Frederich Hardrad played a Garmund war hymn on his flute. Garrick, his commander, jerked it from his
lips. “Put it away, Hardrad. You want the Grand Bishop to cram that thing down your throat?”
This was a microcosm of his life. Music was always his true passion, but duty prevented him from
earning a living with it. Frederich sighed and disassembled the instrument. “Who in their right mind
thought I was soldier material?”
“We’re all soldiers now,” said the middle-aged man directly behind him. The acting governor ordered
the conscription of anyone capable of wielding a musket or pike, including out-of-shape solicitors like
“I wish he’d let you play,” said the conscript to his right. “I felt a bit of pride hearing it.” Indeed, music
was one of the few luxuries left. Within days of the first reports that the Holy See’s army approached,
the Duke of Silverwic ordered food rationing. He fled the town soon afterwards. Apothecaries were out
of medicinal herbs. The mines hadn’t operated for four months, leaving the workers short of coin — not
that there was anything worth buying.
Frederich stuffed the two parts of the flute into his vest pocket, adjusted his helmet, and picked up his
pike. He imagined the shaft of his weapon was an instrument and played the music in his mind, tapping
imaginary holes with his fingers.
When he finished the first stanza, an explosion ripped the center of town. Whispering of the words
“magazine” and “sabotage” among his comrades made him queasy. If the enemy infiltrated that far,
what chance did he have where he stood? He silently prayed to the Divine Warlord the explosion was
“Is the enemy attacking?” Frederich asked a soldier on the wall. A sulfuric smell burned his nostrils.
“No. They haven’t moved.”
A second explosion, this one much closer, knocked Frederich off his feet. The shock wave from the blast
was powerful enough to knock the courageous facades off the most seasoned soldiers. “They destroyed
the granary,” said an unknown voice. Gasps of despair erupted among Frederich’s brigade. Frederich
had tried to keep up his spirits during the recent food shortages, as rationing helped him shed three
inches from his gut. But with flames consuming the grain reserves, he now faced the prospect of
“Relax everyone,” said Frederich. “I’m sure Silverwic’s leaders wouldn’t have put all the wheat in one
warehouse.” Indeed, they more likely would have appropriated it for their own families.
“Pikemen, about face!” shouted Garrick. The person next to Frederich reminded him to turn. “They’ve
penetrated the city, and we’re going to bring pain to them for their trouble. March!” A few men
complied with the order at first, but stopped when the rest didn’t follow. The conscripts whispered
among themselves, each seeking an explanation from the next man as to the meaning of the order.
“Move, you stupid maggots! You think you’re at a picnic? Go, go, go!” With this encouragement the
brigade marched to meet the invaders.
Frederich’s pulse throbbed as a dull ache rolled from his stomach to his bowel. The plan was for the
regulars to engage the enemy first. Why are we moving into the center of town and away from the
As his unit rounded the corner at Iron Street, the odor of burning grain replaced the stench of sulfur.
Men in the front rows begin to cry out, “Goat-men! Goat-men!”
Three Sarbarah stood thirty feet in front of his unit. The one on Frederich’s left — shriveled carcasses of
scorpions and insects dangling from his horns — waved his arms. A swarm of scorpions, centipedes, and
spiders, each the size of a man’s hand, crept toward Frederich’s brigade. The mass of vermin engulfed
the two columns of pike men on the left flank. The warriors tried in vain to fling the creatures off their
bodies. Red welts from hundreds of stings and bites erupted from every inch of exposed skin. Pests
scampered into their open mouths and muffled their screams until their prey could no longer tolerate
The Sarbarah on Frederich’s right extended his arm and doused the columns on the right flank with a
black liquid. Metal objects splashed with the substance sizzled and steamed; flesh festered and
liquefied. The men in the rear ranks were fortunate enough to have time to turn and flee. Those in front,
who endured the brunt of the attack, didn’t enjoy the mercy of death. Instead they stood blinded, their
faces melted to skeletal visages wrapped in a brittle layer of scar tissue.
Frederich considered impaling the disfigured men with his pike to end their pain, but he had bigger
problems. The middle Sarbarah, who had a patch over his left eye, drew a large sword and strolled into
the first rank of pikemen. With one swing he hacked off three pike blades like frayed ropes. Eye-Patch
grabbed one of the men by the neck, lifted him, and crushed the man’s skull against his horns decorated
with ribbons and medals.
Eye-Patch dodged the thrust of a fourth pikeman and severed his arm at the elbow. He then dropped to
his knees, revealing a crater forty feet wide in the center of the street behind him. Three more Sarbarah
stood in front of the pit, a pistol in each hand. With synchronized movement they raised their weapons
at an angle and fired. Bone fragments burst from the backs of the skulls of the three men in front of
Frederich. Blood trickled down both of Frederich’s cheeks, yet he felt no pain. Have I been hit? It wasn’t
his blood; Sarbarahn gunshots had ripped open the necks of the men on either side of him.
Eye-Patch swung his sword from his knees and eviscerated the man in front of Frederich. He glared at
Frederich while taunting him in a strange language. Frederich shuffled his feet to position himself to
strike, only to be distracted when he kicked something. Garrick’s severed head peered up at him, his lips
flapping. Frederich shouted a string of expletives, and then struck at Eye-Patch’s neck. The Sarbarah met
his thrust and cut the pike in two. Frederich screamed, and Eye-Patch mocked him with laughter.
Five more Sarbarah had ascended through the crater on ropes. Everyone in Frederich’s unit was either
dead or in retreat. I cannot defeat the Holy See and her allies by myself. He dropped what remained of
his pike and fled.
Frederich had barely turned around when a contingent of Garmund regulars ran toward him. He feared
arrest for desertion if they spotted him, so he tossed his helmet aside and ducked into a nearby alley.
Their leader gave the order to charge. Frederich heard muskets, but he dared not turn to view the
carnage. He had one goal: get his family out of Silverwic.
Block after block. Alley after alley. Frederich weaved through the mass of people trying to escape town.
He ran for as long as his sedentary physique would allow, slowing when he could no longer tolerate the
pain in his feet and the burn in his lungs.
Frederich finally reached the steps of the temple of the Holy Family. “Leoda,” he called out as he burst
through the doors. The nave was empty, save for an elderly couple kneeling in silent prayer. He darted
back outside and headed for the cellar door behind the building. “Leoda,” he cried out again.
His wife responded from inside the cellar. “I’m here.” Frederich heard someone lift the bar on the other
side. He pulled open the doors and greeted his wife with a joyful embrace.
“Papa!” His nine-year-old daughter wrapped her arms around his leg. “Did you kill any heathens?”
“Quiet, Thora,” said Leoda. “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you with the army?”
“The Sarbarah tunneled into the city.” Leoda’s eyes widened, and her hands trembled.
“What’s a Sarbarah, Papa?”
“Very evil, very hairy monsters,” said Leoda. “I can’t believe the Nasirians hate us so much they’d join
forces with them.”
“Leoda, we have to leave town.”
“Won’t you be considered a deserter?”
“I don’t care. Silverwic is doomed, and I’d much rather surrender to the Holy See than the Sarbarah. We
worshiped in secret for years. We can do so again.”
“What about them?” asked Leoda as she pointed to the fifteen souls crammed in the cellar with her.
They were women, children, and men deemed too old to fight.
“They need to get out too.” Frederich brushed past his wife and down the steps. “Everyone, the
Sarbarah are attacking. Head to the southern gate now!” Frederich picked up his daughter and darted
out of the cellar.
Leoda turned to help those coming up the steps. “Where should we go when we leave, Mother Leoda?”
asked an older gentleman. “We don’t have any food.”
Frederich couldn’t remember the old man’s name, but he recognized him from the temple because he
always wore the same red jacket with a ripped sleeve. It likely was the only warm garment he owned.
Frederich wanted to help the man; he wanted to help them all. Unfortunately, the imminent Sarbarahn
conquest precluded charity. “Leoda, we must go now.”
Frederich and Leoda joined the ever-growing crowd of people running down the street toward freedom.
The southern gate was only four blocks from the temple. We can make it if we hurry. Frederich endured
a twinge in his knees every time his feet pounded the cobblestones, and the weight of his growing child
sent spasms through his back. Premonitions of Leoda and Thora shackled by the Sarbarah and sold to
unknown masters — never to be seen again — were all the inspiration Frederich needed to fight
through the pain.
The huge iron gate was open when he arrived; to his surprise the Holy See’s army hadn’t yet entered the
city. “Keep running, Leoda,” he said. “Surrender to the first Nasirian you spot.” The opportunity didn’t
last. The gate slammed shut, pushed by an unseen force. Scores of people flung themselves against the
portal, clinging to the futile hope their combined strength would overcome the magic that had closed it.
The Sarbarah dashed those hopes when they ensnared them in nets.
“Head to Iron Street. A section of wall collapsed there,” said an unknown voice.
Frederich and Leoda followed the stampede toward the breach, dodging the bodies of soldiers knocked
from their positions by gunshots, acid, and fire. On the ground, Sarbarahn soldiers tripped citizens with
bolas, ensnared them in nets, and snatched them in man-catchers.
The alternating stench of burning sulfur and grain burned Frederich’s nostrils. Escape was less than
twenty yards away when he felt a tightness around his ankles. The momentum of his upper body
continued without his feet, and he fell forward. To protect his daughter from injury, he spun to land on
his back with her on top of him.
“Momma, stop. Papa is hurt.”
Leoda turned to face him. “Frederich!”
The cords of a Sarbarahn bola entangled his feet. His body had taken a jolt from the fall, but he wasn’t
badly injured. He tried to cut himself free with a knife, but the cords were as strong as steel. Leoda
arrived and frantically tried to untangle the weapon. A Sarbarahn warrior closed in on them, sword
“Take Thora and go. There’s no time.”
“I won’t leave you here,” said Leoda.
A female Sarbarah raised her outstretched hand. An earthen rampart rose to fill the length of the gap in
“I want Papa to come! I want Papa!” The sound of her pleas brought tears to his eyes. Thora tugged at
the cords wrapped around his legs, but she only tightened their bond.
“Leoda, that witch is trying to rebuild the wall. Go now.” The barricade was knee-high and rising.
Leoda tearfully kissed her husband goodbye, and then grabbed Thora. The wall was chest-high when
they reached it. As she carefully lowered Thora to the other side, a Garmund regular arrived and tried to
scale it. Leoda went over the top the same time a Sarbarah jerked the soldier by the collar and slammed
him to the ground.
I got them out. Frederich closed his eyes and said a silent prayer of thanks. Three Sarbarah towered over
him when he opened them.