DargonZine 7, Issue 2

Campaign for the Laraka III Decision at Gateway Keep Part 2

Yule 19, 1014 - Yule 22, 1014


This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Laraka

Gateway Keep, Royal Duchy, Baranur 19 Yule, 1014 B.Y.

 

Goren stared, for the fifth time that afternoon, at the blood-stained floor where his brother had lain. Tiny shards of the Crystal still gathered in the corners of the room, and the left overs from Ne’on’s magical mixtures, books, and components remained in the shelves. He hadn’t taken the time to clean out the room, and couldn’t spare the manpower on domestic cleaning – with Beinison warriors surrounding the keep, Gateway had needs more pressing than aesthetics.

 

“Lord Keeper,” spoke the man at the door. Goren turned to look at him. Lord Morion had traveled hundreds of miles with thousands of men to defend the Laraka’s basin, only to be overwhelmed by the size of the attacking force. No one had planned on a military front forming on the western coast of Baranur. The driving force had initiated in the north east, and the south; Baranur had been unprepared for the campaign Beinison had designed on the Laraka. Thus, Beinison now occupied the Laraka from its basin at Sharks’ Cove, through Port Sevlyn, up to about a quarter of a league west of Gateway.

 

“Lord Keeper,” Morion repeated. There was a look of urgency on his face, one which Goren could not understand, in light of the situation: Beinison was not going to be entering Gateway any time soon, even if Gateway was cut off from the rest of Baranur, and Gateway was not in any condition to launch an attack of its own.

 

“What is it, Lord Morion?” Goren answered. “Do the men need more food? Water? We’ve got enough to last a few weeks… maybe less. By that time, perhaps, Baranur will be taken and we’ll be pledging ourselves to a new liege.”

 

The Lord of Pentamorlo flinched, barely keeping his hand from flying out on its own to strike the boy who stood in front of him. Fealty to a new liege indeed, he mused. “Lord Keeper, I lost well over a thousand men, two days ago. And there are over twenty regiments — that’s twenty thousand men! — sitting outside our walls. Perhaps you don’t think so, my lord,” he continued, “but there are more pressing worries than food and water, just this moment. Ten of them, to be specific.” Goren looked quizzically at Morion. “Their siege engines have arrived.”

 

***

 

Five menes later, standing on the parapets of the inner keep, Goren could see the boats docked half a league down the river, just beyond the tents of the Beinison officers. Large contraptions of steel, wood, and rope were being hauled off the ships, and the area was being scouted by the enemy for the best positioning of the engines of war.

 

“They’ll move a few onto the hill,” Goren said, indicating the hill over which the enemy had emerged yesterday morning.

 

“Yes. And there, by the road,” replied Morion. There was a small knoll just south of Gateway’s main gate. “They’ll stay far enough out of reach of our archers, but those catapults have a good range. Look at the sun reflecting off the buckets,” Morion pointed. “Steel. They’re equipped to launch fire.”

 

“Captain of the guard!” Goren yelled. Within moments, the captain was standing in front of him. “Make ready with the bucket. If Beinison dumps fire on us, I want to be ready to quench it as quickly as possible.” When the captain left, he added, “Not that Gateway couldn’t use a good purge.”

 

“My Lord Keeper,” Morion stepped forward and spoke intently. “I understand that as a nobleman you deserve the respect and honor given to you by the King’s own hand, but so help me, if your depressing attitude costs me one man – one man! – I’ll throw you right to the enemy and let them deal with you as they please.”

 

“Goren!”

 

Approaching them from a short distance was a middle-aged man with well-worn armor. The armor was simple, but effective, and interfered neither with his movement nor his vision. The armor of a foot soldier… or an archer who expected to enter combat. In this case, it was Castellan Ridgewater.

 

“My lord, the scribe needs an official recount of the King’s decision to place you as Lord Keeper. I thought you might like a meal as well, and instructed her to meet you -”

 

“Her?” Goren interrupted.

 

“Aye, boy. Your brother… insisted the previous scribe was incapable of service. The new one, Lara… well, she dresses like something other than a scribe, but I suppose she does her job.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “Whatever that may be. She’s waiting in your father’s hall.” The look on Marcus’ face lead Goren to believe the man was entering battle: hard, determined, and gauging. Goren guessed the war affected everyone differently.

 

“I’ll eat in the hall, then, Marcus.”

 

“Lord Winston, if I may suggest something militarily – ” Morion interjected before Goren left.

 

“What is it, my lord?”

 

“The catapults which the enemy is assembling. Can we reach them from here?”

 

“I don’t know. Marcus?”

 

Marcus looked at where the engines were being moved. “I’ll see about it. Perhaps we can scare them away from those points.”

 

“See to it, then,” Goren added and walked down the steps toward his father’s home.

 

When Goren was out of earshot, Marcus lowered his gaze and stared Morion in the face. “I wouldn’t make trouble with the boy, Lord Morion. He’s well-liked in these parts, and the people here wouldn’t take too kindly to his being pushed. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

 

Morion’s jaw set, and his eyes burned intently. “Are you threatening me, Castellan? I have several hundred men occupying Gateway Keep. If I weren’t putting up with lousy decorum, I’d take the blasted place myself and lock you up!”

 

Castellan Ridgewater didn’t blink a lash. “Morion, the boy’s got a lot on his mind. Don’t be bothering him. You may have men here, but I’ve got a full regiment. And we know how to bother back. Now, if you have nothing else to say, I’ll be gettin’ about those catapults.”

 

“I have PLENTY left-”

 

“I didn’t think so.” Marcus interrupted, and turned away.

 

Morion stood staring after him, the veins on his brow coming to life. “Haralan,” he whispered to the air, “by Nehru’s pointy nose, I didn’t want this damn job.”

 

Gateway Keep, Royal Duchy, Baranur 20 Yule, 1014

 

“Goren,” Marcus looked across the table at his lord. The boy still didn’t eat more than enough to keep him alive. Marcus’ own best effort at distracting him, in the form of a scribe named Lara, had failed miserably. She didn’t even know how to write! And Goren became less concerned with his surroundings every day. “The south-east wall,” he continued. “There’s a problem.”

 

“What is it?” Morion interjected. Morion did not normally interrupt a question aimed at someone else. However, in Goren’s case, he made the exception. Goren was not dedicated to the task at hand. He was not concerned with the welfare of the troops packed within Gateway’s walls. He did not have the stomach to order men to their deaths. Morion did not like Goren Winston, the Lord Keeper of Gateway. He liked the castellan even less.

 

Castellan Ridgewater looked at Morion and smiled. Not a genuine smile, but definitely an attempt to be civil. “They’re going to crumble,” he said. “Mid-day… Maybe later. The catapults have been pummelling them for a full day, and they are weakening.”

 

“Blast,” Morion muttered. One day of catapults, and the walls are already weakening? What was this keep made of, wood? “Well, then, Castellan Ridgewater,” Morion began with his own attempt at civility. “Let’s get some fortifications built up within the walls, in the south-eastern section of the keep. That way, when the enemy rushes the breach, we’ll be better defended.”

 

“Agreed.” The castellan found himself saying. It was an odd moment for both of them. They had grown accustomed to being on opposite sides of arguments.

 

Morion raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Excellent. Then we’ll have to block off any access to the inner keep from atop those walls, as well as any-”

 

“Now, don’t go givin’ me orders, Morion.” Marcus’ ire was instantly fired. “Goren’s the one in charge, and I’ll take them from him.”

 

“Listen, Castellan,” Morion suddenly found himself out of the surprising agreement with Marcus, and into the familiar heat of discussion. “I’m certain Lord Winston will agree with me that these precautions need to be taken-”

 

“Oh, I’m certain as well, Pentamorlo,” Marcus interjected. “But let’s let him make the order. Advising him would better become you.”

 

“‘Become me?’ If these walls were made out of something more sturdy than aelo hide-”

 

“Did you build these walls? No-”

 

“My Lords!” Goren yelled. His headache had not been eased by their argument. In fact, Goren thought, his headaches for the past three days were primarily due to the two of them being in too close quarters with each other. The lord of Pentamorlo and the castellan of Gateway stopped, surprised, and looked at Goren.

 

“My lords,” he continued, “make the plans for the defense of Gateway. Morion, see to the construction of the fortifications. Marcus, make sure the keep is secure from the expected breach. Most of all, I want the two of you to STAY AWAY FROM EACH OTHER.”

 

Goren got up, looked at the men, and glanced towards the door to the hall. “I’m hungry. I’ve got a lot to deal with, right now. We all do. But if I have to listen to the two of you argue one more time, I’ll tie you together and throw you to the enemy. If you’re bickering doesn’t drive Beinison away from Gateway, nothing else will. Now, go!”

 

As Goren sat back down, Morion and Marcus stood. They looked at each other, then Goren, and headed towards the door.

 

***

 

Captain Greerson waited for Marcus by the door to the main hall. While he had no qualms about entering the room and reporting to any of the men within, he did not want to be the object of anyone’s anger. Even Lord Winston, who had been reclusive since his return to Gateway, could be heard yelling within the hall. Those doors were daunting, indeed.

 

The wooden doors opened abruptly, allowing Lord Morion to exit the hallway quickly and without pleasure. Morion headed east toward the inner keep walls. Outside, the low thud of siege engines, followed by a heavy crashing sound, paid its toll on Gateway’s walls.

 

“You have news for me, Captain?” The castellan was standing in front of Greerson, now. He was in about as good a mood as Morion.

 

“Only a lack of it, Castellan.” Greerson looked away. “Your son is still missing.”

 

“But he wasn’t with the members of the Hand when you fired on them?”

 

“No, sir.” Greerson replied. “None of them escaped, and your son was not among the dead.”

 

“Then he’s got to be somewhere. Check with the other boys he trained with, find out who saw him last… Maybe one of them knows where he might have gone, or what he’s doing.”

 

“Right away, sir.” Greerson turned to go, but was stopped by Marcus.

 

“Wait a mene, Captain.” Marcus took a good look at the man. Greerson’s eyes were puffy and dark. His skin was pale, and his face was gaunt. “You haven’t slept in a while, have you?”

 

“No, sir. Not since the day before yesterday.”

 

“Right. I’ll get someone else to look about Thomas. You get some sleep. When those walls come down, it won’t matter where Thomas is… we’ll need every able man to fight off that Beinison horde. Now get some rest.”

 

As the captain of the guard made his way to his barrack, the Castellan thought about his son. Where could he be? What could he be doing? All the old barracks of the Black Hand had been cleared out… Ne’on’s own quarters had been searched, and the dungeons under the keep. Most of the boy’s belongings were still at the Castellan’s residence, excepting a suit of chain and a short sword. But Thomas trained with a broad sword, like his father…

 

***

 

Lieutenant Lianna Fellthorne stood atop the makeshift wall where she and one-hundred seventy troops under her command waited. She was not used to commanding such a large force: Lieutenants typically command only one company at a time. Her captain’s dead body still lay in the fields outside of Gateway, where he had fallen in the rush for safety. Six other lieutenants from her regiment lay there as well, not lonely among the hundreds of bodies. No one had picked them up. No one had buried them. It wasn’t likely that they would be buried any time soon. Certainly, their burial would not be a ceremonial one.

 

One more loud crash fell against the wall she was watching. It began to creak and bend. A good hundred feet from the wall, she knew she was safe, but she ordered her men away from the area. “Clear away, there… it’s going soon.” At various points of the defensive semi-circle within the wall’s boundaries, other lieutenants and captains were issuing similar orders. The wall would be breached, soon, and the hell would start.

 

Suddenly, Lord Morion was beside her. “How are they, Lieutenant?”

 

“Sir?” she asked.

 

“Your troops. Are they stable?”

 

“As can be, sir. We’re about to be invaded.” Three dull thuds were heard in the distance. “Down, sir!”

 

As they ducked, three large boulders crashed against the wall. Stones shattered, metal creaked, and the wall wavered. When they lifted their heads, they saw the sight for which both armies had been waiting: the wall bent in, bowed, and crumbled amidst a cloud of mortar, stone, and dust.

 

More thuds. More crashes. Soon, the wall would be so much rubble.

 

“Looks like a storm is coming our way, my lord.” Lianna had to yell to be heard above the din.

 

“Not yet,” Morion replied. “Maybe not until the morrow.”

 

“Why do you say that, sir?”

 

“They haven’t deployed their forces, yet, Lieutenant.” Morion checked the position of the sun over the western wall. “And it’s nearing evening. They don’t want to fight us in the dark, in our own keep. They’ll wait ’till morning, when they’ll have plenty of light to fight by.”

 

“Then I’ll order my men back under cover,” she reasoned. “No sense in letting stray boulders kill off anyone else.”

 

Morion nodded to her and made for another section of the defensive perimeter. “Not like they haven’t taken enough toll already, Lieutenant,” he muttered to himself.

 

20 leagues South of Gateway Keep, Royal Duchy, Baranur 20 Yule, 1014 B.Y.

 

“General Verde,” Luthias Connall approached where his junior officer was standing. Sarah Verde had been up late into the evening for the last five days, walking the perimeter and spot- checking the watches. She looked as tired as she felt. She’s normally an attractive woman, Luthias thought to himself. Now she looks ten years and several wars older.

 

The newly-appointed general turned to her friend and senior officer. “Knight Captain,” she greeted him formally, “it’s very late. You should be resting.”

 

“The same can be said of you, General. This isn’t the first night you’ve been up this late.”

 

“Still early for me, sir. Still used to night watches and early morning drills. Never left time for sleep, back in those days. But you didn’t have those days, did you?”

 

Sarah struck a sore spot on Luthias, and was regretful the instant she saw the look on his face. He still didn’t believe he was deserving of the titles which had been bestowed upon him over the last two years. He had risen very quickly from a possible barony to higher status than he had ever dreamed: Count, General of the Cavalry, and now Knight Captain of the Northern Marches. He had never even formally served in the Royal Militia, let alone the Royal Army. But he was a knight, and knights of exceptional quality were treated with exceptional praise. He supposed he must have done something right in the last two years.

 

“General,” he began, but Sarah interrupted him immediately.

 

“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean it that way. Just that you wouldn’t have those memories.”

 

“Forget it, Sarah. What I was going to say was… well, we’re going into a major battle tomorrow. I need you to get all the sleep you can. So far, we’ve managed to encounter only two squads of scouts from the enemy, and they were easily defeated. Beinison knows something’s up, they just don’t know what. If they’ve got any surprises for us, tomorrow, I need you awake and level headed.”

 

“I’ll be awake, same time as usual, Knight Captain.”

 

“Don’t get all formal on me, Sarah. The sun’s been down for almost three bells. We’re marching on third watch to get to Gateway before noon. Get to your tent and get some sleep.”

 

“Luthias-”

 

“Now, General. That’s an order.”

 

As Sarah almost sulked back to her tent, a smaller figure in foreign armor came silently up behind Luthias. Reaching his hand out slowly, the Bichanese native tapped Luthias lightly on his left shoulder.

 

“What?” Luthias jumped around, pulling his fist back ready to strike. “Oh, it’s you, Michiya. How are things with Kirinagi?”

 

“The general wishes to see you return to your tent, Luthias- sama. His men are already prepared for the morning’s battle, and are sleeping to gain strength. General Kirinagi has much appreciation for your skill as a warrior, but all men need rest some time.”

 

“So, now I’m taking orders from Bichanese generals, is it?”

 

“And your friends, Luthias-sama.”

 

Luthias sighed and stared off into the night. Not a fire had been lit, and a breakfast as cold as the night’s dinner awaited he and his men. He thought briefly of Sable, and how on a hot summer’s night she had burst into his room, naginata in hand, ready to defend his life. He thought of the past quite frequently, these days. Roisart and their father… Clifton’s father, the old Duke of Dargon… He silently prayed to the Stevene that the war would end soon.

 

Sighing one last time, he put his arm around Michiya and headed toward his tent. “We both need sleep for tomorrow, Michiya. Get to your tent and rest well. Death waits for no one. Might as well get plenty of rest before we meet her.”

 

1 league south of Gateway Keep, Royal Duchy, Baranur Sunrise, 21 Yule, 1014

 

“Knight Captain!” General of the Cavalry Sarah Verde called to her commanding officer. They had been travelling for four bells, since third watch of the evening before, in order to reach Gateway by morning without tiring the horses. Luthias had been right: they were all going to need the rest they had gotten the night before.

 

Luthias saw what Sarah was pointing out. There was a breach in Gateway’s walls, and the enemy was already making its way into the keep. Fighting was still going on, however. That meant the breach was recent. And Beinison wasn’t exactly pouring into Gateway, which meant their was strong resistance within the keep. Fortifications… ditches… the light infantry would be the first to attack, saving the heavy infantry for when the ground was more stable, easier to maneuver.

 

“Form ranks, General.” Luthias ordered.

 

“Already formed, Luthias.” Sarah replied.

 

Luthias looked at his cavalry. Eight regiments strong. Sarah would lead the first wave of four thousand. Michiya, Kirinagi’s force, and Luthias would lead the last four regiments in the final wave. As he retreated, Sarah would redirect her force, and the process would begin again.

 

Stevene give us strength, he thought. “First wave,” he called. “Deploy!”

 

***

 

Four thousand horse pounded out the distance between the hilltop south of Gateway Keep and the breach in its south-eastern wall. A low rumbling sounded through the ground for miles. As the Beinison troops slowed their entrance to the keep, the commanding officers looked suddenly at the wall of cavalry approaching them. Buglers sounded, men scrambled, some small resistance was organized.

 

When General Verde was within quarter of a league of the Beinison force, she could see the small patches of organized resistance. Looking back, the Luthias’ cavalry had already begun their approach. She raised her sword high, kicked her mount, and yelled. “CHAAAARGE!!”

 

***

 

The light infantry attacking Lianna’s section of the perimeter were just beginning to break through the defenses when the rush slowed. Several of her comrades lay in bloody heaps about her. More Beinison soldiers lay in front and around her. As another approached, she parried the attack and thrust low into the man’s groin. He fell screaming, if not dead. The wetness on her face increased, but it wasn’t her blood. It wasn’t the enemy’s blood. As she hacked at the enemy around her, she swore. And she cried.

 

She was a fisherman’s daughter. Her mother sold the morning’s catch in a market at Port Sevlyn. But that was before the war. She knew what had happened to Port Sevlyn: the burning, the slaughter. Innocent people were killed for no reason. Fishermen strangled with their own lines. Women raped repeatedly before being slowly bled to death.

 

Another Beinison soldier made for her. Angrily, she lunged at the man, knocking his blade aside. Her helm almost fell from her head in her desperate attack, but she continued. Her sword found its point in the man’s neck and he fell, blood sputtering from his throat.

 

“Lieutenant,” someone called to her. Checking to see no enemy approaching her, she turned briefly.

 

There was her sergeant, standing in a pool of blood. At his feet lay an enemy soldier who had gone around her. And in his stomach, the Beinison’s sword had found a weak link. “Bury… me… in-”

 

She could only stand there as he fell to the ground in his own blood. She stopped crying.

 

***

 

Michiya swung meticulously at the enemy beside him. His katana’s sharp blade slicing through the woman’s breast plate, he used its momentum to come down on the man below him. Grasping now with both hands, he lunged at a Beinison soldier who had ridden up beside him.

 

Three deaths in three movements, he thought. Some would see this as poetic. Graceful. It is but death making its way through a world so full of life. He spurred his horse to catch up with Luthias.

 

“Luthias-sama,” he called. Luthias parried a blade aimed at his skull, and brought his mailed fist into the soldier’s face. The Benosian fell from his horse, nose bleeding, only to be trampled by his own mount. The horse knew better than to stand between two armies.

 

Luthias looked over at Michiya, and the battle surrounding him. Beinison was not having a good time of it. While Baranur was definitely taking losses, Beinison had been unprepared for the cavalry’s attack. They had been hoping to gain Gateway before reinforcements could arrive. They were almost successful.

 

“Luthias-sama, General Verde is about to make another charge.”

 

“Right. Find the bugler, Michiya,” Luthias called over the din. Steel rang against steel everywhere he looked. Horses bucked, riders fell, and blood made the ground slippery for the infantry they fought against. “I’ll be damn glad when this day is over.”

 

***

 

Morion cut down another Beinison. There was a small squad which had made its way behind the eastern line of defenses. If not for Luthias’ timely arrival, he thought, we’d have been driven out of here just past morning. He looked up at the mid- day sun. They had been fighting for five bells.

 

Another Beinison was crawling up the rear of the defenses, just twenty yards from Morion. The soldier wasn’t watching the lord of Pentamorlo, she had her sights on the colors of Gateway’s defense. Castellan Ridgewater had his back to the rear line, five archers standing with him, firing arrows into the oncoming enemy.

 

“Castellan!” Morion yelled, but he couldn’t be heard this far away. His voice was sore from shouting orders all morning, and the din of battle drowned out what volume he could still muster. He smiled. He knew there was time before the Beinison could make her way up the defenses, and there was another way of gaining Marcus’ attention.

 

Picking up a small piece of stone, he hurled it at the castellan’s back. A small ringing sound erupted, and Marcus turned around, fuming at the man who had pelted him.

 

“We’re in the brink of battle, man, and you’re picking on me with stones?!”

 

Morion pointed at the Beinison soldier five feet below Marcus, and the Castellan looked down. The Benosian, suddenly realizing that she was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, dropped her sword.

 

“Take your helmet off, man.” Marcus yelled at the soldier. The frightened woman did so, and Marcus swore. “Nehru’s pointy nose. Just like a woman to sneak up on you.” Raising his bow, he brought the wooden portion of it down, hard, on the woman’s head. She fell, unconscious, to the ground.

 

***

 

It was mid-evening when the fighting slowed, then stopped. Both sides were tired. Hungry. The cavalry’s horses would no longer charge, and did little to support their riders. Gateway was in ruins, the north wall having been breached at mid-day.

 

Beinison’s forces were battered, but now more organized. The original force which was to be deployed at the north wall never had the chance. If not for the commanding officer’s decision to divide the forces, even more Beinison soldiers might have been caught between the defenders in Gateway and the cavalry which arrived from the south.

 

Things were, for the moment, at an impasse. When Michiya had seen that the siege engines were still pummelling Gateway, he commanded a squadron of cavalry and destroyed them. Luthias had regained the defenses Morion’s troops had built four days before, outside of Gateway. Beinison had retreated out of Gateway’s catapult range, and was fortifying its camp. Luthias knew he was lucky, that day. If he had arrived a bell later, Gateway might have been taken. If he had been earlier, the Beinison army would not have already been committed to the task.

 

“Sir Luthias,” a man — if such an apparition could be called a man — approached him on horseback. Luthias had watched him from the small hill Luthias had claimed as his own. Lord Morion, covered in blood, dirt, and sweat, dismounted.

 

“Lord Morion,” Luthias returned his greeting. “Welcome to… what passes, for the time being, as my pavilion.”

 

“Thank you, Count Connall,” Morion replied. “Welcome to… whatever you want to call this situation. The lines are drawn, so to speak.”

 

“Yes, they are. But I don’t think it will be long.”

 

Sarah Verde and Ittosai Michiya approached the two leaders. “Knight Captain. Lord Morion.”

 

“Lord Morion,” Luthias introduced, “I believe you know General of the Cavalry Sarah Verde, and Ittosai Michiya.”

 

“Indeed I do.” Morion replied. “General. Michiya.”

 

“Luthias-sama,” Michiya began. “We — General Kirinagi, General Verde, and myself — We are wondering what the next plan of action is to be. You ordered us to dismount and rest our steeds. The supply train is still not arrived from last night’s camp. I fear we will have little food for the evening’s meal, or feed for the horses.”

 

“I believe we can take care of that in Gateway, Michiya,” Morion offered. “If I can get that damn castellan to listen to me.”

 

“The castellan? What about the Lord Keeper?”

 

“Useless brat, if you ask me. Hasn’t been helpful since he killed his brother.”

 

Luthias scowled at Morion, knowing both what it meant to kill, and how it felt to lose a brother. Having to kill his own kin would be difficult, even for one who had seen death as much as had Luthias.

 

“The boy didn’t even fight in the battle,” Morion continued. “In my opinion, Goren Winston isn’t fit to defend a major military stronghold like Gateway.”

 

“That’s a pretty strong statement, Lord Morion.” Sarah Verde shifted her scabbard for comfort. “Perhaps we should all convene in Gateway?”

 

“A good idea– What’s that?”

 

In the distance, a man on horseback was riding from the Beinison army toward the hill Luthias occupied. He carried the white flag of truce, and rode weaponless. A captain called to Luthias, and Luthias waved him on. When the soldier was within twenty yards, he dismounted.

 

“Who is the commanding officer?” he requested. He had a thick Beinison accent, but spoke Baranurian quite well.

 

Luthias stepped forward. “I speak for him.”

 

The Beinison looked at Luthias and recognized the Baranurian insignia’s of rank, as well as the knight’s chain around his neck. “I speak for General Vasquez, of the Beinison army. We claim the right to gather our dead from the field of battle before the conflict continues. It is late in the day, and much blood has been lost on both sides.”

 

“Tell your general that he may gather his dead as soon as we gather ours.” Luthias replied. “It is our land, and we would not want our dead to be dishonored upon it.”

 

“The general will accept,” the herald responded. “When you leave the field, we shall enter it and remove our dead.”

 

The herald moved to his steed and mounted. He turned his horse in a tight circle and sped down the hill to his own encampment.

 

Luthias looked at Sarah. “Tell the healers — Damn! Tell everyone to gather the Baranurian dead. Stevene willing, it won’t take much time. I’d like to be done with this by nightfall.”

 

Gateway Keep, Royal Duchy, Baranur 22 Yule, 1014

 

“Goren!” Castellan Ridgewater called down to the grounds from atop the sturdiest of Gateway’s remaining walls. “I think you’d better see this.”

 

Goren made his way up the courtyard stairs in the early morning light. Morion had gone to Luthias’ camp the evening before without telling him, leaving some pompous captain in charge of his men. Marcus was cursing up a storm all evening because there were Benosians all over the field but Morion had sent word not to fire at them. They were gathering their dead.

 

Marcus had fired one arrow, though. A man was running from body to body in the night, bending over each one momentarily, and rushing to the next. Marcus’ keen eyesight had picked him out, and the man slumped over with an arrow in the back. Pilfering from the dead was the least honorable thing Marcus could imagine.

 

When Goren got to the top of the wall, he looked across the empty field. “What’s wrong?”

 

“What’s wrong? Have ye lost your eyesight, boy?”

 

Goren just stared blankly at the field. Other than the usual signs of any bloody aftermath, he could see nothing.

 

“Don’t you see the enemy, Goren?”

 

Goren did not.

 

“Exactly it, boy. They’re gone.”

 

Goren looked again at the field. He looked up the hill to where the Beinisons had retreated the previous evening. He looked to where Luthias had made camp the previous evening, as well. Nothing.

 

“Lord Morion!” Goren called, but he did not need to yell. Morion appeared behind him.

 

“Lord Morion, what is the meaning of this?” Goren demanded.

 

“Well, Lord Keeper, the Beinison army isn’t there. Vasquez packed up in the middle of the night, just after second watch, and left. He was only waiting to gather his dead.”

 

“And Count Connall?”

 

“The Knight Captain, as I found he is now ranked, went after him. He’s going to chase Vasquez all the way back to Port Sevlyn and make sure he stays there. He can’t exactly assault seventeen regiments with his cavalry, but he’ll scare them enough to make sure they run.”

 

Goren sighed. He looked at Marcus and at Morion. “What was the outcome? We won, but at what cost?”

 

“The Knight Captain lost one thousand cavalry and two hundred fifty horse. About.” Morion said.

 

“Five hundred of Gateway’s garrison died in yesterday’s battle,” Marcus added.

 

“And Eighteen hundred of my own men died, since Beinison came over the hill five days ago.” Morion finished.

 

Goren was dumbfounded. “That’s…”

 

“Over three thousand dead,” Marcus finished for him.

 

“And that’s not counting the wounded.” Morion stated. “But the Beinison losses were greater. Between the start of battle and yesterday evening, they lost over seven regiments. Over seven thousand men.”

 

“But they still outnumbered us… what… almost two to one?”

 

“Goren, we’ve got cavalry. We’ve got archers. We’ve got what’s left of Gateway’s walls. We even have catapults left on a couple of them. All they had left was infantry. We’re in no shape to attack them, and they don’t dare attack us.”

 

“Best thing they could do, Lord Keeper,” Morion finished for Marcus. “Is get out of here before we were rested enough to launch a full attack.”

 

“And they did.” Goren looked out at the field. He saw the blood. The mounds of dirt piled up where heroes had defended themselves. Holes in the walls where Beinison had broken through Gateway’s defenses. A few bloody swords and shields, maybe a mace, littered the ground. “Ten thousand lives ended here.”

 

“War isn’t pretty, Winston.” Morion said. “And there’s no such thing as heroes.”

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