The dissolution of the Third Imperium led to many changes, and in this part of the continent it led to the rise of the Diosian Lodge. An unholy gathering of undead sorcerers that combined their might to achieve their individual goals, the cabal began to fall into decline as the lich lords gradually lost interest in helping each other. The first Count of Slothjemia was Manfriedreich, a swamp orc who took his charter as granted by the Diosian Lodge to govern a marshy portion of their domain, and developed it into a full-blown kingdom. His heirs would one day expand their realm at the expense of the dwindling undead warlords, even going so far as to conquer Vilhelmia, governed by one of the most irascible liches in the group.
It was still very dark when the junior officers were roused by the senior officers and sent throughout Vorkelburg to wake up the soldiers. The units had to fall in and get out of the citadel and be behind the mountains towards Borostat before sunrise. If the Sikilians were monitoring the Slothjemians then they could not possibly risk letting them know that the bulk of the 6th Army was heading out on an adventure.
Fortunately, the main gate for Vorkelburg faced north, away from the river. There was a small gap between the gate and the saddle pass that the patrol had to get through without being detected. There was the road down to Vorkelvale and the road straight ahead to Borostat. Grundoon and his staff had figured out that the column was going to be about a mile long. They had one hour from falling in to formation to getting north of the saddle pass.
The patrol fell into place silently and began to head out through the gate. It was eerie. There were the usual lanterns and torches to light the castle but nothing else to suggest anything out of the ordinary was happening. The troops joked quietly and tried to contain their excitement. Goblinoids loved to head out to war. Loved it. Even though their packs were stuffed with rations and hidden uniforms the entire patrol was positively giddy. Once they reached Borostat they would have wagons and so it was going to be a long tough day. Everyone was thrilled.
Grundoon kissed his sleeping wife and then went to his own room where Jandle helped him get into his armor. He grabbed his huge pack with his left hand, and his axe with his right hand. Jandle had already readied the general’s horse and his own pony. Also readied was a pack horse with all of the general’s other gear, including his bow, three quivers of arrows, several map cases, and some notebooks. There were also four strongboxes filled with coins for any incidental expenses that might come up. One thing conspicuously missing in all of the baggage were tents. Nobody had bothered packing any. They needed the room for food.
First in the column was a third of the fictional 142nd Volunteer Riders. They would ride on ahead to make sure the road was cleared of obstacles and to scout for any signs of enemy activity. Nobody expected to encounter Romillians way out here, but then again nobody expected skycruisers to attack Summit Village, either. After the cavalry came the newly formed and entirely make believe 174th Reserve Axe. This was under Grundoon’s personal command and he rode right near the front with Jandle. Behind them were the pretend 153rd Crossbow Militia. How it came to be that a volunteer organization wound up with several hundred of the finest heavy crossbows the Slothjemian military could afford was problematic. Most of the troops in this unit had wrapped their weapons in old tunics or other strips of cloth for protection as well as camouflage. After these soldiers came another third of the cavalry, and what carts and wagons the citadel already had on hand for transport. Next in the column were the soldiers of the imaginary 135th Long Spear Volunteers, under the command of Brigadier General Blackcowl. Some of the biggest men were in this unit, including most of the ogres and trolls. They were also the rowdiest, so it was quite an accomplishment for them to make it over the saddle pass almost completely silent.
The next unit were the elements of the judicial corps that had to adopt an entirely different persona in order to participate in this ruse. Since the judicial troops were only standard in regular military units, they would never be found as volunteers, militia, or in mercenary formations. Therefore, Major Deckler had his men posing as a mercenary company that called themselves “the Vorkelvale Villains” with a ridiculously colorful banner boasting a gigantic “VvV” instead of a number. Everyone found this a great source of amusement, the ordinarily highly disciplined military police posing as ruffians and scoundrels who were along on this adventure solely for the coins.
The troops following these colorful actors were the 198th Volunteer Infantry, also known as the 6th Army’s assigned skirmishers. They had the easiest of all ruses to pull off. Skirmishers were a ragtag assortment of hit and run specialists that delighted in mixing it up in combat with whatever weapons they happened to have handy. As such, they didn’t look like regular army even at the best of times, so pretending to not be professional soldiers was no problem at all. After them came the last portion of cavalry, who were charged with looking out for stragglers and keeping an eye out for any threats to the rear of the column. They were impatient and hated to wait but they made sure everyone stayed in line and on course as the patrol headed out through Vorkelburg’s huge front gate, up the road to the small pass, and down the other side towards Borostat.
It took a good hour for the column to get started but when the sun rose over the citadel there was no sign of Grundoon’s troops from anywhere across the Dolonau, the Vorkel valley, or even from the lower ramparts of Vorkelburg itself. Colonel Grimstag made sure that reveille was sounded at the customary time, and that soldiers could be seen on the walls and taking care of business just as if everything was normal. From the same watchtower Hossler had plummeted from, Sarla now watched as the first rays of sunlight revealed the last visible vestiges of the patrol before it snaked down the other side of the mountain into the forested, craggy valleys on the way to the coreland.
“So long, boys.” Sarla said aloud to herself. “Do us proud.”