It is now necessary to return to the land of Gairbairia and discover how the people of that generally barren land are faring.
Having just received the news, on the morning of august the tenth, from a terrified servant, (who had escaped the massacre by riding off on a spare camel), that his port city had been brutally leveled, with hardly a stone left standing on another, king Torlan of Gairbairia began the preparations for the defense of his capital. He immediately issued a proclamation calling on all able men to put down their tools and rise up to resist this threat to their life and liberty. The next thing he did after this was to order the servant, who had had but little rest, to ride for his life to alert the city of Trepalenmar to send its forces to the aid of the capital. Then Torlan ordered that the walls be manned night and day, to give warning of the approaching force.
Having given these orders, Torlan began to prepare himself for the coming battle, which, everyone assumed, would decide the fate of the land and the people. Torlan personally took his armor to a blacksmith to have it refurbished and reinforced, then rode all about the city looking for weak spots in the defenses, and areas which could be defended with particularly small groups. Promptly, upon finding either of such places, he ordered that they were to be reinforced as well as was practically possible. At a certain point, during his ride along the wall, Torlan found an area where the wall was likely to collapse inside the city if it was not repaired soon. Stopping the nearest worker, Torlan called “Quickly! That wall must be repaired, or there will be no need for our enemies to work at their entrance!”
The worker he had addressed smiled a little to himself and left the vicinity, presumably to fetch more workers to aid him in his repairs.
After this incident, Torlan did one more circuit of the entire wall, and, satisfied for the most part with its stability and defensibility, he returned to his castle to eat his midday meal. When he had finished his meal, he went to the top of the castle where he stood for some time to survey anything he might have missed that morning. He was overwhelmingly satisfied with the defenses, but became apprehensive when he found that even this high position did not afford a reasonable view of the one section of wall which had been found to be in danger. But, assuming that, as he had already alerted someone to that problem, it was already being repaired, Torlan thought no more about it.
King Torlan’s inspection of the defenses next took him to the food storehouses which were scattered about the city. He checked, or attempted to check, the quality, and especially the quantity, of all necessary foodstuffs. A large quantity was extremely important, because, as Torlan had only noted with any serious thought that day, his capital had grown too big to be supported by the river beside it, and it’s accompanying farms, alone; this being the explanation for the trains of food which regularly came from the other cities, but had generally escaped the king’s notice for unexplained reasons. Upon inquiry, Torlan found, with relief, that the train from Trepalenmar for the month was due to arrive at the capital within the week.
“That is added security.” He announced “The army will arrive with it, or soon after it.” So saying, Torlan left his inspection of the storehouses in a somewhat lighter mood than he had begun it. But his thoughts quickly turned to other things which weighed upon his mind. “Was his daughter safe? Was this king Valun she was going to a good man?” And, lastly, the disappointment which had weighted his mind the most over the last score of years, the ineligibility of his own son. Oh, how that burdened him! Torlan spent long hours wishing that his son could take the throne, but was left with nothing but the nearly useless memory that if he continued pretending that he had never had a son, the people would not care that he placed his daughter above the son they were convinced there had never been.
Early the following morning, Torlan rose again, prepared to perform another inspection identical to that on the previous day. His fears lessened when he saw how alert his watchmen were. He was told that they had sent out a precautionary scout to search for the approaching enemy forces, but he was not expected to return until the following day. Meanwhile, the men did their utmost to strengthen the walls and produce counter-siege weapons which would be kept inside the walls, out of sight of the enemy. Also, preparations were underway to have small fires behind the parapets in certain places for the use of the archers stationed along the wall. Using fire-arrows, these archers would generally concentrate on setting fire to any siege machines, such as scaling towers, which were brought to the walls; but, as the opposing forces had such a long stretch of barren desert to cross, requiring the use of long cart trains for supplies, that the consensus among the defenders was that any machines which were brought the whole way would not have a substantial effect on the defense of the city.
After several hours, Torlan retrieved his armor, put it on, great war-helm and all, and returned to the wall to stand with his men. The appearance of their king in full battle armor awed the troops, and they were newly heartened by his attitude toward the approaching battle. “As the wise have said, when the strong men fall, then only shall be the time to despair and accept defeat! Though we know not the numbers of our foes, even though they may be many thousands upon thousands times our numbers; I say to you; let no man ask quarter from his foe. Rather, it is still more honorable to turn and retreat to a more defensible position. This we know, for right is upon the side of all oppressed peoples, so long as no wanton cruelty can be attributed to them, hiding under the shelter of outlawry! So this I say again! Let no man ask for quarter! Let no man turn and run if he be not overwhelmed by a single man! Stand and fight for your life, your liberty, and all else that is yours by right! Remember my words in the days to come, for then should they be in your thoughts, when the enemy arrives in three days to force his way into our house! Do not forget!”
Having cheered his men beyond his own expectations, Torlan retired into the castle to remove his armor, the burden of which, in the exceptionally hot weather, had begun to make him feel quite light-headed and ill. When he found, after his armor had been removed, that he could barely hold himself up on his own two legs, he immediately crawled into his bed and stayed their for hours, attempting to sleep off the feeling which had come over him.
When he awoke, he found one of the kitchen boys sitting patiently by the side of his bed. “Here, Your Majesty, take this broth. It will help against the effects you are feeling from the heat.” He set it on the little table which was beside the bed and exited the room.
Torlan, turning slowly so as not to set the room spinning more swiftly, took the bowl carefully, holding it to his face as he lay down once more. He was pleasantly surprised at the fact that the broth had a much more agreeable flavor than he had expected to find in a medicinal concoction. When he had finished, he replaced the bowl on the table and lay back, feeling slightly less ill, but far from wholly cured. Torlan lay there in silent suffering for another hour before the scullery-boy returned. “It is still painful. I am not healed.”
“Did you expect to be healed, My Lord? I said that it would help, not that it would cure you instantly. But have faith in the physician’s medicines, and you will be ready to lead your men in battle four days from now.” The lad then left the king alone again, taking the bowl along with him.
A full day had gone by before the word got out that the king was ill in his bed. When this news reached the troops guarding the walls, they became utterly downcast and patrolled the wall with despairing looks, repeating the phrase “The strong have fallen.” When the scout, who had rushed back, found them in that state, he simply said “I have news which will rouse him out of his stupor!” but would not explain what the news was, though the watchmen knew that it would be something about the approaching enemy.
After he had passed through the gate, the rider dismounted swiftly and ran up the stairs all over the castle until he found a door with the king’s own seal engraved upon it. At this door he stopped, rapped the wood twice, and waited politely until the voice told him to enter, finally presuming to open the door at this point. Once he had entered the room, the rider immediately noticed that the king was not in the bed. Then the king’s voice cut in upon his thoughts.
“Well, you are here to give your report, and you are late. Speak now!”
“Making a low bow, and turning to the chair the king was seated in, the rider replied “Yes, Sire, I am late, and the explanation is that I was captured. I was supposed to have been executed today to make sure that I could not warn you of the fact that a force of enemies shall arrive at the gate on the following day. I also hasten to warn Your Majesty that this is only a fraction of the force you will be up against. This advance guard consists of ten thousand men, foot and horse. There are, thankfully, few archers in the
advance force, but they are numerous in the main body. Your only hope is to charge, disposing of this force quickly, and then retreat inside the walls to await the storm of the enemy.”
“You did well. How goes it on the wall?”
“The men are fearful, Lord. They are despairing of all hope, though I have not told anyone else the news which you have heard.”
“The cowards! I am bedridden for one day, and they believe to a man that their doom has been determined before this day! I will show them courage! I will show them strength! Am I not Torlan, the son of Gilberton! Am I not the man whom every loyal subject calls the Magnificent?! This I say before you now! If my men will despair because I am absent for one day, then one is not worthy of the other, and I will go alone out upon the field of battle, and perish knowing that I, at least, have done my duty to my people! Then let them see how long they may hold back the storm that is coming! Let them show if they are true men, as I always believed that they were before this day! Call for my arms! I must prepare myself for the death that is to come, so that when the few survivors are allowed to search among the bodies to lay to rest the body of the last true king of Gairbairia, my soul may rest itself in peace, and not wander over the land like a demon! Go! Do what you deem necessary to keep yourself alive, and then go! You are the last man worthy of my respect, and I will not have you die in vain!”
As Torlan continued thundering, the rider hurriedly left the room, thinking to himself “He is crazed, and he will do as he has said unless I can give him aid. I must disregard his command, and ask his pardon later. Meanwhile, I must rouse the men and warn them of this force. I have only hours, but if fortune is with me, I shall be successful, and Gaimaron will not fall for years to come.”
With this thought, the messenger proceeded to ride all about the city proclaiming “Hold your post! Remember your lord! The enemy shall break upon you with overpowering force, but you must hold your ground! Stand your ground at all costs, and you will have battle before the sun sets on the coming day! Rise! Arm yourselves, Gairbairns! You are threatened! You will vanquish the foe!” As he rode up and down the city with this message, the rider began to notice an abundance of crashing, clattering, and shouting which grew louder and louder as he continued his cry.
When he felt that he had roused the city sufficiently, the messenger rode to the nearest blacksmith and halted by the door, watching the men of the city, in ones, twos, and large bunches, streaming in and out of the building. Some were well-dressed respectable citizens, (the large bunches). More were of the respectably prosperous middle class, (the twos), but the largest number (the ones) was generally made up of muscular (and often bearded) odd-job men and field workers, who, although usually dressed in rags, and obviously not able to afford reliably effective armor, exited to a man hefting strong weapons which they obviously knew how to use to deadly effect. The chasm of difference between all the men who received weapons at the shop was extremely visible, but, as all men anywhere at any time are wont to do, they had risen together as a body, without completely realizing that they had done so, to extinguish this unexpected threat to their life and liberty.
When the flow of humanity had slowed, the rider stepped into the shop himself. At the sight of him, the sweat-drenched blacksmith heaved a sigh and began to say that, unfortunately, his weapon stock was pitiably low.
Hearing this, the rider grew considerably more upset than he had been up to this point, and began to shout. “I can not take excuses! Do not play me for a fool! I am a royal man-at-arms, not a mere hired errand rider! I must be served!” To prove his point, he loosened his cloak to reveal a piece of shining metal plate armor covering his chest.
Laughing nervously, the smith turned and retrieved a long sword and a shield with Torlan’s royal emblem, a rearing horse, upon it. He handed them over, saying “I knew you would return. I kept these for you.”
“Then where was the sense in pretending not to know me? Keep yourself in readiness, and may your shop be filled again tomorrow, after the battle has been fought.”
“You say that battle will arrive after all? Then you must have these with you also.’ The smith answered, producing a close-fitting steel cap and a pair of thick leather gloves. This was followed by the smith putting on another set similar, cap included, to the things he had just given up. “You may find me in the fray, for I will not sit idle while my fellow men fight and wait for them to be overrun and my shop set afire. If I must go, I will take many along for the journey.”
The rider left the shop feeling strangely at ease. There did not seem to be a doubt now. Gaimaron would stand, because every man was preparing for the fight. The often wild beast of justice was tamed.