Ruffian's Journal I
The old fort had only three good walls, each twenty feet high, the fourth having been partly stripped by villagers using the stones for foundations. Now the village was deserted and the fort stood like a crippled guard over the remains. The keep were I spent my night was damp and cold, part of the roof had fallen in some years before and there was evidence that the central chamber had been used as a cattle store the stench remaining long after the animals had been moved.
Goshavan had the carts moved into place by the fourth wall forming a barrier of sorts against the Warthorn attack. The rain pounded down lashing the stone of the ancient battlements making them glisten like marble. Lightning blazed across the night sky and thunder rumbled in the east as I drew my cloak around my shoulders watching the north.
Shimozu climbed the rotted steps to the battlements and stood beside me “I hope you are right” he said but I was too far in my despair to respond. On the first day I was sure the Warthorn would find us. On the second my worries had grown but on the third we allowed for the hope of returning to Elund as heroes.
Then the rain had struck, damn the Badlands, it bogged down the wagons in a sea of mud. At that point Goshavan should have destroyed the supplies and made a run for the forests surrounding DaggerRock. But he dithered too long and now the Warthorn are ahead of us, I told him that it was our only opportunity but he was obsessed with getting the supplies to Elund.
I had hoped there were fewer than two hundred facing us when we turned to this ruined fort for shelter. The fifty of us could hold against two hundred for three days, more than enough time for our messengers to reach the city and send Háru or Armstrong to assist us. But Isabella and Greyjoy had returned earlier in the day with news that more than five hundred had followed us from the Reach. We would be overrun in the first assault.
Goshavan swore the information must be kept secret for the sake of the men’s morale which was delicate at best with the thought of contending with only two hundred. “We can hold, even if there are more than we think” I said at last. “The western wall is rotten. I think an angry child could push his way through” said Shimouz “The wagons don’t make much of a barrier.”
“So you think two hundred?”
“Maybe three,” I admitted.
“I hope not.”
“Remember the manual Shimouz and I quote ‘Good fortifications can be held against an enemy numbering ten times more than the defending force’”
“Maybe a for the dwarven fortresses but even then I’m pretty sure it said only five times”
“We’ll check it when we reach Elund.”
“Greyjoy is complaining again but the men are glad to be under cover; they have a fire going in the keep. Why don’t you go inside for a while?"
“You’re getting concerned about my old bones?”
“I think you should rest, tomorrow could get a little intense.”
“Yea, you are right. Keep the sentries alert Shimouz.”
“I’ll do my best.”
I walked to the steps and then returned. “There are over five hundred Warthorn.”
“I guessed.” He replied “Get some sleep, and be careful on those steps, I say a prayer every time I mount them.”
I gingerly made my way down the steps and across the cobbled courtyard to the keep. The hinges on the gate had rusted through but our guys had wedged the door open a crack. I squeezed through and made my way to the huge hearth. The fire was welcome and I warmed my hands against the blaze. The men had fallen silent at my entrance, damned if I learn the common tongue though I would like to put them at ease. One came over to me, Varek I believe his name was, and mentioned they had lit a fire in the east room and there was a bed available. I shouted for Greyjoy to follow me.
He was ill at ease amongst so many people and the current situation; he had that look about him that he had his arguments planned concerning the company’s choice to stay here. Once inside the room I removed my helmet and cloak before crackling the fire.
“You know why I brought you on board?” I asked.
“Because you thought I could handle it?” ventured Greyjoy.
“More than that. I knew you could. I trust you, Greyjoy.”
“Thanks.” said Greyjoy uneasily.
“So let me tell you – and I want you to keep it to yourself for tonight – that there are at least five hundred Warthorn ranged against us.”
“We’ll never hold.”
“I hope that we will. Elund needs these supplies and more than that they need a victory. Three days is all that it will take. I want you to hold the western wall. Pick twenty men – the best archers and the finest swordsmen – but hold it.”
“We should have cut and run; we still could.”
“Háru has four thousand men and they are short of equipment, food and medicines; the people of Elund are going hungry to support them. But it cannot go on. I checked the wagons tonight. You know there are over twenty thousand shafts, spare bows, swords and spears; also salt meats, dried fruits and more than a hundred thousand silver pieces.”
“One hundred… that’s their pay!”
“Exactly. But with it Elund can open trade links with the Wardens.”
“No wonder they sent five hundred men to recover it. I’m surprised they didn’t send a thousand.”
“We’ll make them wish they had. Can you hold the western wall with twenty men?”
“I can give it a try.”
“That’s all I ask.”
After Greyjoy left I lay back on the pallet bed. It smelt of dust and decay but it felt finer than a silk covered four poster. I fell asleep a few hours before dawn. My last thought was of the children, on the day I had taken them to play in the mountains.
If only I had known it was our last day together, I would have made it so different for them. I would have hugged them and told them how much I loved them.