The Soothsayer

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Chapter 28: The Bulwark Falls

As Avery hurried to meet the guards at the western gate with Helen in hand, he wondered at his change in station. In a matter of seconds, Egan had cleaned the tarnish of his demotion away, and now he was called to carry much more than a wick. He wondered if his hands would remember how to hold a blade. As he approached the western wall, he heard the Amorite drums of war echo up the stairs. Down the massive steps, snarling voices could be heard rallying as they set fire to the terraced sections below. Avery peered over the high wall and saw the white steps of the grand staircase stained black with the shuffling bodies of hundreds of dark-armored attackers making their way up the terraces.

Thum! Boom! Thum!

He looked to the soldiers behind the wall, at his side, and saw the glances of dread that spread across them as the deadly rhythm of the Amorite drums drew closer.

The meager defense at the Ambassador’s Square would not be enough to hold them back. During his long run from the bazaar, he’d garnered five or six more soldiers, who had all but given up trying to secure the mob that made its way towards the castle. Word had continued to spread, and now, he saw another handful of city watchmen and soldiers approach. He slid down the ladder to ground level and beckoned to them.

Thum! Boom! Thum! Avery could hear the drums again in the distance, the Amorite’s voices echoed in a frenzied chant, “Death! Death! Death!”

Guards pushed several carts and wagons behind the closed gateway’s doors that led to the western staircase.

“Archers? Any of you?” Avery asked the group of men approaching him. A few nodded, “Move to the top of the walls, round the western gate. The rest of you help build up the barricade. Those doors won’t hold forever.”

He turned to see Helen direct several women to the triage tent set by the market road across the square. Her eyes held his for a moment and she brought her hand to her bosom.

“Love you,” he mouthed to her, and she followed suit before grabbing a satchel of bandages and moving inside. A large brute of a man lumbered in after her, wheezing and clutching his arm.

Maker, already we have wounded. Avery turned to inspect a stacked barricade growing near the gate’s base, less than thirty feet behind the archway’s doors and carts. Old wood beams had been hastily sharpened and placed amid sandbags, barrels, and crates. Workers rigged the pieces together with rope.

Avery saw the riggings tremble slightly as the percussion of drums and feet made their way up the stair. The gravel at the foot of the barricaded gate bounced across the cobblestone as the Amorites drew closer.

“Make the knots fast boys. There’ll be no other shield for our people after this one,” Avery yelled. The men nodded and checked their work. The barricade formed a large horseshoe around the gate. Several spearmen stood across the space within, readying their weapons, while a score more stood on either side of the makeshift blockade. Archers now lined the high wall, standing next to the few watchmen who had left their eastern positions on the bulwarks.

Nearby, a group of shop owners and townspeople held their homemade weapons with shaking hands. A few wore spare hauberks of Gilead or carried shields and swords that the meager garrison offered nearby. Both the old and young, men and women, stood ready, fidgeting in armor they had never worn before, holding weapons they could barely use.

“Death! Death! Death!”

The guard’s weapons shook as the attackers’ voices echoed up the stair.

Avery could see the fear and uncertainty in the people’s eyes. He moved to them and called them into formation. “Steady up! Rows of seven all of you!” The people quickly moved into formation.

“Those of you wearing chest plates or pauldrons, keep your bindings tight! The last thing you want is to be tripped up during the battle.”

The soldiers nearby smirked as they watched the civilians struggle with their gear.

Avery shot them a sharp look, then continued, “I know many of you haven’t held a weapon. You may feel unqualified for it, but tonight is not a skirmish of mercenaries. It’s not a military exercise. We are fighting for our lives.”

Thum! Boom! Thum!

Avery continued speaking as he inspected the civilians. “I would gladly die defending any one of you. You’re the reason the rest of us go into service. You’re the heart of Gilead. Any professional soldier here would do well to remember that.” He glanced back to the guards and they nodded, as others turned to listen.

“Tonight, there is no difference between soldier and civilian, no rank between professional and novice. We are all brothers and sisters in arms. These agents of destruction now on our shore would see your bones smashed into the ground, would see your children’s blood run in the streets! Our leaders have urged us to relinquish all that we hold dear to these savages in hopes of unification. They have stripped us of every asset and called us deplorable if we questioned them. They have given us a false bill of sale for peace, at the cost of our souls. Is your life so dear, your peace so sweet that you would trade it for chains?”

All around him the people chanted “No!” as thunder rolled overhead.

Avery cried out above the din, “They come now with their drums and spears, with their cries of death. The wail they will hear will be their own! We are battered and bruised, but we are not broken! Tonight, make THEM feel terror!”

Lightning arced across the sky, and Avery saw the people’s faces had turned from fear into anger. “Make the lightning of our glory sear their eyes! Make the thunder of our voices shatter their ears! Archers find your targets!”

The plaza echoed in unison as Avery led them in chant, “Gil-e-ad! Gil-e-ad! Gil-e-ad!“.

Avery’s soldiers slammed their weapons on their shields, the people turned their formation to the gate as they continued chanting.

Thum! Boom!...... the drums faltered.

“They are at the gate!” the guards called down, “They stand uneasy!”

Silence fell upon the square for a moment. Avery took a position with his men, sword, and shield in hand as the rain began to fall.

Boom! Boom! Boom! The savage drumbeat echoed faster.

A fiery cauldron came flying over the wall and exploded behind the barricade, sending soldiers running and screaming. The gates lurched forward as the Amorites pushed against it.

“Shields up!” Avery screamed, “Hold the line!” A shower of fiery arrows flew down into the plaza. The people screamed and ran for cover.

The battle for Gilead had begun.

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