The Wolverine Raiders, A Short Saga. - by E J George
“He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.”-Sun Tzu.
-Chapter One: The Fuatian Scouts-
’...Have you not heard of those who dwell
in the shadows of war they live.
Invisible they are in jungle and mud,
where the head-takers hid.
Have you not heard of those who eat,
the flesh of others with no regard.
For the burials of the dead,
are for bones alone, where skulls chipped and charred.
Have you not heard of them who war
in night and day with eyes of haunt.
Remember them and do not be too rash
for they laugh, and at death they taunt...′
- An Ode about the Fuatians, written by the Goblin Sage Wheezi, during the Fuatian-Goblin Wars.
A fleet of gryphons flew high above the encampment. It was too dark for them to be seen, but their piercing shrieks signaled their presence anywhere they took flight. Fua sat alone, drowning in his thoughts. His breaths steady and calm thinking about what had just happened a few moments before slipping back into the encampment. The howling winds from the north made his blood-scarf flicker as if it were alive. Despite a full moon, there was very little light to be had. Embers from the camp fire he lit just earlier moved erratically with the wind. Some resting on the ground losing their fiery life and others, rising high above, into the darkening sky.
Even though he left five would-be thieves dead, he didn’t escape totally unscathed. The right side of his shoulder blade ached, a pulled ligament maybe? Reaching over with his left arm, his hand probed the area searching. A trickle of blood ran over his knuckles as he followed the flow to the source – ah a gash. A slight cut above the shoulder blade. Still a bit too slow. Fua grinned menancinly to himself as he pulled a small dagger from his hipstrap. He dipped the nose of the blade into the heart of the flame, heating the tip in the fire for the wound. Damn goblins.
Faint shadows moved back and forth, growing larger then smaller, cast down by the fixed torches of the watch towers above. The watchmen atop the stockade ramparts paced their same movements around the camp’s perimeter. A surprise counter-attack was unlikely, given the crushing blow to the enemy army a few days ago, but Fua thought the extra caution very wise. That chief Rhett maybe young, but he’s no fool, Fua thought. Celebrations were still ongoing, as the rebel leader’s head had been slashed off after being captured in pursuit. Fua and his riders were just coming over the hills behind the west flank when they all witnessed the coward race from the field, leaving his army in a full rout.
Cold sweat traveled down his forehead. After a hard won fight he would always mentally evaluate what had just transpired. And indeed it was a hard fight, five thieving goblins attempted to rob him of what little belongings he had on him. Keeping all his received gold for his services in his yurt with his brethren, no one dare rob him there. Most of all not the foreigners he and his kin now live among, being hired as mecenaries.
Pungent drying blood stained his unkept beard. When the goblins charged him he quickly got hold of one and used the green rat as a shield against the rest, slitting the peon’s throat before
The Wolverine Raiders, A Short Saga. - by E J George
pushing him into the others to buy precious time to correct his footing. The manuever left flickers of blood on the right side of his face and beard, but saved his life, well worth the trade.
Filthy goblin scum, a man can’t even stroll to the river without his nightly bath getting interferred with. Ah well, a bathe in the river in the morning it is. Brushing his thick hair back with his hand, he gave thanks with a silent prayer to Oti, The God of the Void, for giving him the privilege to provide more blood emblems for his scarf. Long and scarlet dyed, dotted with black ink markings recounting some noteworthy kills when defeated souls were sent to the Void by his blade.
Maybe the five goblins failed to see his blood-scarf as the sun was all but faded when it all happened, most would give heed to a second thought when seeing it. Then again, these lands are far from where he and his brethren come from. The goblin clans were either pushed out or enslaved in the Fuatian lands to the east, his homeland.
Fua kept three things close to his side, his blade christened Whisper, his belief in the sacred traditions of his ancestors and his honorbound duty to his kin. As for being a mercenary, many of his brothers that came with him felt that being hired as scouts for these alien kings was an insult to their pride, as in Fuatian armies – all warriors learned from childhood, the secrets of the wind and earth.
But as they say, if the price is right, fight for might. He smirked, the only thing his people love more than war, was getting paid to war. The now glowing dagger’s tip pressed against his wound, a sharp tinge of pain shot through his shoulder. The familiar scent of cauterized flesh slowly filled his notrils as he cringed away the pain. “Where have you been brother?“, Fua looked up to see Unclx, crouching to sit near the fire with beer in hand. Even when crouching, he was a towering bulk of a warrior – tall and barrel chested with a round face and piercing dark eyes. Although his sarong wrapped around his wide stature, it was his traditional tattoo that truly clothed him from above the knees and wrapped around his waist.
An arduous ordeal, Fua thought to himself as he glanced at the patterns, upraised sketches marching and twirling their way over half of Unclx’s body. The ritual was only now practiced in the north where Unclx hailed from. Fua’s own village lay in the south of the Fuatian Confederacy where the practice had not been followed since before the time of his father’s father.
The process often proved too unbearable even for the most brave of warriors, as the pain endured for the completion of the motiffs was exscrutiating. A saberfang’s tooth is fastened to a tapping stick, and then dipped deep into a pitched ink, the skin is then pierced by the stick being tapped into the wearers body. The tooth of the great feline punctures the skin, allowing the ink to seep deep – where blood and ink mix together to produce the various patterns.
Noticing it had been quite long a pause, and not wanting to seem too in awe of his brother, Fua smiled slyly, “where have I been?“, Fua motioned his head to his resting blade, turning Unclx’s attention to the blood-stained steel, shimmering against the flame’s light.
Unclx let out a booming laugh, “so how many?”
Unclx screwed his face in obnoxious dissapointment. “Goblins?! Eh, goblins are nothing. Even five of ’em are a breeze.”
“A breeze? Heh, more like an evasive storm for you, you behemoth. You’re too big and slow to fight more than one gobling let alone five adult goblins”
Another booming laugh burst out of Unclx’s mouth as beer trickled down his braided beard, “Speed doesn’t mean anything if you lack power little one. I’m the strongest of our caste here and
you know it!, the large warrior said with an accompanied fist-beat to his chest. Fua slipped in a cheeky grunt in reply but knew very well that Unclx’s words sang true. Unclx gulped back the last of the beer, dropping the flask to the ground and belching.
“Ha, have you drank all of the Gargantua piss they call beer here already?” Fua shot back. “Of course! Some prick knight tried to challenge me to a skol-off in the tavern tent.” “Oh, and who won?” Fua asked cheekily.
Unclx’s eyes widened, his thick brows cocking to one side, “Who won? I bloody won, I always win! That primrosed bastard is still comered out in the tavern”
Fua breathed out a faint laugh. “Calm down hero, I didn’t think your big head could get any bigger, but by the gods, it has!”
Both laughed at the witty reply as Unclx got up to his feet and headed off to his tent for the night. “Good night my brother” he said while walking off.
“You too brother”. Restoking the fire to life, Fua stared into the flames as his mind raced back to the fight. Each of his movements during the ordeal, he would continue to scrutinize contemplatively. Every action, every attack and parry would be deconstructed in his mind to be refined for any future encounters. Fulfilling one single goal, how could he have killed faster. His face twitched with regret in hindsight, next time he would do better – he would react faster and hesitate less.
It had not long been daybreak since the general awoke, the flap of his commander’s tent danced as another gust of wind came riding into his quarters. Middle aged with sharp features that made him look more elvish than human, general Rhett imposed an impressive stature, even without his dwarf-crafted battle armor equipped. Tall and lean but powerful nonetheless, with light blue eyes like the summer sky. All but clean shaven, a thin but noticeable hypertrophic scar lined the right side of his face, beginning just above his brow and fading below his cheekbone. He should be celebrating the decisive victory with everyone else, joining in with his captains in the tavern, but he knew that as general his place was to be level headed and lead by example. The campaign was now coming to a close. The last of the rebel castles had been successfully taken and now only pockets of the most fanatical rabble were resisting.
It had been now two years since he had been back home. Since he had smelled the fresh aroma of the north winds gliding through the wheat farms of his estate. Two years since he had seen his young son Lapi, and playfully fought with him with wooden swords, eight years old now he would be. Rhett wondered if he looked much different than how he remembered him, or if he looked the same but just bigger, stronger. Two years since he embraced his wife Amora. He missed the spiced perfume of her neck, her flowing dark hair and her warm touch. Letters were one thing, but to actually see his family and his home again, how sweet that would be.
Not wanting his mind to drift too afar from reality, his thoughts once again flowed away from home and to the battlefield. What a messy drawn out campaign this had been, he thought. Towards the end, Omar through empty promises and a forked-tongue, enticed the unruly hill tribes of the great grasslands to support him. Their hit-and-run guerrilla warfare made suppressing the rebellion that much harder. Costly in resources and not to mention thousands of lives on both sides, and of course, costly in time. A stern grimace flashed across the general’s face as he thought of the rebellion’s beginnings.
Omar the traitor, once held in high esteem by all – even lord Beecham himself, committed high treason when he attempted to make a power play for the throne. A coded parchment scroll was intercepted by Mad May, captain of the Swan Cloaks, a guild of dangerous female assassins from the far east – blood bonded to king Beecham. Fiercely devout and unwavering in their loyalty, what they lacked in numbers they made up for in martial skill and shadow-lore. Although written in an idiosyncratic form of archaic dragon-lord script, the encrypted message was figured out in mere hours by the head imperial scholar, professor Grumpt, an old dwarf druid.
Upon breaking the code, the unveiled message revealed shameless enticements by Omar to selected nobles to rally against his highness on a set date, promising them each their weight in gems if they agreed. Justifications for this were nothing but twisted truths and blatant lies.
A detachment of royal guards was sent immediately to his estate to apprehend the turncoat, despite Mad May’s advice to his highness that Omar be disposed of discretely and quickly, making the death seem like an unexpected tragedy to blanket suspicious backlash. Yet somehow the cunning coward found out about his impending arrest and fled to the far south under the cover of darkness, like a startled Snow Beast pup. Unfortunately, the snake further evaded capture and went on to create a widespread rebellion among the ungrateful peasant communes there. This was the start of the Omarian Rebellion.
After two years and four months of bitter battles, long sieges and countless pursuits, Omar’s head now rested in a large jar filled with sour wine. Preserved, to be presented to his majesty in the throne room during the victory parade of Rhett’s return to the capital.
Moving his wrist back and forth, Rhett dropped the quill flatly on the wooden desk. “Finally this letter is done” he muttered to himself as he wiped the sweat from his brow with his lean forearm. A red-faced messenger had come late last night, frightened and scared, no doubt on his first ever mission. Rhett had felt sympathetic for the jolted youngster and offered him some rich country wine and a place to sit at his table.
The boy, skeptical at first as to why a glorified general would ask a gentry’s son to come sup with him, ended up drinking nearly two full glasses in quick succession. At that, Rhett titled his hand up, his wrist still resting on the solid iron-oak table, and sliced the air. The youngster got the hint and wiped his mouth clean of the delicious red liquid, sitting back but nonetheless eyeing the wooden cup. Rhett tried to hide his sweeping grin, boys and too much fine wine, too quickly, don’t go well together. After dismissing the lad, he eagerly opened the letter. Bearing the seal of the imperial court, it was a message from lord Beecham. Rhett’s eyes scanned the words of the letter – his eyes widened, the king wished to know more about the mercenaries Rhett had hired to subdue the evasive tactics of the hilltribes. These, Fuatians.
As an honored and decorated general of the Wolverine Empire, he had be born into a proud military family and so had much to strive for. Both his father and uncles served as captains under the Old Collective during the bitter campaigns against the Gargantuan Hordes. His mother, a high-born noble from the Wolverine Islands, assisted as a healer’s apprentice during the decade long bloody conflict. When his father got injured in a skirmish, he was sent to a healers tent where his mother happened to be working, it was here that they fell in love.
Rhett inherited his father’s charisma and skill with the blade and shield but not his mother’s scholarly patience, often bemoaning more mundane administrative tasks such as what he was doing now. Too formal, too pedantic, Rhett thought to himself. Wars are won by the sword but these tedious details are a necessary evil he supposed. Glancing around for a messenger to ride the parchment to King Beecham, he began heating the wax as to imprint his general ring’s seal into the thick red substance and then onto the page.
Rotating the finely crafted silver ring around on his finger to reveal its coat of arms – a wolverine’s head in front of two crossing swords – examining it closely, Rhett glided his index finger over the words at the bottom ′respect, loyalty, might’ the inscription read. Lost in distraction, the familiar smell of heated wax filled his nostrils and brought him back to the moment at hand. The wax was now ready. Time to now finally... Rhett paused begrudgingly, and after a quick sigh, reluctantly decided to give the message one final check before sending it away on its three day journey north. It was after all, being sent to the King himself.
To the Rising and Setting Sun, To the Ruler of all Turfs to the North-West, To King Beecham, A long life to you o godly sovereign,
I write here to report to you divine king, as you so commanded, of my ponderings concerning the ninety scouts that we hired to assist us in our reconnaissance runs in this campaign against the Omarian Rebellion near the southward rivers.
You will be most pleased, my lord, to know that they are among the finest scouts I have ever commanded over. Without their intel, I doubt that we could have crushed the rebel leader scum Omar and his treacherous followers in near as half the time frame that we did.
Indeed great sire, I have already sent a letter on your behalf to his highness, your esteemed brother lord Lava. Thanking him for referring these braves to us.
They are a most warlike people with striking features, being physically tall, coloured like riverbank clay and heavyset these Fuatians are. For tracking and scout-craft I have found their skills unmatched. They read the signs of the wind and earth, detecting the most slightest variations in weather patterns and other nuances of their duties - of which they carefully guard their knowledge of.
They have like ours, an internal system of rank and order, but of which seems to be more looser than our own. At the command of each group of nine groups of nine, is a lead scout, something akin to a tribal chief in his own right. I have come to know well most of them who are distinguished even among their own caste. This is signified with a long dyed cloth wrapped around their neck or in the style of a turban dotted with patterns recounting worthy exploits. These being, Kaf’e, Foko, Blasone, Chahn and Fua.
The imperial cultural adviser and polyglot – professor Grumpt whom you prudently sent to me when this campaign first began many seasons ago, notes their quick aptitude for learning our glorious tongue. Whereby most of their leaders are now fluent, albeit with a heavy accent. Grumpt has been a precious gem in assisting me and the captains of the legion in becoming familiar with these Fuatians. He however, as do I, note that they unfortunately cling tightly to their archaic traditions and strange superstitions with the utmost vigilance.
My great lord, on one occasion, a vast brawl broke out in the makeshift tavern within our encampment over such questionable tendencies. After much investigation, I discovered that a Fuatian lead scout by the name of Unclx, was found with human remains in the form of charred bones and half a skull in his equine’s saddle pack. At this bizarre discovery, one of our young squires, Mastada, called this Fuatian a barbarian.
Almost instantly, chasing the insult, was a bright-feathered arrow, shot from Unclx’s composite bow. Piercing straight through the youth’s mouth. The healers were hastily called upon but the youth had already passed before their arrival.
At this, a fisticuffs ensued with the young retainer’s group seeking revenge for their dead comrade on one side, pitted against Unclx and the other Fuatians present, on the other. Many bones were broken and ligaments torn, none of them in Fuatian bodies.
When reprimanded on the kill, and after paying a large blood fee in gold to the deceased squire’s family, Unclx explained that the bones were those of his late father, one Ringow The Fierce, who was a famed war-chief in his village. And that, “bringing his father” with him, brought him favorable conditions when out on missions.
In passing, I intriguingly asked professor Grumpt if all the Fuatian braves practiced this uncanny tradition. Grumpt replied that Fuatian practices are varied as they are complex, noting that this type of kin-worship is peculiar only to Unclx’s village which lies somewhere north within the vast Fuatian lands.
Regardless my sovereign king, in the business of war, these Fuatian scouts are indeed more than worth their mercenary fees, despite their aforementioned flaws.
I look forward, at your command, to return home with this dishonorable pig Omar’s head in hand and the spoils of this campaign for your glory.
Your humble servant,
- General Rhett Cestiles III of the Wolverine Raiders IV Legion.
Rhett smiled a smug grin at the ridiculous flowery formality of his words. Heh, maybe he had some of his mother’s erudite finesse in him after all.