I of course awoke back to reality. Mya helped me prepare for the day ahead. I wore my tunic and leather breeches with my leather boots as always. I added my padded jerkin over it and pulled my hair back into a single braid down my back. My sword was added and I was ready to go. The two camp followers knocked on our door soon after and gathered up the rest of our belongings to take to the wagon. Then I headed down to the innkeeper and thanked him for his hospitality. I paid him with my own coin which left me little in the way of actual cash but I wanted to be free of debt with some of the people. Mya and I then headed to the bathhouse and took a quick bath because we knew it might be a while before we received another one.
When we arrived at the North Gate I was surprised to find the wagon completely outfitted and Oluf’s mercenary band ready to go. They were a group of experienced looking Nordic warriors. Tall and strong they also were armored in chain mail and each wore a couple axes, one for throwing and the other for hacking. They also all had the traditional round shield of the Nordic warrior and a cap help that ended in a point with a horse hair plume. There were ten of them along with Oluf.
My four new recruits were also there. None of them had armorer weapons but I had anticipated that and had already ordered through Mya leather jerkins and a hand axe for each of them. In a few moments they looked more like soldiers. They were cleaned up as I had directed. I knew that I would need more of them but for now four was enough to guard and march with the wagon.
We retrieved our horses and mounted them. Mya rode just behind me keeping my banner unfurled. I called everyone to gather round and to listen. My father once told me that men listen to women better than they do men at times. I was hoping this was one of those times.
“Today is the day of beginnings. Today is the day the Warband of the Rose begins to march across Altar to claim glory. We will not be afraid, we will not fail. Time to march and time for victory. For the Rose!”
I had used an old speech my father had told me. It had the effect I had expected which was a small cheer and “For the Rose!” echoing back to me. Then we moved out.
I placed Oluf and his men in front. They marched in two rows of five with Oluf leading them. The wagon came next with the two camp followers driving it and the four recruits taking a four corners guard position. Not the grand army of my dreams from the night before but it was organized and I expected discipline. Mya and myself would ride on ahead to scout but also would circle back to check the flanks and rear from time to time. We would also be within eye contact at all times.
We approached the North Gate with little fanfare. A few people stood up and followed us to the gate as gawkers as I rode at the head of my small column. There was a small group of peasants standing by the gate as well as some boys playing. The guard saw us coming and the gate opened immediately. I stopped to speak to the guard. He wished us well in the name of the king and we rode past them and out into the country of the Nordic Kingdom.
The terrain in this area was rocky with pine trees and still the snows covered the ground in large patches. it was early Spring so you could see the melting snows but they were still present. Thankfully the roads in Altar are so valuable to military operations that they are well maintained and the road from Ragnar to the village we were heading to was no exception. The Nordic people raise their roads as well so the water runs off them and they are made of cut stone so they rarely get muddy. There are wide enough as well so that probably ten men could walk abreast in tight formation. For us I was happy that the wagon and my men had plenty of room.
In this first march to the first village I rode slightly ahead of the column. We were still close to Ragnar so the king’s patrols kept things pretty much clear of bandits. I was pretty confident we would not find any action close to the city. Once we were past the two rings of villages that surrounded the city it would be a different story. Bands of bandits, deserters and scavengers roamed the countryside and would prey on the weak and even would take on warbands such as ours if they felt they could win. I wanted to add to our ranks at least two villages before we began hunting these groups.
We came upon the first village within a couple of hours of marching. It was a typical Nordic village with wooden buildings and carved with Nordic carvings. It had a town hall, mill, blacksmith and bathhouse. I stopped my column and had my men stand together. I made my very first recruitment speech. I did little other than offer employment as soldiers under the Banner of Rosenhall. It was the name that got everyone’s attention and suddenly there was a crowd of men paying very close attention. I offered a share for each man that signed up.
This will become a precarious business later with troops that have served you a while. Right now though more men meant we could take on larger opponents and that usually meant more spoils. Oluf’s Mercenaries were already granted double share so they were content. I still wanted twenty recruits before we started fighting and that mean the spoils of battle would be divided more and more with less for each man. That meant I would have to fight larger battles or negotiate for better pay for my troops from the king later. Right now no one was going to beef about it as the warband was just forming but later it would be constant test of my diplomacy skills.
To my surprise ten men volunteered. I had Mya take them to the blacksmith and by flashing the king’s credit line I was able to equip them all with axes and leather jerkins. I now had fourteen recruits. I change my column so that they were the rear guard behind the wagon. By the time the outfitting was done and the men were squared away, the sun was falling in the sky. I decided we would march until near sunset and then make camp alongside the road.
We found a clearing alongside the road that was still covered in snow but in a short time we had a three large fires burning and the men were swapping stories. My smaller fire consisted of Mya, Oluf and myself. We did not swap stories but we began to plan. Each morning before we marched the men would start training. They needed to learn to fight as a group. Oluf agreed to train my men and I would help him. Mya would handle the logistics with the camp followers. We would eat in the morning and when we bedded down for the night. I told Oluf that while I understood that the men of the Nordic people liked their ale and mead, I would expect them to be ready to march at the time appointed. He nodded. Unofficially, Oluf was my second in command but Mya was in her own way keeping an eye on other things for me.
We bedded down for the night. The women had made a tent for me that was large enough for two people but it would suit my purposes nicely. Mya slept across the entrance of my tent and the two camp followers were close at hand. I had the Mercenaries near me and my recruits a little farther on. The watch was set with four men keeping watch for two hours and then rotating to others. I fell asleep as soon as I pulled the woolen blanket over me.