Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 28
(Unfortunately, there is another Camp Nanowrimo starting up, so this story will be on hold for a bit. Hopefully this chapter ties up this arc fairly well.)
A loud pounding on the door awoke Kiaren. She had dozed off, staring at the maps on the planning room table. Silvus pushed through the door as she lifted her weary head, the marks from her sleeve still pressed into the side of her face. “My dear, I believe we are expecting an attack.”
Kiaren stood quickly, pushing the chair back against the wall with a clatter. “From who? Where from?” The commander forced her way past Silvus and scanned the tall walls of the settlement.
Silvus grabbed at the woman’s trim shoulders and pointed her south. “Up on the ridge coming out of the pass,” he pointed. “There is some force assembled there.”
“Xiandol. They’ll come to the side gate, no doubt.” Kiaren said. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the neat lines of the force in the distance, just above the tree line.
“Are you sure?” Silvus returned. “There’s hardly enough room to fit an army through such a tiny space. They wouldn’t be so foolish.”
“Your lack of experience with the Kingdom of Xiandol will have been your downfall if I were not here.” Kiaren shook her head in an exaggerated motion. “Fortify the south wall with your most competent bowmen, and then you may watch them descend upon us.”
“Our numbers are clearly greater than theirs.” Silvus said, motioning at the tents set up around the encampment. “It was fortunate that I arrived when I did, before they had a chance to change their plan of attack.”
“Xiandol’s plans of attack do not merely rely on numbers, but rather on how they make use of the strength they have available.”
“You talk as if you are unsure of our victory.”
“I am merely talking from my experience. Victory doesn’t happen until every last one of their men is dead or retreated again to the other side of the mountain.”
Boughlin waved at Scarborough to move his horse forward to the side of the formation. Kensley nodded at him from the top of the ridge as he passed by the rows of stationary soldiers.
“Sir!” Scarborough called up.
“After my men have been lead to the gate…” Boughlin instructed, looking back between the two knights. “You two shall meet at the front gateway to make sure that they are unable to retreat.”
Kensley tightened his grip around the banner’s pole in anticipation. “Understood.”
Boughlin nudged the sides of his horse with his toes, making the animal turn and face the rows of armored men, standing like statues. “Mr. Kensley, they will move at your discretion.”
Kensley peered down at the slope, dotted with thin trees and rocks, quietly charting out a course for the horse. He swallowed hard and readjusted his grip on the wooden instrument in his gauntlet. With a loud “Yah!” he yanked on the reins of the horse with his free hand, making it jolt forwards.
The rows of solders shouted out in a deafening cry as he passed in front of them and down the slope. The horse banked and hopped between the obstacles. Kensley could hear the thin fabric of the banner flapping in the wind, and the pounding of the armored footsteps on the ground behind him.
As he exited the brush and landed in the clearing, he turned his head to the sides to quickly to gauge the situation. The solders had begun to pour out after him, their clean formation holding just barely. Scraborough’s horse dragged behind on the right, headed for the main entrance farther ahead.
Kensley focused on the tall walls and gate ahead of him. Atop the structure were bunches of men, crowded into the posts. He lifted the banner as high as he safely could, pointing it in the direction of the gate, built of thick timbers. Kensley flinched as an arrow made contact with his shoulder, bouncing off the armor plating with a loud metallic ting.
Kensley yanked hard on the horse’s reins, pulling the animal right. The men rushed the gate, their war-cries echoing about the valley. The walls shook as the armored soldiers began piling their weight against it, each pushing harder against each other. Kensley closely followed the wall north to the larger of the two gates, where Scarborough had already skidded to a halt.
“Finally, some excitement.” The young man nodded.
Kensley began fiddling with the banner, wrapping it up around the pole to secure it. “Indeed.”
The walls shook and the dirt in which the thick timbers had been buried slowly began to work free. Silvus paced around his men, who had arranged themselves in neat rows facing the gate structure. The yells of the men on the opposite side of the walls were almost enough to deafen any orders passed out.
Kiaren grabbed at Silvus’s shoulder, pulling him back away from the cacophony of the gate. “It won’t hold.”
“You were not wrong about the Xiandolans.” Silvus laughed. “Attempting to breach out defenses with manpower alone.”
“When they do, your men will not stand a chance.” Kiaren grit her teeth, gazing into Silvus’s eyes.
“They are experienced, and are wearing the best armor Tuleforian’s blacksmiths could fashion.”
Kiaren shoved her hand against his chest, drawing his eyes to hers once again. “You don’t fully understand. Did you see the man leading them here?”
“The one with the banner of the lion, yes. Should that worry me?”
“It’s that armor. A few of my men who survived the first attack Xiandol carried out know it. They have taken to calling those who wear it Dread Knight.”
“It is enchanted with powers you could never conceive of.” Kiaren explained slowly. “I have reason to believe those other men… the army… could have similar weapons and armor.”
Silvus turned his back and shuffled uncomfortably, rubbing his face. “Sounds like superstition of cowardly men.”
“How many men are you willing to throw at these forces to determine if I’m telling the truth or not?”
“Are you saying we should just retreat?”
Kiaren shook her head and began marching away towards the front gate. Silvus quickly followed after her, trying to match her pace.
“Open the gate!” Kiaren called up to the few remaining guards at the base of the structure.
“What are you planning?” Silvus said, having finally caught up.
“There’s a reason they chose not to attack here.” Kiaren announced, waiting for the sides of the structure to open up. “Even though the smaller gate is more sturdy, they knew we would end up packed in tight at the corner of the encampment. If we fought them here, we could have easily split them up rather than face that mob of soldiers.”
“I shall grab some of my men so that we may flank them as they break into that gate.” Silvus quickly formulated.
As the gate opened, Kiaren spied Scarborough and Kensley on the other side. Kensley quickly slid down off his horse, planting his feet on the compacted soil. Scarborough dismounted as well, tapping at the horse to have it walk away.
Kiaren grabbed at the weapon bound to her side- the magical Katzbalger. Silvus pulled the great-sword from the holster on his back. “Stand back, Silvus. These are the Dread Knights I’ve warned you about.”
Scarborough began to tremble as he reached for his twin swords holstered at each of his hips. Kensley waved his arm back at him. “I shan’t have you pass through here.” He called out to Kiaren and Silvus.
Silvus charged Kensley, swinging his sword before the knight could pull out his own. The great-sword met with the enchanted armor with a dull thud, barely moving Kensley.
Silvus recoiled, his hands wavering from the blow.
Kiaren stepped forward and placed herself between the two men. “I will not let you take any more lives this day!”
Kensley unsheathed his sword. Kiaren had hardly the time to blink when he charged. Her sword met his just before he could make contact with her body. The Katzbalger held fast against Kensley, who recoiled in surprise.
“Ho ho ho, what do we have here?” Kensley balked, regaining his footing.
“Silvus…” Kiaren crept backward, her eyes still stuck to the two knights. “Go direct your men. I can handle them.”
“Not two on one!”
Scarborough had pulled out his sword, carefully placing himself in the gateway. A few of the Tuleforian guards at the gate had approached around, lining up at Kiaren’s side.
Kensley loosed his grip and placed the tip of his sword downward into the dirt. “Your own walls now hold you hostage. What will you do, Tulefore?”
Kiaren moved closer to Silvus and began whispering in a low voice. “There is a way to escape from here, though the tunnels in the mountain. My men know the way out so that we may retreat.”
A loud crash echoed throughout the encampment, and the shouts of men grew louder. Scarborough inched towards Kensley, his voice low. “Sounds as if Boughlin’s guard has made it through the gate. Shall we attack?”
“Our orders were to prevent them from escaping this way. If we get caught up in trying to spill blood, then we will become quickly overwhelmed.” Kensley whispered. “Besides, there is something about this woman. I believe she is their Commander.”
“Did you not see her block my attack?” Kensley nodded at the thick weapon on Kiaren’s hand. “Any regular sword would have shattered, even with me holding back.”
“It is like our own, then.”
“Quit whispering, Xiandolan scum!” Silvus called out.
Kiaren elbowed him. “Your men should be your focus right now. Go!” She ordered. “Remember what I told you!”
Silvus bit his tongue and shook his head. Kiaren glanced at him as he retreated into the camp, before turning her eyes back to the two knights. “Xiandol has suddenly become quite bold in recent times.” Kiaren shrugged. Her knuckles had gone white as her grip on the handle of the sword continued to tighten.
Kensley continued to stare at the woman with scrutinizing eyes. Scarborough fidgeted, his swords tapping against the tassets of his armor.
“Scar…” Kensley said. “See if you can’t get her to drop that weapon of hers. I would like to have it brought back to Xiandol.”
Kiaren braced herself. Scarborough quickly ran at her. She blocked the first of the attacks, but the second sword grazed the back of her wrist. Her grip on the weapon faltered, and the swing to the side missed Scarborough by several centimeters. Scarborough returned with a third slash, making contact just above her elbow. The Katzbalger slipped out of her hands and landed besides her. Kensley quickly approached and send his elbow into Kiaren’s stomach, knocking the wind out of her and sending her to the ground.
Boughin’s men had reestablished their formation inside of the camp, forming an impenetrable wall that struck out against anyone that came too close. The bodies of Silvus’s men lay strewn about around the gateway. Silvus waved his arms about, attempting to guide the remaining soldiers through the confusion.
With his strained breath, he called out one last order; “Retreat! Into the tunnels!”
Boughlin entered the settlement upon his horse as the stray Tuleforian soldiers scampered up the slope and into the mining tunnels. The Xiandolan forces remained in the formation, looking to the Commander for their next instructions.
Shiloh rode just ahead of Zethurus, their horses throwing up chunks of mud as they exited the thick forest. “Slow yourself!” Zethurus finally called out, his horse jostling him violently.
Shiloh yanked on the reins, pulling his horse to a more manageable speed. “Do you really think we have time to take an easy pace?”
“If what Chin said was true, we could already be too late.” Zethurus insisted. He carefully adjusted his legs to grab more properly around the horse’s saddle.
“Then what would you prefer to do?”
“If we travel to Tulefore City first, we may be able to forewarn our people should Xiandol’s army continue to move eastward.”
“You’re assuming that their attack upon the settlement will succeed.”
“With what Chin described; do you think they stand a chance?”
Shiloh pursed his lips and turned in the direction of the settlement. “For once, you are talking sense. Lady Kiaren, please be safe…”
Bently scanned the surroundings before entering into the building across the street from the main hall. Inside, the walls were lined with cells constructed of hefty tree limps tied up with thick twine. Bently quietly marched down the center of the room, scanning each cell. He stopped as he spied the compartment containing the familair dark armor.
“Mandabus.” Bently said, placing his hands around the wooden bars. He stared at the seemingly lifeless man, knelt to the ground. “You recognize my voice, don’t you?”
The armor moved slightly, the helmet drifting upward.
“It’s Bently. Your ally.” He added.
“Bently.” Mandabus croaked.
“I want to help you.”
“I don’t smell the blood of that mage here, anymore.”
“They let him free.” Bently sneered.
Mandabus continued to sit quietly. The crimson lines inscribed on the armor seemed to glow in the dim light of the cell. “How about you own name?” Bently posed.
“Man…da…bus.” The armor groaned.
“You are still aware. The Arcanus can’t say otherwise. I won’t let them keep you here.”
Mandabus shifted. His hands had been bound together uncomfortably, and his feet tied together as well. Bently quickly turned back and pulled a length of rope off the wall. He looked again down either side of the hall before forcing the bars apart, shattering the wood to splinters. Mandabus strenuously attempted to stand, but the foot-bindings arrested his movement.
Bently stepped into the cell and ripped the binding holding Mandabus’s feet together. With the length of rope, he quickly secured a loop around Mandabus’s hands and began pulling him out into the hallway.
“Unbind me fully.”
Bently sighed inaudibly and avoided looking back at Mandabus. “I want to keep you secured for you own safety. I trust you… but if we run into that mage again… you seem prone to losing yourself to the bloodlust. Perhaps we should return to Xiandolan territory to assess where we stand.”
Bently quickly made his way outside, Mandabus being dragged after him. A few worrisome glances were drawn their way as Bently returned to the stable and untied the horses that he and Chin had brought to Arkyan.
He carefully helped Mandabus up on top of one horse before he mounted his own. With a tug of the rope in his hands, Bently invited Mandabus and his horse to follow after. Bently gave one last look at the town before dashing out of the gate, dodging the bewildered guards.