flASH fiction: Volume 4: Marching Orders (33)

Marching Orders
Jason Pere

Brother Pratt looked at the crumpled dispatch in his hand. He read the text a one more time to himself, hoping that he had misinterpreted it at first. To his dismay, he was only able to confirm that disaster had truly struck at the heart of one of Argaia’s great cities. He stared blankly at the page for a few heartbeats before lifting his eyes and letting his gaze drift around the modest war encampment. Though the image of the Iron Men preparing for war, was a formidable and even awe inspiring sight, it paled in comparison to the scale of the information contained in the dispatch.

“Let me see that, lad,” said Sir Liam Boradcliff. He grumbled the words in his usual surly way but his tone denoted that he was just as shaken as the junior Councilman. He put out one of his massive palms and motioned towards the piece of parchment that Pratt was holding.

Pratt willingly offered up the dispatch to Sir Liam, as if no longer holding the piece of correspondence would somehow unmake the reality that it conveyed. “Rayward is under attack. The chimera have breached her seal wall. I can not believe it,” Pratt said with a heavy breath out.

“Believe anything when it comes to those beasts. It is not the first time that a seal wall has been breached,” said the Helm Breaker. He took his time reading the full account of the grim event. Once he was done with the letter, he offered it to Tinaca who was standing quietly at his side. She declined to take the letter and Sir Liam handed the note back to Pratt. “Nearly a tenth of the city overrun in a single night. If it were any other city she might have fallen already but Rayward fighting men are able. At least the beasts did not take her abbey. The red cloaks were able to put the word out far and wide.”

“But what can they expect? Most other cities are under siege just the same. Who do they think will come to Rayward’s aid?” Tinaca said. Her eyes were sunken and dark, with a deathly hollow quality about them. She spoke as though she were offering up some kind of eulogy.

“We will,” Pratt said after a short pause. His voice had become clear and determined. His bold assentation took both his companions off guard.

“Lad, I can appreciate the will but one brigade of fighting men will not be enough to turn the tide of something like this. It would be like trying to put out a fire by spiting on it,” Sir Liam said. He swept one of his arms out at the surrounding camp. He motioned to where soldiers practiced fighting drills in the new armor crafted by Shibon and then at the modest archery range where Kalli was instructing several bowmen in some Bloodwoods Clan archery techniques. “I will give the Iron Men their due. They are strong fighters and they seem to be learning at a good rate but if we go to Rayward and we are just leading them all to slaughter.”

“Then what do you suggest?” asked Tinaca. She folded her arms and cocked her head in a way to subtlety suggest that she was leaning towards Pratt’s inclination.

The Helm Breaker huffed and grimaced. He scratched at his chin and rubbed at his jaw where it was still slightly swollen form the solid blow the Iron Lord had landed on him back in Rustwatch. “We stick to the wilds. Goodness knows there are plenty of chimera out here. Teeming with them in fact. Have the brigade cut their teeth on a few small skirmishes and let them get a feel for themselves,” Sir Liam said with a leery eye cast towards several of the fresh recruits, primping and adjusting their new armor, while Shibon hovered over them offering instruction and making modifications.

“That is a safe, sound and completely reasonable course of action,” Pratt said with an even pitch and level temperament. He then proceeded to fold his arms and swell up his chest as he spoke next. “And while we do that people in Rayward will suffer for it. By the time the Amurai get a feel for themselves, as you put it, the only thing left to rescue will be a pile of ashes. I admit I do not like it, but we are needed now…no, we have been needed for some time but only now are we anything close to ready for battle.”

“It is foolish to go with untested men,” Sir Liam said gruffly. He dug his heels into the dirt physically complimenting his voiced positon on the matter.

“You know the Iron Men, better than most. Did you forget who they are after fighting against them for such a good part of your life? Do you really think they are such virgins when it comes to war?” Tinaca said. Her words drew a genuine smile from Pratt, as if she had pulled sentiment from his very mouth.

“That is a good point. I am glad you bring that up, lass. You just seem to forget the part where the Iron Men lost the last time they marched on Rayward soil,” said the Helm Breaker. He let his mouth curl in a coy smirk.

“A different time, a different war, much has changed since your battle at Rayward’s Gate. Now the Iron Men of the Amurai will have you to lead them,” Pratt said.

“Aye, much has changed. Most off all your taste for battle, I will say,” responded Sir Liam.

“I have no taste for battle. I only want to save as many lives as I can. This is the whole point of the Amurai. We spend our time waging war in the wilds, then we do nothing for the people. We serve the people, that is all, that is everything,” Pratt said vehemently. He rubbed the bright red robes of his calling between his thumb and forefinger as he spoke.

Silence fell over the trio for an appreciable measure after Pratt finished speaking. Sir Liam relaxed from his defensive posture and let his hands fall to his sides. “I forget how good your heart is sometimes, lad, to my shame,” he said with a deep exhale.

“No shame. We would not be here without you. You make the Amurai just as possible as I do,” Pratt said to Sir Liam as he put a friendly hand on the older man’s forearm.

Sir Liam shook off the tender moment and quickly returned to his ever dour demeanor before allowing his vulnerability to cause any further marks against his pride. “I supposed it is a long road back to Rayward. Crossing the Bone Sea alone…There will be time to get this lot into something respectable, even if they are mostly Iron Men,” he said, turning his voice so that it echoed with the spirit of healthy competition.

“As you say, a long road back. Let us just hope that we arrive in time to do more than mourn the dead,” Tinaca said as she drifted off into her common detached and empty way. She was quickly pulled back to the moment by a winning glean in the Helm Breaker’s eyes.

“Lass, maybe you are the one who is forgetting now. Remember, I come from Rayward. She is home to the finest soldiers ever to march on the face of Argaia,” Sir Liam said with rampant bravado.

“Rayward, the finest soldiers? I might have agreed with that notion not long ago. Now, I would say that such a claim remains to be seen,” Pratt said with hope and admiration as he looked out at the camp full of Amuari warriors. “We best get on the move now. There is no time to lose.”