Joshfar looked down his nose at Uzume and her companion, Calvin. She shuffled nervously under his gaze. She had known that it was unwise to bring Calvin back to the clan with her, that his presence would upset the insular sable-riding gang, but she had not been prepared to simply leave him to his own devices. And she couldn’t shake the feeling that he held the key to some powerful secret. She bit her lip, recalling the vision she had beheld only days earlier.
Feeling guilty at withholding so much from her leader, Uzume claimed that the Lunars would come and pick Calvin up soon, that he would not be a burden for long, and that the Lunar Empire requested the clan’s hospitality for him. This seemed to work, but Uzume could not help feeling that she had created a barrier between herself and her clan that would take some effort to dismantle. No longer was she invited on clan raids, and she found herself spending more and more time listlessly accompanying Calvin.
Calvin himself was at a loose end. He had seen the tablet before. On a job for the Black Fang Brotherhood in Pavis, he had stolen a similar bronze tablet from the house of Duke Raus of Rone. Of course, that was what had gotten him into this mess in the first place, as it hadn’t taken long for the Lunar Coders to track him down. Still, he wasn’t sure what his next move would be. He couldn’t return to the Black Fang without completing the job properly, but he was not suited to the wilderness of Prax. He was glad that Uzume was watching out for him for now, but he could see that her assistance was finite and costing her greatly.
When a retinue of mercenaries arrived at the camp after they had been there about a week, it seemed to bring the answers to their prayers. Calvin’s ears pricked up when he heard the leader of the band, who introduced himself as Daine, explain that they were representatives of Duke Raus, who was seeking mercenaries to aid in establishing a settlement on the River of Cradles from which the administration of that region of Prax might be arranged.
Uzume and Calvin offered themselves. Uzume felt that perhaps some distance from her clan would aid their relationship and perhaps they would appreciate the political expediency of having a representative aiding the Duke. Calvin, of course, saw an opportunity presenting itself.
They met the Duke and the remaining mercenaries at Horn Gate. Calvin and Uzume were surprised and a little pleased to see Grogar accompanying the band. A sorcerer introduced himself to them as Zaml. Recalling their previous experiences with sorcery, they were wary of him, but he assured them he was not evil. Another fellow, who they overheard was named Garholt, caught their eye, an impressive fellow who was apparently a blacksmith, but unfortunately Garholt spoke no language they had ever heard of. One last fellow introduced himself to them as Barry Bluejeans, a Humakt whose Sword, Toni’n’malcolm, had been hired by Daine as the Duke’s personal bodyguard. Barry, just an initiate, was conscripted as a mercenary.
Some other mercenaries included:
Mikael: an Issaries trader who had seen certain business opportunities in being part of the establishment of a new civilised settlement,
Bromhilda: a Storm Kahn of the Storm Bull whose stench was possibly more deadly than her weaponry, which is honestly saying something,
Hans: a Storm Bull initiate and follower of Bromhilda who idolises her every word and act,
Juniper: a young woman whose Lunar parents, sick of her idling, had sent her to become a mercenary in order to learn some discipline, and
Elgato: a mysterious man with a scar across his face who explained that he had been an early emissary in Pavis, but Sor-Eel had recently made him redundant, so he was working as a mercenary in order to continue spreading Lunar ways.
The party began with an excursion around the region of Prax. It is unnecessary to detail the full journey, but highlights included:
- Calvin getting cut in half by Tusk Riders and Daine basically having to bail the team of six out of an attack from the two riders
- Zaml shouting “I have a spell for that!” and actually managing to cast it, allowing Calvin’s legs to slowly grow back
- Pissing off the Agimori, tall warrior hunters, when they allowed the Morokanth to turn one of their people into a herdman
- Being completely incompetent at putting up tents, resulting in a few unpleasant evenings of attempted sleep
- Being ordered to execute by beheading two enemy newtlings, and missing the bound and helpless figures multiple times
Upon arrival at the Duke’s fort, the group immediately asked for their back pay, but Daine evaded the question, intimating that he felt the money would be wasted as they were probably going to die on their first solo patrol. If they did not, Daine promised, he would pay what they were owed.
It was time to arrange the tents, as the barracks were still under construction. There were twelve mercenaries all together. Each of three tents would sleep four mercenaries. As the arguments began, Uzume quickly grabbed Toni’n’malcolm and Juniper and announced that they would have a women’s tent.
“Wonderful!” boomed an eager, forgotten, and unwelcome voice. “Such an arrangement suits me very well.”
Uzume performed a mental facepalm as Bromhilda, her stench making them gag, stepped forward to help with the tent.
Zaml, Barry, Calvin and Elgato bunked together, leaving Grogar, Garholt, Mikael and Hans. Next came the tents.
Toni was an experienced hand, so it was not long before the ladies’ tent was up, its luxurious interior almost making up for the fact that it soon smelled of Bromhilda body odour. Zaml, Barry and Calvin were surprised when Elgato offered to put the tent up for them. Though it was not of the calibre Toni had managed, their tent was comfortable enough. None had quite managed to see how Elgato managed to put it up by himself so quickly.
Unfortunately, Grogar and Garholt were not so lucky on the tent front. Their effort basically ended up being a canvas blanket.
The following morning, the mercenaries were woken by a woman’s call: “Mercenaries! Here on the double!”
It was at this point that Uzume’s player rolled her dice for no real reason. She did, however, manage to roll a fumble. Bleary-eyed and half-asleep (Uzume was no morning person), she managed to bump into one of the support posts, bringing the entire tent crashing down. A muscle twitched furiously in Toni’s forehead.
A young woman had called the mercenaries out.
“My name is Jezra, and I am the daughter of your new Lord and Master,” she informed them pompously. “As such you will do whatever I tell you. One word from me and I could have the lot of you executed. Think on that.”
They did. It was not a pleasant thought.
“I have decided I require something of you. The peoples of these lands have various animals they ride. I want one. One of the small ones. Like an impala or a llama. Or–” and here she looked directly at Uzume– “a sable.”
She swept away imperiously. The gang looked around at each other.
“Can we do that?”
“I don’t know if we should. That could get us in a lot of trouble.”
“Not doing it could get us in trouble.”
“If we can’t manage it, Uzume should just give her her sable.”
There was a pause and Uzume’s eyes flickered dangerously across the group.
“Who said that?”
Zaml stepped forward. “I am only being practical. If we can’t–”
“Someone shut him up before I do it,” Uzume growled. “And he’d better stay well out of my way. He no longer exists to me.”
Zaml’s protests fell on deaf ears.
Daine arrived at this point.
“Ah, you are up. Good. You are eager, then, if incompetent.”
Zaml tried to enlist Daine’s aid with their problem, but Daine simply laughed.
“Jezra is already up to her tricks, I see. Be careful. The Duke loves her very much. I’m far too smart to get myself involved. My advice: don’t make the wrong choice. It is liable to be the last you make.”
“What would the wrong choice be in this situation?” Calvin asked.
“Oh, probably all of them. Anyway, I have a task for you. We have received a request from the llama riders of the south-western regions to intervene in a land dispute. It seems that our friends the sable riders have hold of some kind of sacred hunting site, and they promised to vacate, but rather than do so they arranged an ambush.”
Calvin shuffled nervously, Uzume grinned broadly, and Grogar set his face into a look of stony ignorance.
“So, what do you want us to do about it?”
“Sort it out. The sable riders are our allies, so don’t piss them off. The llama riders could be a nuisance but are minding their own business for now, so don’t piss them off. Just make sure we’re not bothered by silly little disputes like this in the future and don’t let it get out of hand.”
It took the group a full day to find Joshfar’s gang. They had set up camp in the hunting grounds, preparing to ambush any arriving llama riders. Uzume went out to greet them, and offered her support against the llama riders. Hiding behind some hills, Zaml could not conceal his irritation.
“That is not going to help things,” he grumbled. “I need to get down there.”
Unfortunately he had forgotten that Uzume, irritated at his plan to offer her sable to Jezra, was no longer acknowledging him. When he responded to Joshfar’s enquiries with, “I’m with her” Uzume simply shrugged and said, “I don’t know him.”
“Wha–” was all Zaml could mutter before he was bound to a post.
It was at this moment that the llama riders mounted a surprise attack. In the mess, the gang gave their support to the sable riders (other than Garholt, who simply fired arrows randomly into the fray) and the llama riders were eventually chased off. Excited by the hunt, and seeing an opportunity to get hold of a llama for Jezra, Calvin tossed a spear after a fleeing rider. Unfortunately, being a bit of a klutz, it did not reach its target, instead hitting Joshfar and knocking him from his sable. The llama rider paused, turned, and began throwing spears, hitting the helpless Joshfar.
Zaml made a quick incantation from his bound position, stopping the bleeding and saving Joshfar’s life, but the political damage had been done and the llama riders escaped. Barry Bluejeans knocked an unconscious rider from their llama and pulled the beast to heel, grinning as he led it back to the group.
“Well,” he said, not noticing Uzume’s downcast expression, Calvin’s embarrassed gaze, Garholt’s confusion, “that went pretty well.”