16

Nov

by thefourpartland

The seventh installment of a 30k word short story set in The Four Part Land. It takes place 400 years in the past from the time of Tarranau and Chloddio, and details the collapse of Hymerodraeth Heula, the Empire of the Sun.

A week south of Falna, and the first minor skirmish took place. A troop of scouts came back, holding several riders onto their horses. They had been caught out by a series of spear and arrow using ambushers from the top of a hill, and were forced to retreat, although not before taking several casualties. That attack set the pattern for the next several days, as scouting parties were attacked and harassed wherever they went. Sometimes the Veryan soldiers got the better of the skirmish, other times those of Niam Liad, but the army pressed on, almost catching up with the scouts as the generals and officers pushed the pace of the march, determined to get out of the constraints of the desert and into the freedom of operating in the lush grasslands of the southern peninsula.

Two days of peace followed the week of skirmishing, and then the scouts brought back news that a small force waited some ten miles ahead, situated atop a hill on the main route south. Accepting the news, the soldiers marched on, until they stood on a corresponding hill further north along the route. Over an intervening distance of some two miles, the forces stared at one another. Locsyn twisted his moustache in one hand and muttered. “Not a lot of armour on those boys. Means hit and run. Either that or the real force is hidden somewhere nearby. I hate this.”

Taflen spoke. “It’s why we brought mages. We can use them to out-range those bows, and that allows us to force them off of the high point without much danger.”

“Only if they didn’t bring any of their own. If they did, no advantage.”

“You’re always a pessimist Locsyn. Look on the bright side of things for once.”

“I did, once. Lost my sight for a few days from staring at the sun. Pessimism’s safer.”

Taflen shook his head. “Orders come through?”

Rhy responded. “Yeah. Wait and see.”

Horns sounded, and the vanguard of Glanhaol Fflamboethi began to creep forward as certain unremarkable soldiers carrying large shields slipped amongst their ranks. There were only a few of them, perhaps ten or twenty dotted about. Taflen nodded at that. It meant most of the firemages were being held in reserve, lest anything go wrong. With the forces on the hill, the number here should suffice. Reaching the depression that sat a mile away from the opposing forces, the vanguard locked shields to form a wall, and then began a slow pace forward to two-thirds of a mile distance. Now, the mages were well within the range at which they could strike, and after a brief moment, strike they did. Ten giant balls of fire rolled up from the ranks, arcing over towards the Lianese positions. As they reached the peak of their arc, winds howled and tore at the balls, pulling some to pieces, deflecting others to land short of their goal. Only one got through, landing with a thump amidst the enemy soldiers. Most had scattered from the area, but the splashing impact and slow responses caught several who hadn’t run far enough or fast enough.

By the time that first strike impacted, another was in the air, and the bombardment had begun. Again, winds tore at the spheres, breaking and diverting their course, but two more got through, and these struck tighter clumps of troops than the first. Bodies screamed as the fire engulfed them, and within seconds, charred skeletons were all that remained of many who had been burned. Above those cries of pain rose the sound of a horn, and the soldiers who manned the ridge slipped backwards behind the crest, pulling their dead and wounded with them. Glanhaol Fflamboethi had won this day, the first fight going their way. Rhyfelwyr made a little note in the mental scorecard that he kept, wherein lay all of the battles, skirmishes, and other conflicts in which he had been involved. This was a mostly empty victory, for little harm had been done either way, but at the least, the route was clear for the next day’s marching. A horn sounded from within the Veryan army, and once more the vanguard picked up their feet, and moved to the top of the hill, where they could see the soldiers retreating before them. Retreat it was, not an undignified flight, and over the distance between the two, gestures and shouts were exchanged, crude and inventive alike. The Lianese disappeared into the gathering dusk, and orders came down to form a stockade, a fortress ring around the camp tonight. That would be the normal from now on, always expecting attack in the night.

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