Armand sighed to himself as the army came to an uncertain halt just outside the Dakhmar Swamp. His back was killing him from riding a horse for almost three days straight, but Balthus had been clear that as the newly appointed Knight-Commander he needed to set an example for his men. According to Balthus, traveling would be difficult due to the soft terrain and rainy season, so the army would need to keep their wheeled vehicles to a minimum and instead either ride or march to the swamp. He glanced over at the well appointed carriage that the High Priest was riding in with more than a little resentment.
He supposed that the average soldier was probably looking at him with the same avarice. As uncomfortable as he was from the ride, marching through mud for ten hours a day over three days would be enough to make anyone unhappy. The rain and lack of dry tinder only made the trip all that much more miserable. Armand knew from his days as a common officer that the situation merited further monitoring. An army could be forced to march without food or sleep, but if you didn’t give them warm water to make coffee, you were asking for a mutiny.
With any luck, once they got into the swamp they would be able to stop and make a more permanent camp. There, he would be able to request dry fuel from the capital or assign fire magi to dry out the damp wood of the swamp trees. It would be inefficient and expensive, a large part of the reason why the crusaders traditionally didn’t go to war during the rainy season, but given the time constraints, it was Armand’s only option. Also, according to Balthus, the inefficiency and expense were a large part of the reason why Gareth had been sent away. Apparently, seeing the Church’s hard earned tax money squandered would just vex the poor man. As Balthus always said, “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” A strange phrase really. He was pretty sure that in eight years of serving the priest that he had never seen the vengeful old man forgive anyone.
Just as Armand was preparing to call together a scouting force to try and find a lizard person encampment in the swamp, one of them exited. It was almost seven feet tall and covered in glistening blue scales that bulged around its oversized muscles. The lizard glanced over the army and snorted to itself, clearly unimpressed. It crossed its arms and stood at the edge of the swamp, making its presence known and waiting for someone to come to it. Armand couldn’t help but notice the hilt of the man sized greatsword protruding from the sheathe on its back.
Armand spurred his horse forward and two soldiers followed him. It was still strange after all of these years of being a bodyguard to have bodyguards of his own. The man and the woman knew their business, remaining half a pace behind him but eyeing the gigantic lizard person like a hawk.
He nodded to the creature as his horse approached the boundary of the swamp. It nodded back but didn’t speak. At this range, Armand could make out that its thigh was almost as large as the skinnier of his two guards’ torsos. He mentally downgraded their chances against the lizard person from ‘probably not’ to ‘instantly dismembered.” Both sides waited in silence for almost a minute, too proud to be the first to speak. Finally, Armand gave up and broke the ice.
“Nice day we’re having here eh? Lotta rain.”
“Indeed,” the lizard person agreed, nodding to him again. Another minute passed in silence.
“So,” Armand drew the word out, unsure of how to proceed. “I am Knight-Commander Armand DuBoess of the Empire’s inquisition and crusaders. I am here because the One True Flame and the God of All, Al’Shazan has issued a holy decree that the Dakhmar Swamp must be evacuated of all sentient life by the end of next month. Our goal is to safely and efficiently escort your people to a new home where we will provide you with food and medical care as well as new homes and jobs.”
“No,” it stated evenly, unphased by both Armand and his words. “Al’Shazan didn’t order that.”
“Excuse me?” Armand blinked repeatedly while looking at the stoic lizard person.
“Al’Shazan would not order that,” it repeated slowly as if Armand were a child struggling to comprehend his lessons. “Whoever told you that Al’Shazan wants us to leave the swamp is lying to you. If that is all, I have eel traps to check and it is about time I move on with my day.”
“It was reported directly by High Priest Aster after meeting with Al’Shazan itself,” Armand replied. “He is with this caravan to help smooth the evacuation. You can talk to him yourself if you want, but the words are directly from Al’Shazan’s mouth.”
“I can tell you he’s lying just as easily as I can tell him that he’s lying,” the lizard person stated with a shrug. “I don’t see why my eel traps should go neglected just so I can repeat myself to some bureaucrat.”
“But this is a direct command from the God itself,” Armand stammered desperately. “If your people won’t leave voluntarily we will be forced to invade and remove you by force. We outnumber you almost ten to one. You don’t want to fight us, we’ll slaughter you.”
“You can try, Human,” it said evenly.
“Think of your people,” Armand begged him, “you don’t want to fight us.”
“No,” the creature replied as it turned around and began to fade into the swamp before turning its head and ending the conversation, “I think that we do. Now I would be grateful if you would stop delaying me. My eel traps aren’t going to check and bait themselves.”