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Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 15 - The Ever-Changing Tide of Battle.
The wizard wasn't the only one to notice this new development on the battlefield. King Brolin, one of Beraut’s aides-de-camp, was among the first to become aware of the unexplained shift in momentum taking place along the western flank and extending to the center of the attack. Even though it took him several more minutes before he fully understood the reason for this subtle change, a huge grin started to form on his haggard face.
When he first heard the roar from the initial battle cry of the new combatants, King Brolin's first reaction had been that the Dark Lord had called upon some hidden reinforcements to strengthen his beleaguered flank. He figured Madumda had no other option except to attempt to crush that portion of the allied army, no matter how badly he wanted to hold those forces in abeyance. This was what the dwarf king had expected to find when he scanned the area, but it was not what he discovered.
After scrutinizing the scene more closely, the dwarf realized Madumda had nothing to do with what was going on. This new commotion was the result of the tardy Western Army belatedly entering the conflict. Their sudden appearance had, in turn, caused the segment of Madumda’s forces caught between the two groups to reel in total chaos.
The king was ecstatic as he acknowledged the arrival of his countrymen. He had been concerned about them since they failed to show up at their appointed time, but now he watched with delight as they enthusiastically charged at the black-clad foes and quickly gained a substantial advantage in that area. He also made a mental note to discover what had delayed them, but he now deemed there were more important things to do, rather than finding out what had impeded their scheduled arrival.
King Brolin did what he could to get Beraut’s attention, since he wished to apprize his old friend of this new development, but it wasn’t necessary. He soon realized the wily wizard was already well aware of what was taking place and gleefully reveling in this sudden turn of events.
The newcomer’s entry into the conflict bewildered the gnomes and Merropites fighting in that area, because they couldn’t figure out how they had been out maneuvered yet again. The dark-clad warriors did not realize these were fresh troops entering the fray and instead believed they had somehow allowed themselves to be outflanked again. It immediately put the warriors in that area at a severe disadvantage, because they couldn’t figure out how to break free from their current predicament.
Gradually, the enemy’s ranks began to splinter, as the various fighters tried to extricate themselves from the trap by doing whatever they could to get out of there in one piece. However, before they could manage to get very far, one group of allied warriors or the other would usually manage to cut them down.
As the battle continued, the center section of the Tarolian army began to realize the enemy attack was weakening and some of their opponents were trying to break away, but they still had no idea about why this was happening. In their naiveté, they perceived this change to be attributed to their individual heroics, which sent a shudder of renewed enthusiasm reverberating along the entire battle line. Even though their conclusion was faulty, the tide of battle had unquestionably turned in their favor.
The units loyal to the kingdom now lunged at their opponents with a rejuvenated vengeance, which quickly began to erode the swaggering assuredness the black-clad warriors had exuded previously. Over time, Madumda’s ranks began to give way as the allies pushed them farther back, toward Treblanc, while also taking a great toll on their numbers. The accumulation of dead and seriously injured was steadily mounting and the ground was forming a myriad of crimson pools from the collection of blood being shed in such a short period of time. After the recent rains, the ground was unable absorb this additional moisture easily, so the entire area was soon covered with small puddles of this unholy hue.
Enraged by this sudden turn of events, Madumda entered into the fray and vaulted toward the heart of the battle. He cursed his military commanders for their ineptitude as he did this, because he had erroneously concluded those in charge had somehow allowed themselves to be outflanked yet again. He held them totally responsible for this current debacle and was completely frustrated by this reversal of fortune.
In order to compensate and correct for this situation, the Dark Lord lifted his right arm shoulder height and extended his staff forward of his clenched fist. A second later, a blinding flash of light erupted from the cap of his rod and flew directly toward a group of these intruders, as they pursued his fleeing soldiers. The luminous bolt struck a contingent of dwarf warriors and forcefully propelled them into the air. The explosion not only catapulted their bodies in several different directions at the same time, but it also left their uniforms singed and smoldering from the intense heat the beam had generated.
Satisfied with the results of his deed, the sorcerer turned his body slightly and focused upon another group. He lifted his arm once again and released a second bolt, which elicited equally devastating results. Time and again, Madumda repeated this approach, as he turned slightly after completing each outburst and focused upon another group of interlopers, before blasting their location.
Madumda must have been unaware or more likely merely indifferent to the fact that his powerful assault was also killing and maiming many of his own troops as well. Heedless of the consequences, he didn’t relent and continued his barrage of magical power.
Seeing this, Beraut immediately considered challenging his wayward brother to a duel of their supernatural powers, but since he was doubtful he could defeat him in that manner, he soon cast the idea aside. Beraut was certainly willing to sacrifice himself for the cause, but currently he could see no meaningful gain from such a suicidal move. If it came to sacrificing himself later, in order to give Kieren the extra time he needed to find the sword so he could challenge the Dark Lord with it, then Beraut would gladly go one-on-one with Madumda.
In the meantime, as long as there were other alternatives he could yet explore, Beraut felt his continued presence in helping to direct the battle was more important. So far his strategies had been fairly successful, so making the tactical decisions needed to keep Madumda from totally destroying the allies was more advantageous to their cause than dying needlessly. In fact, the Dark Lord’s outburst might even work to his advantage.
‘Perhaps this tantrum Madumda is throwing will weaken him enough to benefit me in a future confrontation,’ the wizard conjectured. ‘Therefore, it may be best for me to just bide my time until the appropriate opportunity arises before I confront him.’
Unbelievably, the momentum of battle was changing yet again, as the Tarolian army recoiled from this impressive show of magical force. The allies quickly lost their aggressiveness and the officers in charge of the area under attack by Madumda tried desperately to reorganize their fragmenting ranks. The chaos the sorcerer's assault had generated seemed to be preventing their orders from either being heard or understood. Undaunted, those in charge patiently continued their attempt to get their instructions across to those under their command by moving unceasingly back and forth across the battlefield as they redirected small segments at a time.
Even though this was somewhat effective, the officers were forced to take additional risks with their own safety by placing themselves in the middle of the action to accomplish this goal. Not only were they making themselves targets for Madumda’s outbursts, but they were also being sucked into the physical battle as well. They were now being forced to grab their own weapons and fight if they wanted to get out of there alive, in addition to directing those under them.
Noting what was taking place, Beraut grudgingly decided it was time for him to do more to help regain control of the situation, so he added his own personal touch. Almost imperceptibly, the wizard began to mutter a spell. This incantation ensured his troops could hear him above the din of battle and allowed him to command the army personally.
Upon hearing Beraut’s words, the allies momentarily forgot about their other concerns and focused entirely upon the wizard’s calm and soothing voice. His manner reassured and comforted them, besides filling them with a new sense of hope. Willingly, they did as he requested and slowly adjusted their alignment to cover the gaps that had been created by the Dark Lord’s magical attack.
As Beraut continued to redirect the army in this manner, he was momentarily distracted by something else. Although barely noticeable at the time, the wizard perceived a slight hint of movement out of the corner of his eye and worried about what it might mean. Suddenly focusing in that direction, he searched for the source of the disturbance and that’s when he became aware that another combatant was about to enter the conflict. It was a new and powerful foe that the wizard would have to deal with personally.
Mentally moving as nimbly as he could, Beraut recalled the bits of information he had previously collected and stored away about this particular threat, because he realized it might now be time to use those morsels to his advantage. As he focused upon the target of his concern, he watched its massive wings flap rhythmically in the air and knew the time had come for him to confront this problem. As he thought about how he was going to accomplish this goal, the giant condor swooped toward the plains, with its shadow preceding it and darkening the battlefield as it plunged lower.
The beast randomly selected a cavalry squadron for its first assault and mercilessly ripped men from their mounts, while terrifying their battle-hardened steeds. This caused a great deal of confusion in the area surrounding the action, as everyone tried to slip beyond the gigantic bird’s reach.
One sturdy beast whinnied in pain when the claws from the monster tore out a chunk of its flesh when it snatched the rider from its back. This sent blood splattering everywhere and caused the animal to lash out in a pain-filled frenzy. As the writhing horse thrashed about, it began to trample those closest to it, but this only continued for a brief time. It didn’t take tong before several arrows slammed into the animal, from multiple directions. Mercifully, it had been brought down, thus ending its misery.
In an attempt to slow, or possibly even end the condor’s assault, Beraut lifted his arm, with his staff securely gripped in the same hand, and sent his own magical bolt at the aerial intruder. As the blast flew in its direction, the condor suddenly changed course and dove toward the ground again to attack another segment of the Tarolian army. Due to this unexpected move, Beraut’s beam merely grazed the beast and singed a few of its feathers, but that was enough to let the condor know it wasn’t impervious to being harmed. This caused the winged monster to quickly withdraw to a safe distance above the battlefield, while it tried to identify who or what had attacked it.
The entrance of this new combatant into the fracas immediately concerned more than just the wizard. Once its presence was detected, nearly every allied head began to rotate skyward, as each warrior tried to keep track of this new threat. Accordingly, it became nearly impossible for them to parry blows from mortal assailants, while at the same time attempting to dodge lightning bolts from Madumda’s staff and also scan the air above for the condor’s next pass. With these additional threats to their safety, their situation dramatically worsened, so the Tarolian army slowly began to give ground in order to distance themselves from these powerful foes.
While circling high above the battlefield, the beast could only discern Madumda unleashing lightning bolts, since Beraut’s had ceased his assault once the bird withdrew. Eventually, the condor concluded it must have been an errant blast from its master that had grazed it earlier, so it felt confident there was no one else who could harm it. Relieved, the condor made its move to rejoin the battle.
Seeing the bird plummeting toward the ground again, Beraut quickly turned toward the diving condor and released another thunderbolt in its direction. The beam caught it squarely in its hindquarters, searing its skin and sending feathers flying in all directions. These new injuries caused the beast to withdraw once more, but this time the condor knew the attack could not have been the result of something Madumda had done. It had been keeping one eye glued on the sorcerer’s location, just in case another misdirected blast came its way. This confirmed there was someone else to be leery of, since this bolt had struck it from the opposite direction.
Although the giant bird was still a potential factor in the fighting, Beraut had managed to temporarily neutralize the menace from the sky. The wizard didn’t have very long to enjoy his success though, because it was only a few minutes later when he noticed a second bird appearing on the horizon and slowly making its way toward the battlefield. As soon as this new monster was in range, it also dove into the melee and that move gave the first condor enough confidence to follow its lead and rejoin the action.
Undaunted, Beraut took it upon himself to deal with these two freaks of nature. However, the appearance of the second condor was the proverbial straw that broke the dragon’s back, at least as far as the Tarolian army was concerned. The troopers in the area where either bird was attacking would whirl in the opposite direction and race as far away as they could get, because they realized nothing they could do would prove to be effective against an adversary that large.
Surprisingly, the fleeing warriors showed little concern about the threat the enemy army posed to them, once they elected to turn tail to elude the aerial assaults. The ironic thing was, the condors were indiscriminately attacking soldiers from both armies, which was causing as much panic among Madumda’s troops and forced them to give ground as well.
The Dark Lord was not pleased when he noticed his own ranks breaking and retreating, so he frantically tried to replicate the success Beraut had enjoyed in altering the impetus of battle earlier. However, things did not go nearly as well for him. Unlike the wise and caring wizard, who had managed to calm the fears and bolster the confidence of those under him, Madumda attempted to stop his army’s backward progress by spewing threats and unleashing energy bolts directly in their path. This momentarily caused his troops to stay where they were, but in the long run, his effort produced other, less desirable results as well.
Those under his command were disturbed that Madumda was obviously willing to kill them, rather than allow anyone to get out of harm's way. Although it was apparent he wanted his fighters to stay put, it was also very clear he was unconcerned about any of the dangers they faced. Even though those serving him still feared his awesome powers, they were equally worried about what the condors might do to them, since both birds seemed unwilling or incapable of discerning the difference between friend and foe. The pair would merely pluck up anyone in the vicinity of their attacks and hoist them aloft, before releasing their victims and letting their bodies plummet back toward the plains.
As the melee continued, Beraut unleashed another blast at one of the two aerial foes when he suddenly felt another awesome release of magical power, stronger than anything Madumda had used up to this point. Instinctively, the wizard whirled around and attempted to locate his evil brother, because he was deeply concerned about what the Dark Lord had just done. When he focused in on his nemesis, Beraut was shocked to see Madumda standing frozen in place, staring back at him.
Madumda’s complexion was extremely pale, as if all the blood had suddenly drained from his body, and there was a look of complete disbelief plastered across his face. This left Beraut temporarily confused about where that surge of supernatural power had just come from, since Madumda was too stunned to have been the source of the magic. That’s when it suddenly dawned on the wizard that there was only one answer left. The powerful outburst he just felt could only have come from the medallion he had given to Kieren.
Immediately, Beraut began to focus upon the various reasons the young man might have been enticed to use his insignia of rank, especially since Kieren knew others with magical potential would sense such an awesome release. After weighing all of the possible reasons for such an action, the wizard concluded the small band must have been facing something terrible to force the lad to reveal his existence when he was so close to his goal. Regardless of the reason, Beraut’s biggest concern was whether the medallion had indeed protected them from whatever threat they had encountered.
When the wizard refocused on his counterpart, Madumda began to curse violently, because he also realized there was a new variable in the equation. Beraut could tell the Dark Lord was hurriedly trying to pinpoint the location of this unexpected outburst, so he could determine what it might mean for him. After a few seconds more, the sorcerer concluded the magic had probably been used in or near Treblanc.
As soon as he made this assessment, the sorcerer concluded that whoever was wielding such power was definitely a major threat. This individual could surely endanger his quest to take control of the land, so he would have to do something about it. Although he had no way of knowing who had been responsible for the use of such strong magic, he did know that whoever commanded such a release was someone to be reckoned with.
Madumda was also convinced that Beraut was somehow connected to this event, although he didn’t have time to figure out how. No matter what he thought, the Dark Lord didn’t have enough information to figure out that an heir to Ethelbert still survived. What he had concluded, however, was that he could not linger on the field of combat any longer, because he had to seek out and put an end to this new challenge. With equal ease, he began bellowing commands and shouting threats at his field commanders, as his way of letting them know what he expected of them. Once he was satisfied they understood what he wanted them to do, he spun around and raced away from the battlefield, as he set out in the direction of his fortress.
It was some time before anyone other than Beraut or Madumda’s senior officers became aware of the Dark Lord’s departure, but the ever-observant General Daveel was the next to pick up on this fact. Happily, he disclosed this knowledge to those nearest his location, and as word spread both sides attempted to verify this information. As rumors began to fly concerning this sudden and unannounced departure, both armies looked to see if they could locate either mystical defender. Once they had verified that only Beraut was still present, the news sent shockwaves throughout both sides. No one, however, except for Beraut, had any idea as to WHY Madumda had departed so suddenly.
Some of those fighting on the Dark Lord’s behalf conjectured he had fled because he feared for his safety or felt they were about to lose the battle. However, others from his army interpreted his actions to mean the sorcerer was convinced they would be victorious without him, so he felt confident enough to leave and tend to other matters.
On the other hand, the allied forces focused solely upon the fact that the Dark Lord's supernatural powers were no longer a threat and this gave them the encouragement they needed to face the other dangers. They understood the Dark Lord’s army was no more powerful than they were and now they could deal with them without having to dodge the sorcerer's lightning bolts at the same time. Even the condors didn't concern them, because they now felt Beraut would be able to deal with and neutralize the threat they posed, since he didn’t also have the Dark Lord to contend with. Putting this all together, they were no worse off now than when this battle had begun.
Instantly, a new wave of confidence swept through the Tarolian ranks. It not only gave them a renewed sense of purpose, but it provided them with additional motivation as well. Before they had time to savor the moment, however, the condors began to attack again, with each one targeting a different area of the battlefield.
Hoping they might be able to slow the assault long enough to give Beraut time to deal with these threats, the archers began to notch arrows upon their bowstrings and take aim at the underbellies of the behemoths. They fired their shafts as rapidly as they could, while the cavalry hoisted their lances high over their heads to fend off the attack. Unfortunately, those were the only weapons they carried that would reach past the groping talons of these attackers. To their chagrin, however, the arrows proved to be about as effective as using sewing needles to stop a warrior, while the cavalry's lances shattered easily under the tremendous weight of either monstrous beast.
At the outset of these new attacks, the enemy warriors also retreated rapidly and hurriedly distanced themselves from the Tarolian army. They did this, not only so they wouldn’t be mistakenly assailed during the winged pair’s indiscriminate forays, but it also gave them an opportunity to rest briefly. This way, they could also savor the plight of their foe from a safe distance.
No matter what the allied soldiers attempted in order to defend themselves against these aerial attacks, their efforts had little effect in stemming the assaults. Both creatures snatched up individuals at will and dragged them aloft, before releasing them to their doom. Morale was plummeting more rapidly than the bodies of the victims and the Tarolian army was nearly ready to give up and flee the battlefield, when Beraut stopped observing his evil brother and returned his attention to what was currently taking place. At this point, the wizard stepped forward and came to his army's rescue, as he began releasing bolt after bolt from his staff. He first aimed at one of the condors and then turned his body slightly so he could focus on the other of these immense creatures.
The bird that had been there the longest was keenly aware of the threat Beraut posed and kept one eye fixed in his direction. It wanted to be able to see the blasts coming, so it would have time to dodge them. It also didn’t take very long before the second bird was equally aware of the wizard’s ability to harm it, after it had also been singed by one of his blasts.
While the condors were watching the wizard, Beraut was noting the maneuvers the pair used every time they tried to dodge his assaults. So far they had only been partially successful in doing so and warily continued their vicious attacks. Even though the wizard's magical blows had so far only slightly injured the duo and done no significant damage to either one, his presence and minor success had instilled a sense of hesitation on their part. It also gave an immense psychological boost to those under the wizard's command and reminded the allied forces that they still had magic on their side, which their opponents were currently lacking. This advantage seemed to be far greater to them than worrying about dodging the condors, seeing Beraut had effectively slowed down the aerial pair.
Just as Beraut was ready to unleash more bolts at the avian threats, both assailants suddenly and unexpectedly broke off their attack and began to fly northward. This turn of events baffled the wizard, because even if his efforts had been somewhat effective, it was hardly reason enough to stem the pair’s fearsome assault and scare them away. However, he wasn’t going to question his good fortune on this matter, even if some of those under him were.
As the wizard scanned the battlefield, he noticed his troops were now turning in his direction, as they looked for some sort of explanation about the birds’ departure. Since the Dark Lord’s forces had withdrawn and disengaged previously, so they could also get away from the threat the condors posed to them as well, Beraut concluded it would be to his advantage to address this issue. He would take a few moments to fend off the rampant speculation that he knew would start spreading through the ranks and possibly raise even more questions. The wizard figured the misinformation that might be passed around could cause a great deal of confusion among his troops and possibly even some problems, if those under his command were left in the dark.
To prevent this from happening, Beraut felt it was imperative for him to give them some reason for the Dark Lord’s pets’ recent exit. After taking a few seconds to organize his thoughts, the wily wizard came up with something to say, although he hoped his fighting men wouldn’t read more into what he said than he wished. Taking a deep breath, Beraut began to address the troops in a very calm and reassuring tone.
“I suspect my evil brother called his pets away to assist him with some other foul deed,” he began. “It is also possible that your weapons and my magic have had more of an effect on the pair than we first suspected, so it's possible they might have also left to tend to their wounds. Whatever the reason for their sudden disappearance, it is a relief to be rid of those pesky devils, but we must also acknowledge this war is far from over.
“Even with the current engagement temporarily concluded and seeing Madumda has been distracted by other matters,” the wizard continued, “this conflict is far from over. It will not end until the Dark Lord is either dead or victorious. Therefore, we must prepare for the next encounter, because I don’t imagine Madumda will be gone for very long.”
“Are you sure he’s really gone and not still around?” asked one of the curious troopers standing near Beraut.
“Yes, I watched him as he departed. He was drawn away by another concern,” the wizard assured him.
“And how do you know that?” someone else wanted to know. It was a rather crude way to ask this question, but the wizard decided to answer him nonetheless.
“I know,” Beraut stated emphatically, “because I sensed the same powerful surge of magic that Madumda did, my inquisitive friend.”
“Magic? How can that be?” one of the junior officers asked. “I thought only the two of you had such powers.”
“That is true, to an extent,” the wizard explained, “but we both felt a powerful blast of magical power at the same instance. At first we thought each other had released it, but we soon realized this wasn’t the case. I think he left the battlefield in an effort to discover its source.”
“But aren’t you curious about that too?” another trooper inquired.
“I am, but I have a pretty good idea who used the magic,” the wizard explained. “Although I am not at liberty to disclose the details of my knowledge, I believe the user is someone to whom I gave the ability. Therefore, the use of this magic is something that sent ripples of fear through Madumda’s unfeeling heart and a sign that bodes well in our favor.”
“What exactly does that mean?” someone else shouted.
“I can’t go into details,” Beraut explained, “and I don’t yet know all of the facts about how or why the magic was used. Let it suffice to say that I believe this person used the magic to complete a mission I assigned to him. That might indicate this conflict is nearing a resolution.
“There is only one thing I know for certain,” Beraut went on, “and that is Madumda’s army will eventually return and engage us once more. How long it takes before that happens will depend on how quickly the Dark Lord’s officers can regain control of their troops and get them to return to the field of combat. I suggest we take advantage of this brief respite to regain our strength and take a bit of nourishment.”
As Beraut began to walk away, his senior staff followed in his footsteps, since they had many more questions they wanted answered. They hoped Beraut might be more willing to share this information in private and give them a better idea about what was going on.
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