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City under Siege

Tothmor

When the outlander herald returned to the walls to receive his answer, an arrow was shot and landed a few feet in front of his horse. He received no other message than this, and together with his retinue, he returned to the stockade built by the outlanders. The wooden defences seemed to stretch on for miles, as far as the heathmen could spot standing on their walls. It had several gates, which now all opened. From each of them issued forth several companies of red-robed soldiers, but they did not immediately advance. Instead, they moved aside to make way for catapults rolling forward, pulled by spans of horses.

The Mearcian soldiers strained their eyesight upon the walls as they watched; standing on the gatehouse were Leander and Hubert by the marshal’s side. “What are they doing now?” Leander asked as his younger eyes perceived something sooner than his companions could. Long rows of men came walking forward, past the catapults and into full view of those standing on the walls; they walked awkwardly, however, with very small steps and their arms in front of them. It took a moment longer to realise they were prisoners with not only their hands bound but also their legs, making them unable to run or even take a normal step.

“The men captured from the battle,” Hubert muttered as he guessed who they were. “Look away, lads, if you do not have the stomach for what happens next.” The outlanders forced their prisoners onto their knees. A few tried to escape but in vain, and they were quickly dragged back. Several of the red-robed Anausa soldiers stepped forward with axes in their hands, and then the beheadings began.

Again, several of the bound Mearcians tried to flee as they realised what was taking place, but it was impossible. The gruesome scene continued to play out, made all the worse by the angle of the blows struck. Since the prisoners were kneeling, the axe-wielding outlanders had to strike in an awkward curve and it usually took them several blows to sever the heads. They did not seem to mind this, however, on the contrary; every man watching on the walls got the feeling they dragged it out as much as possible.

Several of the soldiers in the city bent over the walls and emptied their stomachs, but it was only beginning. Once they were done, two things happened. Some of the outlanders collected the severed heads, while others marched out new prisoners. The spectacle continued anew, scores and scores being executed in this fashion. When finally the last had died and the field had become a morass of blood and bodies, the outlanders moved on to the next phase. Loading their catapults, they began shooting the first round.

Their engineers had made excellent calculations, and the very first volleys flew into a perfect arch that landed just inside the city walls. Raising his shield, Leander felt the missiles striking down against him, but they did not land with particular force. Looking down to see the munition used by the catapults, waves of nausea passed over Leander’s face. The missiles were human heads from the prisoners executed just now in front of their eyes.

“Hold fast,” murmured Hubert, standing by Leander’s side and likewise raising his shield.

“What sort of animals would do this!” Leander burst out before he quickly shut his mouth again.

“Common tactic to demoralise the defenders,” Hubert admitted. “Saw your father do the exact same one time when he was laying siege.”

The marshal was already walking along the walls, kicking heads down onto the ground. “Keep your shields up,” Leonard bellowed. “They are only sending dead men at us, nothing to fear!” The rain from the catapults stopped, and everybody breathed a sigh of relief. It lasted only as long as the outlanders needed to load their catapults again, and with the sound of the twinge from their skein reverberating across the field, they shot another volley. Once again, the men cowered behind their shields, not so much from fear of death but rather from dreading the dead.

All through the day, the outlanders kept this going, producing more munition when necessary. Towards the end, the heads they used were in early stages of rotting; some deduced that the outlanders had painstakingly collected the heads of the fallen Mearcians from the battle upon the moors. With these extra thousands to load onto their catapults, the outlanders kept it raining until nightfall; they only finished and pulled their machines back behind the stockade when it grew dark and the first day of the siege ended.

~~~~

The next day, Leander put on his armour and went down to the walls as he had promised the marshal. Theodora remained in the palace, continuing her duties as ruler; in some ways, her life and tasks continued unaffected by the siege. The old council chamber had been made fit for service again and was occupied by Theodora, a scribe receiving her dictates, other servants aiding her, and occasionally whoever might be granted leave for a private audience with the queen regnant. Theodora’s former counsellor, Irene, had tried to enter once before Theodora had arrived, but the Blades did not accept any of her commands to step aside; after that incident, Theodora issued an unofficial edict to her guards never to allow Irene entry.

Buried deep in documents pertaining to inheritance and the succession of titles, Theodora was interrupted by her palace steward’s entry into the room. “Pardon me, Your Majesty,” the steward spoke as the queen looked up at him. “The high priestess of Idisea is requesting to speak with you.”

“Is it not the court seer’s duties to attend to such?” asked Theodora frowning.

“I mentioned that, Your Majesty,” answered the steward. “She claims it is a matter beyond the court seer’s authority.”

“Very well, show her in,” the queen nodded.

The Blades stood aside to allow a woman enter wearing a deep-red robe with a black raven upon it; along the edges of her garments was the customary pattern signalling her high rank within her order. As she stepped inside and spotted Theodora, she bowed before her; in turn, the queen rose and inclined her head in greeting.

“Be welcomed, Reverend One,” Theodora said politely. “Sister Tereza, if I am right.”

“I am honoured, Your Majesty,” the priestess said with another, shorter bow. “You are indeed right even if I have never had the pleasure of meeting Your Majesty before.”

“I try,” Theodora said with an inkling of a wry smile. “Tell me, what has brought you before me today?”

“It is regarding our duty as the sibyls of this city,” Tereza began her explanation. “We have been hard at work, not only training new lay brothers in preparation of the coming days, but also treating the many wounded from the recent battle.”

“An invaluable debt that the city owes you,” Theodora replied. “Is it in the pursuit of this duty you come before me?”

“Exactly, Your Majesty,” the norn said. “To speak plainly, we have no room. We have wounded and sick men in the hallways of our temple. The court seer gave us permission to make use of the other temples, since some of them are now rather empty.” An uncomfortable look slid over Tereza’s face before she continued again. “Even then it is not enough. With what we can expect from the siege…” her voice trailed off, leaving her unfinished words hanging.

“You are asking me to requisition rooms for you?” Theodora asked a little puzzled.

“We do not have authority, Your Majesty,” the norn explained. “But we need lots of rooms for the many wounded to come. Preferably in the upper circles, away from the attacks on the wall.”

Theodora turned to look at her steward, who raised his hands in a gesture of ignorance. “What is the largest building in the city?” she asked him.

“If not the temples, some of the residences of the nobility in the second circle,” the steward answered. “Apart from the palace itself, of course.”

“Of course,” Theodora repeated, “the palace.” Both the steward and the norn looked at the queen with uncertainty. “Some of our wings are not full, are they?”

“No, Your Majesty,” the steward answered hesitantly. “But they are still inhabited in part by the counts and nobles, the courtiers and others. They might object to this arrangement.”

Theodora’s lips curled upwards in a contemptuous smile. “Let them object all they wish.”

“Regardless, even if we fill the rooms up, we may not have space for more than a hundred people,” the steward continued.

“We will have need for many hundreds at least,” Tereza interjected.

“We must be able to do better, surely,” Theodora claimed. “The king barely spends time in his room. How many courtiers have rooms of their own with separate rooms for their spouses and children?”

“I cannot say,” the steward said before he continued cautiously. “Is Your Majesty saying I should remove the king from his own bedchamber?”

“Indeed, Philon,” the queen nodded. “Have all his belongings moved to the royal chamber. Then inform every member of court that they are all obligated to share their chambers with others. I do not care about the details as long as we make all possible rooms available. If any should wish to object to that,” Theodora said with emphasis on the last word, “they will find themselves thrown out of the district. If they are lucky, it will only be the upper one.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Tereza beamed. “We will make preparations at once.”

“My pleasure,” Theodora smiled back and gave the priestess leave to exit the council chamber. “Why do you look so crestfallen, Philon?” she continued when the norn was gone.

“I hesitate to say this,” he said, “but I dread passing this message on to a certain few.”

“If the king gives you any grief, send him to me,” Theodora said dismissively. “I will make him forget he ever had another room.”

“Oh, not at all,” Philon was quick to say. “I was thinking of the lady Irene, who might be – disinclined towards giving up her luxurious rooms. There is also the matter of Lady Diane, who is still confined to her chamber.”

“Perhaps we should let them room together,” Theodora said with a twinkle in her eyes, though her steward only grew pale. “A jest, Philon, a jest. Let Lady Diane be for now, a singular dispensation. As for my aunt Irene, I will ask my mother to be gracious and move in with her.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Philon mumbled, regaining some colour in his face.

~~~~

It was late in the evening when Leander returned; bells had chimed and announced an end to the second day of the siege when he stepped inside the palace. He was wearing the garb and gear that he brought with him to the walls, and there was dirt on his coat and weariness in his steps, but no blood or otherwise wear upon him.

The hallways were busy with servants and courtiers alike moving in every direction, and numerous norns with their acolytes, novices, and lay brothers were everywhere as well. Leander paid them no heed but moved as if in a daze; walking in full arms with the crest of Hæthiod upon his chest that designated his royal rank, all were quick to get out of his way. Thus he reached his room before he realised something was afoot; glancing around, he found it all but empty. Only the bed remained, stripped of linen and reduced to its mattresses.

Leander stood a while with a confused look. Finally, he shuffled outside and caught the attention of a servant hurrying past. “What has happened to my chamber?” he asked.

“All your belongings have been moved to the queen’s chamber, Your Majesty,” the servant maid said with a touch of anxiety. “By the queen’s order,” she hurried to add.

“Right,” Leander nodded absentmindedly, turning towards the royal wing. With a tired gait, he began walking again, once more without paying heed to the turbulent activity around him. When he reached the royal bedchamber, he found the queen already in her nightgown. “I seem to have lost my room,” Leander said, becoming aware of his surroundings again.

“I told the sibyls they may tend to the wounded here in the palace, but we required more space. I thought you would not mind simply sharing my chamber,” Theodora explained, cocking her head as she scrutinised her husband.

“Of course, I would stay here regardless,” Leander nodded. He glanced around until he found his armour rack, which had been given a corner of the room. He moved over towards it and stood in front of the contraption; rather than begin stripping himself of his arms, however, he ended up sitting down in a chair and staring blankly for a moment.

“Leander?” Theodora said carefully, moving over to kneel down by his side. She placed both hands on the edge of his shield. “Shall I help you remove this?” she suggested.

“Oh, right,” Leander nodded yet again. The shield was of the slightly elongated shape used by riders or for singular close combat as opposed to the longer, much more elongated shields meant for fighting in ranks. “It is rather peculiar. Soon, you forget there is a shield strapped to your arm. It is as if your left arm is just a bit heavier than the right, and you learn to raise the heavy arm when things are flying through the air,” he explained, still gazing at nothing in particular.

Theodora moved to unfasten the leather straps lashed around his arm that kept the shield in place. When it was undone, she groaned a little under the effort and her awkward lifting position, but managed to put it aside against the wall. Then she unbuckled his belt, pulling it away from him. “Do you not have a sergeant?” she asked.

“Never even had a valet since I was old enough to get rid of them,” Leander smiled, his attention returning to the present momentarily. “Thank you, I can manage,” he added, standing up and removing his surcoat, his mail shirt, and the tunic below. “I should wash,” he said in sudden realisation, looking around the room until Theodora pointed out a bowl with water. Standing only in his undergarments, Leander dipped cloth in the water and began washing his upper body with slow, imprecise movements as his gaze grew distant again.

“Allow me,” Theodora said softly, taking the cloth from him. She dipped it in water again and started over. As she ran the rag over his face, it seemed to wake him from a dream, and he blinked. His gaze turned downwards at his wife while his lips curled upwards.

“I forgot where I was,” he said awkwardly but with a genuine smile. “My mind keeps returning to the battlements for some reason.”

“Was it hard today?” she asked, her voice growing even softer if possible.

“No,” Leander shook his head. “They still have not attacked. Just the catapults, raining munition down upon us. The marshal said they are trying to wear us down before they make their assault.”

“I see,” Theodora replied. “Well, tonight you are here with me,” she told him.

“Yes,” Leander nodded slowly. “Let us go to bed,” he added, and she took his hand, leading him to rest.

~~~~

The siege began in earnest on the third day after the ultimatum had been rejected. While the outlanders rolled out their catapults as before, they followed it up with numerous other activities and war machinery as well as marching out their infantry in force. There were no doubts about their intentions now as they took positions, spreading out to cover ground equal to the entire length of the city walls. The call went out from the defenders, summoning the available reserves; heathmen armed with bows or swords and shields hurried to the battlements. Some had mail shirts, others only leather jerkins. Many wore the tabards with the emblem of Hæthiod, typically tattered in some way. They filled the walls, staring south with grave eyes.

Barrels full of arrows were fetched from nearby storage and distributed along the fortifications by boys old enough to haul but not enough to wield arms. Many remained to peer between the crenellations in frightful fascination of the amassing enemy before they were ushered away. From the ranks of the outlanders came the sound of a horn being blown, an instrument made of some unknown alloy or taken from some beast not known in western lands. The sound pierced the marrow of the defenders, not merely due to how alien it was to them, but because it signalled the beginning of an advance.

Thousands of red robes began moving across the open plain towards the city. Those with sharpest eyes caught glimpse of siege ladders being carried by many of the outlanders; the great wicker screens they had erected and plated in animal hides were also being pushed forward, providing cover against arrows. Lastly came the primary instrument of the assault, the reason they had required several days before their attack could commence. Moving on numerous wheels and pushed by scores of men came a great battering ram. It was built in the shape of a small house; the ram itself was shielded by screens and a roof, all of it resting on a great base onto which the wheels were attached. The roof was covered in animal hides to protect against fire; all things considered, the many men inside were well protected.

Murmurs spread among the men on the walls at seeing this beast approach. The marshal turned towards one of his attendants and bellowed several orders before turning back towards the enemy. As usual, Leonard was standing on top of the gatehouse, which gave the best view of the surroundings and their defences; the wall was crowned on either side by several towers before finally connecting on both sides with the mountain that served as Tothmor’s back. Each tower was packed full of archers while men armed for close combat defended the rest of the fortifications. The air was occasionally torn by the voices of men calling out orders, but otherwise a hush lay over the defenders and attackers alike. The distance was still too great to attack.

The outlanders had not brought their catapults forward all the way considering the possibility of hitting their own forces. Therefore, nothing happened until the red-robed Anausa warriors, whom the Mearcians had learned to respect at the battle of Sikyon, came within bow range. Then the silence was splintered across the area. Hundreds upon hundreds of arrows were launched from the walls and struck like serpents onto the attackers. They in turn stormed forward with loud battle cries in their own tongue, protecting themselves by raising their shields and rushing towards the walls to take cover below them.

Many of them fell carrying the ladders since they could not properly wield their shields at the same time, but enough reached their destination. They sank the heavy spikes into the ground, stabilising the ladders and keeping them from toppling; as they were pushed up against the walls, iron hooks at the top of the construction helped grab on to the wall between the crenellations.

Soon, numerous ladders of this kind were deployed, and scores of outlanders ascended. They were met by swords and axes, and many more fell as soon as they had scaled the walls; in a few places, however, they gained a foothold and could defend long enough for more of their comrades to follow them up the ladders. Where such spots of red took hold, Mearcians kept in reserve were ordered to reinforce and cast them down from the walls, and the archers upon the towers concentrated their arrows upon the outlanders waiting to make the climb as well.

The outlanders had previously shown their familiarity with the bow, and now they put their skills to use. Some shot back at the longbowmen standing in the towers, but the high angle and the defences made it difficult to strike any targets, and the outlander commanders had other intentions. Standing behind the wicker screens, many of the archers pulled out arrows prepared in a specific way. Near the arrowhead, a small strip of cloth had been tied; it was too light to affect the arch of the arrow much, but it carried a terrible purpose. It had been soaked in pitch and was lit on fire before being shot; its arch was high since it did not aim at the soldiers on the walls but the buildings behind. Quickly, scores of such fire arrows were being shot against the city, drawing defenders away to ensure a potentially devastating fire was not allow to spread.

The assault born by siege ladders and the fire arrows deflected attention, scattering the defenders along the walls as intended. Now the battering ram bore down upon the gate; if breached, it was by far the best point of access. The ram moved slowly but inexorably forward, surrounded by soldiers hoping to take advantage of when the gate would be smashed open. As the great construction finally reached the gatehouse, the heathmen unleashed one of their defences. The near boiling content of two great cauldrons were tipped over, flowing through grooves and spilling down onto the siege machine. Its roof protected those inside, but great quantities of the liquid spilled over and landed on the men surrounding. It seared fabric and leather, melting flesh and spreading a terrible stench.

One of the defenders hurled a torch over the wall, and as it landed, the hot oil and pitch was lit aflame. Great heat rose up, and further screams could be heard among those unfortunate enough to be caught near. However, while small flames did manage to latch onto the roof of the battering ram, it was not enough. The wet animal hides would not ignite properly. The archers on the wall shot their arrows desperately, but no angle would allow them to hit the men operating the ram. Then it began to strike.

~~~~

As the battle commenced, Leander had chosen the gatehouse as his vantage point; being in the centre of Tothmor’s walls meant that he could with equal speed move east or west, reinforcing the soldiers and raise their morale with the knowledge that their king fought amidst them. Therefore, long before the battering ram came into play, the king had departed with his ever-present guard, Count Hubert, and they had descended to the walls. From time to time, they retreated into a tower to gain a view of the battle and locate their next point of engagement. It was on such an occasion that as Leander looked west towards the section of wall between them and the next tower, he saw threatening circles of red expanding; the Anausa soldiers were pushing the Mearcians back in conquest of the wall.

Leander threw his head towards the danger to signal it to Hubert; in the maelstrom of battle, such gestures were easier for communication than words. The captain of the Blades nodded and followed his charge down the stairs as they descended from the gatehouse onto the wall section. A handful of outlanders had formed a circle around where the ladder had latched onto the stonework and were defending it. “For Blood and Blue!” Leander yelled as loudly as he could, calling out the battle cry of his house. It, along with the blue flower upon his crest, had been chosen by his ancestor; the same man who had defeated the last outlander invasion five hundred years ago and been granted the kingship of Hæthiod as reward. Storming forward upon the walls of Tothmor in defence against red robes and black boots, it seemed there had never been a more appropriate time to let it sound.

The hearts of the pressed heathmen were lifted as they recognised the royal emblem upon Leander’s shield and armour, and they roared in renewed battle lust. “For Blood and Blue!” they repeated, pushing forward against the outlanders. Swords hammered against shields and armours, and blood was shed. Although leading the charge to retake the small area of the wall, Leander did not keep at the forefront. He mostly used his shield to defend himself while Hubert surged past him. Any signs of age were invisible as the count of Esmarch threw himself into battle. His shield denied any attacks against him, and his blade struck down enemies with each blow. Spurred on by his example, the Mearcians retook the wall and slaughtered any remaining Anausa soldiers.

Turning towards the ladder, it was too firmly planted that Hubert could push it down, especially since he could not let go of his sword and shield, and already new outlanders were preparing to scale the wall. Taking sight of this, the count jumped up to stand between the crenellations where the siege ladder hooked onto the wall. Forgetting about the top piece made of iron, Hubert crouched low and aimed numerous blows against the wooden framework below as well as the steps of the ladder. It demanded several intensive strikes with the sword, and towards the end, Hubert was hacking away almost blindly until finally the wood shattered.

With the top steps destroyed, the ladder was rendered useless. Arrows aimed at him made it clear to Hubert that he was an obvious target standing between the crenellations, and he jumped down behind the wall to loud cheers from the defenders. For good measure, a few of them grabbed the remaining top piece of the ladder, now severed from the rest; while the hooks had prevented it from being pushed back, they could now pull it towards them. Once clear of the stonework, they were able to throw it back over the wall.

“That belongs to you!” some wit yelled, eliciting a few coarse laughs.

“How in Hel’s name did you survive past the age twenty?” Leander asked in disbelief.

“You are never more alive than when killing a man before he can kill you,” Hubert replied with a grin.

The laughter and morbid mirth evaporated as the king, the count, and the soldiers glanced out against the enemy. For a moment, they had forgotten about the battering ram, but even from a distance, they felt the tremors of its assault. The king and his attendants ran towards the gatehouse, but they were too far away to reach it in time to stop the siege machine from its task.

Such was the force of the contraption that it felt as if the entire gatehouse shook under the relentless ramming. It could not be stopped; arrows, oil and pitch, fire, stones being thrown down from above, nothing had an effect. The outlanders pressed together close by, waiting eagerly for the breach to be made. The gate began to break under the endless assault; the hinges bent and became distorted, unable to keep their charge in place. The first cracks ran across the timber; then they spread swiftly with each subsequent strike. Finally, the crossbeams keeping the gate together fell to the pressure. With a thundering noise, the gate burst open.

As this happened, the marshal’s countermeasure was revealed. In the yard stood the remaining horses in the city, mounted by riders with long spears. The marshal himself rode in front, followed by the handful of knights that had escaped with the army following the battle. They spurred their horses forward the moment that the gate was breached. It required unparalleled equestrian skills through the narrow opening below the gatehouse and at such speed, but the marshal and the knights who remained after Sikyon were up to the task.

They were also aided by how the battering ram and general chaos hindered the Anausa from moving efficiently into the breach, not to mention the Hæthian longbowmen raining arrows upon those trying to reach the gate. As those in front were met by horsemen and forced back, they collided with their own brethren pushing from behind. The result was that the outlander footmen were crushed attempting to storm forward, and the handful of Mearcian riders were swiftly supported by several scores of foot soldiers.

With fierce war cries, the Mearcian infantry surged forward as well, conquering the area around the gatehouse. Several men with axes attacked the battering ram itself, severing the ropes that allowed it to swing, and then turned their weapons on the beams that kept the roof up. Within a few moments, the meticulously assembled siege machine was demolished. A large jar of pitch was brought and thrown onto the destroyed remains, splashing everywhere on the unprotected wood. While the outlanders had outfitted the roof with animal hides to keep it from burning, the insides of the ram were not similarly treated; with the addition of pitch and a torch, it now burned merrily. Accompanied by great cheers and clamour, the Mearcians retreated inside the wall.

Timber lay nearby, intended for repairs of the gate. As it was all but destroyed, such was impossible. Lacking better options, the timber was simply piled up below the gatehouse in the shape of a barricade many feet thick. With a satisfied expression, the marshal walked up the gatehouse to take in the sight of the outlander assault. In front of him rose smoke from the burning battering ram, forcing him to cough and cover his face; nonetheless he was able to smile. The destruction of the siege engine and being constantly thrown down from the walls had extinguished the outlanders’ lust for battle. The eerie sounds of their horns gave a long, drawn-out note, and the red robes retreated. Although the assault had only lasted some hours, it had taken its toll on both sides; it was a promise of days to come.

~~~~

The outlanders spent the next day in camp. Apart from sending out the usual patrols and keeping sharp watch over the city, they made no moves. They did not repeat the barrage from their catapults either, perhaps because they had received a taste of the feared Mearcian cavalry charge and would not risk it. Whatever the cause, the defenders of the city were given a chance to rest, take care of their wounded, destroy any siege ladders left behind in the retreat, and haul stone from their stores to make necessary repairs. Night fell before they could complete this task, however, and the work was delayed. When morning came, so did the outlanders.

This time, they showed greater caution. The catapults were pushed into range, and they began sending showers of stone against the defenders forced to endure this. The outlanders had also spent yesterday building more screens to protect themselves from the Hæthian longbows and now spread these out along the assault front. With these preparations, the outlanders were happy to wait for hours and simply watch as the catapults rained rocks upon the walls. Only when the sun was near noon and the heat intensified did they sound their horns and signal a new attack.

The catapults became still only to be replaced by arrows unleashed from both sides. New siege ladders were brought forward; once more, the outlanders attempted to scale the walls. “Fire arrows!” somebody shouted as the outlanders repeated their method from before and began shooting flaming arrows inside the city. The damage done was limited, though, since most of the buildings within reach had been prepared for this eventuality, and the rest had already burned the other day during the first assault. Volunteers stood ready with blankets and barrels of water, risking themselves to put out the fires.

The storm upon the walls was less fierce. With more wicker screens, a larger part of the outlanders remained behind them and used their bows. Any section of the wall not being scaled was subjected to a heavy barrage of arrows instead, and the shields borne by many of the defenders soon resembled porcupines. It was still relative safe atop the towers and the gatehouse, however, where few arrows could reach. Leander watched the scenery from this position, flanked by the count of Esmarch on one side and the marshal on the other.

“They are approaching us,” Hubert pointed out in the loud voice necessary with the sounds of battle raging. A contingent of the Anausa with wicker screens and large shields were moving cautiously towards the gatehouse, protecting themselves from the defending archers.

“They have nothing with which to climb our walls,” Leander pondered. “All they achieve is being exposed to our archers.”

“They brought fire,” Hubert replied. “I saw men with torches. Prepare for fire arrows!” he bellowed behind him to the men gathered in the yard below.

“But most of their arrows will glance off the gatehouse harmlessly,” the marshal frowned.

In front of them and below, they witnessed ranks of outlanders breaking into sprint, leaving the relative safety of their archery screens. They hastened forward to reach the minimal cover under the walls and directly below the gatehouse, where the angle did not allow the defending archers to strike them. Apart from their typical weapons, some of the Anausa carried long spears, others had axes, and curiously, some had torches and jars with an unknown substance.

“They are doing to the barricade what we did to the ram,” the marshal mumbled, too low for the others to understand. “Prepare the oil!” he yelled, turning to some of the soldiers.

“It will not be hot in time,” shouted one of the men in return. They had lit a fire below to heat up the cauldron, but it was slow going.

“Never mind, just keep it ready to spill, and fire too,” Leonard ordered. “But do not release before my command!” he specified and ran down the steps into the yard, already bellowing further orders to his men.

Leander and Hubert remained on the gatehouse, but they did not have line of sight to the outlanders directly below them. “What are they doing?” asked Leander, which none could answer. He ran to the opposite side of the tower, gazing down onto the yard below. Leonard was marshalling forces together, arranging the ranks. On occasion, arrows managed to get past, and this threat along with the sounds of battle reaching them made several of the soldiers skittish. It was impossible for Leander to hear what was spoken, but he saw the marshal give directions to some of the men-at-arms; some of these veterans stayed, keeping discipline, while others dispersed. That was when smoke could be smelled by the men near the gatehouse.

“They have set fire to the barricade,” Hubert informed his young king as he appeared by Leander’s side.

“How long will it take to burn through?”

“Hours, I would think, but they brought axes as well,” the count explained and then elaborated as he saw the confused look upon his liege’s face. “The timber is hardened,” Hubert said. “Slow to burn and nearly as strong as iron to cut through with an axe. But you throw oil on it and make it burn hot, and then your axes have an easier time.”

“How long before they break through?” Leander asked alarmed, panic spreading on his face.

“Maybe less than an hour,” Hubert guessed with a grim expression.

“Should we be down there?” Leander asked. “If they get through the gate, the fighting will be hardest in that place.”

“Perhaps,” Hubert spoke hesitantly, “Your Majesty should consider retreating to the fourth district.”

“Retreating?” Leander’s expression turned to one of disbelief. “Wait, did you just address me by my title?” he asked.

“We are severely outnumbered,” Hubert admitted. “If we cannot keep them from breaching the walls, the city will fall.”

“All the more reason that is where I should be,” Leander insisted.

“It will not matter, boy,” Hubert all but yelled. “Your presence in the yard will not matter.”

“There is no need,” called a voice out. It belonged to Leonard, the marshal. “Remain here, Your Majesty. The fighting below will be chaotic. I consider it best you stay on the battlements.”

“I will take your advice,” Leander conceded. “But what are we going to do? They are destroying the barricade!”

“Patience, Your Majesty,” the knight counselled. “Are you ready at the oil?” he asked his men.

“Still not hot, sir,” a soldier replied.

“Never mind that, just release on my order,” the marshal told them. He walked over to the edge of the parapet, the side looking inwards at the city and his men in the yard below.

It took a while, but at length the outlanders burst through. The remainder of the barricade was smashed, and red robes stormed forward into the yard beyond the gatehouse. The order to charge came from the Mearcian men-at-arms in command, and the defenders advanced to clash with the outlanders.

“Release!” the marshal shouted and the great cauldrons containing the oily mixture were tipped. The fluid was poured all over the ground in front of the gatehouse. It was not fully heated, however, and the Anausa soldiers below only laughed at this as it struck their shields or armours without the same deadly effect as it had on other days. Then Leonard threw a torch over the wall. Although cold, the mixture retained all its flammable properties.

A few of the red robes were engulfed in flames while the rest had been wise enough to avoid being struck. However, they could do nothing to prevent the wall of fire suddenly rising in front of the breached gate yet behind the Anausa who were inside. This meant no further outlanders could surge past the walls and reinforce the outlanders already fighting in the yard; they were caught between the flames and the defenders, slaughtered with terrible screams. “That should buy us some time,” the marshal muttered and shouted to his own men below in the yard. “Bring the stones! Seal it up!”

The second part of Leonard’s defensive plan was enacted. The great blocks of granite, quarried with great difficulty from the mountain and kept to be used in repairs, were pushed with equal hardship towards the breach below the gatehouse. Although rough-hewn and not fitted for this particular purpose, the rocks managed to fill the opening adequately; neither fire nor axes would have any effect on this new barricade.

With their efforts to break through the gate once more defied, the outlanders sounded the retreat again. The assault had lasted a shorter while than the previous one, and the defenders were visibly encouraged by this. Cheers and gestures of victory were heard and seen across the fortifications. As Leander descended the stairs from the gatehouse, many soldiers chanted his name; he raised his hand in recognition of the gesture, eliciting further shouts of approval.

Licking his dry lips, Leander walked over to one of the storehouses where the barrels of water and blankets were kept for fighting fire. Several men, women, and some so young they might still be called children were there, the volunteers that stopped the outlanders’ fire arrows from doing too much damage. Everybody’s eyes flew open as they recognised the royal crest upon Leander’s arms, and all but one shied away.

With his own look of surprise, Leander recognised the young man who did not shrink in the king’s presence. “Troy,” he burst out.

“Your Majesty,” the bard said with a wry smile. “To what do we owe this honour?”

“I came to thank you all for your efforts, naturally,” Leander said solemnly, glancing around. “And I am bloody parched,” he exclaimed.

“The water is rationed,” a nearby guard called out; his eyes were elsewhere and he had clearly not noticed to whom he spoke. Another guard elbowed him hard.

“Whatever Your Majesty needs,” the other guard stammered, but Leander rose his hand in a gesture of rejection.

“Rations apply to all,” the king said, some reluctance shining through in his voice. “Troy, the assault is over, we can return home. You can accompany me back to the palace,” Leander suggested. As he stepped outside the small storehouse where Hubert waited, Troy followed suit. “How are your quarters?” Leander asked as they began walking.

“They are great,” Troy answered. “Though I think your steward is still reeling from the thought that there is an actual bard living at court,” he added with a grin.

“Just refrain from playing any of your songs where he can hear you, or he will truly get suspicious,” Leander remarked. In return, Troy landed a punch at his friend’s shoulder, forgetting it was protected by armour, and he winced. “Careful you do not break your fingers,” Leander continued, “even if that might enhance your ability to play an instrument.”

Troy made another fist but thought better of it and merely scowled. “How are you, Lord Hubert?” he changed the subject, glancing over his shoulder at the count, who was walking a few steps behind.

“Never better, boy,” Hubert replied as he walked with a lightness in his steps that confirmed the veracity of his answer.

“How is the fighting at the walls?” Troy asked quietly, directed at Leander.

“You have no need to envy us,” Leander gave a mirthless smile. “Though I imagine your position has its own share of danger.”

“It is a little frightening to imagine arrows striking down at you,” Troy admitted. “But they rarely come close. And once there is a fire to put out, we are quickly too occupied to be afraid.”

“Wish I could say the same,” Leander muttered. “Troy,” he continued in a quiet voice, “there is something I want you to do. If it becomes pertinent.”

“What is it?”

It took Leander a moment to gather himself. “You know where the royal chambers are in the palace?”

“I haven’t been there,” Troy shrugged, “but I know where the royal wing is, of course.” They had passed through the fourth district and reached third. Around them, many priests, priestesses, and lay brothers were busy moving wounded to the temples or to the palace.

“If the outer walls are breached,” Leander spoke as they stepped in and out among the many injured soldiers being carried around, “go immediately there. Do not hesitate but run.”

“Very well,” Troy consented, refraining from asking further questions. They continued in silence until they reached the innermost circle. “Want to play dice?” Troy suggested as they approached the palace. “I have half a wineskin we can share.”

“Too tired,” Leander said, shaking his head. “See you at the evening meal instead.” With this, the three men separated as each moved to his own chamber.

~~~~

As before, the outlanders did not attack on the day following their failed assault. They mostly remained in their camp, though they rolled out their catapults and began a new bombardment of the city. Nearby were various companies of Anausa infantry, posing a threat and forcing the Mearcians to man the walls and endure the catapults lest they leave the fortifications undefended and vulnerable to a sudden assault. Leander, Hubert, and Leonard stood amidst the crenellations on the gatehouse, their battered shields raised with each hailstorm of stones striking.

Judging the risk of an actual attack as very low, the marshal had allowed most soldiers to remain deeper inside the city and rest, and only a skeleton crew manned the walls. It was deemed important for morale, however, that the commanders were seen defying the outlanders and their missiles, so the king and the marshal of Hæthiod remained on the gatehouse, visible to all nearby.

Meanwhile in the palace, the effects of the siege were beginning to show; not merely due to the restrictions on food and drink in place, but also because the norns had filled several wings with wounded. Due to the geography of Tothmor, those requiring long-term or more intensive care were brought to the palace, opening room in the lower-lying temples for new wounded to be brought after each assault on the walls.

There were not nearly enough beds, however; first, all spare mattresses had been placed directly on the floors. Then spare blankets stacked together, and finally hay had been brought in from the stables before that area had been turned into a hospital ward as well; there were no horses left to stable.

Aided by her steward and a few of the norns working as liaisons between the priestesses and the palace, Theodora had supervised the transformation of her palace. After ordering her courtiers to share their rooms, she had taken a step further by stripping all rooms of half their beds, forcing the occupants to share the remainder. The gardens and orchards were a source of relief in the summer from the hot palace chambers and thus often used by the nobility, but Theodora had given the priestesses exclusive access; now tents were raised everywhere to house the injured.

There had been murmurs of discontent among the courtiers due this decrease in their privileges, and a few had dared complain to the queen. Theodora had promised to address their concerns at the following evening meal. Her response had been to point out that every member of court was a guest of the Crown; if any were unsatisfied with the accommodations provided for them, they were free to leave the inner circle. Should complaints continue to persist, the choice whether to remain or leave would be made for them. There were still murmurs and whispers in the corners, but with the watchful gazes of the Queen’s Blades everywhere, none spoke openly against Theodora’s decisions.

Theodora was on her way to the council chamber when she was intercepted by the high priestess of Idisea. “Sister Tereza, I presume it is no coincidence you are here waiting for me?” asked the young queen.

“No, Your Majesty. We are most grateful for all you have done to aid us,” the norn began to explain.

“But you require something else, I sense,” Theodora interjected.

“Indeed, Your Majesty,” Tereza said with a relieved look. “Apart from food, water, and beds, above all we need bandages to keep wounds clean and healing faster. We have used all the linen from our sheets and shirts. We have only our woollen robes left, which cannot be used.” Theodora exchanged a puzzled glance with her steward, and the norn continued quickly. “Wool would leave frayed pieces in the wound, disturbing the healing process. Only certain fabrics such as linen can be used for bandages.”

“What about silk?” asked Theodora.

“Silk is certainly considered the best material,” Tereza replied, “and the knights of the Order do carry silk bandages as part of their equipment. But we have already been to the Order garrison, and they have none left.”

“Follow me,” Theodora commanded and turned on her heel. Returning to her bedchamber, Theodora grabbed one end of her silken sheets and pulled it off the bed, throwing it on the floor in the centre of the room. Afterwards she opened the doors to her grand wardrobe and began pulling out all sorts of dresses, adding them to the pile.

“A start, at least,” Theodora said. “I am certain that there are others in the palace who can make similar sacrifice. Philon,” she continued, turning towards her steward who stood shielding his eyes with one hand. “Philon, what on earth are you doing?”

“It is not befitting for a servant of my position to have such inspection of his mistress’ clothes,” the steward said, making a show out of avoiding any looks towards the pile of clothes.

“I am not wearing them, Philon, they are just lying on the floor,” Theodora said dismissively. “Tell all the courtiers to donate at least half their clothes to the sisters,” she instructed the steward. “If they will not do so willingly, I will have the Blades go through their chambers and do it for them.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the steward said with a bow and left the chamber while still averting his eyes.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Tereza said with a bow to the queen. “We are most grateful.”

“You are quite welcome,” Theodora smiled. “Everything I take from the courtiers and give to the soldiers, I consider a victory of its own,” she added wryly and left the room, returning to the council chamber.

“For gods’ sake, Philon, speak up,” the queen commanded as her servant returned with an anxious expression.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” her steward answered. “Is Her Majesty certain that she wishes to coerce her courtiers into losing further privileges? Many of the counts are murmuring at this. I have heard that Count Larisa is trying to gather support to see the document that proclaimed Her Majesty eligible to be crowned. If they could somehow find flaw in that document, they might question the validity of Her Majesty’s rule,” the servant said nervously.

“I can imagine who is pulling Larisa’s threads,” Theodora said displeased. “Does Lykia have the ears of any of my other vassals?”

“I could imagine that Count Argolis and Count Leukas are listening yet not necessarily agreeing,” Philon contemplated. “They both have certain wishes concerning successions of their own that might weigh heavier.”

“Find out what they want and whether we can give any promises that will make them deaf towards Lykia,” Theodora commanded.

“I shall, Your Majesty,” Philon replied with a nod. “As for your decision to have your courtiers give their wardrobes away? It may be one push too many for some,” the steward said cautiously.

Theodora spent a moment considering it. “You think I should abandon it?”

“I think Her Majesty should consider carefully how much she demands of her subjects,” Philon said.

Theodora bit her lower lip in contemplation. “Tell them it is voluntary. I will make no demand, merely a request. Of course, should they wish to earn their queen’s good will, they will be generous,” she specified.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Philon bowed.

~~~~

While the day was spent thus in the upper circle, the Mearcians remained defensive in the lower circle. When daylight had faded and darkness began to fall, Leander left his position on the walls and walked down the yard. He stopped upon witnessing that rather than disbanding his forces for the night, the marshal gathered several of the most experienced veterans and men-at-arms. “Sir Leonard?” Leander said questioning. “I thought we were leaving to rest for the night?”

“It is time to use the tunnels,” the marshal said lowly. “The enemy thinks that with our gate blocked, we are all but trapped. We will emerge northwest of here and can raid their camp. Hopefully destroy those blasted catapults.”

“A definite victory if such can be achieved,” Leander nodded. “Will you lead the sortie yourself, Sir Leonard?”

The marshal shook his head. “My place is here even if that makes me seem a coward.”

“None could think so,” Leander interceded. “The city would have fallen long ago were it not for you.”

This made the old knight glance at the young king, and he nodded slightly. “Thank you, Your Majesty. I will send a score of our men-at-arms, led by one of the knights. Just have to decide who is most suitable.”

“I would gladly undertake this task,” Hubert suddenly declared, stepping forward to stand next to Leander.

“I have no doubt,” the marshal responded dryly. “But your place is by the king.”

“Once combat erupts out there in the night, you will want the most experienced, cool-headed warrior in charge,” Hubert retorted. “Not to mention we might quickly be outnumbered. Are any of your knights better in a fight than me?” he asked, sending Leonard a challenging look.

“No,” came the reluctant reply. “But if you die, His Majesty is robbed of his most valuable protector.”

“There are other Blades who can take my place,” Hubert claimed. “But for a task such as this, I am the best suited.”

The marshal stood wavering and finally looked towards Leander. “Your Majesty?” he said questioningly. When Leander simply looked back at him puzzled, the aged knight continued. “Will you accept the count Esmarch leading the men?”

Surprise flooded Leander’s face as it became clear the marshal was deferring to his judgement. “I trust Lord Hubert,” he finally said. “If he considers it best, I agree with him.”

“Very well,” Leonard conceded. “I will show you the entrance to the tunnel, and you may lead the men, Lord Hubert. It will take you directly north of the enemy stockade. Destroy their catapults and retreat.”

“As you command,” Hubert grinned. “Perhaps I should bring the Blades, however. They are well suited for such combat where confusion reigns.”

“That I cannot accept,” the marshal proclaimed. “The court has proven itself a nest of vipers, and the Blades keep them under control. I will not suffer the innermost circle to be left without guards while all my focus is on defending the outermost circle. We cannot risk any further attempts of palace revolts undermining our efforts to defend this city.”

“As you wish,” Hubert accepted with a nod. He flashed another smile. “Show me the tunnel.”

After having dispatched Hubert and the soldiers, the marshal returned to the outer walls. He joined Leander on one of the western towers as they gazed out into the darkness. Nothing could be seen except for a few flickering torches belonging to the outlanders guarding their palisades and outer defences. There was nothing they could do but wait. As they did, none spoke; tension was almost palpable, and there were no words to dispel it.

Finally, sounds reached them across the distance. They were hard to distinguish, but the clash of metal could be discerned. “Too soon,” the marshal muttered. “That is too soon,” he repeated ominously. What sounded like a scream burst through the air, but it was impossible to tell its origin.

Leander’s hands gripped the edge of the crenellations until his knuckles turned white. “What is happening?” he finally asked, but it was a question none could answer. Finally and without a word, the marshal turned and hastened down the narrow ladder that led to the insides of the tower; he was soon followed by Leander.

Moving through the narrow passageways at a neck-breaking pace, Leonard made his way down onto the yard behind the walls. As he did this, he beckoned for nearby guards and watchmen to follow him; then the marshal crossed the yard quickly towards the westernmost point where the fortifications met the mountain ridge, extending like a limb from the main body of Mount Tothmor. A small, unassuming door was built into the tower that guarded this section, although it did not grant access to the battlements. It was also heavily reinforced with iron and with a strong lock and latch, so it could not be opened from the other side.

It took Leonard a while to open the door; despite its small size, the old marshal struggled to pull its great weight until a soldier gave him a hand. As it finally swung open, the door revealed only an entrance into complete darkness. They peered into it, and Leander took a step back with his hand upon his sword hilt, giving himself a little distance to the opening; nothing could be seen, however. They heard loud noises like stone hitting stone; it was not unlike the barrage of the catapults against the walls.

After that came the sound of footsteps running. The soldiers who had gathered before the tunnel entrance gripped their weapons and steeled themselves, spreading out in a concave formation to surround the opening. The first man came through, and for a moment, he was in danger of being skewered by a dozen spears and swords; then they recognised his tabard as belonging to Hæthiod and everybody relaxed. Half a score more men followed him, and the count of Esmarch came as the last.

“What happened?” Leonard exclaimed upon seeing him. “Are you being pursued?”

Hubert shook his head. “We collapsed the tunnel behind us, crushing the wooden framework as we retreated. The tunnel is permanently sealed.”

“At least it does not pose a danger then,” the marshal granted. “But what happened?”

“We were discovered,” one of the retreating men-at-arms burst out. “Bloody bastards knew we were coming!” This declaration caused a roar among the soldiers, but Hubert raised his hand to command silence.

“If they knew about the tunnels, they would have used them to get inside the city long ago rather than throw their men at the walls,” he argued, which made the men see sense. “No, it was the accursed blackboots keeping watch. They have eyes like cats. Their watch is kept more sternly than we anticipated.”

“Did you get near their camp? The siege engines?”

“No,” Hubert admitted. “We did not get far from the tunnel exit, and then half our men died quickly. We sent a few of these bastards to accompany our own fallen,” he said, looking down upon his red-stained blade, “but in the darkness it was a lost cause. I had to call the retreat.”

“It was a worthy attempt,” the marshal claimed, but the defeated looks upon his soldiers’ faces did not change.

Leander moved to the count’s side, glancing over his surcoat and armour. “Are you hurt?” he asked.

“Not a scratch,” Hubert smiled. “Well, a bruise on my shoulder from when the tunnel collapsed, but that does not count. Come, boy, we have earned our rest tonight.” The men dispersed, each seeking his own bed to gain what sleep could be caught before dawn.

~~~~

Following the failed sortie, the outlanders renewed their assaults. They had abandoned their designs on breaching the gate and were resigned to brute tactics, scaling the walls with siege ladders and simply overwhelming the defenders. They enacted their assaults in two steps. Firstly, barrages from their catapults and archers. Then, when the heathmen seemed sufficiently softened up, they attacked the walls directly and attempted to take control of them. Eventually the Mearcians would repulse them, and new showers of stones and arrows would commence until another assault would be attempted.

The cost in human life to the outlanders was steep, but the defenders paid heavily too; the constant threat of the walls being assaulted forced them to endure the outlanders’ bombardments. The heathmen attempted to shoot back with their own archers, but they were running low on skilled bowmen compared to the enemy, and they had to conserve them for when the outlanders made another attempt at the walls and were within easy range.

This continued all through the day as long as there was sunlight to see by, and when a new day dawned, the outlanders repeated their tactics from before. Again and again, the heathmen repelled the attackers, and the ground on both sides of the walls were littered with the dead. As the city held through another of these days, the outlanders were not deterred and returned to make new attempts the day after.

At the end of the third day of such repeated assaults, Leander walked down the steps from the battlements. His sword was mostly clean except for a few drops of blood sprayed upon it, though his surcoat was becoming ragged in many places. He found a spot where he could sit down without being in the way, inhaling deeply and regaining his composure. Close by stood the count of Esmarch, meticulously cleaning his sword. Once he had the strength for it, Leander looked up and his gaze swept over the yard. Everywhere, soldiers were moving in all directions; slowly, sluggishly, either because they were injured, moving other injured soldiers, or simply because they were exhausted.

Apart from the soldiers and volunteers, there was a plethora of coloured robes. Black, red, blue, green, brown, and even a few yellow robes belonging to the various brothers and sisters of the religious orders. An expression of surprise was briefly to be seen on Leander’s face as he recognised the court seer carrying a stretcher together with a green-robed priestess up the road towards the temples. Whenever Leander saw one of the norns in their dark red robes, he felt a start go through him; the similarity to the robes worn by the Anausa soldiers was unsettling.

Sitting close by on a crate was the marshal. Taking a deep breath, Leander stood up and walked over to Leonard, sitting down on the crate next to him. “Are you hurt, Sir Leonard?”

“Just old,” the grizzled knight admitted. “My bones and limbs complain more and more each morning.”

“Hopefully none of us will have to endure this much longer,” Leander said tentatively.

“Hopefully,” was the only response received.

“Sir Leonard, do you have an estimate as to when we might expect relief forces to arrive?”

“I cannot quite say, Your Majesty,” Leonard replied evasively.

“I understand it is hard to be certain,” Leander said, “but the men keep asking me. They know that Korndale was told to come to our aid, and they think that this,” he continued while thumping his chest with the royal emblem upon it, “means I know anything about war. I need to know what I can tell our soldiers.”

“Mobilisation can be a slow affair,” Leonard answered indecisively. “And then the march and surveying the situation. Who can tell?”

“You would be the most qualified person to make an assumption,” Leander said in an insisting manner. “Are we talking weeks, a month?”

The aged marshal had so far been staring out into the yard, but now he finally turned to look at his king. With a lengthy sigh, Leonard spoke after he had glanced around to see if anybody was within earshot. “You have proven your mettle, Your Majesty, so I will be honest with you, and perhaps you can better determine what to answer when that question is posed. The truth is I do not believe Korndale is coming to relieve us,” the marshal admitted in a low voice.

“What?” Leander exclaimed and quickly lowered his voice as well. “But they were ordered! King Adelard and their marshal, I was told they were ordered to relieve us!”

“By Sir Reynold, who is dead,” Leonard pointed out. “I do not think King Adelard will honour his commitment in this regard.”

“That is treason against the Alliance,” the king hissed. “Even I know as much.”

“The Alliance is enforced by the Megas Basileus,” the knight retorted. “There is no high king alive or a lord marshal for that matter. None can punish Korndale for this.”

“But there will be,” Leander argued. “If not now then later.”

“And if the new basileus is named Adelard?” the marshal questioned.

“I do not understand,” Leander frowned.

“Something Sir William said to me in counsel. King Adelard is a cautious man, his army is not large. Pitting it against the outlanders is dangerous. But Adalrik is embroiled in civil war, and he has a claim upon the Dragon Crown. If Korndale mobilises, it will be to march north and put himself on the throne of Adalrik, of Adalmearc. Then none can punish him for not coming to our aid.”

Leander sat stunned at this revelation for a moment. “But what are we fighting for?” he exclaimed. “Our men are dying while we wait for relief that will never arrive!”

“Every day the outlanders assault us this way, they lose hundreds of men,” Leonard said harshly.

“And our own die in equal measure!” it burst from Leander and he stood up, burning with indignation.

“That is not all!” the marshal quickly declared, standing up as well and raising his hand in a gesture meant to calm Leander. “Once the outlanders take this city, they will have winter quarters. More than that, they will have a bridgehead for further incursions into Hæthiod and the rest of Adalmearc,” the marshal explained as swiftly and intently as he could while still keeping his voice down. “If we delay them long enough, perhaps we can prevent that they are able to launch any further campaigns before winter. We will buy the realms months’ worth of time.”

“Time for what?” Leander said bitterly. “Adalrik is in chaos, there is no basileus to demand the other realms to aid us. If Korndale, who should fear the outlanders as much as us, will not help us, who will?”

“I cannot say,” the marshal admitted. “Your Majesty, for more than thirty years I have been marshal of Hæthiod, combating the outlanders. I will carry out every military action that serves that purpose. If that will be enough, if we will be reinforced or at least vindicated I leave in the hands of the gods, for my own cannot do more. Your Majesty,” the old warrior said with all his years resonating in his voice, “we all have a burden to bear. We can do no more, and we must do no less.”

Leander had been facing away as the marshal spoke, but at last he turned to look at the knight. Finally, he nodded, giving his silent consent. Turning away, he walked with slow steps up the road towards the inner circles of Tothmor. Along with the rest of the city, there was nothing he could do but brace himself for the continuation of the siege.

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The siege begins in earnest, as we approach the end of this chronicle...

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Quill

Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; all tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.

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