Camp Stories: The Seige

By Brett Hainley

The men of the Company of Nine were gathered around the fire. Garald, the captain, was away with the lords, planning strategy. Ulfstan, the Norther, was tending the fire and the pot of stew he had started. The others were caring for their equipment.

Einar, the smaller moon, shined above the battlements, his young face just beginning to give way to the scarred. Gianni, the Souther, noticed the new man, Donal, staring up at it. “What’s got your eye?” he asked.

Donal glanced at him. He was big, not quite as large as Ulfstan, but big enough to swing a longsword as if it were a spatha. He was new to the Company, but not to war. They wouldn’t have trust him at all, but Sean, the old veteran sergeant, had spoken for him. “I was just thinking,” he shrugged, “about the last time I sat in siege, and Einar started showing his ugly side.”

The other men got quiet, and waited to hear his tale. “It was ten, no fifteen years ago. I was a conscript archer for Duke Pellen in his drive against the Fomor.” There was a snort of disbelief at this broad swordsman ever drawing a bow. “I was young,” he replied, “with no more hair on my face than a babe’s, and had yet to come into my full stature. Anyway, my people are known for our skill with a bow.” He turned his attention back to his sword, alternately stroking the blade with his whetstone and wiping it with a cloth.

Arian spoke up. “What about the siege?”

Donal gazed at him thoughtfully. Arian was a young man, younger than any others at the fire, and this may have been his first campaign. “It wasn’t really much of a siege. Not a grand army against a fortified city, like this, here. We were just an early sortie in the larger campaign, sent to test the will and the might of the Fomor.

“We’d scored an early victory against one of the larger tribes, and had pursued them to their stronghold, a small wooden bailey in the hills. The stockade backed up to a high cliff, and the surrounding woods worked with a deep river to channel us into a frontal position. Count Sevier kept our main force back and away. He had the forward camps light fires so there were only a few men to each, and he held muster each morning in different positions, hoping the Fomor would think we had more men than we did. This had the added bonus of reducing the risk of men getting hit when the defending archers shot at the watch fires.

“We held the siege for maybe four weeks without incident, expecting that sooner or later the savages would relent. We’d struck early in the harvest, and we were sure that they hadn’t laid on any kind of emergency provision.

“It was on the second night of the fifth week that things started to go bad. My company was on a knoll above the left forward flank, so we saw it from the beginning. Einar had just risen above the battlements, his ugly side barely showing, when the fires at either end of the front line dwindled, and went out. I was sent down to inform Count Sevier what we’d seen, but soon learned he was already aware. He had sent men to find out what the meaning was. By the time I returned to the hill, two more fires had gone out on either side.

“We watched all night, but no more fires went out. Some supposed that the companies at those fires had deserted, sneaking off into the woods in the night, but the right flank was girded by a river, deep and strong, and surely someone would have heard splashing even if the men had dare the river at night. It was also noted that Count Sevier’s men had not returned, either, and they were veterans of his personal guard, loyal and true, not superstitious conscripts from the low valleys.

“Lord Sevier rearranged the watches, and moved more men forward with orders to shoot down any who tried to desert. But the next night, the same thing happened.

“We had settled in for a long, easy siege. Our supply lines were strong, and the Fomor were unlikely to receive outside aid. Most of those clans hate each other as much as they hate anyone else, carrying old grudges with them like priceless heirlooms. But, now, we knew we’d have to risk a frontal assault.

“The third night, Lord Sevier pulled the men back from the first rank after the watch fires were lit. Meanwhile, he moved the archers to the center and prepared us to move forward.
“In the morning, we advanced on the fort. While most of us offered cover, a small corps fired arrows rigged with lines at the gate, hoping to pull it down across the motte. The Fomor concentrated on us—fools! We were merely a feint.

“In the night, Lord Sevier had ordered ladder built, and while we held the Fomor’s attention, the lord and his guard quietly placed the ladders and breached their walls on both flanks. The valley was soon filled with their cries of surprise and despair.

“The vanguard opened the gate for us, and the main force drove in and we massacred the town, ever man, woman and child.” Donal looked at the stunned faces around him. “You think we were the savages? So did I, at first. But what you don’t know, and what we should have guessed, is what we found inside.”

He stared down at his sword for a long moment, fighting down emotion. “We found the missing men, hung by their feet, dressed like pigs in a butcher’s shop.”

Renters

By Brett Hainley

Greg King sat at the back of the Home Owners Association meeting. He wouldn’t be there at all, except that his friend, Eunice Waller had called him asking him to sit in, so they’d have a quorum. Greg had given up on the Yaupon Lakes Community Association long ago, and had no plans of bothering, now.

To be fair, Yaupon Lakes was not insane like some of the subdivisions where his friends lived. Deed Restrictions were modest, and mostly agreed with city ordinances on the subject of home care and responsibility. This had more to do with the vision of the developer, fifty years ago than the current board, but still, it was nice to be allowed the liberty of planting his yard the way he wanted and not according to some “perfect plan” developed by an angry retiree whose life centered on his neighbors’ faults.

Eunice sat down next to Greg as Albert Parks called the meeting to order. She was a handsome black woman dressed in conservative style. She owned a small, successful string of salons, and Greg often wondered why she didn’t live in a better neighborhood. Yaupon Lakes was nice, and the retention pond that served as their “lake” was well-maintained and beautiful, especially since the land around it had been deeded to the city as a park, but urban encroachment had been seeping into the neighborhood for a while, and the surrounding district did not reflect Yaupon’s family-friendly atmosphere.

Al read announcements and called for a reading of the minutes. He sounded like a fifth grader forced to read the morning roll call at school. Greg raised his hand. “Move to adopt without reading,” he said when Albert called on him.

“Can we do that?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, um, do I have a second?” Five people in the crowd said, “Second.” The motion was unanimously carried. Greg sighed happily that he wouldn’t have to waste ten minutes listening to Arbor Johnson, the secretary, struggle through the small-typed minutes prepared by the management company.

Eunice leaned into him. “You were always better at this. You should be up there.” Greg smiled gratefully at her and shrugged. He had been up there for three years. During that time, he had beaten a budget shortfall into submission and raised community activity in the Association, but he’d had to fight uphill all the way. An organized group, mostly original residents, opposed every action he’d attempted and tried to impose rules and practices that Greg found repugnant. When they’d forced through a payment policy that seemed more about punishing people for hard luck than it was about the financial health of the Association, Greg had resigned. He walked out of the meeting and never looked back.

Until Eunice called. She had asked him why he’d resigned back in the day, and when he told her he was tired, she had respected that. It would have been rude of him not to do her this little favor.
John Sharp, who was in charge of Deed Restrictions Enforcement, was going on and on about “renters”. There was something odd in his tone when he said the word that caught Greg’s ear. He leaned over to Eunice.

“Does he mean “minorities”?”

“He means “blacks”,” she said, her voice tight, “but I’m sure he’s thinking “niggers”.” When John moved on to a tirade about certain residents painting their brick in bright pastels, she leaned back to Greg. “He may also mean “wetbacks”.”

Greg shook his head and wondered how his neighbors had regressed so far. Had they always been this racist? He remembered an event during his own tenure where he had heard Arbor talking to a woman who wanted to volunteer. Arbor had sounded like she was talking the young woman out of the idea without actually telling her she wasn’t welcome. Greg thought, at the time, it had been just because the woman was so young, but she had been of East Asian descent, and now he wondered if that had been a factor.

Louise Fletcher, who always added, “not that one,” when she introduced herself, as if anyone would confuse the mousey little brunette with Nurse Ratched, was reading off the slate of nominees. This was why a quorum was needed. Nineteen residents had to be in attendance for the nominations to next year’s board to be valid. Greg noted two open At-Large positions, and silently noted that they’d managed to alienate that many people.

Al called for nominations from the floor, and Eunice stood up. “I nominate Greg King for President!”

“You can only make floor nominations for the two open At-Large positions,” Al corrected her.

“No,” Greg heard himself say.

“What?”

“Any position on the Board is subject to floor nomination.” He caught Al’s eye. “Read your by-laws.”

Al looked for support to the representative of the management company. She shrugged and nodded. “All right,” he surrendered, glaring at Greg, “Greg King for President. Is there a second?” A surprising number of voices were raised to second the nomination. Al said something else.

“Sorry?”

“Does the nominee assent?” Al said, sounding like he was reading from a foreign language phrasebook.

Greg considered it for a moment. Did he really want to be dragged back into this mess? Did he have a right not to do what he could? He sighed. “Yeah. Okay. Sure.”

The meeting was adjourned soon after. Greg bit his tongue and didn’t inform Al that he just needed a second for adjournment, not a vote. Outside, he lit a cigarette and stood talking to Eunice for a moment.

“I hope you didn’t mind,” she said.

“Mind?”

“When I nominated you. I was afraid you might think I tricked you into coming just for that.”

“That’s fine.”

“Good. I’ll see you next month for the vote.” Greg had the oddest feeling she had something up her sleeve.

“Yeah, bye.”

More people filtered out, on the way to their cars. Some stopped and congratulated him, shaking his hand. “I haven’t won yet,” he’d say, distractedly. He was trying to focus on a thing he heard. It was small and high, jus on the edge of hearing. Greg tried to locate the source.

Al came out with his wife, and they both started to berate him for “calling them out.”

Greg said, “Excuse me,” and walked past them to the hedge that grew next to the community building. He lay down on his stomach so he could see the little kitten, just barely weaned, sitting alone in the hedge and whining piteously. “Hey there stranger,” he said. “Would you like to come home with me?”

The kitten strolled out of its hiding place and walked right up to Greg, as if it had been waiting for his invitation. Greg stood, stroking the kitten’s forehead with one finger. He waved to the Parkses, and walked home.

Shut Up!

I should mention that I truly believe everything Scot says, here. I also know that most people see a jury summons as a bigger inconvenience than an ingrown toenail.

Information Services

Reg has a degree in civil engineering, and he has been the Chief Administrator of Maintenance Services in the district through seven superintendents and three rotations of the Board of Trustees. Reg has the kind of job security you get if you not only know where all the bodies are buried, but where to get a shovel, and who’s been asking.

Yay! A Job!

Dougie is the least-liked character of the entire cast. So, of course, I devoted an entire arc to him.

We will meet Reg’s sister-in-law later in the comic.

Happy Dia de los Muertos (or solemn and dignified All Saint’s Day, I don’t judge).