(NOTE: the first one can be found HERE ;)
Jray'Ov pushed his way out of the crowded entry of the town hall and threw himself between the packed ranks of the army slowly plodding down the main-street.
Mumbling apologies to the different soldiers that he bumped into and shoved to the side, Jray sought feverishly for one particular face.
“Ro'Val!” He finally called, unable to keep the name in any longer.
Jray forced his way to the left toward the questioning voice. He quickly came to a young man plodding in file with his group.
Managing to wedge himself between his son and the soldier beside him, Jray threw his arm over his shoulder and quickly looked him up and down. The younger man was exhausted, his clothing was ragged and filthy, his face was smeared in mud, dried blood, and sweat, and his hair was matted and grimy, but he seemed otherwise in good physical condition.
“What word?” Jray asked.
“They've taken Reglan’Rowltho. Completely overran the bridge with a large group of Dosh and began to take full control of the city within the first few hours,” Ro said shaking his head. “We were supposed to be on guard for an attack – there had been reports for months of their gathering forces just out of sight of the Border River – but there was no warning that such a number of powerful nayrl-wielders would make the first strike. Our Dosh didn't stand a chance in holding the bridge.”
“But why?” Jray asked, finally giving voice to the question that had been tormenting his mind incessantly ever since they had heard of the attack a day earlier. “What possible reason could Kroal’Ishlon have for such an assault?”
“I've no clue – we've only been given orders. No explanations or attempts at the like.”
“What is to happen now?”
“As far as I've heard, we're retreating to the next most defensible position, Rillen'Lowl.”
Jray got a sick feeling in his gut at that bit of news.
“That is beyond the Fields. They can't be thinking of pulling the army back that far unless they plan to–” Jray's thought was cut off by a horn blast from the edge of town.
Leaving his son's side, Jray began to force himself through the throng of bedraggled and weary soldiers to get to the square where he could see the banner of the House of Kel'Kieo, the army's leader, being borne aloft.
He reached the front ranks of the army at the edge of the town and stopped short with the men in front as Kel'Kieo reined in his ronig and turned the mount to face the army.
Dust drifted up from the road heading out of town as the ronig pawed at it with restlessness. Kel'Kieo gave a hand signal to the only other mounted officer, his banner bearer, and the old soldier lifted a horn to his lips to give a second, longer blast.
Silence fell over the edge of the town.
“The Othrarian armies have taken Reglan’Rowltho, and will be upon our trail within days,” Kel'Kieo called, loud enough for most at the edge of the village to hear him. A low murmur passed among those further back as the message was sent into the town. “Gather what necessities you can carry and prepare to leave. We will burn the town and the fields behind us.”
A rise in murmuring washed toward the back of the crowd as Jray walked out of the line of soldiers and jumped onto a boulder on the side of the road where he could be easily seen.
“The first man to touch a torch will find it extinguished with his own blood!”
Jray'Ov felt tension instantly saturate the air as if it were the lingering crackle of the Power he had used to amplify his voice. For a split second he wondered if he shouldn't have taken a moment longer to think before reacting to Kel'Kieo's statement – but glancing into the faces of the soldiers nearby, he dismissed the thought. These men knew who he was.
“You may continue on, good Kel'Kieo,” Jray continued – using a little less nayrl to amplify his voice this time, but still making sure everyone within the crowd could hear him. “And I would certainly not prevent those who wish to follow you. But you will NOT burn my fields or my home.”
“Are you in possession of your sanity, Ihk-Nayrldosh?” Kel'Kieo yanked on the reigns of his mount to force it closer to him – ignoring the creature's skittishness at getting closer to Jray. “The enemy is upon your doorstep, and you want to challenge a strategic retreat?”
“I am well within possession of my sanity, Kel'Kieo. But unless you can tell me why the Othrarians are invading our land – and what they will do to this village when they reach it – I will not give ground. I have never known Kroal’Ishlon to condone needless slaughter.”
Kel'Kieo's face went blank as he stared at Jray. Jray suspected from the emotions churning deep within his eyes that the nobleman knew exactly what had incited the Othrarian attack. But would he reveal that information to the 'common' folk watching him?
Without warning, the younger man wrenched on the reins of his mount again and turned to continue down the road.
“Move on!” he barked, waving for his bannerman to give the signal for the army to continue its march. “We make for the Ri'Wolin Pass, if any wish to follow us.”
The bannerman gave another long blast on his horn, and the army began to march out of the town. Along with the steady stamp of heavy feet, the sound of rapidly conversing voices rose.
Jray noted that a group of men were working their way against the wave of soldiers back toward the town hall. It was not long before his son and the Elder managed to break through the mass of bodies to stand at the base of the boulder he stood upon.
“The men and I want to know what you're thinking, Jray'Ov,” the Elder said, leaning on his crooked staff and watching the soldiers pass wearily by as if the order to continue marching had further exhausted them. “And frankly I'd like to know why you think it's a good idea to stick around here, with an invading army making its way toward us.”
Jray nodded, and hopped down from the boulder. Looking his son in the eye, he placed his hand on his shoulder.
“Are you staying?”
Ro'Val gave a curt nod, grinning ruefully. “You think Ti'dara would forgive me if I left again, or uprooted her and the family?”
Squeezing his son's shoulder and nodding, Jray turned to the Elder. “You will all hear my reasoning. Let us join those gathering in the town hall...”
Let me know what you think! :)
~ J D White