Gerzh gathered his commanders beside a campfire. “Rouse the soldiers. Since the enemy is expecting us to attack from this direction, they will concentrate their defenses against an attack from the west. We need to march east under the cover of darkness so we can attack where they do not expect us.”
“And what of Amehtana?” one of the commanders asked. “Unless we destroy that city, we will be vulnerable if they decide to take any action against us while we are advancing on Atalan.”
“If you think I have left Amehtana out of my calculations, think again,” Gerzh reprimanded. “I would like you to meet someone, the only individual other than myself capable of controlling the soldiers of darkness.”
A shadow stirred and a soldier of darkness limped into the light. Unlike the other soldiers of darkness, he wore a hood instead of a helmet and tighter more formfitting clothes instead of armor beneath his cloak. A sword hung at his side and he had strapped small blades and several unrecognizable weapons to various other parts of his body. Blood leaked from beneath a bandage on his leg. “Zog Zog.” he slowly announced in his low raspy voice. “One sword to spearhead the darkness. Master Gerzh, the soldiers of darkness will keep Amehtana cowering behind their walls. There will be no counterattack from behind you.” Gerzh nodded at Zog Zog as he slunk back into the shadows and disappeared.
Gerzh looked back at the commanders around him. “As you can see, there will be no attack against us from the rear. This will allow us to concentrate all our strength to our front. The enemy may know we are coming, but they do not have enough time to prepare a proper defense. Our horsemen will charge straight at their flank and split their line in two. The rest of the army will run directly behind the horsemen in two wings. Once between the two parts of the enemy army, the wings will begin to separate as they annihilate each section of the divided enemy. I want small groups of light archers to follow behind the horsemen to keep the break open in case our infantry is too slow.”
“It seems likely our horsemen will be completely destroyed and the two wings of our army trapped between the two parts of the enemy,” one of the commanders commented.
“A soldier trapped with no hope of escape will fight harder to survive than a soldier with the option of running,” Gerzh said, dismissing the commander’s comment. “Even if the enemy does somehow decide to concentrate their defenses in the direction we attack from, splitting their army in two is the best thing we can do. Now get those soldiers up and marching. I want them to be able to have a short rest before battle in the morning.”
As the commanders went off to carry out their instructions, Broin walked over to Gerzh. “A woman has come from Atalan to see you. She claims to be a former associate of yours.”
Gerzh turned and looked at Broin. “I do not associate with women on the eve of battle,” he growled. “They are a petty waste of time and accomplish less through their incessant bickering than they would if they would just be quiet and do what they are supposed to do.”
Broin grinned and nodded in agreement. “Even so, this woman claims she brings information which could be used to bring the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar to its knees. She knows the whereabouts of the Awa girl that escaped us at Itragoni and claims she can help you defeat the Sisterhood.”
“I know the woman of whom you speak, and I have no doubt that this conniving person will demand to be rewarded,” Gerzh sighed. “As I said, women are useless. They want to negotiate the costs of their services instead of giving freely and earning their acceptance. Tell this woman she may follow behind the army as long as she stays away from the soldiers. I have no time for her tonight, but perhaps I may find time to deal with her tomorrow after the battle.”
The palace of the Great King was busier than it had been in a long time as everyone worked to prepare for battle. In the throne room, Prince Belmet was explaining the strategy to his father and the commanders that would lead the troops in the morning. They stood around a large table holding a large map of Atalan and the surrounding area. Various clay figurines were positioned on the map to represent units of the army. The Prince held a rod in his hand to point at the map while giving the orders. “This is a multi-contingency strategy,” he began. “We do not know the plans of the Dark Wizard nor can we guess his strength. What we do know is that their objective is to capture and possibly wipe Atalan off the map. We also know that since they know we are preparing for their attack, the attack will be even stronger than they had planned. We are counting on this strengthened attack to give us the advantage in defending Atalan until the Dark Wizard’s forces are fatigued to the point of breaking.”
“And what if the Dark Wizard does not strengthen his attack?” the King interrupted. “What if the Dark Wizard halts his army outside the range of our archers and waits for our attack while sending his horsemen to ravage the rest of Tanarad?”
“The Red Exemplars will guard against such actions,” the prince answered. “There were a few that escaped Therazan and their new captain is Taygor. He sent a message that they are informing the villages about the Dark Wizard so they will be able to prepare what defenses they can. The Red Exemplars have also volunteered to keep watch over the Dark Wizard’s rearguard and attack any excursions they may make from the main army.”
“Only a handful of men against the entire rearguard of an army?!” one of the commanders exclaimed. “If it was anyone other than the Red Exemplars, I wouldn’t believe it!”
“I would rather fight this battle with fifty Red Exemplars than five hundred of our best soldiers,” King Felarikam said. “Now, let Belmet further explain our strategy.”
Prince Belmet pointed to a line of figurines on the map positioned in an arc. “Our initial defense will consist of half our infantry and will span in either direction as far as necessary to prevent any flanking moves by the enemy. Behind them will be the second line of defense consisting of two thirds of the remaining infantry. Behind them will be the tertiary defense consisting of the rest of the infantry. They will be guarding the entrance to the causeway. When the enemy has weakened our initial defense to one third of their strength, they will retreat and reinforce the second line of defense. If they too begin to falter, then they will retreat and reinforce the tertiary defensive line. At this point, the enemy will be within range of our archers on the causeway.” The prince briefly paused. “If we still cannot hold against the enemy, then our army will be overthrown and several members of the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar will destroy part of the causeway to keep the enemy from advancing all the way to Atalan without using ships.”
“It’s a brilliant plan,” the Great King decided. “This will allow us to put fresh soldiers into battle while the enemy grows more tired by their continued attack. Commander Kwom will take the right and Commander Tirabisu will take the left. Belmet and I will be at the entrance to the causeway and direct the battle from there. Now get your units in position, pass out rations, and then set up a series of watches so the soldiers can get some rest before morning.” He turned to Prince Belmet. “In the morning, we’re going to put your strategy to the test.”
When the first rays of the sun began to shine in the morning, the white flag of Tanarad rose and unfurled at the causeway entrance as Great King Felarikam and Prince Belmet joined the army. Shortly after, the flags of the two commanders rose over their sections of the army, Commander Tirabisu’s to the west flag featuring a sword slicing a dark figure, and Commander Kwom’s flag to the east with an orange fupo lizard. The soldiers stood uneasy with their white shields held in front as a wall and the tips of their spears gleaming in the sunlight as they awaited the arrival of the enemy from any direction.
They did not have to wait long. Soon the enemy army appeared on the horizon to the east, their numbers concealed behind the horsemen spread out in front. “They must have destroyed Amehtana during the night,” King Felarikam said. He turned to one of the messengers with him. “Tell Commander Tirabisu to move his second line of defense in behind Commander Kwom’s so they face east. The outer line needs to remain where they are.” The messenger ran off and soon the battle formations were moving into their new positions.
With a shout, the enemy horsemen began to charge and a cloud of dust rose behind them. The front lines braced their spears and prepared for the collision with the enemy. As the horsemen came close, they grouped closer together into a wedge formation. The dust from the horsemen no longer completely concealed the enemy infantry running behind them and they could now see the enemy army was larger than it originally appeared. Shouts and yells filled the air, and with the sounds of the bone-shattering clash of metal against metal, the horsemen plowed into the first line of defense. They killed many of the horsemen, but there were many more and the defensive line soon cracked. Commander Kwom moved part of his second line of defense forward and the onslaught of the horsemen stopped, but not before the enemy infantry entered the hole. The two wings of the enemy army began to spread and the first line of defense began to bend inward from the pressure.
King Felarikam stood watching the battle unfold before them. “They came from only one direction,” he observed. “Have Commander Kwom send a unit to reinforce our flank along the bay. Commander Tirabisu can wheel his front line and attack the enemy’s western flank. Even if we are greatly outnumbered, we will at least have them pinned.”
“Can we really win against such odds?” Prince Belmet asked. “They are carving a hole through our lines as if boring straight for Atalan!”
“Have faith in prophecy,” the King replied. “Whether we leave this field in victory or defeat, know that prophecy says ‘the world endeavors’. There will be a tomorrow for the rest of the world with or without Atalan.”
Soon the enemy was well into the second line of defense and easily holding off Commander Tirabisu’s attack from the west. A loud cheer went up among the archers standing on the causeway and Prince Belmet turned to see what was causing the disturbance. A large na’karden was swimming toward the battle. Awa soldiers covered its back and their commander stood on the sea monster’s head with the green Awa flag in one hand while waving a sword with the other. More na’karden further out in the bay were being steered away from the battle. Prince Belmet watched in amazement as the large beast swam onto the shore behind the enemy army and the Awa soldiers disembarked to join the battle. Along the shore, thousands more emerged unexpectedly from beneath the waves and joined the battle.
King Felarikam drew his sword. “Soldiers of Tanarad,” he shouted, “the Awa have come to our aid. Forward for victory and let us meet our allies on the field!” He turned to Prince Belmet. “This battle is all but over. Take five hundred troops north and head for Amehtana. They may need our aid.”
Gerzh stood a safe distance from the battle and watched as his army began to dwindle. His soldiers would fight valiantly, but there would be no victory now that the Awa had joined the fight. He turned to his commanders. “Fend for yourselves,” he ordered, “I have other business to attend to. Broin, bring me Jomaka’Mon.”
Moments later, Jomaka’Mon was kneeling before Gerzh. “I was wrong to permit the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar to convince me to leave you,” she said. “I now know the error of my ways and wish to assist you in their destruction. I have five others willing to join me.”
“We must strike fast and hard and have no time to make reparations for past offenses. Where is the Awa girl being kept?” Gerzh asked.
“The Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar has her inside the White Pillar,” Jomaka’Mon answered. “There is no way to get there since the armies of your enemies control the land and the sea.”
“Then gather your followers,” Gerzh instructed. “The seven of us will attack the White Pillar from the sky.” Jomaka’Mon motioned behind her and moments later, the five other women were there. Gerzh looked up. “Migvokrokdo Bolz dazho kizvekor White Pillar!” He held out his arms and the women followed his example. One by one, a dragon picked up each of them and carried them into the sky.
While the battle on the ground subsided, the battle around the White Pillar began as the dragons carried the Dark Wizard and his new minions toward it. Ikarla’Yol and those with her stood guarding the White Pillar, Ikarla’Yol at the doorway to the chamber with Mara’Uto, and the others spread around the beacon. Bolts of lightning and dragon fire filled the sky as the two groups began their fight. However, despite sending two of the dragons and their passengers plunging to the bay, the women defending the White Pillar found themselves defeated and those around the beacon were also thrown to the bay by the magic of the Dark Wizard.
“Where is the Awa girl?” Gerzh asked after his dragon set him down beside the beacon. “She must pay for the part she played in this battle.”
Jomaka’Mon’s dragon set her down. “She is inside, one level down,” she answered before following Gerzh down the stairway.
The defeated Ikarla’Yol was at the doorway. “You will be killed if you enter,” she warned.
Gerzh slapped her across the face. “Be quiet, woman. There is no one alive with a magic strong enough to defeat me. Jomaka’Mon, hold her while I go inside.”
“The magic of life may be limited against your evil, Ikarla’Yol growled as Jomaka’Mon grabbed her arms, “but the magic of death is infinite. The Awa girl will destroy you if you enter into her presence.”
“You underestimate me,” Gerzh replied smugly. He stepped through the doorway.