Chapter Eight – Cohort, Traitor, Soldier, Spy
Iaegonaul Ruins at the base of The Shards
1st Set of Integrity, Month of Foundations 8178
“HOLD THEM BACK! HOLD THE LINE AS LONG AS POSSIBLE!”
Gregoire’s cry carried across the field. Unlike a typical battle, there was no clanging of weapons or battle cries from their opponents, occasional moans or mutters when they drew near, but rarely a unique sound. Just that incessant, distant, unified chanting.
Swinging a long sword in an impressive arc, Hereth gathered enough momentum and downward force to decapitate an emaciated form pinned between a wagon and a tree. The head fell forward and bounced onto the wagon bed, with a thud then rolled down onto the ground and thudded again. Having to brace themselves cautiously, Hereth then jerked the sword free of the trunk before gesturing up into the branches.
“Come on then, boy. Wagon was a bad idea, my mistake. You will have to deal with the pain on your bruised berries. I’ve a vnesh for you…” With an urgent wave, they barked, “let’s go then. Hurry up!” Hereth held a hand up to pull the boy down if necessary. Revas, however, dropped down to the grass and sought out the dagger that he had dropped in his altercation.
Hereth rolled their eyes and muttered while swinging down out of the wagon, “why, thank you Hereth! That trick with the wagon was impressive. I am amazed at how you could balance and ride it into that beast, what with one leg and all… and the way you took its head off- AMAZING!”
Revas stood up and gasped as he pointed across the field. “What are they doing?”
Ignoring their unstroked ego, Hereth peered in the direction the boy indicated. “On the vnesh boy. Things are about to get ugly.”
“Now they are getting ugly?” Revas gawped as he ran for the steed. “You noticed the half-rotted monster people, yes?”
“Enough lip,” Hereth scowled and all but hauled the Erahs onto the animal by the back of his trousers. Once Revas was seated, Hereth pursed their lips and pointed a finger at him. “This will not be very dignified. Laugh and I’ll guarantee you’ll not have a twig to go with your bruised berries… hear me?”
“I– …what is it with you and berries?” Revas blinked down.
Hereth gripped the vnesh and unbuckled the prosthetic. Slapping it up onto Revas’ lap, they grunted, “lose that and–”
“Yeah, twig, berries– understood.”
With a practiced crouch, the healer leapt upward and used their right arm to tug on the saddle. The momentum upward and pull forward helped to get their belly onto the ass end of the vnesh. The animal stomped with a shrill trumpeting cry. Hereth smacked its haunch. “Silence, you four-legged walking-steak.”
A few more grunts and wriggles behind Revas, and Hereth was situated. The boy half held out the prosthetic leg. “Want this back?”
“Don’t really need presently, do I?” Hereth reached around and took up the reins. Leaning forward, the healer steered the vnesh in the direction of the fleeing troops. “Hold on, boy.”
“Stop with the boy, kai…” Revas growled. “Even Khes doesn’t call me that.”
Hereth nodded as they reached a gallop. Thankful that Revas was in front of them, it was easier for Hereth to hide the somber expression. He had not yet been told the truth about his sister, and it was unlikely he would see her again, alive anyway. “Revas. I’m sorry… it’s habit, I suppose. You’re right, it is insensitive of me.”
“It’s fine. At least you don’t call me leaf-eater or squirrel when you think I can’t hear you.”
The elder was quiet then advised, “while it is uncomfortable and cruel, we cannot let their words get under our skin. May as well go back and lay down for those rotten beasts back there.”
Revas half turned his head and eyed Hereth, “they call you names too? Why, because of your leg?”
A half smirk took Hereth by surprise and they chuckled, “uh, sure. Naturally… because of the leg.”
– – – –
Across the field, Gregoire and Hakken barked matching orders, “LEAVE NO GAPS! LAY IT THICK! USE IT ALL!”
Soldiers kicked and rolled barrels of pitch across the field, spilling it out in wide wasteful pools, but forming as vast a stripe as could be managed. On the far side others battled to hold the surge of dusters at bay. Fursten was at their fore, commanding and urging the men to keep fighting. Dhon and two others ran forward with torches. Taking the torch from Dhon’s hand, the Warden shoved the other back away from the horde.
Gregoire hopped up on a vnesh, “FULL RETREAT! ALL CROSS THE BARRIER NOW!”
Everyone turned and ran, everyone except Fursten. Gripping his tunic, Dhon tried to pull him along, but Fursten shoved him off again.
“FURSTEN! NOW!” Gregoire bellowed.
The man turned, his eyes red with blotches of blood, he coughed and shook his head and waved. “Just go…”
Gregoire stared, hesitant then nodded. Fursten had given them more than just his honor and service, even if he did not know it. Turning to the others he pointed for them to keep going, then barked his order. “LIGHT IT!”
First to drop his torch into the pitch, Fursten marked an epicenter of light that radiated outward like an unfurling of fiery ribbon. A great roar whooshed across the the field as the pitch raged to flame. Heat wavered the air and black clouds began to darken the sky above. A few of the dusters staggered through, their bodies catching flame, fur and dust lighting with a foul stench. Their flaming forms never let out a scream as they lurched forward still intent on their goal, until some fell on their own, but most were slaughtered quickly.
The army left unnecessary supplies and fled to the southwest. Once at a safe enough distance, Gregoire and Hakken would determine their path to reach Kestrel Purlieu. It was where the Teigne and Paoel were to eventually meet them. It was the closest safehold not compromised by the Ganroth armies.
Backlit by a great wall of gold flame, the army fled. A panicked mass of men and women prayed that Tellorath would guard the flames and hold back whatever evil clawed at it from the other side.
– – – –
[This is an excerpt. You can follow the blog and read the full and future chapters here: firetidecomes.blogspot.com/ ]