Kardoc ran back towards his horse, mounted and rode as hard as he could towards Houndcroff. It was a mighty city and had withstood many sieges but its walls were being worn down by the test of time and numerous assaults. The repairs the city's people made weren't as effective as the original wall. Houndcroff would have to gather all its strength from all the surrounding villages to fight this off but they needed time to do it.
An arrow lodged in a nearby tree. More went whizzing by his head as his attackers increased their efforts to bring him down.
"Uh-oh," thought Kardoc. He hadn't figured on running into an enemy patrol. He kicked his horse, trying to get more speed out of it. A jolt of pain went through his ankle and his horse stumbled and fell. Lying on the ground with his horse, Kardoc looked at his ankle. There was an arrow through it. The arrow had gone straight through his ankle and into the horse, nailing his ankle and the horse together. He heard riders coming towards him. He struggled to get the arrow out of his ankle and out of the horse but the angle made it impossible. The riders slowed, then came to a halt and dismounted. Kardoc heard the sounds of swords being drawn from their sheaths. The dismounted riders came towards him and one of them stepped forward. On his chest was the Eagle of Glocave and the same Eagle flew on the banner that one of his men carried.
"Well, well, well. What have we here?" With that he raised his sword and plunged it into Kardoc's belly.
Kardoc's eyes momentarily went wide and then lost all expression as blood poured from the gaping wound and pooled around the sword. The rider withdrew his bloodied weapon and wiped the blood on his fallen foe's tunic before returning it to its sheath.
"Let's go men."
The riders mounted back up and rode off looking for more enemy scouts.
* * *
"What do you mean, 'the scout didn't return'? Where is he?"
The messenger rose from his knee and said, "He didn't return. We know not what happened to him but your son has ordered riders into the Valley from which your rider didn't return."
"Very, well, messenger. Bring word when we have news of the missing rider."
"Yes, My Lord."
King Fiergand of Houndcroff hung his head as he sat on his magnificent throne of gold. He knew that while unlikely, the rider might be missing because he was murdered. He needed to know Glocave's army's position. If it was on the march then he would need to gather his armies. He turned to his nearest aide.
"Send messengers to all the far reaches of Houndcroff's empire and gather the Army at Johanic Fields. I want it ready to ride in three days time. Keep Fogand's Division here. Prepare the city's defenses." He added, almost as an afterthought, "And send Fogand to me."
"Yes, My Lord."
Several minutes later, Fogand entered his Father's hall. "What is it Father?"
"I believe the forces of Glocave march towards us once more. What say you to this?"
"While I hope I am wrong, I to believe this to be true, Father. What should we do?"
"I have sent messengers and the army is gathering at Johanic Fields. I will send your brother to command it. Your Division is to stay here and defend the city. While their eyes are turned towards the city, the rest of the army will ride at them from the rear. We will squash Glocave's forces once and for all. When we are finished with their army, we will strike their city for the first time. I am sick of waiting for the attack to come to us. Is it not the same every time? They come, we manage to repulse them, and then they retreat and nurse their wounds only to strike again a decade later. We have lost too many good men to a war that has gone no where. It ends now!"
"At your command, Father, our armies will crush that of Glocave. We need only to gather it. How long will it take?"
"I've given the army three days to assemble. They take longer and not only do they miss the fight but they will be dishonored. No real man will miss this fight."
"I will go and see how the men are coming with the defenses, Father."
As Fogand left the palace, a messenger ran up to him. "My, Lord, one of our patrols has come back."
"The body of the rider was found in Kofi Valley, three days march from here. He had an arrow through his ankle and a sword wound in his stomach. His horse was next to him, still thrashing from an arrow wound to its flank."
"Any signs that it was Glocave's doing?"
"Not at the attack. But the patrol said they saw a vast army while riding back to give us word and were shot at while riding through woods adjacent to the army's line of march."
"How many days march away is the army?" Fogand was getting nervous.
"About two days march, My Lord."'
"Very well. Go and tell my Father what you have just told me." The messenger bowed his head in respect and went into the palace. Fogand went to find his chief Commanders. He found them at the outer wall directing their soldiers in reinforcing it.
Upon seeing Fogand they walked towards him. One of them spoke up. "Sir, we have received orders from the King to reinforce these walls against attack. There are rumors that Glocave is on the march again. Are the rumors true or mere rumors?"
Fogand was slow in answering. At last, he spoke. "I'm afraid they are true. Our army is gathering at Johanic Fields. However, I have been told that the Glocavian army is but two days march away. This division will be the only part of our army in the city at the time they are likely to be ready to launch their assault. For the next day and a half, I want every man in this division working double to boost the strength of these walls. Then they'll have half a day to do as they please before going into combat."
"At once, Sire."
* * *
King Beckard sat upon his horse on a bluff. Looking down he saw his mighty army marching to war against Houndcroff. His army would crush Houndcroff's defenses. They would be unawares of his approach and when he got there His army would be unstoppable.
"My Lord, one of our patrols reports trouble."
King Beckard turned to face his aide. "Send them forth."
The aide hurried off towards a group of men on horseback who looked like they'd rather be walking into Hell's front door then where they were right now. After a few words from the aide, they spurred their horses towards the King. They came to a halt before him and all dismounted, falling on one knee. They then rose and the leader spoke up. "My Lord, a scout from Houndcroff was discovered and eliminated. However, another patrol, apparently looking for the scout, managed to slip through our fingers and has undoubtedly told the mock king fiergand of the pitiful city of houndcroff about our magnificent army's march. Our army will not have the element of surprise as you had hoped. I am sorry, My Lord."
"Not sorry enough for a mistake that will cost us so much." The king said with contempt. With that, he drew his sword and severed the man's head all in one swift motion. As the head fell to the ground and the body collapsed, he turned to the other patrol members. "All of you will now be in the front lines of the first assault. Get out of my sight before I decide to be less lenient."
The patrol men mounted their horses and fled as fast as they could ride. King Beckard was not a man to be taken lightly and he was never to be failed without severe consequences.