The short man returned to the fortress bloodied and short of breath. His sword was slimy and hands almost frozen to the hilt of the blade. "We couldn't kill the king." They had done their best, but they couldn't even get close. "Killed..." Gasping for breath he gave his report to the officer at the wall. "Killed a whole unit of men and...We took an envoy." Pointing to the few carts of supplies he had parked outside the walls Donovan took another deep breath. If they could make raids on the supply wagons they may survive a siege.
Most of the men inside had been starving and Donovan wasn't an exception. He was a little weaker with the lack of food as were most. It was only the training and the absolute will to survive that enabled any of them to fight. The officer looked to the little man and nodded. "How many did you lose?" No one had ever breached the wall and the Guardians had been here for hundreds of years guarded by this fortress, but they needed every man. There were still dozens that lay in the make shift hospital. Their doctor was likely going to be overworked if he didn't have some kind of help.
Donovan glanced to the ground. "We lost Shade and two others." It was a little over half the group that had been sent out. The mission was suicide and they were called out long before they reached the king. Something like that should have been expected. He had been a soldier long enough to know that they wouldn't have completed the mission. Still his pride stung with the realization that he could not do what he set out to do. "What are your orders sir?"
"Get yourself to the wall." Even if the doctor was overworked the officer knew very well that Donovan didn't get along well with the doctor. The doctor was a tender hearted man and he wouldn't take well to hearing that Shade was lost. She'd died during the daring attempt on the king's life. "Rest of the men to the wall!" Yelling the order the officer watched as the men began to scurry about. They were Guardians and there wasn't time to be gawking. It was a war and the Kings Guard would be making another attempt at taking the walls again.
Bodies from the day before still littered the ground outside the walls. With what remained of heat from the days was enough to start the rot. Donovan peered over the edge. He expected an attack anytime now. The enemy would maybe try an attack at night or just before dawn. Those were the hours that it was most difficult to tell if there was an attempted breach. So far the king had enough men gathered outside the walls that the ones attacking could have rested before making an attempt. Still there wasn't enough blood in that entire army to take this fortress no matter how tired the Guardians became. Days on end would only be a blood bath.
Richard Kingsman - Outside Formidable Fortress - Geraldis
A broad smile came to his face as he watched the weapon's envoy arrive. He had a small food caravan that he risked and it was all the further the Guardian's had gotten. Now the king's real plan would come into play. Maybe they couldn't take the fortress by blood, but they would with fire and stone. Marching to the king's tent he pulled the flap open. "You're majesty the weapon has arrived. Shall I have the men assemble it now?"
The king looked up at Richard from his study and he nodded. "I trust you'll have it operational by dawn."
"Aye, we'll have it put together and I'll have the men slather rags in grease and begin to lay them over the stones." The mountains had plenty of rock. Richard clasped one giant gloved hand in front of himself and he bowed before starting out of the tent again. Peering over his shoulder he caught a last glimpse of the king. He was great man. Finally there was a man that had the courage to see the scourge of Guardians exterminated. They weren't even worthy of being called citizens and it was why they had been exiled here in the mountains of Geraldis for such a long time.
As he exited the tent Richard straightened his shoulders. "John!"
Immediately the aid came running. "Yes sir." He almost had to jog to keep up with the man as he strode across the field, weaving between tents.
"I need you to spread the order. We assemble the machine tonight. I want every available man loading boulders from the foothills into a cart and slathering them with grease." The captain continued marching till he reached the point near the front lines. Already the aid had turned to give the orders. "John...." He waited for the aid to turn again. "Be sure you have men with pikes toward the front of the lines. When the catapult destroys the wall I want men ready to walk in. They have to push the Guardians back."
*** Near Dawn ***
Richard stood with legs shoulder width apart and hands behind his back. "Do you have the measurements?" The man behind him gave an affirmative. Nodding in return Richard gave his next order. "Load the catapult....Flame the rock......Release!"
Like usual he had the night watch. Donovan stared out into the black with bleary eyes. He had watched the enemy camp all night. They were building something and he suspected it would be a battering ram. Battering rams weren't any good when he had a narrow doorway. Guardians had never lost the battle to a battering ram. The doorway was narrow and it bottle necked the troops. It took a total of 2 men with 2 back up to slaughter hundreds of they attempted to take the fortress through the doorway.
Turning to walk along the north side of the wall he was suddenly faced with a huge flaming rock. It dove into the side of the wall and Donovan felt the vibration run through the wall. "We're under attack!" He didn't have to yell since most of the fortress had awoken with the sound of stone mashing into stone. Another flaming rock flew toward the wall and hit the top crest. Rock began to loosen and some fell away. The soldier behind it stood in place, frozen as if they had expected to find themselves wrapped around the stone. Donovan ran toward the man and pushed him to the side. "Get down and ring the bell. We need all men able bodied or not."
For most of the last week, Maeve had been on the night watch. It was the worst position, in her opinion. True, it was less likely there would be any significant combat, but to stare off the outer wall of the fortress into the enemy night always made her skin crawl uncomfortably and her stomach sit in terrified knots. The bow she kept ready and the shortsword hanging from her belt felt like nothing against the looming threat in the darkness beyond. So when her brother Roran had offered to trade with her, Maeve hadn't hesitated to accept. It only made sense, then, that the one night she hadn't been serving sentry was the night the world literally began to fall.
The fitful, anxious sleep she had managed was broken by the awful crash of falling stone and vibrations that ran through the whole side of the fortress, even to the personal quarters. Maeve was up in a moment, her weapon in her hand the next. Since the siege had started, she had never kept her gear much further than arm's reach. She didn't know what was happening, but by the time the alarm bells were ringing, Maeve had most of her armor on and was half out the door.
All around her, Guardians in full battle gear were rushing to the front lines to defend their home. The only sign that they had all been asleep only minutes before was the slightly chaotic feel of it all as the soldiers all quickly tried to get their bearings. 'Catapult,' came the news, the word spreading through their ranks like the cold of winter overtaking the fall. 'It's a catapult. The wall is falling.' The message was broken and repeated and repeated and broken again, but it's meaning was clear. Made even more so by another bone-shaking collision, this one even worse than the last.
Maeve ran for her usual station on the wall, but she was stopped by one of her commanding officers. "Join with the main forces," he ordered, pointing to where crowds were gathering in the lower levels in preparation. "We're going to need fewer archers on this side, more people on the ground. Especially those still of able body."
Maeve wanted to protest, and maybe she would have if her fear hadn't been choking out any words she might have tried to form. But who was she to question the orders of a superior, anyway? It didn't matter that all she seemed to be able to do was nod stupidly and do as she was told, passing off her bow and drawing her shortsword. She wasn't half bad with it in the training ring, but she had the impression the melee they were about to see would be a vastly different scenario.
Roran was nowhere to be seen, but Maeve hadn't been expecting to find him in their ranks. More likely than not, he had run back to the hospital to gather supplies. He had been working with the healers, doing battlefield triage and patch jobs. Maeve wanted to seek him out and make sure he was okay, but there was no time. She couldn't afford to worry for her brother at the moment, she had to worry about herself and watching the backs of those immediately around her. She would find him after. After the battle, when the dust had settled and the sun rose again. Yes, Maeve could hold on to 'after' and find him then.
The ranks of waiting Guardian soldiers were still and solemn, yet the energy was a near palpable thing. Maeve wondered if their hands were as sweaty as hers were on the hilts of their weapons. She steadied her breathing, schooling her face free of all fear and trying to match the collected anticipation of her brothers and sisters in arms by her side. Panic now would only be a death sentence. This was what she had trained her life for. She was prepared, she could do this. The walls shook yet again with the impact of another rock and Maeve's grip tightened. For the moment, all they could do was wait.
Timothy dreamed of pie. Not the sweet sort of pies in bakeries but the savory kind with juicy meat and gravy packed inside a deliciously golden crust. He could smell the scents of the herbs and spices used to stew up the meat before it was baked with the crust. A grumbled sounded from his stomach and he sighed as he started to take a bite of the treat he hadn't had in so long. The rumble grew stronger though as his teeth sank in into the crust....
A hard jerk woke him out of sleep and he found himself staring at the cobwebbed ceiling of his quarters, chewing on thin our. The small quarters gave another violent shake. His stomach was bottomless, but this wasn't his stomach's doing. They were under attack. "Damnit." Wiping at his dark scruff, Timothy tossed his feet over the cot and shoved his boots. Every man would be needed at the wall regardless of when they had come off duty. For him it had only been a few hours, but with the sounds of stone slamming against the outer wall made sleep run from his mind only to be replaced by adrenaline. The calls for men were sounding in the hallways as his pale blue eyes snapped to the corner where his equipment laid oiled and ready. This was it.
Lashing his mis-matched armor on with fast fingers, he pulled on his belt, giving it a firm tug before clipping his to his left hip and grabbing up the long dagger at his hip. The armor added weight, but he was built to carry it, having trained in it daily for several years.
Jogging into the courtyard, he was flanked by several others in their full gear as the archers took their places. Already, the tingle of nerves was coursing through him, but there was no room for that in his mind. He needed to focus on the battle at hand as another rock shattered against the wall.
Evan finished writing the letter. A few more strokes of his pen and he let it dry on the desk.
It was early morning, and he had been working for at least two hours now. He glanced at the pile of papers on his desk and sighed. The life of a politician could be simple. All he had to do was to delegate most of the work to his subordinates. Not that he intended. A faint smile appeared on his face at the thought.
He hasn't worked so hard for so long to gain power just so he could leave it to others.
Evan stretched his back and got off his chair. The window from his private office offered a beautiful view of the city. He opened it and took a deep breath of the fresh morning air. It stung his lungs. It was still surreal, Evan could barely appreciate just how far he had gotten. Every day he gained more wealth and more power. Nothing could stand in his way.
The capitol city was crawling with possibilities for the wise men. It would have been easy for Evan to just bask in his successes and forget the reason why he even got there in the first place. After all, power and influence were a thing of beauty on their own. As soon as the thought crept upon him, he closed his eyes and massaged his temples. He slammed the window shut and took the letter off his desk. The heavy stomping of his boots on the floor preceded him, and when he opened the door, Blake was ready.
"Good morning sir." Blake's tone was neutral and deprived of any emotion. He was wearing his black leather uniform. The King's Guard emblem embedded in it on the chest.
"Good morning, Blake." replied Evan in a similarly flat voice. They started walking down the hall towards the main door.
"I need you to leave for the battlefield today before the sun reaches the zenith."
Blake stopped for a second, his eyes wide with surprise. He caught up to Evan again.
"I thought we had a deal!" he almost yelled out. The vain on his forehead enlarged and his face muscles were contracted with ill-concealed anger.
"So we do. I am not sending you into battle." Blake relaxed when he heared those words and took a sigh of relief. Evan had his hand on the door handle already, but he stopped and looked at Blake.
"Although such infantile fear of the battlefield is a shameful display of cowardice." Just like when you blow on the embers, Blake's temper caught on fire again, but before he could say anything, they were outside. He tried to calm himself. He couldn't be seen like that in public. He caught up to Evan again, but now he kept a distance that his rank required. He strode two steps behind Withlock, barely containing his anger.
"I haven't seen you volunteer to join the frontlines either!" he hissed through his clenched teeth.
Evan kept walking like he didn't say a word.
"The siege is in place. The Guardians are doomed, obviously. They are surrounded and short on supplies and half their walls are unmanned."
Every trace of anger left Blake's face. This was important.
"How long can they last?" he asked.
Evan seemed to ponder on that for a moment.
"That depends. If the king decides to launch a full-scale assault, they may last a day or two. But I doubt that will happen. As I said, we have the advantage. Instead of losing men needlessly, I think the king will opt to let them starve and bombard them day and night, depriving them of their sleep too. In that case, it may take a month at least."
Blake looked worried by these news. He thought that the Guardians would be more prepared than that.
Evan continued his talk: "Now, it is in our best interest to make this last as long as possible, but our window of opportunity is rapidly closing." He turned towards Blake, handing him the letter.
"That is why I need you to go now. Find a way to get this beyond the walls as soon as possible." Blake took the roll of paper and stuffed it in his pockets.
He moved inside as much as in the same fashion as the rest had. A solemn expression to his features. They had not succeeded in their aim but had in the course removed a unit and gained supplies that could mean the difference in surviving the siege. The knowledge filled him with little hope. If such news got to the King then Lawrence knew damned well that every effort would be made into either upping their security on such supply envoys in future and starve them out or aim to pin the pressure on them. He sneered, like as not it would amount to both. He glanced down at himself and frowned, too much blood had been spilt. The mission had gone awry and they had been left on the defensive for the most part. They were lucky they had made something out of the mission at all. Still, it didn't make up for Shade or the others. They needed every sword they could use.
He leaned against something, what he didn't really pay attention to but it was the need to collect himself and his thoughts before he could hope to deal with the next problem. Huxley had that tendency to overthink things but he was fond of using situational awareness as much as possible, that all potential avenues and outcomes had been considered before the axe fell. It had been a bitter few hours, he was tired and hungry but he knew there would be little to no time at all before he would be needed again. No rest for anyone who wanted to survive. Lawrence thought back to that meeting when the mission had been propositioned and sniffed idly. He shook his head. No, it would not do to bode on what was past. the mission failed and they had lost too many but there was no changing it. They had to figure this out without their dead. He couldn't walk down that road.
On the plus side he mused, at least there was plenty of distraction to be had. He stood as the call to arms rose in the air like Raven's crow. Sharp, sudden and rough on the ears. His training meant he moved without hesitation as he headed for the wall. He suspected it wouldn't take long for teh Kings men to begin siege to the Fortress but he supposed they had some time to prepare. It was exactly this sort of situation that mind games began to play out. Outwardly, he maintained his usual expression of neutrality. He knew people were used to seeing it from it and expected it. If it offered calm and hope then it worth doing. They could ill afford any headless chickens right now. Lawrence Huxley rolled his shoulders as he took up his position.
If he had wanted sleep, it did not come easily and as it was he had slept fitfully. No more than a couple of house at most and in the end had gone out before dawn. Something nagged at him. It was quiet, too quiet. You could almost cut the uneasiness in the air with a blunt knife. It didn't last for long. A shout went up, Donovan's he thought, before what sounded akin to dulled thunder shot through the air slammed into his hearing. He frowned as he rushed his stride to get to position instinctively knowing where it was that he should be. The Fortress awoke with the rude wake up call and the energy built up like a firecracker waiting to be set off.
The walls took on more bombardment and he set his jaw. How long the rock of their fortress would hold out to this was anyone's best guess. The Fortress had stood for so long but time and force were always a factor. It would only hold out for so long as they kept it up. He stood between a woman and a man in the throng of Guardians around him. Another slam and he nodded with a smile of resolve. Sure he feared what would come but he knew better than to let that fear command him as did his brethren. All they had to do was hold the line.
The wall cracked and another rumble went through the fortress. Donovan glanced over his shoulder as he sent men toward the wall. It wasn't quite chaos, but his mind was already racing and the noise built into a constant roar. By the time he had made his rounds the guardian was panting. Running toward the steps he felt like he had to lift his knees almost to his chest. At times it felt ridiculous to be such a stumpy fellow. He had to work twice as hard to cover the same distance as most of the other guardians. At length he found himself at a different level of fitness than some and it was due to the effort he put in.
On top the wall he saw the guardians lining up and preparing for the siege to start. Another rock flew toward them and the guardians along the wall fanned out to either side. His height didn't render him any ability to see beyond the back of the one that stood in front of him now. Another shudder went through the wall and the vibrations ran through his feet and up his spine. Donovan waited till they started to move again and he shoved toward the front. "Bring up mortar." They needed something to help reinforce the cracks and strengthen the wall. It was only a matter of time until the trebuchet began to have effect. Racing across the wall he started to check for all the damaged areas and then sent a few of the younger warriors below. It was just a matter of time. "Get mortar." Sending another boy on his way Donovan watched him disappear before he started to meet the others part way on the steps and run the buckets the rest of the way to the others.
Part way through the night the rocks quit flying, but then the dreaded night arrows came. For just a split second Donovan heard the whistle. Before he could yell anything a few men cried out and fell back. One of them tumbled off the em-battlements and the rest ducked, though they were too late. The arrows had been shot without flame and there was no warning or way to know that they were coming except for the whistle.
"Be on your guard." Donovan paced the wall and helped haul a few men toward the stairs where other men took them down the rest of the way. For now the walls were his space to command and the lead Guardian was below calling out orders for the men to reinforce the walls from their base and strengthen the fortress door.