William looked out at his personal guard training. They were still obviously unused to some of the military maneuvers. Their ability to fight together as a squad was excellent, but since they had previously only been tasked with defending William’s manor, they were unused to marching in formation, among other things. They had learned quickly enough, and had more time to spend since they were already beyond basic training, unlike the new recruits.
William’s personal guard would stay with him wherever he went on the battlefield. Though he had travelled with squads before, they hadn’t been exclusively to guard him. William knew that as a lord he was expected to have such protection… and he certainly wasn’t going to reject it. Besides the fact that Lorelei had threatened to kill him if he was stupid and left himself unguarded, he had things he still wanted to accomplish, so he couldn’t afford to die- temporarily or permanently. William didn’t think he could defeat every opponent- or group of opponents- by himself, so it reassured him to have others he could count on to always be around.
He wondered if Lorelei would actually go through with the threat. In normal circumstances, threatening to kill him if he didn’t protect himself was a ludicrous idea, and the sort of thing only done as a joke among those who were close. “If you get hurt, I’ll kill you!” was a silly sort of thing to say… but William thought Lorelei might go through with it, at least in his case. If he was truly careless enough to leave himself unguarded, she might do it to protect him. The reasons she wouldn’t… William was still necessary to destroy the remaining fragments of the Demon King. Perhaps others could be trained, but William wasn’t sure who to trust with that. Marek could destroy one more- or two at the absolute most. Regardless, William thought she might actually do it if he looked to be careless, at least if she was sure he would come back. It was an interesting thought, but he didn’t plan to test it.
In addition to his own personal guard, William had other elite troops. These were those who showed more promise, and they were given better gear- financed by those who had bought their way out of the draft. William made sure that this was known- people might still grumble about people being able to buy their way out of the draft, but the elite troops could see a tangible benefit from that. William had set the price high enough that he thought his army was better off than just having more troops. Jordan agreed, though it was too late to change the decision in either case.
Even if he had wanted to change his mind immediately, it would not have gone over well… and now it was far too late. The troops were trained, the gear was purchased… and they were marching toward the front lines. Well, perhaps they were the secondary lines? Regardless, he and many other lords had been called in to provide backup, as was inevitable. Jordan claimed that the border counties could have stalled indefinitely on their own with proper keep construction and placement, which would have effectively been a victory.
Unfortunately, a border of several thousand miles was just too much to cover with a small number of troops without better arrangements. That meant more people had to go, fight, and die… which William supposed might have been the whole point. He just hoped it wouldn’t be too many. That might have been a vain wish… but personally he planned to keep as many of his troops alive as possible. That way, they could return to being prosperous citizens quickly. He had poured quite a bit of resources into training and supplying them, even with personal work involved… but he expected to make it up later. Of course, William knew it was too optimistic to think that none of them would die… but he would do his best to make it a smaller number.
“Why are we going this way? The keep’s right there!” The steady rhythm of boots squelching into mud could be heard all around.
“Shh! Not so loud!” The soldier next to the one to make the first comment chastised, “Lord Rutten might be listening.”
“He’s way up at the front, riding that fancy horse… not walking through the mud like the rest of us. No way he’ll hear us.”
“Then at least be considerate of the others.” The second soldier leaned in slightly, “Besides, Commander Jordan chose this route. You want to tell him that taking the long way ‘round is a bad idea?”
“I just don’t see the point is all. An extra half day trekking through the mud…”
“It’s better than a short march through the mud with caltrops in your feet, and then directly into an ambush,” a third voice joined the conversation.
The complaining soldier looked to the newcomer, “Oh? I suppose you heard this straight from Commander Jordan’s mouth, eh?”
“Don’t be stupid. I know one of the scouts. They said there was all kinds of crap buried in the mud, and suspicious mounds.”
“Suspicious mounds doesn’t mean an ambush…” The soldier looked down, “but I’m glad not to step on caltrops. Once was enough.”
The second soldier added, “The ones we used in training were barely long enough to get through the boot. Remember, real ones are longer… and you don’t want to step on rusty, mud covered ones for sure. A bandage isn’t gonna do much for you there, and even with healing magic you’d be lucky to keep the foot. That’s if you get any, since horses probably come first.”
“Not gonna complain about horses being treated better than us?”
The first soldier shook his head, “I worked on a farm. Animals are damn expensive. Got these scars on my wrist fighting off a pack of wolves with a hoe. That was for an old cow, but her sale paid for my brother’s medicine that season. Without that money, he would have died with nothing we could do. The only other choice was to pay for it and the rest of the family starve to death with him.” The soldier spit to the side, “I don’t like it, but I understand that fancy horses are worth much more than that, which makes them more valuable than me.” The sound of mud squelching continued, “Why do we have to go all the way around though?”