The weather was cold, but no snow covered the ground here. Thomas and Aeden dismounted, leading their horses to the side of the road next to the trees. They left the halter ropes that the horses wore under their bridles trailing on the ground. Thomas pulled jerky and journey bread from his saddle bag.
“Sergeant,” he called. “Please have Master Sergeant Haloran report to me when he has a moment. Oh, and send Captain Braden back when you see him.”
“Yes sir.” The sergeant moved away.
Thomas and Aeden leaned against the trunks of the trees growing almost on the edge of the road. The ground was too cold and wet to sit on. They rested in companionable silence while each worked on chewing the tough jerky.
“What do you think of Marta?” Aeden asked him.
Thomas kept his eyes on the forest that started just beyond the verge. Between getting on the road and wondering if he’d be alive tomorrow, he’d thought about nothing else but her.
“I think she’s a good fighter. I watched while you sparred with her. After that demonstration, I think she’ll teach them what they need to know.”
“She’s well qualified,” Aeden admitted.
“What do you think of her, my Lady?”
Aeden gazed down the road. “I think she’s been through a lot in the last months. For all of that, she seems very grounded and steady. HellScream chose her.” She shook her head. “Heroes rise when need calls. That’s been said for centuries.”
Thomas felt the drum of hoof-beats through the soles of his feet. He pushed himself away from the tree trunk and shaded his eyes with his hand. One of the point scouts came galloping toward them down the road. Clods of mud flew behind him. He pulled his horse to a stop next to Thomas and Aeden.
“Lord, Lady!” he exclaimed, panting with exertion. “A host of Demons approach through the forest from the south.” He jumped from his horse, taking his weight from its back. “Half a day until they reach the convergence.” Horse and rider hung their heads and panted for breath, the rider with hands on his knees.
Thomas moved to Aeden’s side. “They’re not supposed to move during the day,” Thomas exclaimed. “Why are they moving now?”
“I don’t know, Lord Thomas,” Aeden replied. “Maybe their Smachtmaistirs are driving them to us despite the time of day.”
Master Sergeant Haloran and Captain Braden led their horses toward the group.
“Captain, Sergeant. The scout says the Demons are moving toward the road during the day!” Thomas’s heart raced. His breathing quickened and his hands and feet went numb. He trembled. Their strategy was based on a dusk attack by the Demons.
Captain Braden stopped in his tracks. “They know we’re coming. Someone has betrayed us,” he cried.
Haloran shook his head. “We only know they attack at dusk or dawn. That would imply that they travel during the day. Maybe they just can’t see very well during the day, like we can’t see very well at night. The timing here puts them at the convergence right at dusk. We can turn this to our advantage,” he said. “We’ll get to the convergence in two candlemarks. We now know when they’ll be there. We’ll send archers into the trees. Move the horses back toward the Keep with a few of the chargers ready to attack from the rear. Set the men in groups of three or four a few yards into the trees and a very thin screen of men along the road to draw the Demons in. I suspect that they’ll come through the trees, probably from the west and south. We knew it was coming. It’s just a little quicker.”
He’s very good. HellReaver gave what Thomas thought of as a mental shrug. Might as well mount up.
Thomas’s heart started to slow. Fear had tightened his chest, his arms, everything. He hadn’t been able to think. “Thank you, Sergeant. Captain, get the men mounted and moving out. Oh, and send a courier back to the Keep to let them know what’s happening.”
Lady Aeden nodded in approval. “Lord Thomas, I’ll stay with you.”
“Thank you, Lady. I’m grateful for your help.”
She just shook her head and turned to bridle her horse.
Orders were shouted down the line. The column was moving within fifteen minutes.
The men marched along briskly. The road curved to hug the side of the mountain. The mountain’s shadow cooled the air further. Small drifts of snow from the frequent short storms at the end of the season lay as a reminder that autumn would soon be gone. The pace fell to a walk. Chain-mail jingled, wagon wheels rumbled and saddles creaked in the cold air.
At the head of the column, Thomas raised his clenched fist and signaled a halt when they reached the convergence of the Caladen and Banuisk rivers. During the summer, white water of the Banuisk surging into the rapids of the Caladen created a dangerous maelstrom of rushing foam over rocks. Now the Banuisk was frozen solid and the Caladen’s cold waters flowed sluggishly past the convergence.
“Lady, I think we should cross the Banuisk and set up camp on the other side.” He pointed to the left of the track. “That clearing would be perfect. As far as we know, the Demons probably won’t cross water. We have at least four candlemarks before dusk.”
“I agree, Lord Thomas. That’s smart. We can take a break, feed the horses and the men and set up the ambush,” replied Aeden.
“Master Sergeant Haloran,” Thomas shouted back down the line. Heddwyn tried to spin in a circle under him and he reined the horse sharply around as Haloran cantered up to them.
“We need to cross the Banuisk and set up camp on the other side in that clearing. Hopefully the Demons won’t cross and we can use the river as a defense. Could you please make that happen?”
“Yes, my Lord.” Haloran bellowed to the staff sergeants in charge of each unit. “Move by units across the river above the convergence.” The staff sergeants signaled their understanding. The first unit peeled off from the column and moved toward the frozen riverbank.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish