Kaiden flipped back the door to the tent and stepped out into field beyond nearly losing his footing in the muddy mess as he did so. An unseasonably wet few days and the five thousand boots of the Camarana, the spear’s tip, had transformed the land from a lush green field into a slick, brown quagmire. Soon they would bring that same destruction to the city. A necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless. The law was clear. The God-king asks and his eyes seek. The God-king speaks and hands obey. The God-king commands and his fists destroy. Kaiden was the fourteenth fist of the Camarana and the God-king had commanded. Now the city would fall.
Kaiden looked over to where his men were preparing and allowed himself a moment to enjoy the hum of the camp. The chattering of the men, the crackling of the cook fires and the rhythmic pounding of hammer on anvil, the sounds washed over him refreshing as a summer rain. His house might be a thousand leagues to the north but this had been his home longer than that cabin of rough cut logs. These men, this army, it was his life and one day it would be his death, but not today.
He caught the eye of his captain, a tall young warrior named Gallas and nodded. Gallas gave a grim smile and nodded before turning away and shouting for the men to form up. Kaiden watched for a moment then satisfied all was in hand turned away and started out across the field towards the city of Reddington. The city was well placed with a wide fast-flowing river preventing attack from the east and a high stone wall wrapping around the rest of the city. Thirty feet high, ten feet thick and topped with a scurrying army of ant-like defenders. Kaiden knew from long experience the going would be hard and bloody. For every hundred men who threw themselves at the great grey walls, maybe one would make the top and for every hundred that made the top only one in ten would live long enough to see the other side. In war, walls were the great leveller.
Kaiden stopped just by small flag that signified the edge of bow-shot range and looked up at the walls again. From this distance the men on the walls looked bent and broken, moving here and there with jerking twitching movements. A shiver ran up his spine and he imagined a city manned by the twisted monsters of Garstan Holog, the puppet show, common in his homeland that told he story of the world before men when the world was populated by demons, fiends and twisted monstrosities. He was about to turn away when his eyes locked onto a lone upright figure. He couldn’t know for sure at this distance but he felt the man’s eyes on him. The noises of the camp behind him changed as the men left their chores and started to get ready for war. Kaiden could feel the buzz of excitement and fear. The orders were in it was time.
Kaiden nodded to the man on the wall and thought he saw a nod in return before he turned away.
High on the walls of Reddington Lord Calder watched as the man on the edge of the camp turned away and walked calmly back towards the bustling camp. He felt the weight that had been around his neck for the last two weeks settle into the pit of his stomach, where it sat leaking poison that leached the strength from his limbs. He stumbled and caught himself on the wall to hide his moment of weakness. He stood there breathing for a few moments fighting the urge to throw up. They were coming. They were coming and there was nothing he could do to stop them.
“Tomas,” he called surprised to hear his voice so steady.
A stooped figure dressed in ill-fitting armour, made for a man half again his size, and dragging a spear behind him shambled forward. When he reached Lord Calder he slid to a halt and dipped his head in a half bow. Thin silver hair poked wildly out from beneath his helm and he looked like he would fall to pieces in anything more than a summer breeze. Tomas was seventy summers old if he was a day and he was probably the most reliable man he had left. High Lord Rastor had taken all the soldiers and men of fighting age off to war with him. All he had left to defend the castle were boys too young to hold a sword and men well into their dotage.
“Go to the temple and tell the women and children to go now. If they leave by the Postern Gate they won’t be seen. We will buy them what time we can but they must go now. The old man saluted and hurried off marginally faster than lame tortoise.
Lord Calder looked at the frightened faces of the people manning the wall. Garstang the tanner who’d last seen battle two decades before swung his sword in a few achingly slow practise arcs while behind him a boy of maybe twelve held his rough spear like it was a viper his hand shaking. Heartsick he turned away and ran his hands over the rough stone of the wall. Without it they would have been slaughtered in minutes, with it maybe they could hold out for long enough for the women and children to get to safety. If anywhere was safe in this new world where men crossed the dead waste wearing the face of a long-dead traitor. The walls wouldn’t save him but they might save them and for that he said a silent prayer of thanks.
As he finished horns sounded echoing the plains as the wall of soldiers started forwards with shining silver masks and weapons in hand.
“Make ready,” he called drawing his sword. “We hold the wall. We hold it for our wives. We hold it for our children. Every minute we hold they are a minute closer to safety.”
The horn sounded again and Lord Calder gripped his sword tightly it was time to die but he was determined to die well. It was all he had left.