Coffee Break Read – Escorting The Acolytes

At some time on the interminable journey, Sergeant Adam Adamson had passed from annoyance, through bitter indifference, to weary acceptance. The job of guarding a convoy of acolytes on its way to the dragon temple wasn’t arduous, but the would-be priests were about the most dislikable bunch of pious, yet self-indulgent, proselytisers it had ever been his misfortune to meet. They were supposedly humble supplicants, but the guard soon found out that nothing could be further from the truth. Each seemed to feel himself entitled to grovelling respect, and to having his every wish acceded to. They looked down their patrician noses at the stocky hard-muscled soldiers in their plain leather breastplates, and made little effort to disguise their contempt for their social inferiors.
Notwithstanding the arrogance and rudeness, Adam’s men tried to accommodate the grey-robed ones, but he quickly saw the unreasonableness of the demands being made could only lead to disaster. He issued the order that nobody but him was to speak to the putative priests and the acolytes were told not to address their guards. This more or less staved off mutiny, although the grumbles were close enough to the surface for him to casually mention a fat success bonus.
It had been three months since they left the city and even Adam’s normally monumental patience was wearing thin. Although the acolytes were mounted on sturdy mules, while he and his men walked, they had still barely managed the allotted daily mileage. In fact, it could be a good deal less if they reached a roadside sanctuary, as the mealy-mouthed majority always insisted it was their duty to spend time in such places fasting, and praying for the souls of those who walked the roads. One of the oldest soldiers in the detail spoke for all of them when he spat in the roadside dust.
“If them little shits is fastin’ and prayin’ why does them need so many young ‘priestesses’ and so much wine?”
“Good question. You gonna ask them?”
“Nah. I’d only wind up takin’ the flat of my sword to somebody. And they ain’t worth a court martial.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
Then one of the brighter veterans laughed a nasty laugh. “They’m in for a shock when we hits the mountains in’t ‘em. No mules. No sanctuaries. No wine. No women.”
“That and the way the landscape shifts,” a leathery old soldier spat a stream of yellowish tobacco juice.
It didn’t take long for the rest of the detail to catch on, and the sour mood was replaced by one of sardonic amusement. Adam let them settle before adding his two penn’orth.
“When we get there, you lot need to remember that nobody carries none of their gear. No matter what they offer. If they want it, they hump it. Understood?”
There was a general grunt of acceptance and he left it at that.
Today was the day they turned off the highway and started the climb into the foothills. The mules strained forward, knowing their cozy stable awaited, and even the acolytes seemed to sense something in the clear autumn air.
Adam grinned sourly. Things were going to get a whole lot less pleasant for his human cargo very soon and he found himself supremely indifferent to their upcoming discomfort.
It was sunset when the column rounded an almost conical hill and found itself in the last valley before the climb. There was smoke rising from the chimneys of the squat, fieldstone buildings beside the mule corrals, and he guessed it spoke to the acolytes of dinner and warm beds. He and his men, of course, knew better. He held up a hand for a halt and a high-pitched and querulous voice from behind demanded to know what he thought he was doing. He didn’t bother to answer, instead he watched the skies, ignoring the moaning and mumbling from the grey-clad figures astride their mules. Adam looked westerly and was rewarded by the sight of a graceful winged creature flying towards him, stained blood red by the setting sun.

From The Dragon Riders by Jane Jago in the Game Lit anthology Rise and Rescue – Volume One

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