The Heartless Dead: Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Eighteen
The Calm Before the Storm

Bree stood on a wide plateau at the base of al’Harad hill. The river lay to her left, and the foothills of the Brazen Peaks lay both to her right, and straight ahead. It was from in front that she expected the Al’Chorhaiv to attack from. With such large numbers at their command she thought it unlikely they would take the time to circle around. Besides, they wouldn’t be expecting too much resistance. Thrice Hills had never had more than guts and arrows to defend itself.

Behind her she could hear the shuffling of her troops, and the chatter from Thrice Hills. She stifled a sigh. Few among those who stood behind her had much training. The soldiers from Kelmarane were a dedicated bunch but hadn’t had to fight off more than drunken merchants and the odd sand scorpion. Of the ten that fought on her side of the river, two were fair archers, and so she set them alongside Kallien, in the back. The rest she placed in front of the archers to protect them when the battle turned fierce. She had hoped to put Kallien in charge of them for the course of the battle, but doubted their ability to follow her silent commands during combat. Instead she was forced to place the most senior of the soldiers in charge. His name was Rhox and he had, as far as she could tell, a decent mind for strategy.

The rest of her tiny army was spread out in an arc before the archers and soldiers. She stood in the center, with Tiller directly to her right and Omig and Kaywen Claisant to her left. Beside the Claisant’s, alongside the river she had placed the five mercenaries under her command. They said they were part of an adventuring group called the Golden Hand and had been fighting with each other for years. Bree wasn’t quite sure why they had decided to name themselves anything, but she was pretty sure ‘years’ was an exaggeration. None of them looked older than sixteen summers. Still, they did seem to know each others tactics well enough. Perhaps they’d make it out of this if they stuck together.

Beside Tiller, further along the foothills to the east she had placed Kelestair, Husk and Zym. It was a lot of ground to cover, but if she could count on anyone to hold the line alone it was Kelesatir. She had never seen him falter or flinch in combat. He was both brilliant and resolute. She had no worries for him. Who she did have worries for was that blasted kid he insisted on dragging around everywhere with him! What was he thinking?! It was enough that he brought his creepy vulture everywhere, but Zym was an overdressed child! It’s too bad she couldn’t send her into Thrice Hills. Perhaps once the battle started Zym would have a chance to flee.

The rest of the troops were across the river, under Santon’s command. The only other help they would have was from the archers of al’Harad hill itself and they were under Brotis’ command. Could she count on Brotis to watch their backs? Last week she was certain all Brotis wanted to do was put a knife in her back, but now… Well, now she knew Brotis wanted to put a knife in her back, but with her own hands. Would that be enough to keep Brotis an attentive commander? Bree sighed. If she knew anything about Brotis, it was that she loved herself more than anything. Brotis would have to defend Thrice Hills in order to defend herself and that was all that really mattered to Bree.

Thrice Hills would endure and the Al’Chorhaiv would die.

The thundering sound of footsteps rumbled down from the Brazen Peaks. The soldiers behind her shuffled nervously. The mercenaries boasted. Husk squawked. Kelestair and Zym made no move. Bree drew the wineskin from her hip and raised it to her lips. Tiller and the Claisant’s followed suit.

Bree whispered her prayer aloud to the heavens. “Lend us your luck, my Lord. We’re going to need it.”

“To freedom!” Tiller cried.

“For the Drunken Lord!” echoed Omig and Kaywen.

Bree replaced the wineskin at her hip and drew Tempest. A familiar chill enveloped her arm. It both calmed her and sharpened her senses. She smiled. What had she ever done to deserve a blade such as Tempest? The Dawn of Freedom was strapped onto her other arm. It was much bigger than the last time she had used it in combat, but Kelestair was right, the balance and weight were the same as it had always been. Better, even. When had he become such an adept crafter?

Bree smiled at the sunrise design upon its face, made from the fangs of the gnoll-slavers. How many lives had she saved with this shield, while taking the lives of their captors? How many souls hung in the balance today? Many gnolls would meet their end on these hills, but at what cost? How many people’s blood would soak the rocks and sand along with them? Would the lost outweigh the saved?

Bree took a deep breath. She would be ready for whatever came at them.

This was it. The time had come.

Cayden’s will be done.

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