Friday, February 22, 2013

Chapter 27

Chapter 27
                Kallan looked up at the group surrounding him. The five soldiers besides the young deserter were on the floor, all unconscious. Kallan looked at the miners, who watched him carefully. They faced off for a few moments.  He stood steadily for a few moments.
                “Are you with me, or are you against me?”
                The miners all looked to their leader. He watched Kallan closely for several minutes. He glanced back at his men, and then spoke in his gravelly accented voice.
                “We’ll join you. We serve no better use than ill paid slaves to the empire.” He hefted his pick-axe as Kallan grinned. The miner held out his hand.
                “Blod, at your service.”
                One by one the sturdy men introduced themselves, shaking his gloved hand with a firm grasp. Then the lone soldier held out his hand.
                “Connor of Drenna, at your service.” He grasped Kallan’s hand with a firm grip, a serious and determined expression on his face.
                “We’ll need a number of weapons, a great deal of stealth, and a keg of blasting powder.”
                He set it out as his small group circled around. Finally, he crept up the stairs, lifting the heavy stone tile. He shifted it to the side and pulled himself out, looking around carefully, his eyes adjusting to the light, even though the room was dim. He could hear the rain drumming on the wall outside, and out the narrow window he could see the fog.  He moved to the door as the miners and fellow rebels climbed out of the tunnel. Kallan placed his ear to the keyhole, listening.  He could hear quiet voices outside, speaking to each other. He assumed there were guards just outside.
                He looked around for a moment, seeing that a wooden bar was set to be slid over and block the door. He thought that the room was made for defense from the inside if necessary, so it should be easy to keep soldiers out while they readied for their attack. He slid the door open just a crack as his soldiers gathered around, ready. A few had grabbed weapons, and the miners had their picks and shovels.
                Kallan shoved the door open, and then jumped back as he heard the door crash into a soldier. The other turned into the door, a look of shock on his face as he tried to draw his sword. The miners finished him with a few blows, and then slammed the other stunned soldier into the wall, knocking him unconscious. They pulled both bodies into the armory, tying and gagging the unconscious soldier. 
                The men began to outfit themselves, strapping on weapons to replace the ones lost. The miners added a few weapons to their tools, but they seemed mostly comfortable with their mining equipment. Kallan found a decent sword, single handed. It was the closest to his old sword he could find, but it didn’t fit quite the same in his hand. He slipped his old sheath off his belt and put the new sword and sheath on, strapping it tightly.
                Kallan moved toward the door as his men readied their weapons. Two of the rebels took their places at the door, wearing the soldier’s armor and dark red livery. Kallan and the remaining men moved out the door, and stealthily walked down the hallway.  A door led out. Kallan quietly slid it open, just enough to look into the small hall.  A group of bunks lined the walls, and the soldiers gear and possessions were arranged around the room. The gates were barricaded with several large tables, and a group of soldiers stood quietly, barring the gate.  They stood ready, but did not look like the expected a heavy assault yet.
                Kallan watched them for a few moments, a few different ideas racing through his head. He thought back and forth. He could blow the door open now, but he could also take the keep alone. He felt confident that he could defeat all the soldiers with his small group of soldiers and a keg of blasting powder.  He finally decided. He closed the door, and headed down the hall. The men followed him. 
                He moved quickly, trotting up the curving stairwell at the end of the hallway, moving against the wall, careful. A bit of light came from directly ahead. He slowed to a tiptoe, making his way up the hill. A thin slit let in light, outlining the silhouette of an archer. Kallan jumped forward, stabbing toward the man. He misjudged the stab and the different weight of the sword, and it glanced off the stone wall. The archer jumped as the blade glanced off the stone and cut his chest. Kallan grunted with frustration and stabbed him, this time through the heart. He wiped the blade with his glove and continued upwards.
                After a turn of the staircase and after several soldiers lay dead behind them, they came to a door. Kallan slid it open, and looked through it. A group of soldiers were along the wall, launching arrows out of the arrow slits. He could tell this was the great hall. It was much larger than the guardroom downstairs, and held large tables. A group of slaves were clustered in the center, looking confused and scared. This gave Kallan an idea.
                He looked back at his men, and motioned for them to come up to the door. He outlined his plan in a second. It was simple and straightforward, but it counted on something that they could not control. Kallan made sure all his men had their weapons ready, and he looked through the door again, sighting in on the closest soldier, and then kicking the door open. He charged in.
                The soldier turned from the window at the noise, just to see Kallan swing his sword toward him, and suddenly, he had no head. The archers turned in surprise, and after the initial shock, began to launch arrows at the small group of men. Kallan fought like a berserker, glancing toward the slaves out of the corner of his eyes.
                The miners had done their job well, arming the slaves with weapons of fallen soldiers. The slaves turned in surprise, suddenly attacking their masters. The soldiers were shocked to encounter their slaves turning upon them. They turned to retreat out the doors, but they were surrounded and slaughtered.  Kallan stood, breathing hard. He had felled multiple soldiers, and blood began to pool around him.
                He knelt and stabbed a groaning soldier, grimacing as the blood shot up into his face. He looked around for a moment, then climbed up on a table.
                “Arm yourselves, and let’s finish them off.”
                The slaves quickly began to strip the soldiers of their arms and armor, and then gathered around Kallan. He looked around, now quite content with his band of men. He looked to the doors.
                “Connor, take half the men and take that side of the castle. I’ll take the rest and go up this side. We’ll take the third level and then the top. Then we can finish them off.”
                For some reason he trusted Connor, so he put him in charge although he was no older than Kallan himself. They turned, and headed for doors on opposite ends of the hall.
                The staircase circled upwards. Every time it came around to the outside of the keep again, an arrow slit was positioned, sometimes two. Kallan, leading the way, methodically took out the silhouetted archers before they had a chance to react.  His men followed him, stepping over the bodies in the narrow stairway.
                They reached the next door, and burst in. Several soldiers guarded a stately looking man and several women. Kallan and his men quickly cut down the guards. The room held a large bed, along with a long table.  A door was on the other side, one of which was open.  Kallan could hear the sound of combat in the next room, and then Connor and his men emerged from the other room, blood on their weapons.
                The remaining man grabbed a sword from the ground and swung for Kallan. Kallan jumped over the blade and kicked it across the room, slamming the older man into the bedstead. The man fell with a gasp of air, and Kallan jumped on his back, pulling his arm behind his back and pinning him. He lifted him to his feet. Two of the slaves took the lord from Kallan.
                Kallan stood back, and looked at the man.
                “Guard them, while we finish them off.” Several slaves surrounded the nobles. Kallan turned to Connor and spoke quietly. He turned and slipped out the door, followed by his soldiers, off to do his part of the plan. Kallan went out the door which he had just come in, and moved up the stairs. He moved quickly, quickly stabbing two more soldiers as they fired down upon the rebels. He turned the corner and knocked open the door.
                He was met with a burst of cold air and rain. He charged out as the soldiers turned to defend. Once again he was in the front, leading onward. He knocked a soldier off the battlements, and then turned to take on several soldiers who stood by.
                There was a large unit of soldiers on the rooftop, but not nearly as many as there had been guarding the gate. Kallan had a quick moment of questioning as he remembered that Connor was headed down into the mass of men, but he did not have much time to think about it. Several soldiers bore down upon him, while the unarmored slaves were pummeled with arrows. Kallan ran toward the archers, dodging and ducking.
                An arrow stuck in his chainmail, and then another caught him just below the knee, puncturing his boot. He grimaced and plucked it out. He continued to charge toward the archers, and cut several down. One raised his bow to block, but Kallan broke it with a swipe of his sword and beheaded the man.  Kallan smiled grimly and turned to look at the scene of the fight. 
                The unsuspecting soldiers had been cut down, but two of his rebels and multiple slaves had been killed. The miners had all gone with Connor, along with about half the slaves, but of Kallan’s force of four rebels and ten or so slaves, half that number was dead. Kallan pulled the brown tunic off one of the dead soldiers and moved to the flagpole.
                He quickly pulled down the flag and lifted the brown tunic into its place. As the rain finally stopped, it waved freely in the wind. Kallan waited for several moments, listening. He quickly ran to the front of the keep and looked down, far below. Nothing. The gate was not yet open.
                Kallan quickly moved to the doorway and bolted down the stairs. A single guard blocked his way, but he bowled him over, cutting him down and sending him rolling down the stairs. He jumped over the body, continuing down the stairs. He stopped at the door, and shoved it open. 
                The barrel of blasting powder was knocked to the side, a bit of powder coming out the uncorked hole. Connor held off several of his former companions, a long wound on his leg dripping blood, and the miners fought against the wall, the soldiers pinning them back. The bodies of the group of slaves littered the ground. Not a single one had survived. A sputtering torch was in one’s hand.  Kallan charged in, heading for Connor, while his seven soldiers went to fight the soldiers fighting the miners.
                Connor held off two soldiers, but he was lagging. One of the soldiers knocked his blade out of his hand, and he desperately dodged the blades. One of them swung, pinning his shoulder to the bunk bed behind him.  The other soldier raised his blade to kill the young man, but Kallan smashed into him, knocking him into the wall. Kallan kicked the other soldier between the legs, and then stabbed. The soldier fell, and Kallan smashed the hilt into the helmet of the other soldier, knocking him senseless.
                He pulled the sword from where it had pinned Connor to the bed. The other boy was bleeding, but he grabbed his sword from where it lay and followed Kallan. The miners and Kallan’s men fought against the many soldiers near the gate, but that wasn’t where Kallan went. He ran toward the keg of powder, and began to make a trail of powder toward the gate. Connor turned and guarded him, but several soldiers came toward them.
                Kallan turned just in time to see the soldiers bear down on Connor. He realized there wasn’t enough time, and ripped a piece of his tunic and dropped one end into the keg, and grabbed the dying torch from the hand of one of the slaves. He lit it, and hefted the keg onto his shoulder with a grunt. It was heavy, but he moved as quickly as he could through the fight, avoiding swinging weapons and flailing limbs.
                The fuse grew small, and he lifted it to throw it the remaining distance to the gate, but he slipped, and the barrel flew out of his hands just as the fuse reached its end. Time seemed to slow as it rolled toward the gate. Kallan turned to run as an explosion rocked the room and he felt a searing pain and heat on his back.  
                Owen looked up at the top of the castle, toward the flagpole, and then jumped to his feet in surprise as the rain finally calmed. The rebels stood all around, and a general sound of astonishment went up all around the castle. The soaking imperial flag no longer flew over the keep. Instead, an unmistakable brown flag flew proudly above the castle. No arrows flew from the top.  The rebels stood still with confusion for a few moments. A few muttered about a trick, but Owen felt it was no scheme of the enemy. Something else had happened inside.
                Suddenly an explosion rocked the air, and Owen hit the ground. He stood, as the sound subsided. He began to run toward the gate. Or rather what had been the gate. It no longer stood in its place. Instead, a huge, gaping hole in the rock greeted them. Pieces of wood and shattered rock littered the ground all around. A few rebels stood, injured from the explosion. They began to cautiously approach the gap as the dust settled. A silhouette appeared in the smoke and dust. They raised their weapons as several more appeared.
                Owen lifted his shield, but suddenly lowered it as the men emerged from the dust. He dropped his weapons and ran forward. Kallan stood in front of him, supporting a young soldier. They were charred, dusty, and bloody. Several more men appeared out of the dust, some in miner’s helmets and tunics, and a few in dark red. They raised their hands in surrender as the rebels grabbed them and quickly took them captive.
                Owen ran forward to Kallan, utter disbelief on his face. They stopped and looked at each other for a moment, and then Kallan grinned broadly. Owen stuttered, a little bit of water forming at the corner of his eye. 
                “I thought you died.”
                “Nope!”  Kallan smiled.
                Owen finally broke into a smile, and embraced his friend.
                “Glad you’re alive.” He stepped back.  The other boy let go of Kallan, and attempted to support himself.  He was shorter than Kallan, looking like he could be even younger, even though it was hard to tell through the blood and dust. He had slick black hair, and an angular, handsome, face. He pushed his hair to the side, and looked back and forth between Kallan and Owen.
                “Your brother?”
                Owen grinned. “In all but blood.”
                Kallan nodded.  “Owen, meet Connor.” He looked around. “A new recruit to the rebellion.”
                The rebels gathered around the two boys and the miners, clamoring for explanation.  Then Connor raised his fist. 
                “Three cheers for Kallan, hero of Ildiv!”
                The crowd let loose a cheer. Kallan was lifted onto strong shoulders, and carried through the crowd as the rebel army called his name. Owen stood thoughtfully, and then followed the crowd.

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