The Silver-Helmed Rider
I’m enjoying myself too much to die! (Episode 3 of Uprising — a six-part serialized story)
( Need to catch up? Read From The Beginning | Read Episode 2 )
Outside the city walls, the rugged warriors were full of swagger. “Look at the mighty walls of Ulliah!,” they jeered.
Their Commander gave a shout. “Enough!” he yelled. “Let there be merriment once all their blood is spilled. No barkeep gives out his wine without your coin. Your coin now is your sword arm, and your strength, and your resolve. Ulliah stands yet. Let us step on her! Let Sargathian hooves crush their skulls, and then we will celebrate our victory!” The men cheered and shouted, and a flurry of activity engulfed the camp.
“They’re opening their gates!” called a sentry.
They all saw. The Ulliahim host spilled through the gate. The men roared even louder, yelling their victory chants.
By the entrance of the Red King’s tent, the mood was more somber. “Swords or cups?” shouted the King.
“Swords or cups, damn your eyes?”
“I cannot tell, Oh Eternal One,” yelled the watchman from the nearby wooden tower. “Their swords are sheathed, but no cups are seen by my eyes…” then a louder, more urgent shout. “It’s swords, Oh Light, it’s swords! They come unsheathed, and the horses gallop!”
As the defending host took the field and the city’s massive gate closed once again, confusion swept the ranks of the invading host for a time. The Ulliahim would fight? Surrounded, outnumbered, starved out?
It’d be butchery, it’d be carnage. What was worse, it would not be easy. Desperation is a strong flint, and such a sword as sharpened by it can cut deeply.
The Sargathian Centurions knew what the men would now think. Their gold would not come as cheaply as they had thought. Some would lose limb and eye, or worse. The Sargathos-born would fight for country, but the Alaghars and Ranimir mercenaries were here for gold and women. The besieged mass facing them fought for honor, for blood, for vengeance.
“To your mounts! To your lances! Take positions!” shouted the officers. The men formed up. As they climbed on their horses, they now saw the human wave spilling from the gates. Not just the Lyrrah — the Ulliahim women of war, but what must be half the population of the city — or near half of it- was pouring out.
The Ulliahim warriors were transforming. They smeared red dye on their faces as they rode, and their shrill banshee chant filled the air. They rode straight on, at full gallop now, spears and swords in hand.
Small in number, they still made a terrifying sight.
The Sargathian Commander, a beast of a man on a large black stallion, sounded the horn. His Centurions echoed with their own horns, the distinctive sound rising over the din. The great invading host rolled forward.
The Sargathian host split into three fronts. Their aim was clear: One sought to capture or kill the Night Queen, visible in her gem-encrusted silver helm and shield. Another large contingent made for the city, men already climbing the broken East wall. The third, mostly archers on chariots, rained death into the thick of the Ulliahim army. But the gloried Lyrrah were adept at such war, and raised their shields above them while they slashed with their swords. Many Ulliahim riders chased the chariots and drove their spears into the drivers’ chests.
The Queen and her TaLyrrah were cutting their way through Sargathian infantry, their horses crushing men in their path. Suddenly, a small Sargathian contingent broke the column to the right of the Queen’s guard, and several lances crossed the short distance.
“Oh Eternal One, the Night Queen is felled!” called the man on the tower. This was met by a roar from the tent.
“See the truth of it, by Sehenis, or you’ll suffer my ire!” shouted the King.
Silence from the tower.
“Well? She’s dead, or rises?” prompted the King.
“She rises, Oh Light, she rides! Though I saw her lanced!”
The King slammed a fist on his shield. “Am I to think her a God, or a Jinn? If she rises, she wasn’t lanced, was she!” he bellowed, cursing his troops and their weak aim.
In the battlefield, the silver-helmed figure reared her white horse defiantly, held high her silver shield, and rode forward, flanked by five black-clad horsewomen. Twice more the Sargathians came close to slaying the Queen — once by sword, and once again by lance — and twice more she rose again, fierce as ever — though her Guard was thinning in number. Three black riders remained at her side.
Riding her black horse alongside her trusted friend, black helm on her head, the Night Queen shouted,
“Take good care, Dayloh’i, Pull back the reins! Three friends have I already lost to this day.”
As she deftly deflected an arrow, Dayloh’i snorted. “Being Queen suits me, your Grace. I’m enjoying myself too much to die!” She spurred her stallion, and lunged forward. The ruse had played out three times thus far — one false Queen falling, one immediately tearing the black tunic, donning the silver helmet and shield, and climbing onto the white destrier.
The Night Queen chanced a glance at the walls. The catapults were raining fire into the city now, and men were pouring in through the East wall.
The Queen grinned. “Come inside my city, my friends. We’ll serve you a feast.” She rode on after her friend, sword in hand.
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