|The Ice Realm
Author: Scribe of Elhnaka PM
The Elhnakan Empire seeks to conquer the Ice Realm of Intiopaglaton! The story follows the friendship between the mercenary Nogalen and Crown Prince Laeveros of Elhnaka during the epic campaign. The story is rated M due to violent and graphic scenes. Reviews are appreciated!Rated: Fiction M - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Chapters: 5 - Words: 11,808 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 07-15-12 - Published: 06-09-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3030240
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Ice Realm
It was not without considerable effort that the thirty five thousand man strong army had crossed the spring rivers, which brought melt water to Lake Inti from the Western Cylabara Mountains. But eventually Nogalen, Wergar and the rest of Laeveros host had reached the Gold River. This mythical stream ran from the large lake, straight out into the ocean beneath the Eternal ice at the Northernmost edge of the world. The mountains surrounding the river was said to be rich in gold, which had given the river its name and sparked the legends of Intiopaglaton's fabulous wealth.
After having constructed a bridge out of their remaining sledges the part of the army that had marched west of the lake made it across to the opposite side of the Gold River, which despite its name looked more murky than shimmering.
As the soldiers approached the city they thought they saw some peculiar thin and straight sticks extending from out of the snow. As they came closer they realized what kind of horrific forest the Paglatonians had planted along their marching path. Thousands of Elhnakan pikes were adorned with the heads of their former owners. Even some blonde Brennish scalps stood out in the otherwise dark canopy. Many fell in tears and others threw up at the sight of their mutilated companions.
As soon as he himself had recovered from the brutal realization that over one third of the army he had sent east of the lake had been annihilated, Laeveros decided to exploit the hatred that boiled within the Elhnakan ranks. "The next head to be placed on a spear will be that of King Lysias!" he exclaimed and was met by a resounding cheer. They covered the last miles towards Intiopaglaton in a furious pace, incited by anger and lust for revenge.
To their relief they discovered that the Imperial Envoy had been correct regarding the city wall. It were not particularly high at all. The siege ladders they had dragged across the ices would be more than enough to reach its top.
In their burning desire to exact revenge for their fallen comrades they immediately began to prepare for storming. On the wall they could see tightly packed fur clad figures and hear their taunts. But as soon as the army had spread out across the snow covered plain in front of the city, the jeer ceased and was replaced by a heavy silence. Now it became the Elhnakans' turn to chant threats and insults. After a short speech from Laeveros the Elhnakan battle cry was raised.
"Vahya!" the entire host roared as one man. Even the Brennish, who during their upbringing had instinctively learned to detest this war cry joined the murderous choir. "Vahya!" Trumpets and drums signaled the assault.
A hail of of ice, stone and javelins met them about fifty paces from the walls, but they pressed on. Siege ladders were raised and thrown over, but eventually the attackers could begin to climb up towards the defenders.
At several occasions Laeveros's numerically superior soldiers managed to scale the wall. But exhausted as they were from the long march, the Elhnakans and the Brennish were finally driven back by Lysias's rested guardsmen and the thousands of residents that had joined to protect the city and their own lives. The Paglatonians suffered heavy losses, but it was as if the fear of the ruthlessness in the enemy's vengeance spurred their will for further sacrifice.
That night the Elhnakans realized that the low walls were not mainly a defense against invading foes, of which Intiopaglaton had little prior experience, but against the damp mists from the lake. The moist, which during the day had entered their cloths, froze do lethal crystals during the night. More died of the night's cold than during yesterday's failed storming, it did not matter how tightly the soldiers pressed against each other.
The following morning Elhnakan generals as well as Brennish clan leaders were in agreement that a second attempt on the walls would be fruitless. This was not the way in which Laeveros had hoped for unity among the two people.
After a short and enraged scolding the Crown prince sent his commanders away with orders to prepare the troops for a new assault. Only Nogalen and a few female warriors from Laeveros's personal guard remained in the tent with him.
"You are the most honest man in this damned campaign," Laeveros said and turned to his young colonel. "So answer me honestly what you think!"
"Turn back, Your Highness!"
"That was a short answer..."
"Your Generals have already stated the reasons. Morale is poor, your warriors are frozen half to death, the enemy is stronger than we thought and a third of your army has already gone to meet their ancestors."
"I thought you Brennos were warriors," Laeveros muttered bitterly. "What does a warrior have to live for if not for the glory!"
Nogalen could suddenly see Derina's face in front of him. For the first time in his life he knew the answer to the question Laeveros had just posed to him, but he knew that he could not give this foreigner, who had become his friend, an honest answer. "Glory requires victory," he concluded instead.
"I will lead the vanguard myself!" Laevoros exclaimed and flew from his chair. "I will be the first man over those walls, if I so should fall dead on the other side!"
"Another direct assault against the walls would be suicide," Nogalen protested. "And if you were to lead the vanguard, then it would become your suicide!"
The two men looked at each other and realized that the same thought had just been born in their minds.
It was a frozen and battered crowd of soldiers that for a second time marched up to face the walls of Intiopaglaton. This time they did not taunt the enemy. But the Paglatonians did not shout anything back either. All was silent and still, like the calm before one of the storms that used to sweep across the great steppe that the Brennish called their home.
From a distance Nogalen could hear how Laeveros had begun to speak in front of his downhearted soldiers, meanwhile he hurried alongside the wall. Behind them the army began to advance across the now trodden and bloodstained plain. When he heard trumpets sound he waived at Wergar to pick up the pace. Together with about five hundred other steppe warriors they ran closely against the massive ice wall, whilst the Paglatonians rushed in the opposite direction to protect the city from the attacking Elhnakans.
When they arrived to a part of the wall that was poorly defended they hurled their ropes, which had been equipped with grappling hooks, up across the wall crest. They had been spotted, but the defenders at this part of the wall was too few cut off all the ropes. Soon Nogalen and Wergar were up and quickly defeated the inexperienced city militia. One of the guards blew his horn, but the alarm was so loud were the battle was as thickest that no one noticed the poor man who soon changed his mind for the better and ran, down from the wall and in among the streets of the city. Nogalen, Wergar and their five hundred warriors also took to the winding alleys in the attempt to reach the raging battle from the city's interior.
When they reached the battle they fell with wild roars at the backs of their enemies. Nogalen realized that it was the ice wall's width and not its height, that allowed the Paglatonians to mount such a tightly packed defense. The top of the wall was littered with sand, so that the defenders could get a better footing, but this was of little help against the two front assault that now befell them. After only half an hour's battle the Paglatonian line of defense broke and they withdrew in general retreated. Triumphantly Laeveros's soldiers waived the Elhnakan Fire banner as they reached the top of the wall.
The Crown prince had perhaps not been the first over the wall, but that did not diminish his sense of triumph. Laeveros hardly stopped to breathe before he led his guard into the city's maze of ice and snow structures.
"Towards the citadel," the Crown prince commanded and his voice echoed against the streets of the ice city. "Nogalen, if you find Lysias before I do, I want him alive!" Laeveros called to his colonel before they parted.
With Wergar at his side and five hundred men in his following Nogalen in vain tried to find his way through the narrow alleys, that seemed to meander around the tower. A quick witted young warrior climbed, with the aid of two daggers, one of the ice walls and could tell that they in fact were inside an actual labyrinth. Nogalen also climbed up and soon, with common efforts, they could determine which path led straight to the huge tower were the King's audience halls was located.
With drawn swords they stormed into the immense hall. Nogalen immediately sent Wergar to find the royal treasury. According to a couple of Paglatonians, whom they had managed to capture and interrogate during yesterday's defeat, these vaults should be right behind the very throne room.
Nogalen stood still for a while, taken by the magnificence in the enormous hall. He could not understand that man could have build something like this. Suddenly he saw a glimpse of something he thought he recognized. A white dress disappeared down a pillar walkway. He remembered his dream and was just about to call out when Wergar returned, struggling to catch his breath.
"Did you find the gold?" Nogalen asked.
Wergar panted heavily. "We found the treasure chambers. It must have been the treasure chambers... Big vaults, but they were all empty!"
"Are you sure?" Nogalen ensured.
"Of course he's sure!" said King Lysias with a smile.
The two friends drew their swords at the King who seemed to have appeared from nowhere and now sat comfortably on his throne up on the dais.
"The little gold that was left in these vaults I gave to the Naryans for their war effort against you, gold that is probably already in your possession," said Lysias with a sarcastic grin. "The riches our forefathers dug from the mountains have, sooner or later, all found their way south, probably all the way to Elhnaka. That's what I've been trying to tell Taechios, but greed and stubbornness seem to be virtues among the Fire worshipers."
"Why should I believe you?" Nogalen shouted.
"Believe what you want!" the King mocked. "But answer me truthfully if the King in front of you and the city you've just taken seem to possess the gold treasures that your legends speak of!"
Battle cries echoed from the corridors at the opposite side of the hall. "But now my Brennish friends, now you have to flee and save your tiny lives!" the King warned with a whisper.
The Paglatonians flowed into the hall from two different corridors. They were so many that it had to be the same warriors that had previously retreated from the walls. They must have arrived from some hidden pathway through the mountains.
Nogalen and Wergar stood petrified at the sight of the ice lions, whose white chests were still stained red by blood, before they regained their senses and order full retreat. They threw over a couple of ice pillars to delay their pursuers, while they fled the hall.
That night the Paglatonians slowly but steadily drove out all the intruders from the city, which was sacked and plundered, but remained unsubdued.
Crown prince Laeveros had barely escaped the terrifying retreat from Intiopaglaton. When Nogalen and Wergar at last found him, in the middle of the chaotic mass of retreating soldiers who desperately found their way south, he was in a condition close to shock. In the eyes of the Crown prince was an emptiness that Nogalen had never seen in him before.
During the entire retreat towards the Xy'in Pass they were pursued by riders on ice lions, who caused more harm by the panic they spread than the number of soldiers they managed to strike down. The nightly raids were worst. Many did not have the strength to flee anymore and simply gave up the struggle against the enemy and the night's cold.
They were only a few days march from the Xy'in Pass and safety when they were reached by the news of another terrible setback. The Naryan shaman who had continued to fight the Elhnakans had blocked the path south through the Pass.
The old man was said to be prepared to let them through, if Laeveros in return promised that the Elhnakans would withdraw from the steppe for all eternity. But the Crown prince had no plans to even pretend to reward this unbelievable insolence. Instead he made the decision that they should try to reach friendly tribes by marching southwest, across the Cylabara Mountains.
The cold up in the mountains were if possible even worse than that of the valley. Hundreds froze to death each night. But at least they got rid of the shaman, who seemed wise enough not the follow with his Naryan riders. He must have realized that the horses would not make it long up here.
Nogalen flew up at the sound of battle alarm. He starred wildly across the snow capped mountainside where they had set camp for the night. The Paglatonians had not been seen for several days and they had let down their guard. Now the camp was full of roaring white beasts and fur clad warriors, who with the skill of hunters hurled their javelins against the disorganized Elhnakans. Nogalen tried to get his thoughts in order, then he started to run towards the Crown prince's tent.
When he arrived he found Laeveros's tent abandoned and torn to shreds. He looked around. On a snow covered cliff a bit further away he spotted an ice lion that stood crouched over something. Nogalen drew his sword and started to run. As he had thought it was none other than the Crown prince who was struggling for his life underneath the immense beast's wrath.
With his left hand Laeveros pushed away the jaws of the majestic monster, while his right arm parried the blows from its huge paw. Nogalen raised his blade and shouted to get the lion's attention. At the same moment a war club hit the sword, which flew out of his hand and down a steep slope. The rider who had disarmed him continued to charge, without looking back, towards the encampment, where the chance for plunder lured.
Without any clear idea of what he was doing Nogalen ran unarmed towards the white beast. But his tackle hardly got the big animal out of balance and soon it renewed its attack against Laeveros who struggled with all his might.
Nogalen could not see any weapons close by, but then he remembered the gilded knife that the Crown prince used to carry in his belt. He dove down with his arm under the ice lion's chest and got hold of the jewel encrusted dagger head. He thrust the knife into the neck of the beautiful, but murderous, animal.
Nogalen remained seated, panting heavily in the cold air, while Laeveros crawled out from under the ice lions dead body.
"There is no way in which I can thank you that will cover what I owe you," Laeveros panted and sat down beside Nogalen.
"What kind of a guard would I be if I had let you get eaten?" Nogalen answered with a smile and handed over the dagger.
"Keep it! It's a Vasanese blade from the desert city of Oe, the best steel in the world! But it is still a gift that is far from worthy of your efforts," said Laeveros and patted his friend on the shoulder. "It is the only gift that I have to give to you, but when we get back I promise that anything you want will be yours."
A hope was born inside Nogalen that he might be able to ask Laeveros to cease his courting of Derina. She was a highborn woman of the steppe's free people and Laeveros had to accept her refusal. But Nogalen knew what it meant to be denied love and would like to keep the strange friendship that had arisen between him and this heir of the Fire worshiper throne. He nodded to Laeveros before they hurried to relieve the camp from the Paglatonian raid.
King Lysias looked at the remains of the collapsed ice masses that used to be the Jikta Pass. Intiopaglaton's life line to the South had been severed. Now they would have to travel around Lake Inti's treacherous western shore to reach the surrounding world. His eyes wandered between the headless enemy corpses and the bodies of Paglatonian men and women, that was being taken care of by their kin. This day he did not feel victorious.
"She said that our world and their would change," he said and turned to his wife. "I can see how our world has changed, but I don't understand how their will?"
"With time perhaps?" answered the Queen, who stood and held a small bundle.
"They will not change..." Lysias muttered bitterly. "They will return, hunting for more gold that I do not have!"
"The Emperor and the Crown prince maybe... but I doubt that their peasants are as eager to send more of their sons to their deaths," said the Queen and looked at the headless bodies that floated at the lake shore. She handed over their little son to the King.
Lysias lit up and tickled the laughing child on the cheek. "We should do something to remind the Fire worshipers not to intrude on our lands again."
The Queen looked around, nodded thoughtfully and gave her two beloved each a light kiss.
The eyes were completely empty on those men and few women who two weeks later came wandering down the slopes of the Cylabara Mountains. Of the seventy thousand warriors that had marched north during the early spring less than two thousand remained.
Nogalen did not stay for long at the camp that friendly Alunite clans had helped them set up. Instead he rode southwest, to the land of the Dünites. To say farewell of a dying kinsman, he had claimed.
Derina met him in the grove not far from the Taro-kalian clan's main encampment. It was here that they had played as children and when they had gotten older it was here that they had shared their first clumsy kisses.
Among these large oaks they once again fell in each others' arms. They tenderly kissed each others lips and tear filled cheeks. The campaign against Intiopaglaton had ended in disaster, many would certainly seek revenge. But for Nogalen the Ice Realm was something he had left behind, the life he wanted was right in front of him.
Per J.H. Olsson
Author's note: The story about Nogalen, Derina and Crown Prince Laeveros continues in the story "Steppe wind"!