We only had one advantage over the invaders. We still had the gems, and they were still intact. The invaders knew this but it didn't do anything to deter their armies; they kept pushing at the walls, probing for other weaknesses.
Their flying machines were something of a novelty when we first saw them. They came from the hills, just like they did. At first they were a swarm of tiny black dots coming down the slopes, heading right for us. They didn't, or couldn't, fly very high, maybe ten or so meters. As they got closer, some of the newer recruits got a little antsy – they hadn't seen flying machines before, and certainly not ones that came from over the hills.
We fought them off. It took a lot of time, though, and the machines caused more damage than any of their ground troops had so far. It also cost us more people than usual, but nothing really to write home about.
When the next wave of flying things came over the mountains, someone suggested we use the gems. They were rightly ridiculed. The Gods had given them to us because we deserved them. Not because we ran back to them every time we needed help. No, they would stay in the cathedral, where they belonged, until such time as the Father Maximux decided that we could not win this on our own.
“The machines did nothing,” the field lieutenant called over the radio, not trying to hide the frustration in his voice. “And from here, we can’t tell what damage, if any they are doing!”
“Which is it lieutenant? They did nothing, or you cant tell what they did? They are different things,” came the patient, yet on edge, voice from the other end of the radio.
“They’re not breaching the walls, or pulling down ramparts as was promised. Hell, they’re target practice for their archers. We need men, not toys.”
“Another battalion is on the way, another day and they should be there. But, Lieutenant, this is our last shot at this. If this fails, then it’s all over, am I understood?”
“Yes, Sir,” the lieutenant replied to a radio already cut off.
They were known as The Final Battalion and they stretched four or five miles down the muddy road which led all the way from the cities to the mountains. At the head were the cavalry, behind them the archers, followed by the bulk of the force, the foot soldiers. Then, right at the back, were four black covered wagons pulled by black stallions and flanked by Royal Guardsmen. The windows were tinted and no one, civilian or otherwise, were allowed anywhere near them. Even the Guardsmen were told to stay away.
There was a lull in the fighting soon after the second wave of flying machines. Bells were rung and children ran in the streets, as if it was the end of the war. But neither the Father Maximux or the Council leaders declared the war ended.
Deep within the city, at the heart of the government, a group met in its usual secrecy. Eight people, covered in the different coloured cloak of their station, faces hidden, sat around the ancient wooden table and went over the recent events.
“What should we expect?” the red cloaked one asked.
“More men, more horses. The same as the last year,” this was the black cloak, the head of the table and the only person whose identity was known, the Father Maximux.
“The cold is coming. They can’t keep to their hills for much longer,” blue cloak said, a raspy but wise voice.
“Will they pull back or march on us?” Red asked.
“I shall check the voices and find out. We should prepare for the worst, in either case. Even if they pull back, when the snow melts, they’ll try again,” the Father Maximux’s voice said.
“As they have done every year, with the same results. Surely they have learnt their lesson by now,” the white cloaked man said.
“This war will continue until the earth cracks and we all fall into oblivion.”
“That doesn't mean anything.”
“It means,” a woman’s voice behind the yellow cloak said, “that the world ends when the war ends. Some people choose to interpret that as meaning when the war ends, the world ends, and so keep it going as long and as hard as possible.”
“This meeting is not one for your politics, Madam Yellow,” the Father said severely.
“This meeting is only politics. You grown men playing with the lives of thousands of people. Ours and theirs. It’s our responsibility to end this as soon as possible, and if the world ends, then so be it. My conscience is clear.”
“Save it for the Council chambers.”
“And be ignored there too? What if we don't act and they have something that can beat our defenses?”
“We have the gems if all else fails.”
“What if they have something better?”
The Final Battalion came upon the existing army, high up in the mountains and the commander assumed control over all of it, much to the equal relief and frustration of the lieutenants who had been running the battles so far.
The foot soldiers, cavalry and archers all made camp and waited for their orders while the Royal Guardsmen and the black wagons continued up the road.
“Where are they going?” a field lieutenant asked the new commander.
“To finish what you couldn't.”
We saw them come over the hills and runners were dispatched to each side of the city to warn of the coming battle. Archers were called to the towers and horses and spear men gathered in the square behind the main gate.
In the cathedral, the Father Maximux and his assistants did what they usually did at this point and read the omens in any number of different ways, but they all kept coming back the same. You will lose.
The Father Maximux sent the young people away and breathed deeply. If these omens were correct, and they usually were, this was the time for the gems. He rushed as fast as his old body would carry him to the top of the holy building and broke the glass on the display case as the first horns of the enemies were blown. They were here.