The Three Kings
by Slawomir Rapala
part 4 of 9
“I’ve thought of a plan that will work if carried out to perfection. It is possible to defeat the Vikings before Irvinn gets here and before their fleet is free to sail. It is possible to deliver a hard blow, one that they will not expect and one that will be, as a result, twice as effective. And it may, it just may, throw their ranks into disarray and cause chaos in their headquarters. But in order to do so, we must be prepared to sacrifice a lot.”
Iskald stopped and looked at his men. The young girl in the corner of the room stopped playing the harp and for a moment, there was only dead silence.
“We must be prepared to sacrifice ourselves even, if need be,” he added. “We must be prepared not to spare either ourselves or our men. The stakes our high, friends, you know that. The fate of Lyons lies in our hands.”
“If need be, we will shed our last drop of blood!” young Skrol shouted from the back of the table. “We’re men, not young boys! We’re warriors, we’re the Wolves!”
“Right!” a dozen solemn voices shouted in agreement.
“Good, then,” Iskald said. “My plan is quite simple. Look here,” he pointed back to the map stretched on the table. “Under the cover of darkness we will gather the troops from all of these four points and then move them west, as quickly and as quietly as possible.
“Remember, speed and efficiency are the most important factors here. The only way for this plan to succeed is to make the Vikings believe, to convince them beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all of our troops are still stationed in their usual spots.”
“We must take out their scouts then,” Suna said.
“Get your highlanders on it, they know every stone and tree from here to the Ice Fields and back,” Aezubah told him. “They’ll find anyone hiding in the mountains and the forests.”
Iskald nodded his head.
“Even with their scouts gone, they’ll see that we moved when darkness clears,” the old Yyta looked puzzled. “How do we avoid that?”
“Quite simple,” Iskald smiled. “One of us will take a thousand men and strike during the night right here, right up north. He will strike fast and hard, and he will hold off the enemy for as long as needed. He will convince them that all of our forces are engaged right here in this point.”
“With a thousand men?” Elkiey exclaimed. “Impossible!”
“It’s a suicide mission,” Yyta said.
“It is,” Iskald agreed. “And because it is, I will not order anyone to join. Whoever leads the men will volunteer, as will the men who go with him. All who will go, will do so of their own free will.”
“And if no one goes?”
“I’ll find a thousand men who are willing to die for their Kingdom,” Iskald said simply. “Then I will lead them myself and it will be Aezubah who’ll finish this war.”
They looked at their King and there was love and admiration in the eyes of these tough soldiers.
“While the Vikings, convinced that all of our troops are pushing forward, while they move most of their forces to the morth to fend them off, the main body of our army will break through the ring in the West. The forest is thick here and their troops are scattered.
“Right here,” Iskald pointed to the map again. “We will then cut through the woods and get to this point in the Dreary Mountains. It’s going to be a fast-paced run; it’s a good seven to eight leagues before we reach the hills.”
The men lowered their heads to gaze at the map again.
“This here is a small route leading through the mountains that separate our land from what now is the land of the Vikings. It’s treacherous enough to be used only by the highlanders. They will lead all of our troops over it and we will wait for the enemy here, between these two peaks. We can readily assume that the Vikings, after defeating the small party, will quickly realize what happened and send their forces after us.”
“If not sooner,” Jasper interrupted.
“It will be up to the thousand to have them convinced as long as needed that they’re fighting against an entire army. If they succeed in doing so, then we will succeed as well. The Vikings will send scouts and realize that we have crossed the mountains. The will divide their troops and while one part of their army — the larger one presumably — heads straight for us, the second, smaller party will hike through the nearest pass, this one here, called the Cutter’s Mill,” Iskald pointed to the map again and then looked up as he finished, “And they will try to surprise us from behind.”
“How do you know that?”
“Wouldn’t you do that?”
“Aezubah?” someone looked questioningly at the veteran warrior. He had fought alongside and against the Vikings many times throughout his turbulent life and had come to know their ways.
The General rubbed his forehead. “I wouldn’t,” he said finally. “I’d be expecting a trap. The Vikings are simple folk, though, and what’s more, they are drunk with power. They believe in the strength of their troops and even if they do sense a trap, they will go forth.”
“How long to get through Cutter’s pass?” Jasper glanced at Suna.
“Two days,” the aged highlander said without hesitation.
“Which we will use to defeat the Vikings who follow us,” Iskald added. “The highlanders know all the routes and passages and they will help us surprise the Vikings.”
The men looked at the young King with quiet awe. They had underestimated him.
“We’ll have plenty time,” he continued. “The main Viking force won’t cross the mountains, because it would take only a hundred men and a few bowmen to fight them off. They will break camp and wait for the rest of their army to arrive behind us.”
“But we won’t be sitting around fiddling our thumbs?” Skrol added expectantly.
“We’ll strike hard and we’ll beat them before they have a chance to send a message. Then we’ll wait for the remaining part of their legions.”
“What do you think?” Jasper gazed at Aezubah.
“It’s doable,” the aged soldier looked at the map before him. “It’ll be difficult, but by no means impossible.”
Aezubah looked up from the map and glanced at the men sitting around the table. They all smiled and all nodded their heads. He turned his head back to Iskald. “So when do you want to leave?”
“You’re ready to go with it then?”
“It’s the only chance we have right now,” Jasper said. “Might as well take it when we still can, before Irvinn comes down with full force.”
“He is coming down, so we must act quick,” Iskald spoke. “Will two days be enough time to get the men together and prepare for the strike?”
“Two days it is,” Aezubah replied.
The young King looked at the men before him. Their eyes were full of hope, burning with desire and the yearning to go and fight right now even. And they all gazed back at Iskald with great awe. He did not disappoint them, not at all. His plan was simple and daring, but because it was such, it could work. It was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and it would require great sacrifices, but it gave them a chance to stand up to the invaders, a chance to fight back.
“What about the Jewel?” Aezubah asked suddenly.
Everyone fell quiet and their faces saddened. Indeed, once they moved away from the shore, the Vikings would not hesitate to plunder their beautiful palace. Hvoxx and the Jewel would be left undefended.
“Sacrifices will have to be made,” only Iskald remained unmoved. “If we stay here, we will save the Jewel but lose the Kingdom. I’d rather lose the palace than the land of my forefathers.”
“Iskald’s right,” Jasper spoke. “There are more important things at stake here. Besides, once we win the war, we’ll build a new Jewel, one that will be even more glorious and stunning!”
“True enough,” Aezubah agreed and the rest of the men nodded their heads.
“Well then,” Iskald said. “There’s only one more thing left to decide. Who will lead the party responsible for turning Viking attention away from the movement of our troops?”
The young King looked around. He did not have to wait long because old Yyta rose quietly from his chair.
“I’ll do it,” he said simply. “I’ve lived many years and I’ve taken part in many battles. I’ve seen much blood spilled. Too much maybe. From the time I could wield my first sword, I was a soldier. So even if it is written that I shall die, I won’t weep over my fate. Such is life. The young must replace the old. And besides, what better way to die, than fighting for your Kingdom and your King?”
Iskald gazed into his eyes and smiled softly. He nodded. “Thank you, old friend,” he said. “You’ll have everything you need.”
Yyta leaned back in his chair, lost in thought. Silence was broken once again by the merry shouts and the joyful cheers of the dozen men who had just decided the fate of a Kingdom and the thousands of her subjects.
“We leave in two days then,” Iskald said over the noise. “Alert the army and advise the people to hide in the forests and mountains. Alert the highlanders and have them seek out and kill the Viking scouts. Prepare your men and get ready for war!”
“And may the gods be with us!” old Yyta said quietly from his chair.
* * *
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Slawomir Rapala