Stay and Defend
Even though they pushed themselves to their limits the day before, Marco and Nolan still couldn’t shake old habits. There former lives of living on the front lines forced them to rise early in the morning and make ready for a fight. Before the sun could rise above the Wyrmwall Mountains to make its daily oppressive run across the sky the two mercenaries had already traveled back into the Crag Forest scouting for signs of Crix raiders. Marco was worried that they may have returned to the area looking to make another ambush. The soldiers continued their efforts throughout the area until the sun was at its peak. At that time, with no signs of the raiders in sight they determined the area safe, at least safe from Cryx, and they headed back to the Dig. Marco was not entirely surprised as Cryx were not known for long term engagements, rather quick strikes where they could overwhelm defenses and retreat before they took real casualties. Both soldiers believed in his own heart that Crix were pirates and murderers lacking honor in every way. However, the attack they experienced, although not a military strike, seemed to be more than an opportunistic happen chance. Those pirates attacked with such recklessness and bravado Marco couldn’t help but think they were almost directed to the Dig. Perhaps they were looking for something. Furthermore, they fought as if they did not expect any resistance at all. Marco and Nolan felt a bit of pride in their efforts even thought they could not rescue those taken the day before. The outcome could have been much worse for the inhabitants of the Dig if not for they efforts and he was satisfied with that for the time being.
As the two returned to the Dig they couldn’t help but notice the area seemed a bit less…crowded. Tents were missing and even more being broke down and packed away on carts. They sought to find answers and headed for Max’s Tent, Bar, General Store etc. As they walked in Max asked them if they were staying. It did not take long before Max informed them that many of the students left early in the morning for Clockers Cove and Mircer. He then remembered something, reached over the bar, grabbed a note and handed it to Marco.
Unfortunately I am down to my last few remaining rounds and would be of no use to you and Nolan without the use of my pistols. I will be in Bloodstone if you need further help. Once in Bloodstone you can find me at the Midnight Star, gambling hall in the middle of town. You have my service for one day. I await you in Bloodstone.
Good luck to you and Nolan.
Marco was not surprised as most mercenaries he dealt with live by their own interpretation of the Mercenary Code in the Iron Kingdoms these days. But he could not argue with Jack’s logic. The man was talented with pistols but was most likely as useful as an old lady without them. With Cryx raiders in area now the fights they would encounter in the wilds of the Ditches would demand all fighters be at their best. He handed the note to Nolan and sat down at a table nearby as Nolan read the note to himself.
“Hmm seems we are on our own once again”, Nolan said out loud.
“We often are my friend. Let’s sit for a minute and figure our next move.” Marco responded.
As the sun baked the midday air the two were at a lost as to what to do next. Down to their last few gold coins and little previsions they were pressed to find work, but were in a bad place for it. As they spoke quietly to themselves Max suddenly walked up and offered them some food, water and coal for Nolan’s Warcaster gear free of charge. Telling the two mercenaries he considered it payment for standing up to the Cryx. They thanked Max, ate lunch, and continuing their discussion as to what to do next.
When lunch was finished they returned to their campsite to check, inspect, and clean their gear. Nolan was a stickler for keeping their equipment in tip top shape. Marco hated it sometimes but couldn’t argue with the Rhulic Warcaster’s military baring; keeping your equipment in a ready state was one of the first lessons soldiers learned. While they worked on their gear they couldn’t help but notice the two professors speaking to the people of the Dig. Addlesmith and Harusworth were giving what some would call an inspirational speech to those students who decided to remain. The two professors told the students how proud they were that they chose to remain while Marco couldn’t help but notice that Haursworth was even apologetic about not doing all they could to protect the students. The two men laid out a plan were the two Universities would now work together to unearth the ruins and begin to do what they could to protect the inhabitants of the Dig. They spoke of teamwork and safety in numbers. Most of the other treasure hunters laughed and walked off but Max shook his head with approval and Marco and Nolan decided they needed to talk to the two professors.
“Perhaps our luck has changed Marco”
“I was just thinking that Nolan. These people need protection and we are far from the front lines and the inept leadership than almost saw us killed there. Let’s speak with these professors and see if Harusworth is truly the righteous man he believes he is..” Marco then moved straight for Addlesmith, walking slowly but assuredly. He was sure Harusworth was full of himself and intended to prove it.
Addlesmith couldn’t help but notice the two veteran soldiers now turned mercenaries approaching as he and Haursworth finished speaking with students needing a bit more reassurance. Addlesmith, Harusworth, Marco and Nolan did not take very long to agree on a mutual beneficial agreement between the Professors and the mercenaries. With Harusworth doing most of the negotiation much to Marcos surprise.
As the two soldiers walked away Marco spoke softly to Nolan. “It seems our new found employer does not hold grudges.”
“It does seem that way my friend.”
Marco continued to speak softly, “We shall see. How many other have we worked with that seem all to willing chose the high road when they have no other road to take.”
“In-deed, I will keep my senses alert”, responded Nolan.
“Don’t you always?”
A smile crossed the Rhulic’s face as he and Marco continued to their tent to make preparations. Marco and Nolan were now working for Harusworth leading the defense of the Dig. They were now in charge of all defenses and any one supporting tasks towards the defense of the Dig. It was not perfect but Marco, Harusworth and Nolan settled on a fair trade between manpower for defense and that for the archeological work that brought the University out to the Dig. The two mercenaries were promised students to be used to shore up defenses and conduct watches throughout the night. During the day they would chose some students to be trained in fighting.
Before the evening watch began Marco and Nolan were formally introduced to Harusworths body guard Bosh Halghat the giant Ogrun they met in Harusworth’s tent when Marco and Harusowrht were arguing over the safety of the students two nights ago. Bosh was being sent to Clockers Cove to gather gear for the Dig. Harursworth was paying for all of it and Bosh was sent to find out what Nolan and Marco wanted. The conversation between Marco and Bosh was quick and easy given both Nolan and Marco had a better understanding of the Ogrun. To both of them he seemed to be a true mercenary, a soldier who would stand his ground until his duty or charter was finished. He recognizes how bad it was but still stays by with Harusworth and the students.
“At least there is one who understands the severity of this” Marco looked to Nolan with a smile on his face.
“Yes but he is off for supplies and we are still are here with these kids Marco. This may not end well. You know this.” Nolan spoke soft but assuredly to Marco.
“Yes but I feel we can make a difference here and that matters. Something is telling me to stay. I do not know what it is yet but I am sure we will know soon enough”
“I hope it is not death that calls you to your doom Marco. I do not plan on leaving this world just yet.”
The two mercenaries laughed a bit then began to plan for the evening.
The student’s first night was long, tiring and strenuous under Marco and Nolan. First, the students were instructed to gather up all debris that could be used for defenses. All remaining tents from Harusworuth campsite were moved to a more defensible area next to Addlesmith’s tents under an overhang. As the evening turned to night the two mercenaries spoke to the students about their new roles in their own defense. They stressed the importance of good watch keeping and depending on each other to stay alive in harsh conditions like those in the Ditches where the Dig resides
Night was cold and the students pick at random were not use to being out in the cold for such a long time. Worse they had a hard time understanding what Nolan and Marco thought was simple…basic soldiering. For veteran soldiers it was, but for those who spent their days in lecture halls and dusty libraries the idea of a cold watch waiting for something to come at them from the darkness was a foreign concept at best. The idea of walking alone from one point to another looking at the darkness was not only confusing and frightful it seemed a bit silly. Marco noticed that many of the students were having second thoughts and he had to talk to them to reassure them what they were doing at the Dig was important and taking an active role in their own defense was a the right thing to do. Nolan was shocked at how many times he heard “What do I do if…". It seems those you spend their days in books look a precise answer to every situation and now they found themselves facing a challenge were there were no right choices. Only death.
Nolan and Marco were presently surprised when only one person fell asleep but remained on their feet until another student ran to them to wake them and keep them moving. The two mercenaries did more reinforcing and praising of the worst soldering they ever thought imaginable but it seemed to do wonders for the freighted cold student’s nerves. As the sun came up the camp started to wake up and the two mercenaries were pleased and a bit shocked everything went well. They still had a lot to do. A lot to do, but even everything that has happened they were better today than they were yesterday; and that was a good thing.