Battle of Belgera, part five

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Trindai looked at the golden mage at his side. He was never comfortable with mages around him, but neither did he belong to the category who hated everything magic with a fervor sometimes bordering on fanaticism. At the moment he needed her peculiar abilities to help him organize some kind of resistance against whatever troops had arrived here with their horrible weapons.

"Are they safe?" he asked.

"Not yet. Khar Escha will jump them away from here. I've seen her mind. She's mad! The only thing she cares for is the destruction of the taleweaver. Mad! Still she is like him. Where they come from they compete for the favors of the audience, and she means to win that competition by any means available."

Once again the man made thunder roared through the streets. It sounded much like the cannons of the westerners, only much closer. Trindai forced his nerves under control again. The cannons might be invincible from the ocean where they had the advantage of greater distance, but here among the narrow streets he had a chance to lead his men to places where their crossbows could reach the enemy.

He turned to his fellow escort captain who silently trailed their steps. "Captain Weinak, find the battle mages and have them cover the squares. We clean out the streets. Your men defend the citadel. I'll lead charges and force the enemy to your positions."

She turned to obey, but he could see her hesitate. It was time to drop his role. He needed her absolute trust as well as her obedience.

"I'm Imperial Colonel Trindai de Laiden, not an escort captain. I've commanded raids since before you first saw a sword. I've orders to keep Harbend de Garak safe no matter the cost."

"Orders?" There was still some suspicion and disbelief in her voice.

"From the Council of Twelve. Will you help me?"

A moment of hesitation, and then relief. "Colonel, I will."

She ran.

Trindai turned to the Mindwalker. "We need to move Arthur Wallman out of harms way. The Council of Twelve just doesn't know it, so I make it an order of mine own. Madame, can you help me?"

"A little," Neritan answered. "I can keep you away from ambushes and disorientate some of those we encounter."

"A little? That's more than I hoped for." He gave her a crooked smile. "Please don't tell anyone that you're helping us with magic. Some of my men would be, ah, uncomforted."

She flashed him a beautiful smile. "We wouldn't want to discomfort them, especially not those with a past in the Inquisition."

Trindai was at a loss of what to say. He clasped her hands. "I thank you," he said hoarsely. "I sometimes wish things were different. Maybe another day."

"Maybe another day in Keen, but today, far away from your home." She met his gaze. "We don't hate you. You should know that. At least not all of us do. Keen is a sanctuary. There has to be one."

Trindai suspected she could feel his gratefulness as they walked in search for his troops. They needed to face an enemy unlike anyone they'd fought before. Outworlders, he was going to try fighting the impossible, but the thought of narrow streets and corners of massive stone reassured him a little. Maybe not impossible, but it would be a hard fight.

"Madame, can you find out how many they are?" he asked.

"Yes, I think so. Why?"

Trindai nearly stopped in his track and stared at her. "To know what we're fighting, of course, or at least their numbers." The golden mage might be able to read minds, but did she lack one of her own?

"No, I'm not mindless, but warfare is not what I've been trained for."

She definitely could read minds.

"It's a vast advantage to know as much about your enemy as possible before you engage in combat." Trindai thought again. "Warfare's a lot less about dying and killing than it's about surviving and make your enemy believe they'll do all the dying. The best battle is when your enemy gives up with as little bloodshed as possible," he added, quickening his steps to a steady trot.

They almost ran into an ambush, but Neritan tugged at his arm before they rounded a corner. Trindai peered around it and stared into the faces of outworlders coming their way. He barely managed to duck before something smashed into the wall where his head had been a moment earlier. Fragments of stone rained around him. He grabbed Neritan's hand and ran back the way they had come.

They couldn't face those weapons without him having loaded his crossbow first. Maybe not even then, but that was a later problem he planned to solve, and to do so he needed to stay alive. Now he had to get in contact with his own troops, but first with whatever local mages were available in the city. After that, well, who knew. Battles, when they were engaged, were too chaotic to plan well beforehand.

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