At the perimeter of the camp, hooked spears had been leaned against each other to form neat tripods, from which hung spiked helmets, water gourds and hobnailed leather sandals. The warbands´ colours hung limply from the banner poles. The soldiers had rigged up sheets of canvas to keep away the desert sun, and those not on guard were lazing in the shade or listlessly mending pieces of equipment. The pickets called out feigned insults whenever they passed each other, and were answered in kind, while their off-duty comrades commented on the catcalls´ ingenuity or lack thereof. Life was good in the Tenth Invincible company, in between campaigns.
At the edge of the camp, a crowd of burly Orc swordsmen and wiry Goblin lancers were particularly engrossed in a game of cards played between two Orcs and three Goblins. Between the players, a half-naked Orc camp-girl lay stretched out lasciviously and threw biting remarks into the round. On her tawny belly, the bets had collected – coins of every denomination: square silver crescents and bronze lion´s-heads from the Blackblood Empire, cogwheel-shaped Firstborn coins, their crenellated edges worn with use, Elven lith-stones and triangular Dwarven steel pieces, etched with what looked like feral claw-marks. There were even a few copper figurines on a string, depicting fat mother-goddesses with bulging breasts and bellies: barter tokens from the far Wildlands where (rumour had it) the untamed Sons of Kronos roamed. The Tenth had seen quite its share of campaigning, and here was the evidence – plunder from all the lands of Chronopia, and the tall tales that went with it.
The Goblin just dealing the cards was sporting a crisscross of scars on his skinny torso, and a broad belt of red leather studded with bronze victory badges – awards for battle valor that looked utterly out of place on such a slight fellow. Seeing the questioning gaze of the Orc across from him, he smiled affably.
"Guess you´re wondering what I got those for, eh?", he asked. The Orc grunted non-committally, but several heads had already turned with interest, and anyway, the Goblin continued unaffected. "Yes, there´s quite a tale behind those badges! Those scars, too –", he puffed out his scrawny chest importantly, "– I got both when we struck the first blow at the Horned Ones. I was with the Second then –"
"Are you going to deal, or what?"
The Goblin put on a nonchalant air and briefly shuffled the stack again. He started to deal the cards out, all the while continuing the banter. "– Ah, yes, where was I? I was with the Second, then – a good company, one of the best in the entire Satrap´s host, as of course you all know –", he waved his hand at the shouts of derision, "and deployed as I was, in the vanguard with ten myrmadons and threescore archers – I was just a lowly spearman then. Well, my warband was put in the best place to see some action. You might say we was in the position of honour." There were wry smiles from the Orcs, who knew full well that the first rank´s purpose was to catch the enemy arrows so that the better troops behind them might live, but the Goblins pretended not to notice and, in fact, had put on important faces and were nodding sagely. The girl grinned and lazily stroked one Orc´s thigh with her foot, causing the coins to jingle and the swordsman´s smile to widen.
"So there we were. We was not scouting, mind you, not nosing around, we were there to deal the Dwarves a mighty blow with our myrmadons and spears. – Raise you by two crescents! – So in our hearts there was no fear, even as a terrible cloud of dust rose on the horizon. That was the sign of our enemies´ approach, and a huge host it was, yes, that approached us –"