Excerpt for The War With Dachwald. by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The War With Dachwald (second and last volume of Dachwald series).

This book is a work of fiction. All names and places are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Lawlis

All rights reserved.

© Snowshill | - Medieval Knights Photo

(Adjustments to photo made by Daniel Lawlis)

1The War With Dachwald

Chapter 1

Most of the Sodorfians were excited. They reckoned if they were going to have to train hour after hour, they may as well finally get the chance to see some action and test their skills. Within an hour, nearly all of the Sodorfian army was heading north. Ten thousand were left stationed at the City of Sodorf; another ten thousand would be stationed at Seihdun; but the rest were going into Dachwald. About eight hours later they reached the border.

A strange feeling swept over General Fuhdor as his horse exited the forest that demarcated the boundary between Sodorf and Dachwald. His heart beat faster. It all seemed surreal. He had spent most of his life reading military history, dreaming about one day becoming a conqueror, and now it appeared he just might have the opportunity to be the heroic conqueror he had always dreamt of. And what could be more heroic than defeating the ancient enemy of the Sodorfians and saving thousands of Sodorfians from a fiery death? Those kinds of bragging rights never expired. Accomplish that, he thought, and you can retire peacefully knowing you’ve earned a permanent spot in the history books.

Taking a deep breath, almost as if expecting some invisible wall to be present there, his mind still unable to completely grasp the enormity of his next step, he nudged his horse with his knees, signaling it to proceed forward. As his horse’s hoof touched Dachwaldian soil, he confronted no invisible wall but found that his heart was galloping in his chest in stark contrast to the calm gait of his horse. As if every step further reinforced the reality of what he was doing. His expression, however, remained so stoic not even the shrewdest of observers would have sensed the powerful emotions running through his mind.

As they continued deeper into Dachwald, General Fuhdor expected there would indeed be enemy lookouts, but he expected he wouldn’t run into any large forces of Dachwaldians until he reached Castle Dachwald. After all, it would only make sense for the Vechengschaft to force the Sodorfians to fight them there. It was their best strategic position. They could hold out there until the sun ran out of gas. And behind the safety of their walls, Fuhdor knew they would pummel the oncoming Sodorfians to pieces with rocks like a snapping turtle devouring its prey while safe underneath its large, hard shell.

This was the kind of fight they wanted, but he was going to have none of it. If they wanted to hide behind their shell, he would just have to crush the damn thing into pieces and then eat out the soft underbelly. He’d be damned if he was going to allow them to fight the way a turtle fights. Turtles—he’d hated them ever since boyhood. Ever since his big brother Sidgon, the biggest toughest kid in the whole wide world had been bitten by one when they were playing in the creek when they were kids, and he was only three, and they were hunting crawdads, and they were having a wonderful time, and then Sidgon was screaming and blood was going everywhere, and Fuhdor didn’t know what to do, but his Big Brother told him to run quick and get Daddy, and Sidgon’s toe had been torn clean off by a snapping turtle the size of a well-fed pig, and Daddy had gone after the turtle saying he was going to kill it and he was sure Daddy was going to get his toe eaten off too just like his Big Brother, or maybe even his whole leg, but Daddy was faster than the turtle; he ran around it, turned it upside down and then stabbed its soft underbelly repeatedly until the big mean turtle stopped trying to bite.

The clarity of the memory astonished him and sent a chill down his spine, as he felt the same sensations he had on that day so many years ago. It may as well have happened yesterday; he’d have known the details just as closely. After patching up his older brother’s toe, his father, a widely admired general, had sat both of them down and told them he had something very important to tell them. “Boys, some things in life are just too strong to attack head-on. They’re tough and hard like the shell of that turtle. But everything, everything, has a soft spot, and that’s what you have to do. Find the soft spot, expose it, attack it, kill it.”

It had left an indelible mark on his psyche. Castle Dachwald’s soft spot was how far it could shoot its projectiles. Outside that projectile range, his army was safe and sound, and the Dachwaldians wouldn’t dare come out, not if they wanted to stay within their protective shell. With his new trebuchets—over one hundred feet tall and capable of launching objects twice the distance as a normal trebuchet—he was going to stay outside of their range and hit, hit, hit the castle until its shell was all gone. Then, only underbelly would be left. Soft, slimy, ornery, righteous-punishment-deserving underbelly, and his troops would cut that underbelly into so many pieces the gods themselves wouldn’t be able to sort them out.

All the same. They’re damned anyway.

The pieces for the trebuchets were carried in wagons. They would be assembled immediately upon arrival. However, these wagons couldn’t travel as fast as the rest of his army, so they were all moving at a slower pace in order to stay together. The trebuchet equipment had to be protected at all costs. He calculated the reduction in speed would probably delay their arrival to Castle Dachwald by at least two days. Nonetheless, he was confident they could be productive during that time. In fact, he was hopeful they would run into some Vechengschaft before reaching the castle so that his men, who would no doubt greatly outnumber them, could have a taste of combat. Get their feet wet.

As they tread across Dachwald, General Fuhdor could not help being a bit struck by the sight of what was clearly immense agricultural damage. It looked like a cloud of locusts or something of that nature had gone through and just destroyed everything, yet everything besides the crops seemed perfectly okay. He found this interesting, but it still didn’t convince him there was any chance of the Dachwaldians not being at fault in this whole conflict. Five hundred and twenty-four smashed and sliced Sodorfians were proof of that.

They’re going to pay.

As they continued walking, he noticed how scared many of the Dachwaldians were to see their lands being invaded. Women screamed and went running inside their homes seeking refuge. He also noticed that, in spite of the fact that he saw many Dachwaldians as they continued to ride north, he had yet to see a single Dachwaldian male, except for young boys and old men.

(all fighting-age Dachwaldians must have been conscripted; you might be up against a lot more troops than you think)

They continued traveling north until they could finally see Castle Dachwald off in the distance. He looked at the small towns dotting the landscape around the castle walls. If they get hit by my projectiles, he told himself, too bad, so sad. The castle was still far off in the distance. He decided he better not get too close for comfort. After all, it would be at least a couple more days before his engineers arrived and began assembling their trebuchets.

“Set up camp!!” he ordered in a loud voice. His troops began doing so. They all slept uneasily that night.

They had been trained well, but still many of them had an innate fear of Dachwald. To a certain extent all of the propaganda and military history they had been taught over the last six months sapped their confidence rather than increased it. After all, it may indeed be true, they reasoned, that the Dachwaldians were horrible monsters, but this wasn’t a popularity contest—this was war. And being so monstrous might not be so bad in this business, they further reasoned. However, despite these fears that were gnawing away at their confidence, they also had hatred. And a desire for revenge. This hatred and desire for revenge were currently at war with the fear and trepidation they were experiencing. A war in and of itself raging inside their heads like an invisible maelstrom.

Many of them hoped for a chance to kill a Dachwaldian right up close. Before entering Dachwald, General Fuhdor had ordered that as many as possible stop by to see what the Sodorfians that had recently escaped from Dachwald had been through. The sight of emaciated bodies, whip marks, brandings, and other physical punishments did the trick. Just like General Fuhdor wanted, they all became nearly blind with rage. Revenge was on their mind as they slept. They kept about three hundred sentries awake to watch out for an ambush. Each sentry had to be on the lookout for about two hours, and then rotated with another Sodorfian.

Suddenly, a Sodorfian messenger came to General Fuhdor, and said, urgently, “General, I have very important news for you!”

“What news do you have?”

“General, one of the Sodorfians that escaped believes he knows where at least one of the death camps is—the one that they all escaped from! He was still in shock when you visited the escapees, but he began showing signs of recovery yesterday and said he was pretty sure of the location. I showed him a map, and he pointed to it!”

“Where is it?! I must know immediately; we must act immediately!”

The messenger produced a map and handed it over to General Fuhdor. “Here you go, sir,” he said. “As you can see, it appears to be located just northwest of here . . . perhaps about four miles away.”

General Fuhdor scanned the map carefully, his blood boiling.

“I’m gonna show those bastards what happens to people who try to annihilate Sodorfians. Bugler, sound the alarm; get everyone ready for battle. We’re heading northwest!”

After the first bugler sounded the signal, all the higher-ranking officers came to General Fuhdor to receive their orders. They knew as soon as they heard the sound of the bugle this was no joking matter. About fifty high- and middle-ranking officers came to General Fuhdor. They comprised captains, lieutenants, colonels, majors, and a few of the most experienced sergeants.

General Fuhdor brought them into his tent.

Inside was a large map of Dachwald older than time itself. It was based upon work cartographers had done centuries ago, even before the Seven Years War. After the Seven Years War, the treaty allowed the Sodorfians to go into Dachwald whenever they pleased with the best cartographers available and make up-to-date maps. But, they shortsightedly saw no benefit in doing so. Granted, Dachwald’s physical geography was not vastly different, but there were differences in the areas of human and commercial geography.

The map would have to do.

There was a village called Ichsendarg, just south of where the extermination camp apparently lay. It was about a three-mile march. General Fuhdor addressed the officers: “Gentlemen, we don’t have time for fancy strategies. Our fellow Sodorfians are being slaughtered as we speak. We must act; we have every reason to believe we have great numerical superiority. Let history not say that thousands of Sodorfians roasted in flames while we, with a far superior force, sat on our laurels and argued about strategy!”

“How much of the army shall we take with us?” asked Colonel Osinduhr.

“I propose we take a force of nearly eighty thousand men. I don’t want to risk all of our elite Hugars, so I think an adequate arrangement would be 77,500 Sodorfian regulars and two thousand Hugars. That will preserve four thousand Hugars and two thousand Sodorfian regulars to watch our rear flank. We must use overwhelming force to attack these bastards, and our chances will be much better if we make one decisive strike!!” he said, pounding the table in front of him for emphasis.

“But, General,” Colonel Osinduhr said, “isn’t it rather risky to launch a strike so impulsively and peremptorily without first taking the time to send a reconnoitering party ahead to see if this camp is indeed there and to see how large the opposing force is? This could be a trap!”

“Under different circumstances I would be in complete agreement with you. If the only thing at stake were this army, then, of course, I would first send out reconnoitering parties. But you saw those people back there in Sodorf that escaped the extermination camp! The whip marks, the bruises, the branding marks, the burn marks! You saw all that! You know that what they said is true: That they are roasting Sodorfians alive, just like during the Seven Years War. If ever there were a gamble worth taking, this is it! Besides, I feel confident our army can withstand even the most heinous Dachwaldian booby traps and ambushes.

“Now, I will concede one thing: It is very likely the Dachwaldians know we’re coming—that I can’t deny. They’ve got to know by now we’re in their country. An army of around eighty thousand men doesn’t just waltz in and go unnoticed! Of course they know we’re here—so what?! LET THEM KNOW THAT WE’RE COMING!! I really DON’T CARE!! We’re going to go to that extermination camp, and we’re going to drop every last one of them inside their own devilish pits!! Do you want the history books to say we sat around and strategized while thousands of Sodorfians were being brutally slaughtered?!!

“Every second that goes by, a child becomes an orphan, a husband a widower, a wife a widow . . . will you face these people one day and look them in the eye and tell them you could have saved their loved ones but you didn’t because you had your noses buried in a strategy book?! Now, WHO’S WITH ME?!!!” his eyes blazed, daring someone to challenge him.

All the officers stood and cheered. Although they had been somewhat skeptical, this fiery speech had instilled them not only with confidence, but with rage. It was time to take revenge. Time to show the Dachwaldians once and for all to stay the hell away from Sodorf.


“YEAHHHH!!!” his officers cheered.

“Colonel Osinduhr, you will stay here in charge of our rear guard, in case any Dachwaldians attempt to ambush us from the south,” General Fuhdor informed him.

“Yes, General.”

They immediately left the large tent and passed the news throughout the ranks. Everyone began readying themselves . . . psychologically and physically. They re-sharpened their already-razor-sharp axes and swords. They slapped each other on the back and told each other how tough they were. Then they got into formation.

It was an impressive sight to behold.

Gleaming armor shone in the early afternoon sunlight like precious jewels. They were aligned in neat, symmetrical rows, thousands upon thousands of them, looking like men on a large chessboard.

“MAAAARCHHHH!!!” roared the officers. They began marching. The sound of them marching in perfect cadence was like the chomping of a crunchy meal, and it reverberated for miles. It was an intimidating sound. The sound of men marching with a singular purpose. The expression on their faces as determined as that of a prize fighter determined to knock the reigning champ off his throne and onto the canvass for a little nap time. There were sins to avenge today. Sins against their brethren. After a little over an hour, they were within less than a mile from their ultimate objective. As they neared it, they entered into a deep valley. North of where they were marching was a large hill off in the distance. It was large and somewhat imposing, but it didn’t look so difficult that they would have to go around it.

“FORWARD!!” shouted the officers, exhorting their men to not lose pace or heart. They continued marching forward. They were now in the middle of the valley—about a half mile from the base of the large hill.

Chapter 2

A large group of Sodorfians were being herded into Arbeitplatz. Children crying. Men and women scared, but doing their best to comfort their weeping children. Lying to them as much as their consciences would allow. They were coming here to work . . . they wanted to believe it, but were uncertain as to what the Dachwaldians truly had in store for them. Arbeitplatz covered several hundred acres of land. The fence surrounding it was about twenty feet tall, and while it was made out of wood, each individual piece of wood that stood vertically to compose the fence was sharpened to a point from which a razor-sharp spike protruded straight up into the air, as if daring anyone to try to get over it. Many of the Sodorfians began asking themselves why, if this was indeed simply a place for them to work, were there such stringent security measures. Perhaps to defend against Sodorfian attacks?

As the mass of anxious Sodorfians poured through the gates, they were all being observed very carefully by the watchful eye of Feiklen. He studied their every move like a cat watching a bird. He watched their facial expressions. The way they communicated with each other. Their eyes. He was looking for a special kind of Sodorfian. He had already seen several that just might fit the profile.

One was middle-aged. His name was Polunk, and his shifty eyes darted around quickly, alertly, scanning the camp’s walls, looking at the guards, quickly looking down or away whenever his observations seemed noticed.

A good candidate, Feiklen thought.

Feiklen’s penetrating eyes continued scanning the masses of Sodorfians entering Arbeitplatz. After about twenty more minutes he spotted several more Sodorfians that seemed to fit the profile. As the Sodorfians continued streaming into the camp, he had some of his guards take the men he had selected from the crowd and bring them into his office. He wanted these twelve brought in one at a time. He was going to try to find out which could be used for the task he had in mind . . . a task Tristan had demanded be accomplished.

The first was brought in.

“Have a seat,” Feiklen said. Feiklen was sitting behind a spacious desk. He had the Sodorfian sit down in the chair in front of his desk.

“What’s your name, Sodorfian?” Feiklen asked roughly.

“Achensine,” he replied.

“Achensine, do you know why you’re here?” Feiklen asked.

“No, sir,” he replied.

“You disappoint me,” Feiklen said dryly. Having said these words he nodded his head towards Kihlgun, who was standing behind Achensine. Kihlgun walked towards him, put him into a powerful stranglehold and began to squeeze. Achensine tried to push away from the desk with his feet enough so that he could stand up and try to turn around and face Kihlgun and escape the stranglehold.

It was no use.

Not only would he never have been able to escape from such a hold being applied by a warrior as strong and skilled in Gicksin as Kihlgun anyway, but he only had about two or three seconds to do so, because that was all the time it took for Kihlgun to crush his windpipe. Achensine’s face turned purple, his eyes rolled back into his head, and he died.

“Very disappointing,” Feiklen said dryly. “Very disappointing.”

Kihlgun picked up the corpse and put it in the room behind him. He could be disposed of later. There were more interviews that needed to be done.

“Bring the next one in,” said Feiklen.

Kihlgun opened the door, walked down the hallway, and then summoned another Sodorfian.

“Come with me,” Kihlgun said. The Sodorfian stood up and followed him down the hallway and into Feiklen’s room for his interview. Unfortunately, he didn’t fare any better than Achensine. After a mere thirty seconds, one of his answers wasn’t quite to Feiklen’s satisfaction, so, after a nod of the head to Kihlgun, he also ended up in the three-second stranglehold.

This lack of success continued for quite some time. One Sodorfian after another came into the room to be interviewed, and the only thing each succeeded in doing was adding to the growing pile of corpses in the back room.

Only one candidate left. Kihlgun went down the hallway and summoned him.

Polunk eyed his surroundings like a fox sensing a trap. His discomfort increased when he noticed that none of the men that had been summoned were even in the room into which he had just walked. His shrewd eyes also immediately noticed the fact that small chips of wood lay on the floor right below the front of Feiklen’s desk. Perhaps someone had been kicking at the desk for some reason, he thought to himself. Feiklen eyed him closely as well, and for a brief second as they looked at each other it was as if there was a sort of mutual understanding between them. Two wolves that just happened to be in rival packs. But wolves nonetheless.

“My name is Feiklen. What’s your name, Sodorfian?” asked Feiklen immediately.

“Polunk,” he said flatly.

“What do you do, or, perhaps better said, what did you do?”

“I was an accountant,” he said.

His eyes didn’t leave Feiklen’s.

“Do you know why you’re here, Polunk?” Feiklen asked him.

“You plan to slaughter all of us, just like you attempted during the Seven Years war around 830 years ago. This whole camp is simply an extermination camp. Sure, you might pick a few of the most strapping men to do some very hard work for the new military machine that Dachwald is preparing to unleash on the world, but that isn’t the primary purpose of this place. That is just to deceive Sodorfians, make them behave like good little lambs as they come here to be slaughtered,” Polunk replied, his gaze never leaving Feiklen’s eyes.

Feiklen was impressed. He neither expected an answer that was so accurate nor so blunt.

“Well,” Feiklen responded, having a hard time deciding just how to respond to such an accurate summation not only of the camp, but of the overall situation in Dachwald, “suppose I were to concede that perhaps there is some truth in what you say—why do you think you are here, right now, in my office?”

“Well, with regards to the hypothetical premise of your question, if you concede some truth in my words, I would concede then there is some truthfulness in you. As for why I am here, you obviously need some dirty work done. What do I get in exchange?”

Feiklen felt like he had just been kicked in the groin. For a moment he felt like he was negotiating with a fellow Moscorian. For an even briefer moment, he wondered if this person wasn’t a Moscorian. Perhaps one he wasn’t well acquainted with. He had never met someone outside the Moscorians with such a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. Not only was he surprised at the mere fact that this person had been so perceptive and so bold as to flat-out tell him the truth about what the place was for and what the fate of most of its guests would be, he was nearly blown out of his seat by this man’s shameless candor and wits.

“Don’t you even want to know what the job is?” asked Feiklen, unable to keep from chuckling a little bit. He felt like he had just met his Sodorfian counterpart.

“No, that can come later. What do I get?”

Yes, he had made a good pick. Too bad you’re a Sodorfian. You might have made a great Moscorian, Feiklen thought to himself.

“Well, basically what you get is freedom. You get to escape.”

“That sounds good. Now, what do I have to do, and what’s the catch?”

“It’ll be so easy you might even have a hard time believing it. For reasons I can’t disclose, an escape must take place of a group of prisoners, and they must make it all the way to Sodorf. Now, without someone like you, endowed with the wits of a fox, most of these people wouldn’t be smart enough to escape out of a box with a map on the inside. As you may have noticed, the layout of this idyllic getaway consists of multiple huts, each of which can hold about a hundred people. What you are going to do is convince as many people in your cabin as you can to escape. The thing is, though, you must do so without them knowing that the escape itself is going to be permitted to occur.”

Feiklen paused briefly to try and determine Polunk’s reaction to what he had been told thus far. He sensed he was intrigued. He continued, “I am going to explain everything you have to do to successfully orchestrate this escape. There will be arrangements made so that the guards will know when this escape is happening and will allow it to be a success. This is not something that is going to happen tomorrow. You and the rest of the designated escapees will have to spend at least a few weeks here. These few weeks will be no picnic. There will be some rough treatment, you’ll get bruised up a bit, but I’ll make sure my guards know not to go too far with you. I know this might not sound too great, but the alternative is being thrown alive into a fiery pit,” Feiklen finished, shrugging his shoulders.

Polunk’s response was devoid of fear or urgency. It was utterly to the point. “How is the escape supposed to work?” Polunk asked dryly.

Avoiding the direct question momentarily, Feiklen sat back in his chair and said, “You know, I’m impressed with you. It’s actually quite difficult for me to even believe you are a Sodorfian. Never in my life have I ever met a Sodorfian with such a keen sense of survival. It’s awe-inspiring. Now, as far as how the escape is going to work—I can’t go into detail on that at this time. Although I certainly have a good feeling about you and feel you can be trusted, I believe actions speak louder than words. What I want you to do now is to go back amongst the rest of the Sodorfian inmates and simply blend in. Don’t worry about our arrangement; all of my guards will know who you are, and while there will be no overt favoritism towards you, they’ll make sure you don’t suffer any serious injuries. I’ll have my eye on you: that I promise you. Don’t jump to the insane, dangerous, erroneous conclusion that you are the only one amongst the prisoners who is doing special work for me in exchange for favors! There are others. I have others whose sole purpose is simply to keep an eye on you. And if you let it slip out to one person that this escape is going to be permitted to happen by the Dachwaldian guards, I’ll have you roasted so slowly and painfully, you’ll scream yourself hoarse hours before you actually die! Are we on the same page?!”

“I’ve got it,” he responded directly. “I do have one question, however. Until I am notified by you, do you even want me to drop hints suggesting that perhaps escape might be a good idea, or should I not even mention anything like that until the designated time?”

“Wait for now. Before the method and the exact circumstances of the escape are actually decided, I don’t want you to even suggest to anyone that you want to escape. Now, obviously, general statements indicating you’re not happy here and that you would like to escape are fine; if you didn’t make any comments like that, you’d stand out like a crack in a mirror. What I don’t want you to do, however, is suggest you actually have an escape plan or that you know of a possible means of escape.”


“Good. Now, go out and join the rest of the prisoners. You’ll be assigned to Hut H; you’ll be shown where it is. And remember, I have my eye on you!”

Polunk’s expression communicated that he understood. He was escorted outside by Kihlgun and then handed over to another Moscorian guard and taken to Hut H.

Kihlgun walked back to the room.

“What do you think, Feiklen?” he asked; “can we trust him?”

“I think so,” he said. “I must admit I admire the cold-blooded instincts of that SOB. It’s a shame that we’ll have to kill him anyway just to make sure he never reveals our arrangement to anyone,” he said chuckling.

“Yeah, a real shame!” Kihlgun concurred, laughing.

Feiklen unfortunately wasn’t lying to Polunk when he told him that he’d be treated roughly at times. On several occasions, one of the Moscorian guards gave him several good knocks with a wooden staff and barked at him to work harder or he’d be cleaning latrines with his tongue. Some people in Hut H were flogged; a few were branded. Some of these punishments were meted out to keep up appearances, but many were given simply due to the cruel nature of the Moscorians. Over the next several weeks, Feiklen kept his eye on Polunk like a snake watching a mouse. He did a particularly large amount of spying on him through a small window through which he could observe all of the prisoners. He watched them toiling away, digging ditches and holes and performing other menial tasks. Feiklen was looking for any sign that the prisoners were giving Polunk any special attention. The kind of attention a man with an escape plan got in a place like this. He didn’t seem to. Everything seemed just right.

Once he became convinced Polunk could indeed be trusted with this secret and that he was disciplined enough to encourage the prisoners to escape, he decided to begin preparations immediately. He had Polunk brought into his office. The last several weeks had taken their toll on Polunk, but he still appeared strong. He had some bruises on his face; he had become a bit thinner; but, if anything, he appeared even more alert, his survival instincts more acute.

“You’ve managed to survive here for the last several weeks—that in and of itself is no measly accomplishment,” said Feiklen. “I’ve been watching you closely, as I said I would. Watching to see if the other prisoners are looking at you in any special way, as they most certainly would if you had revealed our little secret. They don’t appear to be. Furthermore, my informants have confirmed you haven’t revealed anything, so I’m gonna go ahead and proceed with the plan. If all goes well, within weeks you will be not only out of this prison camp, but out of Dachwald altogether. This will be good for you because, as you’ve learned, Dachwald’s a damn dangerous place for Sodorfians. They’re fish swimming in a lake full of alligators. My advice would be to not stop in Sodorf. I’d just keep on heading south like a pack of snarling wolves were snapping at your heels. I think you, being an intelligent man, can understand why this would be advisable,” Feiklen said.

“What do I need to do?” was Polunk’s laconic response.

“I’ve been paying careful attention to the weather lately. There’s going to be a storm in two nights. It’ll have lots of thunder. On that night, you make your escape. You’ll use an explosive to blow a hole through the tall wooden fence surrounding this camp, synchronizing it with a clap of thunder. All my guards are fully aware of this planned escape; if they weren’t, you’d all be killed within minutes. However, you must do your best to make this look believable. If I even suspect that you have in any way, shape, or form tipped off the other prisoners to the fact that this escape is being allowed, I’ll have my guards open fire on you and the other escapees with their longbows and turn you into a pack of human porcupines. Are we clear?”

“Yes,” Polunk responded tersely.

“Good. Your fellow escapees are going to wonder where you got the explosives. Think of something convincing. I don’t doubt you can.” Feiklen produced a small rock. “As you can see, this small rock doesn’t look like much. And, you know what, it isn’t.

“But,” he added, pulling out a small container full of a black substance, “a little bit of this black beauty right here is enough to knock a hole right through that gate. This is called pheorite. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s a rare substance, quite difficult to obtain. It’ll detonate simply by having sufficient impact against an object. Don’t worry; it’s not going to blow up in your pocket. It’ll take a lot more than a little jolt to detonate this stuff. All you have to do is put it on the rock—it’ll stick to it—throw it at the fence as hard as you possibly can, and it’ll explode. Now, I don’t want everyone in the camp hearing this; in fact, it’s imperative the explosion be drowned out by the thunder; otherwise, all of the escaping prisoners are going to be asking themselves why in Kasani the guards aren’t running around cutting off heads and asking questions later. If that happens, you will all be slaughtered. I’m already taking a large risk doing this in the first place, but orders are orders, and these orders have come straight from the top. After you escape, my guards will repair the hole in the fence through which you will escape. You are to escape through the southern fence.

“The next day, to cover up your sudden disappearance, I’m going to announce there was an escape attempt and that all those attempting to escape have been executed. This’ll send a chill down everyone’s spine, and it will discourage them from getting any stupid ideas.

“You need to go back to your hut and explain that you have a bold plan to escape and you want to take everyone in the hut with you. Many will think you’re as crazy as an outhouse rat, but you’ve got to somehow convince them. That’s why I chose you. Emphasize you have a map.” As he said this, he pulled out a map and handed it to Polunk. “Here is the route you are to take to Sodorf in order to avoid Dachwaldian patrols. You must follow this route, or you will likely be discovered and killed on the spot. That’s all the help I can give you. Don’t screw this up.”

Polunk was silent for a moment, his analytical mind scrutinizing everything Feiklen said, but suddenly his subconscious told him that the time for analytical thought was later, not now, and that he didn’t want to give even the slightest impression he was having second thoughts.

“I’ll do it,” he replied, his quick answer betraying the prolific analysis he had been engaging in over the last several days and that he would continue to engage in.

“Excellent!” Feiklen said. He handed him the rock smeared with pheorite. “Be careful with this; it would be hard to detonate on accident, but not impossible! Can I count on you?!”

(I’m sure it would really break your heart if I hurt myself with it, you bastard!)

“You can,” he replied.

“Good. It’s settled.”

Feiklen dismissed him. He had Kihlgun and some of the other Moscorians go around and warn all the guards that the escape was going to be happening within a couple of nights and that they were to do their best to allow the escape to happen without becoming any less vigilant in watching the other prisoners.

That evening, Polunk walked back to his hut thinking about the upcoming escape. Something about all of this just didn’t add up. It was like being approached by a salesman with an offer so good it made it seem the salesman was getting screwed.

(and salesmen never get screwed; never, ever)

Maybe, just maybe, it really was Feiklen’s goal, for some strange reason, to get a large group of Sodorfians back into Sodorf. He couldn’t even begin to think of what good that would actually do the Dachwaldians, but on the other hand if all the Dachwaldians wanted to do was kill him and the other Sodorfians, it was neither feasible nor logical that they’d go to this much trouble and take this much risk simply to kill them.

(that would be a waste of time and resources; these people don’t strike me as the type of people that waste anything that’s theirs)

After all, this was an extermination camp. Sure, most weren’t killed right away, but some were, and most had a tendency to do a little vanishing act shortly after registering.

(and you definitely didn’t wander into a camp full of magicians)

Not only was he aware of this—he was also pretty sure he knew where at least most of the vanishing acts were performed. In a building that the prisoners walked through on the way to the fields where they were digging ditches and holes. The interior layout of the building was funny. You entered through a large opening, and then once you were inside, a large stone wall was closed behind you. Then, the wall to the right opened slowly, and through that aperture you walked to the fields where you worked. He was nearly a canine when it came to smell, and something didn’t smell quite right in that room. Figuratively or literally. Not a very pungent smell, but there were times when he could almost swear he smelled . . .

(burnt flesh?)

He suspected the room had another use: mass extermination. He wondered uneasily what his odds were of surviving this mission.

(if the Dachwaldians really do need you and your fan club to make it back to Sodorf, regardless of their motives, that’s still a CHANCE of escape, that’s still a ticket the hell out of here; you won’t see better odds inside here)

Nonetheless, the main problem, insofar as his survival was concerned, was that there was certainly no way the Dachwaldians would want him to ever be able to live to tell the Sodorfians that they had been permitted to escape. That didn’t fit well into the vague mental picture he was trying to paint as to why in the world the Dachwaldians might possibly want this done. But as soon as he concluded that, the devil’s advocate in his mind immediately shot back with a barrage of counterarguments:

Maybe they’re afraid of what they’ve done, and they want to make the Sodorfians think they’re remorseful. Perhaps they’ve just suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Sodorfians, and they think an act of mercy will help them earn a lighter punishment for their crimes. Or perhaps Feiklen is acting alone, or virtually alone, with a group of rogue soldiers who aren’t in agreement with mass murder. Or perhaps, somehow, someway, a friend of yours, or a former client of yours, knows someone who knows someone who has put in a good word for you and bargained for your mistake—yeah sure, and that person also bargained for the release of whomoever the hell you could convince to come with you! Hah!

Then another thought struck him: Perhaps the Dachwaldians simply want to practice their hunting skills. That thought sent a chill down his spine. It made sense. Perhaps, somewhere outside the camp, waiting like lions in the grass were a group of elite Dachwaldian troops about to practice their hunting and tracking skills against real humans.

But, the devil’s advocate countered, wouldn’t that be too easy? I mean, what challenge would there be in hunting down a group of emaciated prisoners from a camp? Well, maybe they’re green troops, and they’re going to start with something easy.

His mind then switched gears to a completely separate theory: Maybe Feiklen is looking to destroy a rival. If he can pin the blame for our escape on this rival, it could give him the pretext to have that rival executed!

He felt an ephemeral relief upon considering this possibility, as it made it seem plausible Feiklen might not only permit but want Polunk and his entourage to make it all the way back to Sodorf. After all, unless Polunk and the others made it out of the country, it would be more properly described as an escape attempt, and perhaps in that scenario Feiklen would have a harder time getting rid of his rival permanently.

But then the devil’s advocate was back: Feiklen seems to be the top-ranking person here. If there is an escape, that could backfire on Feiklen. The buck stops at the top, so if he is the top-ranking person here he could be held responsible by his superior for having lax security at the camp.

He engaged the devil’s advocate head on: If Feiklen is the top-ranking person here and he has a rival here, all he would have to do is pin the blame on his rival, have him executed, and then create a carefully drafted report explaining how his rival’s negligence had led to the unfortunate escape and detailing all the enhanced security that had been implemented afterwards. After all, any frame-up has its risks. Perhaps, Feiklen has simply calculated that he can manage them.

The devil’s advocate fired back: But there’s no scenario where Feiklen’s not better off with you dead. Even if your successful escape all the way to Sodorf would perhaps make it easier for him to executive his rival—if he even has a rival—it would still be more convenient for him to have you killed. Otherwise, word could eventually get around that Feiklen himself allowed the escape. Do you really believe Feiklen would allow that?!

He realized the devil’s advocate was proving an implacable foe. After all, he didn’t know if there was a rival. That was just one motive he had randomly decided to explore based upon no evidence whatsoever. There could be dozens of other motives—some of which briefly started to pass through his mind—but he as he continued pondering the dubious motives of the Dachwaldians, another part of his mind kept coming back full-circle to one simple, undeniable truth.

(you won’t see better odds inside here)

That was the one argument that could silence the stubborn devil’s advocate inside him. No matter how low the chances were of him making it through this escape alive, they had to be better than his chances staying in here.

However, it dawned upon him that, whereas he had spent lots of time worrying about the Dachwaldians’ motives for permitting the escape to happen, he had not yet given hardly any thought to the difficulties in actually carrying out the escape. The first hurdle he had to leap over in this plan—which was was basically a field of hurdles about fifty miles long and fifty miles wide with booby traps and pitfalls covering nearly every square inch—was that of persuading a group of people to escape. He thought about his uncle. Good ol’ Uncle Wilhelm. People had often said that Uncle Wilhelm was one of the few people who didn’t need to worry about the devil taking his soul. The reason why, they surmised, was because Uncle Wilhelm could turn around and bargain for its return using the devil’s own trident as the bargaining chip.

Polunk believed it.

But he was no Uncle Wilhelm.

Not on the best day of the week, and certainly not on the worst. He was an accountant. “Give me a book as thick as my leg with one accounting mistake in it, and I’ll show you the error by breakfast tomorrow, but I couldn’t sell a starving man roast beef at half price,” he often told people.

They believed him.

He often found himself worrying about numbers at the most inopportune times. On his first date with his wife-to-be,

(Kasani, I hope she’s okay)

they had gone to a town that used a slightly different currency than the one being used in his hometown. His date—Krista was her name—was sure that Polunk had decided he didn’t like her. He struggled to maintain small talk over dinner. He was visibly distracted during the play they watched. That crook, he thought to himself, cheated me on the exchange rate. I know he did.

It was the carriage driver. Polunk had given him 25 weichtagen for the ride, and the man had given him 2 weichgahen back.

He smelled a rat.

By the time dinner was over he was close to mentally cracking the exchange rate formula, having been listening attentively to bits and pieces of financial transactions being discussed around him, and the closer he got, the surer and surer he was that that no-good, two-bit carriage driver had pulled one over on him. He cracked it right as the play was coming to an end, and while everyone else was sobbing and dabbing their eyes

(just what in the hell had that play been about anyway?)

his erstwhile seemingly cold, uninterested personality suddenly warmed up as if some invisible sun had begun to shine on him.

“I should have gotten THREE weichgahen back! THREE!!” he had yelled excitedly. This sudden outburst frightened Krista more than a little, and she was just hoping he had enough money to get her back home so that they could go their separate ways, and she’d pray to Kasani her path never crossed his again. But then, Polunk changed.

He calmed down.

He realized what a horrible impression he was giving. He realized how damn BEAUTIFUL she was!

He started to ask questions.

He listened.

Krista soon opened up like a flower in springtime. By the time they made it back to the carriage, he was so enthralled with Krista that he simply handed the dishonest carriage driver a handful of coins and said, “Keep the change, old pal!”

And they kissed. That first night, lights on in her parent’s house, waiting for her to come home, they kissed. It was love and romance from that moment on. Polunk later realized that it was only when he was around Krista that his mental wheels stopped turning so much, at least not so needlessly. Numeric formulas lost their romantic appeal. Her lips were far more inviting. They had had a happy marriage, but the Dachwaldians ended it. When they came for him, he told her to run like Kasani and not look back. She listened. He hoped she was okay. But he dared not do much more than hope.

And now, here he was, Mister Number Cruncher himself stuck with doing a job that would have been cake for Uncle Wilhelm, but one that he was about as suited for as a dog for a piano recital. The one thing he had gleaned from observing Uncle Wilhelm in his business dealings was he always seemed to know how to use fear and the concept of scarcity to close a sale. His mind flashed back to one memory in particular.

No, thank you, I have a perfectly good knife; I don’t need another one. Thanks.

Okay, but it’s a shame what happened to the Windelsons just last week. Nice family, the Windelsons. Three bright young children. College-bound all of ‘em. To lose their ma like that just when they had the world by the shoe strings, just not fair, I tell ya’, it’s just not fair. Well, I’ll be off now. Thank you for your time.

Mrs. Windelson?! Who’s that?

Oh, just a sweet lady that was a very dear friend to me. She was just making that apple pie that’s famous nearly everywhere that people wear pants. Well, well . . . . No, I best be going.

Well, go on. Tell me what happened.

I’m telling you Kasani’s truth. That woman cut more apples in her life than a dog chases cats. She—

Yes, go on.

It wasn’t her fault. She was paying attention and—

Well, what happened?!

The knife just broke off right in her hand, buried itself in her wrist, and snatched her life clean from her with the ease that a pickpocket swipes an apple. Died minutes later. They just don’t make knives the way they used to, they really don’t. . . at least most people don’t. If you ask me, most people using their knife to cut anything are playing with fire. They may as well put a rattler in their baby’s crib and hope it’s still cooin’ and smilin’ when they come back ten minutes later! I myself won’t let my wife or daughter use one unless it’s of the right brand.

There’s a brand that’s safe?!

Sure, but just one.

It was at that point that Polunk, just a young, precocious tyke at the time, remembered Uncle Wilhelm pulling out a nice, ornately engraved knife and showing it to the frightened-out-of-her-mind mother of six. She didn’t want some half-ass knife snatching her life from her with the ease that a pickpocket swipes an apple. No, sir! He then went on to explain all the rigorous testing this and every knife of this brand had undergone, and it had been guaranteed by the Dachwaldian Department of Cutlery Safety Standards (whatever the hell that was anyway) to be safe for all cutting purposes. At that point, the woman realized she better get as many of them as she could right then and there. You never know how long it will be until another opportunity like that comes along, and if you snooze you lose. Uncle Wilhelm then went on and on and on, house to house, making slight adjustments here and there to his stories and his tactics, as needed, and by the end of the day, he’d had enough money to not need to worry about anything but fishing and catching up on his favorite novel for quite some time. And once that money ran out, he’d do it again. It didn’t matter what the item was, and it didn’t matter where he went. It sold. Yes, Uncle Wilhelm had been one hell of a salesman. But this flashback was only making it all the more clear how different he and his dear uncle were.

(must think like Uncle Wilhelm must think like Uncle Wilhelm must . . . .)

And he was right. He better start thinking like Uncle Wilhelm if he was going to convince a group of people that their best chance of survival lay in following a young accountant on a wild escape attempt with nothing but a damn rock in his pocket. He found himself wondering how Uncle Wilhelm would have handled it.

(Uncle Wilhelm wouldn’t have needed the rock)

Nighttime arrived. He sat up on his bed in silence. Finally, working up his courage, he nudged the person lying on the top of the bunk bed, and said, “Hey, I have something very important to discuss; please, come this way.”

The prisoner looked at him a bit curiously. Polunk started walking up to everyone in the hut, nudging them, waking them, urging them to come and listen to him. Some people told him to “get lost;” some had even harsher words, but most people were curious about what this quiet, reserved former accountant had to say all of a sudden. Finally, there was a huddle of several hundred people all waiting to hear his important news.

“How would you guys like to make a break for it?” he asked.

Laughter broke out. It was mild at first, but like a contagious sickness it quickly spread amongst his audience. It was as if a tightly wound-up spring had finally been released. Most of these people had not so much as smiled in weeks, let alone laughed. Before long, many of them were rolling around on the floor like a group of people at the funny farm. Finally, Polunk, although he understood their reaction, could take it no more.

“THIS IS NO JOKE!!” he shouted angrily at the top of his lungs.

(yeah, that’s what Uncle Wilhelm would have done; yelled and yelled and yelled; you know how yelling leads to liking)

The laughter immediately began to die down. They were stunned. Having been around Polunk quite a bit over the last several weeks, never once had they hardly even heard him speak, much less raise his voice.

“THIS IS NOT A JOKE!!” he repeated, his face turning red with anger.

“Just hear me out! I’m not crazy! I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and a lot of observation ever since I arrived at this hellhole, and I am confident I know of a way for us to escape from this horrible place!”

People were listening now. Their laughing gas had run out. This former accountant had something to say, by Kasani.

“First of all, just let me say this: I don’t deny that attempting to escape from here will be very dangerous and may indeed result in us getting put to death. On the other hand, let me state the obvious: none of us has a chance of lasting much longer here anyway!! Our diet is atrocious, and, as you likely have noticed, anyone who starts to have a slower pace while working always ends up disappearing. I think it goes without saying they’re not magicians performing a vanishing act and they’re not being shipped away to Sodorf—they’re being slaughtered somewhere here in the camp! It might be done away from our eyes, but I’m sure I’m not the only one here who knows that is what is really going on. You’re not blind; neither am I.”

“But how could we ever even begin to make such an escape attempt practical?” asked one of the Sodorfians, who was listening intently and eagerly to what Polunk had to say; “I mean, the camp is surrounded by a tall wooden fence made out of solid oak. It is sturdy, and due to its smoothness it would be impossible to climb up it. Even if one could, the tops of the wooden pieces are carved to a sharp point, and, as if that did not make climbing the walls difficult enough, there are also razor-sharp spikes protruding from the tops of the oak pieces!!”

“Who said anything about climbing over it?!” Polunk shot back. “Listen to what I have to say before trying to rebut me! I didn’t say anything at all about climbing over the fence; I don’t intend to escape that way.”

“Well, how then?!” asked another impatient, skeptical Sodorfian; “Please don’t tell me you’re going to suggest we try to tunnel our way out. Think about how foolish that would be: It would take months before we could even begin to get a tunnel long enough to get us out of this camp. Most of us will probably not even survive here that long if we’re lucky. Just think about how tired and sluggish our work during the day will be if we spend our nights digging underneath the ground like rodents! We’ll disappear within a week!! We—”

“Did I say anything about tunnels?” Polunk asked impatiently. “No, I didn’t. Here is the answer,” he said and pulled out the rock that was covered with pheorite.

One of the Sodorfians simply couldn’t resist. “Oh, I see the ingenious plot now: You’re going to climb outside your cabin at night, throw your rock at one of the guards, knock him unconscious, and then, once the other guards see how tough you are, they’re gonna run for cover! Or, better yet, maybe they’ll simply hand the camp over to you and surrender!!” he said mockingly.

He laughed and so did the other Sodorfians. It felt good to laugh. For a fleeting moment they had thought Polunk might have really come up with an ingenious idea and maybe really did still have all his marbles. That hope vanished, however, when he pulled out that pitifully small rock and said that was the solution. They didn’t hold it against him though; the camp was taking its toll on all of them, and Polunk was just another casualty, they reckoned.

“Have any of you dimwits ever heard of pheorite?!” Polunk asked in a vehement tone; “Or am I the only one here who made it through first-year chemistry?!”

The room fell silent.

They knew what pheorite was. But none had ever seen it before.

“That’s right,” he said; “this rock you’re looking at right now is smeared with pheorite. As you may know, some of the prison camp guards have utilized my knowledge of accounting to help them balance their books. With all of the rearmament going on in Dachwald, there are a lot of numbers to crunch. Although they hate me and think I’m some kind of subhuman, they don’t seem to have any qualms about taking advantage of my ability with numbers. Unfortunately for them, I happened to notice where they keep their explosives. Knowing about the sticky properties of certain forms of pheorite, yesterday when I was working I took this rock right here and put it into my pocket. When I entered into the guards’ headquarters to check their daily expenditures and saw that none of them were looking, I quickly pulled out this rock, smeared it with pheorite, and then quickly put it back into my pocket before they could see me. This little pheorite-smeared rock right here can easily blow a hole through that fence large enough for us all to run through!”

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