Chapter 10: Southern Comfort
The village was lovely, the kind of place he enjoyed most among the Northern Holds, but with kinder weather. The growing season was longer here, and the harvests had just been taken in. The wind was soft, the skies still blue, and the barns and houses decked in fall colors. The early fall brews had been passed about in the commons area, after the raising of a new barn. Joranthon had allowed his men to help, and paid for their keep. It had endeared his army to the locals, and he would not be surprised to pick up several new recruits. The past few days here had been, overall, idyllic. But today, the payment would come.
The Empress had been disappointed by the size of Northspire’s army, but delighted at its quality and prompt appearance. The Travansils hadn’t yet attacked any large Holds. This near the capital, the more successful Holds were like their own provinces, each protected by a fortress. Even the Travansils would require a concerted effort to take them. However, smaller holds and villages, like this one, were more vulnerable.
Rather than attack the capital directly, the Travansils had split their forces into dozens of foraging groups, each containing something like fifty men. They were sweeping from village to village, conscripting the locals, and taking their vegetables and grains. Holds and villages that welcomed them were treated more mercifully, of course, than those that did not. Joranthan, like many of the Empress’s lords, was being employed to counteract the strategy, while leaving enough in Travan to provide a defense. His scouts had identified a raiding force moving this way, and decided this delightful hamlet was the best place for an ambush.
So it was that Joranthan found himself, a few officers, and a couple dozen swordsman crammed into a mill-house, waiting. Meanwhile, fifty horsemen were carefully concealed in a small wood outside town. The rest of his men were scattered in barns, alert for his signal. The waiting, of course, was excruciating.
“They’re riding in from the eastern road,” Gemmelon observed suddenly. The man had good eyes.
“Damn,” the Earl countered, squinting through the window. “We expected them from the south. They must be starting to get wise, after the last party we shut down.”
“We’re slowing them,” Gemmelon agreed, “and that’s good, but soon they’ll be coming in much larger numbers, and that’s not. We could use those reinforcements your daughter’s been assembling.”
Joranthan grunted. “I see the now. They’re headed right for us. There’s an officer up front with a banner behind him, trying to get some attention. This could work.”
The master-at-arms turned Marshal shook his head slightly. “Are you going to send for her?”
“Well,” the Earl replied carefully, “to say no would be an act of rebellion, wouldn’t it? But the new recruits have had barely any time to train. Besides, I was able to talk to Magister Francis.”
“Oh, and what did he say?” Gemmelon asked carefully, eyes still fixed upon the window. The approaching army was still marching slowly toward the center of the village, and the mill.
“That Demond and Tandar are both far more powerful, and dangerous, than Innoken ever was, and neither is bound by the Compact. Rumor says they intend to restore the glory of the Empire, and become the new Miraka. It will take an equally dangerous Sorcerer to stop them, and Heaven has declined to intervene. When the Travnsils take on the Kharshe Sorcerers to the West, I doubt we could affect the conflict, one way or another.”
Gemmelon frowned furiously. “Then why are the Travansils being so cautious? Also, I thought the Empress had a pet Sorcerer.”
“Ammankar? He’s barely worthy of the name. But when we meet Lord Demond, you can ask him. I’ll call my daughter when there’s some good she can do, not before. By the way, it looks like our friends are almost here. Let’s go.”
While Gemmelon charged out of the door, Joranthan tossed an armful of pine straw into the mill’s fire, causing the chimney to belch dark smoke. The visiting army was surrounded on three sides by charging swordsmen. They desperately backpedaled, trying to retreat, but the cavalry in the wood began to charge toward their line of escape. Almost immediately, men began to drop their weapons and plead for quarter. It was a perfect ambush. If only the rest of the war would go so well.
Jeddal had stood in the streets of Tora for hours, though it was not yet midmorning. True, the sunrise was magnificent, as it slowly illuminated the greatest docks in the Empire of Travan. And yes, the western breeze made this the best place in Tora to stand. But that wasn’t why he’d secured a place here, right near where the Northern Wall stood some eighty feet in the air. His sweetheart told him he was crazy to be here, but over the past hour, almost all his friends had arrived.
“What do you think he’s gonna say?” Golin asked, nudging his shoulder.
“Well, first he’s gonna thank your Mom for welcoming him with open arms.”
That earned a punch in the shoulder, and Jeddal laughed out loud. “Nah, I’m just kidding. The way your ma smells, a guy like that wouldn’t even go near. Ow.”
Laughing at Golin, who was just lowering his jab arm, Tret offered his own theory, “He’s gonna go on and on about how bad the old Duke was, and how we’re better off with him, and blah blah blah.”
Jeddal shrugged, rubbing his shoulder lightly. “I heard he wants to build an army against the Empress, and that he’s already got men raiding further north.”
Tret shook his head. “Bad news. We start turning on each other, the Kharshe will ride us down. That wall up there won’t keep them out by itself. Travan’s always stood for Travan.”
“Look, guys,” Golin called out, pointing.
The others turned to the Northwest tower, where a single man strode alone onto the wall. He struck a fine figure against the morning’s pale blue. Tall and dark-haired, he was robed in imperial purple, atop thick armor of the ancient style. Plates of gilt steel overlaid chainmail so fine it rippled like silk, and shone like silver. Every step was confidence, and the crowd hushed to hear it.
“For the Duke!” a voice called out from, lifting a crossbow, and firing.
There was an audible thud, and the crowd gasped. The assassin smiled wickedly, and lowered the bow.
Demond Travansil, however, laughed, a booming sound that could be heard throughout the packed streets and docks. In a single fluid movement, he flicked a dagger from his waist at his would-be killer. It sprouted from the assassin’s neck, spilling red death onto the cobblestones, and the Sorcerer moved again to pace the wall, standing directly in front of Jeddal and his friends. He seemed, if anything, amused.
“Countrymen!” Demond spoke, his voice effortless booming throughout the city. “Know my name! I am Demond Travansil, rightful emperor of Travan, reborn of Tallavanor Travansil, and son of Demandar Trvansil, founder of the most steadfast Empire ever to grace this World! I lead by right of blood, by right of spirit, and in service of you, my people.
“In this day, yours and mine, greatness rises again. My father served Travan when it was a single city, a light of civilization surrounded by barbarity. He, and I, served again in Travan’s darkest hour, when Khardum’s puppets had hemmed us in within a few fortresses, all but destroying us. In that day, we fought back against impossible odds, parting the tide of vermin, and forcing it back! But in this day, yours and mine, we will achieve greatness. Travan, which for generations has stagnated, and begun to turn against itself, will be unified. Then, with my power, with the power of my brother, and the power of my father, we will again throw the Kharshe back!”
Demond began to pace, and before Jeddal’s eyes, he grew, swelling to twice the size of a man. At that size, his fierce expression was visible, and the sheer power seemed to crackle in the air about him, like lightning.
“In our darkest days, Demons walked our lands, and great spirits fought to keep Travan alive. Now in these days, your days and mine, Sorcery walks. You will see power and glory the likes that none have been privileged to see since the Fall. But in these days, the power belongs to me, and therefore it belongs to you. You know that Miraka was accounted a great power.
“But the Empire you will see spread across the continent, the Empire you will create, has not been matched since the World was made. Travan boasts the strongest military the World has ever been seen. We will make it stronger! We will bring light, and we will bring order, and it will shine forth in a new world free of fear and petty division. Who will march with me to destiny? Already my men infiltrate the North, recruiting, and we grow stronger every day.
“First North, and then west - the Kharshe will submit to our ways, or be driven before us by a power Khardum himself would envy! Who among you will embrace greatness - for it is yours to accept!”
“Demond, Demond!” the crowd cheered, and Jeddal found his own voice rising with the mass of voices.
“For Travan!” the giant figure roared.
“Travan! Travan!” the crowd responded. Jeddal had always wanted to be a warrior, he realized, and there had never been a better time.