14

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.

Yenque cursed as he watched yet another of the craven simply drop their weapon and run away from the advance of his sparring partner. Faced with even the hint of mock combat, these cowardly humans would fling their weapons to the side and flee.

Of course, there were those few who had taken to combat as a way to work out their frustrations on the world, and if anything were even more problematic. Now with a weapon in their hands for the first time, they were always getting into fights outside of training, and one foolish idiot had declared she was going to sneak off and assassinate the raider lord, now that she knew how to fight. With but four days training, she had surely died.

“Have you considered forcing them to fight in line, or by pairs?”

Yenque glanced over to see Iaprem standing nearby, observing.

“They aren’t skilled enough to fight solo, never mind with a partner. Just look at them flailing around out there.”

“Make of it a game, or a challenge.” The Warleader pointed to an empty spot on the grounds. “Come, I’ll explain.”

Grabbing a training stick, Yenque followed his superior, then rested on the hilt of the weapon while Iaprem spoke.

“What you want to do is something like this, a contest where the trainee is required to be the aggressive one, but he lets down his partner if things go poorly. So, give the trainee the sword, and the soldier the shield. One is offense, the other defense. If they work well together, they both survive. If they cannot work together, they are both punished in some manner. Most like laps about the training field and being last in line to eat food tonight.”

Yenque smiled. “How about I tie them together, about the waist, so movement is restricted and they can’t flee?”

“I’m not sure I would go quite so far as that, but perhaps, if it becomes necessary.”

“How is it that you always manage to come up with ideas I should have thought of long ago?”

Iaprem smiled, albeit briefly. “Years of experience trying to command this ragtag city. And the soldiers it once had.”

“It still has some.”

A gesture of apology. “You understood my meaning.”

“Of course, of course. I know from whence that came.” Yenque paused. Perhaps there was something to be found there… “What if we organize the men into units based on the most famous of the old? Say… four of them?”

“You’ll need to find banners for them… but it should improve morale, and add a little more fire to the training. What would it be, fifty apiece?”

“Much more, if any of this lot work out. But fifty would be the old soldiers in the ranks.”

“My best guess is you’ll only get a hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty per unit.”

“That high? I never took you for a rampant optimist, Iaprem.”

They looked at one another with rueful smiles, before Yenque spoke again.

“There’s a few men and women for whom Dregnon’s idea is working, but it’s far too few. Look at them. Every time I think I’ve seen the saddest citizen in all of Cynlyaa, another one walks around the corner and onto my training grounds. What did I ever do to deserve this? What did they do?”

“They? Nothing. But their forefathers before them believed in the power of gold over the power of the sword, and so they amassed one, and paid for the other. And now there is no more gold, and those creatures who were once mercenaries in our land have plundered and pillaged it, taking it for their own. Even cave-dwelling goblins feel at home stealing from our people, so weakened have they become. Fasnachu left us long ago, and took all our luck with her.”

“Perhaps. But if the gods can take luck from us, perhaps we can win it back with valour.”

“Then you have your task, Yenque. Make us an army to reclaim Cynlyaa, and then Cynddeir. You have three thousand pitiful wretches from which to build it, no supplies, a crumbled palace as a base, and no ability to create a logistics train. All simple problems to overcome, no doubt.”

“I live but to serve.” Yenque swept into a low bow that sent Iaprem storming off, more bitter at himself than at anything his officer had said.

But there was no avoiding the fact that the way Iaprem had laid out the challenge was all but accurate. Oh, there were other Cynddeir in other cities and villages and towns scattered about the battered hulk of a nation, but they were likely in as beaten down a shape as those of Cynlyaa. And that presupposed Yenque would even be able to get a message to them, all but impossible when they had had no word from the outside world for years, aside from a few scattered and scared travellers fleeing into their arms.

Still, the best thing he could do was break down the whole process into steps, and the first was clearly to train as many people as he could in the ways of war. The only benefit to him was that, somewhere along the depths of their history, the Cynddeir had been so good at combat that it still resided in their veins, their muscles, their very bones. Although he could hardly say it, those cravens who picked up a training stick and decided to fight back were already better than the dregs of the raiders, and with training would soon match their very best. If they survived long enough to do so.

Or if enough of them ever overcame their cowardice and reluctance. Cursing and shouting, Yenque organized them into pairs, as per Iaprem’s suggestion, and set those few sergeants and lieutenants left into scoring the bouts and ensuring the punishments were recorded and carried out fairly.

That done, Yenque set off in search of Dregnon. He needed knowledge, and the kind which could only be found in the dusty tomes of the cobbled-together library found in the quartermaster’s office. And then he needed the quartermaster himself.

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.

12

Mar

by thefourpartland

This is the opening 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.

“How many? How many did we lose today?”

“Enough. Some of them went willingly. You know our people, Iaprem. They are craven on every level. All their will has been stolen from them.”

Iaprem grunted in frustration. As Warleader of Cynlyaa, his home city, he was responsible for all that occurred here. Which mostly seemed to mean watching it shattered apart under the depredations of badnits and the weakness of those who resided amongst the broken down masonry.

“Fine. Pull back the cordon to the old palace. Defend those grounds, and no other. Harshness is our new best friend, so anyone who is known to have given up or given in is to be left outside. Those inside, cultivate the grounds, and stockpile everything we can lay our hands on. Even with all the raids we’ve suffered, there must be some things left in the city worth having.”

Yenque, his second, nodded in agreement. “I shall see that it’s done. But you know any show of strength will prompt another raid. And in greater force than before.”

“What will they take from us this time? Our lives? We have nothing of value left to offer them. Nothing that I know of.”

“We have our wills. Until those are gone, we will suffer. Of course, when they are gone, we will suffer more.”

Iaprem slumped onto the stone seat that served as his commandant’s office. It was little more than a broken lump from a column, carved slightly to provide a modicum of comfort. “When you leave, find Dregnon. He and I need to discuss figures after this last assault.”

With a bow, his second slipped from the room, leaving Iaprem to think in silence. Supposedly, his people had once been a great nation, one of the wealthiest in all of Arhosa. Although it was not really hard to see, living as he did in the ruins of of that wealth.

Yet they were called the War Lands of the Cynddeir, and had once, before civilizationhad come with its wealth and its lesure, conquered all that he saw about him. Now they were prey for petty thieves and bandits, ones who were so bold as to live within other districts of the same city they raided.

His people had fallen far, and fallen long, and there was nothing in the way of a structure upon which to build their resurrection. A point proven all the more strongly moments later when Dregnon walked into the room.

He went straight down to business. “There’s three thousand people left in Cynlyaa, give or take a hundred. The old palace can hold up to a thousand, if we’re being a little generous. Even with the extensive grounds, I don’t think it can provide enough food for them all though.”

“Soldiers?”

“Two hundred, and that’s being overly kind. When the palace was built, the walls were designed to hold five hundred, so we’ll be weak everywhere. And that doesn’t even account for the degredation to the fortifications.”

Iaprem snorted. They both knew the structure was riddled with collapsed architecture, and the walls were no different. In places, they would still serve their puprpose, but only a fool would attack there. And the bandit lords who plagued him were not that kind of fool.

“So at best what we do is a last gasp.”

“Well, do not discount the valour of our men. They fight well, and beyond the endurance of any of our opponents.”

“That I have seen time and time again. But for every ten that we lay, we still lose one, and that is far too harsh a price to play. Plus, that only counts those who do fight. Look around you and tell me how many of those there are.”

“There is but one solution that comes to mind then – recover the lost children of Cynlyaa.”

Iaprem burst out into laughter, his roars echoing from one side of the empty stone chamber to the other, disconcerting in their timbre.

“Those cretins who won’t raise a hand when the raiders take the last turnip from their children’s lips? Them? Had I a hundred thousand such men as those, I could not defeat a single true warrior!”

“Far be it from me to tell you your job, but have you considered that perhaps they are that way because it is all they know?”

Fury writ itself large across Iaprem’s face. “Are you telling me that when I fight to spare them, spare their children, from whatever fate has in store, they cannot see another way? That they think us the foolish ones for daring to resist? Then I curse them! Let Drancedigeath take their souls and shred them for all eternity!”

Dregnon fell back a step, his mind racing. Perhaps the strain of command was too much for Iaprem, he mused. Or perhaps I need to approach matters in a different way. Rather than face the wrath of a now-raging Warleader, he bowed and made a swift exit.

It was time to take his case to Yenque.

***

The next few days saw Dregnon busy with the logistics of moving what remained of the city’s population into the old palace. Remarkably, the structure amazed him with its ability to house the living, despite its abhorrent condition, and he was able to fit almost two thousand members of Cynlyaa within its walls. Of course, what that also indicated to him was just how far the city had fallen, for at its peak, the population must have numbered well into the tens of thousands, perhaps even higher. But those were considerations he could dwell upon at such time as he was at leisure.

Which probably meant only when he was in Drancedigeath’s embrace, and the God of Death had no use for him.

The last thousand of the city’s population he pulled in close to the walls, tucking them here and there amidst crumbled ruins and broken structures. Hopefully, they were in places that would be overlooked by the raiders when they came again. In truth, he knew he was leaving them to their deaths. Unless…