Second Battle of Jent
“A pillaging sunset,” Cettan said to Stannan, the self-exiled leader of the artisans that had followed him to Torbod.
Looking out at the southern sea, they stood at the edge of a cracked wall running along the High Road, a road clinging to any level purchase among the shattered rocks and cliffs where the high mountain peaks suddenly tumbled into the sea at land’s edge. The horizon colored to burnt ochre, the color that only ash and soot from burning crops could produce. The farmland between the Falchner River and the Jent Mountains was still hidden behind the jagged outcroppings, but Cettan knew little would be left of the well-tended farms, vineyards and orchards that crisscrossed the countryside, countryside he had leisurely traversed just a few short months ago when he had briefly returned to Troth from Torbod.
“All the reports seem to confirm that the Dasyu landed well east of the city,” Stannan said. “Unfortunately, the entire area along the coast, from these mountains to the city walls, will have been burnt.”
Cettan shook his head, knowing that many of the Bruchmon citizens would have also perished before they could flee to the safety of the battlements surrounding Torbod. The small garrisons dotting the countryside would have slowed but not stopped a Dasyu invasion force this large, and there were even rumors that a detachment sent from Torbod to relieve the beleaguered soldiers had been overrun. Looking at the sky, he did not doubt the accuracy of those reports.
“Let’s keep moving,” Cettan said. “In a few hours, we will be clear of these mountains and bring what assistance we can; that is, if anyone or anything remains. Our scouts should be returning shortly as well with some more accurate information.”
Cettan yelled for the group to remount, and they began the final descent off the High Road that would bring them into the eastern realm of Bruchmon. Looking again at the sky, he wished there were more soldiers at his side, but he knew delaying their march so the countryside could be clear of Dasyu would not make reaching the walls of Torbod any easier. As it was, he still had no clear plan on how they were going to enter the city that would now be surrounded by Dasyu.
By the time the road finally leveled out from a final precipitous descent, a clear dark night had blackened the sky. A few of the brighter stars twinkled through the haze as the smell of soot and charred earth filled the still night air. The scouts were late, and Cettan had begun to fear the worst and was just about to order a halt for the night when the sound of riders in the dark caught their attention. Two of the soldiers reflexively drew their swords and kicked their horses forward, but they all knew the Dasyu would not be mounted if any still pillaged this close to the mountains. The two scouts he had sent out at midday rode into the group, and they were greeted with the sound of drawing steel when everyone saw blood and the minor wounds of battle streaked across both horse and man.
“My Lord,” one of them burst out breathlessly before Cettan could speak. “Two dozen Bruchmon soldiers are holed up in the remains of a village not a dozen furlongs from here. There are enough Dasyu roaming the area that they will not survive the night without aid.”
“What are the Dasyu numbers?” Cettan barked back.
“Too many to hold back at night without fortifications or the cover of these mountains,” the man answered.
“Stannan, have your men dismount and move back into the hills,” Cettan said, pointing back the way they had come. “Lead the pack horses out of here and find any defensible spot and fortify it as you’re able. Get a ring of torches lit and collect as much wood as you can find in the dark. Tie their horses together,” he ordered the remaining solders, unsure how the six of them were going to protect the animals should the Dasyu come upon them in the dark.
“My Lord,” Stannan said dismounting slowly.
“Folly, I know,” Cettan said before Stannan could voice the obvious. “But we need those trapped soldiers almost as much as they need these mounts. I do not intend to fight the Dasyu in the open at night. If you can find any defensible position in the hills, the Dasyu will need more numbers than should be roaming this far from Torbod to overrun us. If we can rescue those soldiers, Bruchmon on horseback will give us the advantage we need.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Stannan said before he started barking orders to his artisans to obey.
Within a few minutes, the group separated, and Cettan was left with five soldiers and two dozen horses in tow. He motioned for the scouts to lead them to the village and the beleaguered Bruchmon soldiers, and with weapons drawn, he requested a hard gallop that he hoped would scatter and confuse the Dasyu long enough for them to unite.
The plan worked, and a quarter hour after leaving Stannan and the mason, they rode into a burned out village, easily circumventing the hastily erected fortifications that consisted mostly of burnt and crumbling wood.
They found the Bruchmon soldiers holed up in the remains of a cellar, the brick foundation offering only a modest barricade. Hearing the horses and knowing that the Dasyu did not ride, the Bruchmon soldiers did not hesitate as they jumped from the ruins. They quickly corralled the skittish horses to keep them from bolting as the first cries of the Dasyu came at them from all directions. A flurry of spears from a forward group of Dasyu took down a rider and horse before they were cut down, but the mounted instincts of the Bruchmon quickly pulled the horses together into a tight wedge. Cettan jumped to the lead and turned the group toward the hills.
Escaping the village and the surprised Dasyu was the easy part, but Cettan could hear the Dasyu yells drawing their numbers together, and he knew mounts would not save them if the Dasyu completely blanketed the countryside. He reined up after they had put the village to their backs to assess their options.
“Will we be safer riding into the hills or trying to outrun them?” he asked the leader of the Bruchmon soldiers. “I have two dozen men fleeing toward the hills with a handful of servants,” he added. “They are not soldiers.”
The man hesitated for only a moment, knowing they had no time for indecision.
“Hills or plains?” he barked at one of his comrades who knew the terrain best.
“The men in the hills are dead if the Dasyu discover them,” the man replied. “There are ridges, gullies and ravines where foot can defend themselves, but only for a time. On horseback, we should be able to sweep across the area and keep the Dasyu at bay. Flight saves us, but dooms them if they’re found.”
Cettan needed no further assessment; he had not been inclined to abandon Stannan to luck.
“To the hills,” he ordered, kicking his mount into a gallop as the cries of the Dasyu intensified.
Stannan had just stopped the packhorses, and had begun to organize along a ridge when they caught the men on foot. Jagged rocks covered their rear, although with time and numbers, the Dasyu could scale outcropping. If they did, any man on foot was doomed. They quickly lined their perimeter with torches, and Cettan looked around, wishing he had a few dozen archers.
“Any of your men wield a bow?” he asked.
“A few, well enough,” the man answered. “My Lord,” he added as he recognized Cettan after their chaotic flight from the village.
“There are four longbows with the pack horses,” Cettan said. “Step up if you’re proficient enough, and find some high ground with a clear shot.”
Four quickly dismounted and did as he asked.
“Take ten of your men and group at that end of the ridge,” he ordered the Bruchmon leader, pointing. “The rest of us will move opposite. Draw them in, and when they’re bunched, we will ride out and pinch them between us. Don’t linger in the open; strafe and circle back to the ridge. It’s a long time until the sun rises and we can’t afford to lose men or horses if we are to fight our way clear at daybreak.”
The Bruchmon leader nodded his assent; it was a sound plan, and gave his men a fighting chance, one they had not had while trapped in the village after the last of their horses had been slain earlier that evening.
“Stannan, do the best you can,” Cettan said.
Already, the masons were moving rocks and boulders to fortify the front of the ridge, and although Cettan knew they would fight capably when attacked, they were no substitute for trained men-at-arms. The shrill cries of the Dasyu rose up in the blackness around them, and for the first time, Cettan began to doubt the wisdom of riding to Torbod with so few soldiers.
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/.