About Me

My photo
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...

Search This Blog

27 January 2012

Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXXI

Heeding the cry of their prince, the Gairbairns immediately began to fall back, running as hard as they were able to reach the safety of the castle. Thousands of men succeeded in reaching the fort, but thousands more were cut down where they stood, still hopelessly attempting to stem the tide of Naiberns which was now pouring in unchecked. As was related just before we took leave of the battle to discover what the other parties had been doing, the Naiberns had succeeded in setting fire to the barricade which had been placed to temporarily repair a hole in the wall. This, combined with the determined assault issuing from the towers which had been built in the early morning, was enough to cause Prince Railon to order his forces to retreat, before they became overrun by foes. It was not a full-scale rout, but Railon was hard pressed to restrain his men from running full-tilt in their desperate attempt to escape from the foes who were stampeding after them.

As he stood in the center of the road rallying his men, Railon caught sight of Torlan attempting to rally men to the fight. The moment he realized what Torlan was doing, he began to run toward his brother, hoping that he might still be able to reason with him and lead him away from the fight. But he was too late. Even as Railon came running to his aid, Torlan was surrounded by many foes and brought down by heavy blows from their great swords. By the time he had reached the king, two other men had come to his aid. Together, they dispersed the band of Naiberns threatening their fallen lord.

But again, they were too late. By the time they reached his side, the Naiberns had accomplished their aim of the moment, and Torlan the magnificent lay dying in the dirt only yards away from his great main gate. In a moment, Railon held his brother’s head in his hands, and was giving orders to the other men there. “Quickly! Lift him! We must get him away from here! One of you must watch our backs!”

Torlan, who had been suffering in silence until this moment, suddenly spoke. “It’s no use. I am going on, and I know it. Even now, I see the gates of the kingdom of the One who rules us all opening before me. I see our forefathers standing expectantly at the gate. The sands of my life run swiftly now, down to the bottom of the glass. There will be no turn for me. I go to the One!”

Railon was deeply saddened by his brother’s imminent passing, but this, unfortunately, was not the time to let it show. He tried to speak calmly, but the burden of stress he was working under showed itself in his last words to his brother. “I know we can not save you, but we can at least get you away to pass through the gates in a place more comfortable than this! Would it not be better to go on from your own chamber, instead of this dusty street?”

“It would be less honorable, and honor is everything. A man without honor is a man without a future or a past. His past is forgotten, and his future is shunned. I must have honor! Why do you take it from me?! But hold, I forget one thing I must say before I go. Railon, you must tell the Gairbairns I am sorry that I ever lost faith in their loyalty. I am sorry that I did not listen to you when you told me not to go. If I had only heeded your words, I would still be able to fight, and many other good men would still be here as well. Railon, you must tell the men this; my doubt brought my death, but in death, I see that I wronged my people. You are brave, and you will prevail!”

Railon was too overcome by emotion to say anything in response. Instead, he only increased his speed. His reticence upset Torlan, as the prince discovered a moment later. Mustering his failing strength, the dying king shouted “Railon! Tell me you will do as I have asked! I can not pass the gates in peace otherwise! My people must know! They must not lose hope!”

Railon and his helper carried the king into a small side street and laid him down softly on the ground. The prince then turned and knelt down beside his brother, holding his helmet in his hand. “Listen to me. As a brother I tell you that I would shout your words from the top of the castle if I thought that doing so would aid our cause. As your subject, I am afraid I must tell you that we have done all we can to stop the invaders, and it was not enough. And I also tell you that you did well; it is not your fault there was an opening in the wall, nor was it your fault that there were traitors in the city who kept it so. Gairbairia will survive, but it must survive in other lands. I promise I will drive out these enemies before I die. I will seek help in help in the lands I traveled in if I must. Before our line fails, the king of the Gairbairns will sit once more in Gaimaron. Rest in peace.”

“We have failed, but we have failed honorably, fighting to the last. Remember your promise, King Railon!” With that, King Torlan, who had ruled his land for the past one score and ten years, yielded his spirit to the One.

Then Railon raised the now limp weight of his brother once more and continued to move toward the castle as fast as he was able. Throughout the last moments of Torlan’s life, Railon had failed to notice what was going on around him. Now, he felt the heat of the flames which the Naiberns had kindled to burn the city. The flames grew higher and hotter every minute as Railon ran away from them toward the castle. With despair in his heart, he thought “Must I fight to win this land back? Would it not be better to let the foes burn all that they could have gained from it and then discover that there is nothing here they would want? But no, I can not lose heart like this; I made a promise that I would take it back someday, and that I will do, for the sake of the promise and the men who have died trying to defend their home. We will fall back to Trepalenmar and await their assault there.”

That evening, King Railon sat in his chamber watching over the body of his brother, as tradition dictated. In a time of peace, the vigil would have been held at the time and place of death, but Railon had had no time to do it in the middle of the fighting. He was hard pressed to restrain his tears, for besides his brother and king, he was also mourning the loss of his capital, and soon, his country.

All the Gairbairns who remained alive had fallen back to the castle. Railon could still not believe how they had managed it, but five thousand men had squeezed themselves inside the walls of the fortress. The walls were overmanned and the underground chambers were packed to the point that a man who entered had to shove one hundred other men aside to reach the edge.

Two hours after dusk, Railon was still sitting silently beside the bed upon which Torlan lay in state. Suddenly, Sir Dunstan strode into the room, walking quickly. In less time than time than it takes to tell you so, he crossed the floor and knelt beside Railon in the center of the room. Lowering his voice out of respect for the situation, he spoke. “My Lord, the Naiberns have burned the city. Not one building is left standing. Before morning, they will be attacking the walls of the castle itself.”

Holding his head in his hands, Railon leaned forward in his chair, choking back more futile weeping. A moment later, he raised himself once more and replied in a voice full of misery, saying “Why? Why must you bring me this news? Is it not enough that I should lose my brother, my king, and my country, that I should lose my people also? What could I have done to anger the One, that he would take all from me now?”

“If I may be so bold, my Lord,” replied Dunstan, in the same low and soft voice he had used earlier “I would remind my Lord that, though you have lost your brother, and a great king he was, you have not lost your king. For you are your king, King Railon. You may have lost your country, possibly for years to come. But you, being a true and honorable man, will remember your promise to your brother and return someday, with many men behind you, to claim it back from your foes. As swift and dangerous as one of our storms of sand shall you be, when you come again to rule the new glory of your country that shall be. And lastly, you shall not lose your people either, if you act swiftly. All the people of the city who survived are within the castle. They await your orders, to fight or flee. They will follow you wherever you wish to go. This I promise. Rise now! Throw off your grief! You may take it up again at a better time than this. I do not mean to offend my king, but his choice now lies between one dead man, or five thousand who live to follow him. Come now!”

Rising from the chair as if a great weight had been lifted from his back, Railon replied “You are right; the voice of reason in my grief. I follow you now to the men. Lead me.” And so the two men left the room and made their way down to the chambers below.

Several minutes had passed by the time they came to the entrance to the underground chambers. As they entered, the two ranks of men closest to the opening rose to greet them. “Hail King Railon! Hail Sir Dunstan! May they bring us out of this stifling hole!”

Turning to the king, Sir Dunstan said “You must excuse them, my Lord. These chambers were not meant to hold thousands of men.”

Laughing, Railon replied “I ought to know that better than any here. I would, too, if I had not been so restless before. They are excused. To get them out is precisely the reason we came down ourselves.” Lowering his voice, he stepped back toward the stairway that led down to the chamber. When Sir Dunstan had followed him back onto the stairs, he spoke again, more seriously. “Tell me, Dunstan; if you were in my place, surrounded by an army many times the size of ours, what would you do?”

“As, my Lord, you ask me bluntly what I would do, I will tell you bluntly. We can not hope to fight our way out. To open the gates in any case would be an invitation to our foes to make their way in and slaughter us. But if we wait here, we will soon be starved into slavery. We must find a passage out through the back of the caves, and, with all respect to you, my king, we must burn the late king your brother.”

“Your advice for me is to burn my brother and turn my men into moles? The kings of Gairbairia have never been burned! Throughout our history, every king has had a mound raised over him beside the river behind the city! You and your men rode past it as you came here! Do you mean to tell me you did not realize what those hills were?! Torlan’s mound awaits him, and on your life you will make sure that I am laid in mine when my time comes! Swear it to me!”

“I swear, by the One who rules all, it shall be done as you wish, if I do not pass on to him before you, my lord. But you must admit that we will be unable to give him all the honors due to him. We shall be able only to wrap his body and pass it into the tomb, without any of the formalities he deserves. But first, we must find our way out of the castle.”

Placated by Dunstan’s quick submission, Railon reached up and grabbed a torch out its bracket on the wall, saying “If we must, we shall, even if we must make it ourselves, with only our hands.” So saying, he stepped back inside the caves, calling out “Step aside! Make way! I go to the utter end!”

20 January 2012

Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXX

The minute the Corridane sentry had spied John, the Princess, and her retinue passing by the farthest edges of the camp Richard had erected for the siege of Carribeasa, he had turned and run, as fast as his legs could carry him, toward Richard’s own tent. The General’s tent, marked clearly by the banners flying freely above it, was situated in the center of the line facing the front gates of the city. The sentry, dashing heedlessly through the camp, reached his destination scarcely five minutes after he had left his post. Staggering toward the guard posted in front of the tent, he gasped “I must speak to the General! Refusing me admittance may prove disastrous when the King returns!”

But even so, the guard stepped in front of the sentry, holding his spear diagonally in front of his chest. “You can not see the General now! He is sleeping!”

“Sleeping! While the world passes him by?! Is he the General or a man of the lines?! This is no time for a General who values his king’s favor to be napping! It’s the middle of the afternoon! Is it not enough that he is the only one to have a real tent over his head?”

At this moment, Richard himself ripped back the curtains of the tent, and standing framed in the opening, his arms outstretched toward the sides, exclaimed “I will have to put you under guard for that, man. But first, it would appear that lives hang in the balance of whether I will hear your news or not. What have you to say?”

“What I have to say, my lord, is that-” At this moment, the clear, piercing note of a war-horn broke over the whole area, lingering in the ears of the besieging army for long moments after it had in reality died away. Every man stopped what he was doing and looked up toward the walls of the city, from whence the sound had come.

Moving past the anxious sentry, Richard said “I will hear you later. I am wanted urgently now, for that horn warns us of either a sortie from the city or a request for a parley. I must be present to direct in either case.”

A moment later, as Richard moved closer to the walls, a herald appeared upon the topmost point, crying out as loud as he was able “Hear me now, you men of the General Richard! The men of the city have something to say to you now, before we waste our lives and die slowly behind these walls! We know well enough now that we have been besieged due to our treasonous answer to the king’s message! But behold! Before you judge us harshly for that, let me say that it was not the fault of the many soldiers who would have been called away! It was the fault of the few who have set themselves up as our leaders, commanding as they will and silencing all protests! And now, because of them, we are starving, because their insolence has brought you to our gates! Our crime on their heads!” With that, the herald stepped down out of sight once more.

In his place stood seven armed men, each holding another man by the collar of his tunic. In their free hands, they held knives so bright they flashed in the sun and caused many men on the ground to lower their eyes. The seven knives were raised as one, slashed through the air for one brief moment, and then disappeared. In the next moment, the seven men, who had until that day ruled the city with a collective iron fist, were hurtling toward the ground.

Another minute passed before the horn sounded again, this time signaling the opening of the gates. As the great gates were opened, a band of men, which was steadily growing larger, streamed out, running toward the army’s lines. They had nearly crossed the space between the city and the army before Richard was able to make out that nearly all of them, in an effort to prove their innocence, were shouting “Hail King Valun! Hail Richard!”

“Hold your hands! They wish to join!” Richard shouted to the waiting ranks, who had been prepared to fight.

It was not long before a man came running up to Richard, stopped and bowed before him, saying “I trust that you are Sir Richard, Commander of the army of our gracious king, Valun III?”

Removing his helm, which he had put on before leaving his tent, Richard replied “Just as I, sir, trust that you are the leader of the men of the city. You are, are you not?”

“I am.”

“Then resume your command, under my orders, and get your men to line up properly. Do you have supplies? Not foreseeing this rebellion, the king and I trusted that you and your men would be prepared to march as soon as we arrived.”

“Alas, I for one can tell you that the council that claimed to rule the city lived richly at the expense of the rest of us, selling great wagon-trains of supplies to several mysterious traders who came to the city long before our king marched on Brandia.”

“What you are saying is that you would be no help to us, for you have no supplies that you know of.”

“That we know of!” cried the commander of the city, leaving the ground in his excitement. “That’s it! I will set the men to searching the city immediately, though it may take us hours to be sure that we have looked everywhere.”

“Search as long as you think necessary, if you believe you have any chance of finding anything useful. We will wait.”

The instant Richard said this, the leader of the city’s soldiers was running back toward his men, crying “Back to the city! Search everywhere! Leave no floor untouched!”

Shouting with excitement, the men turned back toward the city and disappeared inside the walls. The army camped outside waited anxiously to discover the results of the search. They were forced to wait for nearly two hours before men began to issue forth from the city once more. This time, though the men were changed for the better. They had all donned the scarlet worn by Valun’s army and had armed themselves with good weapons and armor. Many of them also looked as if they had recently been eating their first good meal in a long while.

One of the first men to return to the camp was the captain himself. He ran straight to Richard, bursting with happiness. “We found it all! Everything! Hidden under the floor of the council hall, it was! The opening was right under the central table, in the center where the leader sat! The filthy double-crossers took everyone in! They sold the supplies to traders, and then, it seems, hired more men to recapture the supply train, bring it back here, and hide everything in the place prepared!”

“They are dead, and the supplies are found, so all is right with the city again.” replied Richard “And now, I require you to join my forces properly as soon as you are able. We shall soon march north to rejoin the king.”

Turning back toward his tent, he called on the sentry who had come earlier to tell him what news he had brought. The sentry came forward slowly, remarking “It would have been better to have let me speak sooner, sir, as you will soon see. My news is this: as I stood at my post this morning, I spotted a party of black riders. Their leader was fair of face like us, and before he passed I had recognized him as the renegade noble, John. In the midst of the dark men, I saw a lady, who could not be other than the Princess I had seen as she passed by our force in the company of the same band of dark-skinned riders.”

Leaping out of his chair, Richard exclaimed “John?! The Princess?! When did they pass this way?! Men must go after them at once!” Pushing past the sentry and dashing out, he cried “Let the horns be sounded! I must speak to the men!”

A short time later, mounted on his charger, Richard faced the ranks of men and exclaimed “News has been brought which causes me to fear for the safety of the capital! Men must go forth in all directions from this city! Some will go with me to the aid of the capital and the guards! Others will go to the river as fast as they are able, and the rest will go north with all possible speed to the aid of the king! We do not have a moment more to lose! We must go, now! To the Capital!”

Riding up and down the lines one final time at the end of his speech, Richard spurred his horse onward in the direction of Corrandion. Several thousand men, a full two thirds of the force there assembled, broke from the ranks and followed after him. Ten men, led by the sentry who had seen the renegade noble pass by, broke from the ranks and sped off toward the river. The remaining men immediately turned to face north and began to move in that direction with all speed. They were led by the captain of the men of Carribeasa, and it was they who would have the hardest journey, for they were to travel over mountains into a hostile country, and who could say that they would find the king at all?

13 January 2012

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXIX

For the past three days, and most of the intervening nights, John had ridden at the front of the party, ostensibly in the role of guide to the princess and her guards through the land. In reality, he had only taken this place at the head of the party to ensure that he could ride in comparative solitude while still remaining close by the Princess.

On the morning of the fourth day, the walls of Carribeasa rose on the horizon as John reached the crest of the hill he had driven his mount to ascend. Here he paused, waiting for the Gairbairns to make up the distance which separated him from them. When they had, he pointed to the walls. “The city of Carribeasa lies yonder, in our path.”

“Do you mean to stop there for provisions and rest?”

“We may. We are not above ten miles distant from it where we stand now. We will tarry there for the remainder of the day, if you wish. For my part, I would prefer to push on and continue toward the river.”

“Why? Do you fear what you may find in the city?” asked the Princess, who remained conscious of the fact that John had fallen out of favor with the king, and had probably been proclaimed an enemy of the state, since he had already been imprisoned. Now, loosening her hold on the restraining her mount, she looked out across the land toward the city once more. When a bright flash caught her eye, she exclaimed “Escape is denied to us. There is already danger enough surrounding the walls of that city. Do you not see the great mass of men camped close to it?”

“Nevertheless, we must pass close by, for the city controls the straightest path to the great river Quaygon, which separates this land from yours, and we must reach as soon as we can.”

Without another word, John started his mount in motion once more, driving it straight down the hill and across the stream beside it at an unusually rapid pace. The Princess and her guards followed an instant later, though they did not press their steeds as hard as John had. They traveled over this stretch of land much as they had traversed the others; John traveling several yards ahead of the Gairbairns, who followed with no intention of rejoining him. They traveled in as straight a line as they could manage. This was not hard, as there were few natural barriers, and these slowed them but little. None of them spoke a word while in motion; Recalling their largely silent passage across the desert of the Princess’ homeland, John was forced to resist the urge to speak with her at greater length, fearful that she only begin to like him less if he pressed himself upon her anymore than he had already done.

They traveled in the manner described for no less than two hours. By that time, they were quite close to the city and the host surrounding it. They were near enough, in fact, that they passed within twenty feet of a sentinel, one of many who had been stationed for want of anything more important to do. Looking past him, John spotted two banners flapping in the small breeze; one showed a yellow lion on a red field, standing on its four legs and roaring for all the world to see. The other was one of the several banners, displaying Valun’s sword and anvil image, which had been made many years ago in Ronaiera according to Valun’s dictated design.

“Richard! And it seems Valun is here as well!” said John to himself when he saw what the banners displayed. “I shall not last long if I stray anywhere near the city.” As he turned away, he saw, at the last moment, that the sentinel had turned to run back toward the camp. “Worse and worse! Richard will be sending men after me before the hour is out!” Turning his mount, John rode hard back over the ridge behind to the Gairbairns who were following him. “There is no safety for us here! The enemy has surrounded this city as well! Come!” Having said this, John rode off in a direction which would allow them to give a wide berth to the city and avoid the army altogether.

By the time the bank of the great river came in sight, John had long since ceased to worry about the prospect of any pursuit. They had been riding for the past hour by the time they reached the place. The minute he reached the edge of the bank, John dismounted, turned his camel loose to find what fodder it could, and seated himself beside the river to wait for the Princess.

She was not long in coming, and when she did, she promptly snapped “Now that we have come here, what do you intend to do next? The great river is too powerful for any beast to cross.”

“I know that. I intend to wait.”

“For what? The soldiers besieging the city to catch up with us here?”

“You will see soon, if it comes when it is expected.”

They had been waiting for an hour more before a large boat shaped like a huge canoe and propelled by as many as forty rowers hove into view. When it was directly in front of the shore where John and the Gairbairns were sitting, the man standing in the front called out “Back water! Hold her here!” Turning to the party on shore, he called out “Here at last, are you? Took your time about it! I’ve had these men rowing up and down this bank for weeks, with never even a piece of flotsam or jetsam to relieve us!”

“You know well enough, man,” replied John, who was now on his feet once more “That princes have every right to take their own time, and many other peoples’ in doing what they like! Now stand by to take your passengers!”

There was no further speech for several minutes, while the boat moved closer to the shore to allow boarding, and the party on shore strode deliberately across the plank which was provided for the purpose. Near the back of the boat, there was a small cabin, barely wide enough for one person, which the Princess promptly commandeered for her own use. Ignoring this, John walked forward to speak with the captain of the boat.

“How long will it take you to cross the river?”

“Considering all the practice the men put in, we should be on our home shore within two days. I’ve had them pulling here and back every week since I received your message. What held you back?”

“Do not speak so to your Prince! Get them started now!” Having thus silenced the man, John turned and strode back down the aisle between the rowers toward the cabin, ignoring the glares of the rowers, who were nearly all unhappy at having been forced to row across the great river twice every week for three months on his account.

Throughout the two days that were required for the boat to cross the river, the silence hung over it like a dark cloud. The Princess, who was understandably upset at the way events had turned out since her arrival in Corridane, refused to leave the cabin, and would not speak to John or the captain. The captain, whose only wish was to get the boat back home as quickly as possible, had nothing to say to his passengers in any case. John, who had infuriated both of them, sat stoically between the two.

The moment the boat touched the bank of the land of Ronaiera, John leapt out, itching to turn and ride away as quickly as could be managed. The instant everything had been unloaded, he mounted the nearest steed, crying “Follow me to the castle of Varaskel! There we shall live in safety and peace for all the days of our lives!”