The darkness outside was already starting to fade. It wouldn’t be long now before the sun rose. From his position about half a mile from the compound, Thrax had an excellent view of the place. He had also worked out the main entrance in from the south and the rail tracks that led back to the valley. The waterway entrance however was unguarded, exactly as described by the three travellers he had met previously. The narrow river passed directly through the settlement and it was the only point he could see where there was no kind of palisade or fortified entrance. The only real problem was that it was out in the open and the approach would expose him to the views from the walls to the north and south of the waterway.
Keeping low, he moved ahead along the bank of the river, always keeping his head down and listening for any signs of trouble. Every few minutes a head would pop up above the palisade wall to the north, presumably checking for intruders that might approach the entrance further along the base. They seemed very edgy, much more than he would have expected from a people that apparently controlled this entire area. As he moved a little closer, he could see the large wooden shed that rested near the rail tracks. It was the largest building in the entire place, apart from high tower at the end of the fortress-like Citadel. That building was the only structure he recognised as in the past it had been the home of a stage post and look out station for the Trading Post. Since then though, it looked as if it had been expanded and fortified into more of a military compound. A very different role for what used to be a peaceful place.
Just one large pile of rocks on the left bank of the river now stood between him and the outer wall of the base. With a final look for signs of the Raiders, he climbed over them and approached the bridge from below. Then he spotted two men stood chatting and directly in his path. One carried an oil lamp whilst the other scratched at his leg with a heavy looking mace. Thrax ducked back down, swearing quietly to himself.
“I’ll have to wait till they move away,” he said quietly whilst looking about for any other way inside.
* * *
Synne and Jonas had left the first prison and were making the short trip around the back so they could reach the side entrance of the other building. From the outside, it appeared to be made in the same design. It was large, easily big enough for a hundred people and like in the first building, the windows were blocked off with substantial and extremely sturdy metal bars. As they rounded the corner, a man approached with a sack on his shoulder. The two stood completely still and waited in the darkness as he passed.
“That was close,” whispered Synne.
Jonas looked to the right and the left, making sure the route was clear. He turned to Synne.
“You don’t say!” he said sarcastically.
Synne nodded for them to move and they gently went forward to the wall of the building. The entrance was only a few feet away and with great care they approached each side of the door, doing their utmost to avoid standing directly in front of it in case there was anybody inside looking out. Synne moved to the left of the entrance whilst Jonas took the other side. They already had their swords drawn and held down very low to the ground to avoid any glinting or reflection that might be seen in the camp. From their position, they could see the small number of patrolling guards making their way around the base. At this time of the morning, they were still carrying their torches and the orange glow they emitted provided a handy signal as to where they were. Jonas moved up and waited next to the wooden frame whilst Synne braced herself.
“Ready?” she whispered.
Jonas nodded and with a single kick, he smashed through the door and without pause or hesitation, Synne was inside. There were three men waiting there, two guards, both of whom carried maces and one other who was smoking a cigar of some kind and holding a bag on his shoulder. The two guards wore the usual modified metal and rubber armour, though one of them was half-covered by a dark robe that hid his left side.
The man with the cigar jumped back and avoided the first slash delivered by Synne. He was faster than the other two and just that one move told Synne he was the most dangerous. He staggered back and the bag fell to the floor with a loud crashing sound. As he moved back, the two guards were then exposed to the full fury of the attack. Before the men could respond, Jonas stabbed the first through the face with his blade. The weapon punched through and embedded in the skull with a sickening sound and knocked the man backwards and then down to the floor. The second was quicker though and managed to strike at Synne before she could strike. As she rushed forward, the guard swung his mace and she was forced to parry the attack with her own sword, stopping the mace just inches from her face. The mace was heavy and a lesser blade could easily have shattered at this point. She didn’t wait to congratulate herself though, and with the weapons locked she could see the confidence in the man’s eyes at fighting in grappling distance at a mere woman. The thought angered her even more and with all the energy she could muster, she kicked hard at the man’s legs, forcing him to buckle down. As he dropped to one knee, she followed up with her other leg, slamming her heavy leather boot into the man’s jaw and sending him sprawling to the floor.
“You animal!” she screamed.
Bending down she was about to finish him off when she spotted something. She glanced quickly to the entrance and spotted a bright orange light moving towards the door. It was still open, revealing the ongoing battle to anybody who might pass. It must be an approaching patrol.
“The door!” cried Synne.
With her attention diverted from the battle, the man on the ground had managed to drag himself up and grabbing his fallen mace, he tried to strike her torso. She turned in time to spot him but could only jump back to avoid the attack and stumbled hard before hitting the wall. Shaking her head, she lifted her sword. The man rushed towards her, repeatedly striking with the mace. She ducked and parried, looking desperately for a chance to strike back but all the time his attacks forced her on the defensive.
In the middle of the room, Jonas was still struggling with the man he had just killed. With his foot on the dead man’s head, pulled hard to release his blade and then turned for the door and the increasingly bright orange glow.
“I’m on it!” shouted Jonas as he reached out to pull the door shut.
As his hand grasped the rough wood of the door, an arm appeared from outside and grabbed him.
“Synne!” he cried but it was too late.
With a hard pull the man outside yanked him out onto the floor where he hit the ground in a crash of dust. He tried to cry out but many hands pulled at him and one of the men outside slammed his fist down into his stomach, instantly forcing the air from his lungs. Inside Synne was fighting a desperate battle with the second guard whilst the man with the cigar had picked up the mace from the fallen man and was moving around Synne, trying to get around her back.
“Jonas!” she cried but there was no response.
With the sound of the battle now rousing the prisoners in the building, they started shouting from both worry and excitement. The noise was the last thing Synne needed though.
“Who are you?” asked the man with the short, fat cigar still hanging from his mouth.
Synne stabbed towards him but he sidestepped and swung his mace towards her chest. As it came towards her, she wrapped her left arm around his forearm and locked the weapon. Unable to move the man panicked and tried to regain control of his weapon.
“None of your damned business!” she howled.
The other fighter came rushing in, striking wildly but this just made Synne’s job easier. With a tug, she pulled the cigar-chomping Raider into the other man’s path. The mace bit down hard into his head and the entire group smashed out through the door and into the dirt outside. The sun was still low but already it was starting to lighten. As she hit the ground, she noticed a large group of men in dark clothing, probably guards. She tried to get up but a thick, black boot pushed down on her wrist and pinned her to the floor. She looked up at her assailant, a large man who wore iron armour on his shoulders and chest and had specially fashioned vanguards and braces of thick rubber on his arms and legs. She looked at the man’s face and spotted a flicker of recognition.
“Synne?” he asked in surprise.
“Synne, who is she?” asked one of his more senior henchman.
“She is the daughter of Galan,” he cried loudly.
Synne recognised his voice immediately.
“Cainon! You bastard!” she swore.
The large man leaned down whilst more Raiders appeared to secure the position. Most of them carried hand weapons whilst two carried some kind of improvised firearm. The end of the weapons pushed out into what looked like a metal funnel. As he reached closer she could see his scars and tattoos, it was definitely him, the warlord of the Brotherhood and the man she had met back in the inn at Haven.
“I should have finished you off when we last met!” he growled.
He stepped back and looked about, expecting to see a horde of cavalry or warriors charge in to save the day. Nothing happened though.
“On your own and with no friends, just like your whelp of a father!” he added with a roar of laughter.
“Come here!” she said in an almost pleading tone.
Cainon, intrigued by what she might have to say came closer, two of his men kept her pinned down though, just in case. Summoning as much effort as she could muster, Synne lifted her head and spat in his face. Cainon jerked back, the spittle dripping from his chin. He lifted his left arm and struck her hard with the back of his fist. The powerful blow knocked her out easily and she slumped down to the floor with a thud.
“Bitch!” he swore.
Cainon signalled to one of his men to lift her up. This warrior was also wearing the garb of the Raiders, though a careful glance would reveal markings of the Brotherhood under his robe. As he moved over to assist, two more moved over to join him.
“Take her to the Citadel and put her with her brother. I’ll be along shortly for a little chat,” he said with a snigger.
The man nodded and lifted Synne to her feet but still keeping a firm hold of her hands. She was already starting to stir so the other two lifted her feet and between them they carried her along the path and towards the fortified Citadel high at the rear of the town. As they moved off, they left a dozen more men and the still restrained Jonas who was shouting and ranting, much to the amusement of the rest of the Raiders.
“You bastard! Why are you working with the Raiders?” shouted Jonas.
Cainon moved closely to him and started laughing. At this distance, Jonas could make out the detail on the scars along his face. His clothing was marked with untold stories of violence and battle.
“Who said anything about working with them?” he said as he turned and looked to the rest of the Raiders.
The group all started to laugh and one man, the closest to the right of Jonas pulled off his dark robe. Beneath it, he wore the black boiled armour of a warrior. The marking on his chest plate were of the Brotherhood, in particular the clan of Lar. With the man revealed to be what he was the others did the same and in just a few moments Jonas was silent, dumbfounded by what he saw.
“We are the Raiders!” said Cainon, as he continued laughing.
One of his men stood in front, waiting for orders.
“Sir, the perimeter wall is secure, there are no signs of intruders, it must just be them,” he said.
“Really,” he replied to the guard before turning to Jonas.
“Why are you here, little man?”
Jonas looked at him with nothing but anger in his face.
“Ah, forget it,” he said with a laugh.
Cainon turned back to the guard.
“Put him with the rest of the prisoners, I’m sure we can find something for him to do.”
He moved closer to Jonas as he was being dragged up.
“I’ll get the information out of little Synne, I’m sure we’ll have a real party with her!” he said with a snigger.
Jonas tried to break free but the guard holding him struck him in the stomach, forcing him to the ground and to silence. Lifting him up they proceeded to drag him towards the first prison building that they had only so recently been inside of. Cainon was already halfway to the Citadel and just four guards remained to ensure Jonas was secured in the prison. The rest returned to their guard duties on the outer walls. One of the men, a slightly shorter Raider compared to the rest, entered the prison first and immediately became suspicious when he could find no sign of the guard.
“Maloc,” he called, “where are you?”
The other three had already hauled their prisoner inside when the door slammed shut behind them and trapping them all in the prison.
“Look out!” shouted the man nearest the door.
It was too late though, one of the many released prisoners wrapped his chains around the man and dragged him to the floor. He kicked and struggled but there were plenty of willing hands to grab him and pull their oppressor into the darkness. The other Raiders suffered the same fate and in just seconds all four of them were on the ground and pinned to the floor by dozens of starved but vengeful prisoners. Recognising Jonas, the shrouded figure of Eric stepped forward and ordered his release.
“What’s happening? We heard some kind of struggle outside,” he said.
Jonas coughed but did his best to silence the noise.
“They, they took Synne to the Citadel, we are never going to get near the engineers.”
One of the other prisoners came forward.
“I know where they keep the prisoners in the Citadel.”
Eric turned to the man and spoke quietly to him for almost a minute. Jonas, becoming more frustrated finally interrupted them.
“Come on, we need to do something!”
“Listen, my friend. My brother here knows a service entrance that is used to deliver water and food into the Citadel. We can get a few people inside but I don’t know how we can get everybody else out of the base.”
“Maybe I can help,” came a hoarse voice from the shadows.
A tall men stepped into view from the side wall.
“Thrax?” asked Jonas in shock.
“Indeed. And it looks like I am going to have to save your necks once again!” he said with a chuckle.
Jonas moved up to Thrax though he had a look of doubt or suspicion on his face.
“How did you get inside, the place is guarded?”
“Well, the one good thing about your arse of a plan is you made such a fuss you peeled the guards from the perimeter, giving me just the chance I needed to get inside,” he said with a hint of a grin.
“Now, where is Synne?” he asked.
Jonas put his face in his hands and started to pace the room.
“The Brotherhood, they, they took her!” he cried.
Thrax stepped closer, pushed his arm out and stopping Jonas.
* * *
It must have been at least an hour, maybe more before Synne woke. The first thing she noticed was the bright light coming in through the barred window high above her. She must be on her side though, as the dark room looked the wrong way up. As she sat up her head started to swim and she felt she would vomit. She opened her eyes and tried to steady herself. The room was small, more like a storage room and empty apart from the dust and straw. The only light was that coming in from the barred window and though it was bright it only lit a small rectangular section in the middle of the room. The walls were all bathed in shadows and from where she sat, it was impossible to tell if she was alone or with other prisoners. She moved a few inches before the rustle of metal indicated the chains locked around her arms.
“Oh great, back in a cage!” she muttered.
Something moved in the corner of the room and she tried to move away but found her hands chained to a ring on the wall and the minimal movement they offered gave her no chance to move to safety.
“Stay away!” she growled in the direction of the sound.
No sooner had she spoken that the sound disappeared and the room reverted to its previous quiet state. For a second she thought it may have all been in her mind.
“Synne, Synne?” asked a hoarse voice.
“Who is that?” she asked though certain she recognised the tone.
“It’s me, Ulric.”
Synne pulled hard on her chains but no matter how hard she pulled, she couldn’t get any closer. After one final tug, she dropped down and looked over to the man in the shadows.
“Ulric, is it really you?” she pleaded.
Before a response was forthcoming, a large door to the side creaked open. A dull light poured through and lit up the room. She glanced briefly about the room, spotting at least five other people chained up along the walls.
“It’s time we had a little chat,” came the booming voice from her hated foe, Cainon.
“You bastard, Cainon. Why have you done this? We are allies!” she shouted.
The tall man stayed where he was and waited whilst two men in body armour entered the room and removed her chains. They forced her to her feet and pushed her towards the doorway.
“Synne!” shouted the prisoner.
Once everybody had left the room it was just Cainon stood there in the light. He looked around the room and then directly at the man who had been shouting.
“Don’t worry about your little sister Ulric, we’ll take really, really good care of her!” he said.
He turned and stormed out of the room to the sounds of shouting and screaming from the tiny prison.
* * *
Jonas and Eric were dressed in the captured garb of the Raiders and carrying the looted weapons. They walked casually along the road and towards the wide building just a few hundred feet from the Citadel. As they approached, they spotted Thrax who had already taken position in the undergrowth near the locked door at the front. Eric stopped a few feet short of the door and turned, giving the impression he was guarding the place. At the same time, Jonas moved over to Thrax and into the cover.
“We’ve checked the route behind the prison, you’re right, Thrax. There are only three guards between the buildings and the storage sheds with the train.”
“Good, you ready for this?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m ready,” he said though Thrax didn’t look overly convinced.
Staying as low as he could, Thrax crept to the door and inserted two pieces of metal into the heavy lock. One of the tools was a simple metal rod with a twist at one end. The other item was flatter and he placed this near the entrance of the lock to apply pressure.
“How much longer?” asked the nervous Jonas.
“Patience, it will open when it’s ready,” he said almost at the same time as the lock clicked and the door swung open.
Thrax looked behind them, checking for signs of trouble. It looked clear.
“Get inside,” he said quietly.
Jonas entered the building first and Thrax followed quickly, pulling the door shut behind them. The two pushed on inside, both looking in awe at what they could see around them. The building was a single room, like a large storage depot and decked out with shelving on all four walls as well as three rows running through the centre, also packed with shelving. Thrax took the left whilst Jonas went down the centre, looking at the equipment. Most of the space was taken up with edged weapons and there were hundreds and hundreds of items. The majority of the weapons were the simple and crude curved and straight blades used by the Raiders. They were simply made and hilted in cloth and leather. Next to them were dozens of crossbows and bows and even half a dozen of the powder weapons. The end wall was taken up with box after box of supplies including arrows, bolts, lead balls and powder.
“They’ve got enough for an entire army here!” said Jonas.
Thrax knocked the lid off a wooden crate and pulled out a well-crafted metal helmet. He placed it on his head and was pleased so find it fitted.
“You’ve got that right, my friend, I suggest we put it to good use.”
“How can we get the prisoners here though?” asked Jonas.
“Did you see the building a little further along, the one with the cylinder outside?”
“The one with the two guards outside?”
“Yeah, that one. Did you smell the naphtha? That place will burn and burn well. I suggest we start a fire to get their attention. The naphtha will spread around very quickly. Once they start panicking, we break out the prisoners into two groups. One to secure the train, the second will come here and grab everything they can carry. We will meet back at the train.”
“What about us?” asked a confused Jonas.
“Well, without engineers we aren’t going anywhere are we?” he asked rhetorically.
“What if they aren’t there?”
“We have to take that chance. Anyway, I’m not leaving without Synne.”
Thrax grabbed one of the large canvas packs and started to load in knives, maces and small swords.
“What are you doing?” asked Jonas.
“We need to give the prisoners a fighting chance. They can’t take and hold the train with just harsh language now, can they?” he asked with a grin. “Come on, grab what you can and let’s get going.”
They continued to fill two packs until they carried over forty weapons between them. Lifting the heavy sacks, they approached the door that led back outside and towards Eric. Thrax opened the door a crack and looked outside. He paused for a moment before turning back.
“It’s okay, let’s go!”
The two left the building and walked past Eric and back onto the path. It was hard to look nonchalant as they walked through the town but luckily, the only other people wandering about looked more worried of the guards than they were. Some were workers and others looked like they were the lower echelons of the Raider’s organisation and running menial errands. In less than two minutes they had reached the prison buildings and were inside. They dumped the weapons on the floor and the people inside eagerly grabbed them.
“We need to get you to the train. I need volunteers to get more weapons from the armoury, the rest of you will wait here until we can arm you,” said Thrax.
A chatter started and before long it turned into a heated debate. Jonas, sensing trouble stood on a chair to get their attention. One of the ringleaders called out to him.
“Why can’t we go to the train now, we have weapons?”
“All you will do is draw attention to yourselves. Wait here until we are altogether and then we will get to the train in one group.”
Thrax joined in, “It is pretty simple, we need those with combat experience to go first. They will secure enough weapons for you all and meet back here. If we go early all we will do is draw attention to our plan,” he explained.
“Won’t they see us going for the armoury?” asked one.
“What are you going to be doing,” asked another.
“Listen, we don’t have time for this. Jonas and I have more prisoners to rescue from the Citadel. You will all wait here until you here a blasting sound. That is the diversion and the signal for all of you to get going. Once you hear it the combat team, that is you,” he said as he pointed to the armed volunteers waiting at the front, “will get to the armoury. Don’t dawdle, get what you can, get back here and then secure the train and the sheds. We will be back soon. Understood?”
The group nodded and started chatting to each other excitedly. Jonas jumped down and walked over to Thrax.
“Come on then, we have a job to do.”
“No kidding, let’s go,” replied Thrax.
* * *
Synne was strapped down on a large wooden table and surrounded by four men, only one of whom she recognised, the traitorous Cainon of the Brotherhood. Above her hung a series of lamps, each one adding to the dull yellow glow that pervaded the room. She looked over to Cainon who stood to one side with a sneer on his face.
“What do you want?” she asked.
Cainon turned to the wall and removed a tool with a short, razor sharp looking blade fitted to the end. He moved towards her and stopped a few feet away from her face.
“First, I want you tell me all you know about your library. Where are all your books, little girl? Even more important though, we’re going to have a little fun with you,” he said with a laugh.
The other three men all started laughing, enjoying her squirm and no doubt looking forward to whatever plans they had in mind. He moved closer and ran the blade lightly along her leg and towards her thigh.
“Tell me then, where are the books?” he demanded.
Synne tried to move but the thick leather straps held her firmly to the table, she was totally helpless.
“Funny!” shouted Cainon.
He pushed the blade through the fabric of her trousers just above her knee and cut into the flesh. It was a shallow cut but the pain was evident as Synne cried out. With the blade still stuck in, he drew it up an inch, cutting through her skin. Blood dripped from the light wound onto the table and a few drops fell to the floor.
“We lost the books when you destroyed our library!” cried Synne.
“No, you know that isn’t true, my dear. Of course we burned the library, we burned everything but all the books were gone.”
Cainon pulled the now bloodied blade from her leg and drew it gently along her thigh and towards her breasts.
“Now, I will ask you once more and then we start removing things, one at a time,” he said with a lewd tone.
A low rumble shook through the room and one of the lamps fell to the ground, the oil running over the wick and extinguishing the flame. Several more blasting sounds echoed through the place and two men rushed in through the open door.
“We’re under attack, the outer palisade it breached and the naptha stores are burning,” said the first.
“Who is attacking us? We have a deal with the rest of the clans. Send the signal, all warriors to their posts!” he barked.
Turning back to the wounded Synne he rubbed the blade along her torso, scratching the black leather of her corset before the sound of the action outside forced him to leave. As he went for the door, he turned back.
“I will be back soon and we will continue our fun!” he said and slammed the door behind him.
* * *
Thrax, Eric and Jonas were waiting behind the inner wall of the compound, the last fortification that stood between them and the Citadel. So far, the plan was going even better than planned. The naphtha had proven easy to spread around four locations and once the fires were started the entire storage shed had burned and then exploded. Thick black smoke spread across the town and it provided the perfect cover for their escape. With the alarm raised the prisoners had successfully rushed the armoury, and helped by Eric, had taken a vast quantity of arms with which to defend themselves. A small number had gone on the rampage, attacking any guards or property they could find in a violent orgy of burning and chopping. The majority had stuck to the plan though and were already securing the storage sheds and train ready for their escape. All that was needed, was the rescue of Synne and the engineers.
A group of Raiders came rushing out through the main entrance and headed off down to the path to the sound of the battle. Over a dozen of them, all armoured and well equipped were on their way and Thrax was certain there couldn’t be many of them left in the Citadel.
“Come on, we need to get inside!” he said.
He reached behind and pulled the massive two-handed sword from his back. Even in his hands, the sword looked like the kind of weapon that should be carried by a Titan. Pushing ahead, he moved out into the open space in front of the guarded entrance to the Citadel. As expected the numbers were low, just four men remained and only two were looking towards him. He stepped forward with the weapon low and trailing behind him to the right. To the inexperienced fighter the sword looked like any other and being so low, it looked far from dangerous. He moved past the gate and inside the compound. The two nearest guards drew their swords and moved to block him.
“Hey!” shouted the first.
The other two men heard the commotion and drew their own weapons to join their comrades.
“Get out of my way!” ordered Thrax.
The four men refused, not that Thrax expected anything different. Though he was a big man, the Raiders were no weaklings. They rushed him, all four at once to increase their chances of success. As the first two came within his range, he stepped back with his left foot and brought up his mighty sword from his lower right. It cut upwards in an arc and slashed up in front of him. The first man he caught just under the ribs and the blade continued through his body and moved onto the second where it struck his arm and head. He rested the sword on his left side, the point almost vertical and waited. The following Raiders were already too close to stop though and they leapt into action.
Jonas jumped into the open space to help but Thrax was already pushing back the two Raiders.
“Get inside, find her!” shouted Thrax as he hacked away.
Jonas ran around the vicious melee and towards the large, grand doorway that led inside the Citadel. The door was open and his instincts told him to check. He moved to the side and peeked around the corner to see what was happening inside. From his position, he could make out several figures in the large open room who were arguing about something. He turned back to see Thrax approaching, the two Raiders dead and in several bloody pieces on the ground.
“What is it?” he asked as he moved to the doorway.
“There are more inside,” replied Jonas.
Thrax, unfazed by what he said, reached down and pulled out a small folding-crossbow from a leather sheath on his side. He tossed it to Jonas.
“You know how to use this?” he asked.
Jonas simply nodded and flicked the lever that pushed out the folding side sections. Thrax reached his other side and pulled out an identical weapon that he held in his left hand. He kept the massive sword in his right but held it low so as not to get in the way.
They both ran inside and into the wide hallway. It was sparsely furnished, inside the room was big enough to house easily up to a hundred people at a time. In the centre of the room stood the great hulk of Cainon whilst on each side of him stood two equally vicious looking men, both of whom were dressed in the armour of his clan and certainly not as the Raiders. They already had their swords drawn and rushed towards Thrax whilst Cainon took a large, two-handed mace from the rack of weapons on the wall.
“Now!” shouted Thrax.
Jonas lifted his crossbow and aimed carefully at the closest enemy. He pulled the iron lever and the steel tipped bolt covered the short distance to strike into his forehead. No sooner had it struck his skull and Thrax did the same. His bolt hit the second warrior in the chest but it wasn’t enough to stop him. Without so much as a second thought Thrax dropped the weapon and grasped the blade of his sword with his left hand whilst keeping his right on the hilt. Doing this shortened the weapon and changed its characteristics into that of a short spear. With a quick jab, he embedded the tip of his sword directly into the man’s chest. The combination of the stabbing motion and the momentum of the running man forced his body along the blade until a good six inches of metal pushed out from his back. Jonas threw his crossbow down and drew his own sword whilst Thrax extracted his blade from the dying warrior.
“Where is she!” shouted Jonas.
Cainon moved closer, holding the two-handed mace out in front of him.
“Poor lover boy misses his girl!” he laughed.
Taking a step forward, he swung the weapon. It was heavy and the mass of the weighted head could smash chunks from masonry and crush a man’s bones. Jonas only just managed to avoid the strike and ended up stumbling and crashing to the floor in his desperation to avoid the hit. Thrax wasn’t awed by either the man or the mace and he knew from experience, that a heavy swing like that would over balance the man. He judged his charge to time with the weapon just passing its apex and crashed into him. Both men staggered across the room before hitting the wall. Cainon was no weakling though and although he was pinned to the wall, he immediately started to deliver low punches into Thrax’s ribs and stomach. Each strike hit like a hammer and for a moment Thrax almost dropped to the floor. Shear willpower kept him standing though and with much effort, he lifted his left leg and slammed his knee hard into Cainon’s crotch. It was a powerful strike and instantly stopped the rapid punches he had been absorbing. As Cainon dropped from the attack, Thrax followed up with a hammer fist blow to the side of his head that sent Cainon to the ground, stunned and unable to continue the fight.
“You okay?” asked Thrax as he stepped back, still wheezing from the punches.
Jonas lifted himself up off the floor and staggered over to him.
“I’ll live,” he replied with a forced smile.
As he approached Cainon he couldn’t see him moving.
“Is he dead?”
Thrax bent down and checked for the man’s pulse.
“He’s just stunned, he’ll be back up soon though.”
He pulled back his jacket to reveal two small daggers, both pushed inside thick leather sheaths. Jonas stepped forward and held his arm.
“Hey, what are you doing? We need him,” said Jonas.
Thrax looked down at the man and then back at Jonas.
“What do you mean? He’s just another thug that needs to be dealt with.”
“No, he is Cainon, the son of Lar and the leader of his clan. He could be useful,” explained Jonas.
“Useful? You mean like a hostage?” he asked with a wry look.
Thrax nodded whilst smiling.
“Now you’re thinking like one of Galan’s men. Good idea.”
Thrax moved over to the wall where the weapons were stacked and untied a long piece of rope that had been wrapped around a batch of blades. He tossed it over to Jonas.
“Here, tie him up, I’ll check for prisoners.”
As Jonas worked on keeping Cainon under their control, Thrax headed to the back of the room and a small doorway. As he approached, he came to a small corridor with three doors, one in front and one on each side. Each of the doors was fitted with a sliding metal slat about the size of his head. He pulled back the first one and looked inside. It was a dark room but he could make out the shapes of several people tied up along the walls.
“What’s going on out there?” asked one.
“Who’s there?” came a voice from the room behind him.
“Where are the engineers?” asked Thrax.
“Engineers? Why do you want to know?” asked the prisoner in a suspicious tone.
“We’re breaking everybody out, we need the engineers to work the train,” explained Thrax though his tone suggested he was quickly losing patience.
“In that case we’re who you need. I’m Tom and this is Jac, we’re responsible for servicing and running the engines.”
Thrax pulled the iron bar that unlocked the door and stepped inside. As he entered, Jonas arrived from his tying up of Cainon.
“Engines? There is more than one?” asked Thrax.
Before he could answer, Jonas interrupted.
“It sounds pretty bad out there. We need to get Synne and the engineers out of here.”
“Is Cainon secure?”
Jonas turned and pointed to the prisoner who he had obviously dragged along the floor to where they were. Thrax smiled.
“Good work, you check the other rooms, I’ll get these guys out.”
Jonas moved to the room opposite whilst Thrax searched about for the keys to the chains. It didn’t take long to find them hanging from a ring on the far wall. As he released the first man, he was surprised to find the second was a woman.
“You’re one of the engineers too?” he asked.
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” replied an indignant Jac.
“I, uh, come on, we need to go,” said a flustered Thrax.
As he helped them up, he remembered Tom mentioning the engines.
“What did you mean when you said more than one train?”
“They aren’t trains, they are engines,” said the man who was then interrupted by Jac.
“They’ve had us working on them for almost a year now, since they got hold of the plans from up north somewhere. They have the main engine that goes down to the Trading Post most days. We’ve also been working on their military engine for three months now,” she explained.
Thrax helped them to the door before stopping Jac. He made to speak but Jonas appeared from the side room with several prisoners.
“Look who I’ve found. Ulric, the son of Galan!” he said with a smile.
The badly bruised, but proud looking Ulric staggered out of the room along with two other men who were in equally bad condition. Thrax extended his hand to the brother of Synne.
“I am Thrax, an old friend of your father. I haven’t seen you since you were a small boy.”
“My father spoke of you often, it pained him that you were split by the troubles.”
“Yes, the Brotherhood, and its scheming, has a lot to answer for,” Thrax said as he glanced back at the still unconscious Cainon.
Ulric, watching his gaze spotted the man on the ground and rushed for him.
“You bastard!” he shouted.
Thrax grabbed him though and held him back.
“I know, I know. He is a bargaining chip, we might need him to get out of here. Trust me, you will get a chance to deal with him soon enough. For now, we need to find your sister.”
Ulric shook and struggled before calming down, the realisation of their bigger problems finally hitting home.
“Jonas, take the engineers and get them to the train. Look after them,” he said.
“Can you work the train?” he asked Tom.
“Of course, we pretty much built the thing!” said an almost indignant Tom.
“What did you mean by a military engine?” he asked.
“It is pretty simple, just a modified engine, or train as you call it. It has a few changes made for battle conditions. I don’t see why it would ever be needed. It has armour around the boiler and all the crew sections, and we’ve just fitted fighting platforms for the guards,” Jac said.
“Can you get it working for our escape?” asked Thrax.
The two both nodded in agreement.
“Good, get going, we will be with you once we find Synne.”
The small group left to go back through the main hall and out of the front entrance. They moved quickly but carefully, ever on the lookout for stray guards. As they moved past the weapons, they each grabbed a sword or spear, anything that they felt comfortable holding. In seconds, they were out of the door and in the open.
Thrax and Ulric stood at the end of the corridor, there was just the one door left to check.
“You ready?” asked Thrax.
Ulric nodded and Thrax pulled back the bar to gain access to the room. They stepped in and were surprised to find the warm glow from the oil lamps hanging from the ceiling. In the middle of the small room was a table, Synne lay lifelessly on top. Part of her clothing was cut, or torn away and several small pools of blood had already formed on the floor.
“No!” shouted Ulric as he rushed forward.
He grabbed at the straps and undid the buckles to free his wounded sister. Thrax leaned down towards her face, listening for breathing.
“She’s alive,” he said whilst checking her body from top to bottom.
Ulric lifted her up and tried to put her onto his shoulder.
“Her wounds look superficial, I think she’ll be ok. Come on, we need to go!” Thrax shouted.
The three remaining prisoners who had stayed behind helped to lift her to Ulric’s shoulder, the small group then made for the door and into the hall.
“You three, carry that thing. We’ll need him for later,” said Thrax as he pointed to the still body of Cainon.
They may have been weak and exhausted but the sight of their hated enemy gave them a newly found source and energy. Thrax could only imagine the thoughts running through their heads as they grabbed him, half-dragging and carried him out and to the front of the Citadel. As they emerged from the dark building and into the sunlight it was clear that the entire base had erupted into a swirling melee of fire, smoke and fighting. Small groups of people ran towards and away from the fires. Some carried water, others possessions and smaller numbers carrying weapons to join the fight.
“Looks like you’ve started a revolt,” said Ulric, as he groaned under the weight of his wounded sister.
Thrax was dusty and covered in patterns of filth and blood but something about him reminded Ulric of the old descriptions his father had given of the great warriors in the golden age. He was a big man and with the mighty two-handed sword back in his grasp, there was nobody in the town that would dare challenge him.
“Yeah, pity about that!” he replied with a smile.
They continued down the path and through the smoke towards the storage sheds. They passed over a dozen bodies, most of them guards but also the odd prisoner. A group of four people led by Eric appeared. They were all armed and look like they’d been very busy.
“Glad you made it. The engineers are firing up the engine, they say it will take another ten minutes to get it hot enough to move,” he said.
The rest of the group moved up to help Ulric and the others with the wounded Synne and the unconscious Cainon.
“We’ve got a problem though,” said Eric.
“Why am I not surprised?” answered Thrax. “What is it?”
While we were securing the sheds, a group of a dozen Raiders managed to escape on horseback and headed north.
“Where are they going?” asked Ulric, overhearing the conversation.
“We had to find a guard and he said, after a little encouragement, that there is a fort near the bridge about twenty miles north of here.”
“A fort?” exclaimed Ulric.
“Yes, they are building them everywhere they extend the rail tracks, there could be anything up to about fifty warriors waiting there,” he said with a slight tremble in his voice.
“In that case, my friend, we’d better get on the train heading south, fast!” said Thrax.
They rounded the final corner and in front of them stood the mightiest and most savage long machine any of them had ever seen. It looked just like the normal steam engine but there were metal gantries overhanging the sides, metal plates and spikes running along the bottom and mounts for crossbows and powder weapons at key areas. A large smoke stack pushed up from the middle of the machine and from the top, a great cloud of steam puffed out.
Behind the train were two large wagons, each of them was equipped with metal plates that ran down the sides so people could be transported safely without being hit by missile fire. There were already dozens of people in them and more were climbing onboard. A head popped out from a hatch posited at the end of the massive boiler.
“She’s nearly ready, get on board!” shouted Jac.