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?”
“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?