Read The Silent Army Online

Authors: James A. Moore

Tags: #epic fantasy, #eternal war, #City of Wonders, #Seven Forges, #The Blasted Lands, #Sa'ba Taalor, #Gods of War

The Silent Army (9 page)

BOOK: The Silent Army
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Theorio’s first view of the Sa’ba Taalor was enough to make him understand the dread lesser men felt. They were, indeed, striking figures. Each carried several weapons. The largest of them had a vast disfigurement that he covered with a faceplate. His eye and the area around it were sealed within a stained bronze sculpture that closely resembled the rest of his face, but only if it had been forged from–

“By the gods. That thing across his face moves….” Horden’s words rang softly out, but in the silence it was enough to nearly sound like a scream.

His son was right. The metal moved. The sculpted eye within that metallic socket shifted and adjusted as the men came closer.

“Do we go to meet them, father?” Roon’s voice was quieter still and he bristled. Roon had spent years waiting for a proper conflict. He was a strong lad, and a gifted fighter.

“They send four and we send four. Come with me, Roon. Horden, hold here.” He pointed to two guards he knew were skilled swordsmen, trained by him personally, and then he rode forward.

Once they had covered about half the ground between his army and the bridge, Theorio came to a halt, the other three taking position behind him.

Ensuring his voice carried the proper tone of command, Theorio called, “Who are you?” He was a king, and not easily to be denied.

The four strangers came closer and Theorio could now see that they did not ride horses. Near as he could figure they were riding bears. He had heard of the creatures, of course, but had never seen one in his travels. He had never heard of a man riding a bear before, but what was before his eyes proved the possibility.

“I am Lored, chosen of the Forge of Ordna and King in Bronze,” came the reply. “Who are you?” The voice did not sound overly impressed. More amused, really, and that was not at all the reaction he wanted or expected.

“I am Theorio Krous. King of Morwhen.”

“Then you are who I was told to wait for.”

Lored smiled. His mouth split in the most hideous way, showing more teeth than should have been possible and great wounds that looked like they sported more teeth and tongues to boot. Theorio stared with sick fascination.

Theorio was wearing proper armor and a black uniform under it. The man he faced wore furs and leathers and had armor over his vitals as well as a large buckler on his left arm. He did not carry a sword, but instead sported a very large and brutal looking mace.

“Why were you told to wait for me?”

“Because according to great Ordna, you are the king of all that is north of here.”

“Who is ‘great Ordna’?”

“Ordna is my god. He chose me to serve as his king and to be his voice among my people and yours alike.” Lored smiled. “Ordna is the God of Bronze, of long-ranged weapons and siege warfare. He has chosen me as the best among his people to represent his methods of combat.”

“What is a siege engine?”

“Do you see the towers of the bridge?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I have chosen them as the anchors for my siege engines. These are powerful weapons designed to attack many people at once, or to destroy the walls of the very greatest of fortresses. I have already used them several times in my combat to the south of here. They are very effective weapons.”

“I don’t have any walls here to knock down.”

It was meant as a joke. Lored allowed a small smile. “You have many troops. I could kill several hundred with a wave of my hand.”

“Are you a sorcerer?”

“No. I have siege engines.”

“What do they do?”

“In this case they hurl great stones and burning collections of oil and smaller stones that will scatter when they hit the ground and burn everything they touch.”

Theorio considered that notion. “How many of these weapons do you have?”

“Currently there are eight of them built and waiting to destroy whatever I aim them at.”

“And where are they aimed?”

Lored’s smile came back, wide and enthusiastic and utterly terrifying in the number of teeth it bared. “They are aimed at your soldiers, of course. The better to kill them if you do not surrender to me.”

“I do not believe in surrender.”

“I am offering you a kindness. Should Tuskandru be the one to attack, you would all be dead within a day. My way, you survive and consider attacking again when I am not prepared.”

“When you are not prepared?” Theorio stared at the gigantic man in front of him and tried to look past the scars that covered all bared flesh. He was trying to imagine what sort of hellish things might have scarred him that much in the first place.

“If I am being honest, I am always prepared, but without hope we have nothing, yes?”

“I cannot surrender to you. I think you are lying.”

Lored raised his left arm and made a fist. He then brought the fist down hard.

One of the odd collections of lumber atop the closest bridge tower shuddered and rumbled, and then something sailed through the air, trailing a thick streamer of smoke.

“What have you…?”

Theorio turned and watched that vast something rip through the skies with the speed of an angry storm crow past him.

“A demonstration to tell you the truth of my words, King Theorio.” By the time Lored had stopped speaking the missile hit the first column of Theorio’s soldiers. Whatever held the smoking mass together broke, and true to the King in Bronze’s words, flaming stones exploded across the ground and all over his troops as the mass rolled and tumbled to a stop.

Horses shrieked and bucked and threw themselves and their riders hard. They were burning and so were the men riding them. The soldiers screamed as well and beat at the fires that licked at their tunics and their bared flesh.

Theorio stared on, horrified. This was not warfare. This was a massacre.

“How did you do this thing?”

“My god, Ordna, told me the secrets. I listened to him.”

Theorio drew his sword and prepared to fight. An instant later an arrow drove through his wrist and forced him to drop the weapon.

He screamed a lot. The damned arrow hurt.

Throughout, Lored looked at him with a small smile.

When he was done screaming, Lored looked at him and asked, “Will you fight or will you surrender?”

“We fight!” Theorio roared the words and drew his dagger from its sheath. He’d pry that maddening metallic mask away and cut out whatever was under it.

Lored roared and reached forward, a brutal smile on his face. “On this we agree, King Theorio!”

His great mace swept around and slammed into Theorio’s forearm, shattering bone and pulping meat. The dagger fell to the ground and Lored hauled the King of Morwhen from his saddle. Theorio Krouse was a strong man and he fought hard despite his injuries.

While he struggled Roon charged forward, low over his horse as he’d been taught, one of his spears held at the ready.

The world tilted and Theorio groaned as the thing under Lored moved, lashing out with thick paws and slapping Roon’s spear aside. His son was prepared, he was braced, and so he sailed from his saddle and fell to the ground as the strength of the creature simply overwhelmed him.

Lored’s powerful arms were not injured and did not bleed. The man hauled Theorio to him as the King of Morwhen’s horse ran from the great beast beneath the King in Bronze.

Theorio watched while his son was mauled, his face ripped into shreds by the claws of the monster. As he struggled, more of the giant stones soared past him to crash into his troops.

They were prepared for warfare, but not for this.

Lored pulled him higher still until they looked eye to eye and Theorio thrashed, trying to break the grip. His arms would not work, his legs were at the wrong angle to help him.

“I was told to take you alive, King Theorio! Fight me and the rest of your people die!”

Theorio did not surrender. He fought with all that he had. He bit, he screamed, he spat and he even drove the point of the arrow piercing his wrist into Lored’s face.

He did not die that day.

Nor did he win.

When they reached the Edge, Drask called for Brackka to stop and his friend did. To make the ascent possible, he tied Nolan March to Brackka’s back and then they all climbed. It would have been easier to find the Hallis Pass, but he wanted Tega to learn how to climb, as she never had done so before.

By the time they had finished the ascent, Tega’s hands were bloodied and torn. She stared at them for a few moments before healing them.

They stood on the ground of the Wellish Steppes, and not a hundred yards distant was a large outcropping of shale and stone. It could not quite be called a hill, but it was certainly more than a boulder. Drask looked at the stone and nodded his head. Beneath that stone, the Wellish Overlords lay trapped, locked in a semi-slumber. They could think, but they could not move. They could starve, but they could not die. It was a proper punishment.

“The Wellish Overlords: they were the last great enemy of the Fellein, is that correct?” Drask was not certain where the information came from, but it was in his head. Best that he doublecheck its veracity.

Tega nodded slowly as she sat down and watched him make a fire. She still had a dazed, nearly sleepy look on her face, but she seemed more coherent now. That was a good thing. Drask grew tired of only his own thoughts for true companionship and it seemed neither Nolan nor Tega had been capable of much actual thought since the lot of them had bathed in the energies of the Mounds and then absorbed them.

“That was a long time ago,” Tega said. It was the first time Drask had heard her voice in many days, bar the occasional grunt of exertion as they climbed. “Several hundred years, I think. They came for the people of Fellein and tried to take Canhoon by force.” She paused and looked up at the sky. There were clouds here, and a breeze, which was more than could be said for the deathly still Blasted Lands.

“Desh told me how they were stopped, but it has been a long time and I don’t recall clearly.” She frowned. “I am having trouble thinking.”

“It is getting better though, yes?”

She nodded softly and smiled. She had a lovely smile, even if it was completely unmarred. Drask could appreciate the aesthetic of smooth skin, even if he preferred the stories that scars told on well-healed flesh.

He looked at Tega’s freshly healed hands. There were several new scars there from her climb.

Drask asked her, “Why did you wait before you healed your hands?”

“I wasn’t sure I could do that.”

He looked back at the stillness of the Blasted Lands and nodded.

Finally, bored with watching Nolan stare at the ground, he moved over to the boy and moved his head into the proper position. Muscles were not a problem, but several fragments of broken vertebrae had to be moved before they could be mended. When he was done Nolan looked around and frowned with an idiot expression. Drask could not decide if his mind was broken too, but for the present time left him alone.

“Your people. Do they truly worship gods?” Drask asked Tega, who was holding her hands before the fire.

She was a long time answering, “Some of them do. Most, I think, consider the idea for a while and then pretend.”

“That is the problem with distant gods. Faith is not always easy in silence.”

In the back of his head there were seven gods doing their very best to get his attention. He had not yet decided if he felt like listening to them any longer. The world sometimes changed when you were transformed, and while they seemed to want to talk to him, Drask was not certain that he wanted to hear what they had to say.

The gods had lied. They told him that the Mounds were forbidden and he believed them. They said that the world was changed by the Fellein when they destroyed Korwa, and for his entire life that truth had been accepted, but now, he was no longer completely certain. If gods lied, what did they tell the truth about? How could anything he had believed be considered the truth without examination?

“Your Desh Krohan, can he do what we can do now?”

“No.” Tega frowned. “At least I do not think so.”

Drask looked toward the still silence of the Blasted Lands. With very little effort he could see the footprints where they had walked across the vast, motionless expanse.

“I do not like it.”

“You do not like what?” Tega moved closer and put her arms around his bicep. Her hands were tiny. She was tiny.

Ignored by them both, Nolan let out a low moan. He blinked slowly but his eyes remained unfocussed even if they were no longer staring at the ground as they had these past days. Slowly, he moved to join them by the fire.

“All my life the Blasted Lands have raged and thundered and now they are too quiet. I do not like it.”

Drask concentrated and willed a change. The air far below stirred, and a moment later the winds roared, spiraling outward from where he stared, taking the dust and grit with them. He made the air as cold as ice and waited as the storm he created grew and spread across the still wastelands.

Drask nodded. “That is better.”

Far below him and under the great stones that held them pinned in place, the Wellish Overlords let out a noise that none but Drask and his two companions could hear. Not even Brackka could hear the sound. Still, he looked to Drask and smiled in the way of mounts.

Drask smiled back, glad he’d resurrected his trusted friend.

“Where do we go now? I can feel that Canhoon has moved and Tyrne is gone.”

Drask looked down at her. She looked back up with wide, guileless eyes.

“Canhoon moves. So do we. We will find it.”

They sat at the fire and waited for a while. They were not tired and they did not need to eat, but some habits are hard to break after a lifetime. Eventually they rose and all three climbed atop Brackka’s broad back. Tega rode in front of Drask, and because it was easier than teaching him, Drask tied Nolan to the saddle.

When the mount started moving, Drask patted his neck and said, “Go very fast, Brackka. As fast as you can.”

The miles tore past.

The town was larger than he would have imagined and that pleased Tusk. The ride along the river was easy enough and the town was open on all sides. It was not a place that dealt with war. It was a village that dealt with boats and fish.

BOOK: The Silent Army
5.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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