Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction
The Siege of Syrn: Part IThe day dawned cold, the sun rising to beat off the early morning mists. Snow on the mountain peaks glistened in the sunlight, and the sun reflected off the helmets, armor, shields, and weapons of the army marching through the valley.
Dirk was barely awake. They had been called to dress and march while it was still dark, after having stopped marching what seemed like only a few short hours before. All around him men were yawning, and a few of the stranger ones appeared to be asleep while they were marching. Dirk made a mental note to ask them how they did it.
It had been just over a week since the regiment of the army that he was in had been called to fight. Thargon had increased the intensity of the raids on border towns, ignoring the fact that Syrn stood in the way. The Aidarian garrison at Syrn itself feared an assult and had called for reinforcements, and thus it was that Dirk found himself half asleep marching through the valley at a grueling pace.
Despite the fact that the army was half asleep - and indeed, many soldiers did appear to be asleep - they made good time and held the order in their ranks.
The marching column consited of five different regiments each holding about a hundred men each. The Aidarian crown had seen no reason to send the entire army to Syrn since it was in Adarian posession, and the bulk of the army was swordsmen. Dirk was one of these.
He had trained since he was twelve - with the intent of joining the army at sixteen. Against his parents will he had run away to do this. His father was a blacksmith and wanted Dirk to learn the trade as well. Dirk disagreed from the moment he found out his fathers intentions, and so it was that he ran away from home to join the army.
Now he was beginning to regret that decision. Even though he was nineteen and had been in the army for three years, he had never been in a battle before, and never been in any conflict bigger than occupying an Aidarian town and removing the count from his seat. Even though he knew that there was little danger of being attacked while they were still in Aidarian territory, he felt a sense of forboding hang in the air.
The Siege of Syrn: Part IIThe army marched on. And on. And on. Dirk began to sweat under his armor as soon as the sun began climbing. He removed the skullcap from his head and continued on, keeping in pace with the rest of the army.
At noon they were allowed a brief rest and a bite to eat. The food consisted of army rations - two lumps of green cheese and two hunks of bread filled with maggots.
Each soldier was responsable for his own water supply, but they were never allowed to fill it while they were marching. Dirk's water skin only had a few drops left, so he drained it and went to find a stream to fill it in. He followed another young man who was also holding an empty water skin.
Reaching him, Dirk said "Hullo, are you looking for water?"
Startled, the other man said "Yes, I heard that there was a stream this way, so I thought I'd fill my skin while we're stopped."
"Good idea." Said Dirk. The man looked young, but a thin layer of stubble covered his chin and cheeks. Looking over him, Dirk said "Are you new to the army?"
"Well, I joined last year, after training. Just my luck that my regiment would be called to service." The young man scowled. "I don't believe I've introduced myself. I'm Arem, son of Araim."
Dirk offered his hand. "I'm Dirk, son of Caler. Pleased to meet you. I felt the same way as you, when I heard that I was being called into active service. But then it wore off, because I really needed to get away from where I was."
"Why was that? If you don't mind my asking, sorry."
"Don't be. I don't care. I could use a freind. Anyway, I ran away from home at age sixteen to join the army. My father was not impressed when he heard what I'd done. Unfortunately, after I finished the official training, my regiment was stationed the next town over from my home town, so my father liked to make it a habit of visiting me and telling my how I'd disgraced him and broken my mothers heart."
A horn sounded a little ways away, signaling the end of the rest period, and the formation of the columns again. The two made their way back toward the body of men now forming ranks.
As they walked toward the mass of people, Dirk wispered to Arem, "I don't know why I'm telling you this, because I'm not in a habit of telling my life's story to people I've only known for five minutes, but thank you for listening. I needed to tell someone that."
Arem replied, "There's something about you, I don't know what it is, because ordinarily I'm like you, but," And here he dropped his voice even lower, "I did the same thing too!
The Siege of Syrn: Part IIIThe two freinds fell into the rear of the column, which began marching again at a grueling pace.
The swift pace, however, meant that they were granted another rest four hours later, instead of marching until dark.
Dirk and Arem sat together on a large rock and caught their breath.
"I'm beginning to question my choice in joining the army." Said Dirk.
"Well, for one thing, I didn't think I'd actually be called to fight."
"We haven't been called to fight, at least not yet." Said Arem. "This is a reinforcement of a garrison, nothing more."
"Maybe in legal terms, yes, but this is a garrison thats much much more likely to be attacked than Hash or Azul. I say that we'll probably see action before this month is out."
"Possibly. Was that your only reason?" Inquired Arem.
"No. You only joined last year, right?"
"Well, I don't know about you, but I spent practially my entire first two years practicing marching, and being told horrifying stories of war by the older veterans. At the time, they seemed far off and distant. Now they seem to loom closer and closer. Honestly, I'm a little afraid. I'm beginning to wonder if maybe my father had a point when he wanted me to learn blacksmithying."
"Indeed." Said Arem. "I didn't have all that much time to spend marching, although I did spend quite a bit of time doing so before I was called here."
A horn sounded, again calling the column back into order. They began marching at a slightly slower pace than before. The dull tramp of feet echoed as they continued through the long, winding valley.
Off to the right, and up a small, wooded hill, a branch cracked. The noise startled Dirk and he looked up. There was a slight twang. A noise that he recognized very well from his years of training. Instinctivly, he raised his shield in front of his face. There was a slight thump and a cry of pain. Someone else had not been so quick to react. A man three rows in front of him fell to the ground, a black feathered arrow protruding from his arm.
All motion in the column stopped as men began realizing what was happening. Then someone in the front yelled "Spread out! Spread out!"
Instantly people began scattering. Shields were raised, and swords were drawn. The few archers that had accompanied the column strung their bows and began looking for targets. Whoever was attacking them, however, was well camouflaged, and few of the archers could find targets to shoot at.
The voice rang out again: "Spread out! Search the woods! They're hiding in the trees!"
Dirk ran to obey, and Arem followed him. They both drew their swords and ran up the small embankment.
As they reached the top, Dirk heard footsteps running away from them. He turned to run after them, but his chain mail shirt slowed him down. Arem followed. After about five minutes, the footsteps could no longer be heard. Dirk halted, panting. Arem stopped next to him. "So what do we do now,?" Arem asked.
As if in answer to the question, an arrow buried itself in the tree next to his head. It came from off to the left. The two freinds looked at each other, and began running.
A moment later, footsteps were heard running again. Dirk got a glimpse of a man in a dark green jerkin carrying a bow. "Oi!" He yelled, and ran harder.
Suddenly he tripped on a tree root and fell to the ground. Arem stopped to help him up. Dirk heard a hiss overhead. He grabbed Arem's arm and flung him to the ground. An arrow whizzed past right where Arem's chest had been a second before.
The Siege of Syrn: Part IVDirk jumped to his feet as best as he could with his armor encumbering him. Arem followed close behind. The attacker reached for an arrow. Dirk and Arem split up and ran around some trees. As the man looked up, the two jumped at him, knocking him to the ground and the bow and arrow from his hand.
The man was up again in a flash, and kicked Dirk in the ribs with his boots. The boots were hard and Dirk felt the wind knocked out of himself. His sword spun from his hand and landed a few feet away out of reach. The attacker drew his sword and lifted it to slice down on Dirk.
Arem jumped up and parried the blow with his own sword. The two began dueling.
Dirk lay on the ground gasping for breath. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the attacker aim a kick at Arem. Arem gave a cry and Dirk heard a crash.
Still gasping, he crawled as fast as he could toward his sword. Then he leapt up and grabbed the attackers back pulling him over as his sword fell toward Arem, who lay on the ground.
The attacker was up again in an instant, and this time Dirk was ready for him. Gripping his sword tightly, he parried a stroke and attacked. His opponent was an excellent swordsman, and even though Arem was at his side in a moment, neither of them was able to lay so much as a scratch on their attackers jerkin.
Suddenly the attacker parried a quick blow from Dirk and slashed at Arem in inhuman speed. Arem gave a sharp cry and dropped his sword. He fell to the ground clutching at his wrist.
Dirk, infuriated by the fall of his friend, attacked harder. Slashing left and right, up and down, he managed to drive his attacker back.
Then Dirk feinted a slash to the low left, and cut back across to the right. The attacker was caught off guard and Dirk scored a hit on his jerkin, drawing blood on his right side. Taking his advantage, Dirk slashed again, this time to the left. His blade struck home, killing the attacker instantly.
He stood panting for a few seconds, and then rushed to Arem's side. There was a long cut on his left wrist, and blood flowed freely from the open wound.
"Come on." He said. "We've got to get back and find everyone else."
"Where are they?" Asked Arem. As if in answer to his question, a horn blew off in the distance calling the troops back to where they had scattered from.
The Siege of Syrn: Part VDirk helped Arem to his feet. Arem still clutched his bleeding arm. "Can you get back or do I need to call for help?" Dirk asked.
"I'll try." Replied Arem. The horn continued blowing. Off to the distance Dirk could hear shouts and screams. Still holding on to his freind, Dirk helped Arem back to the place they had left.
About five minutes later they emerged from the trees back to the bottom of the valley they had left. Arem was staggering now and his face was turning pale. Dirk struggled to keep him upright.
Dirk looked around wildly for someone to help him. Seeing no one, he ripped off strips of his tunic. Binding them tightly around Arem's wrist, they quickly became soaked with blood. "Sit down for a moment. I'm going to go find out what's going on." Said Dirk. Arem nodded and fell to the ground. Dirk helped him sit up against a rock.
Then Dirk left. The sounds of swords clashing and people shouting could still be heard off in the distance. Dirk saw the man who had blown the horn. Next to him four or five other men stood. There was a body on the ground next to them.
With a cold shock, Dirk recognized the captain who was leading the column lying there with an arrow in his chest.
"You, there! Get over here!" One of the men shouted at Dirk. Slightly nervous, Dirk stepped forward. "You just came back from fighting, didn't you?" The man demanded. Dirk nodded. "Did you recognize anything, anything about the attackers?"
Dirk nodded. "Yes. They're definitely Thargonite scouts. I recognized the weapons and armor."
"But why would a band of scouts attack a column of almost five hundred men?" The man asked his colleagues.
Dirk, a thought occuring to him, interrupted. "Only one logical reason sir." He said. "They wanted to delay us from reaching Syrn. To me that says that they're planning an attack."
"That sounds reasonable. Otherwise they would have sent a larger force instead of just this. They sent a band on basically a suicide misson so that they could launch an assult."
"How far are we from Syrn?" Dirk inquired.
"No more than a day and a half fast marching." the man replied.
"Then we need to get marching as soon as we possibly can." Said Dirk. "Unfortunately, the attacker's aren't only slowing us down with this - now we've got wounded to carry with us to slow us down even more."
Most of the sounds of fighting had died away by now. Men were returning back. Some were dragging dead bodies, some helping wounded comrades. Dirk left the men to their counsel. He went to find Arem again.
Arem was still sitting against the rock. His bleeding seemed to have stopped, and he looked a little less pale now than he had before.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
"Slightly better. I think the cut is not actually that deep, but it bled a lot. Take this off and lets have a look."
Dirk untied and unwrapped the makeshift bandage from his freinds arm. The cut was still red and bleeding slightly, but not as bad as it had been before. Dirk could see that Arem was right. Even though the cut was long, it was not deep and would not take long to heal.
He ripped some more strips from his tunic and wrapped a fresh bandage around Arem's arm.
The Siege of Syrn: Part VIWhile Dirk was still tying up Arem's arm, hoofbeats sounded in the distance. Dirk drew his sword, and many around him did the same.
A company on horseback rode into view around a bend in the valley. It bore the Aidarian standard. Dirk relaxed and sheathed his sword.
The leaders of the two companies held counsel. All the while Dirk was looking around, but those who had attacked them showed no sign of showing themselves.
After about ten minutes, the leaders broke counsel. A few minutes later, messengers ran through the crowd shouting "Leave the wounded! The patrol will accompany them to Syrn. The rest of you, make all haste to reform! We must reach Syrn within a day."
"Can you come with us?" Dirk asked Arem.
"I don't know. I'm very weak." Said Arem.
"Then you should probably stay with the patrol." Said Dirk, grimly.
He turned and without a backward glance he made for the column that was already forming again. Arem looked after him with tears beginning to form in his eyes.
They marched fast. They were almost running. And so they continued for the entire night. At dawn they were allowed a breif break to eat and refill their water. Then they continued on, though this time at a slightly slower pace.
They continued like this for several hours. Around mid afternoon they left the valley that they had been traveling in, and finally saw Syrn standing about a mile distant.
It stood in large, open, area. The curtain wall enclosed a small town, and inside two round walls a great keep stood at the top of a cliff. The round walls were build around the hill that led up to the cliff, the second one about twenty feet higher than the first.
Behind the round walls, a sheer cliff rose for about five hundred feet. This cliff was the end of the mountain range, and it had been carved out by hand when Syrn had been built. From Syrn, the only way into Aidar was through the valley that Dirk and his company had just come through, or around the far side of the mountain range, which was virtually impassable since another mountain range ran almost parallel to it.
The sight of the city/fortress cheered the men. After about half an hour they were passing through the gates of the curtain wall into the little town inside. A few children ran out to see what was happening, but most of them were called back by their parents. The residents of the town looked grim and scared.
The column continued through the town and up into the first level of the fortress. There they were allowed to break ranks and find food and a bed.
Half an hour later, Dirk fell into bed. The bed was hard, but he was tired enough not to care. His last thought before he fell asleep was of Arem, many miles away with the patrol and other wounded men.
The Siege of Syrn: Part VIIDirk was awoken at dawn the next morning by a loud bell clanging in the barracks. Rubbing his eyes sleepily, he threw on his tunic and boots and went out into the courtyard. Already people were out there, and most of them were armed. Feeling slightly out of place, Dirk went back inside and found his armor and weapons.
After dressing himself properly, he again went back out into the courtyard. The men were milling about, talking to one another, inspecting and comparing their weapons, and a few were leaning against the wall, looking like they'd rather be back in bed.
The courtyard itself was about 2500 square feet, each wall being about five hundred feet in length. In this courtyard, there were about seven hundred soldiers, most of whom, by now, were dressed and armed.
After a few minutes, a tall, important-looking person entered the square from outside. He was followed by a small procession of guards dressed in bright red uniforms, and a person with a horn. That person blew the horn, and instantly, everybody formed ranks.
The important-looking person walked up and down the ranks, shoving a person so he was in line with his rank here, or pulling one forward there. After a few moments, he finished his inspection. Then he walked to the front of the mass of troops.
When he reached the front, he began speaking:
"Soldiers of Aidar, as some of you undoubtably know, a massive army of Thargonites is less than two days march away. The size of their army is such that they cannot pretend that they do not mean to invade us. Therefore - since they do mean war, this fortress will be their first target. Their operation has been conducted largely in secret, and our spies only two days ago confirmed the rumors." He paused for a moment. "The army that is in front of us is more than twenty-five thousand strong. In all our barrack's here, we have little more than three thousand. In the next day, every single one of you will be counted on to perform your best in making the fortress ready for an attack. Anyone who does not perform to standards will be punished."
After this anouncement, the man turned and strode out of the barracks. His party followed him, leaving many bewildered soldiers behind in their wake.
The Siege of Syrn: Part VIIIDirk awoke at dawn again the next day to the horn that was getting all to familiar. He dressed and armed himself again, and went out into the courtyard.
He stretched his arms and yawned. Yesterday's work had left him exhausted when they were finally allowed to go to bed. The entire day had been spent dragging stones here and there along the walls, pounding stakes into the ground along the outskirts of the wall, and in general, preparing for a siege.
The civilians had been instructed to pack their absolute nessecities and be ready to move to the inner fortress at daybreak. The company that Dirk was in had been assigned to helping them move, and shortly that company was in motion heading down to the town.
Most of the civilians were already standing outside their doors with a few bags or bundles. The few children hung nervously by their parent's sides.
The soldiers split up into several different groups. Dirk and three others went down a side street, following an older veteran. Several people looked up to see them. The lead soldier stopped at the first house, and told the people to wait at the corner of the street.
They continued down, telling everybody the same thing. At the last house, the big man started his usual line, but then a shiny flash caught his eye. "Hey!" he barked, his voice rough, "You were told to take only nessecities! Dirk now saw a gold pendant hanging around the woman's neck. The soldier continued, "I'll take that, thank you very much!" He snatched it off her, the chain snapping. She yelped in pain, and clung to her husband. The man glared at the soldier.
"Hey!" Said Dirk, "That belongs to her. You can't take it!"
"It's not a nessecity, I can do what I want with it." The soldier put the pendant in a pocket underneath his tunic.
"No, it's hers!" Said Dirk, now getting really annoyed. "You give it back!"
"And what's a boy like you going to do against me?" The soldier sneered.
"You don't want to find out." Said Dirk, darkly. He drew his sword.
The soldier chuckled mockingly. "So the little boy thinks he can best me? Well, well, well, We'll see how long it is before he runs home to his mother." He drew his sword and with amazing speed for someone so large, he threw himself at Dirk.
Dirk caught the sword with his own, but his blade was wrenched from his hand and he fell under the bulk of his opponent. The soldier landed on his feet, his blade pointing lazily at Dirk.
Dirk kicked at his opponents leg, and then rolled over to where his sword had fallen. Grabbing it and picking himself up, he readied himself for another attack, but he saw that the soldier had fallen to the ground. Dirk pointed his sword at his opponent's throat.
"Do you yield?" He demanded. The man nodded. "Then give her back her pendant." Scowling he took it out of his pocket and threw it back at the woman. With a smile at Dirk, she picked it up and put it in her own pocket, since the chain had snapped.
Dirk let the soldier up, and they continued helping the civilians up to the fortress with out any further incidents.
The Siege of Syrn: Part IXNight fell. As the sun was sinking behind the ocean, a shout rose from the gates. The wounded from Dirks company had arrived! The procession rode into the city. Help immediately was was given to those who were still critically wounded. Dirk rushed through the crowd, looking for Arem.
Suddenly, a voice called "Dirk!" Arem ran toward him, bumping people out of the way. He no longer wore a bandage on his wrist, and he looked as fit as ever.
Dirk embraced him. "Good to see you again. Feeling better?"
"My arm is still a bit sore, but I'm in as good a fighting condition as I've ever been in."
"That's good." The two began walking away from the knot of people. "You'll be needed. A massive army of Thargonites has been spotted. They must be almost upon us now."
As if in answer to his statement, the clamor of hoofs was heard through the gate. A scout galloped through the door. An arrow stuck in his back, and his tunic was bloody in the fading light. "They...'re he..re..." He gasped, and fell from his horse.
Five minutes later a shout was heard from the walls. Dirk and Arem ran to the top of the wall to join the garrison. Dirk looked out. His heart stopped cold. Moving slowly but steadily out from the hills wove a massive army. The information had been correct, it was at least twenty five thousand strong.
"Do you think they'll attack tonight?" Asked Arem, his jaw also dropping.
"No, not tonight. They'll need to set up camp and assemble all the assult equipment. They'll just demand a formal surrender tonight." Dirk replied.
More and more troops continued to man the walls. A few of the towers were big enough to hold catapults. Dirk and Arem joined a team helping demolish houses and haul rubble up to use as ammunition.
After the sun had completely set, fires were lit on top of the walls, and an extra large one on the gatehouse. a few were lit down on the ground and on the inner walls as well. A pot of oil was placed over the fire on the gatehouse. Dirk felt sickened to look at it an know it's purpose. He had not envisioned killing people in this way.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XDirk's prediction proved to be correct. the army stopped half a mile away from the city walls. In the dim, flickering light of the fires, Dirk could barely make out a mounted figure carrying a white flag come galloping up to the gate on horseback.
Four of the generals went out to see him. Soon, Dirk and Arem began to hear raised voices, but from where they were, they couldn't make out any of the words. After another few minutes of raised voices, the Thargonite turned and galloped back as hard as he could toward the camp that was being set up.
"Well, we've thrown down the gaunlet." Said Dirk to Arem. "Now we wait and see how they take it."
No one slept that night. Even though they were allowed to retire from their posts, Dirk and Arem remained. They shivered under a couple of light blankets leaning up against a wall.
About midnight it began to rain. Not hard, just a soft, monotonus drizzle. The fires were kept going through the night and through the rain.
Daylight brought no respite from the rain. It continued to drizzle.
Looking over the battlements at daybreak, Dirk and Arem saw that several catupults were being constructed, as were three trebuchets, a battering ram, and six, massive siege towers. Also in the area of construction lay dozens of ladders, these already finished.
"Why don't we open fire?" Asked Arem.
"Because they haven't fired on us yet. We wait for the provocation. We aren't interested in starting a war." Replied Dirk.
Within an hour, all the catupults had been completed. They were wheeled toward the front of the enemy ranks, and Dirk saw piles of rocks and stones among the troops. This, he supposed, was where the catapults where to go.
Enemy soldiers began loading the catupults. Then one of them fired. The stone arced high over cities walls and fell harmlessly in the street. A shout rose from the Aidarians. This was the provocation that they needed!
The catupults on the towers flung their rubble high in the sky. The rubble rained down on the Thargonite troops. The Thargonites raised their sheilds. Most of the rubble bounced harmlessly off, though a few of the larger stones crushed some of them.
The Thargonite catupults loaded again. This time they all fired on different locations in the city. A few of the boulders struck the walls, leaving large dents, but no serious damage. Most of the stones, however, flew over the walls and struck houses. Troops moving below the walls flung themselves out of the way, or raised their shields. A few suffered minor injuries, but Dirk knew that the worst was still to come.
Each soldier had been issued a bow and quiver of arrows the previous day. Now many of the soldiers strung their bows, Dirk and Arem included.
Thargonite troops were moving on the ground below. The catapults fired again. The Aidarians returned the fire, but neither side did serious damage to the other. Thargonites began moving toward the city. Ladders were rushed forward, and with a roar, a quarter of the army began to move forward.
Archers fired. Dirk and Arem added their shafts to the hail of arrows raining down on their attackers. Many of the men holding ladders fell. Most of the rest of the arrows, however, stuck in shields, or missed targets altogether.
The rest of the ladders were rushed up to the wall and mounted. One of them was near Dirk and Arem. Both of them dropped their bows and drew their swords. Already men below were beginning to make the climb to the top. Dirk and Arem looked at each other, each seeing fear in the other's eyes and feeling it in their own.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XIDirk loosed a few more arrows into the oncoming army. Then he dropped his bow and drew his sword. He did not fight with a shield, even though most of his comrades did. He prefered to fight with two hands on his blade instead.
The first Thargonites reached the top of the ladder. Before he even had time to step out on the wall, Dirk kicked the man in his chest. Off balance, the Thargonite fell to the ground twenty feet below.
The next attacker had already drawn his sword and launched himself off the ladder into the small crowd of Aidarians standing there. He was quickly brought down, but his distraction had provided the bridge that other Thargonites needed. More and more clambered up now that the bridge had been established.
Dirk ducked a swing from an enemy blade and stabbed upward. His sword caught the man and he fell clutching his stomach. Dirk drew back his blade again swung at another soldier who parried his blow.
All over the curtain wall, more and more Thargonite troops mounted the wall and threw themselves into the fray. Behind the Thargonite lines the battering ram was completed and men started wheeling it toward the gatehouse.
Dirk parried a blow slashed again. His blade hit air as his opponent dodged and struck again. Dirk felt the blade cut into his side through his armor. His eyes watered and he cried out in pain. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Arem's face distort in shock. Arem gave a vicious strike at his opponent and launched himself at Dirk's attacker. Dirk dropped his sword and fell down. Vaguely, he saw Arem kill his attacker, and then he knew no more.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XIIWhen he came around again, Dirk was lying in the grass at the foot of the wall. He felt an intense pain in his side, and vaugly he became aware that Arem was there, kneeling next to him.
"What happened?" he asked.
"We beat off their first attack fairly well." Replied Arem, "As soon as I could get away from the fighting I grabbed another soldier and we brought you down here. You were bleeding pretty badly, but the wound doesn't seem to run that deep."
"You were right." Said Arem. "We've definitely seen action, and it wasn't even a week since we've been here."
"Just how long can we hold out, I wonder?" Said Dirk. "The men who told us stories were right. War is a horrifying business. I should never have enlisted in the army."
"I have a feeling that pretty much everybody who enlists and then gets called to action feels that way at one point or another." Said Arem. "But if everybody deserted after the first battle, who would be left to defend our country? Our honor? Our lives?"
Dirk nodded. He tried to stand up. Arem gave him his hand. He stood up, but his legs were shaky. After a moment they steadied.
"How do you feel?" Arem asked.
"Very weak." Dirk replied, he panted slightly. "And out of breath. My side is still very painful."
"I'd better get you to the Infirmary." Said Arem. "I only put a makeshift bandage on, but they can tend to you better there."
The two started off toward the inner wall of the city. Dirk felt sick.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XIIIThe journey to the Infirmary seemed to take forever to Dirk. In reality, it was only a few minutes, and soon they were there. People helped him take his armor off, and then Dirk was laid down on a pallet.
A nurse removed the bandage from his wound and bathed it. Then she put a salve on and bandaged it again. She brought him a drink, and within moments Dirk was fast asleep.
Several hours later he awoke. It was still dark. Outside he could hear noises. Men were shouting, metal clanged on metal. A huge crash broke over the other noise. It sounded like a rock had hit a building.
Dirk stood up and looked out. He was in the second level of the castle, looking over the first wall into the town. His jaw dropped.
The town was in flames. Figures were running toward the first circle of the castle being chased. Arrows were flying in every direction. Far back on the curtain wall, he could barely make out the dim silhouette of the gate, twisted and wrenched. More men poured through the ruins of the gate, many carrying torches.
Dirk stood watching the spectacle unfold before him, his eyes widening in awe and horror. Then he came to his senses. He looked around frantically. Where was his armor? More importantly, where was his sword?
He saw that he was in a small room. A chair stood next the pallet he had been sleeping on, and on this rested his armor and his sword stood next to it.
Frantically, he began pulling his armor on. The armor had been cut when he had been wounded. The blow surely would have killed if he had not been wearing it. As he slid it on, the jagged edge of his chain mail caught on the bandage, pulling it down and exposing his cut.
He howled in pain as it began to bleed again.
Gently, he slid the bandage back into place. This time he was careful to keep the mail from rubbing his side as he finished sliding into it. He strapped on his boots which lying next to the chair, and picked up his sword.
Then, not knowing exactly what awaited him, he opened the door and left the Infirmary.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XIVDirk went out onto the street and began to sprint toward the gate to the first level. He ran through the gate. His wound, still tender, began to ache. He slowed for a minute, panting. Then he ran down again toward the next gate.
Questions began to turn through his head. What had happened? Where was Arem? How long could they hold out? All these ran through his head. He had no answers, so he chased them back out again.
Upon nearing the first gate he drew his sword. The light from the burning town down below made it almost bright enough to see behind the wall.
Men were running to and fro, everyone was shouting. No one seemed to know what was going on or where they were supposed to be. Dirk ran up the steps onto the wall to get a better view.
A knot of men seemed to be trying to make their way back to the gate, but Thargonite troops had cut them off. The men were fighting bravely, but were getting quickly surrounded.
Then Dirk heard a familiar voice rise above the din, "Break ranks! Run!!" It was Arem! Fear boiled up in Dirk's heart as he watched. Some of the men scattered and ran, trying to make headway against the Thargonites, but a several stayed grouped closely together.
Then some the Thargonites turned and ran for the gate which was standing open to let the Aidarian troops in. Dirk let out a yell and leaped down the steps toward the gate. Many men from the wall followed him.
Things down below still seemed to be in chaos. Dirk halted and yelled as loud as he could, "TO THE GATE!! Swordsmen in front! Archers behind! We must fight!!"
After what seemed an eternity, ordered seemed to slowly come. Men ran forward to take their positions. Everyone seemed to look expectantly at Dirk.
Dirk's mind, not expecting to have to command the defense, began working furiously to create a plan. Then he shouted to the defenders "Hold!" The Thargonites were less then three hundred yards away now, "Archers ready!" Two hundred fifty... "Aim!" Two hundred... One hundred fifty... "FIRE!!"
The archers loosed their arrows into the oncoming crowd. Many Thargonites fell dead in their tracks "Prepare to fire!" More kept coming... The Aidarian party was now within two hundred yards also... "Fire!" The archers shot again. The arrows fell in a deadly rain on the Thargonites. This time, however, many of the Thargonites raised their shields, and far fewer fell.
"Swordsmen, charge!!" With a roar, the bulk of the swordsmen standing in the doorway, perhaps two hundred or so, ran forward throwing themselves on the Thargonites.
The Thargonite attack force faltered for a moment under the vicious counter attack. Dirk ran forward with the others, even though his wound still throbbed dully in his side.
He did not have to do anything, however. Under the weight of the counter attack, the Thargonites broke off and fled. The Aidarian retreat rushed through the gate, and the gate slammed shut behind them.
Dirk rushed through the men trying to find Arem. Then he saw why the retreat had been so slow, and the Thargonites had been able to surround them.
In the center of the retreat lay the commander of the defense on a stretcher - dead.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XVDirk stared at the stretcher for a few seconds, as people around him began to realize what had happened. Silence fell. Dirk saw Arem standing on the other side of the stretcher. Their eyes met.
Then Arem moved toward him. The two walked quickly away from the crowd. "Arem, I need to know exactly what happened while I was in the Infirmary. Are there any other senior officers fit to take action?"
"Not that I know of. I know for a fact that three were killed and two more were captured. I don't know how many more there are, if there are any. If there are any more here they should be out here giving orders."
Dirk nodded in agreement. "Do you have any idea what our casualties were in that last assault?"
"Far more than we could afford. I don't know an exact number, but I can tell you that less than half of the force that was at the curtain wall made it back here after they broke down the gate."
Dirk sighed. Already he felt a dozen years older than he had even that night when they started fighting. The light from the burning town reminded him of his next question. "What exactly happened at the gate? How did they break it?"
Now Arem sighed. "They made another assault on the walls. While three quarters of our forces were engaged there, they brought a ram up and destroyed the gate."
"How!? That was an iron gate!"
"I don't know. The ram must have been capped with iron, and have been extra heavy. I don't have any other explanation."
"After the gate was down, the few of us that could ran to try and defend it. The commander was there, and so was I. Under his direction we were able to hold them off briefly, but as soon as he was killed confusion fell everywhere. People began running, and as soon as the defenses were down more and more Thargonites kept rushing in. We barely managed to get the commanders body on that stretcher, and you saw how close we came to not making it back."
"What are we going to do now? If all the officers are dead, then we won't last five minutes in the next assault with no one to command us."
Arem nodded in grim agreement.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XVIDirk and Arem walked back toward the main gate. Dirk's sword was sheathed, but his hand rested on the hilt. He had no idea what the Thargonite's next move might be.
As they neared the gate, they were approached by a group of several soldiers. They stopped in front of Dirk and Arem. Dirk cleared his throat nervously, "Um, yes...?"
The soldiers looked at each other for a minute, then an older man spoke up, "We've thought the whole situation over. We weren't sure if you knew that no senior officers made it back from the curtain wall."
"Um, yes, I did know that."
"Well, after thinking the whole thing over, we've decided that we want you to lead us."
Dirk said nothing. His heart sank. He had been hoping that his display at the gate would not have resulted in this. Finally he said, "Why? Why me?"
"Because you took the initiative at the gate and organized a formidable defense. Did you know that out of the sortie, we didn't loose anybody?"
"No, but why? I have never been in battle before tonight. I have no experience." He made a gesture with his fingers indicating a small amount, "None!"
"How many years have you spent in training?"
"Uh..." Dirk thought for a moment, "Officially three."
"Do you consider that inexperience?"
"Well, no, but I was never trained in how to organize an army."
"That's exactly what you did at the gate."
Dirk shook his head bitterly. "No, I saw a situation and reacted to it. I had no time to think of a better plan." He looked at Arem.
Arem's face was grave, "If you hadn't reacted to that situation, I would be dead right now. You saved my life, and the lives of the rest of us who helped bring the commander's body back."
Dirk sputtered looking for words. A younger man from the group cut in, "Exactly. We need someone who can react to that sort of situation like you did."
"But...but..." Sputtered Dirk. Finally he found the words he was looking for. "I'm not this great heroic mind that you seem to think I am. It's not at all like that. I can't guarantee that I'll be able to think like that again. Do you want someone like that commanding the defense? No, you need someone much older and wiser than I."
The older man spoke again. "But we want you. One last time I ask you, will you come and fulfill the position that the troops have requested you to fill?"
Dirk stared incredulously, "'The troops?' You mean you asked the entire army?"
"Well, no. Not the entire army. But a good portion of it." The younger man answered happily. "They all seem to think that you're the best for the job."
Dirk looked at Arem again. He looked around. The light from the burning town still danced red and orange on the wall above him. This was different. Finally he looked the older man square in the eye and said, "It is in defiance of the Aidarian laws, but I will take the position offered me. I do not want to, but who can refuse the request of so many?"
The Siege of Syrn: Part XVIIThey went back toward the gate. Dirk was still uncomfortable in his new position, and wondered how people would take it when he started giving orders when they weren't in a desperate situation.
Dirk and Arem mounted the steps to the wall, and walked over toward the gatehouse. Down below, the light of the fires still burned, making the scene even eerier than it already was. In the streets below, where there wasn't any fire, Dirk could make out the shapes of Thargonites moving here and there, the catapults had been moved into the city, as well as a large battering ram.
Dirk looked at Arem with grim amusement. "They'll have to wait for the fire to go out before they can launch another effective assault. They can't move troops efficiently through that."
Arem laughed grimly, "Caught in their own trap. That give us more time to fortify our defenses."
Dirk walked along the wall. There were six towers along it. Two of the towers were large enough to hold catapults. Dirk instructed a group of twenty men to find rubble and bring it up to use as ammunition.
He had braziers brought out from the keep and placed at intervals along the wall, and he had a group of archers stand at each brazier. These were to be used to shoot flaming arrows.
It was the next evening, however, before the Thargonites made any move. The fires in the town had either died down or been doused with water, and it was enough to move troops effectively around the burnt houses.
A man rode up to the gate. He was unarmed, and bore a flag of truce. He demanded to speak with the commander of the castle. When Dirk was informed of this, he hurried to the gate. The man saw him and sneered, "I asked for the commander, not a servant boy! He spat out the last word with venom.
"I AM the commander of the castle. Speak quickly and begone. What do you want?" Said Dirk, trying to make his voice more authoritative than it really was.
"I'm here to discuss terms of surrender."
"Forget it. You can tell your general that we will never surrender. And should he reach is hand here again it will be stung."
"Maybe so, but what if he is ready to take that sting?"
"Then he will regret it. Begone!" Dirk turned and left. The man stood for a moment, then he spat on the ground, turned, mounted his horse, and galloped back to the Thargonite encampment.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XVIIIThe Thargonites made no move after that until morning.
After the sun rose, Dirk looked out over the turrets again. To his dismay he saw eight massive siege towers moving slowly through the streets of the burned town. They were being pulled, but by what Dirk couldn't tell; they were too far away.
It seemed that overnight, the entire Thargonite army had cleaned up the burned rubble and set up camp inside the curtain wall. Tents had been set up, and cook fires burned here and there throughout the encampment.
Dirk held counsel with Arem and a few of the older veterans. "Is there any way that we can stop the siege towers?" he asked.
"Well," said Arem, "the simplest solution would be to shoot whatever is pulling them when they get near enough."
"Maybe, but what if the oxen or horses or whatever is armored? Or what if it turns out to be something else that's impervious to arrows? Who knows? maybe the Thargonites have bred some new hideous, thick-skinned beast?"
"With all due respect," Broke in one of the older men, "I believe that the best solution would be to try and use pikes to push the towers over before they reach the walls."
"Maybe so, but by the looks of the thing, they'll be able to reach us before we can reach them." replied Dirk. "Whatever we do, we must not let the towers near the wall. That would be no different then opening the gate and inviting them in."
"We could use the catapults to try and destroy them before they come near enough."
At that moment, the building that they were in shook, and a loud crash reverberated through the air.
"We've lingered here too long." Said Dirk. They jumped up and ran out.
Dirk ran up on the wall. While they had been talking, the Thargonites had brought their catapults to bear, and were bombarding the outer wall. One of the towers had a massive dent in it.
Dirk looked around. At his presence, the men seemed to freeze. Then he shouted as loud as he possibly could "RETURN FIRE!!!" Everything snapped back to action. He looked out again. As he did, a large rock came flying toward the wall where he stood.
Everything seemed to snap back into slow motion. He heard Arem scream and felt himself shoved to the ground. As he looked up, he saw the boulder fly maybe six feet above his head and smash into a building down below.
The Siege of Syrn: Part IXXDirk lay panting for a moment. Then he rolled over. Arem gave him a hand up. The Thargonite catapults continued to bombard the city, while the Aidarian catapults fired back, usually unsuccessful at hitting anything. Dirk looked around.
The siege towers were still moving forward. Dirk had messengers run to each of the catapults telling them to concentrate on the towers. Then, for the time being, there was nothing to do except sit and wait.
Dirk watched as over the next hour, the catapults demolished two of the siege towers. The other six kept moving forward.
Until now, Dirk had been so concentrated on the towers, he had forgotten to pay attention to the rest of the Thargonite army. Cursing himself for his carelessness, he now saw that the entire army was beginning to move forward.
He looked down again, and now saw that the siege towers were being pulled each by four armored oxen, and were being pushed by several men as they approached the city walls.
They stopped just outside the range of a bow shot. The army then began breaking up into groups. About a quarter of the troops climbed up the siege towers, some stayed down to help push, and some troops stayed back in reserve. After this was set, the full towers began moving forward again.
Dirk gave orders for his archers to try and bring down the oxen and any men that they could. Then he had about three quarters of his troops split up into six divisions, each stayed in line with the siege towers, ready to engage the moment the bridge fell.
As they neared the wall, archers from the top of the siege towers began to fire at the men on the walls.
All this time, the catapults never let up their bombardment.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XXThe duels between the archers and between the catapults continued. Dirk ordered the engineers manning the catapults to break up the rubble before they threw it, hoping to distribute the damage done over a wider range.
The siege towers continued to move closer. With a bellow one of the oxen rolled over with an arrow through it's chest. The towers were now within a two hundred feet of the walls. One of them seemed to be moving toward the gatehouse.
Dirk and Arem ran from their position to the gatehouse. As they reached it, Arem grabbed Dirk's arm. "How do you feel?" he asked.
"I'm fine." Said Dirk.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. They must have given me something while I was asleep."
The siege tower was now within a hundred feet of the gate house. Soon it was at fifty, forty, thirty, and at twenty the huge drawbridge was released.
"ARCHERS! Prepare to fire!" Men began running off the siege tower. "FIRE!!" A hail of arrows flew and the first row of men fell. "Again!" Another volley fell in a deadly rain and more Thargonites fell, but more kept climbing up the tower.
"Swords!" Dirk shouted, drawing his own. "Form a wall!" The men drew closer, shields in front. Then the oncoming army was upon them.
Dirk and Arem stood in the middle of the group, so they were not immediately drawn into the fighting, but after about thirty seconds, the line began to break. Dirk and Arem and the rest of his group ran forward.
Dirk, who did not fight with a shield, gripped his sword in both hands, and slashed at a Thargonite. The blow caught the man in his midsection, and he fell.
Dirk fought his way forward, slashing to the left here, parrying a blow to the right there, exchanging blows with this enemy and that enemy. All in all his group seemed to be holding it's own against the invading army.
He pulled back for a moment to survey the five other fights on the walls. Two of them seemed to be holding their own, but the other three were getting overrun.
Dirk called to Arem and a handful of other swordsmen. Together they ran to help the nearest fight.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XXIDirk threw himself into the fray. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the soldiers who had asked him to command the garrison fighting like mad as well.
He barely had time to register this, however, because the fighting was so fierce. He slashed his way through two Thargonites, and suddenly found himself surrounded. Instantly, Dirk began fighting for his life more desperately then he had all day.
Wielding his sword with two hands, he slashed left, and right, up and down. Vaguely he made out the forms of his comrades fighting as well. He tried to make his way toward them, but the Thargonites pressed him back toward the drawbridge on the siege tower. Dirk let out a cry.
Arem gave a viscous slash at the man he was fighting. The enemy soldier fell dead at his feet. He heard a voice shout above the rest of the noise. He looked up. Dirk was surrounded! Arem gave a scream and launched himself forward at the enemy.
Dirk heard Arem's scream and began fighting harder. He looked up again and saw that the Aidarian troops were losing ground. There were much fewer than there were when he had arrived.
He could feel weariness coming on himself. He had many small wounds, and although none of them were serious, they were beginning to take their toll.
Everything seemed to slow as Arem fought to his side. The two began fighting their way back toward the remainder of the Aidarians.
After another few minutes of intense fighting, they made their way back to their comrades and turned to make a final stand. More and more Thargonites kept climbing up through the tower.
Dirk could see that the fighting was hopeless. Aidarian troops everywhere were getting overwhelmed. He shouted as loudly as he could, "RETREAT!! Get back to the second wall!!"
Men everywhere broke from their fights and began to run. Panic began to break out, and the Thargonite troops pursued the fleeing Aidarians.
Dirk and Arem ran down the wall toward the stairs. Thargonite troops followed. They reached the stairs with a slight lead on the pursuing Thargonites. They ran down the stairs and toward the gate house, joining a throng of retreating and panicking Aidarians.
Dirk looked at Arem, "Do we have any horses?"
"A few, I think. Why?" Said Arem.
"I'm going to run a sortie. Help get these people organized."
"You don't have enough horses!" exclaimed Arem.
"Yes I do. I only need a few. Now do as I say!"
Dirk ran off. He motioned to a handful of soldiers who had been inside the second wall. Together they ran to the stables. Finding half a dozen horses already saddled and bridled, Dirk mounted as did five of the other men. They rode out back toward the gate to help the retreating Aidarians.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XXIIDirk was exhausted when he rode through the gate. He was grateful for the horse bearing his weight. He wondered if he would be able to draw his sword if he had too.
He had no time to dwell on this, however, because he soon spotted a group of Thargonites racing toward the gate. He and the men behind him spurred their horses into a gallop and charged down the Thargonites. The enemy scattered, and were soon destroyed one by one by the Aidarian troops.
Dirk called back to the other men, "That's what he need to do! Scatter them, but we must stay close together."
They rode on farther down the street, past for fleeing Aidarians, until they came to a group of Thargonites that was much larger than the first one. Dirk could see several Aidarians behind them. They appeared to have been taken prisoner. He reined up his horse and drew his sword. His weariness seemed to fall from him, at least for the moment.
The Thargonites also halted and brought the Aidarian prisoners to the front of the line. Dirk's men drew their swords.
One Thargonite, who appeared to be a commander, stepped forward and shouted at the Aidarians, "You stay where you are if you want to see these dogs-" he kicked one of the prisoners, who then fell down"-alive again!"
Dirk looked around at his comrades. He now had an impossible decision before him. If he gave into the Thargonites, then they would have no choice but to retreat back to the main gate and hope that they could hold off the
Thargonites. A noise from the wall above him made him turn around. Then one of his men fell face forward off his horse with a cry. An arrow protruded from his back.
Dirk wheeled his horse around and galloped back toward the gate. The other's followed.
Another group of Thargonites, fresh from the walls, met them. Dirk paid no attention to them and they scattered as the Aidarian horsemen barreled through. Dirk didn't stop until they reached the gate.
The Aidarian troops appeared to all be inside. Dirk and his companions rode through the gate which was closed behind them. Arem ran up to them.
Dirk nearly fell off his horse from exhaustion. His sword, which he had not sheathed, clattered to the ground. Arem grabbed his arm to steady him.
"What is it?" He asked.
"Not here. Let's go somewhere else." Dirk replied. They moved off to a building away from the troops. "They've taken several prisoners. One of my horsemen was shot dead by an archer. I've run out of cards to play, and I'm completely drained of energy."
Arem nodded. "I'm tired too."
"How many troops made it back?"
"Five hundred, maybe six hundred at best."
Dirk sighed and slumped against the wall. "I can't do this, Arem. I just simply can't. What are we going to do? I don't have nearly enough troops to hold them if they break the gate, and I really don't have enough to hold off another assault on the walls."
Arem thought for a minute, and then grinned. "Yes, you do..." he said
The Siege of Syrn: Part XXIII"Arm the peasants."
Dirk stared at Arem in disbelief. "What do you mean?"
"Arm the peasants and townsmen. All those people that you evacuated, remember?"
"Yes, but..." Dirk stuttered at a loss for words. "I can't be responsible for the deaths of however many hundreds of people are back there in the keep!"
"Maybe, but if we fall, they'll die anyway. You know the Thargonites never take prisoners for very long."
"How do you propose we do this?"
"We have a huge supply of weapons in the armory. We also have a good deal of chain mail."
"They have no idea how to fight."
"I'll bet that most of them know more than you would guess they would. At the very least they should all be able to handle a bow."
Dirk nodded. "True. That they should. But can they handle our bows? The war bows that we use are much heavier than the hunting bows that they're used too."
"Not all that much heavier." Said Arem, "And besides, most of them will be able to use spears as well, or instead."
Dirk was still skeptical. "The majority of the people back there is older men, women, and children. How many of them do you expect to fight?"
"Well, aren't there several merchants who tried to bribe their way out of fighting? And 'older men' doesn't mean 'decrepit men. ' Most of them can still fight."
Dirk nodded. "Now," He said, "the Thargonites have made a serious error, and it gives us at least another day, I figure."
Arem looked surprised, "What have they done?"
Dirk grinned. "They only assaulted the walls. The gate is still secure. Since they can't bring more siege towers over the siege towers, and they can't bring ladders over the siege towers, they have to knock down the other gate before they can bring ladders in."
"Yes. If my guess is correct, they'll have to build a heavier ram to get through these heavier gates. So, in the meantime, they're stuck out there, and we're stuck in here. This gives us time to rest and
"Then we'd better go get to work. If your guess is wrong, then they could attack within the next two hours."
"You're right. Work first, rest later."
The Siege of Syrn: Part XXIVDirk sent Arem to inform the townspeople of their new task. He, meanwhile, went down to the gate. The light from the town behind the first wall still glowed brightly.
He could see Thargonites on the other side working, and moving here and there. He could hear men shouting, but he did not recognize the tongue that they spoke in.
He walked here and there, encouraging men and strengthening positions until things began to swim before his eyes...
He was running down a passageway, it looked like Syrn, but not quite...A door loomed up in front of him...The door opened and out ran some Aidarian troops. The troops ran by him without a glance...A few minutes later he heard sounds of fighting and turned to see the Aidarian troops cut down by Thargonites. The Thargonites stood there, their swords dripping with the blood of the Aidarians...Dirk ran toward them, and reached to draw his sword, only to find that he didn't have one...The Thargonites began advancing. Dirk stumbled backward until he backed into the door...Desperately he tried to turn the latch, but the door was locked...Suddenly his sword was there! He drew it and fell upon the Thargonites only to have his sword melt away like butter...The Thargonites were almost upon him...He tried the door again...It was still locked...The wound on his side began to throb...It was over...
The Siege of Syrn: Part XXVDirk awoke. He was lying on a straw pallet with a soft pillow beneath his head. He looked around. His sword was lying on the ground next to him, and he was wearing his chain mail and boots.
He sat up and yawned. Then he stretched his arms. He stood up and belted on his sword. A loaf of bread and a water skin laid next to the pallet. He ate hungrily, and drank the water. He felt much better than he'd felt since the Thargonites had penetrated the curtain wall.
He left the room and made his way out. He found Arem by the gate with many other soldiers, including the ones that had asked him to command the defense.
Arem ran up to him and embraced him. "How long was I asleep?" Dirk asked.
"It was just after midnight when they found you. It's around eight o'clock in the morning now. I trust that you are rested?"
"Yes, but what about you? Did you sleep at all?"
"I had a brief nap. I'm fine. We were just discussing what to do when the Thargonites attack again."
"And what did you decide?"
"Well, we haven't decided anything yet. We are fighting on a smaller wall. That means that there's less space for us to defend. But it also means that there's less space for them to overrun."
"I think that's a good thing. We can have more troops at a single location. By the way, does anyone know how many troops we have left?" This question suddenly came to Dirk's mind.
Arem's face fell. "I had them counted last night. We've got barely more than twelve hundred, including the peasants."
Dirk reeled in shock. "They killed that many?" he asked incredulously.
Arem nodded. "They did. Fewer escaped than we thought did."
"How many have been captured? I know for a fact that some have been."
"I don't know. And even if that many have been captured, they're most likely dead by now."
Dirk's mind was racing. "Is there any way that we can get to their prison encampment? The Thargonites always, always keep their prisoners in the rear of the army. And I doubt that they'll be under that heavy a guard once the fighting begins up here."
Arem looked at him in shock. "What are you suggesting? That we free the prisoners and turn them on the Thargonites?"
"It will be worth it, if they have enough captured to make a difference. And I don't think that they'll have killed them yet. I think that they'll try to use the prisoners as hostages. What I need to know right now is if there's any way, any way that I can get out of the city with, say, a dozen swordsmen. Is there any way?"
"Not that I know of. But I can ask around."
"Do so. Immediately."
Arem walked off. Dirk drew his sword and inspected it. There were a few chips in the blade, and a little dried blood. Otherwise it was in good condition. Someone must have cleaned it last night, he thought.
Arem came back in twenty minutes, his face ecstatic. "There's a passage that leads from the keep to a lookout tower at the top of the cliff! It's out of sight from city below, so you won't be seen, but it is on a very steep and long cliff. The problem will come once you get there, and need to get down again. You'll need to take some rope."
"Excellent!!" Shouted Dirk. He clapped Arem on the shoulder. "Now I just need to find myself some agile swordsmen. Now please go find me some rope. It needs to be strong enough to support us down the cliff, but light enough for us to carry up to the lookout tower without tiring."
Arem ran off again. Dirk spent the next half an hour looking for a dozen men that were strong enough and agile enough to climb down the cliff.
After he had compiled a group to his satisfaction, he took them into the council room in the keep.
He explained his plan to his men. "Once we get down the cliff, we'll have to get past the sentries at the outer edges of the camp. I suggest that we use arrows. Those will make the least noise, and we can then take their armor and move about in the camp.
"Then we'll have to find where the prisoners are located. Once we get there, we free them, and then find horses."
"Won't we be suspected? Even with the armor?" Asked one of the men.
"I do not believe so. Everybody will be at the gate trying to storm the city. I've studied the Thargonites enough to know that when they attack at this point in the battle, they attack to win. They will not leave any able troops behind, and the captains and commanders fight next to the men.
"After we find the horses," he continued, "We all ride back and at least create enough of a diversion to draw some of the troops back and give our men in the city a chance. I do not believe that they will make the same mistake again by attacking the walls. They will thrust the main body of their strength against the gate.
"We should also burn as much of their camp as we can. If they see that they will think that there's more of us than there really are, and we will do all in our power to keep them so illusioned. Are there any other questions?" Dirk finished describing his plan. "No? Good. We will leave for the lookout in half an hour. Get everything ready and meet me back here."
The Siege of Syrn: Part XXVIThe men left, and Arem came in, carrying several ropes, each small in diameter, but they looked rugged. Arem placed them on the table.
Dirk looked at his friends eyes, dreading saying what he was about to say. "Arem." He said quietly. Arem looked at him. "I am giving command of the city and the defense over to you while I am gone. And you must understand, I will either succeed or die on this mission. You will succeed me, if I die, and you will fight the Thargonites with your dying breath if they take the gate, and you will command everyone to do so. Do you understand?"
"Yes. But you should say this in front of everybody, so that no one thinks I murdered you, or something."
"You gave me command without a ceremony, I don't see why I need to give you one. Now go. And good luck."
Arem nodded curtly and left.
Three quarters of an hour later, Dirk and his men were climbing through rough-hewn tunnel that sloped up rather steeply. Although it was steep, the floor had been carved into steps, which made the ascent much easier than walking up a sloped plane. They each carried a torch, and the firelight and shadows danced on the walls.
He was pleased with the rope that Arem had found him, it was light but strong, exactly what he had requested.
Each of them carried a sword, a bow, and a quiver full of arrows. They each had a small satchel of food at his belt, and they wore no armor. The clatter would attract too much attention.
After about twenty minutes of this steep climb, the slant tapered off and they came to an opening. Dirk stepped out. He was standing in a room that was also hewn from the rock. It was perhaps twenty feet long and fifteen or so wide. The ceiling, although it was uneven, was perhaps seven feet high.
A wooden door stood closed, to protect the post from the elements. Dirk pushed on it, and it swung open with a haunting creeek. They stepped out into the mid-morning sunlight. Dirk ordered them to extinguish their torches, for the smoke - however slight - could still be seen, and therein destroy the entire plan.
Outside the room there was a rock ledge, that was about thirty feet wide and twenty five long. Dirk looked out and could see for miles, deep into Thargonite territory, and as far as Uron, some thirty five miles distant.
He looked around, looking for the best place to descend. From the left he could see the city, perhaps three hundred feet below.
He could see the Thargonites moving a great battering ram toward the first gate, and he could see the Aidarians preparing to defend. He wondered how Arem was handling his new command. He felt badly for thrusting it on him so suddenly, and with the battle so near, but he had had no other choice.
He looked down again. Thargonites seemed to be passing through the first gate, and although the siege towers were still at the walls, they did not appear to be in use. He stared for a moment, and then said aloud, "Idiot! They just opened the gate from the inside, instead of knocking it down!" The men looked at him in surprise. He sat down on a rock slightly dejected and wondered what else he had overlooked, and wondered if any of it could cost the Aidarians below their lives.
The ledge was far enough back to avoid being seen from below, although if a person stood on the edge they could be seen. The enclosure was also set far enough back to be out of sight, even from the city below.
Dirk wondered why the outpost had been abandoned. One of the men told him. "This was first built before the city was built. When the city was completed, the Aidarians kept it a secret. There used to be a path over the mountains. This was a spying place on the Thargonites. When the city was built and in Aidarian hands this was still used, but it was abandoned when the towers were built. The commander of the city preferred to use the towers as lookout in his pride of having them built. Since then this place has never been used. Or so my father told me."
Dirk thought on this for a while.
After another ten minutes or so, a great crash echoed through the rocks, and shouts were heard below. The ram was at the gate, and had begun it's assault.
Dirk roused his men. "Quickly, now everything depends on speed."
They fastened ropes rocks on the top of the ledge, and, out of sight of the city, began to descend down the cliff. It was a slow and treacherous climb, but at last they reached the next ledge. From here, since they had no rope, they found natural footholds to the bottom of that cliff. They were now within twenty feet of the ground below.
Dirk unbuckled his sword and sat down at the edge. This descent was much less steep compared to the others. He slid on his bottom down to the bottom, and the others followed suit.
He estimated that they were about a mile and a half from the Thargonite camp, and about two miles from the main gate where the fighting was happening.
They buckled on their weapons and started off toward the camp.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XXVIIDirk and his men strung their bows. They stole around the cliffs, jutting out several hundred feet above them.
After about twenty minutes, they came to the first sentry. He put his hand to his belt and grabbed a horn, but an arrow from Dirk brought him down. They went on, and before long came to another sentry, who met the same fate.
Then they came to the outskirts of the camp. They slew three more sentries, and were clear for the moment. Dirk looked at the city, but couldn't see the inner gate because of the curtain wall. Shouts and cries of battle, however, told him that the Thargonites had breached the gate.
Not even bothering to take the time to look for armor, they stole through the camp, slaying any Thargonite they met.
At last they came to a tent larger than the rest. Dirk halted and looked inside. It was empty aside from some bedding, some weapons, and a lamp.
They continued on. They came up on another sentry. He was looking the other way, towards the battle. Dirk crept up behind him and put his dagger to the man's throat.
"One noise, and you are dead. Do you understand?" The man nodded. "Good. Then lead me to the Aidarian prisoners.
Dirk kept his dagger to the man's throat as he walked through the camp to another tent. Dirk's men followed them in.
The prisoners were bound and gagged, and thrown together in a heap. The tent was large, but there were only maybe thirty or forty men. Dirk kept the Thargonite at knife point while his men freed the prisoners.
Then Dirk instructed the men to stay there and be quiet. They were given the rest of the food that Dirk and his company had brought. Then Dirk said to the Thargonite, "Where are the others?" They were led to another tent, with another batch of prisoners. There were a few more in this tent, maybe fifty or so.
Dirk's heart sank. "Is this all there is?" he demanded. The Thargonite nodded. As soon as the Aidarians were free, Dirk bound the man and gagged him and threw him on the ground.
Then Dirk and the prisoners stole back to the other tent. Dirk told the men his plan. "Does anyone know where the horses are?"
One man said, "I believe that they're picketed on the other side of the camp. I heard noises of horses that way, at any rate, but it was dark when we were brought in here."
"Good. Where are your weapons?" No one responded. "Then we'll have to find Thargonite weapons. Fortunately they fight with relatively the same equipment. You'll each need a sword, a shield and a spear. If any of you can use a bow on horseback, find one of those too. Dismissed. Try to move normally around the camp. We don't want anyone back in the city to know that anything is wrong yet."
Ten minutes later, they were saddling the horses, and riding back to the camp. Dirk and his twelve men lit their torches again. Starting at the back, they systematically burned the tents, working their way up to the front.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XXVIIIArem looked out over the city, and saw smoke rising from the Thargonite camp behind the city. He stood back in reserve along with forty or so other men. They were mounted on the city's supply horses to charge in unsuspectingly if need be.
The Thargonites had breached the gate, but his men were holding their own at the moment. But now he saw the smoke. Dirk must have succeeded! His heart leapt as he saw about half the attacking Thargonite force pull and about face and rush back out toward the town and back toward the camp.
Dirk and his band of horsemen entered the charred remains of the town. A few embers glowed here and there, but for the most part the fire had burned itself out.
He looked up at the first wall and saw Thargonites pouring from the gate. The diversion was working! The Aidarians waited for the Thargonites to gain some ground. After a few minutes, Dirk spurred his horse into a gallop and drew his sword. His men followed. Those who had spears lowered them.
They galloped at full tilt down the ash-covered streets. Thargonite spearmen rushed to the front of the line. They halted in the former town square where there was a relatively open space.
Dirk swung his sword over his head. In another few seconds he was on the line of Thargonites. With a loud cry he slashed down. In another few seconds the other horsemen were on the line too. Several fell to the spearmen.
Arem heard Dirk's cry above the din of battle. Then he screamed, "CHARGE!!" His sword swept from it's sheath as he spurred his horse forward. The Aidarian line parted as the horsemen charged through.
The Thargonites fell back and began to retreat. The rest of the Aidarian footmen followed, inspired by Arem's charge and the burning camp in the back.
Dirk's horse reared and nearly unseated him. He blocked a blow with his shield and slashed again and again. The other horsemen behind him seemed to be fighting brilliantly as well, considering that an hour before they'd been captives.
Despite this, however, more and more Thargonites were coming from the city. He had no idea how many there actually were, or even why more were coming. Were there more than he had anticipated? He was beginning to think his plan may have not been as well designed as he had thought.
Arem and his horsemen raced through the Thargonite lines riding down the enemy. The footmen followed cleaning up the remainder that the horsemen missed.
Dirk's horse reared again and fell, this time with a spear in it's side. He threw himself clear just in time. His companions saw him fall and strove to get to him, but the sheer mass of Thargonites was too great. Dirk picked himself up, dropped his shield and began fighting his way back toward his friends.
Then he heard a familiar voice above the din.
Arem continued down to the outer gate, shouting, "Fight!! Rid our land of them! Secure the city! Fight to avenge your brothers and friends! Fight!!"
The remaining Thargonites fled into the burnt city, only to be met by Dirk's horsemen who were fighting the other Thargonites. The battle, however, was far from over.
Over the haze of battle, Dirk dimly made out Arem on a horse shouting and fighting. Dirk stabbed a Thargonite in the chest. He blocked a spear and then swung around and cut the man in the stomach. The next man parried his blow. Dirk kicked the man in the stomach and he fell. On and on Dirk fought to get to Arem's side.
Arem saw Dirk struggling toward him. He spurred his horse toward his friend. As he reached him his horse tripped and fell, throwing him off.
Dirk saw his friend fall. With a shout he ran forward. A sword nicked his arm and drew blood. He ignored it and continued.
Arem picked himself up, a little shaken. The fight continued to rage all around him, and he saw Dirk fighting his way toward him. He picked up his sword which had flown from his hand when fell and rushed to meet Dirk.
The two reached each other, but as they met, a javelin came flying through the air at Dirk. Arem saw it and dove in front of Dirk. The javelin caught him square in the chest and he fell - dead.
Dirk stared in shock and disbelief, "Nooooo!! NOOOO!!!" He threw himself on the Thargonites with a fury that he had never felt before. He felt nothing, only a blind, sickening hatred toward the Thargonites. He no longer cared if the Aidarians won the battle, he only wanted to die and to take as many enemies as he could with him.
Screaming he whirled to and fro, swinging his sword in the most erratic manner. Thargonites rushed at him only to be cut down by his sword.
Dimly he heard a trumpet sound and was dimly aware of the Thargonites trying to retreat. In his rage he was not about to let them retreat, and continued blindly fighting. He was not even aware that he was being drawn back towards the Thargonite camp.
A dozen horsemen galloped up to him, riding over the Thargonites around him. They grabbed him and one of them dismounted.
"Come, it's over. We've won." They pulled him onto the horse and rode back toward the city. Dirk felt his rage being replaced by grief, greater and more bitter than he had ever known.
The Siege of Syrn: Part XXIXDirk laid down on the bed that was provided for him. He was aware of nothing. He had no idea where he was or who he was with. The only thing that was was aware of was the grief mingled with bitter hatred that hung over him.
He hated the Thargonites. He hated himself for letting Arem die, and he hated Arem for sacrificing himself.
After a while, he sat up and screamed, "AAARrrggghhh!!!" Then he threw himself back on the bed and began punching it and sobbing.
Finally, after what seemed hours, reason came back to him. Crying and screaming would not bring Arem back to life. The town was in ruins, and there were people who needed his help. Arem had died to save him, and now that he had been granted that life he could not spend it in misery and grief.
He sat up. He was in the keep. His sword lay near the bed standing against the wall. There was a basin of water sitting on a little table against the wall, and a mirror hung above it. A chest of drawers stood in a corner.
He got up and looked in the mirror. His face was covered in sweat and blood. His hair was matted and tangled. His hands were also covered in dirt, dried sweat, and blood.
Most of the blood, he realized, was the blood of his enemies. He realized that he, himself, had escaped the battle with very little harm. He had a few scratches and cuts, here and there a couple larger gashes, but he was relatively uninjured. That must be good armor, he thought.
He washed his hands and face and his few injuries. Then rummaging through the chest of drawers he found clothes to fit him. He did not know whom they had belonged to, presumably the last commander of the city, but he supposed that they were his now, since he was the commander.
He dressed and belted on his sword. He drew it and found blood stains all over it. So he wiped it until it shone in the setting sun streaming through the window.
Then he sheathed his sword and left the room. He went down to the gate to help in the miserable task that lay in front of them all - tending to the dead.
When he arrived at the gate, he found people already sorting through the grisly mess of bodies, dirt and broken weapons and armor.
The dead Thargonites were piled outside the city and burned. Dirk ordered that all the Aidarian bodies be given a grave just outside the curtain wall. But Arem's body and the bodies of the commander and the officers he ordered burned on a funeral pyre.
The sun had set and darkness had fallen long before the task was completed. It was well after midnight, and near dawn before Arem and the others were consumed on the pyre. He stood in front of a crowd of people come to pay their respects to the dead.
He stared into the flames. Arem's face looked so peaceful. His sword lay on his chest, and his hands clasped it. Dirk felt tears welling up in his eyes again. And finally he did not hold them back. He wept openly, but not in the manner in which he had right after the battle.
As the flames burned down, the sun rose over the mountains casting it's light on the castle and beyond. Dirk looked out, over the town blackened and charred. From where he was, he could just barely make out the light glinting on the water of the sea, many miles away.
He looked back at the town, and then around at the people it had once been home too. He looked back at the sea, and took comfort in the thought that the battle was over. Despite the work that lay in front of them all, today was a new day.
The Siege of Syrn: EpilogueBelgarn finished his story. It was late, but Gazma was full of questions. "How long did Dirk stay at Syrn? Did he help rebuild the town?"
"The government offered to make him the permanent commander of the castle, and the people would have supported him through and through, but he would not stay there."
"Why not?" Asked Gazmal, Gazma's brother.
"He helped rebuild the town, and then he left, a decorated hero. He joined the Celtarn, and our family line has followed him ever since, right down to you two boys."
"Why did he join the Celtarn when he could have continued living in comfort at Syrn?" Said Gazma.
"He could not bring himself to live there. Memories of the battle and of Arem haunted him. He thought that by leaving he could be free of those memories, but he never truly was."
Gazma looked out over the city that his great-great-grandfather had commanded. He felt a sense of pride in his legacy, and he wondered what he could do to live up to it.
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