1

Feb

by thefourpartland

The seventeenth 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.

It was then that a great shout rent the battlefield, and with it a burst of flame leapt forth to intercept the incoming strike, blasting it backwards and searing the arm of the Lianese soldier clean away, the flames blue from their heat. Rhy halted in amazement and looked over to see tears pouring down the face of Rhocas as he gestured with one hand, the fire streaming from the air about him to building a shield of scorching heat over the downed form of Taflen.

Seizing the opportunity, Taflen rolled away, keeping himself low and under the flame to finally stand up next to where Rhocas still held to the flame, the billowing cloud cinders making the Lianese shrink back in fear. Not one to be stunned by any turn of events, Llofruddiwr took advantage of their distraction to plunge his longknives into the back of two of his foes, and with that strike, the battle resumed. It was soon over, however, for the sight of the fire had heartened the Veryan soldiers and stolen the morale of the Lianese, and soon it was that Rhy, his leg bandaged, was standing over the only living remnant of the Lianese patrol, who had surrendered almost unhurt after Llofruddiwr had chased him down when he sought to flee the battle.

Before questioning the prisoner, Rhyfelwyr glanced over to where Taflen and Rhocas sat, talking quietly to one another. That was a mystery that would need to be explored, and quickly. Rhy saw Locsyn just shake his head, wondering at the new revelations. All of the patrol was stunned by the realization that Rhocas was a firemage, although probably an untrained one. Firemages were something to be feared, their rank high above that of the common soldier, and yet here one was, wandering around out on patrol. Trying to clear his head of all the thoughts that whirred about, Rhy turned to the prisoner, who was bound and sitting on the ground.

“So, what brought your lot out here? Scouting out our army?” The prisoner just glared back in response, his jaw clamped firm.

“Make it hard on yourself if you’d like. If you aren’t going to talk to me, I’ll just hand you over to Llofruddiwr and his longknives. I don’t have the time to wait around for you to warm up to me.” The prisoner’s head swivelled to where Llof was sitting on the ground, polishing the blades of his weapons with bits of cloth taken from the Lianese he had slain. Llofruddiwr didn’t look up in regards to the scrutiny, just kept examining the blades until he had each one shining perfectly.

Rhyfelwyr smiled. “Yes, the ghost over there. He’ll be just as nice to you as he was to all of your fellows.”

The prisoner glared once more, then spat on the ground next to him. “I get it. What do you want?”

“What were your orders?”

“We were shadowing your army for a few days, and then on the way back to report. Been keeping an eye on you, is all.”

“Right, right. And where are your forces located?”

The prisoner looked around and closed his mouth, clearly not willing to talk about that subject. “Llof, you busy? Might need you in a second.” Llof looked up, then loudly and deliberately scraped a sharpening stone across his longknife.

“They’re forming up around Horaim. I’ve been out in the field a week, so I don’t know if they’ve moved or not since then.”

“Good enough. Locsyn, I’ve got a present for you. Keep this little bundle of joy from scarpering for the rest of the day, can you?”

“I’m touched.”

“We’ve still got a job to do, so lets move.”

24

Jan

by thefourpartland

The sixteenth 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.

Several minutes passed, and then Rhyfelwyr pulled the two soldiers with him to the top of the mound, lying flat on their stomach so they could see the Lianese patrol. There were ten men, two standing guard, sitting down and having a light meal, their midday pause before the end of the patrol. Presumably, the Lianese forces had scouted the disposition of the central arm of Glanhaol Fflamboethi, and were returning with that information, in which case it was even more imperative that they be slain.

“Prepare yourselves, should be any minute now.”

“What are we waiting for?” Rhocas asked again, nerves showing in his voice.

“Quite down and wait, and just follow me in.” Taflen nodded at that, but Rhocas had a slightly wild look in his eyes, a prey animal who has just seen a predator. Rhyfelwyr sighed, placing his hand on the recruit’s shoulder.

Llofruddiwr burst up from the ground not five yards from the campsite, his two favourite longknives in his grasp. A quick slash with one cut the throat of the picket he was standing near, and he charged into the mass of Lianese soldiers, his blades flickering from left to right, catching incoming thrusts and deflecting them aside as the Veryan soldier tore through the camp at a full sprint, wounding several soldiers and killing two. Those still standing made to follow, grabbing their gear and chasing after Llof, who appeared to flee, directly towards where Rhy was waiting. As the Lianese soldiers burst into a run, Gwyth and Locsyn slammed into them from either side. Gwyth’s heavy shield sent one soldier flying into another, knocking both down into a tangle on the ground, while Locsyn feinted a shield slam, pulling up at the last moment to deliver a short stabbing blow with his sword underneath the rim of the shield, ripping through the leathers over his opponent’s thigh.

Rhyfelwyr hoisted Rhocas up, and the three soldiers sprinted at full speed to join the battle, Llofruddiwr turning to join them. A dagger flew over Rhocas’ shoulder, and the young man turned his head back in fear, but it was Llof’s throw, and the dagger protruded from the thin collar armour of the leading pursuers. Gwyth and Locsyn were sore pressed now, facing two against six Lianese. Several of the Lianese had been wounded, and discomfited as they were by the strange tactics of their opponents, they had not managed to take full advantage of their weight of numbers until moments ago, and then the remaining four Veryan soldiers arrived to join the battle, evening the field once more.

Llofruddiwr danced around the outside, lunging in with lightning fast thrusts, always hunting for an opening in the guard of his enemy. With quick stabbing motions, he would leap around one of the other Veryan soldiers, strike, and then be back out of range before the counter could even begin. Gwyth stood as a wall, facing off against two enemies and laughing while battering their attacks aside through sheer size and brute force, his countering blows nearly driving foes to their knees as they sought to catch the force on their shield or mace.

Locsyn fought in the more traditional style of a Veryan soldier, round shield held high in front of the face, one-handed sword stabbing out from beneath it to strike or catch a blow. He was using all the years of combat to his best advantage though, and a quick lunge sent a knee crushing into a Lianese groin, staggering his foe and making the follow on attack easy. Rhyfelwyr arrived in the fight with a sideways strike towards the kneecaps of his enemy, and when the sword swept down to intervene, his shield’s edge snapped up and crashed into the helmet, knocking the Lianese soldier backwards and almost off of his feet. Rhyfelwyr pressed the attack, but a thrust from the staggering soldier bounced off the edge of his shield and caught Rhy across the thigh, leaving a deep red gash that began to bleed. Backing away with his shield held to protect his wounded lead leg, the sergeant was forced to let his opponent recover.

Taflen moved into battle with precise form, each strike a cut taken exactly from the training regimens of the Veryan army. That was not to say that he was predictable, for each cut may have been straight from the book, but they followed one another in such a vast profusion that his opponent appeared almost stunned by the rapid strikes. Taflen had left his right flank for Rhocas to cover, for that was the recruit’s position, but Rhocas hung back, his sword arm low and his shield held high, an entirely defensive posture. Seeing the opening, a Lianese soldier charged into the side of Taflen, sending the historian sprawling and bringing his mace down. Taflen’s shield came up to block the strike, but the force of the blow cracked the shield in the middle, and he knew he could not survive another such attack. Rhy cried out and sought to lunge towards his downed squadmate, but the wound in his leg took the speed from him, and he knew he would arrive too slow to save Taflen.

The strike that would finish Taflen began to descend, and tears sprung to Rhyfelwyr’s eyes, for he had known Taflen many a year, the two men growing old and surviving many battles together. He had always worried that one of his squad would die in battle, but he had been blessed that he and these other four had been able to keep one another hale for so long. It appeared now, in this place and after all this time, that Rhy would lose one of his friends.

11

Jan

by thefourpartland

The fifteenth 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.

Two days later, their turn came in the rotation of squads to go on forage duty. Rhyfelwyr put Llofruddiwr on point. The man was a ghost when he wanted to be, and could almost certainly find danger before it found them. The other five followed at a distance, with Locsyn having the unenviable job of being the rearguard. The squad’s patrol area was off to the western side of the army, between this branch and the next, and so with the rising of the sun, Llofruddiwr turned his back on the glowing orb and headed off.

The march took them across a ruined landscape. They had been told that the first few farms and areas had been already picked clean of anything that might resemble food, and so the soldiers had a ten mile march just to reach their assigned area, and that hike saw them pass the burnt out shells of farmhouses, the skeletal remains of barns, the dead bodies of work animals left to rot and die, and fields that had been turned into ruined husks of what they once were.

“This devastation is unprecedented. I have never, in all my years, heard of a war conducted in such a self-destructive manner. Why, even if they win, the Lianese will be set back a generation by this, if not longer.” Taflen gaped at the terrain they passed through.

“They won’t be the only ones set back a generation if they win. What of Bhreac Veryan? What of us? Our empire crumbles if we lose Niam Liad. It’s the city we use to hold all of the land on this side of Yn Brydio Ad. Without it, the linchpin is pulled from our army, and the other cities will fall away just as easily. We need to win this war more than they do.” Locsyn was feeling particularly sour this morning.

“We’ll win it. Did you see that lot break and run at Miath Mhor? They’ve got nothing for us in combat.” Gwyth grinned.

“The Lianese are well aware of that fact, it is why they are trying to defeat us by lack of food, rather than skill of arms. They are poor soldiers compared to us, but they may have hit upon a strategy which can overcome our superior forces if those forces are weakened and taken from the field of battle before the battle even commences.”

“Taflen, Locsyn, Gwyth, shut it. We’re here to look for food, not plan out the whole campaign in an hour. We can’t control the strategy, so lets worry about finding the food we’re out here to look for and then haul it back to camp.” Rhyfelwyr had had enough of the argument brewing. “You lot can just keep it quiet and tag along.”

Rhocas was the only member of the five who had not spoken, and he continued to march with his head down and his shoulders slumped, looking for all the world as if he would rather be in any other place than where he was now. The battle had taken something from him, and he struggled with that loss. Perhaps he would come out of it; certainly, the hope of this foraging was that Rhyfelwyr and the others could pull him out of that shell that he had built around himself, but there was such a gap in age and experience between the veterans and this novice soldier that perhaps that could not happen, and Rhocas would just wander through the war depressed and uncertain of his position.

A low whistle from up ahead caused Rhyfelwyr to put his hand up, calling for the squad to stop and to hunker down behind a low rise. Slipping back over that rise came Llofruddiwr, making a gesture of ten. When he settled in next to Rhy, the sergeant whispered over. “Ten soldier patrol?” Llof nodded, not saying anything. “Can we go around, or is this a case of going through?”

“Through.”

“Damn it. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Kill them?”

“Thanks.” Rhy gestured for the others to huddle up around him. “We’ve got a ten soldier patrol up ahead, and Llof says we have to clean up. Gwyth, you take right flank, Locsyn left. Taflen, Rhocas and I will charge.” Gwyth and Locsyn began crawling off to the sides, looking to get into position on the enemy forces. Rhocas leaned over and mumbled. “Llofruddiwr not fighting?”

“You see him here?” Rhy chuckled.

Rhocas glanced around, realizing that somehow Llof had disappeared without anyone noticing.

“He’s the one who’s going to cause the most trouble. Just wait.”

4

Jan

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.”

28

Dec

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.

21

Dec

by thefourpartland

The twelfth 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.

Two days of march passed, and on the morning of the third day, the army paused on a ridge, overlooking the city which they had come to reclaim. The officers gathered there, on the highest point, and discussed the strategy to be used in taking this bastion of Lianese strength. Some spoke in favour of the soldiers, others for the torches. In truth, the discussion mirrored that of Rhyfelwyr and his squad some nights previously, but these men had to come to a conclusion, and so it was that the skirmishers of Bhreac Veryan bound rags to their javelins, and brought forth burning brands. Ringing round the city, a thin line of flickering flames, they charged, shields held high to ward away the arrows that streamed down from the outlying buildings. Dashing through the streets at a full run, torch after torch sailed into warehouses, apartment towers, mansions, hovels, any building that looked as if it might burn.

Miath Mhor was a city made of wood, and as the skirmishers fled the burning in ragged numbers, the rest of Glanhaol Fflamboethi could see the flames of their namesake licking through the city, building into an inferno that would swallow Miath Mhor, devouring the heart of the people within. Citizens fled their burning city, and Glanhaol Fflamboethi let them go, their hungry mouths a burden on those who lived further down the peninsula, starvation made into a weapon by the commanders of the Veryan army. Those men who looked liked soldiers, or even of a fighting age, those were cut down by battalions positioned about the city. Many more fled into the fishing boats, and white sails filled the harbour as they sought to flee the sparks and the smoke of the city. In their haste, many ran aground or crashed into one another, and soon wrecks began to fill the harbour. It was a day of carnage for the Lianese, their city destroyed, their livelihoods stolen away, bereft of their belongings.

The Veryan soldiers had taken losses on this day, more than the commander had hoped, but a paltry few compared to the brutality of street combat, and that pushed the campaign further onwards. And so after witnessing the destruction of a city, the army settled down for the night, only to move the next day, the path of the war turning them south, their next major goal the city of Horaim, a good three weeks down the peninsula. There were lesser towns and villages in the way, but those were expected to present no danger, aside from the odd small ambush, as the Lianese reformed their broken forces and built another army about the city of Horaim, the last major point of defence before the city of Niam Liad itself.

It was smiling soldiers who led the way south that morning, striding out down the road towards glory and spoils. Two days later, those smiles had begun to disappear, as Glanhaol Fflamboethi began to pass burned out farmsteads and fields of scorched grain, the legacy of the Lianese retreating to the south. Rhyfelwyr looked at Taflen, his eyes asking why would they do such a thing. “It promises annihilation to their own people, doesn’t it?”

Taflen shrugged. “There will be very little food this winter, aside from what the few fishing boats left will bring in. No grains, no vegetables, no meat. Their commander must despise us to a degree we have not yet seen. I wonder if our burning of Miath Mhor was a cause of this scorching?”

Llof joined the two soldiers. “No, it wasn’t. This was planned before we arrived, as a fall-back measure. Wait till we get south.” With that, he wandered off again.

“Does he always have to speak like that? It’s annoying, being the educated one and having him run rings around me.” Taflen muttered.

“Hah. You’re still not used to that? Llofruddiwr has usually figured out what the enemy is going to do before they’ve even done it. Why do you think I keep him around? Keeps our necks safe.”

With a miserable look, Taflen stomped away, his back straight, still muttering about soldiers who don’t know their place in life.

13

Dec

by thefourpartland

The tenth 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.

Carnage ran rampant as they crossed the fields, the dead and the dying scattered about in clumps and bunches, where a force from one side or the other had surrounded and cut away an incursion. Most of the piles here were Lianese soldiers, their bodies gouged by sword blows and left to rot on the field. Taflen sighed, knowing that this field would gain a name, a curse, among all of those from the coast, and that curse would build and multiply against the invaders. Oh, the fear might help in the short run, but over a longer period, it would turn to vicious resentment. The corpses would foul the fields with plague and with anger, and leave of this place a ruin, and that Bhreac Veryan would revel in that bitter taste. Fear had ever been their weapon to keep in line the subjugated people, and Taflen looked around, seeing just where that led.

Back within their own lines, Rhy found a cutter, and dragged him across to see to the wounded in the squad, patching up the gashes that covered Gwyth, and removing the arrow from Rhocas’s leg. Rhocas screamed as the arrow came out, and with it a bright well of blood, flowing once more as the bolt no longer blocked its path. Cleansing herbs were stuffed into the wound, and white cloth bound about. “He’ll be able to walk again in a few days, it won’t hinder him that much.” With a nod, the cutter set off for the next screaming soldier

Llof lifted the recruit to his shoulder again, and they continued on their way back to the campsite, where they rested that evening. Rumours flew past, and Locsyn and Gwyth disappeared to go retrieve them, returning an hour or more later with news of what had happened that day on the field. Locsyn spoke. “Fairly simple day of combat today, all told. They charged the centre, and didn’t have enough skirmishers to the wings to prevent us curling around and cracking them like a nut. They’ve fled in poor array back to Miath Mhor, and we’ve got chasers after them. Won’t catch too many of them, but enough to harass the bastards until they get back to the city.”

“Not looking forward to that.” Rhy answered. “Miath Mhor isn’t fortified, which is good news for us… kind of. We’re going to have to go in and fight street by street, building by building, if we want to capture it. Perfect for ambushes, bleeding out our superior numbers in tiny fights all around.”

The other soldiers looked aghast at the notion, and Rhocas went pale once more. Llof rose up, turning to go and tossing a comment over his shoulder. “Burn the city. No more ambushes.” Llofruddiwr then disappeared into the dark night. With that grim thought dancing in their heads, the other five soldiers looked at one another, and fell to arguing the merits. “We’d survive the battle a lot better, and hurt them besides.”

“And all the supplies, the food, the wealth. You want to throw that all away?”

“Dead men eat no food, spend no coin. I want to stay alive as long as I can, and dying in a horrible city engagement the first siege isn’t it. No, we burn them out and let them starve as well. We’ve got enough supplies, been foraging as we made our way down to add to them. Break them at this city and we’ve got them for the rest of the campaign, too scared to fight.”

“And if it makes the Lianese too angry to flee, too scared of our mercy to surrender? Then we fight a battle against the desperate, and that goes poorly, for they will trade life for life until annihilation, and down here, they’ve got more lives. Bloody streets are better than burned ones.”

The argument raged on into the night, until Rhyfelwyr gestured for them all to go to bed. Rhocas had passed out long ago, the pain in his wounded deadened by the herbs. Gwyth just rolled over and fell asleep, unmindful of the wounds he had taken this day. The others soon followed suit, although Llofruddiwr had still not returned. He was a dark one, but maybe the best fighter Rhy had ever seen, and so was permitted his quirks.

The morning saw the trumpets calling out to meet the dawn, and groggy and mealy-mouthed, the soldiers of Glanhaol Fflamboethi stretched themselves, veterans all this day. To the sound of burning logs and popping joints, a warm breakfast was served, and the army gathered itself once more into the march formation, outriders spreading far and wide, all in double strength this close to Miath Mhor. There was no fear of an ambush on this day, just precautions against the unlikely possibility of one. In the eyes of those who had fought but one time, this was to be an easy campaign, where the enemy would fight once, flee, and then the city would crumble in surrender. Older heads worried, for it was an ill sign to them that the campaign had begun so easily. They preferred difficulty, even disaster, the first battle, for from them on, things could only get better. Not this. This meant a stiffening of the spine, a reorganization, a building antipathy, and so the veterans feared Miath Mhor, and all that it meant.

7

Dec

by thefourpartland

The tenth 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.

Gwyth was breathing heavily now, his blade stained with the blood of many foes, and exhaustion was slowing his sword and shield, making each parry feel as if it took an age, each counter unbearable in its ages. It was a bad situation to be in, and the only reason he was still standing with no more than minor nicks and cuts was that those Lianese he faced were just as tired as he was, and for that Gwyth was thankful. He pressed forward all the same, letting his sword and his shield continue to do the work. For that was combat was to Gwyth, nothing more than work. Oh, perhaps if he had apprenticed himself to another, it might have gone differently, but at a young age, he had joined the army, and been there ever since, and so, this was a task to be completed. It involved killing, yes, but that was a minor part of all the marching and the practising and the rest, and so he moved forward behind each stroke, as unfeeling and unstoppable as an avalanche gathering speed down the hill. Rhy and Locsyn were dragged along in his wake, each standing to one flank, their weapons and shields protecting the mountain that stood between them. Rhy had seen Gwyth like this before, when he began bowling over and through enemies, and knew that if the squad was not careful, they would be pulled ahead and isolated, and then only luck and skill could rescue them. It had worked in the past, when the three men had been younger and more full of life, but now that they had grown older, the edge of their temperament, their invincibility, had slipped away. Well, slipped away from Locsyn and Rhyfelwyr. Locsyn didn’t think Gwyth would ever lose that, he wasn’t bright enough to realise he shouldn’t be able to do this.

As Rhy had feared, soon their attachment to the rest of the army became tenuous, as fighting began to spill around behind the squad, and the six of them, for Rhocas had recovered and rejoined, had to turn into a circle, moving as a slow unit through the Lianese forces. Thankfully, this close to the front line, most were already engaged, and so the fighting was no more hectic than it had been in the shield wall, and so Rhy’s squad continued to drive their way through, although Locsyn had succeeded in altering the course of Gwyth’s path so that it now cut across the battlefield, instead of straight through it.

An arrow clipped off Taflen’s shield, and he turned to his left to peer, and saw a small band of archers and javelin throwers gathering themselves to strike the squad’s huddled mass. “Shields!” came the cry, and the initial volley skittered away across the armour, leaving scrapes and nothing more. Seeing them ready another volley, Rhyfelwyr called “Charge!”, and the six men thundered down on the skirmishers, their shields held out in front to ward any incoming projectiles. There was only time for one more volley before the charge was upon them, but the archers stood their ground, and Rhocas screamed and began to fall, an arrow piercing him through the calf. Llofruddiwr slowed his charge, grabbing the recruit by the arm, and dragged him into a hopping run, only capable of using one leg. Using his free arm, Llofruddiwr began to fling daggers at the archers, daggers that had been sequestered somewhere on his person. Two archers fell beneath the flying knives, while one of the javelin throwers countered by whipping his weapon towards the Veryan soldiers. Gwyth caught it on his shield, but the throw had been so hard that it slammed straight through, the bolt coming to rest with its tip touching the soldier’s arm. Growling, Gwyth tossed away his shield, and taking his sword in a two-handed grip, fell amongst the skirmishers, his blade rising and falling as one after another died to that onslaught.

Bereft of his shield, Gwyth took several countering blows, but shrugged them off and continued to kill as Rhy and Locsyn arrived, their matching styles working through the lightly armoured and armed foes with ease. Soon all who stood near the squad had fled or been killed, and Llofruddiwr began the process of retrieving his knives from where they stuck in various foes. Surveying the field of battle, and the state of his soldiers, Rhy nodded once, then gestured back towards the advancing lines of soldiers. “We’ll rest, and get Rhocas here to a medic. If they need a pursuit, well, we’ll be in for it. Otherwise, we’ve done our work for the day.” Llofruddiwr and Taflen between them took Rhocas’s weight, and the squad began limping through the shield wall, although any such name was long since useless, for it was now mopping up the retreating and broken army of Lianese soldiers. Rhyfelwyr wondered how the battle had fared on a larger scale, but for now, he would take his soldiers back to where they could be treated, and then listen about, see what was being passed around the campfires tonight.

30

Nov

by thefourpartland

The ninth 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.

The next morning’s dawn saw the vanguard pulled up in the centre of the line of battle, with the main bulk of the army spread to the left and right in flanking wings, serried blocks many men deep. Across from them was the thinner, yet still large, line of the Lianese army, their banners and gear of a much more motley array than the cold, insectoid, armour of Bhreac Veryan. It looked to be an easy day, from a strategic view, for both sides had arrayed their forces in such a way as to state they wished to roll up one end of the opposition, crumpling them from the outside in, and at that Taflen nodded. It was the most basic, and the most common, strategy, especially when one force outnumbered another. He wondered what the Lianese might have in store to change the balance in their favour, but dismissed those thoughts when the horn sounded ‘Slow March’.

With the tramp of measured feet, the army of Bhreac Veryan surged into life, a rippling motion all along the shield wall as soldiers took their first step in time with the comrades to the left and the right. The whole great mass trundled forward, closing down the gap between them and their foe. A trumpet blew from amongst the Lianese, and they in turn stepped out, their banners cracking in the high breeze, the snap of a flag audible even over the rumble of marching troops. Soon there was but a quarter-mile between the two forces, and the horn for ‘Quick March’ rang out. Rhyfelwyr picked up his feet, and felt those around him do the same. As he did so, he let his hand draw out and cradle one of the glass globes that hung in leather pouches at his waist. Filled with glass dust and broken shards, they would fracture and spray their contents across those near the point of impact. These weapons were to be the opening salvo in the battle, much as they had been in wars past. All around, he sensed the unlimbering of weapons, as that quarter mile shrank away, and only a few hundred yards separated one foe from another. Across from him, he could see javelins and bows being pulled from their cases, held high in throwing hands in anticipation of the moment of release.

The cry came for ‘Assault’, and the battle was upon them all.

Arrows and javelins flew through the air, and Rhy and those around him lifted their shields to catch the incoming darts. Most skipped off of shields and armour, but some found their way around, and the screams and groans of the injured and the dying began to fill the air. Locsyn and Rhy both felt the old sensations again, the weight of all their previous battles come forward to claim this moment as their own, to add it to the tally that they each carried within. A sigh escaped Locsyn’s lips at the sadness of it all, but he lowered his shield and threw his momentum into the toss, sending the glass sphere flying to burst in a cloud of painful dust across the enemy line. Others from Glanhaol Fflamboethi had done the same, and up and down the Lianese line, soldiers coughed and cursed and scratched at their throat and face, and some began coughing blood as the razor-edged clouds ripped apart their breathing.

The Veryan army paused its headlong rush, bracing itself to take the impact of the disorganized Lianese charge, the order of the front ranks ripped apart by the salvo of spheres. A quiet descended on the field for a moment, a quiet as if all the sound had been pulled away, only to return with a mighty crash as the thundering attack crunched into the shield wall of Glanhaol Fflamboethi. The shield wall bent, pushed back by the momentum of the attackers, but soon righted itself, and slowly began driving into the more lightly armoured Lianese soldiers.

Slightly to the right of centre, Rhyfelwyr’s squad was set three in the front of the line, and three backing them up. Rhy, Locsyn, and Gwyth stood solid in the front, warding blows with their shields and striking back with short sword thrusts, no room for the extravagant motion of a cutting attack. Reaching over their shoulders or around where they could, the other three soldiers sought to strike and strike hard, making the Veryan wall a forest of stabbing swords.

Rhocas stood very pale, his face twisted as his arm rose and fell in the mechanical motions of the training ground. He was the youngest of them, had only seen the few brief moments of fighting in the skirmish the day before, and this cacophony of noises and sounds, overwhelming his senses, had in some ways turned off his conscious mind, and he stood wondering at the why of it all, for this battle was against those who had been friends mere seasons ago, and who would be considered so again, should Glanhaol Fflamboethi win. Rhocas could feel his youthful optimism about life being stripped away with each stroke of the sword blade, for how could this be some grand adventure, standing his ground and stabbing people when they weren’t looking? It was a sordid type of battle, and the groans and the shrieks of each sword blow made his stomach roil and churn, until he bent over and threw up on the battlefield. Another soldier stepped around Rhocas and into his place in line, and the war continued, not missing a beat.

Shaking his head, Taflen continued his slow, methodical strikes over the arms of Gwyth, waiting until he had a wide opening. The historian had seen many battles and read countless more, and not the sanitized reports that appeared in publications and histories, but rather the personal accounts of the soldiers who had been there, the heartfelt and gruesome stories of trying to survive. He used those now to build a wall about his mind, composing his tale of the battle as he swung, his eyes open, observing all that he could from where he stood. Later this night, he would venture around to the various campfires, asking the soldiers for their impressions of the day, before sleep robbed the ideas of reality and changed them into something else, the mind coping with the horrors of what it had seen.

Their blades hacking and slashing, stripped of any grace but brute efficiency, Rhy, Gwyth and Locsyn fought their enemies backwards, driving the Lianese soldiers, grinding them with the mass of the army behind. The shield wall had begun to break, the organization lost as the battle became more muddied, a long spate of conflict where encirclements in miniature took place. The Lianese were getting the worst of that, and Llofruddiwr wondered at that, for their army had ever been better used for skirmishing, for the fast moving and withdrawing style that their open plains favoured. This stand and brawl combat was much more suited to Veryan temperaments, and it was showing on the field that day, as many of the Lianese soldiers began to lose heart, dropping their weapons to the ground and fleeing over the rise towards Miath Mhor. Llofruddiwr shrugged, for those who fled would likely be caught before they reached the city, and those who weren’t would just put an undue burden on the resources there. Either way, it was good for the soldiers of Glanhaol Fflamboethi.

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.