32. Bandit Country
Date: 190-993 Imperial.
Location: Kerin's Tyr (0620), main world, the Liberty Alliance.
About a click outside of town and around the first bend, Maelcum pointed at the poni and said "OK, make that thing stop".
Sir David did things with the reins and the beast's six legs stopped plodding forwards. "Break out the carbines?"
"Yeah. Friend Jorjiak mentioned raiders, and nomads, enough times to treat this as bandit country. We should be ready for someone to try and take the cart off us. So let's get you all a weapon each, and I'll change into fancy dress." He grinned as he pulled his duffel off the cart.
A few minutes later they were moving again, rolling along the track over the grassland. Maelcum sat prominent in his combat environment suit with his hunting rifle held high, chameleon smock deactivated. The others hunkered down in the cart, Silea and Luan looking at their carbines with some alarm while Fish admired his like a new toy.
The cart rolled through flat, open grasslands for most of the day, occasionally passing a clump of trees where the land lay lower and there was more water. After noon the contours changed to low hills and they forded a couple of streams. They made their destination, the Sarragh family stead, in late afternoon. A wary Vargr with a double-barrelled shotgun met them, eyes flicking to one side. He confirmed that they were the group from Jorjiak, and called his pack-mate with the lever rifle out from behind the well. Old man Sarragh came out from the farmhouse and invited them in to talk over zhou kholat. They sat around a table.
"I put the word out yesterday you were coming. Should be some folks ride over tomorrow mornin', come 'n pick up the guns. Hope it does some good, somewhere." He sounded resigned, demoralised.
"Well, I think we can help with that, once the major gets to work." Sir David sounded quietly confident.
"Oh yes, there's plenty we can do here." The easygoing, laidback Maelcum had somehow vanished; and suddenly there was an efficient professional at the table. "Mr Sarragh, I'd like to have a look at your local situation while it's light. Then we can discuss the other homesteads after dark, and work on defensive principles and a training plan. I'm sure all you folks could punch ten times your current weight, if we go about it the right way."
Sarragh's ear's twitched off his head for just a fraction of a second, then drooped flat again. He obviously wasn't convinced. "Just what do you have in mind?"
"Well, we'll start by picking a perimeter and the firing points that cover it. I'm sure your Mr Miiliaki can arrange some barbed wire. Add tripwires for warning, some little traps for anyone who crosses the wire, and a proper drill for gates. Then we build some redoubts with interlocking fields of fire, to give you safe firing points that can cover each other. Meanwhile, we teach you to make the best use of a self-loading rifle."
"How'd you expect us farmers to do things like that?" Sarragh looked incredulous, but also a bit hopeful. His ears poked halfway up and stayed there, waiting for the answer.
"You can dig holes, plant posts, and bank up earth can't you?"
"The rest is mostly knowing where to do it."
Maelcum made his inspection. He found fenced off areas for animals and vegetables, pigs, assorted small outbuildings that provided cover for anyone approaching the farm, things called Arked that looked like furry pigs, a big barn, chickens, and a well that was inconveniently exposed and vital to survival.
"Have you ever dug deep ditches here?" he asked Sarragh.
"Can't say we have. There's a good slope, we don't get enough standing water to need drainage."
"Then if you dug a meter deep crawl trench from the farmhouse to the barn, and off to a bunker just past the well, it would hold together?" Maelcum pointed out the line he wanted.
The Vargr thought for a bit. "Should do, so long as we put a drain far end."
"Then I think we have our interlocking fields of fire. I'd like bunkers by the farm and the barn, but they can wait. Let's go and talk plans, before your flocks and neighbours come in."
Maelcum - Major Rivers - started handing out a few preliminary orders and everybody jumped. Fish was sent to look at lumber for bunkers, and cordage for traps, and small holes in thick walls for shooting. Luan went off to set up a first aid station in the cellar, and Silea commandeered a small troupe of children to clear it out. Sir David set up a small training range out back. He put it out of sight of the fresh grave.
All the Avaricious got the same picture: these people lived under siege. Nobody went out of doors alone, everybody went armed. There were "plenty of bunks tonight" because a third of the thirty hands had quit, or in two cases been shot. They seemed pretty glad of the attention, and grateful for the new guns, but nobody seemed ready to think they'd solve the problem.
The flocks came in, escorted by paired farmhands with flintlocks and the occasional single-cartridge rifle. Sometimes their eyes widened when they saw the Vargr by the gate toting the two bullpup carbines Sir David had broken out early. He was quietly pleased at that. Dinner came. The Avaricious and the farmhands, who were about two-thirds Vargr, sat down to eat. They made their plans for the next day, when the local farmers and friendly Artath nomads would come in for weapons and training.