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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 75: Kondor 25
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Previous chapter: Chapter 74: Hastings 26
Despite having walked all morning, they made better time returning. Kondor credited the sheer fear of his companions; he several times had to remind them to pace themselves, lest they wear out before reaching their destination.
They were back before Dimtri returned from his diplomatic mission; Kondor wasn't certain whether this was good or bad. On the positive side, the King actually spoke to him directly--"Is that it? Take it to the chapel." Also, Kondor had thought it would be inefficient for the researchers to be waiting for him to arrive with the object. Now he realized it was just as inefficient for the object to be awaiting them. But it was less than an hour before Dimtri came through the gate and, after informing the castellan that help was coming, set to work in the chapel.
Kondor meanwhile set to getting some sleep. The battle would start tonight, and there was no sense staying awake all day before fighting all night. He asked to be awakened with the first starlight. He took a moment to clean and check his weapons, but was soon closing his eyes.
But he didn't sleep well. His dreams replayed a montage of the worst scenes from every horror movie he had ever seen, and he had seen them all. He had enjoyed them, laughed at them, poked fun at them with his buddies while choking on popcorn and soda. And now they came back, all too real, skeletons breaking through walls, corpses rising from graves, vampires and mummies and creatures without names, all impossible in the waking world, but brought to life on the screen, and now in a dream. He woke several times, wondered whether what was unreal in his reality could be somehow real in another, pushed the idea from his mind, and tried to think happier thoughts. But the dreams returned each time he fell asleep.
And before long, his wake-up call came, and he knew that he was getting ready to face the nightmare.
The first batch of reinforcements had arrived, and were already manning positions on the walls. The local peasants had been gathered, organized, and deployed in whatever defensive positions they could handle. And Talwin, the priest, had returned just after sunset, promising more men on the way. Talwin had also built a wood pile for a huge fire. Any who died within the wall, he insisted, must be consumed on the pyre, lest they become one of the enemy. Kondor thought it a waste of resources, but said nothing. After all, if the men were afraid that the bodies of their fallen companions might rise up and attack them, it was quicker to allay those fears by removing the bodies than to try to convince them that their superstitions were illogical.
As for his own part in the anticipated battle, there were many things he could do. There were also many things he couldn't do. He had learned to fire an arrow from a bow fairly effectively from the merry men, and would probably start with that; but he knew little about siege engines, ballistae, catapults. He hoped that he would be able to suggest strategies to help with the fight, but suspected that the castellan and the king already knew most of the effective techniques possible in this age--and even if they didn't, they were little inclined to take the word of their djinni. Yes, he thought, that's how they perceive me. I'm the conjured magical creature who was able to steal the Vorgo, and now I don't really matter. Well, he would start with the bow, and then he would tend the wounded if it came to that. And if there was a serious breach, he would bring his guns into play--but he wasn't going to waste bullets firing at distant targets from the walls. He could do more damage to more enemies close up.
He caught up with Talwin briefly just before the priest entered the chapel to help Dimtri with his analysis. "What is that thing, anyway?" he asked.
"The Vorgo?" For a moment the priest had an uncertain look about him, the sort of look a man has when a child asks a question to which the answer is probably beyond his understanding. "The Vorgo is a powerful magic device which can make and unmake undead. Incants have been cast causing it to constantly call more into existence. Dimtri must determine how to release those enchantments, and then hopefully use it to take the unlife away from our attackers."
"I was afraid it might be something like that."
"Yes, it is terrible," Talwin said, misunderstanding him completely. "But it also holds great hope."
Kondor looked at the priest. The man was elderly, somewhat frail even, and would be of little use as a soldier. Besides, he had some crazy notion that he could defend the castle with the use of magic and prayer. There was no point in arguing that he should be on the walls. The same could be said of Dimtri, and for that matter of Sowan the mage. Let them have their hope; it wouldn't really cost the battle anything.
"Well, I'd better not keep you from your work," he said. "You'll be back from time to time to encourage the men, and when things get bad you'll help with the wounded?"
"Yes, and with the dead," the priest answered.
"Oh, yeah--and with the dead." Maybe the pyre wasn't such a good idea after all.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #50: Stories Progress. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: