Chapter 56: The gathering storm
5 December 1263
Two hundred of my finest men. That was the amount of soldiers I took with me when I left the city of Khudan. But word spread quickly: after all those years, finally War would return. The harbringer rode again, ready to reap the seeds of destruction. Messengers rushed in all directions and returned with nobles and their men from every corner of my dominion. Every day more of them joined my ride west. By the time I saw the gates of Reyvadin, a thousand men trembled the ground behind me. It was as if the earth itself shivered. Maybe it did.
Everywhere I saw the destruction the rain of fire and rocks had wrought. Craters were the scars Calradia left upon itself. Trees were no more, forests had burned down. Some houses and even villages had felt the wrath from the sky. Columns of smoke rose. The sight reminded me of the wars that were fought until Hakim's peace. But there was a difference. Now a slight glow could be seen, even at night. It was as if the warmth of the sun had hidden beneath our feet. Winter is coming, but at this rate snow will stay far away. I did see some snowflakes falling, some as black as the soul of the lands, but none could stay. Some melted before they even touched the ground. The ground has a fever: it wants to get rid of me.
I waited for two days at the gates of Reyvadin. There were too many men to fit in the town, but with the warmth all around us, it wasn't that big of a problem to camp outside. It felt like I laid siege to one of my own towns. That's madness. But it did give all the armies in the land time to gather around. Something has awaken. Everyone could feel it. Everyone could fear it. Everyone wanted to fight it. People from the countryside, their homes destroyed a couple of days earlier, all followed the trail I left behind. Not only the nobles were gathering men: the village elders roused everyone to join me in my quest. Raiders halted their regular plunder business. It was as if everyone had turned into moths and flew to the bright light I emitted. A beacon amidst the storm clouds that turned even a bright day into a shady and dark time.
The city of Reyvadin. A storm is brewing, the clouds are gathering.
Then, after two days of waiting, a messenger from Khudan arrived. Even before he had the chance to speak I knew it was time to continue our march. He looked like he had run for his life. Even his horse collapsed when he finally dismounted.
'My king,' he started, hoarse and breathless, 'your city... Khudan... has fallen.'
All around me a murmer arose. Did the Rhodoks sneak past us, had they felt what was coming for them? I could hear men mutter words of turning around and recapture the town. Weapons were drawn, horses saddled. But everyone fell quiet when I rose my hands. I looked the messenger in his eyes and asked what happened.
'It's your wife. We didn't understand why you had the door sealed with her body still lying in it, but now we know, now we know.'
I anticipated his next words, but still they started to hammer me down. All around me soldiers' stared to lose hope.
'Moments after you left the knocking started. First softly, but soon it became an avid pounding. Screams we knew no creature could make came from the room. Your advisors gathered some men from the garrison and started to break through the door. If they had only known, they would left the door shut. We all feared for what was coming. What kind of monster would profane your wife's corpse?'
I shook my head. Why hadn't they obeyed my strickt orders to leave the door closed? Maybe I should have taken everyone and abandoned the city entirely.
'Once the door was broken down, the advisors could have a first look in the room. There they saw Lady Nelda, as beautiful as on your wedding day. Like nothing had happened, none of the cruels that were bestowed upon her had taken place. The only thing different were here eyes. A flame burned inside them, consuming everything she gazed upon.'
Listening to his description, I heard more than he was telling me. This was a regular messenger, not a member of nobility. A man living in the town like peasants lived on the land. But his speech didn't match his status. His skin didn't look like he was a fugitive from a town where disaster had struck. And the more he spoke, the more obvious it became. I drew my sword.
'Chaos erupted. Men fell and rose again. Women joined their ranks like something had possessed them all along. People fled, but there was nowhere to go. I managed to escape the city by climbing down the tower, via the room she had been locked in. For some reason that was the only way that wasn't blocked. After I got out, I saw the walls crumble. Clouds descended from the sky, erupted from the ground. None escaped the crushing fate laid upon them. I ran over the bridge, which crumbled after each step. I barely made it past the river. When I finally reached the village of Tismirr, the smoke started to clear. And the ground began to tremble. Like a thousand feet marched in unison. That was the moment I took a horse from the villagers and rode as fast as I could.'
Fear. That moment it became palpable. I would lose my men before the first battle if I didn't act now. It needed to be cut short before it spread. I rose my sword, and shouted: 'Men! Back in Khudan I told you that we stood at a crossroad. Now we have crossed it, and the crossroad itself is not pleased by it. You heard the words: Khudan has fallen. But the enemy is not one you have fought before. Calradia has stricken again. We need to move and gather everyone for our march. Train every person. Empty the city: we march today!'
While men started to cheer, I looked once more in the eyes of the messenger. There it was. I could see it clearly now. I couldn't help but smile and realised that I only needed to keep as many people close to me as possible. With this realisation I got on my horse an rode with the army over the plains near Derchios Castle.
The plains near Derchios Castle.
To get to the Rhodoks I needed to cross the lands of the Nord get through the largest of my three enclaves. Not a journey I was looking forward to. How much of a fuzz would the Nord make when they saw an army even larger than the one that had defeated them all those years ago crossing their lands? There was only one way to find out. We marched across the mountains and into the woods near Tilbaut Castle. All the common folk were getting training on the road and even before we left the trees behind us, most of them were past the recruit stage.
As we stepped over the plains near Derchios Castle, I spotted a troupe of sea raiders. What were they doing so far south? Together with my two hundred finest men I rode towards them. There was no way for them to escape. The horses circled around them, all seventy of them. They were ready to fight, but I could smell the fear. With everyone ready to jump on each other, I dismounted, walked towards their leader and asked what they were doing here.
'That's a nice head you have on your shoulders. We roam where we want. We raid everywhere, terrorise all! Drink from your skull!'
I looked him in the eyes.
'The gods decide our fate. We could face the fire raining from the sky. But when the sea started to rise and waves taller than the highest tower, sweeping across the shores, we knew it was time to leave our homeland behind.'
The change in words: it's not sublte anymore. I can see it, hear it, feel it. The skies rain fire, the ground gobbles up cities, the sea washes away shores. Calradia is fighting the people. The land is fighting me. And we thus all become one. The sea raider must have felt something too, for he and his companions joined my ranks when I asked him. No-one is to be left behind. We marched and more raiders joined my ranks. Scouts spotted some Nord nobles with their armies, but they kept a distance. Once Calradia would cross their lands they will join, I'm still sure of that. But for now they kept to themselves and tried not to get involved in this new conflict.
The plains were easy to cross. There were plenty of grain fields: with the men I had they were soon no more. I would need everything stockpiled for what was about to come. Soon we entered my own country once again, towards Kelredan Castle. But when it finally became visible, all men were shocked to see that only ruins were left. A direct hit from one of the burning rocks. The consuming flames must have done the rest, but only to the castle itself and not to the surrounding trees, leaving no survivors. Or did they join the land? If they had, they weren't here.
All that is left of Kelredan Castle is a ruin.
After the sight of what Calradia could and would do to everyone living here, we quickly marched on. There were more woods to pass and rivers to cross. I send messengers to both Suno and Uxkhal: all the people needed to gather as much as they could and abandon their homes. Everyone was needed. If the cities weren't emptied, they would end up like Khudan and Kelredan Castle. If that fate hadn't befallen them yet.
Me and my army weren't the only ones reaching the bridge. The people of my domain had heeded my call to arms. All men had become soldiers. Everyone needed to fight for survival. We are an army unlike Calradia had ever seen. We are legion. We are one. And we march together to the Rhodoks. Crossing water with such a huge body of men takes a lot of time, more than I had anticipated. But once we were past it, we could ride to the mountains, who were rising up right before us.
It is impossible for the Rhodoks to not have spotted the army marching their way. I'm also sure Hakim is aware of the fact that his peace is about to be shattered to pieces. But so far I have seen no sign of any of their activities. Men flood the passes, climb their way up the mountains. Like a swarm of locusts we blacken the land. But now we finally reached our goal: Culmarr Castle. It lies in front of us. The moment I laid my eyes upon it clouds started to roll over the mountains in an attempt to obscure my view, to hide the castle before it is too late. It is too late. I'm here, along with ten thousand men. Soon king Graveth will join my ranks or perish.
Clouds start rolling over the mountains at Culmarr Castle.
Hey, when is the next chapter, that everyones is waiting for ?
Ten years from now. You will have lost all hope that Calradia will be defeated, then monnikje, will come in like torrent, reviving your dreams. ...Or next week.
Ok, it has been almost four years, so I'd say it's about time for a new chapter. What did I do in that time? Well, first I worked very hard on the Floris Mod Pack. That took all my time. In 2012 I decided to stop it and concentrate on finally finishing my thesis (if you are interested, you can have a look at my thesis over here
, but be warned: it is in Dutch). After I finished that I started working, which is one of the biggest time sinks you can imagine. Ow, and I still judge for a Dutch short story competition
For the AAR I used a kind of evil warped version of the Floris Mod Pack. We did break savegame compatibility with version 2.5, so I couldn't use that, so I made a kind of hybrid with still a lot of bugs in it, but hey, it worked. I guess that's also the reason the game was able to have a peace lasting more than two years. Then, when I was writing my thesis, my computer died. My motherboard and my harddisk were gone. Luckily I had a backup of my thesis, but the evil warped version was gone forever. So even tough I still have the savegames, I can't play with them any more, since no compatible version exists anymore. That was a big bummer and hindrance to continuing the AAR, but it didn't make it impossible. If I could only find the time...
This summer I went on a roadtrip through Europe for six weeks and made some really cool photo's. I decided to finish the story using these. So from this moment forth the story drives the chapters, and not the game. But I think the AAR had evolved to this point already anyway, so it won't be too big of a problem. At least I finally get the chance to finish it. And you can try to guess where I've been by looking at the photo's.