The Breaking of Teeth
At all times, the Order kept watch from the highest tower on Fortönn towards southwest. As the sails appeared on the horizon, the message was sent through the keep; the enemy had been sighted. The last ships able to leave fled the harbour, carrying children, women, and any not needed for the defence of the island. Soldiers remained along with certain craftsmen, such as smiths, fletchers, and masons. The rest were sent away, both for their own protection and to help the garrison’s provisions last longer, should it come to a lengthy siege.
Sir Hákon inspected the fortifications one final time. The harbour had to be abandoned, lacking any kind of defences; yet it lay within the reach of the stone thrower atop the gatehouse, allowing great rocks to be hurled at enemy ships mooring by the piers.
A few vessels still remained, having ferried supplies and soldiers to the island, who would remain; none had need of these boats anymore. Strong hands grabbed axes, preparing to sink the ships rather than allow them to be seized by the enemy. Struck in the right place, repairs would be futile, and they would have no future other than as firewood. But first, they would serve one last purpose.
The sailors rowed their boats a short distance from the piers, spreading them across the entrance to the harbour. Using their axes, they splintered the bow before hacking holes in the stern. The boats sank with the jagged bows protruding, acting as artificial reefs, turning the harbour into hostile waters for ships of Alcázar.
Their task complete, the sailors swam ashore. All looked grim; they had destroyed their own livelihood, sent it to the seafloor, and the reason for this desperate act swiftly approached.
Inside, the fletchers worked all waking hours to make arrows. Thusund had excellent archers to rival the hunters of Vidrevi or the longbowmen of Hæthiod; on islands scarce on food, hitting small birds in flight with an arrow meant surviving winters that claimed the hungry. But few had found their way to Fortönn, and each tower on the keep could only be manned by two or three archers each.
The smiths repaired armours, ensuring each ring of every chain shirt was strong. The masons hewed stone into smaller pieces, making them easy to haul and stack. Should the walls be breached, swiftly mending such a gap would be the only thing preventing the keep from being overrun.
Water was scarce, as the only source on the island lay elsewhere; once the siege began, rainwater would be the only way the garrison could replenish this precious resource. As it stood, they had enough for two weeks, should not a drop fall from the sky; whether Alcázar would allow the siege to continue for that long was another matter.
As the hours passed, the sails on the horizon multiplied until they seemed to number in the hundreds. They steered clear of the western coast, too close to the castle walls. Instead, while part of the fleet rounded the island to approach from the north, the rest remained anchored south of the island. Scores of boats were lowered into the water, and with quick strokes of the oars, the soldiers of Alcázar made landfall. The first wave of warriors set up a strong guard, waiting as the boats returned to the ships to retrieve more of the comrades. Once the second wave landed, patrols were dispatched to seize control of every part of the island beyond the castle. With the third wave came the equipment needed for the siege, and the soldiers set to work assembling it all.
While the men of Alcázar set foot on Fortönn unopposed on the southern shore, the story played out differently to the north, where the harbour lay. Standing on the gatehouse, Sir Hákon watched the ships approach. As the first vessel reached the pier, he gave a gruff order, and the soldiers by his side released the catapult. The arm flew up, hurling a rock through the air to strike the ship on the side. It did not break the hull, but the wood groaned and crack where struck.
The Order soldiers turned the levers of the stone thrower, twisting its arm down. The sailors on the ship abandoned their attempts to moor and raised the sails again, catching the wind to get away. The next stone fell short, hitting the water where the ship had been. Making its escape, the vessel struck the sunken boats in the harbour. Rather than make further manoeuvres, the ship made anchor while the Order soldiers cheered, seeing the enemy denied. Their joy proved short-lived; as the ships of Alcázar lying south of the island had done, the fleet launched its boats to land troops beyond the range of the stone thrower. From their walls, the defenders could do nothing but watch.
Nothing further happened on the first day, allowing for an anxious night inside the castle. Guards stood everywhere, scouting towards the encampment that now lay spread across the island, accommodating thousands. Scattered fires burned to aid their own sentinels, in case the garrison should dare a sortie. Activity was scarce. Unlike the Order soldiers, fearful of what was to come, the mercenaries slept soundly. It was their first night on solid ground and last night before battle; they knew to get as much rest as possible.
The following morning, the siege engineers swiftly completed their last tasks. All the needed timber for their construction had already been prepared and brought along from Alcázar, allowing for swift assembly. On the eastern part of the isle, the southrons pushed stone throwers forward with greater range and strength than the single one defending the gatehouse. The bombardment began. Rocks rained down on the defenders, forcing them to hide behind shields and crenellations or seek refuge inside the towers.
While the catapults were useful to harass the Order soldiers, they could do little against the sturdy walls. The engineers had discussed battering rams, but the defending stone thrower could, if used well, destroy any rams aimed at the gate. Attacking the wall itself, out of the reach of the enemy catapult, would take many days if not longer to cause a breach. As for siege towers, the rocky terrain would make it difficult to push it all the way up to the fortress. In the end, the engineers presented their conclusions to Prince Saif, leader of Alcázar’s armies, and he agreed with their assessment. The castle would have to be taken by storm ladders.
Against a fully manned garrison, this strategy of attack would carry higher cost than any other, but it had the clear advantage of speed. Within a few hours, scores of ladders had been assembled and ready for assault, all the while the stone throwers continued to launch their munition against the defenders.
“Sir, they advance!” The call came from a tower, shouted down into the courtyard.
Hákon, knight captain of Fortönn, turned to yell over his shoulder. “To the walls!” His message passed through the gate into the keep, where it was repeated. Half the soldiers inside, about a hundred men, responded and joined him in the courtyard; the remainder dispersed throughout the castle, taking up position elsewhere.
Raising their shields to protect themselves against the enemy stone throwers, the soldiers filled the walls. Atop the towers, the archers readied their arrows and shouted what they saw; thousands of soldiers beginning the assault.
The air became filled with missiles from both sides, raining down on the fortifications and the open land becoming a battlefield. Every islander able to aim a bow had work, emptying the barrels of arrows placed on each tower. Likewise, the archers among the southern mercenaries ran close enough to barrage the defenders; few would fall, but forcing the Order soldiers to hide behind their shields gave the other attackers room to reach the walls and begin raising the siege ladders.
As this happened, the catapults became silent rather than risk striking their own, still leaving the archers to harass the defenders. The Order soldiers, expecting this, worked together; one man kept the shield up to protect himself and the next man, who hurled stones over the wall, crushing helmets and heads of the soldiers on the ground.
Scores of ladders struck against the walls, biting over the stonework. As cries rose into the air, born of battle and death, the mercenaries ascended, often losing their life for coin. But for every attacker struck down, two reached the top. The archers in the towers changed aim, shooting down at the fortifications rather than the ground in a desperate attempt to push the tide back. Every Order soldier not yet engaged ran towards the points of infiltration, which only left gaps elsewhere.
The bodies filled the walls until they were pushed down, falling into the courtyard. All along the outer defences, southrons overwhelmed the Order soldiers. In their bright colours, denoting the mercenary companies they served, they extinguished the pockets of black surcoats one by one.
Sir Hákon, his blade dripping with blood, retreated into the nearest tower. He rushed up the stairs to reach the top. The archers did not notice his appearance, consumed by their task. The knight moved to the edge of the tower, standing beside them to see what they saw. The outer walls were lost.
“Retreat!” yelled the knight. He pushed his shield into the archer on his left and the pommel of his sword into the other right. “Fall back!” Shooting their final arrow, the bowmen grabbed their comrades and followed their commander down the tower. Across the fortifications, the command was repeated. Those of the southrons, who understood Nordspeech, roared in exuberance; the rest, seeing the Order soldiers flee into the castle, soon shared their joy.
Running across the courtyard, the black-clad warriors hurried inside the keep, barring the inner gate behind them. Any Order soldier still outside was abandoned, falling prey to southern swords. As for those who had been swift enough, respite was brief. The archers ascended up the stairs to take positions at windows overlooking the yard, harassing the attackers. Others spread out to retrieve any Order soldiers on the northern walls and to close the remaining entrances; depending on how swiftly the attackers moved, the latter might be done before the former.
With the first obstacle defeated, the forces of Alcázar would not be deterred by the inner gate. Protected by wicker screens and great shields, they advanced and threw great jars of oil against the wooden doors, followed by torches. Their task completed, they retreated beyond the range of arrows, hiding inside the conquered towers of the outer walls while watching the gate burn.
Inside the keep, Sir Hákon watched. He saw the flames devour the wooden doors, slowly but surely eating their way through this final obstacle. Blood and grime covered his face; both his shield arm and his sword arm hung low, making the tip of his blade touch ground. Around him in the entrance hall stood his remaining men. Some looked grim, others frightened, but most wore defeat on their faces. Further retreat was futile; once the keep was breached, the final part of the battle would commence. Sir Hákon looked at his men, and his own expression mirrored theirs.
Exercising caution, the southerners kept themselves safe as they prepared to take the inner castle. During the first assault, they had been squeezed together, forced to focus their attack on the southern and eastern walls; the castle lay close to the sea by the western and northern coast, making manoeuvres difficult. With the outer defences taken, such difficulties had vanished. The forces of Alcázar could move to find every avenue of attack into the keep, making the most of their superior numbers.
“Your Highness!” A warrior, dressed in light armour untouched by battle, approached Saif by the outer gate. “Sidi, they have shown the horsehead flag.”
The prince walked forward, staying behind the mantlets made of wicker that protected against archers in the upper windows. Ascending the nearest tower, followed by his aide, Saif looked across the courtyard. As said, a flag showing the head of a horse had been tied to a spear and extended from a window. The prince turned to his right-hand man. “Invite them out.”
A handful of southerners stepped into the open courtyard. One man carried a banner, while the rest had large shields. The sight of this was quickly relayed to Sir Hákon. The knight kicked the smouldering remains of the gate, clearing a path for himself. He walked through, carrying no weapons but his sword in its sheath by his waist. Behind him came a soldier of the Order, holding a banner with the head of a horse upon it, which signalled the Mearcians’ desire to negotiate peace.
Lastly, the prince appeared with his aide by his side. They stayed within the circle of their soldiers, who held the shields up while watching the windows of the keep.
The aide cleared his throat. “This is His Royal Highness, Prince Saif of the House al-Saqr, firstborn son to the Kabir of Alcázar, whose rule –”
Saif raised one hand, making a quick gesture to dismiss his servant. “I think that will suffice.”
“I am Sir Hákon of Dvaros,” replied his opponent, inclining his head, “knight of the Order of Adal and captain of this fortress. I seek terms.”
“State your desire,” Saif bid him.
“In exchange for our surrender, my men will not be harmed. They will be spared any suffering, and should the opportunity arise to exchange prisoners, this will be done without delay, securing their release,” the knight declared.
“These are my terms,” the prince replied, speaking Adalspeech with only a trace of his southern origins. “In exchange for your surrender, your men will not be hurt, except if they violate these conditions as agreed. They will be set to work repairing the damage done to this castle and other works I deem necessary, but I shall place no greater burdens upon them than my own men. They shall eat and rest as my men do, and if prisoners may be exchanged, so it shall be done as swiftly as is feasible.”
An expression ran across Hákon’s face. “These terms are agreeable, upon your honour as a prince and commander.”
Saif bowed his head. “Upon my honour.”
The knight undid his belt, presenting the scabbard of his sword with both hands. “I surrender the castle and island of Fortönn.”
Saif received the sheathed weapon, likewise accepting it with both of his hands. “I accept your surrender. You may call your men out to lay down their arms. Take heart, Sir Hákon. You carried out your duty with honour.”
Hákon gave no reply; behind him, the soldiers of the Order appeared, throwing their weapons on the ground. Almost as swiftly as it had begun, the siege of Fortönn had ended.
Although the battle had ended, activity remained high. Besides burning the bodies of the slain and clearing up the worst of the destruction, the southrons also dismantled their many siege engines and salvaged all materials they could find. This included the arms and weapons of the Mearcians; since much of it was forged from Nordsteel, it was highly prized among the southerners, and the commanders distributed the spoils among those soldiers who had shown particular bravery on this day.
As for the victorious commander, he stood by the harbour. Several mamluks surrounded him in a loose ring, watching any who dared approach. Even if the island had been taken and the Mearcians had surrendered, this remained hostile territory, and the guards knew to be watchful. Despite their caution, they did not stop the aide to the prince from passing through their rank; as Saif’s right-hand man, he was trusted and spent most of his time in his master’s company.
“Your Highness,” he spoke, waiting a few steps away until acknowledged. The prince had his back against him, gazing upon the ships in the water.
“Adherbal.” The prince replied without looking, waiting until his aide stepped up to stand next to him.
“You sent for me?”
“I seek your counsel.”
Adherbal bowed his head. “As you command.”
“You know the decision I face. What recommends caution, and what recommends speed?”
Adherbal followed the prince’s gaze to look on the ships. “More than half your forces remain in Maleth. Caution would advise that we wait for the galleys and even now send vessels back to fetch reinforcements. Once the majority of your troops are on this island, they can swiftly reinforce your army once you continue the invasion.”
“And the other argument?”
“We have not heard from our spies in the kingdom of the many isles. We cannot be sure how much longer their strife continues. Should they have made peace, their assembled fleet may fall upon your scattered ships, and worse, keep your army trapped on this rock. And even if you are able to sail your army to the mainland, their fleet may prevent yours from reinforcing you, leaving you deep in enemy lands with few troops.”
Saif took a deep breath. “What do the captains of the companies prefer?”
The aide shrugged. “They are mercenaries. The longer they can sit around and be paid to do nothing, the better.”
“What would you advise?”
Adherbal scratched his cheek. “I am a cautious man by nature, sidi. That is how I have come to serve you and retain my position where many bold men failed.”
“It certainly is not brevity that keeps you employed.”
A wry smile crossed the aide’s face before it grew serious. “Caution avoids defeat, sidi, but it rarely wins a war.”
Saif slowly exhaled. “Give the order. We make landfall as soon as possible near their city of the southern harbour.”
“As you command.”