Chapter 32: Plans of Victory
The city of Dras Leona was silent, in the late hours of the night. A cold winter wind passed among the houses, and droplets of rain had started to fall from the gray looming clouds. Guards manned the walls of the city, patrolling, with slow, deliberate steps. They held their spears at the ready, their eyes looking everywhere at once, looking for any potential danger. Large flags of Surda were moving from the wind atop the tall city towers, proclaiming that the city had been conquered.
Few people walked in the streets at this hour, not for fear of scoundrels and thieves, but for fear of the Surdan soldiers. Merchants had already retired to their beds, no longer selling their wares, and every inn in the city was filled to the brim, with Surdan soldiers, drinking and dancing and singing.
A large castle stood in the center of the city, its strong white stone walls, contrasting with the darkness of the night. A strong Iron gate, guarded by a squadron of soldiers led inside the luxurious castle, where King Orrin’s rooms were located.
In the wide, richly decorated room, where the Governor of Dras Leona had ruled the city before it was captured, King Orrin sat on a golden throne, he had ordered made, wearing the crown of the Empire upon his head. He wore a dark red robe and a thick white furry cape to keep him warm. His face was serious, his dark eyes full of hatred, and a scowl marked his face, revealing his emotions. King Orrin was lost, deep in his own thoughts, as he looked at the table, full of maps, and other military reports and he absentmindedly turned his golden scepter on the ground . Standing in front of him Malik, his best general was looking intently at the floor, not wanting to meet the gaze of his king. Around him, more generals were aligned, trying to not seem nervous in front of their king. Lewin and Karlon. Two generals that always fought for who would influence Orrin, who would have more power and who always plotted against each other. Lewin had red hair, and dark gray eyes, a slight scowl always on his face, and a small scar from an old battle on his cheek. Karlon had black hair and a short build, his thick forearms were marked by a falcon and an eagle, his face covered with a thick short beard.
A great fury took over him at the thought of his defeat. Roran’s army had managed to defeat him at the most crucial stage of the campaign, the battle for Iliria. The dwarves and elves and most important, the dragon riders had managed to arrive on time in the city to help the defenders. Why were the other races always sticking their noses to human affairs that did not concern them. How dared they interfere in his plans? He would make them all pay for their insolence! For him, he would be happy for the elves to hide in the forrest for the rest of time, and for the dwarves to vanish in their underground cities. How was he to defeat the dragons and riders when he had no rider of his own? He needed to be more powerful, he needed some special weapon to hold their own against the riders. But what could that be? Only silence answered him, when he asked that question to his generals. Useless, all of them! He was surrounded by fools who could not tie their own shoes without guidance. He would defend what he had conquered to the bitter end, he would not back away in front of this danger, if he had to flog each and every one of his soldiers to stand their ground!
His heart beat faster, and his hand pressed the hilt of his golden scepter with all his strength, as he felt that hatred again for Roran. In the hours since the defeat in Iliria, he had spent all his time trying to reunite his army, to bring them back to Dras Leona. Once he had gathered as many soldiers from his defeated army, as he could, he had spent countless hours trying to form a plan to deal with Roran. He had finally come upon a plan that could work, and he was fairly certain it would take care of him. It all depended on Malik, who was standing now in front of him. For a moment he studied the man and then he nodded.
“You may leave us, Malik to carry out your mission.” Orrin said with a cold voice. Malik saluted and immediately turned, and with measured steps he exited the throne room.
Orrin’s eyes followed Malik until he vanished. He was a good general. His mind studied the maps in front of him, searching desperately for a solution.
“I want Roran hindered at every step. I want them to pay with blood, for every inch of land they take back.” Orrin commanded. Orrin shivered at the thought of the army coming towards him. What was he to do with the riders and elves? He knew that they were dangerous and needed to be stopped. What was taking Murtagh so long to appear? He had captured Nasuada to lure him in and force him to serve him. He knew that Murtagh knew the name of the ancient language. He would make him reveal it to him once he had captured him and his dragon. He still remembered clearly the letter he had sent to Murtagh. He could do nothing more than wait. When he appeared, Murtagh would be captured. But he needed the bloody man right this instant! It seemed everything was working against him.
Murtagh would be useful against the elves, since he could control the ancient language, but what would control the riders? What could possibly control a group of the most powerful magicians the world had ever seen?
“Your Highness, if it pleases you I would like to speak” Lewin, one of his Generals said hesitantly.
“Speak then. Do not waste my time.” Orrin warned with a harsh voice.
“Your Highness, I believe I have a solution for the riders, to be able to destroy them.” Lewin stated.
Orrin remained silent and lifted an eyebrow waiting for an explanation.
“There are rumors from the north. A shade has been released to the world, a very powerful shade. It is said that it killed everyone in the city of Teirm. It is said that he has the powers of a God, that he killed Eragon Shadeslayer. It is said he has dragon riders under his command.” Lewin stated.
“A shade?” Orrin laughed. “Is that your brilliant solution to my problem?“. Karlon laughed along with Orrin.
“Please, your highness. He harbors a great hatred for the riders. It is said while he killed the people of Teirm he used magic as has never been seen before, blood magic or black magic. He is against the riders. We are against the riders. The enemy of our enemy is our friend.” Lewin said trying to persuade Orrin.
Another fool, who believed rumors. There was no way Eragon Shadeslayer was dead. How could anyone believe such nonsense? Still, the man had a point. It could be wise to have the shade on his side, as an ally. Perhaps until he had solved this problem of Roran and his army. A plan started to form in his mind. Plans, strategies that would lead him to victory.
“My Lord?” Lewin said uncertainly.
“Go to this shade, Lord Lewin. I want him as an ally, on our side.” King Orrin stated.
“Yes, your highness.” Lewin said with a confident voice.
“I shall write him a letter to invite him here to discuss.” Orrin stated as Lewin bowed. Servants rushed towards Orrin, bringing him pen and paper. His mood was slightly better.
“And bring me some wine!” Orrin ordered with a furious voice. Useless the lot of them he thought. The servants rushed to obey.
The great green forest lied in front of Roran and his men. The army had left Iliria two days ago and was slowly marching towards Dras Leona to recapture it from King Orrin’s forces. The soldiers were in neat ranks, marching next to each other. He had sent scouts ahead, to report on enemy movement, and he was waiting for their reports. If there was one thing that was vital in any campaign, it was the information on the enemy forces. Knowing your enemy was very important, knowing their numbers, their supply routes, their strongholds and their weaknesses were all part of gaining victory.
“Genral! The scouts have returned! All but two of them.” a soldier reported.
“Where were these two scouts last seen?” Roran asked.
“The southern part of the road, sir” the soldier reported.
“Perhaps there is an ambush ahead. Tell the men to walk with their eyes open.” Roran ordered.
“Sir, yes sir!”
Roran looked at the ranks of the soldiers, all veterans of many battles now. The men looked tired, but their confidence had been boosted by the great victory they had against the Surdans. He had exploited this victory as much as possible, boosting their morale, using it to hire more men for the army, to cover the losses his side had suffered in the battles. His attention was drawn by an old man, walking amongst some young soldiers, his white hair waving in the air, and his face with at least three scars. He walked stiffly, as if his knee was hurting him, but his head was held high and proudly.
“Alfaeon” Roran said his name, calling his attention. He had learned the name of each soldier, he had talked to them, and seen them in battle, he had risked his life alongside them. They were like his family.
The man turned his head and looked at Roran with a smile.
“I hear General Stronghammer means to march us all the way to Dras Leona without a stop. Will you manage with that leg?” Roran asked with a smile.
“What does not kill you, makes you stronger.” the soldier replied.
“I doubt you heard right though. I think General Stronghammer understands his men better than they do themselves. I think he knows that marching us all the way to Dras Leona without a stop would only make us easier for the picking.” the soldier said and Roran laughed.
“You think so?” Roran asked.
“What I think is unimportant. What I know is that even if that was the case, each and every one of us is ready to follow General Stonghammer to the Gates of the Underworld themselves” Alfaeon stated, his ocy blue eyes looking straight into Roran’s.
“A lucky general indeed.” Roran chuckled, and moved forward to lead the army.
Alarik, his second was already shouting at the men, making them keep in line, to keep marching towards Dras Leona. His injuries had been healed by a magician, and once again he looked formidable, a mass of muscle. His strong hand was grabbing the hilt of his sword, and his shiny breastplate reflected the rays of the sun. His harsh green eyes stopped at Roran and a large grin appeared on his face.
“General, a great day for hunting Surdans.” he stated.
“Indeed”. Roran replied.
“Have the men ready for an attack. You lead the right wing, Albriech at the centre, and I will lead the left wing.” Roran ordered.
“Sir.” Alarik replied saluting.
Roran looked at the army once more, the humans. The dwarves were led by Orik, marching behind them and the Elves by Lord Dathedr. He needed to talk to them for the road ahead. He suspected that King Orrin would try to defend the land as harshly as possible. They still had four or five days until they reached Dras Leona.
For a moment he sighed, trying to relax his mind, thinking about his family. What were they doing? He had not seen them for a few days. He prayed to all the Gods that they were fine. With another sigh he looked at the road ahead. He had an army to lead, but hopefully not at the Gates of the Underworld as Alfaeon has said a few minutes ago.