17

Mar

by thefourpartland

“What do we do to stop this from happening again?” Iaprem was furious, storming from one side to another of the small room he called an office.

“Stop the raiders? Nothing. We haven’t been able to stop them for years. Why should we suddenly be able to do so now? We’re always spread too thin. Sure, if we concentrate our forces and they’re foolish enough to go straight at them, then we’re more than a match. But we can’t force them to that point.”

Iaprem muttered, his face deep in thought, wondering about possibilities.

“What if we could force them to that point? How many soldiers would you be able to bring to bear?”

“Right now, perhaps three hundred. The rest of those we’ve forcibly enrolled into the army are still the craven peasants they were before their training began. Sure, some of the men and women show signs of being useful, but it’s only signs. It will take an age of training before they don’t flee when battle joins.”

“And what are our best estimates on the raiders?”

“The maximum we’ve ever guessed as a total is five hundred, but that doesn’t take into account things like camp followers or the strengths of the various species that are thieving from us. Honestly though, we barely have a clue, since we’ve never pushed out and attacked their base. We’ve always been too scared.”

“Don’t I know it. I’ve been watching Cynlyaa decline and crumble all around me since I took my first steps on her cobbled streets, and unless we make these lands secure, we’re never going to have enough. With what we have now, I’ll be surprised if the crop harvest doesn’t fail in a year, and we watch our friends starving to death.”

“So you propose a last ditch gamble, throwing everything into a single strike and praying for the right outcome. Death or glory, is that it?”

“We’ve walked our current path for a long, long time, you and I. We know what lies at its end. So we step off the path, leap as far away from it as we can. What better way to do that than charge into the teeth of those who have harassed us all these years?”

Yenque smiled. “I agree, but we’re going to need numbers on our side, and that means time. How long do I have?”

“It’s spring now which means the peasants are busy planting what crops they can manage all about us. Call it late summer. That’s when we strike.”

There was a deeply shared smile, a giddy smile, that flashed back and forth between the two friends. Perhaps it was a foolish plan, but at last they had a plan that could result in the saving of their people, and a time frame within which to act. Digging through the broken cupboard at the back of the office, Iaprem pulled forth a dirty glass bottle, liquid sloshing in it when held up to the light.

Toasts were exchanged, a great many of them, to bravery and honour, Fasnachu and Hannhangnefedd, Lady Luck and War. It was a revelry that dream strange looks from the men who passed by the door to the room, and when at last Dregnon was summoned to see what had happened to his comrades, he found them dead drunk, slumped against walls and floors, but at last with smiles on their faces.

Whatever it was that had caused those smiles to come to be was surely something they would inform him of when next they regained consciousness, and so he directed a few of the men nearby to carry Iaprem and Yenque to their cots, and leave them there until such time as the ringing in their heads ceased.

***

What came next was not of Iaprem’s making, or of Yenque’s. Rather than being left to sleep in the peace which their plans had earned, they found themselves roughly shaken awake, dragged from their cots with heads ringing, making the voices that shouted at them all the more unintelligible and painful.

Holding up a hand, Iaprem bellowed at those around him. “Quiet! Now, you…” He pointed, then spun about. “Or maybe you… Bah! One of you three senior people tell me what the hell is going on? And stop swaying!”

The one in the middle stepped forward. Of course, so did those on either side of him. Forsaking dignity, Iaprem slumped back down onto his cot and waved a hand, gesturing for the lieutenant to begin.

“We’ve been invested.”

“By what? Termites? We already knew that.”

“The raiders. Although at this point, calling them that seems a bit wrong. They’ve surrounded the old palace.”

Iaprem shot bolt upright, nearly collapsing as his head struggled to deal with the sudden reorientation. “Surrounded us. Here? Where are the citizens who were outside the walls?”

“All but a few made it through the old tunnels before they were spotted. We had to collapse the one they used, however.”

“And the few?”

“We’re not sure.”

“Blast. That’s going to break our morale, if the opposing commander has any sense in him. What the hell is going on here, anyway? Why are the raiders trying to siege us out?”

“They think we’re weak, most likely.”

“They’ve known we’re weak for years! Why now?” Iaprem shuddered at his own shouting. “Where’s Yenque? He needs to hear this.”

“Already in the briefing room sir, looking at the maps.”

Iaprem set off in hot pursuit.

***

When they arrived, it turned out that “looking at the maps” meant gently dozing atop them, slumped in an old and broken wooden chair. A quick jab to the ribs woke Yenque, and he was soon coherent enough to participate in the discussion they were having.

“The largest collections of enemy forces are here and here, opposite the gates into the old palace. Given the doors there are not of the sturdiest construction, there’s a good chance they’re try and force a breach in a simple charge.”

The gates, as were many things in this city, were laid out along the north south axis, and so were the points in the old palace furthest from one another, which would make reinforcing either difficult. It would even make knowing what was going on at both difficult.

“First step is I want a soldier or two up in the highest tower that can see both gates. There has to be one atop this damn old edifice that’s still useful. Given him a bunch of boys as well, and tell them to shout down anything they can see. Or wave or dance or do whatever it takes to get our attention. Now, where are the men?”

“Most of them are at either gate, but with a flying force of about fifty men in the middle. We’ve put recruits along the walls between the gates. It’s mostly a show of numbers, but it should help.”

Iaprem pondered that for a moment. “It might, but they’ll also collapse entirely if they get tested. Not that we can leave the walls unmanned entirely…”

“What if we leave a gap on the walls? An obvious place to strike where we don’t have enough men to cover it?” That was Yenque, his first useful contribution since waking from the alcohol induced slumber.

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