Chapter 28: The Second Day
As he walked, waiting for the War Chiefs in charge of the army on the plateau, Makret pondered both his situation and the choices that the Morschledu of Anaria would have to face. It was his duty to ensure that as many as could be hidden were, but it was not that simple. The Torridestans could hide themselves. Their attack that night had proven that to his satisfaction. The Dothrin Morschledu could hide in their forest until the world ended and never be seen again. The same went for Armanda, Eschcota, and Noldoron. Eschcotans and the Noldorin could hide in the mountains, waiting for the sky to fall and cast the high peaks down in ruin underneath it. Armandan Ringlords could hide in the desert, or whatever lands lay further south, and never be heard from again. But he knew that they would never leave while The Kindler held sway. They had worshipped him during El Bendro Dakoia, and they had paid for it dearly. Many Armandans still believed that their debt to the other Morschen races had yet to be paid. Makret had a feeling that that belief could be the tipping point in the war, if it ever got near enough to fall over. As for the Drogs? The Drogs could disappear into the vast expanse of the sea, colonizing lands far from each other and far beyond The Kindler’s reach. Not one soul in all of Anaria, least of all he himself, would ever blame them, even if they could find them again to do so. But even as he knew that the Dragon Hearted of Meclarya would stand firm to their last man, he knew that the Drogs would never abandon their homes or the rest of Anaria to the Seven Devils. They claimed descent from the Army of Taren Garrenin the First, the strongest and proudest army during the whole of El Bendro Dakoia, and that pride and power were not yet forgotten, even if they could no longer be claimed.
Shaking himself, he returned to the unfortunately necessary business of winning the Battle of Emin-Tal for his most hated enemy while inflicting as much damage on the same. The War Chiefs, finally gathered, were hardly happy to be together. Some were the veterans of Agrista, but the rest were recent arrivals from Alega, and the veterans were not actually The Kindler’s people. They were the Deshika of another of the Seven: Venda, known in history and legend as the Pale Enchantress. The reinforcements were The Kindler’s, wholly. They did not appreciate a Morschen’s presence in their circles, but they knew that he was in charge, no matter how much they resented him. He did not really care about that though, or about anything that they thought, but he did not blame them either. They had come to Anaria believing their work nearly finished. Maybe there would be parts of one or two countries still to subdue, or some rebels hiding in the mountains, but they had not been fully prepared to conquer what seemed to them to be half of the world. Their losses were staggering, even considering their still large forces. Almost seventy thousand Deshika had died in the three battles along the road alone. Half of those came from the one disastrous charge along those cursed valleys that had suddenly ended in a wall of fire. Fifty thousand more had died in the attack on the Morschen along the cliff wall on top of the plateau. Those were already horrendous numbers, and they did not even know the Morschen casualties. And they were trapped in Anaria, at the battlefield, until one way or another, it was finished. Much as he hated to admit it, Edya had outguessed him. She had set a new man, or an old one, over the ever incompetent Admiral Tarick Jreshti. The ancient Lord Barthen Grosht had been a forceful Master of the Brotherhood of the Mordak during the reign of Taren’s grandfather, Carith Garrenin. He was a brilliant strategist and one who had long ago mastered the trick of winning battles against superior numbers. He was already rebuilding the Imperial Navy of Drogoda into an impressive, disciplined, and formidable force. With it, he had engaged and destroyed many of the Deshik support ships and most of the War Ships that had sailed from Alega. He had then blockaded the harbour to ensure no other vessels could get in or out. And now, Makret was hearing for the first time the rumors his original force was spreading through the camp; rumors about Taren Garrenin Reborn. How his sword could kill you even if you just looked at it. How he could destroy entire cities by himself. How he could slaughter his way through an army untouched. All Deshika knew and feared the name of Taren Garrenin, as much as or more than they feared Lasheed. Fairly common beliefs among the Deshika stated that Taren Garrenin the First had been Lasheed himself, come down to this earthly realm to bring fire and slaughter upon the enemies of his people. The Morschen, of course, knew the truth. ‘Just another thing’ thought Makret as he prepared to meet with the War Chiefs ‘that separates us from these barbaric beasts who are beneath us.’
“We should attack them now, while we still have the strength to fight them.” The words, badly mangled, flowed out of a mouth as hideous as its command of Morschen Basic. But many grunts of approval greeted the low, gravelly words of the Deshik War Chief.
“Yes,” said Makret, “but which force to attack? We have lost over one quarter of our army to these Morschen” he made the word sound as distasteful as possible. “I refuse to lose any more of our soldiers without gaining something from it.”
“We could retreat to the ruined city, and lands we already hold. We could wait for reinforcements.” That was another popular idea, though Makret could not understand why the Chiefs never said Agrista, or Rista. He thought that maybe, no matter how badly they mangled the words, they could not get them out, so they did not say them. It was a possibility, at least.
Makret struggled to keep his frustration from showing. Attack or retreat, it was all that the Deshik ‘War’ Chiefs understood of the act that made up their title. They did not understand a war’s complexity, the art of the strategy, the guesswork and half-formed logic behind determining an opponent’s next move. The subtleties of the art form that was winning a war escaped them. It was why The Kindler had so desperately needed a Morschen General. Why he had come to Makret Druoth, not knowing that Makret Druoth had already been convinced to betray his people.
“We can’t retreat.” He was going to say more, but the dull wretch who towered over him, tall though he was, did not let him.
“Why should we not retreat? We could draw them in, trick them, and fight them on our own terms, instead of a battlefield of their choosing. We would have the advantage that we should have had all along.”
All eyes turned to Makret as he cleared his throat and thought of arguments for his commander’s points. He was forced to admit, some of them were valid. Only his long standing hatred and belief that the Deshika were inferior beings kept him from being at all pleased that even one of them could at least partially understand the questions that a general had to consider when engaged in battle. “We could retreat” his enemy’s eyes lit up, “but the Morschen would not follow.” The War Chief looked back down again. “They would do exactly what we would be doing: waiting, watching, gathering supplies and fresh armies. The only problem is that we have no way to communicate with our reinforcements, nor can we afford to wait for them. They are on the other side of the world. The Morschen would let us keep what we have taken, slowly tightening the noose until there is no longer any further retreat possible. And then we might as well be here again, having this same conversation, only now, we have large armies, however tired. No, we cannot retreat without losing everything.”
“But if we stay, then we must attack.”
“No. We must wait. Yesterday was the opening sequence in this clash of wills. We cast the first stone. Today, it is our enemy’s turn.”
The Kindler was well aware of the situation that his Morschen General and his Deshik War Chiefs were fighting and debating over, long and pointlessly, without reaching any conclusions. So, he decided that he would make some of his own facts to add into their calculations. There was one Morschen who he thought he might just be able to convince, trick, or scare into joining him. He would have liked to direct his efforts towards his enemy’s powerful, skilled, and dangerous, he admitted only reluctantly, General Edya Reeshnar. But she was too well guarded in the midst of the Morschen camp, and he knew that she would die before she turned. No, his black eye was set on another prize. He had searched the battlefield for her mind, and determined that she was not there. ‘Perfect’ he thought. ‘No one can stop me from stepping in to see her, then.’ He laughed, a practiced laugh, rich with scorn and menace, layered in evil, so deep and dark, it seemed to latch on to a person’s soul, and feed off of the light inside of them, driving them into madness. Not even Makret Druoth was impervious to that laugh, but he fought it. Fought it valiantly, not giving The Kindler the pleasure of seeing him reduced to tears of pain and insanity. The Kindler was impressed by the mortal’s iron will. But he needed something else, something unexpected. And so he Traveled.
Far to the south he landed, barely out of sight of An-Aniath, right in the tent of Guinira Estaleth. The distortions he caused in the fabric of the world had warned her that something was wrong, so she was not unprepared for him. She rose to her feet, casting aside the cloak she had worn and drew he sword with a speed that spoke of decades of practice and deadly ability. She could not be allowed to keep her blade. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, she charged him. She did not make it more than two steps. He raised his hand, so that his palm was toward her, and she stopped dead and staggered backwards, as if she had slammed into a wall. Clenching his hand into a fist, he directed the magic towards her right wrist, slowly crushing it until her sword dropped from nerveless fingers to lay useless on the dusty ground. Releasing her wrist, he opened his hand, and, with his palm toward the ground, lowered his hand, forcing the proud Ringlord to her knees. He even attempted to bow her head, but there, her own will stirred, forcing her to resist even more strongly. He could have snapped her neck easily, but her arrogance, her stubbornness, her refusal to submit, it was what he looked for and prized in his finest servants. It was those qualities that had drawn him to Makret Druoth. It pleased him to see that, though she was clearly beaten, she would not yield willingly. She was proud, but her pride, he knew, would be her downfall.
“You have heart, little one.”
She spat at his feet, not being able to aim higher. “Release me and see how much heart I have.”
“I do not doubt your valour, child, or your prowess with a blade. Why do you think I disarmed you?”
“If you’re here to kill me, do it now. You will get no satisfaction from torturing me, I promise you.”
“I think I would get great satisfaction from seeing you die, Ringlord.”
“Then kill me. I won’t play word games with a Devil.”
“How noble and short-sighted. How very … Morschen.” He laughed. “I am here for your help.”
She fought hard. He could feel the struggle. It was shaking the ground he stood on. ‘Oh yes! I have made a most excellent choice with this one.’ He licked his lips in anticipation of what was to come.
“I will never help you.” Each word carried behind it the weight of the centuries she had not lived. Each one came as a slap in the face to The Kindler. He had thought her beaten, or nearly so. She would be a challenge. He changed his tactics.
“But for your help, I can give you anything you could wish for, and more.” He paused as he felt the struggle continue. His words had not yet reached her. She was still in control. “Is the land at stake not yours by right?” She faltered. He knew he had her now. He deepened his voice, almost pleading with her better nature to see that he wanted only what was right. “You are High Queen of Anaria, are you not? The others of your kind seem to have forgotten that, but not I. I can restore you to your throne. I ask only for your help.” He stretched out his hand, almost begging her to take it.
“Anaria is not yours to give.” She spat each word through clenched teeth.
The Kindler turned his back on her. He had believed that with the promise of her throne, he would have her begging at his knees. This one was tricky. She had spirit. She would not bow, only lead. At other times, he might have just killed her and gone in search of someone else. But he relished the challenge. It was something that no one had given him since the Old Wars.
“Anaria soon will be mine. And even if it does not fall, what part will you play in what comes after? Will your allies restore you to the throne that they gave you in the first place? I think not. It will be Edya Reeshnar or Erygan Dalrey, the conquering heroes, who take your throne for themselves, establishing their own lines upon the seat of the highest kings; a seat which belongs to you. A seat which I can ensure that you get.”
“I will not listen to you, weaving your lies with a silver tongue.”
“You listened to the Morschcoda. Was it not them, in their petty intrigues and meaningless debates that placed you on the throne merely so that they could rip this land apart? You could undo the damage that they have caused. You could unite Anaria, bringing peace and prosperity to your dominion.”
“A dominion that would only be a small part of your already vast lands, Lord of the Third Hell!” She spat again to emphasize her hatred.
Oh yes, she was giving him a challenge that not even the strongest willed of the Old Ones had been capable of. This was one who had the iron will that of all his conquests, only The Forgers and Dwarves of old had been the equal of, and he was not certain that they had necessarily been harder to break. He considered it a sign of her weakening, however, that she had said ‘Lord of the Third Hell.’ ‘Lord,’ not ‘Tyrant,’ which so many other Morschen would have used. “Would you deny that the Morschen are hardly a peaceful people?”
“Our wars among each other mean nothing. You can’t expect me to forget that you invaded us. You caused this war.”
“For good reason. I ask you, in all the stories you have ever heard, is not what is good and right and decent represented by things that are light and warm, things that make people happy? And is not what is evil something cold and dark and slimy?” He detested using the word ‘slimy’, but Guinira’s youth, even compared to her own people, tricked his mind into speaking as he would to a child. It was beneath someone of his stature to use such when other more fitting words could be drawn from a vast lexicon inside of his mind, from more than just the language they conversed in now. “Does not evil come from the bottom of the sea, perhaps? And who has ruled Anaria, in word if not name, for the past age? Torridesta, and Rista, and Drogoda most of all have controlled this land, this League of Anaria. All that they stand for is cold and dark. Never has Armanda or Caladea governed Anaria in truth, as is their right, the right of those who stand for light and knowledge.” He turned towards her and smiled.
Guinira wavered. She knew well what he meant. So often, what was considered evil in the ancient legends and old children’s tales was dark and scary, that lived high on a mountain or deep under water, whereas it was always the knight in shining armour who saved the day and came home to sit beside his fire in a warm house with hot food ready on the table for his return. Sensing his advantage while Guinira’s defences were weakened, if not lowered, The Kindler waded in.
“What is my name, Guinira Estaleth? Does not ‘The Kindler’ mean one who brings light, one who starts the fire? Are we not, by our inseparable nature, allies? Your ancestors believed as much.” He knew as soon as the words were out of his mouth that he had gone too far. The Armandans believed that they had a debt to pay for their part in El Bendro Dakoia. He had betrayed them, leaving them broken, so they could not take part in the war against him. Not then, at least. He felt her wrath ready to pour forth, to lay waste to the ground if it meant ending the nightmare she was confronted with. He thought quickly. He was barely quick enough. “No Guinira. I did not betray them. They deserted me. I gave them everything, but they turned to the other Morschen countries, abusing my gifts until what I had given them struck back.”
Though he had headed off her wrath, her own will had surfaced once more. “I don’t believe you!” Her shout reached him mentally and physically, striking at him like a physical blow, pushing him back a step.
“I think that I should know what happened.” He resisted the urge to call her a child or refer to her as youngling. He knew that such terms could be costly now. “I was there, after all.”
He had finally done it. He could feel the small shift. He had broken through her formidable defenses and planted himself inside of her head.
Guinira knew that something was wrong. She was no longer raging against what was before her. Her own will no longer contested The Kindler’s statements. The Anarian Throne was rightfully hers. And he had to be right about her ancestors. After all, he had been there. Morschen history would have to be biased, and even more so after so much time had passed. Her resistance was almost non-existent before she thought of one final thing. ‘He wants to bring about the first real peace Anaria will have ever had, and he wants me to be a part of it. How can I say no?’ Her resistance shattered. “I am your servant, my lord Kindler. What is your command?”
The Kindler smiled.
Makret frowned. Though he had forced the War Chiefs to concede that they could not run, all they wanted to do was attack. There was no strategy, no plan. Just charge and do as much damage as possible. Then retreat and do the whole thing over again. He was tempted, so sorely tempted, to let them and watch them come crawling back when they handed Edya and the other Morschcoda the victory on a silver platter. But no, if he did that, then The Kindler would have his head. His real problem was, now that his force was too small to attack the two Morschen armies separately, he either had to find a way to fight them one at a time, or together. It was actually a real problem for him. If he threw his whole army against the cavalry force on the lower plains, they could retreat far quicker than he could charge, and once the Deshika started charging, they would not stop, so they could be drawn quite easily into a bad position. Also, while the cavalry could not scale the cliffs, the infantry could come down quite easily, leaving them to deal with the entire Morschen army. And if he attacked the force on the plateau, then the cavalry could retreat quickly to the defenses of Airachni. He finally ventured to ask the War Chiefs what their opinion was, knowing full well that he had to do the opposite, except in the unlikely case that one of them had an idea that was not hopelessly incompetent. ‘And The Kindler expects me to win a war with these Rishtckal. I would have a better chance killing a Lurnax with my bare hands.’ As it turned out, one of the War Chiefs did have something not entirely unintelligent to say.
“The small force will stay small. We have dealt much damage to it. The larger force, though, should be destroyed while we still have the strength to do so.”
Maybe these heathens could learn after all. Though it was hardly an awe inspiring statement, coming from one of Venda’s War Chiefs, it made Makret feel that he had at least made progress, whatever his true allegiances were. He was glad too, that it was one of Venda’s War Chiefs that made the statement. He had had them longer. It meant that he was right about them knowing nothing about war.
“Prepare the troops. I will draw up a battle plan.” All fourteen War Chiefs got up to leave. Makret waited until all but one had left. “You. Stay here.”
“You will draw up this battle plan.”
“Yes, you. You are a War Chief. So far, all I have seen from the others that bear that title is blank stares and wild guesses. You, at least, have shown me that you understand certain parts of warfare. So, here is the map. Prove to me that the title ‘War Chief’ is not an empty one.”
As the day drew to a close, the War Chief stood up and stretched. He had been crouched over the map of Emin-Tal and the surrounding two leagues in all directions for almost eight Morschen hours, just under six Deshik hours. Makret, who had waited in the tent the entire time in case the War Chief should confess that such a thing was beyond him, shook himself back to being fully awake. The only thing that impressed him about the Deshika was their refusal to say that something was beyond them. So, Makret stepped over to the table and looked down at the map. Even after eight hours, Makret did not expect much. He looked down, and struggled to show no emotion.
He could have drawn it himself.
Or so he thought originally. A closer look showed the holes he knew, and hoped, had to be there. A large portion of the army would march in head on. A smallish force would go around the plateau and down along the western cliffs. The second force would climb up the southern wall, where it was steep and sheer for almost two hundred feet. The only thing that would be to their advantage was surprise. No one, not even Edya, possibly not even he himself, would think that an enemy would come from such an impossible path. Then again, the Deshika in their first invasion of Anaria had scaled the walls of three cities with only their bare hands. There was a small problem with the plan, though, and as Makret considered how much the plan depended on the Deshik force being able to scale those cliffs, the larger that problem loomed. Regath Encarthian, fearing retaliation after the Torridestan night attack, had pulled his cavalry back around to the southern face of Emin-Tal. A large army sat right on top of the key to his War Chief’s entire battle plan. And since the entire plan depended on that second Deshik force being able to charge in from behind and smash the Morschen between the hammer and the anvil, the whole plan was almost useless. If they made the strike force large enough to fight through the Morschen cavalry, the main army would be severely weakened. He pointed this out to the War Chief.
“Whether by accident or design, the Morschen cavalry could not better protect the main army’s rear.”
To the War Chief’s everlasting credit, he spoke up then. “What if we just attacked their horses? The main army would come down from the cliffs to help, and then we would be fighting all of them, but we would have almost destroyed their mounted men before the soldiers could join the battle.”
Makret looked at the map again. A small blue stone carved into the shape of a woman stood on the two triangles that represented Emin-Tal. The Blue stone was Edya Reeshnar. He moved her to the southern line, and then laid the stone on its side. “You are dead, Reeshnar.” A cruel smile twisted his face, but inside, his mind raged.
‘How do I escape this?’