The moment had come. Tied securely to the ceiling of the tough palm wood cage, the unbearable, never-ending sounds and stench of dozens of forges and smiths working in shifts from sunrise to sunrise added to the prisoner Turid’s growing madness. ‘Truly this is Niffelheim,’ she thought for her soul after death continued to endure torture after torture.

 

     After days of confinement in the cage with barely enough room for her to move her legs, but not enough to stretch them out and having lost feeling in her arms not long after being imprisoned had Turid hallucinating amid the swirling smoke and endless hammering.

 

     Through the smoke appeared a familiar visitor and Turid rejoiced.

 

     “Ha…hah…hahahahaha! I knew you would come! Knew it, knew it, knew it!”

 

     A brutal fit of coughing interrupted her ranting. Her visitor held a dipper of water towards her through the bars and she greedily lapped it up spilling far more than she could take in.

 

     Turid recoiled at the metallic taste of water used to temper bronze weapons. But after days without water, she welcomed what she’d been given and it gave her cause to settle down.

 

     “T-thank you Chief Svengald. You are kind to spare water on one such as me.”

 

     Still holding the dipper, the Chief looked upon his former tribeswoman. She was a mess of dirt, cracked and smeared body paint with the many rows of braids coming undone in some places while matted in others. Only her pale blue eyes still marked her as one from his homeland.

 

     “I’ve done you no favors child. I’ve come to get the truth from you about your ‘mistress’ the Red Spirit and what she intends for the coming attack.”

 

     Turid laughed as one gone mad and it made Svengald wince. He knew the girl she had been. She’d ridden high atop his shoulders when he took time to play with the children under his rule. That was ten years ago by his wife’s measure of time, but only five by his. The madwoman caged and bound before him suffered greatly before and after her journey to this land far off in both distance and time. She’d turned against her own kind at the behest of the Red Spirit and became one with the Tenaree hordes threatening to overrun this land.

 

     Normally, Svengald could care less and would take his people and go leaving this pending war to the natives. But it wasn’t up to him. He was commanded by the Priestess to ‘render aid to his people and bring them to the Valley Realm.’ In order to complete that task, he and the warriors of Aesirfjord must render assistance to the Valley Knight, the Priestess’ mortal protector. The Knight said he was here to stop the Tenaree horde from killing the Priestess and wiping out the Valley Realm. To Svengald’s mind, the two missions were the same.

 

     “You won’t get anything from me Chief! The Red Spirit is Lady and Mistress of this land, all will be hers and there is nothing you or anyone else can do to stop it!”

 

     “Oh, you will reveal everything to me child.”

 

    “What are you going to do Chief…torture me? What do you think you can do to me that my mistress has not done and undone? You cannot understand her ken…she is a goddess!”

 

     Chief Svengald smiled a wolf’s grin at the captive.

 

     “Child, I happen to know a thing or two about ‘goddesses’ that would surprise you. As for torture, there’s no need for that. I’m just going to have a good ‘look’ at you….”

 

     Turid’s expression suddenly turned fearful. Svengald lifted the green silk cloth covering his injured eye and his captive was bathed in red light that cut eerily through the shifting smoke. The young woman’s mouth was agape in a wide ‘O’ and her naked and filthy body shook while bathed in the red glow.

 

     What seemed to her as being instants later, turned out to be hours as the sun had settled on the horizon. No longer in a cage, Turid realized she had been washed and dressed in a roughspun, rust-red colored cloth. She lay upon a bed of clean straw and had a harness of tough animal hide wrapped about her upper body ending in a long length of thick braided leather rope tied securely to a heavy post.

 

     Two fearsome looking dark-skinned women with woven armor, bronze banded wooden shields and short bronze swords stood just out of range eyes boring into hers. In broken Aesir, one of the guards said, “Behave, no die.”

 

     Next to her bed sat a bowl of clean water and gruel with bits of cooked meat and vegetables. Turid tore into the food and drink. As she ate, there was a distinct feeling of a great weight lifted from her. She could barely remember what had happened, but at the moment it didn’t seem to matter, nor why she was under guard and tied up like a dog….

****

 

     Prince Tinochika stood atop the wall facing the great barrier of trees the locals called ‘The Palm Forest.’ A considerable area more than one hundred strides in length had been cleared and seeded with palisades of spiked wood, staked pitfalls and sharp sea shells to impede the potential advance of the invaders surrounded the approach to the walled city. The Prince was impressed by both the perimeter created and the improvements to the city walls itself. Gone from his childhood memory was the quaint sea side city he’d visited. In its place stood a fortress in which he would soon be ‘heir’.

 

     As a gift, he’d been given what the locals called a ‘Bronze Sword’ by Palm’s new War Chief, the ‘Montsho Banga’. The weapon was impressive! Heavier than any of the wooden, bone or shark-tooth based weapons his men carried, the Tinochika realized it would cut or smash through any of their armor or shields. All around him were Palm’s soldiers and each had at least one weapon be it spear, sword or arrows employing such a seemingly ‘indestructible’ substance! The Prince could see himself covered in armor made from this ‘bronze’ impervious to the weapons of his enemies and the bath of blood he would create….

 

     The Prince’s attention was called to by the War Chief breaking his musings of potential conquests.

 

     “Adjatay Tinochika, as you can see we have made the best preparations possible to repel the Tenaree when they arrive in one day.”

 

     The Prince agreed as he had never seen such extensive earthworks made to fortify a city’s defenses.

 

     “Tell me Montsho Banga, where did you learn such craft and why go to such lengths? Surely, even this will hold the coming army at bay?”

 

     Tinochika noticed the War Chief’s short silence before speaking. He realized right off, this man was no braggard jumping at the opportunity to laud his knowledge and puff himself up. This was a man who no doubt knew what he was talking about. Men like that the Prince knew were difficult to manipulate and were always a threat.

 

     “Adjatay, I have fought in many wars and skirmishes in as many different lands. I have seen that which the Tenaree will bring to bear upon us. From my dealings with the engines of war approaching the city, I have laid out the best defense available to our resources and time available.

 

     The best defense will be to make it difficult as possible for the Tenaree to get close to the city walls. They will use those engines to attempt to fire the city and in the confusion, attempt to cross the gap and smash the city gates. We have set up contingencies for such a possible outcome should their efforts prove successful….”

 

     The Prince looked at the War Chief with concern. The man seemed more ‘dark spirit’ under the night sky as torchlight was forbidden atop the walls.

 

     “Are you saying this will end in our defeat Montsho Banga?”

 

     The short silence given by the Montsho Banga before speaking raised the Prince’s concern once again.

 

     “It is my experience in war Adjatay, no possibility be barred towards the outcome. ‘Plan for victory, prepare for defeat’ is what I’ve learned when it comes to siegecraft.

     Defending cities is more difficult than attacking them. Defenders have far more to lose and little to gain whereas the invader’s options are the opposite. That is why we have plans to evacuate the city should the tide turn against us in an unmanageable way.

     Should the invaders breach the city walls, our soldiers will make them pay in blood for every footfall they take. But, it is not unfeasible the Tenaree may overrun the city should they get inside. Their numbers are considerable.”

 

     Such a matter-of-fact answer chilled the Prince’s blood momentarily.

 

     “What then is your ‘plan for victory’ Mazi?”

 

     “Hold them out. Cause them as much grief possible. Make the field outside the walls a place where Tenaree come to die and break them upon these walls. Even with your generous infusion of troops, we are but thirty-five hundred against five to seven thousand armed with siege engines. Our advantages are; we are much better armed and armored now. Our troops are better trained, and we have a fortified position.”

 

     Sounding much more confident after the War Chief’s assessment the Prince replied, “Well that would seem like we have the upperhand do we not?”

 

     Once more there was that short silence.

 

     “Sieges are tricky things Adjatay. Unlike battles they may last weeks, months or years depending on how well resourced and determined the enemy. Keep in mind, your troops are the ‘reinforcements’. There are no others as we have taken every able-bodied man and woman, put weapons in their hands and prepared them for the coming battle.

 

     Even with our defenses, contingencies and advantages, this will no doubt end the way it will. That meaning, we hold off the Tenaree…or we don’t. It is in the best interest of what is left of Palm to properly prepare for either outcome.”

 

     Tinochika found the Montsho Banga’s answers sobering. Apparently, in the past weeks it was he who changed everything about Palm’s army and Sea City’s defenses. Far as he could tell, the man was trustworthy where it came to the planning and implementing of war strategy. But, what was the man’s weakness? All men had them and rulers needed to know them in order to keep those around them under control.

 

     The Montsho Banga according to the Prince’s inquiries was not from Palm or any surrounding country. In fact, there was a rumor he’d ‘come from the home of the gods’. Tinochika found that ridiculous as the man was flesh and blood, despite the strange air about him. More interesting were the strange people he called allies. With skin that resembled the blind rodents which lived underground and hair the colors of fire, it all seemed very strange indeed.

 

     However, the effort put forth by the War Chief spoke for itself. No one who planned on defeat would go to such lengths to prepare a city for a coming attack. The Prince was not familiar with the Tenaree, but for them to have reduced the Nation of Palm to this last stronghold in weeks was cause for great concern. Then too, to defeat such an army and raise their leader’s head high in his fist before their defeated horde had great appeal. In performing such a feat, Tinochika realized he would no longer be a prince…but a King!

 

     A young woman of Palm dressed in the blue cloth of those who served the Regent and his family caught the attention of the two men.

 

    “Great Adjatay, it is the hour for your introduction to Ade Meru. Please follow me.”

 

     The Prince took a deep breath. He had much to take in. So much potential gain lay before him with his betrothal to this ‘Princess Meru’. He hoped to all his ancestors and God of the Sea she was not some fat, ugly hog of a woman, shrill of voice and vile of temperament. However, he would put up with her long enough to establish himself as ruler of the two nations after the defeat of the coming army.

 

     “Montsho Banga, will you accompany me to meet the Princess?

     The man bowed his head slightly and replied, “Adjatay, I would be honored.”

 

     “Excellent! Now, let us see our new bride and what our royal progeny shall look like.”

 

     As the War Chief walked beside him, Tinochika realized in many respects they were quite similar. They may very well become fast friends or bitter enemies. Time would be the judge….

****

To be concluded....

© 2017 H. Wolfgang Porter. All Rights Reserved.

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