The heat of midday washed over the valley and the smell of blood rolled down its slopes toward the river. On its banks, Rook gathered what remained of the Irregulars.
“I have two platoons, both with heavy casualties, one hundred and eight men between them.” Said Bishop, as he tended to a wound on his shoulder caused by an arrow that managed to pierce part way through the chain mail under his plated armor.
Rook nodded and pointed at another column on the deer hide parchment which held the Brigades nominal roll. “Blaine, what of your company?”
“Decimated, we held the brunt of the attack on the left flank. In numbers, I lost two companies complete. With consolidations I have forty two men ready to fight.”
“How long will this armistice hold?” Asked Bishop.
Rook shook his head. “I'm not sure, the man who called for parlé was not a noble. I suspect their leaders have all been slain and he happens to hold respect among his men.”
“Look ho.” Called Blaine, pointing up the hillside to where he saw two riders.
The other two followed his arm, grins growing on their lips. Rook's smile, however, faded quickly.
“I recognize Les' old nag from any distance, but the other rider ... who is that?”
Bishop peered through the heat waves rising from the grass as the sun boiled away the moisture within. “The horse is wearing Lorick's colors, though the man atop it has an Endry standard blazoned over his breastplate.”
Blaine grunted. “I trust Les. If he rides with an Endrian, he has reason for it.”
“As do I.” Rook added. “Bishop, continue accounting for the men. I will be back shortly.” He handed over the rolls of parchment and left in haste.
“Do you suppose this is trouble?” Asked Blaine.
Bishop shook his head, speaking without letting his eyes leave the parchment. “Brother, has there been a moment when we have not been in trouble?”
Blaine shrugged. “You make a good point.”
Les turned back one last time to gauge the distance between themselves and the advancing troops. The Cavalry was now busy on the hilltop, ending the lives of those left near Stahll's position. He kept his eyes on them until they finally fell below the crest of the hill as he and Luke continued toward the rivers edge.
“There are two riders headed our way.” Luke said.
Les had already noticed them. One he knew was Rook, while the other seemed like an Endrian archer who had found himself a horse. Les was intrigued. He noticed that they seemed to be speaking as they rode, and so the stranger had already garnered himself a morsel of respect, for Rook made time to hear his words.
Soon they met near the bottom of the hill leveled into a grassland before turning to swamp at the rivers banks.
The wildlife was heavy in the tall grass and nearby reeds. The pummel of the horse's hooves left a wake of birds taking flight and insects leaping from blades of grass to avoid what they perceived as danger.
Rook and the unknown rider passed the two incoming men to circle behind them, joining them as they moved toward the riverside. It was then that he noticed the man on the back of the Endrian's mount.
“Is that him?” He asked, as he came alongside Les.
“It is. I'm not sure how badly wounded he is yet.”
“Regardless, I am at least glad to see that you were able to retrieve him.”
“Thank him, not me.” Les said, pointing to the Knight.”
Rook saluted the man. “I am Rook. You are?”
“Luke Terrace, Lord of Jesba, a small hamlet north of the river fork. Though I only recently inherited the holding from my father. It will no doubt be bestowed onto Mordymon Lords before long. I have watched Hadrian's subjugation of the Kestrel Coast, and now that its last free state …” Luke stopped himself, chuckling awkwardly at the thought of Endry being called a free state. “Now that its last free state is under Mordymon rule, its lands and resources will be pooled as all others have been.”
Les smiled. “How did you know that Hadrian was after Endry by proxy?”
“Only a fool like Stahll could think that a man like Hadrian would favor him for the liking of his personal qualities alone. I knew Hadrian had ties to the Empire, but had no idea how powerful he truly was amongst their ranks. I only became aware of his vast titles in the east after the war had broken out with the northern clans. Once that knowledge came to my attention, there was no doubt that Hadrian was using the clans to make Stahll weak.” Luke shook his head. “I have to say though, I had no idea that your Irregulars were working for him all along.”
Les furrowed his brow. “Melchior is not a greedy man. When he can change the world for the better, he tries. You must know that in this case however, it was the choice between the better of two evils. Stahll -”
“You have no need to explain Stahll to me.” Luke said, shaking his head. “I've lived under his rule my whole life. I know of his treachery and I can't even explain the relief that washed over me when I watched his head part his body.”
“Then we have common ground.” Rook said.
Les leaned to see the fourth rider. “And you?” He asked, “What might your name be?”
“With all due respect.” Began the aged and gray bearded man; his words rasping through a coarse throat. “I hold no title, nor do I have anything to add to the current topic. I'd rather move the point of conversation toward the present. I am Kalder, and I have taken the risk of treason to fashion a truce between our forces. Now, with what has been said, I know I have little need to fear reprisal. With Stahll dead though, there is very little left in way of options.”
Luke turned to the man. “I honor your wisdom Kalder, you have done the right thing. I am to assume that there are no Captains left alive. Is this correct?”
“Aye, Lord Terrace. They have all been slain by the Irregulars.” Kalder said, peering at Rook and Les with a pang of uneasiness in his eyes.
“Then you are now my Captain, Kalder.”
“I would be honored.” Said the man, bowing to Luke.
“Ride ahead, as I cannot move too quickly for fear of Melchior falling from the horse. Rally what is left of our men. I must speak with them.”
Les nodded. “I will gather the Irregulars and we will meet in rank along the riverside.”
“Les.” Luke said. “Let me go with you, to speak to your men first. They need an Endrian face to trust before we join forces. If I arrive carrying Melchior, they will at least have that foundation to build on.”
Les nodded. “Your thoughts are sound.” He looked over to Rook. “What do you say?”
“I think it is wise. Our men have lost good friends, and some undoubtedly yearn for revenge. It will be difficult to successfully merge the two together.”
Les' eyes dropped to the jet blade in Luke's hand. “For our sake, let's hope it is not too difficult.”