It was dusk, Jarious’ favorite time to have the unit march. Not too hot and not too dark, with enough light to plan a few hours ahead.
They walked in a loose cluster as they made their way towards Junction. Grawfn had point as he usually did, and ranged ten meters ahead. Assigning Grawfn to point kept the pace leisurely and allowed the Dwarf to set the pace in order to not be left behind. The rest of the unit surrounded Jarious in a dispersed halo, with Torrain taking up the rear. They all had their primary weapons secured, but smaller weapons like throwing knives were kept handy. Fovreh used a walking stick, which to any trained eye would note that he put very little of his weight upon.
Morrow was the first to break the silence after hours of traveling southeast.
“Jarious? Beyond Junction, whats the plan?”
Jarious raised his right arm and made a fist, the wolflings stopped. He made a quick sharp whistle to get Grawfn’s attention, who immediately turned around and joined the rest of the wolflings. They dropped their bags and pulled out waterskins. Most stood, but Torrain and Grawfn took a knee. The commander looked Morrow up and down, making sure this wasn’t a challenge to his leadership or decisions. The wolflings all came from different backgrounds – Torrain was originally a hunter from Alt’Arana; Fovreh was an escaped mage-Thrall from the Empire; Grawfn grew up on the run as his clan constantly tried to stay one step ahead of Imperially-bonded Orcish trackers; Jarious and Arrious, the sons of a blacksmith, were raised by their parents in the human cities on Dev’Arana; but Morrow? Morrow was still largely a mystery.
Morrow stood just under two meters tall. He kept a savage look, with unkempt hair matted and cured with animal fat. He had the dark complexion of those who came from the Hell Isles. It was in those isolated lands that he learned shamanism and survival from the uncivilized humans of the islands. Morrow was always emotionally and intellectually distant. He didn’t talk much and only rarely gave his opinion on even the most pressing matters. No one called him a friend, merely a compatriot in arms.
Jarious never knew where he stood with Morrow, and that made the commander uneasy. Jarious wasn’t the smartest or fastest, but he was the one who held the wolflings together by knowing their motivations better than they did. He wasn’t sure of Morrow’s motivations, though. Jarious’ best guess is that Morrow felt just comfortable enough with the unit to stay on with nowhere better to go. Morrow would leave for extended periods of time and then show up just as abruptly, refusing to give any explanation for his absence. Morrow even dressed oddly, stubbornly holding to rough-hewn animal skins and simple jerkins as all the clothes he needed. Where Fovreh, the other spellcaster, used minor cantrip spells to keep himself comfortable in bitter cold and blistering heat, Morrow dared the elements to bother him. The shaman was tough and at home in the wildlands.
Despite the uncertainty that came with Morrow, he was extremely important to the unit. His shamanism was a wildcard against the Elves and their Imperial lackeys. As learned as the Empire was, the vast majority of its members, Elvish and slave-alike, had never even heard of shamanism. On more than one occasion, Morrow’s use of spirits and their magical ways was the razor’s edge between victory and catastrophic defeat.
So, when Morrow raised a question about their next step, it brought head-turns and curious eyebrows from each of the men.
“We go to Junction, rest, recoup, and reequip. That last run was a good one. We have lots to sell. Some of the stuff, like the gems, may take some time. We enjoy ourselves while we work to move the stock. You guys earned it.”
“And then?” Morrow pressed.
“Then? Then we come back. That Thrall told us that his run wasn’t isolated. The fact that there was a follow-on Imperial force tells me that House Vilandallaril is putting some weight behind that route.” Jarious paused to consider his next words. “Thra Nar. You guys know the stories. Failed magical experiment wiped that city right off the map, like *that*.” He snapped his fingers. “Vilandallaril wouldn’t be there if they didn’t think there was something to gain and tis going to take some significant resources just to establish a base camp. Vilandallaril is rich…”
“All Elves are rich.”
“Shut up, Torrain.” Jarious theatrically rolled his eyes and shook his head for the benefit of the rest of the unit. “Right. Thra Nar is bad news for Elves. So, we see how badly the House wants a presence in Thra Nar and then we see how long it takes them to do something about us. If Vilandallaril wants to serve it to us on a platter, who are we not to accept their gracious hospitality?
“I figure we can put a bit of hurt on Vilandallaril and get a bunch of our people away from one of the worst of the lot.” Jarious let a confident grin slip when he saw the unit nod or shrug their agreement.
“Sounds good to me.” Arrious nodded in support, looking right at Morrow as well. Morrow watched Jarious passively, usually a sign of his approval.
With Morrow hopefully mollified, Jarious looked at the rest of the unit. He focused on Torrain who pushed dirt around in little piles with one of his many, many knives. He cleared his throat, shuffled his shoulders, and finally brought his eyes up to Jarious.
Jarious’ train of thought was immediately disrupted by the mention of their wounded member back in Junction. It took him a few pregnant seconds to gather his thoughts again. Last time they saw the half-orc half-human Mongrel was two months ago before the current campaign. Karsh took a poisoned arrow in the belly and went down hard. He was left behind with Jarious’ and Arrious’ mother in Junction in the hopes she could help foster his return to health. Tangean wasn’t much of a healer, but she knew many people in Junction, and had the wolfing’s remaining funds to hire real chirgeons and apothecaries to tend to Karsh’s health. They had all hoped the intervening two months would be sufficient to get their compatriot back on his feat. Karsh was brutal with his lochaber axe and was often the anvil by which the rest of the unit became hammers.
“Right. Karsh.” Jarious sighed. “I’ll go see him first. Arrious will come with me. Mother is taking care of him and I need to see her as well. Assuming everything is okay, Torrain will have second watch with Karsh.”
Torrain nodded once in appreciation and scratched at his goatee. Jarious knew from years of serving with Torrain that fiddling with his goatee was often a sign that Torrain was content.
“Karsh won’t be well, Jarious” Morrow said as he looked at the clouds on the horizon. “I sent a spirit some days ago to check on him and it came back to report during the raid. It tells me that Karsh is no better. We will likely be without him on the campaign you just outlined.”
“Damn.” Grawfn and Arrious voiced their frustrations simultaneously.
Jarious reflected on the Orman Mongrel back in Junction. “He’s resilient, all Ormans are. Part Orc and part Human makes them angry and stubborn. I want to see him myself before we make any decisions.” In truth, Jarious had no doubt that Morrow’s messenger was correct, but he felt that the unit needed to focus on other things other than losing one of their own.
“Morrow? You hear any more from your spirits, you let me know first.” Morrow shrugged dismissively, slowed his steps, and fell behind the rest of the group but still within earshot. Jarious looked around the unit to make sure he hadn’t lost any of them. Torrain was especially touchy about Karsh, they were two of a kind; simple, bloodthirsty, and loyal to a fault. This was not the first time Jarious worried about Torrain’s reaction to Karsh’s situation. Torrain didn’t have the stare he had when he was thinking hard -- that was good.
They were still fourteen or so days out from Junction. He needed to focus the men on something, anything, other than Karsh. Morale would flag, even after the successful campaign.
“First thing we do before we all go our separate ways is we get a good price for these Vilandallaril sapphires. Grawfn? That will be your job.” The little dwarf looked at Jarious and nodded, his head bobbing quickly as his legs pumped to keep up with the longer strides of the humans. Grawfn was typical for a dwarf, no more than a meter tall, grey skin, nearly hairless, and with oversized doe-like eyes. A veterinarian by trade, Grawfn was the unit’s healer. He knew his stuff, and was quite good with herbs as well. He wore a hooded cloak over his leather clothes and padded armor,
“You got it, boss,” Grawfn, more than the others, tried to hold to traditional Car’Had Hadad hierarchy and respect Jarious’ position as the commander. The other men gave Grawfn a hard time for his obstinate use of “sir” and “boss” -- but they all made sure not to push too hard. The dwarf was the one with the medicinal and recreational drugs, after all. For his part, Jarious was often thankful for Grawfn’s holding to the old ways. Simple things like “sir” went a long way to keep even a basic level of decorum and respect in the unit.
“Thanks, Grawfn.” Jarious gave the dwarf a wink none of the others could see. Grawfn stayed stoic, but gave a quick wink back.