The Knight and His Squire 3
Copyright© 2015 by Spherical Spoon
Rohea and Maes packed their belongings and headed towards Yaklo. They decided that they had had enough excitement for one night that they would not be able to rest, so they might as well cover more ground towards Yaklo.
It took them less than a week before Yaklo was in sight. More precisely, the large number of soldiers camped outside Yaklo were visible. Rohea could tell that the soldiers had been stationed at Yaklo for quite some time, as the campsites looked like they had been erected for weeks.
Rohea rode straight towards the camps, with Maes riding closely behind. The soldiers standing guard at the edge of the camp looked bored, but immediately perked up and stood up straight once he saw Rohea approaching.
"Sir Rohea!" the guard called out. "You're here at last!"
Rohea nodded and replied, "What is your current status?"
"We have been here at Yaklo for some time, and Lieutenant Baiffer has been organizing scouting parties towards the enemy."
"Where is Lieutenant Baiffer?" Rohea asked.
The guard soldier gave Rohea the directions towards the middle of the camp. Rohea and Maes rode quickly, and soon arrived at the command post.
Rohea dismounted and walked calmly inside. Lieutenant Baiffer and two other soldiers were bent over a hand-drawn map. The three soldiers noticed Rohea's entry and looked up.
"Sir Rohea," Baiffer said. "You're back!"
"Indeed, what is our current status?" Rohea asked.
"The enemy is a week's march from Yaklo."
"They're so near?" Rohea exclaimed.
"They have been making steady progress towards us," Baiffer explained. "I have been dispatching scouts daily, and every day the enemy marches closer."
"What of the soldiers at the front lines?" Rohea asked.
"Only a fraction of their forces remain. Each day, the enemy engages them and they pull back further. They desperately need our help," Baiffer stated.
"Why didn't you send troops to support them?"
"Your orders were to wait at Yaklo, Sir Rohea," Baiffer answered, sounding frustrated. "I informed the soldiers at the front lines of our orders, and so they have been steadily pulling back towards us. They seek only to slow the enemy's progress towards Yaklo, not to stop them."
Rohea sighed. "I pray that my delay in arrival will not cause us to lose the war. What has happened to the soldiers who succumbed to the mages' sleeping spells?" Rohea asked.
"We have put them together in one tent. It is the strangest thing," Baiffer said. "They do not eat or drink, and yet they are still alive, somehow. It must be the magic."
"Hmm," Rohea said. "No matter, my squire Maes here will wake them up."
Baiffer looked at Maes and said, "Maes? What can she do that we cannot?"
Rohea explained, "Maes is not only a squire, she is also a healer."
Baiffer gasped. "A healer! She would be most useful here once the battle begins."
Maes blushed and bowed her head down.
"Come, lead us to where the sleeping soldiers are," Rohea ordered.
Baiffer led Rohea and Maes to a small tent on the outskirts of the camp. The solitary tent was placed a distance away from everything else, as if the other soldiers were afraid of catching whatever the sleeping soldiers had.
"How is the morale?" Rohea asked.
"As expected," Baiffer replied. "The soldiers are prepared to defend Wollior from the enemy, but these sleeping soldiers have lowered their morale. Many are afraid of magic and what it could do to them."
"Pff," Rohea spat. "Mages die easily to our blades."
"Not if they attack from the shadows," Baiffer said. "Just like what they did here."
Baiffer lifted the flaps to the tents, and Maes quickly walked in. The soldiers were laid out in neat rows, and to all appearances, they looked as though they were fast asleep. Maes put her finger to their noses and noted that they were breathing, albeit slowly. She placed her hands in the air, and the familiar warm glow enveloped her palms.
Baiffer gasped and looked intently at Maes. The glow diffused into the air around the tent, and covered the sleeping soldiers. Slowly, they began to stir. Rohea smiled. Eventually, the soldiers sat up from their mats and rubbed their eyes.
"Are you hungry?" Rohea asked them.
The soldiers looked at Rohea and scrambled to stand up.
"Rest easy, soldiers," Rohea said. "You've had a tough time. What do you remember?"
The soldiers described their experiences, and it seemed that none of them had noticed the mages before succumbing to the sleeping spell. Their last memory was of laying down to sleep.
"Get these men some food," Rohea told Baiffer. "Let the rest of the soldiers know that they have awoken and are well again. That should improve their morale."
"I will spread the word that we have a healer in our midst. That should give them hope in our war."
"Will we be staying here at Yaklo, Sir Rohea?" Maes asked.
Rohea replied, "My orders are to engage the enemy and take over the city of Ciiar, so that is what I must do. Once the enemy is defeated, we will return to Wolle and clear your name."
"What of the mage Pyar?"
"I hope she has received Fleomr's message and will travel here," Rohea answered. "We will learn if she has cleared your name."
"Do you want me to try communicating with her?" Maes asked.
"No," Rohea said firmly. "The less people know of your abilities, the better. Pyar might think you are a dark practitioner again if you did that."
Maes shivered. "I'm a little afraid of what I can do. I've learned so much recently, and yet I feel that there is so much more I could do once I learn how."
Rohea nodded sagely. "We must first learn how to control that dark power of yours."
"If only Parym were here. He would have some answers for me," Maes said.
"Indeed. But I do not blame him for choosing to sit out the war," Rohea said. "I would too, if given the choice."
"Why?" asked Maes.
"When you have seen so much death," Rohea said. "It wears on you. Especially when you have caused many of the deaths with your own hands."
"I don't regret killing the bandits that attacked us," Maes said.
"It is not the killing that worries me," Rohea said. "It is the method by which you did it."
"Killing with a sword is ... personal and just," Rohea continued. "Magic isn't. And there was an aura of evil that I felt with it."
Maes nodded. "I felt it too. But when I was doing it, it felt so right. Like I could do anything I wanted."
"Promise me that you'll not use that power again," Rohea said.
"I will try my best," Maes answered.
The next morning, Rohea walked around the camp and talked to the soldiers, both to make his presence felt, and to bolster morale.
"Ready the troops for marching," Rohea instructed Baiffer. "The enemy draws closer, and we cannot fight so close to Yaklo."
"Yes Sir," Baiffer answered.
Rohea conferred with his lieutenants, Baiffer and Kaliv, and the two lieutenants nodded in acknowledgment of their orders.
The campsite was torn down over the next few hours, and it was soon midday. Rohea sat atop Feisty, his trusted steed, and rode up and down the line of soldiers.
"Ready yourselves," Rohea shouted. "The enemy is but a week from Yaklo. We must meet them head on, and show them that Wollior will not rest easy when the enemy is at our door! For Wollior!"
The soldiers cheered, and began their march away from Yaklo, towards Ciiar. The cavalry headed east around Yaklo, under the leadership of lieutenant Baiffer.
An army marches slowly. The soldiers did not have to don their armor, yet, but Rohea insisted on them being armed at all times. Their walking speed frustrated Rohea, but he knew that there was little he could do to hurry the pace. Straining the troops before battle would doom them, and yet marching in the open left them vulnerable to ambushes. Rohea sent scouting parties ahead of the large host, both to search for signs of the enemy, and also to look for safer regions to make camp for the night.
As the sun approached the horizon, Rohea began to get worried. He had not yet received word from any of his scout parties, even though he had given them strict orders to return before dusk. Consulting the maps drawn by previous scouting parties before he arrived, Rohea decided that their current position was as good as any to make camp. It was open, which left them open to attacks, but it would also give them notice of any approaching enemies.
The soldiers, weary from the march, quickly pitched their tents to settle in for the night. Rohea called Kaliv into the command tent for a discussion, and instructed Maes to listen in to the conversation.
"The scouting parties have not returned," Rohea started.
"Yes, Sir Rohea," Kaliv replied. "The soldiers grow worried that the mages are around us again."
"We must ascertain their status immediately. How many scouts do we have remaining?" Rohea asked.
"We have six scouts in camp. Four of them previously fell to the spells of the mages, but your squire here," Kaliv said, gesturing to Maes, "restored them."
"How is the morale of these four?" Rohea asked.
"About as much as anyone in the camp," Kaliv said. "They are happy to be alive and awake again, but worried that they will fall to the same spell if they leave the camp."
"We cannot march blindly without scouts," Rohea stated. "But if we send them out, they may not return."
"We cannot afford to lose any more scouts for now. At dawn tomorrow, send out a party of six soldiers in search of our other scouts."
"Six?" Kaliv asked. "They will not be able to move quickly or stealthily."
"Indeed," Rohea said. "But with six, we increase the chance that at least one of them will return with news."
"What of the rest of the soldiers?" Kaliv asked. "Should we wait here until we hear news of the scouts?"
"No. We must keep marching. We are too close to Yaklo. We must bring the war to the enemy's lands."
"What if the enemy lies just ahead of us, waiting to strike? Perhaps that is what happened to the scouts," Kaliv said.
"We will have to take the risk," Rohea answered. "We have a large host, so the enemy would think twice before attacking. We must join forces with the soldiers at the front lines, and push the enemy back to Ciiar. How large of an army does the enemy have?"
"About the same size as ours," Kaliv said. "They have more foot soldiers than we do, but less cavalry."
"Hmm," Rohea considered. "What is the make-up of our soldiers at the front lines?"
"Mostly foot soldiers," Kaliv answered. "The cavalry perished early in their attempts to stop the enemy's march towards Yaklo."
"Spread the word among our soldiers, that we have a healer in our midst. That will boost their morale, and if the enemy hears about it, it may give them pause about attacking us."
At dawn, the party of six soldiers made their way out of the camp. The rest of the soldiers quickly kept their tents and prepared for the day's march. Soon, the large host was once again on its feet, heading towards the front lines.
"Sir Rohea," someone called shortly after they had begun their march. "A scout returns!"
Rohea gently nudged Feisty and headed to the front of the march. A lone man sat on the ground besides a tired horse. Rohea quickly eased himself to the ground and headed to the man.
The man, noticing Rohea's approach, stood up and said, "Sir Rohea, I'm glad that you're back!"
Rohea turned to Kaliv, who had just arrived behind Rohea. Kaliv said, "Sir Rohea, this is one of the scouts we sent to our soldiers on the front line."
"Good," Rohea said. "Report."
"The enemy is three day's from here," the scout said. "Our soldiers have been retreating faster each day, and the enemy has been relentless in their pursuit."
"How are the supplies on the front lines?" Rohea asked.
"Running out," the scout replied. "The soldiers are at their breaking point, and Lieutenant Geran there has ordered that they make a continual retreat to our position instead of engaging the enemy every day."
"Lieutenant Geran?" Rohea said. "What of Sir Yaaro, who was leading them?"
The scout sighed. "Sir Yaaro died valiantly in battle two weeks ago. He was surrounded by the enemy and managed to hold them off long enough for the rest of our soldiers to retreat."
"I see," Rohea said solemnly. "He was a good man."
Kaliv chimed in, "Did you encounter any difficulties getting here?"
"No," the scout replied. "Should I have?"
"The scouts we sent out yesterday have not returned," Kaliv said. "We suspected the enemy had a hand in it."
"The enemy?" the scout asked. "I doubt so, they have lost most of their scouts as well. And they would not risk sending a forward team behind our lines."
"The enemy has lost their scouts too?" Rohea questioned.
"We have seen less and less scouts every day. Lieutenant Geran believes that either the enemy is keeping them in reserve, or something is happening to them."
"Are we responsible for killing their scouts?" Rohea asked.
"Only a few. We captured one alive a week ago, and he divulged that the enemy thought we had been killing off all their scouts."
"Interesting," Rohea commented. He thought for a while and said, "The mages must be behind this. But why would they attack both sides? I'd thought that they were from the enemy."
"Perhaps they have some grander scheme in mind?" Kaliv offered.
"The plots of the mages are frequently twisted," Rohea said. "No matter, we will slay any mage that harms our soldiers."
"Rest well, soldier, you have done well," Rohea said to the scout. "There is a stream nearby that your horse will be grateful for. You look like you could do with some rations as well." Turning to Kaliv, he said, "Get this man some food and water."
"Yes, Sir Rohea," Kariv answered.
Rohea led the soldiers on their march, and it was soon midday. Two figures were spotted running towards them in the distance, and Rohea readied his sword. He mounted Feisty, and Maes mounted Mud. They broke off from the host of soldiers and rode towards the two figures.
"Could it be a trap?" Maes asked as they rode.
"Unlikely," Rohea said. "The scout would have spotted signs of the enemy if he saw anything. This may be one of our earlier scout parties, or the six that we sent this morning."
As Rohea and Maes approached the pair, Rohea recognized them as two of the six that had set off at dawn.
"Sir Rohea," one of the men called. "Mages!" The man bent down, put his hands on his knees, and panted.
"What happened?" Rohea asked as he rode up to them.
"The six of us went searching for the scouts, as you ordered," the other man said. "We spotted a pair of scouts laying on the ground, so we approached them. The two of us stayed a distance away in case there was a trap."
The first man stood up straight again. "It was a trap. The moment the other four got close to the scouts, all four of them fell down to the ground."
"Were they killed, or asleep?" Rohea asked.
"I don't know," the second man answered. "We didn't dare to get close to them. We ran back here as quickly as we could."
"Good job," Rohea told them.
Kaliv rode up to Rohea and the others, and Rohea updated him on the situation.
"What should we do?" Kaliv asked.
"Maes and I will travel to the scouts these men found, and Maes will awaken them. We will need all the scouts we can find."
"What if the trap triggers again and puts the two of you to sleep?" Kaliv questioned.
Rohea patted his shield. "I've survived one assault of the spell in the past. I believe I can do so again. Maes can counter the spell, so she shouldn't be affected by it."
Kaliv nodded. "Very well, Sir. I will stay with the troops and continue our march."
"Come, Maes, we have work to do," Rohea said.
As they rode in the direction the two men had come from, Rohea asked Maes, "Do you think you can heal them from a distance?"
"I thought you'd said I shouldn't be affected by the mages' spell?" Maes asked.