Chaos Calls 04: Behind the Lines
At the Prison
A little after dawn the guards take the breakfast to the ladies being held prisoner in the south tower. The men with the food wait while the trapdoor bolt is pulled back and the door opened, then they follow their officer up the stairs. The Lieutenant swears, then orders, “Everyone back down the stairs right now. Take the food back to the kitchen. Sergeant send for the Colonel.” The men scramble to follow the odd orders.
Five minutes later the Colonel walks up the stairs from the level below and looks at the Lieutenant, who says, “As per standing orders, when I saw they were gone I stopped where I was at the top of the stairs, sent everyone back, and sent for you, Sir. The trapdoor was properly secured when I opened it to go upstairs.”
“Good. Very good. Now I’ll see what’s there before someone can make a mess of any clues there are.” The Colonel smiles and walks up the stairs. He closely examines the trapdoor on this level, but sees nothing he shouldn’t see, and he wasn’t expecting to. Ten men stayed in this room on guard through the night, and they heard nothing. If they had it would’ve been reported and investigated. The outer floor of the upper room has nothing to tell him, however a few scratches on the inside of the lock tells him someone picked the lock from this side. He points out the marks to the Lieutenant while saying, “Using the key in the lock would likely have removed those marks. You can unlock the door now, but I doubt we’ll see anything inside the cell. The door was opened from this side without a key.” A quick search of the cell proves the Colonel is right.
The shutters are still nailed shut and look the same as they have for the last year, since they were nailed shut. The steps up the stair show nothing, but he didn’t expect anything to be on the stone steps. The bolt on the upper trapdoor to the roof is still in place, so he slides it back after he has a close look at it and sees nothing, it works like it should. There’s no way you can work the bolt from above, and it hasn’t been damaged or forced, so it looks like he has a locked room mystery on his hands.
The Colonel sighs, turns, and goes downstairs to start the laborious process of getting to the roof from the outside of the tower.
On reaching the top of the long ladder leaning against the tower the Colonel stops to closely examine the wall, then the roof of the tower. He sees no footprints or marks in the dust, and there’s dust on the trapdoor, the bar holding it shut, and the hinges. It looks like no one has been this way since he secured the trapdoor just over a year ago. He climbs over the wall, walks to the trapdoor, and has trouble sliding the bar to the side to open it. When he does the hinges make a loud squeal in protest of their use. There’s no way anyone could have opened the trapdoor without being heard, but logic says they must have. He walks around the wall to closely look at it, and finds nothing.
While walking down the stairs the Colonel issues orders to have every inch of the compound examined. Downstairs he walks through the building, and around to stand at the foot of the tower wall. Nothing stands out. No guards dead at the post, so how did they get in and out?
People scurry about while the Colonel conducts an examination of the most logical exit points. Officers he trusts are sent to walk the outside of the wall to look for footprints, they find nothing. There’s nothing to find, until one captains reports, “Colonel, starting about fifty feet down the road there’s a group of footprints walking away from the fortress with a single set of footprints over them walking to the fortress.”
They go to examine the footprints, and the Colonel smiles. He points at the footprints facing the fortress while saying, “See how the heel is a little deeper than the front of the foot. These were made by someone who was walking backward while watching the fortress. So we now know they got in and out, and got away. But how did they get in and out?”
Slowly shaking his head the Colonel issues more orders. Many men are soon busy saddling their horses. One troop is to ride hard to Seaside Citadel to inform the leaders of what’s happened, and the rest are riding out in force to start the search for the escaping women. Having done all he can do right now, the Colonel goes to his office to write out his report.
The frightened men talk about the ghost who freed the prisoners from a locked room. Many now think about getting out of the army, if they can do so alive. They don’t know how to fight ghosts, and it frightens them.
While studying the map I see the coastal plain isn’t really a plain in the way I’m used to thinking of plains in Australia and the USA. This is more of a series of small plains or plateaux along the coast with ridges between them. Above Peter’s Pass there’s a long narrow plateau with the valleys running back from it, but when you go south from the pass you drop another forty or fifty feet to a long low plateau which runs down to near the prison fort before it rises to another plateau which goes well down the coast to where the mountains come down to the seaside to end the coastal plain area. For the most part each one of the plateaux has a mild slope from the shore to the mountains behind them. However, the last section of the plateau at the base of the mountains behind the plateau has the ground rising very sharply in a steep gradient too sharp to safely walk on, and it’s well timbered. The result is when viewed from down on the plain the forest runs up to the cliff wall, and seems to climb the lower quarter of the cliff. Thus the actual cliff wall isn’t visible here until about five hundred feet above the main plateau floor.
The Seaside Citadel sits on a small plateau back from the port with the ground sloping from its edge to the edge of the port on the shoreline. There’s a flat open area around the citadel before it rises to another small plateau of forest that leads to East Pass, then a fifteen mile plateau with a number of valleys opening off it to the north and south due to four low ridges running north from the mountains until they reach West Pass five miles this side of the town of Marley.
The trail I want to use, if we can find it, will take us up the cliff, and past the Seaside Citadel to the plateau leading to East Pass a little past where it rises from the plateau the citadel is on. It looks to be hidden by the trees for its full length, so we should be able to make the trip safely.
The new defences at Peter’s Pass have cut off just over a quarter of the area the Brotherhood controlled, while the area between East Pass and West Pass represents about another third of what they controlled prior to this visit. If we can free those valleys the Brotherhood’s position on Chaos becomes very tenuous, especially with so few locals now living within their area of control. I must see what I can do about making that happen.
The Seaside Citadel
The Brotherhood’s Leaders are gathering in their meeting room to discuss a few issues when a group arrives with an urgent message for the General in Command. He listens to the message, issues some orders, and goes to the meeting with the other leaders.
While walking up to his seat the General says, “This Lord Al is some sort of magician. This morning the Damsels weren’t in their cell when they took breakfast to them. Colonel Wilkes examined everything before his troops could contaminate the scene. It’s clear they didn’t go out by the roof or the windows, both were very well secured and nothing disturbed. There’s no evidence of their movement within the fortress, but there are some footprints of people walking away down the road about fifty feet from the gate. He doesn’t think the troops in the room below the cell were involved in the escape, but he can’t see how anyone got in and out again without killing anyone, unless they had a lot of inside help.”
The others swear, and one says, “One of the northern spies was finally able to report in. It was Lord Al who took out our offices in the valleys and town north of Peter’s Pass and arranged to have the citadel wall built in the pass to stop us retaking the area. He’s created a local military force to protect the pass. None of our officers and troops north of the pass live. Some of the troops surrendered, and are now working on the farms and other projects as indentured servants. He even took over the road project and has them making a port there.”
The General says, “I wish we could get a proper handle on this man. He seems to commit miracles on each visit. The only good news is we may have him trapped between here and the fortress. When we got word about Peter’s Pass we put a strong blocking force at the crossroads, and he can’t pass back to the north, or go west, without going through there.”
Another says, “I wonder if he’s behind what happened at the port and the nearby encampments. The town is stripped clean, and everything is gone, along with all of the people.” They talk for hours, but they can’t think of anything else they can do, apart from complaining again.
The Way Out
When Monk’s scouts report back after they find the entrance to the trail they say it hasn’t been used in a very long time. The lack of recent usage explains why there’s no track to it, but it does make me wonder how long ago it was created, and why. However, it is a safe way past the Citadel, so we take it.
When we start at dawn in the morning I find the trail is very narrow. It’s only just a little wider than a single horse, it’s more of a walking trail, and it’s right against the cliff face. It’s so narrow I decide we have to walk while leading the horses, because it’s too dangerous to ride them on the narrow trail. We also have to reload some of the packs to be sure they can stay on the trail. While walking on the trail we can see where people have cut away the rock to make the trail usable in a lot of places. That makes it clear this is was well used at one time, but by who, and why.
For the first couple of hours we go in a steady upward angle before the trail levels off. Every time I look to the east I see trees, and nothing else. In the late afternoon we come to a large cave cut into the cliff, so we enter the cave to spend the night there, and not on the trail. The cave has signs of being cut from the cliff face, but there’s nothing in it to show who did it, or why they created this trail. The cave is clearly a resting place.
About midday of the second day we’re rounding the corner of the cliff to start going west when I look out to my right. Trees are all I see, but at one point I’ve a good view between two trees, and I can see the crossroad below the citadel where the north-south road meets the east-west road. There’s a large force set up there checking all the traffic on the road. At another point I get a glimpse of the top of a building in the citadel, but that’s all we see of it.
In the mid-afternoon we start on a slight downward slope, and in the late afternoon we enter a clearing in the forest on the plateau above the citadel. It has a stream running through it from the base of the cliff into the forest on our right. It’s clear this is the end of the trail. Having such a good spot on hand we stop to set up camp for the night. Many are happy to help collect firewood for cooking a hot meal tonight, because we’ve had cold meals since we entered the trail, due to having no firewood.
When we get ready to move out the next day I smile at the size of our force. I left Earth with six specialists, three assistants, and myself. I left one of my assistants at Peter’s Pass and added Monk with eleven conscripts to the team. We picked up more people for Monk’s force at the port when some of the conscripts chose not to go with those on the boats, and I later added the eight Damsels. Now we’ve so many I can’t count them while we get ready to move out.
Monk walks up, and says, “Unless you object, Lord Al, I’ll leave you with two of my forester guides, and take the other fifty-six men ahead to capture the check point at East Pass then ride hard to capture the force at West Pass before we split our forces to check the towns in the valleys.”
For someone who was a conscript private when we first met Monk is a good commander of the conscripted troops who joined us. I smile while I respond with, “Monk, I’ll let you handle the tactical aspects of what your ‘Marauders’ do, as long as it fits with my strategic needs. So go ahead as you wish. However, I want you to see if you can find the specialists and a number of workers to remove the wall at West Pass to rebuild it at East Pass so we can use it to hold the Brotherhood in the coastal plain area.”
He smiles at the name I’ve given his force, and it’s clear he likes the idea of protecting the valleys he and his men grew up in, and have their families in, from the Brotherhood coming back to cause trouble for them. Monks says, “With pleasure, Lord Al, with great pleasure,” before he goes to mount up and lead his men on their way.
We’re not long behind them, but are moving at a walk. Bridget rides up beside me, and says, “I worry about Monk and his troops. None of them are very well trained to fight.”
Nodding my agreement I reply, “They’re garrison troops trained to do only crowd control and fight from a prepared solid defensive wall. While the troops they’re going to be facing in the campaign to clear their homes are other conscripts trained the same as them. What I expect will happen is they’ll simply go up to the officers and NCOs and kill them without any warning at all. That tactic gives them the best chance to win, and the majority of the general troops will immediately join his forces.”
“I hope you’re right, Boss. I’ve come to like a lot of those boys. So many of them remind me of the new recruits we used to get.” I nod my agreement with her, and we discuss my plans to move the wall to cut out the valley area from the Brotherhood control zone. She smiles at the idea of freeing people while reducing the enemy’s resources.
An hour later we exit the forest onto the Bridgetown Road. The locals have no name for the east-west road at this point, and since it goes on to Bridgetown I’ve decided to call it the Bridgetown Road to match its name from further west. Fifteen minutes after leaving the forest we’re at the East Pass check point, and waving to the guards we know there, because half of the guards are from Monk’s Marauders.
Fifteen miles later we ride up to a large military camp just behind the wall at West Pass. All the soldiers in sight now have their coats inside out, and all seem happy, except Monk who’s waiting for us. When I ride up he says, “There’s a large force of troops who fire at us every time we open the gates. What can we do to let them know of the changed ownership?”
I smile at him, and say, “Have someone get me a Parley Flag while I get changed.” I turn to the group who came from Earth with me to say, “I want you all to change into the clothes we had on when we first arrived.” They all nod yes, and start dismounting to get changed.
We’re all soon in our Chaos camouflage clothing, as are our horses. I move to the head of our little column of eight rows of two people. Bridget and Tora are first, followed by the two handlers for the scout dogs, then the two skill specialists, the eight damsels, the two handlers with the breeding dogs are last. The scout dogs are waiting to lead us out while the other six dogs are waiting to follow us out as the tail.
I get my whistle out of my pocket, place it between my lips, take the flag in my left hand, and nod to Monk standing on the wall. He issues orders, and the gates open. We hear whistles blow the orders to Stand To as soon as the gates start to open.
West Pass Camp
The largest collection of Tigers military forces outside of the training centre is camped opposite West Pass. The three troops of infantry and a troop of cavalry are there to stop any Brotherhood forces leaving the wall they built to block the pass. They’re well placed to stop most forces, but their orders are to fall back before, and harass, any force of two thousand of more leaving the Brotherhood’s defences. So far they’ve had to deal with five attempts, and the most recent was the largest with five hundred troops charging out the gates. So whenever the gates start to open they move to their positions to do battle.
Growth of the Tigers is very quick, with promotions of competent people being fast as the force grows. Thus Captain Jade is in command of C Troop of the Tigers Cavalry at West Pass Camp when the guards blow the alert to Stand To calling for everyone to race to their place in the line. Her troop is on rest cycle, but the Stand To overrides the camp routines. Jade buckles on her sword before grabbing her bow and quiver of arrows on the way out of her tent while shouting orders to her troops to grab their weapons. The well trained troops are already doing that, but the procedures require her to reinforce the orders, so she does.
In just under two minutes Jade is waving her troops to their assigned combat posts while she races to where Major Austin is standing watching the wall through a telescope. Being the one furthest from the line means Jade is the last to arrive at the Command Post to get any new orders.
Major Austin says, “I hope one of you can make some sense of this. There’s about twenty people leaving their fort. Most of them are dressed in camouflage clothing, the rest are women, they’ve a bunch of dogs, and the man in the lead has a parley flag in his hand.
Jade asks, “May I use the telescope, Sir?” Major Austin hands it to her. She has a good look, slowly shakes her head, and says, “Now how the heck did he get there!” The others are turning to her when they hear a distant whistle blow Officers’ Call to summon officers to a staff meeting. Jade smiles, and says, “Sir, I think Lord Al wishes to talk with us.” They all turn to stare at her. Jade is one of the few people present who’ve met Lord Al. So they don’t know him, but they know she does.
Austin and Jade call for their horses, mount up, and ride out to meet the column while orders are passed to hold position and to not fire.
I’m glad the Tigers are alert enough to notice the gates moving, but I do worry about fire discipline when we ride out. While we move down the road I watch the troops scurrying to prepared combat positions. From the remains of past battles I can see on the ground I can tell when we’re near to their prepared attack zone.
I’m watching the small group of officers watching us. The telescope is handed to the last one to join them, and they speak. The others turn to the person with the telescope. We’re almost at the attack zone when I take a deep breath, then blow on my whistle as loud as I can while still modulating the blast for Officers’ Call. All three of the officers turn to look my way, then turn back to look at the one with the telescope. I smile as orders are passed while two head for horses, mount up, and ride to us.
When they get a lot closer I recognise one of the riders and the horse she’s riding, so I call out, “I see you made captain, already, Jade. You also had the sense to grab a damn good mount. How is Dodger treating you.”
Jade smiles while yelling back, “Dodger treats me a lot better than his last owner does. Dodger doesn’t go off and leave me alone, Lord Al.”