General Alcorn and his small force made good time on the first and second days, making it about 2/3 the way to Silverstep and being augmented by more cavalry, which rode hard from Burmovton to join them. Their challenge was to balance between moving quickly, and moving too quickly – showing up for battle beaten down and exhausted was a great way to lose before a fight began, and Alcorn was wary of how rusty part of his contingent was.
A scout had encountered a lone man galloping hard on a horse, who waved down the small recon party once he saw them. He clearly wasn’t trying to stay hidden, and was animated in the telling of his story to the men. The sergeant brought him directly to Alcorn as the column continued its march.
He told the story of what happened to Varnhold and how he’d escaped. Alcorn, having been to the city a few times and had been through both passes, quizzed him on some of the details that he remembered as a way of checking the veracity of his claims, and had his aide find a soldier who’d lived there to dig even deeper. The man seemed honest and his story checked out as best as it could and squared with what news had come from the east already. Alcorn dispatched a single rider westward with the news. Yes, he had a few Sending Stone, but this news, however horrible, was old at this point. They knew forces had moved west of the town and so the assumption was that it had fallen. This news did not change anything other than clarifying the nature of the threat and surprising level of organization the Nomen were showing.
“See to his needs and put that horse down,” Alcorn directed. “Put him in a supply wagon and give him something useful to do,” he continued, then turned to Connor. “And there’s a lot of work to be done – we could use you.” He’d relied on this tactic many times to bolster the spirits of men who’d been through awful things: put them to work and let them know that they were needed. Connor, exhausted, nodded.
“I’ll do my best,” he said.
“That’s all a man can offer, isn’t it?” Alcorn replied, resting his hand firmly on his shoulder before himself nodding and stepping away, returning to his horse.
As they spoke, the army had moved around them. Alcorn and his staff picked up their speed to move back toward the front of the column and rode steadily for another few hours without incident, but with a growing tension as they got closer to what they knew would be a desperate battle.