When the dawn appeared, the hosts of Galldenborough were seen advancing in a vast array of dauntless steel and weaponry. A thousand and ten thousand pikes caught the rising sun and flashed its light with a haughty glare. A thousand and ten thousand shields interlocked in a mile-long stretch of fighting strength like the impenetrable scales of a monster from the deep.
The trumpet of Rondinburg erupted with a mighty blast that echoed throughout the hilltops. Men girded themselves with heavy steel and took up their skillfully-wrought weapons: ponderous spears, gleaming swords, arching bows, broad axes, hammers, bills, estocs, slings, and maces. They ran heroically to the walls, and with every step, they beheld what they were fighting for. As they passed by, wives, sisters, brothers, fathers, and little children clinging to the legs of their elders, blessed them from beneath the towering branches of blossoming apple trees backdropped by glistening fountains. Never was there a city more pastoral, more enchanting than Rondinburg. Never were there a people more faithful, more loving than those of Rondinburg. As the men mounted the battlements, they encouraged one another with noble words, and stood friend with friend as they strung their bows and heaped missiles beside them in readiness.
The men were strengthened by the sight of their commander, Sir Aldren, walking the battlements among them, strong and brave, inspiring them with reminders of the ancient men of glory, life flowing through his veins as the thrill of battle came into his heart. His squire walked beside him. “Look there,” exclaimed Sir Aldren to his squire. “It is a company of horsemen coming to our gates. They will ask us to surrender.” A minute proved him right. Three score of horsemen reined in below the gate. Of these, one horseman bore a shield plated with gold. Flanking him were horsemen bearing banners of the golden bear of Galldenborough. The man with the golden shield drew off his helmet. His hair was grey with scattered black, and his face, even from a distance, was both commanding and austere. “Sir Aldren, are you there?”
“I am here, oh traitor!”
“Sir Aldren, think well on what I have to say. How long can you hope to resist me? A week? Two weeks? You cannot hope for more. Your glory will be ashes and your sword will never rise again. Your men will lie in their blood and your streets will be ruined. Why should you resist? Surrender for your own good.”
Sir Aldren’s face darkened. “You shall hear my reply from my men.” He turned and shouted with the voice of a thundering bell from a high tower, “Hear me men! The Earl has asked us if we will surrender and be saved. What do you answer?”
From every foot of the high walls the cry returned like the roar of the sea, “No!”
Sir Aldren turned to the Earl, “Let that be your answer!”
The Earl drew forth his sword. “Your own mouths have chosen!” He turned his mount and the company of horsemen departed.
Sir Aldren turned to his squire. “We have good men, Destin. Do you think we may win this battle?”
The squire averted his eyes. “I deeply hope so.”
“Hope? Do more than hope. Bad odds are my wine. I have never felt so young.”
In an hour’s time, the hosts of Galldenborough came upon them. A hundred ladders were hurled upon the walls of Rondinburg at once, and eager men clambered up them to meet the men of Rondinburg in fight. “The Earl is testing our defenses,” said Sir Aldren. “He does not expect to actually take our walls, but only to assess our strength. We shall give him much to think about.” The arrows of the archers flew thick through the air from both sides and the first of the soldiers fell. The men of Rondinburg heaved over ladder upon ladder, sending their foes toppling through vast expanse of sky, groping at nothingness as they fell and fell to the unforgiving ground beneath. Still, the ladders were lifted up again, and new men mounted them undaunted. Such was the fury of the assault, that though countless ladders fell and though innumerable missiles of stones, spears, and arrows, along with sand heated to a scorching temperature, were sent upon them, yet a great number succeed in gaining the tops of the ladders. Then the fight raged most furiously, for the men of Rondinburg were determined not to let them have the wall, and those who were on the ladders knew that they must either mount them or die. From every stretch of the walls, shouts of triumph and shouts of doom resounded, and the battle cries echoed for miles around.
Foremost in the fight was always Sir Aldren, and where the battle raged thickest, there was he bound to be. Where his sword was raised, the enemy fled in fear of his terror and the defenders of Rondinburg took courage.
Through all the morning the battle raged and the noonday meal passed unnoticed. Around one o’clock, a page announced to Sir Aldren that Galther, the servant of the Thane of Dorth, had succeeded in formulating a substance which, when hurled in certain jars of his construction, would burst into flame upon hitting their target. Sir Aldren ordered the squire to instruct the chemist to make a hundred of these jars with the greatest possible haste.
The battle had scarcely slackened since its commencement. Though far more of the soldiers of Galldenborough had fallen, their losses were unnoticeable, but as Sir Aldren surveyed his surroundings, he saw scattered about, small clusters of the bodies of the dead and wounded. The enemy’s losses were a slight matter in the course of war, but every man in Rondinburg would have a friend or relative to mourn that night.
In two hour’s time, the invading forces began to slacken their attack. Sir Aldren sensed a weakening of resolve in their movements due, no doubt, to their constant defeat. At this moment, a page announced to him that the jars were ready. Sir Aldren ordered them brought forth immediately. The jars were promptly divided into four sets and each set was delivered to the portion of the walls most under attack.
The Earl’s forces were mostly veterans. They were men who had seen death, who had known pain, who were accustomed to scale the highest wall, or to man a battering ram while boiling water or scorching sand was dumped upon them. They knew how to endure these elements of torture which found their way through the cracks of their armor and stung their skin with the most unfathomable agony. The jars of fire which the defenders now brought against them however, were something they had never yet seen. When they broke upon their armor, the contents burst instantly into flame. Unlike sand or water however, the fiery substance stuck upon whatever it touched and burned with an unquenchable fire. Thus, whenever a warrior fell from the top of a ladder, his body raging with fire like some unearthly fiend, his plight seen by all his fellows, or when a man consumed in flame ran in terror through the ranks of Galdenborough, spreading fire on all he touched like some infectious disease, it caused terror to sweep through the enemy like a leaf carried by the fast-blowing wind. Men abandoned their ladders, archers dropped their bows, and even those who were not engaged in the fight turned heel and ran as if pursued.
Sir Aldren ran to the gate when he saw it. “A sortie!” he called, “Gather round me!” Men came from every direction and the gates flew open. They charged through into the midst of their fleeing enemies. The chaos was doubled among the enemy, but the men of Rondinburg kept their file. Their shield wall was impenetrable and their weapons dealt death wherever they went. At last, the Earl of Galldenborough gathered together a company of horsemen and charged upon them. Sir Aldren, however, saw the movement and ordered a retreat. The defenders regained the gate safely, and fell back inside, none having fallen, and few being wounded.
The Earl turned aside and implored his men to quit their shameful flight, but the terror was strong among them and the arrows followed them closely, so they paid him no heed. With this defeat, the Earl paused his attack and spent the evening invigorating his troops and plotting for the morrow. The men of Rondinburg retired from the walls, only a few remaining as guards. The soldiers were greeted with cheers of exaltation and praise until it was noticed that some had not returned and never would. Then the inhabitants of Rondinburg were silent, for they saw that their very lives and all they held dear were hanging on but a thread, and that that thread was strained against a mighty weight.