How did they end up in this mess? It was Torge, who saw the strangers first, some dirty figures at the side of the road. They seemed quite friendly as Torge’s group advanced. One of them even waved with a loaf of bread. So the men dashed out of the woods, Nimtsche fist, then Torge, then Lusch and Jannek was the last one. By all gods, they were hungry. All these days on small rations had worn them out. So it was no surprise that they acted quite carelessly. It was way too late when Jannek recognized the red under the dirty covers – the red of the king.
“Well, comrades, hungry?”, asked the one holding the bread. His smile reminded Jannek of a wolf. How did they end up in this mess? Had Jannek and his friends lost the ability to see? No, they all had only watched the bread and so had overlooked the obvious. Mud covered the strangers in quite a film, but the contours of armours were clearly visible. Eight additional strangers joined the four ones bringing the total up to a round dozen. One dozen soldiers, surrounding Jannek and the other deserters. Nimtsche the bonehead, still not noticing what was going on, reached out for the bread. Quickly the wolf pulled it back and asked with a pretended naivety: “Bread is only for brave men. Are you brave men?”
Jannek didn’t like this guy at all. Even Nimtsche seemed to slowly recognize that something was wrong. “Y…..Y……Y….. Yes, of course”, he stuttered, while his growling stomach predominated the fear in his head.
„Well, well…“ the wolf said, broke the bread and put a big part of it in his mouth. Smacking he continued: „Four brave militia men sitting in the forest in tettered tunics.” He picked Nimtsche’s emblem clean: „You are quite lucky, that you met us so far away from Gotha.” The wolf swallowed the bread: “But Innos loves the brave man. That may be the reason for our meeting.” He gave the bread to one of his men who stored it safely away leaving Nimtsche with tears in his eyes.
“Now, it’s time to introduce ourselves.”, the wolf said. “Kane is my name, and this stinking cohort is my unit. I know it’s hard to see under all of the mud, but that also has some advantages. Kane laid his hand on Torge’s shoulder and pushed the strong club-swinger down. “And who are you, my big friend?“ The giant didn’t buckle, so one of the soldiers kicked him in the back of his knee and he fell in the mud howling. “Forgive me, you are such a big man, and I don’t like anyone concealing the sun if he is now cloud.” With his hands, Kane held his belly. „We are coming directly from Venguard, where we filled our bellies until they were about to burst. And because we heard that the orcs are marching for Gotha, we are bringing provisions and supplies for the whole keep. But the thing with the orcs can’t be true. Because if it were, you wouldn’t be here, would you?” Jannek, who had only drunken rainwater out of his hands, suddenly felt the need to pee. “So someone was lying to me. How impolite of the paladins.” Lusch started shivering, as Kane grabbed on to him and pulled his head back and forth to look him in the eyes. “The only problem is, the champions of Innos never tell a lie, and didn’t teach the lord of fore to us all that you shall speak truthfully at all times, hold on to our vows and do our duty? So what to do with four militiamen, far away from the place they should be defending against the orcs?”
This time the question wasn’t a rhetorical one, and the captain waited for an answer. He got none. The time for lies was over, and the truth didn’t need any words. “Attus!” the called man stepped forth from Kane’s men. „It seems we have a bunch of deserters here, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, my captain!“, Attus answered.
“What do we usually do with traitors?”, Kane asked in a pretended voice.
As if trained a thousand times, all of the soldiers shouted: “WE HANG THEM!”
“Really all of them?”
“THE WHOLE GANG!“, the choir answered.
“Hmm, the whole gang.”, Kane repeated. Suddenly Nimtsche sprinted away. The mud sprayed away with every one of his steps, but despite the slippery ground, the bonehead was quite fast.
The drawing of the bow was barely audible, but the shot was. One last big splash and the dead body that once had been Nimtsche fell to the ground. “There’s always one”, Kane said, without showing any emotions about the attempted flight. “Sadly we don’t have any ropes in our provisions. So we can’t hang you properly.” It sounded to Jannek as if the captain was really apologizing to him. Lusch wet himself as the captain drew his sword. Even in all the mud and weather the spot was clearly visible to everyone. Without any comment, the captain pushed his sword right through Lusch’s throat. All of the soldiers kept a straight face. Neither joy nor pity was in their eyes. Now it was Jannek’s turn to shiver. Bladder and throat seemed to be knotted, in anticipation of the certain death. The fears he felt in this moment and from which the others had run, were beyond words. Torge’s gaze got empty, like the gaze of slaughter cattle. But the captain wiped his sword clean and put it away. “If Innos really had wanted this to end with four dead men, we would’ve had some ropes. Deserting is not only treason but also quite stupid. Militiamen are allowed to be stupid if they are also brave. Those over there…”, Kane gestured towards the dead Lusch and Nimtsche, “they were only stupid. With all grace useless if it counts.” The soldier with the bread reappeared broke it in half and ave it to Torge and Jannek. Although it wasn’t quite fresh the smell tickled Jannek in his nose. First, his stomach everted, then the one of his friend. But not much got out.
“Eat, as soon as you can. When we reach our destination we’ll need all the power we can muster, because we’ll have work to do once we reach Gotha. And always remember: Innos is with the brave.”