flASH fiction: Volume 5: Eyes on the Gate (17)

Eyes on the Gate
By
Jason Pere

The walls of the Red Sanctuary loomed in the distance with a silent power. The enormous fortress’s towers and spires seemed to play among the clouds in the sky and armor themselves in white billowing cloaks of vapor. The walls of the place rose high enough so that they presented themselves as equals to the mountainous region surrounding the whole of the dragoon’s refuge. Despite the staggering size of the Red Sanctuary it was so perfectly placed in relation to the rocky terrain that for much of the day it cast no shadow beneath Argaia’s two suns.

The main gate of the indomitable keep slowly began to open. It could be heard far and away before it was seen. The squeal of metal on metal cut across the travelers path and the single stretch of open ground that lead up to the gigantic barrier walls. In the mountains around the fortress, the sound of heavy chain links falling on one another as the outer gate was raised echoed like thunder. The gate was lifted only a small measure from the ground. In fact it was nearly indiscernible to tell that the gate had moved at all. The sound of metal in motion was truly the only certain indicator that the gate was moving.

Once the outer gate finished its marginal accent, the Red Sanctuary’s doors began to open. Unlike the keeps and castles of the human lands the doors of this place did not swing in or out. Instead the Red Sanctuary’s doors parted and created an ever widening seam down the middle of the entrance as they slid back into the cavernous recesses cut into the walls. The doors, like the outer gate moved only a paltry distance and the sound of stone, metal and timber clashing with one another was the only sign that any distant observer could use to tell that anything was happening what so ever.

Finally, once the outer gate and doors of the Red Sanctuary had finished moving, the inner gate began to open. The tree width planks of wood that composed the inner gate rose up until they were an even measure from the ground as the outer gate. The ordeal was as loud and as slow as either of the two events that had immediately preceded it. By the time there was ready access to the Red Sanctuary from the travelers path, most people could have taken their afternoon meal and a brief nap.

When the inner gate was still and the sound of moving locks and barriers had fallen silent, the waiting detachment of dragoon warriors resumed their forward march and entered the confines of the Red Sanctuary. Once the soldiers had drawn within the safety of the impregnable walls a fresh detachment of dragoon marched out of the structure and began their patrol down the travelers path. With the change of troops done, the sound of heavy chain and wood in motion reignited as the gates and doors of the Red Sanctuary started the lengthy process of closing.

After the irritable sound of the gate sealing shut had dissipated into the rocky crags and peaks of the nearby mountains, Yavan collapsed his spyglass and started to scribble some sums and notes on the small scrap of parchment where he lay on his belly. He was so intently locked into the processing of his calculations and the recounting of the clockwork precise event that had just transpired in the distance that he did not heed the dumbstruck nature of the other man at his side.

“How can it be done?” Jarred muttered to himself more than to his companion. His spyglass still remained fully open and the charcoal pencil and parchment note pad next to him had gone untouched since the sealing of the Red Sanctuary’s gate.

“What are you on about?” muttered Yavan as he sneered at a small error in his arithmetic and proceeded to neatly transform a numeral three into an eight. He let out a small self-satisfied grin as he had been able to rectify the mistake without having to cross anything out and rewrite the equation.

“You know how far we are from those walls, yet it feels like we are right beneath them. I know it looks normal where we are but as soon as we get to those gates, I would wager most men will feel little bigger than a parlor mouse. And we are to lay siege to…to that…” Jarred huffed with a frustrated waive of his hand at the Red Sanctuary across the way. “I do not see how it can be done,” he continued with a dejected shake of his head before grabbing up his pencil and parchment to make some feeble attempts at recording the goings-on of the dragoon.

Yavan looked at his fellow Rayward scout with a long face and judgmental arch in his eyebrow. He rolled to one side and propped his head on his fist as he addressed his skeptical friend with a tone that was patronizing and perfectly paired to his irritated posture and facial expression. “Of course you do not see how it can be done. That sort of thinking is for the generals and engineers. We just need to watch and record,” said the man as he glared at Jarred trudging through some large addition on his parchment. “Just you worry about doing your sums properly,” he said before returning to his own notes.

“My sums are fine. I have never had an issue with my reports, thank you,” shot back Jarred as he doubled checked his latest equation. Now it was his turn to roll on his side as offer a wry look at the other scout. “You really think that our officers and engineers will be able to make better sense of these notes. You must admit that the numbers and sums we have recorded on our watch are bigger on all counts than any watch we have ever held before. All I know is that a lot of Rayward men and women will die taking that keep, if it can be taken at all,” he said grimly as he turned a fearful and reverent eye towards the outline of the Red Sanctuary in the distance.

“I would say you are right and wrong there. A lot of our brethren will die taking that fortress and ending the dragoon inside but you should know by now that any fortress can be taken so long as an army has enough soldiers to die for it,” Yavan said.

“Well then let us just hope that General Braveway can take the Red Sanctuary before he runs out of soldiers,” Jarred said with a fretful wag of his head.

“Or at least before he needs to throw us at the gate,” Yavan said with a morbid grin.

“I will agree with you there. This is about as close to those walls as I care to get,” Jarred stated.

The Rayward scouts looked at each other for several silent moments until Yavan glanced down at the thick stack of notes and sums that he had compiled during the days observing the dragoon and their impressive stronghold. “I think we have plenty to bring back. We should return and report,” he said as he began to fold up his notes and tuck them into the satchel across his chest.

“I think so. In any case I will be happy to get away from here. Hopefully we do not have to return,” responded Jarred.

“Hopefully,” echoed Yavan as he stood alongside his compatriot and started to prepare their horses for the ride back to the Rayward war camp.