Chapter the Seventh The First Move
Three days before the crescent moon appeared once more on the horizon, Raora had prepared all Carasul for the king's return. When night came she took to her chamber, locked the door and looked out into the north wondering if they had almost come, and if perhaps, she might see their host on the horizon tomorrow.
Gazing into the darkness she suddenly glimpsed coming out from behind the curve of the mountains, an army carrying torches and moving towards Carasul. She sprang from her place and opening the window, stared out into the distance as far as she could see. The first thought that came to her mind was that the king and his host had returned earlier than planned. It was too dark for her to see whom the approaching army was but when the line of warriors kept moving she grew afraid and all hope left her. This was too great a host to be the riders she had seen a month ago gallop away to the north. Raora felt her heart sink within her; but it was not altogether unexpected. She had felt a strange caution when the king had left, a warning, for what she had not known, but now it was all made clear. She did not guess that Thargon had encountered them also.
They began to circle the castle around the outer walls just out of bowshot. At last Raora pulled herself away from the window. She took the sword down from the wall and girt it around her waist. Then putting on the helmet, she left her room and went across the hall to where Galimir was conversing with his guard as to when the king's host should return.
She opened the door and the two men stood and bowed at her appearance. The guard prepared to leave but she motioned for him to stay. “I speak no secret tidings,” she said and addressing Galimir continued, “Look.” She pointed to the window and the two men rushed to it and a look of wonder spread over their faces. “That means,” she went on, “the sentries that guard the mountain's foot have fled or been slain, the king is gone and we are besieged. The creatures of the mountains have descended.”
“I await your command,” said the knight, kneeling on one knee and producing the hilt of his sword to her. “These are the men of the hills and their allies, gathered together to ruin Carasul once and for all. We are outnumbered by far.”
“You speak foolish words,” she replied coldly, while one man in the tower has the strength to hold a sword there will be no such word as defeat.”
“I expect Lord Thargon's return in two days time. Nevertheless, prepare for a siege and gather the remainder of the soldiers.”
Galimir bowed and ran out of the tower into the night shouting orders.
In spite of her brave words Raora was afraid. Her courage failed her and she did not look for victory. Out in the darkness she heard the sound of a war-horn and the cries of men answering it. Below in the courtyard the army assembled.
Galimir rushed up the stairs to her. “Your orders have been carried out,” he said. “Every man in the castle capable of bearing arms has been gathered.”
“What are their numbers?” asked Raora,
“Greater than ours, they come in many thousands. She gazed north for a moment and then gave her answer, “How long can Carasul withstand against a siege?”
“My lady, the castle was not prepared for a siege, she can hold out but a month at the most.”
“Wait,” Raora replied, “wait until the crescent moon.” The knight nodded and descended.
All through the next two days and nights, Raora watched on the wall for the king. Her heart began to fail and she wondered if perhaps the king would not come on the appointed hour. The enemy did not wait so long. Flaming darts were continually hurled into the Tower whenever the attackers got by the eyes of the watchers. On the outer walls the men spent much time putting out the fires. They assailed the gate with the trunk of a great oak tree but it did not give way. Ladders were put up on the walls and though the guards destroyed many of them, large companies of the foe often got into the city and the loss was dear.
But the enemy was ever driven back, and the gates held firm. On the last night when the crescent moon shown bright Raora looked earnestly in every direction from her post on the wall. When the Fair Star sank she moved at last from the post. She wasted no time and immediately descended to where Galimir waited with the guard for a sign of the enemy's movements.
“The crescent moon is passed; something perilous has stayed the king. We cannot hold out forever, some of the outer wall is already broken, and the enemy is planning some new devilry. If one of our soldiers can make it through their ranks we may be able to find the King.”
Galimir stared for a moment at the firm, defiant girl. She believed the king was still living. “No,” he replied. This great host has surely destroyed Lord Thargon and his companions, or driven them away. They will offer no aid. No man will ever break through that army alive. Forgive my boldness, but my lady; I have seen the consequences of courage over used. It is a fruitless errand and I must insist. My knowledge of warfare has proven this to me. I beg of you, rely upon my superior understanding of the situation. Here I must speak against your word. I believe this matter, 'does not befit a maiden to handle,' as my lord put it.”
She held his eye for a moment and then spoke. “I did not ask for your word. You say the king is surely destroyed. What do you believe?” She continued in a softer tone. “Do not turn from duty.” In spite of her audacious words she could see he was firm in his beliefs. When he repeated them, though with utmost civility, and left her, she found he was unyielding. Any attempt to persuade him was in vain.
Her blue eyes flared in anger and she gritted her teeth. Her whole being was overtaken in fury. But his words rang in her ears, 'Does not befit a maiden to handle.'
“Neither, she thought, does it befit an insolent, careless, discourteous knight to handle.' Fruitless errands! That was what he called it. If the king did not bring aid the tower would be taken and its inhabitants put to the sword, including Galimir. Nevertheless, the castle would not fall because of one knight's thoughtlessness. Raora was convinced the Lord Thargon was living. As she mounted the staircase to her chambers, a thought struck her. A way to summon the king in spite of Galimir's rash words. She could go herself. . . At the thought of it her heart skipped a beat. Her mind hung in an agony of indecision.
Up to the highest turret she fled to escape the dreadful thought and eased her mind in the refreshing breeze. She poured out her troubled heart to the great Guardian above and her hesitant words were lost in the wind. “My heart fails me and I do not have sufficient courage for this task. I am afraid.” She repeated those words but she could not make them drown out the one clear phrase at the back of her mind, 'It is my duty.' When the moon sank beyond the horizon she had made up her mind. Duty meant more to her than any other feeling and at last her mind had told her that. “If I fail,” she told herself, “I will not think the attempt was in vain.”
Looking out to the mountains she whispered, “Forgive me Jaylon.”