He couldn't work out which was worse. The cold or his feet.
Barnaby looked around and wasn't surprised to see most others were limping. Lieutenant Karl, their commander was on horseback, though he was clearly suffering some bad chafe from the saddle. Two days had passed since his bastardised training at Valience Keep
had ended and their march to Fordragon Hold had begun. Along with fifty-three other new Privates, he was to join the 9th Brigade here in Dragonblight. All Barnaby knew was they were a new unit, raised as part of the Valience Expedition. No traditions. No battle honors. A clean slate.
That was a thought for future Barnaby. Present Barnaby was cold and had sore feet. Of all the times to start a military campaign, the Alliance had chosen the beginning of winter. Dragonblight was a wasteland of howling winds and endless snow. The convoy of ox-carts and pack-mules they marched with was filled with feverish and frostbitten soldiers. Two of their own number were among the casualties, and another - Private Yates - had died the previous night in his sleep.
The battalion of footmen officially escorting the caravan had lost three to the winter attrition, and a horse in the heavy cavalry company had been put down. Most of the caravaneers were dwarves - none of which seemed to be on the carts with the wailing humans. Dwarves...
A break in the wind showed a cloudy sky, a colossal tower circled by what looked to be dragons to the east but more importantly, showed a structure several miles ahead. The silhouette was distinct enough - an Alliance Guard tower. It's half-company of archers and ballistae operators were no doubt huddled around fires within the structure's walls. Private Grathier didn't care. Above and behind it was tower, flying the Lion of Stormwind from its flagpole. Squatter buildings and bonfires dotted the hill beyond it in the shadow of a menacing Scourge fortification.
This was Fordragon Hold, the Alliance base of operations in Dragonblight.
The sight of it brought the morale back in an instant. The marching soldiers were still too cold and too busy shivering in their armor to cheer, but the relief was in everyone's eyes.
"About damn time..." Private Riley muttered from the rank ahead.
"Grow a pair, Jonathon." Barnaby retorted. "Just because it doesn't snow in Stormwind..."
"Don't make me come back there!" the large footman snarled.
"Shut it, you two!" snapped a female voice from somewhere behind them. Private Katherine was in no mood to hear bickering. A former Corporal in the Stromgarde militia, she had outperformed every other recruit back in Valience Keep with ease, even winning a sparring tournament that had been held on the last day of training. When she talked, you listened.
Barnaby shut his mouth without so much as a grumble and returned his eyes front. The air had shouded their beacon of morale again, but they were less than a league away now. Maybe forty-five minutes? The seconds dragged by as the caravan limped through the snow. The wind played an eerie tune against his helmet. The cold constantly gnawed at his bones. Lieutenant Karl spurred his destrier forward to exchange words with a Captain of the escorting battalion.
The longest forty-five minutes of his life.
The guard tower appeared again and slowly grew in size. Two more modern hexagonal towers - like the ones in Valience Keep - loomed above it, muzzles from the 24 pounder cannons that manned it standing a silent vigil. Her cannoneers were no doubt cowering inside the walls from the cold. As they neared, the single long blast of a horn heralded their approach.
The first sentries were as miserable as them, huddled in their cloaks to keep the heat in. As they came in amongst the bonfires, more faces greeted them. Humans, dwarves, gnomes, high elves, night elves, draenei. Footmen, riflemen, clerics, battlemages, Sentinels, cannoneers. It was a grim yet powerful atmosphere that Barnaby immediately fell in love with. There was a strength here, in each and every soldier he passed. They passed a Captain addressing a company of human and dwarven footmen in an odd uniform Barnaby didn't recognize.
"COMPANY!" Lieutenant Karl shouted. "LEFT - WHEEEEL!"
Without thinking, they followed the drill and speared away from the caravan. The fifty-two Privates walked for a while longer, passing more towers and even more soldiers. Most were humans and dwarves, though every Alliance race was represented by at least one of their kind.
More attempted drill.
"COMPANY WILL ADVANCE!" Karl shouted. "RIGHT - TURN!"
Lieutenant Karl drew his sword and saluted a charcoal-haired human atop a white mustang. With his armor, it was obvious enough to see he was a paladin. To his left was a stern-faced officer - Barnaby couldn't identify rank yet - and to his left was a dwarf that seemed to radiate power.
"King's Honor, sir." Karl quietly said to the officer. "Company strength, fifty-two able bodies, two incapacitated."
"King's Honor, Lieutenant." the paladin replied, barely audible to Barnaby. "I was told fifty-five soldiers would be marching in today."
"A man was lost to the cold during the march, sir."
"Understood, lieutenant. To your duties." Karl saluted again from his saddle and steered his horse away. The paladin looked at the miserable bunch of footmen.
"COMPANY!" slightly higher register of the new officer called. "STAND AT - EASE!
"King's Honor to you all." he said. "I am Marshal Voidbane, Commanding Officer 9th Brigade, the 'Moonbrook' Brigade. You've all had a hard march, so I won't keep you here long. Commander Sterick."
"Sir!" the armored officer to his left called.
"This is Commander Sterick. Commanding Officer, 77th Battalion. With him is Knight-Champion Thunderhand. Or just Sir Thunderhand."
The dwarf Thunderhand said nothing.
"You will all be under Sterick's command." Voidbane continued. "All I ask from you as your Marshal is to do your duty and give one hundred percent. COMPANY! ATTEN-TION!
"Light be with you all, ladies and gentlemen!"
A handover was conducted between Marshal Voidbane and Commander Sterick involving another sword salute exchange. When Voidbane was gone, Sterick looked over his new men.
"Company!" the more disinterested voice of their battalion commander ordered. "Stand AT - ease!"
"Who here is cold?" he asked.
No one responded.
"Well you damn well look cold." he continued. "So go to that bonfire and warm up. You'll be plucked from there into your companies shortly. I don't give a fuck about drill, just go."
The nervous, new Pirvates tentatively remained, unsure what to make of Sterick. Eventually the cold won out and they all fled to the nearby bonfire and the company of a number of other soldiers. Handshakes were exchanged, introductions made and Barnaby began his career in the 9th 'Moonbrook' Brigade.