The army continued to march north. General Wesley intended to split off from the main force and launch attacks on the several villages in the foothills and finally on Cardowac’s castle in the Red Rocks. He had looked at Kallan at this time. “I’ll need your unit, Keeganson.” Kallan nodded.
Meanwhile, the central army would set a siege to the city of Hollen. After their mission was complete, General Wesley would rejoin the rest of the army and they would continue the conquest. The strategy was sound, but Kallan was glad he did not have to serve under General Corwin, at least for a little while.
The evening before they split, he lay on his bedroll, thinking carefully over strategies in his mind. From what their scouts and maps had said, the castle was set in the midst of a valley, surrounded by trees and red rocks. From what he knew there were two levels. Each had a wall higher than the next, allowing archers from both walls to fire simultaneously. He remembered that Owen had mentioned something about the walls being very hard to scale, but he hadn’t been paying attention. He wished that he had, for it might be the difference between life and death in this case.
He rolled over on his side, thoughtful. There were indeed many things to think of. Owen was gone, disappearing into the worn prairie of the northern foothills. Marcus? Keegan? The rest of the family? He sighed. He almost wished he had gone with them, taken their advice. But he was doing good work here. It was better to be involved and try to make a difference than to stand by idly and watch evil deeds being done. Besides, these men were his friends.
He wondered what had happened to the rest of the family. With a heavy heart, he worried they had not made it far. “Marcus and father will keep them safe…” he muttered, more to calm his troubled mind than anything else.
He felt a pang of bitterness for how easily everyone had deserted him, left him alone, with no aid or advice. He knew he could handle himself, but he wished at least for a confidant, an advisor, or someone to ride by his side. Connor was a good friend, but he simply could not replace the friends and family he had known his whole life.
The tent fabric shook slightly in the wind, and he lay there listening to the stir of the wind. Finally, he rolled over and fell asleep.
Moransford lay before him. Smoke drifted up from the chimneys, and it seemed so peaceful Kallan almost regretted what they were about to do. He made sure his weapons were well hidden, and then he slid down the steep slope to the road and began to walk casually toward the gate, trying to appear as just a typical traveler.
Behind him, hidden behind a slight rise, a force of men stood in wait. They had made a breakneck pace to get here, riding hard for two days. Now they were tired, but ready, and Kallan was putting the first part of the plan into action.
When Wesley had outlined their plan from the start, Kallan had known he wanted the job. He was quick, stealthy, and most of all, a good liar. He had volunteered, and though his men had protested, he was chosen for the job.
He walked through the open door inside the larger gate, knowing that at the first sign of trouble, the soldiers would close it. So he walked through, hunching his back and slouching down as he passed the guards. They looked him over.
“What brings you to Moran, lad?” one of them said, not unkindly. He looked as if he was probably not a trained imperial soldier, but more likely part of a local militia, there to protect the village from raiders and wild animals. He was in what seemed to be his early fifties. The other guard was a bored looking teenager, leaning on a spear, his shield resting on the building behind him, not ready to use. Kallan seized his chance, bracing his boot in the dirt, and grabbing the spear.
He swung it out of the boys hand in one motion, stabbing it into the ground, and then grabbed him in a painful headlock, bringing out a small, sharp dagger. The old man raised his weapons in surprise, but Kallan pressed the dagger, glancing around to make sure that no guards were in sight. There were few people in the streets at this time of the evening, but a stir had been caused, and he knew he had little time. “If you value his life, then drop your weapons, and do not call for help.” The old man hesitated, and Kallan braced the edge against the youths jaw. The man dropped his shield and spear.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Kallan Keeganson, and I am here to destroy the empire.” He shoved the boy to the ground. “Get your families and tell them to stay indoors. It isn’t going to be pretty.”
He sheathed his dagger for the moment as the two men dashed off into the street. He hoped he had judged right, and they wouldn’t go straight to the nearest patrol. He turned to the gate, lifting off the heavy bracing beam and dropping it out of the way. He grabbed the two handles and pulled, two massive pieces of sturdy pine sliding slowly open. He glanced back.
Behind him, a group of soldiers had formed up, running towards him. With one final push, he braced the gate open, and then drew his sword and pulled out the narrow horn he carried at his side. He blew one long blast, and then the soldiers were upon him. He held his ground, bracing himself to avoid letting the men get around him, to the gate.
A soldier lunged at him with a spear, and he parried, flipping it downward into the hard gravel. It bounced, and nicked his leg. He swore, and parried another blow, stabbing upward into a soldiers un protected throat, and then kicked another between the legs. They closed in around him, battering him with blows. A soldier engaged him with a short sword, and another stabbed toward him with a spear. It caught his hidden chainmail, which turned the blow, but not before breaking several links and driving them into the skin. He grimaced and slashed out, catching the soldier in the knee. He heard the sound of hoof beats close behind, and dove out of the way, rolling into the alley.
General Wesley led the charge, slamming into the small group of men with ferocity. They fell to the swords of the rebels, and Connor tossed Kallan the reins of his horse. He climbed aboard, and kicked it into a gallop.
“Hurry, we don’t have much time.” Hooves clicked on cobblestone, the horses neighing in frustration at having to gallop on such uncomfortable ground. Kallan just kicked it harder, headed for the barracks and prison in the center of the village. He wove through the streets, remembering the time he had done this to save Owen from execution.
He turned the last corner into the courtyard, right into a hedge of spears. In the split second he had to react, he vaulted out of the saddle, over the spears, and into a mass of men. They obviously were not expecting such an attack, as several of them fell to his sword before they even had a chance to drop their spears. Kallan’s horse was stabbed several times, but they were flesh wounds. She dashed away, squealing in pain.
Kallan battered them back, until the spearmen started to turn to fight this new threat. General Wesley and the rest of the forces came around the corner at full speed, slamming into the now disorganized soldiers. Kallan dodged out of the way to avoid getting battered down by his own men, and made a dash for the courtyard.
The routing spearmen turned and fled toward the gate, but Kallan got there first, and pushed it shut. The men beat on the door, some desperately trying to get in, some surrendering. All were killed or captured. Kallan gave it a moment of thought, then decided it was worth it to move on without the rest of his men. He went and looked in every door, looking for more soldiers. The barracks and armory were empty. He finally reached the prison door, and ran inside.
He remembered the row of cells with little fondness. The dank, dark cells and the hard floor… he knew them well, but he did not like the memory. He looked inside each cell. Only two held prisoners. One was a rough looking man in only a ripped and torn undershirt. In the other, to Kallan’s surprise, was Robyn. He quickly looked around for a set of keys, but saw nothing. She was asleep, and Kallan did not wish to wake her. She looked as if she had been there for months. Her face was drawn from little food, and she looked worn. Kallan focused on a way to get the door open, when suddenly a dagger sprouted from his abdomen.
It took a second for him to process the information that he had been stabbed, but the steel point protruding from his mail left no question. He turned, and swung his sword blindly, just missing a thick man with keys on his belt. With a curse Kallan realized the gate was still shut. He was on his own.
The guard swung a heavy fist toward Kallan, and then blocked a sword blow with his cudgel. Kallan felt weak from loss of blood, but fought on. The cudgel collided with his ribs as he missed blocking a blow, and he felt his ribs crack. He grimaced, and slammed his head into the jailer’s nose. The man cursed violently, dropping his club to clutch at his bleeding face. Kallan stabbed.
He turned, the dagger still stuck through him. He reached back, and found the handle sticking out of his side. He desperately hoped it hadn’t hit anything vital. This would be an idiotic way to die… He thought, stumbling outside. He focused on reaching the gate, his heart pumping desperately, pumping the blood from his body. It flowed freely from the wound, and every step was another agony.
He reached the gate, sliding the latch undone and pulling. It slid open only a fraction, but it was enough for him to stumble outside. He fell into a pile of red uniformed bodies, gasping. Someone pulled the dagger out of his side, and pressed a cloth to the wound. He grimaced as someone put a stick in his mouth.
He grimaced as the pain exploded across his side, probing fingers cleaning the wound in his side. He bit down hard on the bitter wood. A scream welled up in side, but all that came out was whimper. And finally it was over as he slipped into unconsciousness.