Vol.1, Ch.4, P.2

 

The Godrika Minery—its fallowed fathoms slept beneath the southern region of the marquisate of Norden. Well-known it was for, amongst other things, its wealth of unexploited veins of silver ore.

Forty winters ago saw its discovery by an exploration team, and shortly after were picks and shovels sent to strike away at the shafts, with tunnels spreading from them like roots. But a mountain sat above it, already a veritable menagerie of boundless behemót. By their beastly vehemence was Londosius’ hold on the mines broken, and the vacated underground labyrinth soon found itself festering with the vermin. Not one year wheeled by before all mining ceased.

The campaign undertaken to recapture that wicked warren was met with misery. Securing the surface was painless enough, but it was the tunnels that proved to be the salted sore, for their depths were rife with behemót of the frustratingly dreadful sort. And that was to say nothing of the size of the tunnels themselves, too narrow in their girth to support the infiltration of any substantial force. As a result, Godrika’s prized silver veins yet remained beyond the grasp of Londosius’ war-itching hands.

The last few months, however, saw the shrinking of the behemót’s numbers, and so were the threat levels of the place deemed to have diminished. It was in this trend that Emilie spied an opportunity. Thus the newly appointed mareschal saw fit to cast her own lot into the recapturing campaign, with the entirety of the 5th Chivalric Order arrayed and ready behind her.

Erbelde this was not. The Godrika Minery, being in the same region the 5th itself was based, was reached with a relatively short and well-planned march, and our arrival saw us wholly untroubled by the trip.

“Oy, just givin’ that map another gander’s got me all mither’d,” Raakel complained. “What’s up with it, ey? Looks more a maze than a mine, the damn’d place.”

At the foot of the looming mountain was the 5th’s leadership, gathered around under a pavilion. There, they were in the midst of strategic discussions, their eyes fixed upon a full-splayed map.

“I’d say turning the place into a proper mine wasn’t the first thing the diggers thought to do, what when they arrived here all those decades ago,” Gerd observed.

Indeed, gold rushes were an unchecked affair—though “silver rush” might be more the term here. From what my ears gathered, during those mad grabs for the glitter, it was by no means uncommon that spades and spells were blindly made to carve out the earth, backed as they were by nary a warrant or a word of coordination. And Godrika itself seemed no different: another victim of Man’s ardour for his metals.

“Yea, an’ now thanks to them ol’ delvers, there be crags every which way, all ready to crumble down on us heads, innit?” the warrior shook her head. “By gum, the ballocks o’ some folk!”

“Well then, Raakel, you’d be pleased to know that our surveyors have found the very stopes likely to cave in: here, here, and over here as well,” said Emilie, moving her finger along the red-marked map. “Let it be known that engaging the behemót at any of these stopes is strictly prohibited. This is especially true for the southern quadrant’s third sector; if our reports are precise, then that area is ready to collapse at the feather’s touch. All brigades, please be advised and execute your offices with ample caution.”

To this, the 5th’s leadership collectively nodded. Emilie continued on.

“Once noon is passed, we will proceed as planned: each squad will enter the tunnels, in order and as arranged. They’re to clear out all behemót within their assigned routes and return to camp immediately. If all goes accordingly, we’ll be done by sundown in two days hence.”

With the plans confirmed, Emilie then looked all through the gathered personnel. It was then that her gaze shifted suddenly to me.

“Rolf. Do you still object to this operation?”

It was not in her policy to accord me any sort of special treatment, even as her direct subordinate. Aught otherwise would have proven unfair to the Order’s other swains. Thus was it beyond anyone’s imagination that she would enquire upon my opinion so, here at a war council of all occasions.

And to be clear, I was not sitting in the meeting as any sort of official attendant, whose opinion and counsel would have any bearing. The very fact that she was now glaring into my eyes, trying to tease out the truth of my heart, may have betrayed some trouble in her own, apprehensive of my dissent as she was.

“Nay, Mareschal. I am not in objection,” was my answer. Our troops were right about ready to commence the operation; voicing my disapproval of the whole deal now would be profitless.

“Yet I hear nary a word that you are in agreement with it, either,” Emilie observed.

“…I will exhaust any and all faculties available to me to see this operation through, Mareschal,” I confirmed. “But there is one matter, if I may.”

“What is it?”

“The deployment intervals bear some reconsideration. I request that slightly more time be given between the deployment of each squad.”

“You beg for scraps overmuch, hound!” Gerd shouted, but a raised hand from Emilie was all it took to silence him.

“Rolf. I would hear your reasoning.”

“There looms the possibility that the gangways will be overpacked with personnel. Should this occur, our men stand to jostle against one another and impede each other’s manoeuvrability. In other words, they’ll be bottlenecked,” I explained.

The squads were being made to infiltrate the tunnels in sequence, with little regard given to how many would be inside at once—therein laid my worries.

“‘Tis no matter. Our plans make certain that such will not be a factor.”

“Nay, Mareschal. These plans ill-account for unforeseen contingencies. Were our men to be made to retreat, for example, their return paths will each be tangled up to much mayhem.”

“And were we to entangle ourselves in talk of contingencies, the sun shall set before we’ve sent in a single soldier, Rolf.”

“Any and all contingencies must be accounted for, Mareschal. This, I believe.”

A cloud of irritation then misted over Emilie’s gaze. My conduct ill-became that of a swain, I admit, but the current plans tempted much injury unto the Order, and so long as they did, I had to make them known.

“To begin with, is there so pressing a need to deploy so many groups into the tunnels at once?” I continued. “Would we not avail ourselves further still were we to divide the minery into disparate areas, deploy each squad in shifts, and secure each area one after another?”

“Rolf, you must know that doing so will extend the length of the operation. Our days here are numbered; we cannot abide such deliberateness,” Emilie rebutted. “And for that same reason, the deployment intervals cannot and will not be extended.”

Prolong the operation, and its expenses balloon with it. With great repetition and meticulousness did Emilie scrutinise such costs. As they were, the projected expenditures had Marquis Norden’s approval after much negotiation. It was his coffers that funded not only the operation, but the whole of the 5th’s administration itself. His word in this matter was final, and he would not be made to go back on it.

Thus it surely must have grated Emilie’s gears to even hear mention of “giving ourselves more time”. I was keenly aware that it would, yet I pressed on.

“We stand to lose much should we operate beyond our allowance. This, I understand very well. But I also understand that any loss of personnel far outweighs it.”

“By gum, do ye hear yerself, muscle-pate?” Raakel came cutting in. “Whimperin’ like a panick’d pup! We’ve not even started an’ already yer yappin’ on ‘bout this ‘chance’ an’ ‘losses’ rubbish!”

“I’m agreed with Raakel,” said Emilie. “Mistake cowardice for caution and we do ourselves no favours.”

No good in the end, I see. Going on any further would but beleaguer so set an issue.

“Understood, Mareschal,” I relented.

“Are you truly, Rolf? Have I your word?”

“Aye.”

There was no choice but back down here. I’ve apprised the mareschal of the potential flaws in her plans, given my reasoning for them, and presented possible solutions—I’ve all but done my duty, and if by her will my counsel was not to be heeded, then what was left to me was only to support her resolve.

“Then the war council is adjourned,” Emilie announced, returning her gaze to the other leaders. “Squads all, please execute your offices as planned.”

“Yes, madame!” came their collective salute, and so ended the pre-operation meeting. The brigadiers and their lieutenants then dispersed and made way back to their own groups, with many of them offering me their cutting glares.

“Rolf, pardon the trouble, but can you return to the Owlcranes’ pavilion and make ready my gear?” Emilie requested.

“Right away, Mareschal.”

With that, I went about my own way, but was soon called upon by another leader.

“Brother,” she said.

“My Lady.”

Felicia Buckmann, brigadier and commander of the entirety of the 5th’s Sorcery Brigades—and as well, my sister.

Knighthood itself is not counted amongst the Londosian peerage, like a duke or a marquis. Rather, it was an occupation, and at times a title in the strictest sense.

Yet for a swain, every knight is a senior to whom proper respects must be paid and with honorifics must be addressed. Myself especially—or rather, myself specifically. Heretofore have I been addressing all knights and dames by “lord” and “lady” respectively, a remnant of Tallien’s authority.

When Emilie took up the mareschal’s mantle, she had the rule repealed. Still, vestiges of the practice remained as a custom, for even now, those of the leadership were addressed with the appropriate honorifics.

Felicia fell squarely onto such a pedestal, having—at the end of her first year at the Order—received her rites of investiture and attained the rank of lieutenant. From that point on, she was clearly beyond the stature of an ordinary dame; a leader, a superior, a paragon who should rightfully be referred to as “the Lady Felicia”.

And as a lowly swain, I was obliged to follow suit.

“Your words earlier,” my sister began.

“Yes, my Lady?”

“They seemed not the speech of a man who knows his place.”

“Perhaps not.”

Felicia’s attitude was hardly unjustified. After all, her brother was an ungraced who writhed in the dirt at the end of every training session, who was assigned to little else but mundane chores, and who had yet to escape the yoke of swainhood after three full years of service in the Order. In thinking of him, surely she felt only deep remorse.

“Did you think to make a savant of yourself, Brother? Abetting for abundant caution like you did?” Felicia continued. “To the eyes of the leadership, you sooner seemed the ill-abled soldier quaking in his boots amongst his calmer counterparts.”

‘My eyes included,’ she seemed to imply.

“Please pardon my indiscretion,” I apologised.

“And by your words, you would ‘exhaust any and all faculties’ for this operation—what exactly are these ‘faculties’, Brother? What is it that can you do for us?”

“All that I am able, my Lady.”

“Polishing armour, pulling horses, you mean?”

“If such be my charges, then yes.”

For a moment, Felicia fell silent upon hearing those words, her fair face besmirched with bitterness.

“…Why are you like this…?” she whispered to herself. “…Would you were more of yourself back then…”

With pursed lips and downcast eyes, Felicia then parted my presence. Certainly to her, my state of affairs was a grave betrayal, and nothing else.

“Awfully sorry to see you so scorned, my sweet swain,” came Sheila. “So steeped in sin be he the man ungraced—why, your very presence inspires naught but disappointment in those about you. Even in ones you hold dear and close.”

“Yes. Sadly so.”

Sheila Larsen—an unassuming smile bent her lips. The very image of a saint. And befitting of it was her sympathy, which, despite her words, was genuine by any estimation.

Or rather, “pity” might seem more the word: pity for the poor man yet unwilling to accept his lot as an unloved and unwanted lamb of Yoná.

“Yet one scarce needs any odyl to make battle with the behemót, no? After all, there are amongst the beastly vermin those that may be slain with but swords and spears,” Sheila explained. “Even a man like you may serve this purpose well enough. I wonder why you did not think to remind your dear sister of such?”

“It bears no thought—I won’t be joining the battle.”

Soft laughter sang.

“‘Won’t be joining’? My poor swain, so deep in your own deception. A little bit of honesty goes a long way, you know? ‘I’m not allowed to join’—now that sorts more squarely with your heart, would you not say?”

A piercing reproval, rendered with both refinement and a jarring gentleness.

“Then I’ve misspoken. Pardon me, my Lady.”

“O Yoná, Deiva Most Divine… Had She not disowned you so, what manner of man would you have made of yourself, I wonder?” she prodded on.

“What man could ever know the manner of ends he’s been denied? For my part, I’ve given mine not a thought.”

“Really now? You have not dreamt of all that could have been your due? A beautiful wife, an adorable and loving sister, a vaunted career as a knight most valiant, an entire barony to call your own—so many fancies to fill your many whiles.”

“Yet fill them, I haven’t. Not once.”

Pondering upon paths untrodden. Dreaming of the destinations they wend their ways unto.

What folly.

If a man has the time for such idle indulgence, he had best put them to better use for his own future. Say, like swinging a sword.

“My, how dimmed you are,” she sighed.

“Dimmed?”

“Indeed. Almost as if… as if your human light is all but snuffed out.”

Nothing more was said from the surgien as she walked away.

I very well thought myself to be quite the model human—more so than any other, no less.

Immured in such introspection, I stood there, looking on as Sheila’s parting figure disappeared from view.

 

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Notes

 

Gangway

In mining, an underground tunnel connecting two different rooms. Tracks are laid into the ground to facilitate the use of rail carts for transporting material.

 

Shaft

In mining, a passage bored into the ground, typically vertical or inclined, and used for the transportation of materials to and from the mines below. A “mine shaft” may also generally refer to a narrow tunnel leading from the surface into a mine.

 

Stope

In mining, an underground chamber dug out once a mineral vein has been found. The scope of the chamber increases as more ore is mined from its walls. Material may be cleared via manual labour or explosive means. Stopes may be backfilled, that is, refilled with the unneeded material mined from it, to keep it from caving in and weakening the mines’ structure.

 

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