Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 29
Boughlin slowly guided his horse through the ruins of the settlement. Among the fallen men with their blood soaking into the earth were their destroyed tents and bedding, some having been placed upon old piles of ash. The new captain slowly urged the animal to stop before sliding off beside Kensley and Scarborough, offering their prise.
“What do we have here?” He asked, looking down at Kiaren. She stood rigidly in Scarborough’s grasp, her mouth gagged with a ratty cloth.
“I believe she is the commanding officer here.” Kensley noted.
“Was.” Boughlin corrected. “She was the commanding officer here. This settlement belongs to Xiandol now.” Kiaren struggled within the thin man’s grasp, her kicks fruitlessly pounding back against the hard shin plates of Scarborough’s armor. “Why have you brought her to me?” The Captain asked.
Kensley leaned the sword in his grip forward, its bare point sticking into the dirt. “This was wielded by her. Unique, isn’t it? I doubt you would be able to lift it, Sir.” The Lieutenant said, taking the hilt in his grasp with great effort. “It seems it is enchanted.”
“Like your own?” Boughlin asked.
“Perhaps… not.” Kensley replied. “It does not feel the same as the one I wield.”
“We shall have Mr. Chin examine it when he returns from Arkyan.” The Captain said. “You may dispose of the woman.”
“You don’t want to keep her as a bargaining piece, sir?” Kensley stopped Boughlin as he was ready to turn away. “Despite the dirt from the battlefield, she appears fair. Likely someone from a high class.”
“For what end would we require diplomacy?” Boughlin huffed. “We have an unstoppable army beside us.”
“Edrian may have other orders he wishes to carry out besides just killing everything from here to Tulefore city.” Kensley asserted.
Boughlin scoffed and grabbed at the reins of his horse. “Tie her up in some place where she won’t be in the way. Tuck the sword away some place as well.” The Captain slowly guided his horse back towards the gate, where the army had stopped to rearrange their formations.
“C’mon.” Kensley mumbled to Scarborough. He flung the heavy Katzbalger over his shoulder, while the thin man pushed Kiaren along. They marched up the dirt road, close to the the face of the mountainside. Kensley looked around for any signs of the Tuleforians who had fled into the tunnels, then back to the encampment and its collection of deteriorating buildings.
“Over here shall work?” Scarborough spoke up, nodding to a half collapsed house.
“Anywhere.” Kensley shrugged. “Stick with her to make sure she doesn’t fare poorly.”
Scarborough nodded and pushed the commander slightly, urging her forward. The building had suffered damage to its wall, but the roof still held intact. Inside was a roughly made bed, the sheets stained with mold and dirt. Scarborough forced Kiaren to the ground and gathered up a bunch of the sheet to wring up into bindings. He tightly wrapped up her arms and affixed the makeshift ties to one of the building’s support pillars.
As he knelt down in front of her, he removed his helmet and peered into her green eyes. He clumsily tugged at the gag tied behind her head with his gloves, pulling it off. Kiaren spit in his face and struggled against the tight bindings digging into her forearms.
Scarborough wiped the saliva off his face with the maille fingertips of the glove, smearing his cheek with dirt. “You’re hardly a lady, as Kensley seems to think.” He grit his teeth and stood.
“You’ll just keep me around to violate me.” Kiaren hissed back.
Scarborough turned around and placed himself in the missing area of wall. “What’s your name?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“Never mind.” Scarborough replied. He placed the helmet back on his head and took a seat in place. “I’ll likely not get hungry, but Kensley would probably have you fed.”
Kiaren struggled again to judge the security of her bonds. The bottom most rib on her right side felt as if it had been bruised from the strike earlier, and with each shift of her body, she could feel a sharp pain shoot through her side.
Kensley ripped an uneven length of cloth from one of the fallen tents before wrapping it around the hefty sword. The group of soldiers had settled down and began to examine their weapons for any signs of wear from the attack. Kensley placed the sword leaned up against one of the defensive walls and slowly covered it with a pile of stones to hide it.
The sun had begun to head eastward. Kensley removed his helmet and stared out at the settlement’s walls hiding the horizon. He could see the silhouette of the Captain standing at one of the guard towers. Kensley slowly made his way behind the defenses and climbed the ladder up to the post.
Boughlin turned to him as he reached the top rung. “Do you see that, Kensley?” He said, motioning out at the thickly forested land before them. “All this rich land that Tulefore has, and yet they still have want for more across their sea. They could stand to lose some.”
“Sir, I should inform you, if you don’t already know.” Kensley said, changing the subject. He slowly turned to look at the mountain, bathed in the sunlight.
“Some of the Tuleforian forces escaped into the system of tunnels after we attacked. None of them men could split off to pursue them.”
“I’m aware of that.” Boughlin nodded slowly.
“If they went to hide out and get lost in those dark tunnels, I won’t hinder them. Even if they were to find a way out under our noses, it is too late for them to do anything.”
Kensley sighed and turned back to the horizon. For a moment, he believed he was able to see the city far in the distance, but the glare from the sun was too quick to blind him.
The old mine shafts in the rock of the mountain were rich with dampness and the odor of mold. The dripping of water finding its way through the rocks echoed through the long dark passageways. The sole torch flickered as the cold humidity fought back against its warm glow. Silvus pushed people by him in the darkness, counting each set of shoulders in his mind.
“Any sign, yet?” He called up to the front of the line where the torch holder slowly progressed forwards.
“We must keep heading north.” The man replied, his voice reverberating off the hard surfaces.
Silvus’s hand passed over the last person, and he joined the end of the line. Ahead of him, he could see the torch flicker again and pass behind a corner, leaving behind only a slight glow against the damp, shiny rock face. He held his breath and kept tentative contact with the soldier just in front of him.
As they rounded the corner, Silvus looked up just in time to see the torch roar for a moment before dying out suddenly. The men murmured loudly. He could feel the movement of the air as they jostled uncomfortably. “Captain!” Someone whispered loudly.
“Silence!” Silvus called out. His voiced traveled through the tunnels before fading out. With the return of the cold peace, he could hear the whispers of wind creeping their way into the tunnels. “Keep going, slowly. Follow the right wall.”
The slow grind of cautious footsteps took them forward. There was a sound of boots meeting the small puddles in the floor of the tunnel. In the distance a roar could be heard growing as they inched closer. Silvus blinked his eyes quickly as he caught sight of dim daylight casting its glow upon the walls of the tunnel.
The roar outside was a the sound of water rushing through a ravine carved into the side of the mountain from runoff of snow melt. The end of the tunnel had collapsed slightly after the miners had pierced the wall, leading to the deep, natural formation. Silvus squinted up at the sky as he exited, following the last of the men out. The ravine was coated with moss, carrying frigid water among slippery boulders.
The few remaining soldiers from the attack slowly made their way down the slope, avoiding the icy eddies and deceitful pools of water. The ravine slowly widened out, and in the distance, they could make out the tall trees and the river being fed by the mountain.
“I believe this is the Arkadian forest.” One of the men spoke up, peering up at the tall trees. “Just the edge of it.”
Silvus marched forward along the bank of the flowing water. “If nothing else, we can ask for aid from the Order. Horses, maybe. Some may ride to Tulefore city and warn the Emperor, the guard, anyone.” He looked around at the tired men, damp, some injured. “For Tulefore, we cannot stop here.”