Saturday, 16 January 2021

In The Army Now

In our ongoing WFRP campaign, our heroes: Nordlander blacksmith, Wolfgang Braun; zealot of Sigmar, Rudiger Reich; disgraced noble, Heinz Castel; and Dwarven jailer, Garil Ragnarsson, have found their way to the Border Principality of Masserschloss.

Unfortunately, the tides of war lap on many shores and the group find themselves caught up in a squabble between princes when Rudiger spots an opportunity to improve the lot of some Imperial refugees by offering to turn them into a mercenary company.

Captain Schiller brushed his lanky grey hair back over his scalp. He eyed the two strangers stood opposite him suspiciously.

One of them, the taller of the two, looked fresh faced and honest. Schiller had seen his type before. The sort that believed that hard work and morality were somehow deserving of reward. The sort that were so quickly disabused of that notion in the squalid mire of the Border Princes.

The other, wild haired and wild eyed, struck Schiller as dangerous. He looked, to the captain of the guards' eyes, like an Anchorite hermit. However, the flail clutched in his hand and the untidy tattoo of a hammer on his forehead betrayed his true nature. A Sigmarite zealot that had somehow failed to get himself killed in the north. Dangerous.

Schiller sighed.

"So, you're offering to turn that unwashed straggle of beggars into an armed company?"

"Yes, sir," said the taller one. He'd introduced himself as Wolfgang, "we're both experienced fighting men. We know what's required to get them to stand."

Honesty. Schiller liked that. The boy wasn't trying to pretend that the desperate people from outside the gates would make for anything other than a levy.

"And with Sigmar's light ignited within them," put in the other. Rudiger, was it? "Well, then we can forge them into a hammer that is able to smite any foe!"

Schiller sighed again. This one was full of fire and brimstone and likely to lead the rabble in a headlong charge to certain death; against orders. He looked sidelong at Wolfgang, "and who, exactly, will be in command of this little venture?"

Schiller saw a knowing smile play on the lips of the young man. It was clear he understood Schiller's concern.

"Well sir, that would be Herr Heinz Castel. An experienced officer, of noble birth, from the great state of Talabecland."

*** 

"You've volunteered me for what?"

Heinz's face was bright red, his eyes bulging and a little vein that Wolfgang had never noticed before throbbed on his temple.

"You are now the commanding officer of a mercenary company in the service of Dieter von Masserschloss," said Wolfgang as calmly as he could.

"But how?" spluttered the Talabeclander, "I know nothing about such things. And where are my men? And how will they be trained and equipped? And fed? Did you think about any of this?"

"Not exactly," put in Rudiger, "but Sigmar opened the door of opportunity, all we had to do was follow where he led."

Heinz looked ready to blow.

"It's not that bad Heinz," explained Wolfgang quickly, "we have the men, well, we know where to get them. We also have a little time to train and equip them before we march."

"How long do we have?"

"Some days?"

"How many? Exactly!"

"Two."

Heinz blew.

"Two days? Two days! To recruit, train and equip a body of men before marching to war? We have no experience of this sort of thing whatsoever!"

"Now you know that's not true," stated Rudiger defiantly, "Wolfgang and I both served bravely in the Storm of Chaos, and faced dangers the like of which we shall not encounter in this petty border squabble."

Heinz was curt in his reply, "exactly, you served. You didn't lead."

"And that's why we volunteered you to lead," said Wolfgang, with a wry smile, "you're born to it. Anyway, in my experience leading a company is mainly sitting on a horse looking noble and pointing. It's the sergeants that do all the donkey work of training and drill."

"And where are you going to find one of those," asked the gruff voice of Garil, the dwarf, who'd been quietly chuckling whilst eating his lunch as the humans squabbled.

"Funny you should ask," replied Wolfgang, with a deadpan look on his face.

All eyes turned to the dwarf.

"Oh no, lad, don't bring me into this!"

*** 

The four surveyed the motley rabble stood in front of them.

The desperate folk had gathered to listen to Rudiger speak. After he had brought food for them and their families the day before, the refugees from the Empire had come eagerly to hear his sermon.

Rudiger had praised their fortitude in surviving such a harsh journey south. He had reminded them of their stout Imperial hearts and comiserated with them about their lost lands. Finally, he had offered hope. Hope of a better life, hope of renewed dignity and hope of once more being people who had purpose. He had asked them to fight. To fight for their place in this land, and to prove their worth to its ruler, Dieter von Masserschloss.

And here they stood, three dozen unarmed men. Only a handful with military experience of any kind. Tired and hungry. Dressed in ragged, travel stained clothes. Barely a mob, let alone a mercenary company.

Garil stepped forward. He wasn't sure this was a good idea, but he did know that his destiny and his grudges lay in the south. That was where this 'army' was heading. At least this meant not travelling alone.

"Right then, you lot!" he yelled in his most commanding tone. "You can't very well go into battle with naught but harsh words. First task: arm yourselves. Whatever you can find that might be able to ruin a man's day. Be back here before I count to a hundred."

The rabble scurried off to raid their motley collection of tents and lean-tos.

"You sounded good," said Heinz, "very convincing. I feel confident leaving the training in your capable hands, Garil."

"Oh aye? Leaving me to do the hard work?" grumbled the Dwarf.

"Well, somebody put me in command," smiled Heinz.

"Fear not, good dwarf!" chimed in Rudiger, "I shall stay beside you to motivate flagging spirits."

"I'll do what I can too," said Wolfgang helpfully.

"Oh no, good Wolfgang," put in Heinz quickly, "I have a task perfectly suited you."

Wolfgang was not overly keen on the expression on the nobleman's face.

*** 

"Why do you want me to buy sacks?" asked Wolfgang, confused, as he and Heinz walked back through the busy streets of Masserschloss.

"Because you are now my quartermaster," said Heinz, "you can't very well expect the commanding officer to be seen hauling hessian around. Garil and Rudiger seemed to have motivating those men under control, and, you have the natural look of a serving man."

Wolfgang let the insult pass, "fine, but my point is, why do you want a load of sacks?"

Heinz stopped and turned to face Wolfgang, "because, my good man, you and our resident firebrand have got us in up to our necks. There is no way in Morr's realm that we are going to turn that filthy mob into an armed company in two days."

He paused.

"And that means we're in a world of trouble," the Talabeclander paused, "unless we can convince von Masserschloss that we have done the impossible."

Wolfgang nodded. Heinz had a point. A good point. A really uncomfortably good point.

Heinz continued, "fortunately fo you, I'm here to save the day. I may not know anything about leading armed men, but I am, however, an expert at lying. If we are going to convince Masserschloss, those men are going to have to look the part."

"But what about the sacks?" Wolfgang was beginning to get frustrated.

"You see sacks. I see tabards. If we get thirty sacks and a roll of cheap cloth, we can pay a couple of seamstresses to neatly put holes for head and arms and then fashion a simple emblem on the front. What do you say to a twin-tailed comet? That should please Rudiger."

Wolfgang was silent.

"What's wrong?" asked Heinz.

"Heinz. That's...brilliant!"

*** 

The men came back armed with all sorts of makeshift weapons. Staves and clubs for the most part, but amongst them were a couple of rusty blades, hatchets and hammers, along with a couple of bows.

It was a start.

Garil then began dividing the men into drill groups and dredging his memory for maneuvers he'd learned in his youth, set them to exercises. Quickly the Dwarf identified the few with military experience and gave them the responsibility of passing on what they knew, building their confidence and forging unity.

Meanwhile, Rudiger lurked on the edge of the drill groups exhorting them in the name of Sigmar, praising their successes and reassuring them when mistakes were made.

Later he stalked through the camp to hear the concerns of the women folk and gently persuade the few men that had not come forward to confront their shame and stand with their brothers.

His task was aided when Wolfgang arrived with more food for the recruits and their families. After arranging for the uniforms to be made, Heinz had dispatched Wolfgang to arrange food to keep morale up whilst he worked on solving another problem.

Wolfgang then returned to meet with Heinz at the Renegade Crown whilst Rudiger and Garil stayed in the camp.

*** 

The following day the drills continued. Garil worked the men hard, but they seemed to warm to the gruff dwarf and Rudiger's increasingly enthusiastic sermons genuinely lifted morale. The previously bedraggled and despondent men of the refugee camp seemed to walk taller with the belief in them shown by their new comrades.

Spirits were lifted even further when Heinz and Wolfgang arrived with a cart full of rudimentary uniforms and, unbelievably, brand new spears to arm the men properly.

As the equipment was doled out, Garil quietly asked Heinz how he'd managed to lay his hands on so many weapons in a city going to war, and what it was going to cost.

"Not as much as you'd think," answered Heinz with a smirk, "but don't let them treat the spears too harshly in training. They're not exactly the best quality, but the blacksmith was quick. However, they look the part."

"Aye, lad," nodded the Dwarf, "that they do."

*** 

Captain Schiller looked at the rows of men in front of him in disbelief. The stinking rabble that had cluttered the gates of the past weeks had transformed overnight into ordered rows of armed men.

Where had they got the spears?

Admittedly, they were still scruffy. The tabards poking out from under cloaks, packs and belts were clearly sackcloth, and they were missing helms and shields. However, they were ordered and uniform enough to pass muster at a distance. The spears finished the image off. This lot might just convince Dhouda's men that they weren't a soft target in the middle of the Masserschloss lines.

That's all they needed to do.

"Very well, Herr Castel," said Captain Schiller, "you're hired."

As Wolfgang, Garil and Heinz breathed a sigh of relief, Rudiger's jaw set firm. He had redeemed the faithful of Sigmar, given them hope and purpose, and possibly taken the first step in founding his new Empire for his God. These people would follow him if he showed them the way.

Suddenly attention was drawn to the road where a column of armed men were marching swiftly towards Masserschloss. Garil recognised the pike and crossbow armed Tileans that marched under the the red and black banner they had seen on the road just a few days earlier. Their gleaming arms, brightly coloured garb and sharp movements told of trained and successful men. They threw the drab collection of motley Sigmarites into sharp relief, highlighting their failings.

Garil felt envious of the precise movements of the Tilieans. Wolfgang felt embarrassed at the shabby appearance their men. Heinz felt like a gambler whose spare ace had just slipped from his sleeve. Rudiger simply saw an obstacle appear.

Captain Schiller smiled as he looked at the four crestfallen companions, "you didn't think you were the only mercenaries we'd be hiring, did you?"

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