Friday, October 20, 2017

The Red and the Black

The numbers in the book began to dance before Limbec's eyes. Limbec had been scribing the numbers for hours and the light was beginning to fade as the smell of burning candles began to grow stronger. Columns of numbers with codes, sub-totals and ratios seemed to battle each other in his mind as he scribbled away the day. He knew what some codes meant but many others remained elusive. Some codes seemed to represent military units, number of men, length of training time and a code for place of origin.

The latest scroll had arrived that morning carried by a messenger pigeon from some place called Lahrgerbridge. A place he had no idea in what direction or how far away. He grew weary and his head was starting to get an ache behind the eyes as he heard familiar footsteps getting nearer. The footsteps belonged to the Chief Tally Officer, the only one among them who was permitted to wear the Red and black halved colours which conveyed his higher position and signified a military service history long ago. Long ago because the colours had faded and his beard was grey and long.

Limbec lowered his quill in anticipation of knock off time that was about to be announced. Throughout the Hall of Numbers other plainly robed Tally Officers started to prepare for knock off. The Hall of Numbers was a dreary stone room in the sprawling, but practical Palace of Records. Limbec thought Palace didn't really make sense as the complex was nowhere near what one would think of as a Palace in any sense. No. It was practical though, and it was old. So very old. Exactly how old? Those records had been lost in a great fire when one of the many confusing internal wars in this small kingdom of men had taken place long ago. So many records and numbers had been recorded and then lost throughout the history of Alesworth. Limbec sometimes thought it was a nonsense that they still continued the tradition of record keeping and inscribing the never ending numbers and codes.

The symbolic clanging of empty Beer mugs rang out from the Chief Tally Officer and the Tally officers eagerly shuffled to the exit with hands showing the tell tale ink stain of their occupation. Some of these hands rubbed hungry but swollen stomachs in anticipation of the Dark beer and salty pork that was about to fill them. These portly figures had developed what was refereed to as a siege guts. Modern thinking was that the roundness of the middle was a sure way to help survive an extended blockade, siege or poor trading season, safe inside Number One Wall of Alesworth city. In Alesworth as throughout the Kingdom, Dark Beer and Pork was the most sort after food with the Darkest of Beer being worthy of Kings themselves and the highest valued. It was this diet that largely contributed to the shape of the Tally men and their Siege Guts. It had been a very, very long time since Alesworth had seen a siege.

Alesworth's inner most wall (named Wall Number One) had once contained the entire city but as it had grown through history three walls now existed but even these did not contain the entire city. Beyond the outermost third wall the population seemed to ever expand. Limbec knew this from the numbers he had sometimes Tallyed. He had never ventured beyond the second wall. Never really had any reason or purpose to do so. The Palace of Records lay inside Wall Number One and that was a fact. The oldest and smallest ring wall within which Limbec would most likely live out his entire life as the three generations of Tallymen in his family had before him. An entire life without ever seeing the sneaky smile of a Goblin or smelling the sea salt smell of the bearded long boat raiders. A safe existence far from the Horse people who would attack without warning in great numbers who rained down deadly arrows from the vast and unexplored seemingly endless Grass plains.

Outside the Third Wall near the edges of the city expansion Gundrec was refilling his weapon with the mysterious black powder. Gundrec had recently arrived after a very long march from Bayer-Con in his assigned Hand Cannon unit all proudly wearing the Red and Black. They all spoke with a thick Bayer-Con accent not usually heard within earshot of Alesworth. The Chief driller with the tallest red feather upon his helmet instructed the trumpeter to signal the unit to aim using hand signals. Gundrec and 3 more men raised the heavy Hand Cannons and looked in the direction of a straw stuffed target when the trumpet sounded. The trumpet signal was loud and piercing. It needed to be, as the hearing of these men from Bayer-Con was damaged from using the loud weapon. Gundrec had never faced an enemy on the battlefield. Never seen the Robed men of the dry lands. Never seen the impact of fully armored mounted knights impact a line of infantry knocking men down and impaling those who stood on the heavy long lance. But he knew that he would soon...