Good morning everyone and thanks for stopping by to read Chapter Twenty-Five of The Cursed King. I am in a very relaxed mood this morning. I am in Day 2 of my four-day weekend and I’ve been enjoying watching the snow fall outside and catching up on some housework. I built an exercise bike yesterday and I think that might be my first piece of solo DIY that was actually somewhat successful. Though I don’t know how much of an achievement that is considering I’ll be 30 in a few months. Regardless, it’s been nice to clear my mind fog by knocking some things off my to do list. On the writing front, it’s felt like a slow couple of weeks. I wanted to finish Chapter Thirty-Six before I posted this, but I am still a thousand words short. My aim is to finish it by the end of the weekend though, and I have two clear days in which to spend some time on finishing the thing, so fingers crossed it all goes to plan.
You, dear reader, though, should not concern yourself with that. You still have another ten chapters to catch up on before you get to that point and so you can relax and enjoy the journey. In today’s chapter, Riechard arrives in Ismann, his rag-tag band of merry men following him closely as we meet the men that the southerners regard as savages, and yet hold the fate of their military campaign in their rough hands. It is Riechard’s duty to ensure that he secures Warlord Dudsoner’s army, and must do so however he can manage it. I hope you enjoy this chapter, and Chapter Twenty-Six will be posted on 27th February. Thanks for reading!
Whilst Duncath was still a few weeks away from winter, it had already arrived when Riechard and his army reached Mount Lakgard. The air that surrounded the home of Warlord Dusoner was sharp and bitter, and the strong winds flew like arrowheads as dry skin cracked and fingers and toes turned purple. Riechard wore a moleskin cloak, but knew that he must find something more insulating soon should he want to keep his appendages. He knew that they could not stay long in this place. Even though his army was small, it was still an army, and an army needed to be fed, watered and clothed, even more so in the winter. He would have to keep them inspired and motivated to continue, for the Ismann weather would sap away at their courage before they even reached The Hartlands.
Mount Lakgard was not really a mountain. It was a jut of rock about five-hundred feet high that sat in the foreground of the Steurholm mountains that cut into Ismann, The Hartlands and The Blacklands that created a natural border between the Twin Kingdoms and the savages beyond them. Ismann did not have defined borders like they did in the south. Their territory was cut into chunks controlled by Warlords, and they were never constant. Warlords fought to enhance their share of the land, which although was arable and workable in Spring and Summer, became barren and desolate in Autumn and Winter. This was when the Ismann tribes fought. They fought to gain land in Winter so that when Spring returned, they would have more land to prepare for the following one. It seemed a vicious cycle to Riechard, but that was the way here.
It wasn’t until they came upon the turquoise glacial lake that Sir William crossed over the horizon to greet his Lord. The knight was insistent on scouting ahead despite what Dudsoner had done to him the last time he had been here. Riechard was thankful for that, not least that he had a man of such courage in his personal retinue, but that he also knew where he was going. It seemed to Riechard that the entire nation was an indistinguishable white mass. On the other side of Mount Lakgard, within the mountains, was where he would find Dudsoner and the eight-thousand warriors who followed him.
“Dudsoner knows that we have arrived,” Sir William said,
“I did not expect a welcome party, but he could have sent a guide,” Riechard lamented.
“It is a power move, my lord. This is not a man who will meet you halfway. His passage is given in exchange for your blood, but if you want his army, he will require far more than a husband for his daughter,” Salman advised.
Riechard coughed into his hands, the cold weather had reached his throat and made it croaky and hoarse. “We are at war. I will not waste money on an army I can get for free.”
“You are confident,” Salman said doubtfully.
“It is not confidence, Salman. It is necessity.”
Riechard marched his army past the great lake and through the valley. The cold worsening as the noon sun slowly descended behind thick white clouds as freezing winds bit at his ears. When they finally arrived, Riechard was shocked at the civility. It was a city. It did not have walls or great castles or great monuments, but it was a city nonetheless. There were well-made wooden homes, markets, and taverns with great caves filled with torches and large engravings wonderfully crafted into the surrounding stone. Riechard had expected crude tents and men feasting on their own children, fighting to the death and raping their women. This was all he had ever heard of the Ismann people. This was all that those in the Twin Kingdoms would say.
As they descended the hill into Dudsoner’s city, a young boy with a shaved head and a scar beneath his eye ran up to Riechard’s horse, stopping him in his tracks. The boy put his arm out and stroked the horse’s nose without hesitation. Riechard’s warhorse, Burrower, patiently accepted the boy’s affection. Once the boy was entertained, he ran off up the hill and past the army without even making eye contact with Riechard. He had never seen such ignorance in all his life. He remembered when he was a boy. Any adult that he met he thought of as a Lord, as a superior, and treated them with respect when he met them, staying silent and awaiting a question or a command. Yet this lad sprints up to my horse and does not even acknowledge the army descending on his city? Salman shared a glance with him, but the Lord of Westshore was not even trying to hide his smile, and the other men seemed taken with the boy who was now running up to each horse and patting it on the nose. Riechard gestured for them to move forward.
When they reached the bottom of the hill, there finally seemed to be a welcome party waiting for them. It consisted of two women, a young girl and an older woman, both of whom Riechard was struck by. The young girl was of his own age, petite with braided hair and deep brown eyes. She was clearly slender despite being covered from head to toe in furs. The older woman was about the same age as Riechard’s mother, with blonde hair, almond eyes and a steely look. Both of their faces were red from the icy air.
“Welcome,” said the young girl, handing him a frosted glass bowl so cold that it almost stuck to his hands. It was filled with a strong-smelling liquid that reminded him of what his mother gave him when he was sick as a child. “Please, drink this, it will warm you from the inside.”
Riechard did not want to drink it. He doubted it was poison, but all he wanted was a warm meal and a place to sleep. He did not need to be drunk on clear spirits. He drank it anyway, far more concerned about what his men would think of him than whether or not they had poisoned him, though it tasted so stark that even an Alchemist might label it poisonous. Riechard passed the bowl to Salman who gave it straight to Sir William and on it went until the bowl was out of his eyeline.
“Thank you, my lady,” Riechard said respectfully, though in truth he had no idea who these women were.
“Prince Riechard,” the older woman said. “My name is Friya, and this is my daughter, Aesthala. We are to take you to my husband.”
“You are Dudsoner’s daughter?” Riechard choked. The girl before him was incredibly beautiful, and he could not have imagined a fairer match. Suddenly, his fears of a brutal warrior wife had evaporated and the alcohol in his stomach began to warm him. The girl smiled and turned away before walking up the main street. Riechard turned to Salman, who returned his smile with a smirk that said ‘you were lucky.’
Friya and Aesthala led the way up the street. Despite the army’s size, the town folk seemed wholly uninterested in them, and seemed to be more irritated by them for getting in their way than they were intimidated. Many of the men had shaved heads, which Riechard found strange, as surely, they would want to keep their heads warm in such cold weather, but the rest of their bodies were covered in layers of fabric. Most of this was fur. Fur from the white bears that roamed these icy lands. These fierce creatures roamed the far North, all the way up to Skaer – the peninsula that was home to the Skaermen. Skaermen were a violent race of cannibals who were exceptionally large and strong, but utterly imbecilic. They did not trade and they did not war. There was not a sane man alive who attempted to make contact with these beasts. These were people better left to their own lands.
The Ismann were savages too. They did not have infrastructure or civilised rule, they did not make treaties or build castles. They built crude huts of wood and fur, fought constantly for arable land and did not have the foresight to plan for the future. What they did do, however, was produce warriors. Fierce, unfeeling and highly-skilled fighters. Every Ismann warrior was worth ten of a normal man, and five of a knight. To have eight-thousand of them at his back would allow him to trounce The Hartlands beneath the hooves of his horse. Now that he had seen Aesthala, there was not a single lingering doubt in his mind that he had made the right decision. Dudsoner could carve his name a thousand times into his skin, as long as he could bring glory to his Kingdom, he did not care.
Before long, they arrived at a large camp within a cave that was clearly intended for his army. There were some furnishings set up, and almost all of the rocky floor was covered in some kind of rug or fur, but it was clearly temporary, which meant that Dudsoner did not intend for them to stay very long. Perhaps he means to keep us only for a night or two and then send us on our way. The capital of Dudsoner’s land had no name that Riechard was familiar with, but the territory bordered Snowden and Dawnmount, the northernmost Earldoms of The Hartlands. The entire region was so desolate that few really knew where Ismann ended and The Hartlands began. Such was the area’s obscurity, it was oft forgotten about by the Lords further south, and not even the late King Eldrian would expect an invasion from Ismann. Whilst the savages were fantastic warriors and brave, they had no means of siege, and so besides the occasional raid for food and slaves, they very rarely bothered the southern Kingdoms. Riechard revelled in his plan. He knew it would be great if he could execute it as he wanted. But he wanted assurances. He wanted domination and glory. To take that, he would need Dudsoner’s army.
“My husband will host you and your five most senior officers in his own home, the rest of your men must make do here,” Friya told him.
“We have close to five-hundred men, my lady. This could not possibly house more than a hundred comfortably,” Salman protested.
“My lord, with respect, in order to accommodate you this space, we have had to spread our entire army across this valley. If it is not suitable, perhaps you would like to discuss more comfortable lodgings with my husband.”
“That will not be necessary,” Sir William interrupted. “I will ensure the men have what they need, Lord Salman.”
“Be that as it may, my lady Friya. I believe it would not be right to stay in the comfort of your husband’s home whilst my men stay out here in the cold. We would stay together, if it please your husband,” Riechard said.
“That is your wish. You can inform my husband of your decision. Follow me, and you can meet him.”
Riechard went with Friya and Aesthala without his men. He did not want to seem intimidated by the Warlord, even though his stomach was in knots. To ease his tension, he dismounted his horse and walked beside his betrothed, eager to find out how such a young woman had become such a renowned fighter. He had heard that both women and men were warriors in Ismann, and whilst he could not imagine such a girl holding a sword, he was curious about how good she was. Perhaps she could even challenge me in the courtyard, Riechard thought.
“When did you begin to learn how to fight with a sword?” Riechard asked her.
Aesthala smirked. “I am a warrior of Ismann. I have held a blade as long as I have held a spoon.”
Riechard was more shocked that they used spoons. “Perhaps we could spar then,” he suggested.
“If that is what you wish, Lord Riechard.”
“I suppose that we will have plenty of time for that when we are back in Duncath.”
Friya turned around and glared at Riechard. “You are misunderstood, Lord. You will not be taking both of my daughters back to your castle.”
“Both of your daughters? I don’t understand.”
“My Lord, Aesthala is already betrothed to General Karlon, my husband’s most trusted Warrior. You will marry our eldest daughter, Hilde. Come now, you will meet Hilde when she returns to Ismann. My husband is eager to meet you.”
Dudsoner’s home was no castle, but it was the grandest building he had seen. It seemed to be the only home that was made of stone in all of his territory. The walls were no higher than ten feet, but stretched almost a hundred yards towards the edge of a cliff, where Dudsoner’s throne room overlooked the snowy mountains. The stone hallway had large rooms on either side, some of which were offices, others were chambers for Dudsoner’s family and high-ranking officers. In one of these rooms is my betrothed, Riechard thought as Friya walked him through the hall. In the hallways within Duncath, there were paintings of old Kings, monuments to battles won, and depictions from the Book of Life and Death. All that this hallway contained, however, were spears, swords and suits of armour. Each one old, rusted and stained in blood.
When they reached the end, Riechard was surprised that there were no guards at Dudsoner’s chamber. Instead, Friya opened the door for him and immediately walked off the other way. Riechard looked towards Friya briefly, but turned back towards the throne room and stepped in.
“Hello?” Riechard called. The room was empty of people, but filled with a large oak table engraved with what looked like the cartography of Ismann that adorned his own maps. It was a beautiful piece of craftmanship, with the mountains protruding from the wood with valleys and rivers carved into the rivets. He could not help but run his hand across it, the smooth mahogany gleaming in the light from the long windows. Atop Dudsoner’s throne was an iron crown tipped with sharp spikes and his name engraved on the band. The throne itself was carved from the mountain stone – a deep grey flecked with black and white and beige. The palmette was carved into spikes that resembled a mountainous horizon. As Riechard inspected the throne, he heard a grunt from the opposite side of the room.
It was Dudsoner. Standing by a doorway that led to the cliff edge outside his home. The Warlord was nothing like he had expected. He did not appear Kingly or Royal. If he had walked past this man in Duncath, he would have believed him a beggar. Dudsoner’s hair was long and straggly, his beard thick and unkempt, his eyes sunken and his skin wrinkled. He was of height with Riechard, a few inches below six-feet, and he seemed too skinny to be a fighter, all skin and sinew, with very little in the way of bulk muscle. Dangling off the Warlord’s torso and legs were loose fabrics, baggy hosen and a tunic stained with wine. In his fist, he held a goblet, which he raised sharply to his mouth and swallowed the rest of the contents before walking over to Riechard.
“You are Riechard,” Dudsoner said.
“Lord Riechard,” he corrected the Warlord, eager to ensure that Dudsoner did not think he could disrespect him.
“No. You are Riechard. I am Dudsoner. There is no one else here, boy. We are stark with one another in these lands.” Dudsoner surveyed him. “You are younger than I imagined. Your Knight spoke of you as though you were a man grown.”
“Do not let my youth fool you,” Riechard responded, unmoving.
“Hm. I am not easily fooled. You can tell much about a man by the lines upon his face.” Dudsoner staggered over towards Riechard until he was nose to nose with him. Dudsoner ran his hand across the Prince’s forehead. Unable to move, Riechard did not move his eyes from the Warlord’s. “Even in this cold, your blood runs warm, your cheeks fill with colour, and your skin is soft. No…I am not fooled. I’ve met the best of your southern men, and they too are soft and pampered, but you, you are the softest I have seen.”
Riechard stepped back and whacked Dudsoner’s hand away from his face, and twisted it up behind his back before pushing the Warlord into his throne. “Do not think to lay a hand upon me again,” Riechard growled. Dudsoner turned around and smirked. It was then that Riechard realised that the Warlord was drunk. His eyes were glazed and he smacked his crown from his thrown before taking his seat.
“You are spirited. Yes. Spirited…but soft none the less. Like your man. He too was soft. My blade went through his skin like it was butter, and it wept, oh how it wept when I dragged it across his arm. But he did not show his pain. This is the thing with you southerners. You hide your pain; you push it all down into your souls and think that makes you strong. It doesn’t. It makes you weak. It damages you more than you can imagine. It makes you ripe for his hands.”
“You will know. Now then, perhaps we should introduce you to my daughter. I trust you have met the comely one already.”
“You sent her to meet me on purpose,” Riechard realised.
“Of course, I did. I need to know what kind of man you are, Riechard. I am glad you are not grown. It means I am able to witness what sort of man you become. Which way will you grow? That is what I want to know. You may think that it will be your blood that runs strong through my grandchildren, but you will be wrong. It will be mine. From today, you are not the son of Aedvard, you are the son of Dudsoner. If you are to join your blood to mine then it is my duty to guide you so that you grow strong. I will not have my grandchildren tainted by the weakness of a southern man. I know you are already tempted by Aesthala; the question is, can you control your urges? Can you resist her in favour of my other daughter?”
“When do I meet your other daughter?” Riechard asked, eager to ignore the drunken questions of his soon-to-be father-in-law.
“Soon. You will meet Hilde soon. First, you will meet Karlon and the rest of the scourge. You will not like it here, Riechard. I can tell you already. You will stay to be pleasant, and because you need to win me over, but you will not enjoy a second. We do not talk war over wine or pat each other on the back after a good, clean joust here. We speak bluntly. We speak drunkenly and merrily. We will fight with each other and stuff our faces with pork and mead until we vomit, and you will stand there and pretend that it does not bother you. You will do it, because that is what all you southern men do.”
Riechard brought Salman, Sir William and Sir Gavon with him to the feast. It was not held in the long building, but in the middle of their mountain city in a squat wattle and daub wooden hut that was covered by layers of leaves from the surrounding evergreens. As Dudsoner predicted, Riechard was uncomfortable as the warriors around them stuffed their faces with food and drank goblet after goblet of honey spirits. Sir William and Sir Gavon, on the other hand, were already arm-wrestling Dudsoner’s men, whilst Salman spoke enthusiastically to Friya. Riechard was being tortured by Aesthala who spoke to him without ever taking her eyes off of his whilst Karlon looked over at them with a glint in his eye the same sparkling silver as the tip of his blade, which he played with as he whispered words to Dudsoner.
Karlon was how he expected Dudsoner to look. He was far older and taller than Riechard, broad-shouldered and barrel-chested with a clean-shaven head and a thick, ugly scar that stretched from the corner of his eye to his throat. In those eyes Riechard saw nothing. It was as though his pupils were just black sky without any stars to lighten them, like a great ocean without land, just empty. He had seen eyes like that before. They were the same eyes that belonged to Lord Black. It seemed like so long ago now that Lord Black had vanished from his lands, but now it seemed insignificant. All of his attentions now were East and not West, whilst all of Karlon’s attentions were directly on Aesthala and her passionate conversation. It was as if she was a child who had found a new toy to play with.
“Tell me all about Duncath and the Twin Kingdoms. I want to know about the castles and the hills and the great walled cities, your ports and your libraries. It must be so interesting there, all of those things to see and to learn,” Aesthala gushed as Riechard tried to remain polite whilst carefully watching Karlon out of the corner of his eye.
“It is you and your people who fascinate me in truth, Aesthala. Ismann is renowned for having the greatest warriors on the continent, perhaps even on Earth. I should like to train with some of your father’s finest whilst I am here.” Riechard felt that as long as he could keep the conversation away from passions and closer to the violence of war, he would be safe from flirting with the betrothed of the most terrifying man he had ever seen.
Despite his attempt at bland conversation, Karlon soon stood up from his seat and strode towards Riechard with a purposeful glare in his eyes. As the giant of a man stood over him, he could finally see something in his eyes – rage. Sir William and Sir Gavon bravely stepped between them with the hands rapidly finding the hilts of their swords. Riechard watched as Dudsoner smirked at him with his drunken eyes, eagerly awaiting the violent welcome to the land of warriors that Karlon was going to give to him.
“Stand down,” Riechard said to his men. Sir Gavon looked at him, bemused whilst Sir William was shaking with fury beside him, clearly keen to avenge his own scarring at the hands of the savages. “I said stand down…both of you.” His guards reluctantly stepped back beside Salman as Riechard looked up at Karlon, the tip of the Prince’s head did not even reach the General’s chin.
“You want her?” Karlon growled. “You fight for her.”
Aesthala had already slinked away back towards her mother who was holding her in her arms. “I am unarmed,” Riechard told him.
Karlon scoffed and flexed his biceps. “We both have two arms. Fair fight.”
“We are supposed to be allies,” Riechard called over to Dudsoner, desperate to put an end to the madness of the man before him, and even more-so to avoid having his face ploughed into an unrecognisable mush.
Dudsoner stood from his seat. “We ally with warriors. I am not convinced that you are a warrior, Lord. Perhaps you should prove it.”
Riechard looked around him. Apart from the fearful stares of his men, Riechard saw no allies. He saw no respect. No trust. All he saw were savages. Savages he could use to invade a Kingdom, tools that were at his disposal should he just learn how to control them. Then he looked up at Karlon, smirking down at him with his long, toothless grin. Riechard had never fought without a sword. He never had to. But he had learned to fight dirty. Whatever happened in his mind in that moment he would never remember, but something told him to fight. As long as I fight, he thought, then I will be okay.
Outside of the hall, the air was bitter and as icy cold as Riechard had ever felt it. He did not realise that although his men were not invited inside for the feast, there was an enormous crowd of Ismann folk and his own army drinking and mingling together, as if he was the only one who had not bonded with his own kind in this land. Soon enough, the word spread and a circle had formed around Riechard and Karlon. The giant General ripped several daggers that were holstered to his ankles and waist to the sides, before passionately kissing his betrothed to a cheer from Dudsoner and the other warriors.
Riechard studied Aesthala. If he was truthful, he did not even know if he wanted her. He knew she was beautiful, but that was all he knew. He did not know her mind or her heart. Riechard was not even sure that he would take her for a wife if he won. For all of Dudsoner’s games, it may even be that his other daughter was far more beautiful, and that was why the Warlord kept her away. Soon though, Karlon faced him, and he had no more time to ponder the games of the Warlord whose army he was desperate to arm himself with. Riechard pulled his sword out of its scabbard and threw it into the wintery earth. Behind him, Salman stood stoically whilst the other men cheered on cautious support for the Prince.
He had never fought with his fists before. He had never needed to. Lord Adriel had taught him to fight dirty with a sword, not with his hands. Karlon was far nimbler on his feet than Riechard had expected and was soon taking pigeon steps towards him with a big smile across his face as though he was an angry child pulling the wings off a fly. Riechard darted around him. Without his sword, he felt light, but he could only evade Karlon for so long before the men became hostile and he would need to fight. Riechard allowed Karlon to move nearer, and immediately dodged the first punch he threw. Then ducked at his second attempt before he rolled away and ended up behind him. Riechard drove his fist into Karlon’s spine with as much force as he could muster, but this did little more than antagonise the beast as he swung around and drove his fist towards Riechard’s jaw. Riechard dodged it again, but it was almost immediately followed by a kick which caught him in his ribs. Whilst Riechard was hunched over, he had no time to react when Karlon’s boot struck him in the face.
He was face down in the dirt and expected a pummelling, but to his surprise, Karlon was waiting patiently for Riechard to get up. The Prince wiped the blood from his mouth and spat out some mucus. There was no way he could take the fight to Karlon, he was too large, too strong. He needed to wait. Riechard waited for his next attack, and this time realised he would need to create a larger distance between himself and Karlon. Then the General became impatient and his reaching strides bounded over towards Riechard who waited for the final moment to drop to the floor and stretch his body out long so that Karlon stumbled over his legs and fell to the floor with an almighty thud.
Riechard sprung to his feet and rushed over to jump on Karlon to finish the job. But before he did, he remembered how Karlon waited for him to get back up. There would be no honour in victory if he did not pay his opponent the same mercy. And so Riechard retook a position far away from Karlon and waited. He did not know what to do this time. If he could not take Karlon off his feet, there was no way he could win. There was no disguising Karlon’s fury when he rose to his feet. He did not hide his embarrassment that he had been taken down by a boy, and not just any boy, a southern one. Karlon seemed now to be an unstoppable force like a hurricane heading towards him and ready to encapsulate him within his violence.
There was nothing for him to do, nowhere to run. Karlon would know that he planned to bring him down again, and so he slowed down before Riechard could use his momentum against him. It was slow, methodical, and eventually, the General’s thick hands were around Riechard’s throat and he was being lifted into the air. Riechard gripped his wrist with one hand and threw a fist downwards onto his head. There was a splatter of blood, and he thought that he had weakened the giant. Then he felt a surging pain through his knuckles and realised that it was his skin that had cracked on the General’s skull. At almost eight feet in the air, Karlon dropped him, and whilst he was falling, punched him square in the nose.
It was not the broken nose or the bloody knuckles that the Prince felt first, but the landing. He’d landed awkwardly on his shoulder and as he sat up, it dangled lifelessly at his side. Riechard got to his knees, holding his arm to his side. Some of the men began to gather around Karlon. It seemed as though they all decided it was over. Riechard looked over at his men. He saw their concerned faces, but their concern was not for him. It was for the war. It seemed as though it had only just dawned on them that they were five-hundred men. Not the best, but the rest. The runts of the litter. The men who did not go with Prince Charles or Lord Steel. Riechard saw their faces and felt sick. I must give them something to believe in, he thought.
“This is not finished,” Riechard called over as he got to his feet.
Karlon stopped in his tracks and did not even turn fully to face Riechard. “You are finished.”
“I am still standing, General. Where I come from a man is not defeated if he is still standing.”
Karlon smirked and faced Riechard fully. “Is this what you want?”
Riechard staggered over towards Karlon and stepped up and faced him, his eyes pointing up to his chin. Karlon pulled his fist back and swung, Riechard ducked and turned his shoulder into the beast’s stomach, knocking him slightly off balance. He followed with a headbutt to his chest, but this only angered him. Karlon bellowed a carnivorous roar like a white bear that echoed around the mountains. He gripped Riechard by his hair and smashed his knuckles into the Prince’s mouth. Riechard felt his teeth splinter and his mouth filled with blood. Tears filled his eyes and there was nowhere left in his body that did not hurt. Karlon punched him again, and this time let his body fall face first into the ground.
“Enough!” A voice called from the crowd.
“You are finished!” Karlon panted.
There was a moment of silence in the valley. The bitter air was now flicked with specks of icy rain that blistered against Riechard’s bloody face. He poked his tongue through the new gaps in his mouth and spat. Then he got to his feet again. His vision was blurred by his tears and his entire body was weak, but he stood, and waited for another blow. After a few moments, he wiped the wetness from his eyes, but did not see Karlon. Instead, he saw a wall of his men in front of him. Salman, Sir William, Sir Gavon and dozens more surrounded him as he struggled to stand.
“It is over,” Salman said to Karlon as he stood toe to toe with the giant.
“Are all of you going to fight me?” Karlon said. “The boy stands defiant. If he will not be defeated, he will be destroyed.”
“Then it is all of us you will need to destroy. We stand with him.”
Karlon surveyed the crowd of men that now surrounded Riechard, they stood tall with their heads high, facing straight forward, their hair blowing in the wind. The General turned around and walked away. Aesthala followed him, but Dudsoner stayed. Riechard stepped forward until he was beside Salman and gazed across the damp earth towards the Warlord. They both stood there in silence. Staring. Each one understanding something within the other. Something that bound their souls together. Riechard already knew that Dudsoner was stubborn and relentless, but now, Dudsoner knew the same of the bloodied Prince.