Chapter 23
On the Wall

The Sanctuary, The Grey Plains, Pendragon

Salvation's Wall they called it. Salvation for those within from the world without, perhaps, but it had little to do with the heavenly salvation the priests would prate about. Niceans and Pelagians, pagans of every sort among Britons, Picts, Eireans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Franks, and Visigoths, all had their believers among the company of Cain's father, but he never had any use for any of it himself. Whether it was the One God, the One-in-Three, Wotan, Thunar, or any of the countless other gods, what had any of them done for mortal man except cloud his eyes and lead his feet astray? A man had only himself and none other to credit for his triumphs or to blame for his defeats. And so this monument to empty faith offended him nearly as much as the man behind it.
Cain had never liked his brother. He had always been soft, never worthy to be counted as a rival for his father's inheritance. Cain hated Seth as well, of course, but at least he was a man of action whose ability could be respected even as he was despised for being a half-blooded bastard who stole what was rightfully Cain's.
This wall, Cain would destroy it, stone by stone, so that no one would think to call on Abel's God after the destruction wreaked on him and his followers. Perhaps it was Fate. Perhaps his father saw it it as inevitable when he gave them their new names. Cain and Abel. How could he not kill him? It was practically demanded of him. Maybe his father shared the same contempt for Abel and his soft ways. The name was a command, his father's will. Whether he willed it or not, Can had been awaiting this day for many years.
Much as Cain hated the Wall, he had sense enough to acknowledge that it was well-built and simply throwing his men against it was a wasted effort. Sir Gareth proposed that he could get into the gates, though for three years he had done nothing but complain at the Council for not being able to do just that. Cain saw the opportunity for the treacherous knight to either prove his worth or provide the excuse for him to be cut down and cast aside. Either served Cain's purposes, so he permitted him to go forward with his plan.
Sir Gareth rode up to the head of the formation and called out to the gatekeepers, "Open in the name of the King!"
Of course no one outside Cain's company knew that the king Sir Gareth referred to was not the usurper currently sitting on the throne in Caer Pendragon but the new king who had come to claim what was his at long last.
Because Sir Gareth was by no means an unusual sight with his frequent failed demands to enter into the Sanctuary, no alarm was raised nor was there any other sign of heightened caution as a Templar appeared on the ramparts and replied, "Here you are again, Sir Gareth. Your company has grown of late, but I have not heard that the King's word has changed. You and your patrol are not permitted to enter into the Sanctuary except by leave of His Grace the Bishop."
"What patrol?" Sir Gareth asked. "We are pilgrims."
This earned some laughter from Cain's men.
"Pilgrims and armed so?" the Templar asked in turn.
"The roads are dangerous," Sir Gareth replied, "as you'd know if you ever came out of those walls."
"I know full well what is outside the Wall, Sir Gareth," the Templar said, "and it seems to me that you have brought it with you."
"We are but poor sinners seeking the Lord our God. You would turn us away, sneering and mocking, as if you sit in judgment over us? Do you not think you'll be made to answer for it in this world and the next?"
"You must think me either soft in the heart or in the head, Sir Gareth," the Templar replied. "You shall not enter."
"You would not even permit a small delegation to plead our case to the Bishop?"
"Very well," the Templar said. "Select one among you to seek an audience with His Grace."
"Twenty would be more persuasive."
"I will permit ten," the Templar said, "provided you leave your arms outside the Wall, of course."
Sir Gareth unbuckled his swordbelt and held it up in plain sight before setting it down in the grass. He even made a display of drawing a knife out of his boot and placing it alongside his sword. Nine of the men who crossed over with him also made visible displays of disarming themselves.
"Now have the others take twenty paces back," the Templar told Sir Gareth,"then you may approach the gate."
"You are most uncharitable, sir. Why do you look on your brothers as foes?"
"Only God is deserving of unconditional faith, Sir Gareth. Man must prove himself worthy of trust."
"Then you should have faith that God will preserve you, command His angels concerning you that you won't strike your foot against a stone and all that."
"Are they going to step back or not, Sir Gareth?"
Sir Gareth turned to exhort the men at the head of the formation, saying, "You heard the man, gents. We press too close and the valiant Sir Templar like a fawn newly calved. Step back, if you will, lest his lily heart dies in his chest."
Cain's men laughed and then did as they were asked. Though they were ordered to follow along with Sir Gareth's plan, the knight seemed to have a talent for dealing with the men. This could be something very useful or very dangerous. All the more reason not to mourn him should things go awry.
Once the men had withdrawn from Sir Gareth and his little delegation, the Templar called down to those below, "Open the gate."
If they were fools enough to open the main gate, the men were to charge forward and force their way in before it could be closed. That would be the easiest for their invasion, but the Templar overseeing the gate was too cautious for that. A little door built into the gate, just big enough for one person to pass, was all that was opened. This too fell into Sir Gareth's plan, but it would be the more difficult to accomplish. Time to see what the hook-handed traitor would do.
And so they waited. If Sir Gareth saw the opportunity, he was to seize the gate right away. Otherwise he would continue with his ruse until the opportunity presented itself. Cain was willing to grant him as much as two days. Any more and he risked being distracted by matters here when Seth would arrive. There was no way to know how long it would take Seth to see through Cain's plan or how exactly he would respond, but the presumptive new King of Pendragon wanted to be ready.
Would he try to throw everything he had in a single blind rush, would he timidly scout things out before committing his forces, or would he hole up in Caer Pendragon like a coward? All evidence pointed to a blind rush, which could be devastating if Cain's forces were caught unaware, but if they were prepared and set up an ambush, the war could be decided in a single battle.
Everything rested on their ability to quickly settle matters here and that depended largely on whether Sir Gareth's plan succeeded or not. The answer came sooner than expected.
A different Templar than before appeared on the ramparts and cried out in a loud voice, "You treacherous devils! You brood of vipers! You dare to profane our holy Sanctuary with the spilling of blood! The Lord smite you, villains!"
In other words, Sir Gareth had failed. Perhaps he got too hasty and perhaps they never intended on letting the delegation go any farther Whatever the case may have been, the time for subterfuge had passed.
"Deploy the men," Cain told Sir Bruno, "encircle this damnable wall. Nothing gets out."
"My prince, is it wise to spread our forces so thin?"
"They can converge easily enough if there is an attack or a breach is made. They don't have the men to defend the wall. We'll get through. Focus on the gate. Keep at least 300 men here. Send men back to the forest to cut wood for rams and siegeworks. I gave that hook-handed wretch two days to open the way. I give you three."
"There is none among the men with knowledge of how to craft siegeworks, my prince," Sir Bruno said.
"How hard is it to make a bloody ladder!?" the Prince snapped. "Get me through that wall and do so quickly or all your years of service will not be enough to save you."
It had been many years since Cain last threatened his longtime companion, so Sir Bruno was taken aback for a moment, but as he acknowledged to himself that the threat was no idle one, he did what he did best. He obeyed.
"It shall be done, my prince," he said, saluting and then spurring his horse to go put the Prince's orders into action.
Cain opened a fresh wineskin and took a long draught from it, promptly spitting it out the window of his carriage. Sour. The siege would take time, which meant that camp would have to be set up and he could them drink from one of the casks of finer vintage her had brought along. That would at least take a couple hours. In the meantime, he would drink the sour wine.