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Authors: James Tallett

Breaking an Empire

BOOK: Breaking an Empire
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BREAKING AN EMPIRE

A Tale of The Four Part Land

By

James Tallett

 
 
Published by
Deepwood Publishing, Inc.
Copyright © James Tallett, 2011
First U.S. Edition: September 2011
Cover by
Lucas Pandolfelli
e-book formatting by
Guido Henkel
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

To my brothers Ander and Chris, for all those years of annoying behaviour and wonderful times together.

Deepwood Books by James Tallett
TARRANAU
BREAKING AN EMPIRE
CHLODDIO*
LAECCAN WATERS*
UNFOLDING A NEW CONTINENT*
*Forthcoming

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

A great deal of thanks to Lisa Stull and Walter Shuler, for all their help in getting this story off the ground, and to all of those readers who worked to polish this story to its absolute best. And to Lucas, for a brilliant piece of artwork.

Prologue

The crowd filed into the square, their eyes turning towards a distant podium. They had been summoned from their homes to the great plaza that dominated the centre of Bhreac Veryan. Today, they were to be given a gift – Ymerawdwyr, the Sun Emperor, would speak before his people for the first time in a decade.

Ymerawdwyr was a benevolent lord, much beloved, yet when he appeared on the balcony, he held a sword of rippled crimson. He raised the sword, and the tip swung unerringly southward. “Look to the south, for there has been treachery! There has been deceit! And there has been
murder!

“Vile insurrectionists from Niam Liad have risen, slaying the noble guards of their city as they slept! They have shed our blood, and so we shall shed theirs!

“Their pitiful revolution will be crushed, and our benevolent rule reinstated for the good of all! I call upon you, the heart and soul of Hymerodraeth Heula, of this great land, and I beg that you raise arms, that you march southwards, and that you crush this rebellion! You shall find spoils, you shall find wealth, and you shall find honour! My people, will you fight?”

The last sentence lingered over the crowd, hanging in the silence of the air. Only as the echoes died out amongst the buildings did the answer come.

The multitude roared, a rolling thunder that echoed from building to building, a great crescendo that buried all else beneath it. Swept in a tidal wave of passion, the men of Bhreac Veryan sprinted away, each hoping to claim the honour of first to enlist. In the end, citizens had to be turned away lest the whole population march south.

Breaking an Empire

Rhyfelwyr looked at the long string of recruits in front of the barracks and sighed. All these new pups, wanting to be soldiers. That meant more work for him in training, and more people who didn’t have a damn clue what they were doing getting killed. He glanced over at Locsyn, who wore the same expression.

“We’re in for a right mess, aren’t we, Loc?”

Locsyn spat. “Better believe it. Let’s go get drunk before the officers find us and make us train those louts.”

“Good call. Get the others?”

“They’re already there.”

The two soldiers set off into the streets of Bhreac Veryan, heading through the city to a grungy bar tucked away in an alley. Shouldering aside the mat that hung across the doorway, they made their way towards a table with three more men and sat down. The youngest was in his late thirties, and they all had the weather-beaten look of men who had spent much time outdoors. For a while, none spoke, but a conversation seemed to be carried on nonetheless, in gestures, glances, expressions, and shifting in their chairs. Finally, the largest of the squad, a giant named Gwyth, looked at Rhyfelwyr and spoke.

“What is it?”

Rhyfelwyr drained his mug, wiped his face, and then answered. “We’ve got six months, maybe seven, to train thousands of recruits, march them halfway across the damn continent, and then fight against Niam Liad soldiers in their home countryside. I’m not looking forward to it, is all.”

Taflen spoke. “Much as you might like to have us believe that, Rhy, we know there’s something more going on.” He glanced around the table, taking in their grimaces, finishing with Rhyfelwyr’s. “You think they’re going to break up the squad, don’t you? Promote us all to sergeant or lieutenant, give us each one of our own. I hope the officers aren’t that stupid.”

Rhy shrugged. “They’re officers, they’re twenty-three and never seen real battle before. What do you expect?”

“Better sense than that, at least from the veterans further up. Anyway, don’t worry about orders coming down. We’ll deal with them.”

Llofruddiwr perked up. “My dealing?” he asked.

Taflen shook his head. “I’d rather not. We’d run out of officers in a hurry.”

Llofruddiwr shrugged, then downed another mouthful of beer.

The conversation drifted away to other matters, and the night stretched long as the soldiers drank.

***

Rhyfelwyr despaired that any of the recruits would become soldiers, or even live past their first five minutes with the enemy. Each time he’d spar with one of the kids, the openings in their defences were large enough to drive a herd through. And he’d go back to the bar and hear the same reports from Locsyn, from Taflen, from Gwyth, and from Llofruddiwr. Although he expected that from the soldiers being trained by Llof. The man was a master with the long knife.

A month had been spent in training when Locsyn tapped Rhyfelwyr on the shoulder, an amused look showing through the massive handlebars of his moustache. “You’d better come for this.”

Puzzled, Rhyfelwyr followed Loc to the front gate, where an elder was trying to force his way out of the grip of a squad’s worth of six soldiers. Four of them had lost their helmets, three had bloody or broken noses, and all had bruises. When Rhyfelwyr saw who it was they held, he understood what had happened.

“Gwewyr, leave off man. They’re new.”

The elder turned and shot Rhyfelwyr a glare full of menace, but it softened quickly. Brushing away the hands holding him, he strode over to Locsyn and Rhyfelwyr, and pulled them towards a quiet corner.

“Look, I’m not going to leave the wives and kids behind. I’m trying to feed five families, and it’s hard enough without being dragged off to fight a damned fool war that doesn’t matter to me.”

Locsyn patted his shoulder. “We know, Gwewyr, we know. You fought with us. What’re you doing here, anyway? You mustered out two years ago.”

“I’m not retired any more, lad. Not according to those jumped up pricks. No more pension, not until I do my duty one last time and go off and get killed under some snotnose who can’t tell his left foot from his right. And even if I do survive, it don’t matter. I just die when I get back here and the families have shattered. No thanks.”

“There’s no one else, Gwewyr?” Rhyfelwyr looked him in the eye.

“They’re all dead, remember? My four brothers, lying pretty in our family grave. Oh, sure, pensions help the wives a bit, but not enough, and I don’t trust anyone else to keep order.”

Locsyn looked at Rhyfelwyr, who nodded. “Look, why don’t you come back and train. It’s six months on full pay, maybe a little extra if we talk to the paymaster, and then you disappear the week we’re heading out. It’s a little money in your pocket, and you aren’t going anywhere. Has to help, doesn’t it?”

Gwewyr looked thoughtful. “Maybe, lad, maybe. I’m not sure I can go back though.” He looked down at his hands. “I haven’t touched a blade since the day I furloughed out.”

The other two put arms around Gwewyr’s shoulder and gently led him to the gate. “Don’t worry about that. The recruits will be so scared of you they’ll drop their sword and run the first time you spar with ‘em. We’ll make sure of it.”

A grin spread across Gwewyr’s face. “I like that.”

***

Autumn had come, two months after the call to vengeance, and training went on apace. The flow of recruits had all but stopped, for which the squad was grateful, but every day they wondered how many would survive the first battle. While none of the veterans had experience fighting against Niam Liad, they had all faced the similar hit and run tactics of the raiders from the northern mountains. For a large army, it was frustrating in the extreme, for the enemy would jog up, toss a few spears, and then sprint away, always retreating and giving ground. At least Niam Liad could be forced to defend their cities. If that hadn’t been the case… Taflen shook his head and let the thought dissipate. Getting worked up months before the campaign served no one.

The winter months slipped along, day after day of training, but now the officers were confident enough in the recruits to let them engage in squad level skirmishes. Gwewyr, Locsyn, Gwyth, and the others were used as a measuring stick, to the constant shame of the neophytes. Llofruddiwr alone could ‘kill’ the opposing six men, and the others would send him out, then take bets on which of the young soldiers would be the first to fall to the assassin. It was a lively business, and made the bar conversations all the sweeter as Rhyfelwyr or Taflen recounted how they had fleeced an officer to pay for the night’s drinks.

A new light had come to Gwewyr’s eyes, and each evening he found it a little harder to return to his five families. The camaraderie of the army, of veterans who had seen it all and lived to tell, that was where he felt at home, not among a household of noise and fury. But he owed a duty to his family, to his lost brothers, and how could he let the children grow up without a father, without someone to hold the house together?

As the day marked for departure grew nearer, the burden began to weigh on Gwewyr, and his performance on the sparring ground suffered. Locsyn and Rhyfelwyr watched quietly, letting Gwewyr be. This struggle was for him and him alone.

In the end, it was the wives who decided the matter. They had noticed Gwewyr’s predicament, and spent many hours discussing it. And so when he returned home one evening, he was confronted by all five women, and told in no uncertain terms that he was going, and that he should stop moping. They were fed up with Gwewyr acting like a child, and they could survive without him just fine.

Gwewyr thanked them profusely, wrapping each in his arms. There was a small celebration that night, although it ended poorly when Gwewyr’s wife ran out crying. Her brave face had cracked, and she was overwhelmed by thoughts of five brothers, together in a family grave.

Emotions struck at Gwewyr as he watched her flight, memories of boys playing in the street, toy soldiers off to imaginary wars. He grabbed the strongest liquor in the house, downing it straight from the bottle, hoping a drunken stupor would cleanse his mind.

BOOK: Breaking an Empire
4.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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