56. At the Inner Gates

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"Hold! Stand your ground!" Linhart's voice was almost completely drowned out by the clamor of metal and dying men around him. And thank the Devil it was: that meant almost nobody listened to his stupid order.

"Retreat!" Reuben's voice was most definitely not drowned out. It rose over the racket like the trumpets of Jericho. It didn't bring the walls down, though, for which Reuben was thankful, because he was standing on one.

Down in the courtyard, Linhart's head turned and he glared up at Reuben with rage in his eyes.

"What the heck—"

"I said retreat!" Reuben bellowed. "Now!"

"We can hold them! We can show those bastards what we're made of! One of us is as good as ten of them!"

Satan save us from heroes! If the stupid fool had been in range, Reuben would have grabbed him by the neck and shaken him like a ragdoll.

"It's not worth the sacrifice! Get behind the inner wall! I command you!"

"We can—"

"Get your ass in here, or I'll come down there and make you!"

That was apparently enough to rekindle Linhart's obedience to his supreme commander. Grabbing a signal horn from his belt, he sounded the retreat, making it clear to any Luntberg soldier who hadn't realized it yet: they were going to lose this fight.

Enemy soldiers poured through the outer gates by the hundreds. For a while, the men of Luntberg had resisted bravely, but there were just too few of them, and Falkenstein's army was pushing them back from the gates by sheer force of numbers, spreading over the courtyard.

The crow's feet, such a deadly danger to the mounted knights, were next to useless against the foot soldiers. Reuben knew he had to get his men out of there. Fighting in the open yard, where the enemy with their greater numbers could outmaneuver and encircle them, was the worst possible tactic.

That did not mean he didn't still want to go down there and fight. But he didn't move a muscle.

Instead, Reuben remained standing atop the inner wall of Luntberg Castle and watched the enemy enter the walls he had sworn to protect. All right, there were still a lot of other walls for him to protect, like the one he was standing on right now, but he still felt like chopping someone's head off from watching the scene below. Too bad the last one was already so long ago. Fifteen minutes could feel like an awfully long time.

"Go, go, go!"

He looked down. Protected by a thin line of defenders, Luntberg soldiers were streaming through the open gate into the inner courtyard. The enemy was still across the courtyard, but they were marching forward quickly. Arrows and spears were already flying in the direction of Linhart's men.

Turning, Reuben looked down at the guards in charge of the gate.

"Get the bars ready!"

"Yes, Sir! Immediately, Sir!"

He turned towards the retreating fighters again. The last few were just slipping through. Reuben waited until the very last man was inside, then—

"Shut the gates! Bars down!" he bellowed.

The gates underneath his feet slammed shut, and the bar dropped into place. A moment later, the first enemy slammed against the wood, trying to force the doors open.


Before the command was out of his mouth, the portcullis began to rattle down on its chain. So he'd trained his men well. Good. The metal grid slammed into the cobblestones with a nasty, hard noise that sounded like a needle stuck into his ear, but Reuben didn't care. They were safe! Ayla was safe.

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