Jason was at the city gate well before sunrise the next morning. He had stayed at the tavern until early this morning, discussing and improving the plan that he had devised. Immediately following that, he had gone to his house with Brandon and they both had packed what they could. Now they stood side-by-side at the city gates, waiting for the villagers to arrive. They hadn’t gotten any sleep since noon on the previous day, but the effects of that wouldn’t hit them until later; right now they had enough energy to take on an army.
Seven men on horseback approached the gate and stopped when they reached the two men there.
“Well, Jason,” the leader said. “Let’s hope that this plan works. We’ll meet you at Lake Caplin as soon as we can and let you know how much support you’ll have.”
“Very good,” Jason said. “I’ll make sure that our men move slowly. We’ll reach the lake in exactly seven days. If you arrive before that, wait for us to go into camp.”
“We’ll meet you there,” the rider said. To the other horsemen, “Gentlemen, you know what your jobs are. See you in a week.”
Jason watched as the horsemen rode off in all directions. Whether their leader realized it or not, he had given them purpose by calling them ‘gentlemen,’ something that they had never been called before. For the first time in their lives, they had been called not by the name of slaves, servants, or property but of real men. For the first time, they had a cause to fight for.
The rest of the villagers began to arrive soon after the riders left and continued to trickle in until half an hour after sunrise. By the time Jason surmised that the full number had arrived, the small army stood one hundred and thirty-seven strong. Only about half of them were in what Jason considered to be the optimal fighting age with the rest being too old or too young, but he wasn’t about to complain. There was a lot to be said for having bodies on the battle field no matter the age, even if it was just to scare the other side.
As Jason scanned the make-shift army, he noticed the ill preparedness of the group. Though it was to be expected out of a group of peasants, it still didn’t make him happy. There was only a handful of weapons among the people, a few swords and spears. Most of the soldiers, Jason already thought of the ragtag bunch as soldiers, were armed with pitchforks, quarter staves, scythes, sickles, and other tools. Bows were scattered throughout the army, but they were hunting bows and not intended for war. It was uncertain what use they would be against armored soldiers. Jason gave an inward sigh while keeping his outward visage one of utter confidence. He had known that what he was proposing would be difficult, but the magnitude of that difficulty was just now setting in. He nodded to Brandon who called out the command to move out; coming from Brandon, no one could mistake the command for anything else, and the small army left the city and began their long journey to Lake Caplin.
The army snaked its way across the terrain at a pace much slower than Jason would have liked but no slower than he expected. He and Brandon walked off to the side of the soldiers, examining them throughout the day. They didn’t move like a well-trained army because they weren’t one but instead stretched and compressed like an accordion. Their bearing was nothing like that of an army nor did it appear as though their discipline was. Jason had known that they wouldn’t be as disciplined or as skilled as trained soldiers, but even so the quality of their abilities disappointed him.
Most importantly of all, they appeared to lack unity. Grudges and feuds ran through the ranks which was to be expected of the citizens of a town, but Jason knew that they would tear the unity of the group apart which would be devastating to them in battle. He would have to do something about it, but what he didn’t know. At least he would have time to think about it on the march.
Jason and Brandon sat at a distance from the army eating food that they had packed. The provisions of most of the soldiers were less than he had expected which meant that he would have to start tasking people to scout ahead of the army and hunt for food. It was just another problem to stack on top of all of the others. This was turning out to be a lot more trouble than Jason had expected.
“Are you going to finish your food?” Brandon asked.
Jason looked down at the bread that he still held but was not hungry for. With a shake of his head he handed it to Brandon who quickly scarfed it down. Jason watched his friend, knowing that he should eat, but not finding the appetite. Something about having the fate of so many people resting on him made him not hungry.
“Brandon, you know what our situation with food is, right?” Jason asked suddenly.
“Yeah, we don’t have much of it,” Brandon answered. “It’ll never last for a week of marching.”
“I know,” Jason said. “That’s why I need you to take a group of soldiers to scout ahead and hunt for the army.”
“Sure thing, Jason,” Brandon agreed.
“I want you to take the people that you think will make the best soldiers and work with them while you’re scouting,” Jason continued. “This army has no cohesion, and it needs some. Take people who have potential but don’t get along. Hopefully pushing them into a group together will force them to work out their differences.”
“You don’t think that that will cause problems between them?” Brandon asked. “What happens when they don’t settle their differences and are at each others' throats the entire time?”
“They’ll need to work out their differences if we’re going to survive a single battle,” Jason countered. “I’d rather have the rough patches out here where it isn’t a matter of life and death.”
“If you say so, boss,” Brandon conceded. “When do you want me to start the hunting? Today?”
“No, we have enough to last for another day or so,” Jason said. “Start mixing with the soldiers and choose the ones that you want to take with you. You’ll begin scouting and hunting tomorrow morning. Since you’re scouting, you’ll be leaving considerably before the rest of the army.”
“Understood,” Brandon said. “Is that all on that subject?”
“I think so,” Jason said. “I’ll let you know if I think of anything else.”
“In that case, I would like to bring up a few things that I have been observing,” Brandon said.
“Knock yourself out,” Jason said.
“Well, obviously all of our soldiers are peasants, so they have no idea how to do things in a military setting,” Brandon began.
“True, but then again, neither do we,” Jason countered. “Everything that we ‘know’ is all guesswork and observation.”
“Half of the power of an army is their ability to look impressive,” Brandon said, “but we can’t do that unless we’re uniform and all look the same. We may not know the way that the baron’s army does things, but that doesn’t matter. All that we have to do is standardize what we do so that we look professional and cohesive.”
“That is probably true,” Jason agreed. “What are you suggesting?”
“I think that we should set aside an hour or two every day after we are done marching to teach the soldiers a standard way of doing things like marching. That way we’re all on the same page. I also think that it would be a good idea to evaluate the men on their fighting abilities and train them as much as we can.”
“That is a good idea,” Jason agreed. “I would put you in charge of that, but you are already going to have to be dealing with your group of scouts. Do you know anyone else who might have the ability and experience to teach the soldiers?”
“Not yet, but I’ll find out,” Brandon said.
"Good," Jason said and stood up. "Now, go spread the word to get ready to move out."