Warmth filled her, tugged her away from rest, toward consciousness. She wanted to resist, to stay in her warm shell but there was something intoxicating about the warmth. It was like sleeping in a cocoon but feeling the heat from the sun beckoning, a promise of a new and wonderful world filled with freedoms never imagined, with joys and…
“That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen! What in Oblivion were you thinking?!”
Lint blinked fuzzy darkness from her eyes, only to have it replaced by slightly lighter fuzz. “Wha…”
More voices. “Is she all right?” “I didn’t see, what happened?” “Look at the size of that thing!”
“That is as much as I can do. I don’t think there will be any scarring, but her arm and leg will likely be sore for a couple days.” A familiar voice. Lint blinked a few times and the world came back into focus. The red-haired Breton woman stood over her along with Whip and Bent. The rest of the squad peered from some distance back.
“That’s all I needed to hear. You ready, Dragonbait? Bent, help her up.”
Bent reached down and took her arm, and that was all it took to snap her out of her disoriented haze. “I’m fine.” She yanked her arm out of his grasp, stood, almost fell, then beat off Bent’s returning hand. “I said I’m fine. Where are my swords? And who is Dragonbait?”
Whip motioned to the other woman in the company who had both swords in her hands. “Primrose has your swords. And you are Dragonbait. Congratulations – I’ve never promoted anyone during their very first patrol before. Don’t make me regret it.”
“Ah…” Lin…er, Dragonbait wasn’t sure how to respond to this new information, so she took the easiest path and gave Whip a simple nod. “I…um…won’t. Thank you.”
Whip snorted. “Don’t thank me. You just got more work. Beginning with getting everyone ready to go. Get the squad camped out and set the guard rotation. You have one hour.”
Dragonbait could only stare as Whip turned to the Breton and went with her toward the house., then jumped a little at a snort behind her and turned to find Bent putting his helmet back on.
“Something to say, Bent?”
He shook his head as he picked up his hammer. “Not at all, oh wise leader Dragonbait. Bent is at your service.”
She glared as he strolled with annoying, smug nonchalance toward the squad, then took her swords with a nod of thanks from the still-waiting Primrose and followed. If anyone protested her new position, she would teach them the same way she had taught Bent. In fact, she found herself hoping that would prove necessary.
Around noon the next day, the newly anointed Dragonbait was itching for a fight. She had been expecting resistance from the squad, had had a plan in mind for all contingencies, including taking on the entire squad at once, if it proved necessary. But for some reason, the entire crew had suddenly become models of decorum – all seven men (Whip was still inside the building with the Khajiit and the Breton), the lot of them proven ass-gropers, hustled to follow her orders (not that there were many to give – “Set up camp,” “Your turn for guard duty,” and “Break down camp” encompassed the extent) with nary a complaint or even a mutter, at least that she could hear. And she did listen. And watch - she kept a suspicious eye on them (especially Bent) – throughout the night, certain something more would happen, that they were simply biding their time until the deepest darkness.
But dawn broke and camp soon followed, and the squad was ready and waiting by the time Whip rejoined them.
It was infuriating. How dare they be so agreeable?! They had kept her up all night with their insistence on propriety. They hadn’t even raised a fuss at her order for minimal campfires (did dragons hunt in packs? Who knew? Better to be safe) and cold trail rations for dinner.
She stalked along the road seething with a rage stoked by lack of sleep. She barely noticed when they left the salt flats and began the climb into the foothills that began the Velothi Mountains’ southern range, only paid dim attention to the scouts’ reports. At least, until…
“There’s a battle going on at the pass – an Imperial ambush, looks like. One of our companies is in bad shape.”
A battle? That meant fighting – it meant she could release this pent-up anger. More important, there were Imperials.
Dragonbait smiled up the road, though thanks to the fact that they stood on the lee side of a hill, there was nothing to see. "Good."
“Good? Our company…”
The words brought her back to the moment.
“No. Good that there are Imperials to kill. I’ve been waiting for this. Back to the squad and inform Whip that we’re going to head up the mountain so we can flank them while the rest of you get there as quickly as you can along the road.”
“Shouldn’t you ask…”
“No time. Whip can demote me later, but you said it yourself – our men are in trouble. Quickly!”
The soldier (Flea, his name was. She was pretty sure.) saluted, fist on heart, and hurried off. Dragonbait turned to her unit, which consisted of Tarry, Poke, and Wooly (not Bent, for once). “Right. The hill here isn’t too steep. We’re going to get above them and rain death on them. Or stab them in the ass. Kinda depends on what we find. You ready?”
Eager nods – the rest of the squad was as enthusiastic about the prospect of killing Imperials as she – and she turned and headed up.
The mountain sloped at an angle that made traversing it only moderately difficult, helped by scraggly trees along the way. They made good time and it did not take long before they could hear the sounds of metal clashing and voices crying out. Another hundred yards brought them within sight of the melee; forty more brought them to a point directly above. It was well-hidden from the road by a small copse of trees, and flat enough to hold a small company of men. A perfect spot to wait in ambush, and the packs stacked on the ground where the mountain rose above proved the Imperials had used the spot for just that.
“Ironic,” Dragonbait whispered as she turned her attention to the road below.
It was just as Flea had described – a small group of Stormcloaks, maybe six still on their feet, huddled in a tight circle, pressed by a company of Imperials twice their number. She grimaced. Too many for the four of them alone - she wouldn't be able to protect the others. She chose the sensible route.
“Okay, now we’ll wait for the rest of the company to attack the flank then…”
“Wait?” Tarry gestured toward the road below. “We can’t wait! They’re almost done for!”
“Keep your voice down and live up to your name. There are three of you – if we attack now, I won't be able to protect you all."
As she spoke, one of the Stormcloaks on the road screamed and collapsed as a sword pierced his gut. Tarry pulled his own sword.
“We don't need your protection, Dragonbait. And Nords don’t sit around waiting. We ATTACK!” He screamed the last word as he brandished the sword and rushed down the slope. The other three followed – none of them heeded her, “NO!”
So now they decided to be recalcitrant, the bastards.
With no choice left but to fight or watch her unit get slaughtered, Dragonbait unsheathed her swords and leaped from the trees in pursuit. Though, had she had time to be honest with herself, she would have recognized that it really was exactly what she had wanted to do. Not for the Stormcloaks on the road, but for herself. A laugh burst from her throat as the closest Imperials raised cries of warning and turned to face the new threat – it was finally time to make them pay.
Edited by jfraser