Promise of Hope

This is the twelfth of the world-building series I’ve been writing. I hope they have been entertaining, and that no one’s too terribly lost in all the names and places and chronology. I hope you enjoy this addition!

“When will it be finished?” Thanis asked.

“All in good time,” replied Adenso, turning the crank of a complex machine slowly in his hand. “Please, return to your master – I shall have it done by the time you need it.”

Thanis sighed for the dozenth time since he arrived at the smith’s workshop. Adenso was insufferable. Was he not aware that there was a war going on? That Kasmer was losing and was desperately in need of a weapon to turn the tides?

But he did as he was told. He walked out of the workshop, not a little in a huff and rather impatiently. King Iminder would not be pleased. He was even more impatient than Thanis, and the war was costing him his sanity as he worried daily over the state of his kingdom and his people.

Thanis mounted his waiting horse, spurring it on so that it galloped forward, carrying him southwest to his homeland, Kasmer. During the whole three days that it took to reach the capital, Laviri, he pressed his horse as fast as it could go. By the time he would return, he would be gone a week, and too much could change in the war in that amount of time.

Even as he made his way back along familiar roads and paths, the sufferings of war lay bare for him to see: bodies cast away on the sides of roads; villages burned to the ground; weapons and rubble littering the ground. Interpreting these as signs that the armies of Evorion had already passed through, and he sought alternate routes to Laviri, routes that made his journey even longer than he had planned.

At last, though, he arrived at the capital, weary and despairing from Adenso’s news and the horrors of war he had seen on the way back. The shadow of Evorion drew closer every day, and it seemed as if the soldiers of Kasmer fell before the enemy like wheat under the sickle. The capital was full of refugees and poor folk who testified to the awful state of Kasmer. They lined the streets in their rags, all the way from the gates to the doors of the palace.

As he dismounted, an old friend of his, a lady-in-waiting named Adrina, rushed over to him, her blue eyes looking expectantly into his own and worry plastered on her face.

“He won’t help,” he said, answering her silent question.

“What? But Adenso’s never gone back on a task he said he would do!” Adrina replied.

“No – he’s going to make it. But he’ll never get it here in time. I was worried when he said that he couldn’t deliver it with me, but the whole thing seems hopeless now that I’ve seen how far Evorion has advanced since I left.”

“Surely it can’t be hopeless. Adenso’s always been … mysterious about stuff like this. Even if you don’t get it, I’m sure the king will.”

But when Thanis approached the king and told him the news, the king didn’t hold with Adrina’s optimism at all.

“I see we must do without hope,” he said. “Or any chance of memory.”

Despite the hopelessness of the situation, most of the soldiers and the palace were far from despairing. The peasants reacted much differently to the news, but King Iminder quickly sent them on their way, away west where perhaps they could escape the claws of Evorion for a little longer. Adrina left with them, though it took a lot of convincing from Thanis, since she still clung to the hope that Adenso might send his creation in time.

“If you’re so worried about the city falling, why don’t you come with us?” she asked him as they stood to the side of the train of people leaving the city.

“Because we have to try to stop them. Otherwise there’ll be nowhere for you to go.”

She sighed. “Well, don’t be stupid. I want to see you again, alive.”

“We’ll see.”

They embraced, and then she left, leaving Thanis and the rest of the city in dark hopelessness, with only the coming black tide to look forward to.

It arrived in two days after the evacuation. One day, the plains before the city were green and empty; the next, the black ant-like shapes of the soldiers of Evorion covered the plains from horizon to horizon. The King attempted a sortie, but it failed miserably, and few of the horsemen who sallied forth returned inside the great gate.

As the last of the cavalry came within, a horseman of the enemy trotted forward. It was a captain, some lieutenant of Evorion, who spoke in a cold, ruthless voice to those on the walls.

“Surrender! Do not be fools and throw away your lives, which no one shall remember or honor. Choose life! My master is merciful, and his rule is gentle. Is it not better than a desperate death, overpaid and soon forgotten?”

“Never!” Thanis shouted from the battlements, to the cheers of the soldiers assembled there, looking down on their enemy before their gates.

And then began the siege of Laviri. The enemy had come prepared for such measures, and unleashed all their machines, from complex battering rams to catapults that hurled flaming stones into the city, destroying the lower sections with ease. The men of Kasmer fought desperately, but there was little to do against the swarms of enemies at their gates. Every man they struck down was replaced by two more; and they couldn’t touch the machines doing the most damage.

It only took Evorion a day to break down the gate and flood into the streets. Here they swept away all resistance, pushing back the soldiers of Kasmer all the way to the citadel, leaving their bodies strewn across the streets as blood flowed over the cobblestone.

Thanis sat in the atrium of the palace, awaiting death. Around him, soldiers either watched the gate or braced it, all jumping at every thud that signaled the impact of the battering ram outside. There were still some archers at the higher levels, firing down into the mass of men in the city, but there was nothing to be done.

But then Thanis heard something strange. Outside, what had once been cheering and battle cries suddenly turned to screams and yells of pain and fear. Thanis stood up and ran to the nearest window, his heart leaping in his chest.

There, high above the city, was a great spherical object – a balloon. Every few seconds, a light would drop from the balloon to the ground, where it would explode. The soldiers of Evorion couldn’t touch it, and now they milled about in panic, unable to cope with the new threat.

It wasn’t long before they found the best course of action: not to fight it at all, and flee. It had taken them several hours to climb up to the citadel, but only a few minutes to go back.

When they were out of sight, the soldiers opened the battered and bruised doors, looking up as the great balloon, now clearly holding a large basket beneath it, descended from on high. As it approached the ground, Thanis saw that the driver was not Adenso, as he had assumed, but the young apprentice Thesule. The King now came onto the street, looking in confusion from Thesule to Thanis.

“I thought you said we wouldn’t get his help,” the King said to Thanis.

“I thought we wouldn’t,” Thanis replied. “I didn’t know you could get here so quickly.”

“My master said it would be done by the time you needed it,” said Thesule. “And I suppose you needed it now. But Adenso is the creator of a whole host of amazing things. Why did you ever doubt him?”

Thanis shrugged, unable to conjure a single good reason from hindsight. And as he considered it more, he could only laugh at himself, and laugh for joy. He was alive, and so was hope.

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