Chapter Twenty-four - At War
From the city walls, he could hear the bell tolling in the castle far behind him. Spies? Gerod immediately wondered. His face was a blank slate, emotionless and yet charismatic, at least he hoped that to be his expression. A concoction of soldiers old and new stood before him waiting for their commands and Gerod found his mind pulling him back to the small inn in Shalonsbury and the betrayal he experienced therein.
This is your chance, he thought. This is how you get your redemption. He began to plan who to send back to the castle. He was surrounded by knights and men – his squire, Arnolf Stablehand, the smith Aleysha, the knight of Dawn, Sir Spartwell. Knights and men who hadn’t supported him for a decade, knights who felt he deserved to die like his brothers. Yet, knights who were ready to fight with him today. Or have I already had my redemption?
He knew he hadn’t redeemed himself. Perhaps to the public he was a new king, a better man, but he knew what he’d done to his wife, what he’d done to the daughter of the man he battled today. He knew, too, that these men who were prepared to battle with him were doing so without any knowledge of why they were fighting. They knew only that an enemy marched on their hometown and that he wanted to stop them.
He looked around at the sea of armour surrounding him and admired Aleysha’s ability. His own snake bitten sword resonated at his side, waiting to taste the cold skin of a man. Gerod wanted minimum blood to be shed in this battle. He remembered a few weeks ago wanting to forfeit before it started, and he also remembered the events that had led him to want to win – Clarice, his reminder of what life truly was. The death mage who brought life into the walls of the castle.
“Aleysha,” the king spoke slowly from his horse's back. “Take the knight of Dawn and Spartwell. Go up to the castle and eliminate any threats to Clarice.”
“And to your wife, sire?”
“Yes, to her as well. Make sure the castle is safe and come back to me. Cut down anything in your path.” He finished. The knights filed and ran off, each taking a small reserve of their own knights.
“Sire, shall we fight them? Our spotters alerted us to the Lindberg army approaching the city.”
Yes, of course. They would attack now that they’ve infiltrated our castle. Divide and conquer, he thought. “Yes, I suppose we have no choice.” He began to shout. “Men! Show no fear for their magic. If the world around you begins to heat, you must persevere, if you feel your strength fade from your body, prove your strength remains with a strong thrust of the sword. You are all stronger than that man’s magic, you are all soldiers fighting for a cause.” Though the enemy’s may be more valid.
The gate swung open before his army, and they filtered carefully through into the green fields before them. This land was dead – a bleak patch of ash and dead grass. What has happened here?
They rode past newly sprouting trees and the newly luscious grasses that covered the land around them. On the horizon, an army stood. Half of them were seated on horses, the rest stood to the side, ready to battle on foot. But how many of them hold their swords purposelessly?
Gerod moved to the front of his army and led them to the enemies. The horses pushed firmly through the new grass, gaining good footing and not being slowed by the bulky armour that covered them.
As they grew closer to the enemy army, Gerod’s horse fell. He cried out in horror as, from the ground, he watched his army’s horses falling one by one. “PERSEVERE, MEN!” he shouted to the brave merchants and soldiers who promised their service. “PERSEVERE FOR THE GOOD OF OLANDER!"
He pulled himself to his knees and stood up, thrusting his sword into the fresh ground around him and finding it slip away. Ice? Bastard water mages, surely. “Find your footing, men! We walk on fake ice.”
His squire Arnolf Stablehand helped him to his feet. The army of the Lindberg’s had nearly met with Gerod’s, and as he stood up, he raised his sword and prepared for the fight that stood before him.
He knew none of the faces in the crowd – all these people within his kingdom and none of them were known to him. Do they know me? He wondered, knowing that whatever they knew of him was likely formed by lies and hatred. They know I’m a monster – a kidnapper. They know nothing of the struggles of ruling, of the burden of power. These thoughts filled him with anger.
A burly man, large and round was the first to reach the king and the first to fall before him. He ran at Gerod with his sword held high in the air – a large bastard sword, the weight of which likely put the poor soldier off his balance more than anything Gerod did.
The king thrusted the snake’s bite into his unarmoured stomach. He watched the man’s face as he realized what had happened, and as he saw the look of death filling his eyes, he twisted his sword and brought it out again, kicking the man to the ground and moving past him.
More men rushed at the army of Gerod, but the king’s archers had now gotten into position and were launching volley after volley of arrows into the oncoming men. The army was being brought down quickly. Gerod looked to his side and saw Stablehand even taking down a few men, cutting them meticulously with his cautious and careful sword hand.
Behind Arnolf, an enemy warrior with a brutish axe had managed to sneak. Gerod launched himself toward the enemy, holding his sword at the height of his shoulder, in line with his face and thrusting himself toward the man who looked to kill the boy Gerod had been assigned as a squire. The man’s head found its way to the ground before the rest of his body and Gerod could see a mess of viscera coating the back of Stablehand’s neck.
“Thank you, my king,” Gerod could hear Arnolf shouting from in front of him. He never turned around to acknowledge him, instead continuing to slice through the approaching forces.
As the battle raged on, Gerod noticed that the Lindberg patriarch wasn’t here. He could see the bastard mage who helped to create Clarice in the background, but he saw nothing of the brute who ruled Rainhome. He couldn’t remember the man’s name, he only remembered seeing him on the field of battle. Seeing him on the day he was forced to kill his brother. These thoughts worked only to strengthen the power of Gerod’s ever hungry sword.
The enemy army seemed to be dwindling – fewer and fewer soldiers were charging at Gerod and his army. As the last of the men fell, the army charged in full force, the ground beneath them now stable and easy to maneuver across.
As they moved, Gerod’s mind was filled with monstrous thoughts. Thoughts of rage and destruction, of how it will feel to thrust his sword into the mage Inge’s head. He planned it out in his mind, seeing the grassy terrain he was running across, planning every step seconds before taking them and seeing where he would launch himself into the air and spring his sword into the mage.
The enemy force stood strong, staring down Gerod and his men. Why won’t they meet us? Why won’t they retreat? Are they fools - or do they have a plan? As they grew nearer, Gerod could see the children beside Inge – a girl and a boy. Fear was written across their faces as Gerod realized that the enemy force had no plan.
He stared deeply into the eyes of the mage. He held his sword up evenly at the level of his eyes, bracing his arms and preparing to thrust the snake bite into the bastard. He thought of how good the strike would feel – how good winning Clarice would feel, and in that moment his feet were bound. He looked first at the mage, and down to his feet. He saw nothing holding him, but he could feel something coiling and wrapping more and more around him. His legs were immobile, he was immobile. He looked around at his army and saw that they all seemed to suffer the same fate.
His rage overtook him, he stood gazing into the man, barking some words and hearing him bark similar ones back at him. The standoff lasted a long time, both men wanting desperately to drive a sword through the other, neither man able to.
“Life magic,” Inge spoke to him after a time. “We have it in our world again. Do you know much of it, Gerod? The girl beside me could keep us held here until the end of time – until we starve or we die of dehydration. She could hold us here until Olander fractures and falls into the sea. She can also heal us or resurrect us when we die – thus is the nature of magic. Gerod, soldiers like yourself you know only one way. You know only the power of the sword – the power to kill. Do you not understand the power of magic? Do you not see its worth?”
He heard the enemy’s words. He should know I never hated magic. Surely he understands why I killed my brother, surely he knows the toll his actions would’ve taken on himself. “Do you think I am not a friend to magic? Mages have ruled Olander for the last decade. Every decision I’ve made has been forged entirely by the needs of the mages.”
“You imprisoned them. You sent them to a desolate cold hell, unmonitored and unaided. You put seekers in every city to quell the power of mages. How could my kind possibly rule from such bondage?”
“You know nothing of ruling – I was the prisoner, abandoned by my brother’s, left a continent to rule. Left unable to be a man or a mage – striking a deal with the mage community to make sure they wouldn’t tell the men I wasn’t one of them. Keeping mages in check by accepting any desires they want. Half the realm feared me, and half of them extorted me. Do you know what kind of burden that is?” Gerod told the man. He could see a vague look of understanding coming across his enemy’s face. The true burden of power.
The roots began to unbind from his legs. He stood, waiting to see what the enemies would do. Neither party moved, the removed bindings seemingly having no effect. “Well?” Gerod asked. “Are you going to strike? I see you have a large sword now, we could settle this quickly – two men, two swords.”
“No, I think not. Further death will resolve little and less. We both still have men loyal to our cause, we both know that our cause would progress even if we did not. We need to be diplomatic, surely. Diplomacy is the only solution.”
He looked at the mage, his face was honest and seemed kind. He was quickly able to understand where Clarice gained her qualities, and yet they now met on the field of battle. He seemed a reasonable man – as reasonable as any who intended to murder him – and Gerod felt unsure of his desire for power.
Gerod laughed under his breath. Maybe my redemption comes in returning to a somber attitude and the realization I shouldn’t be king.
The figure of a man running across the battlefield held the two men in place more than the invisible vines that seemed to hold them.