I’m too lazy to write anything interesting now, so I’ll put up an ending I’m playing with. I’m not sure if this will stay or not. I’m so far over word count, I may have to drop back ten chapters.
/Gentyl, you must convince them to leave. The mountain will collapse under us./
Gentyl strode towards the Sylvan captain, who sat on his destrier, overlooking the carnage. He was determined the Wendts would be wiped out to the last person. The sounds of fighting were gone. Now, only the sounds of dying remained. Groans of the wounded wrapped around them, only occasionally pierced by the scream of someone being put to sword or awakening to the agony.
“Commander,” she said, clutching at his stirrup, “we must leave.”
He continued to look over the keep with his glass. “Why? Had all the war you can handle, girl?”
“We earned more respect than that, sir.” She fought to maintain composure she didn’t feel.
/How the hell much do we have to do to be considered soldiers?/
The metal scraped against itself as he collapsed the looking glass and shoved it in his pocket. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. You fought well. Far better than I expected.” He smiled at her like an indulgent schoolmaster might a slightly backwards student, who had just spelled their name correctly. “Now, why must we leave, when victory is ours?”
“The mountain under the keep is collapsing. We have to get out of here.”
His laugh rumbled from deep inside. He was genuinely amused. “And how do you know the mountain is collapsing, horse girl?”
/Tell that ass because your people have a bond with the earth and tunnels beneath the keep are being collapsed. You can feel it./
Gentyl struggled not to gasp or speak aloud to the sword. /Is that true?/
/They are getting ready to collapse tunnels now. That’s why the fighting stopped./
“Sir, I am Eponian, we have a special earth magic. The Wendts are collapsing tunnels under the keep to trap us. That’s why the fighting stopped.”
He looked toward his captain. “Is what she says true?”
“I don’t know about the magic, but it did seem that we just ran out of fighting men. Like they disappeared. All that was left was a few pockets and the wounded.”
“Bloody hell!” He motioned to the soldiers driving carts with the wounded. “Get those carts across the bridge. NOW!” He spurred his horse forward to a young man sitting on a bay mare near the gate. “Sound retreat now. Three times. Do it!”
The commander and his two captains raced into the keep. “Get out! Get out, now!” He continued to bellow at the men streaming out of the doorways. The captains whipped their horses to the other side, screaming at men as they went.
The trumpet was a sharp sound, building to a high, quick note. Three times the call to retreat echoed across near empty keep and the canyon around it. A flock of ravens lifted from their grisly feast. The trumpet wouldn’t have bothered them. Only the shifting earth would affect them. Goats and sheep clattered across the courtyard towards the bridge. Men stumbled over some of them as they all raced to safety. In the stables, Gentyl could hear the terrified horses. She drove her spurs into her horse.
There was no time to untie lead ropes so she took out her dagger and sliced them frantically. Behind her, someone was dropping planks from across stalls. Horses bounded over the planks almost before they fell.
“Get out of here,” a young soldier shouted at her. He whipped an arrow out and nocked it. She followed his gaze to where Martin was freeing the last of the horses. “Damned Wendt trash.”
“He’s a friend,” she said, driving the bow down.
He shoved her out of the way and raised his bow again. “He’s a dead friend then, traitor.”
Gentyl picked up a bucket and hit him beside the head. “Not today.”
She untied her horse and waved to Martin. “We have to get out. The mountain is going down. Can you lift him up to me?”
Martin grunted as he picked up the soldier and shoved him across her lap. “Hang on to him, I’m not stopping to get him again.”
She nodded and kicked Travail into a lope. Martin swung up on the last horse and followed her out of the stables. They clattered across the stone courtyard towards the gate as the ground trembled beneath them like an old woman shivering with chill. A sharp crack inside the sanctuary was accented by a man’s scream, cut short as stone pillars collapsed. They flew past the sanctuary and the armory. The gate loomed before them with the stone bridge protruding like a pale gray ribbon. Men and horses screamed in terror as it waved beneath them and then settled back.
“We’re not going to make it,” Martin shouted.
“Yes, we are.” /I didn’t come this far to die now./
The army was almost across when the courtyard started to sink in a massive cloud of dust that roiled through the mouth of the gate. Somewhere in the haze, Gentyl and Martin sped towards the bridge. The man in her lap groaned and began to struggle. She drove the fist she was clutching his belt with into his back. “Be still. I don’t have time to mess with you.”
The portcullis screeched as they passed beneath it. Moments later it crashed to the ground along with one of the gate towers. The clanging reverberated through the bridge like a massive bell ringing the death knell of Ravenholdt. Even through their horses they could feel the bridge shudder.
/We’re not going to make it./
/Yes, you are. You are my champion./ The sword was always so calm and matter-of-fact.
The sword’s declaration shocked her so much she nearly lost her grip on the soldier. She, and everyone else, assumed she was just the caretaker until the champion appeared.
/I will be a dead champion if we don’t make it across this bridge./
As if in confirmation, the bridge started to collapse. Like a hound it nipped at their heels, hurrying them on. Martin’s horse went down to one knee when the stones shifted. He grabbed at the saddle to stay on the horse and pulled her back up.
A few soldiers had stopped their flight and turned to cheer them. “Hurry!” someone shouted. They could go no faster than the terrified horses were already running. Stones crashed into the river far below as the arches disintegrated behind them, falling like children’s blocks caught in a willful child’s temper tantrum. Martin was on solid ground at last. She started to pull her horse up when he lurched into the air, and then she released the reins. He knew what he was doing. The bridge gave way before them. It felt like they were flying. Time slowed until each heartbeat seemed minutes apart.
Travail stretched towards the bank, his front feet landing solid. A huge cheer rose, but was cut short as the edge gave way beneath them. The soldier draped across her saddle pushed himself free and crawled to safety. Someone grabbed the reins and pulled forward, trying to drag the horse to safety. More hands joined, snatching at the saddle, mane and breast collar. Travail continued to thrash, struggling for firm ground beneath his hind legs. At last he lurched forward and bolted away from the brink.
Gentyl slipped from the saddle and collapsed near a tree. Her muscles quivered in exhaustion. She sprawled against the tree trunk; arms and legs akimbo like a broken doll. Martin slid down the tree trunk beside her.
Travail stood near her, his head down, nostrils distended and red as he sucked in air. Blood trailed down his lip from his left nostril. Sweat traced through the lather on his roan coat and dripped to the ground. He trembled like a newborn foal.
If she had the energy, she would have reached out to him. Instead they simply gazed at each other, one survivor to another.
“Diarmand,” the commander said as he approached with his two captains in tow.
She struggled to her feet, but he waved her down.
“Don’t get up.” He stopped in front of her. “I’m not familiar with this earth magic of yours.”
“Neither is she,” Martin muttered.
She was too tried to hit him, so she turned her attention back to the commander. “What do you want to know, sir?”
/Divine One, please nothing. I don’t want to lie to him. A good deed pledged for three months if I don’t have to answer questions about magic I don’t know./
“I wouldn’t understand if you told me how you knew. I just want to thank you for insisting I listen.” He rubbed the side of his face, making a faint scritch-like sound across the stubbled cheek. A moment later he rubbed his eye as he always did, when he was nervous or bothered. At last he took a deep breath. “You said in the keep your unit deserved more respect than I gave you.”
She nodded, curious about where this was leading. Was he going to disband them after all or integrate them with other units?
He squatted down so they were eye level. “You have to understand we are not accustomed to women warriors. Even after your people joined us in the demon wars, it was hard to accept this.” He looked around at the soldiers, who were gradually closing into a circle around them. “I should have taken my father’s tales to heart, but I treated the idea as a romantic myth and little more. I, we, owe you…what do you call yourselves?”
Gentyl turned around to look at Martin, searching for an answer. The commander knew their unit, why was he asking her? “We’re the Fifth Stag, sir.”
“No, ladies something.”
She blushed. How had her heard of that name? “Lormar’s Ladies, sir. The river priestess.”
He smiled. “Yes, that’s it. The priestess who was turned to a silver mare to hide her nakedness and shame.”
Her face was even redder now. Did he know how they gained that name?
He stood up and stretched. “Well, horse girl, your Lormar’s Ladies have earned their way. The unit will be permanent and none of you will be removed or transferred.”
A wave of excitement ran through the troops until someone in the back began cheering. The entire army seemed to join in the chant.
The only thing Gentyl heard was the Siren Song.
/I told you, champion. All is well./
The sword began to sing Lormar’s song to her. The notes exquisite and beautiful; rang in her mind.