Archive for the ‘3. The River Garrison’ Category

Things were proceeding nicely. As far as Welsley was concerned at any rate. Her arrival at the river outpost had sparked a rush of construction projects. Over the first few days she watched as her soldiers erected a shelter for her and her attendants. Wooden and solid, it was luxurious compared with the spartan tents her troops lived out of.

The focus of the outpost’s soldiers impressed Welsley. They had broken their focus to build a more permanent structure for their Light but after that they were back to building up the defences. Their own comfort was of low priority, their focus was on protecting the bridge across the river and the people beyond. Armour, weapons, and horses were more important than the men themselves. A stable, a forge, and an armoury were in the process of construction while the soldiers still slept in the mud and the dirt.

Welsley Koarl considered this as she walked through the camp, her goal the beginnings of the outpost’s gatehouse. She could hear the sounds of wood being chopped, sawed and hammered increase in volume as she and her entourage – four soldiers, two attendants – approached the edge of the camp that lay beside the well-used logging road.

There were no villages on this side of the river only logging camps. The road had been worn into the ground through years of carting wagons loaded with cut trees and the occasional military patrol. Most days the road was barren and unused.

The soldiers that made up the population of the outpost had made good progress on clearing the trees from the riverside. Their need for building material had bared the land and pushed the edge of the forest further back. The wide open space would make it significantly more difficult for an enemy to approach the bridge unnoticed.

An open plain made mounted warfare possible and would make the outpost’s garrison more effective.

“They keep stealing my lumber,” an older man approached her as they arrived at the construction site.

“Good morning, Commander,” Welsley inclined her head in greeting. There was no need to ask who was doing the stealing. It was the Falson troops. Under their matriarch’s orders they had taken to “requisitioning” hewn lumber with which to complete the work on the command bunker. The dust and the dirt were a hardship her guests just couldn’t accept.

“I don’t care if they want to waste their time making the building livable,” the old warrior grumbled, “but they should cut their own trees. Every log they take delays the building of the walls. The walls are more important than their comfort.”

“I will mention it to them again,” Welsley smiled.

She had liked Commander Alister Roberts immediately upon meeting him. He treated his command, the river outpost, as he would his own realm. He refused to show deference to ranks or titles and treated everyone who entered his “domain” the same. He worked tirelessly alongside the troops under his command which created an aura of awe and loyalty among them.

The men’s attitude amused Light Koarl, the same could not be said about Light Falson.

“For all the good that will do,” the man grumbled.

“It might just be simplest to harvest more trees yourself,” Welsley offered.

The man grunted in response.

“Any news from our scouts?” she asked, her eyes drifted across the edge of the forest.

“None have returned so far,” was the reply. There was a pause before he added, “the soldiers at the forest’s edge will let us know as soon as the invaders are spotted. In the meantime we’ll continue the work on the walls, with a bit of luck they’ll be erected before the enemy arrives.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Stay out of the way,” his voice dropped in volume, a rare display of respect to his Light, “your presence makes the men nervous.”

She nodded. “Carry on.”

“I’ll let you know as soon as a scout is spotted,” he offered.

“Thank-you, Commander,” Welsley replied as she walked back into the camp.

There was little she could do at the moment but wait. She allowed herself to take a leisurely walk among her soldier’s tents. She had no desire to return to the Falsons and their complaints. Better to let the other women tire themselves out working on their project to civilize the command bunker than to allow them to tire her out with their nagging.

“Your Eminence!”

She was interrupted by a shout.

“A man has emerged from the forest.”

“Just one?”

“Yes, Your Eminence. Not one of ours.”

“Whose?” she asked.

The runner just shrugged as they headed back to the gatehouse.


Welsley lay her head back and closed her eyes. The pool she lay in wasn’t overly deep, its bottom was paved with small, smooth stones; in a lot of ways it was like a man-made bath. The pool was fed with water direct from the river, it swirled lazily through the circular basin before lazily flowing back to the river it had started in. The result was a constant wash of water over the body of Norasburg’s Light. The water was cold, crisp, exhilarating and a prime way to welcome the start of a new day.

She would have preferred more privacy to her morning reset. Her balcony in the tower was far enough up toward the heavens that she felt secure in her privacy, but the newly built garrison was just across the river and within easy visual range. Welsley was less concerned about the possibility of being watched as she bathed, what bothered her was the inability to relax enough to fully commune with her surroundings.

It wasn’t a religious experience, she had never felt the presence of the Goddess or any other deity. It was a personal ritual to wake herself up and prepare herself, mentally, for the day.

The entourage from the tower had chosen to make their camp across the river from the newly formed river fort. The fort was a fort in name only, it consisted of tents surrounded by a partial wall made of dirt and peppered with sharpened logs. It was barely serviceable as a military base and would not serve as a temporary seat of government.

It was certainly not suited as a prison for a captive of the caliber of Light Falson.

Wagons and attendants were an added perk to the camp that was the current, albeit temporary, home of Light Koarl. These were luxuries not often seen in an army’s camp but none of the faithful could go without them.

The Falsons, Welsley had discovered, were no better company as captives than they were as her captors. Arrogant, obnoxious, demanding were all apt descriptions of the two women. Welsley was certain it must be a family trait, they seemed to go out of their way to dissuade people from feeling fondly of them.

Welsley mostly left them to themselves with just enough of her soldiers to guard them as was needed to outnumber the Falson troops. The two Lights met for meals which were either spent in angry debate or silently focused on dispatching the meal. The rest of the time was spent trying to avoid each other while displaying a false friendliness to outside observers.

It was tiresome but not without amusement.

The reaction of her “guests” was priceless when she announced they would be taking a trip across the river. The two Falsons raged at her until she threatened to drag them behind horses to the new outpost. For a brief moment Welsley had worried blades would be drawn, in the end they submitted the fear of losing their cushy seats in a wagon too great. They had been nothing but cold since.

That suited Welsley just fine. She had no interest in revealing the coming attack by an unknown number of undead. She had no desire to get into a discussion on how she knew of the impending invasion. She didn’t know the size of the force that was headed their way, she only knew it was coming.

And it was coming soon.

No. As far as Welsley was concerned it would be better for the Falsons to assume the attack was unexpected. Better for them to assume the Norasburg soldiery was better prepared than they thought. If they repelled the undead with ease perhaps the Falsons would leave with all their troops and leave her tower for good.

One could hope.

The young Light took a deep breath and tried to silence her thoughts. She tried to focus on the spinning of her body, the gentle current of the water spun her slowly round and round. Almost imperceptible waves washed over her body turning her skin into goose bumps.

The faint sound of nature waking could be heard all around her. In the distance she could hear the sound of rushing water from the river. Hidden behind the sounds of nature she could just make out the sounds of the camps: horses, footfalls, pots and pans, orders barked.

The world was waking up around her.

“The sun rises, Your Eminence,” the voice of one of her attendants arrived at her ears.

“Just a few more moments,” Welsley paused, what was her name? “Tara.”

Welsley tilted her head back and opened her eyes. It had been dark when she had wandered down to the pool, her way lit only by the stars and the torch carried by Tara who had accompanied her. The sun had since rose and bathed the world in light.

Light Koarl took to her feet and stepped from the pool into a waiting towel. She dried herself off and dutifully dressed herself in the clothing provided by her attendant; an outfit of supple leather, tan in colour.

“Is that roast pig I smell?” Welsley asked as they walked toward camp.

“I believe so, Your Eminence,” Tara answered.

“Excellent,” Welsley said, “a wonderful way to start the day.”

Welsley Koarl stood her ground even as the surprise on the elder lady’s face relaxed into amusement. The result was confusing, particularly because the younger Falson seemed to be struggling to keep the fear from her face. The Falson soldiers, in Welsley’s field of vision, had their hands on the hilts of their swords. The weapons were still sheathed but they were ready to spring into action.

She had heard weapons being drawn behind her. She hadn’t looked to confirm numbers but she assumed her supporters were at least equal in number to the Falson guards: about a dozen. Welsley kept her eyes on the two Falson women, to do otherwise would have been a mistake in Welsley’s mind. She resisted the urge to divide her attention, the real battle was with the woman on the throne; the soldiers only evened out the battlefield.

The two women eyed each other as the chamber around them descended into silence broken only by the sound of breathing.

“You are more of a problem than I could have ever predicted,” Edith Falson broke the silence from her place on the throne. The icy tone in her voice was a contrast to the amused look on her face. There was anger in the matriarch’s eyes.

“Let this be a lesson for you, Molly,” the matriarch tilted her head to the younger woman, her eyes never left Welsley. “You can never tell how someone will react when pushed into a corner.”

“This doesn’t have to end badly,” Welsley offered, “I just want my tower back.”

“Your tower?” Edith questioned. “This is hardly your tower. Your family paid for your position. At best the tower is on loan to you. After this another Koarl will never find herself chosen.”

“You can either relinquish the tower voluntarily,” Welsley threatened, “or I can take it by force. The choice is yours.”

“There has always been a Falson in a tower,” the Falson matriarch continued, the threat ignored. “Since before the Goddess. Since before history was ever recorded there has been a Falson in the tower. As long as there has been a tower there has been a Falson ruling from it. That is why there is a tower named after us. We existed long before the Goddess began.”

“The Koarl family has always been parasites,” the older woman continued. “They made their fortune through theft, smuggling, murder. They broke every law they could, they made money off the corrupt, desperate and immoral. They might try to hide it behind respectable businesses but their gold is made through parasitical practices. No amount of money spent can erase that taint.”

“And yet, that did not stop the ancient and pious Falsons from accepting money from the parasites to secure my appointment,” countered Welsley.

“Yes,” the older woman replied, “an unfortunate mistake.”

“Don’t make another mistake,” Welsley prompted. “Avoid bloodshed. Surrender.”

The older woman was quiet as she considered her options. After the quiet had stretched out a few moments the older Light sighed.

“You are right,” Edith nodded. “We must maintain an outer appearance of solidarity. I will surrender the throne to you, willingly. I will gather my entourage and return to Falsons Peak in the morning.”

“No,” Welsley shook her head, “you will be my guest for a while. Forced, if necessary.”

The soldiers in front of her tensed. For a brief moment Welsley worried they would bare their steel, Edith’s left hand rose up in a halt gesture which stopped the escalation.


“For the sake of unity,” Welsley answered. “For the illusion of unity. We are both Her chosen. We need to part as friends, from the perspective of the masses.”

“I will submit. I see no value to a public spectacle. How long will we be your guests?”

“It shouldn’t be long,” Welsley replied. “You’ll be free to move about the tower and grounds. As long as I have your word you won’t attempt to leave without my permission, you may keep your guards and their weapons.”

“You have my word.”

“Excellent. We’ll be one big happy family,” Welsley relaxed with a soft smile. “We’ll meet tomorrow to discuss the future.”

Welsley turned and walked down the dais’ stairs. She walked slow and purposeful so as to keep from shaking. She could hardly believe things had gone so smoothly, it would have been so easy for things to have slipped into violence. She glanced and looked around her at the bottom of the stairs; there were at least two of her soldiers for every Falson.

Satisfied, Welsley headed to her chambers.

Welsley waited patiently on the edge of the tower’s audience chamber. She was accompanied by her usual companions: two of the Falson soldiers escorted her from her chambers to where she now waited. She had been summoned by the Falson matriarch early that morning and found herself waiting, seemingly forgotten, throughout the tower’s morning routine.

There was an element of punishment to the wait. Welsley had never been fond of the daily duties of her position, the idea of listening to near countless complaints that amounted to little more than pettiness and sour grapes had never caught her imagination. She had preferred to leave those duties to others. She didn’t mind adjudicating criminal cases but dealing with her citizens’ interpersonal relationships she found to be boring and tedious.

The only thing she found worse was the ministering of her flock’s spiritual needs. Reading scripture, analyzing the Goddess’ words, issuing behavioural edicts were activities to be avoided as far as she was concerned. There were members of her Illuminated that were better suited to the pursuit of spiritual questions.

Welsley saw herself more as a “big picture” type. She liked to surround herself with people whose talents were more suited to the detail work.

Standing by and watching was more painful than participating in it.

The morning’s collection of events needing intervention by the Goddess’ mortal representative did have one upside: it provided Welsley with a chance to survey the gathered populace. There was the usual mix of new faces and regulars all vying for their chance to convince the Goddess’ representative that their side of a disagreement was Her side and was deserving of Her divine intervention. Welsley tuned them all out, she could only listen to so many “this man insulted this woman” stories before she passed out from boredom. People needed to learn to settle their own issues.

Light Falson sat on the seat at the centre of the raised dais on what was once Welsley’s seat. On the right side, just behind the stone chair, stood the matriarch’s granddaughter. Four soldiers stood on either side of the throne with a second group of four at the bottom of the dais’ steps. None of the soldiers were recognized by Welsley; they must all be part of the Falson tower expedition.

Here and there, within the crowd, Welsley could make out faces she thought might belong to soldiers of her tower. The flashes of recognition were quick and fleeting and made it difficult to get an accurate count. They mixed in well with the crowd.

Welsley waited with her guards on the left side of the dais, a willing participant to any casual observer, her imprisonment hidden among the ceremony.

“We are finished for today,” Light Edith Falson raised her right hand and gestured for a halt. She sat on the throne and watched as the assembled people began to shuffle out of the chamber. Light Falson glanced toward Welsley and gestured for her to approach.

“Light Koarl,” the Falson matriarch addressed Welsley, “I apologize for ignoring you. It was unintentional, I have been busy serving the people and Her will. How have you been?”

“A prisoner, Your Eminence,” Welsley bowed her head to the other woman. “I have been a prisoner.”

“Not so much, I think,” the older lady commented.

“Why are troops being reassigned to the river?” the younger Falson demanded from her grandmother’s side.

“How would I know?” Welsley watched the older Light. “I have been trapped in my chambers. I know only what you tell me. I see only who you allow.”

“The garrison isn’t going to relocate on its own,” Molly declared.

“I prefer that my soldiers maintain themselves,” Welsley shrugged, “they know their day-to-day needs better than I.”

“Light Koarl,” the elder Falson replied, “there is no need to make this situation worse than it is. Let’s try to make it easy on all of us.”

“Leave my tower,” Welsley responded. “We can pretend none of this ever happened. It’ll be easy on all of us.”

“An interesting idea,” Light Falson mused. “It won’t happen until you are taught the correct way to rule.”

“I thought I was chosen by the Goddess to rule in Her name,” Light Koarl interrupted.

“You serve Her will,” Molly answered. “There are duties. There are responsibilities.”

“Defined by who?” Welsley shot back. “You? Or the Goddess? You came in to my tower as a guest and forced yourself onto my throne. You decided you knew better than the Goddess when you pushed me aside. What gave you the right?”

“My family has been chosen by the Goddess since She rose into power,” the matriarch snapped. “Your family has spent generations breaking every law they could to generate wealth. That is what gave me the right!”

“You are kept around for the sake of the people,” the younger Falson added, “but you can be replaced.”

“No,” Welsley replied.

Welsley allowed her glance to drift between the two Falson women. There was anger on their faces. Anger that was quickly replaced by surprise.

“We can make this easy,” Welsley offered as the Falson guards drew their swords. She resisted the urge to look behind her at the sounds of footfalls and weapons being drawn, she could see all she needed in the look on the other women’s faces. “Your choice.”

She should have realized the “the Goddess” was not someone who could be trusted. The hatred of the Falson family was evident in the other’s voice whenever the conversation shifted in that way; which was often. There had seemed to be a constant need for reassurance that the Falson matriarch was still at Norasburg. Abeth’s report on the necromantic army sent to the tower brought everything into clarity: the Lady of the Tower intended to take the Falsons from Norasburg tower.

Welsley felt foolish. She had been so caught up in the excitement of finding an ally in her battle against Light Falson that she allowed herself to be blinded to the warning signs. The obsessive need for updates on the matriarch’s location was as obvious as it could get. This combined with a relentless push to keep her anger at raging emotional levels should have been an obvious sign that this “Goddess” was trying to keep her distracted.

It was over now. Any doubt concerning the supposed deity of this being was gone. She was neither a god nor a friend.

The brief conversation with Captain Abeth had brought her a sense of peace, a clearer vision, and a path to travel. Her distant soldier had provided her with a way to escape, to move about the tower. He had also provided her with a list of names, soldiers whose loyalties were tied to her and Norasburg. These warriors would bring their own loyal troops, there might be enough troops to wrest control of the tower from the Falsons. Light Falson’s control came from her family’s placement within Norasburg’s soldiery not from an overwhelming invasion force.

The hidden tunnel system was where Captain Abeth had told her it would be. Welsley was pleasantly surprised by this secondary system for traversing the tower. The tunnels were well lit and used by many of her Illuminated. It had been a simple matter to grab one of them and pass summons on to the officers she needed to speak with.

Which is how she found herself deep in the tower’s underground in chambers that were unreachable by the main corridors and surrounded by half-a-dozen of her officers, the most trusted of her soldiers.

“Abeth,” Welsley began after the last of the soldiers arrived, “thinks quite highly of you. He assures me that you can all be trusted.”
She waited, allowed the silence to stretch out as she carefully caught the eyes of each man. She had a passing familiarity with all of them, knew their names and faces, but had never worked directly with any of them. She was about to put a lot of trust into Abeth’s opinion.

“Why are we here, Your Eminence?” The voice was that of an older man, older than the other men to be exact. They were all older than she was. Welsley recognized the speaker as the man in charge of training within the barracks: Edmund Khorat. He had a reputation for being tough on his pupils, but all his students left his care as competent soldiers.

“You are all aware of our visitors?” Welsley asked. She knew they did, she waited as they all nodded in the affirmative. “You have also noticed an adjustment in the command of the garrison? That all orders are coming from the soldiers that accompanied the Falsons? That there are guards posted all over the tower? That they are all Falson soldiers?”

There was a quick glance shared between the men.

“Surely, they are here for Light Falson’s protection on her journey,” Edmund spoke for all the assembled officers.

“Why would they be needed in the tower?” Welsley asked. “She should be safe in the tower. Our garrison should be capable of defending the tower, right?”

They had no answer.

“She used the ghoul problem as an excuse to journey here,” Welsley continued. “She moved troops to our river garrison. She moved into my throne room, assumed my duties, placed guards to restrict my movements and imprisoned me in my own tower. All done so subtly that I am sure you hadn’t noticed.”

Surprise flashed across their faces as they one by one realized what she had suggested.

“Our swords are yours, my Light,” Edmund spoke.

“We need to retake the tower,” Welsley said. “As quick as we can and with as few casualties as we can manage. None being my preference. Fast and quiet. No one outside of the tower need know of this difficulty.”

“We should be able to manage that. We’ll have some troops slip in under cover of the next shipment to the kitchens.”

“Good,” Welsley nodded. “We need to take Light Falson and her granddaughter alive. We need to keep the troops from clashing. Once the tower has been retaken we’ll need to bolster our numbers at the river garrison. There is another, larger, army of the undead on the way. We need to be ready when they arrive.”

“How do you know this?” There was doubt in his voice.

“I have been in touch with Captain Abeth. I believe he reports true.”

“We’ll send more troops to the river garrison immediately. Those who’s loyalty might be questionable.”

“Excellent,” Welsley exclaimed before leaving the soldiers to their work.