The Enemy Within

This may sting a little
Marktag, 13th of Brauzeit, 2496 IC

“They were all dead, to begin with,” Schweiner thought, glancing at the ever growing rank of bloodied corpses. “The poor fellows just didn’t know it”.
Returning his attention to the job at hand, he squinted at the bloody ruin that had once been a leg. “Apply the tourniquet.. here.. please, lad”, he said gesturing precisely, his voice raised to be heard above the desperate wailings of their patient and the muffled sounds of battle outside. He indicated an area just above the left knee, and Albrecht moved to apply the crude mechanical device.
The barber wiped his hands on his blood streaked apron, and after a moments consideration reached for the medium bone-saw.
The patient’s eyes widened in terror at the sight of the gore stained implement, and he began to thrash against the heavy leather restraints, his wailing becoming a series of ragged screams.
“Albrecht, if you would be so kind?”, Schweiner asked calmly.
With the tourniquet now screwed firmly in place, the young soldier removed a small length of rope from his belt and forced it between their struggling patient’s teeth, stifling the cries.
“Bite down hard,” the boy growled. “This will hurt… a lot” he added with a grim smile.
Suddenly, the cramped tent was rocked by the concussive blast of an explosion close by, followed by the heavy spatter of earth showering the canvas walls. A number of surgical tools clattered onto the muddy floor, and ice cold water rained down from the shadowy darkness above, dousing the fire and filling the air with filthy ash and hissing steam. The Halfling and his former apprentice continued their grisly work without flinching.
“I see their aim is finally improving” Berthold remarked. He was leant again a tent pole with an open book held casually before him. “They should probably be able to hit us by next Mitterfruhl”.
“That’s what happens when you get bloody engineers involved,” Albrecht agreed over the gruesome sounds of cracking bone and tearing flesh. He looked down at the now motionless man on the table before him. “At least Fritz here’s had the sense to pass out. Shame we’d run out of Shlaf, he’s an alright sort”.
The grey wizard lowered his book to peer over the halfling’s shoulder. “Ah, one of Dietrich’s boys. I thought he looked familiar. I say.. should it really be oozing like that Herr Doktor?”.
“It’s festering alright,” Schweiner agreed. He set down the heavy saw and fished a smaller, but equally barbaric looking knife out of the mud. “The lad’s probably been lying on the front line for a day or so. We might need to get him some Graveroot but I’ve treated worse”. The barber wiped the blade on his smock, and after handing the remnants of the recently severed limb to Albrecht, he set to work cutting the scraps of flesh with which to cover the exposed and bloody stump.

“What is it that you’re so engrossed in anyway?” the Halfling asked as he continued his careful work.

“It’s a copy of Detlef Sierck’s latest play. A tragedy, very popular in Altdorf at the moment by all accounts.” Berthold replied, opening the book once more.
“What’s so good about it?,” Albrecht asked, mopping the flood of fresh blood from the table with a filthy rag.
“Well, it would seem that the esteemed playwright has finally discovered satire. It’s a tale of family feuding between a noble house of our fair Stirland and our neighbouring Talabecland. Sound familiar?”. Albrecht spat noisily into the mud at the mere mention of the rival province.
Schweiner shook his head incredulously.
“It’s a bit risqué, even for Sierck,” Berthold continued. “This little war of ours is proving rather embarrassing for the Grand Duke, and this ‘masterpiece’ is drawing unwanted attention to his inability to bring about an end to it. But, at least it means we’re famous”.
“So some foppish bastard is getting rich, while we’re up to our armpits in blood and shit and freezing our bollocks off?” Albrecht asked hotly.
“Undoubtedly, my lad, undoubtedly,” Schweiner said, putting the knife down and drawing a large needle and thread from his belt. “This little feud was in full flow long before even your great-grandfather’s days, and how many purses do you think it’s filled since then, eh?”.
“A bloody pox on the lot of them. I’ve never liked Marburg anyway” Albrecht cursed as the Halfling returned to his work.
“Don’t let the Baron hear you say that, or we’ll all be out of a job” Berthold said with a grin.

The sounds of battle outside intensified, drawing the silent Caibre to the tent flap.
“Ulric’s teeth, you gave me a fright, I’d forgotten you were there” Berthold said with a start. The chill autumn air and a swirl of the early snows blew into the tent as the wood elf lifted the flap with a bandaged hand and stared out upon the hellish battlescape below, his keen eyesight penetrating the dismal fog of war.

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“Von Schirach cavalry pressing on the right flank,” he called over his shoulder gruffly “The Captain is there with the Clan Chief. I’d say it could go either way”. A series of distant blasts followed his words as more rockets landed amid the swirling melee. “Footmen joining the centre.. they look like more of your mercenaries,” he continued, turning back into the tent, dropping the flap. “An eagle on a green field”.
“Bugger,” Albrecht swore, tossing the leg into a corner. “That’s Holtzmann’s company. They’re professionals and no mistake. Bet our bloody Lord Krebs hasn’t the coin for the likes of them.”
“Aye, he’s stuck with the likes of us instead, lad” Schweiner said with an ironic chuckle. “Now, get the pokers back on the fire and get it going again. Young Fritz here will certainly never dance again but we might just save him yet.”

A sudden and all too familiar cry from outside the tent caused the Halfling to freeze. “Butcher!”, the cry came again, drawing closer. Moments later the tent flap was hastily pushed aside, and a young man staggered in gasping for breath. The youth’s once polished Tilean armour was now dented and spattered with mud, and the coloured birds feather adornment on his helmet was now ragged and torn. Albrecht recognised him as one of the Marienburgers that had joined the company on the last campaign after their captain had been slain. He was now serving as one of the Captain’s runners. Meunchbek, that was his name.
“Butcher? “ the young man repeated through gasps for air. He glanced urgently around the tent as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, before fixing his attention on Schweiner. “Butcher.. Cap’n wants you… up to the front. It’s Lord Krebs. He’s been hit!”…

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A very civilised war...
Marktag, 13th of Brauzeit, 2496 IC

The party leaves the tent and clambers aboard the cart, leaving the young Magda to finish closing Fritz’s wounds. Caibre stalks on ahead. The air is chill and a light dusting of snow covers the ground where it hasn’t already been churned into a treacherous, muddy slush. It is early evening, and the autumn sun is just beginning to fade. You are amongst the filthy rows of tents that make up the encampment of The Wolfbach Irregulars. You recognise some of the soldiers and camp followers that trudge amongst the tents, cloaks pulled tight around them in a vain attempt to keep out the chill. Above the distant clamour of battle you make out the familiar sounds and smells of the camp around you, muffled conversation, coughing, drunken singing, the braying of a cow, the stench of the latrine trench, the rasp of Tuchtiger the smith’s grinding wheel.
Muenchbek informs you that the captain was on the right flank, fighting alongside Lord Kreb.
With a shout, Albrecht gets the pony moving and the cart squelches through the mud behind Caibre. You quickly reach the gateway in the timber stockade, and the guards let you pass with a shout of “Raynald’s luck, you’ll need it!”.
You recall that Lord Krebs has his own private physician, a Doktor Eschelmann and wonder why Schweiner’s services are suddenly required instead. Until now, the Krebs household troops have largely kept to themselves, and none of their noble elite have ever set foot in the Wolfbach camp before – apparently mixing with mercenary types isn’t the thing for a nobleman of Stirland to do
You hand the boy a wine skin which he gulps from gratefully, before asking him about the physician. “Who?” The young lad hasn’t heard of the physician, having never been anywhere near the Baron until this afternoon. There’s talk of enemy outriders harassing behind the lines so it’s possible that anyone from the household encampment can’t get through. He explains that Von Schirach heavy cavalry hit the right flank out of nowhere. He doesn’t know what Lord Krebs, the idiotic bugger, was doing up on the front line today. His bodyguard of greatswords were hit hard but were eventually able to repel the horsemen with the help of (your) Captain Anwalt and the Marienburger detachment. It was carnage, and hard fought (it looks like it from the state of the boy’s armour) but Baron Krebs was unhurt. Then the stupid bastard climbed up onto his horse to cheer at the von Schirachs as they finally withdrew, which is when he took a crossbow bolt to the eye. So the Captain sent Muenchbek off to fetch the butcher. Bloody Krebs is probably dead already by the lads reckoning.
Muenchbek urges you to hurry up though as he doesn’t want to annoy the Captain.. and injured nobles might be generous to those what save them..
The cart rattles out of the crude gateway. The battlefield in all of its miserable glory spreads out before you. A number of mercenary camps such as your own sprawl along the hillside. The Krebs household encampment is beyond the ridge line to South, in the direction of the town of Marburg. In the distance, beyond the skeletal burnt out remains of several farmsteads and the heaving press of fighting men, the river Stir can be seen, wending its way through the Great Forest. At this point in its course the river crosses a large bar of sand and gravel, splitting it into many smaller, channels, and it is here where the Von Schirach forces crossed and established their beachhead. Their camp sits like a cankerous bulge on the riverbank. The clash of steel and the screams of the dying assails you from the battlefield. Hundreds of men-at-arms, pikemen, archers and cavalrymen are engaged in a deadly bloodbath. The corpses of the slain, some now well bloated and feasted upon by crows cover the ground between you and the river. Huge, black tears in the earth bear witness to the horror of the Von Schirach rocket artillery, and as you watch another barrage screams over from the distant encampment, exploding deep in the thick of the fighting, dismembering friend and foe alike with its powerful blast. You’re thankful that they miss more oft than they hit.
Muenchbek shouts and points over towards the right flank. The Krebs household battlestandard can just be made out amid the carnage of war. Caibre jogs back to the cart and informs you that there are two likely routes. One that avoids the front line but would entail fording one of the river channels, and a more direct route that passes close to the fighting in the centre. Caibre gauges that the Krebs men in the centre nearest the route have lost their sergeant and may break soon, and he’s also spotted movement in the tree line opposite the ford that the first route would take.
Deciding that the chaos of the front line was the lesser of two evils, and offers the quickest route to Baron Krebs, Albrecht steers the cart across the muddy wasteland towards the fighting.
A fierce and desperate close quarter battle unfolds before you. Filthy, exhausted men press into the melee and you are assaulted by the screams and clamour of battle, and the stench of the dying.
You follow what remains of an old farm trail running behind the front line. Ahead of you, a column of freebooters from the south, Barstein’s Buccaneers, trudge wearily towards the front. You exchange some ‘pleasantries’ as you pass. The track veers to the right in the direction of the Krebs family standard where the fighting appears to have started anew.
The cart rattles and bumps uncomfortably along the slush logged remains of the track as you approach the fighting. You pass the skeletal remains of a burnt out farm house to your right. Two rotted and charred corpses hang from the eaves. They dangle ominously above the track, swaying in the cold breeze. However, it still strikes you as odd that no Krebs men have taken up position here.
Up ahead, on your left, you can make out a unit of Krebs spearman locked in bloody combat with Von Schirach militia.
Caibre is still moving ahead of the cart. He realises that the situation at this end of the line is dire. The spearmen are heavily outnumbered by the enemy and their sergeant lies dead. The men at the front fight on in desperation, but those in the rear ranks appear at breaking point. As the elf watches, two men drop their spears and begin to turn away from the fight. Caibre and Albrecht both realise that a break in the line here could be disastrous, especially without reinforcements at the farm. Not to mention that there’d be nothing between you and a score of bloodthirsty Von Schirachs.
Caibre’s arrow thumps wetly into the militiaman’s leg and he falls to the ground crying out in pain. Men stumble over him amid the melee.
Schweiner tries his best to encourage the Krebs men, but his words are drowned out by the din of battle. Luckily, Berthold spies the von Schirach standard bearer through the gap left by the fallen man. Frost forms on his brow as he channels the aether around him. “Drop” he commands! The standard bearer stiffens momentarily as if struck, and the heavy flagpole falls from his spasming hands.
Sensing the enemy troopers begin to falter at the sight of their colours being trampled in the mud, Caibre roars at the Krebs spearmen to press forward. Hearing his words, the men fight with increased ferocity, surging forward and driving the von Schirach scum before them.
However, four of the enemy militia, desperate to escape, make a run for the cart. They shout for Albrecht to stop as they bear down upon him..
Three of the militiamen wear leather jerkins and are armed with makeshift hand weapons, but the fourth wears a metal breastplate and carriers a two handed axe…

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Between a rocket and a scarred face..
Marktag, 13th of Brauzeit, 2496 IC

Caibre draws his makeshift spearstave as he closes with the nearest militiaman. He drives the point of the blade at the man’s head, gouging out a bloody tear of ear, scalp and hair.
Todd pulls his sling from his pack and lets loose a rock at the injured militiaman, but it flies inches wide.
The bearded sergeant charges towards the cart. He leaps aboard the footplate and attempts to throw Albrecht from the seat.
Albrecht hangs onto the reigns as he avoids the mans grasp.
The sergeant grabs hold of Albrecht again. Still clutching the reigns, the Stirlander hacks at his assailant with his axe. His blows cut deeply into the mans arm, and he howls in pain as he falls from the cart.
Muenchbek jumps off the cart and lands in a heap with the unconscious sergeant.
The wounded militiaman turns on Caibre, but doesn’t manage to land a blow. One of his comrades charges to his aid and attempts to disembowel the elf, but he too is unable to get past Caibre’s guard. The remaining militiaman closes with the cart and lashes out at Berthold with a woodaxe, striking him in the chest.
Caibre’s weapon cleanly slices a large chunk of flesh from the militiaman’s shoulder. He screams in pain and loses his footing as blood begins to pour freely down the length of his arm.
Albrecht switches his axe to left hand and hacks at the militiaman behind him. The axe bites into the mans flesh, leaving his tunic sleeve in bloody tatters.
Berthold’s heel strikes the militiaman’s fingers and he falls from the cart.. The cart rattles on… Caibre and Muenchbek are being left behind..
Seeing his comrade writhing in agony in mud, the militiaman roars as he strikes ferociously at Caibre. But he’s unable to get past the elf’s whirling spearstave. The remaining militiaman scrambles to his feet and chases after the cart once more.
Albrecht keeps the pony trotting along the rutted track. Up ahead the Krebs standard can still be made out amidst the melee on the right flank. As the cart moves past the end of the farm wall, Schweiner spots a number of riders closing in from the direction of camp. He turns to tell Albrecht, and spots another group of horsemen closing in from the enemy lines..
Caibre’s spearstave slices deep into the militiaman’s forearm, severing muscle and tendon before finally lodging between the bones in a spray of blood.
The militiaman screams as Caibre pulls the blade free from the ruin of his arm before collapsing to the mud unconscious.
Schweiner hurls a stone at their pursuer. The militiaman is knocked onto his arse by the heavy stone and winded.
Back down the track they see Muenchbek rising to his feet, cradling something clumsily in his arms. The sergeant lies dead at his feet, blood pooling out from an opened throat. Between the rattling cart and the boy, the winded militiaman clambers onto all fours. He staggers to his feet and lurches after the cart. Then stops suddenly. Caibre, having despatched his foes, turns towards the cart, then he too freezes momentarily, then begins to shout…
It is as if time itself slows down, as Berthold becomes slowly aware of the thunder of hoof beats shaking the ground beneath the cart, like a heartbeat pounding in hist chest. He turns slowly to see that riders are closing in from both sides.
Those on the cart finally become aware of a keening wail over the rattle of the wheels and the thunder of the cavalry. It’s coming from above… they follow the upturned gazes of Caibre, Muenchbek and the militiaman..
…a filthy streak of smoke arcs through the dusky sky … the rocket at its head spitting fire as it plummets erratically towards them…
The shrill shriek of the rocket fills their ears as Albrecht desperately whips at the reigns.. and then the world around them erupts into a violent maelstrom fire, noise and darkness…
Schweiner grabs hold of Berthold and the two of them throw themselves from the cart as the rocket hits.. They land hard, rolling in the mud as the explosion tears apart the world around them.
Albrecht grips onto the reigns for dear life as the rocket slams into the rear of the cart. The blast shatters the planking, turning the air thick with razor sharp splinters, and engulfing it in a thick cloud of acrid smoke.
Schweiner regains consciousness with a start. His eyes open, but he cannot see. Everything is black. His ears ring. His mouth and nose are filled with acrid, choking smoke and he begins to cough and wretch. He slowly becomes aware of writhing tendrils of fire amidst the suffocating darkness. His disorientation is such that it takes him a moment to realise that’s he’s lying on his back. Freezing water is seeping into his clothes. His entire body aches, as if some giant had used it as an anvil. Suddenly, unseen hands are grabbing his shirt, pulling him forward. The thick smoke swirls and then Berthold’s face is inches from his own. The wizard’s face is streaked with dirt and soot, and he’s bleeding badly from a scalp wound above his left eye. The young man is shouting something urgent into Schweiner’s face, but all the halfling can hear is the infernal ringing in his ears. Berthold hauls Schweiner to his feet unsteadily. The smoke suddenly ripples around them as an armoured figure on horseback bears down upon them through the burning smog.
Albrecht is thrown forward by the force of the blast. He lands awkwardly, his back crashing into the spar behind the pony. His face smacks against the harness, and his mouth fills with blood. Only the front axle and driver step of the cart remain. They bounce along behind the terrified pony which is now in full flight. The axle hits a rut in the track, causing the flailing Albrecht to slip beneath the broken cart. His arm catches in the leather reigns. He hits the muddy ground hard, before being yanked along behind the cart with a shoulder wrenching jerk.
The cavalryman bears down upon Schweiner and Berthold through the smoke. He’s Von Schirach light cavalry, with a crooked nose and bristled chin, a tattered blue tabard over weather stained, leather armour. His sunken brown eyes lock onto Schweiner’s and he readies his axe to strike as his horse gallops forward. Berthold, moves out of the shadows uttering words of power as he grabs for the cavalryman’s leg. But he looses his footing in the torn earth and his hand flails wide… striking the horse instead. The beast’s legs buckle beneath its now slumbering form, and the cavalryman is thrown from the saddle as the horse crashes to the ground. It strikes Schweiner as it passes, knocking him to the ground once more.
Caibre stalks up behind the dazed militiaman and runs a knife across his throat. He turns and glares expectantly at Muenchbek as the body collapses sideways into the mud. The boy, now cradling the dead sergeants great axe, stares warily at the elf as he approaches. He stops several metres short of Caibre. He looks down at the dead man then back at elf with distrust in his eyes. “Grootvader was right about you lot not being right” he says “You forgot to take his purse”..
Albrecht bounces painfully along behind the remains of the cart. He manages to grab hold of the reigns just enough to lift his upper body off the ground. He somehow manages to draw his knife and saw away at the leather… Finally it snaps, and Albrecht is thrown into a waterlogged ditch.
Schweiner opens his razor and bends towards the unconscious cavalryman, but Berthold’s words stay his hand.
The din of battle surrounds them once more as the cavalry continue to fight around them. Caibre and Muenchbek emerge through the smoke. The elf moves to check on the slumbering horse.
The din of the fighting horsemen lessens slightly as the enemy appear to be pushed back away from the burning cart. But as Caibre kneels to check on the slumbering horse, two riders appear in your midst. You ready your weapons with a start but are relieved to see that they’re not in von Schirach colours, at least. The first is a young woman in dirty leather armour wearing a battered wide brimmed hat adorned with two, threadbare feathers. Her stern face could be attractive but it’s hard to tell beneath the streaks of dirt, soot and blood. She holds a smoking pistol in one hand as she reigns in her horse with the other. Her companion is an older man, with a look of the Northmen about him. He holds an exotic looking shortbow in both hands, and appears to be steering his horse with his knees alone.
Caibre awakens the horse.
You recognise the woman from your troop. She’s one of the outriders. Agatha? Alise maybe? She flashes a grim smile at Schweiner as she holsters the pistol. “Butcher, the captain thought you’d have probably gone looking for trouble. Come on,” she says offering a hand to the halfling, “the Baron’s in a bad way”.
Caibre hands her the reins and says “take the halfman on the horse and we’ll follow, it’s your best chance to save him by my calculations”.
“My orders were to come and fetch him, so he rides with me” she says eyeing Caibre warily. "Lev can carry one of your wounded, " she says looking at Berthold, “but what you do is up to you, elf, so you might want to stop fondling that horse and actually ride it”.
Cursing under his breath, Albrecht clambers his way to the top of the ditch. He’s bleeding from several nasty abrasions to his arms and legs, his back feels like it’s on fire, and from the stabbing pain in his side he’s probably busted a rib or two. He shivers in his sodden armour and wipes muddy hair from his eyes as he surveys the battlefield around him. Not far to his right he can see the terrified pony galloping for the woods, the remains of the cart bouncing along behind it. On a small tree topped rise just beyond it, he can just make out the Captain and the Wolfsbach heavy infantry supporting Baron Krebs personal guard in a grim and perilous struggle as the greatswords battle against the press of von Schirach men attempting to kill or capture their ancestral foe. Albrecht can see the Krebs family standard being held aloft defiantly, even as a group of liveried advisors huddle around the prone form of the stricken Baron.
Turning his attention back towards the ruined farm, he sees a thick, smokey fog lingering where the rocket struck. Light cavalry, outriders by the look of them, clash and shoot at one another amid the smoke and ruin. Albrecht is cheered to see that the Wolfsbach horsemen seem to be having the best of it and are slowly driving their enemy back, for now at least. However, between the cavalry skirmish and the hill where the Captain awaits, lies several hundred yards of mud, slush and burned out orchard, and the young soldier can make out figures moving beyond the distant fence line.
Berthold helps Schweiner up onto Alette’s sadle before swinging himself painfully up behind the narrow eyed Ostlander. The halfling looks ill at ease perched in front of the young woman as she digs her heels into her dappled mare’s flank and spurs it onward with a shout, Lev and Berthold close behind.
Caibre climbs gracefully into the saddle of his stolen mount, snorting derisively to himself at the primitive human leatherwork. He turns and offers a hand to Muenchbek. The Wastelander stares back at him. “There’s no way I’m getting on that thing, elf”, he says bluntly. The rider on the ground stirs, a groggy curse aimed at those stealing his mount. The boy, his furrowed gaze not leaving the elf, nonchalantly kicks the downed man in the vitals and the cavalryman doubles up in pain. “I’ll kiss the Grand Theoginist’s arse before I risk my neck on one of those beasts” he continues, stooping casually to relieve the helpless man of his purse. “So be it” Caibre says as he turns his mount to follow the others, the boy already setting off at a trot behind him.
Schweiner grips the saddle for dear life as Alette spurs the horse into a gallop. The beast lurches and twists violently as the outrider skilfully dodges her mount through the frantic skirmish. Lev, Berthold and Caibre follow closely behind, trading blows with the enemy as they speed past.
Albrecht hauls himself painfully out of the ditch. He keeps low as he moves to the crumbling wall that runs alongside the track. To his left, he sees a group of riders break from the melee and head in his direction. He stares incredulously as he spies his old master perched uncomfortably upon the saddle head of the lead rider, whom he recognises as Herzogin, ‘the Duchess’, one of the company’s ‘Expendables’. But out of the corner of his eye he suddenly detects other movement and his attention is drawn back to the far side of the orchard directly in front of him. What he sees causes him to curse aloud once more. It appears that the enemy positioned amid the tumble down walls and fence line on the opposite side of the field have spotted the riders too. Albrecht sees the glint of the fading sun on handgun barrels as the soldiers of Holtzmann’s Company prepare their deadly ambush.
Albrecht jumps up from behind the wall, waving his arms and shouting.
Up ahead, through the sparse orchard trees, Alette sees a filthy mad-man suddenly spring up from behind a wall, shouting and waving frantically. She is about to veer her horse towards the opposite side of the field when a staccato of gunfire rings out from behind the walls and hedges there. The madman drops.. Then a smattering of shots are whipping past her horse.
Albrecht’s shouting drew the attention of most of the gunners. He’s winged by a shot as he ducks back down behind the wall.
Schweiner is hit with a fine spatter of blood and Alette grunts with pain, but they ride on through the now erratic gunfire.
Caibre expertly slaloms his horse through the orchard trees and both rider and horse emerge unscathed at the other side.
Schweiner notices dark streaks along Alette’s left forearm. There’s a deep, circular tear in the leather jerkin and blood is welling from within. He can hear her cursing to herself, the jarring ride obviously causing her great pain, but she does not slow her horse.
Caibre hangs down from the saddle and snatches the reeling Albrecht up onto his horse as he passes. The beast whinnies as a shot tears across its flank.
Berthold conjures up some marsh lights to distract and confuse the enemy. The hand gunners see lights bobbing along the wall behind the riders and begin to concentrate their fire there, allowing the riders to escape without further harm.
The sounds of gunfire recede as you clear the orchard and make haste toward the high ground. The noise is soon replaced by the clamour of battle once more as you gallop towards the top of the hill. You can see men garbed in the colours of both Baron Krebs’ personal guard and the Wolfsbach Irregulars locked in a bitter struggle to defend the summit from the enemy. Scores of von Schirach infantry assail them, the sheer press of men locking both sides together in a deadly, grinding stalemate. Arrows plunge into the line intermittently, and any who are felled are crushed beneath the boots of those that surge around them. A bolt glances off the helmet of a fortunate Krebs greatsword as you approach, but a second takes him in the throat before he can even count his blessing from Shallya. The Krebs’ battle standard is being held unsteadily aloft by three drummer boys, one of whom bleeds heavily from a scalp wound. The embroidered fabric is torn and ripped but still the vast flag flies defiantly. Your allies are outnumbered nearly two to one, but they have the advantage of the high ground. For now at least. A small pocket has been formed by the defending men atop the cramped hilltop at the foot of the standard. Two Kreb’s orderlies are tending to the prone figure of the Baron who’s body lays awkwardly upon the sodden grass beside his slain horse. The Baron’s skin is a deathly white, and a crossbow bolt protrudes from his left eye socket. His sunken face is awash with dark blood, and his beard matted with gore.
A third orderly appears to be arguing with the Captain. Anwart pushes past the protesting man as you approach and storms over to you. The Captain is in his 40s, with a square face, thick brow and angular nose that has been witness to many a bar fight. His moustache and beard are thinly trimmed in the Estalian style, although from what you know of the man he actually hails from Wissenland in the south. His armour is a hotch potch of hardened leather, chainmail and steel plates, and his trademark sabre and buckler are held firmly in his meaty hands. A wide brimmed hat sits atop his helm in the Marienburger style. He is spattered from head to toe in mud and gore.
“What in Ulric’s teeth took you so long?” he barks, fixing you with his steely gaze.
“There’s a war on Captain if you hadn’t noticed. Let me get to the Baron if you would be so kind.” Schweiner says.
“How in Orions name did you let that happen to the Baron?!” Caibre retorts at the Captain, “Stop your barking and clear room for the surgeon to work”.
“I’ll stop my barking when you stop costing me coin and finally make yourself useful, " the Captain growls at Caibre, “you still owe me for the yarn our good Butcher here used to stitch you back together. Don’t make me regret wasting it on your worthless hide. Sigmar, I thought it was the dwarves that were supposed to be the uptight bastards” he adds with a grin. He turns to help Schweiner down from Alette’s horse. “Hmm.. that looks nasty lass,” the Captain says upon seeing the gunshot wound to the girl’s arm, “get Herr Doktor here to take a look at it when he’s done with the Baron”. "And what the hells happened to you two?, " he asks, seeing the miserable state of Berthold and Albrecht. “I thought I was paying you.. to look after him” he adds, gesturing the tip of his buckler at the halfling.
“Butcher, the Baron’s all yours. Do whatever you need to do to not make him die. Dead men don’t pay their contracts. Elf, Albrecht, you’re with me. The rest of you, help the halfling as best you can, and you have my permission to knock that snivelling orderlie’s teeth out if he opens his mouth again.”
“And what the hells have you done with the boy?, "the Captain growls as he, Albrecht and the elf push towards the front line.
As Schweiner approaches the injured Baron, the orderly that was arguing with the Captain moves to block him. “What do you think you’re doing? You’re not Doktor Eschelmann. Only Doktor Eschelmann treats the Baron!”
“Unless you want the Baron to die I suggest you move out of my way.” Schweiner carries on moving towards the Baron.
Berthold artfully steps between Schweiner and the nobleman’s retainer before the halfling can give him a piece of his mind. The young wizard asks the man if he has heard about Detlef Sierk’s latest play…
A Krebs retainer kneels beside the stricken Baron, praying aloud.
“Save our good Lord here and you’ll earn the gratitude of the nobles all right”, Alette says as she walks beside Schweiner. She cradles her injured arm awkwardly. Schweiner drops his heavy leather bag on the ground, and crouches hand on knee to get a better look at the extent of the noble’s injuries. A crossbow bolt has clearly struck the man in his left eye, destroying it entirely before becoming lodged in his skull. By all rights the man should probably be dead, but he continues to breathe shallowly. Schweiner sucks air through his teeth as he tries to assess the extent of the damage, but with the light beginning to fade, and with the distractions of the struggle being fought all around them, Schweiner isn’t confident enough to operate on the Baron here. No, the Baron must be returned to the halfling’s makeshift operating theatre back at camp where he and Magda can inspect the injury more thoroughly. But how?
“We need to move the Baron, I can’t see well enough here” Schweiner shouts to anyone that will listen. “Does anyone have a cart?!”….

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A Rude Awakening
Backertag, 14th of Brauzeit, 2496 IC

Schweiner is awoken from a troubled sleep. The tent is dark and cold, with only a hint of moonlight visible through the stitching of the heavy canvas overhead. He shivers despite the heavy woollen blankets, as if some half remembered nightmare gnaws at his consciousness with an ungraspable sense of unease.
The Von Schirach trumpets had signalled a withdrawal due to the failing light while Schweiner was still inspecting the Baron’s wounds. Realising how greavious the damage caused by the crossbow bolt was, the halfling had known that the Baron needed to be operated on immediately. Berthold, Aletta and Lev had helped him fashion a makeshift stretcher out of discarded spear hafts and the tattered battle standard which they then lashed between two horses. The four of them had hastily taken the dying man back to the camp where Schweiner, with Magda assisting, had performed the life saving surgery. It had been a difficult procedure to remove the bolt. The Baron’s eye was lost, but the bleeding had stopped and the man was alive, for now at least. Schweiner was amazed that someone could survive such trauma. Lesser men would surely have perished. As tired and sore from the day’s events as he had been, the halfling had still insisted on tending to Aletta’s and Berthold’s wounds too. It had been a bloody evening for sure. Albrecht and Caibre had fought on at the Captain’s side, finally driving the enemy away from the hilltop. The young man had returned to camp in an exhausted state, while the elf had volunteered himself for picket duty.
The halfling lays motionless in the dark for a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust to the gloom whilst trying to figure out what has awoken him. The tent is silent and still, except for Albrecht’s soft snoring from the cot opposite. The sounds of the camp outside are muted, most of the men now taking the opportunity to rest before the fighting begins anew on the morrow.
But as the halfling becomes more aware of his surroundings, he detects a low, muffled whispering sound. He isn’t able to make out any words, but it sounds as though it’s coming from the surgery in the main part part of the tent. Could someone be in need of a surgeon at this ungodly hour? He wonders if Caibre has returned from picket duty already.
Schweiner slowly pulls the blankets aside and quietly slips from his cot. He moves carefully towards the canvas flap leading into the surgery to investigate…
The surgery is a big circular tent (where Schweiner does the operating) with several smaller ‘side tents’ leading off from it. There’s an infirmary (where people are put to recover – It doubles as Magda’s quarters and is currently occupied by Aletta, Berthold and Fritz), there’s another one that is Schweiner and Albrecht’s quarters) and a third one where supplies are kept and any cadavers are stored in there until disposed of. Caibre and Berthold have separate tents beside the surgery. Given the state of the Baron, Schweiner didn’t want to move him unnecessarily so he’s recovering in the main tent. Two of his personal guard are standing watch outside the entrance to the tent. His personal physician, Dr Enschelman has been sent for, but enemy raiders behind the lines are delaying him. The Barons orderlies have been protesting that Schweiner shouldn’t be allowed to touch a man of such noble birth but the captain and Schweiner have made it clear to them that the halfling will do his work else the Baron will die.
Schweiner slowly lifts the flap and peers cautiously into the darkness beyond. Everything appears as it should do. The cramped surgery is still and quiet. The Baron lies seemingly motionless upon the operating table. Only the feint trace of his breath in the cold air
shows that he has not crossed into Morr’s realm. The flap to the infirmary is lowered, but Schweiner can hear muffled, erratic snoring from within. Deciding that the Graveroot has obviously done its work, and that it was Berthold’s and Fritz’s collective snoring that has awoken him, Schweiner turns with a sigh of relief to return to bed.
But as he does so, a sudden sound makes him stop in his tracks with a shiver of fear. A muffled, wet, whispering sound is coming from behind him…
Schweiner wakes Albrecht, putting his hand over his mouth so he doesn’t make a sound.
Albrecht tenses at being awoken, and struggles momentarily before realising its Schweiner trying to wake him quietly. It is eerily quiet…
Schweiner gestures for Albrecht to be quiet and follow and heads quietly back to the flap drawing his razor as he goes.
Albrecht reaches for the axe kept beside his bed and follows carefully.
Berthold awakens in the darkness of the infirmary but is very groggy and disorientated due to effects of the drugs Schweiner has given him for the pain.
Schweiner and Albrecht pause warily at the entrance to the surgery. Schweiner holds a finger to his lips and urges his friend to be quiet. They listen keenly, but all that can be heard is the laboured snoring from the the infirmary, and the murmured conversation of the guards outside. There is a faint waft of tobacco leaf and the guards are silent once more. “What exactly are we_” Albrecht begins to say before Schweiner claps a hand over his mouth suddenly. The halfling strains his hearing. There is definitely a strange muffled whispering coming from the darkness beyond..
From where they are, they can’t see anyone moving around within the surgery. The whispering seems to be coming from the centre of the room, where the Baron still lies upon the operating table.
As they edge forward cautiously, they realise that the noise is coming from the Baron himself. But his gurgled words are unclear from their position just inside the doorway.
They tentatively approach the Baron. Schweiner’s heart skips a beat as the man makes a faint gurgling noise again. The nobleman’s remaining eye is closed, and his breathing is shallow. Schweiner leans closer in an attempt to make out what he’s saying, and to check that his airway isn’t blocked. He stops suddenly, and his eyes widen in fear as the realisation dawns on him that the sound isn’t emanating from the Baron’s mouth. The odd, wet sounds seem to be coming from within the man’s tunic, just below his left collar bone.
Albrecht can feel the hairs on the back of his neck prick up. He tightens his grip on his axe as Schweiner nervously unbuttons the Baron’s tunic. The halfling’s mouth is dry, and his heart thumps in his chest as he slowly peels back the thick brocaded fabric, and cuts the dirty undershirt away with his razor. Schweiner and Albrecht exchange a nervous glance, and the halfling swallows dryly as a leather harness is revealed beneath, stretching around the unconscious man’s chest and shoulder. It is held in place by two small sets of buckles that sit either side of a short stretch of thicker leather just below the left collar bone…
Suddenly there is a noise behind them, making the pair physically jump and sending pangs of fear rippling through their bodies. They spin around to find a groggy Berthold staggering into the tent behind them. The young wizard is clearly still under the effects of the Graveroot as he clings drunkenly on to a tent pole for balance. Schweiner lets out a long sign of relief while Albrecht curses the wizard to the Wastes and back.
“What in the hells is wrong with you two?”, Berthold slurs at them in confusion..

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