Rows of men, some thirty deep, held their ranks against the might of House Duranan. Their spears glinted in the morning light, and their armor clinked quietly in the cool breeze. From one horizon to another did their ranks file—three thousand men by the count of Theris’ scouts. The deep boom of the beating drum filled the air as marching men continued filing in the back. Archers there were, and spearmen and swordmen and men of cavalry—all lined in straight columns, standing to attention with the discipline and courage of the Conrath. The banner of House Tybris, the Two Swords crossing the Shield, fluttered proudly in the morning wind, with the symbols of mighty Conrath above it.
Lord Theris men were fifteen hundred strong. Many had served with their lord during the Ogre Campaigns many years ago and could count themselves survivors of literally dozens of battles. Others were young, and their nervousness cut through the anxiety of the upcoming battle with the temerity of a wicked blade. Adding to their nervousness was their perception of their numbers: Theris had ordered a tight rank formation, and so their ranks had crowded to proud columns, but had scored the coverage of their files—although numbering more than half the strength of the enemy, they had tightened to look only an eighth of Lord Kyle’s men.
One of Theris’ lieutenants, a light cavlaryman, rode up to Theris and his captains, they too upon their warhorses also.
“All columns have reported ready, m’lord.”
Theris breathed in deeply and set his sights upon the enemy, hearing only the flapping of the banners of Duranan and Riverman halted upon the poles of his standard bearers. Lord Kyle’s men were arranged thus: five columns of footman, two columns of archers, spearman columns covering the flanks, with cavalry that numbered some forty horses strong. Five more footman ranks filed behind the vanguard, making a formidable reserve.
Lord Theris had only four columns of footman and two held in reserve. Four columns of spearmen held the second line and no archers to speak of. The advantage, it seemed, lay only in their horse: some eighty cavalry, light and heavy both, made up the mobile line—they stood ready beyond a hill some five hundred paces behind the right flank.
It would be a bloody one, and the count of losses would be tremendous, thought Theris, even if I could achieve a victory.
“Thank you, lieutenant. Assume your post.” The lieutenant respectfully bowed his head and made haste to the cavalry main. “Captains, you have your orders. May Draenor guide your sword.”
The captains, too, bowed their heads in respect, then mobilized their steeds, making great haste to their respective columns.
Father Carn remained at Theris’ side. His plain brown robes were frightfully disheveled in the winter breeze, and he clutched at his gnarled oak staff as if it could provide him warmth as he sat upon his tired steed.
“If blood be spilled this day, it will be a black one, my lord. Victory or no,” Father Carn counseled.
Theris smiled faintly, and nodded. “I know, old friend. As I look upon these men, I realize now that not four years ago we stood shoulder to shoulder against the threat of the ogre-men from the north.” Theris paused suddenly, then remembered. “This very day, four years hence, I was sitting near a small fire, making a meal of old cereal and oats, talking with some Conrath men. King Daniel himself had come to me that morning and asked me to make plans with Lord Dante’s captains for the assault on the woods that was to come three days later. They were hardy folk: my fingers were near to frozen and the cold kept my thoughts tumbling, but the Conrath men bore it as if it were a pleasant summer evening. They taught me their tactics and their art of war. One was kind enough to honor me a lesson in their keep of a spear. It was a hard, cold day, but it was a favorite one of mine.”
“Then, today, we must honor them with words of peace. No politics to bear upon these warrior-folk: let them hear the pride and tribute of the Lion, and speak truly your heart. And should that noble deed fail, honor them with a glorious battle.”
Theris frowned at Father Carn’s words. He knew that his words were wise, but he did not relish the thought of another battle; after nearly a year of witnessing many accounts of broken bodies, wasted shells of flesh, and mournful souls, Theris had grown sick of battle. He was a warrior, he knew, and the realm had respected him as one of its finest champions, but he would give anything to stay his sword.
“Come, Father. Let us negotiate, and see if we can save these men today.”