24

Apr

by thefourpartland

Breaking an Empire was a short story I set out to write to bring Unfolding a New Continent up to the world limit I wanted it to be at before I started editing. It was supposed to be 25,000 words of backstory as to why the two main kingdoms of The Four Part Land hate one another so much. Effectively, it was a longer take on those history segments over on the main page. It turned out quite differently than that, for me. Oh, the story went where it was supposed to. I couldn’t change that without rewriting the setting. But I didn’t expect the six characters to mean this much to me. Every other time I’ve finished a longer piece of work I’ve been happy. It feels like a great accomplishment, and then with a little polish it’ll be great. This… this feels a little more like a loss, like closing the chapter on something that shouldn’t quite yet be over. I think much of that feeling stems from the fact I couldn’t give them a happy ending. They were born to lose, and I struggled against that by the time I got to the end of the story. I found myself writing the last battle and wanting them to win, and so although I’d thought long and hard about killing them off, I couldn’t do it.

30,000 words from when I introduced them, here is the conclusion to the story of Rhyfelwyr, Locsyn, Taflen, Gwyth, Llofruddiwr, and Rhocas. I will miss them.

The Veryan line was forced back a step, as the mass of Lianese soldiers pushed up the hill. Gywth cursed, finding himself fighting a man even larger than he was, and the Veryan soldier had to use his shield to block three straight blows from the heavy. On the fourth, Gywth caught the incoming strike on his shield, holding the arm up above the heavy’s head. Seeing the opening, Taflen stepped forward and thrust into the exposed armpit, severing the vessels there. The heavy collapsed backwards, blood pouring from the wound. Another came towards the soldiers, and this heavy was struck down in the same manner, having not seen Gwyth and Taflen use the tactic. It required great strength and effort and luck, and even the mighty giant was tiring as the battle drew on. He and Taflen had amassed in front of themselves a pile of corpses, but around them the line was being pushed back, and back, as arrows and javelins arced overhead to strike down upon the Veryan soldiers. The shield wall was holding, safe from the projectiles, but even so, the numbers were dwindling, and it bowed dangerously inwards where the Lianese heavy infantry had struck. Most of them were gone now, but they had done grievous damage to the western half of the Veryan ring, and troops had been pulled from the east to shore up the sagging lines.

Llofruddiwr found the pickings easy against the more lightly armoured Lianese troops that were now the main foe. The heavies had given him much trouble, for his usual style of twin long-knives worked ill against men encased in such plate, but he had found the openings, and a small pile of them lay dead before the assassin’s feet. Now, against these conscripts and foot soldiers of Niam Liad, Llofruddiwr found openings came freely, and he struck and struck and struck again, each thrust from his blades dropping another Lianese soldier. Soon, he had built a low wall of corpses about him, and those who still dared to challenge him needed to climb over it, exposing themselves to Llofruddiwr’s flashing knives. He paused in his swift slaying, looking about to see that he was a lone Veryan soldier, a bastion out amidst the sea of Lianese, and only his fearsome skill and the shaky morale of the Lianese had kept him alive. The shield wall was some ten paces behind him, engaged with Lianese soldiers. Bursting over the wall of corpses, Llofruddiwr ploughed into the back of the Lianese, his long-knives sweeping open a path to the Veryan lines. The Veryan wall split for a moment, allowing the assassin to dive through, and then closed up again, shields once more overlapping as they faced down at their foes.

The battle was hours old, and still the Lianese came up the hill, sending their nation’s men in a great tide that would break again and again upon the firm rocks of the Veryan wall. But such resistance had a terrible price, and now the backs of the Veryan soldiers were nearly at the ring of wagons that marked the last stand. The firemages huddled within those wagons, fearful and exhausted. Most were still asleep, not recovered from their efforts of the morning. Those few who were awake could barely move, and staggering to their feet made them faint and ill. There would be no help from the firemages this day.

Squads had broken and died, and now men fought shoulder to shoulder with those they did not know, and only the ferocious discipline of Glanhaol Fflamboethi kept the shield wall whole. The conscripts from Niam Liad threw themselves against it in a fury, urged on by their officers. The Lianese commanders could sense that the tipping point was near, for both sides fought with a fury born of desperation and exhaustion, and soon the facade of one force or another would crack, and that would mark the end of it.

The Lianese skirmishers had all but exhausted their arsenal of arrows and javelins, and now the only ones that came over the line were pulled from the bodies of dead soldiers. With no more glass spheres, the few Veryan soldiers who were not in the line, including many of the cutters, had taken to throwing back all of the javelins and knives that they found, and this took a toll upon the lightly armoured Lianese soldiers. Cutters and quartermasters and scribes and those others who supported the army but did not normally fight had donned armour, and many were in the front ranks of the line, trying to hold back the Lianese soldiers.

The Lianese pressed hardest against the western shield wall, a pressure that had never relented from the moment the heavy infantry had bowed the line. Only by retreating in measured steps had the Veryan soldiers recovered the shape of their wall, and now with the battle reaching its peak, the line was often but two soldiers thick. Wounded men who could barely stand were going back into the lines, holding shields in both hands as they staggered into place. They could not fight, no, but perhaps they could block a blow or three, and when the time came, their crippled bodies could take a strike to save the few unharmed soldiers left.

It was at this point that shouts came from the eastern wall, and it bowed dangerously, pressed backwards until the Veryan soldiers stood against the wagons. The Lianese had snuck the few remaining heavy infantry around to the eastern side of the hill, and brought them up through the press of conscripts. Formed into a wedge, they smashed into the centre of the Veryan line, and broke through. Conscripts began climbing over the wagons to get at the wounded within the ring, and only a ferocious defence by the officers and the cutters shored that hole in the line. The force of heavy infantry had split into two, each seeking to turn the end of the circle they had broken.

Rhyfelwyr saw what they were doing and shouted at his squad. Breaking from the line at a run, the five soldiers shot across the narrow gap to find themselves athwart ten heavies. Gwyth, Rhyfelwyr, Taflen and Locsyn formed into a short shield wall, and pressed against the heavies, using all the skill they could muster to blunt the strength of their advance. The Veryan soldiers around them fought desperately, stemming the tide of conscripts who followed behind and around.

The breach held, for the moment, but even a lightning glance showed Rhy that the soldiers fighting at the wagon wall were soon to fall. If the line did not throw out the Lianese interlopers and once more form the circle about the top of the hill, the battle would be lost. Growling out orders, Rhy pushed the squad forward, driving his sword into the gut of the enemy before him again and again. The blows clanged away off of the metal, but it stole his foe’s balance, forced to reach down to defend himself, and so when Rhy slammed his shield into heavy’s helmet, the soldier fell over backwards, stunned and off-balance. Taking advantage of the confusion and poor footing the fallen foe caused, Llofruddiwr leapt from his perch atop a wagon onto the backs of two of the heavies. Heavily armoured though they were, the helmets had not been designed to stop an upward thrust from behind, and Llof slammed his long-knives under the helmets of the heavies, pitching them to the ground, dead in an instant. A fourth heavy fell, this to a crushing blow from Gwyth, and the others tried to step back and regroup. Locsyn and Taflen did not let them, stepping out of the shield wall for leaping strikes at the unprotected joins on the back of the knee. Two more fell, and then it was five against four, and the squad swiftly overcame these brutes, sending their spirits winging away.

Once more against conscripts, the soldiers of Bhreac Veryan closed the gap in the shield wall, once more securing the perimeter about the wagons. Rhy spared himself a glance to where the other force of heavy infantry had been. There, the Lianese soldiers had made a better go of it, for they had taken two to one or three to one from the Veryan troops, and the line was ghastly thin, barely able to withstand the mass pressed against it. The Lianese were ill-trained, farmers, peasants, sailors, men who had never been in a fight before in their lives, and they faced a hard core of Veryan veterans who had been campaigning for months. But the Lianese outnumbered the Veryan soldiers by a great margin, and on the strength of those numbers, the Lianese would likely win. Rhyfelwyr sighed and shook his head in sadness as he parried away the attack of a foolish boy and cut him down. Two kingdoms were being broken today, for Niam Liad would take generations to recover from the scorched earth and murdered manhood that lay all about, while Hymerodraeth Heula was fighting against the oncoming twilight, for the military might of Bhreac Veryan was scattered about this unnamed hilltop, dead or dying.

The Veryan army had lost eight out of ten men and from up above the thin ring that protected the wagons was no more than a shadow against the horde of peasants. Greater still was the army of corpses that lay all about, for the Lianese had lost so many men they were forced to carry the dead down the hill just to have avenues of attack. Bodies were piling up at the bottom of the hill, forming great mounds of waste, and it was into this scene that a brilliant flame burst, arcing in a wide band over the heads of the Veryan soldiers and down into the Lianese mass. One of the firemages had risen, and Rhyfelwyr turned his head to see Rhocas staggering, his face drawn with a look of starvation, but his hand upraised as the flame jetted out into the Lianese soldiers, incinerating many. Rhocas played the fire in a slow sweep, burning a hole in the Lianese attack that gave a few moments of respite to the tired Veryan soldiers. Then the firemage turned his attention to the mass of flags that signalled a Lianese command post. A great ball of flame flew from his hands, floating overhead to smash down upon the officers, spraying fire and sparks everywhere. Crying out in joy that the firemages had come to save them, the Veryan soldiers pressed down the hill, the sight of the flame giving them new strength and purpose. The morale of the Lianese had been severely weakened by the horrendous losses of the day, and the combination of fire and renewed assault by a foe they thought was nearly finished broke the Lianese, and the conscripts turned and fled down the hill. With no officers and precious few regular soldiers left to command them, the rout became total, as the Veryan charged after, breaking those few pockets of resistance.

Rhocas had collapsed into a coma after the ball of fire, and was convulsing upon the ground as cutters sought to aid him. They tried all manner of treatment, and were able to still the jerking of his limbs, but the mage was wan and pale. The cutters carried him off to the wagons, where he was laid down under a thick blanket. They would wait and see, for there was little they could do.

Rhyfelwyr looked about the remains of the camp, and at the field of death that the hill had become. It ran red from the very summit down to the base, grass stained and sticky with blood. He was sore from many nicks and bruises, as were the others in his squad. Gwyth, as was his way, had several deep slices, but none appeared to have truly harmed the giant. They were amongst the lucky few. Most of Glanhaol Fflamboethi was dead or dying, screaming out their last breaths in anguish. Even the firemages had not made it out unscathed, for protected as they had been by the cutters and the officers in the very centre of the army, when that attack had broken the ring, skirmishers had managed to slay several of them where they lay. This was no longer an army. At best, it was the broken remnant of one, but after today, Rhyfelwyr thought that no one who had been here could fight again.

That night, he and the squad gathered the belongings and the weapons and the armour from their friends, and stacked them high in wagons no longer needed for food. Then the bodies of the Veryan dead were formed into a massive pyramid, and a firemage, still shaky and weak, played flame across its face. The funeral pyre lit the sky for miles around, and even the fleeing Lianese stopped in their tracks to look at the column of fire that split the night. Rhyfelwyr wished he could say a prayer for the dead, but he had nothing within him now, merely an empty shell, scourged clean of any thought. As the pyre burned on, exhaustion claimed the Veryan soldiers, and they sank down where they stood, and as they slept they became indistinguishable from the dead about them.

The next morn no one stirred, and it was only as the sun reached its peak in the sky and began to descend that the first of the Veryan soldiers rose from their sleep. Gathering their belongings and forming up into a long column, Glanhaol Fflamboethi marched to the north. Rhyfelwyr’s squad had been broken apart, and each man placed in command of their own, but it was understood there would be no fighting, for neither side had any more stomach for blood. Nor did any of the men of Rhyfelwyr’s squad. They would turn in their blades at Bhreac Veryan. Rhocas woke late that day, sitting up in the wagon in which he had been laid. Movement was difficult and breathing more so, and he would live the last few years of his life as a cripple, for the strain he had placed on his body that day was too great.

The sun set that night as it had so many others, but this night it set on Hymerodraeth Heula and the dreams of men.

Comments

  1. Steve Green on 10.18.2010

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this story, whilst reading the the vivid descriptions of battle scenes, images of the slaughter in the film ‘The 300’ kept popping into my mind, the weapons and tactics used are imaginative and logically solid, and the story itself coupled with the believable dialogue kept my interest throughout.

    I feel rather privileged to have read it at this stage, and I wish you all the best for publication, I also hope that someone is going to approach you to buy the film rights too.

    Thank you.

  2. The Four Part Land on 10.19.2010

    I would adore seeing this made into a film. However, I can’t see that ever happening. Although if it did, I would be first in line to see it in the theatres.

    Really glad you enjoyed it all the way through. Now I only need to write another 50k words for Unfolding a New Continent to be ready for edits. Maybe after the current novel project.

Leave a Reply