Two trunks stacked in the center of the tent formed a makeshift table. The grim faced captain surveyed a stack of maps, making careful notes, drawing hard lines with a length of wrapped charcoal. A lietenant escorted a few visitors inside. The dwarf knight, the goliath savage, the tiny minotaur, and the halfling nobleman all shuffled in. Normally so proud and eager, in the presence of the captain, they squirmed uncomfortably like children in trouble.
“Yes, what is it?” barked the old soldier.
“We’ve come to discuss the invasion,” the halfling offered.
“If you have intel, spit it out already,” He glanced toward the hulking tribesman, “Your kin might be scaling the wall right now,”
“Yes, they might well be,” the goliath fumbled through his thick head for words, “Thing is, the invasion, you might want to let it happen,”
Ecklan stopped and looked up slowly. The four friends nearly turned green, hands creeping to hilts defensively.
“What he means is, uhh,” the dwarf volunteered, “Your strength would be wasted on the wall. The king would be better served with a cunning hand among the occupied peoples. A saboteur. your specialty,”
The captain watched the four of them, considering. “No, it’s foolishness,” he finhally stated.
“Please,” said Laden, the halfling, “Think of the battle ahead. Their number knows no limit. Your hundred blades would fail,”
“The pass is a narrow squeeze. My hundred would fight only ten, then ten again, then another ten. We’d tear them apart with their own bellies. The savages have no way to feed such an army, no supply lines. They plan to feed their troops on spoils. A few days trapped in the pass, and the whole horde will fall apart,”
“Oh man, he’s ri-i-ight,” worried Dulan.
“No, sir, you can’t win. I’ve seen the armies with my spirit eyes. They have monsters at their call, beasts. They’d fly above and overwhelm. Your men should hold away in the city,” spoke the goliath.
“My men know their trade. This is not my first harvest, savage. I’ve tricks for fliers and diggers alike. Ghosts too, if they send them. I’ll lob their fearsome, monsterous heads back among the barbarians and watch the fear tear their ranks asunder. We hold them here,”
“I agree-ee-ee with him. We should do what he says,” the minotaur fretted.
“But the risks, sir,” the halfling said, “Think of the gamble, keeping yourself on the line like that. Let your men hold the wall while you stay within the city, preparing the defence. Cover yourself carefully. The king would want you to live and serve Ghal best,”
“Hmm, remove a few soldiers and retreat into the city?”
“Think of it like a fallback bullwark,” the halfling’s slippery, silver tongue at work.
The captain held them there for a long moment with his steely eyes, searching them. “I’ll think on it. Good day,” he dismissed them and returned to his maps.
Meanwhile, deep beneath the city streets, in the bowels of Penny Basement, the ferocious General Redstick hung in shame and shackles against the damp earthen walls. Something was happening in the prison. The usual chorus of cowards and their wailing has been replaced. Now there is only screams of pain and rage. The stink of blood, the sound of sliced flesh. The prison was coming alive with violence.
The general was pleased, death and blood, it smelled like home.
There were warriors outside his cell. No, wait, they were not warriors. They were southerners, cowards. They smiled at him, offering freedom. They had little tools to open the shackles. He looked at their proud little smiles. The southern peoples, always so happy to give gifts to their enemies. They wrap their poison pills in gold and ribbon. They seem so sure of themselves, freeing the general. “Courtesy of the Thunderpeaks,” one has the gall to say. They use that honorable name to cloak their treachery, their greedy smiles.
The general ignores their profanity. He waits and lets them free his shackles. Hands free, he summons the spirits to his side. For a moment, he considers wiping the fools away, stomping down their simpering hopes. They can’t wait to free him from this prison to build him inside a larger one. Such is the way of the southern cowards.
But no, he smiles at them and nods, then leads his spirit army off and out to the wall and his troops beyond.