Lytica watched the frenzied activity on the wall, dreading the slaughter to come. These men, he worked, sang, and prayed with only this morning. Within the hour, some of them would die. Days at most, they all would breathe their last.
The doors slammed shut. Four, then five, then six monks added to the effort of lifting the heavy bar into place. Monks began taking wood from the kitchen, along with chairs through the monastery doors. They began to mount the stairs like burdened ants to the top of the wall.
“Brother Yendor, please unlock the armoury.”
Yendor jogged ahead of Lytica. He set the key to the padlock of the building and opened it, pulling open the door.
“Please give me my sword and the soldier’s axe while you are there,” said Lytica.
Disappearing into the gloom of the building, Yendor reappeared with the weapons.
“Thank you,” said Lytica, taking them from him. “See that every brother is armed.”
He took another look at the wall. Smoke began to rise from the start of fires beneath the cauldrons.
“I will check on our guest,” he said.
Lytica brushed past busy monks carrying items intended for the siege. He traversed the foyer and down the narrow hall, inspecting Padaver’s axe. Yendor had sharpened and cleaned the weapon, smearing the head with a light coating of oil. On entering the surgical room, he saw Manfry’s body in lifeless repose on the table. It did not fill him with regret, as he expected. Instead, he walked on, pushing open the door to the rearmost bedchamber.
Padaver sat on the edge of the bed, wearing his tunic, trews, and mail shirt.
“I brought your axe,” said Lytica.
Padaver took it from him, and looked it over. Saying no more, he thrust it into the holster.
“I know how important a tribesman’s axe is,” said Lytica. “I thought… that if things came to the worse, that you might want to hold it.”
An awkward silence followed.
“Well, I must be getting back to the wall.”
He turned to leave.
“You never said ‘why you came here?”‘
“Second chances,” Lytica said sombrely.
“That is not an answer.”
Lytica sighed. “No, it is not. I am not an honourary man, Padaver. Like you, I was a soldier, but unlike you, I am a coward.”
“You are no coward.”
“Let me speak!”
Padaver raised his hands in resignation.
Lytica gritted his teeth, annoyed with himself that tears threatened to fall in front of Padaver.
“I led a small group of men against a larger patrol; about double our number. The rest of my men did their duty and fought as best they could, while I fled. I did not know where I was going. By the will of the unknown god, I found this monastery, to forget the man I was.”
“What could you have done? Your men died.”
Lytica snorted. “That is what makes it worse. I heard later that they won the engagement.”
He dropped his head and gently sighed.
“That is why I am leading a group of monks against an army. The unknown god brought me here to give me a second chance. This time… I will not run.”
He exited into the corridor and headed out to the courtyard, mounting the wall.