Second Battle of Jent
“Before you abandon me, answer my question,” Cettan commanded his young nephew. “Would you have me abandon my son?”
Byldan stiffened in the saddle, stopping his horse.
“No,” he finally said in a low voice.
“I would never ask you to take my side against your father,” Cettan said. “I would, however, ask that you counsel him to leave enough men behind to safeguard the countryside here.”
“I cannot speak that boldly to my father,” Byldan said, his voice barely audible as he finally turned in the saddle to look at his Uncle.
Cettan looked at Stannen and Scieden who were quietly listening to the conversation.
“You and I have never let the rank between us alter our discourse,” he said to Byldan. “What counsel would you give us then?” he asked, gesturing to the group.
“I have already given it, Uncle,” Byldan said more loudly. “Your exile will be lifted once you turn away from your march to Torbod. I would advise you to reconsider that decision, and to reconcile with my father and stay here, convincing him to leave enough men to protect the countryside.”
“And why do you think that is the best counsel?”
“It is the best way to honor your son,” Byldan said, again more softly. “He is Bruchmon, and you would be protecting his people.”
Cettan raised his eyebrows to Stannen and Scieden.
“Wise counsel, my young Lord,” he said with a tired smile. “And I would advise you to speak your mind more often, especially to your father and grandfather. They are in no less need of your thoughtful opinions than I am. What say you, Stannen?” Cettan asked. “Does the young Lord make a strong enough case to remain here?”
Stannen took another long look at the ridge. He knew that the terrain that had allowed so few to defend against so many would provide a strong bulwark against the Dasyu, and it would become a strong haven to the Bruchmon soldiers and citizenry in times of strife, both now and in the future.
“Fortifying the ridge and winning the battle here might allow us to protect the entire area between the river and the mountains, which would be no small feat,” Stannen said. “It may not relieve the assault on Torbod, but it may force the Dasyu to the west before they head north to the Jent Pass after they break off their assault on that city. We would then save the folk here from the pillaging fires and give the armies more time to assemble at the Pass. It is a fair trade.”
“And?” Cettan asked, prodding him for more.
“And our chance of success is much higher than if we try to fight our way into Torbod, My Lord,” Stannen added after a short pause.
All eyes remained on Cettan. He stayed silent while everyone waited for him command further dialog or to make a decision. The surgeons, who had been trying to coax him out of the saddle, stopped their fussing, and they stood quietly while the minor cuts and gashes continued to bleed.
“My mind tells me you both speak wisdom, although my heart still yearns for a different course,” he said at last. “But I can no longer ignore the plight of the people here to satisfy my selfish desires. I will accept the providence that has brought us together,” he said to Scieden. “We suffered exile to come to the direct aid of Bruchmon, and we will not diminish that noble sacrifice by staying here.”
Scieden dipped his head in thanks, but said nothing. It had been his duty to protect the people of this province, and although no one could blame him for the dire state of the defenses given the numbers of Dasyu that had come, he was tremendously thankful that aid had come in time.
“Leave your horse, and lead your tired uncle to your father then,” Cettan said wearily to Byldan.
Cettan grimaced as he shifted in the saddle to dismount, and the nervous surgeons jumped to assist him. Seeing the pain and fatigue of the battle finally consume his uncle’s face, Byldan jumped to the ground and ran to help. The surgeons caught Cettan as he slipped off his horse, and they eased him into a sitting position.
“Find my father, and have a tent brought here,” Byldan said to Stannen as he knelt beside his uncle.
“I’ll go, My Young Lord,” Scieden answered.
Byldan nodded, and Scieden urged his horse into a trot and moved away to find Lyhtan. Byldan stayed kneeling beside Cettan, but he let the surgeons do their work.
“It’s an ugly business, the sword and mace, isn’t it?” Cettan said to his nephew. “You know, you should have stayed at Troth with your grandfather.”
“Do you think my father will leave enough masons to begin fortifying that ridge?” Byldan asked in response.
“You mean, do I think he will allow you to remain here to assist with that construction,” Cettan said.
Byldan nodded, taking Cettan’s jacket from the hand of one of the surgeons. He folded the bloody and torn garment before setting it neatly on the ground.
“Perhaps,” Cettan said. “Yes, I think he could be swayed,” he said after a pause. “Stannen will stay, of course, and your father will listen to his counsel.”
“I would insist that your expertise is needed here, My Young Lord,” Stannen said, taking the hint. “Begging your pardon, but your father will be hard pressed to deny me that request.”
“Besides,” Cettan said, “I fear there will be enough fighting in this province to satisfy your father’s desire to see you learn the art of warfare. If he has reservations, they will come when he realizes that you will be in more danger here than at the back of the lines with the command at the Pass.”
“I am not afraid to defend our people from these vile Dasyu,” Byldan said.
“No, but you should be,” Cettan said. “Even the Ealders become somber with doubt and misgivings when the Dasyu armadas darken our shores. This is a foe that none should underestimate. Many will fall before they are driven back to the sea.”
“My grandfather says they are always driven to the sea in the end,” Byldan said.
“Yes, they are always defeated.”
“Why do they come then?” Byldan asked. “My grandfather would not answer that question, although I suspect he could have had he chosen to.”
“They come to kill,” Cettan said, not surprised that his intelligent nephew posed that question. “But if the Ealders know of a deeper reason, I do not know of it. My father has never offered a better explanation, and I have never been bold enough to ask that question of him. There are many things the Ealders keep to themselves, and our duty is to simply honor and obey their wise wishes.”
Byldan frowned. Cettan knew his young nephew’s insatiable thirst for knowledge was not satisfied with that answer. Byldan spent endless hours in the dusty archives at Troth studying the history of House Haelanhon, and despite his young age, he had earned the trust and confidence of all the master artisans serving his grandfather, Haelanhon Ealder. His ability to translate book knowledge to practice had earned him the respect of men many years his senior, including Stannen.
“I would stay focused on the situation here,” Cettan said, hoping to take Byldan’s mind off the deeper unanswered questions of why. “Apply yourself to fortifying that ridge and giving Bruchmon a bastion to hold this province. That the Dasyu have come is really all we need concern ourselves with.”
“Yes, Uncle,” Byldan said, although he did not look satisfied.
They stayed silent as the surgeons finished their work, and soon Scieden, followed by men carrying a tent and supplies, joined the small group. The bustle from the pitching of camp ended the conversation, and Cettan reached a hand to Byldan who jumped up to assist his uncle.
“Unfortunately, there will be little time for rest,” he said, pointing to his jacket as he leaned on Byldan for support.
“I’ll have it mended, even if I have to do it myself,” Byldan said.
“No need,” Cettan said, forcing a smile past the pain. “Likely as not, the Dasyu will soon enough add more holes to it.”
A servant scooped up the jacket anyway as the tent started to go up around them. Byldan eased his uncle on to a stool, and a brazier was soon heaped with fuel to remove the morning chill. Cettan took a mug of warmed wine and let the men work. After a few minutes, the fatigue caught up to him and his head drooped despite the commotion. The sound of horses followed by shouts forced him to open his eyes, and he lifted his head to see that his brother had returned. He sighed, knowing that as his exile was officially ended, his wife and son were still in Torbod.
For information on Heart of Hauden, Book One of the Harmony of the Othar Saga, or any of the books in the series, please visit http://www.otharsaga.com/.