The Wretched Castle Walls - A Short Story
The ground underfoot was solid from the cold. It barely hurt the skin on their feet though. Such toughness came from years of labor and a lifeless existence. The soil had produced little nourishment of late, yet only a day had passed since the enemy had passed through and cleared their village of food. The raiders would come during the night, every 26 moons or so, destroying everything in their path. Now that they had gone, the people were once again left to pick up the pieces. This time the sprinkling snow had made it all the harder, freezing them out in the open, having arrived to late to help quench the flames which had ravaged their homes.
They approached the castle walls with caution. Here, where their fine King had once sat, now there dwelled this puppet, Valok the conqueror. A man placed behind these high walls by their tormentors. Hiding in the fortress which had been built to protect them.
If they were seen approaching the keep they faced certain death. But still they followed Seamus. Hopeful, lost, most now were empty and worn out. This was a last ditch attempt for them. Who else could they turn to? Where else could they go? Many whom had begged for food had been slaughtered, their bodies left to feed the birds. The stench of rot that surrounded them, almost hid their hunger. Heavy, damp clothes dragged them down, making every step the harder.
Although most of those following knew the risks, they trusted their leader. This man had arisen as a leader of sorts, having arrived in town the spring just passed with a spiraled tunic and a tall pike in hand. They had watched as he grew wheat from exhausted soil in the heat of the summer months, as he carved spears from Oak and thought their men how to craft superior weaponry. Seamus was his name. He was short, wide of the shoulders and his chin bearded black. His smallest of his girls clung to his hip as they approached the castle wall. This little one was too young to understand what was happening or what may become of them.
The followers walked along side him, grasping the stone wall as they looked to their leader. His little girl looked up, amazed by the height of the great wall. She reached out her hand, pulling some moss from between the stones. Looking down her father smiled. He was confident and sure of what was about to happen. He turned to his wife, the beauty of her blue eyes filling him with warmth. The last few years had been a constant journey, a struggle for survival. This woman, this strong woman he relied upon trusted him outright, and because she was a wise woman, it gave him confidence to know it.
A scream rang out from the other side of the wall. It curdled the blood, ringing their ears. "Forth", he whispered, as they followed the wall, stone by stone. The smell of smoke began to fill the air. It must have been from the clouds they had seen rising earlier that same morn from within the confines of the castle.
A flag dropped from above them. Upon it, the crest, the very symbol of tyranny and hate, slowly dropping, quivering in the wind. The very flag which had been hoisted above their land so many years ago to mock them, degrade them. His followers were confused. Some began to chat lowly among themselves. "Forth", he said again, moving out from the wall and walking toward the only entrance, the large wooden gate, standing almost as high as the wall itself.
As they approached, the draw bridge began to lower. The leader maintained his pace, still with his little ones by his side. The followers began to sigh, some cowering back, covering their worn faces in fear. His wife followed, making sure the children kept up. As the draw bridge hit the ground, Seamus looked across through the powdered air, the snow drifting, whirling even more now as the draft of the open gateway powered the wind toward them.
As the mist cleared and his followers gathered around, they could see their fellow townspeople across the draw bridge. Some were badly injured, tears of joy streaming down their face, yet all had their arms held high. "Forth", he said once more, stepping first across the drawbridge. Relief! Seamus had had his doubts, but he could breathe again.
On entering the city, the smell of burning food was overwhelming. A broad, skeleton thin, man, blonde beard larger than his face stood there to greet them first. He approached Seamus, tears running down his face, wearing an awkward covered smile. "We did it. They're all dead", he said to the leader, grabbing him with his arm around his shoulder. His followers were in awe. "What....what happened", asked his wife. He looked at her with a smile and waved for the others to enter. "We won...it's over", he replied, hugging her tightly and kissing her face.
He glanced around at the others, feeling guilty for not explaining to them, working against expectation to prevent the possibility of disappointment. This was, after all, their only hope, a last gasp effort to survive. Had his colleagues not succeeded, Seamus, his family and the townspeople would have been walking to their death.
The attack they had suffered, the very attack that had destroyed their homes was the last. Never again would their tormentors come and raid their food, burn their houses and kill their livestock. Before the last attack, the leader had ordered their stock pile of food be poisoned, and the greed of their overlords had insured their own demise. The bodies of the puppet and his soldiers were piled high on a cart. "Send them to the town and burn their remains." he instructed, as the draw bridge closed behind the departing cart. "And their leader, Valok, put his head on a pike for all to see. Our people are safe once more and let it be known, the tormentor, Valok is dead."
They were now protected behind the walls of the very castle they had finally reclaimed after so many ages in exile. There was no food to be eaten, no wine to be drunk, but they had succeeded in reclaiming what was theirs. An uncertain future lay ahead, yet they had survived to fight another day. A new King had been born. A King for the people, by the People.
- The Deathly Woods in Winter - A Short Story
Seamus turned his hooded head as he moved quickly, glancing through the trees behind him. The snow had been heavy this past winter, causing the branches on so many of the trees to fall.