Chapter 9
The Siege of Dragova

Dragova, Byrn; Anno Regis 1285

"I am no stranger to combat, but my fights have all been quick and decisive. I have never participated in a prolonged, conventional campaign and as a result, I cannot truly understand how it feels to suffer its slow, grinding pace. The siege in particular is something I could never tolerate. Both sides struggle to wear each other down until one of them finally breaks. It could take days, weeks, even months before a conclusion is reached. Whether I was attacker or defender, I swear it would drive me mad."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

The fields south of the city of Dragova were littered with the bodies of men of the Dragon Guard. The Byrnans had thrown the bulk of their forces against the oncoming Marauders and though they outnumbered the invaders nearly two to one, they sorely underestimated their enemy.
The Dragon Guard was rusty. It had been decades since Byrn had seen a war, but most of the senior Marauders were veterans of the Gladian conquest. The Byrnans' equipment was arguably superior, but their training could not match that of their enemy.
The Byrnan lines crumbled under the weight of the Marauders' onslaught and for every three soldiers of the Dragon Guard, two were dead by the time they retreated into the protection of the city. The battle had shifted the scales decidedly in the Gladians' favor. The Marauders had been at a substantial disadvantage before, but now they could claim superiority on all fronts.
In spite of the stunning victory and the shift in numerical advantage, the Byrnans were better defended within the safety of the city. Lacking artillery, the Marauders' only option was to fight the Dragon Guard from building to building, but such a course of action could prove costly. Randwulf was not so fixed on a quick victory that he would sacrifice a large portion of his men. He needed the Marauders to remain largely intact, so he was willing to dig in and lay siege to the city. It was simply a matter of time before the city's defenders caved to the pressure.
Each of the three roads leading into Dragova was sealed with detachments of five hundred men and six fifty-man patrols constantly circled the perimeter. Nothing would get in and nothing would get out. The Byrnans would not be able to hold out for long.
On the other hand, the Marauders would not be able last very long either, not without supply lines. The only way they could supply themselves was by staying on the move. Obviously, it was a not a conducive strategy for siege warfare, but Randwulf had already devised a solution and gathered the Five Generals to put his plan in action.
"Men, you have done well," the King said. "The wolves will dine on the Byrnans' best, but the war is not yet won. I know the Marauders could sweep through this city and kill its defenders to the last man, but a city is not an open battlefield. There are defended places from which they can strike like cowards, wasting the lives of my men. We will have need of every single one when we return to Gladius."
"What do you mean, Your Majesty?" General Ulfson asked.
"You may have heard about the Guard's mission to root out traitors. They are not up to the task. When we are done here, I will be deploying the Marauders throughout the kingdom. This campaign is meant to prepare them, and you, for the real mission."
Clenching his fists tightly, General Giles was doing a poor job of restraining his anger. "Does Your Majesty mean to say that all this death, all this destruction is nothing more than a training exercise?"
The dishonored general bordered on insolence. His peers glared at him for it, but he could not provoke Randwulf so easily.
"No, General Giles. It is not just a training exercise. Byrn's ancient grudge could be exploited by our enemies. It is better that we destroy them here and now, once and for all. But this effort will be a waste if our own losses are too grave. That is why we must exercise prudence.
"Three roads lead into the city and we have sealed them off with five hundred-man contingents. General Ulfson will command the north contingent, General Reinard the south and General Drusus the west. You primary mission is to prevent any aid from entering the city or letting anyone leave. If attacked, you may pursue no deeper than a furlong into the city. You must receive permission from either Commander Cadmus or myself before making any other incursions into the city. If the Byrnans mass their forces at any point, you are authorized to contribute up to half of your contingents as reinforcements.
"The roving patrols will provide regular updates and relay messages. Do not allow a single patrol to pass through your area of responsibility without reporting in, even if they have nothing to say. Is that understood?"
The three generals replied in unison, "Yes, Your Majesty."
General Leifson stirred uncomfortably, clearly apprehensive that he was being denied a position of significance. "Your Majesty..."
"No need to fret, General Leifson," Randwulf said. "I have a special assignment for you. As you know, the Marauders are not meant to stay in any one place for long. We never stopped more than a couple days when we conquered Gladius, but it cost half the men who came down from the mountains with me. Because I will not tolerate such losses here, we need provisions to sustain us, provisions you will get for us.
"You will take five hundred Marauders and one hundred of the Byrnan conscripts and raid the lands to the south. Follow the road to the southeast and you will find the hill country with a village of herders. Take anything you can get your hands on.
"Winter is just starting. We will need fuel to keep from freezing. There is a forest further south. Harvest trees for firewood and destroy the village in the forest's depths. Also, do not forget about the watchposts. There will not be many soldiers there, but do not let them catch you off guard. Make the first move."
General Leifson nodded. "Yes, Your Majesty."
Randwulf turned his attention to the remaining general. "General Giles."
"Your Majesty?" General Giles replied, his voice somewhat muted.
"You will be charged with ferrying supplies from General Leifson's location to the main force here. You will have one hundred men at your command. In addition to transporting supplies, your men will prepare them as well. Preserve meat, chop firewood, melt down metals, and so on and so forth. You are free to take as many captives as you can keep, but do not let them get the better of you. Failure will cost you your head, so be wary of how far your pity moves you.
"You will also be accompanied by one hundred fresh troops who will act as replacements for men in General Leifson's detachment. General Leifson will determine who goes back with you." The King's tone became pointedly harsh. "You will not interfere with General Leifson's operations and if you quarrel with him again, you will not get off as easily as last time."
General Giles bowed his head. "I understand, Your Majesty."
"Good. Now, my generals, you have your assignments and you are dismissed."
The Five Generals bowed and withdrew without another word. Cadmus had been quietly cleaning his sword throughout the briefing and took the opportunity to speak now that the generals we gone.
"Your Majesty, the men will quickly tire of this siege and grow restless. How many Marauders could these Byrnan dogs possibly kill?"
"We no longer have the element of surprise, Cadmus. They are the main body of the enemy army and they have the ample cover of familiar surroundings. As I said, I do not doubt our chances of victory, but I need every man I can spare for the mission in Gladius."
"Why, Your Majesty?" Cadmus asked. "Twenty years ago, Your Majesty subdued all of Gladius with less than seven hundred men. Between the Marauders and the Gladian Guard, Your Majesty now has three thousand. If even a thousand were lost, who could stand against us?"
Randwulf said nothing. Even though Cadmus was his second in command, the King did not confide in him. After all, his appointment as commander of the Marauders was forcefully encouraged by the warlock himself, a rare interference in the King's affairs. Cadmus had served him well all these years, but he had never earned Randwulf's trust. Of course, only a fool would trust a man who betrayed his homeland to feed his own ambition.
"Your Majesty may withhold information from me," Cadmus said, "but I am not entirely without resources of my own. I do not know the details, but I do know that Your Majesty's unease stems from rumors of the scion of House Aran, the son of Luther the Guardian. He is only one man, if he even exists."
"As a native Gladian, you should know better than that," Randwulf countered. "The Guardian is a symbol for our enemies in Gladius. He helped forge the kingdom and he died valiantly fighting against the foreign invaders. Now he returns in their darkest hour to restore the Mountain King to the throne. That is exactly how they will exploit the son of Luther to rally the people to their cause."
"Surely Your Majesty gives them too much credit."
"No, and it would be folly to take our enemies lightly. The Crimson Revolt was no great threat, but it eliminated the rash and impetuous from our enemies' number. The most dedicated and crafty survived and they will make full use of the son of Luther, whether he is real or not."
"Then why have we come here? I have no complaint avenging the wrongs of two centuries past, but if there is such a great threat to the homeland, should not our first priority be there?"
"The son of Luther was raised in this land. He has many allies here. It would not be difficult to imagine the King of the Byrnans entering into an alliance with him. Surely you can agree that it is better to crush the Byrnans' power before it can be used against us..." Randwulf paused to emphasize his point. "...or would you rather see thousands of Byrnans flooding over the Glass River into the Gladian heartland?"
Cadmus scowled at the thought. "I would burn it all myself before yielding even an inch to the Byrnan dogs."
"Then you can appreciate the strategy," Randwulf said. "Hardened by battle, the Marauders will have no trouble uprooting the last traces of rebellion among the people. Without any foreign allies, our enemies will have no one to turn to. The son of Luther will not avail them and none will be left to contest my rule."
The old cavalryman bowed his head. "It shall be as Your Majesty wills. May our victory be swift."
Swift or not, Randwulf would have his victory. The hundreds of bodies rotting in the southern field bore testament to his might. Soon the soldier city of Dragova would fall and then they could move on Castle Byrn to cut off the head of the serpent. The son of Luther would find no help in this land. With the rebel cause falling before it can even stand, it would not be long before he fell into the Conqueror's hands.