*To keep the story perfectly straight, be sure to have read Chapter XVIII first. Chapter XVII is also a major turning point. thanks.
“… that this city of my subjects, they having rejected my authority over them, is henceforth considered to be under siege until such time as the men of the city do renounce their treason, or until I return from Brandia, at which time the draft which the men are objecting to will no longer be necessary. In such a case, though, the leaders of the rebellion will not go unpunished. But all others shall be freely pardoned. This siege will be ordered by my good friend Sir Richard, who has been ordered to refrain from all violence against my people, but may order retaliation if the people do attempt to drive him off.
Your true King, Valun 111
When the Chairman had finished reading the letter, the guard spoke once more. “So we are doomed. The King has laid siege to our city unless you hand yourselves over to his judgment.”
“You are defying our authority again? You were ordered not to speak that way!”
“Will you only be content if I grovel on the floor before you, renouncing the way of a true subject? You should not act too hastily or too harshly, else I see fit to reveal your corrupt opinions from the wall-top, shouting so that all may hear. You and your dreams of a state within the city will come to nothing, and you will be the ruin of every man in this city, be they loyal to you or the King.” Snatching the arrow back out of the table, the guard threw it so that it became stuck once more in the wall directly over the Chairman’s head. Feigning indifference, he turned to leave.
Moments later, before the guard had crossed the room back to the door, the chairman had drawn a knife which he kept hidden under his cloak and threw it, burying it in the guard’s back. “Who shall discover our plans now, traitor? We do not answer to the Palace, and they shall find that the people of this city do not bend to the will of tyrants as easily as they hope.”
While all this was going on inside the city, Sir Richard and the archer had ridden back to Valun’s camp, where they separated and Richard rode directly into Valun’s presence. As he dismounted, the king asked him “Have they received my message?”
“Yes. It was spotted, and I am confident that they have read it by this time, as it was sealed with your own seal.”
“That is all good. I deem now the time to tell you what I wrote.”
Sir Richard was startled. Sending his horse away under the care of a groom who had come for it, he turned to face Valun and answered “I was under the impression that the message was related only to the rebellion of the city.”
“That is true, but it concerns you, for I have warned the men of the city that I have ordered you to lay siege to their city with half of my force at your command. You are not to molest the people in any way, save if they attempt to drive you off by force. Then, you may defend yourselves. The siege will last until I return, or until the people deliver the leaders up to you to be punished.”
“But I am your General. I can not remain behind on a campaign of war!”
“I am the King of this land. It is my wish that you remain here to command these men. If the men appeared unwilling to follow me, I would not be acting this way. Besides, I have my Valkyries. They have sworn to defend me against all threats. I am safe from anything which may be worrying you. Lastly, I refuse to leave you any archers to assure myself that my word will not be broken behind my back. I expect you to camp the men out of range and make certain that they follow my terms. Now, I must go, or there will snow in the pass before the army reaches it.” Mounting his charger, which David had brought to his side as he was speaking, Valun concluded “Good fortune be with you my friend, and may the rebels change their minds soon enough that we reunite in Brandia!” Then he rode off to order half the force to break camp.
Camp was broken swiftly, and only an hour later, Richard was left alone watching the half of the force which Valun had chosen to follow him marching off toward the pass through the mountains which separated the two countries.
Richard stood motionless, watching Valun’s force until the last rank was no longer visible. When he could no longer see them, he turned and called to an aide “Sound the trumpets. Form the men into ranks, for I would speak to them.”
Nearly half an hour later, when the remaining men had been drawn up into ranks, Richard stood before them and announced “My good men! We have traitors in our midst! They are within that city! Your king has commanded that you crush them! But hold, we shall not attack them, for they are our own countrymen. We have been ordered only to wait outside their gates until they renounce their treason, nothing more. In this, you are doing as great a service to your King as are the men who have left you to follow him. Heed my words, and all shall be well!”
In the hours that followed, Richard spread his forces around the city so that several thousand men covered every wall of the city, closing off all entrances and exits to allow no food to pass within.
Early the next morning, sentries who had been placed by the council on the previous day came in to make a report. “My Lords, the army has camped itself outside our walls. They do not appear to have any intention of shifting themselves. To my mind, they wish to starve us out.”
“Who asked you, though? It was not any of us here, and we are the only ones within these walls who have any say in the matter. They will not cause us to submit. Instead, they will find that the will of the men of this city is harder to break than they have time to attempt. Resume your position, and report again tomorrow.”
As he returned to his position, a sentry thought to himself “Their control over the city is not as complete as they would wish. I am of a mind to leave the city now, and show these despots how loose their grip on the city really is.” Driven by that thought, he turned his steps not toward the wall where he had been stationed, but instead set his course toward a minor gate which was set in the eastern wall, let himself out silently, and proceeded across the open land which lay between the city and the forces loyal to the king.
Richard’s forces, not having to guard against any threat, as they were out of range of bowshot, were passing their time in wagering among themselves at dice and other contests. One man, who was only watching rather than participating in the games, looked up at this time upon hearing the harsh grating sound of the gate closing once more. A moment later, he spotted the erstwhile sentry emerging from the shadows where he had been hidden from the other sentries inside the city. At this, the man watching him from the ranks remarked to himself “Be he is a spy, or a deserter, he must be brought before the General, and I must be the one to do it.”
Accordingly, the man rose from his position, adjusting his sword and shield in preparation to run to the aid of the deserter. When his companions noticed his movement, and asked what he had in mind, he pointed toward the solitary figure who was still attempting to remain within the shadows for as long as he could before sprinting across to join the opposing side. “I” the swordsman replied to his confederates “will be the one to bring that man to our General. If I am shot in the attempt, I charge you to give my body the funeral rites due to an honorable man.”
“Then, until I return.” With this, the ambitious and alert soldier began sprinting across the open land toward the deserter, who had himself finally broken his cover and was running toward the other line at his greatest speed. Seconds later, at the moment that the moment that the two men met, they were finally noticed by the archers on the wall.
Noticing this, the soldier raised his shield to protect himself from shots from above. The missile aimed at him did deflect off of the shield, but the deserting sentry was not so lucky, being hit in the back. As he fell, the other man threw his arm around him and held him up long enough for him to say “I was wrong. Those men are still loyal to the council. Their food will last for months.” Then he fell dead.
Dropping the limp form, the soldier ran back to his own line, only stopping to inquire “On which side will I find the General?”
I heard that he had posted himself on the southern side only two hours ago. You are likely to find him there.”
“Thank you.” Immediately, the soldier left his companions to seek an audience with the General. Several minutes later, when he had traversed the whole distance separating him from the ranks watching the southern wall, he hailed a passing cavalryman who was walking his mount, calling “I seek an audience with the General! I have news which he will wish to hear!”
Nodding in acknowledgement, the rider only offered the messenger the reins of his mount. “I will tell the General of your request.”
“Why must everyone be announced to him? There is nothing occurring that would draw him away from his command.”
“That may be, but we must follow his orders in any case. I will return in a moment.” Saying this, the rider left to announce the message. He returned several minutes later, took his horse back, pointed out the direction in which Richard was to be found, and left.
The soldier who had come with the message immediately started on his way toward Richard’s pavilion. When he arrived, Richard called him inside and said “I have been told that you have news which I should hear. What would that news be?”
“Sir, less than an hour ago, I personally attempted to aid a deserter in his escape from the city. I was not successful, as he was shot by sentries on the walls, but before he died, I heard him say these words: “I was wrong. Those men are still loyal to the council. Their food will last for months.”
“It appears that he wished us to know that our siege is futile and it would be best to break it off. Yet he could still be no more than a spy sent by our opponents to convince us to leave anyway.”
“If he was a spy, it is not reasonable that his own side would have shot him dead.”
“That is true. But he may have only had himself sacrificed for the common good, in the hope that some man would do just as you did and allow him to pass the false message and save the city. So you see now that the message which you have brought, held up to the light, is of no consequence at all, and only resulted in another man’s death and your own shame before me. You are dismissed.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Later that day, the same soldier was included in a party which stopped a caravan attempting to bring supplies to the rebels within the city. In compliance with their orders, they did no harm to the drivers, but confiscated the entire contents of the wagons and sent the drivers back with nothing but their mounts. A report of the incident was immediately brought before Richard, who, after looking over it and discerning what the city was in need of, said “They need all of these things? It would amaze me if they hold out for more than a week on what they have.”
The men who had brought the report to him silently left his presence to resume their positions, both confident that they would be crossing the mountains and rejoining the king before the week was out.