An Inevitability (Part 1)

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As he swung onto his horse, armour clanking as it settled, Rainhart knew that he should be exhausted. But there was a state beyond exhaustion, in which one's body kept running on the determination of one's mind. Willpower kept one's sword in one's hand, and stubbornness kept one's chin high.

He turned his horse and joined the thunder of hooves and boots towards Traumwald. Tancred was up ahead, sun glinting off the gold coronet on his helmet. He was positioned barely out of range of the Traumwald archers; as Rainhart rode up an arrow landed in the churned grass a scarce pace from his horse's muzzle.

Tancred spared him a quick, wry look. "You're just in time, cousin," he said. "Form ranks! Don't let the kingkiller reach the safety of his walls!" Behind them, rows of mounted men lined up. In front of them was the winding stone way up to the castle. It was thick with foot-soldiers.

"Where is Valdon?" he said. 

Tancred waved his hand. "Somewhere up there. He's covered his standard and dismounted."

"Coward."

"Practical coward. Ready?"

Rainhart nodded, resisting the urge to check the straps of his armour once again. His breastplate felt a little loose; it had been hastily donned.

"Charge!" shouted Tancred, and kicked his horse into a gallop. Rainhart did likewise. Behind him, he could hear and feel the gathering storm of riders. Together, they barrelled up the winding road. Rainhart heard the clang as an arrow glanced off his helmet. He squared his shoulders and rode on, giving his horse her head so she could pick her footing on the steep path.

In front of them, the foot soldiers scattered. When the light caught it, Rainhart saw his sword dripping with blood. In his wake lay men he had cut down, dead already or gasping their last breaths into the rock.

Rainhart heard, "Long live the King!" as they passed Teuta men. 

 The barbican loomed above them, a squat, menacing bole in the long wall of the castle, the portcullis raised like bared teeth. And there, standing in the maw, was Valdon. Shouting and waving his hand at someone in the barbican. He saw Tancred and froze, then darted to the side, vanishing into the town.

"Don't let them lower the gate," shouted Tancred. "To me! Teuta to me!"

Keeping the gate up was Cervin's task, Rainhart remembered. Tancred had said something about Cervin and a group of legionaries creeping into Traumwald by the postern gate. But Valdon had been shouting at the men in the gatehouse.

Rainhart cut his sword down towards a man who stumbled into his path and the man lurched away, hands grappling with the gash in his shoulder. 

They all heard the screech as the portcullis started to drop. Rainhart lunged his horse forward and somehow, when the heavy iron thudded home, he found himself and a handful of others on the Traumwald side. He looked around. Tancred was outside the portcullis. Inside, it was almost deserted. Valdon was using the delay bought by the gate to fall back to the keep.

He heard Tancred call, "Rainhart, get the gate up again."

Nodding, he swung off his horse and, gesturing to the other Teuta men to follow him, ducked into the gatehouse. They met no adversaries on the narrow stairs. At the top was a wooden door, girded in iron. Rainhart sidled over to it and tested the handle. Shut, locked, and probably barricaded on the inside. A few sharp blows with the hilt of Rainhart's sword and the handle dropped off, clattering down the stairs. Rainhart beckoned forward the other men, and together they put their shoulders against the door. It gave reluctantly; there was definitely a table pushed up against the other side, and the Cimbra men were bracing the door. 

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