Part 2) Tipper


Tipper was happy to be away from the crowded city and out in the wilds again. Though their mode of transportation and the company that had provided said transportation was not much to her liking, she now had a better appreciation for what Roburns Trading Company provided for the folks who lived near or along the East Road. Regular and reliable transportation between the various far flung communities gave the locals access to resources and kin they might not otherwise have had access to.

She might not have liked the methods employed by the company, but she had over the past few months, since the winter solstice, come to appreciate a number of the people who worked for Roburns. Addath was truly an exceptional woman; intelligent, well educated and brave. Tipper thought she would look after Adwin’s GreensBridge interests well. Hidge was another good one, she took her job seriously and had saved both Addath and Adwin earlier in the year from an assassination attempt. Even their coachman, Pridden, was a decent guy. He was good with the animals, professional, well acquainted with the land and what he could expect from nature.

Tipper had come to realize that not all Maldorn folk needed an axe upside the head. Begrudgingly she had even come to see how useful the company would be further east where the pockets of population were even more far-flung than in the regions closer to GreensBridge. She also understood that if the Maldorn air force had not set up a copper mine south of her peoples lands, then Roburns Trading Company would have little reason to be extending its services so far eastward.

Ultimately, she was even happy about the coach Adwin had hired, the amount of time they had saved would be invaluable to her. Surprisingly, she had received no messages from home, she had expected Walker or one of the others to have contacted her. Regardless, she and the others that had gone out to find solutions to the problems facing Darner’s Hold were due to return by summers end. The sooner she reached Kaymere and found the sword she was looking for, the better. Hopefully the sword was there, or some other artifact that would be of use. If not, then she would likely be returning home nearly empty handed.

Pridden called out to the horses and the big coach clattered to a slow stop. Tipper stood and turned towards the front, facing east, she could see the not so distant border tower that guarded Sharlok’s western approach. There was a road block and a camp where a score of infantry had based to directly deal with the traffic coming in and out of the hold. She scoffed at the idea that Sharlok’s Hold was any such thing as a freehold. The man, Lord Sharlok, was ambitious and he was working with Roburns Trading company to assist them in expanding their operations eastward. While the man’s land claims and future plans of expansion would push his holdings to the size of a small kingdom.

In the old days a man like Sharlok would have been killed by his own people. High Lords were never self made, they were appointed from among a group of peers when there was need. Though these days that was no longer really the case. Many of the holds were larger now, they all had lords and barons, marshals and high marshals. It seemed that the Queens Bane followed by the Great Migration of the orc had cost the Freeholds much of its memories and traditions. During the hundred years following the Bane, the Old Ways had largely been forgotten and the new gods had risen to prominence. Even her own people had lost much of the knowledge and lore that they had once cherished. Only the wild-elves seemed to remember what had been.

As a pair of Sharlok’s soldiers walked around the coach. Tipper scowled down at them. One of them gave a polite nod, the other ignored her. When they stopped and opened the door to see who the esteemed passengers were it was obvious they had seen something of note. One of them asked the occupants to step out while the other jogged over to where the officer stood, talking with Pridden.

Adwin stepped out, greeted the guard with a friendly hello, Calathy followed, then Mokha and Sefla joined them. The guard asked them to line up. The other guard and the officer came around the coach, Tipper could see a couple more guards move up from the road block. The officer was professional and to the point, he asked a few questions to which Adwin seemed to provide satisfactory answers. Then he moved to stand in from of Mokha and looked at him carefully, only giving Sefla a curious glance.

“Have you been in Sharlok’s Hold within the last year?”

“Well, we’re coming from GreensBridge in the employ of Master Adwin.”

“Yes, that’s what he told me. So you are saying you were not here last year?”

“I go where Master Adwin goes. If he says we’re going to Sharlok’s Hold then we go to Sharlok’s Hold.”

“So that’s a no?”

“No.” Mokha nodded his head.

The officer frowned at him but continued, “Do you have any information about the Imperial Armies? Or bands of slavers operating this side of the East Sister River?”

“I know that GreensBridge is expecting the Tannican armies later in the season, summer at the latest.”

“Do you follow the precepts of the Church of Illumination?”

“No sir.”

The officer glanced at Sefla, “What about you?”

Selfa quietly said, “No, Sir.”

The man returned to Adwin, “Sorry to have delayed you Master Adwin. I hope your business here goes well.”

“Thank you. Sir, if I may. Is this sort of thing usual? Have you had troubles with slavers?”

The officer considered the question, gave a dismissive wave then walked back towards the road block, “Open up the road lads. They’re passing through.”

In short order everyone re-situated themselves in or on the coach and they slowly rolled forward. Tipper sat back down on the rear bench and continued to scowl until they were well past the checkpoint. So far, so good, maybe they could pass through the hold without troubles finding them.

She mulled over what she had seen; no sign of a significant build up of troops along the western border, not only had she seen no amassed soldiers, there had also been no sign of smoke on the horizon that such a force would have necessitated. The border tower had appeared to have at least one person, likely more, at the top keeping watch. That was something she had not seen last year. The soldiers at the roadblock had mostly been young, though the entire unit seemed to have uniform weapons and armour. They had been attentive and disciplined, their officer professional.

Tipper had the feeling that all of this boded ill for Lekas. If these were the people and equipment that Sharlok sent to the border furthest from where his planned action would be taking place, then the troops with him were likely of a better quality. The big question was, how many? She thought he would only need a couple hundred soldiers to subdue Lekas, Aramy and the homesteads between. Though she felt a man like Sharlok would deploy much more than he needed. So, somewhere between three and four hundred, mostly infantry, but maybe a quarter of the number would be cavalry and a similar number of archers.

Lekas and the neighbouring homesteads had a total population of two hundred or so, including the old and the young, maybe eighty people who could fight. Nearly none of them had the required experience. It was one thing to hunt down a few bandits, another thing entirely to defeat a well organized army being lead by an ambitious lord.

Tipper was not happy about what she had worked out. Though she could be off on her estimates, perhaps Sharlok was overconfident and would have a smaller force than she expected. On the other hand, he might have a larger army. By the time they rolled through the gates of Domkee she had worked out a couple of things that she could do to help Lekas. It was not much, but doing something was better than doing nothing.

It was a bit past midday, dark clouds loomed to the northeast. Domkee still smelled like a tannery, though the place was much improved since she had last been there. Roads and sewage were no longer mixed together, the road had been raised and finished in brick while the sewage ran along the sides of the roads, now in covered trenches, also finished with bricks. There were a lot more people, they appeared well fed. The market had expanded and most of the buildings had been repaired, as had the keep and walls. Whoever had been put in charge, after Sharlok had taken over the town, had done a good job.

It had been close to twenty years since she had last been here. Begrudgingly she had to acknowledge that Sharlok obviously understood his responsibilities as a lord. Though maybe it had more to do with the person he had put in charge. Too bad Wikkersak had not received the same treatment. The town where her uncle had set up his business was a confusing jumble of winding walls and streets. It was easier to get lost in Wikkersak than in GreensBridge.

The couch and courier station was not far from the east gate, near where the town kept much of its livestock, directly across from the slaughterhouse. When the coach came to stop Tipper stood and stretched, reaching high. The others disembarked, she could see that they did not much care for the smell, Sefla took out a small cloth from her sleeve and covered her mouth and nose. Adwin looked down the street curiously, the smell did not seem to bother him much. She hopped down as Calathy and Mokha stepped out of coach laughing about something.

Adwin smiled, “Hey, I think I might go check out that market we saw. The last time we were near here you wouldn’t let us come into the town.”

“Alright.” She did not point out the obvious fact that the last time they were here they had been wanted men and she had just torched the Roburns warehouse in Calameer.

Pridden said, “Sorry for the smell folks, we won’t be staying long here. There should be food in the main office. I’ll see to the team.”

Tipper took the lead, the others followed her into the station. As she had come to expect, this station was set up much like the others they had stopped at. A half dozen employees sat around the table eating. An older woman stood behind the counter looking over a ledger.

Calathy and the other two went to the stove, muttering about not feeling very hungry. Tipper approached the grey haired station manager, “You the woman in charge?”

She looked up from the book and regarded Tipper with a keen glance then looked over at her companions. “I am. You just came in on the coach?”

“I did.”

“Good, I’ll get you to put your mark here.” She jotted down a note in the book and turned it around, handing Tipper the stylus.

Tipper put her mark, then asked, “I was wondering how much it would cost to send a small package to Lekas and another to Aramy by courier?”


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