Dae marched at the head of the strangest column of troops which Gallagrin had ever assembled. She walked with a smile on her face but the song in her heart held notes of apprehension
“There are nobles who will never forgive you for this,” Ogma Daili said, keeping pace with Dae easily as they trekked along the high road that lead to Gallagrin’s northern province of Moon’s Reach.
“They can join the ranks of the ones who’ll never forgive me for beheading Telli and the Paxmer bastard,” Dae said. “The important thing is that they fight for us.”
“Oh, they’ll do that,” Ogma said. “For as much as they hate you, there’s a lot to be won in hating the Green Council more. Even the ones who are allied with the Council serve to gain from this expedition.”
“It’s the wonderful thing about our nobles,” Dae said. “Offer them just a little chance to plunder a neighboring realm and you only have to demote a handful of them for the others to see the error of their life choices.”
The road to Moon’s Reach was broad and well maintained, thanks in no small part to the policies Alari had enforced over the years of her reign. That the road they had complained about maintaining made their trip easier was something the marching nobles refused to acknowledge. They were enjoying their grumble-fest far too much to allow rational thought into their arguments.
“I understand why you didn’t allow the sky carriages to bring us closer to a defensible position, but why restrict my scouts from using them as well?” Ogma asked.
“For the same reason,” Dae said. “The Council has penetrated our border, but they’re not used to fighting on our terrain. They’re trying to dig in and establish supply lines. We don’t want to give them any more idea that we’re coming for them than we have to.”
“Don’t we need to know where they are though?” Ogma asked. “You’ve got my scouts ranging forward of us, but not far enough to give a complete picture of the Council’s deployments.”
“That’s because I already know how they’ve laid their forces out,,” Dae said. “Your scouts are preceeding us with unlimited kill orders to blind our enemy. I want their vision of us to darken slowly. It’ll be nightfall by the time we make it to Moon’s Reach and by morning it’s going to be ours again. Between then and now I think it’s important that we create a few new nightmares for the Council forces to bring home with them.”
“How do you know where to find them though?” Ogma asked. “Scrying spells?”
“I wish that was an option, but the Council’s spellcraft is significantly better than ours,” Dae said. “Even with the advantage of casting into our realm, we haven’t been able to pierce their veils.”
“How do we know my scouts aren’t walking into a trap then?” Ogma asked.
“They are,” Dae said. “But by now they’ll have connected with the Miner’s Guild, so any traps ahead of them will be easily avoidable.”
“The Miner’s Guild?” Ogma asked.
“If we fly above Moon’s Reach in sky carriages, the Council will spot us, and possibly bring us down, their air forces are formidable too,” Dae said. “But the Old Roads and the Deep Fortresses are something they can’t see or spy on. From down below though, the Miner’s can hear everything that’s going on above them.”
“How did you get the Dwarves to work with you? They’re very protective of their Under Cities I thought?” Ogma asked.
“The guild employs more than just Dwarves”, Dae said. “And I owe them a huge debt for the work they did in helping us assault Paxmer. They like to keep investments of that sort afloat, and if our realm is conquered my debt to them will die along with me. Also, I promised them the mineral rights to their cities and holdings.”
Ogma stopped marching and blinked.
“You did what?”
“It turns out that Queen Alari wasn’t kidding when she gave me the ability to speak in her voice,” Dae said, her gaze fixed ahead while a smile spread across her lips.
“The nobles are going to assassinate you,” Ogma said. “You’ve stolen away their wealth.”
“Some of it,” Dae said. “The reality though is that the Under Clans already own most of mines that produce any real value. The rest are lying unused due to competing claims over their ownership. Those claims are now resolved. That should work out well for the nobles too. They’ll no longer be taxed on assets that aren’t productive and while the Under Clans have gained the rights to pull up precious gems and enchantable ore, they’ll also all be trading in the Royal Market to sell to the businesses who specialize in refining and crafting with their materials.”
“So the noble’s lose money on the resources, but gain it back on the worked goods, the Under Clans lose money on the price of their materials but make it up in volume of sales, and the crown loses money on taxes on the mines but makes it up on taxes on the sale of goods?” Ogma asked.
“And everyone makes slightly more money because the overall system is slightly more efficient. Kemoral thought of the idea,” Dae said. “He’s talented with logistics like that.”
“They’re still going to assassinate you,” Ogma said. “Just for proving them to be needlessly stubborn for centuries now.”
“They’re welcome to try,” Dae said. “The Queen didn’t want me to kill her subjects, but if they chose to commit suicide on my blade, I can’t help but feel it would be the realm’s advantage.”
“This upcoming battle will be a prime chance for anyone who has that in mind,” Ogma said.
“The thought has occurred to me,” Dae said.
“So you’ll stay back at the command tent then?” Ogma asked.
“That would be the safe and smart move,” Dae nodded and picked at her teeth. The mountain air was refreshing but what was to come was going to be messy.
“Safe and smart, so there’s no chance it’s what you’re going to do, is there?” Ogma asked, causing Dae’s smile to broaden even further.
Ogma was fun to work with. The Master Scout seemed had grasped the essentials of Dae’s character shortly after they first met. More importantly, despite being lower rank, Ogma was willing to challenge Dae’s choices, something the Queen’s Knight knew she needed since she didn’t even try to think clearly in some cases.
“I’m going to lead the first charge,” Dae said.
“Please make sure to tell me when that will be so that I can bind you up in our strongest ropes,” Ogma said. “I know that will technically count as assaulting a superior officer, but I believe Queen Alari will not only forgive me but also pin a medal on my chest.”
Dae snickered. Ogma wasn’t wrong. Alari would be furious with Dae for risking herself in battle needlessly, especially given the fact that Dae couldn’t transform freely.
“Our queen left me behind to coordinate the realm’s defense and see that the noble’s came together,” Dae said. “If any of them want to kill me, I at least want them wading through a horde of Council troops to make the attempt. Also, I think the safest place for me to be is surrounded by the nobles who I know are still fully committed to Alari’s reign. By fighting at their side, I can honor the sacrifices they’ve made and show that we are willing to support them, with blood, if need be.”
“Why lead from the vanguard though?” Ogma asked. “That’s the most dangerous unit to be part of.”
“Which is why I need to be there,” Dae said. “Aside from the training they received in their youth, and the skills and knowledge carried by their pact spirits, many of these people have never fought before. I need them to see that I am asking no more of them than I am willing to give myself. We’ve lost too much of Gallagrin’s spirit over the last decade. It’s time we show that we remember how strong we can be together.”
“We are a rather small army though, are we not?” Ogma asked.
“We number over a hundred,” Dae said.
“By last count, the Green Council’s forces numbered in the tens of thousands,” Ogma said. “Including creatures the likes of which we’ve never seen before.”
“It’s a shame the numbers are so unbalanced,” Dae said. “They really should have brought more troops.”
“More? You think we can win?” Ogma asked. “I thought this was a delaying tactic until Senkin’s forces could rally and draw the Council back to fight on that front.”
“If anything it’s the reverse,” Dae said. “We’re going to drive so hard into the Green Council’s army that the assault on Senkin should weaken. If we’re successful, the Green Council will feel compelled to deploy their strongest units and seek out as much additional magic as they can muster in order to deal with us.”
“I say again though, there’s only barely more than a hundred nobles in this army,” Ogma said. “We didn’t even let them bring their personal troops.”
“There wasn’t room in the sky carriages,” Dae said. “And they weren’t needed. The Council’s forces are so numerous because they’re all regular troops, even if they are from little seen races like the Insect Warriors.”
“Tens of thousands of regular forces are still quite formidable,” Ogma said.
“Agreed, but consider the true might of the people behind us,” Dae said. “Even the ones who aren’t fighters, still carry a Noble’s Pact Spirit. Our Pact Soldiers, the ones with the weakest spirits, who can only manifest a single piece of armor or weapon, are worth a dozen regular troops, and our Pact Warriors are worth a dozen Pact Soldiers each. A Knight, at least one who takes the job seriously, is worth two dozen Pact Warriors and the Noble a Knight is sworn to holds more power than three dozen of their knights.”
“That approaches a very large number,” Ogma said.
“In simpler terms, with Gallagrin’s nobles united, we alone could demolish an invading army that numbered in the millions,” Dae said.
“You make it sound as though our victory is assured,” Ogma said.
“It’s not,” Dae said. “We have the advantage in power and familiarity with the terrain, but the Council could turn that back against us, or bait us into situations where the extreme concentration of our force would be a detriment.”
“What would you have me do then?” Ogma asked.
“Stay in the background and coordinate communications,” Dae said.
“I can manage that as easily from the front lines as I can from the back,” Ogma said.
“You’re not wrong about the vanguard being a dangerous position,” Dae said. “And unlike our merry band of nobles, you’ve done nothing to warrant placing your life in that level of peril.”
“Do I look like I come from another realm?” Ogma asked, offense heavy in her voice.
“No, with eyes like that you’re as Gallagrin as they come,” Dae said.
“Do I look like a coward of some stripe?” Ogma asked.
Dae chuckled, seeing where the conversation was going.
“You’re bravery is apparent too,” she said. “And there is, of course, room for you in the vanguard if you wish to run with us.”
“Good,” Ogma said. “Because we all know that’s who’ll have the first chance at the really good plunder.”
“Oh my Sleeping Gods!” Dae said, wry amusement in her tone. “The Gallagrin spirit is alive and strong and I’ve found it’s wellspring! That’s the most Gallagrin thing I’ve ever heard someone say.”
“Some things run deeper than even blood,” Ogma said.
“Yes, we’re all going to have a bit of fun with this,” Dae said as they crested the last hill before the Moon’s Reach valley.
Waiting below them were thousands of the Green Council’s forces, foreign troops who had no idea of the kind of hell that was going to be unleashed on them.
Dae called to Kirios, asking if he was ready for them to transform again, only to receive the same sensation she had the last several times she’d asked. If the need was great enough, he would be there for her, but more time was required.
The assault on the Green Council was going to be a battle that would be remembered through the ages, for good or for ill. Dae could only hope that Kirios would find that to be a great enough need.