The Wounded Witch by Jeramy Goble (Part Two)
Read part one HERE
The majority of the Nurudian armies had begun returning from Rischurn. In addition to a newly installed Nurudian governor, a contingent of Nurudian military remained. Upon receiving their instructions from Colendra, her exhausted forces of Gift Warriors also made their way back to Nurudia’s capital city of Vortolia.
Magically depleted from their efforts across the continent, Colendra’s forces returned traditionally, on horseback, alongside their infantry countrymen. The preference would have been to return home almost instantly via energy pass, but just as the infantry were exhausted from their physical combat, the Gift Warriors were fatigued from their immense use of magic.
The Nurudians’ ride home was a content, but quiet one. Their victories had resulted in the conquest of an entire continent, and if anything, the warriors were sustained by the hope of a hearty future for their people. The quiet came from their fatigue, but even so, the trail occasionally burst out in recollections of their triumphant battles, humorous memories of loved ones waiting for them back home, or stoic eulogies for those comrades lost along the way. Regardless of the context of a particular story, they all eventually trailed off under the sound of shuffling horses, and with an expectation of peace for the rest of their lives.
Baralli’s next plans for his forces were known only to Colendra and his military advisors. For weeks leading up to seizing control of their entire home continent, and for many weeks after, secret meetings were held to discuss the conquest of Kynpahl. For political and strategic reasons, Baralli insisted his forces not be made aware of his intentions until he decided to reveal them. He threatened death to anyone who leaked their discussions and wanted his people to have time to rest and enjoy the fruits of their efforts. But after the fall of Rischurn, an order was issued to Colendra’s Gift Warriors, as well as the regular army, to assemble at sundown in Vortolia’s Orchid Square.
The day for the assembly snuck up on Colendra. She arrived at Orchid Square ahead of Baralli, his guards, and many of the advisors. She paced thoughtfully through the square, blurring her eyes over the beautiful blooms which lined the majestic paths. She completed numerous circuits of various patterns, passing the stairs leading up to the platform where Baralli’s plans would be announced—or at least the part of the plan his forces needed to know for the moment.
As she held her hands behind her back, Colendra stepped carefully, as if not wanting to insult the cobblestones. Her insides itched and twitched with anxiety. A dull pain of guilt weighed down on the most inconvenient and obscure part of her head. She didn’t like hiding things from those she led. Those who trusted her with their lives.
I know they’ll do as they’re told, Colendra thought. But keeping these secrets is a deception they don’t deserve. It isn’t right. Destroying their dream of peace is wrong.
Without truly noticing, hours had slipped by and Colendra’s shadow had drifted with the sun. As sunset approached, her shadow grew fainter. The clanging of a guard’s rattling armor marched itself into Colendra’s awareness. She looked up.
A massive swarm of sound rushed into Colendra’s ears. The square, mostly empty when she arrived, had become smothered in a sea of Nurudia’s warriors, traditional and those of the Gifts. For a moment, her head felt dizzy as her senses registered the stimulation.
“Grand Sorceress Colendra,” the guard announced. His voice was rigid and proud, full of expectation and pomp for the imminent announcement. “The king has asked that you assemble with his advisors on the platform. He is almost ready to address our forces.”
Colendra, still adjusting to the sights and sounds of the humongous crowd, scanned into and across the sea of faces. The conventional infantry members laughed and greeted each other with powerful embraces and whipping handshakes. But the faces of many of Colendra’s Gift Warriors were still. The battle mages stood quietly, and with suspicion.
They know. I can see it in their eyes. Colendra panicked internally. The prospect of a new war, if only rumored, was something only a soldier might look forward to. Her Gift Warriors, though trained and prepared for using the Gifts in combat, were not of a mindset that welcomed war on a whim. These masters of the Gifts, though never officially dedicated as such, were traditionally only intended to be a defensive resource for Nurudia. But the conquest of the continent had threatened that unspoken understanding, if not outright destroyed it, and Colendra’s stomach turned at the sudden epiphany that Baralli’s plans for the continent of Kynpahl would remove all doubt that her, her Gift Warriors, and the Gifts themselves, would be used to serve one man.
“My lady?” the guard pressed, startling Colendra.
She whipped her head around, having forgotten about him.
“Yes, yes,” she offered. “I’ll join him straight away.”
The guard bowed swiftly, spun, and made his way back towards the platform.
Colendra sighed and followed the guard slowly, bearing the brunt of cheerful slaps on the back of the officers and advisors she waded through. Up the stairs she trudged. After forcing a smile and bow of the head when Baralli caught sight of her, she fell in behind him. The idle conversations between others on the platform melted into a hissing white noise as she looked out on the square. It was filled with her countrymen and women, with many spilling out into the adjacent streets. An advisor leapt over to an officer who in turn clapped to gain the attention of a half-dozen musicians flanking each side of the king. With a shout from one of the players and a coordinated jerk of a long trumpet up to his mouth, an eruption of brass blasted out over the assembled Nurudian forces. King Baralli stepped forward with his arms raised. When the royal fanfare had ended, the noise from the assembled thousands was extinguished.
“My fellow Nurudians!” King Baralli roared. “I can’t describe how humbling the sight before me is. Victorious Nurudians as far as my eye can see! Let me hear you!”
The massive throng applauded, roared and whooped. Baralli turned back to his advisors on the platform, beaming.
“Thank you for joining us here today. I wanted an opportunity to see as many of you as possible after the fall of Rischurn, to express my gratitude for your efforts, your expertise, and your sacrifices. And as I recognize the amazing work you’ve done to secure our borders and bolster the safety of our families, I want to talk to you about the future!”
A fresh wave of applause rippled through the crowd.
“The future, my friends! As a king, I am burdened with the task of not only making sure our families are safe, but that our people and country secure and build upon our place in the world. I must always consider ways to improve our power, our status, our resources, and our reputation. I must do what I can, and ask our people to do what they can, to not only guarantee the safety of our families, but also guarantee the growth of our country, to guarantee a prosperous life for those generations not yet born. Do you hear me?”
Orchid Square ruptured into a frenzied cheer.
“Nurudia’s immediate safety has been achieved,” he continued, “but Nurudia deserves more!”
The noise from the crowd blossomed again.
“Nurudia is capable of more!”
Baralli’s ensuing shouts were interspersed with additional cheers from the patriotic mob.
“The future of Nurudia requires more!”
The king paused as the cheering swelled into a sustained blanket of hysteria. While nodding in rhythm with the crowd’s chants of “Nu-ru-di-a, Nu-ru-di-a,” he thrust his fist into the air in matching pulses. Once the latest cheers began to subside, Baralli continued.
“You have waged war on such a successful scale, my fellow Nurudians.” His voice slid down in volume and pitch. His tone was more retrospective and reserved.
“You have fought longer and farther than almost any other civilization in history, and succeeded. You have conquered. You have won. You… are mighty.”
Reciprocating the king’s solemn mood, the crowd stood silent.
“But I must call upon your strength once more, Nurudia.”
Baralli’s voice swelled rapidly back to his original volume and tone.
“I need your help in seizing this moment! I need your help with looking beyond the safety of our families, and with securing a place for Nurudia at future’s table. We must grow beyond this continent! We must expand! We must see to the immortality of Nurudia!”
The square’s sound mutated into a rumble of sharpness and crackling clapping. Prior to his speech, Colendra didn’t know what to expect from the king, or how it would be received. She was surprised and shocked. She was humbled by his power of persuasion and skill in oratory. She smirked internally at the power of being addressed personally by the king.
Fresh off the heels of waging war across a continent, the armies had been rallied with the prospect of a new, massive war. And when Colendra peered out to gauge the reaction of her Gift Warriors, she found them cheering and jumping in unified excitement. Her insides shivered and poked at the worry in her mind. She swallowed as she felt alone in that moment. Only she seemed to be worried about what the future might bring.
END OF PART TWO