Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
AVESTAR ARRAYED HIS forces tradeward of Avjakar. He also had two legions in possession of Ureth Mourning and its harbor. Part of a legion had made a march into the Fulbern, so the Tribal Council had convened a War Council.
Because of her experience and knowledge of Darklaw, Avestine was asked to advise, but the generals were as wary of her as Severesh had been. As Avestine listened to the Council’s tedious discussion, she found herself staring at the ground.
She jerked her head upward and stared at the long-winded general, Samas, chief of the horsemen of Highland. Samas had been talking negotiation. Tucking a thumb into her gold belt, she stretched her shoulders and asked, “Have you ever broken a horse, Chief?”
Samas thrust out his pointed chin and glanced about at the faces of the men around the table. Like all the tribal men, he wore a kaffiyeh. The tan folded cloth draped over his head. A thick band of silver and purple wound around the cloth distinguishing him as a leader of the Highland.
“What about you, Chief?” Avestine leaned across the table, her question directed to Hamran, chief of the Wasteland, who wore a headband of silver and orange. When they both remained dumb, she shared a look with Gerard. “Let me put it this way: my brother’s like a new saddle. I want that to change. I want you to break him. Break him like a twelve-year-old whore. Do you have the balls to manage that, or are you going to wait for him to do it to you? Because he will.”
Samas’s nostrils flared.
“That’s all you need to do. It’s very simple. Kill them all. If you’re the men I think you are, if the famous Tribes of the Sun are worth their reputation, then you’ll leave every Darklaw soldier as shit for the flies.”
“Do you mean no prisoners? No ransoms?”
“Dead. All dead.”
“What you suggest,” muttered Mosit, chieftain of the Wideland, “is outrageous.”
“This isn’t about numbers. If we engage them on our terms, attack when they don’t expect—and do so with no thought for retreat—we can route them.”
“There’s no reason for us to be preemptive.”
“There’s always reason to be preemptive. Let my brother settle in, survey the land, decide the battle on his terms, and he’ll be screwing your daughters by sunfall. His legions can flatten a forest in days. Build camps. Clear valleys. Bridge waters. I suggest you go to your men and tell them we have another thousand men meeting us in three days. Tell them they need to fight like demons until then or the reinforcements won’t have anyone to save.”
“What reinforcements?” asked Samas.
“Severesh is sending them, by ship around the peninsula.”
“We’ve had no contact.”
The men in the room perked up. Mosit seemed to forget Avestine’s offense. The chieftains and their staffs left with lighter hearts.
She had tested the line that Gerard had warned her not to cross, but where he relied on respect, she relied on abuse. Men were like dogs. As much as they might resent her disrespect, it was only because she showed it to them that they thought her strong.
“Gerard,” she said after the others had left. “Go to the outposts and mention the garrisons at Hammi, Tannedon, and Silmistri. Let the men think those are the men meeting us on the march to the Fulbern.”
“That’s less than a thousand, and there’s no way Severesh would empty those garrisons to reinforce Koledoon.”
“Of course not.”
“The men will learn not to trust us.”
“It’s themselves they have to trust when we meet my brother’s legion. Besides, it’s not you or me telling them there are reinforcements, is it? You’re only sharing what their chieftains told you. Right?”
“And the chieftains will have you flogged.”
“It won’t be my fault when Severesh changes his mind and makes a secret alliance with my brother against his treaty partners.”
“The Council won’t believe you.”
“You let me worry about that.”
“The united forces of the Sovereignty will be outnumbered.”
“I’m counting on it.”
Devastating one of her brother’s legions would mean little to him, but if her brother’s forces could hand the Alliance a defeat, it would give Avestine greater control of the rest of the army.
She expected that defeat would cause dissention in the Council. The Wideland may withdraw their divisions, and if that happened, she suspected the Highland would follow. That would get Mosit and Samas out of her way.
She knew she would need the fattest cow she could find to grow her herd, and she had spent a great deal of time in Ureth Mourning the year before. With the aid of its ancient walls and her new archers, she anticipated that she needed only eight-thousand men to hold the city. She expected some of those men to come from the ranks of Darklaw itself.
Her plans depended on her reputation and a great deal of good fortune, but if the gods demanded she accept a destiny she didn’t want, she would make demands of them, as well.
“Dine with me,” Avestine said to Gerard before he left. “Send a messenger with the information about the reinforcements and be at my room within the hour. We have strategy to discuss. And other things.”