Sorenan sat upon his black horse and looked down the line. Soldiers who ranged in experience from their first time handling a true weapon to those who had killed almost as many as he had stood in the ranks. Marcos sat upon his white horse in his gleaming white armor. With the former mercenary in black, the pair were an unexpected sight. They had ridden along the length of the line. Marcos gave his speech urging them to courage and fearlessness. It was an passionate speech that Sorenan was surprised by. He had not anticipated Marcos as the spontaneous orator, yet that was precisely what has just happened. And Marcos's impromptu speech roused cheers from his men.
And then they moved forward. Sorenan was surprised by the quietness of their approach. A force so large, he was sure they would have made enough noise to be noticed. Still, they had reached the rise at the edge of Temna's encampment with out any incident. Now, the sun was due to rise at their backs. They awaited the breaking of true dawn to attack. Someone somewhere to Sorenan's left coughed. Small noises of men waiting for combat sounded loud to him. To Sorenan, the world had taken on a sharp clarity that made him feel as though if he wanted he could count the grains of sand. The purple of night fading in the west made him think of the sash that General Zalaz had given him.
Where Marcos wore his sash at his waist over his armor, Sorenan chose not to. He attempted to make Marcos see the danger of wearing it, to understand how someone could grapple him and pull him from his horse with it. Marcos merely replied that Ashur would protect him. Sorenan gave up the argument at that answer. So, he considered his options for how to remain close to help Marcos when trouble came but still be effective in combat. Ideas raced through his mind as he watched the skies lighten.
Sorenan felt more than he saw the first rays of sunlight cutting through the twilight gloom. He drew his sword and raised it skyward. Acting on pure instinct, Sorenan gave a mighty roar. The cry was caught by the others. Even Marcos gave a savage sounding battle cry. With that cry, the entire force moved forward. On the other side of the rise, the army of Temna was in the midst of preparing for their daily march when they heard to cry of the army of Dacia.
When Dacia's forces swept over the rise and fell upon them, it was pure chaos in Temna's camp. Sorenan and Marcos rode at the forward edge of the wave of men. As they trampled Temna's foot soldiers beneath their horses and hacked other men down, at the inner most portion of the camp, Temna's general, the sons of Omauranth, and the raider Althar armed themselves and shouted orders to their men. When it became apparent that Dacia's forces were still surging forward despite the defenses that were being mounted, the general turned to his companions.
"We must withdraw," he said, "We lose too many if we do not. I do not think this is their full force. We have others behind us. We must join them." The three sons of the bane of Julara's daughter grew angry at the suggestion of retreat. As they began to argue, Althar took up his horn. It was only a brief look he gave the general but in it he sought and received confirmation to sound the call for retreat. He blew the call and others of rank took it up. Soon, the surprised army was divided. A body of men continued to engage Temna's warriors.
As the others fled, Marcos noted the direction they ran. They passed southward. He grinned. And then a hand gripped the sash about his waist. It pulled in an attempt to unhorse him. The sash untied itself. The man was in the midst of throwing it aside when Marcos's sword flashed. It cut through the attacker's forearm. With a scream, the man watched as his hand flew from him, still holding the royal purple sash as it moved along the path he was attempting to cast it. He gripped his arm and Marcos cut again. This time, a great blow struck the man's neck. With a gurgling noise, the man staggered back.
Sorenan, who had been divided from Marcos in the chaos of battle, looked about himself. He realized that the battle was won almost as quickly as it began. He saw Temna's men fleeing and considered leading a body of men in pursuit. Looking for Marcos, he watched as the incident with the sash happened. Sorenan shook his head with amazement. As a soldier of Temna desperately threw himself at Sorenan, the warrior pulled hard on his mount's reins. The horse reared up and kicked. The man, who was struck in the head, dropped to the ground. When Sorenan's horse was again upon the ground, the man had begun to twitch from his head injury. Sorenan recognized it as a sign of a fatal blow to the head and turned his attention away.
He found Marcos striking down a man who attempted to grab the reins of his horse from his hand. With a sharp turn to the left and a swift strike, the would be assailant was grievously injured. He slumped to the ground as Marcos wheeled his horse around in a tight circle. Finding that the majority of Temna's remaining force was subdued, he looked for Sorenan. When Marcos saw him, he raised his bloodied sword in salute. The rush of combat gave Marcos an almost drugged feeling. He threw back his head and howled. Others around him echoed that cry or gave their own cheer of victory.
Sorenan rode over to Marcos who was alight with victory's joy. "Don't get cocky," Sorenan warned Marcos with a half smirk, "You may be Emperor and such, but you've still got the rest of the war to fight." Marcos laughed. He looked back towards the direction they had come. General Zalaz had arrived with the reinforcements to discover they were not necessary. He looked over the field and nodded with approval that more of Dacia's men were standing than he had anticipated.
"It seems," Zalaz shouted as he rode over to the sword-bearers of Ashur, "that your plan worked." Sorenan shrugged. "What of the rest?" he asked. Marcos looked over, the wild light of excitement from being victorious in his first true battle dropped out of his face. A look of something grim replaced it. Zalaz recognized the look. It was one he had seen on many a man when they were on the hunt of something wretched.
"South," Marcos said, "I do not think you were right. I think they have reserves waiting as well." Zalaz looked in the direction Marcos had mentioned. Open warfare in the desert was not something he had wanted to engage. He did not like the idea of trading their chariots for a force that was strictly mounted. As Zalaz's expression turned calculating, Sorenan coughed. The other two men looked over at him.
"They move towards the black sands," Sorenan said, "Zeguma stands on the edge of there. They will need support if Temna goes any farther east in their route. I don't know how we're going to out run them." Zalaz thought about the mountain of Zard Kuh and the creature rumored to live within it. As he considered these things, Sorenan looked at him expectantly.
"They can not run faster than us. They have more wounded with them. They are more weary than we are. At best, they will be a day ahead of us," Zalaz said, "If we drive them to Zard Kuh's western flank, We may have a chance of keeping Zeguma out of the fray." Zalaz found himself wondering if they were serving as Ashur's hand yet again. He questioned why the forces of Temna were to be driven into the black sands. His head filled with these uncomfortable thoughts, Zalaz moved off to find his field generals and their sergeants to get reports of how they fared this morning.