This is late, because, to make something go on the internet, you actually have to put it on the internet. sorry.
7-4 First Impressions
Days passed since their unpleasant encounter with bandits without much development. Thankfully so, too. Knot’s shoulder still hurt from the round that clipped him. He didn’t want to deal another firefight for a while.
They already passed the area where they’d encountered the Ent forest. The Captain had originally planned on relying on the ranger to plot them a detour, but that proved unnecessary. All they found was a broad field of loosened dirt in place of the deadly hazard. Either a band of elves came by and subjugated it, or it’d moved on. Either way, it was not a small mercy. A mercy that allowed them to arrive roughly on time for their client to meet his client.
As they approached the outskirts of San Ranto, the city had a markedly different appearance. First of all, winter had come early here, too. A thin, yet very present, layer of snow covered the ground. The cold always had a way of giving everything a more miserable feel.
However, what most filled Knot with misery was all the miserable people. There were hundreds of them camped out directly in front of the city gates. None of them looked anything close to happy. As the rover drove past the lines of identical tents, men and women stared up at the team with empty, lifeless eyes. Those few that didn’t look indefinitely unhappy were precisely and definitively unhappy. Their stares carried a fire they couldn’t allow their mouths to express.
That was to be expected. An army wasn’t supposed to move through the snow. It was expensive, unpleasant, and stupid. Half a dozen logistical and tactical reasons made it a terrible idea. Then again, San Ranto wasn’t a place renowned for good ideas.
After reaching a of block grey, canvas tents which stood out as being large enough to actually stand in, the ranger brought his ATV to a stop and Knot pulled up behind him. As the Captain and Edge followed the ranger into the largest of the gathered tents, it took Knot only a few seconds to jump down after them. If they were to be discussing marching orders, he’d like to hear it for himself. He’d had enough of Edge’s, “We’re supposed to be over that way,” “explanations.”
Forcing his, at times, inconveniently wide body through the tent flaps, Knot was greeted with a pleasantly warm and surprisingly homey room. In the center stood a stout, het collapsible, wooden table with a dozen chairs surrounding it. At the moment, these were all empty as three men stood to the side of the table, staring down at the maps which covered it contemplatively.
Upon noticing their guests, the three men turned their eyes away from the unfurled paper and two of them stepped back to stand behind the third. The central man, who was obviously in charge, looked over the newcomers critically. If Knot was to describe him, he had an aspect of hawk, or eagle about him. He seemed to be looking down at whatever he saw with a great intensity and disdain. A man built to lead, or at least a man who would never fit as a follower. As far as the bird comparisons went, his evenly feathered grey hair and impressive nose didn’t get in the way.
The eagle man’s keen eyes landed on the ranger. Specifically, the distinctive green cloak which was draped to cover his entire body. “You are our pathfinder, I take it?” The man’s voice was exactly as Knot had anticipated. Powerful, with that sweet hint of superiority that curled along the edge of every word.
“I am,” the ranger answered with a barely visible nod of his head, his voice barely more than a rough whisper.
He made no more effort with that introduction than he had when meeting the team. Knot had to agree with Champ. This scrawny, enigmatic man was suspicious. Not the sort of guy Knot would trust to watch his back. That was saying something. In his long life, he’d even had to band together with literal bandits when a greater threat appeared. All that being said, he could really appreciate a man who spoke the same to a beggar as he would to a king. Especially after seeing what that did to the venerable eagle.
The eagle man flashed with shock and pearl-clutching offense. That only lasted for a second, however, and he quickly tightened his face to resume looking down on the room. He narrowed his eyes as he shifted his displeasure towards The Captain, Edge, and Knot. “Who are these people, then? We only needed one of you.”
“My escorts,” the ranger simply answered as The Captain was preparing to respond. “For protection.”
“Then they can go now,” the eagle man declared with a dismissive wave of his hand. “You’ve already been remanded into our custody.”
“They’re already paid for,” the ranger responded with a shake of his head.
“Do you not trust that the glorious knights of San Ranto cannot protect you?” the eagle man asked, raising himself up as if preparing to get offended again.
“You’re my client,” the ranger replied, offering only a confusing shrug. “We take care of our own needs. We have a reputation.”
The eagle man raised a solitary eyebrow at that answer, but his chest deflated somewhat. He seemed satisfied enough. “I understand, they can follow behind our formation and make their camp on the outskirts of ours. No need for the presence of mercenaries to slacken the discipline of our men.”
The way the man spat the word, mercenaries, made Knot bite into his cheek angrily, but he was old enough to not open his mouth.
“I’ll camp with them,” the ranger added with a nod.
The eagle man once again narrowed his eyes to look over the ranger critically. After a few seconds, he seemed to decide the issue wasn’t worth arguing with such an inflexible man let out an audible breath. “I am Dalton Cunningham, Supreme Commander of the knight orders of San Ranto and leader of this expedition. We expect much from your skills.” The way the man said his name, it was like he was inaudibly adding. “you should be honored to work for me.”
“You can call me Saeed,” the ranger responded with another barely visible bow of his head.
“Yes, I know.” Dalton responded with an impatient nod. Of course, a man like him would know the working name all rangers used. Another strange concession to mystery by which Knot couldn’t quite abide. They wanted to be seen as a collective, like they couldn’t take responsibility for their own shit.
With that, their exchange was over and they didn’t wait for his supreme commanderness to order their exit. All they would be doing for another day, day and a half would be following the leader anyway.
Trailing along behind an army, they wouldn’t even have to worry about monsters or bandits. Even Cauliflower wouldn’t have to be on lookout. It was only Knot that’d be forced to even stay awake. He really needed to get one of them to take on some of the driving duties. If only he could trust them with his car.