The Riders of the King's Own

Week Five
Melraan

Nyan rana yn Melraan, di nyan yn Maralu.

You know what would be really nice right now? Beer. Fermented ditch water really doesn’t cut it. They call it beer, but it really isn’t. Kazinians are more into their liqueurs, which is basically fermented everything-except-barley-hops-and-wheat. In the tropics they have mango and melon liqueurs, which aren’t too bad, actually. They’re no Liquid Sunset, but they’re better than fermented ditchwater.

In the mountains though, there’s no such exotic fruit, so they ferment rose petals and potatoes. I’m not making this up. The purpose of this stuff is to warm you up rather than refresh your thirst. The rose petal stuff has probably twice the potency of a Liquid Sunset, but it’s really not worth it. It’s there for the alcohol rather than the taste, and it really doesn’t work. The Kazinians will argue otherwise, but they just like to boast they have something stronger than Raykin.

Still, better than their pathetic excuse for beer, and it does warm you up briefly, so we bought a bottle of it and fermented potato juice at the first town we hit, and got a round or two of the stuff at the town we’re staying at tonight.

Kaen and Yoryl are currently winning our money back, albeit slowly. Kazinians are notoriously stingy with betting in pubs. At least they have no idea who our dear blade archers are though, otherwise we wouldn’t get anything at all. Nobody in their right mind would bet on either of those two to lose dagger toss if they knew who they were.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

About an hour after we left the House of Welcoming Gifts this morning, the first of probably a hundred-odd “battles” took place, for want of a better word. We’d been expecting it, really. The House of Welcoming Gifts would have sent off a messenger to warn Silrona that we’d set foot on Kazinian soil, and the nearest town sent off their little army contingent, totalling maybe twenty archers.

Yes. Scary stuff, that. The only reason I bothered unsheathing my sword was to deflect any stray arrows that came from Kazinian bows. There’s no point trying to attack them—our own archers knock them all off their horses within twenty heartbeats anyway. Even if Fleet was going at a full gallop, she wouldn’t be able to reach the Kazinians before Nol, Garuk, Murali and Gylepi had killed them all.

Aeia-damned selfish archers. And you just watch, they’ll all be boasting the highest number of kills when we’re back in Raykin again. Small bloody wonder, when half our encounters are over before the rest of us can even reach them.

They did it again this afternoon, too, though that was just a group of maybe ten, absolute tops. I think Haenel’s already getting annoyed with the complete lack of action on the swordies’ part. He’ll complain at them next “battle”, I can see it coming. At least he seems to have completely recovered from the snake bite, that’s always good.

It doesn’t appear to be raining too much tonight, so we’re forgoing the House of Small Donations and the next town’s inn for accommodation. “Small Donations” is, of course, a complete misnomer. Would have been ninety gold pieces just to pass through, as with the House of Welcoming Gifts last night, so we skirted around that, which is not something I’d recommend to anyone else coming up here and trying to avoid their taxes

Caravans would have no hope of getting through the forest, even though it’s still quite sparse, and anyone else would almost certainly get shot. They have people stationed around the Houses for several hours’ walk in either direction just for when people try that. Of course, when we try our hand at tax evasion, none of them have been able to shout for backup before a Raykinian arrow cut them short.

I think that pretty much sums up the day. Stand on the sidelines, buy some booze, stand on the sidelines a bit more, buy more booze, and now… probably more booze. I miss beer. I want my Aeia-damned beer! I think I’m on first watch tonight too. I really, really want my beer.

We got ambushed last night. Great fun, fumbling for a sword with fingers so cold they’re red (at least, I assume they were red. Too dark to actually see anything much) and jumping out into equally frozen mud, all after having had no more than an hour of sleep. Fantastic fun. Fun for the whole family type fun. Even better with incessant drizzle.

No, I don’t like being ambushed in my pyjamas, thank you for pointing that out. Even though my pyjamas are uniform minus sword belt, but that’s beside the point.

There were about thirty of them this time, and since the archers were all obviously asleep—I believe it was Kurae and Emon on watch—there weren’t as many Kazinians down by the time they reached us as we would have preferred. Still, they were only bandits rather than the trained army guys, so that made life considerably easier. Arrows don’t fly so fast from makeshift bows as they do from army bows, so they’re just that little bit easier to pick up and deflect.

Still ended up getting shot twice though. The first was just a graze on my arm, but I lost concentration for a split second and caught one full in the leg. There’s another use for the rose petal liqueur though—fantastic disinfectant. We always pick up a bottle on the way back home for the healers, because honestly, that stuff is more suited to killing things than it is for drinking.

So yes, stings a bit, but you live with these things. There’ll be more to come, for certain.

On the plus side, I’ve actually been able to add to my tally. Archers are naturally in double figures already, while I’m sitting on three. Nol argues that he shot one of those three, but his throat was most definitely slit before the arrow hit it, thank you very much. He’s got enough kills to his name anyway; I need every one I can get.

Yes, we’re morbid, live with it. If we didn’t turn it into a competition it would be too depressing.

Haenel copped six or seven arrows, poor guy, including a nasty one just above his knee. Just that little bit further down and it would have gotten his knee cap, which would have put him out of commission for a few days. He seems pretty down and depressed and thinking he’s doing a bad job, I think. He’s faring no worse than any of the rest of us on our first mission though. You can’t expect to escape injury free from any mission, let alone your first. Doesn’t stop us from getting annoyed when it happens though.

I blame Laeron. (He’s the sword master at the palace, for the uneducated.) I told him when Nol and ‘may joined up, four years ago, that they needed to start teaching the boys how to deflect arrows with a sword. It’s not too hard so long as you’ve had practice with it, but Haenel said that not a word of it was mentioned while he was in training.

It’s all a matter of coordination and being alert. So long as you know where the arrows are coming from and can pick them up in time, you can pretty much rely on reflex actions.

I wonder if it’s worth talking to Niloren. (First General, of course). Probably not. He hates the Own because we’re the only fifteen guys in the army who he has no control over. I’ll just talk to Majesty, that works. First thing we do when we get back, the seven of us will go see Majesty and get him to start teaching army trainees how to deflect arrows with a sword. In the mean time, we’re giving Haenel a crash course in arrow deflecting.

“We” being Emon, Ulkar and Rumal, the blade archers, who are throwing stuff at him to hit with his sword, and probably the archers tomorrow or the day after. I would, but I can’t be bothered. He’s already got half the swordies over there anyway, and he seems to be the kind of guy who’d get embarrassed if the whole lot of us go over and start giving advice. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

It’s also a great way for the blade archers to work off some energy. We’ve been in forest for two days and I’m already sick to death of casuarina nuts. I can remember every one of the three hundred and twenty eight people I’ve killed over the eleven missions I’ve been on, but I’ve completely lost count of how many Aeia-damned casuarina nuts I’ve had pelted at the back of my neck over the last two days.

The worst thing though, is that you want to ditch something back at them, but you know it’s not worth it. They’ll throw another one that’ll hit the one you’ve thrown in mid-air (I hate it when they do that), then pester you for the rest of the day, and probably lob something into your bowl at dinner as well. It’s not worth retaliating, and that’s what makes blade archers so Aeia-damned annoying.

So anyway, aside from the ambush last night, nothing particularly interesting today. More riding, no more attacks. We passed a few caravans, but we obviously don’t kill them. We’re not out to depopulate the entire region. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t kill anything that moves when we’re up here. That would be silly and it wouldn’t accomplish anything.

I think I’ll go poke Nimay about some training. While the blade archers are occupied with throwing casuarinas at Haenel, this is probably the best opportunity we’ll get to train uninterrupted.

I missed yesterday, oops. Another day of non-excitement. I know, I’m supposed to make it seem like we’re defying death every day we’re up here, but you can only make a trading cart sound so deadly. At worst, they’re knife merchants. Kazinians aren’t into disguises and going undercover, especially not in their own kingdom.

They do like attacking at night though, Aeia-damned arrow flinging bastards. We had another ambush last night, much the same as the last one, though probably only fifteen or so of them attacking. Brings the tally up to four for the mission, but like any sane person I would rather have been sleeping, especially since my previous night had been interrupted as well.

It’s true we expect such attacks—that’s why we’re all such light sleepers, even at home when it’s considerably less likely that we’ll be attacked in the middle of the night—but that doesn’t mean we have to like them.

Haenel’s having arrows shot at him right now, and I haven’t heard any yelps of pain yet, so either the archers aren’t aiming directly at him yet, or he’s getting the hang of it. It must make it easier knowing exactly where the arrow’s going to go. If those four say they’re aiming for your left shoulder, the arrow will hit your left shoulder. Unless you deflect it first, of course, or dodge out of the way.

…I’ve just heard a rather loud expletive. “You said right hip!”

“It slipped.”

“Like Aeia it slipped!”

I think this deserves investigating. Need to know what that Aeia-damned prince has done to my fellow swordie.

I missed more days. Oops again. Still, nothing out of the ordinary happened until today, not even any midnight ambushes, which was nice. I actually got a full if chilly night’s sleep. I honestly think we should go nocturnal again, at least that way, if they attack at night, we’re already awake, and if they attack when we’re asleep, we’re not battling dull light as well as fatigue. Nobody else seems to be warming to the idea though, unfortunately.

Anyway, eventfulness. We found a bandit camp, hurrah. Most of the people who were part of said camp were away at the time, with only two people left behind to stand guard.

Unfortunately though, it’s not a simple matter of bumping those two off, hiding in wait for the rest to come back and bumping them off. Some signal would be given by the returning party to let the two guards know they’re back, something along the lines of a bird whistle or something equally indistinguishable but to those who know what they’re listening for.

The two guards would then respond with their own signal to let them know whether it’s safe to enter the camp or not. If the returning party gets a bad signal, then they’ll either sneak around and knock off whoever’s hiding around the camp, or they’ll retreat and come back later.

The bushland’s dense enough to hide in now, which is a little awkward in a bright red swordie’s shirt, but a fur cloak does the trick. It’s more awkward to hide horses, so we didn’t. Just left them on the road. If anybody but us tried to mount them, they’d fight back in their own way, especially Mongrel. He’s tentative enough with Nol on his back, let alone a complete stranger. So we left them a few hundred strides up the road so they wouldn’t be connected with this camp, and all was well.

So, as per ‘may’s instructions, we dotted ourselves in pairs around the camp, a swordie and a projectile, and waited. I ended up with Yoryl, who thankfully decided it wasn’t the best time to be pelting me with pebbles and gumnuts.

For the first, I don’t know, hour or so, every single bird call made me scan the surrounding bushland, but you’d be surprised how bored a person can get just lying in wait to kill someone, especially since it’s not the kind of thing we normally do. Normally we just try to get to Silrona as quickly as possible and with as few encounters as possible, not actually waiting to kill anyone.

In the end we must have screwed something up in the stealth area. Maybe a twig snapped, maybe the guards decided there was something definitely suspicious about the seven evenly-spaced pairs of fuzzy animals around their camp, I don’t know. We’re not spies trained in stealth, we’re warriors.

Eventually, one of those bird calls, or maybe something entirely different, was responded to with the “danger” signal, whatever that was, and the little team of bandits started spreading themselves around the camp.

It may be near-impossible for us to successfully sneak up on someone, but we can tell when someone’s sneaking up on us. We had our own predetermined signal for such an occasion, being a violent cry of “THEY’RE ATTACKING!”

Like I say, we’re warriors, not spies. We don’t do subtle. The best we could do was to shout it in Raykinian so they might at least mistake it for “ATTACK!” or something similar.

It worked, anyway. As predicted, Rumal’s shout made the bandits assume they’d all been seen, so they immediately started scattering, only to be ploughed down by flying arrows, daggers and spears. The other swordies chased after any who looked like getting away, because there’s only so much a projectile can do through that much foliage, and I went to take care of the two guards fumbling for their bows around the coals of the campfire-to-be.

Lin knows what we’re supposed to do with all their loot though. Maybe spend it on a night indoors, there might be enough here to cover it. Maybe. Leave it to Nimay, she’s the General.

Kurae’s cooking tonight, and I’m pretty sure I just overheard him talking to the archers about shooting down some ducks. Oh yes. Bring it on.

Week 4      Week 6