Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 36
Boughlin held the long map up to the sky, the morning light from behind him illuminating the taught parchment. Edrian studied the marks that the Captain had scribbled sloppily upon it. From the watch tower, the noted landmarks could be seen.
“If we set out as soon as possible, we would likely reach this ridge by the end of the day.” Boughlin commented. “It would be wisest to only be on the move during the light hours.”
Kensley folded his arms across his chest, examining the map from the opposite side of the General. “We’ll be plainly visible. We should continue to move at night, and maintain the ability to take them by surprise.”
“Surprise?” Edrian spoke up. “We no longer need such a a luxury. If what my sources tell me is true, Tulefore City is weak. Their capital is just defended by a line of thin walls and rusted canons. We want to have them see us coming.”
“I can’t agree more.” Boughlin nodded, drawing his finger across the map to the coastline. “If we pause for the night atop the ridge, we can recommence the first thing in the morning. Tulefore city will be within our grasps, and their fat emperor will be able to see us come upon him.”
Edrian turned to look behind him before beginning to descend the ladder. “I shall allow you to make the call to send out the guard.”
“Sir.” Boughin replied, roughly folding up the map in his hands. He turned to Kensley as the General disappeared below the ledge of the tower. “I’d like you to take the forward position like you did before.”
Kensley continued to stare out at the horizon, nodding his head slowly. “How far does Edrian plan to push this assault?” Kensley mumbled quietly.
“Don’t worry little head with details like that.” Boughlin grumbled.
“I will worry.” Kensley rebutted, his hands held tight to the railing of the tower. “Attacking a military settlement is different than ransacking a city.”
“Tulefore is supposedly known for doing the same thing across the eastern sea. They shall get to experience the same treatment at our hands.”
“You are not in a situation to question the General’s decisions.” Boughlin raised his voice. “That suit of armor you wear signifies your service to the kingdom… as a tool to be used. Don’t forget that. Now, ready yourself and your men.”
Kensley turned his head to the ground before glancing one last time as the horizon. “And Bently? The suit he wore is now useless.”
Boughlin paused midway through descending the ladder. “He may wield the banner.”
Kensley watched as Boughlin landed on the ground below and began to march towards the soldiers before making his way down himself. Scarborough approached him from the road, his armor still on.
“We moving?” The thin man asked.
“As expected.” Kensley replied without making eye contact. He continued up the hillside, Scarborough following after him. At the rear of the settlement, they entered the dilapidated building, where Bently awaited them.
The tired looking man sat up as the two entered. “What are our orders?”
Kensley glared at him. “Boughlin wants you to hoist our banner, if I can trust you with that.”
Bently stood up, his hands bunched into fists. “Trusting Mandabus was a mistake, I know that. I will do what I can.”
“Let’s hope.” Kensley sighed. “We’re taking the same formation as before, got that, Scar?”
“Mhm.” The thin man nodded. “I’ll be taking up the rear, then?”
Kensley turned to the hole in the wall. Outside, he could barely hear Boughlin’s voice, ordering the soldiers into formation. “Meet up at the east gate, have the men open it and be ready to depart.”
“Sir.” Scarborough nodded and exited the building past him. Bently followed after him quietly.
Kensley waited for the two men to travel down the road a bit before returning to his temporary quarters. The pieces of armor were arranged neatly side-by-side at the wall by the door. He meticulously put each piece on, patting down the bindings and plates of metal to make sure they fit correctly.
Kensley exited the building and winded through the middle of the settlement towards the mountainside. The pile of rocks concealing the strange, heavy sword had remained undisturbed against the thin wall. The thick sheath and blade underneath were just as heavy as he remembered. Kensley double checked around him for any observers before slinging the weapon over his back next to his own sword.
A loud roar from the men crying out in unison signaled that they had taken to formation. Kensley skidded down the hill in a rush to the tying station, where the remainder of the horses had been placed to rest. The tall gray steed glanced at him lazily as he approached. As he shoved his foot into the first stirrup, the animal complained but allowed him to slid his opposite leg over. The plates on his leggings rested unevenly across the hard saddle. Kensley straightened his back and urged the horse up onto the road, guiding it towards the front gate.
Bently sat upon the horse and watched as the army began to round the curve in the road, the formation four men wide and five long. He grabbed at Scarborough beside him who had been distracted by the horizon to move out of the way. The formation moved to the exit, stopping precisely at the point where the gate used to rest. Kensley marched down the middle of the group and out to the front of them. He gave a quick nod at the others before raising his fist to the air. “Attention!” He yelled, his voice projected by the power of the helm upon his head. “Move out!” The order was given, and the group began to follow in the tracks of the Lieutenant’s horse.
As the remainder of the men exited the walls of the settlement, Boughlin and Edrian followed after, a horse to each of them. They glanced at each other before making ways to either side of the formation. Bently looked back to see the porters slowly begin to urge their donkeys out to trail after the men.
Bently examined the furled banner in his grasp before kicking at the horse to get it moving. Scarborough followed suit quickly after.
“Is your wound fine, Ben?” Scarborough asked, scooting his horse in close.
“It will do.” Bently grumbled, draping the banner’s pole across his thigh at an angle.
“What was Mandabus thinking?” Scarborough pondered.
Bently cleared his throat loudly. “He’s not thinking. I feel the power of that set of armor playing effecting his mind.”
“You know the feeling, too?” Scarborough asked.
Bently huffed loudly and shook his head. “The numbness?”
“The first strike I drove into the side of that Tuleforian soldier… that night we came through the tunnels in the mountain. It felt strange and unnatural, like striking at a practice dummy. Like nothing at all, rather.”
A loud breath echoed inside of Scarborough’s helmet. “Like it’s not real, huh?”
“Did you ever have to kill a man, back as a guard in Xiandolia?” Bently asked.
“Struck, but never killed.” He sighed.
“Then that night was your first, then?”
Scarborough slowly lifted the helmet off his head and rested it on his knees, his heavy breaths coming quickly. “Don’t remind me.”
“It feels worse… the first blood spilled to your own hands… when you can feel the blade cutting into a man’s flesh.” Bently pursed his lips. “The fact that it was so easy for you… then to strike out against that mage… makes me worried for all of these men who are prepared to trounce all over Tulefore city.”
Scarborough spit loudly and placed the helmet back on his head, gently nudging at the horse for it to catch up beside Bently. “Don’t forget the Captain.”
“Mandabus, you mean?” Bently turned his head.
“I encountered him at Arkyan. He was after that same mage, in a blind rage it seemed. Its as if he is sick with a need for revenge.”
“He has the woman now, too. His behavior is… erratic at best.”
“To think he could have been leading these men, rather than Boughlin.”
“Who, at this point, would you rather have, though, Ben?”
Bently shrugged and pulled the banner back up upon his lap. “Despite being here so long, only Kensley had any acquaintance with Mandabus before you arrived and we were given those suits of armor. I don’t even know if he knows how the man was promoted to Captain, or even where he’s from.”
“Edrian didn’t even give him showing up a second thought.” Scarborough remarked.
“You’re right.” Bently sighed. “I’m wary of this whole situation.”
Kensley continued to walk the horse at a moderate pace, the rhythmic marching of the soldiers behind him continuing ceaselessly. The wide dirt road was well worn and slightly muddy, and around it, the clearing showed signs of being lumbered and worked for what seemed to be fields for farming. Ahead, the land was thick with low weeds and grasses that had been turned brown and matted to the earth during the snowfall. The road before the group wavered slightly as it continued into the tall, bare trees of the forest.
Kensley boredly scanned ahead of the group for any signs of movement. The pressure in his ears signaled the land slowly creeping upward from the valley that had been marked upon the map of the Tuleforian province. To the north, another section of road began to merge inward. His eyes suddenly fluttered and he yanked on the reins of the horse as he caught sight of another mounted individual at the fork between the two paths.
Edrian rode up the left side of the formation with a quick pace, taking a position besides Kensley. The person approached, their horse in a slow trot. Kensley held his fist up to the air to halt the men behind him.
Chin approached the group, lowering the hood of his cloak and pulling the pipe from his mouth to greet the General and Lieutenant. “I knew I would catch you this way eventually.”
Edrian eyed him suspiciously. “You’re bold, Mr. Chin, biding your time here in enemy territory.”
“I can suppress my presence magically, if need be.” He assured the General.
“The Order held you up long enough.” Edrian groan. “As good as Boughlin is a strategist, I prefer your insight.”
Chin ignored the General’s words, his gaze scanning the rows of men. “Is Bently here with you? I must talk with him if so.” He asked quickly.
“At the rear.” Edrian rolled his eyes. “Save it for when we pause for the night. I must discuss with you our plan of action. You may lead on, Kensley.”
The Lieutenant nodded and waived his hand forward as the mage and the general turned to take their place at the side of the formation.
Bently made brief eye contact with Chin, who shunned him with a singular glare before turning his attention back to Edrian. The army took up its pace once again, while Bently grimaced with doubt.