10

May

by thefourpartland

The Lianese line began to slacken and turn back on itself on one side of the square, and Rhy tried to look over the combat to see what could steal their resolve, but he could see nothing. The scene resolved itself moments later, as several Lianese soldiers collapsed with daggers piercing their throats, revealing a blood-soaked Llofruddiwr standing with two of his long-knives in hand, slashing into his Lianese foes. Caught between a suddenly surging shield wall on one side and a dervish on the other, the Lianese turned back to back, fighting desperately as two of them tried to slay Llofruddiwr. He dismissed their pitiful attempts, catching each strike on his knives before batting one Lianese weapon aside and kicking the soldier in the groin. One foe incapacitated, Llof turned his full attention on the other, and in a whirlwind of cuts and slices, hacked away at the wrist on the sword hand, wounding it until it could no longer hold its weapon. Both foes rendered incapable, he stabbed each, cutting an artery and letting them bleed out.

The Lianese forces on that side of the barricade were soon finished, but two more Veryan troops had fallen, rending their total count down to nine, now that Llofruddiwr had returned to bolster them. That left those nine against fifteen of the Lianese, and the Veryan forces were exhausted. Locsyn could barely stand, having been cut along his thigh, unable to lower the shield to defend himself. Rhocas had gained a wound across the back of his sword hand, and his arm trembled each time he tried to lift the blade. Gwyth stood like a rock, but this rock bled from cut after cut, and even his prodigious strength had slowed and weakened. Only Taflen stood unwounded, for even Rhyfelwyr and Llofruddiwr had been struck. Knowing what must be done, Rhy called out “Charge!” and leapt over the barricade, followed by Llof on his left and Taflen on his right, with the other soldiers a step behind.

Rhy could feel the energy fast draining from his body as he pushed it beyond all limits, and he staggered on his third step, nearly falling to the ground as he struggled with the enemy in front of him. Only a Llof knife-thrust stopped that stumble from being the end, and in a moment Rhyfelwyr was back on his feet, his sword sweeping around in a low arc to cut the ankle of an enemy, shield held high to protect from strikes to the head. Gwyth summoned his massive strength for one last blow, and simply slammed his blade into a Lianese shield, cutting through the wood and metal to drive the tip of his weapon into his foe’s neck. Sword caught in the shield, he let it go and grasped his shield with two hands, laying about him as if it were a club.

The far end of the line was anchored by Rhocas and Locsyn, and they fought as a team, one blocking strikes, the other leaping forward to thrust through the openings created. The style of combat was alien to the Lianese troops, and two fell before they began to understand the rhythm of blows, and drive the two Veryan soldiers backwards. Stumbling, Locsyn was only just able to turn his body to catch the attack on his shield, and he saw Rhocas take a further step back, leaving Locsyn fighting two on his own. Locsysn did all he could to defend himself, not even trying to counter, only trying to deflect the strikes as they came at him. He was rewarded for his skill a few moments later when a lance of blue flame flew over his shoulder and played upon the nearest Lianese troops, incinerating the two he had been fighting, and then turning down the line to catch two more.

The burst of flame from Rhocas left the young mage in a near faint, kneeling on the ground and retching, but it had shattered the Lianese soldiers entirely, and they scattered, a few caught from behind by the daggers of Llofruddiwr, but most escaping, the Veryan soldiers too exhausted to try and follow. Gathering themselves in a tight circle, Taflen applied bandages to the various wounds, cutting strips of cloth from the dead soldiers around them. They waited there for many minutes as the sun passed across the sky, sprawled upon the ground like so many dead, their bodies shut down. Only when the sun began to touch the tops of the buildings did Rhyfelwyr stand again, and gesture the others onwards, towards the warehouses.

3

May

by thefourpartland

The Veryan forces watched as the Lianese withdrew, picking their wounded up and pulling back to gather against the edges of the market square, building courage for another charge. Rhyfelwyr wished they had been able to take more advantage of the confusion of the broken charge, but that would have meant breaking the shield wall and stepping over the barricades, and giving up that defensive surety for a momentarily opportunity was not worth the cost. He called out, and the second, and last, round of spheres was brought to hand. There would be nothing but the sword after this, and if the Lianese were wise to that and started to bombarbed the Veryan forces with arrows, the only response Rhy could conjure would be a deadly charge over the barricades, into a waiting force. He could only hope that the battle was going well enough elsewhere, so that these Lianese forces did not have the time for a leisurely battle.

The second charge came, and it was repulsed in the same way as the first, glass spheres breaking the momentum at point-blank range. There spheres rarely killed, but the clouds of abrasive glass would injure many an eye, and the spray of sharpened waste would make the ground a spike-ridden mess, and for that Rhyfelwyr was grateful. In the brief pause as the Lianese forces gathered for a third charge, Rhy spoke with his squad, pulling them from the lines.

“We’ve lost three of the twenty men we started with, and three more are like Locsyn, wounded. They’re going to throw a third round of javelins, and we’ve already tightened the wall once. Do we charge?”

Taflen looked up, examining the Lianese forces for a long moment before shaking his head. “We stay, we’ll take more of them with us that way.”

Gwyth grunted. “Uplifting, you are.”

Nervously twirling the end of his moustache in one hand, Locsyn shook his head. “Rhocas, can you get us out of this?”

The young mage sighed. “I’ve been training as a mage for only a few days, I can just barely manage summoning fire when I want it. I can’t do one of the giant balls of flame. I’m sorry.”

Rhy patted the young man on the back. “Nothing to be sorry about, you signed on as a soldier and you do a soldier’s job. We stand.” Rhy turned back to his post in the centre of the barricade, and only Taflen heard him mutter that “I hope Llof comes up with something.”

The third trumpet called, and Gwyth readied himself, his shield held high to catch the incoming javelins. His arm ached and a slow trickle of blood flowed from where the arrow had pierced it in the morning, but he ignored the pain, and caught the first Lianese soldier over the wall on his shield, slamming it up into his foe as the man jumped from the barricades. A sword thrust around the side slammed into the Lianese ribs, and Gwyth dumped him off, shield reset to deal with the next foe.

Taflen steadied himself, one foot up on the wooden barrier, and as the first of his foes tried to scramble across, he caught the fool with a hard strike to the helmet, cleaving the protection and leaving his foe writhing on the ground. Two more followed at the same time, pushing Taflen back as he fought to keep his shield in front of one and strike at the other with his sword. The split attention meant neither succeeded, and a thrust at his ribs was only stopped by the quick attention of the Veryan soldier to Taflen’s left. That assistance allowed the historian to strike hard at the legs of the foe to his right, and the sword carved through the shin until it lodged midway into the bone, yanked from his hand as the Lianese soldier fell. With nothing but his shield left, Taflen put his right hand behind the boss and slammed it into the face of his second foe, knocking him backwards. The strike was too late for Taflen’s ally, for in stopping the thrust at Taflen he had left himself open, and a countering blow had left him dying in the dirt. In the brief moment of freedom that he had, Taflen grabbed the sword from his fallen comrade’s hand, stepping backwards and readying himself for the next foe to come.

The shield wall contracted further, with only ten of the original twenty still standing, of which five came from Rhyfelwyr’s squad. He was proud of them, that they would stand against the odds, but some twenty five Lianese soldiers remained to press in on them, and that left Rhy sore at heart. He could see Rhocas calling on his magic, and brief sputters of flame would appear, but the carnage and the chaos of the battle had stolen the mage’s concentration, and soon he fell back on his sword, standing in the shield wall and delivering blow for blow, his face pale with sweat. The young man had seen too little of life to die, and he fought with the strength of the desperate, fear lending power to his strikes, and speed to his counters.

26

Apr

by thefourpartland

Several times they were struck from the side or the front by opposing Lianese soldiers, but each time, the Lianese were repulsed, although one close encounter had hung in the balance until Rhocas had gathered himself and sent a jet of flame playing across the Lianese front lines. Their moral broken, the Lianese tried to flee, and were slain by the charging Veryan forces.

Each skirmish brought Rhocas, Rhyfelwyr and their forces closer to the warehouses, and now they could see the bulky shapes only a few streets away, the heavy forms promising food and sustenance for weeks to come. Calling to his troops to rally on, Rhyfelwyr trotted round a corner to find himself in a market square, still filled with the stands and stalls of the hawkers. Cautious for an ambush, he gestured left and right, sending Taflen and Gwyth to scout through the remains. The other soldiers tucked themselves in tightly, forming a small square of shields at the edge of the open area.

Taflen advanced cautiously, his sword and shield held at the ready, eyes as much on the roofs around him as they were on possible foes hidden behind the stalls. Gwyth strode forward, openly challenging any who would dare to come stand with him, using his shield to swipe the stands aside, knocking them to the ground. After both had passed through two-thirds of the square, they glanced at one another, and nodded at Rhyfelwyr. The sergeant led his forces forward at a steady pace, until he glanced upwards and saw Llof standing on the building opposite, waving and point down at the street below. Rhy cursed, then shouted at the men around him. “Square, form a square! Pull the stands in as barricades! Now! Now!”

The Veryan soldiers leapt to obey, with Gwyth picking up two stands at a time and stacking them into a deep wall in the direction that Llof had gestured. Within moments there was a shielded square of Veryan forces, wrapped around by an outer barrier of wooden stalls and market detritus. As they finished readying themselves, Lianese forces poured from two of the streets into the market. Combined, the two forces outnumbered the Veryan three to one or four to one, and Rhy steeled himself for what was to come. Leaning over, he tapped Rhocas on the shoulder. “Don’t both using your magic until we’re engaged. Otherwise, you’ll be a pincushion.” Turning to bellow to the soldiers around him, the sergeant cried out orders for the defence. “Grab spheres! Meet their charge at five paces! Then swords!” The soldiers readied appropriately, their faces showing the strain of half a day fighting in the alleys of Horaim, for the sun stood high overhead, and it had barely crested the horizon when the fire had first struck the north gates of the city. Here and there, a shield or a sword sagged towards the ground, but their comrades would jostle the arm back to its proper place.

A trumpet rang out from within the Lianese forces, and Locsyn saw the javelins being readied that would precede the charge. His arm pained him greatly, and was still all but useless, but he had been able to sling his shield from his shoulder and strap it to his upper arm. He could barely move it, but it covered half his body, and that was better than before. Wordlessly, he took the sphere of glass that Rhocas proffered him and tucked it away in his belt pouch. A second trumpet sounded, and Locsyn ducked down as the Lianese charge began and the javelins flew overhead. Most were deflected away, caught in the barrier or glancing off shields, but a few pierced through the shields, and others found gaps in the defences, opening small holes in the Veryan forces. Men stepped forward to fill the holes, leaving an already thin line even thinner. Soon, Locysn knew he would be called to step into the line, and do the best he could with but one arm.

As the Lianese forces reached three paces from the barricade, Rhyfelwyr cried “Throw!”, and the glass spheres were hurled outward, smashing into the face and shields of their foe, shattering into clouds of abrasive shards and cutting splinters. The front lines of the charge stumbled and collapsed, blinded Lianese soldiers collapsing to the ground with broken and bloodied faces. Those behind tripped and fell over their comrades, leaving the charge a ruin before it even reached the barriers. And now, when they tried to charge again, there would caltrops scattered across the ground, promising injury to any who tried to step forward.

19

Apr

by thefourpartland

The Lianese forces on that side of the barricade were soon finished, but two more Veryan troops had fallen, rending their total count down to nine, now that Llofruddiwr had returned to bolster them. That left those nine against fifteen of the Lianese, and the Veryan forces were exhausted. Locsyn could barely stand, having been cut along his thigh, unable to lower the shield to defend himself. Rhocas had gained a wound across the back of his sword hand, and his arm trembled each time he tried to lift the blade. Gwyth stood like a rock, but this rock bled from cut after cut, and even his prodigious strength had slowed and weakened. Only Taflen stood unwounded, for even Rhyfelwyr and Llofruddiwr had been struck. Knowing what must be done, Rhy called out “Charge!” and leapt over the barricade, followed by Llof on his left and Taflen on his right, with the other soldiers a step behind.

Rhy could feel the energy fast draining from his body as he pushed it beyond all limits, and he staggered on his third step, nearly falling to the ground as he struggled with the enemy in front of him. Only a Llof knife-thrust stopped that stumble from being the end, and in a moment Rhyfelwyr was back on his feet, his sword sweeping around in a low arc to cut the ankle of an enemy, shield held high to protect from strikes to the head. Gwyth summoned his massive strength for one last blow, and simply slammed his blade into a Lianese shield, cutting through the wood and metal to drive the tip of his weapon into his foe’s neck. Sword caught in the shield, he let it go and grasped his shield with two hands, laying about him as if it were a club.

The far end of the line was anchored by Rhocas and Locsyn, and they fought as a team, one blocking strikes, the other leaping forward to thrust through the openings created. The style of combat was alien to the Lianese troops, and two fell before they began to understand the rhythm of blows, and drive the two Veryan soldiers backwards. Stumbling, Locsyn was only just able to turn his body to catch the attack on his shield, and he saw Rhocas take a further step back, leaving Locsyn fighting two on his own. Locsysn did all he could to defend himself, not even trying to counter, only trying to deflect the strikes as they came at him. He was rewarded for his skill a few moments later when a lance of blue flame flew over his shoulder and played upon the nearest Lianese troops, incinerating the two he had been fighting, and then turning down the line to catch two more.

The burst of flame from Rhocas left the young mage in a near faint, kneeling on the ground and retching, but it had shattered the Lianese soldiers entirely, and they scattered, a few caught from behind by the daggers of Llofruddiwr, but most escaping, the Veryan soldiers too exhausted to try and follow. Gathering themselves in a tight circle, Taflen applied bandages to the various wounds, cutting strips of cloth from the dead soldiers around them. They waited there for many minutes as the sun passed across the sky, sprawled upon the ground like so many dead, their bodies shut down. Only when the sun began to touch the tops of the buildings did Rhyfelwyr stand again, and gesture the others onwards, towards the warehouses.

5

Apr

by thefourpartland

The third trumpet called, and Gwyth readied himself, his shield held high to catch the incoming javelins. His arm ached and a slow trickle of blood flowed from where the arrow had pierced it in the morning, but he ignored the pain, and caught the first Lianese soldier over the wall on his shield, slamming it up into his foe as the man jumped from the barricades. A sword thrust around the side slammed into the Lianese ribs, and Gwyth dumped him off, shield reset to deal with the next foe.

Taflen steadied himself, one foot up on the wooden barrier, and as the first of his foes tried to scramble across, he caught the fool with a hard strike to the helmet, cleaving the protection and leaving his foe writhing on the ground. Two more followed at the same time, pushing Taflen back as he fought to keep his shield in front of one and strike at the other with his sword. The split attention meant neither succeeded, and a thrust at his ribs was only stopped by the quick attention of the Veryan soldier to Taflen’s left. That assistance allowed the historian to strike hard at the legs of the foe to his right, and the sword carved through the shin until it lodged midway into the bone, yanked from his hand as the Lianese soldier fell. With nothing but his shield left, Taflen put his right hand behind the boss and slammed it into the face of his second foe, knocking him backwards. The strike was too late for Taflen’s ally, for in stopping the thrust at Taflen he had left himself open, and a countering blow had left him dying in the dirt. In the brief moment of freedom that he had, Taflen grabbed the sword from his fallen comrade’s hand, stepping backwards and readying himself for the next foe to come.

The shield wall contracted further, with only ten of the original twenty still standing, of which five came from Rhyfelwyr’s squad. He was proud of them, that they would stand against the odds, but some twenty five Lianese soldiers remained to press in on them, and that left Rhy sore at heart. He could see Rhocas calling on his magic, and brief sputters of flame would appear, but the carnage and the chaos of the battle had stolen the mage’s concentration, and soon he fell back on his sword, standing in the shield wall and delivering blow for blow, his face pale with sweat. The young man had seen too little of life to die, and he fought with the strength of the desperate, fear lending power to his strikes, and speed to his counters.

The Lianese line began to slacken and turn back on itself on one side of the square, and Rhy tried to look over the combat to see what could steal their resolve, but he could see nothing. The scene resolved itself moments later, as several Lianese soldiers collapsed with daggers piercing their throats, revealing a blood-soaked Llofruddiwr standing with two of his long-knives in hand, slashing into his Lianese foes. Caught between a suddenly surging shield wall on one side and a dervish on the other, the Lianese turned back to back, fighting desperately as two of them tried to slay Llofruddiwr. He dismissed their pitiful attempts, catching each strike on his knives before batting one Lianese weapon aside and kicking the soldier in the groin. One foe incapacitated, Llof turned his full attention on the other, and in a whirlwind of cuts and slices, hacked away at the wrist on the sword hand, wounding it until it could no longer hold its weapon. Both foes rendered incapable, he stabbed each, cutting an artery and letting them bleed out.

29

Mar

by thefourpartland

As the Lianese forces reached three paces from the barricade, Rhyfelwyr cried “Throw!”, and the glass spheres were hurled outward, smashing into the face and shields of their foe, shattering into clouds of abrasive shards and cutting splinters. The front lines of the charge stumbled and collapsed, blinded Lianese soldiers collapsing to the ground with broken and bloodied faces. Those behind tripped and fell over their comrades, leaving the charge a ruin before it even reached the barriers. And now, when they tried to charge again, there would caltrops scattered across the ground, promising injury to any who tried to step forward.

The Veryan forces watched as the Lianese withdrew, picking their wounded up and pulling back to gather against the edges of the market square, building courage for another charge. Rhyfelwyr wished they had been able to take more advantage of the confusion of the broken charge, but that would have meant breaking the shield wall and stepping over the barricades, and giving up that defensive surety for a momentarily opportunity was not worth the cost. He called out, and the second, and last, round of spheres was brought to hand. There would be nothing but the sword after this, and if the Lianese were wise to that and started to bombarbed the Veryan forces with arrows, the only response Rhy could conjure would be a deadly charge over the barricades, into a waiting force. He could only hope that the battle was going well enough elsewhere, so that these Lianese forces did not have the time for a leisurely battle.

The second charge came, and it was repulsed in the same way as the first, glass spheres breaking the momentum at point-blank range. There spheres rarely killed, but the clouds of abrasive glass would injure many an eye, and the spray of sharpened waste would make the ground a spike-ridden mess, and for that Rhyfelwyr was grateful. In the brief pause as the Lianese forces gathered for a third charge, Rhy spoke with his squad, pulling them from the lines.

“We’ve lost three of the twenty men we started with, and three more are like Locsyn, wounded. They’re going to throw a third round of javelins, and we’ve already tightened the wall once. Do we charge?”

Taflen looked up, examining the Lianese forces for a long moment before shaking his head. “We stay, we’ll take more of them with us that way.”

Gwyth grunted. “Uplifting, you are.”

Nervously twirling the end of his moustache in one hand, Locsyn shook his head. “Rhocas, can you get us out of this?”

The young mage sighed. “I’ve been training as a mage for only a few days, I can just barely manage summoning fire when I want it. I can’t do one of the giant balls of flame. I’m sorry.”

Rhy patted the young man on the back. “Nothing to be sorry about, you signed on as a soldier and you do a soldier’s job. We stand.” Rhy turned back to his post in the centre of the barricade, and only Taflen heard him mutter that “I hope Llof comes up with something.”

22

Mar

by thefourpartland

The Lianese soldiers pressed forward, seeing they had the advantage on this small band, and shouted up for more arrows to fall upon their foes. Their answer came, as a body plummeted from the roof to slam on top of a Lianese soldier, driving him to the ground and breaking his neck. Two more bodies fell, landing again on soldiers, and then arrows began to rain down, piercing the bodies of the Lianese as they sought to retreat from the suddenly charging trio of Rhy, Gwyth, and Taflen. The Lianese flight garnered only a few steps before they were cut down from behind, blades cutting through kidneys and spine to slay the foe. Rhy looked upward and raised his sword in salute, knowing that he would see Llofruddiwr standing there. Sure enough, his old friend waved back, captured Lianese bow in hand, before disappearing down behind the roof line.

A hand clapped Rhyfelwyr on the shoulder, and he spun round to see Rhocas standing behind him, along with two more squads of soldiers. “What are you doing here, lad? You’re supposed to be in the main van.”

Rhocas chuckled. “Always new orders. Didn’t you used to tell me that? I’m supposed to assist you in capturing the warehouses, along with this lot.”

“Good. Give us a few minutes and we’ll be ready. Llof is already scouting ahead.”

Rhocas nodded, and the soldiers sat down in the alleyway, free to rest. While they waited, a cutter came and attended to the wounds on Gwyth and Locsyn, breaking the arrow off and pulling it from Gwyth’s arm. The large man grunted once, then fell back into silence. For Locsyn, the cutter had to saw through the metal head of the javelin, and by the time he was done, Locsyn was white, his face sweating as he breathed rapidly. Pulling the spear from the wound saw Locsyn faint away, and the cutter stuffed herbs into both ends of the wound before wrapping it in cloth. Rhyfelwyr gave Locsyn a few minutes unconscious before prodding him awake. Sighing as he rose to his feet, Loc cut the straps from his shield and stuffed his now-useless left hand into his sword belt. Glancing around at the assembled soldiers, Rhyfelwyr nodded once, and set off towards the warehouses.

Several times they were struck from the side or the front by opposing Lianese soldiers, but each time, the Lianese were repulsed, although one close encounter had hung in the balance until Rhocas had gathered himself and sent a jet of flame playing across the Lianese front lines. Their moral broken, the Lianese tried to flee, and were slain by the charging Veryan forces.

Each skirmish brought Rhocas, Rhyfelwyr and their forces closer to the warehouses, and now they could see the bulky shapes only a few streets away, the heavy forms promising food and sustenance for weeks to come. Calling to his troops to rally on, Rhyfelwyr trotted round a corner to find himself in a market square, still filled with the stands and stalls of the hawkers. Cautious for an ambush, he gestured left and right, sending Taflen and Gwyth to scout through the remains. The other soldiers tucked themselves in tightly, forming a small square of shields at the edge of the open area.

Taflen advanced cautiously, his sword and shield held at the ready, eyes as much on the roofs around him as they were on possible foes hidden behind the stalls. Gwyth strode forward, openly challenging any who would dare to come stand with him, using his shield to swipe the stands aside, knocking them to the ground. After both had passed through two-thirds of the square, they glanced at one another, and nodded at Rhyfelwyr. The sergeant led his forces forward at a steady pace, until he glanced upwards and saw Llof standing on the building opposite, waving and point down at the street below. Rhy cursed, then shouted at the men around him. “Square, form a square! Pull the stands in as barricades! Now! Now!”

The Veryan soldiers leapt to obey, with Gwyth picking up two stands at a time and stacking them into a deep wall in the direction that Llof had gestured. Within moments there was a shielded square of Veryan forces, wrapped around by an outer barrier of wooden stalls and market detritus. As they finished readying themselves, Lianese forces poured from two of the streets into the market. Combined, the two forces outnumbered the Veryan three to one or four to one, and Rhy steeled himself for what was to come. Leaning over, he tapped Rhocas on the shoulder. “Don’t both using your magic until we’re engaged. Otherwise, you’ll be a pincushion.” Turning to bellow to the soldiers around him, the sergeant cried out orders for the defence. “Grab spheres! Meet their charge at five paces! Then swords!” The soldiers readied appropriately, their faces showing the strain of half a day fighting in the alleys of Horaim, for the sun stood high overhead, and it had barely crested the horizon when the fire had first struck the north gates of the city. Here and there, a shield or a sword sagged towards the ground, but their comrades would jostle the arm back to its proper place.

A trumpet rang out from within the Lianese forces, and Locsyn saw the javelins being readied that would precede the charge. His arm pained him greatly, and was still all but useless, but he had been able to sling his shield from his shoulder and strap it to his upper arm. He could barely move it, but it covered half his body, and that was better than before. Wordlessly, he took the sphere of glass that Rhocas proffered him and tucked it away in his belt pouch. A second trumpet sounded, and Locsyn ducked down as the Lianese charge began and the javelins flew overhead. Most were deflected away, caught in the barrier or glancing off shields, but a few pierced through the shields, and others found gaps in the defences, opening small holes in the Veryan forces. Men stepped forward to fill the holes, leaving an already thin line even thinner. Soon, Locysn knew he would be called to step into the line, and do the best he could with but one arm.

1

Mar

by thefourpartland

Later that evening, Rhocas returned to their camp for the first time in several days, nodding at all of those around him. He still wore his battered and dirty armour, and on the outside had not changed at all, but Rhy wondered if the nascent firemage stood with a straighter back, and a stronger gleam in his eye.

“Oh, so you can finally get back to work?” Locsyn twirled one end of his moustache in his hand while he spoke.

“I’m to be one of the secondary mages on this side of the walls, in case a breakout attempt happens. Hopefully, it means I don’t have to do much in that regard. I’m better with a sword than with fire, still.”

“If you can do anything with fire, it should cause a fair bit of panic. Just make sure to keep that armour on you if you do, because waving fire around is an invitation to end up looking like a pin cushion stuffed full of arrows.”

“Thanks, that’s really making me feel happy with this new role.”

“Well, if you’re smart, you can be so far at the back the arrows can’t reach you. That makes it a lot safer.”

Rhocas shook his head at the comments, and the banter continued on into the night, one of the squad taking watch duty for each stretch, while the others spoke around the fire. The next morning saw them wake tired from the night before, and to the mists and fogs of a grey and wet sunrise. The damp collected on everything, and with no breath of wind to stir the blanket away, it appeared ready to sit on the camp all day long. Rhyfelwyr sighed, and ordered the men forward into a picket line near the walls of the city, but still out of bow shot. The mist damped sound enough that if the Lianese troops sought to sally forth from their city, there would be little warning, and so better that his squad be across the mouth of their gate.

The day passed cramped and uncomfortable, and when night fell and the fog began to lift, the squad returned to their fire damp and grumpy, only to be met by orders that stated the attack was to come the next day, near dawn. Hearing that, Rhyfelwyr ordered the entire squad to sleep, and did not bother to set watches for the night. They would need all of their strength on the morrow, and it was unlikely the enemy would sortie at night. A hearty meal in their bellies, the soldiers lay down to bed, although some had trouble sleeping. It was to be a momentous morning for all of them.

The next morning, before the sun had arisen, Glanhaol Fflamboethi assembled facing the north gate of Horaim, silently slipping from their beds to form in a great mass. Formed into a long column, orders had come that they were to charge the gate as soon as it was destroyed. Rhy hoped they could catch the Lianese forces before morning woke them, but as he looked out over the field of battle and towards the distant walls, still shrouded in night, he shook his head. Today, he had a bad feeling.

A great burning noise filled the air, and a massive ball of fire lifted from the front ranks of the Veryan army and slammed into the north gate and surrounding wall, shattering them into rubble. A roar thundered out, and the column surged forward, quickly building pace to a run. Rhyfelwyr and his squad had been designated to go capture warehouses, along with many other squads in the army. The food situation was desperate enough that capturing those supplies could change the outcome of the campaign, and so Rhy gritted his teeth and raised his shield high above his head, warding off the arrows he felt sure to come. Around him, Gwyth and Locsyn and Taflen kept time, while Llof had disappeared. That didn’t surprise Rhy at all; it meant Llof had been close to the walls when the explosion opened the gates, and was causing havoc inside Horaim.

Glanhaol Fflamboethi crossed the open ground to the north gate with no shower of arrows or waiting defenders in their way, and as the column passed into the city, it began to fracture into many smaller commands, each heading towards their set targets. It was but a few moments later that the sounds of fighting erupted all around, and archers appeared on rooftops and leaning out of windows as Lianese soldiers burst from their places of concealment to strike the Veryan troops in their flanks. Momentarily bewildered, the Veryan forces found their footing and fought back with a vengeance, blades clashing against shield and short spear.

Rhyfelwyr found himself fighting alongside Gwyth and and Locsyn, the three of them broad enough to block a small alley, using their mass and their skill to carve into the Lianese troops, each sword thrust a quick stabbing motion made to kill or maim. Gwyth was less graceful, using his brute strength to batter the foes in front of him with his shield, before slamming his sword point through their armour. Taflen had taken station at their backs, and his sword flickered over the shield wall whenever an opening appeared, oft taking a foe in the neck, leaving them writing and bloody on the ground.

An arrow sped down out of the sky and slammed into Gwyth’s arm, causing him to curse and look upwards. Archers had taken station on the roof above them, and were picking their spots to fire down into the Veryan squad. Rhyfelwyr glanced at Gwyth’s wound and then upwards, and sighed, for he could not use his shield to protect both his front and his top, and so he hoped that the archers would be of little skill. Waving with his sword, Rhy called for the others to step back, slowly disengaging from the Lianese forces in order to make a break away from the archers. Staying alive was more important than killing these few soldiers.

Locsyn screamed, and Taflen looked over to see that a javelin had been thrust through his shield and the army holding it, locking the two together and leaving it almost useless. Diving forward, he brought his shield up in time to stop the counter-thrust coming over Locsyn’s useless defences, and was able to flick his sword out in a low cut, hamstringing his opponent. Stepping in front of Locsyn, the historian placed his shield so that it might cover both of them as best as possible, and began to step backwards, Locsyn taking Taflen’s former place at the back of the shield wall, his sword stabbing over the defences, but without much strength behind it, for his wound was grievous and incapacitating.

22

Feb

by thefourpartland

The twentieth 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.

Glanhaol Fflamboethi made its way southward in three prongs, each drawing slightly closer to the other as the army neared Horaim. As the weeks passed, the patrols in search of food were doubled and then tripled in size, in response to increased Lianese forces in the area. Soon, the Veryan troops were but a two days march from the city they were to invest, and the three segments of the army reformed themselves into one great mass, although one that was running low on food supplies. There was, perhaps, enough food to last the army for a week once they arrived at the walls of Horaim, so it was imperative that the siege be conducted quickly, and that whatever supplies remained in the city be captured as well, otherwise the campaign would falter and fail. Unfortunately, it was presumed that the Lianese knew this as well, and so resistance would be extremely strong.

Rhy was not looking forward to reaching the city, for it meant that he would be forced into an incredibly dangerous situation, one that he had no experience in. He had been in numerous battles, but most of them had been wars of suppression, keeping a lid on the various provinces in the empire that hadn’t wished to behave, and the rest had been campaigns against strings of bandits. Never before had he had to match wits and forces with another full army, and most certainly not in a siege. The largest obstacle that he had seen invested before was a small fort of no more than fifty troops, not one of the larger cities this land possessed. Rhyfelwyr hoped that he and his squad could survive this encounter, as they had so many before.

A day of marching and shuffling about passed, and that night the camp fell asleep with the various elements of the army settled in such a way that they could invest the city on the morning. It was to be a quick investment of only a few days time, before the Veryan troops would be sent against the walls. It was hoped that those few days would give the Veryan officers the insight needed to break into the city, for sacrificing troops on the walls of Horaim would end this campaign as surely as starvation.

So it was on the morrow that Rhyfelwyr, Taflen, Locsyn and the others found themselves standing on a low mound, some miles out from Horaim, looking down over the terrain that surrounded the city. The city itself was perched on a low rise, a spine of sorts, that ran down to the south, on the far side. The walls were not high, perhaps only ten feet off the ground at the crenellations, but they were constructed of stone, not the hoped for wood. The gate was shut tight, and on both the walls and on the taller towers that sat behind, there were visible the silhouettes of archers. Outside of the walls of Horaim, the land was green scrub, with nothing in the way of cover for attacking troops, and a few small streams, which would break up the force of a massed charge. Aside from the low height of the walls, there was little that offered hope to the Veryan troops. There had once been houses and a small slum outside of the north gate, but it had been cleared away and burnt to the ground, to stop it offering any protection to the Veryan soldiers. The Lianese had been thorough in their preparation.

Locsyn nodded at the sweep of the army as it split into two columns to march around to the east and the west of the city. “We’re risking them having another force in Niam Liad, and getting caught in the middle.”

“There is little we can do in that case, for if they have such a superiority of numbers, we are likely to be done for regardless. I do not think that likely, however.” Taflen was the respondent.

“Oh, stop your moaning. We’ll just smash them and be done with it. Look at those walls, I could walk straight through them.”

“Maybe you could, Gwyth, but the rest of us are normal people, not some hulking brute who can use his skin for armour.”

“Hey, I have good looking skin.”

“Compared to what? An anifail chan beichia?”

Gwyth growled and shoved Locsyn, sending him sprawling to the ground in a loud clanking of armour and weapons. The large soldier then stood with feet planted staring down at the moustached man, anger turning his face a simmering red.

“Enough, enough. We’re supposed to be digging in up here to make sure they don’t use the north gate at all, not getting into fights. Gwyth, Locsyn, you can start digging the trenches. The rest of us will spell you when you need a break.”

The soldiers set about building small fortifications in front of their position with a determined look, a basic moat and wall system to break up any charges. Once they had the primary trench built, the soldiers added a second, shallow one some ten feet further out, in the hopes that two would fracture charges even better than just one, and that when the Lianese forces arrived at the wall, they would be disorganized and easier to combat.

15

Feb

by thefourpartland

The nineteenth 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.

Leaving the others to their mirth and unwinding, Rhyfelwyr got up from the fire and tapped Rhocas on the shoulder, gesturing for the young soldier to follow into the quiet darkness. Rhocas did so reluctantly, and glanced back at the warm fire more than once as he followed the sergeant out. This conversation wasn’t one that the young man wanted to have.

Rhy turned and eyed the firemage in the dark. Nerves were visible in every aspect of Rhocas’ stance, and Rhyfelwyr patted him on the arm before gesturing at the ground and sitting himself.

“I know you don’t want to be out here, but I need to find out what’s going on with you. You’re a bloody firemage! You saved Taflen’s life, but you also should have been there to protect his right flank in the first place. It turned out well in the end, but, what are you? Did the mages send you down here to live like a soldier for some reason?”

Rhocas mumbled at first, his voice faint in the night. “No, I’m not a firemage. Never managed to have the training, never noticed I had the talent. Me, or the people who tested me when I was young. It doesn’t come out very much, just when I’m angry or scared, and then it comes out in big waves. It only started showing up a few years ago, and I thought something was going wrong until I realized I had a talent with fire. It’s not really all that useful, just shows up every now and again.”

“Not all that useful? Taflen would be dead if you didn’t have it. That counts as fairly useful to me. Now, why’d you never take yourself round to the firemages and get trained properly. The life’s better than grubbing along down in the dirt with us soldiers.”

“Never wanted to, and always thought I was too old to be allowed into the school, least by the time I knew anything about this. And when Ymerawdwyr was calling for young men to join the army, I decided I might as well go. I was just mucking out stables at a caravan rest, so a soldier’s life is a step up from where I was.”

Rhy nodded. “Still, you might want to go talk to one of the firemages that we have here with us. Doubt they can give you a lot training between now and Horaim, but it might be worth it to learn how to use your talent a little better. Can’t hurt to have an extra tool or two, and might make your life a good deal better in the long run, if you can get bumped up to that status.”

“I’d thought about it, but how would that work? They’re not going to believe that some poor fool of a soldier is a firemage just because he says he is.”

“I’ll talk to them, and bring the squad with me. We’ve been around for long enough that officers at least know I’m not going to lie to them. We’ll do that on the morrow, after we’ve all rested a good bit. Let’s get back to the others, I’m sure Locsyn’s about to have a fit with all the teasing the rest are doing.”

“Thanks, Rhy.” Rhy glanced back and nodded, and then led Rhocas back to the camp fire, where they settled in for the night with the rest of the squad, laughing and talking before finally falling asleep.

Rhyfelwyr and the rest of the squad saw Rhocas only but a little from that point onwards, for the firemages had believed the story, and taken Rhocas for training, where the young soldier now spent almost every waking moment of his day. Often, he would not return even for mealtimes and sleep, too exhausted to wend his way back across the camp. He would likely return when the army began to assault Horaim, but until that time, Rhy didn’t expect to see the soldier.