by thefourpartland

The thirteenth 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.

“What’s got into him?” Gwyth and Locsyn joined Rhyfelwyr on the small mound where he was stationed as a picket.

“Oh, he got outsmarted by Llofruddiwr again.”

“Still stings him, does it? It’s been going on for years, you’d think he’d learn by now.”

“He’s a teacher, not a learner.”

“True, true. So why are you up here again, Rhy? We could all go stick our heads in the sand and no one would attack us.”

“Buggered if I know. Officer’s orders. Keeping the camp in shape, I suppose. Just means I sit up here and watch all the smoke rising from the land around us. Not exactly what I want to see.”

“Burning more farms, are they?”

“East, west, south. There’s a damn ring of smoke curling up all around us. The Lianese are sending patrols out to the sides of our route to make sure that burns if we try and forage. I know we’re the Cleaning Flame, but even fires need to eat. Keep this up and it’ll be starving.”

“I think that’s what they want, Rhy.” Locsyn twisted one end of his moustache. “After that first battle, they know they’re going to have a hard time beating us in open combat, so why bother? Doing this, and then slamming us hard when we’re weak and sick down by Horaim, well… it might work. Soldiers don’t fight so well on empty stomachs. I hate to think it, but they might have come up with the only way to defeat us.”

Gwyth responded. “What about our mages? They can control fire, right? So why not have them put out the flames?”

“Wish I knew why, but I think it’d be too much work for them, and they’d be exhausted when it came to fighting. They’re the best thing we’ve got going for us. The Lianese mages are all sailors and other lazy, fat types, used to sitting around and wondering what sauce the chef is going to put on the fish. Ours are combat trained from youth. It’s why we haven’t seen any of theirs on the field, they’d be useless. Good thing, too. They’ve already got enough damn arrows and javelins and other crap to throw at us, they don’t need any more.”

“So we just keep pushing on, then, and hope for the best? You aren’t making me amazed at your leadership here, Rhy.” This was Locsyn, his face downcast.

“You got a better idea, tell those officers in their tents over there. I’m sure they’d love to hear it right now.”

“Just hit the Lianese and take their food away. It’s worked before.”

“We’re trying that, Gwyth. Already did it once, even. We just decided to burn all of the food instead of take it. Think we outsmarted ourselves on that one. Wonder if the Lianese were willing to let Miath Mhor burn in order to defeat us later. Gods that would be cruel to their own if they did.”

“Think the ones running that rebellion are really having it hard? I bet the little man out on the field is getting squeezed right hard, and the commanders and the money boys are hanging around in the back, living their comfortable life and trading away with Bohortha Eilan like nothings changed at all.”

“Soldiers lot in life, being screwed by the people higher up the hierarchy. Nothing new there for any of us. Probably have more in common with the poor sots we’re stabbing in the gut than with the people giving us the orders.”

“You’re a soldier, ain’t you? Good, now stop bitching and go back to camp. Get yourself all polished up and ready, cause when I get down from this picket, you’re on inspection.”

“I was just saying…”

“Shut it, Loc. Inspection, got me?”

“Yeah, yeah, got you.”

Locsyn and Gwyth headed back down into the camp, leaving Rhyfelwyr alone with his thoughts at the picket. The sun was low over the horizon, lending a red back-light to the fires and smoke that consumed the land all around him. If even the veterans like Locsyn were wondering why the army was here already, the rot was spreading faster than Rhy had hoped for. There was the chance that things might get better, but it looked like a lot of the soldiers were already losing their desire to fight, and they’d just had a rousing success in battle. Amazing how quick the passion disappears when the stomach knows it’s going empty. There’s a lot to be said for having food, but enough to drive an army to its knees? Rhy wondered, and found himself uneasy.


  1. Adam Byatt on 12.28.2010

    A stomach is a dangerous beast when it’s empty. It has incredible power over the mind.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  2. The Four Part Land on 12.31.2010

    I found the dialogue here was one of the more fun things I wrote. For these characters it flowed, where for some of the others I’ve written, it just felt stifled.

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