Bookends: Being a duo of narratives looking at the events before and after the account laid out in Monstrous Regiment.
Summary: Detailing the events of the day before and adding a little more padding to the account laid out in the first pages of MR. (Tonker/Lofty assumed but not expanded upon).
Disclaimer: Terry Pratchett owns the characters and the world they live on. I am grateful for all the brilliant books and make no claims of ownership in any way.
A/N: I know these words (A Priori and A Posteriori) do not mean what I am taking them to mean, the actual Latin for before and after being Pre and Post. But they sound better and I've had to use them so often in statistical tests I couldn't fight the urge to sequester them for better things when I had the chance.
Gods help them; they'd really done it now. The realisation hit her suddenly; a heavy stone dropping in her stomach.
Tonker had managed to lay claim to a corner of this decrepit shed they'd been given to sleep in and now, slumping back against the wall, she gave thanks again for the warmth radiating through from the bar next door. It would have been a cold night out on the hills. She tuned out the confusion of hay tossing and squabbles over space that reigned around her as the recruits settled down for the night; unconsciously working out a pecking order of superiority.
Since last night she'd not really had a minute to think. Everything had happened so fast. You had to take the chances you were given and run with them. Her only plan had been to get them out of Munz, but lying in rain soaked cover above the town Tonker had come to the painful realisation that a burning determination to die before being captured again wasn't actually that detailed a plan.
Perhaps that should have been the moment she sat down and put together some sort of scenario of options. But in reality there hadn't been any time for thought. As the rising sun lit up the smoke drifting from the chimneys above the misty morning streets, they'd turned their backs and struck out uphill. What was it Tilda had taught her all those years ago? Getting ground between you and your pursuers was always the first step. Splashing through yet another stream, the cold eating through into her feet, she'd hoped they wouldn't use dogs.
With regard to that, the return of the thunderstorm had been a blessed relief. Up here in the hills weather fronts didn't move through along sedate vectors as in the lower plains. The steep sided mountains, sticking up into the airflow bounced clouds from one side of the valley to another in a meteorological game of ping pong. A cloudburst thought over and done with would often be driven back on its original path to once again release torrential rain on the unsuspecting below. Crossing the lower pastures earlier in the night they had been drenched to the skin and as the pair made their way up through the trees, scrambling over the wet slippery ground, Tonker had been grateful that this time they were protected by the canopy above.
When at last she'd called a halt, the chill air burning in her lungs, they had gained a good distance up the mountainside and there was only the quiet of the empty woods around them. Looking back that would have been the prime time to take a moment and think through the next step. But she'd been so tired and cold. Leaning against a tree to catch her breath she'd looked at their thin clothes and Tilda beside her, chilled to the bone and unable to stop shaking. One thing at a time. They would have to take a detour.
An hour later she'd been adjusting the rough cloth of the waistcoat across Tilda's shoulders as the girl stood passively between her hands. She'd known without words that Tilda wanted to burn their own clothes and, whilst Tonker didn't blame her, they couldn't risk smoke betraying their position and so she'd had to deny the girl. That hadn't been fun. The purloined clothes, though thicker than their own, were still wet from the line and the slightest breeze went right through them. A fire might have helped with that as well. Shivering she'd wished there had been two waistcoats, but thieves couldn't be choosers and Tilda had needed the extra layer more than she did.
Tired as they were it had been time to move on again and obedient as ever Tilda had followed on at the lightest touch of a hand on her shoulder. She'd had time to think then definitely, as they were scrambling across the hillside. But in her defence the path was uneven and she'd had to pay attention to where she was placing her feet amongst the writhing tree roots. The gentle hand that had slipped silently into hers as she led the way was another distraction and she had put aside any thoughts of a long term future in the aim of getting the owner of that hand a safe distance from their pursuers.
By midday they had been warm at last, the clothes dried by the heat of their exertions. Tonker had allowed a couple of short halts to catch their breath but she eventually had to call a proper rest stop. She hadn't wanted to with the thought of the pursuit burning at her heels ever strong in her mind, but Tilda had been drooping on her feet. They'd stumbled across a spot where a natural clearing had produced a grassy platform looking out over the river foaming away into the valley below and she hadn't thought they'd find anything better. When she'd turned round from examining the view Tilda had been already asleep, curled up in the sun like a tired puppy. Tonker had had to swallow something in her throat seeing her there, exhaustion wiping the usual lines from her face. She'd allowed herself a moment, running her fingers over the close cropped hair, smoothing it flat, remembering days when it was longer and the many times she'd run her fingers through it. She'd thought vaguely that Tilda would be able to have whatever hairstyle she wanted now. In the midst of the thought a wave of tiredness had swept over her and, stretched out on the sun warmed turf she'd fallen into an exhausted slumber.
When she'd woken later the clearing was still lit by the sun. Drowsy still, she'd allowed her eyes to drift over the river cutting its way through the woods below her and a glint had caught her eye on the troll bridge that leapt slender over the gorge. Someone was crossing, probably not a trader this high up, more likely a smuggler, taking the quiet road to Plün. Her gaze moving on she had picked out a small cart, making its way up the narrow road beside the river. The flags could still be made out, even from this distance, and she'd recognised it as the same cart that had been recruiting in the village square. She'd heard the drumming all afternoon but at the time it had meant nothing. The numerous Borogravian Wars were something that happened outside the walls and therefore nothing to do with the inhabitants of the Grey House.
It was then, as she'd glanced over at Tilda, still asleep, that the enormity of what they were attempting to do had overwhelmed her. In sudden rising panic she'd realised they had no money, no food and no plan. Incongruously the view below had remained calm and serene as she'd fought for control over her heartbeat.
It had all been too much for one person to control. How they were going to manage? People were chasing them and they were an obvious pair. She wouldn't be caught again. She couldn't. They'd needed a way not to be obvious anymore. A method of travelling that kept them moving but inconspicuously. So she'd made a quick decision, without really thinking. She'd made the impossible decision and here they were.
Here they were indeed; shut up with six lads (six other lads she reminded herself), and supposedly marching off to war on the morrow. Late as the hour was, this might be the time to reassess their situation.
She glanced down to where Tilda lay at her side, curled up between the wall and the defensive barrier created by Tonker's legs, protected from all the activity. The others probably thought she was sleeping, but the signs Tonker had become used to over the past year indicated instead that the girl was in the silent box she'd inhabited since it had happened. She missed Tilly's logical reasoning. Back in the day she'd always been able to explain things in a way that made sense, making the world clear to Tonker and showing her a straight path out of whatever maze she was thinking her way through. Tonker supposed she'd been lucky to get the girl out of the house before she retreated back inside her closed world. She didn't attempt to stir her out of her adsorption, but settled for resting a quiet hand on her shoulder instead.
Around her the bustle had finally calmed down a bit and the recruits were now talking cheerfully amongst themselves. Small talk. Another skill they forgot to teach in the Grey House. They were still ignoring her, thank goodness. Now would be a good time to take advantage of that.
Who was a threat then? Her eyes wandered lightly over them all, never pausing long enough to draw attention but managing to take in every atom of threatening information. Now that was a skill they were very good at teaching you in the Grey House.
The vampire caught her attention. Hate vampires. That was her gut reaction, always had been. But on top of that she remembered overhearing somewhere that they had a great sense of smell. Would a vampire be able to smell that they were different? It was a worrying thought. This one looked smart as well. He'd kept looking over at their little corner. Trust their luck to fall in with the only vampire with brains in the whole district. She didn't think it was hopeless though. If push came to shove, surely a slash to that pretty face would make him step back for a second? That would give them time to run at least.
The lad next to him was going to be a threat as well. Too intelligent by half. You could tell by the eyes. He watched everything, waiting and drawing his own conclusions about the world. Quiet. You had to watch out for the quiet ones. Little blond git. He didn't look that tough though. She flexed her shoulders and decided she could probably take the scrawny git in a fight.
Not like the Troll. That was one big opponent. But no real threat she concluded after some thought. He looked too stupid to start anything and even if someone provoked him, there should be plenty of time to run before those big arms got swinging. The troll could safely be ignored for the time being.
Same with the Igor, who was shocking to look at but no actual danger. He didn't seem aggressive enough to actually assault anyone. He would probably be a devil to fight if provoked though. Best to let sleeping Igors lie.
The remaining two presented no problem, consisting of a big barrel of lard and Wazzer.
What was Wazzer doing here anyway?
It had been a shock to see her as they walked into the bar. Luckily the clever one and the vampire had been discussing the beer so no one had noticed her stiffen. Wazzer didn't recognise them, thank goodness. Truth was, they'd not seen her for some time and she didn't really look up anyway. It was more likely she'd recognise their feet than anything else. Tonker resolved never to remove her boots.
How had she got out? Had she followed them?
Her stomach tightened, struck suddenly by an awful thought. If that stupid weak incompetent sorry excuse for a wet rag had led 'Them' to her… Tilda, sensing her distress stirred beside her and she forced herself to relax, controlling her breathing and rubbing a calming hand over the shoulder tense beneath her hand. When she at last turned her attention back to Wazzer it was to see the girl take a picture of the Duchess from her pack and hang it on an old nail. She shook her head tiredly. 'They' had really messed that girl up good and proper.
Oh gods, now what was she doing? She was actually praying to it! Oh, the bloody fool!
No one broke the uncomfortable silence, each recruit turning away to find something interesting to look at somewhere else. Tonker herself twisted away to check on Tilda again. Or 'Lofty' as she was now. The superior vampire had started that one. He'd laughed when they'd met and asked them who the 'Lofty One' was, skulking at the back. Somehow it had stuck.
Damnit! Why had she introduced herself as Tonker?
She'd been thinking of new names all day on and off, but when it came to it the same old label had just slipped out. As per usual, she'd stared down anyone who dared snigger, hiding her hatred for the name behind disinterest as she'd once again accepted the designation. Wasn't life fun? The name she'd hated for years had become such a part of her that she unwittingly volunteered it on the first day of their new life. Great.
She guessed something similar had happened to Wazzer. It was hard to change the habit of a lifetime. Even she'd had trouble swallowing her reply when that dumb lump o lard ('Shufti' apparently, and what kind of a name was that?) had asked where it was from. "Cos she wets the bed!" And they'd all fall about laughing. That was the old way.
She sighed and refrained from punching the hay in her frustration. There was nothing she could do about it now. She was Tonker Halter, Private in the Borogravian Army and she could like it or lump it but nothing would change it. Looking up she noticed the group was finally settling out into sleeping areas. No one came near their corner, thank goodness. She might be trapped in here with them, but she wasn't sharing space willingly. Resting back against the wall in the most relaxed manner she could fake, she returned to weighing up the pros and cons.
Let's see, on the down side, they had no money, people were probably looking for them and they were stuck in here with an overly clever vampire. Add to that the fact they were in the army, pretending to be boys (goodness knew how long that charade would last with the lack of facilities available) and on top of that, she was lumbered with a short, dark-haired person silently following her everywhere…
The down side seemed rather full.
On the up side however, there did appear to be a small dark-haired person silently following her everywhere. Which was always a good thing. Tonker found herself smiling down fondly at the girl resting beside her. She gently brushed a strand of hair away from where it had fallen over her face. Tilda always looked so young when her eyes were closed.
They were out. A definite plus point there. Achieving a lifelong aim had to be a positive, right? And they might be in the army, but there was food provided and a warm place to sleep. It was better than being out on the hills in all weathers. Every day they would be travelling further away from anyone interested in where they might have come from. It looked like there might be access to sharp objects and if it all got too much, she saw no reason why they couldn't slip quietly away in all the confusion.
Perhaps it wasn't the end of the world after all.
Looking up she caught the vampire looking at her with interest. Damn him and his observational skills! Sending a filthy look in his general direction she lay down as though to sleep, close to her companion, but not touching. Tilly may have rolled over to make room, but Tonker wasn't going to move any closer until that nosy vampire had moved his damn attention elsewhere.
The rustling of the hay indicated that the other recruits were also seeking slumber and seeing that they all seemed settled, Oliver called for the candles to be blown out. Tonker raised an eyebrow unseen in the sudden darkness, and somehow just knew the vampire was doing the same. Though one candle had been left alight in the alcove by the door the guttering flame threw no light back into their corner and grateful for the concealment Tonker rolled over at last, gathering up Tilda into her arms. The girl sighed and relaxed back into her and Tonker remembered in that moment why exactly it was she had grabbed onto that thin hand each and every day and kept hold no matter what fate had decided to throw at them. Some things just were.
"Who died and made Blondie king?" she muttered quietly into the hair invading her mouth as they wriggled about for the most comfortable position in the musty hay.
Tilda wrapped herself in an available arm but said nothing and Tonker, staring into the darkness, felt the ever ready depression creep over her mind once again. A million and one unasked questions rose up on her tongue, questions never whispered into the night for she had never been able to believe there was anyone to hear. Would Tilda ever find her way back? What would Tonker do if she didn't? Was this how it was going to be for the rest of her life?
Her gloomy thoughts were interrupted by a voice in the darkness. The vampire, apparently not satisfied with his work for one night, had decided to stir the pot one last time.
"So, 'Oliver'." Tonker smirked quietly at the clearly articulated quotation marks. "That's rather a long name. What do people call you once they get to know you?"
The pause that followed was filled with the small noises of a shed full of recruits attempting to pretend they were asleep and not listening in any way whatsoever. It lengthened to almost legendary proportions. Great-leader-Mr-Oliver-[Blond Git]-Perks seemed to have no answer.
"In that case I think I shall call you…" Mal paused as though delicately selecting a name out of the air.
The squad waited with bated breath.
"I shall call you… 'Ozzer'."
Tonker stifled her snort of amusement in Tilda's shoulder, Igor coughed gently to himself and the troll began to snore.
'Ozzer' it was then, thought Tonker. Shame he hadn't decided on 'Blond Git' but what could you do? Sighing Tilda shifted position to accommodate her more snugly. They lay together, relaxed and warm and out of the weather. Tonker wondered vaguely if the vampire could see them, and was in the process of developing a fervent hope that 'Ozzer' would continue to hold his attention, when she fell suddenly into an exhausted sleep.
"It suits you" said Shufti, late as ever and once again completely missing the point.
'Ozzer' said nothing.