Cilydd Cyleddon stared out at the soldiers assembled on the field before him, in their glittering golden armor, and shields of silver polished so fine that they could be used as mirrors, and swore. It was a bad thing to be beaten, a worse thing to be beaten fighting against the forces of King Sutekh, the Undying One, but it was the worst thing of all to be beaten by Lord Pompeius, whose personal army was called the "Shining Horde" and was more famous for its ever-so-fancy uniforms than its skill. Aside from the shame of being defeated by such a foppish, ridiculous thing, there was the simple… contempt it revealed.
He no longer cares about us, this ‘King of Kings’, thought Cilydd. We are dead to him, we of the Northern League, and he amuses himself by playing with our corpses.
Cilydd gritted his teeth. Moaning about the army he was facing would not save his men, nor the town they defended, nor the cause they served. He needed a stratagem, a ploy, some wily plan to defeat his foes. Surely he, the victor of the Battle of Skadh, the Champion of the Towers, could come up with something.
His mind remained as empty as a hole, blank of any ideas, and indeed, of any hope.
I will speak to the men. I will speak to them, and tell them that… that we shall pull through somehow. Or perhaps--perhaps I will simply stress the importance of noble service. And a valiant death. Perhaps that will be enough, he thought, realizing that of course it wouldn’t be. A hand tugged on his sleeve. Cilydd turned, to find himself looking at a moon-faced lad, with eyes of shining amber. "Yes, boy?" said the old man quietly.
"Rhonabwy," said the young man.
"Did I ask for your name?" snapped Cilydd.
The boy looked away nervously. "Sorry, sir. But… up on the hill. Over there. There’s… some of the men saw… movement…"
Cilydd found himself suppressing another swear, as he followed the boy’s hand. They were there, all right--more troops. Reinforcements? We’re outnumbered enough as it is. Does Sutekh need to bludgeon us even more…? And then he got a good look at the soldiers up there… and his puzzlement grew.
They were the strangest, most ragged soldiers he had every seen. Many were armored, but some were not--most carried swords and spears, but some had picks, slings, and even sticks. And the people… he saw Erls of the Plains, and Erls of the Marshes, and Goblins, and Ogres of all three breeds, and Milesians, and a smattering of Ghouls and Kizaks. Who are these people? he wondered, as he caught sight of this army’s banner--a simple stark image of chain being broken.
"What… what is happening, sir?" asked Rhonabwy nervously.
"I do not know," muttered Cilydd, as he felt a faint, possibly illusory glimmer of hope spring forth from deep within him.