Day one of the Bohar caravan.
Derek yawned and stretched as he sat by the fire, slouched and relaxed. There had been no contract for a while, and no word from the Crimson King, or whoever it was who occasionally sent them orders. There were sixty of them now, a bit of a mixed bag of talent. Mages, knights, scouts, and professional soldiers, all here together for… What exactly? Who knew. Until a messenger found them they were on down time, and Derek was okay with that. After the war they had been split off from the main force of the Crimson Kings, a small company sent out to do odd work while the rest of the company did, you guessed it, nobody here knew. It could be because the highest ranked of them was the scout sergeant, Longbottom, who because of this was the closest thing they had to a leader. Led by a sergeant, left to their own devices. This was more laid back than Derek had thought it was going to be, years ago when he had left the city guard to become a soldier-for-hire. Another yawn escaped his mouth, and he was just considering a nap when he heard the sound of hoofbeats coming. Darn, you think about a messenger and a messenger shows up, just his luck.
Derek was just glancing around to see if the sergeant had heard the horse approaching when suddenly a centaur, armored and angry-looking, pounded into the camp and reared up on his back legs while blowing a horn loudly enough to make the horses, tethered nearby, all begin fussing. There was commotion as sixty mercenaries scrambled to grab weapons and get up and moving, and the centaur began tramping in a circle, a look of disgust twisting his lips as he lifted the horn up again, preparing to sound it again.
"Aright, aright, what is goin' on then?" Longbottom, adjusting his belt, stumbled out of a tent, his unstrung longbow held in one hand as he squinted around the camp for whoever had been blowing a horn at this hour of morning, or afternoon. Derek spent a lot of time sleeping these days. The life of a disorganized mercenary company, he supposed. There was a loud crack as the centaur spun in place, his hand moving in a blur as it shot out and smacked the unprepared sergeant across the face, sending him sprawling across the dirt. There was silence, and then the sound of weapons being drawn and spells being cast. Nobody strikes a member of their band and gets to walk out of camp as if nothing happened.
Before things could escalate any further, there were more hoofbeats. Were they being attacked by a band of centaurs? For what reason would that be happening, anyway? Derek didn't even remember there being a large centaur presence in this part of the plains of Bohar, and now they were being swarmed by them. Except, he realized they were not being swarmed by centaur when a cart came trundling up, pulled by a horse that looked like it was being harassed by a finely dressed dwarf, who was standing on the bench of the cart and waving a crop in the air to force the horse to greater exertion, presumably to keep up with the centaur.
"Everyone calm down and listen up!" The dwarf was all but roaring to be heard over the mercenaries, some of which had swung around and were aiming weapons at him. "We've been sent by the Crimson King, and you pathetic bunch have the honor of meeting your new captain right there, Captain Ormund Starfall."
The next hour involved a lot of shouting, running, and finding of gear to prepare for an inspection as Longbottom was helped into enough of a recovery to officially hand over control of the company to the new captain. Who expected them all on parade for inspection, looking their best, or so help him he would… There were threats. A lot of threats. Most of which were going over Derek's head as he tugged on a battered old leather cuirass, fished out his stained red cloak, and stood with the other scouts, bow held at his side and quiver on his hip. Which was where he stood, still and silent, for hours as the centaur, their new captain, inspected each and every one of them carefully. And detailed exactly how each of them was a disappointment to their parents, ancestors, teachers, gods, and any passersby who saw their disgraceful countenances. It was rough. It was long. Derek was exhausted.
"Now then," the dwarf, who had been introduced as Brun the quartermaster, snapped. "You bunch don't deserve it, but the Crimson King has sent us here with a contract and gear. By all rights we should tell the lot of you to sod off and find some dirty street urchins to arm instead." Brun glared menacingly at the lot of them. "They'd probably do a better job. But, we were told you were all decent enough soldiers not too long ago, and some blame has to be put on whoever forgot about the lot of you out here for as long as they did. So, we are going to get you up and moving, and see if you are worth the time and effort. Now, line up and get ready for the gifts you are about to receive."
Derek joined the line which shuffled forward, each mercenary giving their name which was checked off against a list before being handed a bundle of assorted weapons and armor. When it was Derek's turn there was a confused moment as the quartermaster checked a couple of different lists. "Says here you are a scout. And a spearman. And a swordsman. Did I miss anything?"
Derek smiled sheepishly. "I kind of wind up wherever they need me." The dwarf grunted and fished around in the cart, picking and choosing, and then handing out a new bundle, wordlessly. Derek took the bundle and took off, a little confused, back to his tent, where he found a new set of leather armor, a new shield painted fresh with the company sigil, a sword freshly sharpened, and a new bow and quiver, all wrapped up in a new crimson cloak. It was quite the haul, and it made up for the old mismatched gear he had been making do with for so long. Gear scrounged from company stores and the bodies of the fallen. He felt a little odd, being handed all of this. The horn blew outside and there was a roared command for everyone to change out and form up.
Derek stood taller as he formed up into the parade for inspection with the rest of the company. He felt like they all did. Fresh, clean, ready for action. The leather armor was new, stiff, and it fit like a dream. It was going to take some getting used to, and he wasn't sure if he could wear the full set while scouting. Not until the leather moved a little more freely, at least. The cloak fluttered gently in the wind, and as the captain stopped in front of him and looked him up and down, he liked to imagine there was a faint smile on his lips.
"Now you all look neat and pretty, it's time for us to get moving!" The dwarf, who Derek was getting to a point with where he would have to decide whether he liked him or hated him, was up and shouting again. "There is a caravan set to meet us an hour from here, just outside some trading outpost. Their previous guards suffered an accident, and now they need replacements. That's where we come in."
"The contract is for ten days." The captain took over. "Ten days to get from here to the other end of the plains, with a couple of stops on the way. Ten days to show me what the lot of you are made of, and help me decide where we are going to go after this. You lot are meant to be good. Prove it to me. Break camp and let's get moving."
The camp had been broken down, old gear thrown in the back of the cart to, presumably, be salvaged, and then they were on their way. The camp followers carried most of their assorted equipment and supplies, and even they seemed to be a little happier as the dwarf was letting them use free space on the cart. If this was the way things were going to be from now on, then it looked like everyone was going to be much happier. Admittedly, the down time had been nice, but it was also good to be on the move again. What was weird was that nobody had even asked about their cut on this. There had been too much shock from receiving the armor and weapons in Derek's case. That and he had never been one for standing up and asking the tough questions, not when everyone else was being quiet too. Maybe there wasn't going to be any pay. They'd had months now where they hadn't done a thing for the Crimson King, two months of sitting around and living off the silver they'd all saved away, going through their stores. Two months without any violence. It had been nice.
An hour seemed like such a short time until you were stomping along a dirt road through endless grasslands. Then time seemed to slow, and you were left with nothing but your thoughts. Not that Derek had very many of those. Instead, he watched as the company formations were changed and adjusted, as the big, loud centaur gave commands, and justified them without being asked. Like he was trying to get everyone on board, so there would be no complications later on. That was actually great. Derek was left wondering where he was meant to be, though. It was one of those questions he wasn't too keen on asking. He liked being with the scouts, less danger, really. But he felt like there was more prestige in being in the front line, and more chances for advancement. He eyed the mounted knights, who had fallen in around the captain, and thought about what it would be like. All that armor, a horse beneath you, and the rush as you charged toward the enemy… It wouldn't be too bad, that.
An hour came, an hour went, and the trading outpost was suddenly there in front of them. It was a busy throng of tents, animals, and people. It was where they had been getting their supplies from, and it was going to be strange to be leaving it behind them as they went back to their work of being mercenaries again. Just outside the main mess of people was a small caravan, seven wagons in all, pulled off the road (what road there was) and formed up in a loose circle. The centaur led them away from the outpost and toward the caravan, and Derek realized these were their employers. What followed was another wasted hour, daylight was beginning to fade and Derek wondered if they would even get on the road today or if it would keep until tomorrow. He hoped it would be tomorrow, getting moving again required baby steps. For him there was just a lot of standing around, he was nobody special so he was not privy to the inner workings of the company. That was for captain Ormund, Brun, and Longbottom.
The day ended with them camped three hours away from the trading outpost. There had been discussion about staying there and moving with first light, but Ormund had barked down that suggestion proving the client was not always right. In fact, listening to Ormund, the client could do some pretty unpleasant things to themselves with a garden rake if they wanted to get in the way of him getting them safely from here to their destination. Yikes. Derek drew final watch, which meant it was all pleasant dreams and rest for him, and he would be up an hour before dawn to relieve a sentry and his bladder.