'My lord.' Valkin stepped smoothly into the office, a brass message tube in his hands. Lord Prysin, looking out the window, hands clasped behind his back, did not turn around as his underling broke the tube's seal and read out the contents. The situation must be grave, Lord Prysin thought, for Valkin to be so unusually formal.'As of three hours ago, sentries at our northern outposts have begun to report sightings of movement from the northlands. Goblins, for the most part, though there is enough reason to believe that there are some human elements in the vanguard.'
Lord Prysin said nothing. Varrock was quiet this morning. From his high window, the city may as well have been frozen in time. Like a tomb, he thought.
'My lord,' Valkin continued, 'there is still no word from Sir Prysin or his entourage.'
'Has Captain Rovin been informed?' Lord Prysin asked after another brief silence.
'A copy of the outpost reports was posted to him, my lord. And to the king.'
'And their response?'
'Captain Rovin has begun mustering the able-bodied men of the city. The king has sent to Lumbridge and other lands to the south for support. Messages have been sent to Asgarnia.' Prysin was silent again. A flock of birds fluttered past the tall window, cooing. After a moment, he turned to face Valkin. 'How long?' 'At the reported pace, ten days, my lord,' his servant said with a sigh. 'Ten days until the enemy is at our gates.'
'Pray to Saradomin that Kandarin comes to our aid before then, Valkin.'
In one of the city's marketplaces, which had been hastily converted into a training ground, the new recruits were sweating under the midday sun. Shouts and other noises filled the air. Here, levied men were taught to march in block formations. There, they were taught to fight in hand-to-hand, with spears and swords. In another corner of the great square, others were instructed on how to shoot and reload crossbows. There was a sense of excitement in the air, despite the rumours of the army from the wilderness descending on the city.
'Again, you worthless dogs!' the guard lieutenant was shouting, waving the recruits around him back into position. 'I'd not want to have you lot defending the latrines, much less the city! In formation! Face the enemy! Advance by rank!'
Lowering his pike as the press of men surged forward, Lach shot a grimace at the recruit to his left, a sandy-haired tailor's apprentice named Bors. 'I hope he's in front of us like that when the real thing comes,' he said, nodding in the lieutenant's direction.
'Why's that?' Bors asked.
'Well,' Lach said, 'if he's between us and a horde of goblins, I wouldn't half mind running at the green buggers with a pointy stick in my hands, would you?'
Bors laughed, drawing a disapproving glare from the rotund officer. 'Brace pikes!' the lieutenant shouted, pulling a lever. 'Deny the enemy!'
A mechanism growled into movement in the scaffolding overhead, and a number of wooden training dummies began to move towards the formation of recruits, suspended on chains. They struck like a hammer blow, and some men in the first two ranks grunted or whimpered as wooden bodies and mock weapons struck them. Then, the dummies were pulled back a short distance.
'Now, you dogs!' the fat lieutenant bawled. 'The enemy cowers! Advance and crush him!' Despite his contempt for the officer, Lach found himself shouting with the rest of the recruits as they rose up and charged at their mock foes.
The night wind was cold on his raw flesh. He was bleeding from a wound in his side, and every one of his horse's jarring movements sent fresh flares of pain through his body. The animal was hurting, too, he knew. Like him, it had not escaped the fight in the forest unscathed. He winced and pressed forward against the horse's neck as a crossbow bolt zipped past his ear. The sudden movement brought a jolt of agony through his left side, and he gritted his teeth harder. The scabbard hanging from the saddle was empty, and it banged against his leg incessantly. The three bolts left in his quiver were useless without the crossbow that he'd managed to drop a few hours earlier. He pressed on; he didn't have a choice.
He was close to the city now. The hard, worked stone clattering away under the horse's hooves was all the assurance he needed of that. Through the mist of pain that clouded his vision, he could see lights ahead, growing steadily closer. Lamplight picked out a long, crenelated shadow that stretched across the landscape. The walls of Varrock, he realised. He could hear shouting from the gatehouse now, the sound carried by the wind. With his free hand, he fumbled inside his torn coat for the object.
There was another shout, this time from behind him. His horse whinnied as it stumbled, but he did not want to spare the effort to see why. Another bolt whizzed past him. Then another, and another. He wondered why none of them were hitting, and laughed weakly at his luck. Then he realised that they were coming from in front of him now, aimed at his pursuers.
His horse screamed and pitched forward violently, throwing him out of the saddle and rolling him painfully against the road. The pain made him sob. Rough hands grabbed hold of him, lifting him up and carrying him off the road. His eyes barely registered the concerned look in his saviour's face, or the faces of the other guards. Lips moving soundlessly, he lifted the object in his hand to the light. 'Oh, gods above,' the guard breathed as lamplight winked off the golden emblem. 'Help! Someone! Take this man to the palace and find him a physician! Quickly! Quickly!'
Jax heard nothing else as the darkness took him.