Second Battle of Jent
A dozen riders wearing Haelanhon colors surrounded Cettan and Scieden, separating them from the wavering Dasyu ranks. Slowly, they circled away from the Dasyu, picking up more unhorsed Bruchmon soldiers, as the horses provided cover for the beleaguered men to group up and form a solid line. Cettan found new strength after seeing that many of the Bruchmon soldiers who had ridden off the ridge with him were still alive, but he knew that the light of day and the few dozen Haelanhon riders would not be enough to turn the tide of this battle. Already, the Dasyu were shifting and tightening their lines, and as they turned from their assault on the ridge, they brought their larger numbers to bear on the smaller host before them.
“Shoulder to shoulder,” Cettan yelled. “Stand your ground! This battle isn’t over.”
The Haelanhon soldiers on horseback continued to circle, but Cettan knew that most of them were not trained to fight atop horseback. If they were going to live long enough to put up a fight, they needed to get as many of the Bruchmon back on the horses as possible.
“You,” he yelled to the Haelanhon rider behind him, the one who had been leading the horse. “Give up your mounts to the Bruchmon cavalry. Go,” he said to Scieden. “Get your men on the horses. We need to fight our way back toward the ridge.”
Scieden didn’t hesitate and started barking orders as he quickly mounted and took command of the Haelanhon horse, signaling for the rest of his men to take a mount. The remaining Haelanhon riders were more than happy to follow his lead, and when he ordered the horses into a tight wedge, he had nearly three dozen riders strung out on either side of him. Their numbers were enough to keep the Dasyu from immediately charging and overrunning them, but they were still too few to break the Dasyu lines that were now a solid phalanx of spears. Slowly, they backed toward the ridge, but already the greater Dasyu numbers were moving around their flanks.
“Haelanhon foot soldiers are marching this way, My Lord,” the man who had given up his horse to Scieden said. “They’ll be about an hour behind us,” he said, anticipating Cettan’s question.
“How many?” Cettan asked instead.
“Lyhtan is leading his entire host from the coastal road, My Lord,” he said. “Our scouts only returned a few hours ago with the news of the Dasyu army massed here. The frontline vans came as quickly as we could.”
Cettan had originally hoped to retreat to the safety of the ridge, more to relieve Stannen and his men than to save himself; however, if his brother had indeed disobeyed their father, and if he was now marching the Haelanhon host to the Jent Pass up the western side of the mountains rather than the safer eastern side, then retreating toward the coast to intercept them was their best hope of surviving. The Dasyu were now likely to ignore the meaningless numbers on the ridge anyway, and if Stannen still lived, he would survive.
“Lead us back toward the coastal road,” Cettan yelled at Scieden. “Orderly retreat! The Haelanhon army is marching to relieve us.”
They fought their way back toward the coast, narrowly escaping each time the Dasyu charged their flanks in order to surround them, Scieden’s expertise with the horses just managing to allow the dozen men on foot to stay alive. The slow attrition of horses and riders to Dasyu spears started slowing the retreat, and after struggling to keep from being caught in a pincer of Dasyu spears, Cettan ordered the men to stop and hold their ground. Continued flight meant a quicker death, and it was time to make their stand and hope relief caught them before they were overrun.
“Anything?” Cettan yelled to Scieden who had circled behind them.
“Dust and a red southern sky,” Scieden said. “The first soldiers are coming. Look,” he said pointing to the Dasyu lines. “Our enemy hesitates.”
“Sound your horn,” Cettan said. “Stand ready, men,” he yelled, hefting his mace in arms long ago gone numb with fatigue. “Make your families proud. The Dasyu advance stops here!”
For a few moments, the ragged breath of winded horses and the pawing of nervous hooves was all that could be heard on the red dawn air. A long blast from Scieden’s horn interrupted the calm, and as the last note faded, the daybreak was shattered by the frenzied battle screams from hundreds of Dasyu. They charged, and when the tide of their black bodies washed over Cettan’s small force, Cettan met them bravely with mace swinging.
Dasyu spears and knives cut down the men around him with brutal efficiency, but it only took him a moment to recognize that for each man cut down, two more took their place. Soon, three men took the place of each fallen soldier, and another blast from Scieden’s horn, somewhere off to his left, brought a resounding yell from hundreds of Haelanhon soldiers that were running headlong into the Dasyu charge.
The brutal clash of bodies stopped each army’s advance, and the battle cries from each side ended with the sickening impact of severed limbs and crushed bones, the yells giving way to breathless cries of pain and the last moans of death. Cettan swung his mace without thinking, smashing a path of gore as he surged forward against the mass of Dasyu in front of him, carried along by the Haelanhon soldiers at his back. He was bleeding from a dozen fresh wounds when his strength finally ebbed and the fresher Haelanhon solders surged past him, their numbers now exceeding the overmatched Dasyu that had begun to break and scatter.
He heard Scieden yelling, but he stooped, suddenly feeling his injuries and the fatigue of the long night’s battle. A few bodies bunched around him, and it took him a second to realize they were forming a protective ring around him.
“Over here,” Scieden yelled.
More bodies bunched around him, and the press started pulling him back from the fray. He let the men extract him from the melee, knowing that even if he’d had the strength to continue this battle, these men would not allow it. Leading the Haelanhon soldiers when they scattered the remaining Dasyu would be foolhardy rather than heroic for a man of his stature. The sound of the battle was carried past him, and he knew that he was done fighting today.
“Lead him to the back of the lines and find the surgeons,” Scieden ordered.
“No,” Cettan said too harshly, raising his hand.
“No,” he said more softly. “I’ll be alright. Put up my mace,” he said.
One of the men jumped to take the gore-covered weapon from his hand, symbolically ending his fight.
“Water,” he requested.
Many hands stabbed full water skins at him, and he took two and drained them both. He took a third and splashed it across his hands to wash away some of the slime of battle.
“What is the status of Stannen and the men on the ridge?” he asked Scieden who circled the group from atop his horse, the few remaining Bruchmon cavalry fanned out around him.
“Unknown,” Scieden said. “I’ve ordered a group to march straight for the area. The Dasyu turned quickly on us, and I believe the attack on the ridge was broken off before they would have had time to take it. Stannen was probably in less danger than we were.”
Cettan looked across the field before them, the clash of the battle having moved off as the Dasyu had been driven back and routed. Bodies still squirmed on the battlefield, both black and white, the last essence of their lives bleeding into the dry ground. Already groups of soldiers were moving from body to body, and too few called for aid to have a badly injured comrade carried off the field. Most that still lived had their suffering ended, and the soldiers moved on in a vain effort to find any that could be saved.
“This wasn’t an insignificant battle,” Cettan said wearily. “This was a large Dasyu force that will no longer pillage this countryside. I’m surprised there were so many here this far from Torbod.”
“It may have been the advance force marching to the Jent Pass,” Scieden said. “If it was, we have bought more time for the armies moving there to assemble.”
“Including this one,” Cettan said, gesturing to the men around him. “This army is on the wrong side of these mountains, however. What has Lyhtan done here?”
“Saved a brother,” Scieden said. “His van approaches. We should move away from here.”
Cettan took a deep breath. He rarely remembered ever being so glad to see his brother.
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/.