It was the following day after Railon had held the breach long enough to enable others to stop it up. At the current time, which was late in the morning, he was patrolling along the back wall, where a large portion of the Naiberns had stationed themselves. Railon was worried at their presence there, because he knew, and hoped that they did not, that Trepalenmar lay in that direction. He was also worried because the badly needed reinforcements were late.
Moments later, he noticed a large sandstorm billowing up directly in line with the city. “It must be! The army has come! But they have their supply train with them, and they are unaware of the enemy! We can only hope that the train is a safe distance behind the army, or we will be crushed!” With this statement, Railon fell silent and stood to watch the coming battle, hoping against hope that the army was prepared to fight their way through. Soon, he noticed the enemy force stirring into ranks to prepare for the clash.
Moments later, Railon could make out the first rank of the force from Trepalenmar. The men, all of whom were mounted on camels, were pushing the beasts hard to ride down the enemy, while at the same time they were fitting arrows to strings. They let their volley fly, making every shot count. Seconds before the lines clashed, Railon saw the flash of a hundred swords being drawn simultaneously, and heard the concerted shout of “Talimarion!” Then, the battle was joined.
For a few tense moments, the vanguard of the newly arrived Gairbairns was fighting on its own against nearly two thousand of the Naiberns. Then, the rest of the Gairbairn soldiers arrived and turned the tide of the battle in their own favor.
At that moment, Railon turned and saw a large group of Naiberns who had been with the main force running around the city to reinforce their own side. With a shout that roused everyone on the wall, he called “Cut them down! Cut them down! Your own survival may depend upon it!”
Heeding his order, men all along the wall nearest to the force began firing down upon them, causing many to fall for the last time. Then, turning back to the main battle, Railon and all of his men watched tensely for nearly half an hour. Then the Prince began to shout once more. “They are breaking through! The Gairbairns are victorious! Men must run down to the rear gates to let them into the city! The enemies are routed, and the supplies will come through! Keep a close watch on the force outside the front! The sentries must be resupplied!” As he finished with this last order, Railon began to run down the steps to the ground, in order to meet the survivors of the battle he had just witnessed.
By the time he reached the gates, they were open and the exhausted fighters were streaming through it in loosely ordered ranks. As Railon stood watching them, one of the men stepped out of the line, paused to question another bystander, who pointed at Railon, and made his way toward the Prince. Kneeling, he said “Greetings, my Prince. I am Sir Dunstan, the commanding General of this throng of our countrymen who are now streaming through your gates. I take all responsibility for the delay in our arrival, and I am ready to take the punishment that you deem necessary.”
Railon, who was pleasantly surprised at the General’s unusually humble manner, replied “You are forgiven, and you may rise. After the heroic battle which you have just won for us all, I do not deserve to punish you for being only days late. Be assured that coming any later would likely have killed us all, or if we still survived, you would be punished. But at this time, you deserve a feast, though we may not be able to give you one.”
“I would like to pay my respects to the King now, if it does not bother you overmuch, my Lord.”
“Why should it? In fact, if you had not found me so quickly, I would have already gone to tell him of your victory.”
No further speech being necessary, Prince Railon and Sir Dunstan left the gate to visit the King. They did not do so quietly though, for everywhere they passed, men recognized both of them and gave them loud cheers for their recent exploits. This continued to the point that it seemed as if had been no pause at all in the cheering all the way from within three hundred yards of the gate until they gained the entrance of the Hospital. Once inside, they were met by a healer who told them “The King is awake and has been calling for the Prince for the past hour.”
“Well, I am here to speak with him now. So tell him that, if you please.”
Only moments later, after the King had been alerted to their arrival, Railon and Sir Dunstan entered his room. The King greeted them cheerfully, not at all as if he was not expected to walk on his own again. In fact, as Railon saw him, he would have hardly been surprised if Torlan had risen out of the bed at that moment. “Oh, my brother! It is excellent to see you again! Would it surprise you if I were to tell you that I am nearly healed?”
Railon was taken aback by this announcement, but he did not to show it in his expression. After a moment of internal struggle, he managed to reply “Not in the least.” with a straight face. Then, he made his own announcement. “And now, my good brother, I have the honor to present to you-you are free to rise, man- Sir Dunstan, a noble of our land, who has only this day won a brilliant victory over our enemies, and brought us the supply train we so badly need. Now, if he thinks it necessary to say anything more, I shall leave that to him.”
Sir Dunstan knelt beside Torlan’s bed as he began his explanation. “My Lord, on the day which we were supposed to begin our journey to the capital, an awful sandstorm blew up, one so bad that men could hardly four feet in front of their own faces. At this, I deemed it too dangerous to proceed, and held the force back until the storm had lessened. This took an entire day, and on into the middle of the following day. One hour after the sand had settled, the whole force was prepared to march, and we started immediately, riding our beasts hard to arrive as fast as we were able. Having previously received your message concerning the enemy force, we rode prepared for battle at all times. It happened that there was a large force of enemies watching the rear of your city, so we charged upon them and fought our hardest, and the fates decreed that we would be victorious, so most of us have already arrived inside the city. That is all, my King.”
“It is good.” Torlan replied “You two are dismissed at this time, and I order you to give your men a feast in the castle and tell them that I expect I shall be able to ride tomorrow. These healers really are trying.” As the Prince and the General rose to leave, he added “And do not shrink from pitched battle. Sir Dunstan has proved that he is capable of giving us a victory, considering our somewhat equaled numbers.”
Both of the others replied “We will do so, but we would do it more willingly if you were there yourself.”
“I shall try. Those are my last words. Now go.” Torlan replied. He was beginning to feel the pain once more, and he wanted solitude in order to fight it off so that none, least of all the two men who had just left his presence, might see that he could be weak.
As the two men left the building, Railon turned to Dunstan and remarked “The King is still in some pain. I could see it in his face. His pride will not allow him to admit that he can be defeated, though, so we had better humor him until he recovers properly. Now, about that feast. We can not afford a feast the size of those we had in times of peace, for food is scarce when withstanding a siege.”
“I know that well enough, and we must have the men eat their share in shifts, to leave a sufficient guard on the walls.”
“It is the right thing to do, though, however it is done, for an event like this will raise every man’s morale.”
“Very well. Shall we go to the castle, then?”
The men continued on without saying another word. Reaching the castle, they identified themselves and were allowed inside immediately. Inside the walls, they continued walking until they had reached the top, where they stood surveying the city and the opposing army outside. After several minutes, Railon turned to Dunstan and asked “So how many men did you have with you, and can you tell me how many fell?”
“I had ordered six thousand men out to ride for the capital, and…” Sir Dunstan paused as he turned and looked out over the rear of the city. “…I would say, considering our surprising arrival, and that our numbers turned out to exceed those of our foes, that as many as eight hundred good men are lying out there, their lives taken as payment by the fates in return for our victory.”
“If that’s the way you think of war, hope for all our sakes that the price of the following days will be low. There can be no merrymaking before the dead have been honored. Look! Outside the walls! The enemy is milling about, calling orders, we must watch closely or we may fall now at the height of our triumph!”
“Siege weapons assembled, disassembled, and carried with their supply train! I see a ram going up, and several siege towers rising over their ranks! Now, I must go to assemble my men for the charge which we must make, for if we leave the enemy to build those machines, we shall fall tomorrow in any case!” With that, Sir Dunstan turned and ran down through the castle and out into the city.
Prince Railon only remained alone long enough to remark to the otherwise empty area “If there was ever a time that Torlan’s recovery was needed, it is now. His reappearance would cheer the men beyond measure. With or without the King, though, we must bring the battle to the foe before they complete their machines. If those are finished, the city will fall.” Having nothing more to say, Railon turned and followed the General out of the castle.
On his way out, he met two heralds who appeared to have been looking for him themselves. When they tried to stop him and give their message, he silenced them, saying “There is no time. Nothing is more urgent now than assembling the army for battle and charging upon the enemy with all speed. Or would you rather wait inside the walls until they knock down the gates and come charging in themselves? It is easier to battle on an open plain than a crowded city like this one. Call the men to arms. I will go to the King myself.”
In accordance with his own decision, Railon went straight to Torlan. The King received him happily and immediately asked if there was anything that would be of interest to him going on in the city. “You really must settle down, for it seems that every time you come to see me, something disastrous has occurred.”
“Was Sir Dunstan’s victory over the Naiberns and arrival in the city a disaster? They are not all like that, but this one is. The enemy is building siege weapons. If we do not attack them soon, we will fall. I have come to inquire into what you do in this case.”
“What would I do? We are still outnumbered by the enemy, but if we tarry any longer, we will fall to their ram and towers. You stationed archers to watch for this, did you not?”
“Well then. Trust them, and remain behind the walls. In a charge, your whole force could be eliminated and the city would be defenseless.”
“I will abide by your decision, though it is a surprise coming from you, considering the actions that put you in your current state.”
“I have reconsidered since then. Call my horse. I will come out to the men.”
Without pausing to respond, Railon left at speed and brought Torlan’s steed around personally.
Stopping the horse at the door of the building, Railon returned to Torlan’s room. The King was sitting up on the edge of the bed by this time, waiting for Railon to return. Railon came in and, moving to the bed, put Torlan’s left arm around his own neck, and hoisted his brother onto his feet. Railon supported Torlan to the door of the hospital, where Torlan was able to grasp his horse’s mane, and with a little help from Railon, swing himself onto it. “It is good. I am ready to go.” He announced when he had finally settled himself.
“Well then, ride ahead. I ordered the troops assembled in front of the gates.”
Without further speech, the two brothers, the fourth generation of their family to rule their desert country, proceeded, making for the front gates of their city.
Only a few streets away from the hospital, they fell in with a band of late-comers on their way to the mustering at the gates. These men trudged along with their heads down, not noticing their rulers, until Railon spoke to them. “Look up, my men, and be cheered. You will probably survive this particular day after all.”
At this, the men looked up and finally noticed their King riding in their midst. At the sight, they cheered loudly, and two ran ahead, presumably to announce the King’s recovery to the rest of the force. Torlan, who was feeling slightly stiff, only smiled a little and waved at his troops as they ran off.
Several minutes of winding through streets later, the King and the Prince emerged near the front gate. Their appearance cued deafening cheers from the force massed in the area. Raising his hand, Torlan silenced the crowd assembled at the gates. Then he began to speak. “The Prince, my brother Railon, has told me that he ordered you to assemble here in preparation for a final charge to decide our fate. He came to me to be sure that this decision would be in accordance with my wishes. Based upon his previous actions, that plan is not my decision, so most of you will survive for another day. Archers! We must know the position of the enemy’s threat!”
A moment later, a man replied “My lord, their weapons are complete, and they are moving them closer to the city now, though our sand is impeding them!”
“Are they within a good range to fire upon?”
“I believe so.”
“Do not despair! Fire upon them!”
All the Gairbairns held silent for several tense minutes while the archer and several of his fellow sentries prepared a fire for their missiles. Then, they all fired simultaneously at the towers, which had not paused in their approach to the city. The Gairbairns massed in the gateway heard a handful of faint thuds as some of the blunted fire-arrows ricocheted harmlessly off the sides of the sides of the towers.
Several stunned men turned to Railon for an answer. Why did they not catch fire? They are only wood?!”
“I have learned in my travels” Railon said frostily, hardly glancing at the men. That dry skins do not take easily to flame. Hold your fire until it is closer. Then you should see an opening through which to destroy the menace. Remember, if one arrow catches, the whole is gone, for they have no water to spare!” Lowering his voice, Torlan continued speaking to the assembled men “Why are you all waiting here? We must work fast to shore up the gates. Be sure that the portcullis falls before they begin to attack, and their ramming will be fruitless.” At the King’s words, many men ran to follow the orders. Glaring at the others who remained, Torlan added “Why does any man linger here? You are all needed up on the walls to deter their attack. Now, my brother,” he concluded as the men hurried off “We shall take ourselves off to the castle to prepare for battle.” The two men were completely silent as they retraced their path, until they reached the straightest path to the castle, which they took instead of their original path to the hospital.
Once they were inside the castle once more, Railon aided Torlan in dismounting in the courtyard and supported him until they had returned to the King’s room. There, Railon lay Torlan down upon the bed and finally spoke what he had been thinking for the past several minutes. “I give you all due respect, brother, but I wish that you would take my advice concerning involvement in the coming battle.”
“What is the advice that you would have me take?” Torlan asked, groaning as he shifted onto his right side to face Railon.
:”The advice is that you hold yourself back from the battle.”
“You would have that of me? And why? Why must I lie helpless here while my subjects fight? I must return to the field, so that they may see that nothing holds their King away from a battle. They will be heartened by my eagerness, and fight all the harder for it. I demand that you order my armor to be brought, that I may arm myself fittingly.”
“I do not believe that such action would be wise.”
“Again! You warn me against the fight, and do not tell me why I should hold myself away! Tell me! I am speaking no longer as your brother, but as your King! I order you to speak!”
“You are far too weak to wear your armor. Now you have your answer.”
“Is that all? I decide that! Order my armor, and command that four strong men come to my room to carry me down to my steed on a stretcher if they must! I will fight with my subjects!”
Acquiescing to the demand of the king, rather than the obstinacy of the brother, Railon rose without replying and went out to comply with Torlan’s command.
It did not take him long to find what his brother wanted. As soon as he had sent the men up to the King, he returned to the city to join the battle in Torlan’s stead. Long before he reached the walls, he could hear the ram pounding on the gates. “I only hope that the men have dropped the portcullis. We can hold them off then. Have the archers succeeded anywhere? They must, or it will go badly for us.” Soon after this, he had reached the walls, where he called on the archers to hold their fire, as the ram was too close to the gates now to risk it burning. Then, he hurried off to join the men defending the gap in the wall which had not been blocked properly after his defense of it only days ago.
It was here that the battle was hardest, as the Naiberns were attempting to breach the wall with towers and set fire to the barricade under the cover of those same towers. Calling together several archers, Railon exclaimed “On your life, fire on those towers! If you can not do it now, you’ll never see another day!”
Hurriedly, the archers turned and fired several flaming arrows into the platforms of the nearest tower. The results were immediate, as the flames caught the dry wood, causing the whole tower, packed with men, to come crashing down in all directions.
“Quickly, the spears! Get the debris off the wall immediately! We must see to the other towers! There are too many men on this wall! Some of you return to the ground to defend the barricade! We have no time to spare!” As sentries began to run past him, Railon led several men to the point where the nearest tower was poised to breach the battlements.
Soon after, Railon and the men were fighting for their lives as the enemy came pouring in over the ramparts. Then, as he fought, Railon heard a great cry go up from the men he had set to guard the barricade farther along the wall.
“Fire! Fire! They have fired the barricade!”
At this cry, Railon slew his opponent, turned and began shouting “The wall has been breached! Fall back into the city! To the castle! Back to the caaastlle!”