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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY
WhiteWolf

A Soldier’s Story Pt2 : A moment of peace and beauty

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    Amon had just finished checking the hooves on his horse, making sure there were no stones, or foreign matter lodged in the hoof.  Standing up, Amon stretched, working the kinks out of his muscles and then taking a clean rag wiped the sweat from his face.  Just as he was replacing the rag in his pocket, a messenger entered the stables and made his way straight to where Amon was standing.

    “Sir i have a message for you to meet the Commander in the Council chambers at your earliest convenience.”

    Amon took the proffered message and quickly read it. “It would seem the Leader of the Miners guild is here and wants out help with something.  I will see you at the evening meal, Ham. Try and stay out of trouble until then.” Amon did not hear Ham’s muttered reply, which was just as well as it was far from complimentary. Returning to his quarters, which were more like a suite of rooms, Amon quickly washed and changed into a clean uniform.  After he had dressed and pulled on a clean pair of boots Amon made his way to the Council Chambers where he greeted his Commander and the civilians present.

    The meeting dragged on for the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon, it was not that what the Miners Guild wanted was complicated, more the case that the Miner’s Leader was so long winded that it took him forever just to say “yes”. Eventually, however, the Miner’s Leader finished his statement and sat down.  Amon and the Commander of the Band of the Red Hand conferred briefly before offering up their reply.

    Thankfully what was needed was quite simple to grant, and was as much to the Band’s benefit as it was to the Miners. Apparently they had discovered a huge new seam of gold and silver, deep underground and they wanted extra security on the caravan that was going to be making its way to Baerlon  Most of the way would be travelled by barge, but that did not stop the cargo becoming a target for anyone daring enough to try and hijack it.

    It was agreed that the Band would provide a Company of Cavalry to accompany the goods from the Mountains of Mist to the river and the waiting barges. From there a Company of Heavy infantry would also board the barges and guard the goods as the barges made their way to Baerlon. Amon was to lead the Cavalry element and would depart in two days time from the Citadel.

    “Well if everyone is happy with this why don’t we adjourn to one of our Inn’s for a meal and a drink to celebrate this happy occasion?” Amon was trying not to be sarcastic, but playing nurse maid to a bunch of smelly miners was not his idea of fun.  Everyone agreed to Amon’s idea, except for his Commander who claimed that she had a prior meeting to attend. Amon suspected she liked the Miners about as much as he did and that she was using this as an excuse to avoid their noxious odours. His suspicions were confirmed when she turned around and winked at him just before she closed the door.

    Two days had passed since that meeting and as the early rays of the morning sun shone on the walls of the Citadel, Amon led a Company of Cavalry through the Citadel’s main gate and onto the road leading to the Mountains of Mist. “Well Ham it would appear we are going to be enjoying several days of seriously boring company, which smells almost as much as they are boring. Do miners not talk about anything other than mining and drinking?” Shaking his head at the rhetorical nature of his question, Amon and Ham rode on in silence.

 

Amon (Tik Tik) Turamber

 

Under Commander, BotRH

 

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"Message for you, Sergeant."  Turning away from the squad of privates that were running their way around the training ground, Sergeant Hau Fibeng returned the private's salute and accepted the sealed paper.  He broke the seal with a thumb, then unfolded the sheet and read, blue-green eyes scanning over the words, pausing on occasion as they reached some of the larger ones.  Sergeant Fibeng was not unintelligent, but he had never gone much beyond the most basic concepts of reading.

 

"Squad, assemble!"  It took a moment for the privates to arrive; Hau had waited until they were on the far side of the field before calling them in.  No need to make things too easy for them.  Well shy of six feet tall, Sergeant Hau Fibeng had to make do with an intimidating and rather loud voice.  It worked quite well for him.  The scars and two missing fingers on his left hand probably helped.  "Seems like you flaming excuses for soldiers get the afternoon off.  I've been called away from you meatsacks for a little while."  An air of general excitement ran through the assembled recruits.  "But don't worry.  I intend to talk to Sergeant Ronas of the Infantry to come along and give you ladies a workout while I'm away."  The excitement rapidly changed to despair.  Sergeant Ronas had a reputation.  "Dismissed."

 

***

 

Dawn.  As a general rule, soldiers knew what sunrise looked like; they were generally required to be out of bed before then.  It took time to prepare for any outing, and the Cavalry was probably one of the slower ones.  Horses couldn't dress themselves.  Hau was just mounting up, not the fastest by far, but also not the slowest.  His horse, a mottled brown and white stallion he called Puddlejumper, was anxious to go.  "Easy, boy," Hau muttered.  "I don't think we're going to be in for any excitement today."

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OOC: Looks like no one else is coming Quibby,so lets move this on a bit.

 

IC:

 

    The pale sun hung high in the sky offering little in the way of warmth, but the clear sky promised a cold night. The weather had finally broken after an unseasonable long summer. Now however the snow capped mountains brought the promise of much colder weather, finally, it seemed, the seasons were returning to normal.

    The riders made good time that day and were nearly half way through their journey when they decided to make camp for the night. The ground was rock hard and this presented a problem when it came to establishing their defences. Normally, even when travelling in friendly territory, any unit of the Band would dig a trench around their camp, and erect a wooden palisade for a wall, complete with two gates positions for archers. With the ground as hard as iron though, these measures were not possible, it would take fair to long to dig out the trench, and there was no way they could hammer the wooden stakes into the ground to provide the wall. Instead Amon decided to pick the best spot he could find, one that offered shelter from the wind, which had picked up in intensity and a place for good observation of the surrounding terrain without compromising the observers.

    It was about an hour from sundown when Amon finally found what he was looking for and Amon called over Sergeant Hau and explained the situation to him.  While the Sergeant went about his duties, Amon checked over his horse, making sure to give him a good rub down and a walk before allowing him to have anything to eat or drink. If a horse ate or drank too soon after a day’s work they could get colic, ands Amon did not want to lose a horse to a stupid mistake like that.

    By the time he had finished with his horse, the camp was taking shape, the Cavalries tents were neatly ordered, taking advantage of the natural cover, the miners tents were another matter entirely.  Amon shook his head at the haphazard way they were placed and the condition of them, all of them had obviously seen better days.

    After the evening meal, Amon and Ham unloaded a barrel of ale while two of the Sergeants did the same thing. Gathering around a large central fire Amon started to hand out tankards of dark ale, strong in taste but very refreshing. From somewhere came the sound of a fiddle and men’s voices raised in song. Despite the temperature drop and it would get lower, Amon felt at peace. There was no immediate concerns, and if anyone approached the camp, Amon knew the sentries would give them ample warning. As far as he was concerned all was good. No paper work, no annoying questions or tiring Council meetings, for the time being he could relax and enjoy the company of men like himself.

    “Well all i can say is that they may smell and talk of nothing but mining, but right now i cannot think of anywhere else i would want o be, what about you Hau?”

 

Amon (Tik Tik) Turamber

 

Under Commander, BotRH

 

Quibby, if you want to move this along, have us get to the miners town in the MoM the day after next,ok.

 

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OOC: So, guess who was watching the wrong board for updates to this thread...

 

IC: Despite the chill of the evening- a chill which was most definitely warmer than anything in the Borderlands, where he'd spent one autumn in a long-forgotten campaign- Hau could not have been more relaxed.  Around him, the sounds of merriment could be heard.  Songs in defiance of death and of loves long lost hung briefly in the air before being swept away in the wind.  Woodsmoke stung his nostrils.  Even if there was no enemy to be fought at the end of this road, it felt like the Band's campaigns of old, before they'd settled into the bloody Citadel.  With a heavy sigh, Hau surveyed the small squad over which he'd been placed in command.  They appeared to be set for the evening.  Good.

 

Hau settled down near the fire and finally sampled the dark ale that had been divvied up among the men.  It was all the proof he needed that there was a Creator out there who actually gave a damn about his creations.  A quick glance at the men around him was enough to convince Hau that he was not the only one who seemed to think so.  "Enjoy it," he said to the man sitting next to him, a lanky young private who had yet to see battle.  "It's all you'll be getting for tonight."

 

"Well all i can say is that they may smell and talk of nothing but mining, but right now i cannot think of anywhere else i would want o be, what about you Hau?”  Hau smiled slightly at the question.  Undercommander Turamber was similar to old Commander Deathwatch, it seemed: down-to-earth.  He actually treated the men he commanded like they were people, not numbers.

 

"'Bout the only thing I'd like more would be a soft bed and a friendly wench.  Course, that all depends on the girl, so it could go either way."  Another swig to wet his throat, and Hau continued.  "It's nice to be on the move again, though.  Feels like ages since we've marched.  Gotta say, I've missed it." 

 

His thoughts trailing away, Hau found himself looking into the fire.  There was no doubt that being on the move was important to the well-being of the Band.  It boosted morale and kept the men's reactions sharp.  With nothing but the starry sky above and the earth below, there was a sense of freedom to being outside of the Citadel's walls.

 

It was nice to be on the move.

 

*******

 

"Bloody marches," Hau grumbled for the tenth time that day.  Morning had brought with it gray clouds that gave way to a chill, misty rain shortly after the company moved out.  It had been rather pleasant at first, but after four hours on the move, the cold rain had begun to insinuate its way around the defenses that Hau had thrown up in the form of a fine oilskin cloak.  Strands of dripping hair hung across his face, leaving any onlookers with the impression that he was hiding his eyes.  The raucous attitude of the previous night was gone, left only with a quiet trek through a waterlogged day, the silence broken only by the occasional cough and the steady squelching of horse's hooves.

 

By the time evening came around, the rain had given way to the mist that had given the mountains their name.  The only saving grace came from the lack of wind that had so troubled the Band the previous night.  It did not take long after tending to the horses for large campfires to spring up in the evening's encampment.  Rocky ground still made a dry moat and stake wall all but impossible, but the terrain had provided decent accomodation: a natural rock wall defended one side, while a fast-flowing mountain stream made attack from a second front a fool's errand.  Waterlogged clothes were laid out by the fires, and soldiers huddled close to the roaring flames to drive the deep-set chill from their bodies.  A miserable day, to be sure, but a part of Hau was still glad for it.  It beat shouting at recruits all day.

 

Settling next to the fire, Sergeant Fibeng wrapped himself in his cloak and blanket.  He'd drawn second watch, and the change would come earlier than expected.  They always did.

 

*******

 

Hau was riding at the head of the column with Undercommander Turamber when the scout arrived.  "The mining town is about a half-hour ahead, sir."  The only casualty of the march, the scout had four straight lines of stitches in his left arm.  He'd stumbled across a mountain lion, and the creature had expressed its displeasure.  The scratches were hardly worth commenting on, though Hau was sure that they would keep the man in alcohol and pleasurable company for a week or two when they returned to the Citadel.

 

Turning to the Undercommander, Hau smiled slightly and said, "A quiet ride, at least, eh, sir?"

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OOC: Was it Liitha? :D

 

    “A quiet ride it might have been, but some of the men snore loudly enough to wake the Dark One.” Amon turned and spat as if he wanted to wash a bad taste from his mouth. “If an enemy was ever stupid enough to try and attack us in the night, the snores would make them think we have a camp full of animals with the worst breathing you could imagine.” Smiling to show he was making light of the situation, Amon and Hau carried on their way. 

    “How long have you been with the Band Hau, it is not a short time is it?”

    “No Sir it is not.” Hau was obviously wondering where this conversation was going, judging by the expression on his face.

    “So it would be fair to say you know of me, if not that you actually know me, yes?”

    “You have that correct Sir. If you do not mind ne asking, why do you bring this up?”

    “Because Sergeant, the last person who called me sir is still cleaning out the stables with a very small brush. Can i take it from your use of the word Sir that you are volunteering to take over from him?” Amon expression suddenly changed to an evil smile. “I am sure he will be very glad of your volunteering in this matter. Shall i tell him, when we get back, that he has no need to clean the stables anymore?”

    Amon chuckled quietly to himself as Hau worked his mouth but no words emerged. Amon let the silence grow, the only sound the striking of the horses hooves on the ground as they plodded along at the head of the column. Eventually though, he could stand the Sergeants discomfort no more. “Tell you what Hau, if you can manage to not call me sir for the rest of the trip we can call it quits.  I may out rank you, but i can be killed just as easily as you or any of the men, so why bother with titles that are more suited to those peacocks that serve in a Lord’s army, now they are definitely curs.”

    Amon’s laughter bubbled up and soon infected Hau was laughing along with Amon, if somewhat hesitantly,  Amon felt that Hau was trying to decide if Amon was a lunatic, or sincere, or both. Now that could be worrying, a sincere lunatic in charge of the Band. On the other hand considering some of the scraps the Band had been in, maybe it was an advantage.  Hau considered what he knew about Amon. It was rumoured among the men that Amon had walked, alone, into the heart of a camp full of bandits and slain the men who had raped one of the Band’s medics. Other rumours were even more fanciful, especially the one that was repeated most often, that Amon would laugh when he was killing people. Those that had heard this said it was the most unreal sound they had heard in the middle of a battle. Hau thought he knew the cause of this, Amon was a berserker, and one who once battle was joined thought nothing of charging the enemy lines without a thought for himself.

    The miner’s town sat in a natural amphitheatre on the lower slopes of the Mountains of Mist and if it had not been for the piles of slag that lay everywhere, the town would have looked pretty. As it was, it looked like someone had kicked over a termite pile and no one could be interested to clean it up. However, the same could not be said about the stables or the accommodation the soldiers were offered.  Amon was pleased to see this as he felt it reflected the miners respect for the Band and that was not always something they received.

    After a good soak in a large brass bath tub, Amon dressed in his usual black leather trousers and black wool shirt, pulling his cavalry boots over his leathers and then tying his long hair back with a simple leather string, he belted on his twin swords and made his way towards the center of the town, which just happened to contain a large Inn. Amon knew his men and was not surprised to see the majority of them already happily drinking and gambling with the miners. It looked to Amon like it was going to be a long night, and that suited him perfectly.

    “Barkeep, a round of drinks for my men, and a double for my friend here.” Amon slapped Hau on the back as he said this, causing the man to almost choke on the mouthful of beer he had.

Amon (Tik-Tik) Turamber

 

Under Commander, BotRH

 

Berserker for Hire

 

 

Quibby, write what you want for this night mate. the next stage will be our being excorted into the mines to see this new seam that the miners are so happy about. Have you ever seen Babylon 5? If so do you remember the episode where Kosh took Sheridan through the bowels of the the space station and Sheriden went into that space that contained what i think were alien monks? If so i am aiming for the moment of peace and beauty that Sheridan achieved but not with monks, but with light shining of the veins of gold, silver and platinum that the miners have found.

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There was nothing better after any march, long or short, than a hot bath and a cold mug of ale.  Apparently the miners had discovered that there was, indeed, ice just up the mountainside, and the ale showed it.  Hau was sitting at the bar, enjoying the drink and reflecting on the earlier conversation he'd had with the squad under his command.  The men, himself included, had been impressed with the cleanliness of the stables that they had retired their horses to when they had arrived.  It showed a certain amount of respect for the Band that they normally didn't see.  It made the talk that he'd been planning since before their arrival that much easier.  As soon as the men began settling in, Hau had walked around the room, pulling aside two or three men at a time and given them all the same speech: "Now, I know that we're not in the Citadel, and that there are certain realities of life that you'll be inclined to satisfy.  However, I will not see any of you indulging in those activities or doing anything that will bring negative feelings towards the Band.  Otherwise, I will personally remove certain parts of your body with a wooden spoon."

 

Actually, now that he thought about it, Hau thought that he'd been a bit less nice about it than that.  Another drink of the ale.  Okay, maybe a lot less nice.  Another drink.  It was beginning to get a bit rowdier in the tavern.  The Banders had discovered the presence of the place, and as one being, they were descending to do their best to dry out the cellars of the town.  Hau lifted his mug again, drinking deeply.  These were the moments that-

 

A heavy hand struck him across the back, causing him to inhale in shocked surprise.  A throat full of ale and a deep breath, though, never mix well, and Hau found himself coughing violently.  As if nothing had happened, Amon sat down next to him and said, “Barkeep, a round of drinks for my men, and a double for my friend here.”

 

It took a few moments, but Hau was finally breathing again as the barman placed another mug in front of him, a mildly disapproving look on his face at the spewed ale on the counter.  And on the wall.  And the floor.  Hau gave the man his most charming smile in apology, then added a gold crown for good measure.  His smile was not known for being a winning one.  That taken care of, Hau shot a friendly glare at Amon.  "Thanks for that.  I always wanted to drown on a bloody mouthful of ale.  Jus' gimme a kick in the stones next time, that'll make my night."

 

A few moments passed in silence.  Some of the men, in an effort to bring some lively entertainment to the tavern, pulled out an assortment of instruments and began playing.  Being soldiers, the music was not much better than the sound of a cat being dropped into a well, but it at least drowned out the sound of Corporals Ahbit and Kahstelho trying to sing along.  Some of the miners were beginning to get into the spirit of the thing, too, singing when they knew the words.  Hau could have given a raise to the soldier that started the whole thing.  He had broken the mild tension between the Band and the miners without trying.

 

Of course, that meant that Hau was still sitting at the bar next to the second-highest ranking person in the Band.

 

Taking another drink off the fresh mug of ale, Hau studied it for a moment.  It was better than the stuff that they had brought with them on the march.  He'd have to make some inquiries about where to procure some before they returned to the Citadel.  "Got any clue who brews this stuff, err, Amon?  The Band could make him a rich man if we knew who it was."  The name felt thick on his tongue.  Too many years under too many uptight commanding officers had taken their toll, and some habits died hard.

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ooc: hope neither of you mind Minsc joining, buttkicking-for-goodness style

 

The woman whose profile he had been admiring looked even better in frontal mode, waving in her saddle as she nuzzled her gelding toward him. The mist was so heavy he'd not recognise his own moher unless he bumped into her. And close up, thank whatever might be listening, this woman looked nothing like his mother.

 

"Hail, walker! The Light has joined our ways this morning. I am Jaheira, scout."

 

"The Light . . . How can something which doesn't exist join any purpose?"

 

"Don't say that! I am sure everything has a purpose we will find someday."

 

"I haven't, ever" shrugging his backpack further up "I'm Minsc, by the way, private."

 

"Private, huh? Did you have far to walk?"

 

"I've been travelling many hours before light."

 

"Is trouble behind you?"

 

He shook his head. "Just trying to make good progress."

 

"Not bad for a private. Maybe you'll find a nice, cool drink down where the others are. I'm going to stay here and listen to the for a while."

 

He patted her gelding one last time. "Listen to what?"

 

"The Light, I can hear it calling."

 

". . ."

 

"Hm, I just can't explain it. I know you're in a hurry, so may the Peace be with you."

 

"And you as well."

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    “I believe they brew it on the premises, but don’t ask for the recipe, they can be a bit touchy about the ingredients. I only know they use a lot of water in the brewing process, and all of it comes direct from the mountains. Maybe it is all these minerals in the ground that changes the water somehow. All i know is that it is amongst the best ales i have drunk, and i plan on drinking more of it.” Grinning, Amon reached for his mug and drained it in one go. Calling out to the barman Amon ordered another two tankards, he had decided that tonight was a good night to get rip roaring drunk.

    Why is it always hammers? And why are they always being used by small people?

    Amon groaned as he started to awake, the sound of the hammering getting louder in his head. Slowly, he opened one eyelid a fraction then closed it just as quickly, the light coming in the window bright enough to silence the hammering for a moment, but at what cost. Amon covered his eyes with his arm and then slowly opened his eyes, before slowly raising his arm to let a small amount of light in.

    Sitting up in bed, Amon immediately wished he had not as his head started to swim and the pounding got louder. Well if Hau is anywhere near as bad as i am we are going to be in a sorry state today. Reaching out, Amon managed to grab hold of the water jug on the night stand next to his bed. First he took a couple of sips, letting the water wet his lips and slowly trickle down to his stomach. After a couple more sips Amon swung his legs out of the bed and then stood up. For a moment he was swaying on his feet, but with iron determination Amon made it over to the wash basin and then emptied the contents of the water jug over his head, letting the water drip into the bowel.

    The smells coming from the common room of the Inn were enough to make Amon realise he had not eaten in nearly 12 hours, and with all the ale he had consumed he needed something solid in his stomach. Entering the Inn, Amon nodded to the small number of the Band that were present, and to the two miners who were also nursing large hangovers, judging by the green tinge to their skin.

    “Well good morning all, anyone know how to get rid of that hammering noise, it is driving me batty.”

    When no advice was forth coming Amon gave a dismissive wave and made his way over to the serving counter and placed his order. Amon made his way over to a vacant table and pulling out the chair sat down facing the only entrance into the bar, old habits would not die, not even when he was among friends. First to arrive was a steaming hot mug of tea, and Amon sipped at this while waiting for the rest of his order. The food did not take long to arrive and what it lacked in flavour it more than made up for in quantity. Ripping a hunk of bread off the small loaf, Amon started to work his way through his breakfast, only having to remind his stomach who was boss a couple of times.

   

    It was late in the morning, when the small detachment of the Band finally formed up and headed into the mines to see this wondrous discovery the miners were so proud of. The trek to the area the miners wanted to show Amon and his men, was fairly easy, although the tunnels were not that high they were wide enough for a small cart to traverse and that was a great help in avoiding the feelings of claustrophobia that were so inherent in tunnels such as these. Amon knew if started to think about just how much rock was above their heads that he would just turn around and walk out, if not run. So he did his best to not think about exactly where they were, or even why they were.

 

    After about an hour’s walk the tunnel suddenly split in two and the miners stopped the group. “From here to the cavern the going is harder, and the tunnels smaller, but it is worth it i assure you.” Amon was not sure if he believed this man, nor if any of his men did, but orders were orders and taking a deep breath Amon followed the miner into the much smaller tunnel, almost bending double to fit in the entrance. It took another hour to finally get to the cavern entrance, although the distance covered was a lot less than in the other tunnel. This tunnel had been an undulating one that got smaller and then widened out again only to shrink again and force them to take a lot slower pace.

    Amon was just beginning to wonder if this journey was going to be worth it as he seriously did not think there was anything under here that would make up for the discomfort and risk in getting to it, never mind the receding hangover that he still possessed. Stepping out into the cavern Amon could see very little of the room from the small torches the miners carried. However, once all the men were out of the tunnel, the miners started to move away from the group and suddenly flames rose up from several places around the cavern. Obviously the miners had set up some way to illuminate the cavern, and this was it.

    Slowly Amon’s eyesight started to adjust to the sudden burst of flame, and as they did he just stood there in awe of what the flames revealed.

 

 

Amon (Tik-Tik) Turamber

 

Under Commander, BotRH

 

Berserker for Hire

 

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"Hey, hold up!"

 

He obeyed. "Miss?"

 

"Just call me Nalia, dear. Are you new around camp?"

 

"Was it that obvious?" Surveying his travel-stained uniform "Yeah, I've only been here a few hours."

 

"Well, I didn't notice you at the bar." Smilingly.

 

"It's . . . not my type of place."

 

A simple answer from the big man. "I am the camp healer, a patcher of sorts. Although I've been informed there probably won't be much need for my services on this mission. If I am lucky nobody will remember my remedy for aching heads."

 

"Aren't healers sworn to relieve suffering?"

 

"Noooo . . . You don't understand."

 

"That goes without saying."

 

Crap, I'm late for the briefing "Excuse me, dear."

 

". . . See you around."

 

Three hours later . . .

 

"Hail, young lovely. I was told to join your team; why it seems you're more beautiful than they said!" A gnarly old gentleman exclaimed "Ahh, how wonderful it is to be alive this day."

 

"Wha-? Who are you?!"

 

"Pardon me, lady. I am Anomen, for your protection."

 

I require protection? She looked at the slimey pool gathered around her boots, then his wizen face "Who?"

 

"Surely you have heard of me. I am a legend; the greatest soldier on this side of the Dragonspine."

 

"I assure you I most certainly have not, dear."

 

"Hmm, strange" Then he brightened, "this day provides me with the chance to regail you with my quests"

 

Two hours later . . .

 

". . . and then I slew twenty one trollocs waiting for us outside the bridge district. . ."

 

An hour later . . .

 

"You know, I can give Anomen a cure for his snores"

 

"Not now, I'm just glad he's asleep"

 

"C'mon, dear. Let's ditch this guy."

 

"Alrighty."

 

Anomen's eyes were sore, but it was worth staring at the glowrocks for most of the hour "Teehee, I'm so good."

 

 

 

Not for the last time his bulk impeded his progression through the cavern.

 

"Minsc! Are you okay? You look sick."

 

"Fine." Grunting.

 

"Not fond of caves, hey?"

 

"No kidding, it's wet, dank and dark. No sun."

 

"Hey youngsters, wait up! And what's so bloody great about the sun? All it does is to expose your flaws."

 

"Oh! Welcome back, Anomen"

 

"Heh, missed me bay-bay?"

 

"Shove the flirting, friends" Minsc looked annoyed ". . . Let's just get out of here."

 

"No can do" Anomen piped up "we cannot switch shifts until the miners leave, every five hours." Then, as Minsc ran to the exit he called, "Told you they closed the gates."

 

"Well how would I know unless I check?" He tried turning the wheel, but it jammed. Crap!

 

"What! You don't trust my word, the word of the best soldier ever to be in a cave?"

 

"Shhhh, dears" Nalia scolded "I hear voices."

 

A shriek punctuated the murmurred dialogue. They saw a light eminating from one fork.

 

"What the . . . What was that?"

 

Ashkt, I wish I weren't alone in the dark. I am a mender, I can't fight!

 

Similarly sheepish thoughts ran through the Private's mind.

 

Minsc coughed "So . . ."

 

"So . . ." Scuffing her boots

 

"Hmm?"

 

"Want to team up?"

 

Anomen agreed readily "Sure, that would be very nice. I shall protect you both!"

 

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"No, I don't want the recipe," Hau said hastily.  "Jus' thinkin' that a barrel or two of this at the Citadel would be nice.  Besides," he added as an afterthought, "knowin' what's in it ruins the drink."  A few of the men who were eavesdropping on the conversation nodded in agreement.  Some of them were old enough to remember the rather excellent brew that they had discovered on the march to Bandar Eban to fight the Seanchan.  Out of curiosity, a few of the men had followed the brewer to his ale house.  No one ever really said what they'd seen in that place, but the whole lot of them got sick every time they saw a keg of the brew tapped.  Their reactions were enough that the barrels soon found themselves left by the wayside.

 

Finishing his tankard, Hau found that another one had been placed before him, probably courtesy of Amon.  Hau was not about to insult such politeness.  At the back of his mind, though, something told him that he should stop.  I know jus' how to shut that voice up, too...  "Barman, a round for everybody, on me," he called, raising a cheer from the gathered men.  Misery is going to love having this much company, he thought as he downed another tankard.

 

*****

 

"Blood and bloody..."  Hau could barely stand.  Not that he really wanted to, anyway.  Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he looked out the window, where a rancid pile of whatever he had eaten last night was already drawing flies.  "Never again," he muttered, pointedly ignoring the nagging voice in the back of his head, which was doing its best to point out the numerous times he'd said those exact words in the past.  It took an effort of will to descend the stairs from his room.

 

The common room was already a center of activity.  Men were eating, though most of them appeared to be eating so that they would have something to throw up.  Despite himself, Hau grinned.  As long as he did not suffer alone, he didn't care.  The common room smelled of eggs, bacon, sausage...  Hau's stomach heaved.  Uh oh...  A mad dash to the door left him leaning against the door jamb, doubled over.  This is not going to be good...

 

"So, we're off to see whatever it is the miners have found?" Corporal Ahbit asked.  The Band's detachment was gathering in front of what amounted to a black, threatening hole in the side of a mountain.

 

"Aye, Corporal.  Don't worry.  It's dark enough that nobody will see you shaking like a little girl," Hau replied, a small smile on his face.  To be honest, he was nervous about going into this pit.  He had explored his fair share of caves as a child and a young man, but never had he been nervous about it.  Probably 'cause this one's man-made.

 

Oddly enough, what awaited them inside the cave was less worrisome than Hau had expected.  The ceiling, while low enough to make the average cavalier duck, was still well above Hau's head; he only ducked on occasion, when an outcropping of stone was too much to avoid.  "You know, if it's like this for the whole walk, I'll be jus' fine," he muttered to one of their guides.  The man looked sideways at him, then chuckled grimly.  "Why don't I like the sound of that?"

 

An hour later, as the group turned down one of the branching tunnels, Hau muttered again, "Oh.  That's why."  Even he was forced to bend double in order to get through the claustro... klostra... the narrow passage.  It was slow going.  His shoulders caught on stone, and he was sure his scalp was bleeding somewhere.  All this meant, of course, that the other soldiers were much more miserable than he was.  "You know, if it weren't for the fact that I can't move in this bloody tunnel, I'd probably punch you," he muttered to the guide.  As an afterthought, he added, "That goes for you, too, Amon."

 

At long last, the group emerged from the confines of the tunnel.  There was space around them, though Hau could not see much.  There was a feel to the air that said that, at last, there was a place where they could breathe.  Standing was both a pleasure and a pain, as muscles forced into uncomfortable positions stretched painfully back.  It felt wonderful.  Slowly, the rest of the detachment emerged from the tunnel, groans and complaints and all.  "Right, then.  Is this what we came here for?" one man asked grumpily, right behind Hau.  His elbow struck the man, causing him to double over, windless.  "Be polite."

 

The miners were doing something, moving away from the gathered Banders.  Their purpose was quickly made clear, though, as the cavern became more and more illuminated.  The light hurt Hau's eyes and flared up the last vestiges of his hangover, leaving him nauseous.  The light was being magnified and reflected back by something, but it was too bright.  Slowly, Hau's eyes adjusted, drifted upwards to the cavern wall.  His eyes widened.  His jaw dropped.  Despite himself, Hau felt the sting in his eyes that announced tears welling up.  "Bloody hell..."

 

The entire cavern wall before them glimmered, casting light from the torches back to the viewers.  Hau found himself walking towards the wall.  There were wide seams in the cavern, where gleaming metal shone.  These seams ran up and across the cavern wall, disappearing into the high ceiling.  There were more points of reflected light in the ceiling, as well.  It was...  "Hau, look around..." Corproal Kahstelho stammered.

 

It was more than one seam, Hau saw.  The entire cavern, from ceiling to floor, was gleaming.  Golden and silvery veins ran the length of every wall.  Looking down, Hau saw that he was standing on a vein of something silvery, wider than his foot.  "What... what is this?" he asked, kneeling to examine the metal.  One of the miners knelt next to him.  "This one is platinum.  There are also veins of gold and silver."

 

Hau's mouth dried out.  "P-p-platinum?  Light preserve us..."  It was too much.  The wealth of a nation surrounded him.  It was overwhelming.  It was unreal.

 

It was beautiful.

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    How long Amon stood there, his gaze captured by the totally unforeseen display that surrounded him. The metals in the rock reflected the light resulting in beams of different coloured light criss crossing the huge cavern in all directions. Some of the his men were running their hands through the beams as if they believed they were solid and not just beams of reflected light. 

    Slowly Amon started to turn where he stood, his gaze still drawn to the myriad shafts of light, but now his eyes also registered the rapt gazes of all in the cavern. Off to his left Amon heard Hau exclaim:  "P-p-platinum?  Light preserve us..."  Amon was amazed as well, for he had thought it was silver not platinum. “We could buy the entire world with what we have here and still have enough left over for a week of drinking and revelry for our men Hau.” Amon shook his head in total disbelief that there could be this much potential wealth just lying around. “It is going to take some doing to dig this out, and guarding the caravans is going to take up even more of our men than before.” Amon was silent for a moment, his eyes still drawn to the soul wrenching beauty of the scene before him. “I think we are going to need to send some men to stand guard over this as well. If word leaked out of the whereabouts of a cache like this, we would have every bandit and thief descending on this place.”

    Just then another voice interrupted Amon, and Amon turned to see who it was. “That is why we asked for you to come here Amon, we do not have the resources the Band has to defend this place, and now that we have all of this to protect we need to work out how to protect the village.”

    Amon was not bothered that he had been interrupted, but the abrupt return to reality could have waited just a few more minutes before rearing its ugly head again. “I agree with you on that Micel, i take it we can come to some sort of arrangement over cost and supplies?”

    “Why don’t we discuss all the details later tonight in the Inn? Matters such as this will go much smoother with a tankard of ale in the hand.”

    “Are you sure there was any left after last night? I know Sergeant Hau did his best to drink the tavern dry.” Grinning at his own joke, Amon slapped Hau on the shoulder. “What say you Hau, do you think we can reach an agreement tonight on this matter?”

Amon (Tik-Tik) Turamber

 

Under Commander, BotRH

 

Berserker for Hire

 

OOX: Ok Quibby, it is about time to bring the roof down don’t you think?*bg*

 

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At the source of the shriek Minsc could only suck in some air and hope it was but a dream from eating some bad sausages. If they weren't so tasty there'd be no reason to eat them at all seeing how much grease there was in the fried fat. Its grumbled trepidations went unheard in the dark, however, as even darkness given way to their flickering torches and the tunnel before them collapsed; the neat boards and pipes overhead were sucked into chaotic mass in the centre of their path. They could feel the cold wetness and a sudden draft forcing them to the lower level, into which they were slipping with disturbing ease. "Ow!" Minsc cried, sucking at his left thumb "splinters!"

 

"Lands of misery," beside him Anomen breathed "I have been a professional soldier for many years. Never have I seen such total destruction in so brief a time."

 

Around them were the dead bodies of miners and the rubble that crushed them. Their blood was still fresh, imprinting the tragedy in their minds. Shocked the three of them moved onto the next chamber. Reality flickered; they were doused in pitch black.

 

"Guys, I . . . I'm scared. I don't want to die." Without Minsc's torchlight Nalia sounded more frightened than her "dears", and a lot younger than the professional mender she presented herself as. He wondered just how old she was.

 

"Aye, you're not equipped for this" Anomen said sadly, "The day I signed my name up I knew this moment could come. And it has come. This is what's meant to be a soldier, eh Minsc"

 

But Minsc, who was not as old nor jaded as Anomen, was in complete denial scrabbling around him and reaching out. He scowled into the darkness toward an Anomenish direction, not that the old man could see him: "Light . . . Is this all Light holds for me?"

 

Nalia was crying, "Hey! Can anybody hear us? Help!"

 

Ignoring Nalia's hysterical pleas he couldn't stop complaining bitterly "Just when I joined the Band too. That's wonderful."

 

And not caring others were present for the first time in his consciousness, Minsc continued a thought he had not pursued before, although he had been tempted at times "There is no Light."

 

That was when they saw daylight streaming through. Anomen leapt for them both as soon as he could see again, his semi-cataractic gaze adjusting better for the black and white vision of the night.

 

"Must be noon!" said Nalia excited and best of all not shrieking as Anomen pulled her into his cloak, then he beckoned to Minsc. Anomen spared a moment kicking Minsc into action "Tchah, hurry up lad. We soldiers have hope yet."

 

Together they climbed up, prospects of freedom clambering through their thoughts . . . Was there a purpose, after all?

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Conversation in the background was just that: background noise.  Hau did not hear any of it.  It came as a surprise when one of the miners touched his shoulder; combat reflex had Hau reaching for his boot knife before he came back to his senses.  Looking up to apologize to the man, the words caught in Hau's throat.  "Sir, we need to leave.  There's apparently been a rockslide on the surface of the mountain, and several extremely large boulders have been severely loosened.  They do not threaten the town or the mine entrances directly, but if they dislodge, it will bounce across the top of the mine shaft we're in.  We have no idea just what damage that would do."

 

Hau nodded, careful to keep the sudden feeling of dread from showing on his face.  "Look calm, and your underlings will never know the difference."  His lieutenant had told him that once, as he handed over the papers that officially made him a sergeant in the Band, and he had been right.  Lieutenant Kincaid, be right again.  The Undercommander was approaching him across the gold- and silver-paved cavern floor.  One look at his face was all that Hau needed.  He knew.  Putting on his most casual voice, Hau said, "Seems the tour's gonna be a bit short, ain' it?"

 

"Seems so," Amon replied.  That said, both returned their attention to the staring cavaliers.  As if linked together, both men cupped their hands around their mouths and called, "Squad, assemble!"  Both men then spared a second to see that the order was being obeyed before eyeing each other sideways.  Hau tried his best innocent smile, something that didn't work when he was innocent, much less when he was guilty.  "Wan' me to tell 'em, Amon, or we gonna do that toge-"

 

Hau's cheeky question cut of as suddenly as it started.  There was a slight trembling under his feet.  And it was becoming quite a bit less slight by the second.  Both he and Amon looked to the nearest miner, who had gone pale as death.  That could only mean one thing: the boulder had broken loose.  Amon recovered first, shouting, "Cover!"  Hau didn't need to be ordered twice.  He had already hurled himself next to a large stalag... a large stalag-something, his hands clasped over the back of his neck.  And not a moment too soon.

 

In an instant, all that Hau was aware of was the noise.  It started with a deafening crack, as if a frozen lake in Shienar had fractured across the center.  Then came the roar of falling timber and stone.  The sound seemed to push the air in front of it as it roared out of the tunnel they had come into the cavern through.  In the cavern, it became deafening as it echoed throughout the empty space.  Hau found himself clutching his head and shouting in pain; his ears felt as if they were about to burst, as if the sound was about to crush his skull.  Dimly, he was aware of a sensation of being pelted.

 

It took an eternity for the roar to fade away, and another eternity before Hau would move his hands away.  There was no sound in the cavern beyond a high ringing noise.  There was nothing to see, either.  Apparently the collapse had raised quite the dust cloud in the room.  Shortly thereafter, Hau was on his hands and knees, coughing violently from the dust.  At least, he thought he was coughing.  There was no sound beyond what he felt.  Mus' be like gettin' hit in the helmet with a lance, he thought irritably, spitting out a mouthful of coppery-tasting fluid.

 

A point of light appeared, followed soon by one of the miners carrying a torch and- thank the Light- Amon, looking mostly uninjured.  In the light of the torch, Hau saw both the miner and Amon saying something, and there was a faint impression of sound, but...  "No good.  Can't hear anything!" he said.  Or, at least, tried to say.  It was apparently a trick to talk without hearing what you're saying.  The miner paused for only a second, then gestured as if he wanted Hau to follow him.  Hau obliged.  A short walk led past large sections of ceiling that had fallen to the floor.  And three dead Banders.  One man looked fine, until you realized that there was a large stone where his head should be.  From the amount of blood, the second looked as if he'd bled out from a severed leg.  The third was right in front of the small tunnel through which they'd entered.  He looked as if his face had been torn off, and there were pieces of stone embedded in the bones and muscle of his face.

 

The state of the Bander had stolen Hau's attention from the tunnel, although when he looked, there was not much of a tunnel left.  In fact, only the splintered timbers gave any clue where the tunnel had been.  Hau's stomach sank.  Amon must have noticed Hau's discomfort.  He said something that sounded almost like, "Yes, we know," which Hau took as a good sign.  It was an even better sign when he heard- barely- the miner say, "There's another way out that was more strongly supported than this one, but it'll take another hour longer to get out of here."

 

"Then let's not wait," Hau growled, turning away from the collapsed tunnel.  Behind him, the cavern was slowly being lit up by the occasional torch in the darkness.  The lights were few, far fewer than when they'd entered, but there were survivors.  And there were cries.  Moans of agony could be heard under piles of rubble, piles too heavy and too dangerous to shift.  "Light..." Hau said.  "We can't save 'em, can we?  Shiftin' them piles would only bring the whole thing down on 'em."

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    The transition from order to chaos is never a smooth one. There is no gradual slide, not careful way to plan your descent. Instead it is brutal, immediate and over powering. This is what happened in that cavern, total and utter chaos. Clouds of choking dust billowed across the room, covering everyone in a fine gray coat that made it almost impossible to identify one person from another.

    Amon’s head turned first one way then the other, trying to pierce the billowing dust clouds but in the end he had to give up and shield his eyes to prevent any more of the fine dust entering his eyes. After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, Amon took his hand away from his eyes and, blinking madly to make his eyes tear, Amon tried to clear the dust away so he could see. Dimly a shape appeared from the gloom and it took Amon a moment to realise that it was Hau. Well at one of the others survived, we had better get organised and find out who else is still alive and how we can get out of here.

    After exchanging a few words with Hau, getting his opinion on what had happened, Amon and Hau then set off in different directions to see who was alive and who was not. It was slow going, even though there was still some natural illumination, the dust still hung heavy in the air and restricted the amount they could see to only a few yards. Amon had come across two surviving miners and had stopped to make sure they were unhurt. However, these were resilient men, men who had faced situations like this many times before, and they were already talking about how they could escape this cavern. They knew that the people on the outside would be doing everything they could to break through to them, but for all the miners knew the connecting tunnel could have been blocked as well, and that would take an age to dig out. Once they had explained all of this to Amon, and been joined by another miner it was decided the three of them would start trying to find a way out.  “Apparently some of my men had discovered a better way out, larger hole and the rocks are a lot looser, perhaps we can go over there and you can give us your opinion?

    Grumbling to themselves the miners reluctantly agreed to accompany Amon and see if this new opening offered a better chance of escape. It did not take them that long to cover the remains of the cavern floor. Although there was a lot of rubble and debris, the floor itself had not collapsed for which they were grateful.

    Hau and several survivors were already hard at work and after a short discussion the three miners joined them, showing the men of the Band where to lift and where not to. The work proceeded at a pace and Amon and Hau also joined in.

    It was mind numbing work, and it did not take long before many of them had cuts and grazes and some livid bruises. Finger nails were broken, fingers crushed, but still they worked on, only stopping briefly to see if they could hear any sounds from the other side. But all they could hear was silence, occasionally punctuated by the groaning of the rock above them as it settled itself.  They had one big scare when the top of the pile they were working on suddenly toppled over, thankfully though one of the miners was on a break and noticed what was happening in time to shout a warning. After that it was decided that one man would be on watch at all times.

    Sitting with his back to the wall, Amon’s eyes threatened to close at any moment. They had been working without food and only a small amount of water, for over 12 hours, and even the miners were feeling the strain. What added to their misery was the dust still hovering in the air. With no opening to bring in fresh air, and no way for the dust to exit, the air and visibility in the cavern was deteriorating and this was making the work that much harder than it would have been if they were above ground. Trying to shut all of this from his mind, Amon tried to get comfortable and try to get some sleep, at the moment sleep was his best friend and he needed it if he was to help dig their way out of this place.

Amon (Tik Tik) Turamber

 

Under Commander, BotRH

 

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A hiss of air and a cry of triumph woke Hau from his nap.  With all lights gone by which time could be judged, he had no idea how long he had been asleep.  It had been shortly after Amon had settled down to sleep that the first minor breakthrough had occurred.  As Hau and the diggers shifted boulders out of the way, they discovered that the pile behind the pile was mostly earth.  Easy digging, when compared to the stone that had been in front of it.  However, it had taken several hours to clear it, and loose earth offered its own issues.  One man had been buried when the makeshift tunnel he had been digging through the pile collapsed on top of him.  It was only the fast reactions of the miners that had saved his life.  However, he had been unable to continue digging.  As far as Hau knew, he was still gibbering and weeping madly, beating his fists against the stone walls that now seemed to be crushing him.

 

The pile had been shifted, opening a wide avenue through the earth and revealing more stone behind it.  With thickening air that threatened to stifle people, it soon became a race against time.  The air, coupled with the hardest thirty hours in Hau's life, finally made him collapse in exhaustion shortly after Amon had been roused.

 

Men dug madly now, widening the hole into a shored-up tunnel.  More importantly, the hole opened into fresh air, chilled by the subterranean environment and blessedly free from the foul stench that had permeated the air in the sealed cavern.  "We're in one of the exploratory shafts," one of the miners said, reading symbols on a nearby support.  "This shaft is about three miles long, and we're near the far end of it.  Unfortunately, it's going to be tough going in places.  When we dug in, we only opened a shaft about a span tall and two feet wide, though it will be quite a bit wider where we happened upon a promising vein, but not much taller.  If the Light favors us, we should be out of here in about six hours."

 

"Bes' news I've ever heard in my life," Hau muttered.  By the size of the cavern, this was one of those 'promising veins' that the miner had mentioned.  Hau took a moment to examine the faces of the soldiers.  By and large, they were all in a state of panic, but panic was held in check by hope.  Hope was their best friend now.  The faces were a few less, though.  It was a shock to Hau that he could not remember when the missing faces had gone missing.  Some had probably gone to sleep, and never woken up.  Others probably succumbed to untreated wounds.  The gibbering man was probably out of his mind by now.  All this fer a bit of shiny metal.  Weren't worth it, an' I'm gonna say as much when I get outta here.

 

With Amon taking the lead with the miners, the exodus progressed.  Nerves were on edge, as was evident whenever a stone shifted and fell, or when dust could be heard settling.  From far behind them, a loud crack could be heard.  Ahead, the miners jumped at the sound.  When Amon questioned them, one of the miners replied, "That was a support beam.  No sound quite like it in a mine.  It means that the ceiling is about to give.  It hasn't yet, though.  You'll know if it does."

 

Hau felt a chill at that statement.  It was said without any sign of hope.  It was a voice stating that, if a support gave way, then whatever was under it was likely dead.  Hau suddenly found himself eyeing the supports suspiciously; the thought had occurred to him that breaking supports were an everyday occurrence in a mine.  The certainty in the miner's voice couldn't be glossed over.  Maybe it was just paranoia, but Hau knew that he'd feel better if he watched the supports.

 

"We're in the last cavern," the lead miner called, bringing the Banders to a halt.  The last stretch had been particularly taxing, and many men had deep scrapes on their chests and backs from the jagged walls that had broken open again and again.  Hau only had some bruising, but that was painful enough.  Idly, he walked around the cavern, stretching himself out.  It felt good to be standing upright again, even if he could touch the ceiling with his head by raising himself on his toes.  A half-circuit brought Hau to the other portal.  The way out.  He could see no light at the end of it, but there was sound...

 

"Amon!  I hear voices!"  There was a cheer from the men.  They had salvation!  No more deaths!  Turning to rush to the end of the tunnel, Hau found himself thinking about what he was going to do when he got out of this Light-forsaken place.  Drinking himself into a stupor was right at the top of the-

 

Paranoia from the limitless trek through darkness brought Hau's eyes unconsciously to the support beams leading to the tunnel.  They were sagging.  A quiet crack sounded from the one right above him.  He reacted.  Shifting quickly, Hau reached up and began pressing against the support, shouting, "Men!  Seize supports!  Whoever's free, start diggin', damn you!  We're gettin' outta here!"

 

The support above Hau gave way.  Hau groaned, felt his knees giving way, then straightened.  Light, but it hurt!  "We have light!" somebody shouted from the far end of the tunnel.  Another voice followed: "Get out of there!  Everyone, run!"

 

The pressure on Hau's shoulders eased a bit, and he found himself facing Amon, who was straining under the increasing weight of the cavern roof.  "Get out of here, Hau!  I've got this!"

 

Grinning madly, Hau shouted back, "I don' think so, Amon!  Seems ta me that you're in charge of this bunch of horse leavin's, an' it'd be wrong of you to deprive 'em of their leader!"

 

Growling angrily in reply, Amon replied, "Damn you and your stubbornness, Hau!  I said to get out!  That's an order!"

 

In his mind, Hau saw himself nodding sadly at Amon, then turning and running, waving the men through the narrow passage, watching as the few brave souls who remained behind slowly buckled and fell under the crushing weight of the mountain above them.  He saw himself looking at Amon one last time before entering the tunnel to abandon him, heard the roar as the earth came down on the Undercommander of the Band.

 

However, a part of Hau knew what he could do.  No one deserved to die a death like this, especially not Amon.  Blood and bloody ashes, he liked the man!  That was never the case for him and his commanding officers!  Instead, Hau grinned innocently, the effect ruined by the sudden weight that added itself to his already crushing load.  "I'd hate ta do this, but you made me.  Boys!"  Two men who were nearly out of the tunnel paused and looked back.  "Get the Undercommander outta here!  That's an order!"

 

"Disrega-" Amon began, but Hau raised his voice over his.  "Been nice servin' wit' ya... sir!  Sorry 'bout this, sir!  Have a good life, sir!"  The look on Amon's face was the greatest thing Hau could have ever seen.  It was too bad that it would probably be marred by a scar left from the fist-sized rock that Hau bashed against the man's skull.  The two soldiers hefted the large man between them and dashed again for the tunnel.  Behind him, men began letting go of supports and running for the portal to freedom.

 

Some made it.

 

Some didn't.

 

When the last man to release was crushed under the ceiling, Hau finally let go himself and ran.  The portal was only fifteen feet from him.  Ten.  A sudden, crushing pain ran up his left leg, and Hau fell, five feet short of the tunnel.  Waiting hands reached for him, but not before a curtain of granite separated him from them.  Light, the pain!  Hau howled, the shout echoing through the small space.  More rocks fell, crushing weight against his entire body.  He was trapped, looking up at a patch of light.  The sky...  Hau smiled, pain momentarily forgotten.  He could see the sky again, and it was beautiful.

 

A muffled voice came through the stone wall at his head.  "We're all out.  Amon's coming to his senses, and he means to see you digging latrines for the rest of your life."

 

"Well, he's gonna be disappointed, then, ain' he?" Hau croaked.  A small stone bounced off his head.  Looking up, Hau saw a large boulder coming loose above his head.  He couldn't move.  Of course.  A fast death, with his skull flattened against the rocks around him.  "Tell ya what, private.  In my saddlebags, there's a purse with twenty gold crowns.  You boys drink on that until it runs out, and not a copper sooner, y'hear?"

 

"We're comin' in to get ya, Hau!  Just hang on!"  The voice was urgent, and there was scraping behind him, as if they were doing just that.  Fools, he thought proudly.  That tenacity would see them through the worst battles.  Another voice, this time belonging to a very angry-sounding undercommander, echoed through the stone walls to Hau: "Don't you die on me, Hau!  We've got unfinished business, what with you being up to your eyes in horse dung for the rest of your life to deal with!"

 

The boulder shifted again, teetering on the edge of gravity.  "Amon, don't bother.  I got a rock here that's about to come done.  You boys do yerselves a favor an' just walk away.  Let me be."  Shift.  Seconds left, maybe.  Time for a few quick orders.  Hau suddenly laughed.  Orders could go to the Pit of Doom!  "I'll save you boys a few places in hell, rooms with a view!  I regret nothin'!  Y'hear me?  NOTHIN'!"

 

The boulder fell.

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    Amon stood in front of the group of survivors, a tankard of ale held in one hand, the bandage and sling holding his other arm tightly against his body to prevent the arm from moving. It had been broken in two places, but would eventually heal without any permanent damage. Taking a deep breath, Amon glanced around at the small group, all that was left of those who had so eagerly entered the mines.

   

    ”We have to go back, i will not have my men left in that place to die alone and without hope!” Amon’s voice was raw with emotion, the most overriding of which was anger. Anger at the situation he was facing. Anger at Hau for not following his orders. Angry at Hau for doing exactly what Amon should have done. But above all this anger that he had survived when so many other good men had not. Although he and Hau had not known each other long, Amon had come to like the man. He had a bluff no none sense way about him that any Commander could appreciate.

    Not waiting to see if any of the Miners were going to follow him, Amon bent down and grabbed hold of a discarded pick axe, grimacing as the flare of pain in his broken arm. Straightening up, the sweat from the pain rolling down his face. He stood for a moment, willing the pain to subside and light headedness to subside enough for him to do what he had to do. Just then he felt a hand take hold of his arm and with gentle pressure try to pull him away. “It will need an army of miners to clear that tunnel Amon, with the best will in the world you will not achieve anything and even if you could, by the time you got through they would all be dead from lack of air.”

    Wrenching away from the man’s grip Amon turned to face him, his anger finally breaking through now he had a righteous target. “They are my men, i am responsible for them and i will not see their lives wasted for nothing.”

    The miner stepped back, recognising the anger and grief that was evident on Amon’s face. “We do not leave anyone behind, no matter what. Now either help me dig, or i will see you in hell!”

    “And how do you mean to do that with your arm in pieces?” The man, either to brave for his own good, or not realising just how dangerous Amon could be, reached out and touched Amon’s broken arm. The fresh waves of pain caused further sweat to break out on Amon’s face and a small groan escaped his lips. “You cannot do anything for them now, let us do what we are trained for.” Lowering his voice the man moved closer to Amon. “We will retrieve them, we owe them that much, but we cannot do that and watch out for inexperienced men who might inadvertently bring more danger down on our heads.” With that the miner moved off to where the rest of the miners had gathered to discuss the best way to start the recovery work.

   

    “I did not know Hau, or most of those who accompanied us, as well as i would have liked. However i knew enough to know they were men i would stand shoulder to shoulder with and die for if necessary. They were men of the Band of the Red Hand, that should be saying more than enough about them.”

    Amon could not continue, his throat tightening up, preventing him from voicing his real thoughts on what a waste it was for fighting men to die in such an unnecessary way. Raising his tankard Amon managed to croak out. “To Hau and the men of the Band who died in that hellish place, let their memories and sacrifice be a beacon to all of us in the darkest of hours.”

    “Hau and the men of the Band!”

    The cry was taken up by all of those in the tavern, even those who were not members of the Band of the Red Hand. They all knew that these men would not be forgotten, not if they wanted to stay on Amon’s good side. After a few moments a lone voice started to sing, then one by one other voices added to the first until all of the people present were singing at the tops of their voices, many with tears streaming down their faces.

 

"We'll drink the wine till the cup is dry,

and kiss the girls so they'll not cry,

and toss the dice until we fly

to dance with Jak o' the Shadows...*

 

We'll dance all night while the moon runs free,

and dandle the lasses upon our knee,

and then you'll ride along with me,

to dance with Jak o' the Shadows...*

 

We'll sing all night, and drink all day,

and on the girls we'll spend our pay,

and when it's gone, then we'll away,

to dance with Jak o' the Shadows...*

 

There's some delight in ale and wine,

and some in girls with ankles fine,

but my delight, yes, always mine,

is to dance with Jak o' the Shadows...*

 

We'll toss the dice however they fall,

and snuggle the girls be they short or tall,

then follow young Calder whenever he calls,

to dance with Jak o' the Shadows

 

Amon (Tik Tik) Turamber

 

Under Commander, BotRH

 

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