A loyal band of knightly escorts makes camp in the wilds and traverses a mountain.
|Sparks from the camp fire glide through the air, wood crackling into an oblivious array of sounds from the encampment, hurdled within a barren circular nest that served as a fine resting place for the third days end and little shortage of worthwhile hunting.
Numerous tents lined themselves within the barren circle enshrouded by a dense forest, occasional scurries could be heard in the background as rodents fled from the merry banter and bonfire that seemed to illuminate the stars themselves beyond the daunting pines, reaching up into a dizzying sight.
The men carried on practicing their blocks and strikes across the way, their armor removed and sporting leather breast plates/shin/elbow guards as the pattering of their strikes echoed Through the tree's.
Some were drinking from tin pints, leaning against the boar straddled wagon just on the outer edge of the camp, the nectar of fools slipping from their gullet and trickling down their bristles as they laughed and carried on.
(We will need clarity of thought, precision, and great rest if we wish to come out of this with our lives, only the foolhardy believe reward comes without its challenges.)
King Valeses picked these men himself, knowing full well they are the most experienced and accustomed to danger on the battlefield. I didn't know most of them apart from an occasional passing on the way to and from the barracks and castle gates.
Three of them were old friends, Jole was a man of little patience and inflated ego missing no chance to test his mettle, sitting upon a stump at the far edge of camp as he drank and took shots at a nearby tree with his throwing knives.
Reynauld and Eli rested not far behind me laying on their bedrolls with eyes to the stars, sharing tales of their past glories as well as mine. Their words drift apart as I examine the sword made under my king's command by the royal smithy.
Well crafted and polished to a mirror sheen, it was clearly the work of an expert, inscribed with the phrase "valor beholds providence" on the cross-guard.
I couldn't help but wonder what the seer had spoken with me about just before leaving three nights before.
He mentioned that Valeses had seemed ever more complacent over the past year, speaking of his fascination with old rumors and tales that were always seen as fool's errands and that before long his only goal was studying these and he no longer took pleasure in the great hunt nor any of the king's past delights.
His sudden outburst had brought into debate serious thought as well but...
"Hey Kladius, care to clear something up", Eli shouted with a friendly wave.
Snapping out of my pondering I slowly rose to my feet, sliding my sword back into its sheath and placing it aside the half rotted log.
Reynauld sat up as I walked over, mace by his side, brown hair pulled back into a tail, his face covered in small scars from his rebellious youth as a dirt fighter, tough as nails but not too cunning. He was always better suited as the first to fight type as im sure he'd agree. Amazing that he's made it this far.
Eli on the other hand was very squeamish and always over thinking tasks, though he makes a very worthy ally when it comes to espionage and things that require a delicate touch.
"What are you two conjuring, not building yourselves up too much I would hope, an overzealous enemy makes for a hasty victory", smirking at their gaping expressions, they soon erupt in laughter.
"Only you would have such a serious take on such a simple task", Eli looks to Reynauld now picking the skin from his nails from an earlier hunt that rested on fire. "That scar looks pretty deep, sure took a licking from that beast a week ago".
"How did you know about it, weren't you stationed at the bridge".
He shoots me a look of surprise, "Aye, but you of all people should know word spreads like wildfire, especially at such prosperous settings as back home."
Chuckling at his point I agree'd wholeheartedly. Glancing at Eli, "Your a good soldier Eli but your still so young, so much to learn and experience, your talents are wasted as a legionary but I don't make the rules otherwise id see you promoted to knight along with the rest of us."
Wiping his blonde strands behind his ear, "Thanks commander, I'm glad you see so much in me. I'm sure it'll happen one of these days though I'm sure specializing in the bow doesn't help my case."
His look of doubt turned lean and serious. "What did you do to earn your knighthood Klad? Surely it was something made of legends?"
"Not so much, I just knew the right people to stand by and follow."
Reynauld scoffed, "Not what I heard, surrounded by what? Thirty five - Forty tribals, all covered in war paint, spears, bows you name it, all met with a swift end by just your hand, all to save a wounded knight...what was his name?"
Glaring at Reynauld he averted his eyes, "His name was Knight-Sergeant Bariah, one of the best fighters id ever seen, lost his title after he lost his leg during the scuffle and was nearly roasted on a pike until I had finally gotten there."
"Also it was more like 20, rumors and tales of victory have a tendency to become overblown, they were a persistent bunch for sure, yet their speared weapons were lengthy leading to vulnerability in close quarters.
The bowmen were easy enough to handle with swift footwork and careful placing of their allies and wooden monuments for cover.
Raising my sleeve and undershirt to reveal my arrow wounds they look agast, "An arrow pierced both my bicep and side, left a nastier scar on my arm though, it didnt help continuing to fight both handed but when your life is on the line...
"I barely managed to make it out with my life just barely carrying Bariah along with me to the nearest trade settlement and..."
Eli lowering his head and smiling, "and they made you a knight on the spot, Im not surprised i suppose, a feat like that would surely gain some attention among the regiment.
"You ladies done gloating?", Jole standing beside us in a drunken stupor spits at the fire.
Grasping my sword with helmet at my side I looked to him in disbelief, "Your conduct isn't befitting a knight Jole and certainly not a captain, get some rest and sober up."
"All of you, we wake at dawn and we have a rough trek ahead of us, you'll thank me later!" Making way to my tent the others groaned and complained as the shattering of a bottle clashed against a tree.
(Prepare for the worst and wish for the best, lets just hope what we seek is to be found.)
The sun had reached its pinnacle by the time we came upon the set path. Jagged rocks from the edge had been deliberately collapsed to prevent passage of which we lacked the proper materials to clear.
Reynauld and myself, after slinging up a grappling hook, began to pull the armor/weapons to the top, wrapped in a burlap tarp as we tossed shoved each parcel aside with a clanging thud.
The day was long and arduous as we struggled to come up to the open base of the mountain, we fastened a rope around a nearby boulder and heaved as we hoisted the men up, clambering to the rocky slope as each one tried to hasten their ascent.
Resting for the continued climb, rumors about the nature of the mission begin to spread. Several scowl's and whispers seemed pointed at me despite my confidence and reassurance that we would soon see an end to the task.
Strapping the sword to my side and fastening my pauldron as my voice grew in anticipation, "Let us press forward, the sooner our goal is met the sooner we will begin our journey back home."
A soldier stepped out from the group, "I am no fool knight-commander, this is known as the mountain of Kali is it not, I can practically feel the dark presence at its peak."
"No... I-I wont go any further", He pauses for a bit until, shaking his head, he slings his weapon over to the side before grabbing his satchel and moving upon the edge further away from us to attempt a risky descent down the cliff.
"Halt knight, this is his majesty's order, attempting to abandon will do you no favor."
Looking back without regret as he raised his visor, "Sorry commander, I won't give my life to some insane erran...", within an instant the soldier imploded as the surrounding rubble shot above into a fearsome cloud of black smoke.
A vast explosion scattered into the expanse, blowing his body to bits as a flurry of metal, rocks, and blood flew into the wind, clattering against and splattering onto our hastily deployed shielding, sending some flying into the back wall who weren't quick enough on their feet.
Resonating for miles as the pummeling finally stopped, many soldiers stagger and choke on the thick layer of dirt that was kicked up, a few taking a moment to get up as they shake off the shock.
"W-Wha-t in jupiter's balls was that?!"
"Holy mother did you see how he was just... shredded like that?"
"Calm yourselves (cough) he set of a trap when stepping into that shady spot of dirt at the far end... we should be... safe to move forward", heaving my words as I spat.
(The degree of complexity in these traps was far more than I expected, anyone within 10 meters would have been little more than a stain, where could these adversaries have gotten such powerful resources.)
Jole's anger was apparent, "SAFE!... are you out of your mind!, will you not be satisfied until we all end up in pieces."
"At first we didn't have the advantage of knowing where the traps lay, now we are well aware and can adjust strategy accordingly." The fear and doubt was obvious in many of their eyes, shuffling amongs themselves as they try to fathom the depth of the situation.
"Eli?, you hold the expertise in this form of warfare... what's your opinion on how we move forward?"
Eli looked to me as if my sanity was blown away as well, "I-I suppose... well the trap mustve been triggered by some form of pressure plate. We may be able to make a narrow leeway if we can pinpoint a section of traps and attempt to disarm them."
Thinking on this my vision pointed upward, "We lack any form of hold to attempt another climb and the path is slim with seemingly no way around it."
(With scarce resources to exceed anothers few days of searching there wouldnt be a way to clear the path below, the laying of these explosives could be a problem if we would have to continue up the guided path. The edge slims off to the side and prevents us from attempting an alternate route as well...)
"What about that crease in the rock wall up the path?", a random knight speaks out, his crooked finger pointing halfway up the death ridden trek. Reynauld mutters, "Sure... if we manage to not meet the same fate as the last unfortunate to underestimate this mountain."
The dip in the wall appeared as if someone had attempted to conceal it with roots and leaves. "That seems to be our only option, stay on your guard... I'll be back in a moment."
Snatching a throwing dagger from Jole's sleeve I walked up to the path and lay on my stomach, crawling cautiously, waiting for a sudden jolt I prayed never came.
Looking up from a level view, a few spots now stuck out that before were unnoticed.
As I eased up to the nearest one, I gently slid the blade underneath to hear a sudden thunk of metal on metal. My heart rate increasing I called out, "Eli, come over here, need ya to take a look at this".
Looking over to him, several of the men bickered and looked to one another, probably thinking me a madman while Eli slowly creeped over.
Coming up beside me he blew softly at the dirt, revealing a triangular plate with strange intricate design along the rim and center of the cover.
"There it is... pressure points... its unlike any ive seen before though."removing a double fastened screw on opposite ends with the tip of his blade, his hands trembles he raises the top plating.
"Those tips must be the flint?..."
Eli's confidence returning as he places the blade to the side, "Yes commander."
"When the enemy applies his weight to the cover, the matching points lower and strike each other causing a spark and... ignite the reservoir of explosive powder."
"Alright, bag this up, i'll assist in helping you dismantle the rest leading up to that wall".
Sighing at the order,"Uh, alright lets be done with it."
Lessening the dangers for the future descent down the mountain would prove fortuitous I thought to myself as the last of the glistening powder gently coursed from the hollow plating and into my side pouch.
Ordering the regiment forward I began slashing at the roots to reveal a slim passage, the inside seemingly damp and covered in overgrown moss. The stench of death and earthy residue enough to stifle your breathing as I turn sideways into the crevice.
"Follow slowly and be wary of your surroundings, we've no idea what lies in wait deeper in."
Armor scraped along the walls as we ease inside the humid cave, the subtle trickle of an inner stream the only audible sound along with the faint breathing of soldiers.
Whispering as we shimmy and duck through the passage, Jole speaks out - "heh, reminds me of my days as a kid, when I was no stranger to creeping across rooftops and side railings, pilfering what I could to earn my next meal... even if it were simple rolls and a parcel of mutton".
"Thanks for the story Jole, got any more rememberings you want to get out of the way before the next brew... after youve given away our position of course", Reynauld whispered in heavy sarcasm, grinning as Jole kicked him in the shin causing him to knock his helm against the rocky overhead.
With the raise of my hand they reacted to the swift movement and fell silent, the repetitive clicks of their armors assuming formation as they tensed.
"Keep your heads about you, we have no garauntee of where a possible enemy may lurk".
Not far into the cave the passage widened and proceeded up a steep rise, watching diligently to avoid the dips in the ceiling the way seemed to stretch on forever as we pass corner upon corner, a maze, damp and stifling as if it were sucking the air clean from our lungs.
Just as I thought we had reached the end it continued on, like hours had passed in what seemed like minutes.
A rustling tug, metal click, nothing ever so simple as A to B...
Recalling the mischevious attitude of Jole and the others reluctance to continue on with the mission, I can see now I had made a terrible mistake.
They could sense our own doom coming upon us even as we had begun to scale the unforgiving terrain, even I too felt the king's request had seemed far too flamboyant and disregarding of our own safety for an item that we had no garauntee existed let alone worthy of the sacrifice for retrieval.
The cold confines of the holding area seemed to breathe the life out of me although each time I peered out the barred window against the back wall a gentle breeze blew by.
The rustling of the reeds outside giving way to clarity and remembrance of my brothers in arms in the open fields after enduring the traps layed out for us...