Chapter 11: To Lead an Army
The city of Dras Leona lied in front of the lonely figure as he walked in the dark stone road. He looked tired, and his clothes were covered with the blood of his enemies. He was walking with a limp as a soldier had managed to injure his left leg. His expression was one of defeat, and his eyes showed the horrors he had seen in the battle he had been in. Ahead of him thousands of ragged men, screaming women and crying children were trying to enter the city to protect themselves from the army that was pursuing them close behind. Many people tried to enter the city but the guards prevented them. The man looked at the people he had to pass in anger and touched his hammer. A sudden movement caught his eye, as a noise started to be heard around him. People turned as they saw him, a glimmer of hope in their eyes as they whispered his name and the crowd silenced around him as they respectfully opened a way for him to pass. He was a hero of the Varden and the army and everyone knew of his deeds.
Roran Stronghammer walked amongst the crowd, in seriousness as he waved his hand above his head to greet the people outside the city. At this, the people cheered and soldiers banged their weapons on their shields. In truth, Roran thought that the soldiers were right. The city had little hope of surviving the upcoming attack and in order to save their lives, the citizens needed to move to Illeria, where they would have a better chance of surviving. A shiver ran through his body as he remembered the screams of dying women and children and the blood as a head flew past him in battle. He saw with his mind the image of his wife and kids lying dead and he quickly shook his head to get these thoughts away from his mind. He would not let another massacre take place. He would not let any harm fall on his family. By the time the citizens had arrived in Illeria, Eragon and Saphira and the other dragon riders could come and help them in their fight. The elves and the dwarves would have more time to amass their armies and King Orrin had no hope of defeating them.
A city guard stopped him outside the gates of the city with his spear and ordered him to present himself. Roran did so and the soldier widened his eyes and let him pass through the gates with an embarrassed expression.
He walked amongst the empty streets and saw the closed windows and doors of all the houses. There were no merchants shouting their wares with their loud voice, or children running in the streets shouting cheerfully and playing. There still was a large open space, in the center of the city where the cathedral of Dras Leona had been, before it was destroyed during the war against Galbatorix. It was the place where the Razac had kept Katrina imprisoned for almost a year and it was the place where he and Eragon had taken their revenge on the Razac for the death of his father Garrow. He remembered visiting the city a few years before, when the war had ended. The city had been full of happy faces and people were drinking and dancing merrily, celebrating the second year of freedom from Galbatorix's rule. He still remembered the tune of a drunk man singing, the song eerily playing in his mind in the now empty city. Somewhere a brick fell, creating a loud noise, making Roran jump. Being in a empty large city made his senses peak as if he was in battle. With the corner of his eye he saw a tall man slowly coming towards him, with a serious and angry expression. The man wore heavy dark clothes and his black beard covered most of his skin on his face. He looked like a magician and Roran quickly closed his thoughts as Eragon had taught him to do.
"Roran Stronghammer! What a pleasant surprise!." the man said with a fake smile. His voice reminded him of that of a snake. "I am Dyrfod, of the Du Vrangr Gata, and I am the person responsible for the magic users in the city of Dras Leona. Martland Redbeard heard that you arrived in the city and he immediately sent me to find you, for the news are grim from the city of Belatonna, although judging from your appearance, you already know that..." Dyrfod said, his eyes judging his appearance and watching and measuring Roran's every move.
"It is a pleasure to meet you Dyrfod. Thank you for coming. I will go to the Governor immediately" Roran said.
"Please, let me lead the way. After all, an empty city is a dangerous place, especially for a war hero of the Varden". Dyrfod said and smiled with what Roran took as an ironic tone.
Roran followed the unpleasant magician closely, one hand always ready to grab his hammer. He looked at the grim faces of the men and women as he quickly passed near them, feeling their eyes looking at him. He climbed the many steps leading to the new castle of Dras Leona, where the Governor of the city was. He saw the statues of soldiers on the left and right of the entrance and in the middle of the yard was a large gold statue of a human a elf and a dwarf all fighting together against a large bulky evil looking man.
Roran admired at the fine art of the statue. The characteristics of the faces looked almost real and the details of the armors that they were all wearing and their weapons and expressions as the three different races all tried to stab at the bulky man was something truly inspiring. The face of the man being stabbed showed great horror and disbelief at the outcome, as though he was not expecting them to win.
Roran tore his gaze from the statue and barely saw the weird magician as he disappeared inside the castle. He ran after him, embarrassed. He did not want to make a bad impression and keep Martland Redbeard waiting for him. The two of them had a long history as he used to be Roran's first commander when he joined the Varden and over the months they had grown to respect each other.
He climbed the stairs passing a few serving boys with a hurry, startling them as one almost dropped a platter of food on the floor, a stream of curses following him as Roran disappeared from view. He saw the magician enter a large double door at the end of the hallway, where he assumed the governor was waiting for him. Roran entered the room, and many people turned to take a look at him as the magician Dyrfod announced him. It seemed as though they were in a middle of an important discussion about the future of the city.
"Stronghammer! Welcome! Please, join us!" Martland Redbeard ordered and Roran obeyed, taking a seat at the far end of the table. He attracted many curious glances from the lords and ladies around the table but then a tall muscular man continued talking.
"As I said, I think we should stay here and defend the city until the last breath. King Orrin might have taken Belattona by surprise but now we know he is coming, and we are more than ready for him. We gathered food supplies to last for almost a year and our soldiers are itching for battle."
"But we have no one to lead these men! Every army needs a leader to inspire them to victory! Are you going to lead them Vardyl or you Dyrfod? Or are you Martland, in your state?" a woman said looking at Martland's one hand.
A silence followed her words. The three men looked at her with anger in their eyes.
"Gentlemen! Please, calm down! It is true that we are in a very tough spot." Roran intervened before things turned ugly.
"However, I think that as my friend Vardyl stated, our soldiers are battle hardened, and ready for every threat, be it Surda or even Galbatorix's supporters. That is why i vote that we should stay and defend the city to our last breath. However, it would not be wise to put all our eggs in the same basket. We need to send our women and children, our families to safety! To Illeria! That is our safest bet! There is no need to risk the lives of the innocent and trust me, no one wants to see another massacre happening in this city. That way the soldiers will fight without the fear that their families are in danger. And if this city falls, then we will at least have gained some time, for the other races to help us. Even as we speak Arya and her dragon Firnen are flying to the elves, preparing the elves for war, and so are the dwarves. Even Eragon and the other dragon riders have decided to come and help us as soon as they can! It is our duty to protect this city and buy them some time and that is exactly what we will do, or die trying!" he shouted banging his hammer on the table, startling a few nobles. His voice still echoed inside the room.
"That was very well said thank you Stronghammer." Redbeard said breaking the silence.
"Bah false promises of elves helping and dwarves and dragons. The dragons are a million miles away! Even if they came they would be too late. And dwarves and elves? When have they actually cared about our problems? They only look at their own interest and help us only when it serves their purpose" Dyrfod said.
This comment sparked an argument between the lords sitting around the table one group shouting for and the other against Roran's position.
"Enough!" Redbeard shouted. "I have made my decision! I believe we have found our commander" he said looking at Roran with a smile and then at the table around them. "A hero of the Varden to lead us to victory!" with that he dismissed the nobles who rose from their seats. Roran received a few smiles and dirty looks from the nobles at equal measure.
"Vardyl! Lead the people to safety in Illeria. The rest, prepare the army to be inspected by our new commander!" Redbeard shouted.
Roran looked around him dazed. He was commander of the army! Who? He, who was a simple farm boy only a few years before. A large smile appeared on his face. After the other nobles left the room, for several minutes,he and Martland discussed the strategy they were going to follow, and the advantages and disadvantages of many plans. Finally a knock on the door was heard and a messenger appeared stating that the army was ready for inspection. Roran stood from his chair and followed Martland Redbeard outside of the castle.
There, he saw the army, arranged in columns, each line of men looking at him with their hands upon their pommel of their swords with serious and grim expressions. Flags of the Varden and of Nasuada's empire could be seen among them, as row after row of men appeared, filling the space in front of the castle. They moved as if they were in a parade, slowly separating themselves in large square formations. The cavalry passed in front of Roran, each man saluting him and joining his fellow soldiers at the two sides of the large army.
When they were finished, Roran walked among them, inspecting their gear and equipment. He saw men of all ages, from old men to middle aged men to barely adults among the ranks of the fighting men.
"I walk amongst you and I see men of all ages, of all backgrounds, standing before me. I see men fearing for their families, fearing that this war is already over. You're mistaken! Deep inside, you want to protect your families, you want to provide a future to your children! You are determined to stop the Surdan invaders from conquering our land! I see men ready to give their last breath to defend these values. I see an army every enemy should tremble! We fight for our families! We fight for our friends, for our comrades fighting next to us, for our people for our land! For the blood our ancestors have spilled to make this land our own! And we will not give this lightly!" Roran shouted and the men looked straighter and more proudly at their commander.
"We defeated Galbatorix the mad king against all odds and now another mad king is trying to conquer our land. Let's show them why they should fear us! There is nothing we cannot achieve with men like you!" Roran shouted and with that he stopped his speech.
The army stood in silence in front of him. Suddenly a very tall and muscular soldier that looked strong as a bull lifted his shield and shouted with all his might, quickly followed by the other soldiers. Roran recognized the man from the Olympic games. His name was Alaric and he had almost won the fighting competition before it was interrupted by Orrin's invasion. Roran admired the man for his pure strength when he fought. He smiled at the man acknowledging his presence and all the soldiers cheered, banging their swords on their shields. The men smiled, their fears long forgotten. They had a new worthy commander to lead them to victory.
"So this is what it is to lead an army." Roran thought and felt ready for the challenges to come.