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!”