Sah’rah stole a glance at Tar’vid and the warriors of the Jakken as the tribe left, losing both him and Tar’gorth was a blow to her. Sah’rah had few people she could rely upon and even fewer friends.
“You still have me,” Sah’eca said from beside her, apparently, mind reading was a Venna thing now.
“What do you mean?” she replied absently.
“It’s okay to feel a little vulnerable you know,” her friend replied. “He’s impressive isn’t he?”
“Who?” Sah’rah said, knowing full well she meant Tar’vid.
“You know who... I’m glad Tar’gorth went with him though, Tar’vid isn’t cut out for the task ahead of him I fear,” Sah’eca said with a sigh. “It’s out of our hands now anyway, what’re your orders?”
Sah’rah looked up to her friend, taking her eyes from the departing Paladins. “Gather a detail and get our dead buried, I’ll send out scouts for a suitable forward camp... the rest of the army should arrive in the next few hours, so I guess a report will be necessary,” she said, lost in her chaotic thoughts.
“You’re doing fine you know,” Sah’eca said, placing a large hand upon her shoulder.
Sah’rah forced a smile at her friend’s words, watching as Sah’eca strode away to attend her tasks. Sah’rah dispatched one of her captains to gather suitable soldiers to scout out ahead and she allowed herself one last gaze backwards, but the warriors and Paladins had already vanished from sight.
Sah’rah sat attentively around the war room table as Tar’mon plotted out their plan of attack. Her scouts had located a large valley clearing several days ago, where there were only two routes, one in and one out. There they had erected tents and pavilions for shelter. Several hours later Tar’mon and the remainder of the army had arrived to the news of the defeated Vanguard, and Tar’gorth’s departure with Tar’vid. He hadn’t seemed troubled by the tale, though he regretted the loss of so many Paladins in the initial battle. It had been only a short time later that the employed Mages began to sculpt shelters from the very rock and earth itself, then, after the initial buildings had been raised, they began to tunnel into the cliff face, creating a large cavern to store supplies before erecting a large gatehouse in front of it.
“The winters are harsh here, we need to protect our supplies and have somewhere for the non-Paladins to shelter,” Tar’mon had told her.
The once empty valley had quickly become a small village within a few days, and in that time they had ranged out in force, quickly coming upon Kendral castle, a fortress carved into the very mountain it guarded, the keep dominating the skyline with its Gothic spires that pierced the very heavens above. From there you could follow the tiers of the city down a level to the tomb of heroes where the heroes of the great siege were buried, lower down a vast sprawling complex of houses lay hidden behind the domineering gatehouse and its surrounding walls, Kendral could only be assaulted from the front due to both the natural and magical defences and had a vast killing ground before reaching the near seventy foot walls. She didn’t look forward to the day they’d have to assault that fortress... the place where the Blooming of Hope rested. Tar’mon had ridden towards the castle with a small group of oxen riders, it had also been the first time she had seen the Paladin banner unfurled, perhaps, for the first time since Tar’gor’s reign of terror. To some, it was a terrifying sight, even she worried about the consequences of a militant Paladin order. They had pulled up just shy of a short rock, some hundred yards from the castle city, waiting until a response came from the enemy. After some time had passed, she assumed there would be no talking, only the inevitable siege. It was then that there came a deep horn from within Keldran, as the gates opened a party of the same size as the Paladins emerged from the gates on foot. She heard nothing of the conversation from her vantage point, though the meeting was short... very short. Tar’mon looked towards the castle as several of their captured soldiers stood atop the gatehouse, the speaker of the enemy dropped his hand and the soldiers were thrown from the gatehouse, the now visible nooses around their necks snapping taut, hopefully breaking their necks and not letting them be strangled to death. Sah’rah had seethed with anger, willing to charge out and cut down their murderers. Tar’mon, however, turned his oxen away, riding back with his retinue that she noticed spat on the ground before the enemy.
“Why did you not kill him?” she had asked outraged.
“They have many of our brothers and sisters still captured, their deaths would have guaranteed their deaths” he had replied, anger underneath the surface of his face.
“It’s war then?” she had asked.
“Oh, most certainly it’s war!” Tar’mon had said in a rage, loud enough for the gathered soldiers to hear.
That day a large siege camp had been raised, though never passing by the small stone Tar’mon had stopped by.
“It’s a marker stone” Tar’mon explained to her later, “the extreme range of their archers.”
Again the mages raised buildings and palisades, the engineers they’d brought began to construct siege towers and trebuchets. Her reminiscing came to a stop as Tar’mon finished the introductions and moved on to the core of the strategy meeting.
“We start the bombardment in less than an hour,” he said confidently. “It will soon be proven if the walls are indeed impregnable to damage... and if it proves to be so, then we shall have to contemplate a full-on siege, though I hope to avoid an escalation, for remember, we still have to go home one day, and the Paladins are key to the defence of Cerdic.”
Sah’rah baulked at his caution of an escalation, with the Blooming of Hope supposedly a time sensitive matter. Their stores should last years, but did they have that long to wait? She was about to raise the point when Tar’gelth spoke up.
“Surely, a siege would take years? We don’t have that sort of time, an assault on the walls can be the only possible course of action,” he quite rightly brought up, murmurs of agreement rising amongst the gathered captains and most influential Paladins.
“Indeed, I agree with Tar’gelth, time isn’t on our side. Should the war engines be ineffective, an assault must be the next course of action,” chipped in Sir Godwin, one of the only knights in the army.
His charger was an impressive beast and almost unknown to most people in Cerdic. Sir Godwin stroked his long moustache, an odd contrast with the knight’s shaven head. His accent was odd but strangely made others listen intently whenever he spoke.
“Unless you know of something we do not?” he questioned, leaning forward in his chair.
“I only have rumours and conjecture to draw upon thus far, when we have spies within the castle, we shall know more. Until then, we will rely on the success of the bombardment” Tar’mon said decisively.
He was getting frustrated now, perhaps close to invoking his grandmaster rank... though the others seemed to back off in deference to his position.
“Then may I suggest we give the siege engineers a week, then reconvene to discuss this matter further” she ventured, knowing there would have to be a compromise eventually.
The others agreed with her proposal and they left peacefully, she just had to hope the war engines would accomplish their task.
Tar’mon held her back as the others left. “Thank you for the backup, I really can’t stomach a full-on assault” he explained to her, showing weakness for the first time.
“You are aware that such a thing is inevitable, the few records Sah’eca recovered from Samarkand relate that the walls are imbued with Dwarviari, elven, and human magic. If the walls won’t go down, there’s no other real option. Remember, the Saints gave us a year window” she said, repeating what Tar’mon had told her and Tar’gorth only a few months ago. She noticed him turn his head slightly... something had changed, she knew it for sure now.
“What aren’t you telling us Grand Master?” she asked calmly.
Tar’mon sighed, taking a deep breath before speaking again, “Tar’mine told me there was some interference with the Blooming, it’s delaying its opening... potentially, by five or six years currently.”
“How long have you known!” she shouted, knocking over her chair as she involuntarily leapt to her feet in anger.
“Just before yourself and Tar’gorth went through the portal, it was too late to stop the army moving Sah’rah. You’re a rational person, surely you can see that?” he responded calmly, never flinching from her anger.
Several guards moved into the tent to investigate, but Tar’mon waved them away as they bowed out quickly.
“I do... though you know that the others can’t know this,” she told him.
Tar’mon raised his eyebrows, perhaps not understanding her. “There are those here that have left loved ones behind, how do you think, say, Tar’vid would react if he found out you’d taken away being at his first child’s birth?”
Tar’mon sat down once more, realisation dawning on his face finally. “Are there more that would hold this against me?”
Sah’rah felt a little sympathy for him, the grand master really had little choice in this. Had he stopped the second wave, then Tar’gelth would certainly have died or been captured, the other captured Paladins left to their fate.
“Tar’vid, to be fair, seems an affable type... and all the others were already here. Perhaps when next you see the Saints. you could break the news then?” She proposed though she disliked the need for deception.
“You have a devious mind... forgive me, I’m being ungrateful. You’re helping me out of a bad situation... I remember there being a Paladin fortress nearby, Tar’mine began its construction before heading south if I remember correctly” Tar’mon mumbled to himself, standing abruptly and leaving her alone in the war room.
Sah’rah waited a moment before standing and began to leave when she noticed several markers on a map mostly covered with papers. Sah’rah gently moved the scrolls and papers aside, she could now clearly see had been used to cover the map hastily before the meeting had begun. It was a map of the north lands certainly, with several areas clearly marked with crosses... one blue where Tar’gorth had been headed with the Jakken and several others were marked red... one seemed to be only several leagues from where they were now. Sah’rah noted the position before covering the map as it had been and left quickly, collecting her sword from the guards on the way out.
“Did you find out anything of interest Lady Sah’rah?” Sir Godwin asked after she’d walked only a few feet.
“Perhaps...” she replied, sweeping her hair to one side and tying it in a ponytail.
A thought crossed her mind suddenly. “Perhaps we could investigate together Sir Godwin, can your horse carry two?”