Monday, November 20, 2023

Duendewood: Reclaiming Annon, Part Three

"I'm what?" asked Caergar the Bloodhunter. 

"You're in charge now, sir," said the lieutenant, blinking nervously. 

"I'm a man-catcher, an enemy-taker." 

"Yes," confirmed the lieutenant. "I know. And that makes you an officer, and at the moment you're the most senior officer left in the force, technically at least. The elves have been... thorough, sir." 

Caergar hesitated. He knew the elves had been taking out officers whenever they could. He'd had no idea that it had been so bad that command now fell to him. It shouldn't have been possible. People like him -- Harvesters, they were called informally -- were given rank so that they could make decisions in the field, not so that they could lead troops. But everyone else is dead, and the elves are targeting anyone who leads. We're cut off from Annon, and we're dying by inches out here in the forest. The elves didn't have Solari as such, but they still had their elites and their champions... and from the look of things, those were the people who were taking the force apart. 

"Lieutenant," Caergar began, and then paused. "I'm sorry, what did you say your name was?"


"Lieutenant Margull, how long have you been an officer?"

The older man chuckled. "Seven years now. I'll retire as a lieutenant, if I survive that long. I know what I know, but I have no head for broader strategy."

"Could you hold the camp together?" asked Caergar, "Arrange the watch, see that the wounded are tended to, and hold here?"

"If we don't move, they might decide to move in and finish us," Margull answered quietly, demonstrating that in fact he did have a head for strategy, just not the tact to present it gently. 

"I know," answered Caergar, after a moment of thought. "Do you think they will?" 

Margull considered that for a moment, then said: "Not immediately. They'd keep trying to pick us off, but if we kept everybody in the camp and behind the picket lines we might gain a day... maybe two."

"Arrange it." When Margull hesitated, Caergar added: "I don't have any experience in organizing men. I need your help on this."

There was a long, uncomfortable pause. Then Lieutenant Margull said, "Very well. What do we gain by holding here for a day or two?"

"A chance to negotiate," Caergar told him. It was that or trying to fight their way out of Duendewood, and if they attempted that then the elves would pick them off one by one until their force was annihilated. Whoever was out there was among the best of the Elvish insurrection, not just in their ability to coordinate strategies and tactics, but in the power of the fighters being deployed. He and his troops could definitely do some real damage in the attempt, but they would never leave the forest. 

Captain Hedrick would have told them to turn back to Annon and retake the city, re-establish themselves in their compound... but that would be suicide, and Captain Hedrick was dead. The vows he'd sworn... were to Sol Povos, as well as Duke Lamont. With the Duke dead...  No, Margull was right. This was entirely his decision. "That will be my job," he concluded, looking at Margull.

Lieutenant Margull nodded. "I wish we'd never come here. If you can keep us alive... likely some in Sol Povos would consider you a traitor, but nobody here will offer anything but praise. I'll organize the camp."

"Good," said Caergar, "because you're in charge until I return. And if I don't return before the elves attack in force, then I'm dead and you -- I presume -- are next in the line of command." He paused. "Your understanding of strategy is more than adequate; what's held you back is a lack of understanding politics, and I can't help you with that. Good luck. I know you'll do your best."

Margull swallowed. "I will, sir. But I'm still counting on you to save us."

Caergar nodded back at him, feeling suddenly resigned. "I will do everything I can."

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