Part 8: Enemies within

Captain Swann called for his company, or what was left of it, to gather round. After the fight, Swann had stopped bothering with lining up and other decorum unless required by high-ups.

“Right, ladies. We’ve got new orders. It seems that they’ve been having similar fun to what we’ve been doing over at Thoradin’s Wall, and they have a couple of companies that got reduced as well. We’re going to be joining the thirty-fifth light. They’ve lost their commanding officer and we, I’m pleased to say, haven’t. So they are being joined to our troop. Ten men, under Sergeant Bennett. I know her, and let me tell you, she’s good. Unless plans change, we’re moving out to Thoradin’s Wall this afternoon. Mr. Rigger has finally been deemed unfit for duty, like we’ve been saying all along, so he’ll be sent to Stromgarde Keep till his fingernail grows back, and then he’ll be rejoining us if we’ll have him. Finally,” Swann looked round at his soldiers, “The Powers That Be have gotten the impression that the legion is better off with us around than without us. Don’t ask me why. Having already showered too much praise on our mage-killing squad for their own good, they have now decided to award us all an extra stripe. That includes you, Ramoc!” Swann produced a wooden box from which he dealt out the insignia to all the men. “Wear them with pride, and remember those that can’t wear them anymore. Report to camp at noon. Until then, why are you still here? There are pints of beer with your names on!” There was a big cheer, and the twenty-fifth performed tactical maneuvers in the direction of the canteen tent.

Bannog found himself walking with Sergeant Benn. “You know this new Sergeant, Sarge?”

Benn nodded. “Aye. Deserves all that’s been said about her. Eats fire with the best of them, knows how to keep her men in order and keep them alive. She can knock the head off an Orc, and he’ll only know about it when he’s staring at his own arse.” He grinned. “And on top of that, she has the finest pair of breasts this side of the Wetlands.”

Bannog laughed. “Personal experience, Sarge?”

“Gods, no! I’d die a happy man, but I’d still be dead.”

They reached the canteen tent, where the cook sadly informed them that he was all out of ale. Sergeant Benn gave him a sad, earnest look. “Joran, do you remember what happened to the last member of the catering profession who joked about that?”

Joran swallowed, and shuddered. “Yes, Sarge. Wasn’t pretty. I never knew one of those could stretch that far. That was one of those things I’d be better off not knowing.”

Sergeant Benn nodded sagely. “They hung him by what the dwarves call his ‘bretellen’. And then they gave him,” Benn’s face moved close to the cook’s, “Een bosje tulpen.”

The cook stared into Benn’s face, slightly worried. Surely, they wouldn’t try something like that in their own camp? He started pulling pints. “First round on the house, lads! Second round double price!”

Bannog elbowed the Sergeant, half way through his pint. “Do I want to know what ‘bretellen’ are?”

Benn’s beard fluffed out. “Bracers. Made of elastic. Vanguard against the embarrassment of having your trousers fall down.”

“Bosje tulpen?”

“Bunch of tulips.”

“Sarge?”

“Yes, lad?”

“Next round is on me.”

Sergeant Benn emptied his mug in one gulp.

“Mine’s a Thunderbrew.”

A few hours later, they were on their way again. Bannog found it harder going than normal, because he’d made the rather serious mistake of keeping Sergeant Benn company for a few pints. Whereas wine will go to your head, beer sinks straight into your legs. Sergeant Benn, of course, was skipping up and down the ranks as if nothing had happened. Bastard.

They had just said goodbye to Rigger, as he was carted south down the road to Stromgarde Keep, when they saw a band of soldiers approaching them from the West. It turned out to be what was left of the thirty-fifth light infantry, led by Sergeant Bennet, who had wanted to join up with their fellows sooner rather than later. Salutes were exchanged, introductions were made. From Benn’s words, Bannog had expected Sergeant Bennett to be a bit of a dragoon. Instead, she turned out to be tall and slender, with a short crop of blonde hair and light-blue eyes made of steel. Bannog knew that he would have fallen for her like a block, up to a few months ago. As it was, her ears were too short, and her eyes didn’t glow. Always picky. That’s why you don’t get the girls.

The men from the thirty-fifth could have been the long-lost brothers of any of them. Strong beyond compare, a confidence that you could normally bounce rocks off and weary, cynical looks in their eyes that said that they’d met people even stronger than they were and had lived, unlike many. Bannog shook hands with several of them and thought that it would be a while before they’d be a unit again.

“Bannog of Caer Bannog?” A female voice asked.

Bannog looked round, and saw Sergeant Bennett, as she took off her glove and held out her hand to him. Bannog took it.

“Aye, Sergeant.”

By the Light, she was worth looking at! She gave him a smile.

“One of the mage-killers, or so I’ve heard. Congratulations on still standing.”

Bannog smiled back politely. “It was a job, Sergeant. The fight afterwards was nastier. If it hadn’t been for the Thirty-fifth Heavies, I wouldn’t be here.”

Sergeant Bennett nodded, pulling her reinforced glove back on.

“Well, if it hadn’t been for you and your friends, Refuge Pointe would have fallen and none of us would have been here. May our company be blessed with success.”

“It sounds like your company did some hard work as well, at Thoradin’s wall.”

Sergeant Bennett scowled. “Dwarves. Dark iron dwarves. Lots of them. They almost took the wall. Captain Rourke fell defending it. So did some lads I’m sorry to have lost.”

Bannog could see she took that as her personal failure. She didn’t take failure well, least of all her own. The command was given to join up and move out. Bannog nodded at Kent, the soldier who was marching next to him. Kent nodded back, but said nothing. They marched on.

They reached Thoradin’s Wall by evening, and pitched tents in its shadow. Bannog didn’t know who or what had built this wall. It was ancient, and built against greater things than just swords and arrows. It stood many man’s heights, built of smooth grey stone. Where they were camping, there was a great arch. Though the hinges could still be seen, the doors that must have been there had disappeared. Here and there, there were long, sinuous cracks in the smooth stone, suggesting that the wall had been tried against whatever it was, and it was still here, while the threat was nowhere to be seen. Bannog found that oddly comforting. One of his quirks was that he trusted things not if he knew they would not break, but if he knew under what force they would break. He could then ensure that such a force were never applied to whatever it was.

Fires were made, and some of Bennet’s lot were on cooking duty. Bannog held up his mess tin and received a big ladle of beans with bacon and onions. He thanked the man behind the cauldron and went off to consume his treasure. Bayliss was sitting in front of his tent, prodding his spoon into his portion. Bannog walked over and sat down next to him.

“Ishnu-alah,” said Bannog.

Bayliss smiled. “Ishnu-alah. I didn’t know you spoke Darnassian.”

“You have at this point heard half my vocabulary. Given where I heard it, I probably shouldn’t repeat the other half.” Bannog examined his food. Whatever the pig had done in its life, it hadn’t deserved this. Being smothered in beans wasn’t the worst of it.

“What do you think of these newcomers, Bayliss?”

The Elf thought a moment.

“Their cooks could possibly do with some inspirational guidance.”

Bannog agreed. They ate the food. What else was there to do? After a few mouthsfull, Bayliss continued.

“They are obviously affected, as we are, by their recent losses. I think losing their commander was a hard blow. I would assume they are competent enough, once they recover.” Bayliss fastidiously removed a particularly burnt bit of bacon from his mess-tin, threw it in the fire and continued. “I also noticed that their weapons are of inferior quality to ours, and not all of them take good care of their armour. I imagine Captain Swann will have something to say about that before long.” He ate another spoonful of beans. His Elven eyes gleamed at Bannog. “Finally, I think Sergeant Bennett enjoys looking at you.”

“Yes.” Bannog sighed. “You know, a while ago, I would have jumped at the chance. She’s a beauty. But not now.”

Bayliss smiled. “You have met someone.”

“Yes.” It wasn’t that they had pledged everlasting loyalty to each other. They hadn’t. He just found he’d lost his taste for others.

“If I may guess, would that someone be a Night-elf?”

Bannog only looked at him. He did not have to say anything. Bayliss laughed quietly. “If I may make a further guess, would she be a Druid?”

Bannog frowned. “Now how did you know that? Yes, she is.”

Bayliss finished his beans, poured some water into his mess-tin, rinsed it out and put it in his pack.

“They are the most outgoing ones of us. Warriors are too clannish to have many dealings with Others. Mages tend to be too arrogant to do so. I’m ashamed to say, but so are most priests. Druids are our explorers. Of all the Night-elves, they are the most eager for novelty.” Bayliss drank some water from his bottle. “And they steal away all the nice men.”

“I would have thought that the army would offer plenty of opportunities for someone of your tastes.”

Bayliss sighed. “Surprisingly few, in fact. Most army men, like yourself, are very much devoted to finding women for bedfellows. Kindred spirits are few and far between.” A sad look appeared in Bayliss’ eyes. “And the army is a dangerous place.”

Bannog thought it better not to ask. They fell silent. Around the man and the elf, the camp dwellers moved about, finishing their dinner, playing cards, or simply resting, taking in the goings-on. Bannog randomly pulled one of the letters from his pack. It was the first one. It must have been posted on the evening after Ariciel arrived in Teldrassil. Normally, the mail service worked quicker than that, but Ariciel had adressed it to “Bannog the Younger of Caer Bannog” and sent it to the Alliance army mail service. Smart girl. There was no way for her to know whether he’d still be in Menethil or whether he’d be allowed to use a normal mailbox. He’d sent her his army address next mail-call. He read the letter again.
 

From Ariciel, at Cenarion Enclave, Darnassus
To Bannog the Younger of Caer Bannog, Alliance army

 
My dear Bannog,

 
I have arrived safely in Teldrassil. Mathrengyl Bearwalker, the
chief trainer here, has taken me on as a student. The first
lesson was easy, and I used the staff you gave me to complete
it! The second lesson was the scariest I’ve ever had in my
whole life, but I pulled through alright. Bearwalker has cured
me of some bad magical habits (I could not have known about
that for lack of teachers!), and tomorrow, I will start
building up my talents anew. I feel strangely empty after that
rite, and my firepower will be low for a few days. So stay out
of trouble will you?

 
I hope the army is treating you right. Never be first, never be
last, and never, EVER volunteer!

 
Yours, Ariciel.

Bannog put the letter away. It looked like this Bearwalker guy knew how to make his lessons interesting. Still, he probably knew what he was doing. The goal, after all, of a Druid trainer, was to make more capable Druids. Stay out of trouble. As if she could just fly across the seas and come to his aid if he needed it. That would be nice. Bannog noticed that some of the rings on his chainmail had come loose. He carefully put the letter back in his pack and borrowed a pair of pliers from an armoursmith. He set about repairing the place where the arrow had grazed his arm. Thanks to Bayliss’ potions, his arm had already healed, but armour needed to be repaired. It was a finicky job, as each ring had to fit in four others. There hadn’t been time to pick up the arrow that did the damage to Bannog’s mail, but in order to pierce it, it had to be a crossbow bolt. It could have been much worse.

Bayliss, as a magic user, wore what was euphemistically referred to as “Cloth Armour”. Dark green robes. He also had a rigid vest made of felt. This was not enough to stop arrows, but most war arrows had barbs. The felt wrapped itself around the barbs, allowing the arrow to be pulled out without doing too much damage. In theory. In practice, Bayliss protected himself with magic. As a priest to the Elven moon goddess Elune, he was able to stop arrows and swords by invoking her protection. Bayliss knew, though, that Elune was Peace personified. She abhorred the slaughter of all creatures, Human, Elf, Tauren, Orc, from the noblest to the vilest and most cruel of creatures. Bayliss was not a fighter. His true strength lay not in fighting, but in healing. In his time with the twenty-fifth light, his spells and prayers had healed and protected each of the soldiers at some time or other. In the battle at Refuge Pointe, he had been with Captain Swann and his group, never raising a finger against any of the enemy, but sending his healing spells where they were most needed. The enemy, orcs and dwarves, recognising him for what he was, had tried several times to attack him. Several of the soldiers had died defending him. Bayliss stared into the fire, and remembered their names.

Night fell, and the tents were swallowed up by the shadow cast by the great wall. To start the process of turning the two groups into one, Swann had ordered that the men from Bennet’s group should share tents with those from the twenty-fifth. Bannog shared with Kent. Kent turned out to be as unresponsive to chatter as he had been on the way to the Wall, and Bannog gave up trying to talk to him. There was one thing Kent needed to know, though.

“Kent?”

Kent lifted his head from the backpack he used as a pillow. “What?”

“I’ve got my battle reflexes up. If you need to wake me, don’t touch me. Call. Otherwise, I strike first, and then wake up.”

“Oh. Whatever.” Kent lay back down.

“Good night.”

“Yeah.”

Charming guy, thought Bannog. Oh well. He concentrated, and a few minutes later, sleep came.

She was lying under a tree, a short way away from the camp, and stared at the sky. She heard footsteps behind her. Keep moving. Just keep moving. Didn’t you spot my Aura of Sod Off there? The footsteps stopped. Apparently not, then. She took a breath.

“Consider very carefully what you are about to say, and you may live to make passes at other women.”

“My dear lady, I am not in the habit of making passes at women. Nor, these days, at many men, for that matter.” Bayliss sat down next to the Sergeant. “So where I have a deficit, you seem to have an excess.”

Sergeant Bennett looked round, into the face of the Elven priest. “Oh. Sorry Padre. I was just trying to get some peace. Some of the new lot are trying to find out if I have a boyfriend. Which I don’t. Then, they try to apply for the job, I kneecap them and they bugger off with their tails between their legs. I know it’s all part of the joining up of the old and the new company, but honestly, if I hear the words ‘Are you tired?’ once more, I’m going to beat one of them into a bloody pulp.”

“That would certainly dissuade most of them, though perhaps not all. Here, your looks may be against you.”

“Tell me about it.” She took a deep breath, and cut loose with a rant long held back.

“I know I’m pretty. Even if there weren’t any bloody mirrors, I’d still know. Everybody keeps bloody telling me.” She looked at Bayliss. “Everybody male, that is.”

Bayliss raised an eyebrow. “Everybody interested in ladies, I think you’ll find. Though I understand what you mean.”

Sergeant Bennett raised a hand in an apologetic gesture. “Interested in ladies, right. I haven’t met lots of women for long enough, but I’ll bet you a month of Gamesh’s cooking that the first woman to join the company after me will like girls.” She looked into the distance. “Hah! In my last company, I tried to pretend I liked girls. Didn’t help either. They were all convinced that if I’d just try the right man, I’d soon see the light. Meaning, of course, that the right man was standing in front of me now.”

She lay back and put her hands behind her head. She didn’t know what had come over her, but it felt marvellous to get this off her chest. She scowled.

“I know I should be flattered. I would be flattered if they’d just mean ‘The Sarge has a nice pair of tits.’ But what they really mean when they say that is ‘The Sarge has a nice pair of tits and can I play with them?'”

Bayliss laughed. “You have a rare gift for describing the problem.”

“Describing it is one thing. Keeping those bloody troggs off my back is another.” The Sergeant looked straight ahead of her. She said nothing for a while. “The only way I’ve been able to do it so far is plate armour. Cold as ice, hard as steel. I’ve gotten good at that. None of my lot would dare even come close. The rest will learn.” She frowned, and sat up, turning to Bayliss. “But do you know what the really annoying thing is?”

Bayliss was an intelligent Elf. He could guess what the really annoying thing was. But she needed to tell him, more than she needed him to know it. He shook his head.

“The really annoying thing is, that once in a while one comes along that you wouldn’t mind getting a bit closer to. And then you have all this defence up, and you can’t get rid of it without starting the whole circus all over again.” She looked into Bayliss’ eyes. “So you think what the hell, I can always get new armour. Open up a bit.” Bennett frowned. “And then, you find out that they have a girlfriend back home and they’re not interested.”

Bannog opened his eyes slightly, making sure not to break the rhythm of his breathing, as Quartermaster had taught him all those years ago. Oh damn it. Kent’s breath came in hisses. That was going to trigger his battle sleep and wake him up all bloody night. The git was probably not even aware he did it, so no chance of making him stop. Rigger at least had a more normal snore that Bannog could ignore. As he lay there, grumbling to himself in his head, he suddenly noticed something. Kent was not lying down. In fact, he was bent over Bannog, watching him intently. Normally, Bannog would have turned round and asked what the hell. But then again, normally, people wouldn’t check if he were sleeping. He heard Kent get up, open the tent door and leave. Bannog counted to twenty, then got up himself. Peering out of the tent, he saw Kent disappear into the shadows. Bannog picked up his sword, and followed.

As he followed his fellow soldier, there was a whisper.

“Hey!”

Bannog looked round to see Ramoc next to him.

“Going for a walk?”

Bannog pointed ahead. “Mr. Kent is. I don’t trust it, so I’ll see if it’s just a Nature’s Call or not.”

Ramoc nodded. “I’ll come with. Let me warn Joran and I’ll catch up.”

He slunk off and Bannog walked after Kent. Bannog, with his massive build, was not naturally apt to stealth, and he knew it. Straining his eyes, he kept as far back as he could, until Kent stopped and sat down on the ground. He didn’t seem to do anything. If it was a Nature’s Call, he was not getting on with it. Suddenly Kent stirred. Purely by luck, Bannog noticed what he was looking at. A distance away, there was a faint flash of light. Ah. Interesting. There was a small click, and Kent’s face was briefly lit by a flame. As Bannog watched, some sort of conversation unrolled, consisting of flashes of light. Kent would hold his hand in front of his lantern, then remove it. There would be an answering flash of light from the other side. As Bannog watched this, there was a faint hiss next to him, and Ramoc appeared at his side. Bannog pointed at the flashing lights far away. Ramoc nodded. In the lowest of whispers, Bannog said:

“Who do you think that is?”

“Dunno.”

“I haven’t a chance in hell of finding out. Do you think you can get over there before he buggers off?”

“I can try. You handle things here?”

Bannog nodded. With a small wave, Ramoc disappeared into the shadows. Bannog watched the flashing lights. It was obviously a code of some sort, but he had no idea what they were talking about. Most likely, some sort of report on what had happened, as Kent was doing most of the talking, with his contact giving the occasional acknowledgement. Bannog wondered if Ramoc would be able to find his way there before the end of the conversation. Finally, Kent stopped talking and blew out his light. He had been talking for, oh, five or ten minutes. Depending on how they’d coded their messages, that was probably enough to send their position, the composition of their company and maybe some speculations on their plans for the future. Enough to give the Enemy an entirely unfair advantage. Well, it was time to turn that advantage around. Bannog got up and with total disregard for stealth walked over.

“Evening Kent! Enjoying the fresh night air, are we?”

There was a sharp intake of breath as Kent jumped out of his skin and turned round to face Bannog. Kent recognised him immediately.

“Ner’zhul bugger me, Bannog! You scared the shit out of me.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. What are you doing here?”

“Orders, you lump! I’m receiving secret information for the Captain.”

“Ahh,” said Bannog. He felt that pointing out that he, Kent, had been doing most of the talking would lead to… unpleasantness, but not to more enlightenment. “Don’t they normally send that through the mail?”

“Not everything.” Kent pointed into the dark. “That’s a Horde soldier I’ve been able to bribe. He keeps me up to date on troop movements so we can pull a fast one on ’em.”

Bannog reflected that was probably the perfect truth, only the other way round.

“Captain Swann know of this?”

“Of course. Check with him if you want to look stupid. But I’m warning you, he may not be too pleased if he finds out that you’ve been interfering with one of his intelligence operations.”

“Hell, no! He’s already pissed off with me. I buggered up badly before Refuge Pointe. That’s why he sent me out to get those mages. I’m leaving well enough alone. I’m not the right kind of guy for spying.”

Kent grinned. “Well, you’re a great warrior, Bannog. I’m glad to have you on my side.”

Bannog’s chest swelled with pride. “Have no fear. I won’t let anyone get near you. Protect and survive!”

“Yeah. Do I need to tell you to keep this quiet? I don’t, do I?”

Bannog shook his head. “Of course not! I’m not that stupid! Mum’s the word.”

“Good. I’ll return to camp now. Wait here for twenty minutes, then follow me. And again, keep your trap shut!”

Bannog nodded seriously, and watched Kent disappear into the shadows. He wondered if Kent believed him. He looked over his shoulder to where the other had been. Had Ramoc been able to get him? No way to tell. Well, he had a job to do.

Captain Swann opened his eyes. Someone was opening his tent door! Blessing his light sleep, he slowly moved his hand to his dagger, ready to spring.

“Cap’n? You ‘wake?”

Swann took a deep breath as he recognised the thick Redridge accent and the deep voice of his biggest Warrior.

“Dammit Bannog,” he whispered. “I know I’m a handsome devil, but there is such a thing as a time and place.”

Bannog laughed quietly. “Hate to disappoint you, Cap’n, but I already have a bestest friend.”

“Well what do you want? Relationship advice?”

“Aye captain. What do you do if your boyfriend signals the position and makeup of your company to the enemy?”

There was a pause.

“What?” Captain Swann thought that was important enough to sit up.

“Kent, Sir. Caught him taking a nighttime stroll and flashing lights at persons unknown. Went on for quite some time. Long enough to tell ’em what we’d had for dinner.”

“What did you do?”

“Asked him what he thought he was doing. He said he was getting secret messages for you.”

Swann scowled. “How nice of him. He might have told me, but he must have thought I had enough to worry about already.” Swann rubbed his head. “Then what?”

“I told him you were already pissed off with me, so I’d let the matter rest. And that I’d lay down my life for him and protect him.”

“Ye gods. Did you get away with that?”

Bannog shrugged. “He thinks I’m a hick from the hills.” Bannog grinned in the dark. “Which I’d have trouble arguing with, but if he thinks that means I’m thick as well, that’s entirely his problem.”

There was a grating noise as Captain Swann rubbed his chin. “Well, I’ll have to have a good think about this. Maybe we’ll just nab him and persuade him to reveal all, or we can play along with him. There may be more snitches about than Mr. Kent. Meanwhile, Bannog, keep doing what you were doing. If he kills you, come and tell me and I’ll have a word with him.”

“One more thing Cap’n. Ramoc was with me. He went off to see if he could get the guy at the other end. Pretty slim chance if you ask me, but you never know. He’s done stranger things.”

Captain Swann grinned like a shark. “Oh well done! I’ll have a word with him in the morning. Well like I said, hang tight and we’ll pull this rat from his hole. Let me know if anything happens.”

Bannog nodded, saluted, and left Swann’s tent for his own. Kent was already there, lying down but not sleeping.

“Night, Kent.”

“Night, Bannog.”

Bannog crept into his sleeping bag and tried to sleep. He still woke up three times that night due to that infernal hissing. Somebody better appreciate this.


Bannog was standing with his fellow soldiers, old and new, in the rain, outside Thoradin’s wall. They were about to go on patrol. It was strange to see Joran standing next to him, and not Ramoc, but the small man had not shown up on morning roll-call. On his other side was Chad, who was looking unusually thoughtful. Captain Swann paced up and down the lines.

“So until we all get used to each other, Sergeant Benn will be in charge of the people from the Thirty-fifth, and Sergeant Bennett will lead the men from the old twenty-fifth. I expect to go back to our usual task-groups at most two weeks from now, so look sharp and pay attention to what your new sergeants are saying.” Swann paused, and looked at each of his soldiers in turn, an expression like thunder on his face.

“Finally, ladies and gentlemen, you will have noticed that Mr. Ramoc, for reasons of his own, seems to have chosen not to join us this fine morning. Should he make an appearance at some point, I want him caught and brought to me.” Swann turned to Bannog. “Alive, Mr. Bannog, so that there isn’t a repeat of what happened in Dun Modr. Please be sure to keep your youthful enthusiasm in check this time. We want to ask Mr. Ramoc a few easy questions. And then, ladies and gentlemen, what’s left of him will be used for target practice by the executioners. We do not appreciate deserters in the Alliance armies, especially not in the Twenty Fifth light.”

Joran scowled. “I should have known better than to trust that little scrote.”

“If I want your opinion, Mr. Westala, I’ll ask for it. Now move out!”

They marched out of the gate, on their first patrol together. Bannog was annoyed. Swann, of course, had chewed him out specifically to corroborate what he’d told Kent, so he knew better than to let it get to him. What annoyed him most was all the secrecy and deception. Give him a good clean fight any day. He had to admire the way Swann had handled this. All the new lot would probably believe Ramoc was now The Enemy, but by letting Joran, of all people, denounce him, even the dimmest of the old lot, and those weren’t very dim to begin with, would know something was up and keep their big traps shut. Not that they got much opportunity for discussion, as Sergeant Bennett seemed determined to find out what her new charges could do. She was on seek-and-destroy detail, with Benn staying behind to support her and prevent surprises. Four of them would stay near Sergeant Bennett, at enough of a distance so that a fireball wouldn’t get all of them at the same time. The other six veered out to the left, right and forward, in a large semicircle with Sergeant Bennett and the four reserve troops in the middle. If any of them were attacked, all they had to do was shout and the reserves would charge in. To keep concentration sharp, one of the center troops would regularly swap with one of the outriders. All this happened at a full trot, through the wet fields of the Arathi highlands. Bannog ran with a smile on his face, despite the situation. He liked to run, and was blessed by Nature with a generous supply of endorphins. He was running on position three-o’clock when Infantryman Mason caught up with him.

“Just what the hell is going on with Ramoc?” Mason asked. “He wouldn’t just run off, and I thought Joran was his best friend!”

Bannog thought for a moment, then decided to tell the truth. “There’s a snitch in the new lot. I guess Ramoc needs his time to ferret out his contact. Whatever you do if you see him, don’t kill him. Pass it on.” Bannog looked grimly at Mason. “But not to the new lot. There may be more than one snitch.”

Mason nodded grimly. “Will do. Any idea who it is?” Bannog shook his head.

“Not an inkling. Could be anyone up to and including our pretty sergeant. Stay sharp!” Bannog ran off to rejoin the central group. He felt bad about lying to his fellow soldier, but he couldn’t risk any of his mates getting creative with not enough information. As he reached the central group, Bennett shot him a nasty look.

“If you’ve got that much breath left for talking, you’re not working hard enough. Position eleven o’clock if you please, Mr. Bannog!”

“Yes Sarge.” Bannog sighed, and sped up.

They did not have any hostile encounters on that patrol. Apparently the Horde had a day off, or their rather loud patrol had sent them scuttling. They completed their circuit, switched roles between Old and New, then did the same run again. They did meet two soldiers, but they were Alliance, on their way to the Wall. Bannog half suspected that Captain Swann had requested an easy patrol to see what his new assets were worth. For the most part, they seemed to be fit enough, with Kent being one of the better runners. Imagine that. Sergeant Bennett ran like she could sleep on the move, with no apparent sign of effort. So they could run. Bannog reserved judgment till he’d seen them fight. Bayliss had been right: even from where he ran, he could see that several of the new lot had huge gaps in their chain that they hadn’t bothered to repair, possibly because nobody ever told tales of how enemies came in from behind. Bannog had been forced to admit on some occasions that he obsessed, even replacing rings in his chain that looked like they were starting to rust. But since that chain kept him alive, he figured it was a healthy thing to obsess about.

When they returned to camp, daylight had run out. Bannog was glad to know that he and Joran would be on cooking duty that evening and therefore dinner would be palatable. They were joined by Sharp Shooter Connor who, to Bannog’s and Joran’s relief, seemed to share their opinion on yesterday’s meal. They decided they had time for something proper, so they made fire, chopped vegetables, peeled potatoes, and boiled beef. After about two hours’ steady bubbling, Joran stirred the stew, sampled, and declared dinner ready. The soldiers formed an orderly queue, and received ladles of stew from Bannog. When everybody was provided for, Bannog filled his own tin, sat down by the fire, sat back and sampled his own work. To his taste, they’d gone a bit easy on the spices, but then again, not everybody had spent the last few months building up a resistance to capsaicin poison. Amusing though it might be to blow their heads off, the time for that sort of fun had not yet come. Until Kent had been dealt with, it wouldn’t. He felt someone tap his shoulder.

“That’s good stew. Is there any left?” Bannog looked round into the face of Sergeant Bennett.

“Should be. Let me get ye some.” Bannog got up and refilled Sergeant Bennet’s bowl, and his own for good measure. “We usually make it spicier than this, but we thought we’d go easy on you for now.”

“Hah! I’m from Westfall. Do your worst. Westfall stew is how we prepare our warriors for the Hellfire Peninsula. The real Westfall stew, that is. Not the stuff you get in the farmsteads.”

“Yeah, but what about the others? Our stew at full war-strength will make their heads explode.”

Sergeant Bennet’s steel-blue eyes gleamed at him. “Temper them in fire, I say. Separate the men from the boys!”

“And the girls from the women?”

Sergeant Bennett put her hand on her hip. “How many women are there in this company?”

Bannog stroked his chin. “Got my doubts about bowman Oliver, Sarge.” There was a pause. She knew there was no bowman Oliver in the company. Then she got it. She really had a nice laugh.

“A warrior who knows his folk songs. I thought I’d never see the day! Where are you from?”

“Redridge, Sarge. At the foot of the Redridge Mountains. Never took a step out of Redridge till um…” Bannog thought a few moments. “Three and a half months ago. I was going to join a company in Goldshire, but the company got wiped by lost Orcs before I could join. Then I had a bit of a scuffle with some local thugs who were bothering a woman, which left them dead and her in need of a boost to Menethil. I was going to take the flight back to Goldshire, but Father got me this job with Swann instead, knocking the heads off murlocs till we were sent here. And here I am.”

Sergeant Bennett paused, her spoon half way to her mouth.

“So what was that business with Dun Modr all about?”

Damn! He hadn’t worked out that part of the story yet. Keep it simple.

“We were fighting some Dark Iron Dwarves. One of our lot wanted to turn tail and run. I tried to persuade him not to. He hit me. I hit him. He died. I was lucky that Swann had seen it happen, or it’d have been a court-martial for me.”

Bennett’s eyes hardened.

“I don’t like traitors and deserters, but we have people to deal with them. There is a reason we use people from outside the company for that.”

“I know that! I didn’t mean to kill him, but I was all raged up so I hit him harder than I meant to.” Bannog looked at his feet. “I should have kept myself in check better, but he hit me first.”

Sergeant Bennett gave Bannog a long hard stare. “There’s mages that can mess with your head. Make the best warrior afraid of a mouse. There’s even warriors that can do that by using special war-cries. It’s very hard to defend against it, and not everybody can. When they get to you, you’ll run, believe me! If that happens, the best you can hope for is to get yourself under control sooner rather than later. I’ve seen it happen. Remember that next time.” She smiled. “Thanks for the stew. It’s good, even without the heat.”

Bannog smiled back. “Ye’re welcome, Sarge.”

“Tasha. We’re off duty.”

“Is there such a thing?”

“Hope so, ’cause I’m going to use it to sleep.” She put away her mess-tin, and with a wave headed for her tent. Being the only female in the company, she had one to herself.

Bannog finished his own stew, staring into the fire with a worried look on his face. It occurred to him that he hadn’t got the message across that as far as he was concerned, he was taken. Come to think of it, he hadn’t got that message across to a certain Elf either. Well, not in so many words anyway. Actions may speak louder than words, but they’re not as subtle. He seemed to have put off the Sergeant a bit with his story about the imaginary soldier he had killed in the heat of battle. Probably for the best.

In the distance, he saw the Captain talking to Sergeant Benn. He really ought to tell the Captain what he’d told Sergeant Bennett, but he could hardly walk up to them. He needed someone trustworthy. Someone he could talk to. He looked round. Ah. There he was. He got up and wandered over to Bayliss and asked him for a word.

“Certainly. I must admit I’m most curious as to what your transgression was in Dun Modr. Especially since I was there all the time and didn’t see you do anything out of the ordinary.”

“That was mostly for Kent’s benefit. I caught him signalling to the Horde. I told Kent that the Captain was pissed off at me for something, but I didn’t tell the Captain what he was supposed to be pissed off about. Then I told Sergeant Bennett that I killed Bowman Pauly Oliver when he was deserting.”

“And quite rightly so, if you ask me. He fought like a girl anyway. Did you use that name or was that a joke?”

Bannog kicked himself, realising that Bayliss might have relayed that name to the Captain, who might have used it and caused Sergeant Bennett to ask inconvenient questions. Good thing one of them was thinking. He was really starting to dislike this skulking about.

“That was a joke. I didn’t actually use any name. Let’s use,” Bannog thought, “Bowman Dickson.”

Bayliss nodded slowly. “And you want me to relay this to the captain?”

“If you would. Hope we can grab Kent soon. I told Mason there’s a snitch in the new lot. So if he told the rest, then everybody is looking at the new lot by now, wondering. That can’t be good if we want the twenty-fifth to be a single unit again.”

Bayliss rubbed his chin. “It isn’t. I’ll tell that to the captain as well. At any rate, you seem to be getting on quite well with Sergeant Bennett.”

Bannog pulled a face. “What can I do? She’s nice. I’ll have to tell her I’m taken.”

“You do that. And sooner rather than later. I find clarity in these matters prevents disaster.”

Bannog nodded. “I’ll just crawl into her tent and tell her I’m not interested.”

“Excellent. What would you like your epitaph to be? ‘It was Beauty that killed the Beast.’ That one is quite popular.”

Bannog laughed. “That’ll do. Thanks, Bayliss.”

Bayliss touched his forehead, then Bannog’s, as though Bannog had asked for some religious advice, and Bayliss was blessing him. Bannog smiled, bowed his head and walked off.


She was sitting on the pier, waiting for the ferry. She was not looking back. Behind her, somewhere, her friends would be. Alive or dead, she didn’t know. But she did not look back. Not even once. Not for a moment. Her grey eyes were fixed on the sea, where the water met the sky. Her face was perfectly still. Behind her was her home. Whether the place was still standing, her room and her bed as she’d left it, or whether the place had been taken over by wild animals, she didn’t know. She did not look behind her. The ferry arrived. She stepped onto the wooden deck, and still she did not look back. Only after the sailors had cast off the lines, and the boat picked up speed, did she look Eastward. A single glance. She closed her eyes, remembering faces. Mother. Berciel. Lesta. Orin. She walked up to the bow of the boat and watched the horizon, as it slowly bobbed up and down. Not the direction of home, but the direction she had to go to get there.

The boat sailed on.


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

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