September 2008

Chapter 3

Three thousand wild Entor beasts charged down the gently sloped hills at some five thousand armored Daecian soldiers. A flood of savagery against a shield of cardinal fire. Mindless creatures charging out from the ebony dusks under the jungle canopies at the foreign, dangerous object that man wielded. Beast against flame.

The port town of Seren was situated on one of the largest islands in the southwest region of Alcis, perched easily at the mouth of a small river that wove its way down from some aquifer buried somewhere in the mountains and jungle of the island. The land around the town itself was primarily flat for several hundred meters around. There, a gentle slope upwards that formed a sort of a lowland saucer around Seren. Bordered on one side by sea, one side by river, and two sides by open plains dotted with smaller settlements and wide easy roads, the town was an ideal trading spot.

Until the first arrows were launched and the first shields were raised against the hail of obsidian and yew. The Entor had set up this attack surprisingly well; a torrential wave of heavily muscled melee warriors backed by longbow wielders. As soon as they were in range, the archers stopped and let the rest of the savage horde flow around them while they loosed arrows into the sky.

At us. How inconvenient.

As the arrows fell on us, half-hiding beneath shields and half-charging to meet the oncoming rush, I reflected idly on, of all things, my father. His part in starting this war. His death. And it was the mere thought of him, not any grief drawn from his death, that gave my fury as the thundering stampedes collided.

When the battle trumpets had called I’d managed to very successfully leave my bow behind, which meant that I would have to fight in close quarters today. Just as well. Blades are better suited to blood lust anyways, I mused.

I looked down at the long curved sabre in my right hand. Shined and sharpened by the forge, it still bore the luster of being new. The grip was made of smooth tanned leather strips wound tightly to the core, and the curved metal hand guard still shone with the same silver gleam as the blade itself. It wasn’t a particularly amazing weapon, but it seemed pretty solid. All the same, it was an immature blade for an inexperienced user. I was, after all, an archer.

A medium-sized round buckler adorned my left forearm, strapped carefully to give me some measure of protection as I shot without obstructing my view. Unlike the sabre, this particular slab of iron was dented and heavily scarred with battle; the brilliant crimson painted crest of the Daecian Army that once graced its surface was now no more than a few more flecks of red in a field covered in blood.

The first bodies collided with one another in desperate attempts to throw the other back. The Entor chargers were huge – probably eight feet tall, and with enough girth to match it. I did not envy those who charged at the front of our line to see such a monstrosity up close. Maybe under calmer conditions, it would be something interesting to study. But here, to fight against those muscled beasts wielding weapons as tall as any of our own soldiers – and probably just as heavy – to stare into that massive face that looked sunken into the skull, those bulging eyes and snarling teeth…

I don’t envy our front liners.

As we poured across the field towards the horde, I saw several of their chargers fall prey to various weapons – arrows, spears, swords. At least they weren’t invincible. Though the barbaric armor they wore was little more than animal skins and leathers, often they were still enough to stop us from killing them. We had superior chain mail armor, greater numbers, and the defensive edge. Their only advantage? We were strangers to this land. Oh, and sweat. These southern regions were much warmer than the cooler northeast, where the heart of Daecia lays, so we were much sweatier than they were. The Entor still smelled worse.

So why, given all these things, did they continue to fight? Even their brutish brains should be able to comprehend diplomacy.

No time for this now. Now you fight.

We finally reached the front line of battle where the golden grasses of autumn were already covered in a pool of blood and broken bodies ankle deep. As always, Warden led our platoon, and characteristically she planted and jumped straight at one of the Entor chargers who was turned slightly away from us, busy killing another soldier. Her weapon of choice today seemed to be her largest and most dangerous – the huge two-handed claymore that had probably seen more blood and violence than our entire platoon. I was certain that the creature was dead when it shifted much more suddenly than I thought possible and threw its huge left forearm towards Warden, knocking her out of the air.

She landed heavily on the ground and for a terrifying moment I feared she was dead. Then, completely characteristically, she stood up as if nothing happened, and charged right back into battle. I grinned wide, raised my saber to sky, and screamed my rage as I followed suit.

“Die, you worthless beasts! Die by the hand of Daecia!”

Warden impaled the charger with her claymore and wrenched hard, trying to rip it to shreds. I brought my blade down from the light of the Sun and sky and hacked at its unprotected sides, and felt a dark elation rush through me as metal met yielding flesh. The charger roared – a deep, guttural tearing voice – and then Warden pulled a knife from her belt and thrust it into the charger’s neck.

I turned away from the downed creature and looked to my right just in time to see another Entor rushing at me, weapon raised and ready to strike. My saber was still lodged into the side of the charger; for an instant fear and death seemed to thrust their icy hands into my chest and squeeze my beating heart.

Then a knife abruptly appeared in its left eye, sunken up to the hilt – a fatal blow. I looked back and saw Warden’s arm outstretched and realized that she had thrown the knife. Our eyes met briefly, I nodded my thanks to her, and then the frenzy of battle took hold once more. I freed my saber and rushed back into the maelstrom.

I can’t bring Taris along, you know that. Why? He’d just get in the way. Too young and weak. He’d be worse than useless! He’d be a liability! You know what we’re trying to do, Lania. Taris can’t get involved.

Why not, Kyr?! He can at least be with his father, can’t he? He can fight, too, can’t he? Both of us are. Well, then he can do chores or help clean or anything! He’s twelve now; he can do something!

“I’m nineteen, mother,” I mumbled. Then I caught myself – she wasn’t here with me, as I cut down these enemies of the Holy Sun. Neither was he. Dark memories, that was all. I chuckled to myself as I remembered that day.

“Am I useless now, father? Am I a liability now?” I asked the air. I hacked at another warrior’s hand and disarmed him, then sliced his neck open. A fast, merciful death.

“I’m involved now, and I’m worth a lot more than you ever knew.”

Taris. An arrogant, pretentious name. The Holy Sun had once come down to to Alcis as a man and had four daughters and five sons. His middle child, and also his middle son, was named Taris, and he had been the one who ended the First War. The war so chaotic and destructive that the Holy Sun left his form as a man and returned higher into the sky than ever before, for it was his children who fought against one another. Each had some claim against another, all save the lone Taris. No one remembers the names of any of the other children, but everyone knows the name of Taris.

Made my life extraordinarily easy growing up, clearly. Other children pelted me with rocks and either laughed at me or cried sacrilege at me. Adults looked down at me with raucous laughter hidden behind their eyes and made me play endless games as a “mediator”. As if they ever actually wanted my opinion. Oh yes, very easy growing up.

The slaughter seemed to go on forever. And it was a slaughter; we lost some men but the Entor, large though their chargers were, had no hope from the start. Again I wondered why they had attacked us today at all. Hours later, as we picked through the dead and dying, long after the tattered Entor retreat, the inconsistencies still bothered me. What were they fighting for? And why us, why Daecia; why not any of the other states? I mean, they certainly have no reason to fight someone like The Regency. Or even ability, actually. Daecia itself would be unable to penetrate those particular naval forces.

The end of the day, once again beneath the stars. As I lay still and quiet with the dancing children of the Sun, I thought again of my own place here. An average fighter at best, and though a devout believer in our cause I still felt – knew – that my place was not in an army. Certainly I felt a part of the platoon; Warden saw to it that we all belonged. Somewhat like a guardian angel…an incredibly ruthless, impatient, and angry one.

Goodnight, Warden.

So I’ve decided on a “set” update schedule.

Basically, I will update with two pieces of work each week, be it two chapters of some book, or two short stories, or something else, or a mix thereof. Each “week” ends at Saturday at midnight. And yes, there is a good chance that I will be a procrastinator and you’ll get two updates on Saturday. On the other hand, both updates could happen on the first day of the week (ostensibly Sunday).

So be cool and check many times and often! Reread old chapters, find interesting metaphorical satire, discover a way to use my writing to set the universe on fire.

Good luck on that last one.