23

Nov

by thefourpartland

The eighth 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.

Rhyfelwyr started awake at shouting and cursing, grasped his sword and dove out of his tent. On the other side of the camp lay a burning tent, smashed by a barrel of flaming pitch. More cries went up as another barrel arced high overhead, slamming down into a cooking fire and splashing flames across the tents nearby. Rhyfelwyr rushed in and beat at the flames, where he was soon joined by Llofruddiwr and Gwyth, using bedding and boots to stamp out the burning. No more attacks came as the fires were put out, but Rhyfelwyr was cursing all the same. Tonight, Niam Liad had stolen the mental edge from Glanhaol Fflamboethi, and soldiers would fall back asleep wondering if their tent was to be next. A small attack, but a large damage to moral. Still, he managed to sleep easily.

Several days passed without incident, as both sides took stock of their foe. The Lianese forces stayed in front of the Bhreac Veryan army, but withdrew at a safe pace. Occasional skirmishes took place between scouting parties, although one or the other would withdraw as the fighting started, and so it was this strange battlefield, of two sides staring at one another for days on end, yet no fighting taking place. Taflen worried over what this meant, and wondered if the Lianese sought to draw the army into the jaws of a trap. Rhyfelwyr and Locsyn waved away that notion, not though bravado, but because it seemed unlikely the Lianese could create a trap against a force such as Glanhaol Fflamboethi. Still, to ease all their minds, Rhy sent Llofruddiwr on a solo scouting mission.

The assassin returned late that night, sneaking in through the sentries and arriving outside the cook fire. A few questioning glances answered his arrival. “If there’s something going on, the line soldiers don’t know it. They’re wondering why no raids are taking place.” After his longest speech in months, Llofruddiwr disappeared into taciturnity again. Gwyth grumbled and grabbed a sharpening stone, grinding it down the edge of his axe with a loud squeal. “So they’re planning something. Bugger.”

The other veterans nodded at that, while Rhocas piped up. “Well, if they don’t know what they’re planning, we’re fine aren’t we? After all, it can’t happen soon.”

Rhyfelwyr shook his head, while Locsyn answered. “Doesn’t need to be ‘soon’. Just needs to happen. Later might be worse for us, longer to retreat. Just hope our officers have their heads out where they can see.”

Taflen shuffled through the scrolls in his mind, retrieving information. “There are a few possible options in a military conflict that only take place when used on the defensive. There’s also the possibility of drawing us into a pincer trap. Our biggest problem is that their small force keeps retreating at the same speed as we move ahead. It allows them to block our scouting attempts ahead of them, and so we are blind to what we walk into. Overall, we are acting as they wish us. Confidence is good, but I think our commanders might place too much faith in the strength of our soldiers. Brilliant soldering can’t overcome foolish leadership.” With Taflen’s words of encouragement ringing in their eyes, the squad settled down to sleep.

A week passed, and the land around them changed, growing green and fertile, with cool breezes and clouds scudding high overhead. They had reached the edge of the great plains north of the peninsula, and a week’s march ahead of them stood the city of Miath Mhor. It was to be the first target in Bhreac Veryan’s reconquest of Niam Liad, and the first place where the Lianese army would be forced to stop and fight. Grim eagerness swept through the ranks of Glanhaol Fflamboethi, as each man in turn sensed the coming battle. The morning air filled with the sounds of stones shrieking on swords, armour being buffed and polished, and the clash of weapons sparring. After more than two months of marching, the soldiers wanted to fight, and all their building anticipation had hearkened to this moment.

Three days of marching passed, and then the enemy gave notice that it would stand firm before them, turning and briefly slicing at the vanguard and the scouts, before withdrawing with undue haste. Rhyfelwyr had bloodied his sword for the first time in that fight, catching a skirmisher in the thigh with his blade. It had not been a deep cut, and the man had fled, but the strike had reminded Rhy of what combat felt like, and how everything would change in the coming battle. No others of the squad had bloodied their weapons, although, from Rhocas, a tongue of flame had seemed to reach for a foe as part of a blow. Taflen and Locsyn both said they saw nothing, and so Rhyfelwyr discounted it as a glint from the sun. Either that, or a firemage had been near the forefront and he hadn’t noticed. Either was possible.

That night saw one last round of checking gear, testing straps, sharpening, and then the long, hard time of waiting. Gwyth examined and tugged on each strap till it seemed they would burst, repeating his actions over and over, until Rhy laid a hand on Gwyth’s gear and tugged it away. Taflen had fallen into a meditative state, running through each and every possible contortion to the battle that might occur on the morrow, and readying those ideas that he felt most useful for the likely situations. Llofruddiwr and Locsyn had fallen asleep hours ago, able to withstand almost any nerves. Locsyn’s moustache bounced and buzzed as he snored, a loud rumble cutting through speech. The last of the squad, Rhocas bounced and burbled, never sitting still, standing, pacing, going through the training cuts with his weapon, jogging out to the sentries to look towards the enemy camp, then coming back, always to report that there was no change. Even Gwyth tired of the skipping energy, and bade Rhocas sit and sleep. He would need the energy on the morrow, not tonight.

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