Second Battle of Jent
Lightning continued to ripple through the boiling clouds to the west, the low rumbling thunder a much diminished fury than the ferocity that had swept over Bran less than an hour ago. The flat barren trek southeast of the Adonite had been no place for man or beast when the storm had rapidly blown across the river, likely bringing the last rain of the season before cold winter air flowed down the mountainsides to cover the northern Adonite with ice and snow. During the gale, he’d barely managed to control the borrowed Triumon horse, but in fairness, the horses from his own stables would also have had the correct instinct to avoid this late fall storm; besides, he knew the fault did not lie with the properly skittish animal, but rather with the overconfident master who had foolishly thought he could outrun the maelstrom.
He urged the horse into a hard trot, finally angling away from the bank of clouds. The wind continued to blow, drying his face and thick brown hair that curled about his shoulders, but it left his jacket heavy with a damp chill that only increased when the last glow of the low grey clouds finally succumbed to the blackness of an early nightfall. A colder wind bringing snow would have left him drier and feeling warmer, but he repressed a shiver and pressed the tiring horse, finally moving away from the river toward the Triumon encampment. He only had a few more miles to go, judging by the outlying fires that had sprung into view atop the low hills strung out in front of him, and the horse seemed to sense the end of the long day as its pace, thankfully, remained steady.
He wasn’t slowed by any of the Triumon sentries until he approached the center of the camp, and an overzealous watch had just demanded that he dismount when a sharp command from an officer chastised the man, commanding him to stand down. The soldier’s punishment was swift: he was ordered to leave the warmth of his fire and escort Bran to the main Triumon tent where Altan and his company had most certainly stayed dry after a similar storm had soaked the Triumon camp earlier that afternoon.
Bran dismounted without a word to the guard who was left with the additional duty of attending the horse. Splashing into one of the many puddles that would likely freeze by morning, Bran was cognizant of his mud-caked leggings and boots as he strode to the large tent that served as the Triumon command headquarters. He unceremoniously stepped into the well lit tent, his tall frame filling the doorway to quickly silence the group assembled there.
He took quick note of the look on each of the three faces in front of him, ignoring the aides who stood deferentially behind their superiors. Both Altan and his sister, Oltian, had pursed their lips at the interruption, but they quickly hid their irritation when they recognized that he carried the authority to enter this tent anytime he wished, announced or not, cleanly dressed and coiffed or mud covered and unshaven. Only Oltcynn, Oltian’s young son, held a haughty glare in his eye longer than he should have, much longer as his eyes flared in contempt at Bran’s muddy boots standing on the rich carpets that covered the inside of the tent.
“Unless steeds mounted by Northmon grow wings on the open fields, you have not ridden to Derth and back,” Altan said.
“There was no need,” Bran answered as he walked to the table, the mud sloughing off his boots to spoil the floor. “Murnan’s company was exiting the pass, returning to Derth from Forn.”
Bran pulled off his wet wooly gloves and dropped them on the table. Oltcynn’s face colored, going from contempt to disgust. His mother’s look hardened as well, but Bran could not tell if she was as disgusted as her son regarding his dishevelment, or just appalled at her son’s inability to hide it. Probably both, Bran decided.
“Bring the Lord of Northmon some hot wine and a dry jacket,” Altan barked at an aide before turning his piercing gaze on Oltcynn.
“This is not a royal tent, boy,” he said. “You would dishonor our House with that insolent look. Men will be sleeping on that muddy ground tonight, many preparing to fight and to die at our command.” He let his words impress the young man for a second before he continued. “And do not forget who has just laid his gloves upon our table, traveling under a threatening sky at my request,” he said, letting the anger in his eye impugn his measured tone.
Oltcynn was quick to take the rebuke, and even quicker in his response.
“My pardons, Lord Northmon,” he said, dipping his head. “Stay where you are,” he ordered the aide who was moving to carry out Altan’s previous command. “I will attend Northmon’s needs.”
Bran ignored the boy. It was better to let him think Northmon held the resentment rather than to dismiss the incident as youthful pride as was his inclination. He was in a Triumon tent on a field arrayed with Triumon soldiers preparing for battle, and he knew that as long as Altan held sway, he needed to remain immersed in Triumon contrivances.
“What was Westermon’s response?” Altan asked, even as his own eyes glanced at Bran’s wet gloves on the table.
“There will be no Westermon troops moving east to cross the Adonite,” Bran said, waving away the jacket draped across Oltcynn’s arm as the boy approached before taking the offered wine. He took a quick swallow, enough to sooth his dry throat before setting the glass on the table. “Murnan has set aside Segan’s decree ordering Westermon to mobilize, claiming the right of self-preservation. He states that Dasyu longships have been seen off the waters of Forn.”
Altan’s frown was tantamount to uttering the word coward.
“Westermon’s isolation was anticipated,” Altan said instead of voicing that opinion. “Once rumors of Dasyu ships along their coast reached Segan, he concluded the same. If you, their neighbor to the north, could not convince them of the need to assist the wider realm, further entreaties to them are pointless. We will not waste more time thinking on them. How long before your sister’s host reaches us?” he asked, moving on.
“Weeks,” Bran said. “There is not a greater distance between cities than that which separates Ponchon and Torbod. The flame of revenge burns deep in Grennian’s breast. She will muster and march as quickly as the soldiers who follow her can assemble, but it will still be ten days before she crosses the mountains; more if an early snow fills the pass.”
“It won’t be fast enough to make any difference at Torbod,” Altan said, stating what each of them already knew.
“Are we to abandon Bruchmon, then?” Bran asked thinking of Findian and her kin whose blood even now would be darkening the green fields around Torbod.
“Unless Northmon steeds truly grow wings, I see no other option,” Altan said. “Only Westermon had the numbers to contain the Dasyu and drive them quickly into the sea. This battlefield will now be shaped by their selfish inaction. Triumon will not sacrifice everything just to claim the honor of having fought and died for Bruchmon.”
Bran stayed silent. He had known Altan would make this blunt assessment. His sister might have argued otherwise, but he knew that even he would not sacrifice the House of Northmon in the face of such odds. Without Westermon aid, Altan was correct: the battlefield would now be shaped by the reality of their numbers.
“Then we hold to the original plan,” Oltian said, resting her hand on the large map in the center of the table. “We march to the Jent Pass and wait for the Dasyu to come north, just as they always do. The countryside around Torbod will fall, but the city will defend itself until the Dasyu tire of that siege and abandon that futile effort.”
A very easy decision to make from the safety of the leagues that still separated them from Torbod, Bran thought, even though he knew that even with Triumon Ealder’s forces marching at their heels, they were too few to affect the battlefield around Torbod. The Dasyu landing had been swift and massive, and the Houses had let their vigilance wane under the illusionary safety of thinking they had more time before the inevitable invasion. Lessons learned from their last encounter with the black Dasyu were destined to be taught again with the blood of many hale and firm white men.
“Northmon consents to this,” Bran said, hiding the pain in his heart at dooming so many Bruchmon by saying so.
Each generation fought the Dasyu as circumstances ordained; his own turn as ruler of the House of Northmon would be no different than his father’s.
For information on Heart of Hauden, Book One of the Harmony of the Othar Saga, please visit www.heartofhauden.com.