Chaos Calls 01: Learning Visit
Copyright© 2010 by Ernest Bywater
By now I’m very tired and very grouchy. We walk into the inn and see a couple of dozen patrons. In one corner are five men who look like the ones from the Brotherhood so I decide to settle them now. Joe goes to the owner at the counter to organise meals, rooms, and baths for us all. I cut off to walk over to the five men staring at Joe and his troop. One of them is the guy who delivered the supplies to the camp.
Stopping in front of the table I wait until the men look at me. I point at the one I know and say, in a loud voice, “You delivered supplies to Colonel Bond and his camps about a week ago. Those camps are no more. Hero Joe has taken those six young men as prisoners and six others ran from the fight to vanish into the forest. The rest were killed and their bodies thrown to the fen animals to eat. Colonel Bond was released unharmed, but the last we saw of him he was walking across the fens with some scavengers heading after him. Now you lot have to make a choice. You can keep out of our way and leave us be, and live. Or you can try to cause us trouble, and die. We don’t care, either way. Attack us and you die, it’s as simple as that. The Brotherhood is heading for a major fall, both here and on their home turf. I suggest you quit them.”
They stare at me. I turn around to start walking away. While I do I hear stools scrape on the floor. I smile when four crossbow bolts pass by my left elbow with only a hand-width or two to spare. I turn back to see four of them are slumped back against the wall as they die with crossbow bolts in their chests and their leader has a sword half drawn while he stares at me. He’s scared while he pulls more of his sword out of its sheath. I take two quick steps to him and strike his throat with my right hand. He loses all interest in his sword when I crush his wind pipe and he starts to choke to death. He collapses onto the stool again. Just to make sure I grab his head then give it a sharp twist to snap his neck. I strip him while the rest of our team joins me to strip their dead. Apart from my man’s hefty purse all we get are some more weapons, coats, boots, and I get a newish shirt. The inn owner mentions they’ve a few things upstairs and he says he’ll simplify things by renting us their rooms so we don’t have to shift it. They also have horses and tack at the stables. Our new slaves haul the garbage out to the midden heap for us.
Breakfast is a simple meal of cheese, bread, fruit, and tea. Followed by hot baths and beds. Jason and I take first watch, and are relieved by Joe and Joseph four hours later. We spend the whole day just resting up from the long march. We keep guards out because we know we haven’t killed all of the Brotherhood troops in the area.
The day after we arrive is a market day. We’re not fully rested, but we’re too restless to stay in our rooms all day again. So we go through our latest pile of acquisitions, secure the rooms, and head off to the stables. With the help of the stable owner we borrow a larger wagon and set it up with all the clothes and boots etc. we don’t want, then we let Jaycee go into her trading mode. While that’s going on, with her brothers keeping an eye on her safety, the rest of us get the saddles, horses, and other gear ready for trade when she finishes with all of the gear on the wagon. We’re nearly finished when a man rolls two large brand new wagons up and starts to unhitch the horses. A quick check, and we learn we just traded some horses for them. He selects a dozen horses with tack and leads them away. I get to work displaying the other gear in the beds of the new wagons because they’ll be easier for people to look at that way where they can stand up and it’s spread out in the wagon bed.
We spend the time watching our pile of acquired goods shrink while the supply of new goods grows. The horses keep walking out the gate, literally, while other stock replaces some of them. It seems the local community is getting a real big boost from their recent brush with the Brotherhood. Clothes, horses, and tack have been in real short supply until now, while pigs and cattle are in an oversupply. I give up trying to keep track of it all, but Jaycee is having a great time.
I wander over to Joe, “How are you handling all this trading stuff?”
He looks at me, “Normally I just sell this stuff off. I know I don’t get top value as I’m usually after coin. What Jaycee is doing has me lost.”
“That’s good, now I don’t feel so bad about being lost too.” We both have a good laugh, and I decide it’s time to get some food. So I take a couple of our new staff to the inn to get some cooked lunch for all on our team. It’s a long day of trading, so we rest up again the next day.
On the Road Again
Three days after arriving in Bridgetown we’re up early in the morning to get a good start on the day, talk about wishful thinking. The first thing is to hitch up horses to our three wagons, the one we got on our first visit to town plus the two traded for on market day. The two new ones are a bit wider and a lot longer than the first wagon. The wagons are hitched up and put in a line so we can reload them to be better managed on the road. The middle wagon is one of the long ones, so we load all of the metal and traded for goods into it. By the time that’s properly loaded it’s about eighty percent full. We use the last of the goods to be traded out to fill it. The other long wagon has some wooden cages loaded up and then we manhandle the pigs into them: two in-pig sows, two boars, and a sow with piglets. A few more cages of chickens with two roosters and some pups. The rest of this wagon is loaded up with feed for all of the animals, and most of it is fodder. The smaller wagon has our gear, the cooking gear, and most of it is set up as an extra large mattress so we can sleep on the move. Six horses pull each of the two big wagons while four pull the smaller one. Two bulls, ten cows, four goats, thirty-two horses, and nine ponies are tied to the stock wagon by long leads because it’s the last one.
We’re ready to pull out late in the morning. Joe is on a pony near the lead wagon as it has the rescued females in it to share the driving. Jason has four of the camp workers assigned to him to help with the stock wagon in the rear. Joseph and the other two camp staff are in the other big wagon that’s in the middle. Jaycee and I are on ponies as guards.
If we stop each night we’ll only get half a day’s travel as the rest of the time will be spent setting up and breaking camp. Because it takes so long to get organised Joe is ready to agree to again move through the night. We figure if we travel for this day, the next day, and both nights we should reach a town of some sort sometime on the following day, so we’ll take a break there. He’s also planning on stopping on the road to do some trading at any farms we pass or the towns we go through. There’s enough room on the wagon seats and the back of the first wagon for most of us to get some sleep during the night or day, so we should be OK.
We start at a walk, again. We’ve no troubles during the rest of the day or that night. Jaycee and I alternate scouting missions.
The next morning on the road we near a large farm a bit after we have our breakfast of cheese and bread baked fresh yesterday. I’m on scout so I turn in to tell them about the wagons and us having some things to trade, if they want to have a look. The farmer and his wife are interested, and so are the five men visiting them. The farmer and his family seem honest enough, but I can’t say the same for the five men. I turn and head back to have the wagons stop at the farm’s front fence.
I warn Joe and all of our people when I get back to the wagons. Joe orders Jaycee, Jason, and Joseph to take their weapons and walk with us while hiding just in the edge of the forest. The eldest Chaos woman we rescued is in her mid-twenties and Joe gives her the job of trading with the other two local women helping her.
It takes our train another fifteen minutes or so to reach the farm gate. The farmer, his family, and four of the men are there: one man short. The land on the farm side is open fields with a new crop just planted, so the teens are in the forest opposite us to provide us with protection. I watch the four men while they’ve a good look over the goods.
We hear the sound of horses from down the road to the west and we all turn to see what it is. A dozen or so armed riders are heading our way. The leader of the visiting men pulls out his sword while saying, “Put your weapons down and you need not...” He stops talking when the knife the farmer’s wife is looking at becomes lodged in his throat. The farmer produces a short sword to stab one of the men in the side while his son gets another with a crossbow bolt and I take out the fourth with a knife in his neck. We all turn our attention to the dozen riders being led by the missing fifth man. Joe and I raise our bows and prepare to fire, then three arrows fly out of the woods to kill the lead three riders. The rest swerve to avoid the fallen men, and we fire when they slow down a bit to turn. Within a moment nine of the riders are lying on the road while the rest ride into the woods to escape our crossfire. It takes fifteen minutes to strip the dead and to move the garbage off the road to a ravine in the forest opposite. The farmer is very happy when we insist he takes the horses from this lot because we already have too many. We get four fresh hot fruit pies as a reward for letting them have the horses.
A few items of clothing are traded for some fresh food while Jaycee and I scout the woods. We follow the bandits for half an hour on foot, and we decide they’re still riding hard to the east when we break off. We’re sure they won’t trouble us in the near future. When Jaycee and I return we find the boys have fed and watered the animals, and all are ready to go after an hour long stop here. The farmer promises to warn his neighbours about the four men who got away. We pass two more large farms that day, but they aren’t interested in any trading.
The night and next day pass without any trouble. We also have a couple of short trading stops. The next night we pass a couple of farms but we don’t stop because it’s too late. Just before lunch of the third day of the trip we arrive in a small town, more of a village. The tavern is on the far edge of the town with a field between it and the forest.
Joe supervises the parking of the wagons in the field, but back from the road a little, while I organise rooms in the tavern for us. They don’t have enough rooms for us all, but the two rooms are big enough for four people each. I’ve a big grin when I book them both and organise for Joe and the Damsels to be in one room while Jaycee and the other ladies have the other. But first we’ve a room for each gender to organise hot baths in.
I walk out to find the wagons lined up tail to front backed up against the tavern in order. When we wish to go we only need to hook up the horses to pull them out. A two strand rope corral runs from the front of the small wagon to a tree several feet in from the edge of the forest, and from the tree to the back of the tavern. The stock are posted out around the area while the horses are allowed to roam free inside the roped area. All of the animals should provide an alarm for each other.
I tell the boys what the situation is, and they’re quick to work out arrangements. Each wagon has more than enough space to sleep one person on the seat with another in the foot area, also the bed area of the smaller wagon will handle five nicely, or six fairly well if no one does a lot of moving about. With half our people in the tavern we’ve more than enough space for us. We end up with Jason and Joseph using the seats of the big wagons, the camp staff using the small wagon, and I elect to sleep on the ground under the wagon nearest the forest.
Once our camp is set up we retire to the tavern to have our lunch and baths. If we all sit in the tavern there’s no room for the locals, so we eat in relays. This makes it easy to leave some people outside on guard without seeming to be distrustful of the locals. It’s mid-afternoon by the time we’re all finished with the baths. Jason takes first watch with one of the camp staff while the rest of us get a start on our backlog of sleep.
A few hours later we take dinner in the tavern in two sittings, and Joseph takes the next watch with one of the camp staff. I wake for my watch around midnight and spend the time in a quiet talk with my watch mate. I learn his name is Barry who’s a farmer by trade, but he got forced to work for the Brotherhood. He’s happy to be out of it.
Dawn and breakfast seems to arrive real fast, so we wake the others to go eat. At breakfast I’m told it’s a market day and the ladies expect to do a good business with the locals since the word was spread near and far yesterday afternoon. After breakfast the ladies get set to do the trading. Jaycee briefs them on what is and isn’t available then she leaves the other ladies to do the trading. She didn’t get much sleep last night due to the others snoring, so she wants to get some more sleep while she can.
With Joe and the boys to keep an eye on things I decide she’s got a good idea. We grab my blanket and cape then we slip into the edge of the forest. Only a three of four feet in, but in under the edge of a large bush each so the animals won’t step on us. I give Jaycee my blanket to keep warm while I use my cape. We both curl up, wrap up in the covers, and slip our wide brimmed hats over our heads. Tucked in under the bushes we merge in with the bush and the grass. I glance over at Jaycee, and I’ve a hard time making out her shape in the next bush just two yards away. I made a point of having these made in patchy colours of greens and browns so they’d have that effect, just in case I needed to hide out. I think Jaycee is soon asleep, and I’m not long in following her.
I fall asleep to the soft sounds of the animals in the field, and the talk of the people around the wagons. Knowing what they are my mind filters them out. Later something brings me to full awareness, so I hold still while I think to work out what. I soon identify it as the lack of talking.
I take care when I lift the brim of my hat real slow to look out over the field. About twenty armed men are on horses with their swords out while they talk to the people. Jason and Joseph aren’t in view and I know the Damsels are staying in their room. The six camp staff, the three Chaos ladies, and Joe are being held to the side by five men on the ground with drawn swords. No one is looking this way.
Using slow movements I keep my cape and hat covering me when I crawl over to Jaycee. She’s awake and watching too. We discuss what to do while we move a little further into the forest. We’d brought our weapons with us simply because you don’t move about on Chaos without your weapons being on hand. She sets up behind a bush with all of our bows, quivers of arrows, and crossbows. They’ll only be in my way when I get in close. I leave her as I move back some more before crossing the road to work through the forest up to beside the horsemen.
I decide to take a small risk. To be attacking someone I have to use a weapon or charge at them with the intent of getting my hands on them to harm them. I figure scaring horses isn’t an attack on a person. Once in place I look over to Jaycee, she sees me behind my bush and signals she’s ready. I watch her raise her bow and get ready to use it, but she’s not to open up until after I break them up a little bit.
From my crouched position behind a bush beside the road I race forward as I rise to fully upright when I lift my hands up to wave them around while screaming at the top of my lungs. I start from just in front of the lead horses so all of their horses can see me running at them while I wave my arms about and scream. Several horses rear up on their hind legs and more try to race away, fighting their riders when they do. About half of the horsemen are unseated and they fall to the road with loud thuds, the rest are having trouble controlling their frisky mounts. The five men on the ground turn to charge at me, so I draw my swords.
The men take two paces, and the back two fall down with arrows in their backs. I snatch a glance at the wagons. Jason and Joseph are ready to fire again. The first man reaches me and he swings his sword. I block his swing with one of my swords and I stab him in the heart with the other while the boys kill the last two men on the ground from behind.
I turn to the still mounted men because they’re starting to get their horses under control. I soon spot three lying over their horses with arrows in their backs, probably Jaycee’s work. On reaching the leader of the group I pull him off his horse and stab him in the thigh to stop him moving around too much. He gives a nice scream. Chaos rules supreme when men with arrows in them fall from horses while I move through the pack stabbing other men in the belly. I also spot Joe doing the same on the other side of the horsemen. After a few minutes three unhurt men ride off to the east as fast as their horses can go. Jason and Joseph get down and start the clean-up by making sure all of the attackers are dead while Joe interrogates the leader. Our camp staff is busy stripping the dead and catching the loose horses. They tie them to the wagons when they catch them. I look up and see all of the locals are stunned by the events because it only took us a few minutes to kill so many men.
The tavern owner brings one of the loose horses over and says, “You know, last night I didn’t believe you people when you said you got so many horses by killing the bandits who rode them. Now I do. I fought in the slaver war, but I’ve never seen a small group kill so many people as fast as you lot just did. And only about a third of you were doing the fighting.” He walks off while slowly shaking his head in wonder.
Several minutes later we’ve got all of the dead lined up along the side of the road when a local arrives with a wagon. He looks at the pile and asks, “Do you mind if I take the dead off your hands?” Both Joe and I indicate he can have them, “Good, they’ll make a grand feed for my pigs, and save me on feed costs for a few days.” Well, you can’t fault a practical man, because he’s dead right. Cleaning up this offal will put a bit of fat and protein on his pigs. Three of our staff help him load the wagon.
The ladies and locals are back to trading before we finish cleaning up the site. You’ve got to admire them for their ability to just get on with the job at hand. The bandits started with twenty-six horses, three rode off. But we only have nineteen on hand, so it seems a couple vanished during the fight. Either they bolted into the forest and locals will find them later, or they bolted into the forest and locals have already found them. It doesn’t matter as we’d only be trying to trade them out, anyway.
I walk over to Joe and say, “Look, mate, can’t you deal with any of this rubbish by yourself? I can’t even get a decent sleep due to you needing a hand to take out the garbage.” A few of the locals laugh at me.
He shakes his head, “Sorry, but we were concentrating on the people and the trading when they burst out of the forest opposite us.” We both shrug our shoulders. “They’re another group from the Brotherhood. It seems their management got word we got the ladies. So they sent out a number of patrols of twenty-five men with a junior officer to find and kill me while they get the ladies back. It seems no one’s let the leaders know we killed almost everyone in the trap. I figure they should get the information soon, then we can then expect to see patrols of a hundred or so looking for us.”
I think on this for a while. “Joe, I’m not so sure.” He turns to look at me. “When we took out the trap we were already outside of their area of real control. That operation was also part of their expansion into this area. We’ve taken out about two hundred of their men, one of their higher level imported leaders, and alerted the whole area to what the Brotherhood’s like and up to. They can’t have that many men near any one border spot to be able to absorb those sorts of losses and still send out strong forces to search for us. They may send one very strong force in the direction they think we’re going, but the rest will be smaller scouting forces. I think this was one of the larger scouting forces. When those three get back they may send a large force this way, but they have to get it together and then catch up to us. It’ll take them a week or two to report, another week to get a force together, then they have to catch us. They have to figure they can’t make up a three to four week deficit fast. If they’ve any brains they’ll write this off as a failure. Sadly, I think we can expect to see a large force coming down this road in four or five weeks. They won’t be trying to take control as they’ll be on a vengeance mission to kill us and those who helped us.” He stops and thinks about this at length before he nods yes. “You should tell the locals what we think, and tell them to inform the Brotherhood of what we did and we moved on. They don’t need to get into a fight over this.” He nods agreement and goes off to speak with some people. I walk back while I think about all of the killing going on at the moment as I’m not happy about having to kill so many people for the warped sense of honour of their leaders.
Back on the Road
The next morning we’re moving off about mid-morning. Despite having traded out a lot of horses on the trip so far, yesterday’s attack means we now have forty-one horses strung out behind us. The new plan is to keep on the march until we reach Junction, stopping only to water the animals and to do any trading while staying in formation.
Day and night we keep on the move for over a week. Only stopping twice a day to water the animals, with three stops in towns for a couple of hours trading and several stops on the road to trade with farmers. By the time we reach Junction we’re down to twelve horses and the tack for six horses. All of the acquired weapons and clothes are traded off, and so is most of the extra camping gear. We’re a tired, ragged mob when we enter Junction. We stop briefly at the stables to leave the extra horses there before we move on to Jay’s farm. I let the rest get ahead while I stop to warn Brian about the Brotherhood and what we expect to happen. When we approach the farm we get an enthusiastic and warm welcome because they saw us coming down the road.
We pull up near the barn and just about collapse as it’s been a long tiring march for us. Jay, David (Ami’s husband), and the children take over the care of the wagons when we’re guided by Alice and Ami while we stumble off for some sleep. There’s not enough room in the house so the ladies end up in bedrooms while us guys end up on the hay in the barn. Yes, Jason and Joseph gave up their rooms for the ladies. They don’t mind because they’re more concerned with getting some sleep.
I don’t know about the rest, but I don’t wake up again until nearly lunchtime the next day. They must’ve either kept out of the barn or been very quiet while in it, and I appreciate their thoughtfulness. Sitting up I look around and see the others don’t appear to have moved since they lay down. Smiling, I wake them up since we need to get things started to give the Brotherhood a real warm welcome when they come visiting.
We all go to have a bath and a hot meal. We wanted them in the other order but the ladies made it clear, no bath - no food, so we do as told.
Like all parties, preparing for the coming visit by the Brotherhood is a lot more effort than the party promises to be. The younger children do the daily tasks that still need to be done while we adults and the older children, really adults now by local laws, go about preparing for war.
Jaycee is good at making arrows, so she starts making two hundred more arrows. Jay has a good blacksmith operation but he isn’t as good a blacksmith as Harry, the best blacksmith in Junction. Thus one of the older children is sent to get Harry while Jay and I start sorting the metal we have, placing it into piles based on the quality and the metal types: there’s iron, simple steel, brass, and pewter. We want to work at the farm as Joe previously built a forge here which is more like a Dutch oven with two crucibles than a normal style Chaos forge. The design keeps in the heat and runs far hotter than Harry’s forge in town. Harry arrives with his waste metals and some jobs he has to do. He’ll work on them while directing us. Harry soon confirms all of the metal is sorted right.
Now down to business. I take the best of the steel and place it in one of the crucibles. I almost cry when I have to break up the longer pieces, but it’s no good to me unless I can purify it some more. At the same time Jay is putting most of the plain iron into the other crucible to melt it down. All of the base metals will be melted down to be put into bars for future use because it’s easier to store as bars. For the next two days I sweat a lot when at work on or near the forge while working on many projects. Joe and I spend a lot of time dredging our memories of every trick we can remember to make the steel better. One afternoon he dashes off and later comes back with some very fine dark coloured sand. We check it as best as we can, and it seems to be high in carbon. We take a risk by sprinkling some into the molten steel, we do this a number of times while I make the moulds we’ll need when the steel is ready. Several times I skim the poorer metal off of the top of the steel.
One of the other projects is ready well before the steel is. This needs only basic iron and the moulds to pour it into. The plaster moulds look very funny. I’ve three of them and each has sixty-four of Jaycee’s arrows stuck in them for about a hand’s width.
When all of the moulds are well hardened it’s time to pour the iron. I’m surprised when Alice joins us to do the pouring. The arrows have been removed to leave one hundred and ninety-two pointed cylindrical holes. Jay pulls out the crucible with the molten iron and pours some iron into a smaller crucible with a very fine pouring lip. This one has an insulated handle attached. Alice picks this up and is very careful while she fills each hole to the top of the mould: they’re all perfect pours. Jay smiles when he sees me watching and he says, “Alice is a marvel at slow and steady pouring. I always have her pour the fine stuff.” Her pouring crucible doesn’t hold a great deal so Jay has to get the main crucible out to refill it for her several times during this operation.
Once they’re poured I get started on making a powered grinding wheel while the metal cools. Chaos has grinding stones of the type where you sit the stone between your legs to grind the metal on it. I build a basic potter’s wheel then place a grinding stone on it by making a tight fitting frame to hold it in place. They all have surprised looks when I pump the foot pedal and the table turns around to take the stone with it. I don’t have time to refine it, but I’m sure Harry and Jay will make it better when they’ve more time work on it after we leave.
My other moulds have set, so have the clay inserts I’ve made to use with them, thus it’s time to pour the steel. These moulds took longer to make because I first made wood replicas to pour the moulds around. Again, we’ve Alice doing the fine pouring. First is the four knives like my tanto knife. Followed by six sets of steel springs for mini-crossbows. Last is the katana shaped swords I want, I’ve four sword moulds but only enough steel for three swords. What little is left is poured into a bar for later. These are all put aside to cool while I get busy removing the contents of the iron moulds. Only Joe has an inkling of what these are, and he hasn’t said anything about them. So I’ve a lot of attention when I pull them out because they want to know what I want them for.