Chapter 14 Part 7 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Tennoc took his armies north along the River Cobb toward Gwyrfal, Crymavon's men joining the expedition. The Kellish towns and castles along the way were caught unawares and lightly defended. Some surrendered outright to the Hero of Maalig, others after a brief skirmish; a few chose to fight to the last. The fierce battles at the coal mines of Baltha ended in the fortress's taking, and the slaughter of Clan Baltha's men. The women and girls would be taken back into Tremont to be indentured with the other noblewomen whose clans had refused to surrender; the prices they fetched would pay for the war. Tennoc showed mercy; they would not be sold to brothels or as menials, and their terms would be kept short. When he returned he would marry them off to his own nobles to secure them in their new Kellish holdings. After indenture, the women would be grateful when they might have resisted before. They should consider themselves lucky to be alive; his mother was dead.
Tennoc's power was returning, sometimes in tiny lappings, sometimes in thick white waves; it advanced and retreated in rhythm with his victories. Gradually, Kellen was giving itself to him. Tennoc was not surprised when a scouting expedition came pelting back from the north: The Kellish armies were on the move, under Daevys ar Ulvyn and Bryth ar Brennow.
"Why would they come out from Gwyrfal?" said Fallik of Whitehorse, stabbing a hard finger at the map spread atop a camp table before Tennoc. "It's a well-defended city, thick-walled, supplied with water and open to re-supply from its harbor. It would take us spokes to outfit ships to blockade Gwyrfal, if even we could. They could hold out for years."
"Not against magic," said Tennoc.
"Magic?" chuckled Crymavon. "Dunnoc has the magic here, not that he's able to use it. You're not in Tremont. You're in Kellen, cousin."
"And Kellen is in me, cousin." Tennoc flicked his finger. The map lifted into the air, rolled into a tube and stuffed itself back into its case. Tennoc smiled at Crymavon's blank face. "The land knows me. The ground we have taken has added itself to Tremont. When we move on to land that still recognizes the old Kellish bloodline I will lose my magic again, but here, now, at Balta I have my full power. If Dunnoc cannot fight, we will have an advantage in more than numbers."
"I still don't understand why he'd send his armies from Gwyrfal," said Fallik.
"Dunnoc and Ulvyn must feel Kellen's magic draining away. They'll want to meet me out here, before I take more land. He'll be wanting to lure me away from here to a place he still holds. I'll be wanting to stay put."
"So we stay put?"
"More or less."
Tennoc re-established contact with Teacher, who came by reflection to hold council. "You cannot rely upon me, for the magic will ebb and flow," said Teacher. "If the land leaves Tremontine control, I will be taken back to the Keep."
Tennoc sat back in the former Duke of Baltha's heavy throne, dragged from its dais to the table's head. "You would leave me?"
"It would be involuntary, I assure you. I will simply vanish, and it will take time for me to return even after you re-establish control. I must stay on Tremontine soil. Wherever you have magic, I may be. Wherever you do not have magic, I may not be. Just be prepared to fight without me and without your magic."
"Every battle I've ever fought has been with my hands, not magic," said Tennoc. "I don't trust it yet."
"Oh, you must use it at some point. Dunnoc will, and Ulvyn will use what little he has as well," said Fallik of Whitehorse.
As they spoke, Tennoc practiced delicate magical work, sending an apple zipping through the air around various obstacles. "If ground is in dispute, certainly we will both be without our magic at some point?" he said, keeping Teacher in the corner of his eye.
Teacher nodded. "And then do kings rely on their armies."
Crymavon motioned for his goblet to be refilled and took a long drink. "Shall we force them into siege?"
"No," said Tennoc. "Baltha is not easily defended against magic, and Ulvyn would surely retake the surrounding land's allegiance for Dunnoc if we retreated to the castle. We will go out to meet him, but not over-far. The valley just to the north, probably."
Fallik scratched his beard. "Do we know what forces Ulvyn is fielding?"
"Infantry and longbowmen," said Crymavon, nervously watching the apple careen through the room.
"We haven't faced Kellish longbowmen yet. What do we know of their skill?" said Fallik.
Hanni spoke from his position behind Tennoc's chair. "I, Hanni der Geelt, trained many."
"Meaning what?" said Fallik.
"Meaning they're deadly," answered Tennoc. "With apologies to my old friend, it matters only so much. We have numbers on our side across the field, and heavy cavalry as well. The advantage is ours." He brought the apple flying across the room in a blur of red and green to his hand.
The Tremontines met the Kells at Forchyll Valley, where Tennoc discovered his enemy had fielded far more men than expected; they now outnumbered the Tremontines almost two to one. Dunnoc--or Ulvyn, there was no more pretending that Dunnoc ruled any more--had obviously been preparing for war and had already called in mercenaries from the Western Isles and even Kellen's enemy Corland; mercenaries considered gold their only allegiance.
While Kellen fielded longbowmen, Tremont relied on a newer technology: the crossbow. Its range was almost as great as a longbow, but at longer distances its accuracy was not as good. On the other hand, if a crossbowman fell a spearman could take his place; anyone could fire a crossbow, but it took strength and skill to use a longbow. Ulvyn's advantage in numbers would in part be taken up protecting those archers. Tennoc knew from his own days fighting for Kellen that a shield wall would protect the vulnerable archers the entire battle; he had to breach it.
Tennoc stood on a slight prominence watching the Kells approach the wide expanse of the triangular Forchyll Valley. Snow lay in plentiful white caps on low mountains extending to the west in a double rank, making a wide pocket. A smaller mountain stood alone to the east as if guarding the valley. The trick would be to force the Kells into that pocket, stopper the entrance--and keep from getting trapped themselves.
Tennoc blew on his cold fingers, willing his magic to let the warmth penetrate his gloves; with a little more skill he could have risked heating his gauntlets, but now the chances of burning himself were still too high. Steam rose from his horse's nostrils; he could almost imagine the steam coming off the horses at the mouth of the pocket, where Fallik lay in wait with the main force of cavalry.
He should have deferred the campaign until spring. Tennoc's anger had gotten the better of him. He'd always thought of himself as peaceable. He laughed bitterly to himself: When presented with the severed heads of those he loves, apparently a man is driven to anger.
Tennoc breathed on his gloved hands again, but this time his magic didn't work; it flickered like a candle flame in a drafty hall. Teacher had already vanished back to Tremont Keep. Tennoc wondered if Ulvyn's magic was as unreliable. In any event, a Kellish prince's magic could not compare to a Tremontine King's. No matter. Magic wouldn't have to play into it. His battle plan avoided magic entirely.