Chapter NineThe Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9
“I beg your pardon but this might not be the wisest decision in your long reign, Sire,” Donal suggested as he and the King rode forward to meet the three Torenthi officers.
The young Earl frowned at Donal’s presumption in questioning the decision. Kennet Howell had asked that he be the third but with the possibility of his temper boiling over when faced by one of the men responsible for his brother’s death, Urien had instead named Geoffrey MacEwan as his other companion.
Donal was doing double-duty as both the King’s aide and also carrying the Haldane banner. Of course, he also had a third responsibility that couldn’t be shared with the Earl of Kheldour: for all Urien’s initiation it remained possible that he might miss some subtle sorcery on the part of the enemy prince and his officers.
“I’ve made a remarkable number of decisions over those years, Sir Donal, logically only one of them can be the wisest of them so that isn’t a very strong argument against my doing this.”
“I have my own doubts, Sire.” Geoffrey observed once it was clear that royal anger wasn’t roused by the sentiment. “It’s not as if Prince Arkady is coming himself.”
“It’s their good fortune to have a pair of Furstán on hand, whereas I’m the only Haldane present.” Urien reined his horse around and looked back. “I would say this is about two hundred yards, wouldn’t you agree?”
With the bulk of the banner to manage, Donal yielded to the Earl to make assessment and upon his agreement the three of them stopped to wait for the Torenthi, who had a little further to ride.
Save for the light hair, the prince in the lead reminded Donal to a degree of Prince Cinhil – in his physical prime and with a confident seat on his horse. He had an air of command to him. But Cinhil, though excellently trained to arms, didn’t wear his armour with the same familiarity that this prince did. There at a glance was the gap between Torenth and Gwynedd’s armies.
“Lord Urien Haldane.” The prince bowed in the saddle.
“Sir, you address the King!” snapped Geoffrey.
“Sir,” the Torenthi replied, “It is the view of my lord and father that the rightful king of Gwynedd is his nephew Marek of the House Festil-Furstán. I would hardly expect you to agree on this point, of course, but it is one I must keep in mind.”
“It will suffice, I believe, Lord Nikola Furstán; if we address each other as Lords of ancient and noble houses.” Urien fixed him with an icy stare, gesturing Geoffrey to silence. “The other matter is one that clearly has become one that will have to be addressed by the great God, Lord of Battles. You are, I believe, King Kyprian’s second son, the Duke of Arkadia?”
“I have that privilege, besides which I am second in command after my dear brother Prince Arkady of the vanguard of our army.”
“And do you speak for your brother now?”
“In certain matters I do. You understand that if you were, for example, to wish to raise the prospect of marrying your sons to any of his daughters then I’d have to refer the matter to him and also to our father. I doubt that the circumstance will arise.”
“It would be a more pleasant topic to address but you are correct. So then, Lord Nikola, it is your brother’s herald who requested this meeting. What then, does your brother wish to have you discuss with me?”
“Lord Urien, I would hope that it is evident that we have an army more than sufficient to drive you back and the only questions a battle would settle is how long it would take us and how many of both of our armies will perish before that is done. I would hope that at least the latter point weighs as heavily on your shoulders as it does as my brother’s.”
“If your brother wishes to spare his men casualties then I’d suggest all he need do is march his men back across the Rheljans. I will be glad to offer him safe conduct, for I have heard that he – unlike others among King Kyprian’s soldiers – has conducted himself as a Christian price despite the exigencies of war.”
“Alas, as dutiful sons, neither myself nor Prince Arkady is free to return to our homes while our King is at war. I’m glad though to hear that you hold Arkady in such esteem and assure you that he deeply regrets that others have not been able to enforce civilised standards upon their men. I have his pledge however, that any of the nobility of Gwynedd who surrender themselves to him shall have his protection whether it is to pledge themselves to Marek Festil-Furstán or simply to accept honourable captivity. In the first case, their men will be presumed to serve under them and in the second, though they must give up their arms and armour they won’t otherwise be molested and may return to their homes if they pledge to take no further part in this war.”
Geoffrey scowled thunderously. “Aye, and you’d put trust in us after we’d abandoned our oaths to King Urien? D’you take me for a fool?”
“I address the offer,” Nikola replied coolly, “to your King that he may absolve you of your oaths and in so doing spare your lives and end not only this battle but also this war without further deaths.”
“If I may enquire, Lord Furstán, what fate would your brother see for King Urien if he accepts this offer?”
Nikola turned his eyes on Donal and the Deryni felt a subtle pressure against his shields. There was a flicker of recognition in those dark eyes and he spread his hands. “Lord Haldane may seek to ride west, leaving his men to their fate, though with our cavalry so well advanced I would not expect him to reach any haven before he is caught. Or if he surrenders, forswears his crown and casts himself upon my brother’s mercy then he may live out his life in peace as a lay brother in a monastery of our choosing.” He paused, looking to the king. “Or if captivity is something you cannot stomach, Lord Haldane then perhaps one of your men will offer you the final escape.”
“I trust you will not think the less of me,” Urien replied, “If I do not take disgrace myself to seek escape in flight or that last course of action. Nor shall I resign my crown save to an heir of my house.” He studied Nikola and added: “Perhaps if you and your brother wish to avoid bloodshed among our armies, we could settle this matter in personal combat. You and your brother to face myself and one companion; with the losers’ soldiers to withdraw in full honour from the war, retaining their arms, armour and banners.”
Nikola started and then he bowed deeply with genuine respect to Urien. “My lord Haldane, you are fully worthy of my respect and I think my brother would look favourably on such a proposal. Alas, I cannot think that King Kyprian would approve of so many thousands quitting his campaign when the prize to be won was the retreat of your own much smaller force.”
Urien lowered his head. “A shame. Please convey to your father that I would be happy to face him on similar terms if he wishes to act on his well-known feelings towards my House. In the meantime, it seems that the only way this will be settled is in battle”
The sun was sinking low behind the Gwynedd army as Arkady watched them take another step back, their captains pushing at the handful who weren’t in line with their peers.
“We could push once more before it gets too dark,” he mused out loud.
Nikola shook his head and then winced. He’d taken a heavy blow to his helm in the first attempt to force the Gwynedd lines to break and Arkady had thought for a dreadful moment that his brother was going to be one of the casualties lying in a long, blood-stained trail from where the army had first formed back more than a mile towards the river.
Fortunately he’d only been knocked senseless and his squire had had the presence of mind to drag him back. Arkady had knighted the lad on the spot for his valour. If saving the life of a Prince of Torenth didn’t merit that then what else could?
“Be serious, Arkady. Even if they do break now, we can’t mount a pursuit through the night. Most of them would get away.”
“They’re all going to get away as things stand.” They’d withstood three attacks so far, each time bled a little more but at a cost of scores of his own men dead and others wounded. The last had looked promising at one point when a wedge of knights had driven into square beside Urien’s banner and threatened to cut that whole corner off, but a reserve of Rhendall men had swarmed over the knights and restored the line. When the square fell back again the bodies of the knights had been left behind along with more than their number of men in Rhendall colours.
His brother shrugged. “We were sent to push them back so father could assemble the army to rest here. No one expects us to win the war today. “As it is, they’ve lost a third of their number and yielded the field. Ask any of your captains and they’ll agree that this is your victory.”
Arkady removed his helmet and pushed back the mail coif that he wore beneath it. The cool wind that had arisen from the west as the afternoon dragged on was welcome against his scalp but it also carried to him the scents and sounds of the wounded lying, for the most part, where they had fallen.”
“I’m almost tempted to have Suleiman have his horse-archers harry them until the light fails,” he growled. “How many good men have they cost us today? No, no, don’t tell me. And yes, it would be pointless now. However many of them Suleiman killed and wounded, their own archers would do as much in return.”
“So what will you do?”
Arkady gestured towards one of the cluster of aides assembled to carry his instructions around the battle. “You,” he selected one of them. “Take word to Suleiman that he’s to pull his men back to camp. Tell him… tell him they’ve fought well.”
“Árpád, see if you can find the white flag we used earlier, then ride forward as my herald. Offer King Urien my respects and if he agrees not to harass our men aiding the wounded then I’ll let him withdraw with no further pursuit until morning.”
“Yes, Your Highness.” The captain looked down at the field. “And their own wounded?”
The prince shook his head. “I’ll not let them rejoin his armies but we’ll give them such medicine and food as we can supply. Those who can’t fight again and aren’t worth a ransom will be allowed to go but that’s all I can offer.”
“They do not lack the will to fight, the men of Gwynedd,” Árpád observed as he turned his horse to go. “And they have more discipline than the northmen.”
“They also learn entirely too quickly.” Nikola moved his horse closer to Arkady. “Earl Ivaar let us goad him into taking a foolish risk but whoever’s leading the Eastmarch men there has them under tight control.”
“Let’s hope they don’t keep learning so fast.” Arkady began to unbuckle his gauntlets. “Although I’ve come to agree with father on one thing at least.”
“If Marek was us to push towards Valoret then he’d better get his army here. It’s his throne we’re fighting for, so let him do some of the bleeding.”
The village of Schilling had been entirely surrounded by the camps housing Duke Tresham’s army by the time Piran got his first look at it. Earl Godwyn’s column, made up of the bulk of Cinhil’s knights and mounted men-at-arms had made swift progress across the Kingdom, overtaken only by a handful of messengers who had the advantage of fresh horses at regular intervals.
“I wonder what happened to the villagers.” Prince Jaron was looking around in curiosity as one of the Duke’s officers guided Earl Godwyn and his senior officers, which somehow still included Piran, towards the handful of stone and timber buildings.
“The young men might have taken up a spear instead of a plough.” Piran didn’t think it would be prudent to mention what the younger women of the village might be doing in the camp. “Most of them have probably gone to the next village until we’ve moved on. Their lord should look after them, but they’d be giving up their homes to the King’s officers anyway and I can’t imagine this is doing their fields any good.”
“That makes sense.” Then Jaron brightened and waved one hand. “Malcolm! Malcolm, you’re here!”
Prince Malcolm was indeed emerging from one of the few two-storey buildings in the village, probably an inn of some kind. He started at the cry and then returned the wave, stepping forward and taking the reins of his brother’s horse. “Welcome to Schilling, Jaron. If you’re here, I hope Cinhil’s party isn’t far behind.”
“He should be a day or two behind us, with Duke Tambert and the bulk of our infantry a day behind them.”
Jaron nodded. “He’s been marching them hard. You remember our cousin Godwyn, of course, and this is Sir Piran, one of his captains.”
Malcolm nodded in acknowledgement as Piran ducked his head. “Of course. You were mentioned when we received word of Culdi being retaken. And you were with Cinhil at the Cleyde, Earl Godwyn.”
The Earl nodded and dismounted. “I should report to the Earl-Marshal, Your Highness. Can I trouble you for directions to his headquarters?”
The prince gestured towards the building he’d just left. “You’ve found it. Could you spare Jaron while you’re informing him of your arrival? Father will want to see him.”
The Earl nodded. “Of course. And please convey my respects too.”
The two Haldanes stepped aside and Piran hastily secured the reins of his horse and the Earl’s before following Godwyn into the inn.
Even with all the windows open and candles, the main room wasn’t well lit. The Duke sat at one of the tables, a cleric Piran didn’t recognise beside him and scribbling notes. Only when Tresham turned his head were the new lines on his face visible.
“Your Highness, I’ve just arrived with a thousand lancers from Prince Cinhil’s army.”
Tresham nodded. “So I’ve been told, Earl Godwyn. Did you receive my instructions regarding setting up camp downstream of the ford?”
“Yes sir. Some of my captains are there now, organising horselines. We’ve very little in the way of supplies though. Most of the supply wagons are with Duke Tambert.”
“The prince sent word ahead that that was the case. As long as you can manage to feed your men tonight, more wagons are due tomorrow. There’s plenty of grazing for your horses – enough for the next few days at least. Make sure to water them upstream of the ford though.”
“Did the prince send any further instructions for you to pass on?”
Godwyn shook his head. “Nothing specific, Your Highness. He was expecting to arrive late tomorrow or early the next day with the rest of the cavalry and the Lord Keene’s army. Duke Tambert and the Cassan levies are taking the road further north to avoid clogging the roads but he should only be a day behind the Prince.”
“Thank you, Earl Godwyn.” Tresham looked around, seemingly lost for moment. “Ah, Baron Danoc!”
The Baron stepped away from where he’d been working at another table. Like Tresham, Sir Gillis Gillespie appeared to have aged years in the last few months. “Your Highness.”
“The Earl of Carthane finally arrived with the Haldane lancers.” The duke turned back to the Earl. “Until Prince Cinhil arrives, Baron Danoc is leading the centre division. I’m aware it’s unusual to ask an Earl to take orders from a Baron but this is the prince’s decision. You’re to treat any orders from the baron as if they came from Cinhil himself. I trust there won’t be any problem with that.”
Godwyn put his arms behind his back. “I understand, my lord. Please don’t concern yourself. I’m glad to be placed under the guidance of the Baron. His instruction when I was at Rhemuth and Candor Rhea was of great assistance on campaign in the west.”
Baron Gillis offered the Earl his hand. “For my part it’s an honour to be part of the same division as a proven commander like yourself, Earl Godwyn. Why don’t you and Sir Piran join me at my table so I can brief you on the situation.”
Discreetly Godwyn waited until they were at the table and Duke Tresham was engrossed in a conversation with his own officers before asking quietly: “Is Duke Tresham well? He seemed… distracted.”
“He isn’t only commanding the whole army until Prince Cinhil arrives,” Gillis replied quietly. “He’s also handling the Division of the Right, since Earl Braham fell at the Battle of Saint Piran’s and Braham’s son is no older or more experienced than the Earl of Marley.”
“Can’t Earl Geoffrey carry that burden for him?” Piran looked around the room, trying to locate the Duke’s son. “His sons have been leading the Claibourne levies until now haven’t they?”
“Hopefully he’ll feel able to hand over the Division to Lord Keene when he arrives.” Gillis gestured upwards. “Poor Geoffrey lost his arm in the same battle that killed Braham and the wound’s become infected. No one wants to say anything to the Duke, but his chances aren’t considered good.”
“It must have been a hard fought battle.” Piran shook his head. “But then they’ve all been taking their toll. Earl Ivaar, Earl Richard, Earl Mael and now Earl Braham and perhaps Earl Geoffrey as well. And that’s just the Earls.”
“Earl Mael?” asked Gillis in surprise. “The Earl of Transha fell as well? I’d heard of Earl Richard leading his last charge, but not that the MacArdry was dead. He was only a young man.”
“Arrows are no respecters of age it seems.”
The Baron nodded. “It was a Moorish arrow that slew poor Braham. He had his visor up to give orders, it’s said and one caught him in the eye. At least it was quick.”
The three of them crossed themselves, as did the monk serving as Gillis’ clerk.
“Thankfully after the King and Earl Marley fell back –“
“Wait, King Urien was at the battle!” cried out Godwyn. “Prince Malcolm felt his brother should see the King but I didn’t think that… Pray tell me the King’s wounds are not serious.”
The Baron reached over and took Godwyn’s shoulder. “Peace, peace. It isn’t what you fear.”
Piran leant forwards. “Sir, I’m sure the Duke of Claiborne or Sir Gillis would have told us before now if the King’s life was in danger.”
“You have my word.” Gillis released Godwyn’s shoulder. “The King took no wounds of consequences and his health remains good. Whatever Prince Malcolm felt his brother should go to their father for, Urien is not on his deathbed. Pray do not spread alarm amongst by speaking recklessly, rumours spread easily among the camp.”
Godwyn’s face was almost as crimson as his cloak. “Your pardon, Sir Gillis. I let my fears get the better of me.”
The Baron nodded. “Consider yourself forgiven, if concern for King Urien could even be considered a fault. As I was saying, the Torenthi have made no further advance since the battle. The Prior has apparently persuaded King Kyprian that his Order pose no threat for the priory remains unmolested but a handful of the younger monks have been able to pass messages to our scouts and it seems that while the main force of their army is assembled, numbering between six and seven thousand strong, they are waiting the arrival of a powerful column from the south under the lead of the Pretender.”
“Can we match those numbers?” asked Piran cautiously.
“Duke Tresham’s Division of the Right has two thousand men of the northern levies and Earl Euan’s Division of the Left has perhaps a thousand reliable men from the Lendour Highlands and I think twice so many assembled by the Church, though I can’t speak for their arms and training. Your arrival brings the centre Division to about the same strength – besides your lancers I have most of the footmen from around Rhemuth and Valoret.”
“We’re closely matched in numbers to Kyprian’s army then.”
“Yes, and we hold a good position. If Prince Cinhil and Duke Tambert arrive before Kyprian’s reinforcements then our prospects are good but if his southern column is the first to arrive then he may decide to move while he has us outnumbered.”
“Would he risk crossing the Falling Water?” Godwyn shook his head. “The Mearans could barely push past Bishop Jashan’s army when they crossed the Cleyde and they outnumbered him by two to one.”
“That’s hard to say,” Gillis admitted. “My experience of the Mearans suggest that they’re more accustomed to border skirmishes than to a pitched battle such as that on the Cleyde. King Kyprian’s army has been fighting for years so he might feel that they can force the Schilling ford, which is quite broad. Equally, he could leave a guard to stall us if we try to cross and then move north towards Grecotha or south to find another crossing from which he could threaten Valoret.”
“Do you think that’s likely?”
The Baron picked up a mug of ale and shook it lightly, looking at the ale within as it swirled. “No, Godwyn,” he said in a low voice. “Kyrian’s objective must be to crush this army. While we resist him, whether he and the Pretender hold Valoret or even Rhemuth, he cannot claim victory. I believe he will strike for us directly.”
“And I believe it will take every man we can muster if we are to stop him.”
Notwithstanding his earlier angry words, Kyprian greeted Marek with the kiss of friendship and seated him at his right hand. The pavilion now held a long table requisitioned from the monks at Saint Piran’s and as generals and captains took their own seats along the length of it, the Deryni amongst them conjured handfire and set them to glow above their heads to provide illumination without the smoke that candles or torches would have produced.
Arkady made room for his brother alongside him. Below the table, Nikola placed his hand upon Arkady’s so that they could communicate discreetly.
*Who’s that sitting next to Marek’s sons?* he asked quietly.
Arkady looked down the table and saw the older man leaning over to murmur advice to Prince Festil. *Maurin Makrory, the new Count of Kulnán. He was one of Duke Imre’s knights before Donan’s brothers were sent into exile.*
*He’s done well out of his loyalty to the Festils then.*
Arkady restrained a snort. *I doubt even Donan knew Sir Blaine was a spy. His brothers certainly didn’t. Still, if Imre hadn’t spoken up for Maurin the Makrory’s could have seen their titles attainted to the crown so perhaps you’re right.*
“Now that all our forces are assembled, dear uncle, may we discuss a further advance upon the Haldane host.” Marek’s sleek blond hair was combed back and held in place by a gold circlet, his court tunic one that wouldn’t have been out of place in Beldour. Arkady reminded himself not to under-estimate his cousin. For all he’d been slow to move his column north, trustworthy knights confirmed that Marek had been at their head storming Rengarth and the sword he’d set aside before sitting had been no ornamental courtier’s blade but stout steel.
Kyprian gave Marek a sour look. “Indeed, nephew. Since Urien was defeated here he’s fallen back beyond the river and assembled a more credible army than the small force we’ve seen so far. Certain sources of information indicate he’s gathered some seven or eight thousand men under the command of his Earl Marshal, although one wing of the army is largely made up of ill-equipped peasants that could be discounted save for their number.”
“We have ten thousand men assembled, for the most part seasoned veterans.” Imre of Tolan folded his arms. “If Urien thinks he’s safe behind the river then his complacency betrays him. We should strike for him directly.”
“Nonetheless, fording the river would allow him to stand on the defensive.” Arkady looked at the map. “While we have the advantage of numbers and discipline, on a narrow front we might not be able to bring the first of those to bear and thus he could use his best troops for the most part. A hard march towards Valoret would likely let us reach a crossing he can’t defend in force before we’re across and with our army between him and the heartlands of Gwynedd he would have little choice but to attack on whatever ground we chose.”
Marek favoured him with a confident smile. “Your strategy would make sense, cousin. However, you do not have all of the facts yet. Urien’s heir has a second, smaller army marching from the west. If we do as you propose then we could find ourselves attacked from front and rear.”
“Not only would Cinhil’s arrival reduce our advantage in numbers, he’s Urien’s only victorious general. The King himself is no general or he wouldn’t have placed his Earl Marshal in command while he serves as little more than a figurehead.”
Kyprian nodded at Imre’s words. “Tresham MacEwan is untested at war.”
“Not only that.” Marek bowed slightly to Arkady and Nikola. “His son Geoffrey was wounded in battle by your forces and now lies dying. Our sources suggest the Duke is at least somewhat distracted. By moving swiftly we can strike the Haldanes while their leaders are not at their best. I am sure you see the merits of doing so.”
“The merits of a swift strike are not lost upon me, cousin.” Arkady gave the would-be King a pointed look. “Are your men ready for such an attack?”
Marek’s eyes darkened at the subtle slur. “They are, cousin. And if it pleases the King of Torenth then I beg the boon of leading the vanguard. Duke Ygor and Count Max-Echehardt have discussed this matter with me and we are convinced that we can march our men to the river tonight, allowing us to storm the ford at dawn. Your own scouts show the ford is wide and shallow and with surprise as our ally we can be across and upon the Haldane’s camp before they fully grasp the situation.”
“You seem to assume he has no scouts of his own.”
“I’m sure that he does, Prince Nikola.” Imre shook his head. “But mortal scouts see little at night and even less when the moon is hidden behind clouds?”
“I doubt you mean to leave that chance – are you proposing a weather working?”
Imre nodded. “A small one, if you will permit it, King Kyprian. Indeed, if Prince Nikola would like to indulge his curiosity then he could join myself and Count Maurin in the working.”
Smiling in approval, Arkady’s father nodded to Imre before turning to Marek. “I am pleased to grant your boon, nephew. Carry out the attack as you have discussed and the weight of our army will move at dawn to support you.”
“It will take some hours to move companies to the ford,” cautioned Kamien of Marluk. A cousin to the royal line, his southern duchy contributed heavily to the Moorish complement of the army. “My own men can march two hours before dawn.”
“That would be best.” Arkady looked along the table. “Count Maurin, you will be otherwise engaged…”
“My men can march though.” He looked to Duke Kamien. “May I entrust them to you, Your Highness?”
“It would be my honour to have the men of Kulnán fighting alongside me.”
Marek cleared his throat. “Thank you, Duke Kamien, for your support. There is one other matter I would like to make plain however.”
Arkady’s face tightened as Marek rose to his feet.
“I understand my cousin’s Christian duty to his kin by marriage.” The would-be King placed his gloves upon the table in symbolic challenge. Arkady’s wife Dura was sister to Prince Onan of Jaca, who was in turn wed to a Haldane princess. “But the Haldanes are usurpers, their line sprung of a renegade priest and their support for a church that would see fully half of us here burned as heretics for nothing more than our God-given gifts puts them beyond the pale. I cannot countenance that quarter be offered to Urien Haldane or any of his house.”
“The Haldane has been offered quarter already and rejected it,” Nikola answered on Arkady’s behalf. “Having spoken to him myself I assure you that he will accept no quarter and nor shall he offer it to the House of Festil.”
“Then we are in agreement. To end the suffering the Haldanes have brought to the Eleven Kingdoms, Urien Haldane and his sons must die.” Kyprian rose and those around the table did likewise. “They have rejected my son’s offer of mercy and no further offer will be made.”
Arkady and Marek nodded, one in concession and the other in gracious acknowledgement.
In the east, first traces of light were beginning to outline the Rheljans against the sky as Piran ducked his head in a bucket of water. The camp was quiet around him and what grass remained after the thousands of horses had grazed was wet with dew. Moments like this were few and far between among an army and Piran had found that while many of his fellow knights preferred companionable evenings sharing wine and seeing to their gear he was drawing away from them.
Perhaps it’s that I was not there at the Cleyde, he thought. I fought at Culdi but is there something of having followed Prince Cinhil into battle there that I do not share? Or is it some fault on my part?
The young knight scaled the simple fence that had been erected to provide the horses with an improvised paddock and found his own gelding, an unassuming roan, also awake and eyeing the river with what Piran took to be a thirsty eye.
“Come on boy, we’ll get you watered upstream,” he offered, snagging the gelding’s head and strapping the bridle in place.
The gate, no more than a length of rope secured to one fence post and with a loop hooked over the other side of a gap in the fence wasn’t far and once they were out of the paddock, Piran took a step back and then jumped up on the gelding’s back, pulling himself upright to ride bareback as he had as a boy. Saddles and other tack are for serious riding, his father had always said, but you can’t count yourself a real rider unless you can ride bareback.
A handful of sleepy sentries saluted as he rode past, circling Schilling and moving past the disorderly encampments of the ecclesiastical levies. Some of the men were already awake, for the most part gathered around a handful of priests who were leading them in the Dawn Prayer.
Piran crossed himself as he passed them and then nudged his horse down towards the water. He was about to dismount when the first hint of the sun rose above the distant mountains and he saw it glitter upon spearheads.
“What in the name of Jesu Christ is…”
He rubbed his eyes and looked again. There could be no mistake. Spears, helms were catching the first light across on the far side of the Falling Water and they were moving in good order towards the Schilling ford.
“Sweet Jesu, we’re under attack.” He dragged hard on the bridle, bringing his horse around. There was no time to return to Earl Godwyn but at least some of the men in the nearest camp were awake.
“Alarm!” he cried out as he smacked his boots against the horse and the startled roan broke into a gallop up the shallow slope. “To arms, to arms! Rally to the ford!”
Startled heads turned as he burst into the ecclesiastical camp. “What was that you say!” exclaimed a lean priest, breaking off in mid-prayer.
“Torenthi soldiers are almost at the ford!” Piran shouted. “Arm yourselves for God’s sake!”
The man blinked and then scowled angrily, looking around. “Were the sentries asleep? No, there’s no time for that. Rouse your brethren, my children! Rouse your children and follow this good knight to do God’s work!”
The men were for the most part, Piran realised, little more than farmers and craftsmen by their garb and when they seized up weapons, their spears were a motley of hunting gear and farm implements improved on as each saw fit.
“I’ll send word to the Earl Marshal!” the priest added, pushing his fellow priests off in whatever direction seemed easiest as he could reach them. “Brothers, go! Rouse the levies and someone – you, in fact,” he seized one young priest, “Go alert the Earl of Lendour.”
“Yes, Your Excellency!” the young priest exclaimed and took to his heels.
Piran started at the grey-haired priest. “You’re a Bishop?”
“Yes! Now go!”
Chastened, Piran turned his horse, looking once more at the mob of men moving towards him. Realising that there was no point looking to impose more order he instead pointed down towards the ford. “Follow me!”Next Chapter