Apollos stumbled over a rock and spit the bag out of his mouth for the tenth time. Large hands shoved him roughly forward and he heard Malcolm saying from beside him, “Please, there must be some mistake! I assure you that Apollos is no spy! He has fought as hard against Geraldo as anyone I’ve ever met!”
Another voice answered roughly, “He entered the camp in the company of General Aldrick! He can’t be trusted, and I would be careful about associating with him; if he is a spy, as we expect, then you may be joining him!” The man shoved Apollos though a set of open tent flaps.
Apollos stumbled into the tent and another pair of hands roughly grabbed him and shoved him onto a chair. The bag was pulled off of his head and Apollos blinked against the sudden light. Once his eyes adjusted to the light he saw that a number of men were standing facing him, and Barnabas stood at the center of the group. Aldrick said, “I knew that nothing good would come of this.” Apollos turned his head and saw Aldrick sitting next to him with his hands bound behind his back.
Apollos shook his head. “What did you do now, Nathan?”
Barnabas growled, “You can stop with the pretense, we know he is General Aldrick! Fortunately for us, George recognized him.” He paused before continuing on hesitantly, “You are sure that this is General Aldrick, aren’t you, George?”
A man in brown robes nodded his head. “I’m certain that’s Aldrick, I’ll never forget when he gave the order for me to taken to Geraldo to be punished for aiding the rebellion. I begged for mercy and he told me to pray for a miracle. If it wasn’t for your raiding party, I would be dead right now.”
Barnabas glared at Aldrick. “I’m glad we were able to help you, you have more than repaid our kindness in the time since you joined us.” He turned his look to Apollos. “Aldrick’s fate is all but decided, so the only question is if you knew who he was before you arrived here with him, Apollos.”
Aldrick gave Apollos an appraising look, interested to see how he was going to react. Apollos could save himself if he told them that Aldrick had met him on the road and lied to him the entire time. Aldrick deserved anything they chose to do to him and worse. He had betrayed him, turned his son into a monster, and brought pain and death everywhere he went. On the other hand, he was risking everything by rebelling against Geraldo. Apollos swallowed hard and said in firm voice, “I was aware that he was Aldrick.”
Shock filled Aldrick’s face. “After everything I’ve done to you, you should have abandoned me, Apollos. I deserve what I’m going to get.”
Barnabas shook his head. “I commend your honesty, unfortunately, it would have been better for you if you had lied.”
Barnabas turned to leave the tent and Apollos said, “There is more to Aldrick than what you have heard.” Barnabas stopped and turned to look at Apollos. “In fact, he was training to succeed me as the guardian of the shadow sanctuary before this whole ordeal began. He made a mistake and thought that the Acerbi sword could be used to help this country, to make the lives of everyone that lives here better, but the sword has a mind of his own and twisted Geraldo to its own ambitions. He quickly realized his mistake and has been trying to fix it these past years the best he has known how. He finally realized that talking wasn’t going to solve this problem and is to tring and use his talents to end this.”
Barnabas crossed his arms. “Because of that man, much of this country is under Geraldo’s control, and many people have lost their lives. I might believe that you had good intentions, but I can’t believe that this man has anything but dubious plans.” Barnabas turned and walked out of the tent.
The other men watched Aldrick and Apollos, and Aldrick smiled at Apollos. “Thank you for trying to save me, Apollos.”
Apollos snorted. “What else could I do? At this point the only way I’m getting out of this is if you do.” Aldrick frowned. Apollos continued, “Besides, without you guiding us I feel that this rebellion is doomed to fail.”
Tara’s concerned voice came from outside of the tent. “What is so important, Barnabas?” The tent flap was pulled back and Tara walked inside and gasped. “What are you doing with Nathan and Apollos?”
Barnabas walked in behind Tara. “We have discovered that Nathan is actually General Aldrick. Did you know that he was General Aldrick when you came here with him?” Barnabas pointed at Apollos. “Do you even know who he is?”
Tara looked back and forth from Apollos and Aldrick in shock. “How did you find out?”
Barnabas frowned at Tara. “So you did know. How could you bring General Aldrick into our camp? How could you let him look at our troop positions? If we hadn’t found out who he was, he could have betrayed us and had every member of the rebellion killed.”
Tara shook her head. “It’s not like that! Aldrick is different now, he’s one of the good guys! I was captured by Acerbi, and they were going to take me Geraldo to be tortured, to have every bit of information I knew about the rebellion pulled out of me, no matter what it took, and it was Aldrick who saved me. What was the point of saving me if he just wanted to destroy the rebellion? I knew more than enough to bring the rebellion down, he didn’t have to sneak in and try to deceive us.
“He has decided that he wanted to use his talents to help us fight against Geraldo. Do you have any idea what kind of an advantage having Geraldo’s greatest strategist on our side would give us? He would give us the best chance to beat Geraldo that we ever have had! He is far too valuable a resource to just waste! Apollos knew grandpa, and grandpa trusted him. Not only that, but over the past two weeks, I have grown to trust him too. I have no doubt that Apollos will be a valuable asset to the rebellion as well.”
Barnabas shook his head. “You’re too close to the situation, I don’t know that we can trust your judgement. We will take your opinion into consideration while we discuss what to do with these two.”
Barnabas and the others turned to walk out of the tent, but they stopped when Aldrick said, “Am I the only one who doesn’t get to speak in my defense?”
Barnabas sneered at Aldrick. “Why would we want to hear what you have to say?”
Thomas spoke up. “Let’s hear what him out.” Barnabas and the others looked at Thomas in shock. Thomas shrugged. “He deserves a chance to defend himself, it is his life at stake.”
Barnabas nodded his head. “Very well, we will hear what you have say and take it into consideration.”
Aldrick cleared his throat. “Two years ago I convinced Geraldo to take the Acerbi sword so that we could use it to try and protect our country. The King wasn’t interested in working Geraldo and me, and that was when I noticed that Geraldo was beginning to change. He decided if the King didn’t want to work with us, then he would simply have to be taken care of. I tried to convince him that it was foolish to do so, but he wouldn’t listen. I set him on that course, I couldn’t leave him on it alone.
“Geraldo’s designs for this country quickly went from protecting to conquering, and I learned that in order for me to have any influence with him, I had to have success. I found myself doing worse and worse things just for an opportunity to try and convince him that we were going about this the wrong way. It seemed like I was getting through to him sometimes, but his Acerbi would always come undo everything I had accomplished.
“Geraldo’s ambitions have changed once more. He isn’t happy with just controlling this country, he has set his eyes on the world. I finally realized that Geraldo couldn’t be saved, and he had to be stopped. That’s why I came here to help you, to finally have a chance to take Geraldo down.”
Barnabas scowled at Geraldo. “You should have tried telling us that when you first got here instead of lying about who you were.” Barnabas turned and walked out of tent and the others followed him out.
They walked a short distance away into another tent with six chairs set up around a table, and Barnabas and the others sat down. Barnabas looked into the faces of the other leaders and he said, “Do you think we can trust any of them?”
Thomas nodded his head. “I was in the command tent with Aldrick, and the changes he was suggesting did seem like they would be the best tactics for the situation we have found ourselves in.”
Another of the leaders snorted. “You want to give him control over the camp just because he was talking sense?”
Thomas shook his head. “I wasn’t suggesting that at all. I just think that Tara was right; he is a valuable resource, and we should use him until he proves otherwise. We could have him watched every moment of the day, then we’d know for sure if he was betraying us to anyone.”
Barnabas nodded his head. “Yes, I agree that we could use him, but we need to have guards on all three of them at all times.”
Another of the leaders gasped. “You think that Tara needs to be watched too?”
Barnabas sighed. “I believe that it would be best. She opening admitted to lying to us. Who knows how much she has changed since we’ve last seen her? I feel that we need to watch her, at least until we’re certain that she is still trustworthy. Are there any objections?” The tent was silent and after a few moments Barnabas said, “Very good, let’s go let them know our decision.” The men filed out of the tent after Barnabas.
Barnabas led the way to the tent where Apollos, Aldrick, and Tara were being held, and threw back the flap and entered the tent. He looked all three of them in the eye one at a time, and they flinched back from his gaze. “We talked it over and we decided that the three of you will be allowed to continue to aid us.” Relief filled the faces of the three. “However, you are to have guards with you at all times until we have decided that we can trust you. Cut their bonds and let them go.”
Aldrick stood up after his bonds had been sliced and rubbed his wrists. “I’m glad that you made such a wise decision. We have much to do to prepare for Elymas’ attack. Do you have time to speak with me and discuss my plans?”
Barnabas nodded his head. “What sort of preparations did you have in mind?”
“The most important thing for us to do right now is to send out scouts to give us warning of Elymas’ approach. Thomas said that you only had three scouts in the entirety of your force?”
“For the most part we only use them to gather news. Will three be enough for what you are planning?”
Aldrick shook his head. “No, we are going to need many more than that. Does the rebellion have many hunters in their ranks?”
Thomas spoke up. “Many of the men in the rebellion are skilled hunters. What do hunters have to do with scouts?”
Apollos replied, “Hunters are skilled at moving quietly through the woods and noticing the signs of the passage of their prey. You won’t find many that make better scouts than hunters.”
Aldrick smiled, “Thank you, Apollos. I think it would be best if we had sixty men to use as scouts. We’ll break them up into three groups of twenty and send a different group out every three days. After five days, the scouts will return and report what they have seen. They should give us ample warning if Elymas gets close.”
Barnabas nodded his head. “We’ll pick out the sixty we feel are most capable and send them out.”
Aldrick smiled. “Excellent, next I want you to allow Apollos to pick out and train as many of your men to fight with a sword as he deems worthy. Having skilled swordsmen can make a huge difference in the outcome of a battle.”
Thomas stepped forward. “I would like to receive this training if it is as useful as you make it sound.” Barnabas turned at looked at Thomas. Thomas shrugged. “If we’re going to make sure that these two aren’t up to any funny business, one of us should take part in any training they want to give our troops. I’ll also be able to keep a close eye on him.”
Barnabas nodded his head. “Very well, I’ll allow Apollos to inspect our forces and pick out his trainees, under Thomas’ supervision of course. What of the rest of our forces, what would you have them doing?”
Aldrick’s hand formed into a fist. “If we are going to have any chance of beating Elymas, we’re going to have to become a mobile fighting force. I want to break down camp and move to another site. In fact, I want to do this once a day until Elymas shows up so that our forces will be used to the task and be prepared for when we need to do it. We will leave some of our forces behind to build up our defenses here. I hope it never comes to it, but if we end up needing someplace to make a last stand, I would like to have some fortifications set up.”
Barnabas shook his head. “I don’t know about leaving men behind like that. It feels like we would be abandoning them. What if General Elymas were to attack them here? They would be slaughtered if we left them alone.”
Aldrick shook his head. “I wouldn’t leave them completely alone. Scouts will report here daily to check up on the men and pass on any news. If Elymas got anywhere near our base, he would find it empty two days before he arrived. I don’t intent to just leave our people exposed.”
Barbabas held his hand up to his chin. “I don’t think our people will like the idea of doing so much traveling. Especially not the pregnant women.”
“I would like to leave the women and children here in the base, so that wouldn’t be a problem.”
Tara’s eyes opened wide. “What! You want to leave me behind? I have just as much right to fight for my freedom as any man! I’m sure I’m not the only one that will feel that way.”
A smile crossed Aldrick’s face. “I know you are a fierce fighter, Tara. We need to keep the children safe, and I would leave only the most capable of fighters to protect them. Not only that, but we’ll have an entire force that we can use to throw Elymas of balance. Think of the damage you women could do to his forces if you took him by surprise?”
Tara crossed her arms. “The rest of the women might be okay with this, but I’m coming with you to join in the actual fighting.”
Apollos stepped forward. “If I may interject, I believe that Tara has great potential as a swordswoman, and I would like to recruit her as one of my trainees.”
Barnabas nodded his head. “Yes, I think that would be fine. I’ve heard a lot of ideas about how you would like our camp to run, but I haven’t heard anything about your plans to attack.”
Aldrick bowed his head. “If you will have some of your men see to the preparations for the changes I’ve suggested, I will show you my thoughts for how this war will be fought, and the first attack I have planned. If you would follow me to your command tent?”
Thomas escorted Apollos through the camp. Apollos looked appraisingly at the men and women that he walked past. His eyes rested on a young man pushing a barrel through the camp and he smiled. “He will be joining us for the training.”
Thomas scratched his head. “Henry? After all the men you have looked at, you chose that young pup? Just what are you looking for?”
Apollos looked at Thomas. “Young men will learn more quickly than an old man, but it’s more than that. The way that he moved spoke of a grace that is essential to swordsmanship.”
“Very well.” Thomas turned his gaze onto Henry. Henry, will you come here for a moment?”
Henry stopped the barrel he was pushing and walked over with a concerned look on his face. “Whatever it is, I swear I had no part of it this time!”
Thomas frowned. “We’ll talk about whatever it is that you are trying to hide later, but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Apollos smiled. “Henry, I have chosen you to come and train in the art of swordsmanship with me.”
Henry shook his head. “That sounds like a waste of time. Why would I want to do that when summoning a beast blade leaves me out of the battle completely?”
Apollos winked at him. “Come and give my training a chance before you pass judgement on it. It might just keep you out of trouble as well. Come along, we have many more recruits to find, and much training to do.”
Aldrick strode through the camp with Barnabas at his side. Everywhere he looked people were working on taking down tents and packing boxes onto wagons. The people that noticed Aldrick walking past glared at him. Barnabas frowned and looked around uneasily. “Do we need move around so much? I’m afraid of what our people might do if we continue to push them like this.”
Aldrick nodded his head. “Yes, we have to get used to being able to pick up everything and move at a moment’s notice. Once I feel that we can do it quickly enough, we can stop doing it so frequently. This could save our lives someday.”
A young man made his way through the camp and hurried to Barbabas’ side. “I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to find you, Barnabas. It seems like more than just the camp moves about.”
Barnabas nodded his head. “Yes, I am trying to keep an eye on Aldrick here, and he is keeping an eye on everything else, so I’m seldom in one spot very long. What sort of a report do you have for me, Douglas?”
“Everything is happening just the way he said it would.” Douglas pointed at Aldrick. “Elymas and a group of about fifty men were heading down the Grimmer Road. They should make it to the crossing at the James river in about two days time.”
Excitement filled Aldrick’s face. “This is what we’ve been waiting for. Spread the word, stop breaking down the camp and be ready to move immediately! We need to get to the crossing at the James River at once!”
Aldrick looked over the troops gathered in front of the bridge and nodded his head. He wished that he had more time to get them ready, but they needed to send a message to Elymas right away, something that would throw him off long enough for them to get ready to meet him head on. “The scouts have told us that Elymas should be reaching this crossing in just a couple of hours. Those of you with earth beast blades will wait in those holes next to the path, and those with water beast blades will wait under the bridge. Scouts will be sitting in the trees waiting to give the signal when Elymas is in position.
“Once you hear the call of an eagle, summon your beast blades to collapse the path and attack Geraldo’s forces with everything you have. When you hear the second eagle’s call, pull back and run into the woods, down the trail we showed you. Make sure to watch your step; we don’t need any of our people falling into any of the traps that we have set up for Elymas’ troops. We will be waiting with the second ambush once you reach the end of the traps. If everything goes according to plan, we should do a great deal of damage to his forces, and buy ourselves more time to prepare. You all know your parts in this plan, now get into place and wait for the signal.”
Douglas watched General Elymas’ black horse trot at the head of his army. He shifted his position in the tree, waiting for them to reach the hidden rebellion members. Sweat beaded on Douglas’ forehead once the horse finally stepped onto the dirt path. Just a little farther and they would be in the perfect position for them to spring their attack. There, they were in the perfect position now. Douglas cupped his hand next to his mouth and made an imitation eagle cry.
After a few seconds a mix of roars, bellows and squeals erupted from below the path, and the dirt broke apart and dropped most of the army down into a pit filled with earth beast blades. General Elymas’ horse screamed as it fell down into the pit. Elymas unfortunately grabbed onto the side of the pit and watched in horror as the beast blades tore into his horse and fighters. He looked at the handful of his troops that hadn’t fallen into the pit. “Help them, you fools!”
The soldiers stared at the gaping hole that had appeared before them, and one at a time, they began to struggle to pull their swords free of their sheaths. The tiger Acerbi that were traveling with Elymas rushed past the soldiers toward the pit, snarling angrily. A blast of water knocked the lead tiger over, and the other tigers turned and searched for the source of the attack. A hoard of water beast blades rushed up the hill at them, an elephant that was dripping with water at their head. It trumpeted and shot another stream of water from its trunk into another of the Acerbi and knocked it over.
The tigers charged at the water beast blades and lunged to attack them. The water beast blades sent out wave after wave of water at the Acerbi, knocking them back. Douglas’ eyes opened wide when he saw one of the tigers finally get to one of the water beast blades. The aquatic creature was sent flying by a powerful swat of its paw.
Elymas’ sorcerers made their way to the front of the pit with their leathery scrolls in their hands. Douglas decided that this attack had gone on long enough and it was time to move into the next phase. He screeched once more like an eagle and the members of the rebellion started running for the edge of the forest. Elymas had finally pulled himself out of the pit and shouted, “After them! They must pay for what they did to Geraldo’s forces!” The sorcerers and soldiers that had fallen into the pit pulled themselves free and chased after them. The tiger Acerbi led the charge into the woods. Once Douglas was certain that it was safe he climbed down from the tree and disappeared further into the woods to the place where their camp was set up.
Apollos sat in a tree in the middle of the rebellion’s escape route, with vines and ropes tied onto the branch he was resting on. It was his job to cut each of them at the right time to ensure that no one in the rebellion was caught in these traps, and that he got as many of Elymas’ troops as he could with each one. He closed his eyes and turned his head away when he heard the screams of men that had fallen into the cleverly disguised spike pits that his forces had avoided. It was true that these men were loyal to Geraldo and wouldn’t hesitate to kill him if they found him but he couldn’t find enjoyment in the slaughtering of other humans.
Elymas’ troops pursued them more carefully, looking for any other traps that might be hidden from them. That gave the rebellion plenty of time to get past the tree that marked the next trap. Apollos cut through the vine tied closest to him and watched it go limp. The log that the vine had been holding back swung forward and slammed into the group of men, pushing them backward into another spike pit. The other soldiers quickly dropped down to the path to avoid being hit by the log on its return swing.
That was what Apollos was waiting for and he cut the second rope, releasing a pile of logs that rolled down the path at the soldiers. Fear filled their eyes and they scrambled to get back up onto their feet and out of the way of the rolling logs. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t move out of the way fast enough and the logs left behind battered and broken human bodies in their wake.
Elymas watched this from the path, his hands quivering in rage as half of the forces he had brought with him fell. “Men, fall back. Acerbi, go and hunt those rebels down! I either want them dead, or the location of their base discovered!” The tiger Acerbi hurried into the woods past the retreating soldiers.
Apollos’ eyes opened wide in shock when he saw the tigers made of shadow and flame rush around the pits and over the fallen logs. They hadn’t expected this from Elymas, or if Aldrick had he hadn’t shared it with anyone. Apollos cut through two ropes, sending more logs swinging forward, but the tigers deftly dodged to the side, avoiding them completely. Apollos decided that nothing they had planned would be able to deal with those creatures, so he cawed like a raven once.
The tiger Acerbi rushed past the tree he was hiding in, pursuing the fleeing rebels and he cawed again. Roars filled the forest as hidden rebels summoned a variety of beast blades that jumped out from hiding and attacked the tiger Acerbi. The Acerbi were taken completely off guard and were quickly overwhelmed by the beast blades of the rebels, and soon clouds of shadow were rising into the sky like smoke. Apollos watched carefully for any other sign of pursuit, and breathed a sigh of relief when he heard Elymas call out, “Fall back! They have us outmatched today!”
Apollos heard hurried footsteps running over the bridge and a smile filled his face. They had managed to repel Elymas from Falance for the moment, and had given themselves more time to prepare for his next assault. He began to make his way down out of the tree, certain that there would an impressive feast back at the camp that night.
Apollos swallowed his mouthful of bread and reached for his goblet of apple cider to wash it down. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and grinned at Aldrick. Aldrick sat behind a plate of food he had hardly touched, and worry filled his face. “Cheer up, Aldrick! We won a great victory today! If we can keep this up we won’t have any problems reclaiming the Falance province in earnest!”
Aldrick shook his head. “Things aren’t going to be as easy next time, Apollos. Elymas is going to be expecting an ambush like the one we had today, and he will take measures to turn it around on us. If only Elymas had been caught in that initial trap, we could relax.”
Apollos patted him on the back. “We have nothing to worry about, Aldrick. We have the finest stratitian in all of Malor on our side. You know that he will be expecting more of the same, and you will figure out a way to use that to our advantage, and create new traps that he won’t expect. Enjoy yourself for an evening, there will be plenty of time to come up with your next move tomorrow.”
Aldrick frowned. “I don’t understand how you can be so calm! Geraldo used the second power of the Acerbi sword; he would only do that if he was desperate to defeat us.”
Apollos’ face grew serious. “I know, but our troops are watching you. They just earned themselves a victory, and they can’t understand why their commander isn’t happier. Save your troubles and worries for the command tent.”
Aldrick chuckled. “And here I thought that there was nothing more that you could teach me. Very well, pass me some of that cider and I’ll show you how to have a good time.”
Apollos passed the pitcher over to Aldrick. “That’s the spirit!”
Elymas sat behind a travel desk in his tent, furiously scribbling a note onto a piece of parchment. Today’s attack wasn’t anything like the tactics that rebellion had used in the past. He assumed that the change in tactics meant a change in leadership, and the only tactician that Elymas knew of that could pull off anything like this was Aldrick. When he deserted Geraldo, he must have defected to the rebellion, presumably under a false name. That was the only reason he could think of that they wouldn’t have killed him yet.
Elymas folded up the piece of parchment and dripped wax from a red candle that was burning on his desk over the fold of paper, and pressed the ring on his right hand into the wax. It left behind the impression of a scroll with two lighting bolts crossing behind it. He got up from his desk, and walked out of his tent. He shook his head at the sight that met his eyes, twenty soldiers and five of his sorcerers sat around cook fires, somberly watching a kettle of water. Twenty five soldiers was all that was left of his force that he had left Geraldo’s palace with. He hadn’t even expected to need the soldiers in his attacks; the sorcerers should have been enough to rip their ranks apart.
He fixed his one eyed gaze on a soldier holding his hands out to the fire, and he pointed at him. “You.” The soldier jumped and looked at Elymas in startlement. He stood up quickly and saluted Elymas. “You will deliver this to Lord Geraldo at once.”
The soldier saluted and accepted the letter from Elymas. “At once, sir!” The soldier trotted out of the camp and down the road.
Elymas looked over the nineteen remaining soldiers and said, “Until Lord Geraldo sends us reinforcements, you will scout out the area. Find out where these rebels hide themselves. I want to know anything you can discover. How many of them there are, what they are doing, who is in charge. If you see any alone, approach them and tell them that General Aldrick has snuck into their camp and is deceiving them. Perhaps we can get them to tear themselves apart. You begin scouting out the area at day break. If I see any of you still lounging about the camp after that, you will feel my wrath!” Elymas turned and made his way back into his tent.
Thank you for checking out my story, if you liked this and want to see more stories like it, check out the other stories I’m working on writing, here: Tales of the Imagination, check out my facebook page for updates on the stories here: Facebook, and follow me on Twitter here: @EJBorchardt. Please like, comment, and tell your friends if you like what you’ve read. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to see my explanation of the Godard Brothers, as well as a sneak peek at what will happen in the next chapter. Then come back on Monday when I will post part of one the first chapter of The Godard Brothers, and check out my newly published book, The Kids on the Case.