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There will be eight chapters in total of my WIP Great Barbarism: Arch Banuk and the Mega-Fortress. I’m not sharing a complete story yet.
In the Feasting Hall, banging his hands on the table, Aerol commanded sharply:
Silence took over. They had eaten their share of food and drink, and some minds had forgotten their place. Light shone brightly in the room that surrounded the irregular stone slab where his most trusted soldiers ate. There were thirty of them, though two were missing. Aerol had not had time to discover why because of the pressing need to reassure his soldiers what was to be done about the escalating threats of Warlord Nemea.
‘I’ve said it once,’ Aerol said looking at each face carefully, ‘and I’ll say it again: not a foot has been taken within our territories. There is no need for panic. We’ll prepare in our own time to attack Nemea.’
‘Why would we attack Nemea?’ a Manie, a soldier, asked.
‘They have taken something precious to me; something I want back. If I don’t get her back, then I won’t be happy.’
Manie turned away in jealously.
‘Don’t look that way Manie!’ Aerol threatened. ‘You’ve had more than enough females cosy in your pallet, and I’ve treat you more than well.’
‘You would risk all of our lives for this Shifter fem—‘
‘None shall speak ill of Shifters as long as I sit at the head of this table. They are a myth conjured by Warlord Nemea to unite all warlords against this dominion. I’m sure you’ve seen how effective the strategy is. However, the one thing they have in unity, they have lost in mobilisation, so we will pre-emptively strike at Nemea’s heart while the rest are undecided.’
Manie pointed at the map, at the unguarded roads between Warlord Isoc and them.
‘We would leave our dominion unguarded. Females, civilians, and possessions would all be lost,’ Manie said in sadness.
Aerol sat back in his stone slab chair, and prepared for a lengthy explanation.
‘I have failed you all before. My vision, my dream, to enter the mega-fortress was the only purpose we had. There were no certainties we would succeed, but I hoped. When Galouch … when he came to me with a key I thought we had achieved the impossible. It turned out to be a trick, as you know. But somebody wise told me that there are other dreams out there, and some of them are more attainable than others. We all have dreams. As your Warlord, I’m telling you my next dream, and it is bold, but if you hear me out and I succeed then your dreams may come true also.
‘You see the map and how small it is, but you see how large the text is that the apprentices wrote, signalling their fear of the territories possessed by the other warlords. We shared this fear, of the unknown; of not knowing how many soldiers they had and where they were positioned. After having travelled to Nemea I came to see how easy it is for the movements of soldiers and messengers along their bridges. The accessibility allows them to get to any dominion with ease, like the hub of a central spoke. If we conquered that hub, and made it our own, our soldiers could attack in all directions.’
‘We’ve talked about changing dominions before, with the apprentices, and we always come to the same conclusion,’ Heyt said, sitting tall on his stool.
‘We do,’ Aerol agreed, ‘that by seizing another indefensible fortress is suicide, and stronger soldiers would immediately order their soldiers to attack us. It has happened before, many times, and would happen again if we tried it, but rogue soldiers do it all the time and they’re ignored.’
‘This can’t be the only part of our strategy. To take over a fortress the size of our own, and build fortifications, would attract too much attention. No small group of rogue soldiers has attempted it before. Why are you so certain?’ Heyt asked.
Becoming frustrated that he couldn’t explain his plan Aerol grabbed the map in both hands and stared at it.
‘There are three main connecting bridges from the central hub, half of which is owned by Nemea. We would need to take over the entire hub—‘
‘Which risks angering Warlord Acos,’ Heyt finished.
‘If the missives we’ve intercepted are correct, Acos is as inflamed about the Shifter rumours as Nemea, and Warlord Isoc only wants part of their alliance to ascend as the most powerful warlord on Majesty. It doesn’t matter if Acos is angered, or defeated. We take the hub and we defeat two lesser warlords and secure the most advantageous platform. Warlord Isoc will think we’re readying to attack him, and we’ll play this deception. Rogue soldiers by themselves cannot build an adequate fortress in time, you’re correct Heyt, but they can secure it and even provide advance messages back to us on their movements. While the dummy force will travel across the walkways towards Isoc,’ Aerol said using tiptoeing fingers to illustrate his point on the map, ‘the main force will assemble en masse to take over the central platform,’ Aerol said, drumming all of his fingers in a concentrated area.
‘The females, and the possessions,’ Manie reminded.
‘The females and civilians will be armed and will attack with us. If they want to keep our protection, they’ll have to fight for it. They must be made aware that if they do not, enemy soldiers will invade this undefended fortress and do as they please with them. As for our possessions, and your privileges, the same applies Manie. Take them with you, or lose them. What precisely is it you’re afraid to lose?’
Manie threw his hands up in frustration.
‘Become too attached to your position, and you cease to be a soldier Manie — you become a parasite. Soldiers fight, or they are killed. In these circumstances, under direct threat from at least three close enemy warlords, nobody and nothing is safe.’
Manie looked at him defensively, perhaps hiding injured pride.
‘What if Isoc and the other warlords expect you to attack Nemea? After all, it is where Lady Nemea is, and she is who you want, Warlord Aerol?’ Heyt asked.
‘No, the lesser warlords won’t allow Warlord Isoc to land his troops on their hub. Isoc will attack or defend the main way and they’ll attack their shorter way, hoping to pincer us. It won’t take us as long to mobilise. It is logical, as you ask, to assume Warlord Nemea will fear attack from us.’
He has Gangel and Brute, but what else does he have up his sleeve?
Despite what she told me, even I can’t justify the future and what it holds.
‘We’ll rely on speed. The rogue soldiers and the dummy force, even if they fail, will serve as useful distractions,’ he reasoned.
The enemy soldier’s arm was extended while Aerol held his hand in a lock, controlling the movement of the soldier through application of pain. The soldier was balancing on one bent leg – the other had been hacked away, but not by Aerol. The desperate slit red eyes of the Tekromun were wet with tears, and yet the stubborn set of his jaw told Aerol everything he needed to know about how much more breaking he had to do. The golden and black headdress of the soldier told Aerol he was a captain.
‘I’m not letting go,’ Aerol repeated again.
‘My Warlord Nemea will never bow to a vicious barbarian like you.’
‘Nemea is a scheming vindictive warlord, not unlike an ancient aristocrat. And his victory is far from assured. As with your life, it is on the cusp of change. One slight tilt here, and …’
‘Aaahh!’ the captain screamed.
‘Talk and you lose nothing. You can’t fight anymore. Just look at your hacked away leg. As for your honour, you forfeited it when you ambushed my soldiers.’
‘Your soldiers were in disguise, secretly plotting an attack. We saw their, ooh—‘
Aerol’s clawed fingernails raked the forearm of the captain.
‘So you sprung the trap, did you? You weren’t under orders?’ Aerol drawled.
‘Warlord Nemea ordered us to be especially alert to suspicious goings on. I drew his attention to a large group of rogue soldiers. At first he dismissed it, but unwilling is disappoint my warlord, I had the buildings investigated, and when my Tekromun were killed I knew—‘
‘Commendable, to say the least, the way you took it upon yourself to hack them to bits, as they later did to your leg. Where was your honour there?’
‘There is no honour in rogue soldiers, or hiding as them. There is no honour in war.’
‘I saw the way you butchered them, from afar. That savage relentless persecution of Tekromun you thought were beneath you. It’s practised, which means you’ve done similar to civilians. I don’t like that. It gives me a bad feeling about your character, and if I get a bad feeling even about my own soldiers, I feel compelled to solve the problem.’
Aerol twisted the captain’s arm, and he howled, turning away.
‘Now we’ve covered our feelings for one another, let’s get to the crux of the matter. Where is Lady Nemea being held? My soldiers could not find her in her tower, and even searched the civilian squares. Has she been taken to another dominion?’
Aerol shook the arm impatiently.
‘I don’t know. I’m just a captain. I don’t have the ears of my warlord,’ the captain cried.
‘That’s okay, I believe you,’ Aerol reassured,‘Next question: where is your army camped?’
‘I can’t tell you.’
Poking his head close to the Tekromun, he said: ‘You will tell me, or I will raze your city to the ground in anger, if I cannot find your army. All buildings shall be set alight. Nothing shall survive. I will have victory, at whatever cost; my Tekromun stand to lose everything in this conflict. You can change that. Just tell me where they are, and I will ease your suffering and that of your beautiful city.’
‘You’ll take everything anyway.’
‘Better taken, than destroyed,’ Aerol said.
‘Spare me,’ the captain pleaded.
‘No, I can’t spare you. You so willingly dispensed death upon the innocent as your duty, is afraid of a little thing called death. It’s my oath, to myself, never to allow scum to live. I can toss you into the chasm, if you prefer. It’s your choice over your destiny, and it’s your choice over the fate of your city. If you don’t choose I shall choose for you.’
‘They’re at the north-west side bordering the bridge that connects to Warlord Isoc. They know something is afoot.’
‘Seven hundred, not including any reinforcements from Warlord Isoc.’
‘And Warlord Nemea?’
The captain shook his head.
‘Warlord Nemea, or your wife?’ Aerol posed.
Two of his soldiers brought in a female who hit at them in her struggle to break free.
The captain looked up, and cried anew.
‘The western tower, parallel to Lady Nemea’s.’
‘You may not have been told, but it’s where she is, isn’t it?’
The captain nodded gently because he was now unresponsive.
Aerol grappled and then snapped then Tekromun’s arm cleanly off.
‘Soldiers, he is yours,’ and his soldiers tossed away their weapons and unleashed a series of vigorous punches and kicks to the captain. They had lost brothers and husbands to this captain. Civilians had proudly volunteered to disguise themselves as rogue soldiers, among his veteran soldiers, and they had died at the hands of a captain who was expert at dealing out punishment.
Regarding the group of two dozen soldiers standing by, commanded by Heyt, he ordered them:
‘You are to attack the north-west force bordering the western connecting bridge. Send small groups to the main civilian squares. I shall head to the western tower alone. Warlord Nemea shall not be expecting me. Do not cross the bridge to Warlord Isoc’s dominion until I order.’
‘And what of Warlord Acos?’
‘Command the second army to begin attacking immediately. We can’t hesitate until we’ve taken the whole hub. It’s do or die!’
‘Yes, Warlord Aerol.’
Roc Isle: The Descent by Alex James – signed paperback copy