Chapter 11

Gerzh stood gazing in disgust at the pillar of smoke rising from Therazan. A few of the Red Exemplars had managed to escape on horseback, but none others survived. After chasing the survivors for a while, the horsemen decided they were no longer a threat and returned. Now Gerzh was beginning to grow irritated with their performance. “The incompetence of our horsemen is staggering,” he said to the commanders standing around him. “Atalan now knows we are coming and will be waiting for our attack. We can no longer rely on surprise for victory.”

“Perhaps they should be executed for their inability to carry out your orders,” one of the commanders suggested.

“Execution?” Gerzh snorted. “Execution is too good for them. They may have believed that burning Therazan was necessary, but tomorrow they will discover the full extent of their stupidity when they are the first to ride against a waiting enemy.”

“Considering that stealth was to be the primary function of our strategy, is victory even still possible?” asked another.

“Ha!” Gerzh laughed, his long beard wagging in the smoky breeze. “Victory is always possible while my soldiers fight. We may not catch them unawares, but fear is on our side. For us to suddenly appear just a day’s march away with no warning from their surrounding cities will cause them to overestimate our numbers and send them into a panic.”

Broin rushed over to them from the southern side of the hill. “One of the soldiers of darkness brought me a report from the forest southeast of here. The two soldiers of darkness you sent after the woman and girl that fled Itragoni were both found dead. The woman dead also, but the girl was nowhere to be found.”

Gerzh growled through clenched teeth. “Then she will tell them what she knows about our numbers. Speed is no longer our ally, but we cannot allow the enemy to gather reinforcements.” He looked at the commanders. “March your troops hard and fast today. Tonight we camp at the gates of Atalan.”

“We will do as you order,” one of the commanders replied. “When should we be ready for battle?”

“You must always be ready for battle,” Gerzh answered, “but I need you to ensure the soldiers are well rested by morning. The strategy has changed and we must adapt to use it.”