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In the Shadow of the Valley of Death

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The Shinde Plantation. It wasn't extremely large, extremely wealthy or extremely well-guarded. And precisely thanks to this, the Plantation was chosen. Would the Plantation be able to offer substantial aid to the Laagher Kommandos? Beyond a far-flung base for troops to rest at and a stop near the border for slaves looking to escape, the Plantation had very little value. And a place with very little value, in an area like this, was a place that would be visited sporadically at best. If Hendryk had his way, it wouldn't be visited by any Marenese every again. The Shinde's and their plantation would serve as a test for his forces, a test for their tactics. The test to check if they were ready.

Their tactics were simple for the battle itself. Old Raj Shinde, the aging Patriarch of the family, had maintained relations with smugglers from Klan Reierfer, men who valued wealth more than the plight of their brethren. Through coercion, in the form of a blade threatened to be forced into a dark, deep and intimate place of the ringleader and a small pouch of coins, the smugglers had been persuaded to postpone their route for a couple of days. Instead, Hendryk would send some of his men in during the night, posing as the smugglers. Once through the gates of the compound, they would deal with the night guards; each of his men armed with a knife, a rifle and a pistol. Whether they would pose as smugglers or regular traders mattered little in this regard, no convoy traveled these parts without having atleast some of their men being armed.

The hope was that the night guard, three men according to the smugglers, would be able to be dealt with in a quiet, slitting of the throats with knives way. Surprise was a big factor in this plan, the longer the other guards weren't woken up by gunshots, the better. It would take the other guards two minutes at most to rush out of their barracks, rifles in hand. Would they be dressed? Of course not but one could kill a person in the nude or in sleeping wear as easily as they could do while dressed.

Hendryk and the other men laying in wait could make it inside the compound in eight minutes after signaled but that still left six minutes, in the best case, where five men would be forced to defend themselves against nine others that had the benefit of knowing the compound, nine others that had the advantage of superior numbers until Hendryk and his reinforcements arrived. Eight minutes in which they had to survive or the gates would get closed, making their goal far harder. Would they still be able to take the plantation over? Of course, but at that point losses would have been high enough to make it somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory.

The plan against the Marenese did not allow them to suffer equal casualties. Their resources did not allow them to suffer equal casualties. God himself and the holy Wilm fan Amalberga would not allow them to suffer equal casualties. Their goal was one of salvation, vengeance, unequal repayment of the suffering that everyone under the boot of the Marenese suffered. This was not a fair nor equal fight but if they did it right, if He smiled on them, they would be able to turn that around and make the fight unequal and unfair towards the oppressors.

Unlike those filthy Marenese, these were people that had lost everything. And one thing about people without something to lose was that they were able to give everything, do everything to make the result be theirs. The Marenese had children, parents, pets, family. People and things that they would miss, people and things that would miss them. That's where the Laagher Kommandos would hit them, right in the heart. Murder a woman's father, murder a woman's brother, murder her husband. Take away any will to resist, take away the feeling of safety unless they do what you want.

Did the needs of the Marenese matter anyway? Did their lives really have meaning? Of course not, they were filthy heathens. Normal Buddhists were one thing, a reasonable Variotan did not mind them. Karma was merely a strange way of telling someone to live a good life so they could enter Heaven. Reincarnation had some similarities with Variotan beliefs of guardian angels, ghosts and souls. Nirvana and the various heavens that they had were just a delusional version of the One True Heaven, presumably a corrupted view of it from the strange mind of their false prophets. Marenese were far different from these regular, tolerable ones. Marenese were animals, perhaps even lower than that.

Would He really care if these so-called people ended up in Hell earlier than planned? Could one even speed up His plans? Perhaps the widespread murder were His plans, a test for His People to see if they would do what was needed to free their brethren. A test to see if they were still worthy of His endearment, being His Chosen People. In a way, He wanted them dead. And who was Hendryk, who were the Laagher Kommandos to deny Him His will, His needs? For many among the Laagher Kommandos, this was one of the tests of God that they readily accepted, even enjoyed. Not an eye for an eye but a life for an eye. A village for a life. Or, as the gangster movies would say far later in history, he puts one of mine in the hospital, I put one of his in the morgue.

Like many extremer societies, the Marenese had their flaws. Slaves worked, the men worked but the women stayed home, kept the family going, cooked. The Variotans did not know such a thing, women were equal and worked. They had been forced to in earlier days and, in the cases of frontier areas, were sometimes still forced to work and provide. People did what was needed, whatever one's genitals contained was not important. And as such, while the Marenese would turn out to be rather unwilling and not used to fighting women, the Variotan women had no such qualms. In some cases, due to their inherit emotional nature, the women fought even harder, more ferociously and bloodthirsty than the males, using the memories of their lost loved ones and/or their time as a slave to fuel that.

A couple hundred meters from the Shinde Plantation - Forested area

Forty-five men and women laid in wait, the forested area near the Shinde Plantation filled with them. Forty-five people that would see blood shed today, forty-five ready to do what needed to be done. All waiting for the signal, the signal from their friends and brethren. Once the guards had been taken care of, one of the men would stand by the gate and wave a torch to signal the others. In a way, it was as if God himself smiled on their actions and their plan.

The night was clear and the moon seemed to give off enough light to illuminate the surroundings, a perfect night for an ambush. The gates of the Shinde Plantation, two massive and thick wooden doors, were closed but that was to be expected. In the frontier, no one kept their gates open at night. Most travelers kept off of the roads and the few people still on the road were the unsavory kind, smugglers, bandits, Laagher Kommandos. Wild animals roamed around, seeing if there was carrion laying around for them to feed on.

The wagon of the Laagher Kommandos was slowly edging its way towards the Plantation. Hendryk gave one last signal to everyone to check their equipment, as there would be no other chance to do so between now and the conquest of the plantation. If everyone would go right, none of his comrades would die. He even planned to offer the Marenese a chance to survive, although it would obviously be a fake chance. Let them slide into the feeling it was merely an attempt to free the slaves and when his comrades had disarmed the remaining guards, he would personally slit the throat of every one of those filthy, oppressing, slave-hating monsters. 

His hands would turn red and warm with the blood of the people that did the same to his mother, to the brother of the man next to him, to the children of the woman on his left. And in the end, when he himself would die, God would smile upon him and tell him personally, standing in front of the gates to Heaven: 'You did well, Hendryk. You followed my orders, you fulfilled my tests, you have shown me that you are indeed worthy of being the Chosen People.'

At the gates of the Shinde Plantation

The wagon was edging forward, the horses showing their fatigue from a day of travel. For the most part, the wagon was a regular wagon, one of the many that the Laagher Kommandos maintained, one of the many of this same type. One could see this type of wagon anywhere, from the paved streets of Ferrefaaierhafen to the cobbled streets of Reierferplattoterp to the dirt roads leading to here. The ruse had been carefully prepared, a lot of wares and goods sitting on top, serving to help the act of them being smugglers merely looking to sell these goods on for a tremendous profit.

Under those goods, however, were rifles, pistols, bullets, gunpowder. Everything needed to arm the slaves they were planning on freeing. More supplies weren't far off as Hendryk was not planning on surrendering the Shinde Plantation back to the Marenese, nor did he expect that the soon-to-be ex-slaves wanted that. For their suffering, they were deserving of reparations. And what better reparations than owning the fields they were forced to work? Owning the large house, the guard barracks, their own slave quarters. 

He would leave behind one or two of his comrades to help train them, help them achieve a level of training needed to keep their righteous property or ensure its destruction if it came down to an absolutely superior force finding and attacking them. The Marenese would not be allowed to take anything back, to regain anything. The only thing they would gain was death, the only thing they would enjoy would be destruction.

''Jan, run up ahead and knock on the gate.''

One of the five ran towards the gate. For those times when the gates were shut but one wanted to come in, there was a small opening with bars over it. The man knocked on it and a gruff voice could be heard in Bahinese. Hendryk had specifically chosen five people that knew enough Bahinese to carry a conversation. Most of them knew atleast some Bahinese but for this, Hendryk needed people able to understand and pick up on nuances, pick up on changes in behavior.

''What do you want?''
''The Mountain Goat croaks at the mountain.''
''Uh, what?''
''The Mountain Goat croaks at the mountain.''
''You mean, the Toad croaks at the mountain?''
''Oh, that's how you say it. Sorry, I'm used to the Gulamina dialect.Yes.''
''Ketan, open the gate. It's the... traders.''

The gates were slowly opened as the man named Jan returned to the wagon. It was do or die time for all five of them. If it went right, they wouldn't even have a scratch. If it went wrong, the chance was big that they would all die. Jan quickly checked where he had his knife as the wagon passed the gate. The others had already done their own checks and all of them had quickly said a small prayer in their heads. From here on, it would all be chance. If they were lucky, there would indeed only be three guards. But what if the smugglers decided to double-cross them and had somehow managed to let them know?

One guard... And that's the other, Ketan I think the first one called him....
Where's the third? Are there only two?

''Quiet night tonight? Only the two of you and all that.''
''Two? f*ck, you're right. Where's that fool Ganesh gone to?''

sh*t, not what I wanted to hear. Three but one is gone...

Jan checked the faces of the other men, whom had also heard the news. Three men as the smugglers had said, atleast if this didn't turn out to be an ambush. But with the third man gone off to god knows where, they had to be careful. Giving each other nods, two of the men signaled to the others that they would find Ganesh while the other three took care of the two at the gate.  They had to time it properly, however. If they killed Ganesh with too much sound, the others at the gate would hear it and vice versa. Neither outcome was great. And while slitting someone's throat is always much quiet than firing off a rifle or pistol, no murder was ever completely silent..

''Say, I could have some of my boys find Ganesh. Seeing as you guys are working so hard this late at night, I want to give you first choice on some of the goods. I'll even give you a small discount if you guys end up buying more than one thing.''
''Sure, sure. Just don't enter the mansion or the barracks or we'll have to shoot you all. Try the outhouse, Ganesh ate some dodgy meat last night.''
''Where's that?''
''On the right, just behind that big tree near the fields.''

Two of the men broke off and went towards the outhouse. The wagon barreled on a bit to a small clearing, left of which were the guard barracks and the slave quarters. In front, the large house of the Shinde's stood. The two guards wanted to close the gates but were quickly ushered toward the wagon by Jan, stating that he had some amazing goods. The men became slightly suspicious until Jan promised them an additional discount. For people that would only be visited by caravans with luxury goods two or three times a year, this offer became highly appealing.

Besides, if the smugglers would try anything, they could just call out and the other, sleeping, guards would come out and murder them all. If they played this right, they could even turn this into a great situation for them. Falsely call out while money switches hands, call them cheats and the other guards will come out. Maybe a rifle goes off, shoots one of the smugglers, other guards start shooting... In the worst case, Ganesh would die by the hands of the two smugglers when they hear the shots but Ganesh was an annoying layabout anyway.

Jan and his men positioned themselves so that the two guards were in the middle of them. Two men on each side of the guards and Jan behind them to assist if needed. A large panel was opened on the side of the wagon, allowing them to lean in and see items from the side of wagon. As the two guards leaned in, each of the men on the side grabbed one of the guards. Left hand, or right one, over their mouths and the other hand wielding the knife to slit their throats with. Jan grabbed both men their pistols, held in a simple holster on their belt.

While the guards also carried rifles on their back, Jan guessed that they would sooner attempt to grab their pistols, as they could fire them with one hand. A rifle, on the other hand, would require them to swing it off their back and fire it with two hands. When one has to worry about their life being ended, they would sooner grab the quick option to attempt to live.

Thanks to the hands over their mouths, the guards didn't manage to scream out. Instead, only the soft gurgling sound of their throats rapidly bleeding could be heard, giving them a much softer dead. Or atleast, softer in sound. Being shot to death and getting one's throat slit tended to end up equally high in 'deaths I want to avoid' lists made by anyone. The bodies were quickly shoved under the wagon, although no one would really be fooled. Feet stuck out and the side of the wagon was somewhat covered in blood. Anyone with two eyes and more than a split second of time would notice it and call out. Each of the three men hoped that none of the sleeping guards would need to use the outhouse.

The two men walking towards the outhouse drew their knives. If Ganesh happened to come out of the outhouse before they were there, it would be a bit of a gamble. Of course, one could always attempt to throw a knife but most knives were not exactly aerodynamic enough to be used for that purpose. Still, when approaching the outhouse, they could hear that they had nothing to fear. A meter or two away, one could begin hearing snoring come from the outhouse. Apparently,  the hatred towards Ganesh was well-founded, using an excuse in order to be able to sleep in the outhouse. How one could sleep in such a place was another thing but you don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Nearing it, the smell was simply horrendous. The Marenese were truly animals, as the outhouse stank as much as a pair of stables that weren't cleaned for a year. Both of the men had to gag and their disbelieve in the fact that the man named Ganesh could actually sleep here grew. Still, each took a side and as one opened the outhouse door, the other quickly dived in to grab Ganesh. Normally, they'd have slit his throat inside the outhouse but neither of the men wanted to be in that room than absolutely needed. As Ganesh was pulled to the hard ground, he only woke up as his head hit the floor. He attempted to give out a shout but merely managed a small little 'aah' sound before his throat saw the same treatment as those of his two friends at the gates.

Once the men returned to the wagon and gave Jan a thumbs up, Jan ran to the gate with a torch, taken from a nearby wall. Stepping outside, he waved it around to signal the main force to come. The next eight minutes would be the most tense these men had had for a long time. Hoping no one came out to pee, hoping no one would pay them attention, hoping that Old Raj wouldn't hear anything while awake during one of the many times he had to pee at night. 

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Now, what is often forgotten is the massive difference between the Marenese border areas and the cities of Gulamina and Bharagala. The two cities together were estimated to contain sixty percent of the nation's population and out of these 264.000 people, one-hundred and fifty thousand of which in the capital of Gulamina, only ten thousand were slaves. These slaves often had specialized purposes and were either ordered from and captured by slaver agencies that had contacts throughout the Marenese Kingdom or found during regular slave raids and transported to the cities' slave auctions. Generally treated better than their brethren in rural areas, although exceptions remained, these slaves were deemed less rebellious; those that were more rebellious and attempted to escape were often caught before they left the city or failed during their attempt to murder their master, with the person often screaming bloody murder and alerting neighbors, police and other guards. Additionally, the near-century that had passed since their first settling of the lands had not helped.

Gulamina, the first city to be settled, contained a lot of citizens that had lived solely in the city itself for three or two generations. While some of the newer citizens remained somewhat in touch with the issues rural life had or retained family there, Gulamina's elite knew nothing about it and thus, generally refused to take rural problems serious and remained passive in the first stages of the conflict. While the Gulamina elite generally served the King and the Marenese Kingdom's army and thus had far fewer personal assets to put in play, their voice could have led King Tamas II to increase the garrisons in the border area. While this would not have stopped the advance of the Laagher Kommandos, this could have ensured that the conflict lasted far, far longer. Instead, King Tamas II kept inactive for far too long.

This inactivity could be clarified due to his notorious love for foreign foodstuffs. While the halted trade in 1808 had ensured that the influx of Variotan goods had mostly stopped, imports through Bharagala from other places remained possible. If the King had had such a love for domestic food, it might have made a difference in regards to properly estimating the problem that Hendryk and his Laagher Kommandos posed. Instead, the King bought more than 80% of his dietary needs from Bharagalan traders. Like some other authoritarian figures throughout history, this gave him a false sense of security. After all, how big could the problem be when he was still able to buy everything he needed? By the time Gulamina got into supply issues, with too many routes deemed too dangerous or entirely taken over by the Laagher Kommandos and ex-slaves, these forces were able to match or exceed anything the King could muster.

Bharagala, nowadays Frijheitswaterplaats, was settled twenty years after Gulamina but managed to copy its prosperity by being a major river trading hub. From Bharagala, goods moved down the river to Variotan lands, other lands and the sea and similarly, goods moved to Bharagala from up the river. Due to the river's length, the varied lands it crossed and the fact that the river was often a faster, if not safer, option than going over land, Bharagala quickly grew wealthy. For the Marenese Kingdom, mostly just Gulamina as many rural farmers could not afford the high prices asked for foreign luxury goods, Bharagala was the city of progression, the city of fashion and innovation. While the halt of trade with Het Huisselant in 1808 ensured that the growth of the city was severely halted, the city managed to keep its importance.

Its traders were well known throughout the Marenese Kingdom to be the people to talk to, the best and most varied amount of supplies and other goods in the entire nation could be found here. These traders often banded together in informal alliances based on the gentleman's club that they belonged to, also operated various businesses in rural areas. While most were in the vicinity of Bharagala or Gulamina, areas that were affected in later stages, some of the traders that operated businesses further away were among the first to be affected by the actions of the Laagher Kommandos. One issue here, however, was that other traders were often hesitant to aid their affected allies. Sending some of their forces, meant to guard the slaves, farms and mines, would mean taking a risk that your business could be attacked next without proper means to defend itself and that was if the men returned. If they didn't, the risk became even greater as new reinforcements would have to be hired and sent to the businesses, taking weeks.

Had the response from Bharagala and Gulamina been far less passive, there would have been a good chance of the Laagher Kommandos and the slave rebellion being beat down. After all, the Marenese Kingdom's army was, while not armed with the newest rifles, well-trained and the guards under the Bharagalan traders were often recruited from said army and armed in a similar fashion. The Laagher Kommandos, while well-equipped at first, grew rapidly and had to adapt and integrate the weaponry they found into their ranks, which in turn grew from a reasonable trained force into a mixed rabble of ex-slaves and trained Kommandos that primarily found their inspiration in hatred and worship.

One interesting thing within this conflict is the starting of rebellions throughout the Marenese Kingdom. Within the rural areas, which we currently define as everything outside of Bharagala and Gulamina, the amount of slaves neared nearly a third of all citizens present. While slavery as a whole had only been instituted relatively recently, the Marenese had went overboard and its economy depended on their labor, even more so after the trade with Variota was halted. This essentially ensured a situation that could be described as a powder keg and this showed once the Laagher Kommandos started to gain momentum.

A notable location where a loose rebellion started was in the far north of the Marenese Kingdom, near the borders of the regular Variotan provinces. Mines here employed a mixture of Variotan slaves and slaves from areas further up the river with such a mixture often being popular within mining areas as the hope was that the difference in languages would keep the slaves disorganized. In the Lōha śētāta or Iron Fields mine, currently a historic landmark and interactive museum, this did not work. Piet Ooifaar, a missionary that had been sent to convert people up the Frijheitsrifier or Freedom River, had picked up rudimentary knowledge of a few languages spoken in those areas. When he heard guards discuss issues about shipments of iron going to the eastern parts of the Kingdom, he knew something was brewing. Leading a mixed crew of slaves, he managed to liberate the mines and sent word to the Kerke for aid. While he himself had died by the time Kerke reinforcements came, an infected stab wound ending his life, these reinforcements allowed this small northern rebellion to stay afloat until it was linked up with the Laagher Kommandos.

Other loose rebellions popped up in early stages, often instigated by forward scouts sent out by Hendryk Reierfer-fan Gautfanger. These scouts focused themselves on more secluded areas, areas similar to the Shinde Plantation, as a way to establish safe houses and safe locations for the Laagher Kommandos, ex-slaves and anyone else anti-Marenese Kingdom. A system of signs was developed to aid this and remains active today, used for Ferredaal nature trails and cabins. It was not uncommon, however, for these same scouts to completely remove the inhabitants of non-slave owning farms. These actions worked demoralizing towards the general population and some of the more notorious removals remain within the Marenese culture as ghost stories and other supernatural stories. 

A notable exception to the momentum of the Laagher Kommandos was Fort Akul, in the southern tip of the nation. Intended to hold the line in case of Reierfer or Variotan invasions into the area, the fort was well-stocked and maintained a garrison of some of the finest Marenese soldiers. While they were unable to get word out of their plight towards Gulamina, the fort remained standing for four months until the commander arranged a deal for safe passage back to Marenese-controlled lands in exchange for them surrendering the fort. The deal was promptly broken by the local Kommando commander, who slaughtered the Fort Akul garrison when they set up camp for the night.

Historie Magazine Issue #8 of 2012, 'How did the Frije Reepubliek Ferredaal come to existence?'

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