“It’s simple,” the quartermaster said, eyes down upon a list he had before him. “They brought it to our friends, the Kingdom of Mus. So! We need to bring the combat to them.”
He checked off a few items on the list before looking up at Howard.
“Judging by your… age,” he said. “I’m guessing you have… no prior combat experience?”
Howard nodded his head.
“None. Well. Just the weekly drills,” Howard replied.
“Then, you’re ready,” the quartermaster said with a grin. “You’re more than readt! Listen, kid. I won’t lie to you. When it comes to stabbing things with a sharp stick, you don’t really need a whole lot of training, much less skill. You sort of just, lift it up, and thrust it forward. That’s really all there is to it. Pick up, and stick in. And go where they want you to go, with the pointy stick of course. That thing isn’t going to carry itself. You need to be there. To deliver the stick to where it needs to be. And then deliver it forth, into whomever needs to receive it.”
He walked towards a large cart full of metal helms.
“Now, there’s going to be a lot of combat out there,” he said as he picked one up. “But don’t you worry, we Hysterians have proven our combat prowess time and time again. Here.”
He tossed Howard the helm, often referred to by the Quills as pot helmets. It was man of solid steel, had bronze trim, bulky rivets, and a wide brim that was designed to defend against strikes from above.
“Try this one on,” he said.
Howard slipped it on. The visor fell over his eyes.
“Huh, no good,” the quartermaster said with a frown, then continued to scour the cart as Howard slipped off the helm.
“You see… the Kingdom of Mus? They’re counting on us. And they could’ve gone with the Erethians too, and their new-fangled formations. But they chose us. Because they value our friendship. And tradition. And cost-savings. But, most of all, friendship. They know that their friends, us, rely on good ol’ fashioned pike formations, dense and sharp, tight and fighty. Those Erethians think that they can change the game up by mixing in crossbows and greatswords to their pike formations, but our friends—the mice—they know what’s up. They know. Go with what you know, you know? Tried and true. No need to change it up. Go with what works.”
The quartermaster handed him another helm.
“Go on then,” he said. “Give that one a try.”
Howard slipped it on and it sat on his crown snuggly.
“Perfect,” the quartermaster said with a broad smile. “You’re almost ready to go!”
He walked over to another cart.
“Here’s your body armor,” the quartermaster said as he handed Howard some thin plates made of tin. “A breast plate to guard all your squishy organs, and… here are some tassets to protect your family jewels.”
“Do you have any bigger tassets?”
The quartermaster burst out laughing.
“A mere kid like you has no need for larger tassets,” he said as he wiped away a tear. “Alright, go on now, you. Good luck out there! Ne—!”
“Wait!” Howard interrupted him. “Wh-what about a backplate?”
“A backplate?” he asked with surprised. “Well, do you intend on running away like a coward?”
“I… might…” Howard muttered.
“Shame on you!” the quartermaster said in shock. “Listen, if you’re always facing the enemy, then you’ll have no need for a backplate. Now, get going!”
“Well, what if…! What if they get around and start cutting us down from behind?”
“They will only chop away at a forest of tough, bristling quills,” the quartermaster said. “Hurry now, you don’t want to be late.”
“Greaves for my hindlegs?” Howard continued. “Gauntlets for my forelegs?”
“We’re fresh out,” the quartermaster replied bluntly. “Now go!”
As Howard turned to leave, he heard the door open behind him. It was the big porcupine.
“Hello again, porc,” he said to Howard. “Hey, Red.”
“How’s it going, Stomp,” the quartermaster replied.
“You got my stuff?” Stomp said.
“Coming right up,” Red replied as he went to wall of hooks behind him and grabbed a large sack off of one of them.
“Aw, sweet,” Stomp replied as he grabbed the sack from Red and opened it. He lifted out his cuirass and tassets, then his greaves and gauntlets, and finally a sizeable round shield which he affixed to his left shoulder.
“What’s that?” Howard asked.
“What, this?” Stomp replied. “This is a buckler. Didn’t you get one?”
Howard shook his head.
“Hey, Red,” Stomp called out. “What’s the big idea? Give the porc his buckler.”
“No can do, Stomp,” Red said.
“‘Cause we ain’t got no more bucklers,” Red replied sheepishly.
“No more bucklers?!” Stomp replied in shock, then walked over to inspect Howard’s armour. “Greaves? Gauntlets?”
Red shook his head.
He punched Howard in the breast plate and was horrified to find his paw’s imprint upon the metal.
“Red?” Stomp asked, completely confounded. “What’s the meaning of all this?”
“Well, that’s why we’re going over there, Stomp!” Red defended himself, a bit flustered. “North to the land that the rats are on right now! They completely overran our mines and stole our whole operation. If we want to continue to produce materiel, we need to take it back so we can mine that precious, precious mineral to make ourselves… well… basic combat armor for example, I mean, for Pete’s sake. It isn’t my fault, Red!”
“Alright, hold your lizzies,” Stomp said, raising his paws. “What do you mean? That we don’t have the lands? But we have the rights to that land.”
“We do have rights to that land,” Red confirmed. “It’s just that the rats don’t respect our claims.”
Stomp stood there in silence for some time.
“That’s worrying,” Stomp murmured.
“Not for long!” Red said. “So go out there and give ‘em hell, Stomp!”
Stomp slammed his fist on Red’s desk and then pointed at Howard.
“You can’t send the kid out there looking like that!” Stomp exclaimed. “The poor porc’s gonna get slaughtered!”
“I am?!” Howard cried out in horror.
“Well, what do you want me to do, Stomp?” Red said with a helpless shrug.
“Give him my old gear,” Stomp said.
“Your back-up gear?” Red asked. “Are you sure? What will happen if you break your new stuff? Like I said, we’re already running low on armour as it is…”
“I think…” Stomp said as he looked Red dead in the eye. “I think that won’t be a problem going forward.”
“You mean,” Red said. “This one will be your…”
“Alright then,” Red said as he turned back to the hooks and grabbed another sack. Then he laid it down onto the desk and landed with a solid clunk.
“You’re lucky, kid,” Red said. “This is some top-tier stuff Stomp is lending you.”
Howard approached the sack, then looked at Stomp.
“Go on, kid,” Stomp said. “It ain’t much but it’s better than the pellets you have on.”
Howard opened the sack to find some very scuffed up armor plates, full greaves and gauntlets, and a round buckler with plenty of small dents in it.
“Are you sure?” Howard asked Stomp.
“Certain,” Stomp said with a toothy grin.
Howard stripped off the armour he had on, and began strapping Stomp’s old armour onto himself.
“Here, let me give you a paw,” Stomp said as he grabbed the buckler and mounted it upon Howard’s left shoulder, then stepped back.
“How do I look?” Howard asked.
“Like you’re ready for combat,” Stomp said as he punched the buckler.
Howard stumbled backward, then regained his balance and shot him a broad smile.