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The End of the Beginning

Western Hæthiod

Three men sat together out of sight, hiding in the sparse vegetation that could be found on the heaths of Hæthiod. Their dark clothing, and in particular their footwear, marked them as blackboots. They served as advance scouts and sometimes spies for the outlanders, dependent on need. Adept at combat and tracking while avoiding being trailed in turn.

"How long until we can speak with Javed?" asked Dariush.

"He said to expect another month," Kamran replied.

"One of us could go further in disguise," Arman suggested, looking towards the north-west. "Find him and warn him."

Kamran shook his head. "We will not find him unless he wishes to be found, and he will not know to make himself known. He would never approve of such risk that holds barely any promise of reward."

"What are we to do, in that case?" asked Dariush. His eyes moved from west to east, turning from distant fields towards the barren heath. "We have seen nothing of the drylanders to expect they are prepared to resist."

"We trust Javed and his vision. We stay hidden, as always. We wait for the right moment," Kamran stressed upon his companions.

The other men nodded slowly. "Until the morrow comes," Arman spoke.

"Until the morrow comes," Kamran assented.

"May it come soon," Dariush sighed.

With cautious looks at their surroundings, the three men dispersed, leaving the border between Adalrik and Hæthiod in different directions.

~~~~

A hundred miles south of Tothmor near a rare source of freshwater, the camp of the outlanders lay arraigned with the same discipline and precision that characterised their cities. The tents stood raised in small, even sections, allowing for pathways as necessary. One break from uniformity could be found in one corner with fences for horses, blacksmiths, cobblers, and other needed craftsmen nearby.

The centre of the camp held the other exception. The Servants of the Flame, blessing the troops before battle, had their own tent, as did each of the commanders. As could be expected, the largest belonged to Sikandar, captain of the Godking’s forces. Victor of the initial campaign against Hæthiod, he led the outlander army once again.

Inside his tent, the leaders had gathered at Sikandar’s command. A priest dressed in fiery robes could also be found along with two shadow warriors; more of their number prowled the camp or surrounding area, always watching for enemies of one or the other kind.

"Our brave sāyag have returned," Sikandar declared to the other commanders. He was seated on a sofa with the shadow warriors flanking him. Cloth surrounded their faces, and underneath lay the steel masks that further hid their visage; only their yellow eyes stared with intensity, rarely if ever blinking. With nervous glances at the dreaded guards, the lieutenants turned their attention towards Sikandar. "We have the location of all their troops. There are none in sufficient numbers to threaten this army, let alone what will follow from the homeland. Tomorrow, we continue our march."

Exclamations of satisfaction from the commanders followed Sikandar’s words. "Will we face battle soon?" one of them asked.

"Only if they are fools enough to believe they can stand against us when we are four to one," Sikandar replied with satisfaction. "Most likely, they will scatter before us as we march upon their city. Especially given the news that the esteemed Servant has received."

They all turned their attention on the priest. "You have heard the rumours, no doubt," he began to say, basking in their attention. "They are true. The army about to leave our homelands is being led by the Godking himself. At last, as we have prayed and sacrificed for a thousand times thousand, the god in the mountain has awakened."

"Praise be his name!"

"All for the Godking!"

The captains repeated the sentiment in various ways, while a few of them glanced at the silent shadow warriors; none could guess as to their state of mind or mood.

"This will be the end of our long war," Sikandar proclaimed. "The Godking himself will bring us the final victory. But we must all do our part for his glory if we are to be worthy of his coming."

"Without question," mumbled the priest.

"We shall strike first and swiftly, preparing the way into the heart of our enemy. An honour we have not deserved, given the setbacks we have suffered in this dry land." Sikandar looked at Rostam, who had lost Tothmor to the Order’s campaign under Brand.

"There are limits to the Godking’s mercy," declared the Servant of the Flame. "He will not spare those who prove unworthy."

"Do not fail he who is most holy," Sikandar added with a stern gaze at his lieutenants.

"We would never."

"All for the Godking!"

"Spread the word. Let the men know we march tomorrow, and that we march for the glory of the Godking," Sikandar commanded. The soldiers bowed their heads and left; one of the shadow warriors followed.

~~~~

The next day, the outlander army broke camp. Supplied from Lakon in southern Hæthiod and beyond, they lacked for nothing. Provisions, material, horses, draught animals, and everything else an army might need for battle or siege. Dozens of blackboots left before dawn, spreading across the area in advance. The vanguard followed, consisting of infantry armed with bows, ready to fight any skirmish.

Marching with discipline for many days, the main army crossed the border to enter Adalrik. The fertile lands of Ingmond lay before them; in the furthest distance, the hills that separated the jarldom from inner Adalrik could be seen. In between lay Inghold, capital of the province and home to the holiest site for Rihimil. In ancient times, a dragon had been slain upon that place by the hero Alfmod, halting the advance of an ancient enemy. The story would not be repeated in this particular case; as the land lay bereft of heroes and armies in sufficient numbers, nothing stood in the outlanders’ way.

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About the author

Quill

Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; certain tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.

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