Chaos Calls 03: the Dragon Dilemma
Copyright© 2011 by Ernest Bywater
The few survivors of the ambush head for the stables, dismount, and tend to the horses by removing the tack, giving them water, and combing them. I take my time because I don’t want to be caught putting my horse away where another horse belongs. Then I remember something Warren once told me about good horses being quick to learn which is their stall, and this horse seems to be a good and smart one. So I take a risk and let the horse go after I finish combing him down.
I grin when I watch him head into a stall to eat the hay in there. He passed a stall with more hay than the one he’s in, so I’m sure that’s his regular stall. Picking up the saddle and other tack I take it over and place it on the rail at the stall entrance, just as the other stalls with horses have their tack placed. Going to the end of the stable I get some fresh hay and place it in the stall’s hay-rack. Noticing there’s a trough there I go to where the hay is kept to look for the grain. Grabbing a small bucket by the barrel of grain I fill it and take it to my horse to put in the grain trough. After I put the bucket back I get what’s obviously a water bucket and I get fresh water for the water bucket in the stall.
While I’m pouring the water another soldier walks in. He stops for a moment to watch me look after the horse. When I turn to take the bucket back he asks, “What are you doing looking after Dodger?”
“I figure he’s my horse now. We got ambushed. When the guy in front of me got hit and fell off his horse Rounder, my horse, reared up and dumped me on my arse. In doing so he took a couple of arrows meant for me, so I forgave him for dumping me.” The soldier smiles at my being so forgiving. “The air was full of arrows and it didn’t seem like a good place to hang around. The fastest way out was on a horse, so I looked for the best looking horse near me without a rider. Dodger was the best choice. I mounted up and got out of there. With Rounder dead and Dodger’s owner dead I figured we’d just swapped mounts. So now I’m looking after my new horse in his stall. Unless someone objects.”
“If Max is dead I doubt anyone will object. How many horses or men did you lose?”
“Just about the whole patrol. There was over five hundred of us in the patrol. Only a hand full got out, I don’t know how many because I didn’t stop to count. My whole platoon got it. I was the only one alive when I mounted Dodger. No riderless horses joined us, so I think the attackers got all of the horses. We’ll have a lot of empty stalls and beds tonight.”
He’s about to speak when a large number of men race in and saddle up their horses. We both walk to the stable entrance to look over at the other stables to see there’s activity going on in quite a few of them with men saddling horses and getting ready to leave. It looks like a large force is going out to check on the ambush site.
I turn to my new friend, “I doubt they’ll find anything other than bodies. A lot of time’s passed since the attack and I doubt the attackers are just standing around having a chat. I’m sure they got what they want and are long gone by now.” Well, I certainly hope they are.
“You’re probably right. But they’ve got to check.”
“Yeah, I know. But I’m glad I’m not with them! I was there and I’m glad I’m out in one piece.”
“Your whole platoon is gone, you said.”
“Yeah. Hell, I had a good look at everyone returning and I didn’t recognise a single face, none at all. I know all of the sergeants are gone. They got it in the first wave of arrows, so did most of the officers. I’m surprised we had any left because I saw so many turned into pin cushions. Maybe they didn’t see him. When I mounted Dodger all around me were dead. Apart from a few guys on the wagons and the only mounted ones living were well up near the middle of the column. I think they hit both ends then started to work toward the centre.”
A new voice joins us, “That’s what it looked like to me.”
We turn, and there stands the corporal from the second wagon I got turned around. He holds out his hand and we shake, “Neil Davis, you saved my life and my brother’s life. Thanks.”
I reply, “Lyn Evans. Glad to have been a help to you.”
“Lyn, isn’t that a girl’s name?”
“I’ve had more than enough of that growing up and with my last bunch. So drop it. Blame my mother as she liked the name and when the midwife said she couldn’t have any more kids I got it. I got no brothers and four older sisters. No one noticed anything until I was almost full grown. All of the locals thought I was another girl, just a stronger one. My sisters were real tomboys and never wore a dress, neither did I.”
“OK. I get the message. No jokes on the name. With your lot gone you could have cut out! Why didn’t you?”
“How? The forests were jammed with the ambushers. The only way out was the road. Couldn’t go ahead without dying. So I had to come back this way. No way I could get back past here without being caught. So it made sense to come back here. If I came back alone I’d have been in big trouble. So I made a point of getting the last two wagons turned so I’d have company and other witnesses. The next two wagons had only dead on them and I’d have not lived long enough to make the one in front of them. So it was just us. Then that young lieutenant saw us and he had the sense to order everyone left out of it. Even so, I think a lot more died before they could get turned around to run.”
“Sounds like you thought things out during that mess!”
“I wouldn’t say I thought them out so much as I immediately saw how to get out in one piece and stay that way, for now.”
“Your unit’s gone! What do you plan to do now?”
“Well, I plan on not saying anything for a few days while I recover. Then I’m going to check out who needs people and just start working with a mob I like the look of. I figure after a few days with them they’ll just accept I’m a new transfer. If I say anything to anyone I’ll get no rest and I’ll be put to work with anyone. So I’m going to make the choice this time.”
Both of the men laugh. The one that asked me about Dodger holds his hand out while saying, “Lance Smith, glad to meet you, Lyn.” We shake hands. We sit down on some stools to talk about life in general for a while. None of us feel like doing anything and we all feel we can goof off until the patrol returns. Then help them with caring for the horses.
When it’s time to eat we go to the mess hall together and eat with the rest of Neil’s unit. He makes a point of getting me involved with the conversation and talking to everyone that’s left alive in it. I do think he’s on a recruitment campaign, just as I am.
During this time I find out which barracks the dead troops had been using and I go to one none of the returned troops are going to. Most of them went into the one barrack and the two beside it are empty of troops yet they have gear in them. Inside I light the lanterns and I set about checking out the gear while looking for a set of uniforms that fits me well. While I do this I make up a bundle of the dead man’s gear and place it on the bed. I’m about a third of the way through the barracks before I find a suitable donor and mark that as my bed. I finish bundling everything up before I bed down for the night.
In the morning I join Neil for breakfast and I ask if there’s a wagon that’s rarely used. He tells me about one that has a few issues and is the last to be taken out. It hasn’t been used since they arrived. So I ask, “Then it wouldn’t be a problem if I borrow it for a while?” He agrees with me.
After breakfast we go look at the wagon and he shows me where some tools are when I ask. Neil stays to watch me at work, then helping me when I need it. It takes an hour to fix the few issues, all of which are poor maintenance issues. All of the wheels have to come off then a bit of work on the axles to get them round again, grease them up, and put the wheels back on: just a bit closer to the wagon-bed due to the work on the axles. After replacing a few dowel nails that aren’t a tight fit, and a few other minor issues, the wagon is good to go.
With the wagon ready I get two horses used by the waggoners and I move the wagon over to the barracks I’m in. When I go inside and start bringing out the bundles of gear Neil helps again. We’re soon finished. The next barracks has no one alive in it so I lead Neil in to bundle and remove the gear there. We get that one finished and break for lunch.
When we sit down at lunch Neil asks, “Who ordered you to do that?”
I reply, “No one.” I turn to look at him, “They need the barracks cleared out for whoever they send to replace them. If the gear’s left there it’ll end up with the replacements. I figure I can collect it all and get some bonus hazard pay later when I sell it off. Technically, it belongs to those who killed them. The officers will only take the gear, sell it, and keep the money for themselves. Well, I’m getting in first.”
After lunch the rest of Neil’s unit helps to bundle and remove the gear of the deceased from the barracks. The extra help allows us to get it all done by the end of the day. The wagon is now full, so we throw a canvas over the large pile and tie it down well before putting it away at the back of the wagon area as we don’t want anyone stealing our loot.
The day has been well spent as I’ve a large wagon of useful plunder and I got the full information on the layout of this fort. It’s the biggest of this style I’ve ever seen as it’s about half a mile on a side with stables built against three walls while the back half of the centre is covered in barracks buildings and mess halls, etc. The front half is an open square for formations and training while the front wall has no buildings against it except the guard house at the gate. It does have a roofed area along the inside where horses and people can wait in the shade.
That night I bundle my gear up and move into the barracks with Neil and his people as they’ve a lot of empty beds too.
At breakfast I ask Neil about another wagon I can borrow. He gives me an odd look, but after breakfast is done he takes me to another wagon that needs to be worked on. I spend a couple of hours making this one ready to go then I harness two horses to it.
Again Neil and some of his people join me when I move the wagon.
I stop in front of one of the empty stables and I back the wagon in. When I get down Neil asks, “What are you doing now?”
I grin at him, “Same thing, getting gear before it goes off.”
Walking over to where the barrels of grain are I start rolling them over to the wagon. With a huge smile the rest of the men help me load the wagon with all of the grain and hay in the stable. We spend the whole day like a work detail hard at work, so we soon have three wagons full of grain and hay that we park beside our other wagon after we cover each of them with canvas and tie it down well.
While we eat dinner that night I ask Neil, “If you had the chance to get out of this chicken-shit outfit alive, would you take it?”
He looks around the table at his friends, smiles, and replies, “I sure would. So will the rest. What have you got going?”
“I figure we can load up a few more wagons with gear without any questions being asked. Then we just drive them out the gate.”
“The gate guards will just let us through, right!”
“When the time comes, they will. I’ve a way to convince them to.” They want to know more, but I refuse to answer at this time.
After breakfast we spend the morning loading up three wagons with food supplies we figure they won’t notice missing from the stores for a while. We also load two more with other useful gear.
When we’re putting the covered wagons in line in the wagon park I see a group ride in, and I swear. I’m not ready to leave, but I’ve no choice now. I have to act on what I see: three of the General’s missing men, two traitors with one beaten up prisoner.
I turn to Neil and ask, “Neil, do you trust me?”
He looks at me, glances at the group riding in, and says, “Yes.”
“Thanks. Get these wagons ready, horses harnessed and ready to go. Get your personal gear and place it under the seat. Have the others do the same and to stand by ready to drive the wagons out when I say to. All hell is about to break loose and we need to get out when it does.”
He nods, “OK, Lyn.” He moves off and speaks to the others. They all head to their barracks. I watch, and none of them go near anyone else.
I head over to where Lance is and say, “Lance, do us all a favour, please. Saddle Dodger and your Rambler. Tie them up near the door. Saddle all the rest and set them up on strings of twenty horses each.”
He asks, “What’s up, Lyn?”
“Hell is about to arrive and we’re going to use it to get out of here. Have your gear on Rambler, I’ll bring mine over for Dodger before I go to help hold the door open long enough for us to get out.” He nods yes as he turns to do as I asked him to do.
I head to the barracks and I meet Neil walking out with two bundles, his gear and mine. I thank him and take mine to load on Dodger.
From the stables on the western side of the gate I watch the group of new arrivals while they tie their horses to rails in the sheltered area by the gate. When they have their backs to me I make some hand signs with my left hand. From this angle I can see the forest outside and I can be seen from it. When I make the final signal I see a bush moves up and down. With a smile, I head to my next duty task.
Now all I have to do is follow three US special operations military men into a building I’ve never entered then kill two of them while releasing the third. All without getting myself killed. I watch while they finish getting the prisoner off his mount and head toward the main administration building.
My ‘set the seeds for destruction and get out’ trip has turned into an assassination and rescue mission. I walk to the administration building and fall in line behind the group with the prisoner when they’re about halfway there. Taking care not to startle the five men with the prisoner I make like I’m part of their group while we walk to the building.
Just before we reach the building I move around in front of them to open the door, just like a good little junior helping his seniors. The four guards at the door assume I’m with them and they assume I’m with the fort’s force. When the prisoner passes by he gets a look at me and his eyes go wide when he remembers me from Kadena. Closing the door behind them I follow the group through the building and up the stairs. When we reach the door to the base commander’s office I repeat the concierge act. I follow them in then I shut the door behind them.