Chapter 29: The Battle Drags On
The third day of the battle of Emin-Tal dawned. Makret, having gathered his forces the previous day, marched through the night so that he could ensure that the Morschen cavalry would have neither warning nor escape. Just after the sun had begun to rise, his Deshik army began to slowly and inexorably march towards their unsuspecting enemy’s camp, now just a few miles distant.
Or so they thought. Regath, acting on his own, and not under the command of Edya, had taken his force another five leagues west of where Makret had thought they were. Only when the light grew brighter did they realize that they were marching towards a deserted camp. Makret knew, as soon as tracks were found, hardly with any difficulty, where Regath had gone. So he altered the plan.
Regath looked out from the mouth of one of the silver mines that the Drogs had managed to keep hidden on Meclaryan soil for so long. Daken, who had believed he could be of more use leading the infantry banners on the lower plains than debating with other commanders on top of the plateau, was impressed by both the complexity of the Drogodan mining enterprise as well as the fact that it had been kept secret for so many generations of Meclaryan Morschcoda. And as Regath looked out from the mine’s mouth, he saw a long column of Deshika, marching west. Naturally, he assumed that Edya had been defeated, and that the Deshika were merely finishing the job, as it were. They were marching into the heart of Anaria to claim it as theirs, finally and completely. He reported this to the commanders still with him. That number was drastically reduced. Both Torridestan commanders had been among the five hundred dead from the night attack. Two Caladeans, one from their cavalry, the other the commander in charge of the infantry banner, and four of the five Masters of the Brotherhood had all died in the past two days. As the fifth was too badly injured to be of any use to him, Regath was the only Drog commander left, and he had one Caladean woman, a Meclaryan woman, Daken, and the Ristan Infantry commander, an ancient man who could barely keep awake. He did have the young Armandan woman still, with the long scar across her cheek. For some reason, he considered that important. She would have a part to play in the next generation of Ringlords in some way, Regath knew. So he had to keep her alive. The problem with that was that she was one of the only skilled and experienced battlefield commanders he had left. The debate for what they should do raged long.
“A dragon doesn’t run from a fight, but it may lay hidden, waiting for its prey to show a weakness.” Regath took that to mean that Daken was against attacking the Deshik army.
“If we’re all that remain” the young woman argued, “then vengeance is both our only duty and our only purpose. We know that we can’t and won’t live to see Anaria rise again, but should we not make its fall glorious, so that even the Deshika should still fear us, though we are gone to our graves?”
Regath approved. If they did not at least try to avenge their fallen comrades, then they were little better than those that killed them. He drew his plans quickly, and then went to make a speech to the battered shell of his army.
“Today, we strike what may be our last blow in this war. It may be the last blow. We strike for vengeance, and honour, and glory undying, for we shall do such deeds today as shall be worthy of remembrance, even by them. But even more than that, we fight for what shall be: a new world, without the taint of The Kindler and his ilk. We fight for what should have been, what could be, and because we fight for something, we will fight all the harder.” He spoke with passion, not caring about what he said, but how he said it. “We may march to our deaths, but we will go willingly, and we will come back victorious or not at all. It has been an honour, my brothers and sisters, to fight beside you. Tonight, we dine at Lasheed’s Table.” His army stood half stunned, not realizing that his speech was over. They wanted him to continue. Regath had never before known his command of language. Like other things, he had found it too late. After they realized that he was through, they roared, smashing their swords and spears against their shields, cheering loudly. Everyone mounted and rode out of the cave. They stopped only once, just as they caught sight of the Deshika. Regath stood in his saddle and turned to face his army. A single tear fell from his eye as he raised his sword and shouted, “For your homes, for your freedom, for Anaria! CHARGE!”
Makret had known that his charade would draw out Regath. What he did not know was how swiftly the last Lord of the Mordak would react, nor how fierce that reaction would be. By the time the clear, resounding yell of charge had reached the ears of the Deshika, they did not need to be told that their deaths would come underneath the churning hooves and crushing paws of the Morschen horses and Mordak. They could feel the ground shaking, and they turned and saw the long line, unbroken from west to east as far as they could see. Even the darkest heart in the Deshik line had to admit that it was magnificent. Proud banners, the grey Storm Cloud of Torridesta, the yellow Many Rayed Sun of Caladea, the red Burning Flower of Armanda, caught high in the rushing wind that tore at the mounted wave of soldiers. But ever foremost was the many-masted Warship of Drogoda on blue and silver, guarded by the Spear of Drogoda, even as Taren himself had ever been. It was a spectacular sight, breathtaking. Even the Deshika paused for a moment in admiration. Makret himself blinked back tears, closed his eyes for a second, and then looked up again. Those around him saw that is was only with great sadness as he gave the order. “Wipe them out.”
Edya waited on the southern edge of the plateau for an assault that she was sure would come. It had not. So she sat down, chanting, channeling her magic, listening to the rhythm of the world around her. She found something strange to the west. She concentrated. It was a battle. It was the battle that she was supposed to be fighting! Returning to herself, she yelled orders at the top of her lungs. She WOULD get to that battle on time.
The Brotherhood of the Mordak, decimated by the battles of the first day, crashed into the ranks of Deshika in much the same way as a wave would crash onto a sinking ship. The Deshik line foundered under a sea of glittering blue scales and slashing silver steel. A rock from a slingshot bored through the air, missing Makret by a hair’s breadth, striking one of The Kindler’s War Chiefs with enough force to shatter bone. Just as quickly as the Mordak Riders, the rest of the mounted army smashed their way into the battle, adding their own swords to the flurry of steel. But the Deshik lines, perilously close to breaking, held to a man. And then they began to swing around.
Before Regath realized quite what was going on, it was much too late to do anything. Makret had laid his trap well. Its iron jaws were closing about him even as he hacked in a fevered frenzy at every enemy within his reach. No, there was nothing left to do but kill, and then die. There were too many, far too many. Though he did not know it, he was outnumbered almost eight to one. Even if Edya’s army was not destroyed, it could do nothing to help him now. And so, the battle stretched on for an interminable time. Regath was sure that every last one of his men must be dead when he heard the roar of the Dragon Hearted from the north. The roar caused the Deshik lines to stumble as they goaded more Morschen warriors into battle from the north. The Morschcoda’s army had come.
The Morschcoda’s army roared into battle in much the same way that Regath’s cavalry had. Edya herself was in the first rank of soldiers, at the forefront of the mass of charging warriors, eager to sheathe her sword in the bodies of Deshika. The vanguard slaughtered their way through the battlefield in a great block, storming its way towards the banner in the center of the chaos, the Warship of Drogoda. Three dozen men and women of the Spear of Drogoda still fought to defend the standard, but ten times their number alone were arrayed against them, and more than that against the rest of the army. Edya’s coming had shortened the long odds, but they were still not in their favour. Any banner they passed, Edya ordered stood up again if it had been cast down, but she had eyes only for the banner of her home. She reached it when only ten of the Spear still lived to guard the proud symbol. And the battle dragged on.
Makret did not wish to enter the fray himself. He defended himself from the few Morschen who got close enough to him to pose even a small threat, but he refused to bring his ample abilities to bear for one side or the other. If he used them to help the Morschen, then he would be killed immediately, and if he used them to aid the Deshika in their fight, which was rapidly becoming certain victory, then he really was a traitor. The Deshika had once more succeeded in closing a circle around the Morschen. Makret knew that nothing could save them now. Nothing on earth could alter the fact that he was going to win the Battle of Emin-Tal. But then, something shook his confidence. He waited, and heard it again. War horns blowing wildly, coming from the west! He looked. It could not be … It was! Looked for, longed for, and long forgotten amidst the chaos of Emin-Tal, Gelida Mectar waded into the battlefield at the head of a long line of Noldorin Morschen, almost forty thousand strong. With the fresh arms of Gelida’s army driving the fight back to the Deshika, who even now outnumbered the Morschen, what had been a rout and certain victory merely an hour before became a battle again. A battle that was winnable for the Morschen. Being the only army on the battlefield that had not been fighting for the past three days, the Noldorin quickly shortened the all too long odds that the Morschen had been facing. Originally outnumbered eight to one when Regath crashed in, they had gone to about two to one with Edya’s arrival, lengthened again to around five living Deshik warriors for every Morschen man or woman who could still stand on their feet. Many more Morschen had fallen than Deshika did. But now, with Gelida’s arrival, they were about three to one again. As it stood neither side could really claim victory, and if it remained that way, neither side would be able to for a long time. That was when things finally went horribly, irreversibly wrong for Regath, Edya, Erygan, and all the rest of the Morschcoda.
The Kindler was watching the battle progress throughout the day. He had been reluctantly impressed by the Morschen charge at the start. He had been annoyed and pleased when the main body of the Morschen had followed. He had been very upset when Gelida Mectar had shuffled new cards into the deck. That, after all, was the part of the war that he reserved for himself. But what really annoyed him most was that no matter what happened, the banner of Drogoda refused to be conquered. The Warship would not fall. He knew that he had lost at least three thousand soldiers just trying to take that one banner. Well, one way or another, that flag would come down. He Traveled.
Landing near the banner, he walked slowly, menacingly, purposefully towards it. The Warship of Drogoda had not changed since he had last looked on it, almost three hundred millennia before. Some people’s memories were too long. As he neared it, he stretched out his hand to tear it down, only to be met with resistance. A wall of water hung between his hand and the flag. He tried to brush it aside with his own dark magic, but the will that held it in place was strong, still unconquered. He turned slowly, until he saw him. It was the same man, still fighting and clinging desperately to life, who had led the first charge of that day. His face was ragged, his armour cut by many swords, but he was proud. He drove his sword into one last Deshik warrior and let go of the hilt. In one last, vain effort, he launched himself mentally at a foe far beyond him. The Kindler took great pride in crushing the mind of Regath Encarthian.
With the insignificant whelp dead at his feet, The Kindler reached once more to tear down the banner, but the wall of immovable water still held. He drew his sword, and drove it through the already dead Morschen General, but that changed nothing. And then he saw her. Edya Reeshnar was near enough to the Warship of Drogoda that he could have touched her with his sword without taking a step towards the woman. Her sword was a blur, cutting through every defense. It was an impressive display of skill, especially when coupled with her iron resolve to hold even him, even The Kindler himself, away from the flag of Drogoda. She would have to die. No sooner had he reached that conclusion than she turned towards him. Their eyes met, his dark, powerful, furious, full of malice, hers clear and cold, with a hard gleam, of hope as yet undefeated. He would change that. And he would enjoy doing so. Edya Reeshnar raised her sword. The Kindler accepted her challenge.
El Darnen had joined Gelida in her march to Emin-Tal. He was glad that he did. The Kindler was on the battlefield, and while he was not match for The Kindler, he could at least buy redemption. But the Lord of the Seven Devils did not turn towards him. No, his black eye was on another prize. He faced the girl, General Reeshnar, Morschcoda of Drogoda. Her life was one that El Darnen had to save. He began to savagely cut his way through the Deshika that stood between him and them.
Edya fought desperately. Her order to withdraw was being carried out, but it was not entirely possible for the Morschen to retreat, surrounded as they were, except for Gelida’s timely reinforcements. She struggled to hold her own against a foe she knew was far beyond her even when merely toying with her, as he was now. He let her attack all she wanted, never attacking himself, letting her spend all of her energy, while he simply blocked. Occasionally, he let her get a little closer, only to block at the last second. She was desperately tired, unable to go on much longer. And then he started his own attacks, which she could hardly defend against.