Before I start: Ramgores – A long lost race of people that live in people’s dreams, very wise and cunning. They have power of clairvoyance; give advice to those in trouble, considered as Gods. Usually seen as specters of light with glowing faces. They can make love with their victims, give them nightmares, even kill a man in his sleep and transfer small objects from one lover’s mouth to another over the nights pass.
Breeze flapped the tent’s side, moved my locks of hair from the forehead while I was asleep. A pine resin made incense burnt high on the table where battle maps lied pressed with rocks and figurines of a gryphon. My armor on a hanger had a metallic clink from the Sun that shined on it and reflected to my shut eyes. Marching stomps of a moving army were vague like they were headed to the distance. Battle was upon us and that’s the moment I woke up with a lasting cry.
– SULAAAA! – the scream shifted to a growl and fully equipped generals turned to see me lying on a doormat on the floor.
– I still don’t know why did she picked a footman to speak through instead of one of us. – bald and bearded General Sidak spoke to himself and kept spectating the map in front of him.
General Katos slowly turned to me holding his sword by the handle and took a knee by my side. His brown hair twisted in tales was wrinkled to the back, but his light colored beard was firmly pointing down to a leader’s medallion engraved on his chest. Usually sad expression of his eyes searched me, my long black hair, sucked in cheeks and a one week old beard that was soaking wet with nightmare sweat. He wanted to place his gauntlet on my shoulder and check if I was alright, but he stifled his lip and confirmed with his head.
– Tell us everything. – Katos said waiting for me to catch breath and get my fill with water I gulped in greed.
– Fucking bitch. – words fell silent down the aggravated clutch of a fist that hammered against the dirt beneath me, – She gave me nightmare again. I asked all of the things you wanted to know, but she was toying with me like a boy with a stick. She speaks in riddles, incoherent and odd. – my brows portrayed a confused grimace when Gen Sidak rolled his eyes.
– He doesn’t even speak Ramgorian. How in the blessed name of our King he would know to communicate with a divine being? – Sidak threw his arms about, but a rock solid holding of a General Katos intervened.
– She would communicate in our language, not hers. He hears her speaking our tongue in his dream, not theirs. The dreams… He is a recreation to her, a practice… Free time occupation. I would like to see you wage all your battles in one night period. – Katos now shooted his eyes at the Gen Sidak that closed his mouth and bowed his head, – It is not easy for them. They leave the battle, but still dream of it. You… You got used to that, same as me. Tell us, what she did in your dream. – now Katos touched me with his gauntlet and tilted his head aside.
– I was passing in a blue spectered meadow with high grass rustling in the wind. Our dead were set on spikes like a crossroad signs pointing at the horizon filled with smoke and murmur of a Kolatons marching song. She appeared at my side like a ghost and called me by name. She asked me all sort of question, but I didn’t answered those that were about the war. I kept military secrets a secrets.
– Then what happened? – Katos listened my words with a wondering expression gazing straight at me.
– Then, we spoke some nonsense and she took me to the horizon. It was horrifying. Kolatons had an army like no other, like we fought their auxiliary the whole time, not their main army. Blade turned to dust in my hands while she fanatically laughed. I’ve seen that image thousand of times before. She just kept recreating that over and over again, making me face their advance alone. – my restless eyes now slided towards the Gen Sidak that was developing a smirk to the left side if his face.
– Let’s just hope she is not recreating the same thing to the Kolatony General and we will be fine. – Sidak said it loosely swinging in his spot where hidden giggles started lingering around the table.
– Thank you young man. – General Katos removed his gauntlet from me and bowed in a sign of respect, – There is one more thing I would like to ask of you… Go back to sleep. Go over that meadow thousand more times and find a way to destroy that army. Recreate that memory when you are awake and find us a fighting chance, because I am done watching our men impaled with spikes hanging by the road.
Once again the battlefield had a sense of anticipation carried in the wind that pressed against the shields in the hands of the first line. Pointy helmets stringed down the curve of the hill where a couple of riders stood out from the crowd. Their flags with gryphon emblem flew high bending from the same wind which was also moving the long spears making them accidentally graze each other. Sunny day was obviously boring out the army of young men that had no intention of looking at the glowing orb in the sky. Leather gloves squeaking on wood, gasps, occasional coughs and chater was overwhelming due the time we waited for Kolatons to show up in the other side of the field.
General Sidak removed his knight helm and with a sour face like he just bit a lemon looked across the silent infantry at his feet. General Katos just rode in passing through the lines of archers that were in our back and hastily approached the command group. His horse was half way prompting to his back feet when I grabbed the mouth straps and set him steady. Katos’s face was hidden in a long metal eagle beak with luscious wings sticking out from his ears. His depressed feeling brought the helmet’s sight down on me where a sign came out.
– Kolatons are late for their own demise. I swear by the glory of our King, those Kolatony men are irresponsible for letting us wait like this. – Sidak combed his bushy beard and swung his head about when a vociferous laughter broke under the gryphon’s head.
– Would you even know the blessed name of our King? You already speak of it too much, it would be a shame if one would not know it. – Katos stung the pompeus General Sidak which shifted in his saddle counting the giggles of the entourage he had, – A good General does not underestimate his enemy. He sizes them up before he attacks and learns from their reactions. Your tongue swings so loosely like a dog’s tale, I am afraid the King’s private hole is well lubricated. – Katos kept stinging the General who’s gauntlets rang from anger.
– Mind your words General. I am the one sitting at the King’s side… – he threatened, but laughter among the fighting men only grew stronger.
– As I said, well lubricated. – smirk exited the metal head and I bowed aside to hide my burst of sizzling laughter.
– May Ramgorians strike you all in your sleep. – Sidak spelled the words leaning over his horse, glittering in pride he had for himself, – Battle is upon us and all you want to do is laugh. – Sidak’s bald forehead fractured wrinkles above two caterpillars that were his eyebrows.
– Batlle will wait for one more day General. Our villages are burning. Kolatons have decided to strike our rear instead facing us head on in the open field. Your poor judgement brought our troops to a place where their skill is not needed. – Katos said it with a proper tease behind the helmet where Sidak’s expression rapidly flipped to horror.
– By the blessed name of our K… – he stopped at the half and looked around to see still smiling bannermen hiding their faces in royal clothes, – Set up a chain of scouts! Disperse to the east and the west! Search for the Kolatonian riding parties! Find me their leader! Light cavalry to the head of the column! Mount and ride in the name of our King! – Sidak swung his blade and rode out where troops soon picked up their weapons and rotated for a march back.
General Katos leaned down to my face when he got reassured that Sidak was dozen paces away and said:
– Don’t worry. This is not the hill we die on. It is not the one from your nightmares Ramgorian Sula has presented you with. – I imagined a satisfied smile inside the metal beak that barely touched me, but I couldn’t help the fear stinging me about this place.
Running through the forest with deep breaths we listened the cracking of the branches under our boots that haunted us to the tree line where a smell of burning wood slithered through to greet us. We stopped and cautiously went for a stroll with every foot forward awaiting the Kolaton attack. If it wasn’t for the metal equipment, shields and helmets, I would lose track of footmen breaching out from the thick green vegetation that surrounded us. Generals were somewhat prancing on horseback where elite riders and bannermen followed them weapons drawn, ready to be bloodied.
Muted screams echoed like whispers in a treetop where a beast with its wings spread out slided away towards the village. General Sidak waved his hand, eyes fixed to the sky, face turned pale which in a long stare appeared black and white in comparison with his long black beard.
– Dragons? – footman whispered and grinned at me, but I negated and turned toward General Katos that proudly swinged his spear above gryphon helmet he wore.
– Pegasus Royal Archers. – my baritone voice trembled complementing the anger in my eyes that shrinked because of the jammed eyebrows beneath the silver helm.
Katos slapped his horse and went out in speed, his spearhead shining in the spotted out rays of the Sun that fought the darken forest shade. Everybody went still when soldier’s cries reverberated in the wooden barred horizon and brown dirt rose up before the charge of rocky giants Kolatons tamed for war. Those huge man shaped giants wheeled simple clubs with spikes sticking out, human meat attached to it. Growl blasted from the rock made face that was molded to wrath and club fell onto a spearman that plunged and broke his spear against the boulder.
Arrows started raining where one missed me with a whistle by my ear and a dark shadow of a flying horse overpassed me high above the ground. Spontaneously the mass of our men charged the rocky men and lines of archers assembled to aim at the pegasus that circled about. Courageous archers set loose their arrows and a wave got stuck into the trees that provided cover to the sharpshooter on the sky.
– Up! Climb up! – Sidak shouted at the archers where bannermen rose their shields to protect the General.
Rocky giants pushed against the clutch of men that were smashing and slicing the rock that had no other reaction than to move more into the silver wrapped meat. Their clubs swung left and right puncturing holes in the line when dozen specialists ran to the knocked wood grown in moss and pulled out their devices. Torch gave fire to turqouise flask that flew to the air and broke against the rock wielding weapons. Our men drew back and elevated their shields before the flames that engulfed the giant and melted their feet to sand. Strong burst and unbearable heat slammed over the silver and scarred the men which cries sounded mortifying. Specialist paid no attention to it as rocky giants were almost upon us. Second wave of flasks destroyed the charge of giants and set forest ablaze. Men rushed to extinguish the flames while archers hanging from the high branches protected their backs.
Sidak yelled, commanded the forces on the ground, yanked the messengers coming and going from the village. We all moved forward, battle cries and all, blades drawn, dead left behind. Upon exiting the cool shade of the forest, a hell opened in a horizon where smoke rose in a mass never seen before. Stopped at our tracks, infantry stood motionless and gawk at the crackling fire tongues spitting smoke, licking the blue sky that slowly sank into a red sunset.
A horse howler echoed and a pegasus rider stirred the black smoke with the wings of his beast gravitating straight at us. I could see his dead friends laying in the village streets, wounded peasants running for cover and an arrow piercing the roughed woman’s chest like a rabbit knocking her down where a whiff of dust jumped up and flew away into the ash. Another howl of a horse and the pegasus tumbled down from the sky flapping its wings around the rider that fell off. Horse slammed at my feet, spearhead dripping in blood, General Katos riding behind it all, his image shifting in an inferno’s distortion that radiated from the burning village. He looked glorious with his gryphon helmet changing colors, armor dancing under muscled legs of his steed and sharpen sword gleaming.
Royal Rider fought for breath barely holding himself above the ground he just kissed head on when a blade passed his neck and fountain of blood splashed the dirt in ribbons whenever the head would spin mids air. Rapid charge of our General didn’t stop until he got close to our lines which were dunked in cheer, growl and blade bashing metal armor. I smiled at him, at his brutal dominion over the raiding party that got annihilated just by one skilled General. Katos yanked his horse to a full stop and looked around like a happy mad dog that just slaughtered a whole chicken coop.
– I bet your precious Ramgorian Sula haven’t shown you this in your dreams. – he said absent breath and tears started shaping in my eyes.
Victory over the Kolatony raid that destroyed several villages was prolonged in taverns where soldiers sang all night, beer horns held high and shady women held close. Images of the General Katos riding was still in my mind, coming and going whenever the booze would overpower my vision like a wave of memories. General Sidak wasn’t entertained by a smelly lot that spat and vomited, so he left us with a bag of gold and took off with a clutch of men to search for a better way to waste his time. Katos stayed as he was one of us, one of the soldiers, a man of the people. His awkward smiles and giggles were erased with every sip from the horn and candle shadow of a waitress that was very interested in our General. We were having fun for some time until those still functional men snatched themselves a midnight treat in a dress and went upstairs leaving their companions to sleep beneath the tables.
We were entering the hour when silence lured out mice to feed on scraps that fell on the ground when Katos picked up a little furry thing and fed it with a chunk of roasted pork that got stuck on the wooden plate. Another horn sizzled with white foam that like a glue grabbed onto my moustaches and waited for the swing of a sleeve. A horn of conversation made Katos speak in a moderate tone.
– Hours are growing late. I will stand guard while you sleep. – he held a mice in his palm and looked at his precise cutting the crumbs and shoving it in its mouth.
– If you allow, I’d like to stay Milord. I don’t mind sitting here. – I said leaned over my elbows while playing with the horn’s metal cusp.
– So be it, just lose that respectful tone. We all bleed the same in battle. Sure we can share words as equal as we shared the battlefield? Don’t let the fur on my shoulders drive you away from the honest words. Generals learn the best from their men, because those men often see things we on horses don’t. You’ve seen the enemy’s rage, fire. Generals spectate from afar, admire the clash without swinging their blades. Such a fine blade hangs on Sidak’s side, it is shame not to bloody it. – he talked absent and observed the rodent in his hand which grey color changed on candle light.
– Aye Sir. It is a quality steel Sidak has… So are the Kolatony rapiers and spears that struck our men. – I twitched back and burped when Katos giggled and moved his eyes back on the tiny animal.
– You’ll be a fine General one day if you have stomach for it. Ramgorians will help you get there. Sula is a Goddess of Fear. Her guidance will make you anticipate the attacks, make you anxious. Anxiety will teach you to pay attention to details, have everything in control and react when decisions are the most needed. Don’t chase her away from your dreams. It would be a mistake many will pay with their lives. Befriend her and if needed, bed her. Ramgore knows she haven’t had a man in centuries. – he kept speaking tentative, slightly aggravated and uneasy.
– Ha, bed her. – I proned a wide smile and took another sip from horn, – I wonder what happened to Ramgores that led to their extinction?
– A war, like everybody else. They changed the battlefield by inhabiting our dreams. Nothing can hurt them there. They will live forever. They did what many Kingdoms are trying to do as we speak. They shown us that there is afterlife. We believe it that, in them like we will be granted pass to their world, but more and more I am getting convinced that there is no empty holsters that could hold me and my wrong doings. – he now swung his head about looking the sleeping men and the window where spider web stood motionless.
– You seem anxious too. May I ask why? – I broke my eyebrow in half and set a distance so I can see him sitting with a restless knee bumping the floor, – Could it be that you await for someone to come through that door? A friend? A woman?… A Kolatony Pegasus Rider? – my last question stilled him in one spot where he appeared made of stone, – Sula did thought me a few things by now. Fears often speak of future, sometimes of betrayal and Sula doesn’t portrays lies in my dreams. – my soft voice was like a Sidak’s blade piercing through his mind.
– What did she showed you? – he asked hiding his face in his shoulder where words sounded muted and threatening, but drink responded out of me.
– Man in front of the Kolatony charge uphill ran in the same way as you my General charged at the Royal Archers few hours ago. Few horns loosened me up and opened my vision where in drunken naps I’ve seen my nightmares in bright colors, same way I saw you rushing to kill the last Rider who could’ve tell your secret. You had to silence them before we silenced you. A normal spy is not bothered by a few Royal Riders that don’t know him. You are much more sir. They are Kolatony Royalty and if they know your face, that means you are one of theirs… Who are you Katos? – my attitude spoke more than words where my expression fixed on the General demanded answers and arm fell to meat knife on the table.
I squeezed the horn, got ready to stick him with it first and then pick up a knife and cut his throat. Katos pulled his head among arms, breathed out and gently set the mouse free from his grip.
– See these crumbs. Men are like that. Similar to each other even if every crumb is different by size and shape. These crumbs will not make you full, but it will feed a family of mice. Men are the same. Too small for death, too big for life. Sula thought you well, even I laid few good advices, but that is not enough to save you. She laughed in your dreams, because she knew against whom do you stand and I had no heart coming out to you. My name doesn’t matter, you don’t matter, we don’t matter and nobody matters. No one will ascend to Ramgorian after we die. – he turned tentative and I hesitated to strike him, – I told you all of the things, because I want you to live. You are far better man than those that lead this army. – he said when a torch passed the window and I knew his men came for him.
– Would you think the same when we meet on the battlefield?
– Yes, I will, but I pray to Ramgorians to not let that happen, because you saw me coming. – he said slowly getting on his feet and stepping aside the table.
– If you let me live on the battlefield, I will get my chance of killing you. – I said it with anger which have missed to catch on to the Katos’s face which stopped at the moment before shutting the door of the tavern.
– You saw me lead an army. Who leads the Kolatony Royal Army? A General, a prince or a King himself? Whoever leads that army, wouldn’t be tempted to kill his own son on the expense of victory. – he said and I froze, – You have Sula, I have Tadnir at my side.
– The God of Destiny. – I murmured eyes opened wide at a man who claimed to be a Kolatony King and claimed me his son.
– I’ve seen how this ends years before I’ve met you. I just wanted to see, does my son wants to join me. I’ll be at the place where all of this started. It is only reasonable if it also ends there. – Katos said and screeching door slammed shut behind him, then a horse howler flew along with flapping wings of Pegasus he rode on.
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