Chapter One: The Battle of Killara



by

Josie Beaudoin







“He’s back again, Da.”

“Send him away again.” He did not even look up from his game.

Tara sighed. The stubborn old man would get them all killed yet. She picked up Aislyn, her youngest, and marched over to where her father sat playing Senet with Arden.

“Talk to him,” she scolded as though he were a naughty youth. “We could end this without bloodshed if you’d only listen.”

“I’ve listened. He uses a lot of words but always says the same thing, all dressed up fine to make it more palatable, but it isn’t. He has nothing new to say, and I’m tired of his old song. Send him - - ”

“Too late,” Tara murmured.

Tierney did not even look up when a shadow fell on the playing board. “Go away,” he said, toneless and brusque.

“Hello, Lord Tierney, Lady Tara. Arden, you’re looking well.” He nodded to the youth. Nervously Arden stood and gestured to his seat. “Thank you, lad.”

The visitor sat. “You’re being unreasonable, my friend. We both want the same thing. If we worked together we could - ”

“We both want what’s already mine,” the old man cut in. “You have nothing to offer me, Killara. Now get off my land.”

Killara sighed, looked up at Arden as if to say ‘I tried...’ before turning back to Tierney once more. “Is this your decision then?”

“It was the first time we talked. It hasn’t changed. You just won’t listen. Go away.”

“Very well, I’m going. I truly hoped to change your mind, but I see now that will never happen. It’s deeply unfortunate that circumstances have put us at such odds. I wish you would reconsider.”

“No you don’t. You’re as pleased as can be. Just leave.”

Killara rose, bowed to Tierney and swept away, back to his horse. Without a backwards glance he rode off, returning to the west. Soon he was lost to sight in the thick forest.

“Now you’ve done it, Da,” Tara sighed.

“I hope so,” Tierney replied. “I’m tired of all these pointless talks. Arden, I’m sorry I haven’t the time to finish this game with you, but there are many preparations to make. He’ll be back tomorrow.” The old man nodded to the west, indicating their departed visitor.

“Come on, nephew, let’s go find your father.” Tara held out her hand to the curly-haired boy. Arden sighed and followed her, shoulders hunched and head down. He hated being treated like a child, but he was short for his age. His cousin Quinn was also fourteen and stood a hand taller.

They did not find his father. He had gone out hunting with Arden’s two uncles and had not returned yet. Tara asked if he could call them back, but the distance was too far, and he did not even know their direction. Tierney was not pleased with the news, but there was nothing to do about it. He began the preparations on his own, trusting that his sons would return sooner rather than later.

#

“Uh-oh, it’s starting,” Cearul said. “Look at it, the place looks like a stirred-up anthill.”

“Da will be looking for us,” agreed Fionn.

Breean said nothing, but kicked his horse into a gallop, the pheasants they had killed bouncing against his saddle. His brothers followed. As they rode towards the city they were passed on the road by several riders pelting, some east and some north. The call was being sent. Entering they saw a large caravan being assembled, ready to move all civilians and children away from the battle. The brothers hastened past it to the bailey. Within they found their father bellowing orders, a meadhorn in one hand. He was an ox of a man, large and barrel-chested, even at his age a hale warrior.

“Where have you been?” he growled as they handed their horses to a groom. “I can’t be expected to do all this work on my own. Fionn, you look to the foot soldiers, Breean, get the archers in order. Cearul, your sister is working with the refugees, send her over to the ballistas, she’s more useful there. You take over from her moving the refugees out. I want everyone out of this city before I leave. We’re moving out tonight!”

The brothers scurried to obey, each moving in their several directions. There was much to be done.

Returning to town, Cearul relieved his sister Tara with a single word. “Ballistas,” he said, dismounting. Wordless, she took his horse and rode back up to the castle, back to the war preparations. He watched her go and sighed. She was more useful preparing to fight than to flee. He was not. It was unlikely that Killara’s forces would get this far, but no one was willing to risk their children on it. The young, the crippled, the elderly, all had to be evacuated and sent north before the army moved south. No one was to remain behind, for whether the battle were lost or won there was no point in defending the abandoned city. It was neither strategically located nor possessed of great material wealth. The city was irrelevant as long as the populace was safe. And so Cearul turned his attention back to directing his own army, the army of innocents who must be moved to safety. That was the whole point, after all.

#

“You did what?

“Darcy and Redmond are with them, and they’re more than capable of - ”

“You’ve missed the whole point, Cearul! I wanted you out of harm’s way! I wanted the comfort of knowing at least one of my children would survive this. Now all four of you are here. No, I won’t have it. I can’t spare the others for this battle, I need them. It has to be you. Go back to the caravan.”

“No.”

His father’s face turned from a livid red to ashen pale as his mouth fell open. “Are you defying me?” he asked, incredulous.

“Quinn is with the caravan, so are Arden, Colm, Phaelan, Fionnualla. Your bloodline is perfectly safe, Da. I can be useful, you know I can.”

“Grandchildren are all very well and good, but I wanted you safe. You won’t be of any use until the fighting is over, and we can send for you then.”

“How many men and women will die needlessly waiting for me to arrive if you send me away? I’m a healer for Byj’s sake! Let me do my part. I won’t leave. You’ll have to send an escort to remove me, and that will lose you some soldiers you can’t spare. Face it, Da, you can’t afford to make me leave.”

Tierney rode in silence for a moment, listening to the marching army behind him. Armour clanked, hooves and boots flattened the grass. The catapults and ballista creaked and groaned as they rolled along. Somewhere down the line a horse puffed and whickered to itself.

“You’re to stay with the baggage train. And keep clear of the fighting.”

“Yes, Da.” Cearul, triumphant, pulled his horse to the side, letting the army clatter past him. At the tail end of it all, he rejoined the flow among the waggons laden with food and tents, shovels and torches. He was going to war.

#

“We should march at full speed and let the ballista catch up to us later. They’re slowing us down.”

“Are you in such a hurry to die? Don’t worry, the war can’t start without us.”

“At this rate it’ll never start at all.”

“Don’t be snide, Fionn. I’m not dividing my army, and our slow pace will give the reinforcements time to catch us up.” Tierney took a pull of his ale and watched his son over the rim of his mug. Fionn fumed with impatience.

“It’s neither noble nor heroic to die of worry before even reaching the battlefield, son. Why don’t you sit down and have a drink?”

Fionn sat at the camp table with his family with ill grace. His feet tapped in the dust while his fingers beat a counterpoint on the chair arm.

“What if there are no reinforcements?” he asked.

“They’re coming,” Cearul said, his voice dreamy and distant.

“I hate it when you do that. Da, can’t you make him stop doing that? It’s eerie and unnatural and what if he’s wrong?”

“Well eerie it may be,” Breean chimed in, “but when have you known him to be wrong?”

Tara nodded. “If Cearul says they’ll be here, they’ll be here,” she said.

“How can you all be so calm?” Fionn asked.

“The attack this afternoon shook us all up a little, but it was just a skirmish, Fionn. Not a single casualty, even.” Tierney took another pull from his mug.

“Thank you, by the way,” he added, turning to Cearul. “That was very well done.”

“It’s what I’m here for, Da,” Cearul said.

“I wish you weren’t,” his father growled, “but thank you all the same. Every little bit helps.”

“You know, Da, one of these days you’re going to have to come to terms with that contradiction,” the healer chuckled.

“Maybe so, but not today.”

#

The tower stood on a mile-long swatch of land in the middle of the Krisad River. It was centuries old, but unweathered. Fionn looked at it as a personal affront.

“As soon as this is over I’m going to tear that thing down stone by stone,” he muttered.

“It’s never been taken,” Breean reminded him.

“I don’t think it can be destroyed,” said Cearul. “It’s held together with magic, no one’s ever so much as chipped a stone.”

“I’m going to,” said Tara, glancing over to where her catapults stood waiting.

“Stop gawking and get to your units,” Tierney interrupted his children’s musings. “We can discuss what to do with it after we get through the army in front of it. Cearul, I don’t want to see you until after this is over. Go sit with your bandages and spells and wait for the wounded to come to you. You’re not to leave camp for any reason, is that clear?”

“Da, I can help you, why won’t you listen to me? Killara is a magician, you’re going to need more than swords to stop him.”

“What I need is soldiers who obey orders. Magic has no place on the battlefield, nor do healers. That leaves you out entirely. Now for the last time, go back to camp and leave war to your betters!”

Cearul turned his horse in silence and rode back through the infantry. Then the archers parted before him and closed behind him, and he was behind the lines and making his way to the surgical field hospital where his five orderlies and seven assistants waited for him.

#

“This is unbelievable. Aren’t they done fighting yet?”

Cearul peeked though the tent flap at the cloud of dust beyond. He could hear the wounded screaming, but more than that he could feel them, their fear and anger, pain and grief. It had been going on for hours and his nerves were raw from it. If war was as noble and heroic as his father claimed, Cearul had yet to see it.

The wounded came in waves, whenever there was a lull in the fighting. Blood and dust were everywhere: on the tables, his tools, the tent walls, his helpers, but most of all himself. He wiped a drying spray of blood from his eyes and blew his nose on an already filthy sleeve. Someone put a cup in his hand and he swished the water around his mouth and spat before drinking.

“Here they come, sir,” an orderly said. Emerging from the blur of humanity was a line of pain weaving its way through the debris. More wounded. Cearul finished his water and eyed the new arrivals. The fellow on the end there needs to lose that left arm, he mused. Best to take him first. After that we’ll see.

“Heat up the cautery iron,” he called over his shoulder. “We’ve got another amputation coming in.”

When he got the man on the table and took a closer look at the wound, he saw that something was seriously wrong. The arm was not cut, nor torn, nor burnt, it was... melted. Impossible. Cearul shook his head and blinked, but his eyes still showed him the same thing: flesh and bone melted like candle wax.

“What did this?” he asked the soldier. “What happened to you?”

There was no answer. Cearul had seen that blank stare too many times today; he would get no help from his dazed patient.

“Anyone? Who saw what did this?”

A woman with a far more conventional leg wound answered him.

“I don’t know what it was, sir, but it looked like lightning, only slow. Well that’s not quite right. Worms, perhaps, or snakes, swimming through the air. Wherever they touched someone -” she gestured to the man on the table. Cearul began swearing.

“I told him so,” he said at length. “The stubborn old bastard wouldn’t listen to me but I was right! Damn him, I could have stopped this! I’m going to stop this and darkness take his orders!

“Connor!” he called to one of his assistants. “This is mostly cauterized already, but remove the rest and clean it up. I have to go.”

Cearul swept out of the tent before the man could object and made his way to his own pavilion. Just inside the door lay a bag with a long strap. He hefted it, slipped it over his head and one shoulder and set out for the battlefield. Cearul was going to help whether his father wanted him to or not.

#

“What in the Nine Hells of the Three Gods are you doing here?” his father bellowed over the din.

“Quphic have mercy, look at those things!” Cearul ignored his father’s question. The two of them stood on a low swelling, overlooking the battle which raged around them. “How do you stop them?”

“Stop them? You don’t stop them,” his brother Breean replied, coming up behind him. “You get out of their way or you’re mowed down.”

The scene was much as the woman in the medical tent had described it. Long, thin ribbons of nothingness hovered in the air. Every now and then, one of them would dart forward, and where it touched anything solid, flesh, armour, weapons, all dissolved at their touch. Killara’s army seemed immune to the effect, moving effortlessly past and through them, but the Northern army, Cearul’s people, were being decimated before his eyes.

“There he is,” he shouted. “There’s Killara! I told you he would use magic!”

“Cearul, get back to your job, this is no place for a healer,” his father gave him a rough shove in the direction of the healing tent, and the magician stumbled back a few steps, clutching at his bag, but he refused to leave.

“Cover me,” he shouted to his brother, and Breean nodded. Their father gave an exasperated roll of his eyes, then set himself grimly between the battle and his unarmed son.

Unarmed, perhaps, but not helpless. Cearul dug in his bag for the ingredients he sought and pulled them out. At once he sat himself on the ground cross-legged and dropped into a trance effortlessly while the enemy soldiers dropped by his father and brother piled up. An arrow whizzed through the air and Tierney cried out as it sailed past him straight for Cearul. The magician neither opened his eyes nor moved a muscle, but the arrow deflected from its path and stuck in the ground beside him.

“Huh,” grunted Tierney, as he turned back to his battle. The lad could take care of himself, sure enough.

“Do not be afraid,” Tierney heard his son’s voice whisper in his ear. Breean also heard his brother’s voice as though he were standing beside him, as did every Northern soldier on the field. “This illusion is for the enemy, not for you. Hold fast and fight on.”

Before Tierney could ask his son what he was doing, there was a sudden shout below him and the field darkened, as thousands of warriors that had not been there a moment ago appeared with a fierce war cry. The startled soldiery of Killara hesitated, and the Northern defenders surged forward with renewed confidence, their numbers more than doubled by the sudden influx of phantoms in their midst.

“Stand your ground!” The shout echoed across the battlefield. Trumpets sounded another advance, and the faltering men were urged forward again.

“What you are seeing is a lie,” Killara amplified his voice so that it reached every soldier. “Stand your ground and fight!”

Reassured by their leader, they rallied and redoubled their attack. The illusory fighters faded away back into the grass of the field from which they had sprung. Cearul heard a chuckle in his ear.

“A nice attempt,” Killara said from the midst of the battle, “but you’re going to have to do much better than that.”

“And so I shall,” Cearul muttered, digging again in his bag.

Cearul placed a small, smooth river-rock in the palm of his left hand and poured a libation from his waterskin over it. Closing his eyes, he began to chant.

Below him, to his left, the Liryda river rumbled in its bed. It grew into a rushing roar, boulders rolling down towards the sea as the water rushed faster, then swelled to overflow its banks. Soon the soldiery of both armies fought in ankle-deep freezing cold water, and still the river rose. The cold did not seem to touch the Northern army, but bit Killara’s warriors to the bone. Many of them lost their footing in the rising waters and were swept away, dragging their companions along with them, and still the Northern army felt nothing. The water rose to their waists, then higher, finally closing over their heads, and still it was as though sweet, warm air was about them. Horses and men shouted and screamed in panic as they were swept away in the icy flood. Before long, the battlefield was empty of enemy soldiers, and the Northern army stood alone, victorious.

Cearul spoke again to the water, and it subsided, returning to its bed, leaving the field deep in mud, but no opponents.

“What have you done?” Breean asked, looking around. Cearul opened his eyes at last, and both brothers saw their father at the same moment.

Tierney lay on the ground, arrows protruding from his chest. They slewed about crazily as he gasped for breath.

Cearul and Breean raced to his side. Cearul inspected his father’s wounds as his brother held Tierney’s head in his lap. It was immediately clear there was nothing Cearul could do. He sat back on his feet and wept.

“What are you doing?” Breean said. “Save him!”

“He cannot,” Tierney gasped. “Son, it is time.”

“No!” Breean cried. “No, save him, brother! You’re a healer, damn you, save him!”

“Breean, there is no more time. Do not scold your brother. I know the feel of a mortal wound and am happy to go. We have won the day, have we not?”

“Yes, father,” Breean spoke through his tears.

“Then I am content. Let me go in peace, son.”

His farewells said, Tierney closed his eyes, and did not move again.

#

“Killara will be back, you can bet your own life on it,” Syrch, leader of the tribal chiefs of Feryn, said. The tribes who made up the Northern army were gathered together for an assessment of the battle and to plan for the future. “If we relax now, we are done for. He’ll sweep through here and take all this land back. We cannot cease our vigilance.”

“We cannot live in constant fear,” countered Naris. She was chieftain of a mountain tribe north of the Lesser Lyrida river. “There are herds to be tended, crops to be gathered. We need to live our lives.”

“Someone has to keep watch.”

“We cannot maintain a standing army, it’s impossible,” Breean said. After his father’s death, it had been discovered that his older brother Fionn had also perished in the battle, leaving Breean as chieftain. “Where would we find the pay for them? How could they eat? Where would they live?”

“I would pay out of my own treasury,” said Syrch. “I have grain reserves every year. I can feed a standing army. But I cannot spare the men. We need someone who will stay here against further incursions.”

“Breean,” said Naris, “your lands are closest to the battlefield. If Killara returns, he will surely come this way again. Someone must stay here, and it should be you. If we support you, can your people become guardians for the rest of us?”

“Guardians, perhaps, but I do not have enough warriors to repel him alone,” Breean said. “It took all of our combined strength, plus my brother’s magic, don’t forget, to see us to victory this time. I would have to have more fighting men and women than exist in my tribe.”

“But someone needs to be here, right here at this pass, to know when he comes,” said Tak, a chieftain from the Ardennese forest. “You can send for us, we will come, but we need to be united, and we need someone to coordinate things when the time comes.”

“Whoever that tribe is,” said Syrch, “they would have full support from the rest of us. Food, land, warriors when needed. And it should be you, Breean. You are the logical choice.”

“Why?”

“Because your lands are the nearest, because your brother’s magic saved us, because your father led the army to victory. You have the most skilled fighters, and you have a strong magician. We would have been lost without the Lyrida contingent.”

The other leaders in the tent nodded agreement.

“My father trained my older brother to lead, but I will do my best if this is the will of the majority,” Breean said.

After a vote it was clear that Breean was the only choice of the chieftains, with the sole provision that he work with Cearul to ensure the safety of the North and keep lines of communication open. In his heart, Breean was relieved to be allowed to include his brother in the task of ruling the new nation that was being formed. The use of Cearul’s magic in the battle had not been lost on his family, who saw him in a new light as a powerful weapon to counter Killara’s forces. Cearul was brought into the pavilion and the situation was explained to him.

“This sounds reasonable to me,” he said, after a moment of thought. “And yes, I think that together we can accomplish this, with your cooperation, of course.”

And thus was the nation of Lyridon created and brought into being. Fourteen centuries later, when Morgan, the 47th Shield of the North, came into his power, the memory of this war was one of thousands that flooded his mind and became a permanent part of his soul.














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