Copyright 2015 by Michael O’Gara
First Release 2018
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Mir and Lex arrived at the great meeting place to find only Wald and Cormard present.
Lex asked, “Where are the others?”
Cormard said, “Dead. We captured and burned the port but at a great cost. We killed every enemy soldier but lost two thirds of our men.”
Mir sat down, “It was too great a cost.”
Wald said, “The only good thing is that between the two ports we have killed more than half of the enemy army.”
Lex said, “But that still leaves about half.”
Wald ask, “I suppose you had heavy casualties?”
Mir said evasively, “More than I would have liked.”
Cormard said, “We are the only four independent chiefs left.”
Lex said, “Three. I have given my allegiance to Mir as queen.”
Cormard looked at Mir and said, “So your casualties were not that great and you intend to force us under your rule?”
Mir said in a quiet voice, “No. I do not want to lead anyone who does not willingly follow.”
Wald said, “I am glad to hear that.”
Cormard said, “We must follow up and attack now.”
Mir said, “That is what they are expecting.”
Wald said, “Then what do you propose we do?”
Mir smiled, “Let them retreat to the coast. I have fought this general for years. He is an intelligent man and will not stay where his army will starve. He knows we will attack his men when they leave their fortifications to go foraging. I expect he will go to the coast to protect his arriving ships. The sea is his lifeline.”
Cormard said, “It is the act of a coward.”
Mir said, “I think you underestimate this general.”
Wald said, “Then what do you propose to do?”
Mir said, “Just what we have done. We have deprived them of profit for years. It has cost them much more to stay than they have gained. We need not kill them all but continue to bleed them until they leave or are too weak to resist.”
Cormard said, “The enemy is on the run. I am no coward to sit around and wait.”
Wald said, “I agree.”
Mir said, “To attack when there is no advantage would be a mistake.”
Cormard said, “So you will hide in the forests while we go out to do battle.”
Mir nodded and said, “I will remain in the forests.”
Cormard and Wald rose and stomped off.
Lex said, “They are going to get themselves and their followers killed.”
Mir nodded agreement and said, “It is unnecessary. Time is on our side.”
The officer entered the general’s tent and saluted, “There is news, my Lord.”
Azar asked, “Well?”
The officer said, “The northern port was attacked and burned. The garrison there was overrun. All our men were killed or maimed.”
The officer took a breath, “Only fifty four of our men survived. They are all blind, have been whipped, and have lost a thumb.”
The general cursed. He paused and said, “Do the men know?”
The officer said, “It is the first time I have seen so many in fear of an enemy.”
The general said, “Burn the nearest town.”
The officer said, “It is already burned.”
The general said, “Good work.”
The officer said, “The Battle Queen of the Forest ordered it, Lord.”
The general cursed again and looked at his second. The second looked at the officer and asked, “And the farms.”
“Abandoned and the fields have not been planted.”
His second said, “They mean to starve us.”
Azar nodded and said, “And they just might succeed, if we stay here. Give the order; we retreat to the southern port. Send messages to all the outposts.”
The scouts Mir had sent reported that the enemy was retreating to the coast.
General Azar thought to be deliberate in gathering his army and retreating to the coast. He would gather all his outpost garrisons to him as he retreated. The army would bring every scrap of food and everything they had of value.
Azar expected the savages would not meet him in open battle. They had no need to. Azar knew he was in a very difficult position. This Queen of the Forest was a formidable enemy. For the first time in his career, Azar had been fought to a standstill.
The army had only been travelling for a day when a scout returned with the news. The southern port had fallen and been burned. There were no survivors.
That night when the army camped, Azar paced. He knew he had few options open to him but the sea was his lifeline. Unless he colonized an area, there would be no staying here. The best option was to settle an open area but it would have to be done quickly.
Azar was walking the camp when the attack came in the early morning hours. A sentry sounded the alarm. Still, many of Azar’s men died in their bedrolls. Azar’s troops were professionals and soon rallied and formed up and were fighting fiercely with the enemy. The battle raged for several hours and then, as suddenly as it had begun, it ended.
Azar saw the carnage as the sun rose. Bodies were strewn everywhere. Azar could see half his wagons had been consumed by fire as had many of the tents. The battle had been one of attrition. Azar awaited the reports.
His second came to him, “My lord, we have suffered fourteen hundred and eleven killed and about another seven hundred wounded. About half the wounds are serious.”
Azar said, “May the gods protect us from these madmen. How many of them died.”
“Sir, at last count, just a little over twelve hundred.”
Azar asked, “And their wounded?”
“Sir, there were no enemy wounded on the field. It seems a few who were wounded took their own lives rather than be captured.”
Azar nodded. He hated this enemy, but he also respected them as warriors.
The army did not take the days it would require to dispose of their dead. The stripped the bodies of valuables and left the next morning. The bodies of their comrades, as well as those of the enemy, were left on the battlefield
The army made for the port. It took the army five days to reach the area. Azar had his men establish camp on a bay adjoining the burned port town. Ships could beach there at high tide and unload at low tide.
Well before Azar’s army reached the coast, the survivors of the attack on the army returned to the forests. A scout came to report to Mir. It was Bel. When she entered the Queen’s cave, Mysha and Skjold were there.
Bel came before Mir’s throne and gave a head bow and said, “Majesty, Cormard and Wald are dead. Just over three hundred survived the attack and many are wounded. They are coming here and they ask for sanctuary and will pledge allegiance to you as Queen.”
Mir asked, “How did they fight?”
“Bravely until it was useless to fight anymore.”
Mir said, “We will take them. Who leads?”
“The man Bange.”
Mir said, “Bring him to me.”
Bel gave a head bow and said, “As you command, my Queen.”
When Bange arrived with the survivors, he was brought before the queen and took a knee. He said, “My Queen, your fierceness in battle is only equaled by the mercy you have shown me and the men with me.”
Mir asked, “How is it you live?”
Bange said, “There comes a time in every battle when one is victorious and one is defeated. It was our time of defeat. There were only three hundred against almost three thousand. To continue was to waste lives. The sun was rising and they would have killed us. We would not have taken as many of them as there were of us.”
Mir said, “So it was reason and not cowardice that resulted in retreat?”
Bange was still kneeling and said, “Majesty, I ordered the retreat. The men but obeyed. If you find fault in my action, then the fault is mine alone.”
Mir could see Bange was wounded and bandaged in several places. Mir asked, “Would you make the same decision again under the same circumstances?”
Mir said, “Good. It was wise under the circumstances. Go rest and recover from you wounds. I fear I will have need of you and your men. You may leave and join your men.”
Bange said, “Thank you, Majesty.” He got up and left.
Mir looked at Lex. “What do you think?”
Lex said, “I think I would have done the same in his position.”
Mir nodded agreement. “Though they died bravely, it was folly for Wald and Cormard to engage the enemy in open battle when they did not have to.”
Lex said, “They did bleed the enemy heavily.”
Mir said, “Knowing this general, it is not over yet.”