Of Armor and Bone- Chapter Seven
The early afternoon sun had melted the low fog away, and the light wind had pushed many of the remaining clouds out of the sky. The horse under Terren’s reins huffed and snorted loudly with each elongated stride. The animal’s nostrils flared wide following every breath, letting out clouds of condensation that quickly disappeared behind them. The sides of his shins pattered against it’s sides that fluttered with the pumping of the animal’s heart.
Out of his peripheral vision, Terren could spot the other riders attempting to keep pace. Ahead on the road laid the last ridge before crossing into the Sing Valley. The hot sun hitting his back stung the skin of his neck. Below his collar, he could feel the sweat starting to pool and soak into the cloak. The rhythmic jostling of the horse below him played against his exhaustion and he struggled to keep his eyes open.
Kiaren collapsed on the ground with a huff. For the first time that morning, she could feel the cold air arouse the hairs on her bare arms. She attempted to cover up her shiver with a sharp breath. Her legs ached and her toes had gone mostly numb in the cold. With a heavy blink, she caught Shiloh glancing her way before turning back to his work. After another breath, she pushed herself back to her feet.
Shiloh continued to toss up mounds of dirt on the smoldering ashes with the spade. The commander stumbled his way, hefting an open jug of water on her back. “Ma’am,” he said, looking up at Kiaren’s smudged, dirty face. “You may rest now. Please, keep your strength.”
“I’m fine.” Kiaren shrugged and sloshed more of the water upon the side of the building. “If we allow more smoke to escape from here, we may continue to draw more undue attention,” she sighed. “We don’t want Xiandol to think we take such an attack lightly.”
Shiloh pursed his lips and peered up at the sky between the space in the roofs overhead. The gray smoke had dissipated into a dull cloud that hung low in the blue winter sky. “If you wish to show them that to the best of your ability, do it with a clear head and rested body.” He declared.
The the top of the hillside, Terren yanked his horse to a stop. In cool, light breeze, he caught the scent of smoke on the air. The other riders slowed to a halt beside him. The following guard lifted his hand in the air to signal the others following to stop. Terren’s eyes studied the horizon.
“Is something the matter, Sir?” Thomas prodded him.
“You smell the smoke, solider?” Terren asked. The mountain range dominated the horizon. The faint white peaks pierced the air, but the settlement lay hidden beyond the tall trees.
“The air seems a bit thick with it, yeah?” Thomas nodded slowly.
“It’s not like the smell from a campfire.” Terren said with clenched teeth. “I fear what we will find upon arrival.” With a quick couple of taps with his heels, the horse reared up to turn back in course. Terren leaned into the slope as the group took off.
Kiaren rubbed the damp cloth up the sides of her face. The water was frigid, but the moisture felt soothing against her dry skin and lips. She peered down at her boots that were caked with a combination of mud, flecks of grey ash, and blood. The survivors that had been forced out of the burning buildings were huddled at the barracks grounds, huddled around the fire. Some of the men and women stared at the flamed blank-faced. The sudden rumbling of the ground beneath Kiaren’s feet caused her to shoot up from the ground in surprise. She quickly turned to look back at the mountain, then out at the valley.
Others had noticed the rumbling, and had stood to look for the source. The bright sun had long passed overhead, and Kiaren could now see out in the direction of Tulefore to the east. A cloud of dust had risen up along the road. She began to slog towards the gate of the settlement as the cloud approached.
Terren spotted the sight of the black and burnt blocks of the town. The horse continued to rush forward at a strained speed, but as he spotted the figure at the gate, he urged the animal to a slower pace. He finally skidded to a halt just in front of the outer walls and jumped off to greet the commander waiting for him.
“Kiaren… sister,” he wavered and approached her. Kiaren locked eyes with him as he cupped her hands. “What has happened here?”
“We were attacked.” Kiaren declared coldly. She quickly pulled her hands away as the remaining men came to a stop behind Terren’s horse. “It was a surprise to everyone, in the dead of night. We had our pants down and backs turned.”
“Just as his Highness guessed.” Terren spat. “When we met with the King early this morning, he warned us of the possibility. It just happened… so quickly.” The Lieutenant said as he looked around the destruction and the survivors scattered around. “How is this possible?”
“It is something I would wish to speak with you in private about.” Kiaren uttered quietly.
“Is there really time for that, sister?” Terren rebutted indignantly. “If Xiandol was able to organize such an attack from the shadows, it speaks to how soft we’ve become. We must bolster immediately! Get more troops from the city!”
Kiaren grabbed Terren by the front of his cloak and pulled him in close. “This was no ordinary attack,” She whispered menacingly.“The men say it was demons. Have those who came with you stand guard. We have to discuss the possibility of certain situations.”
The commander release him and Terren stood back up tall. “Very well then,” he hummed, defeated. His eyes scanned the camp and the groups of people strewn about outside. “Zethurus, I would have expected to see him with you. I must hope he did not perish in the attack.”
Kiaren looked around the area, realizing she had not seen the man either. “Mister Shiloh.” She called out loudly to her bodyguard. “Where is the mage?”