The Sacrifice of Ward Yanok
at the Fortress of Patina
A1. Ward Yannok was a herald and petty officer in the army of the Barony of Lymm, and an ardent follower of The Just God. 2. He had served as part of the army for the past five years, for in the Barony of Lymm, all men and women were pressed into obligatory military service when they turned sixteen, and released from their burden at the age of twenty-two. 3. As his time as a herald of the army was coming to a close, Ward Yannok was accompanied by an apprentice named Saf, who was learning from Ward Yannok how to one day assume his position as the new herald of his division.
B4. It was a hard time in the barony of Lymm. The neighboring Kingdom of Stalbridge had staged an invasion several years ago, around the beginning of Ward Yannok's time as a herald, and had been slowly conquering the barony of Lymm, river by river and town by town. 5. The great majority of Lymm's soldiers had died in battle over the years of war, and several regions that would normally send forth fresh troops had already fallen under the control of Stalbridge's ceaseless advance. 6. The Kingdom of Stalbridge was months, perhaps just weeks away, from total conquest of Lymm, and without some great act that would change the course of the war, little hope remained for the small barony.
C7. Ward Yannok was given a vital mission that his superiors believed had the potential to turn the tide of the long conflict. He was to travel to three towns that had not yet exhausted their supply of conscripted soldiers, and with them occupy the ancient and currently vacant fortress of Patina. 8. Once there, they would be able to seal of the most traversable part of the wide Cary River, and create a defensible northern border to hold the army of Stalbridge at bay.
D9. Ward Yannok beamed with pride, having been handed such an important task. He retrieved the brass horn that was the tool and token of his station, and along with his apprentice Saf, set out for the first of the towns where he was to sound the clarion call. 10. Along the way, Ward Yannok spoke to his apprentice, Saf, revealing to him the duties and complexities of being a herald, and also speaking to him of The Just God. 11. Ward Yannok explained to Saf that The Just God smiles upon those who serve loyally in the army of Lymm, for they are fulfilling their duty during their six years of labor so that those who are younger and those who are older can live a peaceful life.
E12. As the sun was just creeping over the eastern horizon, Ward Yannok and his apprentice arrived at the first town along their journey. 13. At the haphazard gates of the small hamlet, Ward Yannok raised his brass horn, and sounded the summons that would bring forth the new conscripts under his command. 14. Presently Ward Yannok saw them emerge from their homes and come forward towards the town gate. Quickly they moved, but every motion they made portrayed their lack of experience, and perhaps even a significant lack in training. 15. They were clearly recruits of the greenest kind. 16. Trained as a herald to raise the morale of men, Ward Yannok prepared to speak a boisterous and inspiring greeting to them all, but before he could begin, something that he saw gave him pause.
F17. The men seemed ill suited for war. Their armor hung too loosely, their helmets sat crooked on their brows, and their swords sat too heavily in their hands. 18. Upon closer inspection, Ward Yannok realized that these conscripts were little more than children. 19. He asked one of them their age; thirteen was her response. The next said fourteen. The next, eleven. 20. Something was wrong. The officers in command clearly had made an error in determining who was of the proper age to enter military service. 21. Ward Yannok considered for a moment how he should respond to this mistake and then spoke aloud to the young men and women in his herald's voice. 22. "Brave soldiers of Lymm. I have been dispatched here to tell you that you have been called to service too early. 23. But your resolve is true, and from the set of your stance it is clear to me that when your years of service come, you will make a fine addition to this army. 24. Go now and practice your swordplay. The need for your strength will come soon."
G25. There was relief and joy in the voices of the brave children and many came up to thank the herald personally for his complements. 26. Before long, Ward Yannok and his apprentice Saf found the road again and began to travel to the next town from which they would draw their forces. 27. For a time, Yannok wondered if a force reduced by one third could still complete their mission, but he pushed such idle thoughts out of his head. 28. He spoke to his apprentice, explaining to him why he felt it the Just thing to do to have left those soldiers at their homes. 29. To have taken those children to war with him would have been wrong. It was not their time yet to fight, to risk their lives. 30. Ward Yannok had recognized the mistake of his superiors and acted according to his belief in The Just God.
H31. As the sun reached its zenith overhead, Ward Yannok and his apprentice came upon the next town along their route. 32. Like before, Ward Yannok took from his side his ceremonial brass horn and blew it clear and strong to bring forth those who would join his command and endeavor to save their homeland. 33. For a time, nothing happened, and Ward Yannok wondered what had become of the people of this town. He raised the horn to his lips to sound it again when finally men clad in soldier's attire came out of their homes. 34. They were slow to move, however, and the keen eye of Ward Yannok did not miss it when several stumbled as they paced forward.
I35. As the conscripts knowingly formed their lines in front of the herald, Ward Yannok could see through their helmets the tufts of white hair, through the rings in their maile, wrinkled skin. 36. He asked one of the men their age. Fifty-three was his response. Another was forty-eight. Another, sixty-one. 37. This was indeed a strange error. Again, the leaders of his division must have made a great mistake, and even as Ward Yannok attempted to understand how such an error could happen, he began to suspect that it was not an error at all. 38. It was clear to the herald what he had to do. "Brave soldiers of Lymm," he began, "I have been sent here to tell you that there has been a mistake. You were summoned to war well past your time. 39. You will not be made to take up sword and spear once again after so many years. This country thanks you for the years of service you dedicated in your youth, and bids you to go back to your home and rest well."
J40. There were protests from those among soldiers who were willing to be called to war again in a time of great need, but such desires were put to rest as Ward Yannok bade them all farewell. 41. Soon he and his apprentice Saf were on the road again, moving towards the third and final town that housed conscripts for the completion of their important task. 42. Ward Yannok knew that with a much depleted force the mission would be a difficult one, and part of him regretted rebuffing the aid of the old soldiers. 43. Yet he knew he had abided by the Just path. 44. He spoke to Saf, explaining to him that those old men and women had already given their years in service to the army. They were promised a peaceful life afterwards in thanks for their efforts, and to transgress against that promise would be an act of deep betrayal. 45. He did not fully understand the actions of his superiors, but Ward Yannok chose to stay true to his belief in The Just God.
K46. As the sun inched towards the western horizon, Ward Yannok and his apprentice arrived at the last town where they were to recruit soldiers. 47. Somewhat apprehensive about what his brass horn would reveal, he took it up and sounded out a summons to those who were expecting to go to war. 48. As the doors to the homes opened, however, Ward Yannok stood aghast at the men and women who emerged. 49. One soldier, crutch in hand, swung himself forward using his one remaining leg. Another's right arm had been severed below the elbow. Yet another was missing her left hand. 50. Ward Yannok realized that these men and women were soldiers who had been maimed in the war and were still recovering. 51. Moved to tears, and without a thought, Ward Yannok levied his herald's voice and said "Brave Soldiers of Lymm. 52. It is a great error that brought me here this day to summon you again to war. You have already given enough. You have already made sacrifices on behalf of your country. 53. I bid you now to go back to your convalescence and know that all of us are in your debt."
L54. A great many of the young men and women insisted that they were ready to return to battle, to death if need be, but Ward Yannok could not abide any further martyrdom on their behalf. 55. He said his goodbyes and before long Ward Yannok and his apprentice Saf had continued on their journey, no destinations remaining other than the Fortress of Patina on the River Cary. 56. Ward Yannok marched onward towards the final destination of his task. 57. He was silent as he traveled, and after a time his apprentice Saf, used to hearing his master speak aloud his thoughts and convey his teachings, could not help bust ask Ward Yannok what they were to do now.
M58. Ward Yannok considered this for a few moments and then began to speak. Not in his herald's voice of command, but as a teacher talking to a student. 59. In tones betraying a great sadness, Ward Yannok said, "Truly it is a sign that the Barony of Lynn will not stand much longer. I suspected it as we neared our destination, but now I am sure. 60. There are precious few soldiers left to recruit. We have been pushed to our limits in resources and in manpower. 61. That the officers of this army would call upon the young, and the old, and the wounded shows the great desperation that they now feel. 62. Yet how could I, Saf? How could I bring to battle those who had not the strength or experience to even hold their swords? 63. How could I bring to battle those who have already given the time that was asked of them long ago and have earned in full measure the rest they were promised? 64. How could I bring to battle those who had already made the greatest sacrifices, giving of their bodies to keep the rest of the country safe?"
N65. Saf nodded his understanding but still pressed Ward Yannok to answer his question; what fate awaited now the both of them, having still a mission to complete and no army with which to do so? 66. Ward Yannok lost himself in thought for a time and then spoke again, a sense of conviction returning to his voice. "Our commanders have lost their way, of that there can be no doubt. In their fear and hopelessness they have lost their sense of Justice and their belief in the system by which we have all lived our lives. 67. But I will not do so. I will abide by the teachings of The Just God. 68. I told you before, Saf, that The Just God smiles upon those who serve faithfully in the army of Lynn, and I will serve with faith until I breathe my last. 69. I will go on to the Fortress of Patina and I will attend to my task, doing everything within my power to hold it against the forces of Stalbridge. 70. I will certainly die in the attempt, but in doing so I will have served both my country and my faith."
O71. Ward Yannok traveled onward then with a strength and confidence in his step that caused his apprentice to have to labor to keep pace. 72. As the first stars began to appear overhead, and Ward Yannok and his apprentice Saf crested the top of a great hill, the ancient Fortress of Patina stood mightily against the dim backdrop of the sky. 73. Beyond it, across the river Cary, countless spots of torchlight dotted the hillside. 74. With his experienced eyes, Ward Yannok estimated the size of the enemy force, easily twenty times the size of the makeshift army his superiors had planned for him to cobble together from those who did not deserve to die. 75. The hopelessness of the situation came as a great relief to Ward Yannok, for he took it as a sign from The Just God that the hard choices he made along his journey were the correct ones, and now there was but one more remaining.
P76. Ward Yannok turned to his apprentice Saf and said to him; "Saf, you have done well to follow me here, and you have shown me the depth of your loyalty and valor. 77. Now, however, I dismiss you from my service. I will go on to complete the mission that our commanders gave to me. 78. You must go back and report to them what I have done, and what they have failed to do, for that is the duty of a herald, and that is the duty of a follower of The Just God."
Q79. Saf opened his mouth for a moment to protest, but upon seeing the determination in Ward Yannok's eyes, he only returned the seriousness of the gaze, and saluted to Ward Yannok his understanding. 80. Saf turned and left, then, and the darkness soon hid his departure. 81. Ward Yannok, alone, but still with a duty to fulfill, marched onward to the gates of the Fortress of Patina. Found his way inside the ancient doorway. Climbed up onto the reaches of its highest tower. 82. From there, Ward Yannok took from his belt the horn that symbolized his duty, that symbolized his faith, and let sound from it a brazen call that rang out across the river, across the landscape, across the whole of the Barony of Lymm. 83. With his brass horn Ward Yannok sounded out his warning to the army on the other shore. 84. A warning that the Fortress of Patina was now garrisoned by the army of the Barony of Lymm. 85. And as the blast trumpeted through the hearts of all that could hear it, there was something great and mighty and supremely Righteous within the depth of the instrument's tone.