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Corrandion, Corridane
I am JT, Ringer, nutjob, and archer, in that order. I like animated films, epic films, book films, movie music, folk music, and the occasional random other thing. I make friends by accident and like it that way...

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28 October 2011

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVII

The erstwhile Sir John, now known only as “the traitor”, was sitting in the center of the cell he had inhabited for the past several days. For much of that time, he had been thinking of nothing besides the manner in which he would cause himself to be released so that he could get the revenge on Valun that had been planted in his mind at an early age, and was entirely groundless. Suddenly, he stood up once more and strode to the window of his cell. As he looked out, he said to himself “Yes, I can do that. My father will be proud of me. It only remains to get myself out of this cell. Against the idiots guarding it, that will not be hard.”

According to his plan, he immediately turned from the window and strode straight to the door. Knocking hard on the door, he drew a guard close enough that he could speak with him.

“What do you want now? We bring you everything you need.”

“That is not true. There is one thing I need which you have yet to give me.”

“And what could that possibly be?”

“My freedom. That is all.”

“Everybody thinks they need their freedom. But people like you don’t deserve it. You’re to stay under guard until the King returns to decide how you are going to die.”

“Really? You must be unaware that the King is my good friend. I am not to die.”

“If that’s what you really think, then you’re out of your mind. Crazy people get put under heavier guard. If the King was your friend, then nobody would’ve put you in prison, with his protection behind you.”

“Oh no. You’ve got it all wrong. The King had me placed here to protect me from others that are searching for me. He believes they will let me be if I live in the prison for a time, thinking that I am being punished.” “Who would be hunting you?”

“Agents from other countries. Diplomats get in hot water sometimes.’

“You speak truly. You seem to have gotten into hot water here.”

“I have told you that is not the case. Go and ask the King, if you don’t believe me.”

“I will do so.” With that, the guard left John’s narrow field of vision. It was some time before he returned with the answer. “The flags are not flying. The King has marched to war.”

“No! He left without even remembering to leave orders regarding my release? I was only to remain in this cell for a few days! Now I am doomed to remain for weeks! My life! My hopes! All are gone!”

“Well, I am glad to see that you finally understand one thing. Your life will be gone as soon as the King returns. You were delivered to the prison by the King’s most trusted servant. He said that you had conspired to overthrow the King himself.”

“How did he know that?! I was under orders to do…” A moment later, John realized that this response had sealed his fate. He could not hope for release now. The only path open to him was to fight his way out, and adopt a bolder plan when he was free.

It was only minutes before several guards pushed their way into John’s cell, grabbed him roughly by both arms, and dragged him out of the room. Though he was a prisoner, and had no right, John still grew quite indignant at their behavior towards his person. “Where are you taking me? I am to be released!”

The guards pushed him along silently for several minutes until they came to the doors of the prison. As they pushed them open, one guard answered “Yes, you will be released. If there is a life after this one. But I’m afraid you won’t be able to tell us, seeing as you’ll be dead.”

“But… you need permission from the King to do something so drastic.”

“You think so? Is Captain Sir Robert of the Guard a high enough authority for you? The King left orders that Sir Robert was the authority on all questions of national security. You, being a traitor, are a threat to security, and as such, are subject to Sir Robert’s opinions on your life and death.” By the conclusion of this speech, they had reached a group of horses which were tied together, waiting patiently to transport John and the guards to the place of execution.

As the men lifted John up to mount the central horse, he felt a sharp pain in his left ankle. He could not stifle a loud groan as he thought to himself “I had forgotten. My way out of this lies down my boot. They can not stop me now.”

A moment later, one of the guards who had mounted beside him exclaimed “open the doors! All is arranged!”

As the party came increasingly closer to the doors of the prison courtyard, John slowly slid down the left side of the horse until he could nearly reach his boot, which he slid out of the stirrup silently. Just at that moment, a guard turned and demanded “And why would you be trying to escape? It will go harder for you if you try anything.” As he slipped the knife out of his boot and into a better position in his belt, John quickly righted himself, saying “The saddle is loose. It is falling.”

“I tightened it myself only minutes ago. You do not know how to stay on a horse!”

“I do not know how to ride? Then tell me if this is riding!” John shouted, as he drew his blade, sliced the ropes keeping the horse tethered, and dug his heels into its sides, riding off through the gate as hard as he could.

The guards stood momentarily shocked by his sudden action, but within seconds, they had spurred their own horses through the gate and were yelling after him “Some man stop him! He is wanted for treason!

Hearing their calls, John turned in the saddle and shouted back “Who will stop me? There is no one here, and you surely won’t catch up to me!” Laughing, he slapped his horse, causing it to jump forward and run even harder.

Behind him, the guards split up in an attempt to head him off. “He’ll be heading for the palace! Turn up another road, and we may be able to catch him sidelong!”

“So they think that’s where I’m going? How do they know? We shall see who looks foolish after I am done with my business!” Leaning forward on the horse’s neck, John sped on. Suddenly, he noticed that there was a commotion going on in his path. “What are the fools doing? Not trying to delay me, I’m sure, for no one in their right mind would try that.” As he approached more closely, he saw the cause. “Ah, it is the market. I am up to enough trouble already. Why should I avoid this?” So saying, he kept his steed pointed straight toward the central market.

John reveled in the horrified excitement his unexpected and rapid approach was creating in the square. He began to laugh wildly as people ran in every direction to avoid his crazed steed.

In another instant, a mounted prison guard came charging out of a street straight toward John. The guard pulled his horse up sharply, causing it to skid to a halt only two feet behind John’s own.

John, who had been startled at the guard’s sudden appearance and slowed his mount somewhat, kicked his horse once more, and the chase continued.

Finally, John, having winded his mount, was forced to jump off and run for cover down the narrow streets of the inner city. The guard on horseback continued to pursue him, though he had to lessen his pace to allow his steed to continue down the narrower paths. This gave John the time he needed to escape and run to the castle unmolested.

As he came near the castle, the sentries watching over the gates challenged him, calling “Who are you, and why would you be running so hard to the castle?”

“I have urgent news for the King!”

“Where have you been, that you have not heard that the King marched to war two days ago? Though if it is really urgent, you had best tell the Princess. I believe she is the head of state at this time.”

John had to wait while the guards raised the portcullis and pushed open the gates and he spent the time looking about nervously, worried that the prison guard would catch up to him before he could slip inside the safety of the royal walls, that no mere prison guard would be allowed to penetrate. The sentries seemed to have noticed his behavior, for they worked quickly. As soon as the space would allow a man, John squeezed through and bid them shut the gates once more.

It was not a moment too soon, either, for only a few short moments after John had gained the castle’s protection, the prison guard who had been pursuing him for the last several minutes rode up on his exhausted horse and shouted at the guards “You have a traitor within those walls!”

“A traitor? What traitor? The only men we have let inside today are Sir Robert of the guard and the ambassador, Sir John.”

“Find him! He is the one!”

“Sir John? A traitor? What proof do you have? We fear you must in some strange way have gotten him confused with some crooked merchant or other. We can not deliver Sir John up to you until we hear the King’s opinion, and that is not possible, as he is at war with Brandia.”

Knowing that he could not produce irrefutable evidence, the guard, letting his head fall toward his chest, turned to lead his horse away from the castle. The spy Sir John had escaped justice this time. It only remained to wait until the King returned, face his anger, and then, if given the chance, execute John with the King’s consent.

While the guard was being turned away at the gate, John continued his flight until he reached the entrance to the great hall, which was packed with cheerful and rambunctious guardsmen and servants gorging themselves on choice meats and drinks.

Struggling to appear unexcited and dignified, John made his entrance at a walk. At first, he went unnoticed, as the room was giving all of its attention to two large guardsmen who were attempting to recite the epic of Regidare the Bold while still quaffing down enough good wine to drown a man. Due to the large amount of spirits which both were continuing to swallow down, these impromptu bards were getting increasingly more incoherent and shaking as they attempted to stay on their feet. For no discernible reason, these facts were causing great hilarity among the audience, which laughed loudly as one every time a name was mispronounced.

John stood watching this ridiculous behavior for a short time, and then moved around the room to Valun’s chair, which surprisingly, the rabble respected enough to leave empty, and rang the bell which hung alongside for Valun’s use.

Almost instantly the clamor came to a halt. The two tipsy bards promptly collapsed on the floor. Each was carried out of sight by four of their companions. When he saw that everyone was looking at him, John announced “I am the ambassador of his majesty King Valun, and I came to bring him news, but I have been informed that I came too late. Since such is the case, I wish to be presented to her majesty the newly arrived Gairbairian Princess, whom I hear will soon become our own fair queen. Would any man show me where she is lodged?”

“Aye. I shall, sir, though do not be surprised if she does not want to see you. Her black guards came down here an hour ago and left with a fairly large feast of their own. I expect they’re trying to sleep it off now.” The man continued under his breath “Confound those desert shadows. Make a man’s spine shudder when one of those silent freaks turns up next to you.”

As the volunteer guide led John out of the great hall, the rest of the crowd, seeing that they were not in trouble with their superiors as of yet, resumed their loud feasting.

John followed the guide for several minutes before they reached the level at which the royal chamber was situated. The guide stopped a few feet away from the stairs and said “No one was told, but we think she’s on this level, though not in the King’s own chamber, of course.”

“Very well. I will find it myself. You are free to go.”

John stood still until the servant had retraced his steps down the stairway and John could no longer hear his descent. When that time came, John resumed walking down the corridor, stopping at each door to discover whether anyone was inside. Hearing no one, he would continue on. About ten minutes after he had reached the proper level, he finally approached the correct door. He knew it was the correct door because two of the dark guards who had accompanied the Princess throughout her journey were standing as sentries outside it. Several feet away, John stopped to discover whether the guards were awake. When he had determined the truth, which was that the silence of the position had caused the guards to doze off, he approached the door more closely, laughing quietly at the plans he anticipated.

When he had gotten close enough, he reached out and tried the handle of the door. It yielded to his pressure. “Excellent. They have not locked it. She must believe that her guards out here are keeping a good watch. Now I am free to proceed with my plan.” Accordingly, he crept away from the door of the Princess’s chamber and returned to the King’s own chamber, which he had passed on his way. When he had reached it, he tried the handle. This door also was left unlocked. “Still better. In fact, the plan could not be unfolding more smoothly.”

A moment later he had entered the King’s chamber. He stood silently for a moment, contemplating the surrounding room. Then, he sprang into action, turning over the bedcovers and opening all the drawers of Valun’s writing desk. When he found nothing of any particular importance anywhere, he shouted in frustration and kicked at the bed. He missed the bed and instead his foot connected with the chest which Valun kept all of his personal belongings in. Dropping down so that he was lying flat on the floor, John laughed again as he reached out and pulled the chest out from its place. Sliding along until he had completely removed the chest from under the bed, John then leaped up and shifted position to the side where the locks could be found. Unfortunately for him, there were locks on the chest, and he knew that Valun was carrying the keys. Leaping up, he ran to Valun’s desk, where he had spotted the knife which Valun used to open all correspondence. Grabbing it, he returned to the chest and had soon cut the locks off. As soon as this was done, he lifted the lid of the chest and began throwing things wildly all over the room. Finally, he found what he was looking for. The unmistakable shape of Valun’s crown in its velvet sack drew his eyes like a magnet does to piece of iron. Quickly, he grabbed the sack out of the chest and buried it in his cloak. Then he began to attempt restore order to the room in order to hide traces of his visit. When he finished, he shoved the chest back under the bed and stood up, dusting himself off. “That is good. Let’s see Valun find out who’s behind this now. And now, I have more work to attend to.”

21 October 2011

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVI

Two days after his meeting with the healer, early in the morning, Railon finally received a message requesting his presence at the king’s bedside. He, thanking his fortunes that he was still able to do so, rose from his own bed as quickly as he could and then followed the messenger to the hospital.

As Railon entered the King’s chamber, Torlan called out “So you have returned, my young brother? There is no need to tell you what this is about, as I sent for you myself.”

“If you sent for me yourself, you are probably aware of your condition, and know that I come to ask for your permission to take on the role of Ruler in your name.”

“Why, exactly? I would urge you not to believe all that the healers tell you. I am rather suspicious of the drugged sleep they put me in every day. Who knows who could be scheming behind my back, or just as possible, slip a knife into it? Their talk of being bedridden for weeks, or months, or even the rest of my life, is foolishness which they have repeated to me several times already, in the hope that I would begin to believe them. No, I am healing, and I will be up sooner than these schemers will admit.”

“If that is true, I will be glad to hear it. But in the meantime, you must put all your trust behind the Gairbairns, in whom your own lack of faith reduced to you to the state which you are now enduring.”

Suddenly, before Torlan could reply, a cry ripped through the building. “The Prince Railon! The Prince Railon! I must find the Prince Railon!” Railon sprang up from his chair the second he heard his name called, not even stopping for a farewell to the King.

Reaching the messenger, Railon demanded “What is wrong? The enemy has not breached the walls?”

The man replied “It is true. There must be traitors in the city. I was there and I saw. The King ordered that a broken section of wall be rebuilt several days before the enemy arrived. The builders on duty never did follow the order, and now the enemy has discovered the passage.”

“Then we must not linger here. How long have they been coming through?”

“They have been attempting for several minutes, but have not actually made their way in yet by virtue of the alertness of the guards. As yet, only three men can charge the gap side by side.”

“But they will be working to bring down that part of the wall, and they outnumber us.”

“Only two men must hold the passage. Others will line up on the walls. We must go and see the position for ourselves, though.”

At this, Railon and the messenger left the hospital to return to the scene of battle. Railon hardly noticed the crowds of people running in every direction, so intent was he on reaching the combat. He could hear the clash of the fight long before he reached the origin of the sound. As he ran toward the sound, he only thanked his fortune that he had decided to don his armor before meeting his brother.

When he reached the battle, he stopped as a sentry ran to him. “Are you Prince Railon?”

“I am. Can you tell me the state of the battle?”

“The count is fifteen enemies killed, while six of our own have gone down.”

“Not quite three to one. It is bad for us in any case. I will hold the pass myself. You men must search for a barricade which will hold.”

“But you are the Prince! We can not lose you!”

“That is my own decision! Now go for the barricade!” Having said this, Railon continued on to the actual gap in the wall. Speaking to the defenders during a respite between attacks, he took up a position in the center of the breach.

“You Naiberns! Are you men, or are you simply cowards and dogs the like of which must be whipped back to your kennels! Come and face a man! A man who happens to be the heir to the throne of the desert you have decided to claim as your own! Come and face a man!”

A moment later, Railon heard a cry from the wall-top which he had been expecting before this moment. “My lord! Archers! They will shoot you down!”

Hoisting his shield, Railon shouted in answer “Archers? I saw no archers! I have seen their force myself!”

“Mayhap you have not seen all of their force! At five hundred yards they have twenty arrows trained upon you!”

“Five hundred yards? Folly! No man could ever hit a mark at more than a hundred paces!” As Railon said this, several arrows fell short in front of him. “As I thought! No man can hit me where they stand! If any move closer, you men on the walls can take them out from your position!”

Steadying himself, Railon challenged the Naiberns again. ”Come and face a man! Talimarion!”

The Naiberns did not hold themselves back any longer. Several of them broke ranks and charged toward Railon, holding their shields above their heads. Still, ten of them were brought down by well-aimed projectiles from the walls.

Only three survived to face the Prince in the breech. Railon took a blow on his shield, while swinging at the legs of one man. Reversing course, he brought his blade up in a semi-circle, cleaving at the man on the right of the center. He blocked the thrust of another on his blade as the man fell dead. Against only two opponents, Railon felt that he had more room to maneuver. He ducked one blade as he parried the other. Thrusting out with his shield, he pushed one man back a step or two, which allowed him to swing at the other. When the man parried his thrust, he put his full weight behind his shield, shoving his opponent hard so that he fell to the ground. As he finished that man, Railon felt the last man’s blade glance off of his armor. Turning, Railon raised his blade and brought it crashing down on his enemy’s helm. The blade cleaved the helm, and the man fell dead at his feet.

At this point, Railon leaned on his sword to catch his breath before another set of enemies reached his position. Then he saw that more opponents were coming toward him, running hard with swords raised. Taking a deep breath, Railon raised his own sword in preparation for the coming battle.

These men, having seen the first battle Railon had fought, came at him with a combined strategy. As the men on the left and right sides swung their swords at Railon’s sides, the one in the center swung straight down at his helm. In defense, Railon blocked one side-swipe with his shield, while taking the other on his sword. As he did this, he leaned over so far backwards that the man aiming for his head lost his own balance, nearly chopping off his own leg. Before he could recover, Railon swung himself forward once more, so far that he was able to drive his head into his opponent’s chest. As that man staggered back, Railon disarmed the one on his right and finished him. But at that moment, both of his remaining opponents swung hard at his shield, driving a shock through his arm that forced him to drop it. Taking his sword in both hands, Railon then unleashed a flurry of blows which succeeded in driving his opponents off their balance. One actually fell outside of the walls, and was quickly finished by projectiles from the guards. As he fought the last man, Railon could see more men running up to the attack. He quickly began battering down the man’s guard, which he was forced to drop under the rain of blows. At that moment, Railon took one mighty chop at the man’s neck. As the corpse fell behind him, Railon turned and ran back inside the walls, exhausted by his stand.

“Where is that barricade? We can not hold the gap with men for a longer time than this! They have one hundred yards!” Moments later, Railon saw several men come running toward the gap in the wall, carrying several doors and spars with which to prop them up. “Hope for your life that you made them fit! You must wedge them in now! Walls! How many are still coming?”

“It is hard to count, but I can say as many as twenty, my lord!”

“You have heard! There are twenty men coming at this barricade right now! Quickly, for your lives!”

The men had heard his shouts. Only moments after that last cry, three doors were wedged into the space Railon had vacated. There were six stout spars supporting them and five men putting all their weight on each spar to prevent it from giving an inch. There followed a moment of tense silence during which it was impossible for Railon even to hear the man beside him breathing. He guessed that he was holding his breath himself, and let it out. In that instant, he heard a tremendous thud against the doors wedged into the breech.

Nobody moved. No man even tried to breathe. Then, again, there came the same loud thud. When nothing came of it, the men began to breathe once more.

“It will hold! Men must hurry to bring stones which we can stack against these valiant doors! Then we will be safe! Double the guards on that stretch and tell them to fire at all comers. The wall is not yet ready for a concentrated assault!”

Seriously exhausted by all of the action he had been through in the recent minutes, Railon pulled off his helm and slumped against the wall, protected from the heat by the overhanging catwalk which the sentries used. As he sat there mopping his brow, a man who had gone in search of a barricade came and sat beside him. Turning his face toward Railon, the man said “You fought like a hero. Because of you, the ranks will not lose heart.”

Railon turned to reply and found himself staring into the face of the smith who had outfitted him in a rank uniform. “My good man, I only did what was necessary, unless you would rather be forced into slave labor by the men outside our walls. I am only worried because I fear that the reinforcements from Trepalenmar may come too late. They are due to arrive within days, but they will be massacred by the force waiting outside. Another thing. The sentries must remain awake, for if they all drop off like the others that I found, the enemy will burn the barricade and make their way in under cover of night. I must return to the King now. Watch yourself.”

“Rest easy about the sentries. The men shall keep a good watch.”

At this, Railon rose and prepared to return to the King. Replacing his helm upon his head, he replied “I have traveled far. I hold to my opinion that the stoutest hearts to be found anywhere can be found within the walls of this great city, and they will not fail us now.” Turning, Railon went upon his way to return to the King and bring him the news. Along the way, he noticed that nearly everyone who saw him greeted him with shouts of “Hail the savior!”

“Well,” he thought to himself “If they call me that just for standing against six men, they will think quite a bit more of me if I have a part in driving off the Naiberns. I do not want to be crowned over Torlan if he is still alive.”

With this thought in his head, he continued on his way. When he reached the hospital, he was admitted at once, as the king was awake once more. As he entered the room, Torlan looked up from the bed and asked “How does it go?”

“It goes well.” Railon replied, sitting once more in the chair he had left, removing his helm, and leaning his shield against the wall. Smoothing his long brown hair, he continued “The men are doing well. They have held the breach long enough to stop it up once more. Vigilance is required, though, as there is no time for real repairs while enemies remain outside.”

“And what part did you play in the defense of the wall? They needed you for something, desperately.”

This question caught Railon by surprise. “Me? Oh, I did not actually do anything. The men wanted a presence of the throne. That was all.”

“That may be. But it does not explain why you have unsheathed your sword.”

It was not until then that Railon remembered that he was still holding his sword. Feeling nervous under his brother’s withering stare, he said “Actually, I did fight for a short time, but I was not in any great danger.”

“That is good, because I remember telling the Prince of the Gairbairns to keep out of danger, for fear that there would be no heirs left.”

A moment later, another messenger ran into the room, yelling “My lord! My lord! Have you heard…?” He trailed off when he noticed that Railon was already in the room.

“Go on, my good man.” Railon said, although he was actually worried at what the man would say.

“Prince Railon saved us all! He held the breach alone against six men!”

When the man had said his piece and left, Railon reassured Torlan “It was not all that it sounded. It runs in our blood. Think of yourself.”

“I see your point, and you must go now. I wish to sleep. Return to me in the morning.”

Replacing his helm upon his head, and his shield upon his arm, once more, Railon made his way out without a word, shutting the door quietly.

14 October 2011

Chapter XV

Chapter XV

King Valun was up before dawn on the morning after the army’s ceremonial exit from the city. The interior of his tent was so dark that he could hardly tell if he was really awake for a short time after he had opened his eyes. When he had ascertained conclusively that he really was awake, he continued to lie silently for several minutes more, listening for the slight sounds that escaped David in his sleep. Good; he would be alone for the next hour at the least.

When he began to grow restless, Valun quietly slithered out of his bedroll and pushed himself up from the ground, stooping to avoid the low ceiling of his tent. Stepping lightly, and being especially careful not to rouse his servant, who was lying across the entrance to the tent, Valun stepped out into the dark morning.

Looking up, he could just see the faintest traces of the approaching dawn. Shuddering for a moment upon becoming aware of the slight chill that always accompanied the tedious predawn hours, Valun began to walk toward the edge of the camp. When he had passed the perimeter of the army’s campsite, Valun climbed a low hill that lay nearby and stood motionless at the summit, thinking about everything and nothing, if that is possible, simultaneously.

He stood, silently contemplating his hidden surroundings for a length of time which felt like only minutes but which was in reality hours. Valun did not manage to rouse himself from the trance-like stupor he had fallen into until the first light of dawn was to be seen over the horizon. At this sight, Valun roused himself and left his perch on the hilltop, turning back toward the camp.

He was challenged by the sentry, but brushed the man off and continued on to his tent. Along the way he caught sight of the earliest risers among the troops. Some were fitting on their armor, others were trying to polish their blades by the meager light of earliest dawn, and still others were striking lights and preparing to cook the meals for their groups. Satisfied with the on-going preparations of his army, Valun resumed his walk. Upon arriving back at his tent, Valun stopped to listen for the sounds of a sleeping man on the opposite side. Hearing none, He exclaimed loudly

“I expected that you would be awake by this time, David.”

The instant he had finished speaking, the tent flap opened wide and David came into sight. He had changed his outfit from one of the scarlet color of his king’s livery to one of dark green. Valun stared for a moment before asking

“Why are you not wearing the proper color?”

Looking up to notice that he was standing in the king’s way, (the king was standing in his path, more like) David stopped for a moment to collect himself and then replied

“You see, your Majesty, it is my opinion that red is far more noticeable in the country than is the green color that I have donned.”

“I can see your point, but I am still not happy with your presumption in abandoning my color. Find Sir Richard and send him to my tent, but first you must see about my breakfast.”

“Yes, My Lord.” Was all that David replied before continuing on his way.

Valun was quite surprised when David finally brought in his breakfast. David was gingerly holding out a large pot which was still issuing steam. He set it down on the ground before the king with a look of relief.

“Here, my lord. Someone decided to put a handful of oats on the fire and watch them cook. It smelled reasonably good when I found it, but if it doesn’t suit your taste, you can hardly blame me.”

Valun looked down at the solidifying mass before him in the pot. It was rather lumpy but still retained an acceptable smell. After another look at it, Valun looked up again and said

“Bring me a piece of wood a foot long.”

David promptly hurried out to get one. When he returned, Valun took the wood and bringing out a knife, proceeded to slice a hollow out of one end, and then cut off the ungainly and unnecessary half. Using this implement, he dug into the meal, which was still warm. The stuff lacked a distinctive flavor, but was reasonably filling, regardless.

Upon finishing all of it, Valun stood up and said

“I compliment the originator of this idea, and you must find my general now.”

David took the pot and left, while Valun found a seat for himself outside his tent.

He had been sitting there for some time before David returned with Sir Richard. At the approach of his servants, Valun rose and said

“Well, my good friend. I have called to you to attend me because I wish to know the state of our forces. I must know their numbers, their weapons and their morale.”

“Is that all, really? There will be seventy-five thousand men, just as you ordered, after we arrive at Carribeasa. The force consists of twenty-five thousand sword, pike, and mace carriers, twenty thousand cavalrymen, and five thousand archers. There is nothing to say on their morale at this point, for as yet nothing as actually occurred.”

“Did I really order seventy-five thousand men? I was unaware that the number was so large.”

“If I may speak so freely, my Lord, I did not fail to read a part of the archives before you decided to leave on this mission. In them I discovered that seventy-five thousand was the number called by all previous conscriptions. Having discovered this, and knowing that you had ordered a draft, I called that number to arms.”

“It appears that previous kings were under threat of invasion when those drafts occurred. As we are the invader rather than the defender this time, I request that you pass the word that twenty thousand men may return to their homes.”

Sir Richard was startled by this order, and it showed on his face. “I am sorry, my Lord. The king may ride at the head of the ranks, but all decisions of war fall on the shoulders of his General, if he has one. It is my opinion that we should not send any man home for two reasons. First, if we send anyone home before we have engaged the enemy, it will spark envy among the ranks. Secondly, we are as yet unaware of the size of the force which will be brought against us, a fact which would force any good General to keep every man he has on the lines.”

“I understand you, my friend. Authority appears to make me narrow-minded and domineering. Would you not say so if I ordered you to tell me what you thought of me?”

“I am afraid that I would say that, Your Majesty.” Valun began to laugh at this reluctant admission from his General. “I thank you for telling me, for now I know. I do not want to hear any of my titles coming out of your mouth again. To you, I am just Valun, as I have always been.”

“Yes…Valun. I will give the order to strike the tents now.”

Reaching out to grab one of the poles which held up his own tent, Valun replied

“It is high time for that, my friend. My servant and I will handle mine.”

“You will?”

“Of course! Have I not just said so? I can do what I please, and I can make everyone else do it too! Now go!”

Recovering his composure, Richard replied

“Yes my- friend, Valun. I shall.”

As Richard strode away, Valun and David began to disassemble the tent which they had shared. They did not speak between themselves; nor was there any unnecessary noise to be heard anywhere throughout the general camp. In the silence, the work of breaking camp was completed within fifteen minutes of the conclusion of Valun’s meeting with Richard. As they were loading the tent on to their pack-horse, Richard returned and announced “Camp is broken and the troops are formed up to wait for the word of command-Valun.”

As he climbed aboard his black charger, Valun answered “Excellent, my friend. Now just mount your own horse, and we shall open the adventure. Am I right?”

“I can not say otherwise, my friend.”

“I knew that you would say that, but I must have my fun. We shall go now.”

Valun waited while an attendant brought Richard’s brown charger alongside. Richard mounted, and the pair rode off, leaving David, whom they had forgotten for the moment, to follow on foot.

When they reached the head of the force, Richard assumed his official role once more. “Present the King’s standard!” At least five scarlet sword and anvil banners caught the wind, streaming out behind their carriers. “The Guard shall assume its position!” Three cavalrymen, two archers, and five swordsmen stepped forward. For greater ease of travel, all were mounted. “You men shall guard your king against all threats. Even in the midst of a battle, you will remain close to give your life to save his. You are the Valkyries. Do you accept this pledge?”

Drawing their weapons, the guards replied in unison “Our lives are forfeit to our king. We, the chosen few, shall never allow our lord to fall in battle if we survive to fight. For Valun!”

After the final cry, Valun held up his hand for silence. At the signal, all noise stopped abruptly. “My countrymen! I have told you many times already what I expect of you, but only permit me to say it once more, and it is said. We are marching to find my royal father and return him to the country he longs to see. We are marching to punish the insolence of those holding him captive, along with my younger brother, who is my heir should I fall in battle. That said, any man who wishes, let it be known now, and he shall be given leave to return to his home.” Valun paused, expecting that several men would come forward for leave to turn back. It was a testament to their loyalty that not a single man stepped forward to accept his offer. Then he continued. “I must say, I am surprised that no man wishes to turn back. The offer does not stand. Turn back now, or you shall continue on to Brandia and die if you must.” No one moved. Turning his back on the troops, Valun shouted “Then our path is forward!” Valun immediately put spurs to his horse and rode off at the head of the force as the Valkyries spread out behind him. Behind them came Richard and David, riding side by side ten feet in front of the army of fifty thousand men in ranks one thousand deep thundering along at the back

07 October 2011

Chapter XIV

Chapter XIV

On the following morning, Prince Railon of Gairbairia was up only a few minutes after the sun had risen. Donning his armor, he left his room to see to the welfare of the sentries on the wall-tops, after which he would discover the health of his elder brother, the king. Upon reaching his post on the wall-top, he heard the horns that were blown to arouse the opposing army out of their slumbers. “Fools!” he thought to himself “They are still asleep? I could send out the force now, and numbers would no longer matter.” Any further thoughts were interrupted by a noise near his side that sounded suspiciously like someone in a deep sleep. Turning, he stared at the sentry for a moment before shouting “Only I couldn’t because my men are all asleep! Are you all lazy too?”

Almost instantly, every man along that side of the wall woke with a jerk, snapped to attention, and announced in loud, but weary voices “We are ready, Lord Torlan! Is the enemy storming the gates?”

Still badly upset, Railon shouted “I am Railon, not the king, Torlan, and just be glad they aren’t storming the gates, because you probably would not have survived!”

“My lord,” replied a man several feet further down the line “Do not blame us too harshly, for we were awake for most of the night to be sure of no surprise attack.” He concluded, as he stirred the ashes in a large brazier that had not yet burnt down the last pieces of wood inside it.

“Still, it is a fine way to deter a surprise attack that, remaining awake all at once so you can all drop off to sleep at dawn, the best time for an attack. You are dismissed. New men will be sent up to replace you.” At this announcement, the sentries began to file down the stairway, murmuring to Railon as they passed “You are right, sir, we erred. We are grateful for the rest.”

When the final man had gone past, Railon waited for a moment before following him. When he reached the ground once more, he directed his steps directly to the hospital, hoping to speak with Torlan. By the time he arrived, though, one of the caretakers was just closing the door. This man turned to Railon and asked “What do you want here? Are you injured?”

“No, I am not. I came here because I desire to speak with the king, who is my brother, and ask him what is the best course of action for the defense of the city.” On concluding this needlessly prolix explanation, Railon stepped forward, expecting that entrance would be granted immediately. To his surprise, the healer still stood in front of the door to the king’s room.

“Excuse me, my lord, but the King in not in a fit state to receive visitors, even yourself.”

“Tell me why that would be, sir.”

“Because he is in a deep sleep, which the healers had to be sure of to give him relief from his pain.”

“He can not have accrued any new injuries since he returned from the battle. What could have happened to him, then?”

“When he brought himself in to us, we saw that he had awful injuries to his legs which his own furious strength and riding skill caused him to fail to notice properly until he dismounted.”

“So he is bedridden?”

“Yes, for how many days or months we are not sure yet. But we are sure that his legs will never again be as strong as they were when he rode into battle. He will always need someone by his side when he has dismounted, till the end of his days.”

“When I saw him yesterday, he did not tell me about this. He told me his injuries were rather minor.”

“He is too proud. He was saving face.”

“Did you tell him all of this?”

“Yes. Unfortunately, he considers the idea that he may be bedridden for three months or more quite ludicrous.”

“I understand. He made that charge in the first place because he doubted the loyalty of the Gairbairns. You must keep him in a drugged sleep as often as you can, for otherwise the inactivity will drive him mad. When he recovers from this ‘nap’ you must send for me immediately so that I may speak to him and receive his permission to act in his name.”

“It will be done, my lord.”

“I thank you. I will not return until called.”