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.They came in knots and clumps of tall men, running like deer, leaping, shouting, swinging their great brands.Riders spurred their mounts until they raced with bleeding flanks and their bellies to the ground.There was no order, no array of neat and studied ranks advancing according to a plan.Behind the runners and the riders came more and more men and beasts until they became indistinguishable as such and were simply a motion, a tossing and rushing and trampling that shook the ground.Ahead of them all came a solitary figure in black mail, bearing a sable axe and riding a tall beast trapped all in black.Stark became aware that he was leaning far over the parapet and that Balm was trying to pull him back."Did you have some idea of single combat?" Balin asked, and Stark stared at him, and Balin drew back, away from him."One favor, friend.Don't become my enemy, please—my nerves would never stand it.But your turn against Ciaran must come later."He pointed along the parapet where soldiers were running toward them, shouting at them to get off the Wall.Stark shrugged and followed Balin back down the steps and then up another set to the roof of the building.Thanis followed them, and they clambered out over the cold slates to watch.And again Stark was withdrawn into his stony patience, but only when Ciaran was hidden from him did he take his eyes off the black helm.Kushat had come violently to life.The gongs still bellowed intermittently.Soldiers had begun to pour up onto the Wall.There seemed to be very many soldiers until their numbers were balanced off against the numbers of the barbarians and the length of the Wall.Mobs of citizens swarmed in the streets, hung out of windows, filled the roofs.A troop of nobles went by, brave in their bright mail, to take up their posts in the square by the great gate."What do you think now?" asked Balin softly, and Stark shook his head."This first attack won't carry.Then it depends on whether Ciaran is leader enough to hold his men at the Wall." He paused."I think he is." They did not speak again for a long while.Up in their high emplacements the big ballistas creaked and thrummed, hurling boulders to tear great gouges in the flesh and bone of the attackers.From both sides the muted song of the horn bows became a wailing hum, and the short bone arrows flew in whickering showers.Slingers rattled their stones as thick as hail.War was a primitive thing here in the Norlands, as it was now over all of Mars except where the Earthman's weapons had been brought in, not for lack of ingenuity but for lack of metal and chemicals and power.Even a drained and dying world could still find hide and stone and bone and enough iron to forge a blade, and these simple, ancient ways were efficient enough.Men fell and were carried or kicked off the ledges by their fellows, and below them the barbarian dead began to lie in windrows.The blood-howl of the clans rang unceasingly on the frosty air, and Stark heard the rap of scaling ladders against stone.And he began to think that he was wrong and this first charge was going to carry after all.The soldiers of Kushat fought bravely, but it was their first and only battle and they were indeed like folded sheep against the tall killers of the mountains.Still the Wall held.And by mid-morning the barbarian wave had beaten its strength out on the black stones.The men of Mekh grew silent and moved sullenly back across the plain, carrying their wounded with them, leaving their dead behind.Thanis said, "You see, Stark? The Wall—the Wall protects us." Her face was drawn and over-bright with hope."You see? They're going away." Stark said, "They have left their dead.Among the tribes I know, the men of Kesh and Shun, this is a pledge that they will return.I would guess that these have the same custom.And look there." He pointed out across the plain."That black banner with the lightning stroke.That is Ciaran's standard, and see how the chiefs are gathering to it."Looking at the thinned ranks of the soldiers on the Wall, Balin said, "If this is victory, one is all we can afford."But the city screamed with joy.People rushed into the streets to embrace the soldiers.The nobles rode the circuit of the Wall, looking well pleased.And on the highest tower of the king's hall a crimson banner shook out on the wind.Stark said to Thanis, "Bring us food, if you will.There'll be little time later on."She said fiercely, "I don't believe you, Stark.They're beaten." But she went and brought them food.The sun rose higher, and they waited.A little after noon the barbarian army began to move again [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]