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The Song of Steel

Book One - Chapter 10

By W.R. Logan

 

Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan

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Caitlin

 

The small council had quickly turned into a band of jesters. They grumbled and fought with each other about the best way to handle the problem. Most of the men seemed to cast a vote for surrender. That decision would not sit well with most of the inhabitants of Kings Overlook. More than half of the people were half-breeds, surrender for them meant certain death.

“Gentlemen,” Caitlin called, “You speak as if defeat had already befallen us.”

“We do not gamble with the lives put in our hands, girl,” Darious quipped.

“No, Darious,” Brianna returned, “You sell them into slavery like sheep.”

“They will live,” defended Darious, “and someday earn enough money to buy their freedom.”

“They will work years in hopes to buy something that is rightfully theirs at birth,” Caitlin insisted. “We can not bargain with something that does not belong to us.”

“You bargain with their lives if we fight,” Patrick of Baltiz objected, “we give our people a chance at life.”

Several of the council voiced their agreement.

Trayvis of Talon Peak stood and slammed his fist into the table. Caitlin knew he would speak against her. The relationship that existed between Darious and Trayvis was strong. Trayvis was not well liked by the council or even his own people but the man possessed a talent to sway a crowd. Only Jarco, the Jester Knight could influence people’s minds better.

“What are we thinking here, men?” Trayvis asked. “And I wonder about the term men. You want to send word to King Geiger to spare the nobles from death or slavery in return for the small folk of your homes. No, I can’t in good conscience call you men.”

Caitlin lost her thoughts at the sudden support from the Hawkeye. He had sold his vote to the highest bidder so many times, she had expected no more from him. Talon Peak lay in ruin from all reports. Its people were dead or being marched to Vale for sale in the slave markets. Maybe this had made him find morals that only her father had suspected existed in the man.

“Patrick,” Trayvis called, “You speak of chances. Did you happen to kiss that bastard of yours goodbye before you left Baltiz? You know, the one you fathered with that half-elf serving wench. What was her name?”

Patrick’s eyes went to the floor in shame. That was not enough for Trayvis. He wanted to hear the name spoken from Patrick’s mouth. Patrick had come to love the woman and the child though he hid it from his noble family.

“I’m sorry,” Trayvis protested, “I couldn’t hear.”

“Her name is Ateya,” Patrick answered in a meek tone.

“Ah,” Trayvis said not quite satisfied, “and your boy he must be eight or nine now.”

“He will be eleven in two weeks,” Patrick said unable to hid the pride in his voice, “Elliac is his name.”

“Oh Elliac,” Trayvis echoed, “Good choice of names, nice and short, the undertaker does charge by the letter for the tombstone.” Trayvis reached out and grabbed Patrick’s chin and forced him to look into his eyes. “After all, you will have to pay for two tombstones for mother and son.”

Caitlin saw Patrick’s features change. He was won along with many other council members that had been walking the fence.

“And Conta, my old friend,” began Trayvis, “why don’t we give Mad King Geiger a real welcome when he arrives?”

The fat old man tried to sink from Trayvis’ view.

“Come Conta, we all know that your mother was a half-ork.” Trayvis paused to let the council remember the tale.

Conta’s grandfather had come to illness of a rare variety. The only cure was an herb that grew on the plains near Vale. It was hard to find and rarely harvested for it was used only for the one illness. After many months of trying to hire someone to find the herb, Nathell, Conta’s father, snuck away in the night to hunt for the life saving plant.

Nathell was green to the ways of the wild. He was of noble blood and had never cared for the harshness of survival training. But the boy loved his father dearly. So, with only that love to protect him, the youngling set off to save his father.

No one could quite say how a boy that green could have made it all the way to the edge of Vale, but that was how the tale told it. Unfortunately, the boy’s search did not go as well as his travels. The drawings that he had of the herb looked much like many of the plants in the area.

With no other choices left to the boy, he began to harvest all the plants that looked like his target. It was hard work. Days passed while he slaved at the tedious work for ten sometimes twelve hours a day. The boy only stopped when the light failed him or when his eyes became so tired all the plants looked the same.

On one of those long summer days of harvest, his ears caught the sound of battle. Nathell carried no weapons. The noble son would not have a clue of how to use one anyway. All he had gathered from his years of combat training was to stick the enemy with the pointy end of the sword. Even that turned out to be harder than it looked. Swordplay was not in his blood.

He hid from view in the cover of the wood and peered down on the raging mle. A band of raiders showered a trade caravan with arrows. The trade caravan had few archers to return attack and most of their arrows bounced harmlessly off the steel armor of the Vale knights.

Nathell had a good heart that longed to help the poor merchants but he was no warrior. He did not even own a sword of his own. The closest thing he had to a weapon was the dagger he used to cut herbs and the cuts on his hand were a reminder that he couldn’t even use that well. The boy had to come to terms with the fact he would watch all the merchants fall to the raiders. Then do nothing as they collected the merchant’s wares to sell in the markets of Vale.

When the horns began to sound, the boy didn’t know what to expect. The ground shook with the thundering of hooves. From the east came a line of ork riding hard and carrying lances. In their front rode two women that Nathell knew well. Caitlin and Brianna G’Leaze lead the ork charge.

The Vale knights formed their own lines quickly riding a counter charge. It seemed the raiders were not ready to give up their prize so easily. The knights showed no fear for they out numbered the ork two to one. Their advantage faded rapidly.

The ork lines were perfect and shifted too fast for the Vale men to adjust. It was as if the ork and their mounts were of one mind. They spun about time and time again beating the Vale knights to the charge. The ork lances seemed to meet flesh long before the enemy lances could even consider the taste of blood.

Only the quick thinking archers of Vale saved the total destruction of the Vale force that day. They loosed a barrage of arrows on the ork at the turn of their charge. Caitlin G’Leaze saw the move coming before it happened and had her shield lines in place. Very few ork fell in the attack but it gave the Vale riders time to break and run.

“Take care of the wounded,” Nathell heard Caitlin tell the merchants as she, her sister and the ork force gave chase.

Nathell watched in disgust as the merchants turned their wagons and abandoned the ork to the wolves. They were safe because of the ork that had come to help them but they cared nothing of an ork’s life.

Healing was yet another field that Nathell did not excel. If he had paid more attention to his teachers, he would have found the blasted herb and been home by now. There would be little he could do for the injured.

Nathell was an unskilled man of noble birth but none that knew the boy could claim him a coward. The boy rushed out onto the field to help the ork. Disappointment filled him as he ran to body after body to find them bloodied and dead. He had noticed many of the ork that had rode off to pursue the enemy had shafts of arrows sticking from their bodies. Seemed when an ork fell from his horse it meant death had taken them.

The boy had almost given up hope of finding any ork that still drew breath when he came upon a female half-ork stretched out among some brush. Two arrows protruded from her armor’s shoulder joint. She had been the banner carrier for the ork army and still held tightly to the pole that ended in the banner of Kings Overlook over the sign of clan Broken Bone.

It was said that, Nathell had nursed the half-ork back to health. The half-ork, Tulla according to the bard’s songs, had stayed with the boy and helped him find the herb. Then she had seen him off to return home and went back to her clan to teach them to harvest herbs. Nathell had returned with the herb in one hand and baby Conta under the other.

“So to welcome our new king,” Trayvis continued knowing all of the council knew the tale, “I say we swing Conta by his neck from our banner pole.”

Trayvis pulled the obese man over the table.

“Who here will help me,” Travis queried.

“Stop overreacting,” Darious snapped, “We will get him away to the free cities before the surrender.”

“No,” Conta interrupted, “I will not leave while my townspeople are enslaved and put to death. We will fight.”

Trayvis smiled and let the man back to his feet. Conta was a loved member of the council and a strong voice for the cause.

“Who are you to make that choice for the people of Brarook,” questioned Darious.

“I am their counsel to the king,” Conta answered, “and I speak with their voice.”

“Is it choices that you speak of Darious?” Fire lit Trayvis’ eyes. “Some of our people had no choice in this war.”

“Your sorrow for the fall of your people clouds your vision, my friend,” Darious wooed.

“And your lack of loyalty clouds yours,” Trayvis yelled. “The Hawkeye could have escaped the Steel Tide and made for the safety of this castle but they chose to fight so that Ronan might have time to flee.”

Trayvis stared long and hard at the skinny Ronan.

“Now they march off to a life of slavery and you want to forget their sacrifice,” Trayvis accused, “I can call you no friend.”

Darious dropped his eyes to the floor. “How can you think that two hundred Ronan guards can stand against thousands of the Steel Tide?”

“That is for the War Master to decide,” Trayvis turned to look at the stunned Caitlin.

“Our enemy will become it’s own enemy,” Caitlin explained. “The Steel Tide will have to siege the castle. It will be a long process. They will run short on supplies and have long distances to replenish those supplies.”

“They will just march them down from Karal,” Darious objected.

“Unglar has rode with word to the ork to hold their ground and allow no supplies to the Steel Tide,” Caitlin countered.

“They will not try and break the siege,” asked Conta.

“No the siege will be our friend,” Caitlin explained, “The Steel Tide will grow tired and hungry while we remain safe and well fed behind our walls. The kings garden will provide food for all.”

“But when will we fight,” asked Patrick.

“Our forces will run sneak attacks on the Tide as will the ork,” Caitlin told them, “When the Steel Tide has lost enough men to our attacks, Bigsby Littlefoot will bring the Peasant Army from the Valley of No Night and take them from the rear.”

The council seemed to fall in line after Trayvis’ moving speech. Caitlin was grateful for his help, though this same argument would replay itself as men were lost. The war would cost them many hardships but not as many as surrender. She knew that they would lose battles. Winning every battle was not the goal of her plan. Defeating the enemy without ever fighting would be the only thing to bring them ultimate victory.

 


Continued



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