The Sapphire Fields, Eamonn thought dismally. He and his mentor had come across country from the outskirts of western Azarowa. Once it had been an amazing, almost mesmorising scene. Short green grass on the open plains seemed to rise and dip with ease, a stunning clear blue sky with just that hint of the fragrance from the turning leaves and dropping petals of flowers, they were carried on the wind like mist. The sun marked the near perfect ending to the day. But it was not destined to be such a pristine day as the first year student looked on at the harrowing sight of the enemy’s army along with his mentor.
The pair had chosen a position away from the battlefield, on one of the many hill sides some three-hundred meters from the battle lines. Accompanied by the recon team that had aided them in their mission across Azarowa in search of the lost escort party, the commissioners had decided to move on, reaching the field as the enemy’s army moved about the battlefield, flanking, retreating and ambushing the Azarowans. They harassed them and constantly forced the Azarowan wall to shift to deter oncoming attacks, the banners and sounds of horns were being blown, and Aaren could see the frontlines of the Caledonian force.
Barely an hour ago, Aaren’s intention was to cover the tracks of Dunstan and send a message back to Castella to confirm they were safe. The signing of the Caledonian treaty was important to the safety of the kingdoms and continued peace on the continent and here that same enemy was rearing its ugle head again, stronger and more determined than before to strike back. When Aaren had heard the cries and echoes of battle in the distance, he and Eamonn had spurred their horses on. A stone’s throw away from the castle of King Maarten of Azarowa was the scene of battle and Aaren knew in his heart that the worst had happened. War had come to Azarowa.
Soon those fields had turned to ruins, laden with the lifeless bodies of those fallen in battle, as if a child had haphazardly dropped them like toys from above. Eamonn had watched in horror as the enemy advance party tried to break the initial lines of the undermanned Azarowan armies, the sight of a stunning view being transformed into one of pain and despair filled him with sadness.
Upon their arrival, Aaren made himself known quickly in the Azarowan camp. He navigated his way to the command tent and pushed his way through the inspecting guards to find the King with his advisers and several of the Azarowan Commission members. He could see the frustration in the eyes of the other Commissioners as they told him how their communication lines had been cut off, their tones suggested that had Maarten kept them close at hand, such an event wouldn’t have taken place. The King described how he and his men had been surrounded and the feeling of the hangman’s noose tightening. Deepdene Gorge, the king’s impregnable fortress had been infiltrated and the enemy had sprung its trap.
The King’s advisors had been quick to rally the guards and an effective force forced a quick retreat of the Caledonians, funneling them out of the castle grounds, towards the bottle neck that was the Sapphire fields. It wasn’t long before the enemy launched their counterattack. The King soon found that the castle had never been their target, the king and his army was. The Azarowan soldiers had been reformed into a shield wall to maximize their defenses until they managed to exploit their enemy’s position.
Eamonn had asked the obvious question: how could this disturbance could have occurred without them knowing about it. With hundreds of representatives from Aylesbury, Azarowa, Normlieth and Merrindale attending the conference, surely something had to have slipped out about it all. Aaren looked the boy up and down when he mentioned this, his face had said all the boy needed to know, “That’s why nothing got out, there is meant to be a strict admittance process, difficult for larger groups to slip by, but over the course of a few days, weeks or even months they could get enough men into Deepdene to form the threat they needed. No one would have known about it until they struck.”
What it didn’t explain though was how they had managed to fool the Azarowan contingent. The Commission’s creation was due to the rising threat of Caledonia, they were hand-picked to become the most skilled and dangerous men and women in the world, if this enemy were able to bypass them, there was no way of knowing what else they could achieve. It was a failure that would burn long and deep within the hearts of the Commission, their failure would begin to dispel the faith and trust that the people had in them. That could become costly for them.
With them leaving the castle grounds, Aaren had sent the man they had left tending the horses, along with three others, to head back to Aylesbury. Aaren knew one thing was for sure, word would need to be sent to Aylesbury. If Azarowa was to fall before the army of Caledonia, they would assume control of the nation, expanding and fortifying their lands, while eradicating Azarowa. In the case of such an end, Aylesbury would need to be prepared to aid Azarowa before it was finally purged and the only way that was possible was for Aaren’s men to inform them.
Aaren found himself an outlook, on a hill that rose above the landscape. Eamonn and his teacher had kept their eye on the opposing army and its tactics. Eamonn was in a prone position observing the surrounding countryside and keeping his eye on the army as he had been instructed. Every few minutes he’d note down the movements of the enemy, looking for anything that could give them an edge. He shifted further back towards the camp they had built to discuss the latest news with his companion.
“The Caledonians have maintained their three to one ratio advantage. Their movements alter between a three pronged attack where they look to overwhelm us with sheer numbers, but then they back off once they’ve properly engaged. A volley of arrows begins and ends the move, when they’ve done a single rotation their front lines surge forward a few meters before we can react, slowly making their way towards us without looking like it. I’m waiting for them to finally break their lines and attack.”
Whereas Eamonn was crouching, his mentor was by his horse, retying the pack that contained the remainders of their rations.
Aaren had noticed much the same as he had been looking on, it was a simple tactic from obviously an unoriginal tactician, he wasn’t surprised when he learnt that the opposing general was Carien Valon. The man was simple in his approach, but Valon, or Lord Valon as he liked to call himself, was a ruthless and pitiless man, known for the savage treatment of his foes, who on more than one occasion, had destroyed a town simply for their unwillingness to comply with a tax levy.
The man was also one stick things he likes. If it was successful on the first attempt, he would continue with it, regardless of how many men he lost trying. If it wasn’t unsuccessful however, he would never use it, it made him into an odd army general, one many thought they could easily best. This was a tactic he loved, it lowered the enemy’s numbers and it frustrated them. He enjoyed that feeling as he saw them in a state of helplessness. Once he had enough fun though, he would pull out his second tactic and finish the battle quickly.
The older man took a sip of water from his water skin and shrugged to his apprentice, “Valon suffocates his enemies, he knows other generals like watching a pitched battle from afar, so he likes to take the fight to them, he cramps them up and it often forces his enemy back, cornering them if he can, if you take a look at our rear, Maarten has already started doing the same thing, once Valon feels like he’s pushed us back enough, he does a final push and then hits his enemy with cavalry.” he said simply. To the boy, Aaren made it sound so simple, so easy for Valon to dictate things.
“So what can we do to counteract it?” Eamonn questioned, bringing the focus back to the problem at hand. There was a long pause between them as men were hurrying around the king’s pavilion, the pavilion was protected from the eyes of their enemies by the sloping hill they’d based themselves on.
Aaren was an experienced campaigner who had long ago become desensitized to battle, the boy had been disturbed by the seen of battle, that was why he tried to keep the boy on watch, looking at the fight analytically and as whole and not allowing himself to think about the tragedy of it all.
Over the past few months, Aaren had been impressed by the youngster’s progress, he was diligent and hard-working, always keen to take the next step in his development, ready to further his knowledge of his craft. Aaren had always tested him with mock combat and survival skills, his speed and agility in hand to hand combat was beginning to match his own, the boy was by no means an expert, but he was a long way towards becoming one.
The ability to assess strengths and weaknesses of an army were important and his earlier comments showed Aaren that Eamonn had this trait in spades.
Aaren smiled quietly to himself, “Once you’ve seen it once, you can quickly counteract their attempts,” he started, “we simply need to be ready for his movement before he’s ready to call on it. That way we can prevent from breaking through.” Again there was a moment of silence as Aaren let his pupil think about what he’d said.
They were startled as they heard the heavy drawn out horn blast that sounded from the enemy base. “Come on that’s got to mean the advancement of their next troops, Maarten will need our help if we’re to at least survive the next couple of hours.” Aaren suggested. The youth looked sidelong at his mentor. Aaren pulled the straps tight on his horse and briefly contemplated the sky. It was mostly the usual sky blue with there were patches of overcast and clouds scudding in from distance. “Think it’ll rain tonight?” Aaren called out as he mounted Storm and rode off down the hill. Eamonn had to laugh at that, knowing his mentor was trying to put him at ease. Eamonn threw his water skin into a saddle bag and was barely in the saddle before he urged his horse on down the hill towards the King’s pavilion.