Camp that night was a somber affair. Ogden’s leg had been easily set. Storm judged it nothing more than a simple fracture, painful but not serious. In this, he was supported by Durin and Arthur, one of the guards who had some medical experience. Ogden could ride in the wagon with Ralt and Sodan without slowing them down.
Boldric’s wounds, however, were very serious.
He’d been hit by no less than seven spikes, three of which had penetrated his armor. One had slammed its way through his visor and lodged in his jaw. The rear end of the spike was trapped in the steel mesh of his visor, forcing them to cut off his helmet in order to remove it. It was impossible to keep from moving the embedded spike during the operation. Boldric’s screams of pain finally stopped when he mercifully passed out. Once off, his face was revealed as a red ruin. The spike had shattered his jawbone, pushing large splinters of bone up into his right eye with horrifying results.
The other two spikes had sliced through the thin joints in Boldric’s armor on his lower right side. One had broken several ribs before slicing open his intestines. The other one had buried itself entirely in his liver. Removing them was a bloody, time-consuming operation. Durin did most of the work, assisted by Arthur and Storm. Once they were out his wounds were washed and bound. Only then did they discover he’d died during the process.
Storm sighed heavily. How many times had he seen this, on Earth as well as Gaia? Work like mad to save a man’s life only to have him die halfway through it. It reinforced the wisdom of his decision to bring only single men. The fewer widows and orphans on his conscience the better.
He ordered a burial detail to dig a grave.
Next, he turned his attention to the horses.
Five of them had been wounded to one degree or another, none of them seriously. Whether or not they could carry a rider was still an open question. They dressed their wounds as best they could then retired to eat dinner.
Afterward was Boldric’s funeral. Thomas and Arthur wrapped his body in sheets then lowered him gently into the ground. The men stood around the grave, heads down, waiting for Storm to speak.
He ground his teeth in the gathering dusk. This was the part he always hated. He never knew what to say. “I’m not a priest,” he began, “so I don’t know the right words. I only know Boldric was a just man, just and good. He fought and died bravely. I wish him well.”
The men nodded at his words, apparently pleased. Two of them made the sign of the Lord of Light. Durin clapped him on the shoulder. “Well said,” he murmured. “Alright lads, cover him up. Tamp it down hard, mind ye, so the wolves don’t get him.”
The men not involved in filling the grave wandered back to camp. None of them seemed inclined to go to sleep. They merely sat around the fire, watching it moodily. Storm began to get concerned. He drifted over to Thomas who was polishing his bow, the powerful one he hadn’t recognized during the fight. “Are they going to mutiny?” he whispered, indicating the men gathered around the fire.
Thomas looked up in surprise then chuckled low in his throat. “Sorry, Cap’em. I forgot, you haven’t known ’em long.” He turned his attention back to his bow. “Naw, they’re not gonna do anything like that. We’re all volunteers. None of us want to see anything happen to Krista. For some of us, she’s the only family we got. We’ll get her there or die trying. But it gets ya when a mate dies like that. Makes ya think about the future and stuff. It ain’t good for ’em, but they’ll get over it.”
Storm knew about thinking too much about the future. He’d been doing far too much of it himself lately. To keep his mind off it he asked, “So what makes Krista so special you’d all die trying to save her?”
“Well, it’s hard ta say exactly. It’s not something you can really put yer finger on if you follow me.”
Storm shook his head. “No,” he said bluntly. “Give me an example.”
Thomas leaned on his bow thinking. “Well, she remembers your name. Sodan don’t do that. Ah, he’s alright ta work for and he don’t stiff ya on payday, but he don’t really know you. Yer just a face in the crowd. Krista, now,” he smiled fondly, “she remembers your name and your age and where yer from and all kinds of stuff. She stops and talks to us. Not that, ‘Hi, how’s the weather?’ stuff either; I mean real talk, like you and me do.” His smile widened on his face as he spoke. “And it’s not just talking either, she does stuff for us. Last year when Boldric’s mum was dying, she gave him a week off – with pay! – ta go see her. Couldn’t tell the old man about it of course ‘cause he’d had a hissy fit fer sure.”
“A soft touch,” Storm grunted.
“No, no, it ain’t like that at all,” Thomas protested, rising to her defense. “She can be a holy terror when you cross her. There was a guy a couple years ago, he tried to pass off some low-grade wool as high grade; well, she caught him at it and lit into him like a prairie cat. For anyone else that’d be enough.” He paused expectantly.
“But not for her?” Storm said when it became evident Thomas was waiting for him to say something.
“You got it, Cap’em. You know what she did?”
“She hired some scribes and had ’em print up hundreds of copies of a letter telling everyone what he’d tried to do. Then she hired some criers to yell it on the street corners for them who couldn’t read, that’s what!” he said triumphantly. “Ruined him completely! He had to leave town. No one would do business with him anymore after that,” he chortled.
Storm had her pegged now. “A Greener.”
Thomas gave him a blank look. “A what?”
“Did she ever go to meetings where she had to wear a green sash?”
“I saw her wearing a green sash a few times when she went out. I don’t know nothing about a meeting though.”
“You can’t get into them unless you’re invited.”
“So what are they?”
He shrugged massively. “It’s a new group who started, I don’t know, ten, twelve years ago. They believe in absolute justice and absolute equality. They think everyone should be treated as an equal and they think everyone should pay for their crimes no matter who they are or what the crime was.” He shrugged again. “They’re not very popular with the Royals.”
“I’ll bet they ain’t,” Thomas gasped. “That kind of talk can git ya hung in a hurry.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Who’d have thought it?” he breathed in wonder. “Krista, a revolutionary.”
“Keep it to yourself,” Storm said sharply. “Here in Ingold, King Roderick has a reward posted for Greeners. He hates ’em.” It went further than that but there was no point in worrying the lanky archer. The last time he’d been through Ingold, Roderick had been on a virtual rampage against Greeners, locking up anyone who was related to them; even going after their friends and people they worked with.
Thomas pantomimed locking his lips and throwing away the key. “I won’t do nothing ta get Krista in trouble,” he said earnestly. “Believe me!”
No, he probably wouldn’t, but as soon as possible he’d be after her to take him to a meeting, Storm reflected. The Greeners were as popular with the lower classes as they were hated by the upper classes. Justice was more of a theory than a reality in most places. It was one thing about life on Gaia he’d never gotten used to. “Enough of this,” he said abruptly. “Let’s go join the men. I hate it when they just sit and stare at the fire the way they’re doing. It’s not good for them.”
“Sure thing, Cap’em,” Thomas grinned at him. “Maybe we can get a game of dice going, cheer ’em up some.”
The men didn’t want cheering up though, and in the morning Storm felt inclined to join them in their blue funk. It turned out two of the horses were more badly wounded than they’d thought. They were totally unable to bear the weight of a rider on their back. In fact, they were lucky to be standing at all. After a prolonged discussion, Storm ruled until the horses had recovered, they would stay where they were.
They were camped on a slight rise at the bottom of a cliff. A large river poured out from its base to the right of the camp, protecting them on at least one flank. The forest was somewhat thin in the area around the knoll, making a surprise attack difficult. Although he would have preferred to have both their flanks protected, the spot was as defensible as any they were likely to find. Given a little luck, they should be safe.
He immediately began giving orders to improve it though. When it got right down to it, he didn’t believe in luck.