Sunday, June 27, 2004

Sex story

Black's Mountain Chapter One (viol nosex)

WARNING! This document includes material of a sexual nature. Reader
discretion is advised. If this stuff is illegal where you live, please don't
read it. If you are under the age of 21, please, find something else. The
characters in this document engage in risky sexual behavior that could
result in pregnancy, disease, or social distress. They are imaginary
professionals; they don't worry about such things. Please, don't try this at
home. Please don't redistribute this document without my express
permission. Reposts are fine, provided this little blurb is in the front of the
document. Please don't put it on your web page without my permission.
Trying to make money from this is a definite no-no.
-- Demotic


It was a bitterly cold morning, despite the fact that spring had sprung and
the afternoon sun was becoming warmer with each passing day. Captain
James Wallace sighed, his breath condensing in a huge cloud before his
eyes and hanging there in the still air. The biting frigidity of the
Mountainview night had penetrated to his very bones, and seemed
undaunted by the warmth of a bearskin blanket and the half-a-pot of nearly
boiling coffee. Wallace hated this country, had hated it since he had
arrived here the summer previously, when the cold was long gone and had
been replaced incapacitating heat.

Wallace wished he was back in the relative comfort of Fort Armstrong, a
semi-permanent mudbrick structure that housed the First Brigade of the
Fifth Legion. Semi-permanent because the campaign against the goblins
was only to be a summer. Semi-permanent had become almost a year
long. Instead, Wallace and the Light Company of the Royal and Imperial
Third Vergian Regiment waited for the approach of a supply convoy. The
men had been cold, bored, and grumpy. Their momentary excitement of
moving out of the fort had been meet with mixed excitement and
apprehension. But after a few days march east, they had made camp and
waited. Excitement and apprehension became idleness once more. Once
more, they become bored, cold and grumpy. Wallace didn't blame them.

"Good morning, sir," Master Sergeant Thomas said cheerfully. Unlike the
enlisted men, Thomas seemed to be enjoying camping in the great
northern plains of Airclonia. He had yet to succumb to the boredom that
had infected the men under his supervision.

"Good morning, sergeant," Wallace replied with a forced smile.
"Anything to report from overnight?"

"Nothing major, sir," Thomas said, considering the winding river less than
a mile from their camp. "The pickets haven't reported any activity. No
desertions, brawls or incidents last night."

Wallace chuckled. Thomas had been infected with the notion that men
would desert on this mission. The idea was the brain-child of Major Obie
Smith, the commander of the First Line Company. Wallace never had
much use for Smith, and the idea of desertion was patently absurd. There
was nowhere for them to go in the vast lands of this county, nothing for
hundreds of miles in any direction save hostile goblins and barely friendly

Brawling and fighting, however, were a problem. The men were restless
and anxious, and fighting among the ranks was increasing with the
growing inactivity of the First Brigade. It didn't surprise the captain that
once out of the fort and on the march, much of the squabbling seemed to
have ceased. It was the nature of an army, especially one used to war.

Wallace dismissed his sergeant and heard a gunshot in the distance. He
glanced around for a cloud of smoke, and spotted it off in the distance,
towards the river. One of the pickets had spotted something. Probably the
supply convoy.

Wallace made his way over to the low hill where the sentry was posted,
his spy glass in hand, a small entourage of lieutenants and sergeants in
tow. They were as eager to see this large supply train as the rest of the
enlisted men, but they had the privilege of rank. The group of men
mounted the hill and soon stood next to the sentry, who was reloading his
musket casually.

The captain scanned the horizon and spotted the dark shape approaching
the river. Wallace pulled out his spy glass and focused it on the dark
shape. It was the wagon train, all right. Gold jacketed cavalry men rode
in escort, carbines glistening in the morning sun. Wallace counted forty-
two wagons; rations, rum, and most importantly, powder and shot. Last
summer's battle with the goblins on the Badlands had expended much of
their munitions. This convoy would do much to replace those badly
needed materials. In addition, some of the wagons would be carrying new
soldiers and officers to replace some of the losses of the previous summer.

Smiling, Wallace clapped a hand on First Lieutenant Monroe's back. "Our
wait's nearly over, Joe."

"Yes, sir," Monroe replied, his eyes fixed on another dark shape on the
plains. He hurriedly reached for his own spy glass and focused on the
second column. He cursed. "Sir, you'd better take a look at that."

He pointed to a second, indistinguishable shape.

Wallace frowned, peered out at the second formation. He blanched.
"Shit," he breathed. "Get the men in formation. It looks like we've got

Sergeants scrambled back to their units, and Wallace looked at the two
lieutenants who stood with him. Both were young, both were worried.
Last summer had bloodied their blades, and they had no illusions about
their foe anymore. Goblins were tough, nasty, and brutal. Their
sergeants, veterans of campaigns against goblins, elves and men, looked

"Where's Jackson?" Wallace snapped.

Monroe shrugged. Wallace turned his attention to Second Lieutenant

Anderson, a tall, blonde-haired youth whose face had been badly mauled
by a dire wolf last spring, glanced over at the tents.

"Get him up!" snarled Wallace. Anderson nodded and headed for
Jackson's tent.

The camp was now a bustle of activity. Half-dressed soldiers were
struggling into gold coats and grabbing their muskets. Sergeants were
barking orders at their squads, belittling and berating those who were not
already in line. Wallace stood next to the sentry, alone except for Monroe,
Sergeant Thomas, and Monroe's own aide. Wallace couldn't remember
the man's name, and puzzled at his lack of memory. He pushed the
thought aside and focused on the column. He peered through his spy glass
once more.

There were at least three hundred of them, all mounted on fleet-footed
wolves the size of small horses. Dire wolves - massive beasts with six-
inch canines and jaws capable of crushing a man's skull. On their backs
were the goblin cavalry, dressed in hides and horrific head-dresses made
of human, elven, or animal skulls. Most carried bows, although a few
sported carbines, perhaps the spoils of a past battle with humans. Their
visages were difficult to see at this distance, but Wallace knew them well
enough - hideously predatory, with small, dark eyes and protruding
brows. Bulbous noses and nasty, pointed teeth. Jaws capable of severing
a man's fingers with a single, savage bite.

Wallace frowned as he tried to calculate an intercept point. Before the
river, he figured. "What do you think, Monroe?"

"Three to four-hundred tribesmen. Skulls by the looks of it," he made a
face. "They must be desperate to be out in the day like this."

"Plays right into our hands," Wallace replied. "Do you think the convoy
can make it to the river?"

"No," Monroe said flatly. "They'll get to them first."

Wallace played his telescope on the convoy. It was an under strength
troop, perhaps a hundred cavalry. They seemed blissfully unaware of the
impending attack of the goblins. Sooner or later, however, their horses
would smell the wolves, and grow skittish. Sooner or later, they would
spot the threat. But would it be in time?

Wallace had a little over a hundred soldiers himself. Part of the convoy
contained reinforcements. He wondered how well trained they were, and
if the officers were as green as the new privates. "Lieutenant Monroe,
take your platoon down to the ford. Double time."

Monroe nodded, saluted, and jogged off to his platoon, his sergeant
following him closely. Wallace turned and looked at Sergeant Thomas.
"Get word to the pickets that trouble is coming. Whose men are they?"

"Jackson's," Thomas immediately replied. "Third Squad, I believe."

"Get word to them," Wallace told him. Thomas saluted and trotted off.

"What should I do, sir?" the sentry asked, nervous.

"Stay right where you are, private," Wallace told him, giving him a
reassuring smile. "Keep an eye out for another column out there."

"Yes, sir."

Wallace hoped there wasn't another column out there, but one never knew.
He watched the goblin cavalry approach, eyed the column of supplies, and
spat. This was not going to be pretty.

"Captain," Second Lieutenant Jackson snapped to attention as Wallace
turned to face him. Wallace saw a man with sandy hair, an overgrown
goatee, and blood-shot gray eyes. Jackson's breath often reeked of sour-
mash whiskey. Today was no different.

"Lieutenant Jackson," Wallace said dryly. "Nice of you to join us this

"Thank you, sir."

He didn't have time to give a tongue lashing this morning. "Get your
platoon down to that ford and assist Lieutenant Monroe."

Jackson nodded and jogged off.

Sergeant First Class Bill Strummer, acting Fourth Platoon commander,
quickly made his way over to the captain. Strummer was a huge bear of a
man, his face showing a dark shadow of a day-old beard, his eyes focusing
off in the distance towards the converging dust clouds.

"Sir," he said, snapping off a quick salute. "What's going on?"

"Get your platoon together, Strummer. We've got our convoy, but there's
a group of goblins bearing down on them."

Strummer nodded and immediately went off to his section of the camp.
Wallace spat a streak of tobacco into the dusty red earth of the Badlands.
He grimaced, not liking the odds.

* * *

Second Lieutenant Grant Theodore Black was trying to get some sleep.
The oxen and the rugged, rocky earth of the Mountainview Badlands were
conspiring against his efforts, jolting him awake every hundred yards or
so, the tough, iron-shod wheels striking sizable rocks with just enough
regularity to keep him from dozing off. Each jostle would result in Black
pulling his blankets closer around him, resettling himself against the packs
in the back of the cart, and closing his eyes once more. It was a vain
effort, but Black was tired, and he knew once he got to sleep he'd stay

He was just about asleep when a distant gun shot got his attention.

Black recognized the sound of a Model 2007 Huntington Musket instantly,
and made quick work of determining that it was a good three miles away.
The lieutenant waded through the packs to the back of the covered wagon
and craned his neck to look south, the source of the gunshot.

After realizing that the wagon obscured his view, he turned his attention
north, and spotted the heavy blot of dust just on the horizon. Black's heart
started hammering. He clawed his way back to his pack, rummaged
through it, then climbed back to the back of the wagon. In his hand was a
battered, second-hand spy glass.

It was fruitless to see anything through the piece from the back of the
wagon, so he leapt from the back of the slow moving wagon and turned
his eyeglass north.

He spat a curse.

Black looked around at the convoy, and grabbed the nearest cavalryman's
attention. "Where's Major Blythe?"

The private shrugged. "Don't know, sir."

"Go find out, gods dammit," Black bellowed, pointing northward. "Don't
you see that?"

The young private looked north for a moment, and sighed. "See what,

"Goblins, to the north, about two miles off."

That got his attention. "Goblins?" he asked, a tremor of fear in his voice.

"Yes, goblins. Go find the major."

The private bent down and kicked his heels into his horse, galloping off in
search of the column's commander. Black himself leapt back into the
wagon, found his belongings once more, and dug up a wooden box
containing a brace of pistols. He quickly loaded them, an effort that
required almost no thought from the lieutenant, and then tucked them into
his belt. He grabbed his sword and made his way back off the wagon. He
considered finding his horse, which was currently running along side the
convoy as part of the cavalry's extra mounts, be decided against it. He
was more comfortable out of the saddle than in it, especially when he was
in a fight.

He walked along side the wagons, which were creeping along, and with
almost no effort he had overtaken the next wagon. Unlike the wagon he
had been perched in, this was a wagon designed to carry passengers.
Benches faced each other down the length of the wagon, and upon each of
these benches were a number of gold-coated privates of His Imperial
Majesty's Army. Under each bench was his belongings.

They did their best to snap to attention at Black's approach. Standing was
difficult because of the canopy. He heard a few grumbles; he had not
made himself popular with these soldiers during the long trip from Louisa

"Collect your muskets and get off the wagon," Black told them.

There were a few grumbled protests, but muskets were collected and one
by one, the dozen soldiers made their way off the wagon, ready for one
more of Black's incessant musket drills. Black grimly realized that they'd
thank him for the drilling before noon was out.

If they survived.

"Come, this way," Black told the group of privates. He led them off to the
side of the column, where several cavalry men shouted jokes at their
expense. Black's soft voice suddenly turned harsh and loud. "Load

The young privates immediately set about musket drill. They tugged a
cartridge out of their magazine pouches, a paper bundle which contained
enough powder to send a musket ball down range, as well as the ball itself.
They bit the ball section off, poured most of the powder down the barrel of
their muskets, then spat the ball into the barrel. Ramrods were yanked
from their homes beneath the barrel, then shoved forcefully into the gun,
compressing ball and powder into the breech tightly. The hammer was
pulled to half-cock, revealing the frizzen pan next to the doghead, the rest
of the powder poured into the pan, then the hammer was pulled to full
cock. The guns were now ready to fire. The entire process took less than
twenty-two seconds for the fastest of the bunch, although none were as
fast as old lieutenant Black, who could load a musket in eighteen seconds

"Hands on the hammer, boys," Black told them. "And let's march with the

"Back of the wagon's not good enough for you, eh rookies?" a Calais-
accented cavalryman taunted the thirteen men.

"Hold your tongue," Black snarled. "There's an officer here."

The horseman grimaced, saluted, then quietly made his way toward the
other side of the column. Beyond, Black could see Major Blythe and a
small entourage, including the private he had sent to find the major, riding
at a canter towards them.

"Good morning, lieutenant," Blythe said airily. "What's this I hear about

Several of the young privates looked at each other in alarm. "Eyes
forward," Black barked at them. The privates obeyed. Black saluted the
major. "Yes, sir. To the north. Three hundred if there's one."

"Three hundred?" the major said with a laugh. "We're less than three days
from Fort Armstrong, lieutenant. I doubt there are that many goblins left
in all of Mountainview County."

"Just look north, sir," Black replied, pointing north at the cloud of dust. It
had grown larger, and was plainly visible now.

Major Blythe shot Black a look, but looked north where the lieutenant
gestured. He shifted uncomfortably, then drew out a spy glass from his
coat and snapped it open. Seconds later, Blythe gasped. "Close the
wagons!" he bellowed. "Cavalry dismount!"

The convoy slowly disintegrated into chaos. The wagons were slowly
turned into a circle, the draft oxen were released from their harnesses and
lead into the center of the circle. The cavalry's horses were added to the
mix. In less than ten minutes, the wagon train had circled, cavalry men
loaded carbines, and Black's infantry men stood in a small line just inside
the wagons.

"Good eye, Black," Blythe told him. "These privates of yours ready?"

Black nodded.

"Damn, there's a lot of them," Blythe said, and rode around the inside of
the circle to inspect his dismounted cavalry.

Black looked at the privates. They were so young, so green. "Listen up,"
he told them. "We're about to face a large force of goblins. Some of us
may not survive. But none of us will survive if you don't stand and fight.
I know you can fire three rounds a minute. I know _I_ will stand and
fight," Black took a deep breath, letting his words sink in.

Behind him, the dust cloud grew louder. The horses and oxen became
skittish as they caught wind of the enormous wolves the goblins rode.
"What I need to know," Black continued, "Is will you stand and fight with

Nervously, some of the men nodded.

"Are you with me?"

There was a chorus of nervous "yes, sirs."

"I can't hear you," Black snarled.

"YES SIR!" the men hollered.

"Good," Black replied. "We'll take up positions between these two
wagons, in line. I want two lines of six men."

The privates scattered into their lines.

"Harkins, get in the back line," Black yelled. "I said six men a line, not
seven! Can't you count?"

Harkins bleated out an apology and got into the back line.

Black turned his attention outward, concentrating on the closing forms.
They were clearly visible now, some eight hundred yards distant. On a
prepared battlefield, artillery would be raining down on the goblins now.
Black had to stand and wait. There would be no cannons helping the
infantry out this time. All he had was little better than raw recruits. He'd
have to have them wait until the last possible instant for them to fire.

Black could hear the padding of the great wolves now, a soft, crunching
thunder. Six hundred yards. The lieutenant drew his sword, the standard
issue, one-edged straight sword, with its sharp point designed for thrusting
and a thickness little more than a rapier's. He wished he had something a
little more substantial.

Four hundred yards.

The lieutenant could make out individuals now. They rode in ragged
lines, some of the wolves slower or more heavily laden. The goblins
wielded clubs, axes, lances, spears, captured swords and bayonets. Black
even saw a couple of muskets and a blunderbuss. There were a number of
carbines and pistols.

Two hundred yards.

The shallow reports of carbines erupted, gray smoke billowing from the
dismounted yellow jackets. Their rounds missed their mark, and a
sergeant bellowed at the men to hold their fire and reload. Black was
proud to see his own soldiers hold their fire. They were slightly off the
vanguard of the goblins, so they'd engage soon after the goblins arrived.
_Just a few more seconds_, Black thought.

One hundred yards.

A nervous officer bellowed an order to fire, and a huge shattering roar spat
hot lead at the goblins. Several wolves reared up, and an ox bellowed.
Goblins fell from their mounts. Still, Black held back.

Fifty yards.

Black raised his sword, held it for a second, then with a grand sweep
brought it down, hollering as he did so. The dozen guns at his command
fired as one, and a great swathe of blood and gore splattered the goblins
behind the front line as the balls struck home. The great wave suddenly
wavered and broke, the wolves behind having to slow to maneuver past
their fallen companions.

"Platoon fire!" Black shouted. "Reload!"

The front line kneeled on one knee and began reloading from that position.
The first volley had bought them time. Time to reload. There was no
longer time to think, and Black was operating as much on instinct as he
was on habit. All around them, the carbines of the cavalry were opening
up. Return fire was coming from the smattering of guns the goblins had,
but it was sparse and infrequent. What was more frequent was the whine
and whistle of arrows. A goblin with a bow was a damn sight more
accurate and faster with his bow than a human with his musket. Luckily,
the creatures couldn't see well in broad daylight. Black cursed the
bowmen and waited for the lines to reload.

The lines were ready in no more than twenty seconds, by which time the
first wave was nearly at the wagons. Snarling wolves and angry goblins
were within yards of their position. Black tensed.

"First line, fire!"

The six muskets erupted, pouring smoke into the space between the
wagons. Black could not see the results, but the snarls had turned to
whines, and the yelling goblins were now gurgling and screaming.

"First line, reload! Second line, fire!"

The second line fired. More smoke and lead poured into the gap. One of
the privates in the front line screamed in pain as an arrow appeared in his
left bicep.

"Second line, reload!" Black shouted over the din of carbine and musket
fire. A snarling wolf appeared out of the cloud of musket smoke. Black
yanked a pistol from his belt, aimed at the beast's head, and fired. The
enormous animal was obscured by pale smoke. Black tucked the empty
pistol in his belt and drew the other.

"First line, fire!" Black ordered. Five muskets kicked and spilled more
smoke into the gap. Black couldn't see a thing through the gray. He knew
the goblins were probably regrouping, preparing for a renewed push.
Certainly the pitifully small volume of fire in the gap was not enough to
stop their advance.

"First line, reload!" Black ordered, holding the second line in reserve.

In moments, however, there were signs of trouble. He could make out
shapes through the smoke, short, five foot tall shapes with monstrous head
gear, large shields held out before them. Black resisted the urge to curse,
and instead shouted, "Second line, fire!"

The muskets spat another barrage of lead at their attackers, obscuring their
targets in another layer of thick gun smoke. "Second line, reload!"

By this time, the first line was reloaded and awaiting the order. Black
looked at them. "First line, fix bayonets!"

Nearby, he heard an inhuman scream followed by a hurried, rippling
volley. Angry shouts in familiar Airclonian mixed with the guttural
language of the goblins. The goblins were close. Horribly close.

"First line, fire!" Black ordered, firing blind into the gap.

More smoke filled the space, and Black heard more goblin screams in the
aftermath of the volley. They were still there, waiting. Black wondered
what they were waiting for. Surely they knew there were too few of them
inside the circle.

Realization dawned on Black.

"Harkins, Bridges, Conroy," Black pointed them out in case they could no
longer hear. "Get on your bellies and fire under this wagon."

It was about then that Black spotted the knife slashing through the outside
of the wagon.

"Second line, aim at the wagon," Black ordered calmly. Harkins, Bridges
and Conroy were on their stomachs, aiming...

Their guns popped and they were on their knees reloading. The wagon
rocked suddenly as smoke obscured the space under the wagon. A second
line was appearing on the side of the wagon's canopy. They were cutting

"Second line, fire!" Black cried.

Bullets tore through the canopy. Blood spouted and soaked a portion of
the hide covering, while a second goblin body tore through the hide and
collapsed through the wagon's side, it's back a bloody mess where a
musket ball had torn through. "Second line, reload!"

"First line, aim at the wagon!" Black shouted, his own blood lust up.
Through the ripped hole in the canopy, he could see the shapes of goblins
mounting the wagon. "First line, fire!"

Smoke poured across the wagon, more blood fountained, more bodies
tumbled to the rusty soil. Conroy, Bridges and Harkins were taking turns
firing at the goblins from under the wagon, one after the other, a
microcosm of platoon fire. Through the haze of gun smoke, Black could
see another goblin climbing aboard the wagon, an evilly recurved sword in
his hand, a small steel buckler on the forearm of his left. Black pointed
his pistol at him and fired. The goblin tumbled backwards off the wagon.

"Second line, aim at the gap! Fire!"

More smoke shattered through the space between the wagons, more
goblins screamed, more wolves whined.

"Second line, reload, fix bayonets!"

Two massive shapes suddenly appeared in the haze, rapidly moving
forward. "First line, fire!"

The huge dire wolves came through the space, saliva dangling from
vicious maws, their riders whooping in victory. Half the muskets on the
front line fired, the others were still reloading. One of the goblins fell
from his wolf, who suddenly pulled up lame, a musket having torn apart
its fore paw. The other goblin drew back a bow and fired at the privates,
striking one in the throat. Crimson spouted from the wound and covered
the yellow cloth of his coat.

Black tucked his empty pistol into his belt and bellowed wordlessly at the
goblin. Then, "Second line, fire!"

The three muskets of the second line fired just as the bowman and his
mount entered the gap. Two balls struck the massive head of the dire
wolf, splattering the wagon with blood. A third ball struck the goblin in
the chest, lifting him off his saddle and depositing him, gurgling and
writhing, on the ground. Black shouted for the soldiers to reload as yet
another wolf and rider came surging through the gap.

Black stepped forward and swung his sword hard across the face of the
great beast, the blade cutting deep across the animal's nose and bloodying
it's enormous muzzle. The wolf reared up and turned, its rider struggling
to stay astride it. A musket ball slammed hard into the animal's flank,
causing it to buck and flee.

This proved to be too much for the rider, who was flung from his saddle.
A private immediately stepped forward and drove his bayonet into the
goblin's neck, splattering himself with blood.

Black whirled to face the wagons and the gap once more, and was amazed
to see no further shapes in the haze. "Harkins, Bridges," Black shouted
over nearby carbine fire. "Are your weapons loaded?"

The two privates, pale and covered with musket soot, nodded. Black
strode fearlessly over to the wagon, climbing in through the hole the
goblins had cut. He considered one of the corpses for a brief moment,
poking it hesitantly with his sword. No response came from the body, so
Black proceeded to the next figure.

All around the circle, gun fire was ebbing and the smoke was beginning to
thin. Black peered outwards onto the dusty plain. For a hundred yards,
there was nothing except sporadic piles of dead wolves and goblins.
Beyond, however, there was a line of wolves, chomping at their bits, riders
considering the bloody carnage that the humans had reaped upon their
initial attack.

"By the Prince," breathed Private Harkins as he looked out on the plain.
"There must be hundreds of them."

"Two hundred and fifty," Black said non-chalantly. He was accustomed
to counting enemy formations, and his eyeball knew within a dozen heads
how many opponents they faced. "We bloodied them good, boys."

"Do you think they'll come back, sir?"

"Probably." The lieutenant sheathed his sword.

Black set about to reloading his pistols, one eye watching the goblins. The
smoke was clearing rapidly now, and even their poor day sight would soon
reveal to them their casualties. Something must have forced their hand;
the enemy didn't like to attack during the day.

A cheer went up from the west side of the circle, which soon broadened.

Black and the three privates looked out through the circleward tear and
saw jubilant cavalrymen jumping up and down. He wondered if they were
closer to Fort Armstrong then the major thought. Perhaps the smoke and
gunfire had attracted a patrol. Black's pistols reloaded and tucked under
his belt, he leapt from the wagon and walked over to the nervous men on
his makeshift line. Black knelt down by Clark, who had taken the arrow
to his neck. Blood coated the man's yellow coat, and guessing by the pool
around him, the lieutenant figured he was dead. He took the man's pulse
anyway, but it only confirmed Black's initial assessment.

Nearby, Private Jamison was being treated by two of his fellows, who
were trying to remove the arrow that had lodged itself in his bicep. Black
patted the man on his good shoulder and surveyed the other men. They
were dirty and unkempt, musket soot stained their faces, but amazingly,
there were no more wounded.

A young corporal rushed over to Black, in the short gold jacket of the
Imperial cavalry. He saluted hastily, "Sir, Major Blythe sends his regards
and asks you to hold this position." There was a broad grin on his face.

"What's all that noise about, corporal?"

"Sir, Airclonian infantry are moving our way. Two platoons at the river
and two more controlling the bluff on the other side of the ford."

Black did some quick math. Not enough men to fend off two to three
hundred goblins, but when combined with the cavalry, teamsters, and the
reinforcements Black currently commanded, it was enough to give the
night-loving goblins pause. It was morning; the goblins preferred to attack
in darkness. By nightfall, the convoy could be atop the bluff, commanding
the high ground. Black dismissed the corporal and considered the goblin
horde just beyond musket range. He wondered if they would cut their
losses and just let the column go. In daylight, the goblins were nearly
blinded by the bright sun, and they had already tried and failed to take the
column quickly. Another daylight attack on reinforced and well-
entrenched positions would surely dissuade the goblin commander.

As if reading Black's mind, the goblins wheeled their wolves and rode off,
leaving dozens of dead and dying compatriots behind.

Black blew a sigh of relief. "All right, boys, check the bodies they've left
behind. Make sure they're dead."

Black watched as all but the two men tending Jamison headed happily off
to butcher any survivors and loot the corpses. There were rarely any
prisoners in the Goblin Wars.

* * *

A couple of hours later, the column was moving again. Many of the
wagons had superficial damage, but only one had to be repaired before
being able to move. The gold jackets and gold coats of the Imperial
Airclonians had suffered only slight losses: seven dead and twenty
wounded, most only slightly. There were, as Black and other officers
made sure, no captives taken. The human dead were buried in graves with
makeshift tombstones, priests hastily consecrating unsanctified ground so
that their spirits would not become tethered in this Gods forsaken place.
The goblins were piled in a heap and set ablaze.

By mid afternoon, they had crossed the frigid ford and were joined by the
remaining forces of the infantry company that had come to their rescue.
Black wondered if they were attached to his new unit, and found himself
wandering up to some of the troops to ask them their unit.

Black found a grizzled, bear-sized sergeant and asked him to what unit he
belonged. "Light Company, First Battalion, Third Regiment Vergia, sir,"
the sergeant responded proudly. "Captain Wallace's company."

Like all Vergians, the sergeant spoke with that strange, drawling accent
that Black had never become accustomed to during his years in the
Imperial capital. "Captain Wallace? Where is he?"

"Over there sir, the one walking his horse," the sergeant told him.
Black thanked the sergeant and headed back to the wagon where his pack
was stored. He rummaged around inside it until he found his orders,
tucked them in his dusty coat, and made his way over to the captain, trying
to clean himself up in the process.

Black saluted.

Wallace returned the salute half-heartedly. He was standing next to a
sergeant, probably an aide. Wallace gave him the once over. "You're an
infantry lieutenant. You must be Lieutenant Segwick's replacement."

"Yes, sir," Black replied. "Second Lieutenant Grant Black, sir. These are
my orders."

Wallace took the orders and looked at them blankly, then considered
Black's dirty uniform. "Looks like you saw some action back there,

"Yes, sir."

"You're kind of old for lieutenant, aren't you?"

"I went through the academy, sir."

"Ah, the academy. That would make you what, twenty?" Wallace looked
at him skeptically. "You look closer to thirty."

"Twenty-eight, sir."

"Really? You are old for a lieutenant. A second lieutenant, at that,"
Wallace looked at him warily. "You better not be trouble, Black."

"No, sir."

"Have you read the letters that accompany your orders, Mr. Black?"

"No, sir," Black hadn't read the letters. He did, however, know what they
said. They were letters of reference for Black and a copy of his dossier.

"I'll take a look at them later," Wallace sighed. "Segwick was a good man,
Black. You have awfully big shoes to fill."

"I'll keep that in mind, sir."

"Be sure that you do, lieutenant. Be sure that you do." Wallace continued
to size up Black. The second lieutenant was a big man, an inch or two
past six feet, powerfully built with a strong jaw and sandy brown hair. His
eyes were gunmetal gray, and were penetrating and observant. Wallace,
however, was more concerned about the man's wits. "Have you word of
the replacements? My company is down half-a-dozen men, and there
should be a few for Major Smith and Captain Strand as well."

"There were a dozen, sir. Unfortunately, Private Clark was killed this
morning and Private Jamison was wounded during the fighting."

"Really?" Wallace was surprised. "So you did see some action."

"Yes, sir," Black responded.

The captain stopped his horse, set his foot in the stirrup, and mounted.
"You'll be in command of the Fourth Platoon, Mister Black. Your aide
will be Sergeant First Class Strummer. Big, dark-haired man. Sergeant
Thomas will take you to him."

Thomas led Black back to the big, bear-like man that had directed the
lieutenant to the captain in the first place. "Bill, this is your new
lieutenant, Mister Black."

Strummer stood at attention and fired off a salute. "Sergeant First Class
William Strummer, sir!"

"At ease, sergeant. Thank you, Sergeant Thomas."

Thomas saluted and walked away.

"What's the status on the platoon, sergeant?"

"Thirty-seven enlisted men, five sergeants, including myself. All in good
health, sir."

"Any problems I should be aware of?"

"None, sir."

Black found himself doubting that, but decided not to press it further.
Strummer was eyeing the new lieutenant cautiously. Too old for a junior
lieutenant, the sergeant was probably thinking. Black would have to prove
himself quickly or loose any respect these men would have for him.

"Who's in charge of the squads?"

"All sergeants, sir. Should I summon them?"

"Yes, sergeant, do that," Black said, trying to keep the impatience out of
his voice.

"Sergeants!" Strummer bellowed.

Four men approached, all in their mid-to-late twenties, all grizzled and
world-wise. These were not peacetime soldiers, Black realized.

"This is Lieutenant Black," Strummer introduced him. "He's our new

The sergeants saluted. Black saluted dismissively and looked at the men.
Their uniforms were a little dirty and unkempt, but their weapons were
clean and serviceable. The staff sergeant's halberd was covered by it's
head sheath, and the staff was polished and shiny. Muskets were likewise
well maintained.

Strummer continued on with introductions. The staff sergeant was
William Pointdexter, while the other squad leaders were William
O'Connell, Harvey Crendel and Vance McCoy.

"Thank you, sergeants. I will speak to the men tonight after we make
camp. Dismissed."

The sergeants nodded and headed back to their squads. Black turned to
Strummer. "Three Williams?"

"I'm Bill, sir. Pointdexter is Will, and O'Connell is William."

Black nodded. "I suppose that makes things easier."

"Yes, sir."

Black felt a strong impulse to interrogate Strummer about Lieutenant
Segwick, but decided against it. "I'd like to see my command, sergeant."

"Yes, sir. If you would follow me," Strummer strode over to a loose
column of men about a hundred yards from where Black had found
Wallace. They were a rough and tumble group, many sporting beards or
huge sideburns, many without their stocks or foraging caps. Threadbare
brown, gray, and rust cloaks were thrown over yellow coats, and their
pants were covered with patches.

Strummer kicked an older private in the rump. "Don't drag your gun,
Fossey. That's why you'll never make PFC!" Apologetically, Strummer
turned to Black. "Your platoon, sir."

Black considered them for a moment, grimaced and thanked Strummer.
"You may return to your duties, sergeant."

Strummer nodded and saluted. "Thank you, sir."

Strummer made his way to the front of the mob, next to Pointdexter's
halberd. Black wondered how much trouble he was going to have from
Bill Strummer. It wasn't easy for a man to get a taste of command and
then give it up. Black sighed and decided he'd deal with it when the time
came. If the time came. So far, Strummer hadn't been disrespectful or
rude; in fact, he'd been downright helpful. Maybe, Black hoped,
Strummer was happy to be relieved of his command.

* * *

Sergeant First Class Bill Strummer was in a foul mood. As he stared into
the evening fire, he remembered the lame speech the new lieutenant had
given. Turning these men into proud soldiers. Promising them victories.
Strummer spat into the fire. It was bad enough he had to serve under
someone again after running the Fourth Platoon throughout the winter.
But the new lieutenant was old, too old to be anything but a hopped-up
sergeant or a misfit, neither of which was a good sign. Commoners never
made good officers, and if he had earned a battlefield commission, he was
a commoner. If he had been stuck at second lieutenant for all these years,
that could only mean he was incompetent, a fool. Perhaps he was another
drunk like Lieutenant Jackson.

Strummer was too much of a veteran, though, to let the new lieutenant
suspect any ill-will. Old Bill Strummer was no idiot, no sir. Strummer
had been in the army since he was sixteen - he was now almost thirty. For
almost half his life, Bill Strummer had been in His Imperial Majesty's

Staff Sergeant Pointdexter approached, a thin gray cloak wrapped around
his shoulders, his gold coat unbuttoned halfway down the front.
Pointdexter was an old man by military standards, thirty-five to forty
(Pointdexter himself wasn't sure how old he actually was). His hair was
starting to turn gray, and his face was wrinkled and weather beaten.
Pointdexter was an easy-going type, which was why he had never
advanced past staff sergeant, but he was well-liked by his comrades and
those under him.

Pointdexter put his hands over the fire and yawned. "How you doing,

"Fine," Strummer growled.

"Ah, not taking a liking to the new lieutenant, are you?"

Strummer frowned. "He's awfully old to be a lieutenant, Dex."

"Aye," Pointdexter nodded, sitting down on a rock near Strummer's.
"That had occurred to me, as well."

"Which means he's either a hopped up commoner or someone's idiot

"He doesn't strike like an idiot," Pointdexter commented.

"Even after that stupid speech?"

The older man sighed and rubbed his temples. "Plenty of good men are
lousy speakers, Bill."

Strummer frowned. "You think he's a hopped up commoner?"

"He can read."

"So can you and I," Strummer retorted. "That doesn't prove anything,

"Maybe, maybe not. There are a lot of corporals in this army that would
make good sergeants if they could read."

"What does that have to do with the new lieutenant?"

"Just that a man like that knows how to read, he's at least from a proper

"A proper home?" Strummer spat into the fire. "Mercosa, I come from a
proper home."

"And you know how to read."

"So do you."

"Aye, that I do."

"So what are you blathering on about?"

"I'm saying he may not be a proper gentleman, but he's at least from a
good home. Breeding means a lot, you know."

"Sure it does. But our officers should be gentlemen, Dex. If he's a hopped
up sergeant..."

"Maybe he took a commission later in his life. We don't know."

Strummer frowned. "He's gonna be trouble, Will. Mark my words.
Hopped up sergeant, idiot or late commission, he's gonna be trouble."

* * *

The next morning, Grant Black woke with a crink in his neck and a stone
in his side. With a grumble, he pulled himself to his feet and slipped his
gold coat on. He had for sometime considered pulling some of the
decorative piping and braids off; it only drew the attention of
sharpshooters. Deciding that discretion was a better choice at this point,
Black pulled on his boots and stumbled out into the faint light of dawn.

Sitting on a rock outside his tent was Sergeant Thomas. Shocked, Thomas
leapt to his feet and fired off a salute. He seemed nervous; a far cry from
the preemptory treatment he had received the day before. "Lieutenant
Black, sir. Good morning."

"Good morning, sergeant," Black said, and decided to make for the latrine.

"Captain Wallace sends his regards and invites you to breakfast, sir."

"Thank you. Tell him I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Of course, sir."

Black relieved himself, ran his fingers through his hair, and tried to stretch
the crink out of his neck. Realizing how cold it was, Black retrieved his
great coat before making his way to Wallace's tent.

Wallace was sitting on a wide, flat rock before a roaring fire, a great
bearskin coat wrapped around his shoulders. Wallace stood as Black
approached. "Ah, Lieutenant Black," Wallace smiled. "Nice of you to
come so early. I've got some coffee on the fire and one of the girls will
bring breakfast soon."

"Thank you for your invitation, sir."

"Not at all, Black. I must admit, I misread you yesterday."

Black didn't know what to say, so he stood silently.

"Pull up a stone, lieutenant."

"Yes, sir."

Wallace poured coffee into two battered tin cups. "A bunch of damn
nonsense, this war," he grumbled as he handed him a cup. "There's
nothing in this county except down in the southeastern corner. Mercosa
himself wouldn't have liked this country."

Black sipped the coffee. It was strong and hot.

"I went through the Academy myself," Wallace went on. "Class of Thirty-
Six. But I don't believe I have a dossier, and I certainly didn't have your
references." Wallace pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. "Third son of
Luther Black, Bachelor of Idlewood. Enlisted in the Fiftieth New
Redstone in thirty-five. Promoted into the Sixteenth Imperial Guard in
thirty-seven. Applied to the Academy in twenty forty-one. Third in class,
_summa cum laude_, class of twenty forty-five. Letters of reference from
the Dean of Foot Soldiers and the Chair of Drill and Maneuvers at the
Academy, as well as General Eisley, who was your colonel when you
were with the Sixteenth."

Wallace eyed Black with veiled admiration. "You've had an interesting
career, Black. But one thing was unclear in your dossier. Why did you
enlist instead of buying a commission?"

"Money, sir. My family couldn't afford a commission."

"Good lords, man, are you serious?"

"Yes, sir."

"That's indeed worrisome, if gentlemen cannot afford a commission. I'm
surprised you enlisted."

"It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, sir."

"None-the-less, that's a sad state of affairs of the Bachelor of Idlewood
cannot afford a commission for his son. What does that say of New
Redstone? And I thought Salisbury was a wealthy place."

"The kingdom is quite large, sir. Not all of it is Salisbury. Upriver, where
I come from, there isn't much difference between the gentry and the

"That's not right," Wallace said, aghast.

"I've never thought of it being right or wrong, sir. It's just the way things

Wallace nodded. "I can understand that. Some of the men in this
regiment are freemen, sons of middle class farmers and craftsmen. It's
strange, but many of them can read."

"You aren't from Vergia, sir?"

"Oh, heavens no. I'm from Mistwood."

"The old frontier."

Wallace chuckled. "That's the case. When I was a boy, it was the frontier.
But the frontier has moved on, into goblin country. Hence, why we are
here. Damn savages," Wallace added. "If they'd just leave the settlers
alone, we wouldn't have this problem."

"Yes, sir."

Wallace sighed. "At any rate, we're here now. I'm not sure where my
other lieutenants are. Thomas!" he bellowed the last. Sergeant Thomas
appeared from inside a nearby tent. "Where are Anderson, Monroe and

"Still sleeping, sir."

"Wake them up, will you? We need to get moving."

Wallace turned suddenly and extended his hand to Black. Black shook it
uneasily. "Welcome to the Third Vergian, Black."

"Thank you, sir."

A serving girl, perhaps fourteen, approached. She carried a tray laden
with eggs and bacon and several tin plates. Wallace looked at the food
hungrily. "Ah, breakfast is here."

The serving girl gave them each a plate and heaped eggs and bacon on
them. Then she headed off, presumably to find the other officers.

Wallace and Black ate quietly, both intent on the food that was rapidly
cooling on their plates. "Gods forsaken country, these Badlands," Wallace
said between mouthfuls. "Food never stays warm for long."

When they had finished, Wallace stood and stretched. "We're about three
days east of the Fort," he told Black. "Probably closer to four or five with
these wagons."

Black nodded.

"You may want to take three of the best men out of the reinforcement
party and assign them to your platoon, lieutenant. No telling what refuse
we'll get if we wait till the fort to give them their assignments."

"Yes, sir."

* * *

The new lieutenant was watched by the Fourth Platoon as he passed. Most
of the men were less than impressed with his speech, and were waiting to
see if he was harmless, likable, or a flogger. At any rate, they watched
him with wariness and did like all good Airclonians; they maintained a
respectful distance.

Black could tell be their carefully measured poker faces that he wasn't
winning the hearts and minds of his platoon, but he wasn't about to let his
concern show. He did his best to pretend he didn't notice the men's wary
watchfulness as he passed, and headed instead for the tents of the dozen
men - now eleven - that had accompanied him on his voyage from Louisa

Black surveyed their encampment, which was not the usual standard of
decorum and tidiness that he had come to expect on the long trip. Dirty
pots lay here and there, most of the men were not properly dressed, and
one of the soldiers had even placed his gun on the ground, letting the dirt
foul its barrel and clog the wheel lock. A number weren't even up yet.

"Attention!" Black bellowed, his voice sounding less like a civilized
gentleman and more like a swearing sergeant. "Present arms!"

The soldiers scrambled about looking for weapons while others struggled
to button up coats or put on boots. Black felt extremely disappointed;
discipline had broken down in his absence.

Several soldiers struggled to form lines; others were still too busy putting
uniforms on or finding their muskets to get into place.

"Attention!" Black bellowed.

Everyone finally stopped what they were doing and snapped to attention.
Black spotted Jamison, his arm in a sling, struggling to get out of his great
coat and into his gold coat.

"Jamison!" Black exclaimed.

"Yes, sir," Jamison responded weakly.

"You are dismissed. Get properly dressed, clean your musket and get
ready to move out."

Jamison looked relieved, saluted with his good arm, and went about his
tasks. The others stood all around, in various states of undress and
readiness, most with their muskets held forward in presentation.

One soldier, however, had not claimed his musket from the ground.

Black's pale blue eyes surveyed the soldiers angrily. His eyes settled on
Private Caine, the one soldier without a musket.


A look of horror spread across Caine's face. "Yes, sir."

"Where's your musket, Caine?"

Caine started to look around.

"Eyes forward!"

Caine locked his eyes forward, gazing off at intermediate distance. His
uniform coat hung open, and his breeches were untied and hanging loosely
from suspenders. A tattered brown great cloak hung over his shoulders.
Black considered him for a moment.

"Where's your musket, Caine?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know, sir," Caine quietly stammered.

"You don't know?" Black repeated quietly.

"No sir."

"You don't know."

"No sir."

"By the Prince, you'd better find it!" Black bellowed. "We were attacked
by goblins yesterday, or have you all forgotten?"

There was a chorus of weak negatives. They hadn't forgotten.

"What happens if the goblins launch a surprise attack in the middle of the
night?" Black went on, livid. "And you can't find your musket and
bayonet? You're dead, that's what happens. I'm ashamed of all of you.
The minute I leave, you think you're on some damned safari. I've got
news for you. Those goblins are probably just beyond those hills out
there, waiting for some poor, dumb private to wander too far away from
the column, and they'll skewer you and feed you your own intestines while
you bleed to death. Clean this mess up and be ready for inspection in
fifteen minutes! Dismissed!"

The group of soldiers instantly fragmented into a chaos of cleaning,
straightening and packing activities. Black shook his head and took out
his pocket watch, a gift from his father when their relationship was better,
and checked the time. Then Black watched, his arms akimbo, as the small
group of men began to clean themselves up.

Fifteen minutes later, the camp was struck, and the soldiers were in full
uniform, even Private Jamison, and Black was proceeding with his
inspection. Caine had cleaned up his gun, struck his tent and kit, and was
even in full uniform. All had put on their uncomfortable leather stocks,
which helped keep the head from moving from side to side or even up and
down. Black found nothing to complain about on this inspection, although
he was still displeased with the disarray he had found just a quarter hour

"Bridges, Conroy, Harkins," Black pointed to each of them. "You'll come
with me. The rest of you be ready to fall into line with the rest of the

Bridges, Conroy and Harkins followed Black to the orderly camp of the
Fourth Platoon. Black was pleased with the work Strummer did; there
was none of the mass chaos he had found the reinforcements in. Black
found Strummer, who was shaving shirtless despite the cold, and
introduced the privates to Strummer.

"These are our new privates, sergeant. Bridges, Conroy and Harkins,"
Black introduced each in turn. "This is the platoon sergeant, Sergeant
First Class Strummer. He will assign you to your new squads. Welcome
to the Fourth Platoon, Light Company, First Battalion, Third Regiment of
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