It had been a week since Ledram arrived in Telucia, and the climate had taken its toll on the islander. The brutal heat had forced him to do away with much of his armour, locked tight in the chest he and Tors shared. His skin had taken on a crimson hue, burns covering his arms and face. He had sprouted a scratchy beard, which was quickly overtaken by lice in the subpar conditions of the camp.
Led wallowed in his own sweat, shielded from the midday sun by a strange, scaly shrub that smelled of spice. He took frequent gulps from his waterskin, the stagnant liquid making him queasy. Now and again he tore a chunk from a stale, unleavened loaf of course bread, and he longed for a slab of pork or salted fish.
The piss-poor conditions in the camp tested Ledram’s limits, the only thing keeping him from boarding the next ship home being the promise of his upcoming payment. With seventy Jacks in his pocket he could board in one of the capital’s fine establishments, and enjoy seasoned skewers of meat, spiced wine, and other luxuries.
“Lead man!” Tors called, appearing from the press of tents. He had taken to desert life far better than Ledram, and was covered in a healthy tan. A rolled sheet of crude paper was held under his arm, along with a sizeable leather bag. “Keeping busy,” he chirped as he sat next to Led.
Ledram remained silent, eyeing up the bag Tors held.
“Yes, this is for you,” Tors sighed, tossing the pouch to Led. “Good afternoon to you too.”
Ledram caught the pouch, the sound of rattling coins music to his ears. “‘Bout bloody time!” he exclaimed, rummaging through the pouch. He couldn’t count past ten, but he trusted Tors to have paid him in full. “Tonight I’m living like a king! Booze, brothels, and-“ Led stopped when he noticed Tors’ expression. “What?”
“Tonight might not be ideal,” the mercenary hummed, unrolling the paper under his arm. He held it out to Led, who eyed the writing suspiciously. It was pompous, intricate, and illegible.
“The hell does it say?”
Tors cleared his throat, smoothing down the paper. “To all sellswords, mercenaries, hired blades and free men-at-arms,” he began, adding, “that’s us by the by. Our Imperial Majesty, the Empress of Telucia, Duchess of the Red Heights, Lady of the Emerald Sea, etcetera etcetera, has declared the time right to begin our glorious expedition.”
“The wench wants us moving then,” Ledram snorted.
“Her Imperial Majesty,” Tors corrected, “would like to begin her campaign before the hot season begins.”
“This isn’t the bloody hot season?” Led blurted.
Ignoring his friend, Tors continued. “Camp is to be dismantled by the setting of the new moon, at which time all foreign mercenaries must report to their acting commanders. Failure to comply will result in public flogging and mutilation.” Tors rolled the paper up, and tucked it into his belt. “The new moon is tonight, so I would get any boozing or whoring out of the way sooner rather than later.”
“Bugger,” Led exhaled, wiping a bead of sweat from his brow. “Any idea who we’ll be reporting to?”
“Isaac of Bugthrope, a robber-baron from Anwex, and a vile son-of-a-bitch.”
Tors shrugged. “You got till dawn, might as well enjoy the “sights” the city has to offer.”
Ledram had every intention of doing so.