Second chapter of the book I was asked to post.
When Peter arrived in the stables, he found Andrew mounting his horse. Andrew wore an open faced helmet, a light mail suit and an ankle length cape that covered his left shoulder. He also wore leathern riding boots laced up to the knee in Claydad fashion. His sword swung by his side and a pair of mail gauntlets were tucked into his belt next to his money pouch. It was clear at one glance that Andrew didn’t trust the Crackernians.
As Andrew passed Peter, he raised his hand in brief salute, then rode out of the royal stables on his precious horse. He rode for a long time on the dusty sand roads and, by the time he arrived at the Crackernian’s capital and main fortress, Shagadag, he and his horse were covered in dust and barely recognizable. Perhaps that was why the gatekeeper let him in without question.
The people of Claydad and the people of Crackernia used to be very good friends. Until the day that the King of Crackernia and the King of Claydad courted the same woman: Jamima. But Jamima had chosen Andrew, naturally preferring him as he was the more handsome of the two and not as old. This made Tarksee, King of Crackernia forever angry against Andrew.
The feud did not end there. Several times, the Crackernians allied with the Claydadanians only to desert them when the battle began to get tough. Tarksee did this as a form of vengeance, and his soldiers, thinking it a big joke, never questioned him. This made Andrew hate Crackernia. That was why he was so reluctant to trust them.
But, Crackernia was a very powerful country. It contained over two hundred thousand able-bodied soldiers. Each one was master of the longbow, hitting the bullseye at four hundred paces every single time they shot. They also were masters of the eighteen-foot bullwhip and the short sword.
However, Crackernia did have one serious problem. It, like the Strangenians, had hardly any horses, and the few light knights they had could hardly even stay on the horse. Still, this represented little trouble in battle except when in pursuit of the enemies’ mounted units. So, as on can clearly see, this was the very reason why Peter wanted Andrew to work with Tarksee, despite the old feud.
After brushing himself off and washing his smooth face in a bucket of cool water from the castle well, Andrew walked towards a few soldiers and asked them where he might find the King.
“Hey aren’t you Andrew, King of the Claydadanians and the guy who had an argument with our King?” A soldier asked rudely, spitting at the ground upon which Andrew stood.
Andrew instantly drew his sword and placed the point at the soldier’s neck. The soldier retreated hastily, but more drew their own weapons or fiddled with their bows, and though Andrew’s pride burned to be accosted so rudely, he sheathed his sword. For here, the rules of his country did not apply and if he killed any of the soldiers, he would have done so against the law. So he replied as coolly as he could manage, “That is what they call me. And may I see the King? It’s on some very important business. I want to make an alliance with your country.”
The soldiers gave him a look that burned the words that they did not say right into his chest. Then they whispered with each other for a while, and a hysterical laugh burst from a few of them.
Finally, they broke up their little ring and one of them, apparently a Captain, said, “You will have to give us your sword first.” This hit Andrew like a blow. Of course, now he realized it. They are going to send me into a trap. Then maybe they will torture me and hang me for their own pleasure.
“So?” The Captain’s voice smashed Andrew’s thoughts to a billion pieces. “Will you? Or will you not?”
“What about my hunting knife?” Andrew counter questioned a little sharply as he motioned to where it was sheathed.
“You can keep that.” The Captain said. “And, by the way, my name is Kolan, and I am Captain of the royal bodyguard of the King.” The Captain added raising himself to his full height and puffing out his chest a little.
Oh, how Andrew wanted to punch that proud Captain’s stomach. He thought for just a moment then asked roughly. “Will you return it to me afterwards?” The Captain barely nodded. Andrew thinking for a moment finally drew his sword out, pointing it towards the sky. Its blade flashed brightly in the sun as he passed it to the Captain.
“It’s an honor to be the one chosen to look after such a weapon.” Kolan said almost reverently. The hilt was coated with pure gold from the snowcapped mountains of Zylurus in Claydad, and the steel of the blade was of the finest temper, refined in the most advanced furnaces and worked by the best steelworkers. This were one of the many reasons why Peter had called Claydad a ‘country of luxuries,’ though perhaps ‘riches’ would have been more suitable.
“I will now lead you to my King.” Kolan declared. “But, be forewarned, he has already received a letter from a messenger who arrived this morning just a few hours before you. I think it’s something about making an alliance with somebody.” The Captain said, as he thought of what had just happened. His previous impression of Andrew led him to deduce that Andrew would not give up his sword, but here he was, walking with Andrew’s sword in his hand; and such a fine one too.
Meanwhile, Andrew’s heart sank to his feet. Tarksee certainly was not going to make an alliance with him now. The person who had just sent this letter has the feud on his side. Worse yet, if this was from Vakerahl, leader of the whole dark alliance and King of Strangen, then the Dark Alliance would crush Claydad and Seania at its feet, and who knows what they might do with the riches they would find in Claydad, and the fine ships they would find in Seania?
The Captain turned and led Andrew to some stairs mounted onto the castle wall then stated firmly. “This is as far as I go. Up there you will find my King. He is very agitated over that letter he received this morning so be careful.” Andrew glanced at the flight of stairs following it with his eyes. He noted it ended at a box-like projection on the wall. Then he began walking up the stairs. It felt like a million steps and Andrew decided to count them. One, two, three… The numbers flew threw Andrew’s mind as he ascended the stairs. Two hundred and fifty-two, two hundred and fifty-three, two hundred and fifty-four, two hundred and fifty-five. He now stood on the main platform and before the door.
Thoughts flashed through his mind. Was I a fool to give the Captain my sword? How would I defend himself if I am attacked? Perhaps there is a noose hanging at the door waiting for me to walk right into it. Or maybe there is a group of Tarksee’s men waiting to slaughter me. What would Peter do? Finally, Andrew decided on the most obvious solution; to enter and be cautious.
He knocked on the door gently at first then louder. “Come in, and please close the door behind you,” a deep voice boomed. Andrew pushed open the door hesitatingly and walked in, making sure to close the door behind him. Inside he found a well built figure pacing the floor agitatedly. Back and forth, back and forth he went.
Tarksee was cleanly shaved and he had coal black hair combed neatly to one side. He had a crimson colored cape that went down to his heels, almost dragging on the floor. It was decorated with gold and silver threads crisscrossing, forming an elaborate pattern.
However, though his cape was elaborate, Tarksee’s suit was a plain brown, probably due to lack of materials. Tarksee’s weather beaten face seasoned in the fire of two score battles completed his looks.
Tarksee stopped pacing and looked at Andrew keenly through his gray eyes. “Ah, Andrew,” he said warmly. “I’ve been expecting you. I have been thinking the situation over, and at first I was inclined not to join your alliance because of the old feud. But then, after thinking it over some more, I have decided I want to join you. For real this time.” He added hastily at Andrew’s questioning look and sarcastically uplifted eyebrow.
“Of course you may be wondering how I know all this.” Tarksee continued at Andrew’s puzzled look. “Well, it is because I received a letter from your very dear friend Sir Peter of Seania. Andrew, I have forgiven you. That Jamima made the right choice is certain. She always did have a clear head, and she is so happy with you.”
Andrew was extremely shocked to find that that was the letter that had arrived today. At first he was quite upset that Peter thought he could not have handled the situation himself. Then he saw, after thinking for a while, that it had been a wise thing to do, and Peter had made the right choice.
“I thank you for your kindness.” Andrew said gratefully. “But I beg your pardon; from past experience with Crakernia and it’s King, how is it that you will have such an interest in the problems of Claydad without some gain of your own? For the Dark Alliance is only after Claydad and Seania. If it is some thing private I’d much rather you didn’t answer.” Andrew hastened to add at the shocked look on Tarksee’s face.
“Oh that,” Tarksee replied. “Never you mind. I am quite willing to tell you my reasons. You see, the Charnians are mutual enemies of the Crackernians. Markeelah, King of Charnia boasts that his country is much too powerful for my country to defeat. Therefore as a proud King, I want to show Markeelah that Crackernia is more powerful than his country. By the way,” the King dropped his voice to a low whisper so that Andrew had a hard time hearing him. “I got news from one of my scouts that a huge Medisian party is moving down towards your country.
“Before you go.” Tarksee said as Andrew hastened to leave. “Allow me to ask you a question which I am sure you will not bother to answer me. You have a scabbard but no sword, how is that?”
“One of your Captains who introduced himself as Kolan, said that I had to give up my sword before I could see your highness. And I beg your pardon for saying so but I think you should ban that rule. I half thought that I was going to walk into a trap.”
“Kolan!” The King laughed as leaned against the wall to support himself. “He must have…HaHaHa…Been playing a…HaHaHa…one of his tricks…HaHaHa…His best one yet.” So mirthful was the laughter of the King that Andrew had no choice but to join in, though he did not know what it was about.
“That was a good one.” Tarksee said as he regained his composure. “I’m sorry for my outburst. I will explain. Kolan is well known among his ranks for his practical jokes. I have been thinking.” The King continued, at a slower pace now. “I think that I will send Kolan and five hundred soldiers to aid you in battle.
“Here is a treaty that your friend was kind enough to draw up. I have already signed it, and it only remains for you to do so.”
Andrew took the quill offered to him and signed his name in bold flourishes. Then he bowed deeply and thanked Tarksee for his kindness by saying: “I am gratified that you have helped my country so much. If you continue to help me faithfully, I pledge my honor that I will give you a share in the Kingdom of Samaaria.”
“Samaaria!” Tarksee exclaimed, hardly able to control his excitement. “You really believe there is such a place?”
“Peter believes it, so I do.” Andrew replied simply. “Do you believe in it?”
“I’ve believed in it all my life!” Tarksee replied, not bothering to conceal his delight and excitement. “I have searched high and low, left and right and long and hard for someone who would believe it with me. I knew the ruler. Sakras his name was. Yes, Sakras,” Tarksee murmured as if in a trance. “Greatest ruler ever known. His kingdom spread far and wide. Across the far sea to the lost island. All throughout the woodland of dangers, and the entire northern border.”
Andrew was quite shocked. He had known that the lost kingdom was big, but he had had no idea that it was that big.
“Are you going to look for it? If you are can I join you with some of my men? I’d really appreciate it if you let me come along. To be precise, it would be reward enough.”
Andrew had to smile at the older man’s enthusiasm for the expedition. “Yes, I’m going –”
He was cut short by a volley of knocks followed by another volley and another and another. Tarksee walked over to the door and opened it brusquely. He was met by a white faced messenger covered in a coat of the road’s dust.
“Sir, Sir.” The messenger panted, facing Andrew and ignoring Tarksee completely. “King Peter would like you to return immediately. A Medisian army has marched into Granadon. Two thousand three hundred strong.”
“Quick,” Tarksee ordered. “Return to your people. I will send Kolan over with one thousand men as soon as possible. Meanwhile, do you think you can hold out?” Andrew nodded and rushed down the stairs followed by the fleet footed messenger, who seemed none the worse for his exertions.
At the foot of the stairs, Andrew was met by Kolan and demanded his sword. Kolan returned it immediately and Andrew leaped upon his horse and galloped off, the messenger following.
The two arrived at the scene and found that the battle had already begun. A fierce fight was ensuing between the two sides, the defendants fighting desperately against the enemies’ bigger army. Andrew drew his double-edged claymore and leaping off his weary horse, joined the fray.
He soon found Peter engaged by two strong Medisian warriors. Andrew came around the back of them and brought one down with a slash in the back. His partner turned to slay Andrew but Peter leapt forward and severed his head.
“I thought that was my last day.” Peter panted as they ran up to help a group of five soldiers engaged by nine. The two armies were terribly mismatched; the defendants being one thousand while the offenders had two thousand three hundred soldiers.
Andrew was wondering what happened to the rest of the army when he came into contact with a soldier about two times his size. The latter swung his heavy pollaxe at Andrew. Andrew was too fast though, and ducked before the blow whilst cutting at his enemy’s bare legs. But, as fast as Andrew was, his enemy was faster, and he parried the blow without flinching. Then he raised his axe and cut at Andrew’s side with a sweeping blow. Andrew swung his sword down to block the blow but the shock felt like it had broken his hand in half and he let his sword fly away. Now he was without weapon, and would have died had not a soldier snuck up from behind and stabbed his enemy.
An hour later, Andrew was still struggling against his powerful foes and wondering when the Crackernians would arrive. Just then, a hail of one thousand arrows flew through the air, each one hitting it’s target: the heart of the enemy.
Andrew knew that the Crackernians had arrived, for nobody else in the land could shoot like them. Each one of their children seemed to be born with the skill of shooting with the bow. Though Andrew knew his reinforcements had arrived, still, he turned to look.
When he finally turned back around, the broad sword of an enemy was coming down upon his head. He raised his sword reflexively, though he knew he would be to slow. Just as he thought it was his last day, a bullwhip came lashing out. It grabbed the wrist of the Medisian and the owner of the whip tugged on it, breaking the man’s wrist and giving Andrew the chance he needed. But before Andrew could slay his enemy, an arrow whistled out of nowhere and killed the enemy.
Andrew turned to thank his rescuer just as Kolan came running up to him. “Sorry,” Kolan grinned mischievously. “I could have rescued you earlier but I wanted you to think you were dead. Still there was a risk that I would miss so I’m sorry.”
“It this another one of your practical jokes?” Andrew demanded angrily, then burst into laughter.
After laughing for a few seconds, Kolan became serious and said. “Come now, a battlefield isn’t the place for wild mirth. I was hoping we would defeat them before dark, but it looks like we won’t. Even so, my master has a plan prepared. At night we will light flares and signal the other camps to light their flares. The flares will be seen by a watchman and reinforcements will be sent out. The only hitch is lions.” Kolan told Andrew gravely.
“Lions!” Andrew exclaimed half disbelievingly and half wondrously.
“Yes, mountain lions. Medisian families each have one for pets. They can see in the dark whereas we can’t. A very formidable weapon in the night. Especially since they are trained to go for humans that are unknown to them. Didn’t you know?”
Suddenly, Kolan’s voice changed. “Just like I thought. They are retreating to regroup with their friends who have probably brought them their ‘pets.’ They won’t fight till tomorrow I reckon.” At this, Kolan blew his retreat horn, Andrew and Peter following his lead and the two armies pulled away from each other.
The sun was going down and several campfires were lit, each one several miles away from it’s neighbors. “What happened to the rest of our army?” Andrew asked the soldiers around the campfire but mainly directing his question towards Peter. “We started with ten thousand strong men.”
“I sent one thousand of my people forward to prepare some ships to cross Clear Lake in Medisian territory, hoping to catch their army on the other side of it. But, they were swift in their actions, and before the rest of the army could reach the ships, they swept down with twelve thousand men and killed all the men with the ships, then attacked our party. They cut us down till we had naught but a thousand men. They had one thousand two hundred men. Then they retreated to join one thousand light horses and knights.”
They continued talking about numerous subjects as the sun sank slowly below the horizon. Suddenly, a low rumbling was heard. It was soft at first but grew louder. Faint footsteps could be heard when the men stopped talking.
“Lion,” exclaimed Kolan softly as he leapt to his feet lightly. “I thought they would send them later in the night when the sun was lower. But it is only about the twelfth hour. It seems to me that they were impatient. Light the flare.” He ordered tersely and as silently as possible. A soldier scurried to obey while the rest armed themselves.
“Ahhhrgg!” A soldier screamed as he was pounced on from behind by a lion. A few more cries echoed from the other camps just as the flare burst into light. The soldiers from the next campfire saw it fly into the sky as the soldier who was holding it threw it up. This process continued until a watchman at the edge of the Crackernian border caught sight of the last campfire’s flare. Then he whirled around and blew a long monotonous blast on his hunting horn. The cry echoed far and wide throughout the Crackernian border. Suddenly, as if on impulse, soldiers started appearing from everywhere looking like little ants.
Meanwhile, back at Andrew’s camp, he and the soldiers where working to subdue the lions that kept sneaking into their camp as silent as mice. The soldiers in the other camps were also having trouble with the lions, but had managed to arm themselves, and were waiting for the signal.
Suddenly, the signal was sounded. Two short blasts of the hunting horn and one fiery arrow shot high in the sky completed it. Kolan fired an arrow killing the last lion. Then he lighted a torch and a few other soldiers in their camp followed his example. Soon, each camp location was marked by dots of light.
Then Andrew shouted a drawn out cry into the dark night. “Chaaaarge!” The cry was echoed by the voices of the others, and the soldiers streamed towards the enemy camps posted on top of the hill. The enormous army of twenty thousand made short work of the enemies who numbered but four thousand. Andrew’s last great battle was won.
******End of Chapter 2******
Hope you enjoyed! 🙂
Disce Ferenda Pati – Learn to endure what must be borne