As the sun rose over the eastern horizon it struck the gold-decorated helm on Neal Osborne’s head, making it shine in the light. He sat astride his golden stallion in his red and gold armour, cutting a noble figure as he rode towards the front lines. His troops parted in the ranks to create a path for their leader, and they were applauding and cheering as he paraded through their midst. Neal waved to either side like a triumphant king, as if he had already won this battle. In his mind, this was true. He saw no way for Alex to defeat him.
Neal stared at the piece of parchment in disbelief. It lay on his map table beside the arrow that had delivered it. Neal sat down in the nearest chair, hardly seeing the candlelight flickering in his pavilion. He was lost in his own thoughts.
“Well?” Simon Lamb said expectantly. “What does it say?”
Neal came back from his reverie and gestured for Lamb to pick it up. Simon grabbed the paper and read for himself Alexander Rothrock’s challenge. As he did, he saw that Neal was shaking.
“Something wrong?” He asked.
We arose before dawn to find that it had snowed again in the night. Gwen cooked breakfast while Alexander began putting on his armour. This morning he was not wearing his riding armour from before, but a full set of elaborate design. In their preparations for war, the Outlanders had toyed with the idea of a fully armoured cavalry like that of the Middle Ages. They had not the time or resources to fulfill this vision, but a few suits of armour had been made. Now Alex was strapping on a set so that he could ride out to face his archenemy.
It seemed to happen in slow motion. We rushed forward in the torrents of rain, muscles springing into action. Alex called out to nearby soldiers to help defend the breach in the wall, hollering as loud as he could. Enemy troops began pouring through the gap as we splashed through mud and puddles towards them. I drew my sword, afire with white light, and plunged into the chaos.
A few hours after what would have been sunset, had we been able to see the sun, we heard new rumblings. Lower and less intense than the booms of thunder that still echoed through the sky, these sounded too regular.
“Wheels?” I asked. “Big heavy ones?” I whispered directly into Alex’s ear, not wanting to shout.
They fell back for the day, staying outside arrow range. We watched from the ramparts as they camped out in clear view, just waiting. I guessed that they would attack at dark once again, but wondered what their plan was. So far as I could tell they had no means of breaching the walls.
They ran forward with weapons bared, and we wearily readied ourselves for the attack. Men who could barely walk hefted heavy shields, drew their blades and stood ready to face the charge. I raised my blade to offer one last cheering cry to rouse them to battle, and my voice was joined by the groaning of the gates behind us.
We had built a makeshift wall of broken wagons and carts during the night, and stood behind them, our weapons at the ready. The Citadel cavalry roared at us, attempting to be intimidating as they beat their weapons against their shields. I was reminded of scenes in every epic movie I had ever watched, where a force that outnumbers them surrounds the heroes. Like in Zulu. The fierce enemy taunts the heroes, and then attacks. I set myself for the assault.
I found myself immersed in chaos. All around me were the sounds of battle, as men strived to kill each other with swords and spears and axes. The smell of burning canvas and flesh assaulted my nostrils, and I saw tents on fire. In the smoky light I could perceive the silhouettes of struggling soldiers.
An unexpected voice rang out in my darkened apartment, welcoming me home. I’d like to say that I kept my cool and responded calmly. But I can’t. I let out a yelp, which I sincerely hope was manly rather than the girlish shriek I’m afraid it was, and jumped.
“I hope I didn’t startle you, Mr. Franklin, showing up uninvited, but I felt discretion was necessary.”
A tall man with black hair was sitting comfortably in my favourite lounge chair, one foot resting on the opposite knee. He smiled warmly.