It was the day following the events in the previous chapter. As Valun emerged from his tent shortly after dawn, he observed that many men were already roused and preparing themselves to march. Pleased, Valun turned and saw David striding toward him.
“I was only seeing that your orders were carried out.”
“I can see as much, and it pleases me well.” The king replied. “If the Brandians mean to offer battle, as their message seemed to show, no doubt they are marching toward us just as we are marching toward them. Now, how would you propose to fight this battle?”
“How would we arrange the men, you mean?”
“This is what I say. I do not doubt that they will expect us to order a cavalry charge to open the combat. If that is the case, we must send the foot soldiers first, for their line will be heavy with pikemen to stop our cavalry. The foot soldiers will charge, and after a short engagement, will fall back. As they do so, our cavalry shall divide and charge both sides of their line, as the remaining infantrymen return to the fray.”
“A simple, sound, plan, my man. But you have not said what you would order our archers to do.”
“That, my lord, would depend upon the land. On flat ground, the archers would be a danger to our own side if placed behind them, and in the way, and in danger themselves if placed in front. On high ground, though, our archers could deal heavy damage.”
“So you would keep five thousand men out of the fighting if the land is flat? That shall not sit well with them, my friend. And do you not expect that the Brandians also will have archers?”
“I do. If they are strong leaders, they will plan as I have, and search out high ground to place their archers upon. If they must, your men seem proficient at rooting enemies out of their positions.”
“Do not expect that. That was done under cover of darkness, and surprise. At this battle, the defenders will be fully aware of our approach.”
“If that is the case, there is nothing more to say on the matter until we have seen our enemy’s position. I shall ready the men to march.”
Nearly an hour had passed before the men were ready. When that time came, Valun sent David away to bring his charger, as he could see that the men were prepared to leave. As he mounted, he added “Call the Valkyries. We ride to battle!” As David turned and rode away on his own steed, Valun rode straight toward his position at the head of the soldiers. Once there, he was surrounded by the Valkyries. In the next moment, David called the orders in Richard’s place.
“Fall in! Standards! March!” With that, the army of Corridane began to march once more.
The force from Corridane marched swiftly and silently, meeting little opposition. Indeed, all Brandians they met turned and ran ahead of them, giving the appearance that they had been ordered only to watch for the approach of Valun and his army.
By the end of the first day, the Corridanes had sighted a forest on the horizon. It seemed to stretch on for miles. The many trees were set so close together that they appeared as an unbroken line from the distance at which Valun and his people stood from them.
Turning to David, who was sitting on his own horse beside the king, Valun remarked “An impressive expanse, is it not?”
“It is, my Lord. Do you wish to travel straight through it?”
“Why not? If one does not know how long either path is, would one not take what appeared to be the more direct route? In our case, the direct route leads straight through that forest. Tell the men they may make camp.”
Early the next day, Valun and his army rose swiftly and began to march toward the forest. Scarcely two hours had passed before they had reached it and entered by a path which seemed to open up before them as they approached.
Valun was several yards along the path when he heard the voice. “Move and you die. What business do you have bringing such a force of armed men through this forest, as if you wished to invade this land?”
After a short pause, Valun replied loudly. “I am King Valun of Corridane! I have come to rescue my father from his unjust imprisonment in your country! And if you mean to offer battle, then come out into the fields and fight like men rather than hiding behind these trees pointing arrows at us unprovoked!”
The voice suddenly broke out into laughter. “Really! Did you expect that the men holding your father captive would be living in a forest? My men and I have enough compassion to live in a castle if we wished to hold such an old man as a captive! But, as you are aware of their presence, there is no reason for us to keep ourselves hidden any longer! Stand down, men!”
Valun immediately began to hear rustling in the tress all around him. When it stopped, nearly thirty archers clad in dark brown or green suits stood before him. Their leader was a man only slightly more than six feet in height who had long golden hair and a beard. He was wearing a green suit and a quiver full of arrows, and holding a strung longbow, just as many of his followers were. He approached Valun, extending a hand to the monarch of Corridane, who remained seated on his mount.
“I welcome you, Valun of Corridane, to my grand realm of Brandia.”
“Are you, then, Meltran the first, king of this land?”
“Yes, I am. Let me introduce you to my court.”
“Introductions can wait for happier times. At the moment, I must ask you this: Why, if you are the king of this land, do you live in a forest, with no more than thirty followers?”
“I was overthrown by ambitious men and exiled. They are not aware that we remain, for any man who strays too close to our forest does not return.”
“Can you help me find my father?”
“I can not help you with that, but I and my men can and will help you fight your battle against the men who threw us out of the castle.”
“Do you have more followers, or are the men before me your whole band?”
“I have more, and I shall bring them along. I was popular to more than only thirty men of my own court.” The King of Brandia, replied, laughing again. “And my men shall serve as your scouts.” He added, before he turned back to his retinue and spoke to them, giving orders to prepare for their departure. Once his men had departed to carry out his orders, Meltran of Brandia turned back to the party of Corridanes and said “I will lead you through this forest myself. The paths are more treacherous than you would wish for a party as large as yours.” With that, he turned and strode away. The startled Corridanes could do nothing but follow behind him, keeping their horses restrained to avoid overtaking their guide.
Valun and his army followed the exiled king of Brandia through the forest, which served as his home, for several hours, hardly making a sound on the soft grass which carpeted the forest floor. Several times, Valun nearly rode off the trail by mistake, before noticing at the last moment that his guide had turned back in the opposite direction.
Before long, they were joined by Meltran’s followers. There were more of them this time, all carrying bows and quivers.
After about two more hours of steady marching, the army finally reached the other side of the forest. Pointing out distant hills which could be seen on the horizon, Meltran told Valun “Our enemies are bound to be positioned on those hills, waiting for you arrival. My men and I will go in advance of your force.”
Before Valun could reply, Meltran and his followers had departed, marching away in the direction of the hills, which the men could see on the horizon.
Unable to remain in one place long enough to wait for the Brandians’ return, Valun, after nearly an hour more, ordered his own men to continue marching toward the hills. They had been marching for nearly two hours before they met Meltran and his men coming back.
“You will be in grave danger if you continue on from here.” Meltran announced as soon as they had come within speaking distance. “The enemy has archers on the hilltops. If you go much farther, your lives are in danger.”
“Our lives are in danger in any case, unless you show us the path which allowed you to observe our enemies unmolested.”
“It is this way.” Meltran replied, turning back the way he had come.
Valun and his guards followed Meltran and his men until they came to a little-used path nearly two hundred yards to the left of the main force. Halfway up the path, Meltran and all of his men stopped momentarily to nock arrows to their bows. They carried them on their left, pointed at the ground, ready to bring up and fire at a moment’s notice. Meltran took advantage of the pause to remind his men for the benefit of the Corridanes “Fire on sight. We can not wait for them to find us.”
Without another word, the whole party continued up the path. After another five minutes of marching, they reached another bend. Here, Meltran held up his hand to order a pause. “The end of the path is around this turn. None may go past this point, or they will be seen. One man at a time may move to the front and fire his shot. Then we must retreat.” After having said this, he raised his own bow and continued on for several feet until he had disappeared around the bend.
He returned several minutes later, his mood visibly brighter. “They keep their heads down so long, one would think they were expecting an invasion!” He began to laugh, and then remembered the situation and quickly fell silent once more, motioning the next man forward.
Nearly half an hour had passed since Meltran’s own shot before the last archer, one of Valun’s own guards, returned to the main party after having successfully fired his shot. Observing his return, Meltran remarked “I trust that we have thinned their ranks somewhat with our enviable aim. We shall have to face them in any case on the morrow.”
As the band of archers made their way back toward the place at which they had left Valun’s army, Meltran momentarily increased his pace until he had come alongside Valun’s mount. Once there, he began to dispense advice in solemn tones. “My men and I know this territory well. Much better, I believe, than our enemies, for otherwise they might have discovered our path. We shall have a hard fight ahead, for they have chosen well in the placement of their men.”
“Why may we not avoid them and continue on our way?”
To this inquiry, Meltran replied “If you attempt to proceed one day farther from the place of your current camp, you could meet your end in an awful manner, having plunged over the edge of the sheer cliffs you would reach. The hills our enemies have placed themselves upon mark this side of the only safe path down to the rest of my country. Doubtless, we will find the remainder of our enemies’ force arrayed at the bottom of the path.”
“Then we may wait for darkness, and make our way down then, when their archers will not see us.”
“You may try that, and it would work well, I am sure,” Meltran answered, quickly checking his counterpart’s impulsive decisions. “But you have not considered that their men will be waiting at the foot of the path for us to come down upon them. Do not think that they will not post sentries.”
“Under cover of darkness, they would not be prepared for our onslaught, even with sentries posted.”
“That is unfair advantage, which a true man would not deign to take. I would urge you, in the name of the honor which brought you here, position your men upon the plain, and fight the battle on fair ground at dawn.”
“If you make it a question of honor, to fight after dawn, instead of taking the advantage we would otherwise have gained, I must admit that I hold myself bound to do that. But we must take the steps necessary to insure that our enemies do not attempt to do the same to us. The single fact that they exiled you should prove that they set little store by honor.”
“You have my thanks. My men and I will stand watch to allow your men the rest they undoubtedly need. Remember. We shall not move before sundown.”
Following this final injunction from Meltran, the two kings parted, preferring to remain among their own people during the remaining hours till dusk.
That night Valun called David to his tent and said “I want you to tell the men that we shall make camp here for three days. They must have time to rest themselves after the hard marching they have been enduring for so many days.”
“It shall be as you say, my Lord.”
Valun spent much of the intervening days visiting with his troops and seeing that they were prepared for the impending combat. But after he had gone up and down the lines for the third time, he began to wish for Meltran’s company once more. Accordingly, he paused long enough, when he had reached David for the fourth time, to order him to ride to the Brandians’ camp to request that the lord Meltran take dinner in the tent of the lord Valun. This David did without reply.