Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 7

Astolfo de Rabicano sat on the writing desk, and tried to compose his message.  His efforts were impaired by the fact that the room he was in was cold, and drafty, with a roof that leaked.  One letter had been near completion, only to be destroyed by water pouring on it over the evening, turning it into a sodden mess. 

The cold was making that less of a problem, but introducing new, awful problems of its own.  This morning, the contents of Astolfo's chamberpot had been frozen when he awoke.  He'd been left debating what to do, as thawing it would be difficult and unpleasant, but throwing it out would leave him without a chamberpot, which would be quite unpleasant in another way.

He sniffled and wished he were not in Goldenrush.  A tiny, virtually abandoned town, it possessed a rundown ruin of a fortress, left over from the great days of the feud between the Nestors and the Rabicanos.  It struck Astolfo as almost comical that his ancestors had considered this worn-down, barren area with a piddling little stream to be worth fortifying.  Or for that matter, worth shedding blood over. 

But then, somehow that seemed less comical when he considered the fact his survival now hinged on that pathetic little fortress holding up to whatever assault the Nightfolk subjected it to when they came after him.  His scouts were telling him they were coming ever closer.

When his scouts returned at all.  When they didn't he found himself hoping that the Nightfolk were getting them.  The alternative was so much worse, from his point of view.

"My lord," came a slight, chirping voice.  Astolfo turned to see Maurin, the old castellan of Goldenrush, standing at the doorway.  The old man was a villager, who had apparently held the post for his entire life.  It didn't seem to be very hard work, which might be why he was taking the arrival of Astolfo and his forces with such unmitigated delight.  The man had seemingly grown two inches since his duties had come to include waiting on so many "great lords" as he put it.

"Yes, Maurin,"muttered Astolfo quietly.  "What is it?  Has Lord Osric returned?"

"No, my lord," chirped the old man.  "But there are riders.  Eremites I believe." 

"You believe...?" probed Astolfo.

"Well, my lord, they are dressed as Eremites, and they smell as Eremites, so I felt it was a... safe guess," answered Maurin with a shrug.  "Do you wish me to heat some wine for them?"

Astolfo nodded dully.  "And a large cup for myself." 

"Very good, sir," said Maurin with a bow, heading off.  Astolfo shivered as he watched the castellan leave, wrapping his cloak about him, and hoping against hope that he was going to get some good news very soon.

His hopes were soon dashed, as he walked outside, and saw the tattered handful of men who'd entered Goldenrush.  One older man with a bandage around his head rode forward.  "Ahh--sir," said the Eremite, the desperate edge to his voice plain to hear.  "It is so good to find fellow loyalists.  When we saw the Prince's arms, we..."  He coughed.  "Well, we have grave news.  Talossa..."

"Has joined with the Nightfolk," said Astolfo tiredly.  "We know."

The Eremite blinked. "Ahh.  Well.  Then, sir... if you will please give us leave to rest here, we replenish our strength, and join your main army.  I know we may not look like much, but..."

"This is my main army," said Astolfo.  "The Prince has more troops with the Nestors, but you'll likely have to ride through more Nightfolk and traitors to get to them."  He shrugged.  "Still--you're welcome to rest here.  I've some wine heating if you'd like it.  Seven know I would." And with that, he turned to leave them there.

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