Tales of the Honor Triad:
The Bloodstained Defile
Virtual Pulp Press
All rights reserved.
"Archers to the front!"
The command was relayed back through the packed, disorganized column by a
thousand succeeding voices, echoing off the sheer cliff wall on the left flank and into the deep canyon on the right.
Turgar spurred his climbing pony through the jumbled ranks of shock infantry he'd gotten mixed in with. The spearmen, already irritated by the unceasing rain and the stagnated march of their once-perfect formation, urged him forward with much cursing.
Dijol's armada employed warriors from many nations, but few from Gabom.
Turgar's small stature, crimson skin, and sweat-stained leather armor made him stand out from other warriors, but it was his eyes that caused men to think him feral. His irises were yellow, and his pupils thin vertical slits.
His pony snorted and shivered, not accustomed to such heavy rain. Ahead, Turgar saw a Dijolian officer standing on a boulder, gesturing and shouting into the mob of soldiers. When he spotted Turgar, he beckoned him to come closer.
"They need you ahead," the officer said, once in earshot. His gaze lingered on the short, layered, lacquered bow in the scabbard hanging from Turgar's saddle. Gabomite bows were revered the world over, as were the diminutive horse-archers who used them to devastating effect both in attack and retreat. "Another 200 paces and a narrow trail winds up the cliff. Take it, and when you reach its end, report
to the Captain of Archers."
Turgar bowed from the waist, as if lining up to impale the officer with his spiked helmet. He fantasized about doing just that. Grinning to himself, he straightened in the saddle and spurred on. The Dijolians despised him, but needed his arrows. He would love to ram his spike into a Dijolian heart, but he needed their money.
He found the trail, and his sure-footed pony, glad to finally be free from the press of men, climbed methodically up the wet rock as if half-goat. As he ascended, Turgar studied the army below him. With a sheer cliff rising up on one side and a sheer cliff dropping down on the other, they could only move forward or back. Moving to the
rear was not an option, as the teeming multitudes of the invasion force kept amassing against the backs of the shock infantry. Why they were not moving forward was a subject of much speculation among the troops. The invasion of Fawlik was supposed to be little more than a parade-at-arms; Dijol's victory a foregone conclusion. So what could be stopping the mighty Imperial Army?
After some time, the trail veered in between twin projections of stone. It wound through a cluster of such natural structures, turned back toward the cliff face, then leveled off, feeding into a large shelf overlooking the pass and the immense canyon beyond.
Other archers stood near the edge of the shelf, looking down, their backs to him. Turgar stepped down from the stirrups and stretched. Seeing there was no grass anywhere in sight, he dug some grain out of a saddlebag and spilt it on the ground where his pony could feed.
Turgar approached the Captain--a tall man with epaulettes and cape.
"I was ordered here," Turgar said.
The Captain turned, eyes sweeping over Turgar's head at first, then his gaze dropped. "Oh, a Gabomite. Well, I don't think even you can do much good in this downpour."
"What stopped the advance?" Turgar asked.
The Captain raised his index finger with a wait-and-see expression and had some of the other archers make room for the bowlegged mercenary. When he reached the edge, Turgar could see the front of the column far below. Archers were there as well, but so crowded by spearmen on every side that they could not draw their bows.
The press of men from behind forced the front ranks into a funnel formed by a narrowing of the cliff road, and augmented by heaps of dead soldiers piled chest-high. Beyond the opening in the funnel stood the cause of the macabre mounds: a score of gigantic warriors.