From the tower at the keep, Volkin stared out into the city. The sounds of battle reaching his sensitive ears. The tribes, though small in number, who had endured under Viktor’s reign were seeking their revenge. They were useful Soldiers in this game of Kings, believing the promise of the Warrens as their prize. Their deaths would be honored.
He turned toward the brewery, just beyond the keeps outer walls. It was a firestorm, burning brilliantly. Some primal part of him marveled at its beauty. The flames danced so freely, unfettered by anyone or anything.
The fire doing as was want, consuming the brewery with ravenous abandon. He placed his hand over his heart. Rinza was a hero this day. He had destroyed Viktor’s most powerful weapon against them.
“Live on in our memories, great warrior,” he whispered.
Volkin turned toward the stairs, daggers drawn. Even though things were happening at a faster, more chaotic, pace, the plan was still in motion. Savar was going to die.
There had been so many years waiting for this, so many lives taken in preparation for it. So many of his own kin slain, some by his own hand. Volkin trembled, excitement flowing through him.
None of it will be in vain after this.
He stalked through the halls, skulking in the shadows. Viktor’s men were running frantically in preparation for the coming siege. It would be a historic day, one that would easily be sung by bards in the taverns. No Thran had ever united in such a way and if the scout’s reports were true, none had ever come together to form a kingdom. It was an exciting time and from chaos, a new order would arise.
We will have a seat at the table, this time. The humans and the orcs will see just how strong we can become.
Several minutes passed, but Savar’s had yet to show himself. Volkin clutched his dagger, tightening his jaw.
Where are you?
He stopped, pressing himself against the wall. A wave of rage igniting his senses. Someone was angry, no, enraged and murderous.
“Tell me what’s happening!”
He peered around the corner.Viktor was further up the corridor, three of men stood before him. The Thran was in plated armor, not chain-hide like his men. The armor, combined with his helm, was forged to give the appearance of a bear, like one of the Graz from the Beast Tribes in The Wood. Viktor’s shield was strapped to his back, his skeggox in hand. Through the Thran’s visor, Volkin could see the seething rage in his eyes
The trio standing before him was covered in the stench of fear. It wouldn't come as a surprise if one of them pissed themselves.
“Speak!” he commanded.
“The city is in chaos, the Thran have united!” One of them replied nervously. “The Rangers are choking us off, the main gates are under siege and falling. Goblin raiders are running the streets! We think someone incited the local tribes!”
Viktor growled in irritation. He looked as if he might strike down his own warriors out of anger.
“Illhiem! He’s behind this!”
The skeggox in his hand was shaking. Volkin closed his eyes, he could feel the Thran’s strong urge to kill growing. It was like a bonfire blazing in the pitch of night.
A slight grin wound its way onto the goblin king’s face. Stupid human. Never have you been more wrong.
“Where’s Savar?” Viktor asked.
“He’s organizing our men in the courtyard in preparation for a siege. His men and the Blades are still holding onto pockets of the city’s interior. As of yet, they are preventing further advance.”
“So, our forces can’t retreat, but theirs cannot advance?”
The warrior nodded. “At least until gates and the surrounding courtyard fall.”
“What of the giants?” The Thran’s tone was dark and venomous. The warrior locked his jaw, his muscles tensing. The scent of fear about him became a sieve, making him stink more than he already did.
Volkin wriggled his nose, fighting to keep from gagging.
“Henrik’s riders have surrounded their camp, it seems he has a dragon serving him.”
Viktor screamed, swinging his axe into the wall beside him. Sparks flew from the impact, his men shrinking away.
“Send an owl to every settlement within our borders. I want every Bear marching for Gruiner.”
They stood at attention, arms placed across their breasts. “As you order!”
The three of them turned away, but not before Viktor reached out to the one who had given the report.
“You,” he said, grabbing him by the shoulder. “Open the drainage gates leading from the dungeons into the sewers.”
Volkin didn’t need to see the solider's face. He could feel the depth of his horror. Viktor was about do something unthinkable.
“Sire, you can’t…my family is still in the city.”
Volkin watched Viktor pull the soldier closer, leveling his skeggox to the man’s throat.
“Make a new one…” he replied. “Just release them. There are worse things than giants and dragons in Grunier.”
The soldier nodded and Viktor put away his axe.
Volkin pressed himself against the wall, just as the soldier walked by. The human was too upset to notice him. He peered back around the corner. Viktor had already left, the sound of his boots clomping against the stone growing more distant.
Scrivving humans! Volkin looked toward the other end of the hall in the direction the soldier had gone. He ground his teeth, the idea of an unknown element in Viktor’s arsenal eating at him.
Volkin shook his head. No, Savar first! I’m too close and I gave Illhiem my word.”
He stepped into the hall from the adjacent corridor. Volkin clanced to his right, where the soldiers had gone, then into the direction Viktor went. There was a stairwell leading to the lower level, from there the courtyard could be accessed through the stables. Viktor kept a handful of horses and livestock there. If Savar was organizing a defense, then he would be close to the keep’s main gate. Perhaps even the guardhouse.
Making his way to the stairwell, Volkin followed it to the bottom stopping shy of the stone doorway at its base. Peering through the doorway and into the hall he saw it was about seventy yards in length with the large iron-bound wood door that lead to the stables at its end. Two other corridors intersected about halfway down, each with roughly ten yards placed between them.
Volkin crept to the first intersection. It was too quiet, the only discernable sound his sharp ears detected were from the other side of the stable door. There were roughly three humans, their voices muffled, but judging from the higher pitch, one of them was shouting. Sheep, horses, pigs and a pair yaks faintly intermingled with the rest of the din.
It was reasonable to think that most of Viktor’s men were outside. Instinct and experience, however, had taught him never to let his guard down. He moved to the second intersection, looking both ways before reaching the stable door.
Besides the animals, it was quiet. The humans must have moved on. Volkin reached for the door, cracking it open, its iron hinges squeaking. He cringed, looking through the small crack in the door.
Only the sound of bleating ship, horses stomping their hooves nervously, and yak pulling hay from the bales they have been given greeted him. It seemed the humans he heard had fed them.
Where are you Savar?
He moved between the stalls and toward the doorway. The courtyard was as expected. Viktor’s men were shoring their defenses. Crossbowmen were being positioned along the walls, runners were being tasked with ensuring they had plenty of ammo.
On the wind smell of hot tar and pitch wafted strongly. It was coming from the top of the walls. Large iron cookpots had been set between the crossbowmen. There two men per pot, each maintaining the fire underneath while a third delivered more wood.
Spiked barricades were being constructed across the courtyard. They were pitiable, but under the circumstances better than nothing. Spears were lined behind the one that had been completed.
Several men were reinforcing, the main gate, but had left the smaller entryway by the guardhouse untouched. A moment later it opened, a handful of Viktor’s men and a few Blades stepping through. Some of them wounded.
All told it was like watching a colony of ants frantically working after their mount had been attacked. Even with the cold, desperation shone on the faces of Viktor’s men. Fear drove them and their only desire was to survive the day.
“Get them to the healer! If they can still fight, they can still die for Viktor’s glory!”
Volkin snapped his head to the right. There you are!
Savar was approaching the gate, the wind catching his long black hair. As ordered, a few of Viktor’s men stopped piling sandbags in front of the gate to help the injured among the new arrivals. Their faces became grim and devoid of hope upon seeing the state of their comrades.
At least they see the circumstances for what they are.
The wounded were taken through the keep’s heavy iron doors, while the healthy were put to work on the spiked barricades. Savar busied himself with inspecting them. By count there were fifteen planned, with a total of twenty if all were completed in time. They were being set like a maze, to drive their attackers through a gauntlet should the gate be breached.
How do I get to you?
The groan of the hinges from the door behind him pulled Volkin from his thoughts. He spun, dashing into the nearest stall. A young human woman stepped in, closing the large door behind her. She was rather plump, her hair pulled back and braided. There was a basket in her left hand and inside were several wool cloths.
She appeared nervous hand, no doubt worried about the commotion beyond the keep’s walls. Are you one of the servants perhaps?
It was possible. A handful of the townsfolk were staffed within the keep to maintain it. It was likely she wasn’t here by choice. Viktor probably hadn’t given her or them much of an alternative.
The young woman took the basket and approached one of the stalls. It looked as if it had been converted into a chicken coup of sorts. She opened the small door leading inside and stopped over, carefully stepping in.
“Oh, there now,” she said. “Nothin’ to worry about, dear ones. I just need a few eggs for the cooks.”
Well, it seems I have a way to draw you in after all, Savar.
Idiots and fools, that’s all these men were. None of them understood what it meant to serve Him. Savar curled his lip. Storm or not, they were moving too slow. The enemy would be upon soon.
It was difficult to keep from beating them. Every impulse said to. These however, weren’t his men and Vikor needed everyone at his disposal to repel their enemies.
He turned to the gates, eyeing the sandbags as they were laid out.
Good, in another hour, nothing will have the strength to force it open. At least some are able to ignore the weather. Over the wind, shouting erupted from the men along the walls. No, it’s too soon!
Those who were working on reinforcing the gate rushed toward the smaller doors off to the side. They flung them open, dozens of their men, Bear and Blade alike came pouring in. Many were wounded, some severely.
Savar rushed to the gate, helping to herd them in. He reached for a pair, one of them holding the other up. The man’s leg was horribly mangled. “What happened!”
“The city gate has fallen, Bodvar is dead as is Arald! We wandered the fog and broke through several choke points just to get here!”
Savar gripped the seax sheathed on his belt. The terror on the Bear’s face was revolting. He was weak, just like the others. The had no pride, no sense of honor. He didn’t deserve to serve in Viktor’s world.
“It was the dragon!” he suddenly blurted out, his panic reaching its peak. “A scrag ridden dragon came plummeting from the sky! We had pushed them to the gate, barely managing to finish off the elementals. Only the rebel frost giant remained, along with the other Thran and Henrik’s riders! It crashed into the wall sundering it enough to create a breach just a few yards from the gate!”
Savar drew his seax, useful or not, cowardice was an infection best cut away from the wound.
He paused, looking away from the terrified Bear. Two Blades were approaching, one of them carrying someone over their shoulder. “We caught this one in our retreat,” he said. “We figured Viktor might find them as useful leverage.”
Savar peered under the fur hood of their captive, a wide smile crossing his face. “Well done! Show Viktor what you have. I’m sure it will lighten his mood.”
They smiled, running off with their prize.
At least with Bodvar dead the fools have realized there is no running from this. Having the Blades be our fodder is better than our own.
“Once they're all inside, get back to work! We’re out of time!”
Savar turned his back to the gate in time to see a plump servant woman running toward him.
“Mighty Thran!” she shouted fearfully. “Viktor demands to see you at once! I am to take you to him!”
Savar grabbed her by the shoulders. She nearly collapsed in fight. Something had spooked her. Is he angry with me? Have I done something to displease him?
“Take me at once!”
She nodded, tears in her eyes, and began walking toward the stable at a quickened pace.
She’s in fear of her life…She’s like the others, a simple sheep, unable to grasp even the glory of death at our master’s hand.
Savar stepped across the threshold, the smell of feces and livestock assaulting his senses. A loud horn echoed on the wind and he paused in the doorway looking back through.
Gren?! What are you doing!? I didn’t call for a retreat or a surrender!
The servant woman screamed.
Savar turned to her, a sharp pain piercing his side, followed by another to the knee. He looked down, a goblin wearing a ridiculous crown stood before him; hands still gripping the daggers it had used to stab him.
His expression was disappointing, there was no surprise or anger or anything so satisfying. Savar’s face was simply a blank canvas. Volkin ground his teeth, ripping his daggers from the Thran’s wounds.
Savar collapsed. Blood was already filling his lungs, his knee to mangled to stand on. He would slowly choke to death. His expression did begin to change, but it was something akin to regret.
Volkin felt the deeper meaning behind it. Savar was mourning his own failure. It was beyond pitiful. Karien truly was cruel.
“I had hoped that I would be lucky enough to kill you when Gren finally turned. Hoped to see the rage of such a betrayal. Yet all you can feel is this?
“Where is the feared serpent, whose venom is well known among my people? Where is the one whose grandmother slaughtered us for sport, tied us to posts, and made of fight like animals over scraps of meat! Who bet on us as if we were mere dogs and threw us in sacks on the Peridith Sea to see if we were smart enough to escape!”
Volkin felt the cold air filling his lungs with each breath, but it was the rage in his heart keeping him warm. “I heard the stories, memorized them even. I learned to read, learned to write. Learned your tongue among others. I swore that I would avenge what your family has done to my tribe and it’s people before Illhiem took us in. I killed, maimed, murdered to become king! I did it knowing that I would stand here one day to see you fall!”
He was near death, coughing up blood. Volkin knelt, placing his dagger to the dying Thran’s throat. “Look at me!”
Savar’s eyes were rolled back. There was no looking at anyone. Volkin screamed, plunging his dagger into the Thran’s throat. “Thus ends the line of the Serpent…”
The worse felt so hollow, so meaningless and tasted bitter. This was not the dream fulfilled or the end imagined. Nor was it as heroic or inspiring. It was only another death. He looked up at the frightened woman, her face pale as she stood there with tears streaming down her cheeks.
“You may go, no harm will come to you so long as you stay hidden.”