Dassais Chapter 8
A piercing scream filled his ears. The sound was coming from the stable. Aneirin tried to turn around towards the sound in the frantic crowd. He couldn’t see. There were too many people in the way. Hugo Ghalis’ hunters were everywhere, aiming menacingly at the people of Mirathon. Blindly, Aneirin scrambled through the throng until he reached the stable. He flung open the door and rushed towards Dassais’ stall. Its top door was open. The animal was agitated, his ears flattened against his black head. A slight noise behind him caused Aneirin to startle. He turned just in time to see Hugo Ghalis standing a short distance from the black horse with a spear poised to strike. He looked up at the young prince and then a cruel smile spread across Hugo’s face, an evil glint in his eye.
“First he dies, and then you are next.” Hugo thrust the spear through Dassais’ heart.
“NO!!” Aneirin cried as his sight faded.
A loud bell toll sounding drew Aneirin from the nightmare. He sat up shaking and sweating. Moonlight cast a cool glow on the marble flooring. Swinging his feet to the floor, he rested them on the scarlet throw rug next to the bed. The bell continued its ominous ringing. Hastily, he grabbed his new royal clothes and threw them on. His bed chamber door flung open just as he was reaching it.
“A speed messenger sighted the Ghalis hunters!” Eanor hurriedly explained. “They will be here imminently. Get to the armory now!” The Companions’ leader rushed down the long hall to rouse the rest of the inhabitants.
Aneirin quickly headed down the hallway. Fortunately, he had been living at the castle for several days now, so he easily found his way through the various twists and turns of the structure’s numerous hallways, staircases, and passages. He took the passage at the end of the hall that led him to the far-left side of the castle which ended in a long narrow staircase. Careful not to drop his lantern, Aneirin sped down the steps two at a time. The walkway in the lowest level of the castle was crammed with soldier and laymen. Each man was focused on preparing for the imminent battle looming in their minds. The damp air bit through Aneirin’s clothes making him shiver. He pulled his cloak more securely around him and fastened it. The wall to his right was open to the night air; several large, arched doorways allowed entrance of soldiers, horses, and wagons. The armory, food storage, and other supplies were in the lowest level of the castle. Further back behind these long, open rooms, doors led to a safe place for those who were weak and unable to fight to hide from wars. As he reached the foot of the stairs, a cry rang out among the crowd.
“All bow to his majesty, Aneirin Psoltan, Crown Prince of Mirathon!” The soldiers and laymen parted, allowing him to pass, each man taking a knee to the hard-packed earth. Aneirin started down the walkway towards the armory. He was unaccustomed to such attention. He had been raised to a lowly life of farming. The young prince smiled kindly on the men who fought so bravely for his new home city.
“You may return to your preparations.” Aneirin turned and entered the large room at the end of the walkway. The blacksmith’s hammer, anvil, clamps, and other tools were laid on a bench in the right corner of the room. A fire roared in the forge inlaid in the brick on the back wall. Swords and body armor pieces were laid out around the room.
“Ah, the young prince.” The blacksmith turned to Aneirin. “Your father had me prepare you the best.” He turned towards the bench along the left wall. Various pieces of royal armor were laid out. With the help of the blacksmith, Aneirin layered on the protective coverings overtop of his royal tunic and trousers. First was a long, lightweight chainmail shirt, which split at the waist to allow for ease of movement and mounting a horse. Next were bronze forearm pieces that covered from his wrists to his elbows. A sturdy scarlet tunic with Mirathon’s emblem of the gold horse on the front was placed over his head and hung down to mid-thigh. His weapons belt was then tied around his waist. Bronze pieces were placed on his broad shoulders, a black cape cascading down almost to his feet. Lastly, a bronze helmet with gold and scarlet tassels was placed upon his head.
“Thank you for preparing this for me.” Aneirin patted the man on the shoulder.
“There is just one more piece for you.” The blacksmith turned back to the bench and lifted a sword. The long blade glinted in the light of the forge and lanterns. He handed it to Aneirin. The prince carefully turned it over in his hands, admiring the intricate designs of gold and scarlet on the handle and the golden horse carved into the base of the handle.
“I hope these protect you as you protect your city.” The blacksmith bowed. Aneirin returned the gesture and then exited the shop.
Bright dots sparkled in the dark canopy of the sky. Towards the horizon, the blackness faded to a warm gray. Dawn was coming. Eanor walked into the city center. The soldiers of Mirathon lined the cobblestone roads and filled the area. The air was full of anticipation and dread. An enormous army was just hours away. Everyone was afraid. Eanor leapt up onto a cart and faced the men. Every eye fixed on him.
“Men of Mirathon!” Eanor addressed the group. “I know that you all fear Hugo Ghalis and his men. He is a menacing and evil man. I don’t have to tell you that his army severely outnumbers us. You already know that. I don’t have to tell you to be afraid. You already are. What I do want to tell you is that bravery is one response to fear. You cannot be brave if there is nothing to fear. Retreating is another response to fear. We will only retreat when necessary. Bravery must come first! Hugo Ghalis will be defeated and Dassais and Aneirin must be protected! Who is with me?”
A deafening roar rose as the entire army in front of Eanor began cheering. They raised their weapons in the air and cried, “We are!”
All was silent on the castle grounds. Dew sat heavy on the grass, soaking the shoes of any who dared to step on it. Salomir and Jackob exited the gate and as they hurried along, a frantic noise filled the air. They quickened their pace down the cobblestone road towards the brick and clay houses. Mirathon’s women and children were all in the streets in a frenzy. Salomir spoke quickly in an urgent tone.
“People of Mirathon!”
The voices continued their fever pace, no one paying any mind to the elf. Salomir ran towards them and leapt nimbly upon a stone fence in front of one of the houses. He repeated himself, raising his tone over the frantic pitch. The women and children stilled.
“Please follow me and my good friend Jackob. We will lead you to safety from the enemy.” Salomir jumped down from the fence and the women gathered around him, hugging their children to them. The poor people were frightened out of their wits. The elf started towards the castle. Jackob hung back, helping the women in the back of the group. He scooped up a young child who was straggling behind his pregnant mother and swung him up on his shoulders. Salomir led the women and children up through the gates and to the lowest level of the huge stone structure. He entered the food storage room and grabbed a torch from the wall. The women and children crowded into the large room with him.
Jackob and Salomir grabbed the heavy door to the safe room and hauled it open. They waved the women and children into the room. As the last woman entered the safe room, Salomir reached in and lit the lamp right inside the door.
“Light the rest of the lamps. You’ll be safe here. There is food and water in the room with you.” He handed the torch to the last women who had entered. She expressed her thanks and then Jackob and Salomir shut the door.
Aneirin pulled open the stable door and hurried down the aisle to Dassais’ stall. He pulled open the top door. The animal’s eyes sparkled in the light of the torch on the wall. The large black horse stepped forward and put his head over the door. Aneirin stroked the velvety nose. He slipped a halter over the black head and led Dassais out of the stall. Tying him in the aisle, he began to brush the animal.
“I will protect you.” He whispered in the dark ears. He wrapped his arms around the black neck and buried his face in Dassais’ hair. He couldn’t lose Dassais. He had just gotten close to him. Hugo and his hunters would not win.
“They are almost here. We are all ready.” Eanor approached. Aneirin turned and gently pulled on the rope. The black horse followed as the prince returned to the stall. After securing the gate, Aneirin followed Eanor out to the city center. Soldiers lined the stone wall surrounding Mirathon, standing on the walkway behind the turrets and parapets. The rest of the soldiers were lined from the center of the city to the gates of the castle. Aneirin’s father joined him behind the soldiers.
Silence filled the air as a tense foreboding sank among them. Aneirin looked over the group of soldiers. Every man was holding tightly to his weapon. They waited in the stillness. The twinkling stars overhead began to fade as the canopy became an even lighter gray. Golden fingers of light stretched up from the horizon. Soon, the sound of thousands of armored footsteps reached their ears.
Arrows flew over the wall in a wave. The battle had begun. Aneirin stood back several yards behind the soldiers. He had chosen to not join the men unless the army passed over the wall. One of those many arrows could pierce him if he was up there with his companions. A feeling of uselessness came over him. Why do I have to stay back here when it’s my city the hunters are attacking? The answer to that thought was swift. The hunters were after both Dassais and him. If he was killed, the hunters would have partially won. So, Aneirin watched from far behind the rear of the group of soldiers. The waves of arrows continued over the wall, causing the soldiers to back up a few paces. Eanor stood at the head of the group, giving orders.
“Fall back! But don’t retreat!!” The brave man shouted above the tremendous noise.
The men backed a few more paces and then held their ground. Then they waited. The sun was now fully visible as the hour approached midmorning. Hugo’s army continued their barrage of arrows.
Salomir and Jackob crept up the skinny stone staircase. A glint of sunlight pierced the cool air. They carefully approached the window and peered out. Jackob leaned back from the window and looked at Salomir.
“Do you really think this will work?” Doubt sounded in Jackob’s voice. The window overlooked the wall and beyond. Hugo’s hunters streamed towards the stone barrier like a wave of ants. Not a blade grass could be seen between the bows, heads, and shoulders of the enemy.
Salomir glanced at Jackob. And then nodded out the window.
“If we can make them afraid, maybe they will make it easier for us to defeat them.” Salomir raised his bow and aimed out the window at the hunters. He released the arrow. It whizzed through the air and found it’s mark in one of the hunters. The man slumped to the ground, dead. The men surrounding the hunter kept pressing forwards. Salomir and Jackob shot a bunch of arrows into the throng of Hugo’s army. Several more hunters fell. A greater urgency suddenly initiated in the hunters. They surged forwards.
The men of Mirathon watched in horror as grappling hooks flew over the wall. Soldiers flooded over the walls like an invasion of bugs. Eanor turned to the men.
“Fall back!” The leader shouted over the noise. The men fell back a few more paces. The wave of hunters met the line of men and hand-to-hand fighting ensued. Every man drew his sword. Clashing steel and shouts filled the air. Eanor felt the panic in the air as the line of defense retreated further and further. Every man was fighting for all they were worth, yet they were continually beat back. Eanor’s men were falling. They were severely outnumbered.
Salomir and Jackob flew down the narrow staircase. The barrage of arrows had had the opposite effect than was desired. Sunlight burst upon them as they stepped out onto the city streets. Mirathon men were retreating and Ghalis hunters surrounded them.
“There are so many of them.” Jackob stood aghast.
“We may not defeat them this time.” Salomir patted Jackob on the shoulder. “But we will fight none-the-less.” He raised his bow and shot two arrows into the army of hunters. Jackob drew his sword and the man and the elf leapt into the fray.
Aneirin and King Psoltan had rushed forward when the surge came over the wall. They were surrounded by both allies and enemies. Lifting his new sword in the air, Aneirin fended off another attack from a Ghalis hunter. He continued fighting as wave after wave of soldiers cascaded over the wall. Soon, he heard Eanor shout to retreat to the castle. Aneirin and the king walked backwards as they continued fighting the hunters.
The air was silent again. Half the men of Mirathon sat gloomily at the tables in the safe room. Ghalis had won the battle, yet he had not killed his targets. Aneirin had checked on Dassais after the fighting was over. He was agitated, but unharmed. The hunters had been foiled, yet they would return. They would not stop until they were stopped, or they killed him and Dassais. But they would be stopped. They had to be stopped.
King and Queen Psoltan stood in the small study room in the spacious castle. The waning sunlight sparkled on the marble floor. Aneirin sighed as he lowered himself into a chair. They had not defeated the enemy. He was still alive and preparing for his next attack. Hugo Ghalis had also lost quite a few men, so he had left the city. Laying his head against the back of the padded chair, he looked up at his parents.
“How can we defeat him?” Aneirin’s voice dripped with disappointment. We should have defeated him. But they hadn’t, and now Ghalis was still alive to probably beat them again.
“We cannot defeat him under our own power.” Queen Psoltan gently spoke. “We must find another way.” She looked as defeated as Aneirin felt. “I just don’t know…” She trailed off. Aneirin looked at his father, but the king was not facing him. He was turned towards the window, staring off into the distance.
“Father?” Aneirin stood and approached the man. He still felt somewhat awkward calling the king such familiar name. Yet, the awkwardness was wearing off. Soon, he believed he would feel close to the man like he should.
“Your mother is right.” King Psoltan turned to face Aneirin. “We cannot defeat Dassais with just our own city’s might.”
“What can we do then?” Aneirin asked desperately.
“You must ride to the cities in all of Mirathon and gain their aid.” The king spoke precisely.
© 2019 Tori Leumas