A banging noise woke him from his rest. In the darkness, he propped himself up on his elbows, his breathing slow and even. Firelight was seeping under the door and into the room. Every now and then, a shadow flitted past, blocking the light momentarily. He groped around in the darkness until his hand found the oiled scabbard of his sword. A little further and to the left, and he found his dagger. That went into his belt. Wearily, he picked himself up, his body protesting. He'd slept in his armour again. The coat of mail stank heavily, but nobody dared to remove theirs before sleeping any more. It would begin soon. They could feel it. Like the others, he'd slept on the floor of the guardhouse, on a pillow made of his kit, rolled up in a cloak and propped up against his shield.
He steadied himself against the wall. That banging noise again. What was that?
He looked around himself, his eyes picking out shapes in the darkness. None of the nine others had stirred. That meant there hadn't been a shift change yet. Which meant that he'd slept for less than four hours. He made for the door. How the others could sleep with that noise in the background, he could only wonder.
Outside, the banging sound was louder. It bounced off the grey walls of the buildings around him and down the foggy street. He nudged the man by the door awake. He'd been asleep on his feet, leaning on his spear. Blinking sleep out of his eyes, the man mumbled something about the gate.
Shaking his head, Artur Genswick strolled off into the fog, belting on his sword and slinging his shield over his back. It was still dark. He followed the sound down the torch-lit street, until the shadow of the northern gate loomed up out of the fog before him.
There was a team of carpenters at the gate, hammering heavy wooden cross-beams into place. A team of siege engineers was setting up an enormous ballista a little further in, pointing at the gate. Insurance, Artur thought, in case something broke through.
'In a rush?' he quipped to one of the engineers. The man grunted as he sighted down the gigantic crossbow to make sure it was aimed correctly. 'A little early in the morning, isn't it?'
'Not for them,' one of the other engineers said.
'Get up on the wall,' he said. 'You'll see.'
From the battlements, you could see the enemy camp. You couldn't miss it. Their fires glowed in the fog like a burning collar around the city. When Varrock closed its gates and set about the job of reinforcing its defences, the enemy had, in an almost leisurely way, taken the time to finish surrounding the city. Nobody really thought of it as a siege yet. For now, it was like some kind of staring contest. The moment anything so much as a crossbow bolt sailed out from that camp, then Varrock would consider itself under siege. Until then, it was content to sit and wait. It had survived hundreds of years because when push came to shove, very few enemies were willing to assault its walls. It could win a war by waiting.
There were only fifteen or so men on this section of wall, chatting in small groups while they watched the darkness beyond the city, their crossbows resting against the hoardings at their feet. They seemed very comfortable given the situation, Artur thought.
'You think they'll attack soon?' he asked one of the nearby soldiers. The man snorted.
'They never do,' he said. 'All about striking a menacing pose, cussing loudly and making rude gestures. These northern folk are all the same, when you come down to it. Never actually get down to the business of fighting. Haven't got the stomach for it.'
'Aye,' his companion chuckled. 'Just wait a couple of days, shoot a bolt at them every now and then, and they'll go away.'
'This is pretty serious, isn't it?' Artur pressed them. 'The King called up the southern lords for this.'
The first man laughed again. 'Can't see the reason why, begging your pardon. These northern folk...'
Artur never heard the rest of that sentence. He saw, as if in slow motion, the crossbow bolt punching into the soldier's cheek, his head deforming as he flipped over and tumbled down from the parapet. In the second it took for the soldier to fall, Artur and the other one threw themselves against the crenelations. A ladder thumped against the wall to their left. A bell started ringing. Someone was calling men to arms.
'They used the fog as cover,' the soldier was saying as he loaded his crossbow. 'Damn them.'
Artur said nothing, grunting as he tried to draw the string on the crossbow the dead man had left behind. It was a lot harder than the soldier beside him made it look. The soldier reached across and helped him.
'Brace your foot against the stirrup – that's at the front of the bow – and then pull. That'll make it easier. Better if you have a hook and claw, but you'll have to make do with your hands.'
'Thanks,' Artur said as he struggled with the string. 'I'm Genswick, by the way,' he said as he slotted a bolt into the bow's groove. 'First Lumbridge Foot. I only wanted to take a look out of the city, you know.'
'My name's Lechtmann,' the soldier said as he ducked past, towards the scaling ladder. Oozing professionalism, he stood, aimed down along the siege ladder and loosed a quarrel. There was a gurgling scream that faded away into the fog, and Lechtmann paused before adding, 'Pleased to meet you.'