Hugh went to the wall with a white flag in his right hand and a red flag in his left. He waved them about for a bit, and when he saw someone on the other side do the same, he walked out of the city and met with Jengo, who rode out to meet him.
“You look tired,” said Jengo.
Hugh shrugged. “Perhaps.”
“I should tell you,” Jengo said, “before you say anything, there can be no deal at this point.”
“Why is that?”
“Well… there could be a deal, but you wouldn’t like it.”
“If you surrender the city tomorrow, I will burn the docks, and the city is forbidden from rebuilding them for a hundred years. Every male over thirteen, solider or civilian, Politian or foreign, will be killed after they build several bridges over the river for us. The women and young children may live, and the females over thirteen will be assigned as wives to my men.”
Hugh blinked after a long silence. “And what about me?”
Jengo smiled. “You… to be honest, I had not come to a decision about you. Part of me wants you dead, another part wants you to join me, and a third just wants to let you leave… since I think that is ultimately what you want.”
“There are two I would want to take with me,” said Hugh.
Jengo cocked his head and looked up into the sky, then his eyes returned to Hugh. “Fine, but only two.”
Hugh looked down at his weapons, then gazed back at Polity for a moment.
“Just leave,” said Jengo. “You don’t need to make a deal. Go home. If our paths ever cross again, we can act like we don’t even know each other.”
“Why are you doing this?”
Jengo sighed. “You know why.”
“No,” said Hugh, “I honestly don’t.”
“Why are you helping these people? Why do young stallions buck? Why does the grass grow? Why does the sun rise each morning and set every night? We do what we must.” Jengo sighed. “And you… you aren’t going to leave, are you?”
Hugh shook his head. “You aren’t going to turn around and go home, are you?”
Jengo smirked. “Tell me, what was the purpose of this little conversation? Is there anything more to say?”
“Did these people wronged you?”
“Not until they stood in my way,” said Jengo.
“If you were them, would you have acted any differently?”
Jengo chuckled. “If I ruled Polity, I would have decisively defeated these invading horse nomads last year.”
“You really think we have a chance of defeating you?”
“I didn’t say that,” he replied. “I’m saying that I would have been victorious, regardless of which side I was on.”
“And why is that?”
Jengo dismounted and removed something from his horse. He swung his arms as something flew towards Hugh, causing him to jump back, startled. Jengo snapped the small rug in the air with a soft pop, then laid it out on the ground to sit upon. Hugh removed his cloak and sat on it.
“My victory is always assured,” said Jengo. “I have learned all there is to know about being a general. For one thing, if there was any chance that I might lose, I would never have engaged this city in the first place. Polity has a below average military, with the exception of their navy. They rely upon pimping out their ships for ground troops, but what they don’t seem to realize is that no army fights as hard for an ally as for their home. Any army that relies on what are essentially mercenaries will ultimately fail.”
“Is that what I am? A mercenary?”
“From what I hear, you’re not a mercenary. You’re… a hero.”
Hugh smiled. “Is that what you think?”
“I don’t believe in heroes. I believe in greatness. I already know you possess greatness. What matters to me is: who do you take your orders from?”
“Well, I report to Marsellus, but sometimes I report to Herbert.”
Jengo shook his head. “No, I mean… you know that we do what we must do. So, what is it you must do? Do you know what the Fates have in store for you?”
“How could I?”
Jengo picked a blade of grass from the ground and tore little bits of it off as he spoke. “How could you… well… that’s unfortunate. I’ve met great men before, and every single one of them knew their destiny. Then again, you’re no man, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“And what is your destiny?”
Jengo shook his head. “That is for me alone to know.”
“And yet you would have me share with you mine, that is, if I knew what it was.”
Jengo sat silently.
“Why not tell me?” asked Hugh. “It would seem that one’s fate is hardly something worth keeping a secret. I mean, if it is truly fate, it will happen whether you tell me or not.”
“There are details which are only for myself,” said Jengo, “But I can tell you this: I will never see my home again. I am destined to conquer until I die, and I intend to bring the whole world to its knees before me.”
“I already told you,” said Jengo. “We do what we must. It is a shame that you stand in my way, but my victory will be all the more glorious for having overcome one such as you.”
“So you imagine we’ll live on forever in songs and sagas?”
Jengo scoffed. “Perhaps, but I want more than bedtime stories and nursery rhymes. I want to leave a legacy, not just a legend.”
They both sat quietly for a bit, Hugh watching a butterfly and Jengo scanning the blue sky. Finally, Hugh said, “You know… my mom did tell me something about my destiny when I was a child. She said that one day, I would kill my father, and that the act of doing so would result in my own death. When my father heard of this, he left and never returned. I always wondered whether he did it to protect himself or me.”
“It’s simple, isn’t it?” asked Jengo. “He did it to save both of you.” He sighed, stood, and rolled up his rug. “So… I guess I won’t be seeing your head on a pike.”
“I suppose not,” said Hugh, who stood as well.
Jengo mounted his horse. “You can tell your commanders that should they ever simply open their gates to us and provide no resistance, my offer stands.”
“I can’t imagine they will find it appealing.”
Jengo smiled and shook his head. “Oh, they will, eventually. Before long, they will open their city to me and welcome death. And I will give it to them, but not this year… this year is for suffering. Next year is for surrender.” He rode off back to the Otros encampment.
Hugh informed Herbert of all that Jengo said as a new catapult began hurling stones into the town.
After a little over a week, the Politians planned another assault on the catapults. They lined up, again. They charged forward, again. They took out the catapults, again. They suffered heavy losses, again. However, something strange happened: the Nudari never showed up. The catapults were dismantled by the Politian armies, but the fire support never appeared. After an interminable wait under a heavy arrow barrage, a horseman from the Politian side raced from catapult to catapult, screaming for the troops to return to the city.
When the troops made their way back, they found thousands of Otros archers in the city, some engaged in combat with the Nudari. The fighting was brutal, and the corpses of mostly women and children littered the streets. Buildings everywhere were on fire. It took the rest of the day to drive the Otros out of the city.
Where they had come from was not known, but they rode north, well ahead of the Politian forces, then into the mountains near the source of the Lys River.
The carnage was horrible. The city had little in the way of defense left. So many losses had been suffered in previous battles that nearly every able bodied man (and even the more sturdy women) had been on the battlefield. As it turned out, the Otros had used fewer and fewer troops to defend against each successive assault, until they were able to send what may have been as many as 100,000 horses into the city.
It must have taken weeks for the ambushing horsemen to reach the city, and the conditions of their travel would have been so difficult that there were doubtlessly more killed on the journey than during the attack.
To make matters worse, just over three dozen catapults seemed to materialize from the ground. The Otros pulled long strips of sod from catapults which were buried about a hundred meters beyond the old line, the very line Hugh and the other troops had just come running into the city from earlier that day.
The catapults were rolled forward a ways, then began launching large boulders and sections of logs which were lit aflame. The focus seemed to be on the wall itself, and before long, several large sections were reduced to rubble.
The debris was still high enough that it did not permit the passage of horses, but the Politian forces still regrouped at the wall. Units were mixed, and there was a general air of chaos and disorder. Many conscripted troops simply abandoned the fight, focusing on the fires that were quickly spreading all throughout the town.
Hugh had found the twins and stayed with them for most of the day. Together, they ended up near the Austerian force when they reached the wall, which may have been the only unit to remain disciplined and intact through it all. The lights near the Otros catapults went out, and the battlefield was largely bathed in the darkness of night.
Northerner troops on the wall shot arrows with burning tips out into the black, and while they didn’t hit anything, they left burning patches on the ground. A large wave of Otros troops were seen riding up to the wall by the light of these fires.
When they reached the wall, the troops dismounted and scaled the rubble. Archers on the still-standing sections fired from the wall, but they were themselves soon being hit by Otros archers who were outside and still mounted.
The melee was brutal. The Otros used large circular shields and spears about the length of a man. The gap defended by Hugh and the twins held, as did a few others nearby (the Austerian gap among them), but many were able to infiltrate the defenses and breech the wall. These forces proceeded to attack the flank and rear of the defenders. Before long, there were no more additional ground troops coming in, but the archers outside continued to fire upon the defensive positions that held.
The Otros who attacked the undefended city and retreated then returned, as if perfectly on cue, and they brought extra horses. At the sound of a loud horn, the Otros who had penetrated the city limits ran deeper into the city until they met their fellow invaders, mounting the extra horses.
Throughout the night, the Otros rode through the city, seemingly as familiar with the twisting and turning streets as the native Politians. Shortly before dawn, the troops spontaneously made a concerted retreat. They returned again to the mountains. As the sun rose, the catapults continued their assault on the city and its wall.
There was no time for briefings. There was no time for regrouping. Most of the Politian troops and their allies wandered about the city aimlessly, helping where they could, exhausted and distraught. Many simply collapsed at some point and slept in the streets alongside corpses and smoldering rubble.
Hugh and the twins worked long into the late morning digging people and bodies out of burned out and collapsed buildings. At one point, a home that the dwarf had gone into was hit by a large rock, but he emerged unscathed with a young boy holding his hand.
There were innumerable small acts of extreme courage during the entire ordeal, and it would take several days before the Politian forces were organized enough for another attack on the catapults.
To be continued…