Part XXVII--The Song of War

Submitted by Heather on Sun, 10/03/2010 - 19:07

The attack came swiftly, soon after Varian and Solvar had gone back up on the wall. The men had sen nothing, but a dragon had suddenly reared from sleep and shrieked, "They are coming!"
Varian grabbed the wall and leaned over it, straining his eyes into the darkness. The river rippled calmly in the moonlight and the stretch of land beteen it and the fortress looked deserted.
"I cannae see anythin'," he whispered to Solvar.
Solvar's hand tightened on the battlement. "Look at the river. I dinnae think it looks right."
Varian squinted. The water sparkled darkly in the light. Then he licked his lips. Solvar was right—the surface of the water did look strange. If he looked hard enough, he could see ripples moving the wrong up, upriver.
"They're swimmin' through the river," Solvar shouted. "Archers, fire into the river!"
Th word passed up and down the wall. Archers rushed forward and took their stations. Varian and Solvar dropped back to give them room.
"The river?" Dulcan stepped up to them. "Are ye sure?"
Solvar held up one hand. Everything was quiet. The arrows rushed from the bows like twigs rattling in the wind. Cries of pain followed their flight. Solvar looked at Dulcan.
The swordsmith nodded. "Aye. Keep firin' into the river, men. Look for their comin'!"
"What defenses did ye set up in the grass?" Varian asked.
"Oh, pits under the grass, stakes, the typical things. And a few holes with pitch, ready to provide us with some light."
Varian smiled. "That's a great idea, Dulcan."
"Eh, it's been an old one in my family for years. Donnae make too much of it."
"Has Jokk been seen yet?" Mykale interrupted.
"Nae," Varian said.
Mykale grunted. "Aye, well—what should the other walls do then? There's no attack as of yet."
"Keep a watch," Dulcan said. "But be ready to come help us with this wall as soon as we call."
"Right. We will." Mykale ran down the wall, shouting encouragement to the archers.
"The lairds donnae like bein' led by two boys and a smith," Dulcan chuckled. "Och, they'll just have to get used to it for now. Though I wonder where Jokk is."
"Seems to—" Solvar started.
"Duck!" someone yelled.
Varian threw his himself to the floor and wrapped his arms around his head. Flaming arrows broke through the sky above them. He heard them snapping and breaking on the wall and the ground. Some men cried out, and a body toppled onto his back.
Varian sat up and shoved the man off. He looked down. The soldier had a deep gash in his side from an arrow. "Can ye get up, man?"
"Aye. I'd best get to the infirmary." The soldier staggered away.
"How are they lightin' the arrows?" Varian shouted.
One of the archers peeked over the wall, then looked at him. "Donnae know, sir. They pull them from the quivers and it seems to spring to light in their hands."
Varian glanced at Solvar and Jokk, who were also huddled against the wall. "Danilos, d'ye think?" he asked.
"Another wave!"
Again they curled up tight as the flames whooshed over their heads. This time, no one fell. But another cry rose from within the walls.
"Fire! The stables are on fire!"
"Curse Danilos' stubborn hide!" Dulcan darted down the stairs. They heard his rough voice bellowing orders for water and buckets.
Fleet's head snaked up and rested on Varian's shoulder. "What do you want me to do?" he asked.
"Stay out of the way of the arrows until its dawn. Then I'll ride ye." Varian caught up a discarded bow. What can we do? We can return fire, but they can see us better on the walltop than we can see them in the grass, even with the moon as bright as it is. We need to fire the pitch.
He got to his feet and ran, crouching, behind the row of archers who stood, fired, and dropped again. At the corner of the wall sat a squat turret, large enough for a circle of ten men to sit around comfortably. A fire burned in a pit in the middle. Varian crouched beside it, tore a strip from his sleeve, and wrapped it around an arrow head.
"Varian," Solvar whispered behind him. He gestured to a stack of quivers. "Those are wrapped and oiled already. Your arrow willnae last long enough to reach the pitch."
Varian nodded and grabbed one of the prepared arrows. He found a gap in the archers, thrust his arrow into the fire, and leaped to the wall. He aimed at one of the dark pits pocking the field's surface. As he released the arrow, he could see the shapes of men in the grass, some raising bows with flickering fire-arrows nocked.
He ducked as another volley rattled overhead, then peeked over the wall. One of the pits blazed with orange flames, lighting up the field around it. Other archers had already caught onto his plan. The closest ones snatched up fire-arrows, lit them, and fired. Other pits sprang into flame throughout the field. The Lowlander army was caught in the open.
Varian could see more men massing at the river's edge. They were pushed back by the archers who had advanced—those that made it despite the Highlander arrows that nipped their heels.
Men cheered and shook their fists at the fleeing Lowlanders. Then they started down to see if they could help with the stable fire.
Solvar caught Varian's eyes. "Do ye think they'll stop for the night?"
"Aye." Varian wiped his face. "Those fields are too exposed for them now. They'll wait until daylight."
Dawn came all too soon. Varian stood in the courtyard, hugging Fleet's saddle to his stomach. The courtyard could only hold so many dragons at once, and the soldiers were busily saddling one in every available space. Then they would duck out of the castle's rear gates to await the coming battle.
"Varian!" Tikah shouted behind him.
"Good morning," he said quietly.
Tikah's face was smudged with ash. "I helped put out the fire last night."
Varian nodded. He had too. He felt like soot was ground into his skin and eyes. "It's going to be a long battle."
"I know. But I would ask, could you try to keep Mel near you? I'm worried for him." Tikah shrugged. "You're the only one I knew to ask."
Varian smiled and squeezed her shoulder. "Thanks for askin'. I'l be in the air, but I'll keep and eye on him. And I think Dulcan's plannin' to fight by his side."
"Oh good. Thank you. Mel's the only family I have, you know—I just didn't—" Tikah stopped and tried to smile. "Well, I won't think about it. I'll just trust that you and Dulcan can take good care of him."
"We'll try. Be careful yerself, all right?"
Tikah nodded and disappeared into the infirmary. Varian slung his quoroni, sword and javelin sheath over his back, then hefted the saddle to his hip. He squeezed out of the rear gate between two dragon riders.
Fleet and Rosebreath were curled on the ground not far away, probably in the same space that they had slept. As Varian watched, an older female dragon came up to them and said something, then nuzzled Fleet's shoulder. Varian's throat tightened and he sighed.
He hated this. Hated the goodbyes and the tears that accompanied leaving soldiers. Hated the wails of despair when some of those soldiers didn't return. There would be many of those before this was over—and from both countries that he loved.
He pushed the thoughts away as he walked. Soon he was standing close to Fleet. The dragons hadn't seen him yet. They were just sitting together, enjoying a bit of time bfore the world imploded around them. Then Fleet spotted him.
"I suppose it is up to the skies and into battle," he said, rising.
Varian flung the sadle over Fleet's neck. "Aye."
"Do you know when the attack will sart?" Fleet's mother asked.
"I expect any moment. Danilos isnae goin' to sit around."
"Well, brother, watch yourself and do not dive into any spearheads," Rosebreath said, trying to keep her voice light.
Fleet smiled. "I will be careful. You be careful yourself, and keep your rider out of trouble."
Varian mounted and turned to Rosebreath. "Aye," he said. "And if the battle turns against us—"
"Right, we have been told what to do," Rosebreath said quietly. "Get the survivors, fly to the hills."
A horn blared. The dragon riders all started, then with a flurry of wings the mounted ones took off. The others scrambled onto their mounts, shouting as they readied for battle. Varian wrapped one hand around the saddle.
"Varian! Come on!" Solvar shouted above him.
Fleet leapt into the air and he and Goldtongue flew side by side, over the castle. Varian looked down and saw Kearah running to the battlements. She looked up and waved to them. Varian heard the horn again and looked ahead.
Lines of silver armor glittered in the clear water of the river. Varian and Solvar landed on the plain with the other dragon riders. The rising sun washed everything with a pale gold sheen.
Solvar gulped. "I'll tell ye somethin', Varian, if ye promise to keep it a secret."
Varian nodded. "Aye, ye know I will."
"Well, my sister could face this chargin' horde with more courage than me. I wish I was a dragon kit so I could bury my head in the sand til it was all over."
Varian laughed and smacked his shoulder. "Donnae we all!"
"Look!" someone shouted. "Ye can see their dragons!"
Gasps rippled over the crowd of warriors. At the back of the Lowlander army there rose a many colored cloud. Everyone could see that it contained dragons—many dragons. A quick guess allowed Varian to see that the Lowlander dragon army was almost as numerous as their own. He bit his lip.
"Do ye see what I'm seein'?" Solvar hissed.
Varian squinted at the quickly approaching dragons, then looked down the line of standing standing beside him. The predominant color of the Highlander dragons was now silver—the silver of their light plate armor. You could still see their individual colors, but it didn't catch the eye the way the colors of the Lowlander dragons did. They flashed as many colors as a pile of jewels in the light. There was no silver among them.
"But—can Danilos really not know that dragons have weak spots? That they need the armor to cover those weak spots?" Varian hissed.
Solvar grinned. "I think our enemy just made his first mistake."
"When do we charge, sir?" another dragonrider asked.
Varian looked behind him. Dulcan stood beside Kearah on the wall. He nodded. "Dulcan says now."
Solvar set his teeth. "Then let's do it now." He swept his quoroni up. "This day, this hour, we fight for Hope, for country, and for God. Let's show the fools what we think of them!"
Fleet lunged forward, running low to the ground, his armor clanking. Some of the dragons behind took immediately to the sky. Others followed Fleet. Varian bent low, grabbed a javelin, and whipped his arm up and around. The smooth wooden shaft whispered over his palm as he released it. It slammed into a man crawling up from the river, and at the same time he felt Fleet lift from the ground.
In a flurry of wings, they were aloft and facing the enemy. The Lowlander dragons were close now. Varian spared a glance back to the castle and saw Dulcan order the first volley of arrows toward the river. All the Highlander dragons spread out, some low, some high, to face the Lowlanders. Their tails and noses quivered, and their riders all drew weapons and gripped them with white knuckles.
Then the Lowlander dragons were among them.
Fleet dropped, allowing a dragon to zip overhead. Varian ran his sword along its belly scales, holding it tight with both hands. The scales rattled and made the sword skip wildly about, then Varian felt a give and his sword bit flesh.
The dragon shrieked and twisted away, wounded. Varian nudged Fleet's side and they dove into the wild, turning fray. He swayed from side to side as Fleet dodged a shower of arrows. Some of them zipped by so close that he could feel their wind in his air.
His entire life was caught up in the battle. There was nothing but dodging claws and arrows and riders' weapons; nothing but clenching his legs tight around the grips and praying he didn't fall off durig one of Fleet's wild spins; nothing but yells and screams, shrieks torn from wounded throats, the clanging of metal upon metal, the harsh crunch of bones.
Varian hacked at a wing and missed. But the dragon was gone before he could get in another blow. Everywhere dragons swooped and bellowed. The air was a turning mass of scaly bodies and flying weapons.
"Fleet, let's check on the wall," he said.
Fleet dropped out of the fight and banked left. Much of the Lowlander army had reached the walls. They could see war ladders being raised, despite the opposition on the wall. One had even reached the top, and there was a thick struggle going on around it.
Fleet started for the fortress. "Let's have some fun with those war ladders," he said.
Varian grinned. "Go for it!"
Fleet flew low, the plate armor of the Lowlanders skimming underneath his belly in head-spinning flickers. Varian tucked his sword close and leaned down against Fleet's neck. The fortress wall was approaching quickly. Varian flicked his hair out of his eyes, feeling his stomach involuntarily tighten. He ignored it and trusted Fleet.
At the last second Fleet turned up and sideways, bouncing his feet ligtly against the wall. He skimmed the top of the wall and held one claw. Lowlanders yelped and scrambled out of the way as the ropes snapped and popped. Then Fleet angled up again. His sides shook with laughter.
The ladders swayed and toppled, splintering on the ground. The Highlanders raised their fists and cheered as Fleet turned back to the plains.
They were almost back to the cloud of dragons when Varian heard a familiar whump-whump sound. He looked behind them and caught a glimpse of a dark belly, outstretched claws glistening with blood in the sunlight.
"Fleet!" he shouted.
Fleet started and dropped just a fraction in the air. Varian wrapped his arms around Fleet's neck, and the dragon's claws snapped just where his head had been. Fleet dove and Varian sat up, twisting to see who had attacked him.
He recognized the dark green beast instantly. "That was Darkfang," he whispered.
Fleet jerked to a halt and looked back. Darkfang hovered in the air, his front claws clicking, daring them to come back. Varian looked at his rider and shivered.
Danilos' black eyes stood out even at this distance. His gaze was hard, ruthless.
Varian shifted his grip on his sword. Rage bubbled up inside his chest. Suddenly he was no longer calm and detached, as he'd been throughout the battle. He wanted to feel Danilos' blood on his sword. He wanted to see this man die.
Darkfang trumpeted out a challenge. Varian shook himself, trying to clear his mind from the mist red curtain that held it. He had to keep his head. He couldn't attack Danilos—not unless he had control of his mind. He took a deep, calming breath.
"What do you think?" Fleet asked.
Varian nodded. "Go for it."
Fleet threw his head back and a long, wordless bellow rippled from his throat. His wings thrummed through the air. Varian bent low to Fleet's neck and shifted his grip on his sword. Darkfang grinned.
They darted across the sky. The wind whipping into his eyes made them sting. Varian reached to the front of the saddle and wormed his hand between Fleet's neck and a leather strap. He pulled in a deep breath, and they were upon Darkfang.
Fleet bellowed again and his claws whistled through the air. Varian's head snapped back with the impact. The dragons scrabbled and clawed at each other, wings beating frantically to keep themselves aloft. Varian glanced around Fleet's neck. Danilos was staring at him, smiling. A chill coursed down Varian's neck.
Fleet tore free from Darkfang's claws, blood dripping down his foreleg. He climbed into the sky and hovered above them, panting. Then he twisted into a dive, folding his wings flat against his flanks. Varian lashed out with his sword as they turned upside-down over Danilos' head. Danilos' sword flickered out in answer. The tips of the swords clanged together.
Fleet made three more passes, each one closer. Darkfang snarled and turned, striking at them, but Fleet was quicker and always managed to avoid his brother's extended claws.
At the last pass, Varian swung his sword as hard as he could. His hilt locked with Danilos', and for an instance he felt the sorcerer's sword give. Then a shock rippled up Varian's arm, and his sword blasted out of his hand.
He watched it spiral to the ground, feeling sick. Another shock hit both of them, and Fleet screamed. Varian felt heat, and saw flames licking at the Fleet's wing joint. Varian slapped at the flames, feeling their heat even through his leather gloves. Fleet landed, his neck writhing as he struggled to lick the injured spot.
"I thought ye were fireproof!" he said.
"Not from sorcery-flames." Fleet snarled. He looked up and suddenly twisted into a roll.
Varian jumped from his saddle, tucked his head, and executed a near-perfect somersault. He scrambled to his feet and looked for his sword. Darkfang's claws whistled over his head and he dropped, rolling away from the dragon.
Fleet's claws nipped his tunic and threw him out of the way of Darkfang's gnashing teeth. Varian landed hard on his back. The two dragons rose on their hind legs, their claws lockd on each other's shoulders, butting their heads together. Danilos clung to Darkfang's neck, laughing.
Varian sprinted to Fleet's side, wrenched a javelin free, and jumped back as the two dragons teetered. He flung the javelin up, but at the least moment Darkfang moved, and the javelin only grazed Danilos' neck. It was enough.
The sorcerer looked down at Varian, his eyes blazing. He raised his hands, flames jumping from finger to finger. Varian twisted, searching for a shield, anything he could use to block the sorcery flames. If Fleet had been burned, he knew he'd be shriveled to coals.
A deep-throated song burst through the noise of battle. Danilos turned, and Varian followed his gaze slower. A huge, black, riderless dragon hurtled out of the sky, his voice raised in song. He was followed by a smaller dragon with a rider.
"Archflame!" Varian threw his clenched fist up. "The Great Dragon returns!"
Somehow, his shout carried. It rolled over the battlefield, and Lowlanders looked up in shock and panic. The Highlander men raised their fists, yelling. The dragons, even as they fought, joined in Archflame's triumphant song. It was a recognizable tune, the war march that they had sung on the way to the River Fortress. Varian scrambled on Fleet's back, his throat raw with shouting.
Archflame landed in the middle of the plain. His claws and tail sent men rolling, and his fiery breath hissed over the field.
The Lowlander soldiers dropped their weapons and ran.
The Highlanders shouted and dashed from the fortress in pursuit.
"No!" Danilos screamed. "You cowards! You fools! Fight, fight for your lives before I flay the hides from every one of you!"
His voice seemed to die and fade as soon as the words left his lips. His head snapped back and forth, watching his army disintegrate. Then he turned to Varian, his eyes turning with a black flame. Varian reached down and drew a javelin. But Danilos didn't charge. Instead, he lifted his arms and began speaking in a strange, harsh tongue. Varian felt the words knife into his soul.
"Get out of here!" he muttered to Fleet.
Fleet whirled and started away. Varian looked over his shoulder. Billows of fire were sputtering to life in Danilos' cuppd hands.
"Faster, Fleet!"
A howl sounded above them, and Varian saw a dragon and rider dive into Darkfang. Danilos jarred to the side, and the flames disappeared. The intertwined dragons tumbled to the earth. Immediately they rose and began circling.
"That is Flameclaw!" Fleet said.
Jokk stumbled to his feet and threw them a glance. "Varian! Go find yer brother!" He ducked under Danilos' fierce attack and returned with a hefty cut from his quoroni. "Go find Jevran!"
Varian nudged Fleet's side. "Let's go."
"But, what about—"
"They can handle the rest. Let's do as Jokk says!"

Author's age when written


Archflame and Jokk back just in time, and now Varian's off to get Jevran. *happy bounce*

Question: why didn't Varian just throw that javelin at Danilos when he started casting that spell at the end? Range?

...Danilos for once is not getting his way.

"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

*peeks from behind fingers with darting eyes and gasps for breath* Is it over yet? 

That was epic!! I'm so excited for the rest!

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief