Chaos Calls 06: Into the Heartland
Copyright© 2018 by Ernest Bywater
Going for the Prize
We take two days slowly working our way through the trees while I look for a little known ford across the river running along the base of this mountain range. I’m sure the reason the New Slavers feel safe from being attacked from the south is the mountain range and this fast flowing deep river make formidable barriers to anyone coming from the south. There are four roads through the mountains that can be used to attack them, and all four have bridges across the river. The bridge where we crossed the river a couple of miles before the mountains was being watched by a good sized force that didn’t challenge us, and I’m sure they’re members of the New Slavers. I feel certain the main southern forces are all at the bridges with little in between. When I viewed the map on Crossroads it showed the larger southern forces at the bridges and a few cities. None near this little known and rarely used ford where I plan to cross into their land. Thus we’ll be within their borders without any warning to them.
We find the ford and cross over. Two days later we come across a farm being run by Slavers. When we ride up one of their guards shoots at us, so we simply go through the farm killing all of the guards and freeing the slaves. Many of them had lived in the area before the Slavers arrived and now they have weapons they intend to use them to seek revenge. I warn them of the areas where the Slavers have large forces. One of them smiles and says, “It’s good to know where we can find them. We’ll free all of our friends on the other farms around here then we’ll deal with them.”
Although we can’t stay around to help them I’ve a feeling this area is going to be free of Slavers again, because between what these people will do and what the Rider Clan will do plus our attack on the control centre there’s not going to be much of the New Slavers leadership or troops on hand able to retake control of the people again. Especially after they’re now armed with captured weapons.
On our way north we do meet and eliminate a few small patrols of the New Slavers soldiers. We also free the slaves at a few other farms when we come across ones we can’t pass by while staying hidden. Where we can pass them without being seen, we do. That leaves the slaves we’ve already freed the job of freeing these ones, but it will also mean the New Slavers will think the only trouble in the area is south of where we are.
We’re much slower while we make our way north in the lands of the New Slavers, so it’s midday ten days after freeing the first farm when we crest a forested ridge a few miles south of the citadel which is the centre of the New Slavers. The village where we left Gregor is about seven days good riding to the north-west of here. So we’re well away from where any of the fighting on that border should be happening. We spend the rest of the day watching the citadel through the telescopes.
There’s only a fraction of the soldiers I expected to see moving about within the citadel. Also, large sections of the city appear to be unoccupied and in the early stages of disrepair. The most surprising thing is some of the smaller gateways are locked up and left unattended. I’m still puzzling over it when Rob says, “I do think Gregor is giving them a lot of trouble.” When I turn to look at him he adds, “From what I can see of the troops it seems a lot of them have been sent out at short notice, so the ones left are trying to do what they can and are cutting corners while doing so. It’s either that or they think we’re watching them and want to entice us in. I doubt they know how close we are.”
Bridget says, “I also think Sid Jones has played a part in this too. When he defeated them in the Slaver War he withdrew the bulk of his forces. However, he left a lot of trained and experienced fighters in the area behind him as well as quality roads with fast communication lines. I think once the New Slavers took the lands to the south they looked to retake the lands to the north and ran into major problems when they went back into the areas Sid freed. Those people are probably fighting back while getting help from the Jones Citadel to free the lands south of them again. The same has happened when they went west into the Rider Clan lands. The people in charge probably expected as little resistance as they got the first time around, and they’ve been seriously caught out by the heavy resistance they’re getting. In short, they’re overextended.”
I think on it all for a bit, then I say, “Tonight Tora and I will penetrate the city. If we can do so we’ll open one of the gates, let you in, then lock it up again behind you. We can set up camp in one of the abandoned areas while we work out how to rescue the Damsels and kill the leaders of this group.” I get a lot of smiles and nods in reply.
When it gets dark enough we move closer to the city. Tora and I move from bush to bush while we close in on the city wall. About midnight we’re against the wall beside one of the locked smaller gateways when a rope is dropped over the side of the wall. I immediately grab the rope and start climbing as fast as I can. When I reach the top I hear a man say, “We’ll have to run as hard and as fast as we can. We can’t take the rope with us, so they’ll find it when they check the wall in the morning.” A few voices respond to acknowledge his words.
I finish climbing over the wall and say, “Thanks for the rope. It made the climb easy.” They all jump and turn to look at me. “If you can help me unlock and open this gate I can let the rest of my team in then you can walk out at ground level, taking the rope with you, or you can hide with us until after we complete our rescue. If you stay we’ll take you with us when we head back to the Rider Clan Citadel.”
One of the women in the group says, “You don’t sound like members of the Rider Clan.”
“We’re not. We just came through their lands to get here, and we’re going back that way.”
“Name three members of the Rider Clan you’ve met.”
“By name, the first four we met at the citadel were Gregor, his man Derek, the weapons maker Gill, and his helper Dan. Is that enough?”
“Well, you’ve been to the citadel in recent weeks. That’s clear. Come, I’ll show you how to unlock the gate.” I hold up my hand to stop her, I bend over the wall, hold my hand out, and make the signs for Tora to go get the rest of our group. With my hand held away from the wall it’s silhouetted against the sky so she can read the signs. I watch for her, and I can only just make out her movement because I’m expecting it. The woman asks, “What was that about?”
“I was signalling my assistant to get the rest of our group from where they’re waiting in the trees.”
Unlocking the gate is a long and slow process, but we do it and open the gate to find the others waiting for us. They walk through leading our horses, and the last one is Tora brushing the ground to remove the tracks. They move in and we relock everything. The tracks for locking up are expected so we leave them there, but we remove everything else.
The escaping people join us and lead us to a part of the city we can hide in. While we walk the man leading us says, “I left the rope there to make it look like we’ve left the city.” I nod agreement at his deception of the city’s soldiers.
We end up in a four story building of some sort with attached stables, but the building has been so well stripped we can’t tell what it was used for. We set up to stay in the stables with the horses and dogs while we also have two people on watch from the top levels of the building. They have two telescopes to watch what goes on in the city. I let Rob set the watch while the rest of us settle down to get some rest.
I set out my ground blanket with my saddle for a pillow then I pull my real warm blanket over me. I wake up during the night when people join me then I go back to sleep. In the morning I find I’ve three small children under my blanket with me. Cold sausage and fresh fruit is what we all have for breakfast, and the escaping slaves really appreciate it.
After I eat I go up to the top story to study the palace where I expect the Damsels to be; yes, it’s two this time. They were captured in different places and brought here. While I’m studying the palace Barry tells me, “A force of a dozen soldiers rode out the gate we came in and they took off south looking for someone.” We both smile. He adds, “From what we saw this morning there appears to less than a hundred soldiers left here. About half of them are in the palace itself with the rest throughout the city, most are living in the four corner watch towers.” That’s interesting news and good to know. I’ve a good view of most of the palace grounds so I stay to watch for movements there. In the mid-afternoon a storeroom off one of the courtyards is visited by a man in fancy dress. He unlocks the door to let out two women, the two Damsels I’m here for. He stays with them for a while before locking them back into the room.
Late in the day Bridget comes up to get me, so I point out the room with the Damsels while I explain my plan to her. She nods her agreement after we discuss it some more and make a few changes. While discussing the plan with Rob it undergoes some more modifications when he says, “Al, I’ve been watching the Slaver guards most of the day. I think the bulk of the guards on the walls are conscripts while those in the palace are the only hardcore guards still in the city. I think we can take out the city guards easily by eliminating the officers, but capturing the palace will be a major fight.” We discuss the plan some more, and amend it to suit.
Taking the City
We leave to deal with the city guards as soon as they withdraw into the four towers after locking all of the other gates. When I reach the first tower I simply walk in the door to the guard room. There are six men in the room, one is an officer and two are sergeants, the rest are privates. The privates are serving a meal to the other three. On seeing I’m armed the officer comes out of his seat while drawing his sword as the sergeants do the same while the privates scuttle out of the way.
I’m being attacked so I’m now cleared to fight. After two fast long paces into the room I swing my left arm down to knock aside the sword the sergeant closest to me just finished drawing while my right hand is swinging my katana I just drew while crossing the room. My katana flies through the air at head height. The officer sees the danger and leans back, so I only slice across his mouth after taking the head off the sergeant on my right before taking out the throat of the sergeant on my left when he moves backward to free his sword arm from my arm. Before the officer can regain his balance I move forward another step while swinging my sword back toward him while he raises his sword. I stop my action just before the swords hit, because his throat now has a crossbow bolt in it.
A few minutes later all of the privates in this tower have surrendered and are now our indentured labourers. We put them to work stripping the dead and cleaning up the tower while we go to deal with the other towers. The details are different in each tower, but the same basic actions result in the officer and sergeants attacking us and being killed prior to the rest of the soldiers surrendering to us. They seem happy to surrender.
Taking the Palace
Due to the earlier attack tonight the rest of this group of soldiers are fair game. However, two of the group I met coming in are good with bows, as tested during the day, so we arm them with bows so they can shoot the two guards on the wall above the front gate to the palace. They take positions to deal with anyone leaving the palace after we enter the front door. This compound has only two entrances and this is the only one not locked and heavily barred at night, so we go in through it. Once inside the palace gate we split up. Rob and his team go to deal with the guards in the barracks while Bridget leads Kira and Nadia to protect the room where the Damsels are. That leaves Tora and myself to clear the palace of the guards on duty and to deal with the Slaver leaders while they have their meal. We wait to give the others time to get into place, then we cross the front courtyard to go in the front door of the palace.
When we open the door and walk in we’re in a small vestibule with a hall leading off it. The two guards in the vestibule attack us while yelling and the four guards in the hall react as well. One of them hits a gong before he charges at us. I’ve both my swords in hand and Tora has her small bow in hand. I parry the sword attack of the first guard while Tora shoots one of the hall guards in the chest. The first guard screams when I stab him in the groin just before turning to the second front guard while Tora fires another bolt to take out another hall guard. By the time I parry the first swing of the second guard and slice his head off the other four guards in the hallway are down with bolts deep in their chests when the doors at the far end are open with another four guards and the three men in charge of this New Slaver group charging into the hall with weapons in hand. They’re far enough away I take the time to put my left sword away, move my katana to my left hand, take my mini-crossbow off my belt, and aim at the forehead of the front Slaver leader. One of the guards with them is falling with a bolt in his chest before I can aim, then my target and another guard both fall at the same time. I switch targets and fire to see a similar result. There’s only the one leader and the one guard left, but they’re halfway along the hallway and they can see they aren’t going to make it. They hesitate just before we shoot them to finish them. All through the action we’ve been hearing shouting and screams from outside, so we know Rob has engaged the rest of the guards. However, the sounds outside are fast diminishing.
We walk down the hall retrieving our bolts while making sure the dead are really dead. I also collect the keys hanging on the belts of the three Slaver leaders. When we enter the room at the end there are a number of servants standing around waiting to see what happened. I smile at them and say, “Well, don’t let that food go to waste. Eat it, because the dead in the hall certainly can’t.” They all smile and fall on the food. I wonder how little the Slavers have been feeding the slaves due to the way they enjoy the food. I ask, “Other than the three leaders and the ten guards we just dealt with are there any other Slavers in this building?”
Several of them shake their heads no while one says, between bites, “A bunch of guards in the barracks, two women in the room off the yard, some slaves cooking in the kitchen, and those you’ve dealt with are all that’s here now. The rest of them rode out to deal with soldiers attacking the borders. They shipped many of the other citizens out of the city when they took over about a year and a half ago.” Just then another group of slaves comes in from a side door to start eating, so I assume they’re the kitchen staff.
I turn and walk out the front door to meet Rob walking over from the barracks, I say, “The slaves in the palace tell me all of the Slavers in there are dead and they’re enjoying the first decent meal they’ve had in a long while. Let them finish eating then ask them to clean up the mess. How did things go with the barracks?”
He smiles and says, “We set up and waited. A gong sounded and they rushed out. We opened up with our bows to drop them fast. I did wait until I thought they were all in the courtyard, but we still had to go in to deal with some who stayed back after they heard the rest scream. They’re all dead and we have three light wounds. Bridget is dealing with the wounds. No guards got near the room she guarded.” I thank him and walk over to the room with the Damsels in it.
At the door I knock, call out I’m entering, then I try the keys on the door until I find the right key. I unlock and open the door to find both of the women sitting on chairs while staring my way. There’s a lit candle on the table, so I can see their concerned looks.
I take a deep breath then say, “I expect you both to behave yourselves and show some decorum at all times. We’ll be a few weeks cleaning up here before we ride back to the Rider Clan Citadel to go to Crossroads Elena Typist, Greta Filer.” As soon as they realise I’m there to rescue them they both smile, jump up, squeal, and rush to hug me. It takes a few minutes for them to calm down enough to grab their few things and follow me out to get a real meal from what the slaves haven’t eaten yet.
When we pass the dead guards in the courtyard they can see it was a serious battle, and more so when they see the dead in the hall. However, they smile and dart for the food still on the table to join the slaves who are eating a decent meal for a change.
Rob walks in and says, “Al, the final count is three leaders and fifty-eight guards. We’ve stripped them of valuables and weapons.”
I slowly nod and reply, “Good. Talk to our helpers and our servants about how we let the rest of the people in the city know of the changes. Place some lookouts to warn us of anyone approaching, and then settle everyone down for the night.” Rob acknowledges the orders, turns, and leaves to pass the orders on.
Now they can see me properly in the better light of the dinning hall I notice the Damsels are surprised at my youth and they’re talking about me. I’ll worry about them later. Right now I’ve more important issues to worry about.
A little later we decide to remove the valuables we’ve won and retire back to where we stayed during the day. We already have it secured and I don’t know enough about the palace to know how safe it is. Also, this way we’re moving less gear about. Tomorrow we’ll need to call a meeting of all of those still in the city to plan their future.
The next morning the slaves from the palace go about the city telling everyone to meet in the main marketplace mid-morning. When I arrive for the meeting I find the palace slaves have wagons there with the dead Slavers in them. When I ask why I’m told, “They won’t believe you unless they see the bodies. Then we can take them out to the hog farm to get rid of them while you deal with the five guards there.” I simply nod while I listen, then I move to where I can address the growing crowd.