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Time then for witches and lots of blood

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1 Time then for witches and lots of blood on Tue Mar 06, 2012 8:59 am

Captain Barac withdraws all his troops to Ametus because the southern border tower has not yet been repaired properly. There he prepares himself for an attack. Reports of a large invasion soon reach him there. Then the reports take on a different hue, one which he cannot believe…

Barac reassures his troops as he has in turn been assured by Krog: “There is no thing as witches and magic, it is all make-believe for children. The mugusare not magical beings; they are merely barbarians wearing scary war-paint. Think like grown men and carry your name with honour in this battle.”

They are, however, not prepared for what they see when Ametus becomes surrounded and against what they have to fight for their very lives soon after that.

Another attack force marches on to Castle Town while Ametus is surrounded by mugus. The identity of this force is kept secret until an army of approximately three thousand heavily armed men becomes visible from the castle walls. Only then do they raise their banners. Sorm has had the crops brought in where possible and has ordered the people to flee with their provisions, either to Edburg or to within the castle walls.

A messenger brings a letter from the attacker, signed by the Bishop and the Red Prince. In it they demand that Sorm is delivered to them to be tried for heresy. His sin is the public denial of witchcraft, while the Holy Church troubles itself greatly with the very persecution and eradication of witchcraft. Does Sorm also deny the justice of the holy pyres for witches? Krijger throws the messenger in the castle gaol and looks around for an appropriate answer to send back.

At that moment the attackers vandalously start to burn houses in the abandoned Castle Town. They do this at what they think is a safe distance from the castle walls. However, they under-estimate the new catapults! Krijger sticks their so-called message to a stone and sends it back, right on top of the vandals.

This stony response causes the attackers to draw back further, after which it appears as if they are waiting for something or someone. However, they are restless and mill around as if their leaders do not have full control over them. Sorm receives a message by pigeon, informing him that the northern border tower in the Snow Mountains has only just managed to fend off a strong attack by the mugus. The situation is beginning to look serious. If could even be that the Prince and the Bishop’s army is waiting for these and other reinforcements.

Sorm also realises that time is running out for his forces in Ametus. The farmers and ordinary folk in Midlands and around the castle are suffering more and more damages to their crops and homes the longer this conflict is allowed to go on. Besides, the three thousand or so soldiers who besiege the castle are not really as much of a threat as they may think they are. And then, finally, he receives a sign of mirrors reflecting sunlight from the hills in the direction of Edburg – the main body of the cavalry who escorted his family have returned with fresh horses. They are awaiting his orders out of sight.

Sorm starts by sending a hundred longbow archers to within range of the attackers. Then his cavalry, heavily armoured, thunder out of the castle gates. Their orders are to attack the left flank of the besiegers, but to give way easily and flee back into the castle.

The attackers are mainly there for the promise of rich plunder, and it does not take much for their discipline to give. It looks like the castle force has made a tactical error, and they charge the castle. Sorm’s cavalry holds them a little while but then flees. The attackers are peppered with catapults and by the longbow unit, who retreat and fire, retreat and fire, retreat and fire until the attackers are with range of the castle. Then everyone flees inside, closes the gates and mows down the attackers from the castle walls and parapets. The attackers obey their officers’ frantic orders to retreat only partially, leaving the group closest to the castle outnumbered and vulnerable. Sorm sends three hundred elite swordsmen to annihilate them right in front of the castle. Then he repeats this tactic a few times, every time inflicting heavy losses on the enemy at minimal cost.

By that evening, when the Prince and the Bishop manage to get some sort of control back over their army, the dead and seriously wounded count five hundred. Even worse, they’re not equipped to deal with the wounded and the army is beginning to realise this. They pitch their camp for the night, thinking that the dark of night will be to their advantage. The plan is to have supper and then launch small attacks on the castle throughout the night to weaken and tire out the defenders. They also continue to burn and ransack farms and houses in the area.

But all hell breaks loose in the middle of the night! Sorm’s catapults are now firing fiery missiles of stone with burning pitch cloth. They aim at a hidden circle outside the castle at maximum range. One or two perfect shots are needed. The fifth ball of fire hits the target: A ditch filled with pitch and cloth that the defenders have dug around the castle and then covered with sand. Bit by bit the whole ditch catches fire, very close to the enemy camp.



YELLOW! ORANGE! RED! Fire and mayhem erupts all around! The enemy camp and groups of attackers are all illuminated. The smell of burning pitch is overpowering, and the attackers run scared in clouds of foul-smelling smoke.

The new light reveals all, but Krijger is too late to do something about the saboteurs who have already reached the back wall of the castle in the darkness. They use a new weapon brought from China by the Bishop’s men, a powder that explodes violently.

KADWAM! The back wall shudders at exactly the weakest point! The screams from outside the castle, where the camp is now on fire, are joined by screams from within.

Sorm knows that a point has been reached where he has to make sure of the outcome of this battle. He sends a cohort of bowmen, protected by a cohort of swordsmen, through the castle gate. A cloud of arrows again rains onto the attackers, illuminated brightly. Some of them begin to flee from what has become much more danger than they bargained for, and the cavalry charges from the castle to cut them off and cut them down. And at that same moment, the cavalry from Edburg attacks them from the darkness of the hills behind them. The Prince and the Bishop were expecting reinforcements from the hills, not more attackers, and their confidence is shattered.

The besieging army has had enough and flees in complete disarray. One section of fugitives are cornered by Sorm’s swordsmen near the river and they are cut to pieces until a tattered old man in purple clothes runs forward, waving a white flag and shouting:

“We give up! We give up!”

Sorm’s very disciplined army resists the temptation to be barbarous. They take the Bishop and his men prisoner.

By daybreak the remainders of the Prince’s army are scattered and pursued across the plains and valleys to the south. However, Sorm sends the signal to desist and return to the castle. A bunch of disappointed officers gather around him a little later.

“We could have struck the final blow and maybe even captured the Prince, my lord,” says one of them.

“I do not want to lose any more men in this poor light. Well done! Eat, rest and ready yourself and your equipment. Be prepared, for I have decided to march this very morning. We must rescue Ametus with our full army,” responds the king, turns around and hurries to his sanctuary. He looks proud though exhausted, and a concerned Krijger follows him.

Sorm turns to face his friend only when he reaches the door to the little room that has become such an important hide-out. He says:

“Krijger, you must rest so that you can come along. Leave Noël in charge of a small castle guard with orders to withdraw to Edburg if necessary.”

“Sorm, is it wise to leave the security of the castle and to leave it exposed like that, and that only to save Ametus?” Krijger’s genuine concern makes his question less impertinent.

Sorm rests his hand on Krijger’s strong and trusted shoulder and asks:

“Do you know how many a few hundred thousand is compared to our few hundred soldiers?”

Krijger looks at him quizzically.

“I have good reason for this. In fact, I have no other choice, my friend. Something has gone terribly wrong and I must get inside Chalcedonum. You must, as soon as we are out of sight of Castle Town, send a messenger back to call up and arm the whole population for war. They must follow us out of sight. Guards must be placed around the main towns to warn people to flee at the first sign of trouble. The prisoners of today’s battle must be used to clear the battle ground and then they must go north to dig a moat around the closest border tower. The architect must assess damage to the back wall of this castle as soon as possible. Wasn’t it strange how they knew exactly where the weak point was? And now I need a moment of tranquillity, please.”

Sorm turns, enters the room and closes the door. He listens to Krijger’s slow and ponderous footsteps as he walks away.

Sorm kneels in front of the table and again opens the letter he has been clutching. It comes from a reliable spy and confirms earlier reports.

This cannot be true! He looks up at the cross and whispers, his lips barely moving:

“Something is very wrong. Reality is being affected by something which cannot be real, something which does not belong in this world at all.”

He reads from the Book on the table until he falls asleep of exhaustion right there on the carpet. That is where Noël and a helper find him an hour later. They help him to get ready for the hasty departure to Ametus. The last thing the soldiers need is a king that looks tired and unkempt.

*****
Storm again dreams that his dad registers him together with the sixteen-year olds at school, but he is only twelve. He tries to tell the adults that this is a mistake, but nobody can hear him. His own voice sounds strangely vague as if he is talking gibberish into a hollow tree. Suddenly he realises that night has fallen and that he is alone amongst the dark and imposing school buildings. He runs to open ground…he looks up…and his heart jumps to his throat. Something terrible has happened, because next to the moon in the night sky is…another moon! He wakes from this dream illogically upset. Nothing had really happened, but the overwhelming feeling of being in the wrong place lingers on now that he is awake. He touches the amulet hanging in the hollow below his Adam’s apple and then takes a mouthful of water. He spills some. It drips on his chest where at last some muscle is showing after weeks of work in the gym where he helps Mister Lentsela. It is cold and he pulls the blankets over him. Fortunately the comforting warmth of it makes him go to sleep again…

*****
The back wall of the castle has been severely damaged and will take a lot of work to fully repair. Someone knew exactly where to put the explosives for maximum effect. Storm’s army is ready to march by tea that morning. They are a spectacular sight, lined up in their various sections in front of the castle. They are tidy and in excellent condition, issued with quality weapons and armour: Two hundred heavily armed cavalry, three hundred elite swordsmen, three hundred and eighty archers, two loaded catapults with crew, and the logistical support wagons.

The king’s royal colours wave triumphantly above the victorious army. Sorm’s heart swells warmly with pride and affection as he looks down at them from the wooden bridge. Then he climbs down to the courtyard. The Secretary, Krijger, Noël and a pike-man await him.

“Noël,” says Sorm, “you are in charge of the castle now. Arrest this man on charges of conspiracy and treason, and keep him in the castle gaol until the judge arrives from Edburg to try him.”

Noël and the pike-man lead a shocked Secretary Rabian inside the castle. All the special fighters except for Noël en Poilock, who is with the royal family in Edburg, are going to the battlefront with Sorm.

And then the young king climbs onto his trusty steed and exits through the castle gates. A deafening ovation erupts when the army sees him. The soldiers are brimming with enthusiasm. After all these frustrating months of preparation, during with the peaceful Sorm Iannus refused to go to war, a resounding victory has suddenly been achieved overnight. With insignificant losses on their side they have utterly destroyed the armies of the Red Prince and the Bishop. The enemies of the crown have been dispersed across the plains and valleys surrounding Castle Town. Rumour has it that the Earl of Duncan, who has been hiding out of sight to attack the weakened winner of the battle, has fled. The battle has convinced him and his army that they are no match for the king. And now they are marching gloriously to relieve Ametus.

“Yes, even Chalcedonum,” is what they whisper amongst each other.

The expected reinforcements for the mugus surrounding Ametus have not yet materialised when reports of Sorm’s impressive approach reach them. They hastily abandon the siege and retreat to Chalcedonum. The legends of the sorcerous military prowess of the lineage of Uther are apparently very potent to these barbarians. The people of Ametus welcome Sorm’s exhausted yet triumphant army with great gusto. However, Captain Barac hurries to meet Sorm and takes him to the holding cell in the middle of his camp.

“My lord, please carefully look at this…thing we have captured.” His request is further accentuated by the lines of worry around his usually manful eyes.

Sorm stares in shock at what a mugu reallyis. The hateful red eyes, the dark green skin, the scabs on his back, the hairy…paws. This is no barbarian! This is an alien being from the very pits of hell, something that does not belong in this world…yet there it is. His worst suspicions have been confirmed. Somehow Sorm knows that only he can stop this!

“You know and I know that this cannot be, Captain. The rumour of this….this thing, must be repressed for now. I will camp with the army on the outskirts of town to rest and eat, but tomorrow at dawn we must march on. When the civil reinforcements arrive from Castle Town you must join them and hurry on behind me. We will march slowly and you must make sure that you catch up with us before we attack the holy city.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Three days of slow marching pass by before the scouts in front report that the twin towers and other defensive towers of the holy city of Chalcedonum are within sight. The reinforcements are half a day behind Sorm and he pitches camp for the night to wait for them.

*****
This is the first time that Storm dreams of playing cricket on a green field with yellow dandelions. Hy bowls at a batsman who wears a medieval suit of armour. Still the batsman fears him. He feels the wind rushing through his hair as he runs in with the red leather ball in his left hand. He firmly holds the seam between his index and middle fingers. Suddenly he finds himself in the saddle of a majestic horse. Now the rush of wind has become an exhilaration of speed. The speed increases until it is a wild rush, much too fast. He falls and rolls down a lush green mountain slope. Unexpectedly, he ends up in a cave. It is dark inside with a faint blue light shining on, or from, the rock in front of him. He walks closer, unharmed and drawn towards the rock. He sees a small opening in the rock and somehow knows that he must put his hand inside even though that is not good common sense. He senses that the dream is moving towards him being stung or bitten in the hand, but touches the chalcedony amulet to take control. He gently wakes up, wondering what this dream could mean. He jots down the headlines of the dream so that the therapist can indulge in the details of it later. And to think that he gets paid for doing that…

*****
King Sorm Iannus, great-grandson of Uther the Great of Chalcedonum, takes position at the centre of his glorious army. Captain Barac and the reinforcements have joined them now and they are a formidable force.

However, a tower which guards the only bridge over the river stands between them and their goal. Behind that, hidden by the decorative walls of the holy city, strange noises emanate where the mugu hordes mill around. Krijger has been bombarding the guard tower with catapults and archers all day long without success. Every attempt to charge it has produced fatal results. A siege tower that was left behind by the besiegers at Ametus has arrived overnight at Sorm’s request. Now it is being drawn closer to the guard tower.

“But we are pulling it backwards,” whispers one soldier to another.

“I don’t question the king after what happened at the battle of Castle Town. He knows what he is doing,” is the confident response from his mate.

The wooden siege tower, with its open side to the front, gets stuck on a boulder that was shot to there on purpose. It topples and falls across the moat, smashing the tower gate! Now it provides a bridge for the attackers to get inside the tower. The cavalry were waiting and charge at top speed, their crossbows loaded. They completely surprise the doomed garrison inside, soldiers wearing the crest of the Red Prince. Sorm’s elite swordsmen follow them and they hack the defenders to pieces. It is a massacre. The tower is swiftly taken and the royal colours are raised. The holy city lies open before them.

It is lunch-time but the king refuses to rest. The soldiers snack while setting up their battle formation. The catapults bombard the city. They have orders to take care to not damage the twin towers and the cathedral.

A dark horde of thousands of mugus suddenly rush from the city gates.

“IIEEEE!”

A spine-chilling screaming chant rises from the city behind the mugus. The soldiers are shocked but they stand their ground. Then the trumpets blow and Sorm’s archers let loose the first salvo of arrows. Hundreds of arrows swarm overhead like a cloud, blotting out the sun.

The arrows strike a terrible blow. Then another cloud follows and another. And another.

It is as if a fountain of blood has sprung from the battleground. Rivers of blood form and flow across the frosty late winter turf. Sorm closes his eyes with a sigh. This is not what should have been. Reality has been grotesquely deformed. A soldier screams. The king wearily opens his eyes again. The mugu blood is not red. It is magenta, and brightly so, as if illuminated. Sorm knows that he has to control this battle deftly now, as his soldiers will be slightly rattled by what they see, even though they are so very disciplined.

And then the mugu charge reaches them. The swordsmen and militia step forward to protect the archers, and some bloody fighting ensues. The centre of Sorm’s battle formation suffers heavy losses. Sorm gives a sign and the bugles relay it to his men: The centre immediately breaks formation and retreats, allowing some mugus to storm through. The formation is closed again behind them.

The archers have been waiting for this and fire their deadly arrows again. Then they kneel down and the cavalry charge over them! They engage the surrounded mugus at full speed. The largest group of mugus have stormed into this trap and they are now crowded against each other, unable to move freely. They try to flee. The smaller formations of mugus, who have been fighting with Sorm’s flank formations, see this and panic. Now the deadly royal swordsmen concentrate on the crowded centre while the cavalry and archers decimate the fleeing flanks as they try to return to Chalcedonum.

Sorm looks on with great sadness as this costly victory unfolds in front of him. His reports have painted a very clear global picture. By now the northern mugu hordes, more than half a million of them, have probably broken through the border towers elsewhere. The castle and Castle Town have most probably been overrun as well in his absence. They should reach Edburg, where his family is hiding, in a few days from now. He has now only just managed to overcome their advance unit in Chalcedonum. Apparently a similar distortion has occurred all over the world. They are swarming over the Alps, across the plains of China and through the jungles of Africa. The world as we know it may soon be lost. He moves, as if in a dream, onwards to his goal. He remains unaware of his exhaustion and of the injury where a spear has grazed his arm.

Sorm enters the holy city surrounded by his elated soldiers. Krijger is beside him, and Smith and Mark follow shortly after them. They must pass through one of the twin towers to get to the courtyard of the main cathedral, and they turn in that direction.

Those who enter the tower first, stare in shock at what they see: Three torrid witches, their deformed features topped by black pointed hats as their sweep down from the roof on their brooms. They shriek shrilly and make unholy noises as they pluck smoke bombs from their coats and throw it at Sorm’s company. The walls around them are painted with dried out reddish brown blood, the blood of the once courageous defenders of Chalcedonum. Stone altars have been built on the floor. These contain the ashes of the royal banner and other symbols of the king. Evil sacrifices have probably been held here.

Krijger cringes.

Sorm stays with some difficulty in the saddle of his spooked horse and charges up the stairs on horseback. His goal is to reach the point where the stairs intersect the first storey ceiling. The others follow him. There they find rope and pulleys, attached to the witches’ brooms, with which their flying trick is performed. Sorm and Krijger chop them down. The witches fall to the ground, screaming. They scurry to flee from the menacing soldiers. Their only ‘magical power’ is that they are able to speak to both man and mugu. They were the go-betweens for the enemies of the king who wanted to ally with the mugus.

Sorm charges down the stairs and out to the courtyard. He dismounts. The magnificent lead-glass windows of the cathedral can be seen from here. They’ve been vandalised, and the golden crucifixes inside have been hung upside-down. But none of that matters now. There it is in front of him: The legendary glowing rock of Uther! He motions for his bodyguards to stand guard and protect him from intrusion.

He can still remember Krog saying, as if he is here now: “If something is important enough to do, then it should be done with passion and total commitment.”

He walks slowly and calmly up to the rock. He thinks of the apple orchards of Edburg. That is where he learned to love those sweet and fragrant little apples. In his imagination he can see the stormy North Sea. He can almost feel the spray flung up by the dark turquoise waves in his face. This brings him to the memory of the soft hands of his poisoned mother as they said goodbye.

By the time that his father had instituted safety measures they had both already taken significant doses of the poison that was in their food over a long period. The old king fought his infected wounds and the poison for months, and the courageous queen is still fighting, even getting up on some days. He spends an involuntary moment thinking of the beautiful Lady Elisabeth. Then, finally, he imagines that he can hear the pure sounds of the abbey bells in the morning mist of Edburg…



Sorm extends his left hand, glistening of oil he took in the cathedral, with a slow, careful movement to the opening in the rock. He notices a brass plate on the rock. It contains the following apparently meaningless words:

“pergamemnon maneo chalcedonum directus”

Sorm focuses his thoughts on a time and place where everyone has an equal chance of making a good life. He pictures a beautiful land, a land of natural beauty and unfettered potential. The royal blue becomes an azure sky, and the family green becomes green pastures, in his mind’s eye. Could something like that be possible? Will mankind ever allow true equality and beauty? He concentrates really hard on creating a better opportunity in his mind. His right hand touches the chalcedony amulet around his neck. He cleanses his mind of the need to understand and fills it with faith, faith that what he hopes for will become real. His left hand slips into the rock. It is surprisingly soft and even slimy inside, and then he sees it: The colours are overwhelming; it flows wildly across the colour-spectrum.

RED! ROYAL BLUE! MAGENTA!

Incomprehensible and unnamed colours burst open all around him; it becomes a vortex that sucks in the cathedral, the city, the mountains around them, the whole tainted reality of this world, in an endless yet immediate big bang of unstoppable energy. There is no interruption, no intrusion, only a marvellous and comprehensive light, a light which leads him to a reality where everyone is granted opportunities. Time, like a wave, crashes over the rock of Uther and splatters up the twin towers and the cathedral of the holy city.

And then it was night and then it was day, the dawning of something wholly new...

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2 Re: Time then for witches and lots of blood on Wed May 30, 2012 3:22 am

beslis aanleg vir kort verhale,.. skies ek kom nou eers hier uit maar soos jy weet dinge afgelope maande maar sleg op hul kop gedraai om al die boeke in proses te kry om uit te gee,..

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