"Come on, man." Grathier pleaded. "We're going down there tomorrow morning."
"I told you, man." Decklyn explained again. "We're short on it enough as it is."
"Should I tell Riley or should you?" he asked. Decklyn chuckled.
"I think you can."
Barnaby was given a small keg of rum to distrubute amongst the squad. A pint of the stuff was rationed to each man that evening in light of the coming attack. Most of them would drink their share and use it to put themselves down for an early night - reveillie would be an early one. But naturally, give an inch and they had told him to bargain for more.
"Whatever, just have something to hide under when he comes storming over." he said in the end. He was about to heft the barrel and a forty-pound sack of grain when Decklyn spoke up again.
"Hey Grathier." he said. "Could you could give me a hand with something?"
"Sure, what's up?"
"I need someone to pick some brandy up from one of the merchants here." Decklyn explained. "I bartered the stuff yesterday but he refuses to deliver."
"Have you paid for it yet?" he asked.
"No." Decklyn replied. "I would be doing it now, but my hands are tied with this coming attack."
"What's the brandy for?" he asked.
"The officers have stripped me of my supply." he continued. "And everyone seems to forget the coming winter."
Aha. Barnaby had worked it out then. It was a trick his father did as well - a splash of alcohol to keep the water from freezing. They used to pour moonshine into the well every now and again to keep it flowing during winter. Barnaby wasn't at all suprised to find the army did something similar.
"How many men will I need?"
"Three barrels, so three people. We bartered the price to two gold and eighty."
"Sure," Barnaby said with a grin. "I think Riley, Marcus and I can get two and nine-tenths of the stuff to you."
The price was set with Decklyn's grunt of approval and he set off with his rations and three gold coins - a big trust on the quartermaster's part. It was snowing lightly now and a crunch returned to the thin layer on the ground when trod upon. A lot of men were sparring, venting their restlessness into echoing sword strokes. Some slept or ate or honed weapons. Mostly everyone was quiet, and the camp beset by a stillness.
His squad's tent was thankfully close to the quartermaster and everyone sat in a ring around the fire. He dropped the barrel and sack.
"Rum!" he called, imitating a market vendor as he poured into a stein. Not suprisingly, Riley owned the thing. "Pint of the army's finest paint thinner, going once, going twice--"
"Rum! Yes!" Riley said, snatching the stein and skulling the contents. It probably didn't even faze him. "Gimme a refill."
"A pint's your ration." he said. "Take it up with Decklyn after this if you're not happy."
"Horseshit!" he boomed and reached for the keg. Barnaby darted a step back and couldn't help smirking. Riley's face contorted in anger and he thought the man would come swinging. Instead he stormed off to yell at the quartermaster. He took the stein with him, so they settled for an issued pot to boil water in its place. It went around the circle several times, everyone taking gulps of rum and passing it on. Barnaby filled it whenever it came back and the cycle continued. By the time they were finished, he felt pretty buzzed. Katherine was giggling over some unknown joke and Marcus was trying to chat up Private Astor, the other girl in their squad, about Katherine's age. They had left some for Sergeant Perth who was absent.
Riley still hadn't returned when Grathier got to his feet.
"Katherine," he said. "Off on an errand for Decklyn." he turned to the group. "Need two blokes to give me a hand with some heavy lifting."
A groan from someone. Probably Bort.
"There's a reward at the end." he said with a wry grin. He left the sentence hanging on everyone's ears. Distantly, Riley was shouting at Decklyn and probably someone with at least three chevrons as well.
In the end, Marcus and Carson got up. Katherine was in charge while Perth was gone and Bort simply did his surly act and went to sleep. Astor was too small for heavy lifting (and didn't want to go with Marcus) and Private Wheeler - the fourth member from Barnaby's old squad - was busy sharpening his weapon. Grathier knew he was just lazy and would stop once they left.
"So where are we going?" Marcus asked, pausing mid-sentence to turn his head and admire a passing female soldier.
"Haul some brandy for Decklyn." Barnaby replied. "I would've taken Riley, but he was too busy complaining about the ration being only one pint to help us skim some here."
"Oh the irony." Carson muttered with a grin. Neither Grathier nor Marcus knew what that meant, but they grinned anyway. They trudged away from the bonfires to the bottom of the hill where the camp followers massed. Apparantly, every marching army had one - merchants, whores, makeshift taverns and just about everything a soldier could spend his stipend on. Barnaby followed Decklyn's directions and found the supplier easily enough. He was a middle-aged man wish a hawkish face you instantly find distrustful and grey, thinning hair. A crate served as a counter and behind him was a tent filled with sealed and marked barrels.
"Evening." Barnaby said amiably, beaming his friendly smile. "You have three barrels of brandy ready to go, I hear."
"If you're here on behalf of that weasel, then yes." the merchant replied, gesturing to a tent where he kept his goods. Carson immediately peered inside. "The price is as we negotiated." the merchant said, then turned to the soldier. "First three on the left as you enter."
"Two gold and sixty, if I was told correctly." Barnaby said. The merchant glowered. Carson hauled a keg out.
"Two and eighty was the agreed price."
"I don't know..." Marcus chimed in. "I was certain I heard two and sixty as well." His natural shitstirring ability never ceased to amuse Barnaby.
"Well it's two and eighty!" he barked. "Or you can tell that halfling that--"
"Relax, it's two and eighty." Barnaby said, offering the gold. "Can you change three?"
The money was exchanged along with glares and smirks as Carson set the last one down. Barnaby was about to make for the nearest one when a hand clamped down on his shoulder.
"Excuse me." the soldier inquired from behind him. He turned to identify the man as a corporal with dark green facings. "It looks like you need a hand." Two soldiers flanked him. Two big soldiers - one of which looked familiar. "Allow me."
Barnaby was bemused, but played along. If they tried to steal the kegs, well, the bigger they are, the harder they fall with a boot to the groin. "Of course, mate." he gestured to the barrels. He noticed the men had longbows and one particularly muscular arm each - archers. "You must--"
"You!" the merchant bellowed. "Begone from here before I call for your officers!"
"Now wait just a minute," the corporal said half-innocently and went to the barrels. He opened one, sniffed the contents, rinse and repeat. When he reached the last one, he wrinkled his nose.
"This one smells particularly good."
Carson smelled it and winced. Barnaby did the same. It held a twinge of what he could only attribute to urine. He turned on the merchant and grabbed his collar.
"Are you pissing in my product?!"
"All of you! Be gone from my sight!" he bellowed feebly. "There will be no s--"
Barnaby shook him.
"Give us one good reason why we shouldn't hang you?"
"Uh, Grathier..." one of the other archers warned. Barnaby turned to see several large men descending on the six of them. Barnaby stared the merchant down. The wind picked up a little, creating a light snow drift and chilling everyone.
"You got friends, eh?" Grathier challenged the merchant as he heard a punch connect behind him. The swing held all the rattles of armour, so he assumed one of his new friend's entourage threw it. Something thudded in the snow. "Good for you. I've been looking forward for--"
He turned on the archer as the other thugs fell upon the men. "How did you know my name?"
There were more than a few thugs. At least eight had appeared, all cheered on by the other merchants. A guild, perhaps? That wasn't uncommon, but quite unfortunate. The archer had knocked the man clean out with a swing from his massive drawing arm and was grappling another. A man was in a scuffle with Marcus and Barnaby smashed the back of his knee with his boot, allowing Marcus to punch him in the throat.
"We met in Valience Keep. I backchatted your sergeant?"
He remembered that. The Sergeant whose name he had already forgotten had called him a 'potato' that made everyone snicker. Who calls someone a potato? All six soldiers were committed now against more than ten merchants and thugs. Three soldiers in breeches and sabres - cavalrymen wore that, he thought distantly - had seen the scuffle and had thrown themselves into the fray as well. Two dwarves in mountaineer cloaks had also joined in on his side.
In short, an all-out brawl had erupted.
"Oh! Windrest, right?!" he called, hauling a man off the back of Windrest's corporal. He turned the man around, uppercutted him on the chin but before he could continue, one of the cavalrymen crash-tackled him out of Barnaby's hands and onto the snow. He turned on another and feinted a punch, but instead brought his boot up into his groin as he blocked high.
A gunshot pierced everyone's eardrums, lingering for a long second. The twenty strong brawling crowd all looked at an officer flanked by two riflemen. He looked like an infantry officer with black facings, but Barnaby didn't know facings and therefore couldn't pin his unit. Four of the guild thugs were sprawled on the ground, unconscious.
"Enough!" the officer bellowed. "I'll not see soldiers scuffling about like rabble! Form rank!"
Eight men, two dwarves and a high elf fell into line. The others melted away.
"Give your name and service number when my sergeant asks for it." one of the riflemen produced an quill, inkwell and parchment and used the bartering counter to write on. The officer eyed the rogues before him. "Now I am an honest man. I demand an explaination for this."
Barnaby was about to step forward when Windrest beat him to it.
"The merchant behind us gave us a barrel of piss instead of rum." he explained. "We returned to confront him and caught him trying the same trick on three other soldiers. Red-handed."
"This is an outrage!" the merchant exclaimed from one side. "Slander is what this is!"
"Barrel's just there by the counter, sir." Barnaby chimed in, gesturing toward the barrels. Naturally the evidence had been spilled in the scuffle, but the snow had cushioned it at an angle and salvaged some inside. "The one that's been knocked over."
The officer strode over to inspect the barrel, squatted on his haunches and took a whiff. He wrinkled his nose and looked at the merchant, who was scrambling for an excuse.
"That's not mine, sir!"
"Bullshit!" Marcus retorted.
"Quiet!" the officer bellowed. "All eleven of you were in on this?"
One of the dwarves proved. "We jumped in te help our lads out, we did!" Several murmurs of agreement from the other rifleman and the three cavalry troopers. The officer silenced them with a hand.
"That was most certainly urine." he said. "All of you, get lost!" he turned on the merchant. "I'll get your name and details of your business and guild. I'll see to it you won't ply your trade with any soldiers again."
The old merchant was cherry-red with anger. The other soldiers slinked away and Barnaby helped himself to one of the kegs of brandy.
"Get away from that, Private!" he shouted.
"My logistics officer paid him for six barrels, sir." Grathier retorted, knowing full well that Marcus wasn't a logistics officer, but a quartermaster. "He has three gold in his pockets - check him sir! I'll just get these and be on my way."
"WHAT!" the merchant shouted. "YOU SLIMY PIECE OF--"
"Enough!" the officer shouted him down. "Empty your pockets, sir." the merchant did, revealing three gold coins. "Get your damn barrels and go. If you're still here in ten seconds Private, I'll charge you for insubordination."
"You cannot do this!" the old man shouted.
Barnaby smirked and he, Marcus, Carson, Windrest and both of his friends all hefted a barrel and left. When they were out of earshot they started giggling. Then they stopped to laugh and hoot.
"Paid him for six barrels!" Marcus exclaimed. Handshakes were exchanged all around and everyone introduced themselves. The two big thugs Windrest had brought were Private Reist and Corporal Costello - both had bows on their backs like Windrest.
"Nothing like an archer's swing to put a man in his place." Costello hooted. They all had one slightly more muscular arm than the other, Barnaby noticed.
"You guys must have some wicked porn back there." Marcus jeered.
"And a killer donkey punch." Windrest replied. They all laughed except Carson.
"A killer what?"
"Never mind." Barnaby said. "They probably have a company rule banning choke sex as well."
More laughter and more jeers. Windrest poked more fun at himself than at the others but everyone was cheerful - they had just scored free alcohol, after all. They checked each one and found none had the urine stench - thank the Light for that. With that done, they began helping themselves to a barrel, using Marcus's helmet and taking care not to get the plume stained.
"We were sold one like that." Costello said. "You can have the other five."
"Nonsense!" Barnaby retorted. "We were after three, so we're each taking one free keg for our troubles."
That was agreed and Windrest offered to donate his to them so they walked together. Grathier saw the dark green facings again and took a mental note that it represented the 5th Brigade.
"You're here for the attack tomorrow?" he asked. Barnaby dared not nod with a few dozen pounds of barrel on his shoulder, so he made an affirmatory clicking noise in the corner of his mouth.
"Should be." he replied. "Our officers are in orders as we speak."
"Our CO is meeting with the Highlord as well." he replied. "We're hoping for a skirmish line, but we'll probably be stuck on volley fire."
Barnaby wasn't quite sure what a skirmish line was, so he bit his tongue. He knew what volley fire was at least. They reached the 9th's bonfires and he led the way now. Marcus and Carson had walked on ahead while they ambled and chatted.
"I'm hoping for a lead company." he said. "First in order of march sounds just fine to me."
"You like toeing with death?"
"I like getting a chance to do my job." Barnaby clarified, going on about the brief battle in the Ruby Dragonshrine. He had slain perhaps a dozen ghouls and a cultist - who had only offered token resistance. Nothing major.
"A little." the three silver coins were genuine and not truesilver like he had feared - he hadn't sold them yet. The broken sword was worthless and no merchant would give him a price. He had discarded that already.
"Well, let's hope tomorrow brings better spoils."
"And a way into Icecrown Citadel."
They dropped their barrels off to Decklyn, joking that it had been a firesale down there. He shook hands with Private Windrest and told him to shoot a necromancer for him. When that was done they parted ways and he went back to the fire to find Riley moping and everyone else asleep.
He joined them - it would be a big day tomorrow.