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Sword of Kings: Tempered By Fate

 by Bill W
Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 02 -
The Army Prepares for Battle

 It had been a long day, so shortly after he'd finished speaking with the minstrel; Daimon, Beraut gave in to his exhaustion and finally fell asleep.  Unfortunately, it wasn't a very restful slumber, because his dreams were plagued by unanswered questions.  After learning about some of the incidents Daimon had reported on, it prompted Beraut to wonder what the various occurrences might actually mean.  Beraut was also curious if the situations he had heard about had any implications beyond the obvious.  This, in turn, caused him to doubt many of the assumptions he had made previously and called into question some of the actions he had already taken or set into motion. 

Beraut also began to wonder if he'd either overlooked or failed to take notice of something simply because he had deemed it insignificant at the time.  Was it possible that he'd unwittingly done something that had already placed Kieren and the mission in jeopardy?  He hoped not, but he was unable to shake the nagging suspicion that he had either failed to assess something correctly or he should have done more. 

The wizard, however, was not the only one having trouble falling asleep or whose slumber was plagued by questions.  As often happened when the time for battle grew near, everyone who was going to participate in the conflict became reflective and tonight was no exception to the rule.  No one, from the senior advisors to lowliest soldier, was able to fall asleep quickly or slept very soundly. 

Commander Massil, as well as many of the others in the upper echelon, spent the time mentally going over his assignment.  Throughout the evening he rehashed his orders in an attempt to visualize every aspect of what he was going to be called upon to do.  After he felt he had satisfactorily reviewed every detail of the battle plan, he attempted to picture as many contingency scenarios as he could.  He hoped that by doing this he would be able to react quickly, instinctively and decisively if similar circumstances arose during the conflict. 

After the commander had gone over these contingencies in his mind, he felt prepared enough to be able to react to various situations immediately.  He believed he would now be able to react without having to take time to analyze what was happening in the midst of battle.  He realized this preparedness could save crucial minutes, which he hoped would translate into numerous spared lives, as well as providing the impetus to propel the army to victory. 

Once Massil had finished this task, he then reflected upon the altercation he had with the dwarf captain previously.  He was concerned their disagreement might be a hint of more severe problems that could occur in the future, although not merely just between the two of them.  The commander feared this earlier incident might indicate something deeper and more sinister hiding just below the surface.  He worried it might be a sign of latent racial tensions and distrust that still existed between the various races and groups that were now joining together to defeat a common foe. 

Did this possibly mean the members of the other races would be unwilling to follow an officer outside of their own racial group?  Might it also signal the possibility of other incidents such as this could arise in the future?  Did it signify there was an underlying suspicion in the way the various groups related with and reacted to situations involving others who weren’t members of their particular ethnic group?  Could this also prevent orders from being interpreted as they were intended?  Silently, the Veledan hoped this was not the case and prayed the problem with Baith was just an isolated misunderstanding, yet his doubts persisted. 

When the commander finally managed to fall asleep and began to dream, his thoughts drifted to the upcoming fighting.  His mind visualized, be it somewhat grotesquely, the carnage he knew would result and this, combined with the earlier run-in with the dwarf officer, made him question his leadership abilities.  Unconsciously, he continued to dwell upon these uncertainties until he was awakened a few hours later. 

While the ranking officers were going through their mental preparations, Balaster Rombaire, like the other members of the senior staff, spent his time reliving past battles he had been a part of.  He hoped to be able to find some small detail about those previous experiences that might come in handy during the upcoming encounter.  Reflectively, he rehashed every crucial moment of each important battle he'd ever been part of.  He did this in an effort to determine if he could have shortened the duration of the hostilities or reduced the bloodshed by making different choices.  Hindsight not only had its advantages, but it could also serve as a technique to keep one at the top of his game. 

In this particular case, Rombaire’s main concern was whether he would be able to spot changes quickly enough to respond to them in a timely fashion.  He was also concerned that he'd be able to do whatever was necessary to win the encounter, no matter the cost.  The ability to make decisions that resulted in the loss of life did not come easy for him, but he understood that sometimes sacrifices were necessary in order to be successful.  The problem was, it never got any easier to determine which individual or group should be sent into the most dangerous situations, possibly never to return. 

While Rombaire was dealing with those issues, the lower ranking officers were suffering through their own excruciating visions.  They were not only questioning everything they were about to do, but they were also taking time to examine things they had done in past combat as well.  In their own way, each person in charge of a group of warriors, no matter its size, was not merely concerned about his own welfare.  He was also determined to do his best to protect those under his command, while still finding a way to defeat the enemy.  It was indeed a heavy burden, but one they wouldn’t shirk. 

Those in leadership positions weren’t the only ones to be concerned about their effectiveness.  At the other end of the spectrum, the common warriors had their own considerations, but theirs were of a more personal nature.  One of the dwarfs that served under Captain Baith spent his night thinking about his wife and child.  He saw their faces in his mind’s eye and they seemed so real that it was as if they were standing right beside him.  Suddenly, he thought about what he was going to be called upon to do in the upcoming conflict and he wondered if he was up to the task.  Would he survive the bloodshed and get to see his family again? 

He had only been married for a few years and didn’t want to think it might end this quickly.  He realized he was well trained, although untested in combat, so he wondered if his lack of experience might cost him later.  He couldn’t help but picture himself pitted against a more seasoned enemy warrior, one who had been in several previous battles, and felt this might place him at a severe disadvantage.  Even though he tried to envision that he would still be victorious, the outcome playing out in his mind wasn’t always what he expected and proved to be very disquieting. 

Over time, his concerns shifted to who would take care of his loved ones and provide for them, if something were to happen to him.  He couldn’t imagine what life would be like for his family if he were no longer around, which instinctively made him fear for their future.  Suddenly, he was determined to do whatever it took to survive, so he wouldn’t place his wife and child in that sort of predicament. 

An older infantryman from Cassander had slightly different concerns.  He was troubled that his advanced age would be a hindering factor and feared he might be too old to still endure the rigors of hand-to-hand combat.  He also began to question whether his senses were keen enough to anticipate the moves his opponents would make or if he had the stamina to survive a long, drawn-out encounter.  This caused him to try to think of ways he could conserve his energy or somehow avoid the more demanding aspects of battle, but those nagging doubts would continue to linger on until the warfare actually commenced. 

There were still a couple of hours left before daybreak and those in the camp continued to struggle with their demons.  Not all of them would be able to sleep uninterrupted though.  Beraut had only been asleep for a short time when one of the guards on duty entered the wizard's tent to awaken him. 

Sir, I hate to disturb your slumber, since it is not yet daybreak or time to get up, but I think you'll want to see this,” the warrior announced. 

See what?  What are you talking about?” the wizard countered, since he was still slightly groggy. 

There is a considerable glow on the horizon and no one is sure what is causing it,” the soldier responded. 

After hearing this, the wizard got up and walked through the flap to see what this report was about.  Once he left his tent, Beraut was shocked to observe the extent of the illumination the soldier was referring to.  The sky to the northwest was much brighter than the rest of the nighttime firmament and it obviously wasn’t due to either the sun or moon. 

What do you think is causing that?” someone asked. 

This prompted Beraut to turn around, as he sought to discover who had just spoken.  He found Balaster Rombaire standing beside him, so it was apparent that he had also been awakened to check the situation out. 

I’m not certain, but it seems to be too far to the west to have anything to do with Treblanc,” Beraut replied. 

Do you think it’s a ruse to make us believe Madumda has more troops than what our scouts have seen?” another voice asked.  This time Beraut turned and discovered it was King Brolin speaking. 

It's possible, but I’m not sure what they’d burn to create such an extensive blaze,” the wizard answered.  "A fire of that size would require a tremendous amount of fuel." 

Is there anything else in that particular area that might account for what we’re seeing?” another voice asked.  This time the wizard realized the question had come from King Dylan. 

I believe it may be in the same general vicinity as Tunstan, which greatly concerns me,” Beraut replied.  "Earlier this evening I received a report about what was currently taking place there.  Putting the two sets of facts together, this doesn’t bode well and is very disturbing."  

Beraut and his three senior advisors continued to discuss and speculate about this situation for a while longer.  Since they knew they wouldn’t be able to discover the true nature of this disturbance anytime soon, they felt it would be best to get a little more rest instead.  There were still a couple hours left until daybreak, so they bid each other pleasant dreams again and returned to their sleeping area to bed down. 

When the first beams of sunlight began to pierce the gloom, the troops were awakened.  Mercifully, their dreams about the upcoming battle had come to an end and temporarily stopped them from questioning what their fate would be.  The trembling of their bodies was now merely the result of the severe drop in temperature and not from the lingering effects of their uneasy slumber.  For the time being, they would put those other issues behind them and prepare for the new day. 

It immediately became apparent that these warriors were content to zip through their morning meal, so they could spend the extra time preparing for the events that were yet to come.  They would use those few precious moments they had just saved to double-check their armor and make certain there were no chinks or vulnerable areas.  After doing that, each soldier re-inspected his weapons to make sure they were clean, sharp and everything was where it was supposed to be. 

With all of these different things going on, the soldiers no longer concerned themselves with the chilly temperature.  In fact, they didn’t think about it at all, except to determine they were actually grateful for it.  They knew it would prove to be a benefit to them later, as they labored through the brisk march and ensuing struggle. 

The evening’s frost had also helped to firm up the ground, which meant the soldiers wouldn’t need to be as worried about their footing either.  The unseasonable chill had actually proved to be very fortuitous, because it had the added and unexpected effect of improving morale as well.  When the soldiers realized the rain was no longer going to be a factor and the ground was once again a ‘solid’ object, they finally began to accept the fact that Madumda had not been responsible for the meteorological changes. 

With a renewed sense of urgency, the troops readily fell into formation, eager to confront the enemy.  The time passed fairly quickly once they got underway, but it didn’t mean everything was going as had been anticipated.  Throughout the morning, scouts were continually scurrying back and forth to report on whatever they saw happening at their opponent’s location, but many of these reports were not what Beraut or his military advisors expected.  This fact was noticeable almost from the start. 

The enemy has yet to break camp,” one of the first scouts reported. 

What is that old fox waiting for?” King Dylan asked the wizard in response. 

I’m not certain,” Beraut stated, honestly.  “I did not anticipate he would delay this opportunity to meet us in combat.” 

Once he had answered the elf, the wizard then turned back to the scout before he spoke again. 

Has Madumda even been spotted with his troops yet?” he wondered.   

From what I have gathered from the others, no one he seen him anywhere,” the man reported. 

This information only increased Beraut’s concern, although he did not let the others notice this additional news troubled him.  There was only one thing the wizard could think of that would be more important to the Dark Lord than his anticipated victory in battle and he wondered if any of the others had figured this out as well.  If they had, no one made any mention of it, so Beraut didn’t make an issue of it either. 

Various reports continued to flow in throughout the day, as the army slowly moved northward.  Unfortunately, there were still no communiqués from the dwarfs under Commander Elgin or the army of the northern city-states.  This was worrisome to the wizard as well, but it didn’t necessarily mean there was anything to be alarmed about.  Maybe they were just being cautious and didn’t want to risk a messenger being intercepted – at least that’s what Beraut hoped was the reason behind their lack of contact.  However, the wizard was deeply concerned that the latest scouting parties still had not reported seeing Madumda anywhere near the enemy encampment as of yet. 

As troubled as he was concerning the implications of the Dark Lord’s tardiness, Beraut felt he had to concentrate on the task at hand.  As much as he’d like to know for certain about Kieren and his protectors, the time for combat was nearly at hand, so his obligation to lead the army had to become his primary focus.  If he became distracted, it could translate into dire consequences for all of those depending upon his leadership.   He just had to accept the fact that there was nothing he could do for Kieren or those with him if something had gone wrong, so he went back to preparing for the battle. 

Beraut quickly dispatched another small group of scouts to go out and report on the lay of the land where the fighting would most likely commence.  The wizard wanted to know every detail concerning the terrain, which included the size of the area and any topographical advantages or disadvantages he might be able to exploit.  He couldn’t put anything or anyone ahead of this duty and there would be no turning back now, because there was no doubt about what they’d be called upon to do next. 

Since Madumda still hadn’t made any move to join his army and hadn’t ordered them to advance and attack, Beraut stopped his forces as well.  He didn’t want to unduly tire his troops out by having them march farther.  Instead, they waited where they were as scouts attempted to discern if the enemy was preparing to make its move.  This continued until the daylight began to slowly fade from the sky and the command was passed along to set up camp. 

Once everyone realized the battle wouldn't commence today, the area became a buzz of activity, as they prepared to bed down for another night.  The wizard urged those erecting his tent into greater haste, because he knew his battle commanders would be arriving shortly for another briefing.  Even though he hadn’t anticipated this delay in the fighting, the wizard wasn’t about to alter his initial tactical plan.  However, he was sure the others would want him to speculate about the reasons the opposition had chosen not to confront them. 

During this time, the last of the scouts returned and were ready to report their findings about the most suitable location for the battle to commence.  The wizard, along with his three senior advisors, listened carefully as the scouts informed them about the area.  Those reporting also patiently answered a series of questions the four senior military leaders posed concerning their report and observations.  Once Beraut and his advisors had the information they desired, they conferred to determine how to best utilize these new details. 

Since the wizard had assigned each advisor a different area of responsibility, they now offered their suggestions as to how to best take advantage of the location.  King Brolin was focused on how to use this knowledge to aid the infantry, while Balaster Rombaire considered how it might impact the effectiveness of the archers.  At the same time, King Dylan concentrated on the most productive way to use this knowledge to benefit the cavalry.  They then made a few minor adjustments to the overall strategic plan, as they incorporated the new facts they had just received. 

They also concluded that when it finally came time to confront the enemy the following day, they would do their best to force the battle to take place at the location they had just been told about.  This way they would be able to utilize this recently acquired knowledge to their advantage, while at the same time warning their subordinates about the areas the scouts had warned might prove to be unduly hazardous.  Those under their command would then be able to take appropriate precautions to avoid the areas that could place them at a severe disadvantage. 

As he sifted through the numerous details concerning the site where the battle would be fought, Beraut hastily made another tactical decision.  This time, however, he chose to withhold the information from nearly everyone else, even those closest to him.  Beraut felt the fewer individuals that knew about this plan the less chance there would be for the enemy to learn about it later, if one of them should happen to be captured.  The wizard realized that the fewer involved in his scheme would help to prevent the likelihood that someone might also inadvertently do something that would bring undue attention to their plan or the area where it was going to be carried out.  Satisfied with these latest adjustments, he now felt ready for what was to come. 

The officers arrived shortly thereafter and began filtering into the tent in small groups.  Captain Baith was slightly reticent about attending this session, because he was concerned about having to face Commander Massil again.  He wondered if Massil had already mentioned the prior incident to the wizard or King Brolin, but even if that hadn’t happened, he thought it might still be brought up during the briefing.  To Baith’s immense relief, the meeting started out without this happening and the session was focused entirely upon tactical considerations for the upcoming battle.

The planning session and ensuing discussion lasted for nearly an hour, as they discussed the location where the battle would be held, but when it was over Beraut summoned Captain Baith to stay behind.  As the wizard guided the dwarf to a corner of the tent, to a spot where they could have a conversation in private, Baith assumed his moment of reckoning had come.  He was convinced he had been asked to stay behind because of what had transpired earlier with the Veledan commander and dreaded what was about to happen next. 

It is finally time for me to advise you as to why I had some of your troops bring their repelling shields and enough burlap to wrap around them,” the wizard began.  

Since this wasn’t what he’d expected to hear, Captain Baith was momentarily confused and a questioning expression crossed his face.  After a few seconds, he finally began to understand that he hadn’t been asked to stay behind to be reprimanded for the earlier incident with the Veledan Commander.  The dwarf was immensely relieved by this turn of events and grateful that the disagreement might finally be behind him. 

Comforted by this realization, Baith now focused his attention on Beraut and listened to him describe the plan he had alluded to before they left Thorold.  Back then, it had merely been a hazy idea in the wizard’s mind, but now that he knew more about the area where the battle would take place, Beraut had been able to flesh the plan out in greater detail.  Carefully, the wizard shared every nuance of his idea with the dwarf, and then once he finished explaining each tidbit of information, he took some time to answer the Captain’s questions concerning his role.  Once Beraut felt confident that Baith understood what he needed to do and how crucial his role was, he offered the dwarf one final piece of advice. 

This is an extremely critical task and it is imperative you carry it out successfully.  In order for you to accomplish this, you must keep your emotions and temper under control.  Patience and timing will be the key.” 

The wizard paused after uttering these words, to make sure the captain understood the full meaning of this warning.  The tide of battle could hinge upon the dwarf's effectiveness or be greatly impacted by the way he carried out his assignment, so Beraut wanted to be certain the young officer completely understood the importance of his mission.  When he felt confident this was the case, he continued. 

I could have given this assignment to anyone, but I chose you.  Therefore, you must realize that I am placing a great deal of faith in your ability and trust you will not disappoint me.” 

Captain Baith nodded his understanding and then assured the wizard he would do as he had been instructed. 

I understand the honor you are bestowing upon me and my troops and I will not fail in this duty,” the dwarf confirmed. 

Beraut made it a point to give him a firm handshake and a pat on the back before they left the tent, as a way of signaling his profound confidence in him.  This did not go unnoticed by the dwarf either and he sincerely appreciated the wizard’s trust and gentle manner.  They left together after Beraut collected a few other items to take with him and then they went directly to the spot where Baith’s troops were bivouacked.

Captain Baith immediately informed his second in command that he would be in charge of the remainder of their troops for the time being, because he had been given a special assignment.  Baith didn’t bother to explain what the duty was, but he set out to round up those he had previously instructed to bring their repelling shields with them.  That group then moved to another area, away from the others, before the wizard instructed them about how they would camouflage their shields. 

The wizard was very particular to ensure each warrior carried out his instructions precisely.  Once Beraut was satisfied with their work, the dwarfs slipped out of camp using the cover of a starless and moonless night.  Only a couple of the perimeter guards and a handful of others in the dwarf encampment even noticed their departure and then Beraut returned to his tent for the remainder of the evening. 

For everyone else, the camp this evening was even more somber than the previous night.  For example, General Daveel was spending valuable time trying to cope with the emotional letdown generated by not going into battle, as anticipated.  He had been mentally prepared for the fighting to begin earlier in the day and when it did not occur, he started to feel as if he was losing control of the situation. 

If the battle had begun as expected, the General would no longer be dealing with the unknowns about his opponents.  The allies would have learned many important things during the day’s engagement, which they would now be using to improve their tactics for the following day.  Seeing this didn’t happen, all of his doubts from the previous evening suddenly resurfaced.  This led him to endure the same types of uncertainties he’d coped with the night before, which in turn meant he had another less than refreshing slumber. 

While General Daveel was dealing with his depression over the fact that things hadn’t gone as planned, the dwarfs’ King Brolin was focusing his attention upon the lack of communication from the northern and western armies.  He knew Commander Elgin, the dwarf military leader in charge of the western army, was very dependable, so the King didn’t worry as much about not hearing from him.  The northern army, however, was a totally different matter, because no one had heard a word from them since the Second Council of War.  This raised concerns as to whether they had been ambushed or befallen some other crisis along the way.  This, in turn, made Brolin question whether this fighting group could be counted on to make their appearance at the appointed time. 

Beraut, unlike the others, focused all of his thoughts upon Kieren.  He was very concerned about his ward and wondered if he was the reason Madumda still hadn’t shown up with his army.  Had the Dark Lord discovered Kieren and the others and then stayed behind to deal with them?  If not that, then did the glow Beraut had seen in the distance the night before have something to do with the Dark Lord’s tardiness? 

Beraut definitely wanted to determine if either case were true or if this was just another coincidence, but unfortunately it didn’t appear as if he was going to discover the answer to these questions.  The wizard knew he couldn’t use magic to find out if either of these possibilities was true, because doing so might accidentally make Madumda aware of information he didn’t already have.  Instead, he went to sleep with these nagging questions still plaguing him. 

When Beraut awoke a few hours later, he was still thinking about the glow he had seen the previous evening and attempting to figure out if it might hold any significance for the battle.  The wizard also began to wonder if that event could possibly have something to do with the western army.  Could it be part of the reason he had not heard from them yet?  The dwarfs should have been in the vicinity of where the glow originated, so could the disturbance have something to do with them?  Even though he tried, the wizard couldn’t figure out with any certainty how these two situations might be related. 

Beraut was thoroughly convinced Commander Elgin wasn't responsible for the blaze, but might he be otherwise involved?  The wizard knew the dwarf military leader wouldn’t be foolish or reckless enough to draw attention to his army in such a manner, but could he have unwittingly been dragged into the situation?  Since Beraut had no way to tell what had caused the disturbance or what ramifications it might foretell, he tried to put it out of his mind.  Instead of worrying about it any longer, the wizard used the time to prepare for the upcoming day. 

When he passed through the flap of his tent, Beraut paused to admire the beauty of the dawn.  The sun had just begun to peek over the horizon in the east and was casting a soft amber glow over the land, which made everything look fresh and lovely.  The sun was not yet capable of delivering much warmth, so the icy blanket of frost that had developed throughout the night still covered the countryside.  Those plentiful crystals of ice sparkled as the early morning light reflected off of them and produced a spectrum of colors that illuminated the area. 

In reaction to the biting cold, the wizard pulled his robe securely about his body and then blew the air from his lungs into his hands to warm them.  When a group of soldiers approached his position, the wizard greeted them amicably.  As he did so, he wasn’t surprised to notice that he could actually see his words emanate from his throat, as the tepid moisture from his breath crystallized in the air, almost as soon as it left his vocal cords.  He shuddered slightly in reaction to the chill and quickly made a decision to find someplace with a fire.  He felt he needed to take advantage of the warming flames, at least until the sun had a chance to raise the temperature a few degrees. 

Beraut quickly made a decision as to where he should go and walked briskly toward the mess facilities.  He knew there would be several fires burning there, because they would be needed to prepare the morning meal.  As long as he was in that area, he decided to also seek out a hot drink to help drive the chill from his bones, plus something a little more substantial to ease the rumblings in his stomach.  Soon, he was drinking steaming liquid from a large mug and eating a bowlful of hot porridge. 

Eagerly, the wizard wrapped his hands around the mug, to let the warmth from the liquid thaw out his fingers and ease the pain the cold brought to those exposed digits.  Feeling a little better, he began to look around and spied his three elderly aides, as they also moved toward the mess area.  Looking forward to their company, he shouted out a greeting. 

Hail, my noble friends,” he addressed the group, cheerfully.  “Did you have any trouble dragging your old bones from the blankets this morning?”

No trouble, just a lack of desire,” King Brolin quipped before chortling, amused by his own comment.  “I trust you slept well?”

Not particularly,” the wizard advised him, “but it will have to do.  How soon before the troops are ready to march?”

Less than an hour,” King Dylan offered.  “The soldiers seem as anxious as we are to get their bodies moving and the blood pumping again.  If the enemy is equally inspired to move in our direction, then this battle could commence before mid-morning.”

Splendid!” commented the wizard, as he scanned the sky above him.  “It looks as though it will also be a clear day, so the weather will not be an issue either.  I only pray that all is well with our two remaining armies.  Has there been any word from either of them?”

None, my dear friend,” answered Rombaire.  “Hopefully, it is only because they deem it more prudent to leave us in the dark, rather than possibly expose their presence.  There has been sufficient time for each group to move their troops into position, even after allowing for any additional time they might need to deal with unforeseen circumstances.”

Commander Elgin is a fine leader and has proven himself to be extremely dependable, even under the most severe and adverse conditions,” King Brolin added. “I think we can trust him to carry out his assignment, regardless of any hardships he faces along the way.  I have also been concerned by the lack of contact, but after thinking about it more fully, I’ve decided it is nothing to become alarmed about.  I’m convinced that even if there is only a slight possibility that Commander Elgin can complete his mission, he will do so.  I am equally sure the northern generals will also prove to be as reliable.”

I hope your assessment is correct,” Beraut interjected, while silently fretting something had gone terribly wrong for both groups.  No matter what he suspected, he had to deal with the present. 

I have to return to my tent to collect a few things and I’m sure you will probably have to do the same.  Therefore, I will meet you at the northern perimeter of the camp as soon as you are ready.”

They all nodded their assent and the three senior advisors grabbed a quick meal, before heading back to their own temporary lodgings.  It wasn’t long before they were rejoining the wizard at the head of the troop formation, ready to advance. 

The march started off normally, but the army soon increased the cadence to a very invigorating pace.  This was meant to help warm them up and ensure their bodies were limber before the fighting and bloodshed commenced.  It only took about forty minutes before they approached the area where Beraut wanted the battle to commence, so the wizard decided to have them slow down.  He wanted to make certain the encounter took place here, where he chose to do battle, so he refused to allow the army to pick up its pace again. 

When the allies reached a point near where they would need to be and close enough to see the details about their opponent’s ranks, they slowed down even more and let their adversaries continue to approach them.  The tension within each fighting unit increased as the dark clad warriors drew near and every warrior strained to get a glimpse of the opponents he was about to face. 

King Dylan was busy attempting to determine just how powerful the Dark Lord’s forces might be and studied them carefully.  In doing so, he sought to note the kinds of weapons they would be using, since this might give him some clues as to what they might expect during the battle.  He also wanted to see how many mounted troops they had. 

Beraut was thinking along similar lines as the elf, although he sought to discern how many foot soldiers and archers, as well as horsemen the other side had.  This information would allow him to make an educated guess about the type of strategy Madumda planned to employ. 

The common soldiers had their own concerns.  The old trooper from Cassander spent his time trying to discover if there were any surprises hidden within the enemy lines.  He scanned their formation looking for unusual weapons or any unexpected combatants to help him decide if he would be able to hold his own in the upcoming conflict. 

After much inspection and speculation, Beraut, Dylan and the old warrior all began to feel a sense of relief.  Each, in his own way, had discovered that everything was pretty much as he’d expected.  There was nothing otherworldly or supernatural about their opponents and it appeared this was going to be a traditional military engagement, carried out in the manner they had anticipated.  With a renewed sense of confidence, they took a few more strides before Beraut raised his right arm, with the palm on his hand facing forward, to indicate the army was to come to a halt. 

The wizard’s signal was quickly relayed along the formation and his command was immediately executed.  Once the troops had come to a complete stop, they were just out of fighting range.  At this point, the wizard lifted his arm above his head again, but this time he waved it from right to left, and then back again.  He did this to let those under his command know they were now to deploy into battle formation.  While they were carrying out this maneuver, the enemy spent its time getting organized as well. 

Before many more minutes had passed, both armies were in battle formations and standing only a hundred meters apart.  Suddenly, it became unnaturally quiet, as both sides waited for the command to ‘attack’.




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I wish to extend my thanks to Scott, Emoe57, Andy, John and Donny for editing or their suggestions with this story. 


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