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A startling new take on siege tactics, from Raymond E. Feist's new novel

Illustration for article titled A startling new take on siege tactics, from Raymond E. Feists new novel

You might think you know what to expect from a siege — waiting, climbing, possibly some siege engines. But the invaders in Raymond E. Feist's A Kingdom Besieged have a wily, alarming spin on the idea.

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Check out this exclusive excerpt from Feist's new novel, in which a prince learns that he may be getting evicted...

A Kingdom Besieged by Raymond E. Feist
Chapter 11: Siege

The lookout shouted.

"Ships off the headlands!"

A village boy named Jerrod turned and knelt before a small brazier, blowing furiously on the coals for a second, before plunging an oil-soaked straw torch into the hot coals, whereupon the flames almost exploded in his face. He rushed to a giant wicker construction, a bundle of reeds, grasses, and wood, on top of which a pile of inflammable tinder was piled, and tossed the torch in as he had been shown. As he had been warned, the volatile bundle roared into flames within seconds. The mix was designed to burn bright and produce voluminous

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black smoke so that it could be seen by day or night. The heat it gave off was enormous, and the boy backed away. "It's done!" Jerrod shouted.

The lookout, named Percy, came scampering down from his rocky perch shouting, "Come on! Our job is done!"

It was late afternoon and a fresh breeze was blowing. The smoke rose and scattered, yet the two boys knew another lookout up the coast would see it and another lad would start his fire, and that one in turn would be seen at the castle above Crydee. It would take the two boys the better part of a day to reach the closest outpost, a garrison camp ten miles up the King's Highway, for neither could ride, and even if they could, horses could not be spared for them.

A series of signal fires had been erected along the coast by order of the Duke of Crydee. Earlier fires had told the garrison that ships had been sighted along the coast, heading north from first Tulan, then Carse. Only one report from Carse had got through to the castle from Earl Robert, reporting that he and his men were attempting to repulse an onslaught of Keshian soldiers.

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The report had arrived with Lord Robert's wife, Marriann, and his daughter, Bethany, who was not happy to have been sent away from Carse.

Now Bethany stood on the tower at Castle Crydee and asked Martin, "What will you do?"

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"It's already done," said the Duke's middle son. "Fast riders were dispatched to overtake Father. He's halfway to Yabon by now, but if we can hold out for a week or so, he should arrive in time to relieve us."

Without a thought, she slipped her arm through his as if in need of reassurance. "How many men do you have?"

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"Father left me a hundred."

She shivered and leaned into him, as if seeking warmth, even though it was a balmy night. "Is that enough?"

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"Should be." He patted her hand where it rested on his arm. "If my studies are any guide, they'll need to bring more than a thousand men to storm the castle and even then it'll be touch and go. We've tested the defenses."

"The Tsurani siege?"

"Yes. When Father left, I made a point of studying the writings about that siege." He looked at her calmly. "Did you know Prince Arutha was a year younger than I am now when he took command, after Swordmaster Fannon was wounded?"

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She didn't recognize the names, but she did recognize Martin's determination to take charge of the situation and protect the town. As if reading her mind, he said, "It's time to bring in the town."

Turning to a point overlooking the inner courtyard, Martin saw the man he sought. "Sergeant Ruther!"

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Looking up, the sergeant saw the Duke's son atop the tower and shouted back, "Sir?"

"Sound the alarm, and get the townspeople up here. Have them bring all the food they can carry."

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Sergeant Ruther snapped off a salute and turned to two soldiers by the gate. "You heard the young lord! Get going!" The sergeant was a short man with a protruding lower jaw and a mean squint, which made him the object of fear among the garrison. He also had a deep abiding affection for his men that he kept well hidden. He was near retirement age, portly with a belly hanging over his belt, but no one in the garrison doubted he was still a hard man to kill.

The soldiers exchanged glances. "Yes, Sergeant!" they cried in unison, then trotted out of the gate toward the town.

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The townspeople had already been alerted that there might be a call to the castle, so Martin hoped they'd have prepared in some fashion for this. But he knew there would surely be some panic and that many would not have understood it was not only necessary to bring foodstuffs and clothing for their time inside the city's walls, but also to deny the invaders as much comfort as possible. Orders had gone out that any food left behind should be fouled, but he suspected people would have spent too much time trying to hide valuables the invaders would likely find anyway. Martin knew that the farmers would scatter their herds and flocks rather than put them down in the hope that after the siege some could be reclaimed. At least if the Keshians had to forage to find them, that would be a distraction, Martin thought. He felt Bethany pressing closely to him and turned.

"You should go to your mother," he said softly.

"She's with your mother."

"I know, but the family quarters are the safest part of the castle."

"There's no hurry," Bethany said softly, drawing still closer. "How long?"

"From the headlands, they'll be at the mouth of the harbor in three or four hours. Then it depends on how prepared they are to come ashore and if they expect much resistance." He was silent for a moment, and she studied his face.

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Of the three brothers Martin had always been the most difficult to read, which was why she had always found him the most interesting. He was not the hale-fellow-well-met that his brother Hal was, nor was he like Brendan, an impish prankster. Martin was the thoughtful brother. He was often cross with her, which she found amusing, as she knew it hid his true feelings. She had decided more than a year ago how she felt about him, but decided he would get no help from her in untangling his own feelings toward her.

He sensed her studying him and turned. "What?"

"I find it fascinating how much alike you and Brendan appear, yet in reality you are hardly alike at all."

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He gave her one of his rare half smiles. "Beth, you've known us all your life, and you're only now noticing I'm not like that little menace?"

"I just find it a bit odd, really," she said, turning her eyes back on the town below. Already the sound of alarm was being raised, and shouts and cries echoed up to where they stood.

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Martin gently disengaged her arm from his, his mood turning serious. "You found an odd time to think about this. Come on, I have much to do and I would feel a great deal better if I knew you were safe."

As he started to turn away, she moved forward and kissed him impulsively, long and deep. He tensed for a moment, then returned the embrace. When she pulled back, she could see a glistening in his eyes.

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"We've let too many things go unsaid for too long," she whispered. "When your father returns, I want you to speak to him."

"About what?" Martin said, speaking softly as if he feared being overheard.

Her face clouded over and her eyes narrowed. "About us, you fool!"

His lips quirked. "What about us?"

Her eyes widened, and then she saw the smile. "You right bastard!" she said, then she kissed him again.

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"I know. It's just that-"

"Everyone expects me to marry Hal," she interrupted. "I know. But no one's asked me, and no one's asked Hal. He's always treated me like a little sister. But you . . ." She kissed him a third time. "You've always been able to . . . somehow get under my skin, to make me think when I didn't want to and to endure my . . . bad behavior, with good grace."

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Letting out a long sigh, Martin said, "As much as I adore you, and obviously I have done a poor job of hiding that, may I say"-his voice rose to a near shout-"you've picked an impossible moment to profess your love!" He laughed. "But you never were one for choosing the proper moment, were you?" He kissed her before she could answer and then added, "Very well, I'll speak to Father when this is over."

He glanced down at the town as the clamor of voices and the sounds of fear and panic rose. "But now I have to go calm the people whose care has been given over to me. We both have rank and privilege, so it is time we both showed we deserve them."

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Gently he turned her around, and with a slight pressure on her arm indicated it was time to go down the stairs into a much darker and grimmer time than either had ever experienced.

***

The ships hove to at the mouth of the harbor at sundown. Martin watched as the last of the townspeople crowded into the yard below. When the last was through, he signaled for the gates to be closed. Sergeant Ruther, standing beside him with his arms crossed, said, "Now we dig in." Martin glanced at him and the sergeant added, "Sir."

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Martin shook his head. "It's all right, Sergeant. I'm new to this."

"We're all new at this, sir. My father was a baby the last time this castle was attacked."

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"Still, we've had our fair share of tussles."

"Yes, sir, but meaning no disrespect, a bunch of bandits or a raiding party of trolls is one thing. We're about to make the acquaintance of some Keshian Dog Soldiers. Not the same thing."

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"Dog Soldiers? What should we expect?"

"Can't rightly say. Not one man in Crydee has faced them, and all I know is what I was told when I was a young soldier."

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"Which was?" asked Martin, genuinely curious.

"Old Sergeant Mason, who was here when I was a recruit, he told me he spent time down in Landreth serving with a company of Borderers, under Lord Sutherland's command. It was a quick rise to glory, he said, else he'd never have earned promotion. Anyway, he said that most of the time they crossed swords with rogue mercenary companies or outlaws, but there was this one time they ran afoul of a company of Keshians.

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"The way he told it made me think it was the toughest fight of his life, and he'd seen a few. What he said was ‘they just keep coming.' They have no respect for life, not yours, not their own.

"Kesh is a funny place, from what I've been told. Trueblood women running around nearly naked and no one minds, the rest being not much better than cattle to them Truebloods. But they're hunters, you see, and don't think much of warriors."

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"I don't follow," admitted Martin.

"See, the thing is, you can only rise so high not being a Trueblood, and as they don't give much glory to fighting men anyway, it makes for a vicious army. They don't do it for glory, you see. They're called Dog Soldiers for two reasons, according to Sergeant Mason: first is they're kept penned up like mad don't mix with other people: they've got their own fortresses, their own families, grow their own crops, and make their own weapons. They're loyal to their masters, like dogs. The other is that they bring dogs along on long marches so they can eat them. Though I have my doubts about that bit."

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Martin said nothing, then repeated, "They just keep coming."

"That's what Mason said. They won't give quarter and they don't ask for any. They just keep coming until you kill enough of them they get tired and run off. Or die to the last, I guess." He paused. "It's about honor, not glory. They're a brotherhood, a clan, something like that, and they die for one another."

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Martin felt the pit of his stomach grow cold and found his knuckles turning white as he heard the gates to the castle slam shut. He willed himself to relax, then saw something that made him smile.

Despite promising to stay with their mothers, Lady Bethany was down in the courtyard, organizing the townspeople and assigning areas of the large bailey to families, sending all livestock around to the rear of the castle.

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"She's something, that one," Ruther said with a smile.

Martin returned the smile. "That she is."

"Well, sir, if you're not needing me, there are things to do."

"You are dismissed, Sergeant," said Martin.

Alone on the top of the castle's outer gatehouse, looking down at organization slowly emerging from chaos, Martin took a deep breath. He reminded himself that he was a year older than Prince Arutha had been at the start of his legendary career. Then he muttered, "Of course he had Swordmaster Fannon and Great-Grandfather with him, and my Swordmaster is in Roldem with my brother, and my younger brother is riding with Father."

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He felt terribly alone, yet despite wishing Bethany away and safe, he was thankful to his bones that she was here.

And he would do whatever was needed to keep her safe.

The night dragged on. By midnight those remaining outside the central keep huddled under makeshift shelters of wood and blankets, gathered around campfires, or under the few military tents Sergeant Ruther found abandoned in one corner of the castle's armory.

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Many of the townspeople had been crowded into the keep itself; storage had been shifted around, and the extra space thus made was filled to overflowing. Families with small children had been given priority and had the safest rooms deep within the keep; women with older daughters had been packed into the outer rooms and towers.

Every man capable of bearing arms, between the ages of fourteen and seventy, was issued a weapon. Sergeant Ruther took it upon himself, in the Swordmaster's absence, to determine which detail each man was given, which was fine with Martin.

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The young commander of the garrison had spent most of the night watching for signs of the Keshians coming ashore. It was now clear that they were not attempting a night landing and would wait for dawn.

"You should get some sleep." The voice was his mother's.

Martin turned and said, "What about you, Mother?"

She smiled. "There's still much to do. Usually we prepare food for the town only twice a year, at Banapis and Midwinter. Now we must cook what we can every day."

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"We'll manage. Father will return soon."

"Not soon enough." She sighed. "What are your plans?"

"Simple enough. We see what they bring in the morning and then we determine the best way to hold them until Father returns with the garrison."

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"What about . . . ?"

"What?"

"I . . . I've never been through a war."

"None of us have," said Martin, patting her hand. "It's going to be fine, Mother. We have provisions and enough trained soldiers alongside the townsmen that we can repulse up to ten times the number of defenders. If they have less than two thousand soldiers and heavy siege machines, we will hold."

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"I just . . ." She sighed again. "I just wish your Father was here, and your brothers."

"As do I," said Martin, feeling the burden settle fully on his shoulders. "Now, why don't you get some sleep and I'll try to do the same."

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She smiled at her son, turned, and started down the stairs with him behind.

If the Keshians came before dawn, someone would rouse him. He felt out on his feet and that was before even one arrow had been unleashed, or one sword drawn in anger.

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***

Martin was awakened by a loud knock on the door. He had fallen asleep in his clothing, only removing his boots. He got up fast. "What?"

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"Sergeant Ruther said to wake you, sir," came the answer from other side of the door.

"On my way!" shouted Martin, slipping into his boots.

The morning was foggy, as was typical for this time of the year. The sun hadn't yet risen from behind the distant Grey Tower Mountains to burn off the marine moisture in the air. An hour after the sun cleared the peaks behind, the town below would be in bright sunlight, but for now it was shrouded in dense mist.

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Martin was no longer content to watch from his high perch over the castle's main entrance, above the keep's portcullis that marked the last defense, but was now on the wall above the main gate, as close to the town as he could get.

The original keep built by the first Duke of Crydee had been a stand-alone building, without an outer wall. It had been surrounded by a moat, which was long since filled in, and the barbican with its double iron portcullis and killing ground between them had been attached to the main entrance to the keep. The outbuildings and outer wall had been added years later, the latter having no barbican, just a simple wooden gate. As stout as it was, and for all the punishment the defenders might inflict on those below, Martin knew that eventually it would fall and everyone within the bailey between the wall and keep would be in peril.

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Sergeant Ruther said without preamble, "They're down there in the town, moving cautiously from the sound of things, perhaps expecting traps."

"Pity we didn't have time to leave some," said Martin.

"There's only so much you can do on short notice, sir. If we'd had some means of knowing they were coming before they hit Carse, we might have convinced some of that lot"-he used his chin to indicate the hundreds now camped in the bailey below-"to come in a few days early and let us rig a welcome for the Keshians. But you do what you can, as they say."

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Martin could only nod.

Slowly the sounds of men, wagons, and horses moving through the town grew louder. "Siege engines?" asked Martin, feeling a sudden tightness in his chest and stomach.

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"Take a lot to knock these walls down, sir." Ruther pointed down to the main gate, which had been reinforced during the night with a bracework of heavy timbers.

"Well, let's see what they're bringing in."

Slowly the haze lifted, then suddenly a gust of wind cleared away the morning fog and presented Martin and the other onlookers atop the walls with a clear view of what they faced.

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"Damn me!" the sergeant swore.

"Indeed," said Martin softly, not sure he was making sense of what he saw.

A company of soldiers stood arrayed across the entire approach to the town from the castle, just out of arrow flight from any but the stoutest longbow. Martin took in their garb: a traditional Keshian metal helm with a chain metal neck piece hanging behind, a sharply pointed spear tip at the crown (effective at discouraging an enemy from dropping on them from above, he thought); a chain coat; and heavy woolen trousers tucked into calf-high boots so that the fabric belled out. A leather vest was drawn over that, cinched at the waist by a heavy leather belt with an iron buckle. The combination of leather over mail would be very effective against arrows, slowing down a broad-head enough that the chain would catch it, earning the target no more than a nasty cut rather than certain death.

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Each man carried a scimitar-the traditional curved sword-and a round buckler. Every fourth man also carried a short bow slung over his shoulder.

"I see no siege engines," Martin said.

"But look what else they brought."

Behind the line of solders a flood of people could be seen coming up from the docks and going into the buildings. Men, women, and children, several who seemed to be scuffling over some scavenged item or another, and among them moved what could only be wardens or marshals, breaking up fights and commanding them to go here or there.

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A runner came up the steps from below, out of breath. "Word from the tower, sir."

"What?" said Martin, not taking his eyes off the scene below.

"A large company has broken off and is taking the north road, but . . ."

"But what?"

"They don't look like infantry or cavalry, sir."

Martin's curiosity was piqued. "What do they look like?"

"Well, sir, like farmers coming to market, or rather it would if they were going the other way. I mean, it looks like they're herding cattle and sheep up the road."

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"Heading to the farms, crofts, and pastures," said the sergeant. "Well, now, isn't that a kiss from granny?"

Martin frowned. "I don't understand."

"Look what they're bringing up."

What appeared to be a company of engineers was hurrying up the road, while horsemen drove the milling men, women, and children out of the street, making way. They were carrying building materials unlike anything Martin had seen before.

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The line of infantry parted, letting the engineers through, and then Martin saw what they were putting together. "It's a barricade."

"The bastards just walk in and took the town, sir. Now they're telling us to sit here and rot, or sally forth and drive them to the harbor."

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"They're not going to attack?" asked Martin, now completely confused.

"Why should they? They'll just sit and let us starve."

In the distance a great rumbling could be heard. The sergeant turned to the young runner. "Joey, back up you go and find out what that is, then come back, straightaway, where's a good lad."

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The boy ran off and Ruther said, "Well, it's clear whatever else they have in mind, they mean to stay. They brought a whole damn town with them."

After a few minutes Joey returned. "They're unloading some big machines by the docks. Kelton says they look like trebuchets."

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Kelton was the soldier Ruther had put up in the tower because he had the sharpest eyes in the garrison.

"Well, if that's what he says they are, then that's what they are. Maybe they're not going to try to starve us out after all. But at least they're in no hurry to attack."

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That worried Martin more than anything else. They would have to assume that the moment they were spotted, the call for reinforcements would go out, and reinforcements would be on their way. Why weren't they in a hurry?

The day wore on, and those in the castle watched in fascination. The fortification on the eastern edge of the town was quickly made secure, and at sunset a daunting wall rose up that had been bolstered with sandbags brought up from the shore. Now there was a six-foot breastwork with a firing platform behind, where arches could fire upon anyone venturing from the castle.

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"If we had sortied this morning . . ." Martin clenched his fists, the frustration of not knowing what the enemy's next move would be taking its toll.

"We would have run into who knows what, sir," finished the sergeant. "We can only see that lot. Who knows how many more soldiers they have unloaded down by the docks, or still waiting aboard ship? They don't seem worried about us."

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"Which is why I am concerned," countered Martin. "It's as if-"

"Sir!" came the shout. "A white flag!"

Martin looked in the indicated direction and saw what must be a Keshian officer approaching under a flag of truce. He came up to the gate and looked up at the faces there. "I seek parley!" he shouted. "Who is in charge here?"

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"I am!" Martin shouted back. "I am Martin conDoin . . ."

He hesitated, then added, "Prince Martin of Crydee." He was entitled to the honorific, though no one in his family had used it since Prince Arutha had left Crydee to take up the office of Prince of Krondor. His brother, Martin's namesake, had insisted only the title of duke be conferred upon him, a tradition followed for three generations after.

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"Greetings, Highness," replied the officer. "I am Hartun Gorves, Captain of the Fourth Legion, Third Regiment, servant of His Most Honored Majesty, the Emperor of Great

Kesh, blessings be upon him. My lord and master bids you depart this land, peacefully, and safe conduct to the east will be guaranteed. He reminds you these lands are Keshian, ancient Bosania, taken from the Empire most violently and without cause by your ancestor.

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"He bids you depart and swears that he will treat harshly any of his servants who would trouble you. Take with you your possessions and goods, livestock and chattels, but begone at once, otherwise I am instructed to deal with you in the most severe manner."

Martin stood uncertain for a long moment. Of all the things he had expected to hear, the simple demand that he and everyone in the duchy pick up and move wasn't one of them. That Kesh meant to occupy this land was now beyond doubt: this was no simple raiding expedition, for booty or political gain; they sought to reclaim land that had not been part of the Empire in over two centuries, yet were treating the Kingdom's expansion as if it had occurred but a few weeks prior.

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At last Martin said, "You're joking."

The officer bowed. "Most assuredly not, fair prince. I and two of my officers would be willing hostages in your travels. Once you reach the borders of the land called Yabon, we will leave your company, and you may deal with the garrison there."

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"Garrison?" shouted Ruther. "What does that mean?"

"By the time you reach Yabon, it will once again be Keshian, as will the so-called Free Cities and that abomination known as Queg. The garrison at Yabon will escort you to the border at Questor's View and then on to Krondor. From there you will be free to continue on to the borders of the Kingdom and cross without harassment."

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"Borders of the Kingdom!" echoed the sergeant furiously. Martin put his hand on his arm, and the old soldier fell silent.

"And where is this border?" asked Martin.

"Darkmoor. That was your traditional frontier and that is where it is again, for all lands west of there are now Keshian. Once you reach Darkmoor, you will once more be on Kingdom soil. The Empire is reclaiming its realm, from Crydee to Krondor, Yabon and LaMut. Even as we speak the armies of Great Kesh are marching and our navies are sweeping through the Bitter Sea. You are now trespassing on Keshian soil, my prince," declared Captain Gorves. "You have two days to make ready for your departure or I shall bring horrors upon you and your people that no man should have to contemplate.

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It is a simple choice; leave or die."

With that he turned and walked away, leaving a stunned Martin unable to speak.

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The Chaoswar Saga? Really? I have no idea if the book is good or not although I'm quite sure he can kick my ass at writing, but Chaoswar saga sounds really lame.