Second Battle of Jent
Slumping behind what little remained of the loose stone wall, Cettan looked at the sky that had just started to brighten and tried to catch his breath; the dawn would not save them, but his simple desire now was to live to see one more sunrise before the endless tide of Dasyu finally took the ridge. Gore from the piles of slain Dasyu hid his own wounds, but the exhaustion in his chest and arms was more worrisome than any of his injuries were, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could lift and swing the great mace that had crushed so many Dasyu.
Stannen took a knee beside him to catch his own breath, with just as much Dasyu gore hiding his own wounds.
“We lost another pair on the left,” Stannen said. “It’s time for you and those able to ride to break for the horses when the Dasyu begin their next charge. My men will hold them off long enough so you can ride free and sweep their flanks from below as they climb.”
Cettan could not argue. Delaying any longer would only see fewer Dasyu slain; their fate would not be altered either way. Looking around, he sought one last option that might allow them all to hold the ridge a while longer. All he saw were piles of Dasyu that did nothing to diminish their numbers, and wounded and weary men.
“We did our duty,” he said at last, letting acceptance replace the remaining bitterness and regret that he could not save these men. “Each man here will be remembered in song; never before have so few slain so many vile Dasyu. Our stand here will hasten the day when these hordes are finally driven back into the sea.”
He reached out a tired arm, taking a firm grip on Stannen’s shoulder, and both men stood on legs nearly too weary to hold them upright.
“One last stand for Haelanhon, friend,” Cettan said. “One last stand for our Ealders. Let’s make our sons weep with pride when they recall this day.”
Cettan slung his great mace into the straps across his back; he would not leave the weapon behind no matter how heavy it was. Retrieving his one-handed mace, he gave the order for the remaining soldiers to mount up.
“To the horses,” he bellowed a second time just as the cries of the Dasyu below them began another frenzied charge up the slope.
“I will see you in the halls of our fallen heroes,” he said to Stannen. “Die bravely.”
Yelling one more time to move to the horses, he broke from the remains of the stone wall without looking back at Stannen. The Bruchmon soldiers that still lived ran into the loose corral at the back of the ridge and quickly mounted, all of them as gore covered and exhausted as he was. Cettan was glad to see Scieden still alive.
“For Bruchmon,” he said to Scieden. “Each Dasyu we take down before we fall will be one less to harry the countryside or our families at Torbod.”
“For Haelanhon as well, my Lord,” Scieden said. “Our Lady Fyrian will lose a husband, but Bruchmon will gain a hero.”
“Lead the charge; your command in this province is not yet ended,” Cettan said, refusing to let the thought of his wife and infant son shake his resolve to die with these brave men. Even now, he knew he could order these men to cover his back if he chose to ride to safety.
Without hesitating, Scieden moved his horse to the lead and pulled a small horn from his belt, sending two shrill notes into the early morning air as the Bruchmon riders bunched behind him.
“Stay tight and strafe their flank,” Scieden ordered the men. “When the first horse goes down, rein up and drive into the Dasyu at that spot. We will end this together, back-to-back. For Bruchmon!” he yelled, before sounding another high note from the horn.
Scieden’s horse jumped on his kick, and his well-trained Bruchmon cavalry fell in behind him without missing a stride. Cettan and the few remaining Haelanhon soldiers were carried along in the middle of the group, and they raced down the steep and narrow path as Stannen’s men jumped away from their blockade at one end of the ridge. Cettan lurched in the saddle as the horse hit level ground at full stride, and he barely had time to steady himself when Scieden arched their tight band of cavalry into the flank of a Dasyu mass that tried to turn and face the charging horses. The first pass was easy, and the Dasyu were scattered underfoot, but when they disengaged for another sweep, Cettan could see the Dasyu flank shifting quickly to confront them with a wall of spears as the gaps closed in their ranks.
The brightening sky was just starting to show the vast number of Dasyu that had massed below the ridge. Hundreds were spread out on the flat area, and the only thing that had kept Cettan and his men from being completely overrun hours ago was the narrow steep slope that only allowed so many Dasyu to climb up at one time. Cettan had known their defense was hopeless, but he had not realized how large a force had gathered below them during the night.
Scieden turned to begin another charge, but he pulled up as the cries of the Dasyu echoed from the back of their lines. As their horses slowed, each man heard the impossible; the pounding of horses’ hooves in the distance greeted the first light of dawn.
Scieden didn’t hesitate, and sounded another note from his horn, announcing their presence to this deliverance, if that was what fate would allow, before leading his men toward the back of the Dasyu lines. They quickly drove into the backs of a group of Dasyu that had turned to confront this new threat at their rear.
The clash of mounted soldiers against the exposed flank added to the confusion that was rippling through the Dasyu ranks, but their numbers were too great to be scattered by the small band of Scieden’s cavalry. Within seconds, the first horse was downed as the Dasyu bunched and formed a wall with their bodies and spears. Additional spears flew from the Dasyu bunched behind this human wall, and Cettan tried to pull his horse up before they both were skewered by flying spears or impaled on the pike-wall in front of them; however, before he had a chance to break free from the bunching Dasyu, his horse was stopped in its tracks when two spears thudded into its right hindquarter. To its credit, the animal kept its balance and didn’t upend him, instead kicking out with its front hooves as two Dasyu charged.
The flailing hooves slowed the two Dasyu as Cettan brought his mace down on the head of the closest one, but as he fought to stay in the saddle, he misjudged his swing and the handle of the weapon split as it crushed the Dasyu’s skull. He let the shattered weapon fall from his hand as his horse danced sideways from a flurry of knife blows from the remaining Dasyu. The hind legs finally folded underneath the doomed animal, but the beast stayed upright until the end, allowing Cettan to slide backwards out of the saddle and remain on his feet. He ducked an errant spear as the Dasyu in front of him mistakenly finished off his horse, giving him just enough time to pull the two-handed mace from the straps at his back. The arc of the great weapon ended with the cracking of bone and a spray of gore as the Dasyu’s entire head exploded from the force of the blow. A chaos of bodies enveloped Cettan and the remaining riders as he swung wildly to live a few moments longer.
He couldn’t see much in the bloody melee that ensued, but yells of men joined the battle cries of the Dasyu. He fought without thinking, only trying to kill as many Dasyu as he could before their numbers and quicker knives and spears overwhelmed his slow but crushing mace. Another horse went down on his left, and he saw Scieden deftly jump from the saddle and dispatch the Dasyu that swarmed the dying animal. Both reflexively came together, shifting their stances to stand back-to-back, and they spun, scattering the frenzied Dasyu that tried to bring them down as Scieden’s quicker sword kept them at bay while Cettan’s mace crushed skulls and shattered chests in a final flurry of waning strength.
“Have enough Bruchmon horse come to be able to drive them back?” Cettan yelled above the battle, wondering if they could fight their way back to the ridge on foot.
“I don’t know,” Scieden yelled back. “They are not Bruchmon cavalry. I do not know how well they ride or what their numbers may be.”
“Who?” Cettan yelled.
“Haelanhon has come,” Scieden said.
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/.