Chaos Calls 04: Behind the Lines
CopyrightÂ© 2017 by Ernest Bywater
Once again I enter an oversized bank vault with room for all of us. I lead Jericho to the side to make room for the others as they arrive, and I wait for them to join me. The portal vanishes when the last horse exits the portal. My box appears when I stick my finger into the hole, then it only takes a few minutes for me to arm everyone with a knife from the many I stored on my last visit. Bridget and Victor are given bows while Tora and I each have a sword and sets of bo-shuriken, plus I have my mini-crossbow. A last minute check, then I shut the box before I turn to exit the vault by leading our four person combat team ahead of Norm, our blacksmith, who’s leading the horses and the rest of the workers.
We exit the vault ready for combat. There are five armed Brotherhood soldiers in the main bank room with the sergeant in charge drawing his sword while the four young soldiers are frozen in fear. A mini-crossbow bolt in his forehead stops the sergeant’s actions. I look at the others as I say, “Surrender.” They all vigorously nod yes. I ask, “How many more soldiers in the town?”
One of them glances at the others before saying, “There’s twenty of us farm boys, three sergeants, a captain, and a corporal. With Sergeant Kelly here dead there’s only the four regulars left at the base office.”
“Right! What’s your name, and you can lead me to the office while your friends help mine to tidy up here then follow us.”
“I’m called Monk. The office is just up the road.”
I turn to Tora while saying, “Strip this rubbish and have these young men drag the carcass to the rubbish heap or midden for disposal then follow me to the office.” She smiles and nods yes before I turn back while waving for Monk to lead the way. While we exit the building I reload my mini-crossbow.
We must look odd with all of my people dressed in clothes to hide in the local brush while being shown around by the soldiers in grey uniforms. Walking to the office I notice no one in the town is armed apart from a few young soldiers and my people, thus my sword makes me stand out and the few people in the street stare at us while we walk about five buildings up the road. The two young guards outside the office first stare at my sword, then they both smile and one turns to open the door for us while he says, “Visitor, Captain.”
Monk enters the office and moves to the side as a man asks, “Who is it?” at the same moment I walk through the door to see a captain sitting at a desk with a map in front of him, a sergeant on each side of the desk, and a corporal sitting at another desk to my left. All of them are looking at the door when Monk moves aside.
When they see me they all go for their swords. I smile, raise my left hand to shoot the officer with the mini-crossbow while throwing a bo-shuriken at the sergeant on my right. My hand turns to the left to halt just long enough to shoot the other sergeant before turning further to shoot the corporal. It’s over so fast all four are falling at the same time.
Monk grins while he says, “Damn! You Tigers are even better fighters than the rumours say you are.”
While crossing the room to retrieve my weapons I ask him, “Why do you think I’m a Tiger?”
Monk says, “Everyone wears clothes of single colours for each item they have on while only the Tigers wear clothes with splotches of colour like yours. We’re told it helps you to hide in the forest. As soon as we saw your clothes we knew you were with the Tigers. That’s why we didn’t do anything. We hoped you’d let us surrender instead of just kill us.”
I grin while I strip the dead and say, “Can you collect the rest of the soldiers together to surrender so I don’t have to kill them?” Monk nods yes and leaves to get them.
About fifteen minutes later I’m sitting at the desk going through the papers there after having accepted the surrender of all of the conscripts and giving a local farmer permission to feed the dead to his pigs. One odd item I find is a hidden list of codes and passwords, so I ask Monk about it as he’s now my assistant. He says, “Most of the time the messenger from Seaside Citadel is the same man, but some messages are delivered by a man we don’t know. When that happens the Captain issues the challenge and waits for the response on the list. He crosses off each one as he uses it. That’s why the top five have lines through them. You’ll know the usual messenger when you see him because he has a long scar on his left cheek and his hair is cut very short. We usually have a messenger arrive every ten days or so. The last was five days ago.”
I lean back while I think on this. It seems they now have a way to do an easy check on each outpost to see if all is well there. We’ll have to see to it the place looks right for the next visit. I look up, turn to Tora, and says, “Have all of our people find and wear Brotherhood uniforms. I’ll put on the Captain’s insignia. Have the horses and dogs moved to where they won’t be seen by anyone coming up the valley.” She nods yes and leaves. I turn back to Monk, “I want the place to look like normal in case we get a messenger arriving here before we’re ready to leave. Get the troops set up the way they should be.” He nods yes and he leaves as well.
A couple of hours later a group of the town’s leaders ask to see me. The office isn’t that large so I go outside to talk to them. They look shocked to see me in the uniform of the Brotherhood, so I say, “Until I’m ready to act against them I don’t want any visitors to know things have changed here, so my people are making it look like the Brotherhood are still in charge. Now, how can I help you?”
Their designated spokesman says, “Will you be permanently staying here? Will you keep the Brotherhood away from us?”
“I’d like to, but I can’t. I have other duties, nor do I have the troops to protect you from a strong attack. I can take you with me when I leave.”
One of the young guards named Willis says, “There’s about twenty of the dedicated Brotherhood soldiers at the Road Project along with over a hundred conscripts they command plus thousands of forced labourers. If you go there to free them you’ll have an army to fight with.”
After turning to look at Willis I stop to think for a moment. I say, “I know the troops will surrender, but will they fight for me?”
Willis replies, “Give the troops a reasonable chance to win and they’ll fight. Give the labourers weapons and the same chance and they’ll fight. We’ve all had it with the Brotherhood and their pushing people around.”
Pointing at the spokesperson and Willis I say, “You two come with me,” before I turn to go back to the desk. There I pull out my map and look at it. Locating Peter’s Pass I ask them, “Do either of you know this pass well? Can we build a citadel wall across it?”
The spokesman smiles, turns, and calls out, “Mason, get in here.” A man walks in and he adds, “Mason, you know building and you know Peter’s Pass. Can you build a citadel wall there?”
The man smiles as he says, “Yes, Phil. I did my apprenticeship in the pass while we prepared it to build a citadel wall. However, they never got it finished, just the first wall and the gatehouse. Give me a few wagon loads of stone blocks and I’ll have a strong wall up in a few days. Why?”
We all smile as I ask, “Do you have anyone who can lead your army after I leave for my other duties?”
Mason says, “I doubt it. Most who knew how to fight had fought and died when the Brotherhood came here. They may have someone at the Road Project.”
I study the map. Unless troops have moved there’s only one other small garrison and the Road Project troops north of Peter’s Pass.
“Right. We have to look normal for the next messenger then we can go north to find an army to keep you free.” All three smile. “You best get active alerting everyone and doing what preparations you can where the messenger won’t see them.”
Phil, the town spokesman, says, “If you can leave some of the troops here to look like normal we can be ready to join you on the way back so we can build the wall. That gives us a few extra days to be ready.” I simply nod my agreement with that aspect of the plan.
An hour later I’m briefing my people on the general plan as specifics of how to deal with those at the Road Project will have to wait until we get there to see how it’s set out.
At the same time Al is making plans for Peter’s Pass a small group of men are having a meeting at the seaside Citadel. Their leader says, “We just got word Hero Al has taken the mission to free the Damsels in Cliff Prison. Our spy has no idea on where he intends to arrive so we need to alert all of our force commanders of his imminent arrival.”
One of the other generals says, “If he goes true to form he should be coming through Junction, along the road, and we’ll be alerted to a major battle with our people at West Pass in a few weeks time.”
A third general says, “Maybe, maybe not. We now know he has good climbing skills so he may be planning to scale the walls at West Pass to quietly get by them so we won’t know. So far he’s not done what we’d expect, so he may even be planning on coming through one of the banks we control.”
The lead general smiles as he says, “I hope so. We already have forces in those banks with orders to kill anyone exiting the vaults. We’ll have the forces at the banks double the guards and we’ll soon be rid of him.”
Another man says, “We better alert the ports as well. He may choose to go to an island and sail in. I’ll get messengers out to all of our forces in the next hour. They should get to even the most distant force before he leaves Crossroads. They usually list the mission a few days before they leave Crossroads, so we’ve got plenty of time.” They all nod agreement before they go on to discuss other matters.
An hour later over a dozen messengers are sent on their way. They should all report back within five days, and most within three days.
Corporal Dawkins of the Brotherhood messenger service is given the northern route for the first time. He has only five calls to make: Cliff Port, Green Valley, Peter’s Pass, Deep Valley, and the Road Project. He’s allowed five days for the trip, so if he rides hard his two good horses will have him back within three days then he can have two days to himself.
Although Dawkins leaves Seaside Citadel late in the afternoon he delivers his messages to Cliff Port and Green Valley before settling down for the night along the roadside. He’s up early the next day to make quick visits to Peter’s Pass and Deep Valley on his way to the Road Project at the fens. He arrives late, delivers the message, stays the night, and heads back the next morning as soon as it’s light. Without having to divert into the valleys he has a much shorter ride back to base to arrive just before the sergeant closes the office for the day.
While handing over the signed receipts Dawkins says, “Everything looked OK at each garrison. I was challenged, gave the response, handed the message over, they read it, signed the copy, and gave it back. Here they are.”
The sergeant takes the signed copies, glances at the signatures, smiles, puts them in his tray for filing, and ticks off the garrisons on his list while he says, “Enjoy the two days off you earned. That was fast riding.”
Dawkins nods yes, smiles, and leaves to go have a meal before he can start a two day time off.
The next day the clerk simply files the signed copies.
The First Campaign
A couple of days after the meeting with the town leaders I’m sitting at the desk reading documents when there’s a knock on the door and the guard opens it while calling out, “Messenger, Captain.” I quickly glance at the challenge and response list while the door opens and a corporal without a facial scar enters the room.
I bark at him, “Sherwood Forest.”
He smiles as he replies, “Oregon Pine. Urgent message, Sir,” while he holds out an envelope.
I accept the envelope, open it to find two copies of orders. I read them, sign one with a good forgery of the Captain’s signature I spent most of yesterday learning to write, and hand the copy back to him. He slips the form into his message pouch, turns, and leaves. A moment later he’s galloping away while I read the orders. I’ve just been notified to keep an eye out for the Hero Al and to kill him if seen. I smile because it’s clear I’m ahead of their game, for now.
The door opens and Monk walks in while saying, “He’s gone. Jack is down near the crossroads to let us know when he goes back south.”
While nodding to him I say, “Good. Start alerting everyone to be ready to leave sometime tomorrow. We should have several days to get set up for the next messenger at Peter’s Pass.” He smiles as he leaves.
Mid-morning of the next day Jack reports the messenger riding fast to the south on his way back to Seaside Citadel. I smile at him then blow my whistle hard. Suddenly the almost empty town is very busy with people walking out from between or behind buildings ready to ride north.
In minutes I’m leading a group down the road on our way to the Road Project to take out the Brotherhood troops and to recruit an army to help build and defend a fortress at Peter’s Pass. I’ve Kira, Bridget, Victor, ten of the conscripts, and Tip with his two dogs going with me.
Mid-afternoon we come upon a column of a few hundred prisoners on the road. Monk says, “I recognise the troops. Take out the officer and the sergeant then the rest will join us.” I grin as I nod yes.
A few minutes later I ride up to the Captain leading the group and say to him, “Captain, you may surrender your command to me or die. It’s your choice which.” He blinks for a moment, then he reaches for his sword. On seeing his officer’s reaction the sergeant reaches for his sword. Both of them have their swords half drawn when I raise my left hand to shoot them both with my mini-crossbow.
I keep the group on the move while I ride down the column to tell everyone what’s happening before I pick up the pace because I want to be at the Road Project camp later tonight instead of tomorrow morning.
The Road Project
The labourers at the Road Project are still eating their evening meal when we arrive just after dusk. In the hustle of getting the new people fed and settled no one notices the conscripts with me happily wandering around killing the hardcore Brotherhood soldiers who abused them in the past. Due to the dim light it’s hard to see who is who when not right up to them, so the officers don’t notice until a sergeant fails to respond to a call for him. The resulting flurry of action by the officers does them no good, and a little later their bodies are being tossed to the fen animals for disposal while I talk to the engineer in charge of the project.
All of the labourers in the camp are surprised when I tell them the camp has been liberated and they have to choose what to do. I end my talk by saying, “A group of locals are building a citadel wall in Peter’s Pass to have a solid defence against the Brotherhood, should they attempt to take control again. They need people to help with the construction and they need people to help form a permanent military force to defend the pass. The people in the area this side of the pass need more people to help them work the farms, and the engineer here wants people to help him build a port at this end of the fen. The choice is yours. As far as we’re concerned you can go to anywhere you want to.”
Someone calls out, “What about the Brotherhood south of the pass?”
“Once the pass is secure I’ve a mission to finish south of there, but I don’t have the skilled troops to eliminate all of the Brotherhood in the area or the equipment to capture a sealed citadel. So if you go south of the pass on your own you do so at your own risk. We can’t help you.”
The next morning the workers split up with over half deciding to stay with the engineer after he explains how he intends to build the port without any loss of life now he can do it how he wants to. A few hundred decide to travel to the pass with us while the rest are going to see about working on the farms between here and the pass. The last group will travel south with us then leave when they find jobs.
When we get to Peter’s Pass we find Mason and the others have been very busy. The troops we left at Deep Valley have secured the help of the troops at the pass after they eliminated the officer and NCOs. The troops man the gatehouse and provide security to the workers cutting stone blocks and preparing the rest of the area for the construction.
When we arrive with a few hundred extra workers Mason is very busy adding a new wall in front of the existing wall. He tells me, “We’ll use the old wall for our fighting platform and have a higher wall to take the bulk of any attack.”
With all of the extra workers he has the wall high enough to be happy to mount the gates he started on when he first arrived. Two sets of gates with one set on each end of a chute beside the gatehouse. Ten days after the messenger’s visit Mason and Phil declare the wall strong enough to withstand an attack, but they continue to add improvements to it. At lunchtime the messenger from Seaside Citadel dies at the gatehouse when he refuses to surrender to Monk.
The messenger visit means I have to get moving. So I leave there with most of my Earth crew, Monk, and eleven of the conscripts.
The Second Campaign
None of the freed people know enough to manage the troops in a combat situation so Victor, who’s an experienced combat team leader, volunteers to stay behind to be their commander. I strongly suspect the two local girls suggesting they’d make him good wives have a large part in his decision to stay. The twin sisters are a bit hard for him to resist. I give Victor two of the telescopes and one of the maps of the area to use.
An hour after the Brotherhood messenger’s arrival I’m leading my small force of twenty people south while Victor explains to the carpenters how to make a trebuchet. I make a point of remembering to get the plans to build some of my own as I hadn’t thought of siege engines.
In the afternoon we pass the road to Green Valley then pass the gate into Cliff Port without comment. We can safely do this because we look like the force who took the prisoners north on their way back south.
It’s night when we make our way between Seaside Citadel and the nearby port. We can safely pass through since they’re two distinct towns with a few miles between their walls and they can’t see us on the road. However, we do have to be careful not to make any noise the guards on either wall can hear because they’ll send out troops to investigate if they hear us going by. Like shadows we move down the road at a slow walk until we’re a few miles south of both towns.
We continue south while acting as a small force of Brotherhood troops on a mission. However, the ten dogs we have running with us don’t fit the profile of any of the Brotherhood forces we’ve seen, so we avoid any of the Brotherhood forces we see on the move. We even go around a town on the direct path to the prison to prepare a backdoor at a nearby port town which is now mostly deserted due to the forced evacuation of it.
Before entering the port we stop nearby to study it. After establishing a camp in a dell well to the side of the road Tora, Bridget, Monk, and I take care walking up to the crest of the hill to look at the port. I’m not happy to be over a mile from the small port, but this is the last place high enough to let us look at the port from above it because the surrounding area is very flat.
The four of us take turns using the three telescopes we have while we study the situation. After a few minutes Bridget says, “Al, those look like internment camps around the port. Do you know why?”
I nod while replying, “To lower the port population below that for a bank they forced most of the people out of the port. I guess they’ve been locking up anyone who tried to return home.”
Monk says, “That may account for the second camp, but I know the camp to our right of the port is for the families of the crews who work the ships based in the port. It’s how they ensure the ships keep coming back to the port. By keeping the families hostage they only need a few people on the ship to control it.”
Tora says, “What about the crews of the fifteen ships we can see tied to the piers and at anchor?”
Monk replies, “Most of those are ships they captured or the crews are double crewed on the ships at sea. One of the Brotherhood’s allies is busy taking over the sea and the off-shore islands so they have the ships with a lot of extra crew to man captured ships.”
I smile while saying, “I did want to take control of the port as a way out. I can see we can take it but we won’t be able to hold it. So I think we’ll just free it.” They all turn to look at me, so I add, “From what I’ve learned in the last few weeks I think a lot of the troops are ready to switch sides as long as they don’t have to hang around in bad combat positions. So we go in, take out the officers and NCOs, release the people, wait for most, or all, of the ships to come in, then we let them pack up and sail away. The Brotherhood’s leaders will wonder what happened to them all.” They all laugh while they nod their agreement.
Taking the Camps and Port
After nightfall Tora and I lead raids on both of the internment camps. Tora leads Monk and five of the local troops while I lead Bridget and the other five local troops as we ride up to the camp entrances in uniform.
Both of the raids go so much the same it’s not funny. We have one of the locals talk for us when we reach the gate and are taken to the officer in command when we ask to speak with him. When we get there my men uses their swords to kill the officer, the sergeant, and the corporal while I cover them with my mini-crossbow. The other troops are quick to surrender while smiling the entire time. At the other camp the only difference is Tora stays to the back of the group until the men kill the officer and the sergeant and she uses her bo-shuriken to kill the corporal.
After taking the camp closest to the port I send a man back for the rest of our group and they soon join us. Next is to search the camp for people who can show us ways to sneak into the port. The whole port town is surrounded by a wall with the gates shut at night, so we either wait for the morning or we sneak in. In both camps we soon find locals who can shows us ways to sneak into the port.
Taking the port itself is easier than the camps because all of the troops are conscripts ready to surrender while the three officers and five NCOs are so sure of the security of the walls my northern recruits simple walk up to them and execute them. The hardest part of the task is the long walk through the escape tunnel one of the merchants has to his house.
For three days we keep up the status quo while we wait for the ships to return to port. However, we aren’t idle. Troops stand on guard at all three locations while groups of skilled locals check the ships in harbour are ready to sail. As soon as a ship is announced as ready to go other locals move all of their personal property onto the ship. When everyone has all of their own gear on board ships they set about loading the ships up with everything they can take from the port town.
Eight days after our arrival the ships at sea start to return in ones and twos over the next three days. We visit each ship to execute the hardcore Brotherhood people on the ship. The sailors are happy to be freed, and so are the many people in the holds as captured slaves.
A day to redistribute people and to finish stripping the town then we watch the fleet of twenty-eight ships sail away to a safe haven they know of but don’t tell us about before we depart the port for the prison itself.
Two days after watching the fleet sail away Tora, Bridget, Monk, and I are lying on top of a hill above our latest camp while using the telescopes to examine the prison. After a while Tora and I give the cliff a very close look. Tora turns to me to say, “I can see the ledge you mentioned and I can see how you think you can free climb up to it, but I won’t agree to it. The route is too risky and there’s no way we could come back down if we hit a bad spot. We don’t have the right gear to try that climb. The bulge we’d need to go over is just too dangerous, Al.”
Sighing, I nod my head in agreement while having another look at the point under discussion. It didn’t look that bad on the Crossroads 3D map, but here on site I can see it’s a no go. “Damn!” Turning to Tora I ask, “Do you see a spot we can go over the wall?”
“I see several spots. I don’t trust most of them because they’re too obvious. I suspect they’re traps. I think the best spot is to go to the top of the main gate tower then to work our way back.” Monk turns to look at Tora as if she’s crazy while Bridget just smiles because she’s seen us both at work on climbing walls back home.