With the dawning of the sun comes hope, but the sun did not pierce through the bleak clouds on the following morning. The inhabitants of Rondinburg rose early to live another day. Their actions were matched by the equal vigilance of the Earl, whose army rose with them and greeted the morning air with the sharpening of steel. Eager was the hand of every warrior, but not every heart was bright, for the men of Rondinburg knew by now the gravity of their plight.
The morning brought little fighting, yet this did not comfort the defenders. The cause of the enemy’s forbearance was not lethargy, but preparation for a formidable assault. Beyond the range of the defender’s bows, the attacking force assembled timber and beams of huge girth and set to work constructing a great wheeled tower. This project caused the defenders to tremble, for they were not ignorant of such siege engines, but fully understood their effectiveness and power. The towers were massive frames, capable of being rolled straight up to a high wall. They were multi-leveled and could hold a host of men. At the highest level was a drawbridge of sorts which the besieging forces would let down creating a crossing bridge straight onto the defenders’ walls. Such was the terrible engine which the enemy was constructing, yet it was not their only scheme. Numerous catapults were also in assembly and it would only be a few days before the siege would begin in earnest.
While the Earl’s men labored, Sir Aldren brought his squire upon the walls and showed him these things. “Destin,” he began, “You have much training in the wisdom of the sages of Rondinburg. It is time you learned more of the ways of war. See now how the Earl, though occupied with the construction of his engines, sends his archers against us. They cannot take our walls by themselves. We moreover have the advantage, for we are protected by our walls while his archers have little cover from our fire. Why does he then employ them?”
“I fear I cannot say,” admitted Destin. “It is clear that many of his archers have fallen under our return fire, though few of our men have been hit.”
“The answer is clear enough to those who know the arts of war. The Earl has provided his archers with some defenses. They hide behind small wooden walls of their own construction. He does not care however, how many fall. He does not value the lives lost, but only craves to take our walls with the greatest possible speed. He cannot afford to waste any opportunity to lessen our defenders, even if he only takes a few. You are silent. Why?”
“I only think sir, that even in victory our loss shall be dear.”
Sir Aldren was grave. “Many will fall; a few have already fallen. Victory never comes without sacrificing something precious for that even more dear.”
Those in Rondinburg who had been wounded were tenderly cared for, and there were but few who slipped into death under the close attention they were given. Lady Fairwin herself superintended the work of healing. Many curative arts were known to her, for she had been a student of the wisest physicians in the land. A large number of the noncombatants of Rondinburg volunteered at the infirmary, for there was not one of them who was not deeply concerned for the wounded. And so the noncombatants did more for the cause of Rondinburg than if they had taken up bows and swords, for their healing returned men again and again to the fight who might otherwise have fallen, and so it almost seemed as if Rondinburg were continually reinforced.
Of those noncombatants who were not at the infirmary, most were employed in preparing food for their sustenance, and in creating missiles to be thrown from the walls. Of the latter group, most were children, for they were well suited to the task, and found great fulfillment in it.
Though the inhabitants of Rondinburg were of such kindred spirit, the comfort they gave one another could not outweigh the heavy burden which weighed on each one’s shoulders. Not a day passed, but a child or two was found dead, smitten by a stray arrow which had passed over the walls. Not a day passed, but a friend or relative was killed on the battlements. Though the inhabitants of Rondinburg had not given up all hope, the little they cherished did not succeed in rendering their sleep peaceful.
As the first week of fighting came to a close, so did the construction of the siege tower. No invention of man perhaps ever so closely resembled a mountain on wheels, prodigious and looking ready to crush anything that came in its way. It was immense and mighty. The towering walls were covered in thick hides soaked to prevent it from catching fire. Hundreds of men could be contained in its massive bulk, and its boarding plank was broad and long.
Now came the hosts of Galldenborough, dragging countless logs and piles of debris to fill the moat where they intended to bring the tower. The defenders shot rapidly at them and hurled huge stones into their midst, but the Earls forces persisted until they had created firm ground on which the tower could rest.
By the strength of many beasts and men, the tower surged forward to the city’s wall. There the defenders huddled thick in expectation, while hundreds of besieging forces waited in readiness only for the bridge to be lowered and the battle to erupt.
The defenders stood three rows thick, their shields interlocked, and their spears jutting out in three long impenetrable rows of death. Their faces were grim, for on their courage rested the fate of the entire city. On their conduct, their cause could survive or fall on that very day. A strong brotherhood animated them in the face of death and a raging desperation.
With shrieking groans, the boarding ramp of the tower swung down. Men caught their breath, the suspense of that single moment shaking their frames. The bridge descended upon the wall with a terrifying tremor and a thousand battle cries roared forth like thunder. Besieger met besieged. The first wave of attackers poured onto the wall and hurled themselves into the line of defenders. The clash was both terrible and electrifying. Another wave of attackers charged forward to meet the fight. Destruction loomed over the city.