The Army of Cthonique stood on the hill of Esseig, before the town of Brightcobbles. On the field ahead of them loomed the army that King Sutekh had sent forth to take this town, all shining in its fine armor. Beyond the army lay the forces of the Northern League, and then Brightcobbles itself. And beyond that…
Beyond that lay destiny.
Aethelstan rode up to his side. "The slingers are in place, sir."
Marduk nodded. "And they’ll begin when the horn is blown?" he asked, raising the great oliphant that the army had found in a Magnate’s manse as they carved a path north.
Aethelstan smiled. "They will, sir." He gulped quietly. "Sir… may I say… I’ve followed many a war leader, serving in the Revered Band, but you are the first I am truly prou…"
Marduk shook his misshapen head. "Do not flatter me, Graharz…"
"I don’t," replied Aethelstan. "And… after this… this battle won’t be like all the ones so far, against whatever pathetic forces the local magnate can throw together against us. This one will be… I may not get…"
Marduk brought a hand to his fellow’s shoulder. "Yes, you will." Aethelstan’s face lightened at his words, and Marduk realizes that the others might need similar words now. And so he urged Monoceros forward, and stood before his army.
It was a larger army than the one he had started with, this Army of Cthonique. Some members came from the Wastes, others the West, others the Shadow Woods, others the Crossing, others the Coast, others still the Fangs and yet others from across the River. Some had were warriors of old, who’d been taken fighting against Sutekh--others had been men and women of peace, until the King of Kings’ empire had taken them, and stripped them of all they had known and loved--and still others had been born slaves, as he had been, and never known freedom until the Army of Cthonique had come. But all knew one thing now--that here lay the last bastion of liberty in the Lands of Night, which the Undying One wished to see destroyed, which they must save in its hour of need.
And now--now he must make them believe they could do this.
He rode out before them. "Army of Cthonique!" he shouted. "Before you is the sword-arm of the empire that held you in chains! Before you are men who would see you and yours in chains, for endless generations! Before you are those who would have seen you under the ground!" He took a deep breath, and raised his spear menacingly at that glittering force. "Well, I say the time has come to put them there instead!"
A great cheer came from the crowd. Ursula stepped forward and raised her spear. "Marduk!" she called. Others joined her, starting with a group of scarred and branded Milesians. "Marduk! Marduk! Cthonique! Marduk!"
Marduk began to lead Monoceros back to the line. "When I give the first blow, that army before us will shake. Then I shall give the second blow, and our horsemen shall make it tremble, and then the third blow, and our spears and swords shall make it fall!"
The cheers became inarticulate again, and Marduk, watching the army before him, could feel the uncertainty radiating off those fine-looking soldiers of the South. This was not how ragged foes were supposed to act when facing such magnificence. Marduk raised his horn, and blew. And that fine-looking army began to shake, as soldiers fell, and the fine straight line of their shields became ever more ragged.
Marduk raised his horn and blew again, then charged forward, an army at his back, and a smile on his face.