Rumors hold a special power over the minds of men. Most know that unsubstantiated claims are little cause for alarm, but some, even the wisest or most seasoned of the species, cannot resist the thought of “what if it is true?” Rumor caused fear, fear caused trouble. Empires have crumbled under the weight of simple rumors, leaders have lost their followers to words without meaning. Rumor, as it was, could be the most devastating weapon in an arsenal.
Such a rumor circulated through the soldiers of the resistance. Before the generals and officers of the revolutionary force could stop it, their hands were forced to take action on little more than whispers and doubt. To prevent discourse within the volunteers, the Musketeer was dispatched to dispel a particularly novel rumor. His battalion was tasked with venturing to the country’s far eastern border.
To the east was a kingdom called Riandury. Their king was a cousin to the Crazed King, their people were fed by wheat from the Musketeer’s homeland and their elites were fearful of the pending fall of the Crazed King’s court. Revolution had a habit of spreading like wildfire through a region and no one comfortable wanted such disruptive things happening in their land. Riandury was no exception.
The rumor that sent the enlisted troops to a frenzy, in the final days of a hard fought war, pertained to Riandury’s own army marching on the King’s Castle as well. The neighboring country was declaring war on the Revolution itself. If the rumor was true, the Musketeer was heading straight for an expeditionary force bent on his destruction. If the rumor was false, the Musketeer was taking a battalion of the army’s best soldiers away from the coming siege of the King’s Castle. There was no strategic value in either option, but morale was taking a terrible toll as the rumor filled tents and ears around camp.
The King’s Army had abandoned most forts outside of the capital. The march eastward was peaceful, quiet. As the mountains that made up the boundary between the two countries came into view, the rank and file were convinced, and thankful, their trip had been made in vein. Riandury was leaving their neighbors to their own affairs. Banners waved, drums were sounded, aether imbued rifle barrels glowed brilliantly in celebration of the belief. Rumor is, the story began when whispered through the marching columns, Riandury heard we were coming and ran with their cowardly tails between their legs.
Rumor has an odd power over the minds of men.
With the new rumor circulating the camp, but the march not yet ended, the soldiers walked with ease and relaxation. Their guards were down.
No survivor would remember from what hill the first plume of cannon smoke rose from. The army of Riandury masked their positions with great skill. A host of cannons sent a volley of rounds into the Musketeer’s lead column as the resistance troops entered a canyon leading a border town called Patka. The Musketeer smelled the flint strike, the fire start and the powder ignite. He called to his troops, “run!” but the cannon fire fell on them before he finished his word. He had never known cannons to fire so speedily, or accurately.
His lieutenants, riding beside him on horseback just a moment before, were no more. The vanguard forces, hundreds in total, were eliminated with the second volley. The army scattered. No one was waiting for a formal call of retreat. Boots hit the hard ground of the mountain foot hill and ran. There was no value in standing for this ground. Smoke filled the canyon, falling from the mountain side above. Cannon rounds continued to bowl through the skinny canyon, taking fighters with them.
The Musketeer joined the retreating forces. As he fled the canyon he grabbed the arms of green clad soldiers firing into the top of the smoke. “Friends fall, but we avenge them another day,” he told his soldiers.
Escaping the canyon, he saw a wounded and defeated force. Soldiers at the back of the column did not know what horrors befell the front, but in the retreat many were crushed by the terrified and bloodied vanguard. The columns were broken now. He saw regiments trying to reform, squadrons taking head counts and accounting for the lost. The trees provided enough cover and the Riandury troops would be foolish to pursue before nightfall. He allowed the troops to catch their breath for a moment.
“We march for the King’s Castle at nightfall. Count your dead, speak their names and remember them well. By the light of the aether we will make those responsible for this attack pay dearly, I promise you all that much,” The Musketeer shouted to the soldiers. There were no cheers, no spirited shouts back at him. He was met only with solemn nods and appreciative glances.
The attack was brief and devastating. He had lost his leadership and the sharpest of his assault soldiers. Riandury was the only reasonable source of the attack. The Musketeer looked back on the canyon and glared. He vowed that after the Crazed King fell, he would turn his sights on Riandury on burn it to the ground.
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Here’s the rest of the story:
The Academic’s Plot