The Endless Horizon

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 16 (v.2) - A Fool's War

Submitted: October 02, 2019

Reads: 60

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Submitted: October 02, 2019

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-15-

A Fool's War

 

 

It was now only days before we were to meet with the Duke. I sat slouched in my chair at the end of a long and ornate table, upon which laid the mugs, hands, and feet of many a guard. Just as I had requested, Lynn amassed an army of those willing to aid us in the revolt. Now I did my part by sitting amongst a small council consisting of myself, Havlynn, and four of his most trusted comrades cramped into a private room one of them was kind enough to fund. Unsurprisingly, it was the hollowed cellar of their favorite taproom.

My chin was cradled by my thumb and forefinger as I thought deeply regarding our next course of action. I didn’t have much faith in the rest of the group, each of which carried on drinking like it was any other day. Out of the lot of them, the only other person I recognized was the female guard from the gate, but she, much like the others, had been more consumed by idle chatter than she had formulating a plan. As a result, I felt that it was on my shoulders that the responsibility fell, the weight of which was too much to bear.

There were many aspects to be taken into consideration in regards to our attack. The first was the obvious difference in skill levels between ourselves and our enemies. Our motley bunch of townsfolk and lesser guards was sorely lacking in military experience, so If both armies were to directly clash we’d be easily dispatched by the royal knights. Moreover, our troops are indispensable: any loss of lives could prove lethal to the well-being of all Abdera. Whatever action we took, it’d have to minimize the number of casualties, ally or otherwise.

I let out the stale air from my lungs in an audible groan. This wasn’t going anywhere, the stakes were too great, and I didn’t have it in me to be a tactician.

“Kaiser,” Havlynn asked out of nowhere, stealing me from my thoughts. “I think we may have something, but chances are, you aren’t going to like it.”


*The day of the revolt*

We’d spent the rest of our available time readying our forces and discussing all the workings of our hastily construed plan. We did everything we could to be ready by the time the set day was upon us; all preparation had led to this crucial moment. With all of our forces informed and led by the rest of our council I, alongside Havlynn and his friend Ingrid, were free to start the opening act.

The three of us were the centerpieces of everything we had worked up to, and each of us dressed the part. Lynn and Ingrid wore tidied guard uniforms whereas I was stripped of any obvious weaponry as to make myself appear defenseless. Tying it all together, both literally and figuratively, was the rope around my wrists.

I was to be taken in and my head offered to the royal guard as a wanted criminal, captured by the humble guards who remained ever-loyal to the throne. When I would inevitably be brought before the Duke I’d make my final pitch calling for peaceful reunification of the inner and outer cities. I hadn't taken Havlynn’s group seriously before, but in working out this tactic I was dumbfounded. It was simple, stylish, and above all-

It was completely asinine.

“This is never going to work,” I said, voicing my unease. “All of this for a desperate attempt to get ourselves close to the Duke? We’ll be lucky to get a laugh.”

“Care to make a wager then? If everything turns out, you owe me a pint. Then we can really catch up.”

I shook my head at the absurdity of it all. “If I get out of this unscathed, you can have yourself the whole keg.”

“Oh, those are dangerous words talking to this one,” Ingrid chimed.

He smiled a crooked and toothy grin that left me with no doubt that he’d hold me to my word. “Places everyone!”

And so we set out towards the palace, a group of mice scurrying to a den of starved cats. Only, one of the poor mice had not his teeth with which to defend himself, and he wasn’t handling the anxiety well. Constantly I found myself walking with too quick a pace and subsequently getting yanked backward. Meanwhile, Havlynn calmly whistled along to any number of cheery tunes.

This quickly wore on my nerves, but Ingrid was the first to reprimand him for it. “Hold your tongue, you’re giving me a headache you ass.”

“Yes sir!” he responded just as snidely as I’d expect from him.

Their exchange left a smile on my face. Despite the outward hostility in their voices, I could tell it was nothing more than playful banter, and that they were clearly close friends. To see the two of them act so casually made me yearn for a simpler time, a time before I had ever made that damned report. More than that though, it made me eager to see what future lay in wait for me after all of this was said and done. Not just today’s events, but all of that which Cordella and I were still to face. I wondered, would we still be together then, or would something tear us apart long before we found the end.

“Alright folks, look alive,” Havlynn said quietly as we came to the first gate leading into the city.

This was the first and most crucial test of our ill-conceived plan. There were two guards there just as there always were, both trading glances with each other as we stopped in front of them.

“The inner city is currently closed off to all but the nobility,” one guard spoke, “What business do you have passed this gate?”

Ingrid took the forefront. “We’re here to deliver a criminal unto his highness,” she respectfully explained, presenting to them a paper with my bounty.

They looked at the paper and then back at me. In an effort to sell the performance Havlynn was handling me more roughly than need be, pushing me this way and that before the guards. I had on my face the most miserable and exaggerated scowl which I only had to half-fake.

“Very well then, proceed to the palace where your capture will be promptly intercepted and your payment made out.”

The gate opened and we walked into the city, each holding our breath until safely out of earshot.

“What’d I tell ya, without a hitch. I can already taste that ale.”

“That’s just what’s left from this morning,” Ingrid remarked.
That was the last of the badinage, for even Havlynn was rendered mute by the hideous state of the city beyond the wall.

It had fallen to complete chaos: buildings were torn asunder, and the glass from shattered windows covered much of the ground in piles. What was once the land of the nobility had already sunk so low, even in comparison to what lay just outside of it. The outer city had shut itself off from its merchants, but at the very least it still contained farmers, workers to keep the cogs turning. Inner Abdera had nothing left save its starving populace, for it had separated itself from the very pillars on which it stood. Though I did’t have the fondest feelings for the nobility, I knew that they were innocent, undeserving of such a cruel fate, and so I shivered to think what would become of this place if we failed.

Amidst the wreckage and carnage of the once strong city stood a single untouched edifice, a fortress whose magnitude cast a shadow across the streets that lay beneath it. It was this building that we now faced. It was funny, I recall having sworn not to return to this horrid place but here I was, only this time I wasn’t just nervous, I was shaking. Whether we were ready or not, when we would inevitably draw close to those golden doors we would be forced to throw away our reservations.

As we came within the peripheral of the lone sentinel, Ingrid bravely took the lead, walking several paces in front of us. “Greetings! We’ve brought before you-”

Before she could finish speaking the great metal doors clicked and unlatched, slowly opening to a group of faceless knights. Without warning, they surrounded me and locked their cold steel gauntlets around my arms, to which Havlynn responded with concern.

“Uhh, there’s no need for- we can take him in ourselves.”

“Don’t worry,” one of them assured, “It’s only a safety precaution, you’ll be awarded your due sum.”

Before either of them could testify further I was hoisted up and into the foyer, carried like a pig to slaughter. As they dragged me towards the center of the room I made a desperate show of squirming and writhing before being dropped onto my knees while they stood close behind.

I cast a backward glance to check that my allies were still with me before the doors slammed shut. Although we were in the company of more sentries than desirable, the plan had so far gone as best as we could hope. We had but one final step to accomplish our mission, and the odds were as good as they were going to get.

“So it’s true!” they exclaimed as they came down the steps, “When I heard you had been apprehended I just had to see it with my own eyes.”

My nostrils were flared and my eyebrows twisted into a scowl as I lifted my head and met the face of Eisendale alongside several of his knights. He stood in the company of another familiar figure who towered over him.

“Look at you, wrapped in dirty rags just as a rat ought be. What a pitiable state you find yourself in, wouldn’t you concur Brookes?”

“Yessir,” he replied with a stiffness similar to that of his posture.

I scoffed at the man’s feeble attempt to irritate me. “As if you find yourself in circumstances more favorable?”

He wore the same haughty scowl that he did those many weeks ago, down to the smug and choking aura that his presence exuded. “You’ve been captured, literally brought to your knees, and those are the only words that can escape your wicked mouth? I’ll have you beg where you kneel.”

After a hushed remark of the man next to him, he rolled his eyes up beneath their lids and let out a curt breath. “Of course, we can’t forget our esteemed guests!”

The general’s thick armor clattered and clanged as he descended the steps and stopped next to me. Using only the hand that didn’t contain his halberd he lifted me to my feet and spun me to face my ‘captors’, one of whom shot me an affirmative wink.

“And who do we have to thank for this scoundrel’s capture?”

In my time away from Abdera I had forgotten just how imposing a man the head of the guard had been. He was even more massive than I recalled, standing at a height that was almost comical compared to the rest of us. In the presence of such a man, both Havlynn and Ingrid were struggling to find their voices.

The question hung there for several seconds before either of them could muster the courage to speak. “My name is Havlynn,” he squeaked, to which the general responded with a rigid nod.

“Then you,” he turned his attention to Ingrid who had already opened her mouth in anticipation of his question, “Are not the one I want.”

He closed the distance between them in a blur, moving so swiftly she couldn’t so much as let out a yelp in response.

“Ingrid!” Havlynn howled before being restrained by the knights behind him, just as I had been.

With her mouth still agape, she peered down and watched as the blood soaked into her tunic, dripping from the halberd and dappling the immaculate tile in bright scarlet. “Wh-what,” she choked. Her eyes were filled not with fear but confusion as she struggled to come to grips with what had just occurred. Without any regard for her life, the man wrenched his weapon from her wound, leaving her to slide to the ground in a lifeless heap.

Averting my gaze was the only thing I could do to repress the urge to vomit, and even then I could still hear her gasping hopelessly for breath. This too ceased after another low grunt of the captain. Eventually, I forced a glance at Havlynn whose terror-laden eyes were unable to look away from the body that now lay motionless on the ground.

“Why,” he murmured.

“She was an accomplice in your attempted assassination of our majesty, the Duke. I simply gave unto her a punishment befitting the crime.”

At his words, the dread faded from Havlynn’s expression, and in its place emerged burning malice as I had never before seen it. “Then why her?!” he barked, “Why do I still stand here while she lay cold in her blood?”

The head guard responded likewise, sending his own booming voice to reverberate throughout the room. “Because unlike her, this was not your first offense. By aiding Kaiser’s escape you made a mockery of my prison, and now you shall reside in it for the rest of your vile existence!”

Throughout their dispute I had so far remained silent, but Eisendale wouldn’t allow me this simple pleasure, he couldn’t abstain from the chance to give me grief. “Why the glum expression?” he snidely asked of me. “Did you really expect I wouldn’t see through your pathetic ruse? Contrary to what you might believe, there are still those that bow to the throne.”

“Only because you hold them at their nape,” I muttered beneath my breath.

“Back to your old ways Kaiser? Have you so soon forgotten where that led you the last time?”

My wrists tensed in their fibrous shackles. I wanted to let forth my vocal fury, but I thought better of it. Every word he spat he coated in the same slimy concoction that he knew would poison my emotions, but this time I wouldn’t let it. For me to fall victim to his taunting fustian would be stooping to his level, and I was beyond that. And so I let go of my anger.

“I’d hoped that you’d gain some insight since our affray, that maybe, for a second, you’d see past your pride and realize what truly lay past your castle grounds. You’ve gone and crushed even my lowest expectations.”

His face reddened when he saw that his words didn’t carry their desired effect. “Enough of your incessant preaching. I’ve foiled your plot, forced you to watch as your friend bled for her crime, and still you talk down to me, like a mother would her child! What more can I do to shut your goddamned muzzle?”

“Your majesty,” The captain interjected upon seeing his liege in a state of rage. “Don’t waste your breath on these rats, they aren’t worth the headache.”

Whether he realized it or not, he was right. This had all been a waste of time. We’d come here with a single mission in mind, but the outcome was clear right from the beginning. It was time to finish this.

"He’s right Havlynn, this is all pointless. These two are lost causes."

The duke fumed just as I expected he would. “Are you daft? Do you not see that you’ve failed?! You’ve come to see me killed, but blood flows yet in my veins! How can you still speak so calmly?”

“Because our goal was never to kill you,” I said plainly, “We came here with the chance to spare your land of more needless bloodshed, but in killing our comrade your choice has already been made clear.”

He flashed a wicked grin. “Nothing more than an empty threat, what could the two-” he stopped cold at the sound of a distant crash.

“Men! Take up arms and reinforce the points of entry. Don’t let down your guard until the enemy is routed!”

At the captain’s command all of the knights equipped themselves with weapon and shield, positioning themselves before the entrances in neat rows. The only remaining guards were those that held Havlynn by his arms, as well as the rope still wrapped around my hands. Brookes meanwhile assumed his prior position next to the Duke.

Yet another blast resounded, this time much closer to our whereabouts.

The Duke’s tone abruptly changed from one of mockery to one of panic. “What is the meaning of this Brookes? How could they possibly have passed the gates?”

“Don’t fret m’lord, the castle is secure. They’ll make it no further than the entryway.” His words were hollow consolation.

Havlynn shook his head. “You thought yourself clever, centralizing your forces in order to protect your own head, but all you’ve done is make it easier. Your pride was predictable as ever, fitting that it will be your downfall.”

“Silence!” demanded the captain, “Do not you forget that you’re still in our custody. I’ll have your tongue for such misdeeds against the royalty!”

The aforementioned royal had become uncharacteristically quiet in his turmoil. Seeing him in this state I decided to make one more plea, one last attempt at reaching him. “This is your last chance Eisendale, to call this off and spare not only your own life, but all of those that would sacrifice themselves for your survival. Make the right decision, or pay the price.”

The room fell silent as his eyes searched and then locked with mine. All of the castles attendants momentarily looked away from what they were doing and instead focused their attention on his highness. His retainers, the dutiful knights, even Brookes awaited his response.

“You ask a question you very well know the answer to Kaiser,” he said whilst maintaining an icy glare, “Threaten me all you like, I’d sooner die than bow to the likes of you.”

I frowned. “Then you’ll have you wish.”

Not long after his response a chorus of shouts rang out from the other side of the gate. Dampened by the thick material of the door their cries were faint, but even then the desperation in their voices was undeniable. The struggle lasted for a short while until all fell quiet, a brief respite before the fortress would soon quake as something massive collided with the door, the impact of which thrummed through its empty chambers.

The royal infantry stepped several paces back with their shields at the ready. All of the castle staff was taken up with worry, as was I, only for a different reason. I had my teeth tightly clenched as I await my chance, the culmination of all our joint efforts. Again and again our forces pounded against the metal frame. The door had so far done well deterring its assailants, but it would inevitably give way to the constant hammering.

“Si-Sir?” a distraught knight stammered looking for some kind of guidance from his superior; however, his plea would ultimately go unanswered, for it was in this commotion that I made my move.

Distracted by the siege of his castle, the men responsible for me were unable to react as I spread my arms, disengaging the false-knot that had up until this point been wrapped around them. In another fluid motion, I retrieved the dagger beneath my tunic. My act had caught the attention of the captain, but not before it was too late. The blade had already fled my hands.

He shouted something to his men about stopping me, but they hadn’t heard him, and it wouldn’t have mattered if they did. The doors burst open and through them marched the mob of armed insurgents, forcing the knights to disregard both Havlynn and I. Brookes, on the other hand, rushed towards me with his halberd at his waist.

I sidestepped the polearm just before it could run me through. "Now Havlynn!" I signaled.

A second later the titan of a man hit the ground with a clang, and over him stood Havlynn with his arm outstretched. With an intense shock, he was able to incapacitate him despite his thick suit of armor. It would only be temporary, but it was more than enough. I only needed time to get to the Duke, and with our forces occupying the royal army, there was ample to spare.

“I’ll keep him down Kaiser, you deal with his highness.”

The man in question kneeled at the foot of the staircase, encircled by a few of his more loyal retainers. No matter their efforts they were hopeless to help him, for the wound ran much too deep. Due to his lack of armor, the knife had struck with full penetrative force, only stopping as the hilt came flat against his skin. Unlike the faces that surrounded him, the Duke himself wore a plain expression, his eyes downcast as he spoke to me in a deep monotone.

"Is this the end you saw for me? Making me watch as my kingdom falls, leaving me to bleed out alongside my soldiers? What hollow ethics you hold yourselves too." Despite his efforts to conceal it, he was in agony, his hand clutched to his heaving chest just beneath the blade.

"Yours and Ingrid's will be the only lives taken today," I said coolly, "The needless bloodshed we referred to was yours alone."

Indeed it was never a question of the men beneath his rule. We knew they were not to be punished for the crimes of their royalty, and so we had made it clear to our forces that not a single life was to be taken. Havlynn, Ingrid, and my task was merely a means of diversion until the iron boot of our army collapsed the castle walls.

“You’ve made this kingdom weak,” Eisendale choked out his remaining words, his lips now lined with the tint of blood. “Without me you’ve no hope of holding afloat; everything will come crashing down with you at the center.”

“No hope? I reckon this is the first glimpse of hope for these men since that crown was lain atop your head.” I crouched and dug my eyes deep into the Duke’s. “Now, have you any last words for yourself your highness?”

In this moment, for the very first time in our years of acquaintance, he looked at me plainly. Not with a valley betwixt his brows or a snide grin plastered to his face, but with a pleading fear in his eyes. Were it another day I may feel a shred of compassion to see someone look at me so, but before me I didn’t see a man, only a dying beast looking for clemency after a battle long fought.

I wrapped my fingers around the hilt of the knife. “Do you recall, Eisendale, when I said your kingdom would burn before you? It seemed I had it backwards all this time, it was always you that was destined to burn.” I twisted the blade and wrenched it from his flesh, causing him to fall to the floor.

“You insubordinate runts!” the captain yelled as he effortlessly pushed Havlynn off of him. “You all stand at the wayside while your king’s blood pools at your feet!” He desperately searched the crowd to see that his own men stared indifferently back.

Havlynn rose to his feet. “Can’t you see? They owe no allegiance to a dead king, nor do you. Either you halt you resistance or you’ll sit in the same cell you’d have me sent to.”

He growled one last time, one last whimper before ultimately accepting his defeat and putting his arms out to have them bound. The dog of his highness had finally been silenced of his bark, and just like that victory was procured. Even in his final moments, the Duke’s only concern were of self-preservation. He’d been given the chance to save all those who bowed to his feet, but still he clung to his bravado, all lives he was willing to sacrifice to protect his pride. As for Brookes, he had remained faithful to the end; ever loyal to the Duke. In another life, perhaps his actions could be considered noble, but who were we to say, we were the victor.
 


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