The sun was just coming up over the horizon. From the hilltop, Aelwold could see Vitruvia in the distance; the duomo of the Cathedral of Onn, the Imperial Palaces, the two rings of massive impregnable stone walls.
Ewein grimaced. “How do things look, Aelwold?”
Aelwold looked back down at the Vangorean camp. It was in ruins. Tens of thousands of dead lay scattered in the valley below. What was left of the army had pulled back. Most actually had fled when the half-men berserked. But now, they were being rallied by Pharaoh and re-grouping about a half mile away.
This gave the Dramboreans a much needed break from the near constant fighting of the last sixteen hours. Not that they had any chance to rest, as they were immediately put to work assisting the wounded men still on the battlefield.
Ewein had lost a leg in the fighting, or at least, it was so badly mangled, that amputation would be the only way to save the knight’s life. Aelwold signaled again for the surgeon who was busy with another patient some distance away.
“Ahh, it looks good sir,” said Aelwold as he made a rough estimate of the strength of the Vangorean and Dramborean forces. The Vangoreans had suffered massive casualties, but so had the Dramboreans. Aelwold estimated that Drambor was only outnumbered about two to one now, rather than six to one. “I think we’ve broken them. They won’t be able to put up much of a fight now.”
“Good,” said Ewein, “the Wise Lord’s blessing is upon us today.”
“Yes sir, Onn has certainly smiled on Drambor this day.”
“Have you heard any news of my son?”
“No sir, but when last I heard, the center, where he was stationed had not taken as bad a pounding as we did.”
“Oh, how bad is that?”
“We lost forty-seven men?”
“No sir. We’ve forty-seven left, sir. Sixty or so wounded at last count, but that number is growing with each passing minute as we pull men from the field. The rest are unaccounted for.”
“That means that only one man in five is still able to fight!”
“I’m not so good with numbers, but that sounds about right sir.”
Ewein sank, “Where is Ulred?”
“Dead, sir, as are Sir Cuthric and Sir Wyddig. Sir Aethelstan is wounded. The rest of your lieutenants are all missing.”
“Then who’s in charge?”
“Right now, that’d be me sir.”
“I see, well at least the men are in good hands. How did the crossbowmen fare?”
“We only lost one of them, sir, along with sergeant Gwydd.”
Just then the surgeon arrived. He was covered in blood and carried a stout saw whose teeth were choked with gristle and gore. “Yep. That leg will have to go before it turns septic. Hold him down sergeant.”
The Grove of Lost Souls (The Former Vangorean Camp)
Ten Rax picked through the wreckage. When he pulled away the fallen canvas, Zug’s lifeless face stared up at him, contorted into a look of panic confusion and agony. Ten Rax pulled a few coins out of his purse, closed Zug’s eyes and placed the coins on Zug’s eyelids as he said a prayer to Drax. Then he went back to searching the tent for his gear.
The Village of Fervio Garum
Gina approached the Friar on the donkey. He was dressed in the robes of a militant priest and his shaved head glistened in the sun. The expression on his face showed surprise to see a group of armed Vitruvean centurions riding outside the walls of the city.
“A great morning for a ride wouldn’t you say, friar?” the young woman spoke.
“Why yes it is.” the friar responded in his native Vitruvean, “Would you happen to know where the Dramborean army is at this moment?”
“We are in fact heading in that direction. You may accompany us if you wish. The Vangoreans are not known for their restraint upon priests of Onn. They will not be likely to show any mercy upon those they catch. But the Dramboreans are not far away. We’ve reports of a great battle taking place near the village of Pascolo Del Vino.”
Javonis needed to get to the Dramborean troops as soon as possible. Onndom would need every man in the coming battle against the minions of Ahriman gathering around Ha’th. He needed to somehow deliver his message and stop the battle.
The woman seemed to be waiting for Javonis to say something. Her gaze was steely and she had the air of a Cadre Magus. “I would be honored to have the Vitruvean Centurions escort me to the Dramborean army. And Citizen, whom might you be?”
“I, good friar, am Gina Pilius, Profanus of the Cadre and a patrician of Vitruvia,” she said, proudly displaying her silver ring. This is Julius Darius, son of Senator Darius.”
“Both a seeker and a Vitruvean patrician? Interesting. I thought that the Cadre required its members to give up all claims to former secular titles,” Javonis said while thinking to himself; `A Pilius and the young Darius. These two should be trustworthy if they are anything like their sires.’
“It is only required of those whom hold office within the Cadre to entirely break their ties with the outside world, besides, as a woman I am forbidden by Vitruvean law from bearing any true titular authority so I have nothing to give up.”
“Well, even so, I am honored to be in the company of such nobility,” Javonis said, concealing his bemusement at the woman’s pride. He rarely ever wore his gold senatorial ring, having retired some years ago to join the clergy. “I feel I am better off already.”
“Fear not, plebe,” she said, assuming that since he wore no ring he was not a full citizen, “it is the duty of the nobility to protect the lesser classes. We shall see you safely to the Dramboreans.”
“Thank you, seeker,” Javonis said as the group moved out and he pondered; If the battle had already been joined, the two armies would be less inclined to put aside their differences, particularly the Vangoreans, whom were all heathens and did not have to answer to the mother church. This would change his plans. He would probably have to contact the Vangorean generals and negotiate terms for a truce between the two armies. And that would not be so simple a matter now that blood had been spilled. But Onland needed as many able bodied men as possible, so he would have to figure out something. He hoped it was not too late.
“So Friar. What brings you to these parts?” The young Darius spoke.
“I am here to pray for peace between the two armies. The Canon has entrusted me to stop this unsanctioned war.”
“Too bad you could not get the Alsacians out of Vitruvia and let us be a sovereign state again.”
“Alas, that will have to wait for another day.” The riders headed towards Pascolo Del Vino and the hill which would become known as Butchery Hill.
The Grove of Lost Souls
Rag Zax, having recovered all of his gear, stepped back into his chariot and headed back to where Pharaoh was assembling the Vangorean troops. His guards were on foot and kept pace behind the chariot. There was little danger of Dramborean soldiers being near as they were busy tending to their wounded up on the hill.
The small grove which the path ran through seemed surreal. It was as a mote of solitude within a sea of carnage. The sun shone thru the canopy of trees and the sounds of birds chirping in their morning quest for food could be heard. The air seemed cool and the hoof-beats of the trotting horses echoed thru the grove.
Suddenly a white mist erupted around Rag Zax’s chariot. A rain of arrows sliced through his wall of guards. Rag Zax pushed forward to escape the volley of arrows. But as he emerged from the mist, something struck him in the throat sending him tumbling off of his chariot. The white toga was strung across the path could not be seen in the mist and he had charged right into it.
Rag Zax lie on his back stunned, the breath knocked from his lungs. As he fought to gather his wits, a woman came into his view. She wore naught but a black loincloth and carried a spear in her hand.
“Masters of Eversil grant me your power. Grant me the power of this blood sacrifice to empower my magic. Strengthen my will to slay my enemies, to drive the scourge from my lands.”
Rag Zax fought for his weapon but the woman drove the spear thru his throat. He had been wounded in the past and knew what pain felt like but this time it was different. He felt the essence of his soul being pulled from his mortal body. His will fought to keep his soul inside his body but it was futile. His body twitched and finally succumbed to death.
Gina pulled the spear from Rag Zax’s throat as the rest of the Vitruvean centurions made quick work of the guards. She fell to her knees as the power of the Rag Zax’s soul made her body quiver. She almost lost consciousness but managed to hold on. Things became very clear and well-defined; everything in the world seemed to be impartial.
Just then, Julius came down the path. His toga was stained red with Vangorean blood.
Gina looked up at him and smiled, but the look on his face was of concern not joy. She could not figure out why he looked that way until she realized she was holding Rag Zax’s heart in her hands.
She dropped the heart, drew the khopesh from Rag Zax’s sheath and with several chopping thrusts severed the Vangorean general’s head. “Be a sweetie and bring this to your father would you?” Gina mused. “A message to the people that the times are changing in our favor.”
“Uhh huh,” stuttered Darius in shock.
“Did you find the Dramboreans?” she continued, unphased.
“Yes, I they are not far. Gina, is that Rag Zax?”
“It was Rag Zax.” Gina said as she put the head into a sack and handed it to Julius.
The Vangorean Command Post
Teg Rax finally had his command, what there was of it, back together. All of his half-men were spent. His infantry decimated, less than one in ten men still fit for battle, and his chariots, though somewhat better off numerically, were mostly now light footmen because the horses had all either run off or been slaughtered by the berserks. 2nd corps was in worse shape, having been where the massacre started. Only 3rd corps, now under the command of Pharaoh was still mostly intact.
Down below, the Vangoreans maneuvered into attack positions. 2nd corps was to the Dramborean left, closest to the river. 1st corps was in the center. 3rd corps was to the right with its chariots backing all three corps.
The dramboreans were arrayed now much as they had been the day before, except that during the night a stout wooden barricade and ditch had been erected just below the ridge line.
“My liege,” the herald called as he approached, followed by a handful of people. “Emissaries from Artibia and Vitruvia.”
Combard turned to meet his guests.
“Friar Javonis, representative of the Father Church, Julius Darius, son of Senator Darius of Vitruvia, and his associate, Gina Pilius, Profanus of the Cadre.”
“What brings you good people, thence? Asked Combard.
Javonis, stepping forward and holding forth a scroll bearing the holy seal, replied, “A directive from the Church, your highness, the Canon wishes the cessation of hostilities between Drambor and Alsace. Onland has greater threats than squabbles between sister kingdoms.”
Combard took the scroll, cracked the seal and read. He frowned, “And has Alsace assented?”
“It has, your majesty,” Said Javonis, “as has your ally, Vrad.”
“And what of Vangor? The church holds little sway over Pharaoh.”
“Alsace has sent word to Pharaoh. Vangor’s forces shall return home.”
“Very well,” Combard said, “if it is the will of Onn, so be it. Let it not be said that Drambor failed to come to the aid of the Church in its time of need. We shall move upon Ha’th as soon as the way is…” His voice was cut off by the sounds of trumpets below signaling the advance of the Vangorean forces.
The Vangoreans moved forward in force. It would be a full assault with everything that they had. “Well, sorry to cut this short, but it looks as if I have more immediate matters to attend to. Strom,’ the King said, “see to it that the good friar and his companions are given safe escort into the city.”
“Yes, your majesty,” the Duke replied, then called out to a young knight, “Sir Quartz! See to it that the priest and his entourage make it safely back to the city.”