The dust clogged the air and Greza had to wrap her face in order to breathe. Thousands of soldiers marched by and the carts kicked up more dust which made the air almost unbearable.
“If it would rain we could breathe,” Onata said.
“But then we’d be up to our knees in mud,” Tempest said.
“Just enjoy it for what it is,” Greza said.
They both looked to her.
“Enjoy?” Tempest asked.
“We’re part of this great mission,” Greza said.
“Not this holy mission dung,” Tempest.
“Why not? It might be true,” Onata said.
Tempest laughed and walked off to check on the baggage train.
Onata shook her head, making the tiny bells on her horns jingle. She liked to indulge in such vanities when silence wasn’t necessary.
“No matter what you do, some people won’t believe.”
“Lord Verin will prove the prophecy. They won’t have a choice but to believe.”
“Of course. And this coming battle?”
“Just like that?”
Onata was teasing her and she wasn’t going to fall for the bait.
The Combined Army was approaching a city that sat on a three-way crossroads of the major highways. Everyone expected the Empire to send an army to stop them. The city was too important to let fall. What she heard from the soldiers told her they wanted the fight.
Then distant horns blared at the front of the army. Three long notes, the signal for enemy contact.
“I guess we’re going to find out how good your holy boy is,” Onata said.
“Please speak with respect.”
Greza pulled the reigns of her horse and trotted over to where Verin and the generals were. This was her new personal horse. Before she had drawn from the army’s stables, but now she had her own. His name was Church because he was the quietest of all the horses. She liked that name. It suited them both.
Scouts were rushing up and giving reports and officers began barking orders all around her. It was an army preparing for a fight and the smiling faces on the running soldiers showed that they were ready for it.
She silently prayed that their confidence was justified. She wasn’t foolish enough to believe that just because they were on a sacred mission that they couldn’t fail. There would always be setbacks and disappointments.
The enemy army was force marching to catch them before they got to the city. Many officers wanted to rush and reach the city first to get inside the walls. Verin wanted to meet them head on.
Verin won and they moved their armies into position. The two armies came within sight of each other before either could reach the city, just as Verin wanted. It took hours for the ponderous armies to line up and face each other. By then the sun was setting.
She noticed the narrowed eyes and closed mouth on Verin. He sat on his horse watching his army and remained silent.
Something was wrong with him. She could see it but too much was happening to ask him. It wasn’t her place either.
As she watched the scouts rushing around she recognized a few of them. She wanted to be with them, riding at the head of the army, finding enemy positions. It was so much freer out there, but here she could be near Verin. Whatever purpose the gods had for her, she was where she needed to be.
“Tomorrow,” Decaron said.
“They outnumber us two to one,” the fat general said.
Normally there would be jokes about the upcoming battle, but Verin’s mood was dampening everyone’s joy.
Something was wrong and he wasn’t speaking to anyone.
The camp fires began appearing and music began playing. As she walked by the soldiers plucking on their lutes, she wanted to join them. She wanted to learn the songs they sang and learn to play those instruments.
That was a brotherhood she would never share.
It was just one more sacrifice to make for the Divine Path. It wouldn’t be the last.
The sound of tinkling bells approached from behind.
“I think Verin’s nervous,” Greza said.
“He should be.”
“How many enemy?”
“More than twice our number. Maybe three.”
She looked over to where Verin sat by a fire with his generals. Him and Decaron were talking quietly to each other.
“I wish I could do something for him.”
“Just let him know you’re there.”
“How would that-”
“Go over and stand by him. He needs you.”
Onata pushed her towards the circle of generals. She managed a scowl before walking over and standing behind Verin. He glanced at her but didn’t say anything to her.
Still, she saw a faint smile on his face.
Eventually the generals turned in for the night and Verin retreated to his tent. She waited until she saw the night guards doing their rounds before she went to her own tent. Onata was asleep inside, still wearing her uniform and boots. Everyone slept with their gear tonight.
Greza stretched her sleeping roll out and lay down. All she took off were her gauntlets.
The morning came with loud trumpets and drums. Her eyes snapped open and she sat up.
Onata was stirring and grumbling something under her breath.
Greza helped Onata get into her armor and then Onata helped her. Then they strapped on their bandoliers of powder canisters and pistol belts with a speed that only comes from doing a thing so many times that the mind wasn’t needed; the muscles knew what to do. Once they were kitted up they rushed outside to Verin’s tent.
The sun was a purple smear in the distance. She couldn’t count how many sunrises she had seen since joining the Chimera Company. They always had to be up too early. This just happened to be one of the rare days that getting up before the sun was justified.
A few minutes later Verin came out of his tent in full armor. It was going to be a warm day so he didn’t wear his long coat, only his cotton shirt under his armor and padding. He held his helmet down at his side and looked around with a smile in his eyes.
Whatever dark thoughts he had during the night were gone.
“Good morning, my lord.”
“Its going to be a great morning, Greza. Stay close. I don’t want a troll coming to shake hands with me again.”
“If there’s a troll, I’ll kindly ask him to leave.”
An enormous grin crossed Verin’s face and he strapped on his helmet.
“Fellow generals! On me! We have a long day ahead of us!” Verin shouted out.
An orderly brought Church to her and she mounted up. Onata wasn’t there so she held the reigns of her brown horse, “Legion” until she returned. Onata came back with two apples and tossed one to her.
“Can’t fight on an empty stomach,” Onata said.
She looked out at the camp fires that covered the plain a few miles away. This was probably the only food she’d have for a while.
Greza took a bite and watched the armies form up into blocks and lines. Gunners got into rows and the pikemen fell in behind them.
This was going to be a horrible day. Even if they won, many people will suffer and die. It was like watching an accident in the slowness of a dream. She could see everything that was about to happen and was powerless to stop it.
But Greza didn’t want to stop it.