The die is cast…

High in the grassy western foothills of the Cathain mountains, two elven shepherds watched the pass head below, oblivious of their wandering flocks. Row upon row of mail-clad troops and cavalry steadily poured from the mountain pass onto the widening valley floor below. To the west, a flight of great eagles circled high above, signaling the presence of the royal armies nearby. The boys were frozen in rapt attention, so much so they did not see a bent old man come sit on the stone between them.

He took hold of the right boy by the shoulder, asking, “What happens below that you don’t offer an old wayfarer neither seat or drink?”

The right boy started violently at the elder’s touch, while the boy to the left nearly fell from his perch. He scrambled in embarrassment to find his water skin, which he soon offered the ancient man. He took it, clasping the boy’s hand in a hoary claw of a hand and drank deeply, sighing in contentment.

“Sorry sir, we didn’t see you come. We were watching the armies below. The men have come out of the east!”

“Aha…I see.”

The voice of the other boy piped up, “Yes, and the armies of Talad and Eruch Ierdo are coming from the west and north.”

At this the old man grew alert, “Oh? They come…both of them? What of the third brother?” He spoke quietly, musing, as though lost in thought and no longer aware of the boys.

“Who do you mean, master…the lord Theans? Everybody knows he’s too deep in his scrolls and books to come this far east. Nobody’s seen him in years!”

“No, Ledajorif Erainor and king Ilai come. I saw them both once, in the grand market at Talad. Great men they are, that’s to be sure. Just wait, and you’ll see those men won’t be coming any further.”

An odd garbled barking sound echoed in the high hills as the ancient one straightened, laughing. “We shall see, we shall see. Now hush.” The hilltop fell silent but for the occasional bleating of sheep.

The man sat forward, eyes gleaming brightly as he peered intently at the scene unfolding on the valley floor below. A single hand absently fondled a lamb that had come to crop near at hand, ignored by the two lifeless forms to either side.

*****

Ilai, King in Adich Tairin, gazed up at the mountain pass. He could see the glint of mail and spears above and had heard the definitive reports of the scouts and the Taladi Jechavin flyers. There was no doubt, they were coming.  The Valthlamari were coming.  What made them choose this time to lay claim to the pass he had no idea, but it was his intention to deny them the opportunity.  In concert with his younger brother Erainor, he would speed the already short-lived humans to an even earlier grave. 

He gave the order to infiltrate the woods, using it for cover as much as possible, and waited for the enemy to arrive. 

*****

Lord Vincent Montgomery surveyed his troops.  He was pleased.  Though the cursed elves were well known to be excellent archers, he had decided to match mastery with mass, and he had chosen to bring nothing but missile wielding troops.  The elves were surely in for a surprise!

He sent his Lieutenant to the north, while he moved forward on the southern flank. 

*****

Erainor watched proudly as his royal guard and the knights of Mount Olat made their stately way through the valley towards the tree line and the pass above. Ilai was hanging back with his troops, hiding among the trees, but what of that, this was a time for decisive action, for his armies to prove their worth. These men were crossing the border long set between, violating the bounds set up years ago and held in lasting peace. Time was they were no longer a threat on Talad’s doorstep.

Emboldened by the martial grandeur of his troops, their training and precision much in evidence, Erainor turned them directly up the hill towards the pass and the waiting human troops, ignoring Ilai’s plan to wait and let the enemy come.

As they neared the pass head, the knights of Mount Olat, with green pennants streaming and bells chiming on silken reigns, broke into a canter, pulling away from the royal guard and the archers. With a cry of ‘Asan Talad, Asan Ledajorif!’ they charged, spears leveled, with only the shadow of the Jechavin fliers above keeping pace.

*****

Vincent looked on bemused as the young elven king and his men charged, hand raised. He counted slowly, dropping his hand with a swift chopping motion as the elves crested the nearest hill. Horses screamed, and many an elf fell, but the charge continued.

The first rank knelt, fitting new arrows, as the rank behind rose, and at Vincent’s signal shot another volley. More carnage met the young lord, and the charge soon devolved into confusion, soon mired further as royal guards and archers finally joined the milling cavalry.

Unworried now, as the cavalry fled, circled tightly around the young king, Vincent left the archers to their gruesome work, wheeling about to join with his lieutenant’s troops to the north, and the more concerning vipers’ nest that waited there among the trees.

An ear-splitting screech above caused his horse to rear suddenly, as great raptors swooped down from above and darts rained like hail among him and his troops. Few fell, and the swiftness of the flying beasts meant retaliation was not an option. Shrugging, Vincent left his men to deal with it as they would. Talad was not a threat.

*****

Wary of the famous accuracy and awesome weapon-craft of the elven archers, Lieutenant Alexander crept slowly down the mountain pass, keeping his men in the trees whenever possible. He was loyal to Vincent, but wasn’t interested in a bloodbath, especially one in which it was his own men’s blood that would supply the bath. So, he kept out of range of the heavy crossbows, biding his time. 

***** 

Vincent was frustrated that his heavy archers were taking so long to move, but his scouts were doing a wonderful job of harrying the southern flank of the enemy, forcing them toward the center, where his heavy cavalry waited patiently, bows at the ready. 

*****

Ilai grew impatient in the rising heat of the day. The Valthlamari forces seemed disinterested in advancing into range of his bows, which he could well understand. As soon as his heavy cavalry finally made it to a position where they could do something, he decided to take the battle to the enemy.  He moved his heavy infantry and crossbowmen out of the woods to tempt the enemy, and it worked — 

*****

Alexander could wait no longer, without raising questions of pusillanimity, so when the infantry and crossbowmen left the cover of the woods, he ordered the cavalry to charge, which they did, with vigor and aplomb.  But it was to be a disastrous mistake, as the crossbowmen proved to be more resilient than expected. 

*****

Ilai watched with glee as the enemy rushed in and was caught in the pincer trap of his crossbowmen and heavy infantry.  They were shattered and dispersed. Taking heart from this fortunate turn of events, he ordered his light archers and cavalry to advance on the enemy positions. 

Pushing his troops relentlessly, Ilai was determined to reach the enemy cavalry, but the ground was rough, slowing his cavalry, and many brave elves fell under the rain of arrows.  Still he pushed on, without thought of consequences, until he was left with only a few of his most trusted kinsmen. That’s when he felt his armor and flesh being pierced.  At first, he thought it was one of the enemy’s arrows that had brought him down, but as he fell from his saddle, he realized that the fatal blow had been struck from behind…. 

Seeing their King fall, the elves of Adich Tairin collapsed in despair, many being routed from the field, far too many falling to the swords and arrows of the Valthlamari enemy. 

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