“You have wronged me. You have betrayed Endry, and you have forsaken yourself and your men to banishment from my lands!”
Melchior grinned. He leaned forward against the horn of his saddle and rested his chin in his hand; allowing the rant to continue a moment.
“Three years you've been under my command, you villainous dog! Do you have any idea what you've done?” Stahll shouted, spittle flinging from his lips as he clenched his teeth in sheer outrage.“You've just-”
Melchior shot his hand out and spoke over the General. “As I see it, General Stahll, I've just effectively blocked the only north western egress route that offers you any sort of cover from Thomias' archers.
“Melchior, I am the Duke of Glenndale, not your peer or friend and you are never to refer to me in such a manner. Know your place. Get back to the line and await my commands.”
“With all due respect Thomias, I'm not your puppet. You're well aware of who I owe my allegiances to.”
Anger burned in the Duke's eyes, and his chest bellowed beneath his armor. “You will regret your insubordination.”
“I should have killed you when I had the chance.” Stahll interjected pointing indignantly toward Melchior. “You should not let that chance pass you by.” He said to the Duke. “I'm finished with this debacle. Prepare yourselves, there will be no quarter.”
“Likewise.” rebutted the Duke.
“Guillhem!” shouted Melchior as his party began to retire. He waited for the General to peer over his shoulder. When their eyes met, he shot his fist toward Stahll, stuck his thumb out and then slowly dragged it along his throat from ear to ear.
“Melchior!” Shouted the Duke.
Melchior turned abruptly toward Thomias. “Shut up old man, your usefulness has almost run out.” He said, before digging his heels into the sides of his courser and breaking into a gallop.
When they reached the front of the northern clans formation, Melchior broke off from the Duke's entourage and made for the three cavalrymen on the right flank. It was not difficult to miss them as they all stood beyond the front of the line without any semblance of formation.
“Gentlemen.” Melchior greeted, riding into the small assembly.
Les shook his head.“I could hear the yelling from here.”
Melchior spun his courser around as he searched the small band of men. “Where's Rook?”
A leather bound man rose his hand. “He stayed on the egress.”
“Aye, Blaine speaks the truth. We told him you had asked for us here, but he didn't want to leave his company. Bishop even tried to bribe him with a secret behind one of his magic tricks. Alas, he'd have none of it.”
Melchior shook his head. “That wretch never listens to me.”
Bishop threw his head toward the empty field before them. “It begins.”
The four looked on as flags rose high above the troops and all movement ceased.
Melchior peered over his shoulder and watched the northern clans mirror the act.
Silence ensued as they awaited the bugle call.
Men stared toward the battlefield and played through their minds the moments that would soon befall them. A million thoughts raced through the formations on either side. So many thoughts that if it were possible to hear them all; the clouds above would part; the grass below would have its roots torn from the soil; the world would tremble with the collective fear and anxiety of ten thousand men; all staring death in the face.
It was a battle all on its own, waged without a single sound, within their souls. If there was one thing that brought all warriors together, it was this: the inner conflict that every man must face in the presence of his own end.
Within those seven minutes of silence, they were a brotherhood. Both sides, regardless of reason, want or rivalry. They belonged now, and forever, to the ranks of those who set their lives aside for something greater than themselves.
Melchior was not immune. He felt the sweat in his palms, the racing of his heart and the fear tearing at the back of his mind like a trapped rat. He closed his eyes and took the wind on his cheek; drew in a deep breath and performed the ritual his father taught him when facing this dreadful moment. His eyes opened slowly, and he gazed upon the battlefield anew. A simple sentence crept quietly between his chapped lips.