by thefourpartland

The sixth installment of a 30k word short story set in The Four Part Land. It takes place 400 years in the past from the time of Tarranau and Chloddio, and details the collapse of Hymerodraeth Heula, the Empire of the Sun.

The final month of training passed quickly, and the first bloom of spring began to show over the desert and oasis of Bhreac Veryan. What little snow was on the ground disappeared, sucked away by the voracious sand, and as the wind whipped and tore at the standards, the soldiers of Hymerodraeth Heula stood at attention to hear a speech by Ymerawdwyr, blessing them in the name of the fire, naming the army Glanhaol Fflamboethi, the Cleansing Flame that would burn away the infectious rot of Niam Liad. Orders had come that the city was to be punished for its presumptions, and punished harshly, and today that retribution would strike forth.

Rhyfelwyr and his squad were in the vanguard of the army, given pride of place for their veteran status, for it was months before the army would first encounter opposition. The army would march south, across the great desert, until it reached the oasis at Falna, where it would turn southeast, and strike towards Miath Mhor, the city that dominated the mouth of the peninsula upon which Niam Liad sat. There, Glanhaol Fflamboethi would begin the process of cauterizing the wound that had been slashed into the side of Hymerodraeth Heula.

The speech over, a roar went up from the crowd gathered to see the army off, and an answering cheer echoed back from the assembled soldiers. At a grand gesture from Ymerawdwyr, the vanguard faced forward and began to march, each step churning up the dust and the sand. Soon, the army was enveloped in a cloud of its own making, as they wended their way down the string of oases towards Falna. This part of the journey would take them almost a month to complete, and during that time, the final training and preparation of the army would take place. It was expected that the arrival at Falna would be contested, although by how many was unknown, and that every step from there on would be fraught with danger, traps, and ambushes, as the rebellious soldiers used every inch of their land to advantage.

For his part, Rhyfelwyr felt only a little tingle of anticipation at the thought of once more going into battle, into a war. He was too old, too experienced, for the excitement that coursed through the younger soldiers. Even Rhocas’s normally bubbly personality had ramped up, and his energetic personality had nearly brought him to blows with Gwyth and Locsyn. Rhyfelwyr knew that passion would ebb across the many miles of near-featureless desert, only to resurface once more in nervous form as actual battle approached.

Days passed in a cloud of dust, and the squad was thankful for their position at the front of the army, ahead of the billowing clouds that caused coughing and covered gear and men in a brown cloak. Rather than march during the heat of the day, the army moved at night, using firemages and their heat vision to guide the soldiers along the right path. Every morning, before the sun came up, the army would dig itself down into the desert, disappearing and leaving an almost featureless wasteland, scattered with what looked like the discarded remnants of a battle. And every night, as the sun set, the army would appear once more, crawling out of the sand and the dust to arise as new men. Training was conducted whenever the army stopped for a meal, with half an hour or an hour beforehand given to marching in formation, swordplay, and all other manner of exercise.

As the army forged south, scouts would be detached ahead, ranging for days in front of the main body, searching, searching for that first contact with the enemy. True, Glanhaol Fflamboethi was in land considered safe and inhospitable to invaders, but there was little cause to be sure of anything. Word from Niam Liad had ceased entirely over the winter months, and so the army marched blind of information, the last it had heard some six months previously. Thus it pushed forward its own feelers, seeking out every scrap of knowledge it could find from traders, desert nomads, or the few villagers who lived around each oasis.

The army strode into Falna, caught within the dust storms of its own march, and there spent the next two days provision and resupplying. Falna was a walled city, wrapped around an oasis, a hidden jewel lost in the middle of the desert, and the only green that showed within hundreds of miles. When they arrived Rhyfelwyr heard word of probing attacks that had tested the defences of Falna, but none had come in such strength as to force a breakthrough. Still, it was word that they would need to fight soon, and he passed it around amongst the troops. Rhocas bounced about like a young puppy at the news, while the rest of the squad simply grunted, and went back to what they had been doing. Rhy understood that attitude: fire burns, soldiers fight, it is the natural order of things.

Provisioning and a final round of training over, Glanhaol Fflamboethi forged south once more, the scouts doubled and pulled in closer, weaving a net of eyes in front of the vanguard of the army. Rhyfelwyr and his squad still marched within the vanguard, and their eyes too spread across the countryside, looking for any imperfections that might mark a hidden ambush. Soon, the army began coming across traps built into the route, mainly covered pit traps with some spikes at the bottom. These seemed designed not so much to harm, but to delay, to make the army ever slower, but their design left the soldiers wondering if something more ingenious was waiting.


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