To a wanderer, the temple was a useless rock in the middle of a dusty plain surrounded by the blue rocky cliffs.
A couple of guys were chatting behind me, waiting to get in the rustic temple. I couldn’t see much this far from the entrance because the sea of hair trimmed to the exact length that danced before me.
“Did the Master Vestment come to the altar?” The guy turned me in the spot.
“I don’t know. I can’t see.” I replied, but he moved his head about, nodded and looked over his shoulder.
“They must be debating with the Nanur. If he pulls his offer back, there will be no war. Goddess knows they need help. Gorgothians will decimate them on the first day. If you hear something, let us know.” The man tapped my back and went back to his unit.
Just a minute later, I heard a manly roar in front of the temple and a wave of energy spilled over the crowd. The Master Vestment has arrived and ceremony has begun and the crowd started pushing to get in. Some guys bickered and threw punches when a soldier stepped over someone’s foot.
Finally, I was at the stairs. The Royal Guardians with feathers in their helms let me pass and held the army back until the Master Vestment finishes with me. I climbed the stairs, passed the statues made of bones and skulls of those that once served our army. The walls full of craters let the light fall on different angles and shine over the enemy shields we used to make the floor.
“The Goddess summons you. Lo, the all-powerful Kalasia, you who collect souls of the brave, protector of those that fall, the mighty Goddess of War. We bring you another servant, another soldier to do with him as you wish. We bring you one more soul to take care of, one more child to be guided to the right path” The black Vestment spoke looking through the hole in the ceiling. “Kiss the sword son.” He bowed to tell me that and when I kissed it, he told me to hold it up and point it at the sky. “Lo, he accepted your grace, he accepted to be your weapon, your shield, your will on Earth. May he fight valiantly and grant him a heroic death.” The men said and a Royal Guardian inside the temple threw me out the other way.
I shook the dust off of my cape, resentful at the whole process I hoped to be more honorable. I stood up and then some veteran soldier punched me in the nose the hardest he could. He knocked me back to the ground and threw a talisman at my chest.
“Here, don’t ever lose it. Hide it somewhere. If we catch you without it, we will slit your throat. That is your shield from the wrath of Kalasia” The grey-bearded veteran said waiting for another soldier to be thrown out of the temple.
I looked at the man who stood above me, gathered my pride from the dust and left to join others that regretted their becoming the soldiers of Kalatria. At least we could now focus our anger on Gorgothians that made war with the Kingdom of Talia.
When the last soldier exited the temple, that veteran punched him too and the whole army gathered to hear the words of our leader. He stepped on the ledge, holding the holy sword in his hand, his eyes traveling over the men, banners, and servants that packed the carts. The words he said to us were encouraging and familiar to our training. He ended the speech with our maxima “We bring order to chaos” and told us to move out.
The hundred thousand Kalatrians started marching for the foreign realm of Gorgoth, a realm so unfamiliar to us we wildly fantasized about their forces. According to Nanur, a messenger of Talia and the number of troops he hired for war, we could expect a great resistance and long combats in the unknown terrain.
Even so, our leader hoped for his armies to get more skillful, more proficient and better trained in the arts of war. We adapted to every situation, to every fighting style and held the military doctrine at the highest level, but we were not the invaders, we considered ourselves the bringers of peace.
“Isn’t it funny how they’ve sent only one messenger to negotiate the terms of service?” A sharpshooter on my left said more to himself rather than looking for a conversation, but I granted him that time-wasting amusement.
“It is very odd, I’ll second that statement. He never said why they are fighting Gorgothians. We are about to enter foreign land in two weeks. I guess that is enough time for us to see what is going on before the first blood is spilled.” I said holding the pace with the rest of the marching column that was headed for the sunset.
I wasn’t eager to say everything I had on my mind, because I doubted the words would fly freely and pass the ears of those that were instructed to keep their eyes on for deserters and mongering soldiers that could undermine the orders.
We marched to the unknown.
The army has stopped at the border with Talia, where we elected the unit commanders, and the Caldron Master ordered that half of our rations need to be held back as a reserve. From now on, the army would get only one hot meal and eat whatever we found in the fields.
The chain of command was reinstituted, the scouts were sent to look for the roaming enemy parties, the leather belts were tightened and then we entered the domain of Talia. Our leader wasn’t interested to be courted while enemy grasped better position in the Kingdom of Talia so we began our march toward the Gorgoth borders.
After a few more weeks, the tension raised along with the number of scouts that started returning more frequently. I was elected to be a holy sword bearer and changed shifts with another guy, so one of us was awake all of the time. Whatever happened, one of us needed to be around our leader in case there is a clash.
On one morning, the scouts returned with a message that confused our leader. Even he himself saw what is going on in the realm of Talia, but he subscribed that to the incompetence of Talian Lords. But now, he witnessed the sour truth. No peasant was mobilized to fend their motherland, no food was stockpiled to withstand the war climate, no Talian held a weapon, only grudge for the Gorgothians.
Nanur was summoned to the King’s tent for a brief chat. He gapped the cloth and strode in with pride, his chin high and robes covered with gold, a royal sigil on his chest. Our leader had a worried expression on his face. He held his hands to the back and made circles, absently looking at his feet. He cleared his throat and looked at Nanur.
“You’ve hired us to defend your county, yet no Talian appeared to provide us aid. What sort of a man doesn’t want to protect himself? They plow the fields, praise the bountiful harvest, yet they despise the Gorgot. Why is that?” The leader asked and stopped to hear the answer.
“You’ve agreed to push the invaders out of our land. That is your job.” Nanur replied, almost breaking a giggle.
“Gorgothians are mountain tribes, people that adore forests, bathe in the cold creeks of their lands. They are not a warlike crowd. Why did they migrate here?” The leader insisted on getting an answer, but Nanur addressed him with a smirk and a nod.
“I would like to remind you of your oath Kalatrian. You could lose face if you break your word. The problem is rather simple. Expel the Gorgothians out of the realm of Talia and receive a payment. Anything more than that, you could bring shame to the Kalatrians, never to be cleaned again.” Nanur said, now aggravated with this conversation.
“Don’t you lecture me about losing face Talian. You depend on your fortune, your might and luck. We searched for Gorgothian warrior, and instead of a soldier, we’ve captured a woman, terribly ill and weak. She told us why they abandoned their mounds in the mountain. Your resources are running low and that is unacceptable to the standards of Talian Lords. Gorgothians didn’t want to leave their forests, and let you cut them down for your riches, so you plagued their lands by throwing infected carcasses on the cliffs of Grothdar, poured poison in their creeks, fed bears with human flesh, making them run in a frenzy, killing the villagers.” The King ran up to Nanur’s face, shouting.
“You gave an oath to me! You’ve sworn to defend us!” Nanur shouted.
“I gave an oath to all that I will protect the weak. I will not defile my army by killing Gorgothian women and children, Talian!” The Kind added and turned away. “The war is off. No bad blood was spilled and my oath is invalid without blood touching the sacred ground of war.” He said half-quiet and was about to step away when Nanur yelled.
“Then be damned for breaking your word! Among Talians, you will be known a faceless man!” The words stroke our King into anger, but he took a minute to calm down.
With a swift move of his hand, he grasped the holy swords, pulled it out in a circle and slit the Nanur’s throat. The head fell and rolled out from the tent, where blood splattered against the ground.
“I proclaim the war against Talia! They are out of luck now! For the glory of our Goddess, for the blood oath, for the vengeance of the fallen, for the darkness that will consume us all, for Kalasia, to war!” The King growled pointing the sword at the top of his tent, letting, Nanur’s blood to slide down to the pommel.
Minor clashes with Talians provoked their armies to step out from the warm castles and meet us on the battlefield. Two of their armies were broken, two of their Lords were cut down before the rest of them defected the battlefield – seeking shelter. This angered the peasants so they stood up in armed revolt against the Kalatrians that protected the much-hated Gorgothians.
The world perished under our feet.
No Lord joined their subordinates, thus one brave villager took the lead over peasant army. They broke against out shields like waves over a cliff. Defeated and resentful, they set their crops to flames and gave us ash for food. Their revolt steered to Kalatria to lay waste on our homeland, but our King sent ten thousand strong to establish defensive lines at the border and protect our Kingdom.
Gorgothians categorically refused to pick up arms; the war wasn’t in their nature. Even our healers failed to change their mind. The Kalatrian King has found himself in a bit of a predicament.
“We can not leave them here. Talians ruined the Gorgoth and we have no claim to cut a piece of Talian lands and give them to Gorgothians as the spoils of war. It is just, yet it will only fuel the hate. They would fight over the land. If Gorgothians don’t pick up weapons, the Talian Lords would only put them in chains.” The King spoke, finding this problem hard to swallow and solve it for the benefit of both nations. “We are running low on food with these many people to feed.” He held himself above the table and looked at the maps with little rocks representing the armies and the fortresses. “I can’t allow my armies to break them down like a normal army; I refuse to be called a butcher of Talia.”
“What would you want us to do?” I asked, without the benevolence toward the King, because he considered us just the same as he was. “Cultural shock will only make it worse. They pray to different Gods, they speak in different tongues and to call the west of Talia a sovereign Gorgoth land, it will be something impossible for both nations to swallow. You are trying our hands here, leaving us without options. Talia is in chaos. I hear that villages fight other villages over the land dispute, Lords hide in the towers, and their knights rob the civilians – blame that on us.”
“We can only migrate Gorgothians back to Gorgoth. That will leave Talian lands intact, and leave no reason for hate. Gorgothians have forgiven Talia for its wrongful deeds. Maybe we can learn something from them.” King said, letting the candle to illuminate his face.
“That could work. Bringing the things back to what they used to be, reversing the whole thing to the former state. We would need huge stone walls to prevent Talian incursions and stop the illegal forest cutting. We need to frame Gorgoth borders in order to keep the peace.” I said, resting the holy sword of Kalasia on my chest pointed up when my King squeezed his mouth to a line and nodded.
At the first light of dawn, the Gorgoth migrated back home. The Talian peasants brought their revolt at the castle gates, demanding heads of their Lords. The civil war has begun, but this time, we were not tempted to meddle. We only protected the innocent.
And some other stories that might interest you.