Friday, February 15, 2013

Chapter 26


Chapter 26
                The city burned. When the soldiers had realized they were cornered in the keep, they had attempted to take out the cover that the rebels were using with pitch soaked arrows. They lit them, launching them down onto the shacks and wagons that the rebels were using for barricades. The dry wood had caught immediately, and despite the efforts of the rebels, the city was soon in flames. People who had been in hiding swarmed out of the houses, and chaos ensued.
                Owen had managed to pull himself up, and looked back in hEwan as the flames spread.  He felt dazed, and he leaned on the wooden structure nearby. He looked back and forth from the rocky rubble to the burning city, his stomach aching, his heart beating. He stumbled, woozy, as he looked at the grave of the rebels and soldiers alike, and of his best friend. He was alone. He slid to the ground, leaning on the wooden structure behind him.
                His head pounded, aching. He pulled off his helmet, letting it drop to the ground.  He looked around at the shacks and equipment surrounding him. It was empty. He looked up to the sky, where wintry clouds began to cover the sky. He leaned back, closing his eyes, trying to fathom what had happened.  It began to lightly rain, sprinkles of water barely making a mark on the dry ground. The wind chilled him.  He tried to stand, looking across as the rain began to come down in a torrent. It was icy, burning Owen’s face. He stood, and began to walk slowly toward the city as the rain began to make the flames go out. The fire had a head start, and it fought back against the torrent that attacked it, but it flickered, falling back, fading.
                Owen stood in the pouring rain, letting it drench him to the skin.  He began to slowly walk up out of the mine workings, toward the charred city.  He looked up toward the keep, and began to walk. He made his way through the empty streets, people watching him from the shelter of the surviving homes.
                He walked straight toward the keep. The closer he got, the more houses were burned. They smoldered as the rain rushed down the streets. It began to be icier, and the wind began to blow harder.  Owen strode steadily as he could through the burned streets, as the rain began to flow through. He was drenched, water dripping from his hair. The rain began to freeze, and soon pieces of ice were pelting Owen, covering the ground with ice. 
                He slipped his helmet over his wet hair, protecting his head from the pelting hail. He began to run toward the battle line where the rebels took cover behind the remains of the burned houses, as arrows flew down among them. Blood mixed with the water in the streets, staining the ground red. Puddles filled the uneven streets. Owen held up his shield as he slipped into place near several other rebels. They looked at him in surprise.
                “Where’d you come from?”
                Owen leaned back, breathing hard, holding his shield over his head.
                “I’m part of Morgen’s unit. Last survivor.”
                The rebel’s eyes widened. “That collapse…”
                Owen nodded. “Fell on everyone but me. The imperials too.”
                The man looked down. “Morgen?”
                “Took an arrow to the throat before we even got there.”
                The man shook his head. “That was two units lost, right there.”
                He looked over at a thin man sitting nearby, speaking loudly over the sound of the rain and hail.
                “Go to the General, and tell him that Morgen and Calways units have been destroyed, but the mines are secure.” He lowered his head. “Tell him that I’m taking their lone survivor into my command.”  He looked at Owen. “You’re with me now, lad.”
                A few more arrows whistled down, landing just beyond the rebels as they sat under cover. Owen glanced over his shoulder. The top of the keep was just visible above the stone foundation behind which they hid.
                “What is the plan?”
                The commander shrugged. “We wait, for now. There is nothing we can do without losing more me than we already have.” He pulled himself down lower. “We’ve already lost too many men to make a concentrated attack on the keep.” He wrapped his short cloak around him, huddling into the corner. Owen followed his example, unrolling his cloak and wrapping it around him. Fortunately, only the outside had gotten really wet, and the majority of the cloak was still dry. It sheltered him from the rain as it poured down.
                Kallan stirred, his head aching. He tried to move, but his legs seemed to be immobilized. It was dark. He grimaced as he tried to pull his legs out from under the rocks. He moved his arms. They seemed to be free. He could lift his body, but he only had a bit of room. He tried to move some of the smaller rocks he could feel around him, but it seemed that a fairly large piece of rock was supporting most of it. He managed to pull a rock out, and a tiny sliver of light broke through. But it was enough for him to see around him.
                He looked back. His legs were pinned under a fairly large rock, but he knew if he had something to pry with, he could probably get it off. It seemed that the cliff had shattered, but he had been almost into the cave when it had fallen, so he figured that most of the damage had fallen outside its reach. He heard a groan.
                Kallan reached for the hilt of his sword, which was nearby. He grabbed it and pulled, but to his mortification there was only a shattered few inches of blade. He stuck it under the rock, and attempted to pry the rock. It moved a bit, but in this awkward position, he could not get much leverage. He dropped it, and pulled out his knife, twisting his body to look behind him.
                He could not see much, but there seemed to be a large space where the rock was supported above them.  He once again struggled, but the rock was solid. He heard a voice.
                Kallan twisted around again.
                “Help me!”
                “I can’t, I’m trapped!”
                A new voice joined the conversation.
                “Where are you?”
                “Near this bit of light.”
                He heard a scratching noise. A hand and then a head appeared near him. It was a young man. Kallan couldn’t tell the color of his tunic in the darkness.
                “I’m stuck under this big rock.” He said, pointing toward the boulder that held his legs. The man moved to it.
                “One let is only partially trapped. If I can lift the rock a bit, you may be able to get your right leg out.” Kallan felt a bit of pressure on his right leg lift off, as the pain in his left leg increased as the weight shifted. He quickly jerked the right leg out, grimacing. The rock dropped, and the pressure decreased on his left leg again.
                He winced.
                “Can you get the other leg out?”
                He felt a bit of pressure lift off, and then it was dropped back on. He let out a small cry as the pain increased.  
                “I’m sorry… I can’t get the right leverage. I’ll try going over to the other side.” This time Kallan felt the rock lift and he crawled forward, pulling his left leg out. It was limp. He turned, and sat up, trying to open a bit more light, but the rocks were too tightly packed together to move. He turned to crawl back, shoving the hilt of his sword into his satchel, still holding his dagger. His hand touched a piece of broken timber, and he had an idea.
                He reached to the pouch on his belt, and brought out his flint and steel. He began to strike, but it wouldn’t light. He ripped some pieces of his tunic off, and lit them. These lit quite nicely, and soon the wood caught as well. It seemed to have had some pitch on the wood, and it flared up, lighting the cavern.
                Several bodies littered the chamber, and there were a few moving figures. It was about five paces wide, and it went back a ways. After a few paces, the rubble turned into the tunnel, and rounded out. Kallan pulled the piece of timber out from under the boulder, and held it up as a torch.
                He looked on the young man who had helped him. The man was in a red tunic. Kallan started in surprise, holding up his knife, then remembered this enemy had just saved his life. He lowered the knife, watching the man. The man held his arms up in a position of surrender.
                “I’m unarmed. Go ahead and kill me, if that’s how you rebels work.” Kallan lowered his eyebrows, and shoved his knife into his sheath.  He held up the torch, and crawled around the small cave. A massive piece of rock was the roof, resting against the cliff face. Kallan looked up at it.
                “We should get into the tunnel, before this rock falls on all us survivors.”
                The soldier nodded. The voice cried out again.
                Kallan worked his way towards the sound. A man was trapped under a massive boulder. His upper torso and right arm were free, but his legs and left arm were completely trapped.
                Kallan tried to lift the boulder, but it was massive, and he made no headway. The man groaned.
                “I can’t get you out.” Kallan sat back. He glanced back around the room, holding up the torch.  The other man had gathered a few men, and they were heading for the tunnel. Kallan placed his shoulder against the boulder, and tried to move it, but he could do nothing. He heard a grating sound, and glanced up toward the ceiling. The massive hunk of rock was grating down, slipping toward the opening of the tunnel.
                He once again tried to lift, this time desperately. The man began to cry out in pain, but still Kallan could do nothing. He looked up, and then dove for the cave, slipping in. The ceiling crashed in.  He lay on the ground, breathing hard, and then rolled over. Several men sat around him, a few in the deep red uniforms of the empire, and a few in the brown tunics of the rebellion. Kallan sat up, and leaned on the smooth tunnel wall.

                He looked back into the darkness. His leg ached. He looked back into the tunnel, but he didn’t feel like standing. He felt sick to his stomach. He just sat there for a moment. He looked at the rock which now covered the entrance. 
                “Any chance they could get us out?”
                One of the men looked at the rock.
                “I worked in the mines before joining the army… we used small amounts of blasting powder to build the mining tunnels. There’s a chance that whoever wins this battle may try and get through with that.  That must have been what brought down the cliff… I don’t know why, though.” He looked back into the tunnels, and lowered his voice. “There have to still be miners in here...” 
                No sooner had he spoken than several lights appeared far off in the tunnel, growing slowly closer. Soon the light revealed the battered faces of men. They carried an assortment of tools.  One carried a small barrel. They wore helmets with candles in front of small mirrors, reflecting the light forward.  They reached the end of the tunnel.
                One of the men stepped forward. “Trapped, eh?”
                The tall young soldier nodded. “Aye. The cliff fell…”
                “I see.” He stepped forward and tapped the rock with his pickaxe. “He glanced back at the man holding the barrel. “Bring it up.” He popped off the top, and carefully took a few handfuls of dark sandy looking substance out, carefully keeping them a distance from his headlamp. He put them in a large crack in the rock, filling it with the black grains. Then he made a trail, a thin line leading back into the tunnel. The miners motioned for the men to follow. Kallan pulled himself up, and used the wall to support himself as he followed them back, still holding his makeshift torch, which was beginning to get small.
                They continued to go uphill for a long distance. The miner ended his trail of powder, than motioned for Kallan to pass him his dwindling torch. He touched it to the grains. They lit with a pop, causing several of the men to jump back as it followed the trail down the tunnel. The miners dropped, and Kallan and the others quickly followed their examples. An explosion rocked the cave, and pieces of rock flew past them.
                After the sound had subsided, they all stood and headed slowly down the tunnel. Pieces of rock littered the tunnel. Light filtered in through a crack in the rock, along with a stream of dripping water. It was still much too small for anyone to get out, but the light was cheering for all. Kallan grinned, and looked at the head miner.
                “What is that stuff?”
                “Blasting powder.” 
                Kallan nodded slowly. “Got to get me some of that…” he thought, as the ground collapsed under his feet.
                Kallan once again awoke, his head aching. He rolled over, looking around. A faint glimmer of light came from above. He groped for the wall, and felt it. It was smooth, carved carefully flat. He leaned against it, as suddenly, a light flared, lighting around.  One of the miner’s lamps was lit, and the head miner stood up, looking around. He whistled as he saw the tunnel.
                “This isn’t ours…”
                The tunnel was smooth, carved flat on the sides and bottom, with the ceiling sloping up slowly. Above them, a gaping hole showed, too high for anyone to reach. The tunnel continued up hill, into the mountain, but it also led down. The men began to stir, and within a few moments all sat, bewildered, in the narrow tunnel. The tall young imperial turned to the miner.
                “What is this?”
                “No idea…”  The grizzled man walked a few paces down the passage. The others followed, the other miners lighting their lamps.  Kallan looked up the passage, his feeling of adventure swelling up as he wished to explore the tunnel, but knowing that going into the city was the most likely chance of escaping.  He followed as the miners headed down the neatly carved tunnel.
                He kept his hand on his dagger, feeling vulnerable without his sword. He glanced at the soldiers, working out his odds. He had four men on his side, and possibly the miners.  He couldn’t count on them, so he didn’t include them. He had an injured leg and a dagger. Two of the other rebels were almost uninjured save for nicks, bruises and scratches.  They all had daggers, and one of the uninjured men had a hatchet on his belt. The other two were worse off. One held his arm, and it looked as if it could be broken. The other walked with a pronounced limp, although Kallan could not be sure of the extent of his injuries.
                He looked at the six soldiers. Although they had more numbers, they also had worse injuries. Three of them looked to have broken bones, and only the young soldier seemed to be uninjured. Kallan decided he was the worst threat. He watched them carefully as they moved down the tunnel.
                They moved quickly, even the injured men, desperate to escape the darkness.  Suddenly the miners stopped, after they had seemed to have been going on forever. The passage ended, but a set of steep stairs ascended to the ceiling. Kallan moved to the front. The miners moved out of the way. The soldiers moved in behind him. He climbed carefully up the stairs, and pushed on the stone at which it ended. It lifted with a quiet grating noise.
                He peered out through the crack, then lifted it just enough to see the room.  It was full of weapons, empty of humans. As he looked across the racks, he realized in a flash where they must be. He closed the stone as a plan began to formulate. Moving so as to not attract attention, he loosened his dagger in its sheath as he climbed back down. A short, squat soldier looked at him.
                Kallan put one foot back. “Sorry, friend.” He slammed his fist into the man’s stomach, then whipped out his knife, and slammed the hilt into his head. He fell. The other soldiers ran forward. Kallan stepped back up the stairs, kicked one in the head, and then smashed his foot into the injured leg of another. The other rebels moved forward, the two without injuries grabbing the last two soldiers and holding them steady.
                The tall young soldier stopped struggling.
                Kallan shrugged. “Didn’t know if we could trust you.”
                “What is going on!?”
                Kallan leaned back on the stairs. “We’re under the keep. I didn’t want you to stop us from blowing your fellows to kingdom come.”
                The soldier closed his eyes. “Do you know why I’m here?”
                Kallan raised an eyebrow.
                “I was drafted! Taken from my home, dragged to the army.” He looked up at Kallan. “I haven’t seen my family in over a year.” A single tear dribbled down his face as he looked directly into Kallan’s eyes. “Do you think I love the empire?” 
                Kallan watched him carefully for a moment. “You are still part of their army.”
                “Release me.”
                Kallan looked into his eyes. They showed no fear, but Kallan didn’t think that he looked dishonest. He nodded. “Let him go.”
                The two rebels let go of the soldier slightly reluctantly. He stepped forward, and unbuckled his belt, letting it fall to the ground. Then he reached up and pulled off his dark red tunic, throwing it to the side. “I am deserting the imperial army.” He buckled his belt back on over his leather and chainmail jerkin. “I assume you have a plan?”

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