PART TWO: FIRST SURGE
It was approaching midnight when the messenger from Tsab arrived at the gates to Vorti’s palace. Queen Lea, who was already abed, was roused and escorted to the Little Throne Room for an emergency audience, along with Eya, Wil, and Reg, none of whom gave the appearance of having had any sleep in the past several days.
There was a sense of dread anticipation as the road-weary rider from the Western city was shown into the presence of Vorti’s ruling body. As the man bowed low, he tottered and looked for a moment as if he would pitch forward on his face.
Lea motioned for a chair and wine to be brought. When the courier was seated and had gulped down the contents of two crystal goblets, he delivered his message.
“I bring greetings from His Majesty, King Guc of Tsab, Sovereign of the West and Betrothed to Your Majesty.
“My Liege requests immediate aid in a time of dire and desperate need. A quatic force numbering approximately 5000 is marching on Tsab from the north, having already destroyed the settlement of Hons. Even pressing every able-bodied man into service, Tsab cannot muster an army in excess of 1000, which is a far inferior force. Because of the threat posed not only to our city, but to the continent itself, His Majesty requests immediate and substantial aid, in the form of whatever troops can be spared. The army of Tsab will attempt to harry and hold the quatics, but it is unclear for how long they can be successful.
“King Guc would also appreciate that his trusted advisor Lord Caa ride west with the force sent by Your Majesty.”
“They bypassed Fels and went straight for Tsab? Why??” demanded Lea. Every tactical scenario presented by her military advisors had hinged on a quatic assault on Fels. It was not only unexpected, but virtually unthinkable, that they would strike at Tsab.
“No one knows, Your Majesty,” said the Tsabian. “When I was sent out, the king was readying the city for battle. I believe he intends to meet the main force outside the gates while locking the non-combatants inside. He realizes it will take at least two or three days for relief to come from Vorti, and is relying on earlier aid from Merk, Xert, and Llam.”
Wil responded. “If Fels was spared, there could only be one reason. King Yax must have made an arrangement with the quatics.”
“That is what King Guc believes,” said the courier.
“Is there anything else you can tell us?” asked Lea.
“Unfortunately, no. When I was dispatched, the battle plans had not been readied, and the approaching quatics had just been sighted. Depending on their intentions, the battle could already be underway, or it might not start until dawn. Either way, it will be well advanced by the time your army arrives.”
“Thank you,” said Lea. “You can rest now. We’ll summon you if we have further questions.”
Lea convened an immediate meeting of her full council, including the battle commanders and Jav, who was not usually present for such occasions. Some few complained about being roused from their beds, but when they heard the tidings as recounted by Wil, each of the dozen men and women was stunned into silence.
After the initial shock had worn off, the queen addressed her assembled advisors. “Vorti’s army must march by dawn. Even making excellent time, it will take nearly two days forced march to reach Tsab. By then, there may be nothing left. Five-thousand quatics are equal to a force of humans at least four times as large. Not even the best fortified city with the most experienced army could hold out for long against effective odds of twenty-to-one.
“I know we are ill-prepared for this eventuality, having anticipated more time and a different target, but the quatics have proved more surprising than we expected, and our plans will have to be adapted, and quickly.”
“There will be difficulties, Your Majesty,” began the veteran Dus, Lea’s battle commander.
“Which you will overcome,” demanded the queen. “The finest military minds of this city are assembled in this room. I expect a workable battle plan, and an army ready to execute it, by first light. We march at dawn.”
“Will you be accompanying us, Your Majesty?” inquired Dus.
Wil flinched at the response, although he had been expecting it, and Eya’s eyes widened with surprise, but neither said a word. Both intended to speak to the queen in private about the ill-advisedness of accompanying her army into an uncertain war, but embarrassing Lea in public would serve no good.
General Yon, one of Dus’ subcommanders, and a man chosen more for his ability with troops than his tact, had no such qualms, however. “That would not be wise, Your Majesty. There is no rational reason why your presence would influence the course of battle.”
Lea fixed the man with an icy glare. “I don’t recall asking for opinion, General. If you cannot hold your tongue, perhaps you would like to return to the ranks through which you rose to attain your current position.”
Yon’s handsome face paled. “I beg your forgiveness, Your Majesty.”
Ignoring his apology, Lea addressed her assembled advisors, “General Yon may have been the only one foolish enough to have voiced that opinion, but I’m certain he’s not the only one to hold it. I may be young, and lacking in experience, but I am Vorti’s ruler, and I will not have my decisions or commands questioned or debated. I intend to rely heavily on the advice of everyone in the room, but once an order has been issued, I expect it to be carried out promptly and efficiently. Is that clear?”
Murmurs of assent rose from those gathered around the little throne room’s table, some more reluctant than others.
“Very well. I intend to accompany the army West, as is my duty as leader of Vorti and overcommander of the militia. I will not place myself in the line of battle, nor do I intend to direct any of the fighting, but my presence should be a rallying point for our people. Just because I am a woman, do not think I will shirk the duties you would expect from a man.”
“None of us would dare, Your Majesty,” said Jav fondly. Of those gathered, he was the only one smiling, grateful to see the fire Lea had exhibited as a pupil had not been quenched by her tenure on the throne.
“Pardon me, Your Majesty, but what portion of the full militia do you intend to send to Tsab’s aid?” asked General Bar, the oldest member of Vorti’s army. Ten years Dus’ senior, Bar had been in the army for most of his life, dating back to the latter years of King Kan’s reign. His grasp of tactics was limited, but he recognized and understood the capabilities of his fellow soldiers.
“General Dus?” asked Lea, deferring the question.
“We had considered that a force of twenty-five hundred might be sufficient to head off the quatics at Fels.”
“And at Tsab?”
Dus scratched his gray-stubbled chin. “Considering the circumstances, it might be best to muster an additional five-hundred to seven fifty men. We want to leave Vorti well-defended, but there are ample reasons to make sure we give as much aid as we can. Besides, with everyone arriving at different times instead of as one massive force, casualties will be higher.”
“Three-thousand?” exclaimed Bar. “That’s nearly three-quarters of the army! Excuse my saying so, but shouldn’t we be sending less, not more? Those bastards in Tsab have been trying to bring this city down for years! If the situation was reversed, how many men do you think they would send here? Anything more than a token force is a waste. Keep the men here to defend Vorti rather than sending them to the aid of a city Devforth would be better without!”
Lea reflected that the difficulty of having several older men on the council was all of them felt the way Bar did, including Dus. Despite the announcement of Lea’s engagement to Guc, old grudges died hard.
The battle commander, however, despite his negative feelings about Tsab, recognized the military necessity of stopping the quatics in the west. “We need to end this at Tsab. These quatics have a force of devastating power, and they have to be stopped before they can sweep across the continent.”
“Sound military strategy is unlikely to be their method of attack. Conquest, while it surely has its attractions, is not their primary goal. This is a race war - an attempt to avenge a defeat that happened centuries ago when humans and elves banded together to drive them back into their swamps,” said the Chancellor.
“If these quatics are so dangerous, wouldn’t it make sense to keep the bulk of the army at Vorti, so we’ll have a defense if they attack?” asked one of the guildmasters.
“Neither our militia, nor the militia of any other city, can stand against these quatics alone. Combined, there is hope. If the quatics aren’t stopped, or at least crippled at Tsab, it’s unlikely any number of men can save us,” said Wil.
“You speak like a prophet of doom,” muttered another guildmaster.
“No,” replied the Chancellor calmly. “I speak like one who is willing to look straight into the mouth of reality.”
Back To Main Contents
Back to Chapter Twelve
On to Chapter Fourteen