On top of the walls, no matter whether it was an officer or a common soldier, seeing the overwhelming size of the enemy forces, the ocean of men and horses, the blinding radiance of their blades and the countless waving banners, their faces all paled as fear reflected from their eyes. It was going to be a terrible storm, a storm that would sweep House ZiChuan and each of them away. It was a test, which the outcome would decide whether they lived or died.
Commander Stirling of the Central Army patrolled the walls, inspecting the defences. He carefully noted the weakness of the western wall, where the merlons of the battlement was too thin and in need of reinforcing. He oversaw the task personally, even joking around with the soldiers hard at work. “That is a rock, not your wives. You have to treat it with care!” The crowd laughed. His calmness had infected the soldiers around him. Everyone believed that the invincible General would bring them home, safely. Everywhere he went; courage and hope were instilled into the hearts of his men. But no one saw the worry in his eyes hidden behind his gentle smile.
Stirling arrived at the part of the battlement entrusted to the Xiu’s Company. Seeing ZiChuan Xiu cowering in a corner writing a letter, his smile was gone. He approached him, asking: “What are you doing?”
“I’m writing a will!” ZiChuan Xiu responded without so much as lifting his head.
Stirling didn’t know whether he should shout or laugh. “Seriously…” His voice turned serious. “There is something I haven’t told anyone. There are no reinforcements coming our way. House ZiChuan doesn’t have anything left to send. Right now, they barely have the strength to hold Fort Warren. Where would they find an army big enough to rescue us?”
ZiChuan Xiu continued writing. “Right, I know. Is there breakfast for tomorrow?”
Stirling spoke solemnly. “I’m not kidding. Promise me, if you get the chance, do not worry about us and do not look back. Just make sure you get as far away from here as you can. You came here because of me, if anything happens to you, I won’t be able to live with myself!”
“Surely I’m not the only one who has the chance to get away if he tried?”
Stirling shook his head. “I can’t. They are all trapped here because they placed their faith in me. If I can’t bring them home alive, at the very least, I can join them in death.”
“Thank you, Your Highness! I will never be able to repay the kindness you have bestowed upon me. If there is anything…”
“You shouldn’t thank me yet. There is more! I did say my part, but so did my brother. Father hasn’t made up his mind yet. Marquis Halcyon, this is the time to prove your loyalty!”
“Yes, of course. Please show me the way, Your Highness!”
Prince Kadun went straight to the point, pointing towards the high walls of Payi behind the curtains of fog in the distance. “Bring me the head of Stirling! I give you a day. Is that enough?”
Marquis swallowed hard, answering bitterly. “Your wish is my command, Your Highness!”
Dear Readers, we have reached the half way point of the first book, an important milestone for me personally. It also marks the change of pace in the story.
As summer approaches, and since the story has not managed to garner enough interest to warrent the amount of time I'm spending on it every week, the story will now continue at a steady pace of 1 regular chapter part (or two short ones) per week. Of course if someone is feeling generious, I can be persuaded to spend more time indoors, but until then, I'm feeling like spending more time in the sun.
Thank you for supporting and reading the story thus far, I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I did.