The Royal Quests Sample Chapter

The sun rose above the Rune Mountains, heralding the start of a new day in the Pix. It was the beginning of summer. The leaves had returned to the trees after their long winter’s absence. The grass was a beautiful green beneath the azure sky as the birds soared through the cool morning air beneath the billowy clouds. Among the men who had gathered upon the eastern side of the Thailion River, there was general agreement that this was a perfect day indeed. - A perfect day for war!

For well over a month, the Alliance had been consolidating its forces between their cities, preparing to cross the Thailion River that flowed between Kurault and the two allied cities of Armston and Doubledon. Not long ago, Baron Lorkas had schemed against Kurault’s previous ruler, Justin, and arranged for his murder. That done, Baron Lorkas had immediately seized power in Kurault and declared himself king! Such a diabolical act of treachery could not and would not go unanswered. Thus, the kingdoms of Armston and Doubledon had joined forces to avenge this act of regicide and overthrow the usurper.

The first light of the emerging sun revealed a mighty army, poised and ready for battle. Troops of every conceivable type made the Army of the Alliance a very formidable force indeed. Crossbowmen, whose aim was deadly accurate, carried lethal shafts with piercingly sharp tips specifically designed to penetrate metal armor. Their crossbows were slow to reload and had a short range, but the more lightly armed archers, who were quick on their feet and could loose their shafts at greater distances, provided sufficient backup. A larger portion of the Alliance was made up of mace men, large numbers of brawny men from both kingdoms who served as assault troops. Decked in thick leather vests, they were trained to be quick on their feet and to deal crushing damage with their iron spiked metal balls, connected to wooden rods by long, flexible chains. Doubledon’s elite foot soldiers, the swordsmen, supported the mace men with their devastating offensive capabilities. The heavy armor they wore made them slow moving, but provided excellent protection, making short work of any enemy that stood in their path. Combined with their raw power were Armston’s horsemen. Fast and deadly in combat, they were especially trained to fearlessly sally forth and assail the enemy in quick and devastating surprise attacks. Each horseman rode a grand and mighty stallion especially bred for armed combat.

Once the sun had fully risen above the Rune Mountain’s peaks, the trumpets of war sounded. Tents and gear were packed away as the soldiers of the Alliance gathered in disciplined order, ready to be inspected by their superiors.

Though they stood as still as statues, there was hardly a one whose mind and heart was not charged with exhilaration for the coming battle. Most had looked forward to this day for a long time, and now it was finally here. Today, they would prove their courage as men, determined to triumph in battle, or die! Their hearts and spirits rose further when none other than the King of Armston, Macawin himself, appeared to inspect the troops!

The men were awed as well as honored that King Macawin had deemed it fit to send them off to battle personally. Decked in full military regalia, the King of Armston rode up and down the line, his expression betraying a slight hint of satisfaction as he examined the combined forces of Doubledon and Armston. They had been assembled for a mission of conquest, and King Macawin was confident that nothing less than the best men of both cities stood before him.

King Macawin nodded in satisfaction over the formidable army under his command. “Men of Doubledon and Armston!” he said, his voice ringing loud and clear. “Today, we go to war! With our great might, we set forth to avenge a great man, Justin of Kurault, who was murdered by Baron Lorkas’s treachery! Soon, the city of Kurault will yield to our forces and the usurper shall be toppled from the throne he has so ruthlessly stolen! Let all future traitors look back upon this day and tremble!”

The troops roared in jingoistic delight. Macawin’s address was brief and to the point, yet no less rousing to the Army of the Alliance. In that moment, they felt absolutely invincible, knowing beyond a doubt that there was absolutely nothing that could resist them.

With a look of righteous fortitude, Macawin unsheathed his sword from his scabbard with an audible ring, and moved forth to lead his great army to the banks of the Thailion River. The Army of the Alliance followed like a gigantic lumbering beast, too large and powerful for anything to stand in its way.

When they reached the eastern bank of the river, hundreds of boats built of pine were brought forth, each one large enough to hold twenty-four men. Each boat was loaded with twelve mace men and twelve swordsmen. The mace men set aside their weapons for oars and began to row across the river as the swordsmen crouched beside them, shields at the ready. The boats advanced across the Thailion en mass, a most formidable force indeed. Yet they had reason for caution, for they knew that if the reports from their scouts could be believed, the crossing would meet resistance. Sure enough, they soon caught sight of the enemy upon the western shore, no doubt intending to challenge the invading forces and prevent the Alliance from gaining a foothold upon the western shore.

On the western bank, hundreds of Kuraultian archers knocked their arrows and pulled their strings back, waiting for the command to fire. With a shout from their commander, a volley of arrows arched into the air to fall upon the invaders in their boats. But the swordsmen were ready. They raised their shields over their heads, protecting themselves and the macemen from the lethal rain of shafts. The arrows bounced harmlessly off their shields, causing no casualties.

When the first of the boats drew near the western shallows of the river, Kuraultian pikemen charged into the water, savagely impaling their enemies as they disembarked. The Kuraultian Army cut down the first soldiers that arrived. But their fight against the Alliance met increasingly heavier opposition as the invading thousands continued to cross from the eastern bank, countering the pikemen with maces and swords. In a matter of time, the Alliance had consolidated enough men to push their way toward the shoreline, but Kuraultian horsemen swept rapidly up and down the Thailion’s west bank, summarily crushing any attempt to outflank the entrenched pikemen.

The Alliance doggedly pushed forward, suffering hundreds of casualties in their frantic scramble to break the Kuraultian ranks. As the carnage continued, the Alliance began to falter. Against the fierce and determined resistance of the Kuraultian Army, their organized advance became a chaotic swarm as the waters of the Thailion turned red with the blood of the dead and dying.

For a time, it seemed that the Kuraultian Army would succeed in repelling the Alliance if not for the quick thinking of Sergeant Elroden of Doran. Seeing the assault beginning to break apart, he rallied several score of troops and charged forth from the bloody waters to engulf the southern line of defense. The wild and desperate attack forced the Kurault Army to shorten their northern flank, allowing the Alliance to come ashore and surround the pikemen, slaughtering them to a man.

Once the Alliance had finally seized the western shore, reinforcements continued to cross the river to help secure their hard won footing. By the time the sun had passed its noontime peak, the Kuraultian Army realized that their smaller force would be unable to regain the riverbank from the thousands that had crossed the Thailion. So the Kuraultian Army fell back a few hundred yards to regroup; then spent the rest of the day conducting attacks against the Alliance with volleys of arrows and brief rushes upon their flanks by horsemen. Though many of their troops were picked off by the newly arrived crossbowmen, the Kuraultians managed to keep the invaders off balance and hinder their efforts to get organized.

By the time the sun had settled behind the Blackwoods, the Alliance managed to arrange their forces into several columns along the bank, ready and eager for a full-scale battle. But by then, the Kuraultian Army had already retreated back to the safety of their city’s walls, leaving the invaders to tend to their dead and wounded.

***
“COWARDS!” King Macawin roared as he banged his fist on the table. His generals flinched at the outburst. It had been an hour since the Kuraultian Army had completely withdrawn into the night. The King of Armston had called an emergency meeting in his tent to assess the enemy’s capabilities. Macawin had just been told that they had suffered over a thousand casualties and he was not pleased.

“Dare they only attack us when we are most vulnerable, and then flee like rabbits when we finally get our bearings?!!” he blustered through his thick beard.

General Gardois bristled. “Your grace, the Kuraultians fought like lions and demonstrated brilliant military strategy this day. Their retreat from our superior numbers demonstrates tactical wisdom, not cowardice.”

“What?!!” shouted General Tacton of Doubledon, a duke with a trimmed and finely combed beard. “Whose side are you on, Gardois! I knew that you, yourself, are from Kurault! But I hadn’t thought that that factor would move you toward treason!”

“Treason?!!” roared Gardois, his indignation rising as he glared at Tacton. “How dare you! I was driven from my home city when that traitor, Lorkas, seized the throne! I was one of the first on his list of those to murder! Make no mistake, Tacton, I will not rest until I wet my sword with Lorkas’s blood!”

“Enough of this!” shouted Macawin. “The last thing we need to do is bicker amongst ourselves. Lorkas would love nothing more than that!” The two generals fell silent, conceding to King Macawin’s wisdom. The King of Armston turned to the Kuraultian exile. “Gardois, you know more of Kuraualt’s defensive capabilities than anyone here. Tell us, was there anything about them that surprised you?”

Gardois shrugged. “Only of the strength of their defense. I had not expected Lorkas to build an army this large or to train them to the extent we have seen today so soon after he had seized power. Nor would I have guessed that he would be able to inflict so much damage against us so early in this campaign. It would be unwise to underestimate his forces again.”

Macawin huffed through his thick beard as he sat back down. “I hope we are strong enough to push ahead tomorrow.”

“Oh, but of course, my liege,” General Tacton replied. “You know that we have assembled enough forces to weather any contingency. We still have more than enough men to take Kurault.”

“Even so,” General Gardois added. “It might be wise to seek alliances with other cities, in case of other contingencies.”

Macawin was loath to admit it, but he knew that Gardois was right. Yesterday, he was certain beyond a doubt that things would go smoothly. But after today’s calamity, he could no longer take anything for granted. He knew that Oracle Veldt, the Head of the Wiccan Order, would be smug about this admission. She had ordained that they would meet formidable resistance, and she had been right. Macawin was grateful that the spiteful old hag was in Armston instead of here to gloat in his face.

“I’ll see to it,” said Macawin. “Evanhaue?”

“Yes, your grace,” said Evanhaue of Joran, a slight, thin man who served as the Chief Engineer of the Alliance.

“How goes the transport of the siege equipment over the river?”

“We are well ahead of schedule, your grace,” said Evanhaue. “Our catapults are already across, and the siege towers should be ashore by midnight.”

“Excellent,” said Macawin. His frayed nerves relaxed upon hearing the good news. “Then we should be ready to march on Kurault at first light.”

Macawin’s military leaders readily agreed. Since there was nothing more to discuss, they were dismissed, but the King of Armston remained behind, brooding alone at the head of the long table as he silently prayed to the gods for better luck in the coming days.

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