Home > Uncategorized > Day Two Hundred and Thirty-seven: The Path of Least Resistance

Day Two Hundred and Thirty-seven: The Path of Least Resistance

Feyn lifted a coal from the brazier with a pair of tongs and lit his pipe with it. When he had a good head of smoke going, he dropped the coal back into its bed of sand, put the cover back on and buried his arms in his heavy, bear-fur coat. “Damn, but it’s cold.” he growled.

“Just as cold as the last time you said so,” Tanang muttered from his gameboard, one hand on his chin and the other scratching the head of the great mastiff he’d raised. Tanang was just as fur-decked as the hound, which sat in hypnotized ecstasy under his fingertips, but he much less likely to complain about the cold, which baffled Feyn. The two of them had been posted along the Laclund mountain range, overlooking the pass of the same name for more than a month now, and the one thing that Feyn found he could truly count on was that every day would be terribly, breathtakingly, ball-shinkingly cold. The weather would change. Sometimes he would beat Tanang at four-stone, and sometimes Tanang would beat him. Occasionally they’d see a silver-tailed eagle or one of the strange species of mountain goats that lived at five thousand feet. But no matter what else changed, it would always be cold.

The guardhouse was said to be vital to the defense of the republic of Lymdyn-ald. The mountain pass that it sat atop was the straightest, clearest way into the sprawling city-state, carved by a river through the mountains into a half-mile wide floodplain. It was said that one could approach Lymdyn-ald from the far end and never lose sight of it as you walked. This was all well and good for the royal processions of old or the grand festivals of the modern age, but when there was an army threatening to overtake your homeland, the Laclund Pass was something you wanted to keep your eye on.

In fact, the pass was so clear and so easy that guard duty there was considered to be a punishment of sorts. No general in his right mind would take his army through a place that was so perfectly set up for an ambush. It would take a leader of colossal stupidity to take bait as tempting and as deadly as the Laclund Pass.

For his sins, Feyn had been sent on guard duty. His sins just happened to include sleeping with his superior officer’s wife, which, in retrospect, was a bad idea. It took several other officers to keep Feyn’s head on his body, and he only managed to get out of the city a few minutes before the lieutenant arrived with his grandfather’s saber to do justice as he saw fit. With luck, he would calm down by the time Feyn was allowed back, which was supposed to be in a year. The more he thought about it, though, the less Feyn was sure that going back was a good idea.

Tanang had been up there much longer – ten years, by his count. He said that he liked it, though Feyn couldn’t see why. The cold, for one. The loneliness, for another. But Tanang claimed to not mind the cold, and felt much happier with only his thoughts and the local wildlife for company. Given his druthers, he’d rather the city stopped sending its reprobate soldiers to serve with him, but since he had been a reprobate soldier himself a long time ago, he was willing to bear the burden. Try as he might, though, Feyn was never able to get Tanang to tell him what he had done.

He took a chunk of jerky and tossed it to the dog, who roused himself instantly and caught it in mid-air. “Good, Tevyk,” he said, reaching over to scratch the beast’s ear. It had taken a while for Tevyk to warm up to him, but the dog was remarkably friendly once he got to know you. Before that, Feyn had tended to be extra sensitive about exposing his throat for any reason. He sat back down at the gameboard and looked at his pieces. Four-stone was a game with annoyingly simple rules – get four stones in a row – that he always managed to lose. “See anything today?” he asked, placing one of his blue stones.

Tanang shook his head, and swept some errant hair out of his eyes. “A fox, I think. And there was that eagle from yesterday.” He put down a white stone, and Feyn was pretty sure he could see where a line was growing. “Nothing important, though.”

“Right,” Feyn said. He picked up a stone and turned it over with his chilled fingers. “You never know, though,” he said. He put the stone down, blocking Tanang’s progress. “We could have an army or something today.”

The other man chuckled, which was a win in itself. He picked up a white stone and put it down, starting a new line that Feyn hadn’t seen coming. He cursed under his breath. “The odds that the Deynarch will be dumb enough to lead an army through here are about the same as you being able to go out and get a nice golden suntan.” He sat back, his fingers laced across his belly. He was a thin man, but the furs bulked him up, and he had a kind of serene, almost monastic face. Probably came from living up high for so long.

Feyn took another puff on his pipe. “Well, you never know,” he said. “Things have a way of working out.” He looked at the board, and was fairly certain that Tanang was going to win again. He sighed and set a stone down.

That’s when Tevyk stood up, growling.

It was a noise that Feyn had heard before, but not quite like this. This was a more wary growl, a growl that seemed to go right through him and into the floor. The hair on the dog’s back was standing up, and he was staring resolutely towards the east – the far end of the Laclund Pass. Feyn and Tanang exchanged glances. “No,” Feyn said, standing up. He accidentally nudged the fourstones board as he did, but the other man didn’t seem to notice, which spoiled it a little.

They took the winding stairs up to the lookout tower and uncovered the scopes. The brass seemed to freeze against Feyn’s skin as he looked through, squinting to try and make out what it was that had somehow gotten the dog’s attention. “Either that dog is a lot more clever than we are,” he said.

“He is.” Tanang was doing a slow sweep with his scope.

“Or he just didn’t want you beating me at stones again,” Feyn finished. He caught a glint of light and focused his scope. “There,” he said. “Just about at the Frog-stone.” He pushed forward against the scope, willing it to bring him closer, but to no avail. Next to him, he heard Tanang whistle quietly.

“Well. I’ll be damned,” he said.

“Too late,” Feyn muttered. “Where worse could they send you?”

The Frog-stone was so named because it looked like a frog. It was a testament to the imagination of the men who first built this lookout point, or perhaps to the lack of it. Either way, it was one of about a hundred landmarks that Feyn had been forced to memorize, and he was glad to finally get some use out if it. In this case, being glad meant being able to spot the vanguard of an advancing column of soldiers, led by the colors of the Deynarch himself. His blue-black banner was easy to pick out, bordered with silver tassels. The banner-bearer was ahead of a full company of armored soldiers on horseback, making their way calmly along the long, flat floor of the Laclund Pass.

Feyn looked over at Tanang, who was looking over at him. “You have got to be kidding me,” Feyn said. They looked again, but the scene hadn’t changed. The army was advancing at a walk, heading right for the city.

“Prep the Block,” Tanang said, dashing for the stairs. “Wait until they’re right underneath!”

Feyn had read about the Block. Much like memorizing the stones, it was required, even if no one had ever actually used it. “You sure it’ll work?” he asked.

“Hope so!” Tanang called back from inside the guard station.

That would have to do. Feyn climbed over the railing and slid down the short ladder that led down to the face of the mountain below. Despite the cold, there wasn’t much snow. Just bare rock with a thin covering of frost that would melt once the sun got to it. Feyn dashed down a dozen feet, careful not to fall and get himself killed, until he came to the boulder known as the Block. It was a little bigger than man-sized, and if you were riding through the pass you probably wouldn’t even notice it. From the other side, though, it was clear that the Block was not like other rocks.

For one thing, a framework was attached to the back of the boulder, and the framework was connected to a series of rails, chains, and a single lever.

Tanang came running down the slope, trying to stay behind the larger stones. He was carrying a large iron key in one hand, and a book in the other. He handed the book to Feyn as soon as he arrived and took Feyn’s stamp out of his pocket right after, along with an inkstone. “You have to stamp the page,” he said.

It was a bureaucratic necessity, which was not uncommon serving in any army, much less the army of Lymdyn-ald. The way it was explained to him was that the Block was a tool of last resort, and if it was used then it had better damn well be for a good reason. He rubbed the inkstone on his stamp and pressed it to the page. His sigil gleamed a wet blue, right next to Tanang’s.

“Okay,” Tanang said. “I’ll keep a lookout. Thrown the switch when I tell you.” He went further along the slope, keeping low and behind the rocks as he went.

The wait wasn’t as long as Feyn thought it would be. The Deynarch’s troops marched at a brisk pace through the pass, and soon Feyn could see the long trail of camp-followers and support wagons. He glanced over at Tanang, who was holding up one of his hands. Feyn counted to a hundred and then a hundred again before Tanang let his hand drop and Feyn pulled the lever.

The lever lifted the Block out of its cradle and set it rolling. It knocked against another large stone, which set off on rails that Feyn hadn’t noticed before. The two stones each bounced off more stones, which in turn bounced off more. In moments, the mountainside below them was a churning, rolling, thundering landslide, channeled by the shape of the slope, all heading right for the Deynarch and his army. Tanang joined him to watch the carnage.

They couldn’t see individual soldiers at this remove, at least not unless they went back up and looked through the scopes. But they could hear them. Men were yelling in a panic, and horses were screaming along with them. The horrible cracking and knocking of stone on stone almost overpowered to cries of moral terror, but not quite. As the landslide reached the army and flowed over it, Feyn felt a moment of pity for them. They may have been the enemy, but he was pretty sure the Deynarch had just led himself and thousands of his men to a pointless, painful death.

They stood and watched as the slide continued, and waited until the last rocks bounced and went still.

“Damn,” Feyn said. Tanang just nodded.

“You’ll have to go tell the city,” Tanang said. Feyn just nodded. There were risks to going back, that much was sure. Maybe if he could get down there and unearth the Deynarch’s banner. Or perhaps his head…

They were halfway back to the guard tower when they heard the rocks shifting and knocking together again. They turned around just in time to see the vast pile of stone and rubble begin to shift and bulge. It seemed to lift upwards from the center, where small stones and large boulders began to roll away towards the edges. Through the gaps in the rocks, a bitter green light leaked out, and it was like nothing either of them had seen before. They ran for the tower.

Through the scopes, they could see it more clearly. The rocks were moving off the army and away. Where the stones had been, an army still stood, all of them safe and unharmed. In the middle of the army, Feyn could barely make out a figure, sitting high on horseback with hands in the air. The green light seemed to come from this figure, and as it waved hands around, the stones moved and shifted. Soon, the army was uncovered, and the figure turned its attention to clearing the way through the pass.

Feyn stood up from the scope and exchanged glances with Tanang again. “This,” Tanang said, “is not good.”

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