War of Lords
“Go, go, go, Raul!” Luiz shooed the boy lightly, “Aye, aye, aye! This is no place for a boy, now.”
Raul giggled a bit before running out of the blacksmith as fast as his little legs could carry him. Luiz smiled slightly, but immediately assumed his usual “gruff” face (his “business face”, as it were). He wiped his dirty hands on his apron and wiped the sweat from his brow and balding head.
The cold of winter was especially prevalent this year, and snow had come earlier than expected. Nevertheless, Lord Picarro had ordered that all the forges in the land be opened and burning, so Luiz’s little smithy had made it extraordinarily hot. Luiz never understood the urgency of the order—the village of Engles had known nothing but peace for three and a half centuries; even during the times of the great rebellions eight years ago, Luiz’s small village had only heard wisps of rumors and the words of strange travelers.
True, the folk have been stranger of late. Whispers there were now of something brewing between the major houses. Banners had been called, deals have been struck, and dark, evil things have been seen abroad. The most recent strange folk to pass through the village were a small troupe of dwarves from the north; for weeks they were the talk of the town, though they had only stayed for three days. Something had driven them from their home, it was said, though they dared not speak of it. Farther and farther south had they been traveling, for most of the major houses, while greeting them with the accord of kindness, did not look to kindly to a sudden immigration of dwarves within their borders, and so they had been politely “encouraged” to travel away. These particular dwarves said that they intended to travel beyond Southlund, and join with their dwarven kin in the Green Mountains.
But nothing that Luiz had heard could account for firing all the forges in the land! Luiz had been short-handed before, but Lord Picarro’s orders had been quite strict. He had been forced to comb the village for able-bodied men (who had not been yet drafted!) to keep up with the tall orders. The lack of skilled labor among those who he was able to recruit produced some rather shoddy workmanship, and Luiz had been working nearly sixteen hours to a day just to see to it that the forges were properly tended to and the weapons were being crafted to battle-worthiness. In the span of a few weeks, he had readied enough weapons to arm an entire legion… but for what? What enemy could possibly threaten Westra?
The bell at the Town Center rang frantically. At first, the lazy farmers, playing children, and gossiping women did not grasp the full significance of the chimes. It rang true and clear in the morning air, but it felt so alien sounding amongst the usual bustle of the town. And yet, it persisted:
DING, DING! DING, DING!
The children on the hills stopped their laughter and their playing. The carpenters ceased their building. The farmers halted their gathering. All talking and rustling in the small town of Engles hushed in silence, for the sound of the Town Bell had an earnest chime; and the peaceful village stopped in a stunned silence.
At first the marching was only the sound of a distant thunder in a cloudless sky; but soon, large, proud banners on tall poles rose from the above the cover of the southern hills. The banners bore the red and gold of Talbert, and soon the symbols of the sun and stars of the same family became clear. The banners gave way to the heads of men in silver-gold helms, and soon the shiny, clanking armor of thousands of men marching in line formation to the town filled the horizon.
The sky had darkened a little. Luiz could only stare at disbelief at what he was seeing, for he never would have believed that the sight of thousands of Talbert men bearing down on the small village would have ever greeted his sight. At the head of the legion was a noble knight on horseback, bearing gold emblems and shining pristinely in the sun. He held his sword high and seemed to gesture to the town.
Very suddenly, the chiming of the Town Center was followed by the urgent chiming from Maria’s Monastery near the outskirts of village, and soon those chimes were followed by a general clamor of voices and excitement. Mothers and fathers quickly moved to find their children, people ran in the streets, old men and woman meandered weakly about the sudden excitement, and the pattering of thousands of frightened villagers filled the air as the whole of Engles desperately tried to make northward.
A banner was waved amongst the Talbert line. Arrows had been lit, and a great many archers in white coats, with the holy symbols of the Lord of Light etched carefully onto their breasts, raised high their arrow tips. Then the sound of stretching bows. Then the tenseness of wait. And then, when the streets had become a bellow of frightened people, the order was given. They sky was filled with flame, and the infantry brandished their swords. Buildings caught fire, heads and hearts were pierced, and hope was shattered.
War had begun.