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Sword of Kings: Tested By Adversity

 by Bill W
Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 18 – Avoiding Madumda's Guardian. 

 After Beraut finished preparing the dwarf troops, Commander Elgin ordered those under his command to begin the march forward.  Once they had moved far enough away from the area so they would no longer interfere with the next group forming up at the same location, he brought them to a halt.  Commander Elgin did this so he’d be able to brief everyone on the remaining details concerning the deception they'd be carrying out to disguise their movements from the condor. 

The commander had decided not to do this at Thorold because he knew Captain Baith would be bringing his troops out on the same expanse just a few minutes later.  The confusion that would have created by having both groups there at the same time would have been immense.  Therefore, he opted to leave quickly and then stop a few minutes later before he gave his troops their final instructions.

Commander Elgin knew it was imperative that every soldier under his command not only understood the details about the potential threat they'd be facing, but they also needed to know the signals they would be using to carrying it out.  Although he realized the location they were at now at wasn't completely safe, he couldn’t afford to put this matter off any longer.  It had been almost foolhardy to allow this much of a delay before doing it and risk first contact with the condor before all of the details about this ruse had been explained.  Nevertheless, it had been a calculated gamble and he was now prepared to give those under his command the necessary information, as quickly as possible. 

Elgin immediately summoned his officers for a brief meeting, because they would be required to assist him during this process.  While they were conferring, the remaining soldiers enjoyed an early and unneeded break.

Here’s what you are to do,” Elgin began.  “The junior officers are to select one trooper from each squad to serve as lookout.  As soon as that individual spots the condor, he is to chirp like a cricket, which will be our signal to carry out the deception.  Only the lookouts will pass the signal along, because too many doing so would sound unnatural and might alert the Dark Lord’s pet that something is amiss.” 

The others nodded their heads in agreement. 

I also want the senior staff to spread out evenly around the outer perimeter of the formation, because they will be the only ones allowed to give the all-clear signal, once it is determined the threat no longer exists.  They will use the croak of the puff toad to do this and the lookouts may pass this sound along as well, once a senior officer has given it.  However, it is imperative that the lookouts understand they may not initiate this signal on their own volition.  Is that clear?” 

Everyone nodded in agreement again.

Test your lookouts to verify they can adequately mimic both signals and be certain you emphasize that any mistakes could prove deadly.  We shall start out again once you are positive those in your squad comprehend this information completely.  I also want you to make it clear to your remaining troops that they are not to get involved with passing along either signal.” 

Once it was agreed that the officers understood completely, they were dismissed, so they could carry out their orders.  After returning to their squads, each officer selected his most reliable trooper and then tested him, to be certain he could make both sounds proficiently.  About fifteen minutes later, each of the scouts had been chosen and tested, so now the army was ready to continue the march.

The dwarfs stayed as close as they could to the edge of the mountains without actually entering the area.  This way, when the condor appeared and they performed their deceptive ploy, they would blend in with the appropriate portion of the slope or plains that lay next to it.  Their presence in the area would merely make it appear as if the mountain range was slightly broader than it actually was, without being obviously so.

The weather would also benefit this guise, because the sky was overcast and the limited light would help to obscure what could be seen from above.  This condition was due to a seasonal storm that was approaching and beginning to break loose upon the upper levels of the mountain range.  It was about a half hour later when the foul weather finally encompassed the dwarfs as well and forced them to endure a chilling drizzle.  Steadily, the storm continued to increase in intensity, but the dwarfs kept moving along. 

The overcast sky was also making it more difficult for the scouts to watch for the feathered guardian’s approach, but hopefully it would also make it harder for the condor to make its patrols.  It soon became obvious; however, that good fortune was not entirely on their side.  They had only gone just over several hundred meters when the first cricket’s chirp was heard and passed along.  The dwarfs responded in perfect fashion and pulled off the maneuver with flawless precision, as they waited for the threat to pass. 

For some reason, the condor barely passed over their present location before it suddenly changed course and began to circle back.  The scouts and officers feared the condor had done this because it had noticed something about their formation that made it curious.  They wondered if one of the others, or possibly even more than one, had done something to cause a breakdown in the deception.  It could have been as minor as one of the troops wavering slightly or accidentally leaving a gap between his lid and the one next to him.  No matter how minor the flaw, those in charge were afraid the condor had spotted it.  That's why, when the bird suddenly turned around and headed back in the same direction it had just come, everyone froze in place.  Their hearts were beating wildly in their chests, while waiting to see if the beast was going to attack. 

A few of the warriors that were positioned along the outer edge of the formation were able to get their first glimpse of the condor as it pulled this maneuver.  Upon seeing how truly immense it was, they immediately began to doubt their senses.  None of them was willing to believe the creature could possibly be as enormous as it appeared.  Even though they had heard Beraut’s description of this abomination of nature earlier, they assumed the wizard was only embellishing the facts to make a point and taking liberties with his descriptions in order to elicit a greater impact.  They just couldn’t believe the condor was as large as Beraut described, at least until they actually saw it with their own eyes.  For the very first time, they realized that if anything, the wizard had actually understated the creature’s enormity and threat. 

As they watched the condor continue to move away from their position, no one was certain as to why the giant bird had merely flown over and then inexplicably turned back.  The only thing they could think of was that the weather conditions were making it too difficult for it to hunt or its master had summoned it back to do something else.  Whatever the reason, the dwarfs weren’t going to question their good fortune. 

For as long as they were able, the scouts continued to scrutinize the condor’s every movement.  None of them let his eyes wander away from the beast for even a second, until it was impossible to see it any longer.  A short time after the threat had passed; the warriors responded to the throaty call of the puff toad and set off once again.

As they marched, those who had been in the interior of the formation quizzed those along the perimeter for information about what they had seen.  They continued to press those that had actually observed the beast for every detail they could pry out of them.  Everyone wanted to learn as much as he could about this new foe.  If the soldier did not feel the person they were asking was doing a satisfactory job of telling them what they wished to know, he would start grilling someone else or attempt to listen in on someone else’s conversation. 

Stories were now spreading throughout the ranks, like a wildfire racing across a drought stricken field, as various warriors began to fill in the missing details with parts of someone else’s story of what they'd seen.  Soon, everyone had heard about this magical beast.  Even though these dwarfs were not easily impressed or intimidated, the condor had succeeded in doing both with just one pass overhead.

During this time, these sturdy troopers never slowed their pace, even though they were busy sharing information about the condor.  They even managed to cover a considerable distance without seeing the blasted bird again, but they were now rapidly approaching Death’s Door.  This was the pass that led through the mountains and had once served as the major thoroughfare to the dwarf’s agricultural center, Thorley.  It was wide and open, so crossing it might possibly expose their presence to the either the condor, if it should fly over again, or any enemy troops that might be stationed nearby. 

The dwarfs approached this change in terrain with a great deal of trepidation.  They understood their ruse wouldn't work here, because the terrain differed slightly and their disguise would make them stand out almost as noticeably as if they had none at all.  Commander Elgin had also informed his senior staff about the stories Beraut had told him about the skeletal remains he had passed by when using this particular route earlier.  They also knew about the wizard's near encounter with the beast in the confines of the pass, so they understood it meant the condor visited this area frequently. 

For these reasons, Commander Elgin decided to advance only one squad at a time across this open area.  The squad was the smallest unit under his command, so it would have the greatest chance of not being spotted.  It also meant this procedure would have to be carried out many times, so it would take quite a while to get everyone across.  The commander instructed his troops to move as quickly as they could and then reform on the other side of the gap, while leaving enough room for those that would follow.  While they were doing this, the scouts would continue to scrutinize the air above them for any sign of the giant bird’s return. 

Painstakingly, the first squad ventured forward and scampered across the opening, before regrouping seventy meters beyond the opposite edge.  Once they were safely across, the next group went and followed the same routine, as they mimicked what those in front of them had done.  This continued until the entire army had moved across this treacherous patch of ground and were back in their original formation.   Now that they were all together again, they set off in the direction of their eventual destination, while also keeping an eye out for the aerial threat. 

Shortly after they resumed the march, the sun temporarily broke free from the cloud cover and gave a slight warming touch to the area.  It not only brightened the landscape, but it also helped to lift the spirits of the dwarf soldiers.  It didn’t take long, however, before that changed, when the chirping began anew.  The army came to a halt, as the airborne scout flew in their direction and made its next pass overhead.  This time it soared farther away from the mountains and flew over the plains, which concerned those on the outer edge of the formation.  They were worried the condor might be able to spot them from the side, where they had nothing to camouflage their presence, so hopefully the grasses would help to hide them. 

This time the soldiers in the middle of the formation wanted to get their own glimpse of this monstrous creature.  Their effort to do this caused a slight undulation and uneven spacing between the wicker lids around the center of the canopy.  A sudden wave of panic arose among the officers, once they noticed patches of sunlight invading the interior of the deception and realized what was taking place. 

Immediately, those in charge started to worry this ruse might disintegrate to a point where the condor would be able to detect their presence and unleash an attack upon them.  All they could do was wait and pray this break in discipline wouldn’t become apparent from an aerial vantage point.  Hopefully, the condor’s attention was focused elsewhere or on something else, so it wouldn’t notice the slight irregularities. 

The officers were also mentally planning the tongue-lashing they were going to give their troops, once this threat had passed.  It was not the way these seasoned warriors had been trained to conduct themselves under pressure and definitely would not be tolerated.  Such a breech of conduct, regardless of the reason for their uncharacteristic performance, would definitely be dealt with. 

Once again the area grew dark, but this time everyone realized it was the giant bird’s shadow and not the cloud cover that was blocking out the sun.  Most of them froze in terror when they thought they had been discovered and nearly every heart stopped beating momentarily, as they waited to see what was going to happen next.  The only recognizable sound that broke the stillness was their raspy breathing, which seemed to echo threateningly under the false roof above them. 

After a few fearful seconds, which seemed to last an eternity, the sun began to filter through the outer edges of the formation again.  When this happened, everyone's heart started beating again, so all they could hear now was the pulsing of their blood, as it pumped through the tiny arteries in their ears.  They were all somewhat relieved at this point, because they felt this meant the condor was leaving the area.  That lasted until a pitiful wail went up from somewhere near the rear of the formation. 

Commander Elgin nearly leapt out of his skin and almost raced out from under the canopy to see what happened when that cry of pain rang out.  Fortunately, he somehow managed to maintain his military composure, while fighting to control his curiosity.  Once he was able to think clearly, he rationalized that if they had been discovered he would soon hear the sounds of battle cries, as the warriors jumped into action to defend themselves.  If that occurred, then he would not hesitate to give his remaining soldiers the command to fight, but for now, they would just sit tight.  No matter how great the temptation was to find out what had happened at the rear of the formation, the commander was relieved and grateful to note that those under his command had not broken ranks. 

When things finally settled down again and the all-clear signal had been given, Commander Elgin quickly gave the order for his troops to start marching again.  Once they were on the move, the commander left his position at the front of the formation and sprinted toward the ranks in the rear, so he could discover what had happened.  He went directly to the senior officer who was stationed in that area to get a report. 

What was that wail we heard?” he asked.  “Was it one of our troopers who rendered his death groan?”

No, sir, it was not one of our warriors,” the officer quickly replied, although the commander could tell his subordinate was still noticeably shaken as well. 

From what I could gather, the condor spooked a stag out on the plains and chased it as it fled.  It grabbed the poor animal just as it was approaching the slope on the other side of the pass.  I believe the animal must have been feeding out in the open and then tried to flee up the mountainside when the bird approached.  It couldn’t have been more than a few hundred meters from our outer perimeter when it was nabbed.  The beast snatched up its victim and took it over that ridge.  Judging from the information Beraut had shared with you previously, I assume it took the stag there to dine.  If that's the case, then I suggest we get out of here as quickly as we can, before it finishes its snack.”

Precisely,” Elgin responded.  “I want you and the other scouts at the rear to keep your eyes peeled on that ridge.  It is vital you let us know the moment that devil takes flight again.  If you even suspect anything, then give the signal immediately.”

As soon as he felt his subordinate understood, Commander Elgin made his way back to the front of the formation, where he urged the others to proceed at an even brisker pace.  He didn't, however, order them to double-time and break into a jog.  Elgin feared the clattering of their weapons against the metallic pieces of armor might be heard by their nemesis, which in turn would draw its attention to their position. 

There was now a definite purpose behind every powerful stride each individual took, as the army sought to get away from that location.  Before long, they had placed a considerable distance between themselves and the place where the Dark Lord’s pet had disappeared.  The dwarfs continued on in this fashion for quite a few more minutes, until the sound of chirping sent them into another camouflaging maneuver. 

The army reacted immediately to the signal and this time they carried out the ruse flawlessly.  They also held their position until the condor had once again left the area and, fortuitously, this happened to be the final time they saw the beast for the remainder of the day.   As nightfall began to overtake them, they concluded it would be best to make camp for the evening.  There was no chance they could get completely away from the base of the mountains and arrive at their final destination, even if they marched all night long. 

It was a very bleak camp, since no fires could be lit, but that wasn’t all that affected their mood.  As soon as they felt it safe, the senior officers gave those under them an extremely stern chewing out for their shoddy performance earlier.  After those officers had their say, it was Commander Elgin’s turn to address the troops.  He not only chided them for their break in discipline, but he also gave them some fatherly advice about how they should perform in the future. 

Although you have already been duly chastised for your poor performance,” the commander told them, “I feel I must share my own observations as well.  You are dwarf warriors currently on a mission that is extremely crucial if we are to have any hope of saving our homeland, if not the entire kingdom.  You are not here as mere sightseers and are therefore expected to act in a certain manner.  This means you need to follow every order you are given, if we have any hope of being effective. 

"Not only am I sorely disappointed in the way you carried out your duties earlier today," Commander Elgin continued, "but I'm also offended that soldiers of your caliber would allow personal curiosity to overcome your obligation as a warrior.  In the future, I expect you to remember that you represent the entire dwarf race and keep in mind the responsibility such a role carries with it.  I also want you to think about what it means to be a dwarf and then perform your duties at the highest level you are capable.  I pray none of you will ever disappoint me like this again.” 

The troops felt the sting of Commander Elgin's words, yet at the same time they also sensed his confidence in their ability.  One by one, they concluded they didn’t wish to fail him like that again and pledged they would do their best from here on out. 

Although no further action was going to be taken against them, the reprimand cast a heavy pall over the entire army.  Not much was being said or done for the next hour, at least until someone happened to mention the condor.  Suddenly, everyone forgot about having been chastised and, instead, began retelling their tales of the day’s events.  From this point on, the soldiers spent the rest of their time recounting what they had observed about the gigantic beast. 

You should have seen it,” one warrior told his friends.  “Each wing had to be twenty meters across.”

No way!” another interrupted, while waving his arms wildly about.  “The wings were at least forty meters in length.”

And its head was as big as the cathedral at Leander,” someone else offered, which caused many of the listeners to roll their eyes and shake their heads in disbelief. 

What did it grab?” another warrior asked, in an attempt to put an end to the embellishments.  “What made that awful scream?" 

It grabbed a pair of stags,” a different voice told them.  “It had one in each claw.”

I heard it was a whole group of snow apes,” someone else chimed in.  “I was told it had two or three in each talon.” 

Even though some of the more reliable dwarfs tried to correct these rumors and exaggerations, they weren’t successful.  It seemed as if their comrades received more satisfaction from the embellished tales, so those were the ones that persisted.  As the evening passed, the stories seemed to grow even larger and more outlandish with each retelling.  Eventually, the officers started breaking up the various groups by ordering them to get some rest.  As things began to quiet down, everyone went to his bedroll for the evening. 

Guards were also posted around the perimeter of the camp and given strict orders that the final sentries were to rouse the entire camp approximately an hour before daybreak.  Elgin wanted everyone up and ready to move before the first rays of dawn split the darkness, since he didn’t want to give the condor a chance to sneak up on them before they were ready.  After the guards were stationed at their posts, an unsettling silence overtook the camp. 

The dwarfs did their best to get a good night’s sleep, but the excitement of the day and tales about the condor proved to be too much stimulation for their brains.  For that reason, their hyperactive minds never slowed down long enough to permit them to fall into a deep, restful level of slumber.  When they were awakened the following morning, nearly all of them were still groggy and far from refreshed.  Due to their lack of satisfactory and restful sleep, they set about their tasks at a less than harried pace, which was only compounded by what happened next.  

While they had been sleeping, a steady drizzle had begun to fall, but by early morning it had worked its way into a torrential downpour.  This not only dampened their spirits, along with their bodies, but it also made everything much more difficult.  Due to this change in the weather, the dwarfs and their bedding became totally saturated.  This not only added to their current woes, but it also made for a very unpleasant start to the new day.  Before they could put their gear away, they first had to wring out as much water as they could, in an effort to eliminate at least some of the excess weight the dampness added. 

Once they finished stowing their gear, the soldiers were finally able to sit down and eat.  The problem was, the rain produced a similar dampening effect on the morning meal.  Everything they tried to prepare and consume soon became a waterlogged pile of mush.  No matter how bad things got though, these were veteran dwarf troops and they handled the unpleasantness in typical dwarven fashion.  They were determined to do their best and not complain, so they wouldn't disappoint Commander Elgin again.  Since the meal was so unappetizing, it didn’t take the troops very long to finished eating and prepare to resume their march. 

As they expected, the damp ground made the march much more difficult as well, so they had to be more cautious than normal.  This slowed them down even more, because they had to be careful they didn't twist an ankle or break a leg when their boots got sucked into the mud and resisted coming free.  Although the dwarfs had allowed sufficient time to reach Tunstan, which included additional time for unforeseen delays, the officers began to worry they wouldn’t be able to keep to their schedule.  That is every officer except for Commander Elgin.  He felt they should still be able to get to their staging area and unite with the Tunstanese forces in time for the battle, as long as they didn’t encounter too many more delays. 

As fate would have it though, good fortune was not on their side.  The combination of the weather and multiple appearances by the condor throughout the day took its toll.  Whenever the weather improved, the damn bird showed up again and slowed them down enough that they fell even further behind schedule.  This continued as the day progressed. 

Even though dwarf troops can perform well under almost any condition, there is a limit to how much even they can do.  As the army continued to march along, the mud tugged unmercifully at the soles of their boots and made it difficult for them to continue at their desired pace.  Despite the hardships they endured, these hearty warriors steadfastly battled the elements and refused to give in or give up.  Seeing this, the commander was more than pleased with their effort, if not the end-results. 

It was nearing dusk when Commander Elgin finally ordered scouts to be dispatched, so they could search for a suitable campsite.  He was not expecting to find an ideal location, which was completely dry or afforded them additional shelter.  He was, however, hoping the scouts might discover a place that would allow them to escape some of the discomforts they had been forced to endure throughout the day.  Before long, the first of the scouts returned with his report.

Sir, I journeyed into the lower reaches of the mountains and found an uninhabited cave,” the soldier announced.  “It’s not of sufficient size to billet the entire army, but it is large enough to set up a command post and house the senior staff.” 

That does sound intriguing,” Commander Elgin replied, “and I like the potential it affords.  It would definitely allow us a chance to consult the maps, discuss our progress and make plans for the next leg of this journey.  What about a suitable area for the rest of the troops?” 

We can make do on the lower slopes,” the scout responded.  “I didn’t investigate it thoroughly, since I knew you’d want to get there before dark and get set up, but I believe there was enough suitable space for the rest of us to bed down.” 

I’ll keep that in mind, while I wait to see what the others have discovered,” Commander Elgin replied. 

During the next few minutes, the remaining scouts returned, but none of them reported finding anything better.  They had only discovered areas that would suffice, although none of those locations sounded nearly as appealing as the first area.  The other possibilities were merely large enough to accommodate their large number and had suitable space for the enlisted troops to bed down in between the puddles.  For that reason, none of those places sounded nearly as inviting as the first. 

Seeing the first site appeared far superior to the others, the commander was ready to go there.  Before he did though, he sent his second in command to accompany the scout, so he could appraise this cave and determine if both the senior staff and junior officers could be housed in it.  He also asked his subordinate to appraise what sort of possibilities there were nearby for the rest of the troops.  Commander Elgin would march the others in that direction, since one of the other areas wasn't too far away from there either.  When the army arrived at the location a short time later, the second in command gave his report.

Sir, the cave will make an ideal headquarters and is large enough to accommodate all of the officers,” he announced, “but there is also a suitable area for the remaining soldiers as well.  The lower slopes are covered in a vast collection of spongy plants, which will make a more than adequate spot for the enlisted troops to bed down upon.  The plants will not only give them a soft cushion on which to sleep, but it will also keep them supported above the damp ground.  That should help to make their slumber more bearable as well.”

Are there any drawbacks to this location?” Elgin wanted to know.

None that I have discovered,” the officer replied, “except the slope is quite slick and tricky to navigate.  The rain has made the rocky parts of the mountainside quite slippery and turned the dirt into mud, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for our officers.  It would seem to be the best site we could hope for, especially considering the time limitations and the weather.”

Very well,” Commander Elgin agreed.  “We shall set up camp here.  Please inform the other officers of our intentions and ask them to join us in the cave, once their troops have bedded down.”

After word was spread, the officers attended to their assigned duties, while the commander was led to the cave so he could inspect it.  Elgin found the climb more difficult than he had anticipated, because the footing was extremely uncertain, but he labored on and made it to the cave.  When he finally reached it, he inspected the interior thoroughly and decided it would serve them well.  It was dry, well concealed and would allow all of the officers an opportunity to relax, unwind and discuss things in private.

While the senior officers were making their way up to their accommodations, the common soldiers were busy inspecting their temporary lodgings, before setting up camp for the night.  They were also quite satisfied with the location, probably due to the fact that their expectations hadn’t been very high to begin with.  They would have made the best of whatever hardships they had to deal with, but it was always better when unpleasant circumstances could be avoided.  In the end, this was one of those rare exceptions when they were much better off than any of them had anticipated. 

Once the troops had settled in, the remaining officers made their way to the cave.  They also found the climb difficult, but once they got to the cave they felt their temporary headquarters worth the effort.  Once inside, they followed Elgins orders and set about transforming the cave into a conference area. 

First, Commander Elgin had them cover the opening with a couple of blankets, to keep the torchlight from showing outside the chamber.  Once the torches were lit and propped up around the interior, Commander Elgin pulled out the maps, so he could determine how much ground they had covered and the distance they still had to travel.  After that, he attempted to calculate how far they were from the spot he had previously determined they should be on the second night, so he would know how badly they were behind schedule.   Once he knew this information, he then planned to ask his officers to offer suggestions about how they could make up for lost time.  After considering what he wanted to say, Commander Elgin addressed his staff.

Our mission has started off poorly with that pest constantly circling overhead and this dreadful, unexpected change in the weather.  We are already behind schedule and considerably short of where I had anticipated making camp tonight.  We must try to make up for this by increasing our pace when we start out again in the morning.  I understand our chances of doing so will be slim, especially if the weather remains as inclement as it has been and Madumda’s scout continues its rounds.  We will have to do our best to compensate though or we shall place the outcome of the battle in jeopardy.” 

What if we head south and ford the River Sterling?” one of the junior officers suggested.  “Do you think there’s a chance the plains on the other side have been less affected by the rain and we could make up time that way?”

No, I am afraid we can’t do that either,” the commander replied.  “The deception we're using against the condor would be useless in other terrain and would make us vulnerable to attack.  That would present an even greater risk that we would be unable to reach the battlefield on time, if at all.  If that isn’t bad enough, I would surmise the rain has filled the rivers to overflowing and made the currents very swift, so I’m afraid we would be unable to cross it as it is now.”

We’re accustomed to the mountains,” another junior officer offered, “so what if we used a mountainous route instead?”

Have you forgotten how slippery the slope was as you climbed here?” Elgin asked him.  “Those conditions would slow us down even more than the mud on the plains, but worse than that, our ruse would prove to be equally ineffective at the higher altitudes, just like it would on the plains.” 

The commander paused, while still searching for other options and hoping to discover an idea that would make a difference.  He was considering if they had overlooked something, possibly a solution that was so obvious and clear-cut that none of them had given it a second thought?  Sometimes the answer to a dilemma might be as apparent as the nose on your face; yet so simple that no one gave it a second thought.  He was pursuing this line of thought when one of the senior officers began to address him, thus bringing him back to the present. 

Sir, are you alright?” the officer asked, since the commander had failed to acknowledge when one of the others addressed him. 

Yes,” the commander responded, as he returned his focus back to what was happening around him.  “I’m fine.”  

The senior officer merely nodded his head in understanding. 

Unless someone else comes up with an idea I haven’t heard yet,” Elgin continued, while scanning the faces of those with him, “I conclude it would be best if we just stayed on our current course.  It is imperative we make every effort to get to our rendezvous point on time and I pray our effort proves to be good enough.  I think it’s best if we sleep on this tonight and discuss it again briefly in the morning.  Maybe the clouds will be removed from our eyes while we sleep or we will experience a vision that will guide our way.  You are all welcome to bed down in here with me.  In fact, I strongly suggest you take advantage of the opportunities your rank presents you.” 

He snickered after making this comment and the others quickly joined in as well.  A short time later, everyone was busy locating a spot to call his own.  As they began to get comfortable, each of them was thankful for this temporary billet and the protection it provided them from the elements.  Most of the officers soon fell into the blissful oblivion of sleep, which became apparent when an unsettling hush fell over the cave.  The only sounds that could be heard were the soft rustling noise they would make as they shifted positions in their sleep and the low rumblings of their breathing. 

Commander Elgin was not as fortunate as the others and awoke several times during the night.  He was troubled about many things, including the condor and how their slow progress might affect the tide of battle.  Throughout the evening, Commander Elgin would throw back his covers, get up and then pass thru the impromptu covering over the mouth of the cave, in an effort to clear his head and put his mind at ease.  He would then either chat briefly with the guard on duty outside or just stand there and listen to the sounds of the storm, while hoping it would purge the less desirable thoughts from his mind. 

The commander would stay awake like this for a while, before making his way back to his bedroll, in an attempt to catch a few more precious minutes of rest.  Most of the time he would be successful for a brief period, before snapping awake yet again. 

The evening was nearly over and the very early signs of dawn were trying to overtake the darkness when the guard entered the cave to wake the commander.  Unfortunately, he was disturbing Elgin during one of the few moments of restful slumber he had enjoyed throughout the entire night.

Sir, I hate to bother you,” the guard advised his superior, as the dwarf commander slowly stirred to life, “but I’m afraid something is terribly wrong.” 




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I wish to extend my thanks to Scott, Emoe57, Andy, John and Donny for editing or their suggestions with this story. 


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