the camp to bring out the enthusiasm for patrols in commanding officers. Since the fight with the goblins, and the escape of Kent, there had hardly been a time when everybody was in. They had tried returning to the scene of the fight, and tracking Kent, but that had proved to be beyond even Joran’s skills. Bannog smiled. Uncle Berrin could have done it, he was sure. But there were no true Hunters at hand at the wall, and it would take too long to get one in from Stromgarde. So they did the next best thing: Run round the countryside making lots of noise, hoping to flush him out. It wasn’t just the twenty-fifth that was at it. Several other companies were doing their rounds.

Privately, Bannog had some misgivings about this plan. Kent was many things, but not stupid. He knew how to hide himself and not to jump up and bolt at their approach. For all he knew, he could be watching them now. He might not even be in the area anymore. Still, it got them out in the clean fresh air, and it also served to suppress Horde activity.

Swann had organised his patrols so that half his men would be running, and half sleeping at any one time. In the ongoing efforts to unite the twenty-fifth, usually two of the Old went out with two of the New. But at the end of the pairing-up, there had been nobody left but Bannog, Joran and Ramoc, so they were sent out with Sergeant Bennett, who didn’t mind running with the mage-killers, even by night.

The night was clear and cool, and there was a full moon out. Even at night, they could see for miles around. No place to hide in these highlands, unless you took a shovel and dug a trench. Night creatures stirred, mice, snakes. Apart from the sound of their footsteps, it was completely quiet, and they felt the urge to whisper, lest their voices be heard by any enemies that might be about.

It was Joran’s turn to run point, with Ramoc, Bannog and Sergeant Bennett behind him. They ran through the dark highlands at a leisurely pace, until Joran suddenly stopped, sniffing the air. Smoke? He closed his eyes, turning his head this way and that, trying to determine where the smell came from. Slowly but surely, he made his way towards it. There! Someone had made a cooking fire, and neglected to cover it up. Holding his hand over it, Joran felt only very little warmth, with maybe one or two small glowing embers remaining.

“I don’t think one of our lot has made this. We don’t exactly get the time for a brew-up and a singsong. And we bury our campfires when we leave.”

Sergeant Bennett looked at the dead campfire. “So does the Horde. Common sense and all that. These happy campers must have been disturbed by something and taken off in a hurry.” She ran a hand through her hair. “I think the Captain will want to take a look at this. See if anyone left anything interesting. Too dark to see without some big lamps. But there’s no way we’re going to have the same luck twice and find this place back in the dark. Who’s for a nice refreshing run back to camp?”

Three rounds of scissors, paper and rock later, and Ramoc and Joran saddled up to run back. Sarge Bennett was on one knee, staring at the fire. Joran adjusted a shoulder strap, and straightened his shoulders.

“Be gentle with her,” he said in a low voice. “She doesn’t have an Elf’s stamina.”

“Heh. Try to be back before tomorrow morning, will you? The inn is closed anyway.”

“Even better. Ramoc can pick the lock and we can have a free party. Enjoy yourself out here in the cold.”

“Sod you.”

Joran grinned, waved, and ran off with Ramoc. Bannog stared at them till they disappeared in the gloom.

“They’re gone?”

“Aye.”

“Hmm. Alone at last!”

Bannog held his breath. There was an undertone of primal hunger in Sergeant Bennett’s voice. She was also standing rather close behind him. Oh shit. Had he ever given her the impression that he was available? Did she care? And dammit, she was his superior! Tumultuous visions of future shitstorms whirled before Bannog’s eyes. Being found. Her rep with the men shot to pieces. Everybody looking askance at him. But above all, she might be a beautiful woman, but not the one he wanted.

He took a deep breath and slowly turned round, preparing to point out, gently, to a woman he actually quite fancied, that he was taken and no thanks. In his mind, thousands of voices rang out, calling him a stupid bastard for passing up the opportunity. In his mind, he told them to shut up.

As soon as she saw Bannog’s expression as he turned round to her, the wicked grin faded from her face. Damn! He’d thought she was serious! He must have caught her looking at him at times. The remark had only slipped out because nothing was wrong with her hearing, thank you very much, and she’d caught the gist of what Joran had said. She took a step back, and raised her hands.

“Relax, Soldier. Only joking, I didn’t mean it. I’ve been talking to Bayliss, so I know about your Elf. I’m sorry.”

Bannog let go his breath, and said nothing, and looked at the Sergeant accusingly. She frowned.

“Don’t look at me like that. What were you joking about with Joran just now?”

Bannog said nothing. Joran was the one who’d made the joke, but Bannog might have made a similar one. Sergeant Bennett was a good looking woman in a man’s world. She must get this sort of shit all the time.

“Sorry.”

“Comes with the territory. I can take it, really. Can’t expect a bunch of males to get all pumped up for fighting and more masculine than masculinity itself, and then not to look at the women.” Bennett stared in the middle distance, a sardonic smile on her lips. “Wouldn’t want to over-tax their brains by thinking about two things at the same time.”

“I resent that! I can think about food and drink at the same time.”

Bennett laughed. “Actually, you’re not the worst of the lot, without naming names. Some I mind less than others. But the nice ones always seem to be either taken or wanting of gentlemen.”

Bannog opened his mouth to say something, but the Sergeant suddenly froze, then turned her head to the right.

“Did you hear that?”

Bannog strained his ears. Far in the distance, there were shouts and clashes of metal on metal. Someone had done better than finding an abandoned campfire. Sergeant Bennett was gone, running towards the noise, with Bannog at her heels. He caught up with her, and they ran side by side towards the noise. A few hundred yards in the distance, they could see shapes moving, fighting. Bannog sped up, drawing his sword, gave a huge shout, and started hacking. Joran and Ramoc had hit the jackpot: about a half dozen goblins, and Infantryman Kent, who was lying on the ground, clutching his leg. Joran and Ramoc were holding their own, Joran’s sword moving with total efficiency, Ramoc wielding two daggers and picking up whatever Joran left behind. At times, it seemed Joran’s sword passed straight through his friend’s body without cutting anything but the enemy.

Sergeant Bennett ran towards Kent, who was trying to drag himself away, one leg trailing. She reached in her pocket, pulled out a flare gun and sent up a red light. Then, she looked at her former soldier.

“Leaving so soon, Mr. Kent?”

Kent stared at Sergeant Bennett, as she pointed her sword at him.

“It’s not me! It’s Bannog!” He crawled back a bit more. “Who said he found me signalling the enemy? And that little black-haired friend of his? Do you really trust him?”

Sergeant Bennett lowered her sword, hesitating. Bannog could hear word for word what Kent was saying, but he could not turn his back on his enemy. Two goblins were attacking him, and he knew better than to let any get near him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kent slowly draw back his arm. Then it shot forward. Sergeant Bennett raised her arm and deflected the missile with her chain. Kent jumped up and ran. Sergeant Bennett pursued. At that moment, there was the hiss of arrows. Several of the goblins fell dead, including Bannog’s. Moments later, help arrived.

“I’m going after the Sarge!” shouted Bannog. Joran and Ramoc, both unhurt, ran after Bannog. Sharp Shooter Connor ran along as well, grabbing another arrow from his quiver. Moments later, they found Sergeant Tasha Bennett. She was lying on the ground, legs twitching slightly, quietly whimpering. In the distance, Kent could be seen running across the field. Joran arrived, took one look at the situation, and ran on.

“Take care of her! I’ll leave a trail for Ramoc!”

Bannog kneeled by Sergeant Bennett, and turned her over, holding her in his arms. Her breath was shallow and fast. Her eyes had difficulty focusing on Bannog. Her words came in short gasps.

“Just. A nick. On my arm. Shouldn’t hurt. All over.”

“Sssh. You’ll be fine. Hang on tight till help gets here.” She looked at him.

“You’re. Bad. Liar. Bannog.” Her eyes closed a moment.

Ramoc took one sad look at her, bent over Bannog and whispered in his ear.

“Neurotoxin. No antidote. She’s got maybe two minutes. Five if we give her all our healing potions. Not pleasant minutes.”

Bannog did not move or speak. With his big hand, he gently stroked Tasha Bennett’s hair. She opened her eyes, looking at him.

“Want to know. If no Elf. You and. Me?”

Bannog smiled, still stroking her hair.

“Without a doubt. You are a magnificent woman.”

Her eyes wavered for a second. Then she looked back at Bannog.

“Could I. Have. Stolen you. Away?”

Bannog said nothing for a few seconds. She was dying. Should he lie to her and make her feel better? Would telling her that they could have been, really make her feel better? Could he lie to her without her noticing, even now? No. The truth, then. What was the truth? His thoughts fell completely still for a half second. Then he looked back at her.

“Not even Elune herself could do that.”

Tasha looked into his eyes, then smiled. “Good.”

Her breathing became more and more shallow.

“It’s not hurting anymore,” she said. There was no sign. No final gasp, or choking noise. One moment, Bannog looked and she was not breathing. He put his finger on her neck, and couldn’t find a pulse. Then, as a last check, he carefully touched her eye. She did not blink. He closed her eyes, and gently laid her down on the ground.

For five long seconds, Bannog did not move at all. Even though he spent most of his adult life as a figher of some kind, he had never really hated anyone. Until now. He could almost feel it as a physical change, as every part of his body hardened and turned into an instrument for destroying Kent. He stood up. A strange calm came over him, like the gentle bubbling of a pot of water before it comes to the boil. He looked round at Ramoc.

“Let’s go.”

They ran, leaving Connor to watch over Sergeant Bennett. Ramoc followed the track that Joran had left as he ran. Strange glowing rocks were left for them to find. Ramoc picked them up as they ran. Soon, they didn’t need Joran’s track anymore. Joran was fighting Kent and many more goblins. Bannog briefly wondered where they were all coming from. Never mind. Once more, he attacked. Ramoc’s hands were full of concentrated nastiness for the little bastards who were attacking his friend. He’d taken out his twin black daggers and any goblin that came too close fell over, foaming at the mouth. Kent saw the way this was going and ran. Joran, bleeding from several wounds, shouted at Bannog.

“Get him! I can’t run. We can take care of these.”

Those words went straight to Bannog’s heart. Keeping his sword close to him, he ran after Kent. Then, with a final mad dash, he caught him, and knocked him over. Kent rolled over and was on his feet again. In a low voice, Bannog spoke to Kent.

“You killed Sergeant Bennett. I liked Sergeant Bennett. You’re gonna die.”

Kent crouched down. His right arm moved, and Bannog’s Warrior’s senses picked up the small dagger. In his mind, he painted it bright red and glowing.

“So you liked Sergeant Bennett then? So did everybody. She could be very… friendly. Only to the deserving, of course.”

Bannog’s eyes narrowed. He turned his sword round in his hand and stuck it in the ground. He slowly advanced. Kent continued.

“Were you harbouring any hopes, then? Wondering perhaps what she’d be like between the furs? If you really want to know, I can tell you.”

Bannog growled. “Liar.”

“She might have liked you. She responded very well to a firm hand. You see, she wasn’t as tough as she made herself out to be. And if you got her just right, you could make her…” Kent took a breath, smiling, “Scream.”

Bannog had heard enough. He gave out a loud bellow, and charged. Quick as lightning, Kent’s arm shot forward, revealing the blade. Bannog cut short his charge. His right hand shot forward, and grabbed Kent’s wrist just behind the poisonous blade. He gave a hard pull, and Kent swung around. His back slammed into Bannog’s chest. With his left arm, he reached under Kent’s, then up behind his neck. Bannog kicked Kent’s legs out from under him and went down on one knee, Kent kneeling in front of him. Kent tried to move to nick Bannog’s hand with his knife, but no chance. Bannog’s hand tightened round Kent’s wrist like a vise.

“You were trying to make me angry, weren’t you Kent? Well that was a mistake. I was already angry. Also, when I get really angry, I don’t get stupid. I get nastier.”

Kent struggled again, trying to get his hand free.

“A martial artist once told me that the sound of breaking bones is very peaceful. Let’s find out, shall we?”

Bannog’s hand tightened round Kent’s wrist, tighter… tighter. Kent’s breath kame in small gasps till there was a snap. Kent cried out, and dropped the knife. Bannog let go of Kent’s right arm, reached under his arm. His fingers interlocked behind Kent’s neck and he pushed. Hard. Kent cried out, and struggled in vain.

“Have you ever wrestled at all, Kent? No? Now this hold is called a Full Nelson. It’s what we call a submission hold. You push until the other guy can’t take the pain anymore.” Bannog pushed a bit harder. Kent gasped.

“Not many people realise, but you can kill someone with a Full Nelson, Kent. Do you feel where it hurts? That’s where your back is going to break if I push a bit… harder.” Kent whimpered.

“Please…”

“Now there are four ways to get out of a Full Nelson. The first one is where you throw your arms up, and drop down. But that’s why I dropped you on your knees, see. The symbolism is just an added bonus.”

“Don’t kill me. I can tell you the names of the others.”

Bannog pushed a bit harder. “I’m sure you can. I think you’d give me all the names you could think of. So no thank you, Kent. Now the second way to get out of a Full Nelson is to power out. Just press your arms down and break the hold. My brother could do that, sometimes. But you have to be stronger than me to do it, and I don’t think…” Bannog applied some more pressure to Kent’s neck, making him cry out, “you are.”

“Don’t kill me. You’re. No. Murderer.”

“Not a cold-blooded one anyway. But you are. There’s a third way of getting out. You cry Uncle and ask for mercy.”

“Please!” Kent had stopped struggling.

“But you could just have buggered off without poisoning Sergeant Bennett. What you are feeling now is nothing, compared to what she went through. I watched her die. So I’m not feeling very merciful at the moment.”

Bannog pressed just a bit harder. He could feel something almost give. Kent could not cry out anymore, only whimper.

“And then, there is the fourth way out. Do you want to know about the fourth way?”

There was no answer. Bannog’s muscles tightened. He pushed Kent’s head down as hard as he could. There was a loud snap as Kent’s spine broke. Bannog shook him a few times to make sure all the nerves were severed. Then, he dropped the carcass on the floor.

“You die.”

Behind him, the fight was still going on. Good. He ran back into the fray, grabbing his sword as he ran. Joran and Ramoc were still standing, but he could see they were fighting a losing battle. Like an avalanche Bannog descended on the enemies, and none dared stand in his way. Just as when he’d fought his enemies in Goldshire and Elwynn forest, Bannog channeled his rage into efficiency. Blind fury was for the stupid. He did not simply want to beat on his enemies until they fell over, he wanted them to die, quickly, so he could kill more before he himself was killed. As long as he drew breath, enemies were dying.

But it could not last forever. In spite of the skills of the three men, there were simply too many enemies. They had no time to wonder whether help would arrive, no time to be afraid.

There was a knock to the back of Bannog’s legs, and he fell over backwards. A furious green goblin launched himself at him. He raised his sword and made the goblin impale himself on it, but then his sword was stuck, and another goblin came at him, shrieking with an alien fury. Without any warning, a green bolt of light struck the goblin, and he fell over. Bannog’s heart leapt into his throat, as bolt after green bolt struck the goblins. Wasting no time, he threw the dead body off him, and ripped out his sword. He rolled over once, and jumped to his feet. A short distance away, he could see a person standing, legs slightly apart, hands glowing, white hair waving in the breeze, eyes like pale lights. As she kept firing Wrath at the goblins, the departing bolts of light illuminated a grim, wild smile.

“Hi Bannog. I thought you said you’d be careful!”

Even with the unexpected help, they barely made it. Joran swung his sword in a fast arc, seemingly disregarding the fact that Ramoc was standing in front of him. Ramoc dropped to his stomach, and Joran hewed the head off the last goblin. Their angel of mercy stood a way away, hands shaking from the effort. Bannog, who had dropped to one knee, stuck his sword in the ground, and pulled himself up by it. He looked round for any more enemies, but none came. The Night-elf walked up, and he turned to her. Leaving his sword where it was, he slowly wrapped his arms round her, and pressed her to him. He whispered her name, then he held her at arm’s length. The world was still far from alright, but it would be. He looked round to his friends. Joran was still standing, fighting for breath, putting his weight on only one leg. Ramoc was lying on the ground. Bannog walked over to him, grabbed his shoulder and turned him over. Ramoc smiled blearily at the Night-elf, then looked at Bannog.

“This her?”

“Yes.”

“Nice,” said Ramoc, and passed out.

Joran dropped down next to his friend, and slapped his face, trying to wake him up. It didn’t work. With practiced speed, he looked over Ramoc’s body, till he found it: a dagger was in Ramoc’s side. Light only knew when that had happened. Joran stuck his hand out to pull the dagger out. Ariciel jumped forward and grabbed Joran’s wrist.

“Don’t. You’ll make it worse. Let me.”

Joran looked at this new person. “Are you a healer?” He sat back. “Heal him! He’s my friend.”

Ariciel knelt down. “Just a moment. Let me…”

Joran grabbed her arm. “Heal him if you can, dammit!” Ariciel shot Bannog an imploring look, and the big man put his hand on Joran’s shoulder.

“Come with me. Let’s try and prevent any more surprises.” Ariciel reached in her pocket and handed Bannog two bottles of red liquid. Bannog led Joran a few yards away, and gave him the healing potion.

“We have to make do with this. Ramoc’s getting the royal treatment.” He looked into Joran’s eyes. “If anyone can heal him, she can. If she can’t, not even Bayliss could have. Just let her work.”

Joran nodded, getting a grip on himself. Taking a few deep breaths, he looked back at Bannog.

“I’m sorry.” They both drank their potions, and felt their wounds close, their bodies repair themselves, ready to fight again. Joran looked into Bannog’s eyes.

“Sergeant Bennett?”

Bannog shook his head, his face still as stone.

“Kent?” Bannog nodded, a fierce light in his eyes.

“I got him.”

“Good. Bastard.”

Bannog turned his head to where Ariciel was sitting. Without looking at her hand, she picked a small bottle from her belt, flipped off the cork with her thumb and drank in small sips. She took off the two rings she had been wearing, put them in her pocket, and put on two others. The familiar green glow of her magic started to pour out of her, and into Ramoc’s body. Her hand closed on the hilt of the dagger and slowly, slowly removed it, dropping it on the ground as soon as it was free. She undid the straps at the sides of Ramoc’s armour, and removed it. Pulling out her knife, she slit through his shirt, baring his chest. She took a deep breath, straightened her back, and put one hand on Ramoc’s forehead, the other on his stomach. Her magic flowed again, and she kept up the flow for a long time. Bannog could not keep his eyes off her as she worked. She seemed more confident than before, more capable, too. Still, he could see that she was anxious. Ramoc’s injuries must be severe. Finally, she completed her spells, checked Ramoc’s breathing and got up. Bannog could see that the light in her eyes was dimmer than usual. She must have used up almost all of her resources, like she had when she was healing him. She turned to Joran.

“He’s asleep. I’ve done all that I can. He’ll live.”

Joran jumped up, grabbed her arms and lifted the startled Elf straight off her feet. He kissed her on both cheeks, and gently put her down again. Ariciel smiled wearily.

“I never doubted you for a moment. I am forever in your debt for saving my friend’s life.”

“Glad I could help.” She stumbled, and Bannog put out an arm to steady her. “I’m not really specced for healing. My friend from Darnassus could have done much better.” She leaned on Bannog’s arm.

“Well, it worked. What are you… specced? Specced for, then?”

“Balance and feral combat.” She swung her head round to Bannog, and grinned. “You are going to love some of the things I can do now!”

In the distance, they heard the noise of boots running. Joran stared into the dark. “Oh. Look who’s decided to show up! Well, better late than never, I suppose.”

The Twenty-fifth Light Infantry marched onto the scene. The men looked grim. They had seen what had happened to Sergeant Tasha Bennett, and were looking for blood. They were disappointed to learn that most of the action was over and done with. Sergeant Benn pointed at five of the men, not caring whether they were old or new. “You, you, you and you. You’re with me. Surprise prevention detail.” He stomped off with the men in tow, making circuits of the area.

Swann walked up to Bannog and Joran, and looked at the sleeping form of Ramoc. “What’s up with him?”

Ariciel stirred. “Dagger wound to the side, and three stab wounds to the chest. Not deep. Armour turned the blades. I managed to close the wounds and repair the internal damage. He’ll be alright.”

Swann stared at her. “I’ll bet. Bayliss! Job of work for you here!” He turned back to Ariciel. “Who are you?”

“My name is Ariciel, from the Cenarion Circle in Darnassus. I came here to find Bannog. I seem to have arrived just in time.”

Bayliss walked up, and surveyed the carnage around him, before looking at Ramoc. He found he had little left to do. He placed his hands on Ramoc’s chest, concentrated, and a few seconds later, Ramoc opened his eyes.

“You’re not as pretty as the last healer, Bayliss!”

Bayliss looked at him mournfully. “And here I thought you loved me for my interesting conversation and sharp mind.”

“And your healing spells. Mustn’t forget those.”

“Indeed. Captain? He appears to be alright, though his character still hasn’t improved. My compliments to you, lady. If you wouldn’t have healed him, I would have arrived too late.”

Swann held his hand out to Ariciel. “I am in your debt, Lady. If only you could have been there for Sergeant Bennett.”

Ramoc had joined them. “She couldn’t have done anything, Captain. Kent poisoned her with some of the nastiest stuff around. I don’t think even Bayliss could have done anything.”

Bayliss nodded quietly. “I examined her only briefly, but I must agree. I could only have prolonged her agony. She was doomed the moment Mr. Kent’s missile wounded her.”

“Mr. Kent.” Swann savoured the name with disgust. “Does anyone know what happened to him?”

Bannog coughed. “I got him, sir. I prob’ly should’ve tried to take him alive, but he badly needed killin’.” He pointed East. “He’s over there. I can show you.”

Swann nodded, and he, Bannog, Bayliss and Ariciel returned to Kent’s body, which was still lying where Bannog had left it. Bayliss kneeled next to it, and gave it a cursory examination.

“Hmm. Two broken vertebrae and a crushed wrist. Remind me never to get you angry at me, Mr. Bannog. It would appear that Mr. Kent is broken beyond repair. I’d need proper light to say more.”

Swann’s face showed no emotion at all. “Shame he can’t talk anymore, but you can’t have everything. Take that to camp. Time to move out.”

Bayliss stared down at Kent’s corpse. Ariciel pointed at Kent’s knife, and Bayliss gingerly picked it up, wrapped it in some leather and put it in his medical kit. Bannog coughed.

“You done with him, Bayliss?”

The Elf nodded. Bannog bent over, hauled the corpse onto his shoulder and lumbered off, followed by the two Night-elves. Ariciel watched him walk in front of her. He had broken the man’s back with his bare hands! What could have made him hate that Human so much? She didn’t say a word as they made their way back to camp, but she could see Bannog was hurt. Cuts and bruises, even broken bones, she could deal with. She hoped she’d be able to heal his spirit as well.


“Good morning, Captain!” Field Marshal Oslight stood up from his desk and returned the salute Swann had just given him. “I trust the journey was a good one?”

“I’ve never heard of improvised flight points, Sir. I must say that was unexpected.”

“I have low friends in high places, Captain. I needed to talk to you in a hurry. And here you are. I have here before me a message from certain Venture Company goblins. With great difficulty, not to mention a significant amount of gold, we managed to persuade them to provide us with some useful information. They were the ones who told us about the imminent attacks on Thoradin’s wall.” Oslight’s eyes stared at Swann’s, unblinkingly. “Note that they somehow failed to notify us of the incoming attack on my beautiful camp.”

Swann didn’t know what to say. “Sir.”

“Now your late Infantryman Kent has been shown to be a plant from them, into the Thirty-fifth Light. Originally, Kent’s mandate was just to observe and report. But after the attack on Refuge Pointe, something prompted him to go on the offensive. Now this is where things get interesting.” He brandished the letter. “These Venture Company goblins are hired mobs. Send enough gold to a certain place, and they’ll gladly run across the continent and kill whatever you point them at. If they die in the attempt, nobody cares. Not even their commanders, except as a lost resource. They are quite capable soldiers, as it happens, so setting one to accept Mr. Kent’s reports should not come as a surprise to anyone. But this is interesting. I have here a letter from their leader, complaining about this week’s work. They seem to know who our exterminators are, and are calling for their blood.” He passed it on to Swann. “See what you think of it.” Swann read:
 

PFG to FO: Grievous news has reached us here. After our
generous offer of information that saved the life of many of
your soldiers, we have now learned that four of our Brothers
have been cruelly slain by three of your murderers. Their names
are Bannog of Caer Bannog, Ramoc Villtin and Joran Westala. We
demand that these be delivered into our hands at the earliest
opportunity, so that justice may be done upon them. Fail to
heed this and our association is at an end.

The note was signed with an alien sigil. Swann frowned, and passed the note back to Field Marshall Oslight.

“They’re going to have a fit when they hear about tonight. I thought nobody cared about these goblins?”

“Nobody does. But there is another thing that they do care about. Three other things in fact. But first, let me explain who ‘they’ are. They are the ones who hired the goblins to cause mayhem at Thoradin’s wall. They were aided by the Dark Iron Dwarves, but that’s just a partnership of opportunity. ‘They’ are an organisation known as The Syndicate. The Syndicate wants to take over the Arathi Highlands. Then, the Wetlands, then the world. They’re quite a large organisation, and they even have nests of Warlocks and other scum in Stromgarde. Luckily, that particular dungheap is not mine to clear up. Anyone with time to spend can pick up not-so-easy money in Stromgarde killing Warlocks and their babysitters. They are, however, planning to destroy Refuge Pointe, and that is my dungheap. So I need all the information I can get. That’s why I’m sucking up to these little green bastards. Now the reason the little buggers want our men, is your marvellous piece of success in getting rid of the Syndicate mages. They were the ones attacking us, and their commanders do care whether they live or die. And that, Swann, is why they want your company to disappear.”

Swann rubbed his chin. “So, are you going to tell those goblins to stick it where the sun don’t shine?”

Oslight looked grim.

“I can’t do that yet. So far, the Venture Co is not aware I know of the connection between them and the Syndicate. So if they tell me something’s brewing at Thoradin’s wall, I can count on there being something up over here as well. They have also baited me with the occasional bit of correct information, which is a nice bonus. Now until I find out where the Syndicate is coming from, I have to keep talking to the little green men. They think they are fooling me, and as a result are giving me much better information than I could torture out of them. Not that torture ever gave anyone reliable information.”

“You’re not considering giving my men to them, are you?”

“Of course not! I would not be standing here now if it weren’t for them! They have the tokens of Refuge Pointe. But alas, they have outlived their usefulness to our group. We have to get rid of them somehow.” Oslight looked Swann straight in the eye. “I’m going to send your company on a mission. It’s going to be a dangerous one. Three of your men may never return.”

Swann looked at the Field Marshall, an angry scowl on his face. “I do not like that solution.”

Field Marshall Oslight took a deep breath. Then, his fist came down on the table like a hammer. “Captain Joachim Swann. There seems to be in the military, the irrepressible notion, that you cannot rise to my exalted ranks…” Here, Oslight moved his face closer to Swann’s. “Without being a complete and utter shithead.” The field marshall took a deep breath. “Now I like to flatter myself with the illusion that I am one of the very few exceptions to that otherwise infallible rule, and unless you keep annoying me like this, you may be another.”

Swann snapped to attention. “Sir.”

Oslight continued. “Now pay attention, Swann. The words I am about to say, have to be taken absolutely literally. So if I say to you ‘Clear away that pile of rocks’, I really…” Oslight glowered. “Really. Mean a pile of rocks. Not the church behind it. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. Now what I want you to do is to take your men into the Eastern part of Stromgarde. There, you are to seek out and kill as many Syndicate Warlocks as you can stick your weapons into. This will be dangerous, because these little green bastards are not stupid, and neither is the Syndicate. If I gave you a stroll in the park, then they would know. When you run out of Syndicate scum, you will tell your company to go North, and the three men mentioned in the letter will go South, with my blessings. You will tell everybody you can think of that they are dead. That way, I can tell the little green men to stick it where the sun don’t shine, and those three men will live to fight somewhere else. If I read them correctly, they will find a way to make themselves useful some way or another. Do you understand your instructions?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. Tell the flight master to drop you off by Thoradin’s wall. Dismissed!”


Quartermaster Declan was walking back from the mailbox to Caer Bannog, carrying letters and some light supplies. Selena was with him, her new staff tapping on the ground as she walked. Hugin, her hunting bird, sat on her arm. She still carried him everywhere so he’d get used to returning to her always. A generous supply of chicken liver made sure the bird enjoyed the experience. Quartermaster was glad to reach the drawbridge. Life had become progressively more interesting these last few months, so that Porigg could no longer risk walking out to the Caer. Poor Porigg had never raised a hand to anyone in his life. Sergeant-in-rest Declan had. He walked up the stairs to Old Bannog’s work room, and handed him the letters, then went down to the kitchens to help prepare lunch for the many new soldiers that were now stationed at Caer Bannog. Competent lads for the most part, if a bit unruly. When lunch was ready, he took the tray up to Old Bannog’s room, to find him staring in the distance.

“Ah, Declan. Just put it down there.” He pointed at the letters on the table. “I am very grateful that I read the mail in the order that I did, Declan. That son of mine is up to some strange things. Read this.”

Quartermaster picked up the letter and read it. His eyebrows rose, and his jaw dropped.
 

From: Captain Joachim Swann, Twenty-fifth Light Infantry.
To: Bannog the Elder, at Caer Bannog.

 
Sir,

 
It is my sad duty to report to you that your son, Bannog the
Younger, was killed in combat today, fighting in the city of
Stromgarde against greatly superior numbers. His courage and
determination will serve as an example for all who fought with him.
Through his actions, the lives of several of my men were saved, for
which I am eternally grateful.

 
I wish you the very best in coping with this loss, and offer my
sincere sympathies.

 
Yours,
Captain Joachim Swann.

“Before you break down in tears, read this. It came in an encrypted letter, which is why I read it first. They’re usually more important.” Old Bannog handed Quartermaster a scrap of paper, in his own handwriting. Wordlessly, Quartermaster took the paper and read.
 

From: Field Marshal Oslight, Refuge Pointe
To: Bannog the Elder, at Caer Bannog.

 
Sir,

 
We have never met, but my father served in the same company as you.
You may be about to receive, or already have received, disturbing
tidings about your son, Bannog the Younger. Do not heed these
messages. Your son was alive and well after he left Stromgarde,
and I have no doubt that a man of his skills will be up to the
challenges he is likely to meet.

 
Yours,
Field Marshal Oslight.

Old Bannog put his hand on his old Sergeant’s shoulder.

“I wonder.”

Declan just stared at the message. “So do I. But I’ll find out.”


Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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