Immediately after the death of Princess Khondiel and the destruction of the avatar of Chokhmah on the battle plain west of the Nine Mile Wall, High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash divides hyz forces in twain. Half of the Army of Thaumiel is rushed back home to the Middle Land in the east, leaving the other half of hyz soldiery to complete the occupation of the lands of House Bellon and to garrison the Magodon peninsula.
When the White Beard army reaches the city of Salem once more they are transferred completely across the Middle Land by relays of many horses like a bucket fire brigade. And it comes to pass that even as Lady Haziel is just arriving at the city of Jelaket on the other side of the world, Lord Kirodiel assails the ice bridge between the lands of the House of Gerash and the House of Sala with an exceedingly great force. But Duke Evandr Sala of Saharad, the Prince Consort and husband of Queen Aurra, rushes to defend the border, where hy is joined by Countess Ayani Sala.
On the eve of the battle Ayani asks Evandr, “How did you survive the countless battles you have fought, Sire? For it is well known that you never lead your forces from the rear, but share the physical danger and hardships of the front.”
Evandr replies, “A cowardly general thinks only of his personal survival, Countess Ayani. Thus hy endangers hymself and hyz entire army, and indeed hy puts the existence of hyz entire state in jeopardy. But when I advance on the battlefield I have already reconciled myself with death. I go into every battle, no matter how great or small, as though I were certainly doomed to die. And because the thought of dying has already been accepted in my mind, this frees me to focus only on fighting well. Thus I retain my life. Keeping my life, I gain the victory. Gaining victory, I preserve the state and save the life of the people.”
In the battle Evandr gives a good account of hymself, and the aid of Ayani is vital, yet Lord Kirodiel, despite hyz numerical losses, simply continues to feed more troops into the battle until the Gold Beards begin to yield. The battle takes place while Lady Talishi and her traveling party on the far side of Barbelo reach the city of Vaska, the capital of House Antero.
Duke Evandr rallies hyz forces once more on the edge of the plain at the foot of the ice bridge, near the city of Galcha. There the Countess, asks, “Sire, why have you camped your army on this plain, letting Kirodiel attack from the high ground?”
“Because in this battle,” Evandr replies, “we are the guest, and Lord Kirodiel is the host. Therefore I yield the hill of honor to hym and accept this lower station.”
“But hy can see our entire force, Sire,” Ayani objects, “while we cannot know what strength he has hidden in the ice!”
“Ah, but Ayani, that would only be important if we were the attacker. In that case we would tire ourselves fighting uphill and possibly be surprised by hidden forces waiting to ambush our yeng. Instead, my army is deployed like water, dwelling in the low places considered to be of negligible military value.”
“Why is that an advantage, Duke Evandr?”
“Is not water itself vital if people are to live?” hy answers. “Do not people seek it out in wells and rivers and even swamps? By our mere continued presence on this plain Kirodiel will begin to covet this plain.”
“But Sire, we are ringed by ice on three sides, and hy has taken all of that high ground. When hy attacks, we will not know from which direction hy will come!”
“Yes, Ayani, but hyz forces are, as you say, spread like a ring around us while down here we have the interior lines of communication. Anywhere hy attacks I can order reinforcements within minutes. And anywhere I counterattack hy will be weak, while hyz own signals will be slow to propagate around this ring. Do you see, Countess, how we assure ourselves of victory merely by humbling ourselves and keeping to the lowland?”
And Evandr does gain the tactical victory in the battle of Galcha that day, yet Kirodiel has many more yeng to spend. By throwing their lives away with no absolutely no remorse Kirodiel is able to grind out a strategic victory by forcing Evandr and Ayani to withdraw deeper into the lands of House Sala.
When Ayani and Evandr assess the battle of the previous day, Ayani says, almost in despair, “Duke Evandr, why do yeng love combat so much?”
“As long as a child is growing hy is filling out his potential, Countess Ayani. As long as hy has not reached hyz limits, hy remains a child. Hyz limits remain unknown unless they are met and even exceeded somewhat. Combat is the crisis by which yeng come to know their limits and obtain maturity.”
“For many yin this maturity is attained in a very natural way,” replies Ayani. “Motherhood. Maturity means acknowledging your limits and returning to your root. It is a yin’s nature to make harself still and embrace har center. So even without the experience of motherhood, yin are naturally mature.”
“But young yeng are always reaching out,” says Evandr, “always moving, always extending, until they know their breaking point. And while they are on this personal quest to find their limits, they can be enlisted in stupid vainglorious campaigns to defend the honor of warlords and kings and patriarchs who themselves never attained adulthood. And many of these young yeng, of course, needlessly die.”
“That’s what makes a female warrior different from a male warrior,” Ayani says. “Sha is primarily interested in the survival of the people sha protects.”
So Evandr and Ayani fight a noble fighting retreat for many days until the fighting draws nigh to the Gold Beard capital itself, the city of Saharad. At that moment Lady Haziel and har companions are in the city of Gerazan in the far west of the West Lands.
Queen Aurra joins her husband on the field. Sha says, “Look at that, Evandr! Ten times ten thousand arrayed against us! Did you ever see such a host?”
“A large force does not assure the enemy a victory, Aurra. What are the stakes? Kirodiel is fighting to add yet another tax-paying province to hyz empire. But our people can barely make ends meet as it is. Paying the Gerash tribute would kill them. They are fighting to survive.”
“But leading them are the most famous generals and captains on Barbelo!”
“And how did they get so famous, Aurra? By their reckless aggression. If I present our shock troops to them as bait they will rush out to engage them, thinking how this will advance their reputation.”
“But behind them are the best fed and best trained troops in the world!”
“But they aren’t fighting for their wives or cities or farms in the Middle Land, they are fighting to prop up a bankrupt culture and a fragile economy of arms trading. When they see the carnage wrought by our extraordinary force, they will hesitate. And in that moment we will strike with our main force. The Sala army will prevail because it is humble. Our soldiers do not think of self-aggrandizement or the aggrandizement of their leader.”
Once more Evandr’s words ring true, and the captain of Ayani’s forces bring the White Beard patriarch into captivity, but Hovan the son of Kirodiel goes into the camp of Ayani with a squad of Eyes of Thaumiel and releases his father.
And Kirodiel comes once again after Ayani with hyz dwindling army. Their forces clash in the ravine of Anixi, and Ayani is driven down the brook to the plains of Nolesh. Then Countess Ayani, aided by the timely arrival reinforcements commanded by Evandr turns and drives the Gerashi army to the brink of the gorge of Armak.
But for the first time since the invasion the strange Earthwoman Joy comes to the aid of the Gerash forces with dragon fire. And in this battle the chief lieutenant of Kirodiel slays Evandr, but in hyz death throes Evandr sorely wounds this lieutenant in his thigh.
Following the death of Evandr, Queen Aurra, in har grief, sends a curse upon the land such that when any of the soldiers of the White Beards set objects down at night, in the morning they are found to have disappeared.
Lord Kirodiel says the missing goods are not a sign of the power of Chokhmah, but indicate only thieves, and on that point hy is correct. The thieves are a number b’nei elohim tunneling unseen under the ground. Everyone starts keeping their worldly goods and weapons on their own person, but the invaders are steadily impoverished even as they loot the land of the Gold Beards.
These events transpire while Lady Haziel and har diminishing party are crossing the ice bridge to the city of Belen in the land of the Black Beards.
“Queen Aurra,” despairs Countess Ayani, “how can we, numbering only in our thousands, hope to prevail against our enemies numbering in their tens of thousands?”
The Queen says, “A light commando force wreaking havoc behind enemy lines will tie down a much greater force hunting for it. A small army that is still and rested with have the better of a large army that is worn out marching double-time to meet it.”
“But there must be a limit to how small a unit can be before it is ineffective no matter how intelligently it is employed.”
“Too light,” the Queen says with a nod, “and we invite aggression. Too heavy, and our army becomes unwieldy. The excellent commander coordinates the small with the great, the strong with the weak, the eager with the reticent, balancing opposites to obtain the perfect middle way.”
And nothing would have pleased Queen Aurra more than to see har words of encouragement to the Countess hold true, and House Sala waylay the forces of Kirodiel in vengeance for har fallen mate, yet sha can also see there are not enough b’nei elohim to aid har. The very tinders har army cuts to form bulwarks against House Gerash are just so much kindling for the dragon.
Worst of all the queen judges that Kirodiel has assailed har land at a horribly inopportune time when har subjects are fleeing the cities at har earlier command to spread themselves across the entirety of the lands held by House Sala, as was suggested by Lady Haziel. The enemy knows everything har people possesses they have taken with them on the road, and all these possessions are ripe for Kirodiel’s forces to plunder.
Yet Queen Aurra also knows that at a word from har the whole House of Sala would flock into har army; yea, even the yen, the infirm, and the children. Sha foresees the war would grow so bloody that the whole face of the land would be covered with dead bodies, but no one would even take the time to bury them because they would be too busy marching to make more dead bodies, and the land would exceedingly stink. This, sha resolves, would not be.
So Queen Aurra rides across the plains of Nolesh and meet Lord Kirodiel for a parley on the hill of Ronmok, and there the queen negotiates the surrender of har forces for the sake of the lives of har people. And as part of the deal the queen turns over to the forces of House Gerash every seaworthy vessel of the Gold Beards on the river Loenna.
Lord Kirodiel takes the queen captive after the parley, putting har in a wooden cage identical to the one which had once held Haziel. Lord Kirodiel journeys with all hyz remaining forces down the winding river Loenna to the great sea known as Thalury. This voyage takes place even while Haziel is lodging in the castle of the Larund king in the city of Peshast.
Yet Queen Aurra, who still deeply mourns the death of har mate, and finds the indignity of har captivity almost too much to bear, counts House Sala fortunate, since most of the people will now complete their emigration from the cities unmolested by the army of the White Beards. And sha has appointed Countess Ayani to guide them to the new faith communities in har stead.
Two divisions of the Army of Mastema are left in the West Lands to carry out of the occupation of House Bellon. During the invasion of the East Lands, Lord Kirodiel sustains casualties at the hands of House Sala equivalent to a full division. So only a single division, reorganized from the survivors of the original two, remain available for action.
These yeng are put on every boat and ship that can be commandeered from the Gold Beards and they drift down the river Loenna to the great sea named Thalury. Kirodiel hymself embarks on the royal barge and takes the lead position of the expedition, with Queen Aurra confined to a cubical wooden cage on the main deck in somewhat less comfort than sha has come to expect. Yet Kirodiel is not interested in humiliating the queen beyond har basic captivity, and hy does not hold har in a state of undress as hy had once forced Haziel to do.
After the expedition reaches the mouth of the river the prevailing winds suffice to take them halfway across Thalury, but over the whole land of Haaretz is a stagnant air mass created as the winds pile up against the barrier that is the Wall of God, and there the fleet is becalmed. So oars are broken out and distributed to the yeng, and the army begins to row day and night. When they grow fatigued this is remedied by whips.
At length the Gerash expedition rows past the Isle of Avior and Murzi Bog to enter the wide mouth of the river Sabik, and the people of the city of Sadl throng the bank to watch the parade of ships toil upstream. Then, after passing the place where the river Nanki enters from the south, they row through Canterwood, and Yeshua, who has been expecting them, even waves from the beach together with many of hez followers as the White Beard fleet continues on.
Victoria finds Wazol, which is snuggled up against the Wall of God, to be extraordinarily beautiful during the night, and many of the people of Hamar call their city the Queen of Lights. The Hamorites know Haziel well, and take har every vague whim to be their most succinct command. Haziel’s whim at this time is a supply of horses.
Victoria could have flown by herself to the capital of Menkant in a relatively short time, but Haziel wants to maximize the element of surprise, so sha insists everyone go together by land. Victoria has never ridden a horse before, so there is a brief but necessary period of familiarization before they can set out. Baron Bayard finds it within himself to volunteer to hoist Victoria on the animal and in other ways make her ready. One hundred twenty folks begin the journey, but only one hundred nineteen animals are embarked, because Bayard, who is sincerely concerned about Victoria’s inexperience with handling horses, wants them to ride pretty much glued together.
They ride north down the upper reaches of the Sabik, taking most of the day to cover some forty miles, with many stops to rest the horses and rub their own sore asses. Haziel does not rush them at all. The dense forest begins to thin out, and great vistas can be glimpsed through them at last. Haziel calls a halt to that day’s riding.
In the morning when Haziel’s party resume the ride the trail turns to the east away from the river a small distance and ascends a gently rising slope of grasslands where the trees disappear altogether. In the distance ahead, as the sun climbs toward the zenith, the travelers see large herds of cattle grazing, and beyond them, as a short dark line that slowly grows to encompass them, is the city of Menkant itself.
When Menkant was originally platted out the founders prided themselves that they retained the original belief of the House of Israel, which was God as a mighty warrior king, one who didn’t have a son as men have sons, and certainly one who didn’t come as a woman. But belief is only important in the absence of the object of that faith, while on Barbelo the existence of the elohim was a basic physical fact, like gravity or the weather.
Eventually even the Menkalites concede that Haziel really is their God, the same God who spoke to Abraham, and Yeshua really is har son. So when Haziel arrives in Menkant with Baron Bayard, Victoria, and over a hundred Fallen Angels, room is quickly found for all of them. Haziel, Victoria, Bayard, and Ambe Omphal, the senior officer of the surviving Fallen Angels, are invited to stay in the house of the king.
The king dwells nigh to the bank of the river. Thus Haziel and har inner group have a front row seat when the lead ship of the White Beard expeditionary force rows smoothly into position and ties up nigh to the house of the king. Queen Aurra is in her cage on deck as Kirodiel intends, and as Kirodiel also intends, this is what har son focuses upon to the exclusion of all else.
“Baron Bayard Sala,” bellows Lord Kirodiel from the rail of the ship. “Although it pains me to place your mother in such straits as you now behold, I find there is no avoiding it, for I wish to make a simple trade, the common criminal called Haziel for Queen Aurra Sala. What say you, Gold Beard Baron?”
Bayard draws his blade and bellows in reply, “Such a cowardly proposal from one who styles hymself the Patriarch of the oldest family on Barbelo! This yen for that one, as though bartering in serving wenches! I say, rather, that both yen shall go captive, or both shall go free, and that the one yang of us who remains alive, be it yourself, Lord Kirodiel, or me, shall be the one to give the order!”
Kirodiel draws hyz own blade and orders hyz men, “Let the Baron step aboard!” By making this order both hy and all hyz men are held to the terms outlined by the Baron. By the same token, the freedom of Haziel is now conditioned on Bayard prevailing in the personal combat to immediately follow.
A plank of wood is thrown to bridge the gap between ship and land. The Baron fearlessly crosses over the rail and stands on the deck of the royal barge in full view of hyz mother and Lady Haziel and Ambe Omphal and (most important in the mind of Bayard) Victoria.
The Baron salutes the Gerash lord with a sharp military slash vertically downward, and Kirodiel returns hyz salute. Then they start in with fairly standard stuff, just simple thrust and parry from safe distances.
Suddenly, without a word, Kirodiel literally pounces upon hyz challenger, with hyz blade slicing down with bewildering speed. But Bayard has studied well in hyz many practice bouts and especially upon the field of battle. Hy doesn’t fall for this simple trick for an single instant. Hy fends off Kirodiel’s first attack with ease.
So the patriarch attacks again. At each one of hyz parries Bayard feels hy is striking stone. There is simply no give. Hy backs out of range and they begin the usual circling of each other, testing with probing thrusts.
Kirodiel pauses and a sudden oxygen debt forces hym to draw hyz breath in a sharp gasp. Bayard makes hyz own first attack then, a clumsy but forceful pounding of blade-on-blade that starts to wear the White Beard patriarch down.
The auxiliary noises of their fighting are the only sounds to be heard. A resonant back-slide of steel-on-steel and CLASH! Nick, slide, and CLASH! The Baron is moving Kirodiel back now but the Gerash lord’s defenses prove more and more unyielding as Bayard sweeps hym closer to the far rail of the ship.
When hyz back touches the rail Lord Kirodiel unexpectedly counter-attacks with frightening violence. Bayard is a few moments gaining hyz original stance at the cost of a few feet of ground. Bayard tries to prevent Kirodiel from circling around hyz to force hyz own back to the rail.
During the struggle the two combatants speak no word one to the other. Both yeng would have found such a thing far too effete.
Bayard presses an attack. Lord Kirodiel counters with a deft flip of hyz sword down along the back of hyz arm. It becomes a shield allowing hyz arm to bear the brunt of the Baron’s blows.
Kirodiel is well beneath Bayard’s high two-handed thrusts and the Baron realizes, far too late, that hy is dangerously vulnerable to a bloody touch from the Gerash patriarch in the form of an elbow jab with hyz blade’s tip.
First blood to Kirodiel then, who savagely pierces the spleen of Bayard. The Baron sinks to the deck with the shock of hyz wound.
Victoria sees this and flies the short distance over the rail to stand between Lord Kirodiel and his prey, holding the shard of Dragonthorn that is little more than a knife, and would probably shatter against the steel of Kirodiel’s blade anyway.
Joy in turn sees that and moves slowly into view riding Demonstroke, who hovers on great flaps of his wings. At every instant the hellish mouth of the beast is pointed directly at the cage of Queen Aurra.