Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Berserker Part 28

Marhault walked down the muddy main street, the overcast sky matching his mood, breathing a sigh of frustration at the state of what he had to work with. Bunch of surly farmers and cowardly merchants, without us they would be food for the worms! He slowly headed toward the outskirts of the walled town to a stable that the mayor had hastily refurbished as barracks for his men. Deliberately paying no notice to the hushed whispers, pointing fingers, and nervous glances of the townsfolk going about their business. If there was one thing he had learned after years of command, it was not to show weakness, under any circumstance. Yet deep down he was shaking with worry.

He cursed himself for hiring his men out as mercenaries, but because of the slim pickings as highwaymen in the years previous, they had been forced to find legitimate work. Still, the pay was good and they were sleeping in beds for the first time in months. What had him worried was that his men were beginning to suspect that he was different from them, he had managed to keep the charade up for some time, but when the men became more comfortable around him, they noticed the pale, equine set of his face, his surprisingly light voice, the slight point to his ears, and the fact that the senior members of his elite band were going gray, yet they barely had the down of youth on their faces when Marhault first met them. It used to be that elves could walk among humans without worry of superstitious ridicule, but that was not so in such turbulent times. So, like many of the elder races, they faded into the foreground, waiting for a time when they would be safe from prosecution. A bastard half-breed like Marhault was just lucky enough to pass for human provided he kept his hair covering his ears.

At times like this he longed for the deep quiet of the forests that had given birth to his race, and was most likely where they had gone. But the human side of him knew that he could never go back. The world was getting even more violent, turning away from the peaceful ways of his kind, likely the pestilence that corrupts Gaia will only continue to fester and decay. Let’s not forget I wasn’t accepted as on of theirs to begin with, he thought sourly. Despite living in trees and fields, they were probably still the same aristocratic, racist, snobs they always were.

His depressed, worried musings came to an end as he sighted the long barns housing his thirty-some men. He made sure to knock before he entered the side door. Too many sleepless nights spent trying to make out a killer in the shadows or straining to hear the howl of gnolls and grunting chatter of orcs and goblins on the stirring breeze had taken their toll on his men’s nerves. It was not safe to attempt sneaking up on such competent killers. Even with announcing his presence, the men he walked in on had hands on their weapons.

Seeing that it was nothing worth eating or killing, they went back to their card games, conversations, and sleep. In the company of his men he relaxed somewhat, having spent many years with every member of their troop, his rigid self-discipline was not necessary for show. He wearily made his way to his cot, going over the preparations which he would have to make in his mind. Sitting down on the heavenly soft mattress, his second-in-command, a grizzled old man of at least a hundred skirmishes came up to him.

“Howd the men look?”, he asked in a rattling growl.

“Not the best”, Marhault replied. “But if they were good then we wouldn’t be living it up in here”. At this the old man laughed, long and hard.

“Too true”, the man chuckled.

“They’re meeting at the West gate soon”, Marhault said. “Most are nervous, some are pompous”.

“Good”, the old man said, smiling devilishly. “Means we gotta scare it outta ‘em”.

“Right”, Meryl replied. “So I want you and the men there long before them, spic and span too”. Half of the room that was surreptitiously listening to the conversation gave inward groans. The old man relayed the order and in five minutes the barn was emptied with quick military precision, except for Marhault. Who kicked off his boots and laid down on his dusty bed that smelled slightly of mushrooms. Momentarily happy just to have an hour to kill in relatively comfortable lodgings, he went to sleep with the ability of a tried-and-true mudslogger, totally oblivious to his worries. Rank had it privileges.

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