The Vanguard’s Decision

And now for another world-building story. This is a sort of sequel to Enigmatic Emmisary, and I hope you enjoy it!

Ambard was utterly exhausted, after marching with his eleven comrades for three straight days at breakneck speed through the countryside of Randein. The place was utterly ruined, and already resembled the dark lands of its conqueror. The fields were sown with ash, villages were made of piles of stone and debris. The survivors had either been captured or had fled east or south, to the free territories of Paltoren and Alasede. And this touched Ambard and his men only more because it was their homeland.

The twelve of them were acting as some odd combination of scout party and vanguard. They made sure the paths ahead of the army of Paltoren was clear, but they were also powerful warriors and were able to swiftly deal with any who withstood them. They had been chosen out of the refugees of Randein for this purpose, and largely because they had volunteered for it; after all, they knew the territory best.

They attracted a lot of attention from the roving bands of Evorin soldiers. Ambard attributed this entirely to the standard his superiors had forced them to carry with them, displaying very clearly the badge of Paltoren. Now, Ambard knew why they had it – to show the army of Miris when they found them – but he still disliked carrying it around so blatantly.

Still, it had its advantages. Those native Randein who still survived flocked around the banner, and left with the occasional messengers from the king back to the main army. They had met several hundred of such persons, and many had given them aid as well, primarily in the local geography. Ambard knew Randein, but he hardly knew every hill and pond in the territory.

As the third day entered the early afternoon, they passed a group of refugees on the road, who all stopped in surprise at the display of force confronting them.

“Wait till you see the main body of the army,” Ambard told them. “Where did you come from?”

“We’re fleeing from a huge Evorin army marching south,” said a middle-aged man. “They just passed our village of Janinon, but we ran away before they could kill us.”

“That is tempting.”

“How so?” asked one of Ambard’s comrades, an archer called Grenheim. “How large was this army?”

“I’m sure it was at least ten thousand,” the chief refugee replied.

“Still,” Ambard said thoughtfully. “It would behoove us to keep track of their movements, to make sure that they don’t come between us and Miris. I don’t feel comfortable with its movement south.”

“Well, as long as you’re not crazy enough to take on ten thousand, which is what I feared you would say,” said Grenheim.

“Oh, I am crazy enough. But I need a crazy reason, and none comes to mind at this time.”

The refugees departed, going along the road toward the main army of Paltoren. Ambard wondered how far they had fallen behind, since it had been three days since they had heard anything from the main camp.

By late afternoon, they came to a fork in the road: two divergent paths, one leading east, the other south. The signpost between the two stated the first led toward Tasanon, capital of Miris, while the other led to Janinon, and then Alasede. The direction the army had gone.

“It seems we must choose which path to go down, whether to continue toward the army of Miris, or else go south to find this army of ten thousand,” said Ambard.

“Or,” suggested Grenheim. “We could part ways here, and some go to Miris while the others track the army.”

“That seems like a good idea, but who will do what?”

“I have no intention of going after the Evorin soldiers, especially if that’s your chosen path. I know you too well to trust you around the enemy like that. Plus, it was our job to find the Miritian army, not go wandering over the countryside after the rumor of an enemy army.”

“Then let each member of the company decide for himself. If you shall look for our allies, take the standard, and I shall search out the Evoriu. Who will come with me?”

Four offered to come with him, while the others elected to go with Grenheim. Ambard nodded resignedly and handed over the standard.

“Come men, we’ve got an army to track.”

He and the four hurried down the southern road, leaving the others who turned east. They were quickly lost to sight. Ambard hoped they had good luck, especially because splitting the group like this would make them much less effective, though perhaps more stealthy.

It turned out that Janinon wasn’t very far from the junction, and it certainly showed signs of the presence of a rough, pillaging army there. From here, it was easy to track the movement of such a massive body moving in one direction. They followed it south before, abruptly, it turned north and west, moving in a rather straight line toward some unknown target. But it wasn’t until the next day that the five of them discovered what that target was.

There, on a distant hill, was a great army, tall and powerful, with the blue standards of Miris raised in desperation as, below, the black swarms of Evorion swarmed up like ants. Ambard’s jaw dropped in shock at the sight, and swiftly drew his sword.

“Is this wise?” asked one of his companions, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“It doesn’t matter. We can’t let them fall. Besides, we’ll have an easy ambush.”

“But how much can we five do?”

“Only as much as we think we can do. And I know I can route the whole army here and now, if at least for a short time. Come, help me put the fear of Randein back in these soldiers’ hearts.”

His companions gritted their teeth, but nodded. “Very well.”

They drew their swords and axes, and with a terrifying “Charge!”, they raced toward the enemy. Then indeed Evorion knew fear, and its soldiers scattered like gamebirds from a bush, pursued by the deadly dogs of war. Now indeed there was hope.

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