Second Battle of Jent
Bran Northmon was awakened more from troubled dreams than the biting pre-dawn wind that blew through the valley at the headwater of the Adonite River, and the sound of the gusts buffeting the royal tent and the creak of the support poles added its voice to the whispers in his head, whispers that quickly faded once he opened his eyes. Only the noise of the wind remained.
He had fallen asleep, sitting, and he unfolded his arms and stood, lifting his heavy jacket before dropping it again on the back of the chair. Resisting a shiver as the last chill of the dream fled, he parted the wall of pelts that bisected the interior of the tent. Findian’s golden hair flowed around the quilts and blankets, framing her face in the peace of sleep before she stirred at the sound of neighing horses and the splash of hooves down river. She opened her eyes, and the shimmering peaceful illusion was gone, leaving only the cold shadows of night. He turned away and left the tent just as the shout of voices began to awaken the entire camp.
The sky was just bright enough for the last of the stars to have disappeared, and two men on horseback spurred their muddy horses up the hill to his tent as the guards of his household belatedly jumped around him. He waved them off and stepped forward as a rider in Triumon colors dismounted.
“My Lord,” the man breathlessly said, making a quick half bow. “Dasyu have landed west of Torbod. That city is under heavy siege.”
Bran looked over his shoulder at Findian who stood at the open tent flap, his heavy jacket draped across her shoulders. In a single breath, her eyes narrowed and her jaw set with a cold acceptance of the news that her ancestral city had come under Dasyu attack; she was still a daughter of Bruchmon, and her unreserved lively demeanor was quickly replaced with an earnest commitment to duty. Her determined look was enough to dismiss the anxiety that had momentarily chilled his heart upon hearing this sudden disturbing news.
Still, he found himself shaking his head when he turned back to the Triumon messenger. A Dasyu invasion always followed a Darkening, but he knew the timing of this attack was uncustomary and had come too soon; it had only been twenty five years since the night the moon went dark, marking the coming of age for his generation. Perhaps this was nothing more than a small Dasyu raiding party, he thought for a moment, but the faint impressions of his troubled dreams and the hard expression on Findian’s face said otherwise; no, this was a full scale assault, and he and Findian would not be completing their peregrination to Torbod where she always spent the winter months away from the seat of the House of Northmon at Ponchon.
The Triumon messenger pulled a sealed scroll from a bag at his waist as the rest of the camp woke and circled the Triumon horses. Bran was surprised to see the seal of his liege, Segan Fayersae, on the scroll.
“His Majesty had just left Spirit when the news from Torbod arrived,” the messenger said to Bran’s questioning look. “I was told to seek you here, around the Adonite, rather than ride to Ponchon with this news.”
Bran broke the seal and read the decree from Segan, the contents of which he had already guessed; the House of Northmon was commanded to assemble all men of arms and march south to the Jent Pass. They were to hold the pass until the Dasyu intentions could be determined and the coordinated defenses of the Houses organized.
“There is more,” the Triumon messenger said. “Shortly after we left Spirit, Westermon riders from Forn and Derth brought news of Dasyu ships harassing their coastal towns. It is not safe for the Lady to return to Ponchon,” he said dipping his head to Findian.
A cold silence followed as Bran digested this last piece of news. Ordering his House to move south to the Jent Pass would leave Ponchon vulnerable should the Dasyu sail even further north, however unlikely that was with the coming of winter. The men surrounding him seemed to deduce the same, even though they did not know the details of Segan’s instructions that would leave few Northmon soldiers guarding their homes. Findian also seemed to recognize the danger, but she firmly beckoned her handmaids into the tent.
“We are short on horses here,” Bran said to the Triumon messengers. “The mounts of the half dozen outriders and the draft horses for the wagons moving our tents are all we have; our journey to Torbod was leisurely and on foot. We are not prepared to move quickly, nor are we prepared for battle.”
“The Lady may accompany us on our return to Spirit,” the messenger said. “There are a dozen Triumon soldiers following us, and they should arrive by midday. They are bringing extra horses and arms at his Majesty’s request.”
Bran nodded; as usual, Segan’s decisions were quick and decisive. On Segan’s instructions, he would ride to the Jent Pass on Triumon horses and await his host, a host that would be moving south as soon as they could assemble after his messengers arrived at Ponchon with the news of the Dasyu invasion.
“Call the riders in,” Bran ordered the man on his left. “Break camp and prepare to move south with haste,” he commanded another.
Both bowed and spun away as the camp broke into an ordered bustle of shouts and commands.
Bran turned and looked back to the brightening northern sky and the mountain pass they had just descended the previous day. Snow would soon cover valleys and make the crossing from north to south difficult, and he couldn’t help but think that Findian would not be escaping the cold northern winter as was her custom each year; riding to Spirit and trading the sun, gardens and warm beaches of Torbod for the fierce wind and snow of that high mountain city almost seemed too cruel. A damp, cool and dreary winter in Ponchon didn’t seem nearly so bad as one spent in the cold windy corridors of the House of Triumon at Spirit. He shook his head, realizing that he also would be spending the winter away from Ponchon, and preparing for battle against the Dasyu at the Jent Pass would be no more comfortable than Findian’s stay at Spirit.
Findian exited the tent, his heavy jacket draped over her arm. It didn’t surprise him to see her dressed in heavy riding leathers, her golden hair braided and wrapped tightly around her head. Dressed in her usual white dresses and colorful shawls, it was easy to forget that she was the daughter of Pollan Bruchmon, and that like all Bruchmon she had learned to ride as soon as she was able to walk. He checked the flutter in his heart as she handed him his jacket; this was the woman he had fallen in love with the day he had come upon her hunting party on the banks of the Falchner River shortly after the Darkening. He had eventually won her heart, but he had not been able to completely woo her away from the sun and the gardens at Torbod; and now her birth-home was under siege from the Dasyu and she would not be completing her annual sojourn to Torbod.
The Dasyu always came, and there was no predicting where they would land and which city would face the brunt of their assault. Torbod wouldn’t fall, but when the Dasyu tired of their initial assault and began their inevitable march to the Jent Pass, the villas and orchards surrounding the city would be sacked. He knew Findian’s thoughts were on her household, many of whom had remained at Torbod when she’d gone north with her new husband.
“I’m sorry,” he said, unable to find further words of comfort.
“Wood and stone can be rebuilt; gardens and orchards can be replanted,” Findian said.
“But the men, women and children that fall cannot,” Bran said, finishing her thought as he pulled his jacket over his shoulders. “Many brave men and women will join the long list of their forefathers who fell repelling the Dasyu hordes. The Dasyu have come too soon; there are too few sons and daughters born to our generation. Our villages, towns and cities still have many more wedding festivals to celebrate before the bells toll to announce the births of our sons and daughters; the years have been too few since the Darkening.”
“You will have strong sons,” Findian said, pulling his jacket tight around his neck. “That much I foresee with certainty.”
Bran looked to the northern horizon and the brightening early morning skyline and accepted her presage; however, he knew that before the Dasyu were driven back into the sea, many brave men and women would die childless. Many Northmon would be marching south to join him at the Jent Pass, leaving houses empty of youthful voices.
Book One of the Harmony of the Othar Saga available at www.heartofhauden.com