by thefourpartland

The fourteenth 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.

Days passed as the Veryan army marched down to Horaim, and for a solid week since their crushing victory at Miath Mhor, they had seen no sign of enemy forces, just burnt farmhouses and fields empty of grain. A few had been harvested in haste and their supplies pulled to the south, but most had been torched, the food and seed they had once promised ashes scattered on the ground. There was dissent now amongst the ranks, for the army had been put on half-rations to conserve the food for the battle outside of Horaim. Glanhaol Fflamboethi had also split apart, moving in three separate columns down the peninsula. Yesterday, the two outside columns had peeled away to take up station twenty miles either side of the main march. It was far enough apart that should any meet the full strength of Niam Liad in battle, it could well go rough for the Veryan forces, but that was a risk the commanders were willing to take in order to widen the search for food and supplies. The hope was that the Lianese could not burn such a wide swathe, not without at least some of it being left unharmed. Or, perhaps, the Veryan soldiers could drive off the Lianese before the burnings had taken place, and then capture all of the food for themselves.

The three wings were to reform two days march outside of Horaim, where they would then invest the city. The plan relied on the presumption that Horaim had become fortified in the three weeks since the battle at Miath Mhor, although given it was the last defensible position before Niam Liad itself, it would have surprised everyone in the Veryan army if Horaim hadn’t been turned into a fortress. With the food stocks as low as they were, the assault on Horaim would have to commence within a few days of the Veryan arrival outside the walls. It was assumed both sides knew, and would be ready for a fast confrontation, although the threat of raids from the Lianese defenders worried the officers of Glanhaol Fflamboethi, because responding to each raid would sap the energy of their troops. All in all, the campaign had taken a decided turn for the worse for the soldiers from Bhreac Veryan.

Rhyfelwyr and his squad marched in the vanguard of the central army, among those leading the thrust down the peninsula. He’d rather have been with one of the two outlying armies, for each had a better chance of finding some fresh food. Oh, the food stocks weren’t as low as everyone rumoured about, but eating compressed meat and trail bread day after day was not a meal the stomach could readily enjoy. There had been a bit of good luck the day passed, for they had come on a farmstead where the basement had still been stuffed full of goods and grains, stored away against a famine. The Lianese must have torched the building and the grain around it, but never checked inside, and so the Veryan soldiers had cheered when extra rations were handed out that night. The men went to sleep with full stomachs, and woke up happier and more contented with their lot in life. The army pressed onwards, marching down a road that split between fields of crops, their ashes tossed by the winds.

It was a sight to sour the mind, and Rhy saw those around him becoming bitter, especially Rhocas, who had not had the years of experience as a soldier to build the barriers about the mind that the others had. It was clear to Rhy that Rhocas was becoming despondent, and in some ways Rhy hoped there was a battle soon, for it could hopefully snap the young man back to himself, rather than his silent and morose self.

Locsyn sidled up to Rhyfelwyr and tapped him on the shoulder. “So what do we do? That kind of attitude’s poison in an army. Everyone sees it and it begins to infect the rest of the soldiers. Granted, he’s not the only one, but every time a soldier looks to the vanguard, they see slump-shoulders over there leading the way, looking like someone just kicked his puppy.”

“I know, I know, but how the hell do I cheer him up? He just looks at me and nods whenever I speak to him, and then just goes on being the old mope he’s become. And I can’t exercise him too much, because there isn’t enough food for that.”

“Maybe get us sent on one of the foraging parties? We should be one of the squads next in line anyhow, and it might provide enough of a change to break that ugly clay he’s baked all over himself.”

“That’s not the worst idea you’ve ever had Loc. Not that that’s saying much. Right, I’ll go talk to an officer or two, see what they can do for us.”


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