Bottom of the Barrel

by Oberon Snowcat

I woke early in the morning feeling much better than I had yesterday, considering what Donnie had done to the day before. Then I remembered why I had to get up so early and my good mood partially vanished.

I had to go work my former squad into shape so that they could actually be of some use to Patrol Master George.

Fifteen minutes before six-o-clock I arrived in the Scout Hall, I had always believed that it was best if the leader of the unit was there before the rest of his troops arrived. The first arrival in the room was someone who I didn’t recognize. She was roughly five feet tall with a tan body; in general I would say that he looked like a walking cactus from the southern desserts.

On the front of her torso she wore a thin layer of armour, but she didn’t need any armour on her back because her body was naturally armoured against attack from the rear. I was now wearing a small medallion on either shoulder beside my existing medallion with my Kelmar rank of Bladelord. The new medallions displayed the crossed swords of a lieutenant of Metamor Keep.

The new soldier looked up at my shoulders and then smiled and said, “Sir I am Shandra Holmes.”

I looked down into her eyes before I smiled and then replied by asking, “How long have been in the service of the Duke of Metamor Keep?”

She smiled softly and answered me “I’ve lived here all my life with my family, but I just recently got called up to join the service”

I groaned and shook my head, my unit was either made up of incompetents or neophytes. “Sir I’ve been working with Jack DeMule for the past two years. He’s told me that I’m actually pretty good, though I still need some practice.”

I sighed slowly “I certainly hope that you’re up to this because I’ll be pushing you and your new comrades pretty hard in order to get them into shape.” I was just finished saying that when Hernando came into the room.

He looked over and saw me before he asked me “What is this all about?”

“What this is about Hernando is that you are here for retraining and from this point forward you will refer to anything that moves as sir or ma’am, is that clear.”

As I was saying that I stepped forward and reached out and removed the medallion on his shoulder that had the mark of a NCO, namely a single sword pointed upwards. “From now until I deem that you are ready for action you will wear no rank markings what so ever. Shortly afterwards the rest of the unit arrived and I went through the same procedure with them.

When I was done I had them all line up at attention. I said “All of you have less than sufficient skills when it comes to being in the patrol service of the Keep so therefore from this point on until George says that you are ready you will be under my command and you will be training six days a week until I say otherwise.”

Barbara looked at me with undisguised contempt before she said “How in the name of Eli did you manage to gain my old rank in less than three months?”

I looked at her for a moment. “I managed to gain this rank through hard work, innate skills, and knowledge. Three things that you don’t really have much of a supply of, though in the next month or so I can tell you that you will learn those things because you will learn them from me.”

She shook her head softly before I continued “Now everyone we’re going to go and run around the outer curtain wall five times in full kit.

They all groaned as they stood up as I shouted “Alright lets get our tails moving.” Before I chivvied each of them into formation and began to lead them towards the nearest exit

Two hours later I stood by the practice field and watched while they sparred with practice weapons I was observing their technique to see where it could be improved. I took a few notes in my note-pad, which I stowed in my belt pouch before I stood up and went over to where they were practicing.

I picked up my own pair of Gatraibvan practice swords and walked up to where Barbara and Hernando were sparring with limited enthusiasm.

“Alright everyone I’ve seen all of your skills and I can tell you that you aren’t all that skilled with the use of your weapons. Now I want all of you to try and touch me with them.” I quickly set myself up and they attacked me with a lot of vigour, but little skills.

Over the next few minutes the person who came closest to touching me was Shandra Holmes.

At One-o-clock in the afternoon I dismissed them and went up to George’s office to give my initial report on the condition of the unit that I been given command of

“Sir I can tell you that the unit will need a lot of time to get their skills up to the level where they would be a use to the Keep.”

George laughed “And this is a surprise to you? How long do you need?”

“My original estimate is going up by two weeks. The best member of the squad is that Spike Lizard Shandra Holmes and she’s new to the service.”

The jackal’s tail wagged. “Good! I was hoping that she would be good. That’s why I assigned her to your unit.”

“Well she did tell me Jack was the one that gave her some initial training.”

“Good. Any of the others show any merit?”

“None that really stand out, Barbara and the old cadre spend most of their time resenting my presence and my authority over them. They are trying to make my life as difficult as they can, but if I have you permission I can make their life even more miserable until they shape up.”

“What do you want to do?” George asked me seriously

“Perhaps the best solution would be to split the whole cadre up, but barring that I would suggest some nasty little barrack duties that I haven’t really had a chance to assign for a long time, we could give them a chance at latrine duty for a couple of weeks, or something equally nasty.”

George gave a little chuckle “That’s a good idea. We have plenty of nasty tasks for them to do.”

“The only problem is that they gain strength from each other when they get off for the day and go to the Tipsy Lady.”

“I can shuffle them around, Barbara I can send far to south for a few weeks. They need some help down by the southern mouth of the Valley.”

“That solves one problem but one thing remains how do we keep the rest of them out of that cheap bar?”

“Aside from closing the bar?”

“Yes aside from closing that bar.”

“I could restrict them to their quarters for a few weeks. That might work.”

“That might be a novel thing for some of the members of the unit, to wake up without a hang over.”

“Be a first for any of them in years!”

“Hernando is the biggest offender in the unit, this morning his mouth smelled like a re-opened grave and his eyes were so bloodshot that I couldn’t even see the whites.”

“If he doesn’t learn to sober up he will be in an open grave. He either shapes up or he is dumped as a scout.”

“I’ll give you a progress report in three days, and if there is no improvement we should have a contingency plan.”

“All right. But if they show no improvement they’ll be shipped straight to an infantry unit and spend the rest of the year walking guard duty.”

“Sounds like a plan sir. By the way how have things been going here?”

“Good. We lost a lot of people during the Yule Attack but we are recovering. We need good scouts like you Oberon.”

“I’m doing the best that I can sir with what you’ve given me.” George nodded

“I know. Just do your best and we’ll take care of you.”

“What are you going to do about the people who actually belong in the scout unit?”

“I AM the scout leader. If I don’t want someone in the patrol service then they aren’t a scout. As simple as that, my word is law as far as this in concerned.”

“I was thinking of Shandra, she actually shows some promise, just like Daniel. I think that he’ll do fine where he is now.”

“All right. I’ll give you a month Oberon. After that – those who show promise will stay.”

“Thank you sir.” I told him before I turned and said “Now if you don’t mind sir I have to go to my forge unless you want to wait more time for your new weapons.”

“All right Dismissed!” He barked and I headed out of the room and went to my forge where I removed my armour and equipment and began working, once more, on the sword that I was making for George.

For the next week the pattern was the same though I despaired at teaching my squad anything. This was pathetic even the replacement for Barbara was no better than that woman had been. He was yet another TG, but this time it was a person who had been a woman and had been turned into a man. His name was Joseph Wright and he was a complete lack-wit when it came to his skills with his chosen weapons.

It might’ve helped it he didn’t chose such a large weapon. He was enamoured of a five pound great axe and I couldn’t convince him that a single-handed broadsword would probably have suited him a lot better than the axe. The best that I could get from him was for him to where one as a back up weapon.

The evening of my fourteenth day with my incompetent patrol group I went into the Deaf Mule and walked up to Donnie.

“Donnie can I have that same drink that you gave me last time, but can you reduce the strength by eighty percent?”

“Sure thing Oberon. What’s got your tail in a knot recently?” Donnie asked as he mixed my drink.

“Oh it’s nothing really it’s just the squad that I’ve been given by George to train. I’m begining to despair of training them anything.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“No it isn’t but I am going to do my best for their sakes. I don’t like to lose troopers, even if they are a little hard in the head.”

Donnie shook his head and handed me my drink and watched as I went over to where Cope was shooting pool. “Hey lizard lips did you want to shoot darts with me tonight.”

He looked up at me and said “Give me a second I have to beat this guy at pool. He’s been trying to beat me at my own game for more than two years and he still has to learn that this is my table.”

I laughed in a stiff manner, “Well you don’t own that dart board anymore so you’ve got to have something to own.”

“That really doesn’t count Oberon since you insist on using your knives when we throw, when you use darts to beat me consistently then I will consider that dart board to be yours.”

I shook my head and went over to the dart line, pulled out my three knives and considered them. Finally I laid them a table and then pulled three darts out of the board and went over to the line. I would practice with darts while Cope was playing pool, and once I was confident in my ability to hit the bull’s eye consistently I would begin using darts all of the time. Until then I would continue to use knives in my games against him. I was able to toss the three darts for ten more minutes before Cope came up beside me and said,

“Are you trying to learn how to beat me you big kitty cat?”, with a wry smile on his lips.

I looked over at him and replied “Don’t you know it Lizard Lips?” Before I picked up my first throwing knife and chucked it at the board.

We played three times, I won twice and he won once that evening. He told me that he would get me for that before I headed home for the evening.

When I got home I stopped in my forge and picked up the completed set of weapons that I had just finished this afternoon. There was the sword, a single edged cutlass with a double edged tip, which was meant for use with one hand, a double edged dagger, and lastly the belt and scabbards for both weapons. Tomorrow I would give George his new weapons and tell him of the plan that I had in mind for trying to shape my troops up. This was my last idea and I hoped that it would work because I was running out of patience.

The next morning I picked myself out of bed and got dressed in my full non -patrol day kit. Before I left my room I grabbed the brand new set of weapons and headed for my favourite mess facility where I could get something to eat. As I ate I looked around the room and then settled back to write a note in my notebook.

I was going to have to get a new one pretty soon because this one was just about full of my tight angular script.

One thing I was confident of was the fact that if I ever misplaced this little book no one would be able to make heads or tails of it because it was written in my own language.

Fifteen minutes later I arrived and George’s office and placed both his new weapons set and a sheaf of papers on the desk in front of him. The sheaf of papers contained my report, written in painstaking common tongue, and my recommendations of what to do.

He looked at the sheaf of papers on the desk for a second before he said, “Can you please summarize what’s in that for me please?”

It was then that I remembered that he couldn’t read or write, which wasn’t all that uncommon of a problem on this continent. Though in my homeland reading and writing were almost universal, even the lowest class citizens were able to read and write so that they could understand the edicts of the Clanlords who ruled over them.

“Well sir I’m running out of ideas on how to get this group to wake up and actually work on their skills. They are only a little better than the last time I talked to you about this issue. If you wanted to you could use them south of the Keep but other than that I’m almost at a loss for ideas what do with them. Believe me I’ve tried as hard as I can to get them to shape up.”

“So you’ve given up on them?” George asked with a slight tone of disgust in his voice

“No sir. I’m prepared to give them one more chance, and believe me they’ve tried my patience for the past two weeks. I was thinking that I might take this horrid little assembly of wannabes out of the keep on a training patrol to the south of the keep where it is, for the most part, fairly safe.”

George nodded “Good idea Oberon. A little romp in the woods could help them get their heads on straight.”

“However, if they don’t straighten themselves up out there I’m going to have to give them over to you to do with what you will.”

“Fair enough. At some point we just have to get rid of those who don’t measure up and move on.”

“That is precisely what I was thinking sir. There must be a point in any operation where you must simply cut your losses and start over again.”

“If they show no improvement after this patrol I’ll reassign them and give you new people to train.”

“Yes sir.” I replied before I indicated the other items on the desk besides the sheaf of papers that my report was written on and said, “There you go sir. Perfectly designed and balanced for you own uses, a blade of the highest quality.”

George picked up the weapons and examined them before commenting. “Nice. Fine Craftsmanship.” He slowly drew the sword from its scabbard, “Nice balance and feel to it Oberon.”

“I certainly hope that you like it sir. It has taken me two weeks of afternoons and evenings to make that blade for you.”

“Impressive work for such a short amount of time.” George stood up and performed a few test swings with the blade. “Nice balance and feel to it.”

“Sir it is designed for your own personal use. I doubt that everyone would have the same opinion of it as you do.”

“I don’t care about other people’s opinions when it comes to my weapons. The one opinion that matters in this case is mine! And I love this sword.”

“Do you like the by-knife and the dagger sir?” I watched as George slowly examines the other two blades.

“They all look like fine work. The edges are razor sharp too! I like that in my knives!” He took out a piece of scrap paper and cut it in half with the dagger. I pulled out my own dagger and handed it to him, hilt first, and said

“I made this dagger thirty two years ago. Compare it with your new dagger that I just gave you.” George took my dagger from my hand and compared the two of them


“Can you detect any difference between those two blades, other than the fact that mine is a little heavier?”

George hefted the two blades “I can’t detect any difference. These two daggers are virtually identical. This is the sign of a fine craftsman!”

“To my people that is a sign of a Blademaster of the Gold, if a Blademaster can repeat his weapons in exactly the same manner and quality twice in two years then he is considered a Blademaster of the Gold.”

“It’s the sign of a master swordsmith here too! A weapon like this would command a very high price if you ever chose to sell one.” He mentioned before he handed my dagger back to me.

“I’m not really sure about that, I’m willing to sell to people who live here but why would I want to sell to people who someday might try and fight me with my own weapons?”

“I never really expect you to sell things like this. I was just explaining...”

“Explaining that I could earn a lot of money selling blades like these.”

“Don’t be insulted. A person needs to survive; even Misha makes clocks on his off time.”

“Oh I don’t know, but for now selling blades to people in the Keep should allow me to survive for a while, besides what I earn by working as a patrol scout.”

“One little trick I learned is to always please the leaders. If you were to give a blade like this,” He indicated his new sword with a hand “, to the Duke it would gain you some notice as a swordsmith of the highest calibre.”

“I’ll keep that in mind sir. By the way do you know what kind of weapons he prefers to use?” George laughs

“Ironically he’s a fairly good rider and good with a lance, but he prefers a sword.”

“What kind of sword would you suggest sir?”

“A good long sword and a dagger to match.”

“So I should make a set that is similar to what I used before I came here to the Keep. Are you able to get a hold of his dimensions so I can make a proper weapon for him?”

“His dimensions? What do you need? I’m no tailor to be measuring the stallion.”

“I just need his arm length and his height, the rest I can ad-lib as I go along.”

George was silent for a moment “I might be able to get that information from one of his servants.”

“That is all that I will need. Can I get the information from you when I get back from my patrol in a couple of days?”

“Sure. I’m speaking with the Duke tomorrow. I’ll ask some of my friends while I’m there in the palace.”

“Thank you sir. If that is everything, I have to be going, after all I have to be sure that I have everything ready for tomorrow’s patrol.”

“Very well you’re dismissed.” I nodded in thanks and headed out of the room to my own apartment where I began to get my things together. I had a lot of things to take care of if I was going to be able to go out in command of a patrol tomorrow. I looked at the map that George had given me so that I could guide my patrol with a reasonable level of confidence. The map was not only very precise it was also, as he had told me, water-proofed and wear resistant.

“That is so that none of my patrol commanders lose there way out there.” I had nodded in understanding before I had taken a look at the map.

Now I was regarding the map with a certain degree of interest. I had to make certain that I showed my patrol that they had to work together and that being in a patrol wasn’t like being a simple infantry grunt.

At the end of the day I went to bed early because I was going to have to get up early, with being in command of a patrol for the first time.