Gretchen stands stoically in the shadows in the port city of Vridish. She is in the company of three of her seargants, and she is staring intently at the open door of a building across the street. Four dwarves are in the process of defending the building against two orcs. Gretchen notes how the dwarves fight together as if they’ve been fighting and training side-by-side for years. The style is foreign to her, but the skill is evident. The disorganized orcs, thinking that they had an easy target, don’t stand a chance, and are quickly fleeing the tenacious attack.
“That’s it,” Gretchen mutters under her breath, as the dwarves stay near the building. “Don’t over extend yourselves. Don’t mistake defense for offense. Don’t chase just because they’re running.” She continues to watch as Ostia appears in the doorway and sizes up the situation. A hand on the shoulder here, a word there, firm yet caring. A good leader, Gretchen judges. Within a few moments, his battle-weary companions are alert and ready again. Gretchen waits until he disappears back inside before approaching the door with her seargants. The dwarves on guard recognize Gretchen and do not attack. She speaks to them with authority, Seargant Vier translating. “I have business with your commanding officer. You may stand down. My seargants will act as guards while I am inside. You are tired from fighting. Take the time to rest.” The dwarves at the door say nothing and show no sign of moving. Good! Thinks Gretchen. Take orders only from your superior. Never abandon your post. These dwarves have discipline. Outwardly, she merely shrugs and moves inside. Her seargants take up post on either side of the door, alongside the dwarves.
Inside, she finds Ostia sitting in a room at a table with a mug and a purse of coins. She approaches in what she hopes is a non-threatening way, despite their tremendous size difference. “Ostia,” she begins, “I have come to…” she pauses and over-enunciates the next word, as if it is unfamiliar to her, “neogtiate. Hear me, and then I will hear you. Seargant Vier is here to help us understand each other.” She pauses as Vier translates.
“I have thought about this much. Your dwarves are well-trained. They fight well together. They have discipline. They respect and obey their commander. You lead well. You train well. These things I have noticed these past few weeks.
My company is incomplete. As a captain, I should command many more than I do. But the war makes training and recruiting impossible. I cannot find the quality of orcs I should have. You and your dwarves should enlist with my company. You would be a seargant and your dwarves would compose your warband. Nothing would change in the way your group works except that you would answer to me as your commanding officer, and your lieutenant, if I manage to find one.
You would gain safety. Your dwarves would not have to guard and fight so often as they do now. There is greater safety in greater numbers." Her eye shifts to the small purse on the table. “Seargant Vier tells me that dwarves put a great deal of value on coin. You will also gain that. You will receive the standard army salary of a seargant and your warband the salary of a grunt. Also, you and your group will be fed along with the rest of my troops.”
She pauses, working hard at unfamiliar language. Her next words are slow and deliberate. “It is …a good deal. You gain safety, coin, and food. I gain good fighters and a good seargant. What do you say?” Seargant Vier finishes the tranlation from orcish to dwarvish, and Gretchen waits on Ostia’s response.
Ostia suppresses an angry laugh, “A good deal? For you. You have put me here as much as anyone. You want me to throw my lot in with a cohort of orcs that can’t decide to make a stand? You will protect me and my men or make my men and yourselves bigger targets by bringing infidels into your civil war? It will only take one accusation, and your xenophobic kin could turn on us. Plus this deal is only fixed on the short term. I am a merchant, these dwarves are marines. They fight well because they have to. They defend our ship because it is that or the sea, just like here it is defend or the sea of orcs. If you want my men to use in your campaign, I am going to need more than the short term gains of temporary safety, food and coin. We will need to work out a far more long term solution. For one, do you even know where or who you stand for when it comes to Warcheif?”
Gretchen heaves a heavy sigh, then begins speaking orcish as Vier translates. “Why does everyone I speak to ask the same question? Who are you supporting as warcheif?” She shakes her head and closes her eye, watching the arcane lights dance around the room. “Right now, there is too much chaff to sort through and find the grain. Soon the cream will rise. I have not found one I support yet. I will know him when I see him.”
She opens her eye again and addresses Ostia’s other concerns. "You speak the truth about our view of outsiders. Enlisting you into my company would make me… unpopular. I care not for others’ views. My company is skilled enough to defend against any attacks for that reason. This is known, so attacks are not likely. Still, it is wise to know and be ready.
Is there need for a longterm solution? Once a Warcheif emerges, the borders will open. You will be free to trade how you choose. Until then, lend your leadership and your dwarves’ skill to my ranks."
“I have to look for the long term, because the way I see it the orcs political troubles will last for a very long time. So your borders are closed and I am stuck here in your lands with a target on my back. I took that risk and I have accepted it. Why aren’t you taking a risk? you say you look around and see only chaff? Besides the farmer, one other could see such a view. The grain. Why don’t you seize the opportunity you are presented with? These orcs follow you because they see your strength and skill. You are courted because of it. You want to defend your people from a draconic invasion. Is that not best accomplished by taking the reins of power? Simply put, maybe you find no one to follow because you are meant to lead, and your sight cannot show you that path.” Ostia pauses hoping he has not said too much.
Ostia starts again more subdued “Besides that these are dwarves that trust me to lead them home safely and quickly, I cannot enlist them without consulting them and I will not follow a man or woman who appears unable to see what should be as plain as the nose on her face!” He finishes in a flurry.
As Vier translates, Ostia can hear that he does his best to match the dwarves tone and inflection, but in the middle of this conversation it is intermingled with apprehension and a bit of incredulity. After he finishes, Gretchen is silent for a long time. Ostia can almost see her methodical thinking, like she’s carefully strining one bead at a time onto a wire. Finally, her scarred face breaks into a wide grin, like she has just figured something out.
“Hahahahaha! You are funny! You are making a joke! I understand now. Or else, you don’t know orcs so well. I am only a Captain. I have to be promoted two more times – to Major, then to General – to be able to be Warcheif. I am too young and do not know enough yet. You did not know Warcheif Graan, so maybe you do not know how funny you are.” She pauses and nods. “A smart leader talks to his troops before making choices for them, when possible. I will give you time to speak to the dwarves. I will return in two days to hear your choice. Do you agree?”
Sensing that he cannot convince the stubborn orc of the value of his insight, Ostia relents. He has only one chance for favorable terms and badgering the orc captain about taking her people to the place that she needs to, would be pointless at this time.
Ostia begins, “I will discuss with them, but they are going to be more favorable to a more direct connection to you. In our dealings, they trust you, but how can we trust another orc to stop himself/herself from throwing our dwarven lives away unnecessarily. I know this would be a highly unorthodox command structure, but one that would give us assurances for our good faith. Secondly, I am a dwarf, and as I have said many times- a merchant. We will need to work out the terms of exit. My dwarves will likely have no desire to continue to be a part of your war if we can find our ways out of your closed borders. So can you agree to let our company go in that circumstances. I know this is even more unorthodox for a military style. You can have my word that our departure will not be requested while a battle has been started and dwarves are as stubborn as they come for fighting to the end. Our skills do extend beyond our skill as fighters. Thirdly, if we make this commitment to you, we will put our lives in your hands and you will not waste them just because we are dwarves? If you can you agree to these additional conditions, I will go to my men with your request.”
Ostia stops there, knowing his last declarations our demands spoken with little bargaining power. He is a stranger in a strange land. He knows he needs her protection more than she needs his dwarves, but if she is what he and Cumae believe her to be, then these demands will fit within Gretchen’s own code of ethics without much trouble.
After Vier translates, Gretchen answers, "I see your fear. But there is no need. The orcs do not keep slaves. I will not keep any against their will.
I want your dwarves for their fighting prowess, not their bodies to line up for slaughter. You are right to worry about being used as fodder. Other orcs might do so. I am not them. My seargants will tell you that my company’s survival rate is higher than any other." She pauses, then is hasty to explain, "Not because we are weak and run from battle. Because we fight smart and good and together. Like I have seen from your dwarves.
As for chain-of-command, it is a strange way of doing things. But I see your reason. Your dwarves report directly to you. You will report directly to me. A seargant reports to a lieutennant. But I have no lieutennants now. So my seargants still report directly to me. As a seargant, you will do the same. When I get lieutennants, you can still report directly to me. I will not put another orc between you and me. This is what you ask, yes?" She pauses, then asks, “How many dwarves do you command? This will also affect rank and order.”
Ostia realizes that he has decided to put his and his company’s fate in her hands. He doesn’t see how this will help him, but a faint odor of teak accompanies his mental musings. “I will go to my men, but I believe these terms are favorable enough. I will give you our answer in two days time.”
Gretchen nods. Once the matter is decided, she wastes no time moving into action. “Good. I will leave Seargant Vier here to answer the questions you or your troops may have. I will also assign a guard detail to this building, so that you may speak to your dwarves without need to worry about attack. This I also do as a sign of …” she pauses, remembering Ostia’s words, “… good faith, between your dwarves and me. A show of the protection we offer while they are thinking.” She rises to go, leaving Ostia alone with Vier.
Two days later, Gretchen returns to the buildign occupied by the dwarves. She nods to her guards as they step aside to let her pass. Once inside, she quickly locates Ostia.
“Well,” she says, without any formality or pretense, “Two days have passed. What say you?” She stands solidly in the center of the room, waiting for Osita’s reply.
“The only other condition that my men want…is that we will not fight halflings or dwarves in Amin. We will not be compelled to kill our kin or allies. I know another restriction but one I hope you can see as valued by us.” Ostia believes this one additional request would not strain Gretchen’s patience. “I hope a regiment of marines and sapppers can be of use to you”
Gretchen smiles in what Ostia can only assume is meant to be a friendly (and not terrifying) way. “Dwarves earn their reputation as neogtiators! Another condition? Let me give it back to you. I will not use you in offensive strikes against your own kin. I rely on you to be part of our defense no matter who attacks us. Dragon, orc, dwarf, elf,” the last of these is said with Gretchen’s singular grunt of a laugh. “I will not have you stand by if we are attacked by your kin.” She shrugs. “There is no reason for this talk. All your kin are on Amin. If we are on Amin, the civil war is over. The borders are open. You will leave us then. So there is no need for this worry.”
“Do not sell your dwarves short, Ostia. Marines and sappers. I do not know those words. But your troops are of use. I think you would say ‘value.’
Are we agreed then?"
Ostia barks a laugh. “Yeah, you bring up a good point about the borders being open and we already agreed that we would not leave battle once started. Besides dwarves never sell themselves short…we are after short enough naturally…” Ostia goes on trying to explain what sappers and marines are and how they can be useful in seige and amphibious landings.
After a long discussion, Gretchen departs with her entourage. Ostia thinks, She is going to need a cool tactician at her side…