“What the fuck have ye be up to?” Knuckle asked Peep with a grin as he, Choke, Pinch and Munn joined Peep and Thorn. Thorn coughed and looked aside as he beheld the new spider bite scars all over Knuckle’s face.
“The Chisel was blaming us for killing three of his men! That was you?” Knuckle went on.
“I suppose I had something to do with that,” Peep admitted, watching Choke, who was glaring hard at her. “What?” she asked Choke.
“I don’t even know where to start!” barked Choke.
“Hey, don’t go blaming me because ye goofs fucked up the plan. I told ye to stay put at the Old Mill and keep getting it ready. It aint my fault ye all came out here like dumbasses to get yarselves cornered.”
“Plan? Plan!” Choke screamed. “What plan would that be? The one in your head that you didn’t bother telling us?”
“I told Janice to tell ye I was going to town and for ye to stay at the Old Mill.”
“That is not a fucking plan! And it is not your place to tell me to do anything!” Choke continued.
“Listen, Choke. Sorry. It’s just I knew if I brought it up, ye’d say no,” Peep said calmly.
“And so you just go ahead and do it!”
“Yeah. It was the right move. So fuckin rights I did. Ye need to learn to trust me if we’re gonna be partners, Choke. Seriously,” Peep said.
“We might get even shares on earnings, but I am the leader of this squad. You agreed to that! You shook on it!”
“Well, that was then and this is now. And the lay of the land has shifted, aint it? I aint the person that I used to be. Ye need to readjust yar thinking to the new situation,” Peep said in a friendly tone as she held her palms out to Choke.
Choke flushed, but bit off whatever he was going to say.
“This isn’t over,” he finally muttered, as he mounted his horse and rode off towards Callic.
“Yeah, I been hearing that a lot from men that aint getting their way. If it aint over, then why the fuck ye leaving?” Peep called after him.
“Altas’ balls, Peep, d’ye have to rub his face in it like that?” Pinch asked.
“Well, I dunno. But he’s gotta get his head right. He aint my fuckin boss. He’s our Church man, sure, so I’ll listen up when he’s plotting a course in regards to all that. That’s yar world, and I don’t know shit about it. But out here? When it’s time to put the real work in? Thorn, when we set out on this shitshow, ye told him yarself that he should follow my lead out here. He’s gonna have to get used to taking me more seriously. That’s that,” Peep said.
“But why didn’t ye take us with ye?” Knuckle asked. “Sounds like ye had fun!”
“Sure. But with any of ye along, it woulda been a whole different scene. And we don’t have time right now for me to explain it all. I’ll tell ye later. How’s the tower shaping up?”
“Unger’s carpenter guy had just about finished with the main door when we left,” Pinch answered.
“Well, that’s gone quick!” Peep exclaimed happily. She then turned to Thorn, who had watched their whole scene with an amused gleam in his eye:
“So what’s the deal with the Captain, Thorn? What’s his name?”
“Captain Fairchild,” Thorn answered. “Yeah, he’s marching up from Spitzer with a battalion of foot. Five hundred men, with fifty horse skirmishers under Batter. We’re heading up to Burnthistle to put the garrison there under orders and start a recon in force up Splitrock way to see what’s up with the gobos.”
“So the Baron took what ye said seriously. It’s all going exactly according to yar plan. Yar going up there and fuckin with those soldiers, just like ye said ye would!” Pinch laughed.
“Yeah, for sure. But that’s just a bonus. This needs doing. And fuckin rights the Baron took it serious. He aint stupid. And, by the way, that goblin sign ye all found on the Tanglefoot helped matters. For real. That’s big. Good work,” Thorn said.
“Oh, yeah! That thing! Forgot all about that,” Peep said.
“Yeah, well, Father Nate sent it along. That, along with word of yar Holy Possession lighting up everyone’s fervor, and Father Morrenthall running off to see the Bishop in Strana with his visions of impending apocalypse, well… Let’s just say, everyone’s got their dander up.”
“So, what’s going on with him arresting the Chisel?” Peep asked.
“Well, with everybody being so curious about ye lot in Spitzer, the Baron heard about the Outfit contract on yar boys. Got in a huff about it. With everything that seems to be fixing to happen out here, he wants to make sure all the humans are pulling in the same direction. So he gave Captain Fairchild the authority to shut this shit down. So, anyways, first thing this morning we’re on the march and run into the Chisel’s man heading to Spitzer for reinforcements. Captain Fairchild had a stern word with him to get all the details and then sent me and Batter riding ahead to settle things down.”
“A stern word?” Knuckle asked with a smirk. “They rough him up?”
“No, nothing like that. The Captain put him under arrest and gave him a simple choice: spill his guts or be hanged right then and there on the side of the road as a bandit,” said Thorn.
“How’d ye know he was with the Chisel?” asked Peep.
“Oh, that was easy. Sherriff Waters gave us all their names before we set out. All of them are known to me, or somebody with the Captain. It aint like the talent pool is that deep in Spitzer for that kinda work.”
“Oh, so the Sherriff actually pulled his thumb outta his ass and did his job?” Peep asked.
“Yeah, well, the Baron taking a personal interest in something will tend to focus his people’s attention, yeah?” Thorn chuckled.
“So… now what?” Knuckle asked.
“Well, I’m gonna ride back to the road and head south to link up with the Captain on the march to let him know the Chisel’s been contained. If ye wanna come along, that would be a good idea. He’s eager to meet all of ye.”
“Well, then, let’s get a fuckin move on!” Peep exclaimed.
Peep, Thorn, Pinch, Knuckle, and Munn rode south on the road at a comfortable jog. As they did, they filled Thorn in on all the details of their adventure of the Old Mill. Word of the exploit had not reached Spitzer before they had set out, so it was all new to him.
They linked up with Captain Fairchild and his battalion in the late afternoon. The first sign of them was another squad of a dozen bandit-looking horse skirmishers who were scouting ahead of the main force.
Captain Fairchild was riding at the head of his column of marching soldiers with his other two lieutenants. All three were upon heavy-warhorses and kitted up like knights in fullplate harness with lances and longswords. In front of five hundred footmen, with two squads of twelve horse skirmishers cycling as scouts and vanguard, they made an intimidating and glorious spectacle.
The soldiers behind were marching five abreast on the road with the battalion’s ox-drawn wagons interspersed between their units. The Chisel’s man had his hands bound in front of him and was tethered to one of the wagons in the center of the column, stumbling along behind it.
After presenting themselves to be recognized, Thorn and the others fell in with the Captain and his other two lieutenants and their squires. Thorn reported that Lieutenant Batter had detained the Chisel and his men, and were last seen taking them to Callic village with the parish priest, Father Nate. Then he quickly introduced Otilla, Munn, Nikolas, and Theodas, in that order.
“Well met!” Captain Fairchild exclaimed cheerfully as they set out.
Fairchild was a handsome man in his late-twenties. Smaller and willowy looking, he had a quick eye and lively way about him. His two flanking lieutenants were both big, tough, older men who looked capable of dismembering an orc with their bare hands.
“So, Otilla of the Holy Flame! An honor to meet you, Miss,” Captain Fairchild bowed his head to her a second time. “I wonder if you might do me the honor of showing me the holy marks of Stron upon your precious skin.”
Looking amused, Peep presented her palms to Fairchild. He and everyone else who could see them praised Stron as they traced the Wheel over their breasts.
“A miracle in these evil times, come with momentous portents! These are the times that make legends! Now is our time! I can feel it in my bones!” Fairchild thumped his saddle.
“Here, here!” his men chorused.
Fairchild rose up in his saddle and turned back to shout to his men:
“Otilla of the Holy Fire rides with us, men! I have seen the marks of Stron upon her palms! Stron is with us, lads! Praise Stron!”
A cheer rose up from the men.
“So, do tell,” Fairchild continued when things had settled down and they were on their way again. “What has been happening?”
With Pinch and Knuckle completely overwhelmed, and Thorn knowing better than to interject with secondhand information, Peep went on to tell Fairchild everything that had occurred since they had left Spitzer. With only minor exaggeration, she detailed slipping the Chisel and his men on the road to Bristlehump; finding the goblin sign on the Tanglefoot Trail; hearing the fool Earl’s drug-induced portents about the Old Mill, as well as his gift of the Stronian force shield ring from the undead knight, The Desolate One; the fight with the ettercap and giant spiders; the cleansing of the Old Mill by Holy Fire; and, finally, saving the peasant couple from the Chisel’s three men.
“Well!” Fairchild exclaimed. “Ye lot have been busy! Well done, I say! Well done! But there is one member of your party missing. Where is this jink monk, Bartholomew, we have all heard so much about?”
“Well, he went along with Father Nate and yar men to the Church. To help keep an eye on the Chisel,” Peep said.
“Ah. Good man. Vigilant. I like that. The ravens, they don’t miss a trick when training up their bloodletters, now do they?” Fairchild asked his wider audience.
“No they don’t, sir,” one of his lieutenants agreed, casting an approving look over Knuckle and Pinch both.
“And to have taken in a jink horse warrior and raise him up as one of their own? Mad! But genius. Imagine that, one of that savage blood, but trained in the fold of Stronianism. It’s as my father always said: ‘mind the ravens.’ When the holy stoners move, there is sure to be heavy occurrence, whether the flock as a whole come to know of it, or not. Mind the ravens.”
“Indeed,” the lieutenant agreed.
“So!” Fairchild exclaimed with a big shift in energy, signaling a change of topic. “What is this spot of bother with the teamster’s outfit? What is the story there?”
Peep shrugged and looked to Pinch. He took a moment to get his wits about him and quickly outlined their misadventures in Strana. As with the last time the story was told in Arlen’s tavern, the men hearing it were well amused.
“Oh, ye poor, innocent, foolish lads!” Fairchild laughed. “Strana! What a place! Bridgetown. That’s…” Fairchild caught himself with a quick sideways glance at Peep, “a wicked place. It serves ye lads right, getting into trouble if that’s where ye took yourselves!” he gave Knuckle and Pinch both a wink on the sly as he said this.
Fairchild was thoughtful for a while before he again spoke:
“That Bridgetown outfit boss. What did you say his name was again?” he asked Pinch.
“Uhhh… I didn’t, sir,” Pinch said in a panic.
“Yes, I know. What’s his name?”
“Terrance, sir,” Pinch said after just a second’s hesitation. Then, with another second’s thought, he realized it would be best to go all in now. “He has a place with gambling tables above an eatery called Terry’s. It’s right on the Mage Tower Square in Bridgetown.”
“Terry’s, hmmm?” Fairchild said. He looked sideways to his lieutenants.
One of them nodded. “I know the place. Good food,” he said.
“And the man’s name there is Terrance. He has Bridgetown under his thumb, you say?” Fairchild asked Pinch.
“I don’t know that for a fact, sir. I mean, maybe not all of it. But he was telling the guard there where to go. So, as far as we could tell,” Pinch answered.
“Well, good to know. Good to know,” Fairchild said with a lewd smirk. “Well, I wouldn’t worry about any of that now. We’ll soon put an end to all this foolishness. You have my word on that.”
“Well, thank you, sir,” Pinch said.
“Think nothing of it. We can’t have these types thinking they can push proper warriors of the faith around, now can we?”
“About that, sir,” Thorn interjected. “Munn here was a sergeant of archers for the Baron’s father, back in the day. And he’s the best bowyer and fletcher in these parts.”
“You a sergeant for our Lord, Munn! Good on you, man. So just the man I’d want to be talking to next! Good thinking, Thorn! You see? A good scout has a sharp mind that way, whether in the bush or not. Angles! Angles! Always plotting the angles! Not a wasted move. Yes? Yes,” Fairchild agreed with himself. He then turned back to Munn:
“On this expedition of ours, we shall have need of archers. The men of Callic have always been a rough and ready bunch, and among the best in this regard.”
“Thank you, sir!”
“So, I had planned on levying twenty longbowmen from Callic. The Baron has provided me the funds. Standard pay, in coin money. Do you think you could round up twenty of your best within twenty-four hours? Equipped and mustered at the Callic church.”
“Of course, sir. Not a problem. But, sir, if I may, I think I’m now a bit long in the tooth to join myself. But I would be more than happy to organize the levy, sir,” Munn said, looking more than a little ashamed as he did.
“Of course, sergeant. I quite understand. You have earned the rest, I am sure. And, if I may, I think your skills as a bowyer may be of more use to us shortly. Ramp it up, man! If Father Morrenthall’s visions are even half correct, we shall need all the weapons you can make. Ramp it up, sergeant!”
“Of course, we shall compensate you for your troubles in assembling the levy. And buy from you whatever arrows you feel they need. Talk to my quartermaster. He’ll set you right, sergeant,” Captain Fairchild said, dismissing Munn with a salute.
“Thank you, sir!” Munn snapped off a sharp salute in return before falling in at the rear of the vanguard.
With all the pressing matters of the hour attended to, they rode on towards Callic village with the five hundred soldiers marching in time behind them like a steady drum. As they did, Captain Fairchild flirted with Peep as though she were a proper lady from Strana. He plied her with charm and wit and society gossip, pointedly ignoring her not so well disguised amusement at his expense.
And so, they rode on to Callic village, merry in their good company.