Chapter 27: The Battle of Emin-Tal
The plateau of Emin-Tal in western Meclarya was shaped like two triangles smashed together. The road that led from Agrista to Airachni passed underneath the broken knees of the plateau’s eastern edge. Another branch of the road, leading westward into the heart of Anaria towards Alquendiro and Eshtam-Nis, passed at the foot of the giant cliff at the southernmost edge of Emin-Tal. Thousands of years before, Drogoda and Eschcota had fiercely contended the plateau with Meclarya, for whoever controlled Emin-Tal would control a long stretch of the road, and all the trade that passed along it. There were other things that made it desirable, namely the veins of ore contained within the stony highlands. Iron, copper, and gold could be found all throughout Emin-Tal, but of particular interest to the Drogs were the veins of silver ore running through its southern cliffs. Even after House Calmi took hold the Meclaryan Morschcodal Throne and permanently stationed a force of arms and several Dragon Riders on the plateau, Drogoda went to great efforts to continue mining and extracting the silver ore that they had managed to keep secret for so long.
It was on and around the broken rocks of Emin-Tal that The Kindler would meet the full strength of the armies of the Morschen for the first time. Torridestans had forced his small occupying army out of western Rista, and now he had enemies closing in from the north as well, but he was not worried. He ordered for the Deshika to retreat several leagues, to make it seem that his enemy had chosen the battlefield, and waited.
Edya Reeshnar and Erygan Dalrey met on the northwestern edge of what they knew would soon be a battlefield. The last battlefield of the war they hoped, though they both doubted it. Edya, in command of most of the armies of Imperial Drogoda, which she had finally managed to marshal in one place, had yet to deploy her army, and was even then putting together two battle plans for the small war that would undoubtedly drag on for days, possibly even weeks. Dragon Riders reported to the Morschcoda at regular intervals about the progress of Makret Druoth’s Deshik army. It seemed that he and the other Deshik commanders had accepted the chance to destroy the Morschen in one grand battle, however long and horrible that battle must be. The Deshik forces numbered, as near as the guesses of the few Dragon Riders who came back could make them, as many as four hundred and fifty thousand warriors, but certainly no fewer than four hundred and twenty thousand. Imperial Drogoda’s armies, fully marshalled, numbered just over three hundred thousand, but no word had come from Noldoron. The armies of Caladea and Armanda combined for nearly half of that number, one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers between them. The Drogs added forty thousand foot soldiers and twenty thousand Mordak Riders to that number. Thirty thousand well-armed Dothrin warriors, Storinea’s full army of ten thousand, and the twice decimated Dragon Hearted, which was all that was left of Meclarya’s battered army, a bare five thousand hardened in battle against the Deshika, brought Edya’s armies up to a total of two hundred and fifty five thousand, no more than maybe fifty thousand of which were Morschledu. Erygan’s forces, under the command of the same general who had led the defence of Toredo years before, consisted of thirty thousand Ristans and fifty thousand Torridestans. Another eighteen thousand Ringlords marched under the Storm Cloud of the Kingdom of Torridesta. Erygan had also given Norrin orders that his army was not to leave Dishmo Kornara, no matter what news made it back to the capital. With the Eschcotan absence coupled with the Noldorin disappearance, the Morschen armies were missing nearly ninety thousand troops; men who would be badly needed on the battlefield, Edya had no doubt.
When The Kindler was known to be only two days away, Edya began deploying the Morschen armies according to the plans that she had drawn up with several other commanders from both Empires. Plans for both attacking the Deshika and, plans for, Erygan and Daliana were shocked to hear, an ordered retreat from Emin-Tal should the battle go too badly too quickly.
“The battle is sure to go badly” argued Daliana “if we’re already planning our retreat.”
But General Domrar Cadrick of Torridesta had an answer. “Plans for retreat merely prevent our troops from scattering if the battle swings heavily in the Deshika’s favour.”
And Edya herself argued the point. “Your father made a point of drawing up two retreat plans for every battle he ever fought, your majesty: one in case of a rout, and one if neither side could truly claim victory. But since most of his plans began with a charge of the Brotherhood of the Mordak, few of his retreat plans were ever used.”
“Unfortunately, the Brotherhood of the Mordak won’t have room up here on the plateau.”
“That is precisely what I am counting on, Morschcoda Erygan.”
Her plan, as it turned out, was really quite simple, but all the more deadly for it. Since the only way to get onto the plateau was by climbing, or flying in the cases of the Dragon Riders, almost all of the Morschen infantry would be on top of the plateau. The Brotherhood of the Mordak and all cavalry that they had, as well as ten infantry banners, two thousand men from each country represented on the field except Storinea, and another two thousand each from Drogoda, Armanda, and Caladea, who had the largest infantry armies, would be camped along the ancient Drog mining road that ran beneath the face of the southern cliffs. Edya’s plan was that the Deshika would arrive from the northeast and start climbing the cliffs to get to the Morschen. While that was happening, the Morschen cavalry would charge north along the road and meet those still waiting to scale the fifty foot cliffs of Emin-Tal, while the infantry would charge and destroy any Deshika that made it up. He plans for retreat were more obvious, with a far smaller chance of something going wrong. All the cavalry and foot soldiers on the lower plains would fall back to Airachni. Erygan and Marrdin would retreat back towards Torridesta on foot and the rest of the combined army would fall back to Alquendiro, where they would regroup. By splitting up, Edya hoped to confuse the advancing Deshik armies, and force them to waste valuable time ordering their forces for the chase. It was Erygan, however, who pointed out the most obvious flaw in the plan.
“Makret will be prepared for the attacks you have planned. They’re too obvious. And if the battle goes badly for the Deshika right away, The Kindler himself might take an interest in the outcome. We have too few Morschledu with the strength to make a difference in the fighting anyways. None of those will be able to stand against The Kindler, and I won’t see them slaughtered without reason when we may need them badly later.”
Edya did not disagree, though she was tempted to tell Erygan to leave running the army to seasoned warriors and not to get himself hurt. As it was, she muttered a remark about getting some of his beard hairs out of place if he continued to stick his nose into her plans, but she managed to calm down quickly. “If The Kindler comes, all commanders have been ordered to retreat immediately. My plan originally called for a last stand of the Dragon Hearted, which Daken volunteered, but if The Kindler himself should enter the fray, even they will retreat.” Erygan relented, accepting Edya’s answer, though by no means satisfied with it. What she did not say was that if The Kindler himself entered the fight, she would remain behind to ensure the retreat went as planned. She felt that of all of the Ringlords at the battlefield, she had the greatest chance of holding The Kindler back while her armies retreated, but she had no idea what Makret would do. If he unleashed his power at the beginning of the battle, then no matter what she did, The Kindler would never risk himself. As the other Morschcoda left her tent, she wondered if there was a way to draw out the Morschen’s ancient enemy with any certainty of success. But she could not think of anything, and she knew that even by sacrificing herself as Taren had, there was no way she could kill the lord of the Seven Devils.
When the Deshika were only one day away and the Morschcoda were too busy to worry about that one small detail, she told them that she would remain behind if The Kindler showed himself. To her surprise, none of them argued.
Daken, though, had something to say. “If you’re willing to sacrifice yourself to ensure that we can escape, then Drogoda has a bright future with you as Morschcoda. That is, if any of us live through what’s coming. Drogoda’s throne has a powerful, and brave, new occupant.”
Though it was not the most hopeful or inspiring thing to say, coming from Daken, it was a great compliment. It offended Daliana, though, as the Drogodan Throne was hers. And Daken’s phrasing made it sound like Edya would be replacing Daliana eventually.
But, for all of Edya’s power, and her daring, and her brilliantly simple plans, she was an untested Commanding General, and her first challenger would likely be the greatest one she would ever have to face. Makret Druoth had been running loose with his fifteen thousand Deshika for a long time before The Kindler’s second army had arrived. And he had known well the southern cliffs and the eastern road from his own time as Drogoda’s High General and Taren’s right hand. During each of those two eras, he had studied the plateau of Emin-Tal with a savage intensity. He knew every rock, every twist of the bumpy road, every tiny rise in the land for miles around. It was the only truly defensible formation between the Dak River and the Dragon’s Roost Mountains. Not that Makret revealed any of those facts to the Deshika. Makret made a guess as to what Edya would do, and he sent his men right into it. The Deshika marched in a parade along the road. The Morschen cavalry charged without hesitation.
Edya looked over the side of the plateau and saw the approaching Deshik horde, still several miles away. It was magnificent really, the massive columns of giants marching in unison. Without turning away, she sent Regath Encarthian the order to attack. Almost an hour passed before she could feel the earth-shattering charge of her cavalry. Another half-bell passed before she could see them. Only then did she turn back to her own army.
The Morschen line, seventy thousand men and women on horse and Mordak, almost one quarter of all the Morschen strength, swept along the road to take the Deshika in the side. But Makret had foreseen the stroke, and the main strength of his army had occupied a line of low hills about a quarter of a mile from the road, hidden from the sight of the Morschen on the plateau, while a much smaller force marched south along the road. The Brotherhood met that force head on, and great was the clash of their meeting. Regath Encarthian at the forefront of the battle drove through the front ranks, his sword a blur as he lashed around him, felling Deshik warriors with each blow. The Deshika were driven back in ruin, but then Makret’s main army charged. It took the leading edge of the horsemen in the flank, crushing their lines and forcing them up against the broken eastern wall of the plateau, where they did not have the space to maneuver. Mordak Riders tried to sweep back along the road from where they had finished their charge, but their line had been broken, and they did not have the time to reform it. Thousands of Morschen fell from their horses to be trampled under the pounding hooves and Deshik feet. Riderless Mordak rampaged through the field, adding to the chaos, tearing apart anyone who got in their way, Morschen and Deshika alike. A banner of Torridestan knights managed to break free of the southern end of the battle, where the Deshik lines were weakest. Regrouping, they swung north and charged along the road, freeing half of a banner of Caladean Horse-Sisters. Together, they charged at a large group of Deshika surrounding four thousand Armandans, rescuing them as well. Regrouping at the northern edge of the battlefield, the seven thousand knights charged southward along the face of the cliff.
Their charge was almost too late. The battle was over, only the fighting had yet to stop. Regath Encarthian had marshalled fifteen thousand horsemen and Riders against the face of the cliff, hoping to drive eastward and escape the slaughter that the battle had turned into. He knew that his battle was already lost, and that his failure might cost the Morschen on the plateau to fall as well, but he had to hold his men together. He knew that their hope had been only in quick cavalry strikes, but he, Edya, and every one of their commanders had failed to factor in two things: Makret’s uncanny prowess as a battlefield commander, and the Deshika’s enormous size. A Deshik warrior stood nearly nine feet tall. At that height, he dwarfed a tall man, and could still look that same man in the eye when he was mounted on a horse or Mordak that was six feet tall at the shoulder. And with their four arms, they could wield their weapons much more effectively than all but the best of the Morschen warriors. The seven thousand knights broke upon the northern flank of the Deshika, where they were strongest, but also facing away from the charge. Their charge scattered and killed thousands of Deshika, and the magic of a few Ringlords, finally called into battle, scattered the rest when their charge could do no more. Armandans unleashed wave after wave of punishing fireballs into the Deshik ranks. Torridestans of darker and more creative mindsets opened portals in the middle of warriors, cutting them in half, or underneath them, causing them to fall, and reappear high in the sky, falling hundreds of feet to their deaths, and the deaths of anyone they landed on. It did not take long for the Deshika to learn to move if they saw or heard a portal opening.
Only when the two armies broke apart for the first time was it possible to see the extent of the damage done to the Morschen soldiers, the Deshika, and the land itself. Massive boulders that had not moved since their creation had been thrown against the immoveable eastern face of Emin-Tal. Bodies lacking limbs lay strewn across a battlefield nearly fifteen miles long. Many of those limbs were noticeably absent, transported only a handful of Torridestans knew where. The number of dead, Morschen and Deshika, Mordak and horse, was mind-numbing. Of the twenty thousand Riders who made up the Brotherhood of the Mordak, only twelve thousand were still mounted. Over three thousand had lost their Mordak, while several hundred Mordak without Riders still rampaged through the ruined battlefield, either alone or in packs. Of the Morschen Cavalry’s other fifty thousand knights, nearly twenty thousand lay dead upon the field. One whole banner, two thousand Horse-Sisters from Caladea’s southern plains, had been unhorsed, but had for the most part escaped. Nobody knew any real numbers though. All they saw were hills of dead. Regath gathered his broken force as best he could and decided on the only course he could take. He ordered his army to fall back over five miles, to a long hill overlooking a series of shallow valleys. Though his men were tired, and many were wounded, the march only took about half of an hour. When the hill was fortified, he consulted with his commanders.
“What are our losses?”
He got several blank stares. Finally, after much looking back and forth at each other, someone said something. It was not reassuring.
“Too many, sir. Far too many.”
Another chimed in with what would originally be thought absurdly high estimates. “As many as thirty thousand is my guess.”
While several commanders stared at the young Armandan woman who had spoken, Regath merely lowered his head. “I thought it might be something like that.” After another moment, he hoped his next question would have a more hopeful answer. “What did they lose?”
Again, nobody wanted to be the first to answer. The young woman from Armanda spoke up. “I can’t say what they lost, but it’s strange that there were so few here. I’d put their number between one hundred and twenty thousand to one hundred and fifty thousand. And neither number makes sense if we were supposed to attack their entire strength.”
“I’ll send a message to Morschcoda General Reeshnar and warn her about the missing army. But what did they actually lose? I want something that sounds hopeful to send in my report.”
A tall Torridestan man, who looked considerably like Erygan as one of his close kin, spoke up. “Significant I would say; more than we lost, at least … but, they had more to begin with.”
A short Caladean woman agreed. “I think that it is entirely possible that they lost as many as fifty thousand. I would hesitate to say more, though I would not be disappointed to do so.”
Privately, Regath doubted the hopes of his commanders that Deshik losses had been so large. But he said nothing to that effect, and he could not afford to discourage his men. He shook his head as he sat down to write a report.
Regath’s finished report to Edya left barely in time. While the Morschen had been regrouping after their retreat and making plans, the Deshika had reordered their own force and began once more their assault upon Anaria. But though their attack came quickly and by surprise, the Morschen had the advantage of the high ground. Also, the Deshika had made a fatal mistake. The valleys that Regath’s army looked over all ran north to south, and it was through these that the Deshika had charged. The Morschen lined formed swiftly and stormed down the hill dividing into three fronts as they reached the head of the valleys. The Deshik ranks faltered as the fighting grew ferociously all along the valley heads. Two hours later, the Deshika were threatening to break, but Makret once more proved just how well he had earned his reputation on the battlefield. He had only committed half of his force to the headlong rush. The rest now charged in from the east, over the highest part of the hill, catching the Morschen off guard in the flank. Outmaneuvered and caught in a bad position, Regath tried desperately to draw his forces away from the battle, but he was almost surrounded, and the uphill retreat southward was beyond even his most stubborn Mordak Riders at that point. Makret would have conquered the battlefield, and possibly Anaria with it, then and there if it had not been for the foresight of Edya Reeshnar. The infantry banners that were stationed with the cavalry had begun the march at the same time, but could not keep the pace. They fell behind. But even with their long and rapid march northward, they were still far fresher than either of the two battle-weary armies that were pummelling each other relentlessly. Six banners, twelve thousand men, drove between the advancing eastern front of the Deshika and the rapidly falling Armandan horsemen trying desperately to hold the line on that side. The two Caladean banners pushed through the main body of the Morschen to the front of the battle, forming a long line between the retreating Torridestans and the Deshik swords. The last two banners, the four thousand Drogs, charged over the highest part of the hill, from the east, as Makret’s second force had, taking the mass of Deshika from behind, scattering them, and slaughtering those that could not escape the bloodthirsty swords of the enraged Drogodan True-Arms Masters. But even with the fresh forces, the Morschen on the plains of Meclarya were heavily outnumbered. Finally, when neither the fresh arms of the Morschen infantry nor the stubbornness of the most battle-hardened veteran, nor even the ferocity of Mordak and Rider could hold back the tide, two dozen Armandan Morschledu melded their strength, creating a wall of fire twenty feet high and stretching the entire two mile length of the front line of the battle. Regath took the opportunity to reorder his forces, organize his commanders, several of which had fallen or been seriously wounded, and plan a retreat, if necessary. It was not. The Deshika, taken by surprise and dealt a stinging defeat, retreated two leagues to the north, well out of range of any Morschledu attacks, and confident that there would not be any. The Morschen had held the hill.
After his camp was ready, Regath took stock of losses for the second time that day. Two whole infantry banners, those of Dothoro and Rista, three if he counted the two thousand Caladean women who had been unhorsed in the first battle, had been wiped out. Another two thousand Mordak Riders, four hundred of whom were Riders who’s Mordak had been killed earlier that day, had fallen. The Torridestan Cavalry had suffered fifteen hundred deaths, pulling its ever depleting numbers down to seven and a half thousand soldiers, of which maybe two thousand were uninjured. The Armandan lines, which had twice held against devastating charges of Deshika, had lost another four thousand. But the Caladeans had fared the worst. They had lost nearly ten thousand soldiers, leaving a little over twelve thousand injured men and women who would at least die in the saddle, even if they could do nothing more. Regath finally asked the one question that he knew everyone wanted to ask. “Can we call this a victory?”
The Armandan woman answered him. “That is … difficult to say, sir. We fought two battles today, and lost many men. They may have lost more, but they had more to begin with. We have lost nearly fifty thousand soldiers. Lasheed only knows what they lost.” She was tired, and she looked half dead, but her will had not broken. That was something that the Morschen could claim. They were harder than stone, and it took hell erupting on earth to crush their spirit. Regath heard the thought as it entered his mind and responded. ‘It may take the eruption of a hell on earth to break the Morschen, but that might not be so far away.’
Regath looked at the Armandan woman. She was young, certainly, but she spoke with certain authority. She had several new scars on her face. One in particular stretched from her chin to the tip of her left ear. It looked like an arrow had carved the path across her cheek. In her eyes he saw the same refusal to submit that he knew was in his own, that he saw in Edya’s eyes, and the eyes of the other Morschcoda. He knew that his men, battered and tired as they were, would demand to be allowed to continue with the plan if he even mentioned another attack that night, and his men needed their rest. Morschen though they were, they were neither the sleepless Elves, which he privately believed did exist, nor the Dwarves, stubborn and unyielding as the mountains themselves, a group of which he thought that he had once seen. He knew that to risk another attack with his men in the condition they were in would be suicide. The two Torridestan commanders disagreed as though they had read his thoughts.
“Our foot soldiers are still fresh, compared to the Deshika. If they were to attack, it would give our cavalry a longer chance to rest before the next attack, and when that attack comes, we will be better able to deal with it. My people can blend into the darkness easily and evade the Deshik sentinels. And they … we would be far more effective fighting in the darkness of nighttime than we ever could be in sunlight.” Regath relented. And one hour after midnight, when the darkness was at its deepest, four thousand Torridestans charged into the Deshik encampment.
On top of Emin-Tal, Edya had massed her troops along the eastern wall, waiting where the cliffs were lowest and easiest to climb for the Deshika that she thought were guaranteed to come. All morning they waited. They could clearly hear the battle on the plains below, though it had moved two leagues or more to the south of them. The ring of swords, the crashing of hooves on steel armour, the agonized screams of wounded, dead and dying, the roars of Mordak as their Riders fell, it all carried to the ears of the Morschen on top of the cliff. But for all of that, no Deshik warrior was to be found north of the battle, climbing the eastern wall where the plains climbed to meet the level plateau of Emin-Tal. For in Anaria, the land climbs ever higher above the sea the further north one goes. The first person that she or the rest of the Morschen saw that day was Regath’s messenger.
Edya slowly turned away from the battle, which she could no longer hear, to face the man. He looked like he had been dragged behind a rampaging Mordak through all three hells and then across Anaria before managing to deliver his message to her. The tears in his armour were large, so large that it looked like he had hammered pieces of steel into his skin for protection, rather than put on a suit of armour. He was covered in blood and gore, Edya wondered how much of it was his own, and he held his left arm stiffly at his side. Edya wondered how the man was even still standing, let alone alive. And then she took the message from his outstretched right hand and read it. The writing was large, and had been scribbled hastily, but she recognized Regath’s style of reporting.
She scanned the message quickly, and then handed it to General Cadrick. He read it aloud. “Badly outnumbered. Have retreated south five miles. Nearly twenty six thousand dead or missing. Far more wounded. Commanders believe Deshik force was only one hundred twenty – one hundred fifty thousand strong. They also guess that the Deshik army has lost close to fifty thousand soldiers. I am less optimistic.” He paused. “It’s not hopeful.”
Edya agreed silently. She spared another glance at the messenger. She now believed his wounds, before so horrendous, could not be the worst her cavalry had suffered that day.
“I should add to what General Encarthian put in his message that the Deshika attacked for a second time just as I left with this. So the information in there is likely already inaccurate.”
“Thank you. Dismissed.”
He bowed and turned, somehow managing to stay on his feet. Edya turned to the south, where she could just see a dust cloud rising from the battle. She had read the unwritten message Regath had put in. There were three hundred thousand Deshika still unfought, she knew not where, led by a general that she was not confident that she could defeat. But even as she turned away from the south to her own army, one of her questions was answered. And the other soon would be. The missing three hundred thousand Deshik warriors were charging her army from behind, hoping to begin and end the battle with one headlong rush, and force the Morschen off the cliff in a fall to their deaths.
But the Morschen would not die in such an inglorious manner. Even then, outnumbered, dwarfed, and taken by surprise and from behind, the Morschen World and its will to survive would not be so easily broken. The fighting waxed furiously all along the brink of Emin-Tal’s eastern edge, but that only meant that the Morschen would fight all the harder, having nowhere left to run, except forward. And surge forward they did. The Dragon Hearted, veterans of more last stands at the edge of the world than any other force on the field, and more battles against the Deshika than any Morschen army, charged westward, into the heart of the Deshik army. Five thousand men and women, fighting one last desperate battle in the land they called home, drove deep into the heart of the Deshika. Their ferocity, while expected, was both unnerving and hard to defend against, and their battle cries, the Roar of the Dragon Hearted, caused even the bravest Deshika to tremble in his heart. All along a wide front, it drove many Deshik warriors back. Surging forward, Edya’s army tried to break through the gap created by the Dragon Hearted, forcing the Deshika back in an ever lengthening curve struggling to hold the Anarian armies. Thirty thousand Caladeans drove hard against the southern end of the line, shattering it in great ruin, slaughtering many. Breached in two places, the Deshika tried to pull together in a vain effort to withdraw, but the battle was not yet over. The Morschen, emboldened by the retreat of the force that had seemed so certain of destroying them barely three hours before, charged with renewed fury and lust for vengeance. Thousands of Deshik warriors fell as the Morschen surged, uncontainable, raging against their enemy as the sea rages against the cliffs. But their eagerness turned against them. They thought only of the foes that stood before them, trusting their comrades to guard their flanks. And Makret still had a card to play. A wedge of Deshika formed and charged right along the cliff face where many Morschen were still fighting. The charge cut deeply into Edya’s northern line, and when they could go no further, the wedge broke up, dealing even more damage as it spread through the weakened lines. The northern line was held mostly by the Dothrin Half-Elvin and Rangers, soldiers who patrolled the great forest of Dothoro, armed usually with only bow and spear. They fought bravely, with a savage intensity that the Dothrin alone seemed to possess, and that itself nearly held the wavering line intact, but eventually, the Deshika’s numbers carried the battle in a way that neither magic nor skill could. The Dothrin army suffered heavy casualties before a strong force of Armandan Flame Weavers could reinforce the weakened front. Several thousand Drogs used the weakened lines to slip out of the battle and regroup, charging in again from the northwest, behind the Deshik ranks, trying to drive the southward into the bulk of the Deshika and turning them away from the tiring Morschen army.
As night began to fall, the Deshik War Chiefs finally gave up. The fighting had been heavy since late that morning, and there were tens of thousands of dead and wounded on both sides. They pulled back over ten miles to the north, almost to the edge of the plateau.
Edya was beyond emotion when the fighting finally ended for the day. Her nerves were raw from the scraping of steel, reacting to every sound in case one was meant for her. She was so relieved to sit down that she allowed herself a small sigh of contentment. She barely had the energy to sit up as several Morschcoda, still at the battle, Domrar Cadrick, and the rest of her commanders trooped into her tent to make their reports. Six seats were empty, and those that still lived were not hopeful. As near as they could figure, over fifty thousand of their own soldiers, one third almost of her whole army on the plateau, were dead on the field. Few were not wounded, and all were tired to the point of collapse. Of all of the eight countries represented at Emin-Tal, Dothoro and Storinea had fared the worst. Of Storinea’s five Infantry Banners, two had been annihilated. And of the thirty thousand soldiers that made up the Dothorin army, at least seventeen thousand were either dead on the field or wounded. Rough estimates made nearly seventeen thousand Armandans and Caladeans dead, and about nine thousand casualties from the other four Morschen armies. She knew her force needed all the sleep that it could get, but she pondered moving it during the night; the time that the Deshika spent looking for it could be crucial. But she knew that unless he was desperate, Makret would not dare to risk a night attack, not with thousands of Torridestans in his enemy’s camp. So they stayed where they were. She sent a hasty message to Regath, and received another hastily written scrawl from him in return. More than half of his force was dead, but he believed that as many as sixty thousand Deshika had fallen in the two battles that he dubbed ‘Thunder Road’ and ‘Burning Valley.’ She was not overly inclined to agree with his belief that either was a victory, but Burning Valley was as much a victory as anything she could claim for the day, and her army’s morale was plummeting, so she needed anything that could halt or reverse that downward swing. The moon was high as she made up her mind to get what sleep she could when fresh sounds of a new battle came to her ears. Regath could not be … could not have … had … charged the Deshik camp.
The four thousand uninjured Torridestans tore through the Deshik camp, doing everything and more to forestall the war effort: destroying weapons, torching supplies, employing vicious guerrilla warfare against the Deshika. A massive stockpile of food and other supplies in the middle of the camp went up in a cyclone of flame. Four blacksmith’s tents were torched along the western edge of the camp. Two companies of Deshik soldiers fought against the spreading flames. Lines of Deshika wielding buckets formed, and some were cut down as they stood. Wagons were set alight, the oxen that had pulled them still harnessed to them. Frightened by the flames behind them, they lumbered forward through the chaos, seeking only an escape from the flickering red light behind them. All the beasts managed to do was drag the burning carts through the camp, spreading the fires even further and adding to the chaos. Sentries that ran through the camp yelling about the attack were silenced either by their friends or by the swords of the Torridestan Ringlords, who ran wild through the camp, killing at will. Near the time when the first bell would have tolled in Dishmo Kornara, their attack petered out, though sounds of it, and the fires, still raged on for some time after. When the grim morning after the horrible sleepless night finally came, it did not improve the damage done to the camp. Long paths, smashed by the oxen in their terror, ran through the camp and farther. Fires that had barely been put out had wrought untold damage on the camp and those inside of it. Blacksmith’s smelters and forges had been targeted especially, and what they could not steal or hide, the Torridestans had destroyed. Broken weapons that could not now be replaced or repaired were scattered throughout the wreckage, another obvious target of the Morschen wrath. Deshika missing one or more of their four arms were among the most common injuries.
All of that and more Makret Druoth took in as he stormed through the camp to meet with the War Chiefs. Not in the War Tent, as was common practice. It had been one of the first things that the Torridestans saw burn. Makret knew that that was no coincidence, though none of the Chiefs had been anywhere near the tent during the night. He was happy at the damage that had been dealt to the Deshika. Whatever happened, he was not on their side, though Edya and Daliana still refused to believe him. He was there to make sure that as many of the Morschledu did escape as could escape. Erygan seemed willing to accept that, though. The Torridestan attack had been well planned, and Makret would have smiled, but he did not dare.