Much has happened in the past week. Loven and Calliers both captured a town each. We need not be concerned about supplies for the time being. There have been several skirmishes between my men and the rebels. None lasted long and the casualties have been in single digits on either side. In order to fortify our camp I ordered my men to dig trenches and plant stakes around the base of the hill. Yesterday I received information from spies in the city that the rebels are planning to attack us. The scouts I ordered to run around the city were successful in distracting their patrollers and keeping them away from our camp. Loven devised a cunning and simple rope based mechanism by which the stakes can be kept lowered and out of sight and raised up when required.
Five hundred of my cavalry under Calliers are hiding in a thicket to the west. The horses were taken there in ones and twos and the men deprated tonight, their armour and weapons wrapped in cloth to prevent any glint in the moonlight.
Today, as my informers had told me, the rebels attacked. There were around five thousand of them, three thousand peasants and two thousand from the garrison, half of which were cavalry. The rebels had a numerical advantage but I had the advantage of terrain, better equipment, trained men and the hidden field fortifications. Yet I was very apprehensive because a defeat here would undermine my position as king of Escaria.
I lined up my archers behind the trenches which were covered with grass and the stakes. Loven and Warton commanded the cavalry at either flank, ready to ride out and strike when the need arises. The infantry stood some distance behind the archers.
The first attack consisted of only peasants. They were clad in mismatched armour of poor leather and wielded spears, axes and rusty swords. As they charged us in their disorderly fashion, howling their crude war cries, I felt nothing but contempt for them. I gave the order to fire as soon as they came with range. The first volley itself proved devastating, killing scores of men at the front ranks. Their confidence plummeted. The charge faltered. The men at front hesitated to advance, the still bodies of their comrades told of what awaited them. The next volley wreaked utter panic in their ranks. The men at front tried to run back while the men in the rear, having not yet witnessed the carnage at front, pushed them ahead. I ordered my archers to fire continuously. The constant rain of arrows was more than they could bear. They fled, leaving behind them over five hundred dead.
The commanders of the city garrison ran around, desperately trying to regroup the peasants with threats and force. The next charge consisted of the remaining peasants advancing in the same fashion. Their morale was significantly low. I ordered my archers to again rain arrows on them, causing panic among them. But this time the wrath of the garrison behind them deterred them from fleeing. They advanced unwillingly and without any cohesion. Loven and his light cavalry rode out to strike at the enemy's right. Faced by this sudden attack on their flank, the peasants were stunned. Loven did superbly well, striking and withdrawing swiftly before they could strike back. A group of peasants broke away from the ranks and pursued him. They were surrounded and slaughtered by the cavalry. Loven charged and withdrew again and again. The combined assault of arrows and the cavalry was devastating. The rabble scampered.
Now only the city garrison remained. Their cavalry, numbering around a thousand, charged. I had the archers pull back and ordered the infantry to form up behind the trenches in five ranks. As the enemy neared, their lances held ready, I signalled for the men to raise the stakes. The men pulled at the ropes that had been attached to the stakes and slipped in the wooden supports that would hold them in place. A wall of sharpened trunks rose up in front of the horses and spread panic among them. The riders desperately tried to evade the stakes but fear had made the horses disobedient. Many flung their riders off their backs, others rode straight into the stakes and were gored to death or fell into the trenches. The surviving cavalry beat a hasty retreat. Loven immediately set out in pursuit of the fleeing cavalry.
It was time to press the attack. I ordered the infantry forward. They marched in tight formation, spears levelled and shields raised. I rode with a hundred men to the infantry's left to prevent any flanking manouevre the rebels might attempt. I could see Lahk standing with the infantry, clad in expensive scale mail, clearly pillaged from the palace. He had no option but to commit his reserves. But these were all peasants and could not contribute much to their cause except increasing their numbers.
A line of skirmishers and archers ran ahead and began to fire at the infantry but owing to their heavy armour and tight formation not much damage was done. With Loven still engaged with the cavalry, I had to order Warton to ride out and attack them. The archers saw the approaching riders and began firing at them. Warton's men suffered some losses but the charge did not falter. His men cleaved into the skirmish line, scattering the men. The main body of their infantry advanced and Warton rode away to avoid contact with them. They had put the peasants in the front as arrow fodder while the city troops brought up the rear. Lahk stood some distance away with a detachment of the city garrison. Both armies loosened their formations and charged. The impact was deafening and men on both sides were swept off their feet. The peasants had the worst of it and my infatry was slowly pushing the rebels backwards, gaining ground steadily.
The odds were turning in our favour. I raised the flag that was the signal for Calliers to ride out with his men.
Their morale was crumbling. With the sudden approach of hundreds of mailclad cavalrymen from the rear all semblance of discipline vanished. The men broke formation and scattered but we had them surrounded. Calliers charged the rear and pinned the city troops. The infatry slaughtered those at front while Warton harried the left with his pincer attacks. I saw Lahk fleeing with his men and broke away from the battle in pursuit. Loven appeared in the nick of time and we surrounded Lahk and his men. Lahk immediately surrendered. I told Loven to handle the prisoners and rode back to the battle site. The battle was almost over. With their leader gone and no hope of victory left, the men dropped their arms and surrendered. We rounded up all the men and took them for prisoners.
It was some hours past noon when we rode into the city with the prisoners trailing behind us. There was some resistance in the city but it was disorganised and posed no threat to us. We secured the palace within the hour. In the dungeons we discovered that the Duke and his family had been beheaded days ago. The rebels called themselves brave warriors against injustice when in fact they were nothing but greedy opportunists who were bent upon creating chaos. I sent out men to round up all rebels and throw them in the dungeons. By the Grace of Mithros I emerged victorious once again over great odds. I have decided to appoint Astin Weller, one of the few noblemen of this region whose estates were not destroyed by the rebels as the Duke of the Province. He is a capable man with years of experience behind him and enjoys a certain amount of popularity among the people. Tomorrow I will decide what to do with Lahk and his minions.
Today Warton met the rebel leader. Their leader is some middle-aged peasant called Harin Lahk. In Warton's words 'the man is intelligent but lacking in manners and dignity and seems to have a soft spot for wine and prostitutes'. The rebels demand independence for the province with this man as their king and nine thousand koriis as ransom for the Duke and his family. Presposterous. These dogs think they can run a kingdom. I had hoped for a peaceful settlement to this business but it appears these people are bent upon war.
Some hours ago one of our scouting parties clashed with their patrolmen. Three of our men were killed and two wounded while they lost around five men and atleast four were wounded. My men swear the rebels attacked first. I had given them strict orders to not engage any enemy they sight. I am in no position to wage war right now. The garrison in the city numbers five thousand, out of which around a thousand were loyalists of the duke and were either killed, imprisoned or fled. Added to these there are atleast three thousand peasant rebels. They may not be very skilled but even three thousand unskilled men with weapons can be damaging enough. I have a force of two thousand here and have no siege equipment. I sent messengers to Kashka and Jeren ordering reinforcements but that will take atleast ten days. The longer they hold the city the stronger their position becomes. I have underestimated them. Till reinforcements arrive I can only try to draw them out of the city for then I will have a tactical advantage. But it is unlikely that they will fall for it. Unless something happens out of the blue, I sense a status quo for the next ten days.
My stab wound is showing signs of improvement but the dull ache is still there and I still limp slightly when walking. I went for a ride around the countryside early in the morning today. What was once a beautiful piece of land has been reduced to debris and ashes. Estates have been ransacked. Gardens that once brimmed with flowers and butterflies now lie stained with blood, crushed under the foot of angry peasants. Seeing the destruction, my desire to teach these dogs a lesson has grown stronger.
Another problem has cropped up. Our supplies are dwindling . The farms lie untended and there isn't much in the region to hunt. With the city close Ad to us we have no source of food. The surrounding towns have all surrendered to the rebels. The entire province now practically belongs to them. But they do not have enough force to administer it. Tomorrow Calliers and Loven will ride out with five hundred men each and try to secure the towns. We need them for supplies. I feel very restless sitting in my tent while my generals do all the work. I believe a king's place is in the front ranks with his men, not in the safe confines of his tent. But it is necessary that I remain here to deal with Lahk.
We reached Tarros today and found that the city is in the rebels' hands. The city garrison joined them and they took over the city two days ago. We retired to a hill some kilometre from Tarros and made camp. I then sent one of my men to sneak into the city and find out more about the situation there. He returned to camp some hours ago and made his report. A most efficient man. I was expecting him to take atleast till tomorrow. The Duke and his family have been thrown in the dungeon and the general sentiment in the city seems to be one of relief. Evidently, the Duke was not a very popular man. There are still some loyalists in town and there seem to have been some conflict between them and the rebels. I'll send Warton to speak with the rebels tomorrow, to go myself would be giving them excessive importance.
Our journey to Tarros was uneventful except for one incident. When we were crossing over from Kashka to Escaria two days ago, our advance party was attacked by hill tribes that reside in the region. Our path led through a narrow path with cliffs on one side and dense trees on the other. The tribesmen started raining arrows on the vanguard from the cliffs and the panic stricken men dismounted and ran to take cover in the forest, leaving their horses and supplies unguarded. We rushed to their aid when word reached us. I sent five hundred men under Calliers to try to go up the cliff and outflank the tribesmen. The rest I took with me. When we reached the battle site we found that the tribesmen had come down the cliff to pick up loot and Loven was desperately trying to regroup the scattered vanguard. We charged the tribesmen and pinned them against the cliff. They were ill equipped for a melee, wielding crude daggers, hand axes and other such weapons and wore absolutely no armour. They were spirited men though and they fought to the last man. They killed anyone who tried to surrender.
I got stabbed in the shin by a dagger during the charge. Because of the armour, it did not penetrate very deeply, however it bled somewhat profusely and it aches whenever I walk, forcing me to limp a little. The physician applied some poultice on it to prevent infection and gangrene. He gave me a herb to lessen the pain but I refused to take it. I don't want my senses dulled, I am capable enough of tolerating pain.
Some very important revelations came out of this attack. Firstly, these tribes must be subjugated swiftly or they'll destroy commerce. Secondly, these Morvakian soldiers are cowards of the first order. I had them all flogged for desertion. I also spoke sternly to Loven about his display of incompetence. But one should not be too harsh on him. Even though he is older than me, he has lesser experience of combat and even the best commander cannot control men so unruly as these Morvakians. Craven, the entire lot. Fled like mice. I wanted to behead all of them. We lost several horses in the attack. Their cost shall be deducted from their riders' pay.
16 miles East of Kashka
Oswic held a huge feast last night at the palace to celebrate our victory. There was much meat, expensive fruit from the south and barrels of the finest wine. Musicians and dancers had been called for entertainment. The dancers were mediocre at best but the music was fantastic. The people of Kashka have a reputation for being musically inclined. One musician, a young fiddler by the name of Ferin Yomez outshone all the rest. His playing was fast but gentle and he has a clear rich voice. It was truly beautiful. The feasting and drinking went on till late in the night. It must have been past midnight when I staggered to bed. As a result I woke up today with a terrible headache. So great was my discomfort that I was tempted to postpone my journey to Tarros but Calliers prevailed upon me to depart today as per plan.
By noon my headache was so bad I had to order a halt. By the time I felt fit to ride it was too dark to proceed and we were forced to camp there for the night. We only travelled sixteen miles today. My carelessness has delayed us by almost an entire day.
Earlier in the evening I was lounging in my tent with Calliers, Warton and a few other nobles and the talk somehow turned to my late father. Warton remarked that for all his great qualities, my father had no ambition. Calliers responded with an old couplet which warns against excessive ambition.
'Tell me Calliers', I said to him. 'Had Rascon the Bold or Arcon Louine not been so ambitious would I be the ruler of this domain today? No, I'd be the chieftain of some village in the hills or worse. Ambition in a king is not a vice, only in conquest lies a kingdom's security and prosperity.' He had no response to that. He said something about discernment and excesses but without much conviction and fell silent. For all his valour and skill with the lance Calliers is, like my father was, a peace loving man at heart.
Here I would like to digress briefly on the topic of my late father. Mostaf Theodrigen was born in the winter of 2959 and inherited the throne of Escaria from his father, my grand father, Saylin Theodrigen at the age of nineteen. In the 23 years of his reign he neither conquered provinces nor lost any of his own. He just held on to what he inherited and grew fat and lazy. I do not remember one instance when he left the palace at Utvoros for anything except parties and celebrations. This debauched lifestyle cost him his life. His liver gave out at the age of 43 and he died a most slow, painful and undignified death. This was two years ago.
Two years ago, on a similar spring day, by the grace of Mithros, I sat upon the throne of Escaria. Today is a day just as momentuous. Today at noon I rode through the gates of Kashka. After being besieged for three weeks they surrendered today. Yesterday there was bitter fighting between Calliers' men and the city troops at the west gate and it was almost breached. However, reinforcements arrived and Calliers was forced to withdraw. Nevertheless, he fought valiantly and the attack and it's near-success shook the Duke of Kashka for today he sent one of his courtiers to negotiate with me.
The courtier, a noble by the name of Ramos rode up to our camp in the morning followed by a small entourage bearing gifts of gold and silk. They stopped about hundred metres from our camp and I sent Isvon to tell them I would negotiate only with the Duke himself and send them back. An hour later the Duke rode up the hill, a bigger entourage trailing behind him, bearing more gifts. This time I myself went to meet them. The customary greetings were exchanged and we settled down for business. The Duke, a fat, middling man of a most debauched and cravenly nature, agreed to surrender the city on the condition that he and his family were allowed safe passage out of the city. What a cowardly man! He had no concern for any of his subjects. All he cared about was his own life. I t old him he could depart the city without any concerns for his safety. But he would only be allowed to carry whatever possessions he could pack on two mules. He was dismayed at this, for the man is filthy rich and just as greedy, but he finally agreed after he weighed the alternatives. I also announced safe passage for all the citizens who wished to leave the city. he did not seem to care much about that. A most disgusting individual. So we broke bread together and the deal was made.
And in this way I acquired the province of Kashka, our first conquest in the West in decades. The people of Kashka greeted me with great fanfare, evidence of how unpopular the Duke was, and their relief at the end of the siege was evident. I rode straight to the palace and ordered a meeting. I appointed Oswic as Duke of Kashka and delegated the responsibilities of the city to him. He has been handling the affairs of Utvoros for years now and I believe he is more than capable of this new position.
Early in the evening a messenger arrived from Tarras bearing distressing news. There has been some sort of uprising in the countryside and the peasants are refusing to pay their taxes. The tax collectors were brutally beaten up and sent back to town. With most of the army here with me, the rebellion is spreading unchecked. It is so typical of these uncouth peasants to start making mischief the moment they sense any weakness. Tomorrow I shall ride with two thousand of my men and put an end to this nonsense.