Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Le Château Perdu: The Lost Castle

I was on that battlement. I was there when it all happened.

The castle was under siege. The farmers from the surrounding area had been brought inside before the advancing army arrived. Every nook and cranny of the castle was filled with raw humanity -- people at their most desperate. The castle is a busy place, but not particularly crowded most times. But during sieges, they held ten times the usual number. Over five thousand souls huddled in the castle.

Two good years of crops and a mild winter left the granaries full. The wells inside the walls had withstood the 96-day siege of 1124, and this siege shouldn’t take that long to lift. The King’s armies were only a few weeks away, or so the messages from him delivered by carrier pigeons said.

The besieging army encircled the castle and began building siege towers and trebuchets. It would take a week or more before they were done. Things settled into a semblance of routine inside the castle. Provisions were distributed amongst groups to cook for themselves. The guards kept close watch on the enemy, the people adjusted to the crowded conditions.

I was manning the walls, scanning the plain beyond the wall. The enemy camp was also rising. Smoke from the cook fires rose in the first rays of sun.

I was a man-at-arms. My father was a yeoman cattle breeder, but my uncle was a petite-sergeant in the militia. He prenticed me to a man-at-arms in the castle when I told him my wish to fight for the baroness at the wide-eyed age of nine. I acted as his man-servant, helping him put on armor and polishing his weapons. I was well fed and not beaten too much, and once I mastered caring for steel and leather, he taught me how to stand and lunge, and then to block and strike with a shield, then swing an axe and a staff and a sword. He taught me to wear armor. Everyone thinks you put on armor and that’s it. But getting used to the weight, knowing how to tighten the straps to make the load more stable, and just plain living in many pounds of bulky, heavy metal and leather is something you can only learn by doing it.

Just after dawn one morning about a week into the siege, I was sent as a runner from the guards on the walls to the Baroness Catara. This caused a stir, and the Baroness and her staff went to the walls to observe.

The enemy troops had been pulled back a hundred yards overnight, revealing a white line, somehow drawn in the turf beyond the last dry moat, completely enclosing the castle. Perhaps they used chalk or whitewash, but whatever they used, the advisers, especially High Priestess Omalia, became agitated, arguing among themselves. The magician Rejellus was silent with his eyes closed.

While they shouted at each other, one of the guards managed to interrupt and draw the baroness’ attention to the enemy again. Several grey-robed figures, all carrying what looked like staves, were walking around the white circle. One stopped every few hundred yards and waited for the rest to gain position. She got the attention of her counselors with a hiss.

The Chancellor wondered if the catapults would reach that far, but the castellan Brooker shook his head, knowing the range was too far. Rejellus said that without hours of preparation, his methods could not reach that far either.

The advisors continued arguing as the enshrouded figures continued to place themselves around the castle at the edge of the white circle. They all fell silent as three black-robed figures walked out of the camp and stood in a circle near one of the grey-cloaked ones. A dozen soldiers with tower shields encircled them. Rejellus squinted at them, and then he sighed.

“They seek to cast an ancient spell I’ve only heard of in stories, the Devastator of Cities. If they complete it, we are doomed. The legend says that the town was completely destroyed without a trace of people or houses, like the earth was swept clean. We have perhaps an hour to live.”

The shouting commenced again, until Violet stopped them with a word, “Listen!” Everyone turned to her.

“Send a dozen mounted archers with the longest ranged bows to charge the lines and fire at the black cloaks. Perhaps we can kill them before they finish.”

A half dozen horse archers volunteered. The horses had no armor to make them faster, the archers (four men and a woman) had on splint armor, being the lightest for the amount of protection it offered. When they were ready, only about a half hour remained of Rejellus’ estimated time.

The sally port was opened and six riders and horses surged out. They spread out to avoid all being squashed by a single catastrophe. They neared range close enough to shoot. Within ten seconds, a half-dozen arrows were launched at the arcane figures. The shield-bearers shifted and they all jumped as if they were moved by a single thought. Violet, Brooker, and Rejellus all visibly slumped when none of the black robes fell. Somehow the shield-bearers had blocked all of the arrows. The archers continued to fire, but each arrow the archers fired was blocked by the wizards’ cadre of protectors. Two hundred archers began firing back at them, and castle’s bowmen kept charging and launching volleys at the magic users. One by one they were picked off. When all twelve lay on the sod, Violet turned away from the scene and wept.

The Baroness’ wizard consoled her, then looked up. He turned to Violet again toward the scene before them. “The spell is knitting together -- I can feel it. Let us meet our end facing it, rather than slinking away.”

The Baroness straightened and everyone else looked out at their doom. The voices of the enemy sorcerers should not have been able to reach their ears, but perhaps a trick of the magic pushed their words farther. Their voices crescendoed, the grey-cloaked persons raised their staves and stabbed them into the white area at once, and then everything went white in an enormous flash of noiseless light that filled the air. All but Violet and the mage cringed and whimpered at their demise.

“It didn’t work!” Violet exclaimed after checking if she was alive. “The spell backfired and destroyed our enemies! That will teach them to meddle in the dark arts!” She looked over her shoulder at Rejellus with a worried look on her face.

Her advisors turned as one and saw that she spoke the truth. The enemy army was gone without a trace. Not even one siege tower, not one horse, not one scrap of evidence that five seconds ago an army of several thousand had stood, waiting to attack.

“I’m sorry. No insult intended, Rejellus,” she apologized.

“None taken, but look closer, Baroness. Look past where the army stood. What do you see?” Rejellus said.

She got a dark scowl in her face at his words and gazed into the distance. “What do you … Oh, to the Gods and Goddesses in the Firmament, and the Devils and Succubuses of Hell. Did the spell destroy the Hills of Caucery and the far off mountains of Thridil?”

“No, but if you look all around, you’ll see something. Past where the white circle was, everything, and I mean everything is changed. Nothing looks as we know it to be. There’s a lake or sea off to the east where before was barley fields, and where Fenton village stood is now a dark woods. The only thing that I can conclude is that the spell does not destroy the enclosed area, but simple moves it somewhere else. Perhaps on another continent, or another world like ours. Such is actually easier sometimes that destroying a thing outright. Magic is odd that way. Unfortunately, I know of no way to reverse the spell, and I have no way of knowing where we are. We could be in some other plane altogether.”

Everyone present stared at the others, horror dawning on their faces.