Chapter 17

The next day, Prince Hifur took Turos and Wet Zet up into the tallest spire of the city’s palace to show them the planned defenses for the coming battle. The armies completely circled the city, and were mostly Barbidon soldiers, but the twelve brigades under the command of Prince Hifur were placed throughout the defenses, mostly in the strategic locations. Prince Hifur explained that this was because you could fit more men than Barbidons in the same amount of space and they needed to be able to provide a much greater resistance to the enemy.

The gently sloping sides of the city were terraced with the edges of the terraces lined with thick sharpened spikes. There were six main levels, and only two gateways into each of them, one from the north and the other from the south. It was at these places that the royal brigades were stationed.

The docks along the Lake of Lajolaine were lined with metal-tipped spikes to prevent ships from easily docking and disembarking troops. Archers also lined the docks and were prepared to launch fire at any enemy ships that came within range.

The bridge across the Lower River of Lajolaine was rigged to be destroyed if an enemy army approached from the north, but in the meantime was being left intact in order to facilitate any Barbidons that may still be fleeing ahead of the coming enemy. This would force the enemy to build their own bridge and would keep them vulnerable to the Barbidon launchers.

There were launchers in every level of the city. Projectiles of every shape and size had been stockpiled and were ready for immediate use. Prince Hifur laughed when Turos told him how they used barrels of rum as projectiles in Irata.

At the top of the hill, around the palace, the Olo soldiers and the pirates that came with Turos were stationed. They were to be the last defense, and provide reinforcements when the rest of the troops had been pushed back that far. If they could not hold, the battle would be lost.

A bit of deconstruction had also taken place. Aside from the high spire of the palace, all the other tall structures had been taken down to prevent them from becoming falling debris hazards in case of a bombardment. The large stones were now repurposed and had been used to build more fortifications and reinforce existing fortifications.

As Turos looked over the defenses, he was filled with awe at the numbers of soldiers. “How many soldiers do we have?” he wondered.

“The Barbidons are unwilling to reveal their exact numbers,” Hifur answered, “but there are thousands and thousands of soldiers in this city, all of them waiting for the enemy.”

“I think I see a flaw in the overall plan,” Turos decided. “If all the Barbidon soldiers are here, who is guarding the civilians that evacuated to Lamarjolaine?”

“Lajolaine is the main city of this land,” Hifur said, “and Lamarjolaine is a bit futher from the enemy than here. If they wish to attack Lamarjolaine first, then they’d have to double back to attack Lajolaine.”

“I still don’t like the idea of all those innocent Barbidons fleeing unprotected,” Turos said. “I understand they can board the ships in that city and sail away, but I doubt there are anywhere near enough ships to carry the entire population of this land.”

“It is a risk,” Hifur agreed, “but the Barbidons have chosen to take it. All we can hope for is that the enemy ignores Lamarjolaine and comes here instead.”

Turos sighed. “If the enemy takes Lamarjolaine and we still manage to be victorious here in Lajolaine, then this war will only be a stalemate and neither side will maintain or gain control of this land since there will be no population to control.”

“One cannot know the plans of the Lunari,” Prince Hifur said. “They have given their orders to defend Lajolaine, and we have decided to withdraw the civilians to Lamarjolaine. Whatever happens, we will deal with it.”

Prince Hifur looked back out over the city. “Tell me, Turos, when are you and Jo’Ana planning to be married?”

“A time has not been determined,” Turos answered. “I was thinking we would wait until we reached Atalan as is traditional for the royal family. I have not asked her opinion on the matter.”

“I suggest you talk to her about it,” Prince Hifur said. “Her tribe may have their own customs, so if nothing else, you should tell her what you are planning for your future.”

“I can talk with her later today,” Turos said. “Has there been any word on the enemy advance toward Lajolaine? Do we know when they will arrive?”

“I did hear a scout report this morning that they may arrive as early as tomorrow morning, but the biggest problem is very few of the scouts sent out this week have returned. What we know about this enemy is very limited. Tawg Tishatov thinks the enemy has their own advance scouts scouring the countryside and killing anyone they find.”

“Fine,” Turos decided. “They will come and we will fight. I will be with my soldiers during the battle. Where will you be?”

“I will remain near the palace,” Prince Hifur answered. “Each brigade has a competent commander, and I will only go to them if I believe my presence will enable the unit to stand their ground longer. Unlike you, I am not very fond of directly engaging the enemy, and rely instead on my troops to do the work.”

Turos smiled. “I am not fond of it, but I do not shy away from challenge. I will stand with my troops and lead them from the front.”

“That is why everyone calls you mighty,” Prince Hifur said.

Turos suddenly noticed some movement on a grassy plain far off in the distance to the east. “What is that?” he asked, pointing.

Prince Hifur squinted as he looked at what Turos had spotted. “I think that is the enemy,” he said. “They will spend today, staying outside the range of our launchers, arranging and fortifying their positions, and then tomorrow they will advance. You should return to your troops, and I will go inform the Tawg.”

Turos nodded and followed his father down the steps in the spire.

When Turos returned to his camp, Wet Zet met him. “We’ve been fortifying our positions,” he said. “The arrows of the Olo are prepared, but I doubt they will do little more than dent the ranks of the enemy.”

Turos frowned. “Too bad we can’t coat a few million caltrops with that poison and spread them throughout the countryside. We’d stop the enemy dead in their tracks.”

“Why can’t we do that?” Wet Zet asked.

“There is no way we can get a few million caltrops or that substantial an amount of malinoa poison on such short notice,” Turos replied. “There is also a major chance that most of them will not be recovered and would be a dormant deadly threat until an innocent person accidentally steps on them. Basically, the risk is way too great.”

“In that case, we’d better hope our defenses hold,” Wet Zet said. “The way this place is built, any substantial bombardment would collapse the terraces and provide a path straight into the heart of Lajolaine.”

“As I told my father,” Turos said, “they will come and we will fight.”

Wet Zet briefly pondered this. “I was hoping to hear something a little more optimistic,” he finally said.

Turos put his hand on Wet Zet’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “Just don’t get caught with your pants down.”

Wet Zet laughed. “You don’t have to worry about that here!” he said. “I won’t consider doing that again until I’m no longer limping from the last time I tried it.”

Turos laughed. “Where is Jo’Ana?”

“She’s with her parents,” Wet Zet answered, pointing at the tent.

Turos entered the tent and greeted the Chief. “The enemy has begun to form their positions,” he said. “The battle will most likely begin tomorrow.”

“Are we ready for this?” the Chief muttered. “Are we ready to fight such a battle?”

“We’re as ready as we’ll ever be,” Turos reassured the man. “Now we can only wait for them to attack.”

“I should sharpen my sword and shine my armor,” the Chief replied.

“I actually came to discuss something else,” Turos said. “I was told to ask if the Olo have any marriage customs that I may not be familiar with.”

“What were you planning?” Ro’Ana asked.

“The royal family has traditionally always married in Atalan,” Turos replied. “I was thinking we would wait until then, but my father said I should also consider any customs of the Olo.”

“There are actually several customs,” Chief Oholohono said. “The main custom is that the couple to be married will be the guests at a feast in their honor, arriving separately, and leaving together. It involves dancing and singing, and the eating of a gokdok that was provided by the man, and the trunk of a greh tree that was cultivated by the woman. However, I doubt there are any gokdoks nearby, and Jo’Ana’s greh tree is back in our village.”

“What are the other customs?” Turos asked.

“The man and woman can choose to just go off on their own and find a new home,” the Chief replied, “but that is generally frowned upon. If their parents of the woman ever discover the new home of their daughter, they can choose to have the man fight a champion of the tribe in order to prove his worth. Most couples avoid this since the man rarely wins the fight.”

“We did leave the tribe on our own,” Turos said, “but does it count if the whole tribe expected us to leave that way? What if we still have her parents with us?”

Jo’Ana laughed. “That custom no longer applies to us since we are not in the Olo territory, nor do we have any Olo champions here,” she said. “The third custom of the Olo is for the woman to just abide by whatever customs are followed by the man.”

Turos breathed a sigh of relief. “I’d hate to have to kill another man just to prove I was worthy of my wife,” he said. “It’s a barbaric custom and completely unfair to the champion.”

Chief Oholohono laughed. “I guess you can get married in Atalan as you had planned to, unless you wish to find out what the Barbidon customs are and go by those instead.”

“I can’t imagine what those might be,” Turos said. “Perhaps I’ll ask them someday. However, I don’t have time to consider Barbidon customs. I need to win this war first.” Turos left the tent.