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Subject: Nates journey Home
The wagon bounced and shuddered as it went down the dusty dirt road. The overhanging tree branches and thickets of bushes occasionally snagged on an unwary rider. It would still be a month or so before the leaves and green grass returned and there still a few patches of snow here and there. Nate rode alongside a wagon on horseback with five other Softsoap mercenaries after a whole nights drinking session as he travelled back to DW . Nate had done it a few times when he first left the army and established Softsoap he had even began to know some of the merchants quite well. A few had even given him discounts on their wares. That had been quite some time ago, though, and this one he wasn't familiar with. It wasn't uncommon these days, however, since it seemed everyone was headed here or there for some reason or other, mostly just trying to scratch together an honest living and avoid being Farmed. Thirteen days had passed since the great Veggie war with Onion the True Blade, a mighty Veggie, and so many had been forced in to war and battle that even now most of the displaced Farmers and Softsoap soldiers found it hard to settle while the northland tried to regain its sense of balance.
Nate pulled his cloak tighter around him but the cold wind still seemed to bite through. It was a frosty morning but he was glad to be back in southern DW where the air was not quite as cold as it had been in the far reaches of the north. He was surprised that he felt so well after drinking so much the night before. He had just returned to the Rusty Axe last night to spend his reward with Gelyssa but before he had even ordered his first drink, Feltash, a local mayor, had stumbled over to offer him a job. Feltash was as broad as a horse and stood a head taller than Nate, who was of average height. He was an older warrior that also spent a great deal of his free time at the Rusty Axe in DW. He wore dark brown leather armour, the kind worn by soldiers, and adorned his shoulders with the fur of bear and wolves. A large scar crossed his left cheek and he had lost many of his teeth. He had also once served in King Kinnisonís army, and had been at the battle of Skulgarad when the frost Trolls came down from the frozen wastes in a ploy by Onion and he attempted to surprise and overwhelm the King. However it was Onion who was surprised when his frost Trolls had been ambushed and destroyed. What a time it had been then. Now things had begun to change and there seemed to be less honour and virtue in the world especially with the raping of sheep, the slaughter of women and then eating of babies. The lands of DW appeared to be getting more and more corrupt as those in power turned to treachery instead of honour, forgetting the oaths of old and squabbling amongst themselves over money, power, land, slaves, and any other excuses they could find. It wasn't like the days when Nate was a child and people had joined to fight the Farmerís invasion. Only the elder Clans of Dark Crystal Mercenaries, The Chosen Warriors, and The Kingdom of the Myrmidons seemed to remain the same, though very few Farmers were left after the war. Most people believed they had been wiped out.
It was rumoured the way south had become dangerous as of late with talk of all sorts of Trolls raiding the countryside. Feltash, had told tales of DW citizens being attacked by onions and tomatoes. He also had heard that mellons, shrooms and the like were on the move and even killing each other. Said he almost felt like taking up a sword himself and joining the men as they escorted some merchant named Bob (sorry I cant be bothered coming up with a name) as he took his goods to the capital city of DW.

The past few days Nate had been up north, fighting a small band of Farmers that had been harassing the lands. They had proved to be difficult at first, striking in the night and retreating, but Nate and a small group of Softsoap men had managed to track them. After chasing them halfway across DW or more, they caught the elusive scoundrels and gave them the death they deserved.

"Yer quiet this morning. Too Much ale last night?" Patches said as he rode up alongside of Nate. "No. Just thinking." Nate replied. "About what - Gelyssa? Ar bet?" Patches asked. "No. I was thinking I can't hardly wait to see the barmaids in Bandur again." Nate chuckled. "Wait, what bet?" He asked. Perhaps he did have one too many drinks last night. "Ye said last night that ye'd bet me a weeks slated hut income that nethin would appen on this trip." Patches replied with a grin. Nate returned the mocking smile as he remembered the wager. Getting drunk seemed to have a way of putting him in debt lately as he often became boastful. "Oh that. You smile as if you expect company", Nate replied scanning the countryside. Patches looked off into the hills and forests ahead, still grinning. "When ye've seen as many battles as I boy, ye feel it in yer stomach long afore ye see it. Maybe nightfall or aps tomorrow." He trailed off as if not wanting to finish his sentence. It was almost as if he could smell it. Yes there it was death was on the air.

Nate watched Patches with utmost respect. Normally calling him boy would have gotten any other manís head parted from its shoulders but he felt Patches was a friend and hoped to learn from him. "Does your stomach tell you what we will face and how many there will be witch-monger?" There was a moment of silence and his hand hovered near the hilt of his sword hoping he hadn't gone too far.
Patches stared at Nate coldly sizing him up, wondering if he had meant insult or if he was joking. Then, at last he let out a great roar of laughter and Nate relaxed. "Aye, that it does not itís more of a feeling". "Witch-monger" he grinned, "let's hope yer as fast weth yer sword as ye are weth yer mouth. At least then ye might be around fer me ta get my extra income, hehe."

Nate chuckled but he knew Patches instincts for battle were far more developed than his own and he figured, since it was only likely to be a two-week trip, he would be coming up short of pay by the end of this one. They passed the rest of the afternoon talking of the "better days" and going over old battles and sharing some exploits. Though sometimes Nate thought he could smell death in the air he didn't pay much attention or alert the others. It was, he supposed, obvious to experienced men of battle even though no-one else seemed to notice.
Darkness had started to settle the land when they finally decided to stop for the night and set up camp. They chose a spot just off the road, a small bare hilltop, and organized the two wagons to provide a small barrier from the wind. After the meat and bread rations had been dealt for the evening, Nate settled down next to the fire and pulled a bladder of rum from his surcoat. He sipped it gingerly as he ate and listened to a few of the other Softsoap clan mercinaries boast of which had come closest to death in battle. They had set out in a group of six minus the merchant, and Patches and Devious had already turned in since they had the early watches. The second watch had just started and Nate had chosen the third but found it difficult to sleep. He knew he should be getting some rest but for some reason his mind kept drifting to when he was a child and his father had taken him to the coast. It was there that he had his first glimpse of sea-faring vessels used by the locals of the city, which were said to be the finest warships in all of DW and manned by JW666E7 and Roger Ramjet.
He had never heard of battles in the sea, hell he had never even seen an actual ship until then. Small boats were common in all coastal villages but these were like floating towns with towers of white, silver and blue sail. He couldn't begin to imagine how men spent weeks, even months on the open sea rocking back and forth and fighting off sea monsters, pirates and hunting Farmer vessels. That had been just before his father went off to war and never returned. Shortly after, his mother had died of the plague and he went to live with Sir Scott, who had sworn an oath to his father, and was properly educated and taught the ways of the sword. After that he was knighted at the age of sixteen and had spent his late teens serving in the kings army where most of his days were spent training and performing guard duties. When he had finished his five-year term he was released from duty and chose to go out and see the world as a sword-for-hire.
Nate awoke with a start and listened intently for whatever had woken him. He could only hear the crackling of the dying fire. He must have dozed off he thought as he began to feel the morning chill. The watch was supposed to keep the fire stoked to keep the wolves away. The watch! Nate quickly got to his feet and grabbed his sword. It had to be his turn by now he thought as he rolled a few more logs into the fire. Poor Sir Pain must have fallen asleep. He looked up at the fading stars in the sky and thought it must be near morning as it was not as dark over the eastern treetops and then he set to find Sir Pain whom must have forgotten to wake him. It didn't take long and he found him slouched on a stump several yards from the camp. "Wake up," he said as he neared Sir Pain he had a good ear lashing coming to him for falling asleep. Nate raised his voice and pulled back his hair out of his face "get up I said" as he neared closer. Just then he paused for a moment as he thought he heard a feint metallic scrape. He crouched slowly forward and gripped Sir Painís shoulder. "Wake up" he whispered, "I thought I heard somethi" He pulled his hand back as it glistened in the moonlight and it became all too clear that Sir Painís throat had been slit. In fact it was still warm. "To arms, men!" Nate cried as an arrow whizzed by his head and the forest line, roughly fifty yards ahead of him, burst into guttural Farmer cries and metal clanks as several large dark shapes poured forth. He turned back toward the camp in time to see his men jumping up and scrambling before turning back to the enemy as another arrow flew by. He would have tried to make it to the camp but he didn't relish the idea of an arrow in the back and decided to turn and fight hoping the other men would form on him before these Farmers reached him. The darkness was slowly fading now and as the enemy neared he could start to make out what they were facing and he didn't like what he could see. Patches came up on his right, "Farmers, boy," he hissed. "Make ready lads!" He bellowed. Nate turned pale and felt the sickness in his stomach rise like it always did before a battle. He had never fought Farmers before but heard the brutal tales told by survivors, which were often very few. Only a few heartbeats now and they'll be on us, he thought. He began to calm himself as he had been taught and prepared to fight as the others reached him, swords and axes drawn. The merchant perched himself on the back of the wagon and began firing his crossbow. He wasn't very skilled but every little bit helped. The undisciplined Farmers had broken their line and the first three were several steps in front of the rest. Nate counted seven or eight but couldn't be certain.
Patches lurched forward and kept himself low as he met the charge, swinging downward, hitting GoldenArms low as he blocked high with his shield. The move worked and almost sheared GoldenArms muscular leg off just below the knee. Nate barely had time to react as a sword came crashing down toward him but he was able to get his sword up just in time to parry the blow. The force of it sent shock waves up his arm and he was knocked off balance. He was not prepared for the strength of the creature and Onion roared a crazed laugh as he struck him in the face with a closed fist that sent him to the ground. The blow brought him to the edge of unconsciousness as he clumsily fought his way to his knees. Time itself seemed to slow as he looked up to see the giant Onion smiling down at him as he raised his blade for the finishing strike. Nate paused and feigned at the last second and thrust his sword upward into the bastards' groin. Onion toppled to his knees letting out a long high pitch moan that was cut short as Nate rose and sank his sword deep into Onionís throat. Now he felt the full berserker fury as his adrenaline peaked and he threw himself forward into Aaralyn before she could finish her swing. The move would have toppled a man but Nate merely stopped its advance. He still had managed to put himself behind Aaralynís swing but too close for his own sword to do any good, as he instinctively stuck his dirk up under her ribs. He looked up and thought he caught a glimpse of confusion in her eyes just as a bolt pierced her skull and she toppled backward. Nate looked to his right and saw Patches dealing a final blow to Skalana as the rest of them retreated back into the woods and it was over just as sudden as it had started.
"Aye laddie, it looks like you owe me" Patches grinned. Nate just nodded and quickly sat down as his blood cooled and he began to notice the throbbing of his head and dizziness began to set in. "Ox is dead and Riece probably won't make it to supper time" Alfjotr reported. "See to it that he's comfortable, Alfotr, and load him onto the wagon. Patches, you and I will see to Ox, and the rest of you search the bodies and take whatever supplies and valuables ya find."

After wrapping Ox in a blanket they dug a grave and covered him in as many stones as they could find while the others piled the bodies of the Farmers and set it ablaze. It was midday before they finally set out upon their journey again with Riece passing in and out of consciousness uttering moans and curses. He had taken a blade to the lower ribcage and had lost a lot of blood. As the day passed he spent less and less time awake. Just after they had set camp for the night Riece requested to watch the sun go down and then went peacefully into eternal sleep. Another grave was dug before the men retired to bed but this time no-one left the camp and a strict watch was kept though nothing happened.

For two weeks they travelled, having various skirmishes with Farmers offspringís from We Are Innocent and the occasional Flower Children. Once they had been outnumbered three to one and thought surely they would parish when another wave of Softsoap troops arrived just in time to save them. Luckily the remainder of their trip passed safely and no more of the Softsoap troops died. They set out with the sunrise and just past midday they began passing several small slated huts and outlying farms before they finally rounded a bend and home crept into view.
The market lay near Nateís home, which was several stories high and already lined with peddlers such as Seth attempting to ply their trade. Some specialized in exotic skins and furs while others had travelled to distant worlds and brought back gems and odd trinkets or strange weapons, armour and Easter Eggs. Others had made the city their home and had shops of their own which they hand crafted jewellery, clothes, and such. Several smiths could be heard clanging out their handiwork crafting custom items, while fletchers carved, bent and stretched pieces of wood until their customers were satisfied that they had the best bow in the city. Butchers busy butchering and crowds gathering around doomsayers while children ran about playing and laughing.
Just before entering the city Bob stopped the cart. "Well gentlemen" he said and he pulled out several coin purses and began to pass them about, "this is for your services and I've added a little extra to each for the shares of the men that didn't make it. Thank you all and good day." He flapped the reins and rolled down the crowded street toward the market. "Well this is where we part ways. Good luck to you Patches, Nate" and before they could reply Alfjotr and others were heading their different directions leaving the two men behind. "Here you are Patches" Nate said as he tossed several gold pieces to him.

"Aye lad, ye always were a man of yer word. And where ye be headin then?" he asked. "To the nearest place to get a drink" Nate replied with a smile. "Care to join me?"

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Time Posted: April 1 2010 02:11 pm EDT
Last updated: May 8 2012 01:10 pm EDT


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