The encampments were placed behind a natural rise at one end of the battlefield. The commanders had placed them there so that the forces of the Empire and its allies could array themselves on high ground at the beginning of the battle. As a result, the battlefield took Kamendian and Tellias completely by surprise. Tellias had retired from the field before the battle was over, and Kamendian had only seen the aftermath briefly, and in the dark.
It was horrific.
Corpses lay strewn across the span of the vast Shammarian plain. Here and there the earth was scarred by a blackened crater twenty paces across — the mark of a magefire strike or some other lethal incantation. Smoldering mounds rose up every few hundred paces, where the auxiliaries had tried to make a pyre for the dead.
The wind was blowing away from them — probably the handiwork of an Imperial weatherworker — but the stench of death and decay still roiled up at them.
They had fought several major battles before Shammari. They had thought themselves hardened to death and its attendants. This was something wholly new.
“And they’re concerned about peasants sneaking in here to loot bodies?” Tellias muttered nauseously. “I don’t think I can go in there.”
“You’re going to have to,” Kamendian replied. “Unless you want to pay for a new cuisse somewhere. And pass up the chance to get some money out of your friend Tanuke.”
“I know that. You…” Tellias let out a grunt of exasperation. “Never mind. Let’s go see what we can find.”
There wasn’t anything useful toward the edge of the field. Crushed helmets, single boots, swordhilts with no blade — it was all trash. As they moved toward the areas where fighting had been fiercest, though, the pickings improved. Kamendian found an Anacharsian helmet that fit. Wearing a non-standard helmet would mark him as an ex-legionnaire, but that was probably just as well. Besides, he’d always found the legion helmets excessively heavy. The Anacharsian helmet was much more comfortable, if less effective. He found a breastplate that looked the right size on the corpse of a Vannetasian who’d been speared from behind; there were a few dents on the inside, but they were probably fixable. There were a surprising number of swords left lying around. Kamendian gathered up several for Tanuke, picking out the best one for himself and tying it to his belt. No shields, though, nor an intact back-piece on a man of the right size.
“Tellias!” he called. “Have you seen any back-pieces?”
Tellias was sitting on the ground about a hundred paces away, trying on a new cuisse. “No, I haven’t! I was thinking of heading for the ground around where the big fighting happened, though! There might be some high-quality pieces over there; care to join me?”
The two men picked their way through the blasted earth to where the Storm Guard elite and the Diamond Serpent legion had clashed. The ground still smoked in places, and the dead lay thickest here. Presumably the auxiliaries hadn’t dared to approach yet. This was where the bodies of the Silver Conclave must be. This was where whatever might be left of the Storm King would be. Kamendian shuddered at the thought.
“Are you sure this is wise, Tellias? There might be serious residual magic left around here.”
“I realize that. This is where the finest equipment is going to be, though. No risks, no rewards. Hey, that battle-axe looks intact. Give me a hand moving him, would you?”
They spent a half-hour or so rummaging through the dead, pulling out unbroken weapons, chunks of ornamentation made from precious metals, undamaged armor, and some miscellaneous garbage that Tellias suspected might be magic. Items for sale aside, though, nothing looked terribly useful to Kamendian.
“Hey, Kamendian. That Borogodani over there in the pit looks about your size. Go see if his back-piece will fit you.”
Kamendian climbed over a few bodies to the pit Tellias had mentioned. Some mage had thrown a powerful battle-magic in here; the telltale prickle of powerful magery could still be felt at its edge. Even so, the fighting had flowed back into the resulting crater. Near the edge was the body of a Borogodani mage-knight, seemingly almost standing. It was a little eerie. Kamendian wasn’t fond of the orange color of Borogodani armor, but he could repaint it, and the man did seem about his size.
When he reached the Borogodani’s side, he discovered why the man was standing. At the moment of his death, he had been locked in a clinch with a Storm Guard. There wasn’t much left of the Storm Guard; he’d died by magefire. Probably the Borogodani’s work; the mage-knight himself seemed mostly untouched.
Kamendian tried to pry loose the charred shell of the Storm Guard so that he could extract the mage-knight and undo his cuirass. The two men were locked together quite firmly. With some effort, however, he succeeded in breaking them apart.
The Borogodani collapsed backwards; the Storm Guard mostly collapsed in a heap. One arm, however, was pulled along with the Borogodani. As Kamendian looked closer, he realized that the Storm Guard was holding a sword which vanished under the edge of the mage-knight’s breastplate. At that angle, the Borogodani must have been impaled through most of his torso. And yet he had the strength of will to unleash one last blast of magefire.
Kamendian found himself rubbing his belly, and shuddered. He bent down and tried to pull loose the sword. It was lodged deeply, but yielded to a good tug.
Much as he hated to admit it, it was a nice sword. No ornamentation to speak of, but its simple blade, slate-grey under the blood, was attractive enough to a professional. It was light and well-balanced, with a slight sabre-like curve to it. It probably wasn’t magical as such, but it might have a charm or two on it. It felt good in the hand.
Kamendian looked at the sword he’d put on his belt earlier. This one was far superior. Still, the notion of fighting with a Storm Guard blade made him slightly uneasy.
“Tellias!” he called. “Is there supposed to be anything unusual about Storm Guard swords?”
“No,” Tellias called back. “Not the rank and file, anyway. They get good equipment, but no soul-stealers or bound demons or anything like that. Why?”
“I found one. It looks nice, but I’m not sure I want it.”
“Stop being so squeamish! It’s just a sword. If it’s a good one, use it.”
Kamendian looked at the sword. Then he wiped it off and put it aside as he started unbuckling the Borogodani’s cuirass.
A couple of hours later, they started heading back toward the camps. Kamendian was wearing his new armor, horribly mismatched though the Vannetasian blue and Borogodani orange were, and carrying a bundle of swords, spears, and various pieces of armor. Tellias was weighed down with several massive bundles of armament in various stages of intactness. By the time they found Tanuke, he was about to collapse.
“Ah! Legionnaire sirs! My offer, you have reconsidered?”
Tellias seemed to want to say something, but he didn’t have the breath. Kamendian stepped in. “Yes, we have. We have various pieces of salvage we’d like to sell.”
Tanuke seemed to take a moment to puzzle out Kamendian’s sentence. “Your armaments, my joy, to examine them?”
Kamendian laid out his bundle. Tanuke gleefully squatted down and started to pick through the weapons, counting to himself in the Quintanelle tongue and flicking his fingers.
“Swords in eight, spears in five, cuisses in three, gauntlets in five. Fifteen tallies, my offer.”
“Fifteen?!” Kamendian cried. “A single sword costs five tallies! There’s eight there!”
Tanuke scuttled back. “Offense to cause, never my intention. Alas! These swords, hard-used. My soup, between purchase and sale, I must make. Ah! Your sacrifice, to fight the Storm King, I must consider. Eighteen tallies, my offer.”
At this point, Tellias had regained his breath and launched into the negotiation. After several minutes of impassioned and garbled debate about the dangers of the battlefield and the dearth of meat in Tanuke’s soup, both men were reassured that they were respectively brave and cunning, and twenty tallies were duly handed over for Kamendian’s bundle. Then they began haggling over Tellias’ bundle.
After watching the two men argue over the potential value of a small strip of leather with some symbols carved into it and a bone bead threaded on the end for ten minutes, Kamendian backed away and found a place to sit. He suspected this might take a while.