The news of the treachery of the Earl of Galldenborough spread through the realm as if it had been carried on the wings of a host of mourning doves from the Fairwin palace. The villagers from miles around were ordered into the city of Rondinburg. Stores of food were deposited in the granaries and storage rooms of the city. Smithies were kept running day and night fixing armor and weapons and preparing arrowheads and other assorted items. Little boys prepared stones and hoops of flammable material to be thrown at the enemy from the walls. Men were fitted out with armor and organized into divisions. Mothers busied themselves with worrying their hearts sick, and the old men sat in grave silence.
When the evening meal had slipped by, Lady fairwin gave instructions to a page, “Go lad, and call to me Sir Aldren and the noble-hearted Sestin.” The page obeyed and the two men soon arrived. Sir Aldren was accompanied by his squire who seated him upon a chair that the knight might rest and save his little strength for the coming siege. Sestin stood, for his heart was troubled.
The lady sat anxiously, supporting herself on the arms of her throne, resisting the weakness and burden she felt in her strait. She addressed them soberly, “Friends, counselors, you know what force threatens our city. We can be sure it will swoop upon us tomorrow or the day after. What is unclear is how we may escape, being far weaker than our enemy. I know that you are wise men. Advise me what we should do.”
For a while, the men were silent, their faces grave with contemplation and it was clear that they were troubled by many thoughts. At last, the knight Sir Aldren spoke. “My lady, it is clear to me also that our forces are weak in the face of the adversary, for most of our brave men have gone with my lord to the war leaving us with few and ill-trained men. On our own, we cannot hope to defeat the Earl of Galldenborough, but with aid we may manage to do so. For this reason, I myself sent a rider this very morning on the long journey to the camp of my lord. He bears with him a full account of our troubles and how they came about. I have sent him on a round-about course so that he will not encounter any of the enemy. If we may hold our walls for five weeks’ time, we may hope by then to see the banners of my lord coming to our aid. His numbers will be thinned by the war, but we would yet have hope. The men must be informed that there is a prospect of deliverance and be made to take heart, for only through great determination may we hold for ourselves this city until the lord’s return and earn for ourselves a song and story shared at every hearth.”
Having heard these words with great thought, Sestin addressed both the lady and Sir Aldren in reply. “Surely the forethought of Sir Aldren will prove the greatest weapon we have in this struggle, but it will avail us nothing unless we may maintain this city for the five necessary weeks. Now let us consider, did not the Earl of Galldenborough foresee that we would send to the Lord Fairwin for aid? Does he not know the time it will take for our lord’s forces to come to our aid? It seems therefore that he hopes either to crush our lord’s forces when he arrives, which it must be admitted he has some power to do, or he hopes to take this city before our lord arrives and hold it against him. If the Earl once took possession of this city, its walls would afford him such protection that, his men being already numerous, any attempt by the Lord Fairwin to regain it would be suicidal. The Earl knows all these thing well and must therefore be confident of his strength. He knows of our valor, famed throughout the earth, and of the sturdiness of our walls and our abundance of food and water. Yet he is still confident. He has made his calculations and he sees that he must win. We must therefore employ and prepare both weapons and defenses that he could not expect. We must avail ourselves of the secret resources of Rondinburg. We must fight with our minds more than our arms. Two options present themselves to us in this time of need. The first is the messenger sent to us by the Thane of Dorth. He has informed us of this man’s surpassing skill in engineering and chemistry. Such arts I have often seen to surpass the might of a warrior. Let him be put in charge of all our best engineers and be given several boys to assist him in creating such contrivances as may confound the enemy. There comes also to my mind the secret caverns of Rondinburg.” At the mention of these caverns, the brows of Sir Aldren furrowed, but Sestin continued, “It has long been a secret known only to a few select of our court that there exists under Rondinburg an extensive labyrinth of caverns. If ever we are so pressed that our walls become undefendable, we might as a last resort flee to these caverns. Even if our hideaway could be found, with such an underground castle, whose walls cannot be penetrated by the trebuchet, we might hold out until the Lord Fairwin comes.”
Sir Aldren had been in a state of mild agitation ever since the mention of the caverns. When Sestin finished, he rose from his chair and spoke his mind. “My lady, Sestin has much wisdom, and for his insight that we must fight the Earl of Galldenborough with a weapon he does not expect, I give him full credit. Yet I, for one, have no hope in hiding. It makes men cowards and turns their hope of victory into a hope of safety, by which they lose all order and fail to obtain either victory or safety. If the enemy breaks through our walls, then we mush continue the fight in the city. We must never flee into holes. It is only by courage that hopeless causes succeed. If we must fight the Earl of Galldenborough with a secret weapon, let it be a level of courage such as the world has never seen. He knows, as all men know, our courage in battle. But no man has ever yet faced the courage of the men of Rondinburough in defense of their very own hearths. Wait and see what new ferocity will be bred in these times of trouble which shall cause even the Earl of Galldenborough to quail.”
Lady Fairwin regarded his words with concern. “I will not have my people wiped out.”
“I never once suggested such,” replied Sir Aldren. “Tomorrow come the hosts of Galldenborough, and in a short season they will return to their land defeated. I have never yet lost a battle, and I shall not lose one now!”