Chapter 15
The Succession

Dragova, Byrn; Anno Regis 1285

"What do you do when you know your days are numbered? Do you gorge yourself on the pleasures that will soon be stripped from you? Do you feverishly plot against the inevitable? Or do you simply go about your daily routine and scoff at the notion that your end is any more or less certain today than it was yesterday?"
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

In little more than a week, the siege of Dragova would round out its second month. The weather had gotten colder, but fortunately there had not been any heavy snows and the foraging parties had done well to provide food, fuel and warmer clothing for the Marauders. There was not much chance the city's defenders could boast of such aid.
Randwulf's strategy was to starve them out, force the Byrnans to either retreat eastward to the castle or risk everything in an attempt to break through the siege lines and draw the Marauders away from their King. By Randwulf's orders, nothing more than small raiding parties or individual operatives were allowed to enter the city. The idea was to preserve as much of the Marauders' numbers as possible. The plan was quickly justified.
While the Byrnan soldiers may not have been able to stand up to the Marauders in open combat, they were more resourceful than Randwulf expected. According to his spies, their rate of attrition was surprisingly low. They were getting supplies somehow and that was only part of the problem. The Byrnans were skilled at setting traps and ambushing the scouts and raiding parties. Randwulf had already lost nearly a dozen men and even one of his precious special operatives. Under normal circumstances, such losses would be minuscule, but here they were unacceptable.
Randwulf was in the middle of an inspection of General Drusus' sector when he felt his heart squeeze. His strength suddenly drained from his body and he could no longer stay on his mount. He fell to the ground, much to the alarm of Cadmus and the other Marauders.
"Your Majesty!"
Several men ran up to help him, but by then he had regained enough of his strength to hold out his hand to stop them. He could not afford to show any weakness before his Marauders. He got up on his own, but the men stayed close to him.
"I am fine," the King insisted. "I just felt a little faint. I am better now. Go back to your duties."
The men all bowed and returned to their posts as ordered, leaving only Cadmus and his adjutant by the King's side. Randwulf motioned for them to continue the inspection. Unsurprisingly, Cadmus did not let the incident go so easily.
"Your Majesty," he said, "I have never seen you have a fainting spell in all the time I have known you. You should see a physician."
"That will not be necessary," Randwulf replied. "It has nothing to do with the flesh."
Not catching his meaning, Cadmus continued, "Perhaps it is the pace of the campaign. It might be better if we scaled back operations until the spring."
"On the contrary, Commander, we need to move more swiftly. General Leifson is returning from his mission in the south, correct?"
"That is correct, Your Majesty."
"His detachment will relieve General Drusus'. Once General Leifson gets here, send General Drusus and his detachment to attack the city to the northeast. By the time he's finished there, we should be at the castle."
Cadmus bowed. "It shall be done, Your Majesty."
The King looked out to the expanse of stunted towers and blocky stone buildings before them. "We need to... encourage the Byrnans to leave this city. Dispatch the Five Stalkers. If anyone can flush out those dogs, they can."
"Very well, Your Majesty." Looking somewhat uncertain, Cadmus paused. "Are you sure you can rely on them alone for such an important task?"
Randwulf gripped the hilt of his sword. He already knew the reason for his fainting spell. The son of Luther had succeeded his father and was now an Elemental Knight. It was a moment Randwulf had been looking forward to and dreading at the same time. He would have to make his move soon.
"I have an even more important assignment waiting in the wings," Randwulf said. "They will need the practice."