Saturday, February 9, 2013

Chapter 25

Chapter 25

                Owen sat on the bench in the healers, wincing as one of them cleaned the wound with an ointment. It burned, and he gripped the edge of the bench and bit down hard to avoid making a cry of pain. His leg had begun to swell, but the healers expected it to heal well fairly quickly, for which Owen was glad. He was tired of having long lasting injuries.
                Ewan had seemed worried when they had brought Owen in, but that soon faded, and he sat down to make conversation. He chatted with Owen for a few minutes, before Owen decided to go back out and get some rest.
                They had made slow progress, but they had eventually made it to the south gate with the oxen and supplies. They had been greeted as heroes, welcomed back. They had just returned in the late morning.  A few other units had already left on missions, all set on harassing the empire and weakening and delaying them. The council was hidden away, planning the larger assaults.
                Owen walked toward the training area, and glanced toward the kitchen.  He stopped in his tracks. Nai stood with a young man, a bit older than Owen, and a bit more attractive, from his point of view. They talked quietly, and then she kissed him on the cheek, before rushing back into the kitchen.
                Owen felt sick as he turned and headed out the gate. Neither of them had seen him. He felt a mixture of hurt, anger and above all, a feeling of downright disappointment and confusion. He stumbled down to the barracks, and went straight to his bed. He was surprised to see Kallan on the top bunk, lying there quietly.       He looked up as Owen entered, then leaned back again as Owen lay down on his own bunk.  Owen rolled over a few times, feeling utterly confused. He wrapped his head in his cloak, and lay on his chest. He heard Kallan drop to the ground, and sit down on his bed.
                “Something wrong?”
                Owen grunted, then rolled over and pulled the cloak off his face.
                He stared moodily up at the ceiling.
                “I’m bloody mad, and confused.”
                Kallan sat quietly for a moment. “Is this something with Nai?”
                Owen nodded. “Aye.”
                Kallan sighed. “Just… do you want to talk?”
                Owen nodded again, and then pulled himself together.
                “We spoke… before we left. She made it sound like there might be something for us in the future…” He sighed. “I just saw her… she didn’t mean it. She didn’t want me to be disappointed, but she doesn’t want me.” He turned, and sat up next to Kallan.
                “I feel defeated. I’ve liked her for so long… but I have realized something. I guess we aren’t right for each other. At least not right now.”
                He sighed. Kallan sat quietly. Owen shook his head.
                “I just have to wait. All will tell if she is the right person. I somehow doubt it, now…” Owen shook his head again. “We’re about to go to full war. It won’t matter anymore.”
                It was a turning point for Owen.
                A door opened into the long dark hall. A throne sat on a dimly lit dais. The cloaked man entered the hall.  He walked toward the throne.
                The silhouetted figure on the throne spoke in a raspy voice.  “Yes, Cardowac. You had something to tell me.” 
                “Milord. Several attacks have been made. I warned you of these rebels, yet you did not believe me.”
                The man on the throne rasped out the words. “What did they do?”
                “They destroyed one of our convoy s from the south, sacked a camp of our soldiers, and now our reports have come in that the country house of one of your advisors was burned to the ground yesterday.”
                The emperor sat quietly, nodding, for a moment, and then his head jerked up. “Fine, Cardowac. You were right. But I am your emperor! Go out and do something about it! Ready your troops, find these little people, and destroy them!”
                Cardowac nodded his head. “Milord…”
                “I am your emperor! Do as I say!” Cardowac turned from the throne and walked out of the throne room, a smirk on his face.
                Owen argued within himself. He wanted to go to Nai, confront her, but part of him said to just let it go. That part grew over the next few days, as he made his swift recovery. He still had a bit of limp, but he was strong on the leg.  Now he just continued to train. He strengthened even more, keeping sharp.
                A few days after all the units had reported back from various missions, a meeting was declared of all fighting men. They all crowded outside the hall. Corwin stood on a chair and outlined what would happen next.
                “We must take the southern cities, as well as the villages along the mountains. Then we will begin to take over the northern fortresses and finally, Drenna.” He paused, and then continued. “Now, we are revealed to the empire. So we must be even more careful than we have been.” He stopped again, and looked across the men. He smiled broadly.
                “Our first target is the city of Ildiv. Our full army will be there. For now, our families will stay in the mountain. Do not worry; we will leave a small force here, including our normal guards. They will not be unprotected. But our primary force will be focused on Ildiv. It is a mining town, without much defense besides the cliffs around it.” He began an in depth description of the few fortifications, and described what they would be up against.
                Owen leaned forward, listening quietly.
                Owen packed his bags. Each man was to carry a heavy pack, full of supplies. This time, there would be horses only for the scouts and leaders, as there were not enough for the whole army.  Owen made sure his boots were solid on his feet, and readied to march. He was not looking forward to the long march through the mountains. 
                He finished packing his pack, and then pulled his sword out from under the bed. He looked at it with indecision for a few minutes. Finally he strapped it on to his pack. It would add extra weight, but he might need it.  He shouldered it, and headed out the door, and up to the castle, where the units were falling into marching order. 
                He fell in next to Kallan. Kallan smiled, and then looked forward, standing straight. They began to march. All who were staying behind lined the streets, watching as the army of the rebellion marched out. Undoubtedly some would not return. The men lifted their heads high, and marched out of the city. Owen chanced a glance back, and saw the army stretching out behind him and in front.  He shifted his pack on his shoulders, and then marched out the gate, to war.
                Owen was tired, sore, and ready to stop. They had marched fairly slowly, attempting to save the strength of the men for the battle ahead, but Owen was still exhausted from the long trek. They had made their way through the mountains, staying hidden. After the long several day march, Owen felt ready to collapse. But he knew the attack would begin tomorrow. 
                He rolled out his blanket, and wrapped himself in his cloak. Even General Corwin was sleeping on the ground, wrapped in his own blanket.
                There were no fires. They had survived on hardtack and jerky for the last few days, as there was no point in drawing attention to the force as they moved through the wilderness. Owen rolled over. He felt stiff, and tired, but he couldn’t sleep. His stomach was knotted, and he felt sick. He sat up, making his way up the nearby mountain. He knew the city of Ildiv slept on the other side of this ridge. He made his way up, climbing through the pine forest, until he finally hit the summit. He stood for a moment, looking off, down the steep, rocky hill side.
                The city of Ildiv was surrounded by a high stone wall, with a single gate. It was up against the mountains, mighty cliffs forming half the wall of the city.  Owen sat down, looking at it. There was a bit of light in the center of the city. He could barely see the silhouette of the central keep, a hulking shadow in the center of the city.  He leaned back on the rough pine. He sighed.
                His thoughts flitted from one thing to the next. He thought of Marcus. He wondered where his friend was now. He hoped the family was safe. His thoughts flitted to home. Or what used to be home. He sighed, and the knot in his stomach twisted all the more tight. He sighed, as he thought of Nai. He felt betrayed. It hurt. He leaned back, and almost cried. 
                He scraped the dirt with his fingers, as he felt the sudden chill. He hugged himself, but didn’t feeling like heading back to the camp just yet. He curled his legs up and wrapped his arms around them, shivering violently suddenly. A tear trickled out of the corner of his eye.  He started to cough, then the tears came. He buried his face in his arms. He sat there for a while, quietly sobbing. 
                He thought of all the years that he had lived near her, but never really tried to become her friend. He was always too shy to speak to her about almost anything. He wished he’d known her better now. Then he wouldn’t have fallen into this self laid trap. He scraped the ground, and leaned back, the tree bark catching in his hair, and scratching the back of his head.
                He sat there, above the lights of Ildiv, for a long time. *************************************************************************************
                Owen braced his shield as he stood in formation with the rest of the unit. The entire army stood across the front of the city, surrounding it as the morning sun grew higher. Before the sun had risen, the entire army had made their way out of the mountains, and dropped in, destroying the watch posts outside the city without much difficulty, then marching on the city. They now stood, awaiting their orders.
                The city had closed its gates. A panic seemed to reign as the people of the city realized what was happening.  The wall was now swarming with soldiers, all readying for the battle that was brewing.   Some of the rebels began to draw grappling hooks from their bags, as a group headed with axes and began to fell a massive tree. 
                The soldiers began to ready the ladders that they had carried from the mountain. They were over 20 feet long, plenty long enough to reach the top of the wall.  They faced off with the soldiers on the wall for several long minutes. Owen lifted his axe to his shoulder. He stood near the center, facing the gate. He hefted his shield as the now completed ram made its way through, held by a dozen soldiers. General Corwin rode down the line of soldiers.
                “Steady your hearts! This will be the first victory of many! Now, for your families! ONWARD!” With this he pointed his sword at the city walls. A rousing battle began to echo down the ranks.  Owen moved next to the ram, lifting his shield over his head, and beginning to march alongside it as the rest of the troops charged forward.

                They reached the gate. Rocks and arrows flew from above. Owen held steady, protecting himself and the man next to him that held the ram. The wall of shields kept off most of the projectiles, but a rammer fell. A new man fell into his place. The ram was brought back, and then slammed into the gate. The wooden timbers shook. Another blow fell.  A rhythm began to form as the ram beat against the gate. It trembled, and Owen heard a slight cracking in the wood.
                He glanced to his right. A mass of men with shields surrounded him, waiting for the gate to open. The beat of the ram kept a steady tempo. The gate began to give way, and Owen braced himself, bending his knees, ready to charge. The gate opened a bit, and he heard a massive crack as one of the supporting beams broke. The gate cracked this time, a hole chipping in it. Arrows flew from within. A few of the rammers fell, but more men took their place.
                The gate fell open, and the rebels charged.
                Kallan charged. He held his sword in both hands, gripping the pommel. The wall grew near, and the grappling ropes flew through the air, locking into the crenellations on the wall.  A few were thrown off, but many stayed solidly, as the ladders were lifted up onto the wall.  Kallan sprung up, ducking as the man above him hurtled down over his head. He knocked an arrow out of his way with his sword, and then leapt over the wall.
                It was chaos. He was among the first, and so he was immediately confronted with multiple enemies. He blocked a sword, then knocked a soldier of the backside of the wall, then elbowed a soldier in the chin. He swung his sword around, and knocked back one of his attackers, and began to drive them back from the ladder as more rebels swarmed over the wall.  
                Kallan took new courage as his back was covered by the other rebels. He knocked a soldier off the wall, and then cut the feet out from under another. He swung again, but his wrist was grabbed by a soldier. He lifted his fist, but that was grabbed as well. The soldier shoved him against the parapet, grappling. Kallan slammed his helmed forehead into the soldiers protruding nose, then punched him hard, knocking him to the ground.
                It was a mad scramble on the wall as the soldiers desperately tried to hold back the rebels, but they were falling back. The soldiers began to retreat. Within minutes they were in organized retreat back down the streets. The rebels gave a loud cheer.
                The soldiers were in rout. As soon as the rams had broken the gate, Owen and the rest of the troops had rushed in the like a flood of water. A mass of soldiers tried to hold the gate, but they rushed in.  The rebels broke through the wall of shields. Owen brought his axe down with a feral yell, smashing his shield into the chest of a soldier, before kicking him down.
                He saw the rebels on the wall, fighting hard, pushing back the forces of the empire.  They retreated, backing down the narrow streets toward the keep, looming high above.  Owen gritted his teeth, ramming a soldier with his helm, then kicking another’s legs out, before smashing his shield into the face of the next.
                He glanced up and saw Kallan, locked in combat with a burly soldier. He knocked a soldier out of his way, and then ran toward him. He axed the large soldier. Kallan grinned, and they turned and charged the shield wall of the soldiers as they backed towards the keep.  With a battle cry, the rebels smashed against the soldiers.  
                Owen felt a spear pierce his chain mail, and he slammed into the wall, pinned by his mail and by a sliver of skin.  He grimaced, and cried out, before kicking the soldier. Kallan grabbed the spear, and pulled it out with a sudden jerk. Owen fell to his knees with a cry, as Kallan lunged, stabbing a nearby soldier with the spear. Owen pulled himself to his feet, grimacing, and jumped forward, using the pain to fuel his rampage.
                The soldiers turned as the rebels began to over run them, and made a full retreat to the keep. The rebels followed at full speed, but the gate of the keep clashed shut. They stopped short as the sound of heavy beams falling into place met their ears.  They stopped, looking up at the massive stone building.  Suddenly a hail of arrows broke the silence, flying from above. Several rebels fell. Owen raised his shield and dashed behind the nearby shacks.
                More arrows whistled down as the rebels scrambled for safety.  Arrows felled a few rebels. Owen braced his shield, and looked carefully over it around the corner of the building.  He could see the sunlight glistening off the tips of arrows in the niches in the tower. Another volley launched down, and Owen ducked back behind the building as several arrows thudded into his shield.
                He gritted his teeth as his wounded shoulder caught on the cloth of his shirt. He reached under the edge of his chainmail. The spear had cut through a few links of the chainmail, and ripped the shirt underneath. It was wet with blood where the tip of the spear had pierced the skin. He ripped a thin sliver off of the edge of his tunic, and put it over the wound, at least trying to soak up the blood and stop the bleeding.
                He sighted Morgen running through the street, gathering his unit. He reached Owen and Kallan.
                “We are besieging the keep, but several units are going to take the mines. We are to move quickly and destroy any enemy soldiers in our way.” He paused, glancing back at the rest of the unit. “Follow me.”
                He moved quickly down a side street, out of shot of the tower. They all stayed low as they moved quickly through the city, making a wide loop around the keep.  They could see faces peeking out of windows occasionally, but the city almost seemed empty. They had just crossed a street, when an arrow caught Morgen in the throat. He fell with a gurgling cry as soldiers charged out from a side street. 
                Owen charged forward, cutting down a soldier, then glanced up just in time to see several arrows headed for him. He brought up his shield, but one arrow hit him in the chest. He winced as the tip scratched his chest, but the arrow was caught in his mail. He smashed his shield into a soldier, then looked up on the rooftops, where several soldiers were in position, holding readied bows.
                Owen glanced at Kallan. They locked eyes. Owen beheaded a soldier who had just cut down one of his companions, then ran toward the house where the soldiers stood. Kallan cut down another soldier, and then followed. They both ran, then Owen turned and knelt. Kallan caught the idea immediately. He jumped as Owen lifted his shield. Owen propelled it upwards as Kallan landed, shooting him upwards. Kallan grabbed the edge of the roof and lifted himself up, quickly rolling into position and beginning to fight. The fire of arrows ceased as Kallan began to occupy the archers.
                Owen spun, catching a soldier with the rim of his shield, and then slamming the rear spike of his axe into the gut of another. He placed his back against the wall, and held them off as best he could. Several of the unit had already fallen. Owen fought his way through, trying to unite the group. Dalt was locked in combat with a soldier. The soldier managed to disarm him, and was just bringing his sword arm back when Owen smashed his shield into the back of his head.
                The soldier dropped. Dalt grabbed his sword, and launched back into the battle. Owen glanced up to the roof of the house.  Kallan was dueling four men at once, desperately holding the high ground at the crest of the house.
                Owen broke the latch on the nearest house, and slipped inside, setting down his axe and shield and bringing out his bow. He nocked an arrow, and quickly shot one of the archers. He cried out, and tumbled down the roof, making another soldier lose his balance. Kallan stabbed him, and then continued to fight the other two. Owen nocked another arrow, and shot a soldier a few feet away. He launched arrow after arrow into the fray, carefully hitting the soldiers in the areas where they were not protected by their armor.
                Kallan kicked one of the soldiers between the legs. He grabbed him, swinging his legs into the other soldier, making him lose his balance. He shoved the one down the roof and slashed the other down. He slid down the roof, and then jumped off, rolling as he hit the ground.
                The soldiers were finished, but at least a third of the unit was lost, including their commander. His second in command was dead as well. Dalt immediately took command. Owen grudgingly followed orders, readying his weapons to move. They moved quickly, leaving the bodies behind.
                Kallan winced as the several small injuries he had acquired rubbed against his clothing. He followed Dalt through the city streets. Soon they entered the slums. Kallan looked around at the irregular houses. Owen stopped, and began to call. Kallan soon caught on, and joined him.
                “We are here to save you! We are here to fight your oppressors!”  
                A few heads began to stick out from the windows, and doors began to open. Owen called out, smiling. “We are here to rid you of the empire!” 
                He called out once more, then they continued to make their way toward the mines, now moving quickly.
                The mines were bored into the cliffs behind the city, and the large workings were surrounded by a palisade wall. A large open area without houses surrounded it. This area was now full of bodies. A group of soldiers braced in the opening of the mines, their large rectangular shields braced in a row. The rebels charged upon them, but were pushed back, leaving the bodies of several in front of the bristling wall of shields.
                The rebels halted, as their reinforcements arrived. 
                “Where were you?” A tall dark man looked at them angrily. “Where’s Morgen?”  The men bowed their heads. Owen looked up.
                “We were ambushed.”
                The rebel bowed his head.
                “I’ll take charge of you now.” He turned. “The soldiers have a solid formation there in the gate. We need a strategy to get through without wasting any more lives.” 
                Owen attacked from the rear, Kallan and three other rebels smashing into the back of the shield wall. As the soldiers turned, the rest of the rebels charged. They were pinned between the small rear attack and the forward movement of the larger force of the several united units.  The soldiers scattered, retreating deeper into the mine. The rebels charged in, pursuing them. Finally they reached the tunnels.
                The soldiers stood at the entrance, once again trying to hold formation in the entrance.  The rebels stopped, facing off. Then they charged.  Owen raised his axe, as they charged the last few soldiers. He glanced over at Kallan. Then he tripped.  He fell, his axe flying out of his hand, and landed on his shield, smashing into a nearby apparatus made of wood. His head smashed into the wall and he fell dazed.
                The rebels continued to charge. Owen tried to pull himself up, but he was unsteady, and he was forced to support himself on the nearby wooden structure. He stumbled as he attempted to pick up his axe. The rebels charged. It seemed as if things were in slow motion. A sudden explosion rocked the air. Owen’s ears rang.  A rumble sounded, and in his dazed mind, it seemed as if the cliff was falling.
                It was. Kallan turned with an expression of fear. Their eyes locked. Then the cliff collapsed on him. 

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