The air was thick with apprehension, like the calm before the storm. Men stood silently along the walls of the fortress, hot in their armour, watching as the enemy lines approached. The sound of tramping feet filled the air with a steady rythm. A few men shifted nervously, their resplendent blue armour clinking.
Heads turned as the captain strode along behind them.
"Keep your courage, men!" Captain Fallin called, gripping the shoulders of a few of the soldiers he passed. Fallin was a tall man, strongly built with a broad chest. Dark hair peeked out from under his helmet. The helmet was blue like the rest, but his had golden wings curving back on the sides. A slight beard showed on his chin. This was more a result of the constant preparation of the past few days than intentional grooming. It seemed to be the case all around the fortress. Fallin was a man that all soldiers looked up to, and listened to, even to death.
"As long as our banner, flies, Namor will stay strong!" Fallin continued, pointing to the dark blue banner rippling overhead. "The Gorlacs can not bring us down!"
He continued down the line, repeating the message of hope and courage.
The men stood more confidently after Fallin passed them. One soldier in particular was bolstered by his speech.
Jakos, a young man of eighteen, had been thrusting his chest out, trying to show that he was not afraid. In truth, he was terrified. The sounds of the enemy as they approached filled him with fear, and his heart beat in time to their footsteps. But the words of Captain Fallin quieted his fears, and he stood tall, ready to face anything.
Far to the left of where Jakos stood, the archers formed their ranks. Standing two deep, they checked their arrows for the fifth time, then restrung their bows. Their armour was lighter, consisting of a heavy leather jerkin rimmed with iron around the neck and chest, and metal caps. Each archer was paired with a partner, and one stood in front of the other, ready to take a shot, then step back and reload while their partner fired his own bow.
There was some low conversation as the archers went through their final check. Being an archer was one of the safest jobs in Namor. They were sheltered behind a solid wall with only slight indentations in the top for them to shoot from.
The sergeant of the archers was pacing nervously. This was his first real battle. There had been fifteen years of peace, albeit tense, and not many soldiers could remember what it was like to face the Gorlacs in war. The men who did had been promoted to captain or higher long ago.
Sergeant Nihlem briefly paused, then reached into his pocket and brought out a small framed painting of his wife. She sat in a high backed chair, holding a wrapped bundle in her arms. A small face peeked out at one end of the bundle. Nihlem's son. He had only been born two weeks ago. His son. He still wondered at that.
The baby and his mother were hidden deep within the caves dug in the side of the mountain with the other women and children. With any luck they would stay that way.
General Trena stood on the tallest tower in the fortress, watching the enemy lines come closer and closer, the sound of their marching filling the air.
Trena turned to his Head Advisor Colonel, Ashe. Ashe was a rarity among his Colonels. He had light yellow hair, that was, oddly, streaked through with black. Trena was still unsure whether that was natural or not. Ashe was only twenty-five, yet could remember in exquisite detail the final battle that had driven the Gorlacs back where they had come from, fifteen years ago. Apparantly he had climbed the very same parapet they stood on now, and had watched the battle from above, noting troop movements of the Namorians and Gorlacs alike. A few years later he had boldly walked into Trena's office asking questions about military strategy that were mature beyond his years. If they survived this battle, Ashe would go on to have a stellar military career. Trena had made sure to get him on his staff years ago, and had personally mentored Ashe to be the best strategist in Cal-din.
It didn't hurt that Ashe was one of the best swordsman in the fort as well.
"Colonel Ashe, send a message to Captain Fallin to send twenty more soldiers down to the courtyard. We'll need them if the Gorlacs break through."
Ashe nodded grimly, then turned to one of the messengers standing by to relay the command.
He stepped back up to Trena and said softly, "What happens if we don't win?"
Trena cocked his head, confused. Surely Ashe was keen enough to see the disaster that would befall the rest of the world if Cal-din fell....
That's not what he's asking, Trena realized, noticing the slight tremor in Ashe's voice. He knows that if we fail, there will be no survivors left in Cal-din. He's afraid.
Trena had spent enough years as a soldier to know exactly what that was like.
"If Cal-din falls... let's just say that there will be many widows before this is over."
"So let us pray that it does not fall, then. But.." Ashe hesitated, then forged on. "Sir, we don't have enough men to hold Cal-din. If we take too many losses at the outset, this will be a massacre."
"Keep your voice down." Trena commanded. "If the men knew that, we would lose for sure. Let them keep their hope."
"I'm afraid mine is waning." Ashe whispered, and he closed his eyes in a short prayer to whatever god was listening.
It was about midday when suddenly the sound of marching feet stopped. Everything was eerily silent. The soldiers on the wall fidgeted nervously as the Gorlacs soundlessly lined up into ranks stretching as far as the eye could see.
Jakos realized that the silence felt louder than the steady thrumming of before. He scanned the lines of Gorlacs, noticing the huge catapults that dotted the ranks, and the large rhino-like creatures that pulled them.
He heard the crisp footsteps of Captain Fallin as he approached the place that Jakos regiment stood.
"Prepare javelins, men." Fallin commanded quietly. "If they break through, the rear rank must fall back to the courtyard immediately."
"We shouldn't need to aim too much, sir, seeing as how they stand so close."
That was one of the sergeants. There were a few nervous laughs, and the tension eased a little. Jakos drew a javelin from the quiver at his feet, and fingered the tip. He and the rest of the men in this regiment were trained in javelin throwing, sword and dagger fighting, and basic archery. But almost all of the regular infantry had never seen real battle before in their life, though they had been training rigorously for years.
A sudden horn blast made everyone jump. The sound was from the Gorlacs standing below. The ranks suddenly split to allow a singular Gorlac through. He was larger than the rest, and wore a fearsome black helmet on his head.
"Humans!" He bellowed.
"They can talk?" The man next to Jakos whispered.
"Apparently." Jakos responded.
"If you surrender now, your death will be painless!" A predatory smile formed on his brutish face. When no response came from the fort, the Gorlac continued mockingly.
"You stand there, in your fancy castle, with walls reaching for the clouds. You stand there, high and mighty in your pretty blue armour."
There was a ripple of mocking laughter from the field of Gorlacs.
"But before this day is over, your armour will be red with blood, and your white streets will be littered with the dead!"
A roar of approval rose from Gorlacs. The men on the walls shifted nervously, looking frightened.
"Stand your ground!" Fallin commanded loudly. The shifting stopped, but the scared looks did not go away.
Trena drummed his fingers on the tower walls. He could hear the Gorlac's words, though faintly. He could see the men's fear, even from so far away, and the intimidating figure of Captain Fallin striving to maintain order. Ashe stepped up to him.
"Sir, should we do something? Shoot him?"
Trena thought a moment.
"No." He decided. "If we kill him now, that will only accelerate the battle. I want as much time to prepare as I can."
It was a common belief that the Gorlacs communicated to each other through some kind of telepathy. They didn't need a leader to maintain order. That meant that they could still be deadly even without a leader. The Gorlacs were strangely quiet when they fought, only emitting animalistic grunts and yells.
Trena scanned the troops below one more time. Archers in their place, their bows strung and ready. Infantry in the courtyard, prepared to defend the gates at any cost. More soldiers with javelins stood on the walls. The women, children, and elders were safely tucked away in the caves that had been dug in the side of the mountain years ago. Trena squared his shoulders and turned to a messenger standing nearby.
"Take a few others messengers and check in with each regiment. Make sure they're ready, then bring word back to me."
The messenger saluted and ran off.
"We'll wait for them to attack first." Trena continued, now addressing his advisors. "This is the first time anyone has fought the Gorlacs in years. Let them make the first move."
But even with all his preparation, it still came as a shock to Trena when the first clash of battle began. The archers began firing, and the men on the walls rained their javelins down on the Gorlacs below. There were no screams of pain from the dying Gorlacs as they died, only eerie silence. The battle continued like that for about half an hour, Gorlacs flinging themselves at the gate, trying to break through, and attempting to place and climb ladders on the wall. A sliver of hope began to rise in Trena. Maybe they would hold out after all.
Then the catapults started firing their deadly payload.
Huge boulders crashed into the walls of the fort, crushing the men beneath them. Screams finally began to fill the air.