They came. As they had never come before, they came, screaming victory, barbaric determination in their eyes. Sir Aldren stormed to and fro animated with such a battle rage as men had never seen in him before. Flying among the ranks, he shouted to each man, “Hold back till they are directly upon us, then pour your missiles into them. Let it hail death! Show no mercy!”
The first wave of invaders sprinted up the rubble heap and with shocking strength, began to lift themselves over the breach in the weight of their armor. The next instant, they collapsed dead, arrows and every kind of missle riddiling their bodies. Undaunted, their comrades mounted overtop of them. The next wave came and the next. At the bottom of the ramp, men dumped sacks of gravel and stones, gradually building it higher and higher. Their work was scarcely needed. The bodies of the fallen built the ramp faster than they.
When the ramp was complete, the besiegers rushed up in a deep column. Sir Aldren watched from his position at the top of the temporary fortification. He saw them scale the ramp like horses. They had reached what remained of the original wall. It was twenty feet thick and the temporary wall stood in the middle. They had only ten feet more to come. Those who caught a glimpse of Sir Aldren at that moment thought he looked incredibly stoic and calm. In an instant, he had transformed. With a spring like a tiger, he hurled himself over the temporary wall and into the oncoming ranks.
Alone he stood, though not standing still, but like a lion that is angered, rampaged against the oncoming ranks, dashing this way and that, cutting down men before they knew he was upon them. His roar was truly awe-inspiring. When the men of Rondinburg saw his furry, they half paused in amazment. For a moment, the front line of Galldenborough halted in indecision at his onslaught. It was only a moment. Those behind them forced them onward in an inexorable charge. By sheer numbers, they made their way up to the temporary wall where the defenders made their stand. The combat was face to face, spear against spear. Sir Aldren was caught among the attacking forces.
Like a wild boar he defied them, striking right and left in the fashion of a berserker, but with aim that was sure and swordplay full of cunning. It seemed almost as if his blade were everywhere in an instant. In the face of his fury, the besiegers around him gave way. There was now a safe distance between Sir Aldren and his attackers. With a superhuman spring, he leaped in full armor and grabbed the top of the battlement, then pulled himself over. A spear glanced off his back armor as he did so and struck a defender.
Sir Aldren rushed over to Galther. “Now! The oil!”
Galther leapt from the battlement and ran to a pump stationed behind it. On one end it was attached to a massive vat and a hose stretched forth from the other. The hose was of thick cloth treated with a coating of his creation. He called to a soldier nearby, who immediately took up the hose and mounted the wall. Galther pumped.
The besiegers stumbled in a wave of astonishment as they were hit with an unknown liquid. They wavered, unsure what horror might befall them if they did not flee that instant. Then they laughed, but without mirth, realizing it was only oil. They came on with all their old confidence. With deadly aim, they slew many of the defenders. The oil kept coming until many of them were covered in it. Men began to slip, and when they did, others slipped on top of them. They could not arise and were crushed under one another.
The defenders were falling slowly but steadily. If the rates continued, they would be gone in an hour or two. Sir Aldren looked upon the besiegers with anything but pity. “Bring me the torch!” he shouted above the clamor. Galther left the pump and ran forward with a torch. Sir Aldren took it from him and with a grim countenance, threw it straight into the enemy mass. Instantly, a thousand flames erupted into the air and the shrieks of men rose higher. The space before the temporary wall and down onto the ramp was strewn with bodies, most of which had been trampled, but not killed. Now they burned. The defenders of Rondinburg turned their heads, unable to look at what they had created. The smell was nauseating and the horror of the scene indescribable. No one mounted the ramp. The host of Galldenborough stood at a distance, mesmerized, watching their comrades burn.
After a minute, the flames cleared and the sight that was revealed was not to be looked upon. The besiegers neither fled nor attacked. They were solemnly still. Finally, a trumpet blasted, and they rose to their feet. They may have suffered a great blow, but they were still winning. If it were not for the wall Galther had constructed, they could take the whole city in one sweep. With renewed courage, they charged up the ramp. Oil blasted into their ranks. Hidden flames that had not yet died lit it on fire. No, they would not make this attack. They turned and fled. It was one thing to rush fearlessly into battle, it was quite another to rush fearlessly into hell. The Earl called off the attack for the moment and had his troops back off, but they stayed in readiness; he was not yet finished. Whatever the cost, this was the day he would see Rondinburg fall.
What happened next could not be stopped. Before the men of Rondinburg were aware of it, a huge stone came sailing through the air and crashed into the wall they stood behind. Where it hit, the top half of the wall was torn away and those who stood behind it were killed.
“Off the wall!” Aldren yelled. Men leaped from their positions and hurried to take refuge behind the main walls of the city. The next stone flew overhead and landed harmlessly in the city, but many more followed. Stone after stone burst the wall to rubble. The bulwark was torn and utterly useless. One charge by the enemy would carry the city.
The catapult stopped. Sir Aldren called his men back to what remained of their wall, thinking an attack was at hand. No attack came. The men of Rondinburg searched in surprise for what could be the delay. Not too far in the distance, rising from behind a large gently-sloping hill that blocked the view of the road leading to Rondinburg, they spied a cloud of dust. “It must be Lord Fairwin,” several soldiers whispered. Hope was rising.
“Impossible,” Sir Aldren countered, mounting the main wall for a better view, “It would need at least a week.” Still, the rumor that it was Lord Fairwin spread.
The company that had raised the cloud of dust appeared around the bend in full sight. They were still a great length away, but their general appearance could be distinguished. Sir Aldren shouted and ground his teeth. “The Earl’s men! They are not our reinforcements, but his!” His conclusion was confirmed as a company of horsemen from the Earl’s army road to meet them. Sir Aldren descended onto the breach then leapt to the ground on the inside of the city. He began to pace.
No one had ever seen Sir Aldren as he had been that day, but the visage he now held was frightening. None came near him but his squire, Galther, and Sestin. These three had managed to survive the fighting though wounded. Leaping after him from the breach, they waited on the side until he ceased his pacing. When Aldren had subdued his passion, or, if his face spoke anything, subdued it with a passion less fiery, but far deeper, Sestin spoke. “I suppose they will only wait to join forces before attacking.”
Sir Aldren nodded.
“Is there anything we can do? Any defenses we can raise in so short a time?”
“None.” The words were icy.
Sestin turned questioningly to Galther. Galther sighed, hung his head, and shook it.
“Couldn’t we make a sally through the west gate?” Destin asked. “The Earl has few men there and we might make a break through and escape.”
“No,” Sestin answered, requiring no input from Sir Aldren for so easy a question, “The Earl has at least five times as many calvary as we have soldiers. Perhaps one or two might make it through with stealth, but not our whole city.” He looked around him. “There are not a hundred of us left.”
Destin relapsed into silence and Sir Aldren’s face seemed to grow a shade paler and a shade darker at the same time, a less fiery passion but a far far deeper one claiming his soul. He lifted his head. His appearance was at once that of a solemn prophet and a tiger cornered by hunters. His voice was scarcely above a whisper, but gave the impression of a bed of hot coals. “I will destroy the Earl.” The three looked at him in wonder. “I will destroy the Earl, but I cannot do so if I am killed.” He turned and began to walk away.
“Wait!” Sestin called. “Where are you going?” There was no reply. “Sir Aldren, where are you going?”
He was gone.