The Soldier's Story

A group of travellers huddle around the fire, listening to an old soldier speaking in a hushed voice.

Let me tell you a story I heard many years ago. In the days before Stonebolt and Sinsi-Rotap made peace, when the fort on the Stonebolt side of the border was being built, there was one night that the Stonebolt soldiers will always remember. It was a bad night from the start, with soldiers on the first watch hearing noises in the woods. One of them even went out to investigate, but he found nothing.

A little after midnight, two of the soldiers on the second watch fell with arrows in them. The others drew their weapons and raised the alarm, and, as they did so, arrows entered the camp from all directions. It seemed they were surrounded!

After that first volley of arrows, only four on-duty soldiers were still on their feet. They realized that one of them was going to have to run to Stonebolt Outguard to get help. It might be a suicide mission, given the number of enemies that seemed to be out there, but someone was going to have to do it or the whole fort was doomed.

It was Magnus, one of the new recruits, who drew the short straw. Magnus had been trouble since the day of his arrival a few weeks before. He seemed to think he was better than everybody else, and he made sure that everybody else knew it, too. Perhaps as a result, he always seemed to draw the middle watch, the least desirable since it meant he only got to sleep a few hours at a time. And now he had drawn the suicide mission as well!

But Magnus was characteristically confident that he would survive to get help. In fact, he even said that he would find out how many of the enemy were out there before he took the news to Outguard. Shedding his brightly coloured, and noisy, Stonebolt armour, he rolled himself in the mud and started to roll toward the edge of the camp. Armed with only a dagger, he crawled into the woods.

He was not quite careful enough, for as he crept through the enemy lines, a swordsman shouted an alarm. He swung with his sword and Magnus gasped as he narrowly escaped running straight onto it. Then he was behind the lines, and the men searching behind him seemed to be looking in the wrong places. Safe, for the moment, Magnus was able to get an idea of the enemy numbers. Although they were many, he did not think they were enough to take the fort in an open attack. It was then that he decided to desert his assigned task, and solve the problem all by himself.

Investigating further, he found that the enemy had divided themselves into eight groups, each covering a portion of the circle. Each group had a fire, though they were all burning low. Each group also had more than half of their men asleep. Starting with the group on the Stonebolt side of the camp, Magnus crept behind where the men were sleeping. This took him a long tiring time, crawling slowly on his belly, because this group also had guards watching the road for reinforcements from Outguard. But because this was the group with the fewest men asleep, Magnus hoped that meant they had been awake longer, and were more likely to be tired.

Slowly he worked himself closer to their fire. When the time was right, and a cloud passed in front of the moon, he leaped to his feet, kicked at the fire to spread it, and started to grab burning branches and throw them at the sleeping soldiers. The soldiers awoke screaming. They struggled to escape from their burning bedrolls, and there was complete chaos. Though there were shouts of "There he goes!" and "Stop him!", Magnus used the dark, and the fact that he was covered in mud, to slip away and vanish.

As confusion spread, and neighbouring groups became aware of it, Magnus ran through the wood, passing the nearest groups and heading for the group nearest the Sinsi-Rotap border. At the edge of this camp he stopped. As he had hoped, some of the men from that first camp had run towards the fort, and the men at the fort had drawn their swords and gone to meet them.

Unaware of what was going on, the men at this camp simply saw activity at the fort and readied their bows for another volley. Their distraction gave Magnus the chance he needed to sneak past the archers and into their camp. Here again he crept through the mud and got close to the fire. Again he started throwing branches at the sleeping soldiers, but he also threw a few at the archers, causing them to pause before shooting. He spent only a few seconds doing this, and then grabbed the biggest branch he could carry, and ran, looking like a flaming torch himself, straight into the one tent at the camp, the tent of the Sinsi-Rotap commander.

Though the guards tried to stop him, he charged straight through them, waving the burning branch as though it were a sword. Heedless of his burned hands and two sword-cuts, he made it into the tent and began touching his torch to everything in sight. In seconds the tent was ablaze and its occupants came running out. The guards outside were waiting, but Magnus never emerged.

With all the confusion in the Sinsi-Rotap camps, the men of the fort had been able to beat back the first group and were now running out into the woods to attack the enemy. With the advantage of the archers destroyed, the two sides were fairly evenly matched, but the Stonebolt army were better rested. They began to win.

At each of the Sinsi-Rotap camps, the Stonebolters advanced, fought, and finally drove the invaders to retreat. Camp after camp fell, though some of the Sinsi-Rotapians were still determined to win, and they fought bravely against the greater numbers of the Stonebolters. At last their commander, seeing that his scheme had failed, ordered a retreat, and the remaining Sinsi-Rotapians fled.

The Stonebolt army had suffered many casualties, but they had won the day. They offered a great meal to the Singer and the Swordsman (who were their gods even so long ago) in thanks for the victory. They entered all the camps to search for survivors. Near where he had first entered the woods, they found the body of Magnus. He had died without even getting through the enemy lines.

Well, that's the story, and I suppose the moral is that if you want to do something badly enough, nothing can stand in your way. I see some of the play wagons are getting set up, so you'll have a choice of more stories tonight. And there'll be lots of food. In fact I think I heard there will be a cake-eating competition. Want to join in?

If you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.
- Lord Salisbury, 1877
- Listen to some more stories.
- Play games with numbers.
- Pick up some souvenirs at Thelion's shop.
- Return to the Walding front gate.

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