The two weeks that followed were more than eventful. Paul and his company were busy. Of course that was an understatement.
This is larger than the contracts we had out east.
As Paul thought that, he and Estalwyn were two miles outside of Red Spire’s city walls. There they were assisting their twenty-seven new hires, all citizens of Red Spire with creating an unseen perimeter of the city before the city wall near the treeline. This was the last phase of their project to alarm Red Spire. They had done more than their usual work to accomplish the task that the aldermen had commissioned them to accomplish.
“We’ve created traps in the event of an emergency wall breach, created a waterfront early warning perimeter in case of a security breach by small boat, and lastly we are creating an early warning system in case if the city is attacked from the northern and easterly directions. We’ve accomplished much, Estalwyn.”
She chuckled at that.
“I’m pleasantly surprised too, Paul. But you are forgetting the magnitude of what we are doing and what the details are of what we have done. This was no small feat.”
She gestured towards the perimeter their employees were making amongst the trees.
“We aren’t using wires like we used in the wagon shoppe. We’re using force fields. I had to go through one of my old tomes to find out the configuration for the gearbox in the citadel to generate them when the aldermen want to activate them. We’ve also build massive razor traps in the crossroads and intersections of the major thoroughfares in the city. And near the docks we created a trip wire system near some of the quays in case if the invasion is seaborne.”
“Which of course would make Red Spire the primary target. But I doubt that is the case.”
“I do as well.”
The two of them turned to Rilles. He was acting as a foreman to this crew laying the force field generators. Rilles was now no longer wearing his cloak. He shed it. So far the people of Red Spire were used to a Houndsman in their midst. Yes, they were at first scared, but now their fear was whisked away by the fact that this stranger was there to help them. And this fear was replaced by a friendliness and curisousity. He was wearing plainclothes: boots, britches, and a shirt. He panted with his tongue out as he finished digging a hole for the golden-colored rod that was the force field generator that would soon enter the ground and provide the city of Red Spire an early warning system.
“So, just so I understand this. When the field is broken by any creature the gearbox chimes an alarm and shows via a lit up gear where the beam was broken, Estalwyn?”
“And pray tell, do you think they’ll attack us first? Or will they strike Dothen?”
She shook her head.
“I have seen a few wars obviously. More than you and Rilles, and a majority of the aldermen that are the heads of Red Spire’s government. To attack Dothen would make sense on a number of levels. Dothen is only vulnerable to attack form two directions the south by land, where the forest we were in to retrieve the Lumineer was, and the west by sea, which is likely going to be the direction of their attack. As for the north and east, those are protected by a small mountain range with few passes. I’ve never commanded a whole army. But, I’ve commanded a brigade. I would chose a place like Dothen to be rally point for an invasion of a continent. The first objective of many. ”
“Why attack such a city with a strong army though?”
“Simply because they’re coming with a stronger army. And they’re siege weapons are already in place. Remember? They just need to rendezvous with their equipment and lay siege to the city. The only suprising thing is that they have not attacked yet.”
“Any idea for the delay?”
“I am not sure. Perhaps, the death of the demigod, Kra-Corus has delayed them. Maybe he was supposed to signal them. This ‘Theocracy’ is different than all of the foes I have faced in my life. I’ve fought against goblin and human incursions. I think when I was a mere forty-one year old I fought against the Dothenians, but that was under a different regime of theirs. I believe they have changed for the better. Although, I avoided Dothen and remained in the Grand Counties for much of my life until I began travelling with you. But this is a digression. We’ll see how things play out.”
Rilles approached them with a smile and he still panted.
Estalwyn and Paul smiled back.
“Let’s try it out.”
Paul looked over to Estalwyn’s belt pouch as she produced a black stone and pressed on it. The color of this stone turned from black to a dark green. A faint hum could be heard and the employees clapped. Rilles clapped too and Paul smiled at the throng of young men and women from Red Spire that they had hired to perform these duties in defense of their city.
Estalwyn’s words were met with Paul’s reply.
“Great work, All. The first round is ours over at The Toasting Tankard.”
Estalwyn patted her two colleagues on the back. “We finished our task, Gentlemen. Paul, I’ll be going to the Tankard. I’m sure Rilles will accompany me. Will you report our progress to the Alderman?”
I’m tired too. But these guys did the heavy lifting. Estalwyn and the hires did a fine job. And Rilles taught these kids a few things about tolerance towards beings different than themselves. I’ll report.
“I’ll see you there once I’m finished at the citadel.”
They walked together until they entered the city. Once there they parted ways. Rilles and Estalwyn marched toward the tavern. Paul made his way into the Citadel. The fortress that was the seat of Red Spire’s government had changed slightly to when they were meeting the aldermen there several weeks ago. Wooden hoardings had been built around the battlements. Red Spire was to be fortified so it would not fall, and the citadel as gorgeous as it was also a place for last stands. The last military age combatants would protect Red Spire in these halls. Paul could not help but admire the mighty oaken beams that were now attached to Red Spire’s central fort. The number of garrisoned soldiers there had doubled has well. Militiamen from the country had arrived and were now barracked in the entrance halls of the Citadel. Paul also noted the presence of gearbox that Estalwyn had installed in the council chamber as he entered. The majordomo had alerted Roghus to his presence and the alderman soon entered.
Alderman Roghus had not changed since the day they brought the bad news to the city. Roghus was a believer in his cause and his people: he was a leader. He knew the Free City of Red Spire was under attack and was about to be assaulted by foreign forces. Roghus saw his responsibilities clearly. He was to defend the city, protect his people, and preserve their way of life. The south western suburbs were lightly garrisoned by his order, but not much could really be done to protect the countryside by his hand. He ordered much of his soldiers to the city.
“I trust the forcefield generators as you explained to me earlier are in place?”
“They are, Alderman. How goes your defense strategy?”
“Better. Estalwyn’s idea for an early warning perimeter, a way for an alarm to be raised ahead of time before we even see the enemy is excellent. I’ve concentrated the bulk of my professional military within the city limits and southwest suburbs of the city behind that perimeter and our fortifications. I’ve called in the militia and have ordered most of the farming towns around the city to be evacuated. Their granaries have been emptied, and the emptied contents are now underneath where we stand. We have hired mercenaries to ‘live’ in these villages. My plan is to make the enemy’s approach to Red Spire as miserable as possible to hopefully get them to change their minds about besieging this city. Paul, I have lived through one siege, and that was when I was younger than you. Twelve years old. We won the war, but the walls were breached; many lost their lives. I wish to spare my city from any atrocities. I know you and your company have done your part for us.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“You are welcome. Now are you ready for your next task?”
“I need you to go to Dothen and warn them. Odds are they may know already but I need you to go there and perform this action as we’ve not heard from them. Dothen is some distance away, but you’re up for the journey, right?”
“Alongside warning them, Paul. I’m going to give you this scroll.”
The Alderman handed Paul a long scroll of parchment tied with a red ribbon.
Am I a messenger-diplomat now? I want to be a merchant. Not this.
“This is an alliance we drew up. We need allies and Dothen is going to be a needed one. I’ve written similar messages and invitations to other rulers south of us. We could aid Dothen and provide some support in case of an invasion. They’d be foolish to not accept.”
“How soon do you need me to leave?
“Preferably today. I’ll pay you one thousand of the King’s Passe.”
“Agreed. I’ll leave soon.”
“I will outfit you with a fast horse instead of one of your draft ones. If you’ll go to the Main Eastern gate you’ll see that one of the sergeants has a horse waiting for you.”
“I’ll leave once I advise my colleagues, Sir.”
“Splendid. Thank you, Paul.”
Damn, another journey. Sure hope the invasion doesn’t start while I’m away.
Paul exited the citadel and made his way to the Toasting Tankard. Upon arrival he was greeted by Redmalt with a frothy blonde ale, of his own manufacture.
This sweetens my mood.
“You’ve helped our city so much, Paul. Enjoy all the ale you wish to drink tonight.”
“I’ll have to keep it at one, Simon. I’m at the point where I need to leave again to Dothen to warn them of our shared troubles and also bid them to enter an alliance with us.”
“Aye. Good for you, Paul.”
Estalwyn and Rilles joined him.
“You aren’t going alone, Paul.”
Rilles said that in a firm manner.
Paul smiled at that.
He’s a good pal, that Rilles. And a good business partner, without his supervisory skills the new hires would not have been able to accomplish the task that was set ahead of them.
“I don’t think they’ll be any trouble. I’ll have the sergeant give us two horses. If he objects, I’ll tell the sergeant to have the alderman take it out of our pay for the task. One thousand of the King’s Passe.”
Estalwyn expressed outrage at that comment with a strong grimace.
“Why are we doing that for him again?”
“I couldn’t tell you. But he seems to trust us with that task. Let’s drink this down and go, Rilles. And buddy, wear your cloak in Dothen.”
The two of them downed their ale quickly and followed it up with a hearty handshake to each of the new hires. Estalwyn hugged Paul and Rilles.
“You both had better be careful. Don’t get caught with an invading army entering our realm and you being not in the safety of a castle or a city.”
After the brief admonishment of Estalwyn they made their way to the gate. Their walk was one of silence as they both moved at a brisk pace. No one took notice of Rilles despite him not having his cloak on. He had made his mark amongst them. They liked him. They respected him now. His working to help them proved enough to him that he was no different than them aside from cosmetic appearance. He too was a sentient being.
The gatehouse was now quite different than its welcoming aesthetic that it had when Paul and his company arrived in Red Spire. Construction of hoardings happened here along with all of the curtain walls around Red Spire.
This gatehouse looks unrecognizable. It would be a mistake to attack it.
“The did a fine job, huh, Rilles?”
“They certainly did. The Theocracy wouldn’t dare try to assault it with this type of reinforcement. Looks like there are more guards as well posted at the gatehouse.”
“I count about thirty-two men, Rilles. You’re right.”
These men were all armed with pikes. All Paul had to do was count the men in miniature pike squares observing those admitted by the gatekeeper. There were eight of these squares of four men each and it was simple how they were able to position themselves to stop travelers. All they had to do was point their pikes in their direction, and then they were halted. They witnessed that as they approached, but the travelling papers of the merchant were in order and his manifest revealed that he actually was bringing wool into the city from the countryside. The wool was all visible to them as they approached the sergeant. This sergeant recognized Paul from prior dealings.
“Hello, Pinningdale! And Rilles of the Peat Woad, welcome to you. I take it you are here for that horse?”
“Indeed. But I need another for my business partner.”
“That is fine. I thought it was odd that I was only told to prepare one horse, so I prepared two in case of it being a necessity. I shall ask you both to be careful and to ride swiftly and I’d avoid the actual coastline, of course. If you’d go near it, I’d be concerned you would stumble into an invasion fleet.”
“Stay safe, Rilles and Paul.”
“Do the same, please.”
They took their leave and they departed for the roads ahead.
Let’s see how this turns out. Hard to say what the Kingdom of Dothen will decide. Shall they fight alone or shall they join Red Spire.
They continued on the road past the forest they had discovered the theocracy in. Once the sun dropped and darkness covered their surroundings they made a small fire and Paul took first watch while Rilles obtained four hours of nap. Paul followed suit, but only slept three hours. He was eager to accomplish this mission to Dothen and finish this long journey. After another long set of hours on horseback they crossed the boundary marked by a tall cairn into the Kingdom of Dothen. Upon the cairn was marked the red and blue colors of the Kingdom of Dothen and they then crossed over the crest of a hill where the gravel path became paved with cobble stone.
“Ho, Traveler. Halt and state your business.”
Fifty Orcish pikemen were blocking their path.
“We’re emissaries from Red Spire. We have a diplomatic mission to Dothen. We have a message from the Aldermen of Red Spire to the King of Dothen.”
Four of the pikemen came closer they had their pikes vertical and these Orcs did not point their tips at Rilles or Paul. One of them called out to what seemed to be his commander.
“Captain, they are likely who they say they are. A Houndsman and a human going to Dothen. They do not reek of sorcery or anything like these fanatics we were informed about.”
“You can move along then.” The captain ordered to Paul and Rilles.
Rilles looked at the Captain and noticed his Orcish chainmail armor. It was quality and his helmet was of the sturdy sallet type the Orcs favored. He appeared a mercenary and it was doubtful that he was a member of Dothen’s standing army.
“A question if you have time for it, Captain.”
“Go ahead, Houndsman.”
“You mentioned a smell. Did you mean that figuratively or literally?”
The Orcish Captain laughed. His massive teeth that rivaled Rilles’s own seemed to jut out of his jaw. He raised his hands in a dismissive gesture.
“It was a figure of speech. Smells, you know, same as looks. Here’s an example: “Something looks bad, tastes bad, smells bad. You must not be getting enough sleep, Houndsman. Move along.”
“We shall. Come on, Rilles.”
The two of them rode past the earshot distance of the pikemen. Paul was focused on their destination that they would reach likely by noon on the next day.
“I don’t believe him.”
“What do you mean, Rilles? Who?”
“What about? I’m not sure what you are discussing.”
“That’s right you didn’t smell what I smelled on the demigod. Remember how the captain, Krak who we captured said that I smelled divinity? Well, the guard mentioned that we didn’t smell like fanatics. Perhaps that they know about this smell as well?”
Possibly. But, I’m not entirely convinced this is a Houndsman/Orc ability for them to smell these high ranking members of this enemy.
“Hard to say, Rilles. I wouldn’t dwell on it. Let’s continue onward to Dothen.”
Rilles did not reply. He was busy pondering the fact that perhaps there was something out of the ordinary when it came to these new foes. In time they’d find out as they would end up encountering more of these adherents sooner or later.
Maybe a storm will delay them or destroy them? They would be defeated by the world itself.
After another bit of sleeping, some victuals and watering the horses they would hit the trail again.
Is Rilles right? Can he smell something we cannot? Hard to say?