The next several days were spent waiting in the inn by Paul.
He passed the time by practicing with his short sword and working with the ledgers and balance sheets he had brought along with them. These were the updated ones by Estalwyn. She was the better book keeper amongst the two of them. Yet, he could perform these duties as well with proficiency. However, Estalwyn performed these tasks mainly.
Shame she isn’t here, but I get why she has to go on this venture.
The ledgers were updated by Estalwyn periodically by dispatches sent to them via couriers and carriers via the Napak and Stenill Services. These twin families were merchants like Paul. Yet they were of different sorts. The assets and liabilities of Paul and his two business partners were stored in their grand fortress just west of the Grand Counties and south of Pinningdale. The called it The Bank.
As this mighty castle’s walls had a frontage of ten miles over the River Winston’s higher bank. It was possibly the largest castle on their subcontinent of Rekmorr. Paul had only seen it once and that was when he opened the account.
That was not a fun day.
Paul could never in all his years could not remember signing his name so many times in his entire life. He’ll never forget the clerk’s words.
“Now that we finished the initial paperwork I’ll show you to the vaults.”
Those were impressive. Estalwyn’s people designed the locks and their system was far more sophisticated than the ones we sell. If I was able to begin to obtain those parts, I would certainly sell them. Maybe land more accounts, maybe talk to a new supplier in the Grand Counties? Build the business.
He knew that was a pipe dream though. Paul had tried once. He would only try again if he could attain an annual revenue equivalent to two million of the King’s Passe over three years. The retainer fees for suppliers in the Grand Counties were astronomical. They could afford the mom and pop wholesalers: Sulathal and Rolandrea were their suppliers. Business was good with them.
A pleasant arrangement.
Paul turned to the tenth page of the accounts payable. Large sums were now incoming from new accounts in small towns north of the Grand Counties and west of Pinningdale. Two months ago they had sold three new accounts in those villages of Huton, Houcola, and Hollersford.
One account per village, and these were worthwhile trips. What was great about it was the fact that the children tolerated Rilles and thought he was amusing. Rilles was more so amused by them. They never saw a Houndsman before. They thought he was a talking dog.
Huton—13,000 Ducats—Simonson Granary, Full Counterintrusion System; Contact Flares, Razor Plates, 20 Telaspi Globes
Reoccurring Monthly Revenue: 500 Ducats
The globes racked up the price sky high for that job.
Hucola—7,100 Ducats— Churchill’s General Store—High Value Asset Protection Only for The Brewhouse; 1 Telaspi Globe, 2 Razor Plates and Four Contact Flares
Reoccurring Monthly Revenue: N/A, Localized Monitoring for Telaspi Globe
Hollersford— 20,000 Ducats—Janningspale Manor—Full Perimeter Defense, Full Counterintrusion; 10 Contact Flares, 10 Razor Plates, 30 Telaspi Globes
Reoccurring Monthly Revenue: 14,000 Ducats Intensive Monitoring
This is one of the jewels in our crown. Lord Janningspale helped us become a known name throughout the region of Pinningdale. The only one who isn’t interested in a system is from elsewhere. If Pinningdale were to expand it’s territory to the north we’d gain more profit. Unfortunately, though those people are more martially oriented than Pinningdale’s.
He looked over the books some more and spoke aloud after making the last notation.
“Business is doing quite well.”
He descended the steps and grabbed a pint of the blonde ale brewed here at the Toasting Tankyard. When he returned he thought of how his two business partners were doing.
Hopefully, they finish their tasks sooner rather than later. I’m eager to strike more deals in this town. Frankly, I cannot do it without them. But, of course one cannot remove either of them from their warrior ways. Surely, they are marching and serving with some of the boldest and best mercenaries. I’m certain they were fought over by the hiring captains and recruiters. They are some of the best at their trades.
Paul raised his tankard to the sky to toast them and then he downed the pint shortly after. He was wise to toast his friends.
Rilles rushed their positions before they had a chance to regroup. His tongue was hanging out in a pant. His claws were notched after battle. His own sword’s blade was wrapped in a scabbard of the enemy’s blood. His teeth and jaws were tired from smashing through a column of ill trained bandits and marooned pirates that had blunted their cutlasses and strapped them to wooden poles. Their resistance was breaking and the last bit of them had retreated to an old farm. They remained in the strength of two platoons, they were positioned in an old farmhouse cottage of wattle and daub. The other platoon had made the barn their home. Missiles: arrows and sling stones thumped beside Rilles’s last foes he fell. The Houndsman was tired.
“Company Halt. Cover down. Raise Shields.”
The mercenary captain, Soderburg Farst approached the Houndsman and protected him with his shield as the arrows and sling stones thickened around him.
“Well done, Mister Hound.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
One of these stupid bastards who thinks calling me Mr. Hound is acceptable.
Farst was an older man. Scars and laugh lines were visible through the open slots on his helmet made in the southern style. His nose and mouth were partially protected but open slots revealed his age and the pockmarks and scars from war and pestilence. Farst patted Rilles on the shoulder.
“You’ve done a fine job, Boy. Fall back and let’s discuss what we need to do next.”
He’s calling me boy too. I am no dog. I am a Houndsman, there is much difference.
The two of them fell back to the company’s front where the captain’s lieutenant and second in command Theodoric of Red Spire planted his kite shield into the ground alongside the men and women of the front rank who had done the same forming a makeshift palisade out of wooden and metal shields. Theodoric’s helmet was in a similar style, and like his commanding officer he wore full plate armor, the only gaps in his armor were covered by chain mail made of the thickest Red Spire bronze.
The iron he wore would only be defeated by the sharpest points of the swiftest arrows. The shield would stop those. Farst spoke loudly to him.
“Thoughts, Lieutenant? I’m getting too old for this job.”
He looks it.
“We either withdraw, Sir and wait for nightfall to attack or we call up our sapper or battlemage, sellsword, or whatever that elf does up here and get her thoughts?”
“We cannot withdraw.”
We’ll lose a lot of men you, dolt unless you try something different.
Rilles spoke up.
“Begging your pardon, Sirs.”
Rilles groveled. And he hated groveling. Unfortunately, this is what one had to do oftentimes when dealing with humankind. They just saw the hound and not the Houndsman or the Houndswoman. He had to show them his intelligence by being overly meek and humble. Amongst these men he had no authority and the painful thing was he knew it.
“Yes, Mister Hou…”
A slingstone hit Farst in the jaw mid speech. The stone silenced Farst and it was unclear if he was alive. Theodoric of Red Spire shouted out orders to his command.
“I am assuming command. Hold your ground. Get a medic for the captain and bring the Elven sapper forward.”
A female corporal drug the unconscious captain from the battlefield.
Theodoric looked at Rilles.
“I agree with your tactical assessment, soldier. We cannot waste time we must attack with the proper application of force and your sapper friend will be of much use to us. If we get out of this alive, I’d like to make you both sergeants in this company. If the captain dies, I’d like to make you first lieutenant. You’ve got a keen eye for detail and an understanding of how to survive when steel crashes on to steel and bone crumbles into dust.”
Hmm. Not a bad plan.
“I’ll consider it, Sir.”
“Call me Theo.”
“Will do. And please call me Rilles.”
“I shall, Rilles.”
“Here’s your friend.”
Estalwyn was in full chain from her legs to her waist and from her waist up hexagonal scale mail. A backpack laden with her equipment was on her back and a tall cylindrical wire helmet covered with dense chain and scale mail covered it. This was a common armor pattern in the Grand Counties where she served as a Lieutenant-Battlemage in the Joint Northern Border Guards (JNBG) of the Grand Counties Defense Organization (GCDO).
She saluted Theodoric.
He returned it.
“Sapper, we’ve a dilemma. We’re obviously pinned down by their two remaining platoons. They intend to wither us down with missiles like skirmishers.
They just picked off the captain. I’m acting commander now. We cannot afford to withdraw. We were contracted to dispatch these mercenaries and if we withdraw there’s the chance they could strike the fishing village northeast of here and seize some civilian fishing boats. They’d escape to their hideout. We mustn’t allow that as our payout would be half. What solutions can you propose for us?”
Estalwyn looked at the soil it was soft and fertile like the fields fallow and ready for planning. Hopefully the farmers were still alive.
“I know just the thing.”
Estalwyn took off her backpack and removed two thick staves made out of an odd looking metal. A small little ornamental bull’s head was on both of them. She made holes in the dirt with her gauntlet covered hands and then she stuck each of the staves into the two holes. She whispered to each of the staves in her tongue. Then she twisted the bull’s head’s to the right. They disappeared in the dirt.
She turned to the Theodoric.
“If you will, Sir divide the company into three. Have our front ranks remain here.. Send two of the best sergeants into…”
She was interrupted by larger man sized openings in the earth appear.
“These with the two battlegroups, Sir. The passages will lead to our two objectives. In time those tunnels will open to there in a few minutes. We must act with haste here.”
“Well done, Sapper.”
Theodoric turned to the company.
“Sergeants assemble groups of eighty from the fifth rank of our column to the rear. In the tunnels now, men. Assault the objectives. We’ll be right behind you.”
The sergeants formed up their battlegroups into storming columns of fifty soldiers each. The company’s front five ranks were eighty soldiers in strength. Theodoric stopped the sergeants before taking the tunnels into the objectives.
“Shout for us once you reach the objectives and we’ll reinforce you.”
“What shall we shout?”
Theodoric was puzzled but he gave a fast answer.
“For the captain.”
“Nay, Sir. I hated that old dolt. How’s about: For The Sapper!”
Estalwyn could not be seen smiling through her helmet but she was smiling to the point of blushing. Theodoric patted her on the shoulder.
“I like that. Go to it.”
The two columns of eighty soldiers each quietly entered the tunnels.
“How long until those openings on the other side happen, Sapper?”
“Four minutes, Sir.”
“Good, and how long until they reach those?”
“Three minutes, Sir.”
“My, my, my! What devilry you have. You use not shovels but have no wand, Sapper? Are thou a witch?”
He said this with the enthusiasm of a child seeing a brand new toy they begged for.
He’s not as dumb as the captain, but he is certainly not too knowledgeable of Estalwyn’s people.
“COMPANY TORTOISE ADVANCE.”
Rilles raised his compact rectangular bucker and advanced right behind Theodoric in the second rank. Estalwyn had no shield. She stood in the third rank covered by two of the shields above her. A hard rain of sling stones and arrows could be heard from above. Four of the first rank’s number were struck in the legs at the ankles where they quickly stumbled down in agony. A minute later the barn’s occupants from the enemy force screamed in surprise as their missile barrage ceased. Only a few slingstones pelted the shields of the company now.
“TAKE THE FARMHOUSE.”
Theodoric shouted out to his men in the tone of delight. The elven sapper did well and allowed this company to take the field. The company charged the farmhouse and in less than a minute eight survivors of the enemy’s number threw down their weapons. Theodoric ordered them shackled. The battle was won.
The surgeons reported that Soderberg Farst was now dead. They could not save him from the sling stone’s wicked wounding effects. Theodoric of Red Spire was now Captain of the Solution Seekers Company that now numbered one hundred and seventy-six men. Four had died in this action including the captain. They marched back to Red Spire with some sorrow for their captain who was once a good commanding officer and colleague. At the same time they also were eager to count out the cold hard King’s Passe.
Rilles and Estalwyn were eager to get back to Paul. They needed news of their recently installed system. They wanted to know what would go on next for them in the city. Theodoric patted the two of them on the shoulders and then he pointed to the company.
“You helped keep these soldiers alive as well as win the battle. Rilles, my offer still stands. Sapper, I would happily rate you a lieutenant as well. You made a great impact today. Stay with this company and we’ll be unstoppable. You’re cut today is five percent of the payout. Stay with me and it will be twenty percent. I know good fighters when I see it and I’d like you stay.”
Estalwyn nodded. She kept a blank face underneath her helmet but her tone disguised her thoughts.
“I’ll happily consider it.”
She said this with almost a sickenly bubbly brightness. Rilles smiled and showed his long three four inch canines.
“I’m interested. But do you have a reservist position?”
“I’ve never heard that question before. That’s a no for now. But again if you are ever interested I’ll be in town a little while longer before the next assignment I need to see to the widow of Soderburg Farst. You can find me in the marketplace.”
Rilles and Estalwyn both received five thousand of the King’s Passe for their work. Most of the soldiers underneath the rank of sergeant got around three thousand of the King’s Passe. Most of the cash from this job would go to the widow Farst. After taking their wages from the operation the two of them returned to the Toasting Tankard. Upon their arrival they each ordered a pint from the bar. Redmalt gave it to them for free under a whisper of warning.
“You’re paying enough for the room, Friends. Besides you helped kill some bandits, fugitives from justice. You’ve earned that beer.”
They said that thanks in unison as they crawled up the inn’s stairs to their room where they found Paul passed out amongst the balance sheets. He had likely gotten bored or tired going through their finances.
They woke him up.
“That alarm go off yet, Paul.”
Rilles asked this in an insistent tone.
“No. But we’re making profit on other accounts.”
Rilles looked at Paul deeply square in the eyes and unfortunately could not help but let loose a little growl.
“I promise you if that alarm does not go off by next nightfall I will join the mercenary company we just served with permanently.”
Paul was flushed with shock.
“If that’s what you must do I understand.”
His organization would fall apart.