Of Armor and Bone: Chapter Twelve
Down by the river on the Xiandolan front, the sound of swords clashing in a sparring match filled the air. Kensley swung and thrust with his longsword, the weapon grasp in one hand with the other tucked behind his back.
Scarborough followed the movement of the attacks, while continuously stepping backwards to keep his distance. “You should strike while you have the chance.” Kensley taunted, while continuing his assault. His long dark hair flowed back behind him, and the baggy linen shirt moved listlessly as he calmly proceeded the steady attacks. “Not all battlefields will have the luxury of the space to retreat.”
The tip of one of Scarborough’s sword clacked against the broad dimpled edge of Kensley’s. “Maybe I’m waiting for you to tire yourself out.” He returned, and continued back-stepping slowly.
The clouds of breath exited Kensley’s mouth as rhythmically as the swings of his sword. “You may never know when that’s coming, for either combatant. I know you’re faster than me. Use that to your advantage.”
“It’s hardly an advantage if your opponent is already aware of you, even less so when having twice the range.” Scarborough said through short, shallow breaths.
“And you have twice the swords!” Kensley huffed and threw in an extra flourish in his attack. With each swing, his body gently ebbed and flowed with the movement of the heavy sword in his hand, using the inertia and extension of his weight to keep his footing.
Scarborough took the moment for Kensley’s blade to be at the position farthest from his center of mass before striking. He quickly planted his foot to stop its retreat and allowed his left hand to strike out. The short sword parried Kensley’s blade, knocking the man off balance.
Scarborough took the opportunity to strike, jutting out to attack with his second hand. Kensley withdrew his free hand from behind his back and smacked at the side of the short sword, knocking it out of Scarborough’s hand and to the ground with a loud clattering.
“Well.” The lieutenant smirked and regained his footing. “If these were actually sharp, we would be in trouble. You arm, does it still affect you poorly?”
The skinny man bent down to retrieve the fallen sword. He had sheathed the other and wrapped the free hand around his shoulder. “Yes, it still ails me. It was not such a delicate the injury.”
“No, of course not.” Kensley ground his teeth. “I would hope that the King may send reinforcements soon, perhaps a healer.”
The river beside them roared, engorged with the water from the snow melt on the mountain. Over the din, the sound of a horn could be heard from the west in the direction of the late morning sun. The two began to march up the hillside to catch a glimpse of the road stretching deep into the dull countryside.
The rocky and barren land stretched outward, eventually disappearing into churning hills and strands of wispy fog still hanging in the air. The once muddy road had baked in the low sun and turned to a crusty, cracked expanse of hard dirt. In the distance, a long convoy seemed to be leisurely making its way towards the settlement.
“Speak of the devil.” Kensley grunted. The lieutenant waved to Scarborough for them to make their way back up the hillside to the exterior defenses.
It had been a week since the expeditionary group had returned from the excursion far on the other side of the mountain. During that time, no further orders had come from General Edrian, nor had any word considering Tulefore had been uttered. A few select groups had come and gone during the time, but any inclination that either side had intentions of escalating to any conflict was not present.
The air was humid and the white blankets of snow atop the high rocky mountain peaks had begun to melt away. Down upon the flat plains surrounding the mountains, the laborers had emerged from their winter hibernation to begin plowing the fields for the earliest of plantings. Long parallel stretches of the dirt had been already turned up by the plows being pulled by oxen, revealing the dark loam underneath.
The main gate had already been opened as Kensley and Scarborough scaled the embankment up to the road. Up in one of the tall stone towers overlooking the outer walls, Kensley could spot the guards pointing a spyglass out at the incoming party, still several kilometers away.
“A big shipment of supplies, eh?” Kensley shouted up at the two men.
The guard secured his helmet on his head and leaned over the railing to respond down to them. “Lieutenant! I’ve not been prepared to accept any supplies. Could they be here on other business?”
“I’d prefer to take a look at them, first.” He nodded and leaned back to peer out at the road. “Scar.” Kensley nodded up at the ladder. “Head on up, get a look. You have a good eye.”
“Sir.” Scarborough nodded and scrambled up the ladder into the guard post. Holding out his hand, the guard passed the long scope to him.
Through the smudged glass lens, the first thing he could spot was the silhouette of a lion, atop the stark white banner- the Xiandolan King’s Emblem. Behind the barer was a long convoy, following at a slow march. The stout horses making up the front of the formation carried men in unfamiliar suits of armor, followed quickly by others in civilian garb. At the farthest reaches of the line were flatbed wagons, pulled by hefty horses in yokes of two.
“Sir!” Scarborough pulled the instrument down from his view and shouted down to the ground. “I wouldn’t call it a war party, but it is peculiar.”
Kensley took a spot under the arch of the entryway. Scarborough snuck back down to the ground and took a place beside him.
“If I’m not mistaken, they’re flying Halmalch’s banner.” Scarborough noted.
“I noticed.” Kensley shrugged. “It’s pretty distinct. If there are orders coming from the throne, then it must be something worth our while.”
“Not just orders. Soldiers. Looks like some special guard unit I’ve never seen.”
Kensley sighed and rolled his head around his shoulders with a loud pop of his spine. “If they’re sending a group of trained soldiers our way, then what are they expecting of us?”
Bently stood outside the General’s hut atop the outcropping. The layer of morning ice atop the building’s roof had begun to melt and drip engorged drops of water on the rock at his feet with incessant panging. Inside, he could hear Edrian’s voice discussing with the Wizard, Chin. The horn sounded again, this time louder and closer. Out on the horizon, he could spot the dark mob of people and horses closing in on the gate.
The voices inside the hut stopped. The heavy boots pounded against the floor as they drew closer to the door. With a woosh of cloth, Edrian pushed aside the skin hanging in the doorway. “You hear that?” He grunted.
Bently turned his eyes to the side to confirm that Edrian had addressed him. “Yes, sir.”
“Its a welcome sound.” The large man said pridefully. “My patience was beginning to grow thin.”
The wizard spoke up in a gravelly, wheezing tone. “Given the trip, I’m sure the king dispatched this party as fast as he could have.”
Edrian ignored the man’s reassurance. He stepped close to the edge of the rocky surface and peered out at the horizon. “Mr. Bently, you are to report to the front gate to see to it that our arriving guests find appropriate accommodations.” He said gruffly without hardly turning his head.
“Sir,” he stated clearly. “I would not wish for you to be without protection, given the circumstances.”
Edrian turned his head slightly in Bently’s direction. “Circumstances? What gives you the thought that I- we are under some sort of danger?”
“That fact that…” Bently stumbled. “It has simply been too quiet as of recent.”
Chin wheezed and stepped forward out into the sunlight. “I don’t believe for one minute that it will last much longer.”
The general let out a long sigh of frustration. He placed his hands on the wooden railing and stared out at the horizon. “There are more men on their way. I will not be without a suit of armor at my side for long. Go.” He finally ordered.
Bently quickly snatched up his helmet that sat propped up on one of the railings and tucked it under his arm. “As you wish.”
The flag-bearer made eye contact with Scarborough as his horse came to a stop at the gate. Bently held onto the helmet with one hand as he made a gesture of welcome to the slowly gathering group of men. The young man, hardly older than a teen, whipped the flagpole around in his hand and grabbed at the shaft where the black and white sewn sections of fabric had been fastened. With great precision, he flung the banners around the pole and held it parallel to the hose so he could pass under the low gate.
The mounted man behind him was dressed in rich furs embellished with strands of colorful cloth. At his side was a sheath containing a single short sword. Kensley made eye contact with the man, who quickly pulled off to the side away from the formation.
“Boughlin.” Kensley greeted the man as he slid off the side of the horse.
“Kensley.” He returned, before offering out his hand. “It has been a while.”
The lieutenant took up the wide man’s hand, who shook it with a near crushing force.
“Just enough to be able to reminisce. Tell me,” He said while scanning the interior of the settlement. “Where is your Captain, Mandabus?”
Kensley turned his eyes to the ground and massaged his sore hand. “We… lost him, just recently. During an attack on Tulefore.”
The wide man sighed and shook his head back and forth. “That is a shame.” He growled. “Such things are to be expected in war, though. We’ll be prepared this time, though.”
“This time? I know nothing of which you speak.” Kensley replied. Behind them, the group of men had seemed to finish trickling in. The group of three flatbed wagons trailed behind at the end, carrying wooden crates and boxes. The horses huffed wearily as the men descended down to the ground. The riders, a team of soldiers in full armor, head to toe, meticulously double checked their gear while guiding the animals to posts where they could be tied. “I can see you came prepared, though.” Kensley admitted, allowing his eyes to turn back to Boughlin.
“We are prepared, indeed.” The wide man grinned devilishly. “I’m leading some of the best trained men in Xiandol. Tulefore will stand no chance.”
Kensley took a tentative step backwards before scanning the group of soldiers again. “It seems there are things I’ve yet to learn.”
“If you’re being kept in the dark, it must be for a reason.” Boughlin smirked. “Perhaps I can ask General Edrian about it.”
“Do so if you would, please.” Kensley nodded.