Tessara and the Prophet sat tall on Lupo as the great cat stalked back and forth, several of the Nomen Mosh leaders around them. A quarter mile away, on the crest of a low mesa, sat the Mistmarcher army, arrayed still in a horseshoe. The terrain did not allow an easy route to the western side of the hill, and the enemy had enough ranged weapons to make movement over the open ground between them dangerous. The Nomen had launch several charges, all of which were beaten back, but at high cost to the enemy. It was a stalemate right now…but just for right now.
The Prophet was angry at Tessara and all her ‘balance’ crap. The Prophet knew that they had held powerful spells in reserve, and could not understand why the fool elf druidess had thus far refused to use them. They could have scattered their enemy, to be easily slaughtered by their cavalry while the foot soldiers rushed in to secure the spoils from the caravan.
Tessara could see the Prophet’s point, but she also understood that there were greater threats than this army. Yes, if they made it to Silverstep they would create problems for the forces seeking to capture that city. But the Prophet was so focused on the traditional Nomen lands that she could not see well the fact that Misthaven was a powerful source of problems, and something would need to be held back, in case the kings rallied more forces, and sooner.
The Caretaker had nagged some too, last night, about the forests and streams, but the Prophet and Tessara agreed to not listen to it for the next 27 hours – not until the second moon reached its apogee. Then they’d put up with its blather for a bit. But not right now.
While the cat and its rider paced, the Nomen talked among themselves, trading their own ideas for what to do next. They were inspired by and wary and sometimes afraid of the Prophet, and kept their distance. It was during these tense moments of deliberation by both the group of barbarians and the group of voices in the elf’s head that a chorus of shouts came up from the men to toward the front of their horde – the enemy was formed up and charging!
From their position on the plain the Nomen and their Prophet could see a column of heavy foot marching forward at a quick pace, flanked to the north and south by cavalry. In front of the infantry rode a small group bearing the banner of the kingdom and the personal war flag of…King Anton. Tessara recognized it – she’d helped design it, actually…well, picked out one of the colors…whatever. She, the Prophet, the sudden intrusive voice of the Caretaker, and out of the blue of her addled mind four other voices she’d not heard in years all shouted in joy – the great source of imbalance was here and could be finally destroyed.
The Nomen, unable to hold off from a fight, charged pell-mell at the human forces, their blood up. Moments later the forward edges of both forces clashed: the frenzy of a barbarian charge versus the disciplined ranks of regulars. Cavalry on both sides clashed, limiting the outward movement of the foot soldiers, and the king’s banner waved high, in the middle of the fray.
Tessara and her personal mental retinue was momentarily paralyzed, arguing internally over what exactly to do.
“Misthaven is without its true king! I can lay low the city!” exclaimed Tessara, seeking primacy over the others.
“Kill the king! Smash his skull and feast on his brain!” muscled in the Prophet, riding a wave of blind fury from the Nomen.
“If too many of them are killed here, there will be imbalance,” warned the Caretaker.
For a few precious moments the elf sat high in the saddle, a blank stare frozen on her face. Few Nomen paid attention to her now, so drawn they were to the fight and the killing to be had. Those few who risked a glance at her eyes as they ran past couldn’t tell what was behind them. But again, the Prophet was beyond the knowledge of mortals, and odd behavior was not only accepted but by now expected.
Anton, Reg, and the Guard smashed into the barbarians like a hammer, crushing some under horsefoot while slashing and stabbing with a furor none had experienced in years. The split second before the clash, Reg and Anton shared a glance and each smiled, if grimly. Neither fully expected to come out alive.
Reg went after anyone on a horse, and kept an eye on Anton. If the king stayed up and in the fight, they’d have a chance. The Guard did their part by hacking to ground the barbarians, and jointly the group began cutting a gash into the horde of half-dressed, fully-crazed warriors. To their left and right the regulars pushed hard and maintained their formations. In the presence of their kings they gave all they could, every man fighting as if the kingdom depended on him alone.
The elf snapped out of her daze and charged, knocking Nomen aside and trampling a few as she headed directly toward the king’s war banner, which itself was affixed to Anton’s horse. She’d been on the inside of their rotten realm and knew how to end its destabilizing presence: kill the kings, scatter their armies, destroy their cities, let the people to the mercies of the Nomen.
A roar of sound rose above the din of battle, drawing Reg’s attention. Anton was locked in combat with a pair of barbarian horsemen and Reg had just cut down a pikeman who’d threatened the king from his flank. Reg saw and recognized the elf a moment before she’d crash into Anton’s unprotected right side. Processing and deciding what he had to do without thought, the great half-orc kicked his horse forward and turned it hard to the left, then launched himself out of the saddle and directly into the path of the elf and her mount.
The impact enabled Reg to plow his great axe into the cat’s skull, and in the doing also opened his entire torso to both its teeth and the force of its charge. The last thing he saw before his world became a tumble of dust and pain was the shocked look of the elf: filthy, naked, and utterly surprised that her charge was completely broken, and her about to be thrown from the saddle.
Reg and the cat twisted and rolled into a ball on the ground, the cracks of bone coming from both. Blood sprayed from a great wound in the cat’s head as it started into its death throes. Its jaws tightened around Reg’s side, cracking ribs and bursting organs as his blood mixed with Lupo’s in a dark maroon mud sludge. The cat thrashed about and weakened quickly; Reg had gone into the red rage that only half-orcs knew, and didn’t consider his grievous injuries above his one task: kill this beast and find the elf.
Tessara flew several body lengths, knocking one of Anton’s foes off his horse before landing lightly on her feet near the king, who immediately recognized her, and shouted for his Guards to close on him – she would get no help from her savage minions.