Second Battle of Jent
Bran stood at the edge of a broad hilltop where they had just finished pitching his tent, stamping his boots, hoping to coax some warmth into his wet feet with the effort. He watched the last of the supply wagons group themselves in the fields below him, fields that were fighting to stay brown against a light snow that had been falling and melting since midday. By morning, he knew the winter chill would win the battle, and the dead grasses of autumn would disappear until spring; both men and horse would welcome a frozen ground as an improvement over the slush and the mud.
He saw two wagons break from the group, bringing the evening’s food to the main camp whose fires had just started popping up on the horizon to the east. Triumon was now fully assembled, the host of Triumon Ealder having merged with Altan’s this afternoon, and the entire army of Triumon would now make the week long march to the Jent Pass. He made a final mental tally of the wagons, deeming the Triumon supply adequate for the numbers that had assembled, and he could only assume that Segan Fayersae already had vans on the march from the west that would cross the pass and keep them fed throughout the winter; his sister would be hurrying south with only enough provisions to get the Northmon host onto the field. Looking up at the snow that continued to fall, he hoped that an early snowstorm would not temporarily block the Jent Pass; he did not think the Triumon host would welcome rationing their stores between them and Northmon should there be any delay from that direction.
Shouts suddenly rose up from a group of wagons, and he saw Oltcynn deftly weave his horse between them. Although he couldn’t hear the exact words the young man barked, he could see that the youth had yet to learn the benefit of a measured tone as he sat tall and haughty in the saddle; however, Bran thought, taking note of Oltcynn’s horsemanship, the young man had mastered the horse as he sidestepped and backed around the men and wagons. Such expertise was uncommon for Triumon, who had less need for those animals, sheltered as they were in their mountainous enclave.
He started down the hill as Oltcynn continued to berate a man who was having difficulty getting his team unhitched, and from his vantage point on the hill, he caught the Quartermaster’s eye, signaling for him to approach. As Bran had hoped, Oltcynn’s attention was diverted from his rant when the Quartermaster started walking away from him.
The Quartermaster separated himself from the commotion as the shouts grew louder when a horse became tangled in its tack and started bucking, and even from the distance that still separated them, Bran could see the man’s displeasure at having his corps so thoroughly analyzed by Oltcynn who had begun yelling at the men again. When he and Bran met, he started to make a formal bow before Bran shook him off.
“Triumon Ealder wishes to break camp an hour before sunrise,” Bran said informally, just as the group the Quartermaster had left regained control of the spooked horse. “And although the days grow shorter, we will continue to march after the sun goes down. Make sure your men sleep tonight.”
He knew no task was harder than the Quartermaster’s while an army was on the move. They were interrupted by Oltcynn who had spurred his horse over to them.
“Two of the water carts have returned from the river half full,” Oltcynn said to the Quartermaster.
“The tally, My Lord,” the Quartermaster said with only a glance at the young man, making a half bow anyway before handing Bran the lists.
“I trust your count,” Bran said, shaking him off again. “See to your men. That order to sleep is all I require.”
“Yes, My Lord. My young Lord,” he said to Oltcynn with just enough courtesy before he turned to leave, grateful for the quick dismissal.
Oltcynn’s eyes smoldered for a second before Bran crossed his arms and cleared his throat, reminding the boy who was in charge. It was also a reminder how disrespectful it was to remain on horseback while he stood before him, unhorsed. Oltcynn slowly dismounted as men quickly stepped up to lead his horse away. Bran’s men had followed him down the hill, and he just turned and led them back to his tent, forcing Oltcynn to quickly fall in beside him lest he find himself trailing the group.
“Those water carts, My Lord,” Oltcynn said when he’d caught them.
“The water carts are not what should concern us,” Bran said without chiding. “It makes no sense to overburden these men anymore than we need to; besides, look at the sky,” he said holding his hand to the falling snow. “The supply of wood should be our main concern right now. That and making sure these men get enough rest. Was there enough wood for seven nights?” Bran asked.
“I believe so,” Oltcynn said.
“Good. Then our task here is mostly ceremonial. Our role isn’t to work the Quartermaster and his men any harder than needed; they will assume a heavier burden anyway now that Triumon Ealder marches with this host. Our only real effort will be to ensure that these men get enough sleep. No army can move quicker than its supply caravans, and since we are officially in charge here, it will be to our detriment if we work the Quartermaster’s men into exhaustion every night fetching water that will be in ample supply once we reach the pass. I would not risk the displeasure of your Lord by delaying this march because we worked these men just to satisfy our exactitude.”
Oltcynn held his tongue, and although the look of displeasure did not leave his face, Bran saw that he accepted the soundness of the argument. Good, Bran thought; the young man was clever enough to learn, even though temperance would not come easily, if it came at all.
He didn’t mind having Oltcynn placed under his tutelage, even if Altan had commanded it as punishment for Oltcynn’s insolence in the command tent three nights ago. The young man was overbearing and overeager, but Bran knew if he could temper the former, the latter would distinguish the young man, who, despite some of his faults, was hard working and competent. Besides, Bran thought ruefully, glancing at the well polished hilt of Oltcynn’s sword, the young man really had no idea what awaited him on the battlefield. No amount of training or imagination would prepare him for the horrors he would experience when the Dasyu finally tired of the siege on Torbod and moved north to the pass. Bran knew as well, that additional age did not prepare his generation any better for what lay before them; they all would grow up quickly at the pass once the fighting started.
A fire was burning bright and warm when they reached the hilltop, and a half dozen servants bustled about, preparing their meal. Bran took a chair by the fire, gesturing for Oltcynn and his three men to do the same.
“Split the watch between the three of you tonight,” he said. “There will be no need to ride the perimeter; the Quartermaster’s guard will be well placed now that we are a single formation. Do make sure they get enough sleep tonight, however.”
They nodded, long ago having no need for feigned formality around him.
“You ride well,” Bran said to Oltcynn, changing the subject and stretching out his legs to bring his boots closer to the fire. “Triumon is not renowned for their skill on horseback. You do them credit.”
Oltcynn hesitated for a second, and Bran saw him relax slightly in the chair as he leaned ever so slightly to the fire to better feel its warmth. The young man was slowly getting used to his informality.
“I spent a summer at Anslo,” Oltcynn said guardedly.
Bran nodded. That made sense since all Triumon eventually found their way to the House of Fayersae.
“Hars is as good a horse master as any found outside of Torbod,” Bran said.
“I will be returning next summer,” Oltcynn said, opening up. “He has promised me a horse of my own if I work hard.”
Bran remained silent, encouraging the young man to say more with a quiet look of interest.
“He promised a warhorse from Torbod, black and strong,” Oltcynn added.
A distant look of disappointment came into Oltcynn’s eyes, the first such soft expression Bran had ever seen on the young man’s face.
“Hars will find a way to keep that promise,” Bran said, letting his thoughts drift to Torbod and the carnage that was being laid upon the House of Bruchmon by the Dasyu. “Many of their strong horses will survive this battle, just as many of us will.”
For information on Heart of Hauden, Book One of the Harmony of the Othar Saga, please visit www.heartofhauden.com.