by thefourpartland

A little bit lighter than the previous entries, this one clocks in at about 1500 words total. I’m quite fond of this story now, and of the characters in it. It’s the first time I’ve written a story that focused on more than just one or two companions, and its interesting thinking about how to have all six (in this instance) interact, and the dynamics that exist between them.

Keeping the voices separate and distinct can be a challenge some times, because the characters are all more or less from the same background and have been together for years, and so they should all speak in a similar manner, but with enough personality differences that the tone of voice is obvious. Hopefully that’s coming through, even in the unedited text that this is. I know polishing dialogue is one of the primary tasks (for me) when I go through and edit material later on.

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.

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.

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 the secondary mage 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.


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