The sounds of the blackmith’s forge and anvils were nothing out of the ordinary in the Imperial camp. Those sounds being heard after dark was. Bastian had worked the same piece of metal all day. He was not trying to create anything. His mind wasn’t even focused on the anvil or the metal that rested upon it. Only that the metal would cool and needed to be reheated so he could continue to swing the hammer. Hour after hour it went. He didn’t notice when the blacksmith or his apprentices and helpers left. He didn’t notice when nearly every tent in the camp began to emit pale yellow light or when they went dark. He only knew the metal was cooling faster than before.
His anger and frustration had left him long before, yet he still pounded on the metal. He was now lost in thought about the larger things in life. He had always felt he was doing good by serving as a soldier. He was even more certain when he was given command of his scouting team. The work they did put fewer lives at risk and kept everyone – other soldiers to civilians delivering bread – safer and that made him happy. But this new Legate, he made his life painful. Having to deal with bureaucratic obstacle after obstacle was achieving nothing. Being hampered at every turn by the decisions of this man made him think it was time for a change.
“Just get out of my way and let me do my job.”, he thought as he swung the hammer. “It will get done faster. Fewer people will have to die.” He would never say that directly to Mantedus, it would be disrespectful and a waste of time. Bastian believed in the chain of command. Without it, armies simply couldn’t function.
But this Legate, there was something about him. Bastian couldn’t place his finger on it, but something wasn’t right. “Why wouldn’t he send my team? We’ve know the most. We’ve fought these thugs more than anyone else in the last three months. Does he think we couldn’t get the information? Does he think we couldn’t put an end to the thefts and murders? No, it couldn’t be that. We’ve captured and ended too many of these bandit’s storms of mayhem for him to think that.”
The longer he worked the forge, the more he convinced himself that maybe he was the one that was wrong, not the Legate. “The Infiltrator does make sense. One person in disguise will raise less suspicion than four Imperial soldiers.”
The sound of a man’s voice brought him out of his contemplation.
“You keep working like that and the smith will need a new anvil.” Said the man just inside the light of the forge. Bastian’s hammer came to a stop as he turned to look at the robed figure.
“If he does, it wasn’t a good anvil.” Bastian mused.
“I guess you’re right.”, came the reply. “Still, that anvil will fare better now that you’ve stopped. You HAVE stopped?”
“Yes. No more can come from the forge this night.”
“Night?” The old man gave a look to the dark sky and turned back to Bastian. “You mean morning, don’t you?” he said tipping his head in the direction of Sucunda very high in the sky.
Bastian looked around the camp and realized how long he had been at the forge. “I guess you’re right.” A small chuckle escaped and he walked to a nearby post and hung a heavy leather apron on a peg.
The old man observed the young Nord and then asked “Tell me, son, what were you thinking about? Why have you worked the forge till this hour?”
“It helps me keep a clear head.” Bastian replied. “And out of the stocks.” he thought to himself with a grimace.
“I see. Something troubles you?”, the man’s concern was evident as he stepped fully into the light of the forge. He was Breton by the looks of his rounded face. Older than Bastian by many years, with the scars and silver hair to prove it. He wore the robes and armor of a Vigilant of Stendarr, but he carried no weapon.
“Not anymore. I left’em in the fire.”
“Ah. When I was your age, I was leaving my troubles on people’s faces and the inside of jail cells.” The older man chuckled, rubbing his jaw as if remembering something. “Your way is better.”
“Sometimes, I wonder.” Bastian returns the chuckle. “Tell me father, what brings you to our camp this…early…in the day?”
“I couldn’t sleep. I kept hearing the sound of a hammer strike an anvil all the way to Cheydinhal.”
“Well…” Bastian’s face turned a slight shade of pink “I see. I am sorry father. I didn’t realize the time.”
“That’s ok, my boy. I needed the exercise and an excuse to see the camp again.”
“Again? You been here before?” Bastian asked.
“Yes. Many times. But…always during the day.”
Bastian chuckle was half to embrace the joke and half to cover the embarrassment. “So that’s why I’ve never seen you.”
“Possibly. And since you’ve never seen me, I’ll start with the introductions. My name is Meelus Mucco. And since you’ve already called me ‘father’ twice, I assume you know that I am a priest in the service of Stendarr.” Meelus offered his hand to Bastain.
Bastian took the hand and gave it strong shake. “Bastian, father. Bastian Tannick.” When he let go of the priest’s hand, he followed with a question.
“Priest? With your armor, I assumed you to be a Vigilant.”
“Oh, I was. When I was younger and more capable with the strength to pound my troubles into the face and body of Stendarr’s foes. Sadly, time has caught up with me and has taken my strength and replaced it with those older than myself call ‘wisdom’. Whatever that is.”
“Well, I’m glad to meet you, even if I kept you from your sleep tonight. I hope you can forgive me.”
“Nothing to forgive my boy. I understand the need to deal with your frustrations.”, again Meelus rubbed his jaw, then continued, “You are wiser than I will ever be for choosing to release it onto an anvil than onto those that cause it! I too am glad we met. If you ever need to do more than kill an anvil, come see me in the Vigilant’s Hall in Cheydinhal. It’s within earshot of the camp.”
Another chuckle from Bastian, “I will father. I will.”
With that the two men parted, Meelus toward Cheydinhal, Bastian toward his tent.
* * * * * * *
Cid smacked Bastian on the top of his head with the flat side of arrow, “Wake up you overgrown sleeping cow of a Nord! We’re late!”
“Wha?” Grunted Bastian as he rolled over in his cot to be greeted by the full brightness of the mid-morning sun streaming into his tent thanks to Cid holding the tent flap open to its fullest. He immediately pulled both arms up to cover the brightness and blinked his eyes to regain some type of focus.
“Damnit Cid! You could have at least closed the tent!”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did that bother you? I’ll bet it didn’t bother you nearly as much as your anger management exercise bothered me last night and this morning!”, he was obviously enjoying Bastian’s currently predicament and he watched the Nord roll around trying to find a dark corner of the tent.
“Well, next time I’ll just use your face. We’ll see how you like that.”
“As if that were possible. You can’t even find your own tunic, how could you find me to hit me?” Cid smacked him on the head again with the arrow.
Bastian reached out with a massive arm and grabbed Cid by the back of his neck. “Like that! You Imperial skeever’s arse!”
“Alright, alright!” Cid laughter erupted in the tent. “Get suited up, we’ve got work to do.”
“Says who?” Bastian released Cid and began getting dressed by pulling his tunic over his head and began looking for his greaves.
“Our illustrious Legate Mantedus. He has given us our new orders.”
“Oh, really? And they are?”
“Well, after noticing that our squad’s leader wasn’t present and mentioning something about gods-dammed hammering at all hours of the morning, he, not so cheerfully, passed on that we are to head to Leyawiin.”
“LEYAWIIN!”, Bastian’s scowl was almost as twisted as his hair. “Why would he send us there?”
“Probably to get you out of his hair so he could get a good night’s sleep.” Cid continued to pick at the wound.
“I said I’m sorry already, Cid.”
“I know. But it doesn’t matter.” Cid almost sounded wounded that he couldn’t continue. It was obvious Bastian had reached his limit.
“Why are we going to Leyawiin?” Bastian said as he laced up his heavy Imperial cuirass.
“I don’t know. Maybe some milk-drinking goblin has pissed in the middle of the road. Why do you think we’re going? Could it be that bandits continue to terrorize the entire province of Cyrodiil? Hmm? Just maybe?” Cid shook his head as Bastian stopped flopping around on his cot and gave the Imperial a scowl that would cut diamond.
“If you really can’t figure it out, Legate Mantedus has gotten word of another bandit group. He thinks it might be connected to all of the others we’ve dealt with and he’s sending his most experienced scouting squad to find out if they are.”
“Well at least that’s something. Maybe this group will say the same thing about where they get paid and we can prove to that pig that we were right.”
“The pig never doubted you Rigel.”, said Mantedus as he entered the tent. His tone even and cold.
Bastian immediately snapped to attention and instantly regretting getting out of bed. “I’m sorry ser. I was out of line.”
“Yes. Well, I appreciate your zeal when it comes to completing tasks and I understand that your mouth often moves before your brain can control it. So, just see that it doesn’t happen again or I’ll have you in irons. Are we clear?”
“Crystal clear ser.”
“Now, finish getting dressed and assemble your squad. I’ll give you the final details when your group is together. Five minutes should be enough, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes ser.” Both Cid and Bastian replied in unison.
Once the Legate had left Bastian’s tent, Cid turned to Bastian and smacked him on the back of the head. “Idiot.”
“Shut your hole. Get everyone ready.”
“Yes ser!” Cid’s smile was wide and evil. He had enjoyed that.
* * * * * * *
Cid, Mibem and Ja’Rakha were standing together surrounding a small fire that was gasping for life as Bastian left his tent. As Bastian walked to join his squad he was fumbling with the laces of his cuirass trying to get the fit right.
When Bastian was within earshot of the group a low “OINK” could be heard from Cid’s general direction. Bastian stopped, looked up – directly at Cid and said. “That’s enough.”
“Yes’ser” replied Cid with a chuckle that Mibem and Rakha joined.
“Where is the Legate?” Bastian asked.
“He was called away by a messenger just before you came out.” Replied Miben. “He said to wait here until he returned.”
“Right. So, I guess everyone knows where we’re going?” Bastian glanced around as the others nodded their confirmations. “Good. While we’re waiting, let’s gather our gear and make sure we have enough supplies to get us there. Go light on the food, we’ll have plenty of time to hunt on our way.”
With that the four each turned and started the busy work of preparing their packs and traveling gear.
The group was nearly finished when Legate Mantedus returned. “Gather’round.” He said as he approached. The group all turned and formed a semi-circle around the Imperial Legate.
“First, I’d like to commend you all for your excellent work thus far in dealing with this ring of bandit raids. Your last mission brought back some conclusive evidence that the raids over the past three months are being orchestrated. But, we still have questions. The biggest is why?”
The Legate looked at all four of the soldiers in front of him, then placing his hands behind his back and dropping his head, he continued. “I wish I could offer you more time to rest and recover, but just before you arrived I received word that a larger force was moving south toward Leyawiin.” The Legate paused to collect his thoughts, and then in a solemn tone explained the situation. “We’re stretched thin here. I’d like to send a large group along with yours to deal with these thugs, but I simply don’t have it.”
He turned and looked directly as Bastian. “I’m sending your team to find and track this group. Find out how strong they are and gather as much information about them as possible. What is their ultimate target? Why bring so many? Do they intend to sack the city of Leyawiin or just the surrounding villages? Do not engage this group unless you have to – you’re outnumbered at least five to one here. I need your team and information more than I need thugs that know nothing other than coin’s involved. Understood?”
“Yes ser.” Bastian replied. He thought, for a brief moment to ask about taking targets of opportunity, but then thought better of it.
“Good. Then may the luck of the eight be with you. I will send more people when I can with further orders.” With that, the Legate turned and left the group to their preparations.
Bastian looked at his group and with a nod of his head and raised eyebrow he said, “Let’s get to it.”