Second Battle of Jent
Bran applied his seal to the parchment before lifting his head and letting his eyes settle on the horizon where Findian and the small retainer of Triumon guards had disappeared a few hours ago. His writ commanding all Northmon commoners able to bear arms to assemble at Ponchon was short; news of the Dasyu invasion would precede his official decree, and many would start moving to Ponchon before it arrived.
He knew that as word of the Dasyu invasion rippled across his Northmon realm, stoic farmers would trade their scythes for the pike, letting their fields go fallow; dour blacksmiths would silently retrieve their heavy war hammers, letting their forges go cold; determined carpenters would strap their broadswords to their backs, setting aside their more delicate tools; steady woodsman would sharpen their great axes, leaving their forests; and resolute shopkeepers would hang their aprons and don their armor, shuttering their stalls. Followed by their able-bodied sons and daughters, the common men would grimly make their way to Ponchon, many solemnly remembering those who had not returned after the last Dasyu invasion had been repelled.
Bran remembered the day his father, Northmon Ealder, had marched from Ponchon, leading his generation to the fields surrounding the Pass during the First Battle of Jent. The memory of his father sitting tall in the saddle seldom left him, and the bright sunshine reflecting off his father’s polished armor as he disappeared across the rolling heath, the long lines of Northmon soldiers strung out behind him, was as vivid now as it had been that cold crisp morning so many years ago. His father had been one of the many Northmon who never returned to the cold grey keep at Ponchon after the Dasyu had finally been driven back into the sea.
With his eyes still fixed on the horizon, Bran thought of Findian again and the grandfather and father she had never known; Bruchmon Ealder and his son, Pollan, had also not returned to their waiting families after the last Dasyu invasion, Pollan leaving behind his newly wed wife, her belly swollen with the triplets, Findian and her brothers Pollancynn and Broan. He stood from the small writing table that had been left behind after the royal tent had been packed into the wagons, tapping the sealed writ against his palm, cognizant again that, like him, many he was commanding to march south were leaving no sons or daughters behind.
A lone horse in a light canter came into view, removing him from his reverie and reminding him that the present required his full of attention. He watched the horse and rider angle down the shallow incline before they cut across the river, easily fording the rocky shallows. Medstren, the outrider he had sent with Findian, had unexpectedly returned.
The young man reined his sweating horse and deftly jumped from the saddle. Bran spoke first before the man could apologize for returning; Bran knew Findian had sent him back, deeming her need for the safety of another sword less than his need for an able Northmon man-of-arms. As usual, Findian was right, since he had no horses left to carry his message north as he tapped the sealed writ against his palm again.
“Have the wagons cleared the pass?” he asked, putting the man at ease.
“Yes, My Lord,” Medstren said. “They will have moved safely onto the road to Spirit by now. Triumon regiments are forming along the road, and the Lady’s safe passage is not in doubt.”
Bran nodded. Triumon was mobilizing quickly, probably due to Segan’s presence at Spirit, although it also boded desperation in the face of this sudden Dasyu attack.
“The first group of Triumon riders is just minutes behind me,” Medstren said, looking over his shoulder to the pass. “And Lord Altan is at their lead. Whispers are spreading that Triumon Ealder is leading the Triumon host from Spirit.”
Bran quickly ignored the mention of Altan Triumon, focusing instead on the unexpected news that Triumon Ealder had left Spirit. Any remaining hope that he’d harbored regarding the Dasyu attack being small and isolated at Torbod was shattered with that announcement. Only a massive full scale assault would have caused Triumon to mobilize so quickly and draw Triumon Ealder from the safety of his towering wind blown halls at Spirit.
Bran nodded again, accepting what must be done; like the generation before him, they would drive the Dasyu back into the sea or die in the attempt. Death at the end of a Dasyu spear might be waiting for them all in the end, but it would only come quicker if they tarried.
“I need you to return to Ponchon in haste,” he said, handing the writ to Medstren. “Change horses as frequently as you can. Do not stop and do not sleep. Grennian is to immediately hurry south with the entire garrison from Ponchon. She is not to wait while the countryside mobilizes. You will wait for them and lead them south, following Grennian as quickly as you are able.”
Medstren didn’t hesitate in accepting his informal promotion. He had risen quickly through the ranks, and during his short time as a personal guard in his Lord’s retinue, he had come to esteem Bran’s decisive though often unceremonious pronouncements.
“Yes, My Lord,” he said with a quick half bow.
Bran nodded again, content that this promotion was well deserved.
He saw in Medstren’s eye that the man knew these instructions would leave Ponchon unguarded should the Dasyu excursions find their way to the northern coast, and yet, Medstren had not demurred or questioned what must be done. They both also knew Bran’s intemperate sister would not stay at Ponchon once the news of the Dasyu reached her. He had not even commanded it in the short writ, knowing that Grennian’s desire to avenge their father who had fallen to a dozen Dasyu spears burned deep. Too deep, Bran thought, knowing the passion of their father’s slaying would forever boil in his sister’s blood.
“Soldier’s speed, Captain Medstren,” he said.
Medstren dipped his head and mounted his tired horse without another word. He urged the horse into a gallop and quickly crossed the river as easily as he had done just a few minutes ago. He hadn’t disappeared before a line of Triumon horses crested the hill.
The three remaining Northmon guards walked with Bran to the flat area along the riverbank, and they waited for Altan to descend the last of the hills that rolled down from the pass. It had been many years since Bran had seen the over-proud son of Triumon Ealder, and he folded his arms and resolutely watched the group splash across the river, knowing he would be spending many weeks on a Triumon horse with Triumon steel at his side before his Northmon hosts arrived.
Leading the horses to where Bran and his men stood waiting, Altan lifted a ring-gloved hand and deftly stopped the group just a few feet away from Bran’s broad chest. Altan’s dark eyes remained fixed on the river that wound its way out of the last of the mountain hills for a few moments before he lowered his gaze, scanning Bran and the three lightly armed guards at his side with a look of displeasure.
“It is an ill time to be so far from home, unarmed and horseless,” Altan said.
Bran said nothing in reply; there was no disputing that hard blunt truth.
Altan slowly pulled his gloves off before draping them across the ornate pommel of his saddle. He pulled a hand through his thick hair that was as black as his well groomed goatee. A brief frown of disdain was quickly hidden behind princely manners.
“Relinquish you horse to the Lord of Northmon,” he ordered the man on his left. “Give him your blade as well.”
Bran would normally have declined, and taken one of the many horses that would be following shortly, but he saw little point in arguing the issue. While Triumon seldom ventured from their high mountain homes, the east bank of the river was still within the Triumon realm, and Altan would rightfully command the assembling of the Triumon hosts that would soon blanket this quiet river valley.
Altan scanned the surrounding area again; Bran saw in his eye that he was reminded that Findian had been here with him, but Altan was quick to hide it behind a derisive smile.
“An ill time for a pasear into the countryside,” was all he said.
Still, Bran chose not to answer.
“Have the command tent assembled there when my host arrives,” Altan ordered loudly, pointing to the flattened field where Findian had peacefully slept just a short while ago, a night that already seemed very long ago to Bran.
e-Book version of Heart of Hauden, Book One of the Harmony of the Othar Saga, is now available at www.heartofhauden.com.