The High Queen Sorceress (complete)
Author: jessicaw

Chapter 22
chapter 22

It was early in the morning when they reached the castle in Galanda. Mada looked around for any sign of lurkers drifting in the shadows. Nervously, the four of them continued up the stone bridge leading into the court yard. Four big, armored men met them at the end of the bridge. They did not try to stop the women as they approached, but instead bowed their heads as they allowed them to pass.                              

 Mada stared at the men, wide eyed and terrified by their actions. Still, she pressed on. The large iron gate blocking them from entering the main courtyard rose as they advanced.                                                   

As they walked through; a tall, well-built man in a white shirt and black vest met them. “Mada! I’m so glad you’re safe!”  Gorden said with glee. He gave her the biggest hug he could possibly muster, squeezing all of the air out of her lungs. When he let her go, she stumbled back several steps, bumping into Brine’s horse. The horse whinnied gently but otherwise made no objections. Gorden’s white shirt had a thin layer of dirt that had transferred off of Mada’s clothing in the process.

He hugged each one of his girls, tears welling up in Pab’s small eyes. He kissed her, wiping the tears off of her face. “Come in and take a warm bath. There is plenty of food and clean clothes!” he said excitedly. Mada gave him a suspicious glare. “How did you get here? How did you leave the barn? Where is the King? What’s going on?”

Gorden looked at her with a happy face. “The king and his army have left the palace to concur empty cities. Come in Mada. The revolution has come. Queen Janna graciously turned the palace over to us. We are just waiting on the last of our men to return with the citizens of Raptuse then we go after Haden! Everyone who wants to fight and is capable of doing so can go! We are going to track that evil man down and destroy him. Citizens from all over King Haden’s realm plus everyone we could find in King Jarone’s Kingdom are silently banning together to fight against him.

The last of the troops should arrive tonight and in the morning, we will set out towards Falkin!” Falkin!” Mada gasped. But we just came from there. Why would we go back? You still haven’t answered all of my questions!” 

Gorden took her grimy brown hand in his soft, white one and stroked it with his thumb. “I will explain everything to you when we have the time, but right now we need to fight. Our scouts last spotted Haden and his men in that direction; close to the sea. We figure by the time we reach him, he will be on his way back to Galanda. We should end up crashing into him first around Falkin.”   “Not our home!” Mada wailed.

“No dear, not our home!” Gorden smiled reassuringly. “We will face them on the other side of Falkin, as far away from our farm as we could possibly be.”                                    

He lovingly stroked her matted, dusty hair, stifling a sneeze as some of the particles entered his nose. He beckoned for his girls to join them and they all embraced in a long overdue hug. “I thought I might never see you again.” Lucia breathed into his collar as she sobbed softly.  J

anna walked up, bowing slightly at their newest arrivals. “Everything is all set, Sir Joustafix.” she said, giving him a slight curtsey. He stopped her half way through it.

“How many times have I told you that you are a Queen and you bow to no one?” She stopped, gave him a slight smile and stood up straight as he in turn bowed to her.

“Queen Janna, this is my wife Mada and my daughters, Lucia, Marianan, and Pab.” He said, indicating each in turn. She smiled at the new arrivals looking each one of them up and down. All four were brown from head to foot. They had brown hair, brown skin, and every last bit of detail on each of their dresses was covered in a thick layer of brown. They were very, very brown. The pale blue eye color of his wife and youngest daughter stood out in stark contrast, drawing the attention immediately to their eyes. Janna gazed into both sets before giving another tight lipped smile.    

She pressed her eyes together and swallowed, imaging the kind of life these people must have lived all because of her husband. “I am sorry for my husband’s sins against your family.” She said at last, a look of understanding and sorrowful passion hanging in her eyes.  

“Nonsense!” frowned Gorden. “Pretty gowns and smooth floors don’t mean you haven’t suffered at his hands any more than we have.” Janna cast her gaze to the ground, trying to fight the feeling of shame.

 “Let’s go inside and prepare for battle.” She said at length, chocking back her pain and embarrassment. Inside, the castle was filled with women, children, soldiers and the elderly. Everywhere you turned, someone was there to greet you. Laugher and cheers rang out as people joked about what they would do once they caught King Haden.

sound of metal clinking against metal wafted up from the receiving room as women and teenagers trained for battle.  Any woman who knew how to sew had a needle and thread in her hands, repairing worn out clothes or sewing thicker pieces of material together to help protect those who were preparing to battle.

Blacksmiths and sword smiths worked fervently around the great fireplace; making more swords and re-ironing the horses. Food and liquor was passed around in ample abundance.

Mada recognized a few faces here and there of people she knew from town or others from the city of Mardane that they used to trade with. Some looked up from their tasks as Mada, Gorden, Queen Janna and the girls walked by. They waved hello to her and she returned the greeting before they bent down, busy at their tasks once again.   

The castle was huge. White marble floors with swirls of grey ribbons running through them lined the bottom floor. Large grey stones stacked neatly on top of one another made up the walls. There were many floor to ceiling windows and thin strips of stained glass throughout. It was obvious that the king’s banners used to line the walls at one point, but they had been torn down. Empty hangers still clung here and there to the walls, indicating where the banners used to stay.

Even though a few of the stained glass windows remained intact, most of them depicted demeaning oppressive images of women and had therefore been smashed out. The little party stepped over the broken shards of colorful glass, the greens, yellows and blues of them glinting as they reflected  the sunlight. Upstairs, Gorden dropped his wife and daughters off in one of the finest guest rooms. A couple of maids ran to get hot water and clean clothes for them.

After they said their good byes, Gorden and Janna continued up another flight of stairs, down a long hallway and into the east tower. They entered a small room where Yabe, Queen Valencia, and several of the Lords, Dukes and high ranking officers were already pouring over maps and strategy plans; not even bothering to look up when the new comers entered. 

“This will be the best plan of attack. Hardly even visible form this angle.” Said one of the men. “No!” Shouted another, as he banged his fist on the table. “It will take us an extra day and a half to reach them from here. By then, they will have already passed us and Galanda will be sitting here with her neck exposed, waiting for them to sever it and murder our families! We need to go this way!” He  said, indicating an alternative path.  

 A man with a thick brown beard thrust his hand into the air, pointing at the sky. “You’re both wrong!” He shouted. The men broke out in angry tones, fighting and shouting trying to be heard over one another, each thinking their way was the best.

Queen Valencia looked imploringly to Janna and Gorden, as if asking them to step in. Gorden cleared his throat as loudly as he could, but to no avail. The men paid him no attention as tones and insults grew more and more heated by the second.                                                                                                          

“Enough!” Gorden finally shouted as loudly as he possibly could. His voice carried across the room, filling every nook and crevice with its reverberating quality. Almost as if school children scorned, they all stopped talking at once, sinking back into their seats or slumping once more against the walls.

 “Are we not a team?” He asked, giving them a disappointed look. “Do we not all fight for the same thing? Are we not all here to uphold the ideals of freedom and equality? Are we not here to present ourselves as a united front against an evil and corrupt man and his disdainful lineage?” The men shifted uncomfortably, beginning to regret and rethink their behavior.

Gorden surveyed the room before deciding to drive his point all the way home. “You are all acting like a bunch of children, squabbling and hollering in such a manner. There are many ways that we could approach Haden’s army, true, but that does not mean there is one right way. We are full grown men. We should be working together, not trying to prove who is better or smarter. It doesn’t matter. If you cannot let your petty ideas go; then there will be weakness among our ranks. 

We are still out numbered five to one compared to Haden’s army. There are also many among us that have never even lifted a sword. We are in charge of a small, untrained, frightened army. If we do not present a united front, then our men and women will not become a united front. Put your petty differences aside. We are people who all believe that King Haden’s ways are unjust and wrong. That should be all we need. This isn’t a competition; this is the difference between life and death. Between right and wrong.”   

Some of the men hung their heads, murmuring apologies as they did. It was obvious they were all embarrassed for the way they had acted.

Satisfied that he had gotten his point across, Gorden changed the subject as he and Janna crossed the threshold into the room. Janna, her pale purple and white dress flowing around her, went to stand next to Queen Valencia. The two shared a warmhearted smile as they watched the men hammer out the details of their next move.

“Now” Gorden started. “What is the quickest way to our intended rendezvous?” A man in paisley green with a large round stomach, dark brown hair, and matching beard wiggled his fat finger over the map. “Here he said, letting his meaty hand glide down along the shortest route.”

“Do you all agree?” Gorden asked. A couple of them responded with the word “aye” others nodded their approval. “Then that is the way we shall take.” Gorden said, please with how easy that had really been.   

He waited for a moment, expecting someone to protest him. When they did not, he glanced around the room. Men were nodding their heads in approval. Some of them shared looks of consent. Gorden let out a long, happy sigh and the men broke out in applause, cheering themselves and each other for agreeing so easily.

They stayed in the room for several hours, working hard on a strategy plan to ambush their enemy. Surprise was going to be of the essence, especially since there would be so many among them who were untrained.

They intended to attack in small puffs from every side. First, attacking from the back left, then moving on to the back right. Once the quarry completely turned directions and forgot about the front, they intended to send about half of the army around and attack them where they were exposed.                       

They couldn’t use fire even though it had been discussed at great lengths because they would be in the dry, semi wooded area that skirted the city of Falkin. Flames would set everyone and everything on fire. It would burn through the dead brush like a plague of locust in a farmer’s field.                                            

They discussed other methods of attack as well, but given their fairly limited resources, limited skills and the simple fact that they wouldn’t have any time, they finally came to the conclusion that an old fashioned attack with their simple weapons was the best they could do.  

There was a small commotion outside. Everyone looked up from their planning, staring at the window. “The people from Raptuse are here.” Said one of the men. “Time to go” said another. No one moved as they all bowed their heads and prayed to their gods, asking for strength and a swift death if it must be them who die. They crossed themselves as they rose from their chairs, heart beats racing inside each man and both women. The blood surged through their hearts, flooding across their ribs and dripping across their lungs, making the air thick and hard to breathe as the heaviness of their mission grew more and more real by the second.  

They walked down the now empty hallways of the castle in a tight ball, completely silent, each lost in his or her own thoughts, each trying not to think about the impending war with its dismal odds. Each trying not to focus on the fact that there might not be a tomorrow.   

In the courtyard, men in many different styles of armor with different crests and detailing were already beginning to line up. They looked like a ragged bunch of fighters, nowhere near what an army of seasoned warriors would look like.

Children exhausted from their long journey and scared wailed as their mothers and grandmothers tried desperately to sooth them. Husbands embraced their wives, telling them not to worry. Somewhere in the distance, a woman’s sobs could be heard as she begged her daughter not to join in the battle.  

With the help of several gentlemen, Queen Valencia climbed atop a wooden cart so that everyone could see her. She surveyed the ever growing crowd as more and more people flooded into the courtyard and beyond, draping themselves across the bridge and pouring out of the castle doors.                             

“Silence” Called Gorden. No one noticed him. “Silence!” One of the Dukes echoed. Still, the hubbub of the crowd was too much for their small voices. The sound was drowned out before anyone could even take notice.

Looking around, one of the men spotted a rather large copper cooking bowl that had been pitched into a rubbish pile. It fell on its journey to Galanda and after sustaining a massive injury, had blown a rather large hole in the side and therefore rendered useless.

”Cover your ears.” He said to them as he drew his sword and started pacing around the cooper bowl, dragging the blade as he went. It let out a sharp pinging sound, causing most people to immediately fling their hands over their ears as they cringed. Once he had everyone’s attention, he stopped and faced them, giving everyone a big smile. Angry shouts erupted from the crowd as they tried to figure out why he had done what he did. “Silence!” He yelled, flashing his smile once more.                                                                              

“Thank you sir.” Queen Valencia’s smooth, icy tone rang out through the courtyard. All eyes turned to her as they waited for her to speak.

“It has been a grueling two weeks.” She began. Mummers of agreement began to fill the air. “But” She said, cutting the murmurings short. “We are not done yet. It is time to go after our enemy and take them down. It is time for vengeance for my husband, the citizens of Capance and the women of Haden’s Realm.” Cheers erupted as everyone agreed. 

She held up her hand once more. Everyone Fell immediately silent, as if a switch had been flipped. These fine men, war lords, dukes and leaders will direct you on the plan of attack. It is imperative that you do exactly as you are told. We are outnumbered and out seasoned. It will be a difficult battle to win, and if we fail, Haden will kill us all then go after the rest of the world, un-rivaled. He burns our towns; he rapes our women, and kills our men. He is a monster.”  

She did not wait for their reaction, saying all that she could think to say, she stepped down from the platform as Yabe clambered up to start doling out the orders. Janna met her at the bottom. “Very nice.” She said with a warm smile. “Thank you.” Valencia replied, taking her hand and squeezing it gently. “Will you be joining us in battle?”

Janna cocked her head as she replied. “No, I am not much of a fighter. I will be of no use, being slaughtered or captured as soon as we begin. I shall stay here and tend to those that do not go.”

Valencia Squeezed Janna’s hand and smiled at her once more. “I hear that there is a rat among Haden’s officers.” She said.

Janna nodded. “Yes, from my understanding, that is how everyone ended up here. I gave him gold to help a girl my husband condemned to death. That is considered high treason and I gave it only to him in the strictest of confidence. Imagine my surprise when you all showed up here, demanding to be let in. It made my heart race thinking what my husband would do to me. But when I thought of it more and thought about what he was doing to everyone in your kingdom, it nearly broke me down. If Gorden hadn’t of told me about the rat and the plans to stop Haden in his tracks, I might not have been so willing to let you all in.”   

“Well thank you.” Said Valencia. “What you have done means a lot to my people and myself., I’m sure that it also means a lot to many of your own people who have spent their whole lives living in fear. If it wasn’t for you and Gorden, I would be a head on a stick just like my husband.” Janna blanched, sickened at the image of her new and first friend as a head on a stick.  

As Yabe finished giving directions, everyone moved into place, ready to march into war. Every seasoned soldier, commander, lord, farmer, teacher, merchant, baker, blacksmith, shoemaker, builder, seamstress, housekeeper,  mother, father, daughter, son, grandma, grandpa, rich, poor, middleclass person poised and ready to bring down an entire army. They were all well aware that they were on a fool’s errant, but no one let on how terrified they were to march straight into the arms of death.   There were no tears to be shed and no time to let fear eat at their hearts. If they were going to take a stand against King Haden and everything he and his ancestors had ever stood for, then they needed to be strong.

It was a nice day, the sky was crystal blue, bugs hummed about their business in a lazy fashion. Birds chirped happily to each other, their new babies just starting to peak their heads out of fresh cracked eggs.

The world beyond the castle lay calm and deserted. Those against King Haden’s oppressive ways now stood ready to fight him. Those that stood in favor of King Haden had been driven out of the city, killed or thrown in the dungeon. While each of the cities or towns in Jarone’s Kingdom had their own defenses, they did not have enough supplies for the volunteers so every horse and weapon in Galanda had been rounded up and brought to the castle for their makeshift army to use.  

The heads of the less than two dozen soldiers king Haden left to guard his home now lay on sticks surrounding the outer gates. A fitting punishment to Haden for what he did to king Jarone.

In the still, stationary air, Yabe lifted his arm, pointing to one of the Lords. The man waited every muscle in his body flexed and hard. The veins in his neck looked like they were on the verge of exploding. He gripped his horse’s reins in his dark leather gloved hands. His knuckles inside whiter than the whites of his eyes. His breath caught in the middle of his thick throat.

Yabe dropped his arm, letting his fingers gently swing toward the gate. As his hand fell, the Lord shot forward, his men and assigned volunteers moving with him as if they were one.

In the distance, a small girl began to cry. Onlookers and soldiers alike choked back their own tears as her sobbing drew at their hearts. They set their faces in stone, sadness and fear in their eyes as they did their best to avoid meeting the eyes of family members who stayed behind.

The procession of fighters leaving the castle took the better part of an hour. The longer they lingered, the more their families cried. A couple of the young volunteers also grew teary eyed. The more seasoned fighters around them did the best they could to comfort them, telling them to buck up and put on a brave face.

As the last of the soldiers left the gates, Gorden bringing up the rear, Mada materialized from the crowds, Marianna, Lucia and Pab in her wake. He stopped, barely recognizing them. They were no longer brown. Their white skin and simple blue and green dresses brought a smile to his face. He could see the freckles splattered across Pab and Lucia’s faces. He hadn’t seen those freckles in a long, long time. He smiled at the sight of them.

“Please, I beg of you, bring our son home safe.” Mada said; her brown hair shimmering in the sun light, her white hands soft and luxurious in his palms. He relished in them bringing them up to his face. She obliged him and stroked his cheek. He closed his eyes in pleasure at her touch, letting his mind float freely for just a moment.  

“Good bye papa.” Marianna’s sad, quiet voice brought him back to reality. He opened his eyes and looked into her big eyes. “I will see you all soon, my loves.” He said, putting on the biggest grin he could possibly fake. Inside, his stomach sank at the thought of coming home. He knew the reality that he might never see them again. At least they were safe. He thought, trying his hardest to keep his exterior appearance as happy and cheerful as he possibly could.

He gave them all one last hug and kiss. His lips lingering on Mada’s. Her breath on his lips driving him mad with desire. He had to fight himself to pull away from her. At last doing so, he couldn’t stand it any longer and without another word or another look back, he dug his heels into his horse and galloped after the rest of his men.

 

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