Wednesday 28 December 2011

Out to the Canden Settlement

We met with some interesting people yesterday morning - there were, as expected, thirteen men provided by the big caravan companies.  Unfortunately we only had four of the other guards turn up.  We think our message to delay this meeting from the morning before confused several of them (they're not the sharpest of people that I've ever met).

We had seventeen of them - and the six of us.  None of them had horses, but we did.  This caused us transport problems, but in the end they just had to walk.  We didn't have far to travel, but this did slow us down.

Elenhugh and Mullory had gathered some food supplies - trail rations, enough for everyone for a day or so, but this was a heavy burden.  We loaded the supplies onto our horses and walked with the Hznamen guards.

It was mid afternoon yesterday when we arrived in Canden.  The locals were quite pleased to see us, and had been concerned by our delay.  We explained as far as we could - and they were overjoyed that we'd brought some extra blades to carry out this fight.  They seemed to thin that seventeen extra men was plenty - we don't think it's enough, but we don't want to hurt the settler's enthusiasm.  From their own people, they'd mustered six young men, these had all come from the local settlements.  More, they told us, were on their way - the other settlements were concerned that their young men wouldn't be up to a fight, but there had been some weapons training taking place here for their young volunteers.

The other aid that had been provided was a selection of food - salted pork and some fruit mostly - to feed our small army.  This was most welcome.  The food was very fresh - we've packed some of up so that our horses can carry it easily, but with the Bandit camp so close, we have decided to leave most of it here.  We'll be using Canden as our base, this job may take us several days especially if the bandits flee.

As many of those in our group are new to sword fighting, we've been holding some training sessions of our own.  Daran and Kenner lead these for us, and some of the other experienced guards have been joining in too.  There is one that has established himself as some kind of natural leader, his name is Onter Farley, but his closest friends in the group seem to call him by his nickname, Gripper.  From what the others tell me, he likes to punch his enemy very hard until they stop swinging their sword at him, but he doesn't have much opportunity to do that when defending the caravans.  He's not a pleasant man if you get on his wrong side - but he's very popular, and has a great rapport with the others.  Daran and Kenner talked long with him on the journey down about what we're facing and how the enemy is organised.

We'll be enjoying more of the hospitality of the local farmsteads here in Canden tonight. There is one large barn that we've been meeting in, and a couple more that have been roped in as barracks.  We might not be leaving in the morning as we'd hoped - we're still waiting for some more people from other settlements.  There has been no word of any raids on the farms since we were last here, but the settlers seem to be expecting one very soon.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Those fickle traders have really hampered our mission.  We want to hit these bandits hard, and some of the traders were initially keen to give us plenty of their men.  But there are some that weren't so happy to be fronting the cost of doing this job -  and they were vocally reluctant.  Under this pressure the seventeen men we'd been promised soon dwindled to just eight as we had a couple of the smaller caravan traders pull their staff out of the project.  That was yesterday morning.

We needed a little more time - the big caravan companies wanted to be involved, but they wouldn't commit immediately when we talked to them yesterday morning.  The eight guards that we'd gathered we sent off to meet with the Willesden family at Canden, who we were supposed to be meeting this lunchtime.  We sent a letter with the guards to explain to the Willesden homestead the problems that we'd encountered, and asked them to wait one extra day.  We promised to be with them tomorrow even if we were on our own.

It looks like we will not be on our own, though.  Another meeting with two of the largest firms this afternoon by Elenhugh and Mullory convinced them to provide us with some of their men.  When we'd met with them yesterday, they'd just had their teams return from the cross-country journey - they had wanted to help, but their guards were stood down.  They had rallied, though, and with the promise of a small bonus had managed to re-enlist some of their people for this extra work.  Both had faced the same problems, and both had arrived with the same conclusion - finding the location of the bandits base was excellent news.  One had promised seven more guards, and the other six.

It turns out that these guards often work together, and as part of a larger team of guards.  They'd all been on the attacked caravan only a few days ago, and they also knew some of the guards who worked elsewhere.  We met with them this evening over a meal, and there were another three guards that had joined them - we're not even sure who is paying the wages of these extra men during this trip. That's sixteen more men to our cause, along with yesterday's eight and possibly ten more from the settlements, we could have a force of thirty four, plus ourselves, of course.  This makes the numbers more reasonable, and we might have a chance of achieving our objective of smashing the Bandit camp.

We're meeting tomorrow morning, where we'll assess the men we've recruited.  We'll then move on to Canden after we've shared breakfast with them.  From their demeanour in the bar tonight, I'd say that most of these had missed the earlier fight with the Bandits, and were keen to be involved in some action.  I think that guarding these caravans is often a more dull job than they like to portray.

Friday 23 December 2011

Where the Bandits Live

We watched the bandits all day yesterday, and well into the night.  As Barr and Daran had been carrying out most of the observation activities, the rest of us set about setting a camp.  We found a place where the ground is low, in a small depression, topped at the southern edge by some gorse and other bushes.  With winter now upon us, the branches look quite bare, but they provide shelter from the eyes of the bandit camp.

Not that they were watching us.  It looks like they've been busy out making raids - a small group of six or so rode in on horses as dusk fell.  We could tell very little of them from this distance, but they carried heavy sacks, and unloaded food.  Either they traded for this, or they've just raided one of the settlements.  There were some cut sides of meat that I could see among their booty, these were probably from a large pig, but it was really hard to see over such a distance in the failing light.

As they dismounted, one of the men had a heavy limp - he was clearly injured, which suggests further that they had raided this stuff, and had met some resistance.  When it was fully dark we all retired to the camp to discuss what we'd seen.

Barr informed us that he'd seen at least twenty different individuals in the camp.  There were another six who had been out raiding, and probably half as many again were inside the caves and out of sight.  We'd be expecting maybe thirty five of them in total, and all would be experienced swordsmen.  This is out of our league - unless we can catch them a few at a time by surprise.  That's unlikely to happen.  We may catch one small raiding party or patrol, but the alarm would then be raised.  If their patrol didn't come back to the cam, they others would probably blame the local settlements, and take retribution.

It was a difficult decision to make, especially in the face of Kenner's enthusiasm, but Elenhugh was clear and adamant - we need more help.  Greater numbers will be vital if we are to stand any chance of winning a fight with these people, and the back-up of the local law enforcement people would also really help.  This may be considered 'out of their jurisdiction' though, and leave it up to mercenaries hired by the traders.  Personally, I find I don't care where the men come from or who is paying for them (as long as it's not me) as long as we can assault this place and deal out justice.

If the Kings Guard don't want to be involved - and the only excuse they'll have that is valid is one of jurisdiction - then we'll be free to impose whatever justice we (or, more likely, the traders and settlers) want.  If they do get involved, then this will be official and we'll have to take prisoners into custody.  Again, I'm ambivalent to the choice here - either option suits me.

We stayed and watched the camp for a couple of hours more after sunrise today.  We watched a patrol leave and return an hour later, they appeared to do a circuit of the camp site, but they didn't spot us.  We did get a closer look at them as they rode past, though.  Barr was right about their armour - its a mix of leather armour and leather armour with metal studs, some also carried shields, but all seemed to have a bow of one kind or another, and they all had long-swords.  We moved out after they'd returned to the camp.

We dropped by the settlers once more on the way back and let them know what we'd seen.  When we told them of the group of mounted men returning at dusk, they told us that one of their small farmsteads to the south had been raided yesterday lunchtime.  They'd taken food supplies, including some livestock.

After a short discussion, we told the settlers of our plan to raise more help from among the traders around Loudman.  We asked if they had any volunteers from among their own people that would be willing to lift a sword and end their misery.  They couldn't, of course, make promises for the other settlements, but they had four young men among their own that wanted to take care of this matter.  I urged them to send word to the other settlements nearby to see if any other volunteers could be mustered - and that they should meet back at this same farmstead in two days.  I asked if they could find at least ten men willing to help defend their homes.  They were very eager to try and organise this.

The farmers helped us with some more food before we set out for Loudman.  The town was much closer to the farmsteads than I'd thought, and we were back there by nightfall.  We've been spending a little time with the traders, especially those in the last caravan that arrived - the one that had been attacked.  When they heard that there was a group of the bandits nearby, those that had a livelihood working these caravans were happy to help.

As a result, we've had several offers of the use of caravan guards to aid our fight.  We've asked everyone to keep this as quiet as possible, but the guards are assembling tomorrow lunchtime on one of the caravan assembly fields.  We've had promises of up to forty men - but we're not going to rely on all those turning up.

We'll speak to the Kings Guard tomorrow.  From what the traders told us, we'd be very lucky if they wanted to become involved.  We can only try, however.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Almost Civilisation

We were woken before dawn by a red-faced farmer's wife.  She had a plate of rustic bread and some bacon and sausages.  We certainly weren't expecting this - it was most welcome.  She told us that she and her husband had been talking together, and with a couple of the other families in this settlement, and they were keen to see some of the local bandits brought to account for what they'd done.  She told us of several times during the last year this settlement and others close by had been attacked, and the farm workers had been hard pressed to fend them off.  The raiders mostly took food or small numbers of livestock - perhaps they figured they could raid whenever they needed more supplies.  When the attacks first happened, they were quite sneaky, but were opportunistic and disorganised.  Recently, though, the numbers and organisation of the attackers had been growing.  This is quite a concern to the local people.  The food and accommodation overnight were a gift to us, she told us, in goodwill that the bandits might be dealt with.

After we moved on we rode between several small settlements, these were dotted around, little more than half a mile or so from each other.  Once beyond there, we spent the morning catching up with a rapidly disappearing trail.  Progress has been excruciatingly slow as Barr has had to walk his horse most of the journey.  As we approached lunchtime we were little more than six or seven miles from the last of the settlements, but we'd stumbled over a most interesting place.

Before us, and hidden from the view of the rolling plain behind us, was a sunken valley.  The land here had collapsed down, and on three sides there was a sheer cliff, here on the eastern side and curving around to the south and the north.  Across the area, on the far side, the land sloped upwards and was covered with grass.  The whole depressed area is probably three miles long from north to south, and a mile and a half across to the far slope from this side.  The location is perfect for anyone wanting to keep out of sight of either the caravan road or the settlements, both of which are away to the east behind us.

We carefully sneaked up to the edge of the valley, and peered over.  Below us is a drop of maybe thirty or forty feet, but the land at the bottom is level and grassy.  Set into the cliff further to the south are several cave entrances, some with small fires outside.  Looking carefully through the gloom we can see a paddock and some men walking around in what looks like leather armour.  These are quite possibly the bandits we seek.

Now we need to observe them - it would be nice to gather some information about their numbers, patrol sizes and times, and where their supplies are, etc.   We want to mount an assault, but I get the feeling this place will be too well defended for us.  We might have to bring in help - although there should be enough traders back in Loudman, and enough of the local settlers to muster some kind of force to assault this place.

Barr is still watching - and we'll probably gather information until late this afternoon.  Then we'll need to make decisions about how we attack these bandits.  We may choose to pick off their patrols if they're sending any out.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

A Race Into the Wilderness, and Barr's Tracking Test

Yesterday was not fun.  We had agreed to go out onto the caravan trail to help and, if necessary, assist the incoming caravan, but an hour after dawn another scout arrived with news.  The caravan had been attacked by bandits, they'd done some damage.  The news was not good, but it was far from a disaster.  The report told us that there had been casualties - three caravan guards had been killed, and another half dozen injured.  But there were eight dead bandits, and they'd been turned back quite easily.

From what I could gather the guards had been caught by surprise, otherwise they'd not have been hurt at all.  The bandits were just not up to the job, and were hurt badly in the first counter attack.  Unfortunately, they'd used some kind of heavy crossbow and a lucky shot had broken a wheel on one of the back carts. As they were so far into this journey, they had no spares left and couldn't replace it easily, so the scouts are all returned mid morning with some new parts parts.  The whole column of carts was stopped, they didn't want to split up - it's much safer when they stay together.

We tried to get their agreement so we could go with the scouts, but they were keen to move quickly and get the caravan moving again.  We knew we couldn't keep up with them, so we decided to take extra food supplies out to them at a slower pace.  The caravan was a day away still.

We grabbed some supplies (on account) from the local traders and set out just after the scouts had left.  Riding quickly it took us five hours to reach the caravan, and we greeted them warmly, handing over the food supplies and the invoices that went with them.  The scouts had been here for a couple of hours before, and with the new parts they'd repaired the wheel quickly and moved on northwards.

After travelling with them back along our trail for half an hour or so, we left them and continued back down to the place where the attack had occurred and they had been stopped.  They'd piled up the bodies and burned them, so the place was easy to find  We were in luck - the bandit's tracks were still visible.  It was getting dark by this point, though, so we found a place to camp and settled for the night.

This morning, we picked up the trail from first light.  It was tough going - Barr was really tested in finding this trail.  We followed it all day, and in the lower lying land it was easy to follow in the frost.  On the higher, rockier lands we really struggled, and at times we cast about trying to pick the trail up again.  This really slowed our progress - we spent over an hour at one point trying to pick up the trail as it came over a high, rocky hill.

We've now arrived at a small settlement, it's named Candon by the locals, and we've found lodgings in a simple wooden barn.  The trail didn't come into this village, but went across some of the farmed land a mile or so to the south of it.  The villagers are surprised the bandits came this close, they're not welcome here.  There are about 150 people here, and about fifty of them are men who have been toiling in the fields all summer long.  Now it's almost winter, they have a little time on their hands, and they don't appear shy about defending their homes.

We'll be resuming our hunt in the morning.

Monday 19 December 2011

The Incoming Caravan is Late

Barr was out among the traders to the south of the settlement yesterday morning when he was first of us to hear news of the imminent arrival of a caravan.  We've been waiting for this for several days - and it was due in this afternoon.  He'd met some of the early scouts, who normally ride in to let the people here prepare for the huge influx of trade, and they were reporting that it should be expected this afternoon.

We're now worried - as it hadn't turned up by nightfall tonight, and we can only speculate about what has happened to it.  The scouts seem a little agitated now, they were talking about returning down the path to find out what has gone wrong; that will not happen until first light now - and we're considering travelling with them.

I've been urging the others to go out down the trade route for a couple of days before these scouts arrived - I was getting quite bored sitting here among the traders preparing to leave in a few days time.  The others were intent on exercising caution, though.  Hopefully by first light we'll have agreed to go and investigate.

Thursday 15 December 2011

This is an Unusual Community

It is not the people who are unusual, it's the make-up of them, the mix.  I've been struck by how diverse these people are while I've been talking to them.  I've learned quite a bit about the way this transport industry works, and how different people slot into the smooth running of the caravans.

There are two large community groups here.  The biggest one is the traders that are just preparing to leave, these can be caravan participants who are gathering guards and maybe other parts of their shipment, and who may be hanging around in the town for a week or two while all their trade comes together.  This group gradually gets bigger and bigger until a caravan leaves.  One of them left this morning, we'd only been here for a day - but I watched it go.

The next group are the traders that are just arriving in the town with new caravans.  These are briefly the biggest group, for a few hours every week or two - there are people in these groups that are just happy to be back in civilisation, they're arriving dusty or muddy from the journey and often with tired guards and pack animals that have been hauling their loads for several weeks.  There is something of a euphoria that can overcome the traders as they arrive, so they say (we've not seen any arrive yet).

Of course, there are the locals.  All-in-all these are quite a small group of people, but they provide essential services - inns, equipment repairs, blacksmithing, etc., to the caravan operators, traders and their guards and passengers.  These people seem to be making a really good living from these temporary inhabitants.  Money would have to be good - you'd certainly get a quieter life doing this in a more ordinary town.

The other groups are the ones that are here for the caravans themselves - the van operators, guards, load/unload/labourers, even some bards and minstrels to entertain the people who ship their goods long-haul.  There must be something about spending long periods travelling the wilderness, because most of these people do this repeatedly.  The get off one caravan and immediately get themselves booked on another one going back in the opposite direction.  Although they're spending a lot of time in the wide open land of the wilderness, they're cooped up together - it's potentially dangerous to be away from the protection the caravan (and its guards) brings if your out in the middle of nowhere.  Many of the van operators have become traders, too.  There is quite a free market that has developed in the caravan waiting areas.

The cart drivers are quite polite to each other - and it took an hour to get them all going and plodding out through the exit between the holding areas this morning.  The large carts take some effort from the beasts to get them moving, but once they're rolling they seem to be difficult to control quickly, they're much more cumbersome than normal sized carts.

I spoke to some of the drivers and they all seem to prefer different places in the column.  Some of them wanted to be at the front, others at the back.  They all seemed to think that in the event of attack they'd be in the safest place, or in the place where they could escape easiest.  I suspect that means the caravans are not often subject to attack.

I spent the whole morning and into the afternoon just chatting with some of these people.  It was the van operators and guards who I focussed on for the most part.  These people are the ones most likely to have experienced any bandits recently.  The traders will have arrived with goods and will have moved on.  There have been attacks recently although the traders who just turned around at the far end of their last and come straight back have not been on the road headed south for more than two months (the journey time is four to five weeks, depending on the weather), so their information is not up to date - and many of them have just left once again on the latest caravan.

The anecdotal reports, though do confirm that the bandits have been working at this end of the journey, and they've attacked a couple of the smaller caravans, but only under cover of darkness, and only while they were still in the semi-civilised region of South Caldonacia.  Some goods were lost, but it was mostly foodstuffs - flour, honey, some root vegetables and the like.  The information is quite sketchy, and I've struggled to gain any coherent information about locations and times of attacks.

Perhaps if another caravan comes in during the next few days they'll be able to give us some better information.  News of attacks during this latest trip would be ideal.