13

Mar

by thefourpartland

This is the next installment of a new novella in an old setting, called Arhosa. I’ll be posting a thousand words a day of Work-in-Progress, with the end goal being five chapters of 10,000 words each, roughly.

Dregnon found Yenque at his usual post, overseeing the various actions and objectives of the soldiers, however dreary that might be. Today it was training, and the soldiers, worried about damaging their gear, were fighting with wooden sticks and bits of rotten timber from the collapsed buildings. Swords and other weapons were too precious to risk breaking except in actual combat.

Likewise for their armour, and so, aside from helmets, they wore breastplates of wooden and stone, tied together with twine and shreds of cloth. Functional enough, for the moment, but hardly something that would work against a determined strike.

Yenque noticed his comrade’s arrival, and made his way over. As ever, there was a permanently worried look carved into Dregnon’s face, a legacy of his life as Quartermaster of Cynlyaa.

“And what can I do for you today? Whatever it is, the problem appears to be weighty indeed.”

That evoked a brief smile. “Weighty would be the correct description, I believe. I think you know we mean to move everyone into the old palace.”

“Of course.”

“And that not everyone will be appropriately housed therein.”

“Meaning we leave some of the remnants of Cynlyaa to die. A choice men should not have to make, choosing which of their neighbours to give over to the grindstone.”

“A full third.”

“That high? We’re weak and stretched thin enough as it is. But it would mean less mouths to feed and a smaller area to defend.”

“Trust a military man to think in terms of logistics. And no, I do not think we can truly afford those losses either.”

“Are we sure they would be lost so soon?”

“Unprotected and left to the mercy of the raiders?” Dregnon snorted. “They might survive a week, perhaps a month, but longer? You and I both understand the realities of our situation.”

“So you have come to me with a solution then. Otherwise you would not be here.”

“Not a solution, so much as a mental experiment. How many men do you have under arms?”

“Two hundred, give or take number.”

“In squads of size?”

“Four. Pair in front, pair in back. In an ideal world. In ours, it’s all pairs to the front, always. No rest for the weary. I am only thankful that we fight so well at the end of our endurance.”

“An ability long gifted to the Cynddeir by Hannhangnefedd. We did not earn the title of War Lands for no reason at all.”

Yenque looked into the distance for a moment, his eyes seeing another time. “Perhaps not, but unless he comes down from his mighty perch, there is nothing that can save this city now. Our glories are gone, our majesty corrupted and betrayed. We are now the honourable few, and the prey of jackals feasting upon the corpse of our world. So unless your solution has a whiff of the old magic about it, we are doomed. Perhaps not today, or tomorrow, or even this year, but doomed nonetheless.”

“Your doubts do you credit, but perhaps you should let them pass you by.  Now, before we become lost in a world of melancholy reminiscences, I have a solution to propose. That we take each of those men who, and women, who would be left outside the walls, and train them with sword and shield.”

Yenque blinked, shocked out of his depressed thoughts. “The craven ones? You wish to arm them? Better that I should hands my weapons to the raiders themselves than let them be soiled by those depraved creatures.”

“Perhaps, but perhaps not. Think on what those citizens of Cynlyaa have been offered for their wholes lives – nothing more than a cold damp hearth, starvation, and constant oppression. Perhaps if we gave them the means by which they might fight back, we could rescue them from the state in which they now reside.”

“So you wish me spend my men’s time training these pitiful humans, the lost and the damned, when instead they could be preparing the old palace for defence.”

“Allocate a few to that, and I shall make sure the citizens who are to live there move the rocks and the debris into defensible shapes. Iaprem can guide them in that, for he does have some small military talent. And while that is happening, your soldiers train the last thousand. Harshly, and speedily. Time has never been on our side, as you well now. We have more men than the raiders, a good deal more. It is that ours do not fight, and cower away when bullied, while theirs bully. Let us fix that and see where it takes us.”

Yenque smiled, and clapped Dregnon on the shoulder. “We shall do what we can, old friend. But I’m leaving you with the task of scaring up enough weapons and armour that we can outfit these people when they are ready to fight. Pray to Hannhangnefedd that they become so.”

“Do not doubt in the God of War, for if there’s anything he likes, it’s more soldiers willing to kill for his glory.”

A derisive snort was the only answer.

***

The old palace, as it turned out, held more than a few surprises, including a well tucked away in the cellars, as well as hidden ingress and egress routes that had only become exposed due to their hidden doors collapsing. Perhaps not useful in and of themselves, they did mean Dregnon was able to group those who would live outside the walls near the entrances, and tell them where to run if danger threatened.

There was always the risk they would lead the raiders in through the hidden passages when they next came in force, but it was Dregnon’s hope the training would stiffen the spines of Cynlyaa’s citizens enough it would not happen.

Sadly, while he had been able to find one arms locker that had not been entirely looted, all it had yielded was another fifty old swords and some shields and baldrics to go with them. And some were in such bad condition that they might well break if struck firmly against an enemy blade.

Each day he sent more citizens delving into the structure, using mostly children, for they could fit through the tight places, and were still young enough to see this as a game. Then they led the adults in to retrieve what it was they had found.  The men were under the watchful eye of Iaprem, rebuilding walls, fortifying little redoubts with stone and rubble, while the women dug up all the plants they could find and repotted them inside the old palace walls. Mostly they were turnips, beets, carrots, hardy plants that had survived the rough conditions and spread from old gardens. Grain was an all but lost concept in this day, and breads and pies were so scarce as to be eaten only in celebration, or upon a holy day.

The books over which Dregnon poured were merely the listing of how far they had fallen, his notes scribbled in margins, tucked into corners, around old text, finely illuminated. One day his people would craft volumes of such magnificence again, but not today, nor even in his lifetime. Of that he was sure.

His people were lost.

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