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Fortress. by Bogdan Landzev


The walls were high, the towers were strong and the guard as vigilant as ever. Silistra, it seems, would not surrender today. The lord of this keep was wise enough to immediately consolidate and preserve his force, but not wise enough to see the futility of continued resistance. This move was expected and perfectly acceptable. For as long as the Skitarii regiments were trapped in their fortress they could not relieve Dobrich, join with the remnants of the Seven Hills or threaten the invasion in any other way. By calculations of the Black Mask leading the siege, the keep would surrender in 3 weeks at worst. If it was still defiant – as more and more Tenebrian forces arrived – it would fall in a storm of iron.
Of course, this was the worst-case scenario. There was no doubt that Tenebrian legionnaires could take Silistra with a direct assault, but such a waste of lives was unacceptable. It was inefficient and to the detriment of the Empire and if there was one thing that was anathema to the Tenebrian Empire – it was inefficiency. Thus any possibility to negotiate surrender was to be taken and a band of messengers with a flag of truce marched to the gates every day. The lord of the citadel accepted them graciously and every evening they returned with a sealed letter carrying only one word “No.”
This circus repeated itself for five days. The Black Mask in charge of the siege stared at the latest letter as the sun set. Trimmed with gold, written in silver was a single word – “No”. Such were the ways of these petty kingdoms and usurpers – to choose form over function and to act like petulant children. There was no way out of this. The two legions outside could crush any attempt to sally forth. The river offered no respite as well –Tenebrian galleys were anchored at a respectable distance from the port`. They were not needed really – all ships in the Silistrian harbor were recalled to evacuate Dobrich and burned in the attempt.
Yet the walls were high, the towers were strong and the guard as vigilant as ever. Silistra, it seems, would not surrender today either. It mattered not – the region would be pacified per schedule, one way or another as the number of besiegers grew.
The following day, new tents could be seen behind the palisades, and a trebuchet was slowly rising, aimed at the main gate. By all accounts the attacking force had increased by a third overnight. Trenches were starting to creep forward, built by skillful sappers. At noon the usual delegation under a white flag approached the main gate and announced itself to the defenders.
In the name of the Empire, we do hereby invoke the right to parlay with him who calls himself master of this place!’ The gates opened, the portcullis was raised and there he was, surrounded by his guard, the so-called Duke, Buskador Montifer, with his ridiculous banner waived by an attendant. ‘Why, hello Perin! Do come in, you are probably hungry already!’ he said, inviting them in like old friends. The messengers bowed as one and the leader Perin replied with a polite and neutral tone. ‘My master wishes you well and inquires if you are in good health.’ ‘Quite good I am afraid!’ The duke was already marching towards the keep, which urged the delegation to follow him quickly. The gate was shut behind them and they walked, surrounded by rows of Skitarii troops standing to attention, with many patrols going around their business. Others could be seen too, warriors of the Seven Hills, Seawolves remnants, even Noldorin elves. All kinds of stragglers had made it to the fortress in time. It was a pointless show of strength. The Tenebrian scouts had provided excellent information on the strength and numbers of the defenders, which was taken into account when the siege force was assembled. They also provided information on food stores and other reserves which made the second part of the daily ritual just as meaningless as the first one. In the great hall of the citadel, a feast was waiting for the messengers, full of lavish food and expensive wine. The meat was excellent, and the various pieces of bread and fruit were fresh. The messengers ate in silence, waiting for the next part of the play. As they finished – a servant arrived with the usual rehearsed speech. ‘His Grace is exhausted and would like to retire for the day. You will receive his answer in the evening and until then you may enjoy the provided guest rooms.’ At sunset, the delegation was escorted to the main gate and ceremoniously provided with a sealed letter in gold and silver. In it was a single word – ‘No’. Such were the ways of these locals.
A thick fog settled as the night progressed, hiding both the camp and the fortress. Only the braziers of the guard posts revealed the outlines of both. The night shift was doubled on both sides because of this. As the hours passed, a blaze appeared from the western hills, slowly approaching and growing in size. As it closed in, the fog revealed thousands of Tenebrian soldiers, whose torches looked like a great burning wyrm. They were strong and they were many.




The forces sent to pacify the region of Ruse had achieved their objectives faster than expected. Those lands had suffered plague and quarantine until recently and were severely depopulated. The balance of manpower in the siege had shifted yet again. Officers quietly gathered in the commander tent, relaying orders to messengers, calculating risks and making contingencies. With more fresh troops they could breach the weak sections near the western wall and then advance to the Merchant Gate thus securing a full quarter of the city and then it was just a matter of time.
The Black Mask left the tent with a spyglass to confirm his initial observation. The morning fog was lifting. Yes – the walls were still high and the towers strong and the guard…the guard was mostly absent. There was barely any movement or glint of metal on the ramparts. By this hour the outer wall was normally fully manned and ready to defy the foe. Was this an opportune moment or a ruse? It mattered not – the assault was called immediately. Yet as the ladders were rushed towards the empty walls and the siege engines aimed at the towers, the gate was flung open, with a flag of truce. Silistra had finally surrendered.
As the legionnaires moved in, they were greeted by a token force of city watch and levies who meekly laid down their weapons. The core of the garrison, the REAL garrison, had disappeared along with the duke and all persons of interest who had sought refuge with him. Provisions were missing too, barely enough for days with all traces leading to the docks. The only thing left of the Tenebrian galleys guarding it was some flotsam and scraps. As the banners of the Duke of Silistra and the Twin torches of East Wind were removed from the Merchant gate, overlooking the harbor, the Black Mask leading the siege was as unreadable as ever. Emotional outbursts were pointless – the fortress was taken ahead of schedule and with it – the conquest of all East Wind territories. If the so-called “duke” preferred to die from hunger in the steppes, that was his prerogative. Vlachia could barely feed itself as it was.


Several hours earlier.

Buskador Montifer, First Duke of the Danube was watching his men disembark on the Vlachian shore.
– ‘I never thought I would flee together with an outlaw ‘– said the duke to the empty night. – ‘How about a temporary friend?’ – The words came behind him suddenly. Gold glittered in the grin of Kuzman the Red, infamous brigand and connoisseur of stolen goods. Or at least the current bearer of the title, for the band of Kuzman the Red changed its leader often even if the name stayed the same. Right behind him stood Kai, the duke’s bodyguard, ready to act at any sign of betrayal. Buskador waved him off and answered the bandit lord. – ‘Sounds perfectly reasonable, given the circumstances.’ – The Duke returned the smile and continued.-‘We can be friends until our agreement expires. We can still be friends after that if you don’t make it…difficult, like your predecessor.’ The bandit replied with mockery in his voice. – ‘The brethren elected me for my diplomatic ways… and very reasonable rates! Those Tenebrians are bad news for the likes of us so I will even give you a healthy discount but I will need more for an appetizer. How about clemency for starters? The duke shrugged – ‘You will have it. Your ships are swift and quiet. Almost unnaturally quiet. Just like this fog that appears on demand.’ – To his credit Kuzman continued the charade without even blinking. – ‘I don’t ask for your secrets Your Grace, so don’t expect me to reveal mine. I would never use unnatural means for illegal gains while making a mockery of your River Watch every Tuesday and twice on Sunday. Don’t blame them by the way – they never stood a chance.’ The bandit chieftain left, walking among his crew, whispering orders and assignments.  Buskador remained as a handful of his captains approached with both reports and concerns. – ‘Can he be trusted?’ – asked Geralt of Babyk. The duke replied – ‘Only as far as his interests align with ours and it seems they do for the foreseeable future.’
Could he be trusted indeed? It was a fool’s hope but the bandit chief came through with skill and audacity and a small fleet of river boats, barges, and sloops. It was an exemplary and very expensive operation, especially the disposal of the Tenebrian galleys. It was best not to look into it too hard. This alliance of convenience was too important for all involved. Geralt nodded and continued with his report without pause. -‘The second thing of note is food. We only brought enough for days, maybe a week with strict rationing. I do hope you have a plan sire. Vlachia is still mostly a wasteland. ‘

The duke did not answer at first. He was staring at the ex-magister of Fire Magic, NogarKaz, who was happily lounging on the nose of the ship, surrounded by a truly spectacular amount of alcohol and liquors. No one had questioned him on why he brought booze instead of far more valuable rations and water. The Magister looked completely undisturbed as if going on a vacation – not a perilous journey. No one dared ask whether he knew something that the common soldiery didn’t or was simply confident in his talents.
The duke shifted his gaze to the small golden statue of a warrior woman in his hand. He was not known to be a pious man, he was certainly not an honest or kind man, but then again those were not the qualities that made him lord of a great fortress and master of a mighty host. However, he was most certainly a proud man and would never be seen begging. His prayer was only in his thoughts. “Come on, your Ladyship, don’t fail us now. Dame Death, Mythras, Bellona, we never asked for much, just show the poor bloody infantry some grace, pretty please? We were always there for you, from the moment we grasped a sword. Now be there for us just this once.
The eyes of his captains were still upon him. The duke placed the small golden statue in his pouch and announced.- ‘I know a place where we will have all the time in the world.