Raid on Duran
The first hint of dawn was appearing over the ocean as the sky began to lighten somewhat, but the morning fog obscured everything at ground level. Kenda peered out of the small window next to his bed as his eyes glistened with anticipation. The boy crept out of bed and quickly dressed as silently as he could. He eased the door open and slid through it, placing each foot carefully to minimize the noise. Slowly, he made his way to the kitchen and took his pack off the hook on the wall. He stuffed two round loaves of bread into his sack and slipped it on.
Returning to his room, he eased the door closed and then pulled his boots on. He was about to slip through the window, but he halted and got off the bed. He tiptoed to the chest at the foot of his bed. He opened the chest and extracted a length of rope, which he stuffed into his pack. He stood silently for a moment as if thinking about anything else he might need. Finally, he shook his head and shrugged. Kenda poked his head out of the window and gazed along the alley. There was no one in sight, so he climbed out the window and landed softly on the ground.
Kenda walked briskly along the alley. The fog hung so thick in places that anyone not familiar with the city of Duran would be foolish to attempt moving about, but Kenda was no stranger to the city. He had lived in Duran all of his life. The boy reached the street and looked both ways before emerging from the alley. He heard the clomping of a horse somewhere off to his right, but he could not see anyone. He raced across the street and continued along the alley for a short distance.
When he was well into the alley, he slowed down to avoid accidentally bumping into the supplies that Jackle’s father had stacked in the alleyway. He moved cautiously until the building materials came into view. Just beyond the stack of lumber and the pile of stones, Kenda moved close to the building and pulled himself up to peer through the window of his friend.
“Let’s go, Jackle,” Kenda urged softly. “It’s perfect weather out this morning. The fog is thicker than usual. Let’s go.”
“You sure this is a good idea?” Jackle asked as he sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Your Pa will be mad when he finds out that you are gone.”
“I doubt it,” countered Kenda. “Our fathers did the same thing when they were boys. I heard them laughing about it, but they never made it all the way. We are going to make it.”
“If anyone can,” grinned Jackle as he threw off the cover and quickly dressed, “we can.”
“That is the truth,” replied Kenda, “but if you are having second thoughts, we can call this off. This was your idea, after all.”
“You’re just trying to get out of it,” taunted Jackle. “You said that you would come with me, and you are coming. We should take something to eat and drink.”
“I have two loaves of bread,” offered Kenda. “We can fill our flasks at the well before we leave the city. Can you think of anything else we might need?”
“We don’t need anything else,” shrugged Jackle as he laced his boots and scrambled out the window.
The two boys stood in the alleyway silently for a moment.
“I am so excited,” Jackle finally said. “I have wanted to do this for a long time, but I feel bad about getting you in trouble. Maybe I should go alone.”
“I am not letting you go alone,” declared Kenda. “I think it would be wise to wait a year or two until we have developed more climbing skills, but I know that you can’t wait that long. I am going with you.”
“Our climbing skills are fantastic,” retorted Jackle. “I can out climb my older brother already. Why should we wait?”
“That is what I expected you to say,” chuckled Kenda. “Let’s get moving while the fog is still thick. I want to be well up the Wall of Mermidion before it burns off.”
“The Wall of Mermidion,” Jackle replied with reverence in his voice. “The unscalable cliffs of Duran.”
“Not exactly unscalable,” countered Kenda. “Some people have done it before.”
“True,” nodded Jackle, “but they are all dead now. Besides the cliffs were never conquered by anyone our age. Our names will be famous when we return. How can anyone be angry with us then?”
“Let’s worry about our fame when we return,” suggested Kenda. “Right now we need to get our water and get out of the city before someone sees us and tells our fathers.”
“Right,” Jackle nodded vigorously. “Let’s go.”
The two boys moved silently along the alley until they came to the street. Kenda peered out of the alley and saw no one. He led the way into the street as the boys moved swiftly towards the well. The dense fog muted the sounds of the city, but they could hear the fisherman making their way towards the coast. When they heard someone coming towards them, they darted into an alley until the person passed by. The fog was thick enough that they never did see the early morning citizen. When the sound receded, the boys continued their journey towards the well.
They reached the well without running into anyone. The boys quickly filled their flasks and moved away from the well in case some early morning risers came to fetch water.
“I bet the ships don’t leave port until this fog thins a bit,” stated Jackle. “It is much thicker than normal. I can hardly see more than a pace in front of me.”
“It is early yet,” replied Kenda. “As soon as the sun rises, it will burn off quick enough.”
The boys moved as quickly as possible through the streets of Duran. Several more times they had to hide while a citizen passed by, but they never actually saw anyone. Only the sounds alerted them to the presence of others. Within half an hour, the boys had left the city and were crossing the farms towards the Wall of Mermidion that separated Duran from the rest of the Sakova.
Duran was unique in that it was the only Sakovan city that was inaccessible by land from any other part of the country. It occupied a small shelf of land between the Wall of Mermidion and the sea. The Wall of Mermidion itself was a towering range of cliffs that ran along the coast of the Sakova for hundreds of leagues. Duran was an isolated city, but most of the residents preferred it that way. They were a close-knit group that had little dealings with outsiders, even when they were part of Omunga. During the war, the city had been the first Omungan city to swear allegiance to the Sakova in exchange for the promise of food to feed the starving citizenry. Ever since, the Sakovans had sent shiploads of food to feed the people of Duran until they were once again self-sufficient.
The boys reached the foot of the Wall of Mermidion and gazed upward. They could not see far through the fog.
“We should have brought rope,” frowned Jackle.
“Got it,” beamed Kenda. “Why don’t you go first? I will follow you up.”
“Makes sense to me,” grinned Jackle. “I am the better climber. Just watch where I place my hands and feet and then follow me up.”
Kenda smiled and nodded as Jackle began climbing. He wasn’t entirely sure that he agreed with Jackle’s assessment of their skills, but this was Jackle’s expedition, and Kenda had no intention of spoiling it for his friend. He watched as Jackle slowly faded upward into the fog and then started up the cliff himself.
The cliffs were totally vertical, and the rock face was fairly smooth. There were few places to gain a firm purchase, so the technique the boys used the most was to find a narrow crevice and wedge his body into it. They would then move upward by keeping a firm pressure on each side of the crevice. It was an exhausting way to climb the cliffs, but both boys were excited to be doing it. They climbed for over an hour before Jackle found a spot where they could sit and rest.
“This is harder than I thought,” exhaled Jackle. “How far up do you think we are? I can’t see anything below us or above us. The fog is still too thick.”
“We have barely begun,” replied Kenda. “We will be lucky to reach the top before nightfall. We can still turn back if you want.”
“Don’t mention that again,” scowled Jackle. “I am not stopping before I reach the top. I don’t care if it takes two days. I will never get this chance again.”
“Alright,” shrugged Kenda, “but I want you to know that I will never think less of you if you decide to turn back. I guess what I mean is that it will be alright if we do.”
“Are you scared?” retorted Jackle. “Is that why you keep bringing it up?”
“I am scared a bit,” confessed Kenda, “but not so much of falling. I am afraid of doing something stupid, like refusing to quit when we are beaten by this cliff. There is no shame in understanding your limits and acting accordingly. I fear that you might not understand that.”
“I don’t understand it because I refuse to accept failure,” declared Jackle. “This cliff is not going to defeat me. You can go back down when you get scared, but I am going all the way to the top.”
Kenda sighed and stared off into the fog. He truly was not afraid of climbing the cliffs, but he was worried about his friend. He decided not to bring the subject up again.
“I thought this fog would be burning off by now,” Kenda changed the subject of the conversation. “We haven’t had such a fog that I can ever remember. I wonder if the fishermen will even take their boats out today?”
“I hope it clears soon,” replied Jackle. “The view of the city from up here must be fantastic. Let’s start climbing again. When the fog does lift, we will have an even better view.”
Kenda nodded as Jackle rose and squeezed into the crevice. The boys continued upward for another two hours before stopping again. Kenda took a loaf of bread out of his pack and broke off a couple of pieces. He gave one piece to Jackle.
“It still hasn’t lifted,” frowned Jackle as he munched on his bread. “Fog never lasts so late in the morning. Look towards the ocean. You can practically see the outline of the sun trying to break through the fog.”
“It is strange,” Kenda admitted. “I wonder what our families are thinking right now? Surely, we have been missed by now. Will they worry that we might be lost in the fog?”
“I figured that they would see us climbing the Wall of Mermidion,” confessed Jackle. “I suppose they will be worried if they can’t find us. I hope this fog lifts soon so that someone knows where we have gone.”
Suddenly, a tremendous force of wind blew up the face of the cliffs. Both boys instinctively leaned backwards to press their bodies against the wall of the cliff. Within seconds the fog was blown upward and the sun shone brightly in their faces.
“What was that?” Jackle asked with alarm. “I thought we were going to be blown off the cliffs.”
“Look out towards the harbor,” Kenda said excitedly. “Those ships are huge.”
The boys gazed at the sea just beyond the harbor wall. Half a dozen monstrous ships were heading towards the city.
“What are they?” asked Jackle. “I have never seen ships so large. Look how small our ships look in comparison.”
“Those are warships,” Kenda said haltingly. “I don’t like the looks of this.”
Suddenly, huge balls of fire sprang from the decks of the monstrous ships. The fiery projectiles slammed into the buildings of Duran, and fires sprang up throughout the city. The boys watched the citizens of Duran scurrying around in confusion. People ran in every direction. Distant shouts of alarm drifted lightly on the air at the citizens of Duran were roused from their homes. The Imperial Guards gathered in front of the Mayor’s building and formed ranks, but there was no one for them to fight. As the huge fireballs continued to soar into the city, the invading ships began lowering smaller ships to ferry the soldiers ashore.
“Even their small ships dwarf most of our fishing vessels,” Jackle said softly. “I can’t imagine how many soldiers those ships must hold.”
“Probably more men than the number of citizens in Duran,” frowned Kenda. “Our people will not stand a chance.”
“We have to start down,” Jackle declared as he moved to the edge of the cliff.
“Don’t be a fool,” snapped Kenda as he reached out and grabbed his friend. “We have been climbing for hours. By the time we reach the bottom, the battle will be over.”
Jackle slowly nodded and eased his back against the cliff. “I don’t like being up here,” he stated. “We should be down there helping the defenders.”
“We would be no help to anyone down there,” sighed Kenda. “I am sure that the mayor will surrender promptly. The citizens cannot hope to defend Duran against such a force. Look at the number of small boats that are streaming towards the shore.”
The fires in the city multiplied as more fiery projectiles flew from the decks of the large ships. The boys watched the destruction, unable to distinguish individuals from their height, but with a good enough view to read the hopelessness of the citizens. A figure stood before the Imperial Guards and led them down to the waterfront, a large white flag clearly visible to the boys.
“You were right,” conceded Jackle. “The mayor is surrendering. This has to be the quickest battle ever. I thought the Imperial Guards would at least kill some of the invaders before surrendering. Their first ships are just reaching the shore now.”
“The mayor is wise,” countered Kenda. “We are a farming and fishing city. Even our Imperial Guards are not true warriors. We have no business being involved in battle. Surrender is the appropriate course of action. The mayor understands our limits and sees no shame in admitting defeat. He is saving the lives of the citizens.”
The first of the invaders’ boats ran up on the beach, and soldiers in red uniforms jumped out. Boat after boat landed unopposed and soon hundreds of foreign soldiers were marching through the city. One large group of foreigners marched towards the mayor and the Imperial Guards. The Imperial Guards were easily outnumbered, yet hundreds of more boats were still streaming towards the shore.
“The Imperial Guards are throwing down their swords,” scowled Jackle. “Why have an army if they just give up so easily?”
“Why should they throw their lives away?” retorted Kenda. “There are thousands of invaders. Look, they are still coming ashore. There is no end to them.”
The boys watched the drama unfolding before their eyes. The Imperial Guards tossed their swords and knives into a large pile on the ground as the foreign invaders surrounded them. As soon as the last of the weapons were discarded, the foreign soldiers attacked the Imperial Guards.
“Treachery!” shouted Jackle. “They are killing unarmed men. What a despicable act! The Imperial Guards should have fought them.”
Kenda’s jaw dropped in disbelief as he stared in horror at the massacre below. Within seconds, the entire group of Imperial Guards was dead. The mayor, still holding his white flag was the last to die. Kenda shook his head and tears welled up in his eyes. His mouth opened to speak, but no words came out.
Jackle excitedly grabbed Kenda’s arm and pointed to a spot deeper into the city. His fingers dug into his friend’s arm as he cried. Kenda pried his gaze away from the Imperial Guards and looked to where Jackle was pointing. The red-clad soldiers where killing everyone they came across, man, woman, and child.
“No!” shouted Kenda, tears flowing freely down his cheeks. “Why?”
“It’s a massacre,” sobbed Jackle. “They are killing everyone.”
Kenda wanted to turn his eyes away from the destruction, but he could not. He watched as red soldiers invaded every part of the city. They instantly killed every person they came across. Some of the citizens tried to resist. Small groups of men raced down alleyways with old swords, shovels, and knives. They carried anything that could be used to kill a fellow human being, but it did not even slow down the invaders. The red-clad soldiers were trained warriors prepared for battle. The citizens were no match for them.
When the streets of the city were empty of the living, the foreign soldiers began to enter the houses. Kenda did not have to guess what was happening inside the homes. He watched as some citizens tried to escape the slaughter by running out the back doors of the houses, but the foreign soldiers were waiting for them. After each house was searched for citizens, a foreigner tossed a torch inside. Soon the entire city was burning.
“I think that is my father,” Jackle shouted hysterically as he pointed towards his house. “Run, Pa.”
Kenda winced as he watched the foreign soldier strike the man down. He looked across the street and saw his own house burning. He closed his eyes and let the tears flow down his cheeks. When he opened his eyes again, he saw more boats landing on the beach. Men jumped out of the boats, but they did not wear the red uniforms of the others. The new arrivals wore dark hooded cloaks. A chill ran down Kenda’s spine as he watched the hooded men enter the city.
“We have to hide,” Kenda said softly.
“What?” blubbered Jackle. “What are you talking about?”
“Those are mages,” replied Kenda. “Look along the beach. The hooded men are mages.”
“As if they can cause more damage than the soldiers,” snapped Jackle. “Who cares about the mages?”
“We do,” Kenda replied, forcefully calming himself. “They did not need to bring mages ashore to kill the citizens. We need to hide.”
“Why?” asked Jackle. “What do you know that I don’t?”
“The only reason to bring the mages ashore is to find the citizens that the soldiers missed,” explained Kenda as he moved to the nearest crevice and squeezed his body into it. “They do not plan to leave a single person alive. We have to hide before they find us.”
“What does it matter to them if someone survives?” asked Jackle, who refused to leave the ledge.
“I am not sure,” admitted Kenda, “but it does matter to them. Maybe they don’t want anyone left alive to describe their attack? I do not know, but I am positive that we are in danger. Hide in a crevice.”
“They can’t get us up here,” countered Jackle. “Just let those foreigners try to scale the Wall of Mermidion. They will never make it to the top.”
“Neither will we,” retorted Kenda. “I never thought we could make it all the way up, but I didn’t want to spoil your fun. These crevices disappear near the top of the wall. We will have to go back down eventually, but not until the foreigners are gone.”
“I am never going back down there,” declared Jackle. “There is nothing left for me in Duran. I will not return.”
“We will discuss this later,” sighed Kenda. “Get yourself into a crevice before someone looks up here and sees you.”
“I would rather that they saw me,” protested Jackle. “Maybe some of them will die trying to capture me. They cannot climb the Wall of Mermidion, and we can.”
“Jackle,” pleaded Kenda. “Just hide.”
Suddenly, a brilliant flash seared Kenda’s eyes. He heard Jackle emit a ghastly scream that faded to nothing as his friend’s body tumbled down to the base of the Wall of Mermidion. Kenda closed his eyes tightly and cried.
For hours, Kenda remained hidden in the crevice, listening to the distant sounds from below. First came the sounds of warfare, screams, shouts, the clashing of steel. An eerie silence followed after a while, broken only occasionally by the crash of a collapsing building. Kenda turned his head and peered out of the crevice. Tall columns of smoke billowed upward from the burning city. Kenda wondered if anything would be left of the city when he descended.
Eventually, new sounds drifted up to his perch on the Wall of Mermidion. Kenda eased his body downward and crawled out of the crevice, keenly aware of the need to keep his head low. He crawled to the edge of the cliff and stared downward. Duran was utterly destroyed. Wooden buildings had become heaps of ashes and smoldering debris. Where stone buildings had stood, piles of broken rock littered the ground. Thousands of men in red uniforms swarmed through the city, poking into the piles of rubble as they passed by.
Kenda’s eyes were drawn to the city well. Around it stood over a hundred dark-hooded men. Kenda tried to make sense of the needless slaughter, but he could not comprehend it. He thought about the local farmers, and how they became obsessed with ridding their farms of moles. It was the only thought about complete annihilation that he could come up with, but he failed to see how the citizens of Duran could be considered a threat to anyone. It made no sense to the Sakovan boy.
As Kenda was watching the men around the well, he saw one of them point upward towards the Wall of Mermidion. A chill shivered through Kenda’s body as he watched the large group of mages turn their eyes towards him. He dared not move, his eyes frozen on the well and the men around it. Eventually, the mages stopped looking in his direction, and Kenda sighed with relief. The respite from fear was brief.
One of the mages called to a group of red-clad soldiers and pointed to the cliffs. Kenda could see the soldier nod exaggeratedly before turning and shouting to some of the other soldiers. Soon six soldiers were running towards the base of the Wall of Mermidion. When the soldiers came close to the base of the cliff, Kenda was no longer able to see them. He backed slowly away from the edge and retreated into his crevice.
“I said that we couldn’t reach the top,” Kenda said aloud as if Jackle were still there to hear him, “but I hope that I was wrong. Those soldiers are coming up to check the crevices.”
Kenda sat for a few moments trying to figure out what to do. He gazed up at the high sun and knew that the face of the cliffs would soon be in the shadows when the sun passed over the crest. Realizing that he had no other option, Kenda started climbing the nearest crevice. He tried to keep his body as deep into the crevice as possible and hoped that none of the mages would send a fiery projectile to whisk him off the wall.
He climbed swiftly until he came to the next small ledge. He hurriedly chose another crevice and darted into it without taking the time to look down at the foreigners. Soon the crevices grew very dark. Kenda looked up and could no longer see the sun.
Kenda froze when he heard a distant scream. He knew without looking that one of his pursuers had fallen off the wall. He listened intently to the length of the scream as if it would give him an idea of how far up the cliffs the soldiers had gotten, but it was a futile exercise. The scream just faded into the sounds of the wind.
Kenda continued up the Wall of Mermidion in a mindless exercise of endurance and stamina. As each crevice ended, the boy immediately sought the safety of the next dark crevice and continued upward. He minimized the amount of time that he was exposed to those below him. Eventually, he reached a point where there were no more crevices. He gritted his teeth and sighed heavily as he looked out over the ocean and saw the bright pink clouds heralding the sunset. Soon it would be completely dark, and the real climbing had just begun. Kenda gazed upward and studied the face of the cliff. It looked like a sheer vertical stone face. He shook his head and cried.
Suddenly, another scream came from below, but not as far away as the first one. Kenda did not need to count the length of the scream to realize that the soldiers were climbing faster than he was. He looked again at the face of the cliff and gritted his teeth in determination. The climb to the top of the Wall of Mermidion might well kill him, but Kenda knew that death surely awaited him if he did not move swiftly. He took the rope out of his pack and coiled it. He put one arm through the coil and draped the rope over his chest. With the sigh of a decision made, Kenda reached up and grabbed the first handhold that he could see. He pulled himself upward, moving his free hand over the surface of the dark rock in search of the next handhold.