In the lands of Calradia
- Apr 19, 2002
Realm of the Wolf
- Chapter Six –
- Chapter Six –
With the fall of Reyvadin, The Khanate, foes of old, descend on Yaroglek at Ichamur, their vengeance unchecked, ambition clear. The Vaegir king is captured and rots in a Khergit cell, Ichamur is once more a part of Sanjir Khan’s domain. A desperate messenger arrives soon after, sent by Boyar Vuldrat no less. He is marshal of Yaroglek’s domain now, some say king in all but name. He begs for peace that he may fight the invading nomads, though refuses point blank any thought of tying the realms together as one.
Kragen’s advisors tell him to refuse. This is our chance to destroy Yaroglek for good, Kragen only shakes his head. “What use a realm whose people know I abandoned them to invasion and slaughter” he asks. “No, I will give Vuldrat the peace he desires for now, and pray one day he will join our cause.”
A week later signal fires are lit across the horizon, it is not what anyone expects. Soldiers of Swadia have been spotted marching from Suno, Swadia has declared war on the Bandit King!
King Harlaus has picked a disastrous time to attack, the last throw of a desperate man. That he scores an early victory at Burglen is no surprise, Kragen’s men are forced to withdraw following the skirmish and await reinforcements. His lords are out of position and looking to the east, it will take a while for them to mobilise.
Swadia however is but a shadow of her former glory, picked clean by the Rhodok and the Nord kingdoms, the old imperial cities of Uxkhak and Dhirim are lost to her, her border castles all but destroyed. Kragen will gather his forces for a swift campaign the like of which Calradia has not seen since the days of the Emperors of old. Suno falls swiftly and Bergaru made her lord. The statement is clear. Kragen will reward those who help him. Two pitched battles follow outside the walls of the capital at Praven and Swadia’s strength is broken. No more will the golden knights’ ride forth on armoured chargers, Swadia’s name will become but a bookmark of history.
Bryn is at Radoghir castle when she goes into labour. She has retired there from the intrigues of court to give birth to their first child. It is a quiet place set amongst a small wood halfway between Reyvadin and Curaw. She will be safe here all agree, they are at peace are they not? The first time she can remember.
Peace. Bryn has forgotten what it means. It seems there is always more fighting on the horizon, more threats to their fledgling kingdom. Is this what the child she carries must look forward to assuming it survives? The child is early and all know two lives are in the balance this night. She shudders as lightning cracks outside her window, briefly illuminating the rustling trees beyond. The rain is beating out a steady tattoo on the roof and she gasps as the rhythms of labour increase as though in time to the beat.
She lies on a bed, a cloth upon her brow. Nalya her old nurse is here, fled from Curin Castle less than a month ago. Bryn grasps at the older woman’s blouse and pulls her near. “Where is he?” she demands, sweat running in beads down her face, “he swore he’d be here.” She screams then, not for the first time, a sound lost in the raging storm outside.
"Be calm my lady" Nalya sooths running the damp cloth over Bryn’s brow, "he'll be here soon I'm sure." She casts a furtive glance out the window at the pitch black night beyond. The rain continues to coming in torrential sheets, the horizon briefly ablaze once more before the rolling thunder booms. More distant now, the storm is moving away at last.
* * * * * * * * * *
A quiet anger burns in Kragen's soul that night as he views the bandit camp. Soaked to the skin he has spent the last four hours trekking through the forest in search of this place. Alayan's scouts have heard rumour of a Nord base in the area, and this close to Reyvadin he cannot leave it unchecked.
What he finds leaves him cold. Bed rolls, weapons, casks of food and supplies in great number, all neatly secured against the howling rain. This is no minor base for a few scouting parties and too well organised for bandits. No, this site is designed to support a large body of men and that cannot bode well.
Yet where are they now? The camp is deserted, not a guard in sight. The fire pits are cold and the lean to tents empty.
The crack of a snapping twig has Kragen swinging round as a man bolts from behind a stack of crates. A Nord Kragen thinks, but Bandit or soldier who can tell? The man is running for the safety of the trees and should he make it he will be safe amongst the all consuming shadows.
"Firentis!" Kragen barks and the little nomad raises his dagger and sends it flying through the air. The blunt end of the handle catches the man square behind his head and he tumbles to the sodden forest floor.
Even so he is up like a shot with Firentis is on him now and swiftly he wrestles him to the ground. Over and over they roll until the nomad has him in a vice, the arm across his neck slowly chocking out his life. Kragen draws his sword then and approaches the pair, the man’s eyes are wide with terror for he must know here, alone in the forest he has little chance of mercy. He is not some grand lord worthy of ransom, he is but a common soldier when the mud is wiped away, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Please" he begs, as Firentis slowly releases his hold.
"Tell me where your companions are" Kragen demands in a voice of ice.
"I can't" the man trembles, “mercy great lord" he begs as Kragen’s blade draws near. "I ran away” he cries, “I'm not with them! Its madness what they try."
"Bah, a deserter" Firentis spits in disgust preparing to slide his knife across his throat.
"What do they plan to do?" Kragen cries, dropping his sword and wrestling the man up by his jerkin. He fears the answer but know it he must.
"The castle" he stammers, "they're heading for the castle."
The buzz of an arrow winging through the air is the first warning they get. Kragen finds himself holding the dead weight of the man in his arms, an arrow firmly lodged in the deserters back. Other shafts are being released now, men crying in pain. He whirls barking orders to his men as they scramble for cover and together with Firentis starts dragging the wounded man to cover praying he still lives and can tell them more.
Pain explodes in his shoulder, a grunt escapes his lips. Firentis looks at him in shock as Kragen lets slip his grip. Just a moment Kragen murmurs to himself, I just need to rest a moment. Strong hands shake him then. “You must get up” a voice shouts in his ear. Arms lift him to his feet and they stagger to the edge of the trees.
“Which castle?” the King hears himself cry. Which castle? There is a cold dread gathering in his heart. There is but one castle near here.