3

Feb

by thefourpartland

Another 2000 word update, the next in the series.

Before questioning the prisoner, Rhyfelwyr glanced over to where Taflen and Rhocas sat, talking quietly to one another. That was a mystery that would need to be explored, and quickly. Rhy saw Locsyn just shake his head, wondering at the new revelations. All of the patrol was stunned by the realization that Rhocas was a firemage, although probably an untrained one. Firemages were something to be feared, their rank high above that of the common soldier, and yet here one was, wandering around out on patrol. Trying to clear his head of all the thoughts that whirred about, Rhy turned to the prisoner, who was bound and sitting on the ground.

“So, what brought your lot out here? Scouting out our army?” The prisoner just glared back in response, his jaw clamped firm.

“Make it hard on yourself if you’d like. If you aren’t going to talk to me, I’ll just hand you over to Llofruddiwr and his longknives. I don’t have the time to wait around for you to warm up to me.” The prisoner’s head swivelled to where Llof was sitting on the ground, polishing the blades of his weapons with bits of cloth taken from the Lianese he had slain. Llofruddiwr didn’t look up in regards to the scrutiny, just kept examining the blades until he had each one shining perfectly.

Rhyfelwyr smiled. “Yes, the ghost over there. He’ll be just as nice to you as he was to all of your fellows.”

The prisoner glared once more, then spat on the ground next to him. “I get it. What do you want?”

“What were your orders?”

“We were shadowing your army for a few days, and then on the way back to report. Been keeping an eye on you, is all.”

“Right, right. And where are your forces located?”

The prisoner looked around and closed his mouth, clearly not willing to talk about that subject. “Llof, you busy? Might need you in a second.” Llof looked up, then loudly and deliberately scraped a sharpening stone across his longknife.

“They’re forming up around Horaim. I’ve been out in the field a week, so I don’t know if they’ve moved or not since then.”

“Good enough. Locsyn, I’ve got a present for you. Keep this little bundle of joy from scarpering for the rest of the day, can you?”

“I’m touched.”

“We’ve still got a job to do, so lets move.”

The patrol gathered itself, and what little it had taken from the enemy squad, and moved out across the land in search of food. The first few places that they came across were stripped bare ruins, but they found a nice cache hidden under one of the outbuildings in the fourth farmhouse. The building had burned down and collapsed on top of a trapdoor, but Taflen had noticed the edge of the door in the rubble, and with Gwyth doing the heavy lifting to clear the burnt timbers, the latch was soon broken off. Rhyfelwyr and Llofruddiwr descended into the dark below to find themselves in a square earthen chamber, with several barrels of grain and dried meats stored away. Sending Gwyth down to hoist each of the containers out of the ground, Rhy then detailed Llof and Taflen and Rhocas to hunt up whatever forms of transportation might be available.

The squad couldn’t carry back all of the supplies themselves, and with a prisoner, Rhyfelwyr knew they couldn’t send a runner either, as they were already a small unit to be out on their own. Cursing at the officers for sending them out here without more men or a wagon, the sergeant waited for the return of his three men. Soon a grunt sounded nearby, and Rhyfelwyr spun round, to hear Taflen call out. “Send us Gwyth, damn you!”

Rhy gestured at the large man to go help, and shortly a wagon came around the corner, with the traces draped over Gwyth’s neck, and his legs churning to pull the contraption along. Taflen and Rhocas were pushing at the back of the wagon, which slowly settled to a stop in front of the outbuilding.

“Where’d you find this thing? I’d thought they’d all been ruined or taken.”

“Some farmer left it out in a little dell in a field about a mile away. Must have panicked and fled.”

“Good work Rhocas, Taflen. Now to get the barrels on top. And Locsyn, keep an eye on your present, he’s looking shifty. Spoke him with a sword if you have to to keep him from being too active.”

With that, Rhy grabbed one of the barrels, hoisting it onto his shoulder, and then over the side of the wagon into the bed. Gwyth followed after, shrugging a barrel onto either shoulder and just flipping them into the wagon. With the others helping, soon all of the supplies were loaded, and they were ready to turn for home.

“Right, Locsyn, get him into the traces. It’ll stop him from trying to escape, and we need the muscle anyway.” This next was to the prisoner. “And if you think about taking a break from pulling, well, the big guy will be pushing at the back of the wagon, and you’ll just get run over, so step lively until I call for a halt.”

The prisoner spat at the ground in front of Rhy’s feet, but the sergeant just waved at Locsyn in response, and his friend proceeded to shove the prisoner in under the traces, and settle them over his head. With a slap to the back of the prisoner’s head, Locsyn set the man pulling at wagon, slowly getting it to move. Gwyth, Rhocas, and Rhy chipped in at the back, breaking the inertia of the heavy vehicle, before letting Gwyth take the first stint pushing from behind. The others would rotate in pairs to free Gwyth up. The sun was near to setting, and Rhy hoped the wagon didn’t slow them down so much that they would be forced to camp for the night before resuming the journey back to the army.

The squad was exhausted when they stumbled into the army camp that night, an hour after the sun had set. Rhyfelwyr had thought of stopping as the sun’s light disappeared, but the next little rise had shown a field of camp fires, and so they had pushed on in that direction. The prisoner was sagging in the traces, only standing upright because they held him so. He had had no breaks to speak of, whereas all of the squad had rotated in short shifts.

An officer soon came to see the prisoner, and took the report of the day’s actions from Rhy. With a few words of praise, the officer dismissed the squad, and led the exhausted, groaning Lianese soldier away as quartermaster troops swarmed over the wagon, inventorying the find and then wheeling it away.

Rhy hunted up a cook and had him make the squad a hearty meal, their right after a day on patrol and in combat. There was little conversation over the meal, and it was only when their stomachs were satiated that they were able to relax in front of the fire and talk about the day’s events. Knowing that Taflen had already spoken with Rhocas for a little, Rhyfelwyr let the conversation roam, although it mostly settled on the ambush of the Lianese patrol.

“You know, I’ve been fighting beside you for years, and I’ve still never figured out how you get that close to lookouts. Do you crawl under the ground or something?” Locsyn was talking to Llofruddiwr.

“I move quietly.”

“No, I move quietly, and they can hear me from twenty paces or so. You move like a damn spirit, not even here in this world until you pop up and surprise everyone. If anyone actually survived meeting you, there might be a growing rumour about your skill, but you’re so good no one ever knows. And yeah, I know you like it that way, all quiet.”

“Yes.”

“Gwyth, you talk to me, you’ll say more words in one sentence than Llofruddiwr will in an entire day.”

Gwyth doubled over with laughter at that, then put on a silly expression. “Yes.”

“Oh bugger, not you too.”

Leaving the others to their mirth and unwinding, Rhyfelwyr got up from the fire and tapped Rhocas on the shoulder, gesturing for the young soldier to follow into the quiet darkness. Rhocas did so reluctantly, and glanced back at the warm fire more than once as he followed the sergeant out. This conversation wasn’t one that the young man wanted to have.

Rhy turned and eyed the firemage in the dark. Nerves were visible in every aspect of Rhocas’ stance, and Rhyfelwyr patted him on the arm before gesturing at the ground and sitting himself.

“I know you don’t want ot be out here, but I need to find out what’s going on with you. You’re a bloody firemage! You saved Taflen’s life, but you also should have been there to protect his right flank in the first place. It turned out well in the end, but, what are you? Did the mages send you down here to live like a soldier for some reason?”

Rhocas mumbled at first, his voice faint in the night. “No, I’m not a firemage. Never managed to have the training, never noticed I had the talent. Me, or the people who tested me when I was young. It doesn’t come out very much, just when I’m angry or scared, and then it comes out in big waves. It only started showing up a few years ago, and I thought something was going wrong until I realized I had a talent with fire. It’s not really all that useful, just shows up every now and again.”

“Not all that useful? Taflen would be dead if you didn’t have it. That counts as fairly useful to me. Now, why’d you never take yourself round to the firemages and get trained properly. The life’s better than grubbing along down in the dirt with us soldiers.”

“Never wanted to, and always thought I was too old to be allowed into the school, least by the time I knew anything about this. And when Ymerawdwyr was calling for young men to join the army, I decided I might as well go. I was just mucking out stables at a caravan rest, so a soldier’s life is a step up from where I was.”

Rhy nodded. “Still, you might want to go talk to one of the firemages that we have here with us. Doubt they can give you a lot training between now and Horaim, but it might be worth it to learn how to use your talent a little better. Can’t hurt to have an extra tool or two, and might make your life a good deal better in the long run, if you can get bumped up to that status.”

“I’d thought about it, but how would that work? They’re not going to believe that some poor fool of a soldier is a firemage just because he says he is.”

“I’ll talk to them, and bring the squad with me. We’ve been around for long enough that officers at least know I’m not going to lie to them. We’ll do that on the morrow, after we’ve all rested a good bit. Let’s get back to the others, I’m sure Locsyn’s about to have a fit with all the teasing the rest are doing.”

“Thanks, Rhy.” Rhy glanced back and nodded, and then led Rhocas back to the camp fire, where they settled in for the night with the rest of the squad, laughing and talking before finally falling asleep.

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