16

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.

It was a panicked and upset messenger who burst in upon the three leaders in council.

“They’re back! Southern approach!” was all he was able to gasp out before collapsing on the floor.

One glance between the three men and they were off, Iaprem and Yenque streaming for the armoury, Dregnon to his place amongst the civilian population. All the while, they shouted the news down the corridors as they ran, sending men scurrying hither and yon, although with the speed with which the raiders came, there was little that could be done to react in time.

The armoury, when they arrived at it, was a madhouse of men pulling on rusty old chainmail shirts, and grabbing the iron swords from their racks upon the walls. Shields made of wood lay stacked upon the stone near the doors, and were the last thing grasped as the soldiers sprinted towards the exits.

Yet above all, what Iaprem noticed as he came into the room was the sour taste of fear, spreading far and wide. Clearly, the soldiers could sense it too, for they were nervous, shaky, and those who were new recruits were all but wetting themselves in nervous anticipation. One even attempted to flee, his sword clattering to the ground in a noise that grasped everyone’s attention and spun them about.

Too far away for Iaprem to grab, his shouts of “Stop! Coward!” did little more than make the nervousness even more widespread. Only when he had turned his powerful gaze on the men around him did the murmurs and the whispers quiet back down, but even then only barely.

He sighed. Others were surely slipping away when they should be going to the walls, although likely none quite so blatantly. Whatever hope Dregnon had placed in the experiment of turning citizens into soldiers was being sorely put to the test on this day.

At last, he was able to have an armourer help him with his gear, which was, unlike the boiled leather and chainmail given to the soldiers who served under him, full plate mail, a suit handed down from father to son in his family for some age. It was heavy, and constricting, being not built for his precise form of body, but even with the ill fit the protection it offered was nothing short of exemplary, so sturdy was the craftsmanship that had gone into its creation. And with it came the claymore of his ancestors, one of the very few magical weapons still remaining within the walls of Cynlyaa.

Grasped with two hands at the hilt, the blade lit into sparkling blue flame, a glowing torch that served as his personal banner in battle.

Beside him, Yenque finished climbing into one of the few other pieces of plate mail that remained, his, like Iaprem’s, a gift from the nobility that had once made up his lineage. Being closer in size to the man for whom the armour was originally intended, Yenque was able to move a touch more freely on the battlefield, necessary given his odd choice of weapon.

Most of the soldiers who served in the cohorts of Cynlyaa were either equipped with the remaining swords they had been able to keep in service, or failing that, spears and flails made from whatever lay to hand. There were also some few bows and javelins kept in served, although mostly any need for ranged weaponry was met by slings and sling staves filled with crumbled stone. But Yenque, whose choices had often been a tad unusual, wielded not one but two morningstars, each imbued with some minor form of magic, although neither to the level of Iaprem’s claymore.

Together, the two leaders of Cynlyaa’s army charged out to meet the threat of battle.

***

“How are we doing?” Iaprem and Yenque had just arrived on the walls overlooking the southern approaches to the old palace, to see before them a heated scuffle, mostly obscured by collapsed buildings and hasty barricades.

The sergeant on the walls was the man to respond. “Not well, I think. They picked the homes of those living outside the walls, and were able to grab much of what little lay within.”

“So why are they fighting now?”

“They aren’t, really. They’re skirmishing in retreat, taking the measure of our new soldiers without really risking themselves much.”

“Damn! So any surprise we might have had is long gone, along with whatever belonged to those who lived outside the walls. How many people do you think were affected?”

The sergeant shrugged. “Raiders had a hundred, maybe two hundred. So, a third of those outside the walls?”

“Any casualty reports as of yet?”

“None, and I wouldn’t expect any for the next bit, either. They’re still skirmishing, after all, and some of our folks ain’t too happy about what’s happened either.”

Cursing and muttering to himself, Iaprem silenced the flame that wound along his blade before sitting on the edge of the ramparts, legs dangling over the drop.

Beside him, Yenque leant onto one of the few crenellations still in proper repair.

“Well, this was a kick in the teeth. All those new men under arms, and the raiders still come and go with impunity.”

“Do you think they kidnapped people this time?”

“I’m sure of it.” Iaprem sighed. In times past, the raiders had taken women and children to be their servants, and had no doubt done so again with those they had been able to get their hands on. Of course, given the raiders had a variety of monstrous and semi-monstrous creatures amongst them… some of the captives had likely only made it as far as the stewpot.

“We knew this was going to keep happening, Iaprem. They weren’t going to stop coming because we put spears in the hands of peasants.”

“Allow a man his false hopes, would you? Even after they’ve been torn down. Because without hope, why the hell are we still here, fighting?”

“For love of family, and life?”

All that received in answer was a glance from Iaprem, a glance that said everything. Iaprem’s wife and child had been amongst those lost to the raids some years ago, and while there had never been any word about them since, both men knew they were almost certainly dead.

“Okay, perhaps not. But there must be some reason to keep carrying on, even if it is but a faint one.”

“You’re going to have to invent one for me, Yenque, because otherwise I am going to die a man old before his time, swinging his sword against some foul troglodyte while a goblin stabs me in the back.”

“For glory, then.”

“What glory is there being overrun by bandits? There will be no bards to tell my tale, no scribes to write it, no artists to paint it. No, if I’m lucky I’ll be in an unmarked grave by the side of some ruined building in Cynlyaa. If I’m unlucky, my corpse will become a turd shat out by the beast that ate me.”

Yenque laughed. “You do have quite a way with words, Iaprem. And there you have what we’re fighting for – not becoming goblin turds.”

Even Iaprem had to smile at that. “Oh, what inspirational words you speak. I can feel my heart rising to meet them.”

“Yes, well, your backside should be rising too, since it looks like one of the lieutenants is coming to speak with us.”

With that, the two men levered themselves up from the positions in which they reposed, and trundled down the stairs, taking them carefully in their plate armour.

The report was, more or less, as expected. A few men dead, a few wounded, some women and children taken, and a modicum of goods stolen. The only thing of worth was that there were so few goods left to those residing outside the walls that the theft of what there was would be mostly inconsequential. Except, there would be those families that had lost their last heirlooms, and they would be inconsolable, and angry. And without being able to turn their anger on the raiders, they would turn it on Yenque, and Dregnon, and him, for being unable to do their sole duty, and protect those of Cynlyaa. It was a charge he had failed far too often.

Comments

Leave a Reply