Friday, March 8, 2013

Chapter 28

Chapter 28
                Kallan and Owen stood side by side, watching as the wagons rolled out of Ildiv.  Supplies, armor, weapons, and blasting powder rolled out, and the rebels marched, hauling supplies. A number of miners and rebels dug mass graves outside the city in which to bury the large numbers of dead. The few prisoners the rebels had taken from the small city garrison were marched out of the city under guard.
                Owen watched everyone pass. He had not yet been assigned to be a new unit after Morgen’s death.   He knew that few of his unit had survived. Only the few that had escaped with Kallan and, unfortunately, the coward, Dalt. Owen frowned as he thought of how Dalt had hid in the attack on the tunnels, and had survived the collapse for that reason.
                A single horseman rode up to the large group of unitless soldiers, the majority new recruits from the city. “You are all to report to the command area.” With that he wheeled and trotted off to deliver another message.  They turned and began to march.
                A large number of citizens had enlisted. Their numbers included slaves, miners, and other men. It was a surprise, but a pleasant one, for many good men had been lost in the battle. Unfortunately, these men would have to be trained on the go, as they were now on the move. The army of the rebellion had begun its assault, and there would be no time to retreat and train the new men. So they would move forward, and take the cities of the empire.
                Owen walked quietly among the new soldiers, Kallan next to him. Kallan had had a mood of joviality since the city had been taken. He knew that it was by his own leadership and strategy that the final blow had been struck so quickly, although Owen had pointed out that none of it would have happened if he hadn’t had a giant rock wall fall on top of him, weakening the rock enough to reveal the passage.  Kallan was still very proud of himself. Owen worried that he was a bit too proud. 
                They finally reached the improvised command post outside the city, made up of a few wagons and a canvas tent.  Several men stood around a table, discussing something in quiet voices, when the group of soldiers walked up. General Corwin and a few other members of the council were there, along with the commanders of the army. 
                The soldiers stood at attention as the General and his commanders turned to look over the troops.  Corwin stood for a moment before speaking.
                “I thank each one of you for joining us. Every man that joins our force gives us a better chance against the empire. They are strong, but we have the power of right on our side.” He smiled.  “Each of you will be assigned to a commander.” He paused. “Come forward, sign your name as best you know how, and you will be assigned a commander.”
                Each man walked forward in turn, and signed the parchment.  A few just placed an x or some sort of mark where their name would go.  Owen stood to the side, as he knew his name was already on the lists of parchment.  He waited until all the men had gone forward, waiting his turn. Kallan stood nearby along with Dalt and a few other soldiers who had been separated from their units. Corwin approached them.
                “You will all be falling in with Commander Erin Redwill.” One of the commanders stepped forward, slipping his helm off to reveal thick brown hair and a bushy beard.  He stood silently. Owen looked over his new commander carefully. He was tall and burly, with a large quantity of thick brown hair and beard. A long poleaxe was strapped to his back, and he wore a suit of chainmail that had to have been made especially for him to fit over his hulking chest.
                “Follow this man, to join the rest of your new unit.” He pointed to a small messenger.  He bowed his head for a moment. “I am truly sorry for the loss of your commanders.”
                The men turned to leave with the messenger, but Corwin took Kallan by the shoulder.  “Stay here, lad. I need to talk to you.” He smiled genially. Kallan waved Owen on, mouthing that it would be alright.
                Owen moved off, glancing back as the General talked quietly with Kallan.  The messenger led the men to where the army was camped, beginning to set up tents.  They were to stay the next night in front of the city.  The man led them silently through the camp until they reached a place where a group of men were setting up several large tents. He spoke for the first time.
                “Help set the camp, then set up a bed and rest for a while. We begin to march tomorrow.”
                Kallan sat at the table with the other commanders, listening as they discussed plans. He wondered where Owen was, but he was too excited to think much of it. To think, he, Kallan Keeganson, was to become a commander in the rebel army if he proved himself! He couldn’t help but grin as he listened.
                His small unit was to be made up of the men he had led in the taking of the keep and a few men of Corwin’s selection. He knew this meant he would no longer be with Owen, but he also realized that this could take him far.  He was to serve under one of the toughest commanders in the army. Corwin had said if he proved himself well under him, he would have command of his own unit.
                Corwin had spoken to him of his plans for the unit. It would be ‘a special unit that used the special skills of the miners and the power of trust for getting into cities quickly’. Kallan had also been excited that he would be allowed to use blasting powder. 
                He listened carefully to the planning. He felt extremely honored that the General had seen fit to allow him into the central planning.  A large map lay across the table, as Corwin pointed out the city of Merten.
                “The reason we took Ildiv so easily is because it was relatively unprepared, had a small garrison, and because of the ingenuity of our friend Kallan.” With this he looked at Kallan with a small smile, then turned back to the map.
                “Merten has a slightly larger garrison, but it is not as defensible as Ildiv. We should be able to take it fairly easily, as long as they do not receive warning before we reach it. Unfortunately, there is a good chance that messengers and scouts of the empire have already sighted our army here, and that we will be waited for when we reach the city. All the same, we should not abandon our position.” He placed his finger on Ildiv, moving upward along the great road.
                “We will move upward, and set a position at the crossroads, south of the hills of Moran.  There our main force will set up, while a force will head south to take Merten. We will defend our position by the Moran hills, maybe taking some of the villages between the hills and Hollen. Once Merten is taken, we will move on to clear the plains north of the hills of Moran, and then to the three largest threats of the empire: Hollen, Lengbridge, and finally Drenna.” He stopped with a flourish. “If things go as they have gone here, our army will gain followers at every city.”
                The commanders nodded slowly. “Commander Quil, Commander Laxley, and you, General Wesley,” He looked at his second in command, a member of the council, “shall move on Merten.”  He looked at Kallan. “That means you as well, Keeganson. Prove yourself well.”  
                Kallan marched steadily north, standing with the rest of his elite unit. Connor marched by his side, holding a similar pack to Kallan’s on his back. They moved along the road, the mountains to their left, and the rocky foothills to their left. They marched near the head of the army. They would camp as soon as it became night, and the next day the army would split, the main force moving north to fortify a position and wait, while the force commanded by General Wesley would move south to Merten.
                Kallan looked back at the long line of men. He glanced around, wondering if the empire knew of their presence.
                A lone rider on an exhausted horse rode through the gate of the castle of Hollen, and jumped off. His horse stopped, breathing hard and sweating, a lather of foam covering its body.  The rider stumbled past the large number of guards and through the gate, into the keep. He moved through the feast, and collapsed in front of the dais. The large lord stood.
                “What is the meaning of this?”
                “The city of Ildiv… is taken…”
                A gasp went across the room full of feasting people. The lord looked at the man in shock.
                “Taken?! By whom?”
                It was not the messenger who answered, but a cool, calm, voice.
                “The rebellion, lord Alun.”  Cardowac stood from his seat at the dais. “Of whom I already warned you.” The lord watched Cardowac in shock, then fell backward into his seat, fainting. Cardowac jumped from the dais. “Raise the alarm and mobilize the army. Bring me your fastest messengers. I have a message for the capitol.” As he paced out of the hall, people leapt to their feet. There was no mistaking that he had been ready for this moment.
                Owen lay quietly on his blanket. The army had not set camp fully, but instead had just lay down to rest. They would make a more permanent camp tomorrow. He looked up at the waning moon, and sighed. It seemed that Kallan would be separate again. He wished he could stay with his friend, although he thought maybe he could use the independence. He drifted off to sleep, exhausted, and dreamed again.
                He watched a man riding through thick forest, jumping logs and crashing through timber. He was clad in a dark blue tunic, and he had a hood over his head. His horse was sweaty and breathing hard, but he didn’t slow.  He rode faster, and suddenly he burst into a clearing. He paused for a moment, when he suddenly tensed and looked round, pulling his hood off. Owen recognized the tall man from his previous dreams, Martin. Now he was tall and strong, much older than he had been in the last dream. He looked around as he heard a sound.  Owen heard it to.
                There was a twang, and arrows flew from the forest around him. He spurred his horse, but was caught by an arrow, and fell. The horse began to run, but a man in dark clothing stepped from the woods and grabbed it’s bridle. Martin stood, but was caught by another arrow and fell to his knees. He struggled to draw his short sword, but a third arrow hit him in the chest, and he fell on his back, breathing hard.
                Men stepped from the forest, wearing dark clothes and masks. Martin lay on the ground, breathing hard as blood seeped from the wounds in his chest.  His face was pale as his attackers surrounded him. One of them pulled off his mask, revealing the face of Card. Owen let out a cry of shock as the man knelt beside his once friend.  He spoke quietly as the face of Martin was transformed by confusion and shock.
                “Remember when I told you that I would happily join anyone who could change this broken kingdom?” He paused, watching as a bit of blood slipped from the corner of Martins mouth.
                “I have found a leader. Die in this knowledge, that soon this kingdom will be destroyed, and a new, better, stronger empire will rise up from the ashes. Die knowing that your… friends… will all die. You could have joined me earlier, and maybe you would not be about to die.”
                Martin’s hand shot up, clutching with his last effort at the man’s throat. Cardowac whipped out a dagger and stabbed. Martin collapsed, letting out one last cry as his last breath slipped from his pale and bloodless lips. Card stood, wiping his dagger on his tunic.
                “Tie him to his horse. I have a message to send to the empire.”
                He quickly scrawled something on a piece of paper, sticking it to the body with an arrow and slapping the horse, sending it running. And the dream suddenly flashed to something different.
                Once again he saw Card. This time, he had begun to grow a light beard, and was dressed once again in dark clothes. He stood near a tall strong looking man with striking features. He had long light brown hair held in a ponytail, and deep brown eyes, almost black.  He talked loudly to a large crowd of men.
                “We will build siege weapons. The kingdom is weak, and their armies are not ready for this onslaught. We will destroy their castles, their places of security.” He turned to Card. “Cardowac, write this down.”
                Owen woke with a start. Cardowac. That was why he seemed so familiar, and so evil.  Owen lay, thinking, wondering who this friend was who had been betrayed so brutally. He shuddered, then rolled over and fell back to sleep.

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