The wind lashed the banners. Moaning, it swept past the soldiers leaving their arms and legs shaking. Most of them looked out across the plain, heads close to their spears, fingers clutching the edges of their shields. Even though the light of the stars and the moon was cut away by the clouds, they knew exactly what lay on the other side of the expanse. Others were leaning over, propping up their helmets with free hands. Puke punctured the air.
Eleina approached the edge of the battlement and rested her hands on the wall’s cold stone. The brazier’s flames licked where the wind told them to, which was nowhere near her. She looked down.
Dark figures lay strewn across the grass as far as the closest rises. From the base of the wall, they stretched like a dark sea, punctured with broken shafts of arrows or spread our around craters. The figures reminded her of dolls discarded by a careless child.
That sea abruptly ended, just outside of bowshot. Beyond, the grasses danced with the wind and further away, the leaves of the trees hissed along, waving at her. That was where the Corae were hiding, where no weaves or arrows could find them.
Their siege towers broke through the crowns, looming in the distance as a reminder that this was far from over. That they would soon break down those trees and rumble towards Anwae.
Eleina shivered and rubbed her shoulder.
The woman next to her was also looking out across the battlefield, her amber eyes seemed to have forgotten how to blink. She fixed her bright gold-flecked hair and inspected the letter in her hand.
Eleina had heard much about this woman, the lieutenant commander, the soldier who was always the first to go in and the last to get out. When everyone else was trembling, she stood with her back straight. Where the faces of others crumpled in fear, hers was dispassionate. While other leaders barked orders, Thalina inspired soldiers to follow hers.
Eleina scratched her neck, at loss for words. How did you talk to someone like that?
The lieutenant commander gingerly lifted the seal of the envelope and took out the parchment. As she read, she slouched, one finger frantically following the lines in the dim light of the braziers. When she was done, she lifted her head back in the direction of the Corae.
The envelope slipped from her fingers and fluttered onto the floor.
“They’re not coming,” she said, her voice soft on the wind.
Thalina dropped her trembling hand to the pommel of her sword.
“Who is not coming, ma’am?” Eleina asked. Though she wasn’t officially part of the army, it felt right to refer to Thalina that way. “The Corae?”
The lieutenant commander shot her a glance which made Eleina’s throat crumple. The woman’s pupils were wide like those of a frightened cat.
They both looked back to the enemy.
“How many do you think there are?”
Thalina didn’t respond. She was now clenching her sword’s hilt, the muscles of her uncovered arm tense. The white runes running down the arm’s length glowed faintly.
“Too many,” Thalina said and turned away.
by Filip Adamczyk