Gasper left his cabin in his leather armor. A familiar sting of pain struck from his left arm. He’d just applied the burning water. It would prevent the wound from festering, but it would also cause a lot of pain. He’d had to begin everyday by this torture since the day of the attempt on his life. The blade had cut too deep into his arm, and it was taking a lot of time to heal.
He glanced around the camp. Most of it was empty, aside from some of his men who were preparing some equipment to be moved out of the palisade.
Beside the cabin, he spied his horse. He quickly mounted it and rode through the camp and out of the gate.
Outside, his crew was awaiting him, over 2000 men ready to move. Most of them were poorly armed and poorly trained, but even 10 men armed with nothing but stones could still kill a veteran in full armor under the right circumstances. Numbers mattered. And they would certainly matter a lot today.
Gasper rode to the front of his crew where Master Rudolf and Erick were. He stopped beside the masked steward and met his reassuring eye for a moment.
“The ladders are on the wagons, chief,” Erick broke the silence from behind. “We’re ready to move.”
“Have you prepared the men for everything?” Gasper stared at Erick.
“Yes, chief,” Erick said. “They will be ready when it’s time.”
Gasper nodded. His men now knew that they would fight another battle after attacking the fortress. The second battle would be during their return, and it wouldn’t be a pleasant one for them. No one liked to be the betrayer, specially when they weren’t the ones benefiting the most from it.
Before signaling for the advance, he gazed at the sky. It was dawn, and the first light shone upon the dense clouds that loomed above. The sun was yet to be visible on the horizon, but its light exposed the odd state of the sky.
“Too cloudy for a summer day,” he told Master Rudolf as he brought his horse beside him.
The old steward nodded slowly as he glanced above.
Gasper raised his right hand and signaled for his men to follow as he rode forward.
West of the forest, Gasper and his men came to a stop. He gazed at the north and it only took a few moments for him to spot two crews with comparable numbers approaching.
As the two crews drew closer, Gasper saw that Viper’s crew was much like his own. The men weren’t properly armed and almost all of them were on foot.
Lucas’s men, on the other hand, were well-armed. Most of them wore clean leather armor of similar gray color. It gave them rhythm as they marched. Quite a few of Lucas’s men were mounted as well.
Gasper spied the former knight leading his men. He was trotting ahead of them in his full steel armor, and Gasper couldn’t help but remember Sir Robard again.
The two northern crews soon reached Gasper and he met their chiefs.
“Gasper,” Viper greeted.
Gasper nodded. “Viper.” Then he nodded to Lucas too, and the latter returned the nod.
“I suppose we have to continue towards the southwest now,” Viper said. “We should find Edith and Harland there by the time we arrive.”
“Yes,” Gasper said, signaling for his men to begin moving. “We shouldn’t dally.”
The three crews moved together towards the south then the southwest. Gasper would glance back from time to time and watch the trail of raggedy brigands marching behind him and Viper. Without their weapons, Gasper believed they would look like a mass of migrating refugees.
In comparison, Lucas’s men looked like a proper marching army.
Gasper’s men were the most numerous, outnumbering the other two crews combined. He doubted that his crew could stand up to Lucas’s in fair battle though.
During the march, the three chiefs often rode near each other, but their crews moved separately.
As they rode towards their destination, Viper said, “I brought 800 men from my crew.” Then he glanced at Gasper.
“I brought most of my crew,” Gasper lied. He’d brought all of his men. “More than 2000 men.”
Viper nodded then stared at Lucas who ignored him and kept looking ahead for a few moments then finally yielded and spoke tepidly. “I brought most of my crew as well.”
At noon, the three chiefs arrived at the meeting point. Gasper saw an army of bandits awaiting them in the distance. But as he and the other two chiefs drew closer, they spotted Harland leading those bandits on his own.
Viper urged his horse forward and galloped ahead of Gasper and Lucas. He rode all the way to Harland then stopped.
Gasper followed Viper, soon reaching him and Harland just as they began speaking.
“I don’t see Edith,” Viper said, a mix of anger and doubt in his voice.
Harland shook his head apologetically. “She couldn’t come. The peasants of the village east of our forest rose up against her. They killed three of her men last night. She has to handle them today.”
‘What a lovely beginning to today’s plans,’ Gasper thought to himself. Edith wasn’t here, so one of the Viscount’s targets for the ambush was absent. And now Gasper had no way of informing the Viscount of this without being noticed. It was too late. He wondered if Master Rudolf could slip away during battle to inform the Viscount of this news, but he soon decided against it. The Viscount would likely be out of Ard by the time they are in battle.
Viper was still staring at Harland. The latter just smiled wryly.
“You need not worry,” Harland said, pointing at the men behind him. “I have brought all of my men, and Edith has given me 800 of hers. She only has a bit more than 200 under her command now for that village.”
Viper sighed, obviously still unconvinced.
Lucas who’d been trotting briskly behind them soon arrived. He glanced around then stared at Viper with questions in his eyes.
“Edith hasn’t come,” Viper said. “Some villagers have taken up arms against her. Most of her men are here though.” He said the words and appeared to be searching Lucas’s face for a change.
Gasper also waited for the former knight’s face to turn purple, but the latter’s expression didn’t change. “Huh” the former knight uttered with no distress.
“So we can continued with this assault, yes?” Viper gazed at Lucas, awaiting an answer.
“Yes,” Lucas said, a faint smile on his face.
Viper turned to Harland and nodded. “Let’s move then.”
The four chiefs began a quick march towards the south. The fortress wasn’t far, and they would soon be upon it.
The scouts of the Red Rain band would likely spot them before their arrival. But that would change nothing. They would have no time to do anything aside from shutting their gates and manning their walls.