Second Battle of Jent
Screaming at the men riding pell-mell around him to return to the ridge, Cettan kicked his horse hard, even though the exhausted animal needed no extra cajoling to begin the retreat. This had been their sixth foray off the steep slope, and they had managed to scatter the Dasyu once again; however, after nearly half a night of back-and-forth skirmishes, the Dasyu had finally bunched and were holding their lines against his twenty-five remaining horses. They had managed to sweep the base of the ridge clear of Dasyu each time they made an advance, and Stannen’s men along with the four Bruchmon archers had managed to repel any that had gotten through and climbed the slope. Unfortunately, their arrows were now spent, leaving them with errant Dasyu spears as their only ranged weapons.
He climbed the narrow steep path with the other soldiers following, ordering the men to dismount and take up positions behind Stannen’s crude fortifications, which, thankfully, had grown in the last few hours as more loose rock and boulders had been stacked along the steepest face of the ridge. He dropped two more spears he’d retrieved onto the pile, knowing that if there had been a few dozen arrows, they might hold the ridge indefinitely against anything but a large coordinated Dasyu assault. As it was, if the Dasyu were finally preparing to make a unified charge up the slope, he knew they didn’t have the numbers to stop them even with the advantage in terrain.
Counting the Bruchmon soldiers, there were twenty-four men at arms still alive, although miraculously, none of Stannen’s twenty-three artisans had been slain. However, their problem now was that there were only twenty-five horses, although the packhorses could carry a man to safety if the Dasyu did not pursue them. For the second time that night, he considered splitting the group, and allowing Stannen and his men to retreat to safety while the rest provided a diversion so they could make their escape to the coast. He knew that once the Dasyu managed to come over the low wall of rock or scurry up the sides of the ridge to reach them from the flank, Stannen’s untrained men would quickly fall under a flurry of Dasyu blades. Stannen and the leader of the Bruchmon soldiers walked toward him, understanding the same predicament.
“The Dasyu are coordinating their numbers,” Cettan said. “They will swarm this ridge with more bodies than we can scatter without fully armored men and horses. Stannen, unless you can state a case for staying, I’m ordering you and your men to take the horses and flee back to the coast.”
“That seems a sensible command, but it is flawed for two reasons,” Stannen said informally after a quick glance at the Bruchmon soldier. “First, you would shame my men who gave up everything to follow you into exile. We understood the risk, and, if necessary, we were prepared to die fighting the Dasyu on our march to Torbod. And secondly, it is you who should be riding to safety while the rest of us hold the retreat. You are the second son of Haelanhon Ealder, and you should not throw your life away in a minor battle on the outskirts of Bruchmon lands.”
Cettan had expected nothing less than this assessment from his longtime friend. He heard Stannen’s words almost before the man had spoken them. He turned to the Bruchmon leader.
“Your company rides and fights extremely well, my friend,” he said to the man, knowing that after the long night of fighting by their side, he and his men were not common soldiers. “What is your name?”
“Scieden, my Lord,” he said with a half bow. “I was in command of the cavalry in this province until we lost the last of our horses three days ago.”
“A command you still hold as far as I’m concerned,” Cettan said. “What is your assessment of the situation here?”
“My Lord, I agree that if the Dasyu coordinate their assault, it will be impossible to repel them,” Scieden said without hesitation. “You have perhaps chosen the best spot along this section of mountains to make a defense, but numbers will win the day for the Dasyu in the end. I would council your retreat as well,” he said, looking at Stannen. “Our strategy here is not to win a victory, but to kill as many Dasyu as we can. Each that we slay tonight will be one less that will reach to the walls of Torbod. It is there that hope lies for the people of Bruchmon.”
“Wise council, but we had better find some hope here,” Cettan said. “You both know I will not forsake these men so that I might live.”
Just as Cettan had predicted Stannen’s response, Stannen had expected nothing less from Cettan. Attempting to reach Torbod with so few soldiers had always been folly. They had just encountered the Dasyu much earlier than expected.
“If the Dasyu give us another half hour, my men will have the gaps in this wall plugged,” Stannen said. “We’ve even begun barricading the flanks. As Scieden has said, this is not a bad spot to make a stand. He is correct; when this night is over, there will be far fewer Dasyu to bring their misery to the walls of Torbod.”
“Then we had all better start moving rock,” Cettan said, satisfied.
He turned to yell at the soldiers to move the horses to the back of the flat area where the slope rose behind them protecting their backs, and then to begin following the direction of Stannen’s men, but they had already moved the horses and melted into the darkness to help move more rock.
“Let’s get to work,” he said to Stannen. “I think we have some time. The Dasyu were massing about a mile from here. They still do not know how few we are, and their march will be wary. They will be expecting another attack from horseback.”
An hour had passed before a sentry reported the approach of the Dasyu hordes, and they gathered along the wall, watching the outlying torches they had scattered below the ridge go out one by one. Cettan shook his head.
“Under the cover of a few dozen archers, we could have ridden out and hit them as they began to climb,” Cettan said. “It might even have broken their ranks and forced them to retreat.”
“We have spent weeks executing a similar strategy,” Scieden said. “Their numbers never seem to diminish. Tomorrow, more would come, and the next day, even more.”
“Let’s do our duty and diminish their numbers then,” Cettan said, laying his one-handed mace against the wall.
He grabbed his two-handed spiked great mace, letting the perfect balance of that heavy weapon invigorate his tired arms before he dropped the weapon across his broad shoulder.
“Pair up,” he yelled at the men. “Artisans, grab a spear and a shield. Your job is to act as pike-bearers and slow the second Dasyu that comes over the wall. Soldiers, you know what you need to do. We have just enough bodies to cover the face of the ridge. The longer we keep gaps from appearing in our formation, the more Dasyu we will slay. Let’s make these vile hordes pay dearly to take this ridge.”
Stannen stayed by Cettan’s side with a spear and shield as the others paired up and strung themselves along the makeshift wall. Cettan ran a hand along the wall.
“This is a lot of rock, quickly moved,” he said. “I wonder what your masons could do in a week.”
“Little more,” Stannen said. “This is all the loose rock in the area. Quarrying more and building a proper foundation would take much more time. These walls can be built no higher before they would topple. But it is part of our defense,” he added, wobbling a loose stone. “When the Dasyu begin to pull themselves over the top, much of this upper stonework will collapse and cascade down the slope. It’s not a completely effective trap, but the falling rock will kill many. Are the horses ready?” he asked.
“Yes,” Cettan said. “The Bruchmon soldiers will break rank on my command once we begin to be overrun and ride out one last time. They are not enough to scatter the Dasyu. They will not make it back to the walls, even if some of us still lived.”
“It is dark. Even the vile Dasyu can grow confused in battle. The numbers we slay tonight will not be insignificant, even to these hordes.”
The first Dasyu cry pierced the darkness as the first dark shapes could be seen scrambling up the steep slope. Cettan lifted his mace and nodded to Stannen.
“Then let’s make these reckless bastards pay dearly.”
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/.