The Four Stars – Chapter 25: The Knight Rallier

 

Introducing…Cloony! This is actually the third chapter told from the perspective of Cloony, but I chose to share this one because it also introduces my favorite character in the trilogy: Sir Adrian. Adrian isn’t actually named in this chapter, but if you want to get a feel for his character, as well as the characters of Ceallach and Fogarta, this, I think, is a good one. Happy reading, and I hope you enjoy!

——

“Ranks! Center! Victory or death!”

Cloony stood impassively as he watched a wave of weapons spear the air beneath a roar that made the ground at his feet tremble. The Gaulian commanders had practically worked the army into a battle frenzy. With morale as high as it was, the soldiers really would fight to the death. It was the greatest strength of the Gauls when it came to battle. Once they got worked up, there was no bringing them back down.

“Are you sure you don’t want to ride your pegasus?” Ceallach questioned, though it was more of a rhetorical question than anything. His tone was practically dripping with mockery.

“I prefer not to be seen,” Cloony replied, mounting the chestnut horse he had been standing next to and adjusting the reins. “Raghnall would attract too much attention.”

“Of course, of course,” the Gaul king laughed. “Best not to distract the enemy from what’s important.”

Fogarta, on the king’s right, snorted at this.

“How much longer are we going to keep up this little charade?” the prince inquired bitterly, looking out across the mass of soldiers crowded into the pass. “We should have crushed the Livanian army days ago.”

“I must admit, I grow weary of it myself,” Ceallach nodded. “I lose interest when the toy refuses to break.”

“They are certainly holding on well,” Cloony said softly. “They’ve managed to fortify their position despite the circumstances. They may be pinned in there in that pass offshoot, but at least we no longer have them surrounded. King Dorrian is doing well despite not having the Stars at his side.”

“You sound as though you’re praising him,” Fogarta frowned.

“I was merely stating fact.”

“Is that so,” King Ceallach mused, staring off at the ranks of soldiers before him. Then he glanced over at Cloony. “Speaking of Stars, how goes your work?”

Cloony felt a chill run down his spine, and he turned away from the king.

“I have found a link between Altis and Eldel. One of my spies managed to come back alive, and he delivered a copy of the Star spell to me, so we should not need to try and get the whole army past the mountain guardians. However, unlocking the spell is proving to be difficult, as it contains elements of an elvish I do not know.”

“You are worthless, aren’t you,” Fogarta sneered.

Ceallach shrugged, then turned his horse toward a steady incline off to one side of the canyon wall.

“In any event,” he said, “we have the spell now. We can crush these pests and worry about unlocking the spell as we begin settling the lands of Livania.”

Fogarta snorted in disgust, then shot one more menacing glare at Cloony before turning his horse and following after the king.

Cloony sighed as he urged his horse forward. Right. Now that he had obtained the spell, his job had become of a secondary importance. Ceallach didn’t really believe he needed the Star power. After all, it was he who had brought the Stars to their demise. At this point in time, his interest in the Star power was merely because it was power, not because he thought he needed it to succeed in battle. And even taking Livania was not really all that important to him. No, Ceallach’s true interest was in destroying the ones who had made him look weak. Weakness was something the king hated, and he wanted those who made him feel that way to understand just how much he hated it. It was pride, and it was hatred, and it was ambition, all mixed into one and magnified in his protege, Fogarta.

“Forward!”

The command echoed up from the pass below and Cloony watched the movement of the troops as he listened to the sound of marching feet. He didn’t bother trying to direct his horse. He knew it would instinctively follow Ceallach and Fogarta’s horses anyway.

Cloony glanced up when his horse turned a bend in the path and came to a stop. From here he could see the nook in which King Dorrian and his allied armies were camped. The opposing army had managed to pull together a makeshift wall of stones and dirt to put some distance between themselves and the Gaulian forces, but even Cloony knew that the wall wouldn’t last long against the massive number of soldiers at Ceallach’s disposal. The sound of a horn split the air and the gate to the Livanian army’s camp, probably nothing more than shields and spears laced together, swung open. Instantly mounted knights began pouring through the aperture, followed closely by mounted elves and footsoldiers of all races. A line of archers rushed to the top of the earthen wall in preparation to do what they could from where they were. Another horn sounded through the pass, then, in a moment, there was chaos as the two opposing armies clashed.

The Livanian knights leveled their spears as they led the way into the fray, their heavy warhorses toppling the lighter infantry troops in front of them. From where he sat, Cloony could see the whole of the chaos, the black uniforms of the Gaul forces ebbing and flowing against a bulwark of the red and silver uniforms of Ardenia and the forest greens and earthen browns of Alfedan. Here a space cleared as a Gaul spearman unhorsed a knight and drove his weapon into him, there another space cleared as an elvin horseman sent a group of Gaul infantrymen darting out of the way of pounding hooves. The warriors were all so mixed in now that it was difficult for Cloony to tell which side had the upper hand.

For a moment, the Livanian soldiers fell back toward their encampment, and it almost looked like they might be retreating all together when, all of a sudden, a knight on a dapple grey war horse burst forward, sword raised high as he shouted, “Don’t let the dogs cow us down! Forward, men! For freedom!”

The Ardenian knights whirled their horses around and followed after the rider on the dapple grey, pushing the wall of black back a ways before retreating again. Again the knight on the grey horse shouted an encouragement, and again the knights pushed forward, swarming around him as they shouted his words back to him. A rallier. That’s what he was. A knight rallier. It was an important position in the Ardenian cavalry, a position that began with Sir Lance, the Star, in the last battle of the Second Gaulian War over 20 years before. And this one…this rallier seemed to Cloony to be as encouraging as the legendary knight himself. Perhaps Livania really would win with this knight in the lead.

Quietly Cloony glanced to the side. King Ceallach and Fogarta were both staring down at the scene with narrowed eyes and obvious scowls. They weren’t liking what they were seeing. To them, it wasn’t any fun if they were on the losing side.

Cloony was about to turn back to the scene before him when he noticed Ceallach practically snarl.

“Cloony,” the king said sharply.

“Sir?”

“That knight. Kill him.”

The hooded man swallowed hard as he turned back to the battle beyond. Then, with a nod, he whirled his horse around, charging down the incline and into the pass below.

Swords flickered in the sunlight, singing past him left and right as Cloony charged into the fray. Most of the soldiers were too distracted by the enemy soldiers to notice a lone rider in a hooded robe, and the ones who did notice him dove out of the way of his charging mount as he plowed through the masses toward the knight on the dappled horse.

The thundering of hooves against stone echoed in Cloony’s ears as he leaned down, yanking a spear out of the side of a dead warhorse as he sped past, and with a powerful swing, he knocked the knight from his horse. The knight landed on the ground with a heavy thud, metal armor clanking together in protest, and he rolled several feet before coming to a stop.

Instantly Cloony spun his horse around and launched the spear at the knight as he struggled to get up, but the knight quickly rolled to the side and the spear impaled the ground instead. At that, Cloony swung from his saddle and drew his sword. The knight had already pulled his helmet off his head by this point, no doubt to give himself a wider range of vision, and he brandished his sword as he turned to meet his attacker.

He was a young man, Cloony noted, hardly old enough to be a knight, with blond hair and blue eyes that had a good humor about them despite the circumstances.

“Hey, now,” the knight grinned slightly as he wiped blood from his busted lip, “waylaying people from behind isn’t nice, you know.”

“I highly doubt battle is a place to play nice,” Cloony replied, circling around the knight as he looked for an opening.

“Have you Gauls never heard of a thing called ‘chivalry’?”

With a frown, Cloony darted forward, slicing his sword downward at the knight. Instantly the young man brought his sword up, the clash of steel ringing in their ears before both darted away again.

“Chivalry is a fantasy,” Cloony responded, slicing outward at the knight.

The young man swerved out of the way, attempting to bring his sword down on the older warrior’s neck, but Cloony was too fast and he blocked and spun before the blond could react. The young knight was lucky, though, as Cloony’s blade came in contact with his metal chestpiece and glanced off harmlessly.

“Ah, you’re one of those pessimist types, aren’t you?” the knight laughed as he blocked another one of Cloony’s attacks.

The older man’s frown deepened. Impressive. Not many could keep up with him. This young knight was actually very skilled, despite his age and light-hearted personality. It was shame he had to die.

“Pessimism,” Cloony responded, launching a series of quick strokes at the knight, “is merely seeing the world as it is.”

“Or seeing its ugly half,” the knight responded, blocking each of the attacks.

Sweat was pouring down his face and he was breathing heavily. It was obvious that he was worn out from all the fighting he had been doing over the course of the past few weeks.

“Which, by the way,” the young man added, “seems to comprise a good half of your army. Is there some sort of religious edict against trimming beards where you come from?”

Cloony thrust his sword forward, striking the chestplate of the knight’s armor and knocking the young man back onto the ground.

“Looks,” the older man said, driving his sword downward. “Are unimportant in battle.”

His blade pierced the ground as the knight rolled off to the side and brought his own sword up at Cloony’s unguarded side. Instantly Cloony brought his sword around, blocking the attack and bounding backward out of the knight’s reach.

“You’re pretty good for an old man,” the knight panted as he stumbled back onto his feet again.

“You are a fine warrior yourself,” Cloony said softly. “I wish I did not have to kill you.”

The knight blinked at him in surprise.

“Well, I would appreciate it if you didn’t,” the blond responded.

Cloony sighed mournfully, then went in for another attack. His sword struck against the knight’s sword and the young man stumbled backward with the force. He was a good warrior, this knight, but he was worn out. He didn’t have much left to fight with.

“I am afraid,” Cloony replied, striking out and slicing a gash in the knight’s left arm, “that disobeying King Ceallach is impossible.”

“Oh, come now,” the knight laughed slightly as he dodged another of Cloony’s attacks and countered. “What, does he have a control spell on you or something? Anyone can disobey if they want to.”

The young man fell back against a large boulder behind him. He was wheezing slightly, with one eye closed due either to the pain or the exhaustion. Possibly both. He braced himself again, sword held at the ready, but Cloony could tell that the knight was trembling.

“Unfortunately,” Cloony responded, leveling his sword for another forward attack, “one does not always have that choice.”

Instantly Cloony darted forward, his sword slicing through the young knight’s side, but the blond had dodged in time to avoid any particularly deadly wound. The older man turned toward his opponent, who was bent over slightly in pain. Blood ran down the knight’s side, staining his armor, but he did not falter as he faced Cloony again.

“I would much prefer not to have to wound you unnecessarily,” Cloony said, brandishing his sword. “If you submit, I will make this quick.”

“Oh, yes, lie down and die. That sounds peachy,” the knight laughed sarcastically. “Wouldn’t it be nice if it was always that simple.”

The young man bit his lip as he straightened himself again. He grimaced at the pain, but seemed to be doing an admirably good job of ignoring it as he stood up straight and held his sword out defensively again.

“I don’t care who you are,” the knight stated boldly, his expression becoming more serious as he stared firmly at Cloony. “Sir Lance believed in me, and I owe it to him to be the man he believed I could be. I will gladly suffer a thousand deaths before I surrender like a coward.”

Sir Lance…

Cloony swallowed hard at the name, and he hesitated. So this boy was one of that knight’s proteges. No wonder he was so relentless yet good-humored in battle. Yes, if this boy’s goal had been to emulate that famous knight, he was doing a marvelously good job at it.

“Indeed,” Cloony answered softly. “Sir Lance would be very proud of you.”

A look of surprise crossed the young knight’s face at this, and he looked like he wanted to ask something, but just then the sound of horns blasted through the pass, and both warriors glanced in the direction of the sound. Apparently, without their rallier, the Livanian warriors had retreated back into their make-shift fortress, and the Gaulian soldiers had backed off, too, uncertain how far Ceallach actually wanted them to go.

With the knight momentarily distracted, Cloony found his opening, and instantly he reached out, striking the young man on the back of the neck and knocking him unconscious. The knight crumpled at the strike, but Cloony reached out and caught him, lowering him to the ground so as to prevent any unnecessary injury.

Just then the sound of hoofbeats caught Cloony’s ear, and the man turned to see Ceallach and Fogarta draw their horses to a halt behind him.

“Is he dead?” Ceallach inquired, frowning down at the body of the knight lying on the ground.

Cloony clenched and unclenched his jaw at the question.

“Merely unconscious,” he replied bluntly.

“Are you an idiot?” Fogarta spat. “Do you not know the meaning of ‘kill’? Fine, I’ll do it myself.”

The prince swung from the back of his horse, but Cloony stepped in the way.

“Cloony?” Ceallach inquired. His tone was as much warning as it was hesitant.

“The boy is a knight rallier,” Cloony said, swallowing hard as he watched Fogarta’s grip tighten around the hilt of his sword. He wasn’t convinced that the prince would kill him without Ceallach’s permission, but Fogarta was the sort to act first and ask permission later.

“And?” Fogarta snarled. “Out with it.”

“The rallier is an important position within the knight ranks. He keeps the morale of his fellows high. To kill him would be a blow to their morale, yes, but to make a display of killing him in front of the entire camp would be twice as effective, don’t you think?”

Fogarta looked both confused and doubtful as he glanced over at Ceallach. The Gaul king pursed his lips in thought, then nodded slightly.

“I see…” he mused. “So what exactly is it that you suggest?”

“Wait until you are ready to make the final attack. Then, bring the rallier in front of their encampment, call their attention to him, and kill him in front of his fellows. The Livanian army is already discouraged and worn down, and they lost their heroes years ago. It will not take much more to destroy what little morale they have left. Until then, keep the boy alive.”

A menacing grin crossed Fogarta’s face.

“I like that idea,” the prince chuckled, sheathing his sword.

Ceallach glanced over at his heir, then shrugged and turned his horse back in the direction of the Gaulian army.

“Very well,” he sighed. “I was growing tired of all this anyway. We will launch our final attack in two days. Send them a messenger and tell them as much. Perhaps if they surrender then, I won’t kill them all.” The king paused, then laughed slightly. “Perhaps.”

Fogarta chuckled with him as he swung back up into his saddle, and Cloony watched as the pair rode off into the ranks. Then he looked down at the unconscious knight nearby. Two days. He had two days to decide what to do. The man cringed slightly at the thought. There was no way Dorrian’s army would be able to win at this rate, no way for them to come and rescue the knight he had captured. No, most likely, he would have to do what he must. The thought of it made him shiver.

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