Having slept only fitfully, that is, not at all, Valun, loath to spend anymore time than necessary in a tent, emerged at dawn only to find that Meltran had roused his followers long since. Seeing him, several men moved forward to strike Valun’s tent for him. As they did so, Meltran approached to speak with him.
“Did you sleep well?”
“One could say that, but it would be a lie.”
“Your defeat still riles your conscience?”
“Then my advice to you is to go back where you came from, and take your tent with you.” Stepping back, Meltran struggled to suppress a grin at Valun’s horrified expression.
“Go back I where I came from? With a tent on my back? Me?!”
“Of course. It’s your tent. I sent for it from your men before you ordered them to leave, knowing how important the completion of your quest would be to you.” Unable to hold it back any longer, Meltran broke into laughter, saying “Come now. Admit that you will never finish this quest until you stop feeling that the whole world is against you.”
“What-How- Why do you say that of me?”
“I see it. Your eyes betray you. Your eyes are always moving, looking out for danger that isn’t here because you are worried that someone is trying to finish you.”
Pausing for a moment, Valun realized that this was true. It had become a habit. Instead of looking directly and steadily at Meltran, he was constantly trying to look beyond the Brandian lord in every direction possible without turning.
“You have a special servant, even on the march. You have a force of men who have sworn to protect every step you take. Why would you do this if you truly trusted those who deserve your trust? If you do not soon learn to trust your people, you will lose their trust, begin to hate them for it, and soon become the sort of cruel ruler you truly fear becoming. Stop and look at me!” Meltran shouted these last words angrily, causing everyone, including Valun, to stare straight at him. A moment later, to the surprise of all present, Valun simply keeled over on his back, falling with a thud on the soft grass.
Moving closer, Meltran saw that the Corridane’s eyes had taken on a glazed look. Reaching down toward one of Valun’s hands, the Brandian saw it twitch to avoid him. Turning away, he called to his men “The lord Valun is alive, but in a trance. We can not move yet. Raise the tent once more and place him within it.” Gesturing over his shoulder at the band of men riding toward the camp, he added “And someone assure those men that no harm not of his own making has come to their ward.” To himself, he added “If his enemies could see him now. All they have to do is shout at him.”
Some time later, Valun, who had hardly noticed his surroundings after going into shock, and had fallen into a deep sleep almost immediately after coming out of it, awoke to find himself, as we know, in his tent. He lay still for a few moments, trying to recollect why he found himself there once more. He knew he had risen earlier. Had a whole day passed, from dawn to dusk, already? Still unsure, he rose and stepped outside to discover the truth.
As he stood there, squinting in the bright sunlight, a man approached him, stopping a few feet away. Valun received another surprise; the man was quite obviously a Corridane.
“Are you well, my lord?”
“Do I look unwell?-What are you doing here, anyway? I sent you home.”
“No, but some Brandians told me-“
“Never mind what any Brandians told you, why are you here?!”
“I, and my comrades, are here, my lord, by order of your aide, and because we wish to fulfill our oath. We swore to be more willing than any other of your subjects to give our lives in your defense. We can not stay true to our word out of your sight.”
“But the army? Are the rest of them still going home, as I ordered them?”
:”I regret to say they are not. You see, yesterday, after we had once more reached the top of the cliffs, we soon fell in with thousands of new men, who were eager to prove their loyalty.”
“Prove their loyalty? Was not Sir Richard at their head?”
“No, my lord. These men came from Carribeasa. Since meeting them, your man has turned them back this way in your name. He appears to think that you still wish to win the battle.”
“I am not here to fight battles. I am here to find two men, dead or alive.”
Meltran, who had been standing at a little distance from the two Corridanes while listening to them speak, now came forward and spoke. “Valun! Have you forgotten what you wrote in the letter that was meant for my palace? You wrote then that a failure to return your people to you would be considered a declaration of war. There is no denying it. You do want to fight battles. You wished to then, and you still wish to. Go! Call for your horse and your armor, and spend your wrath on those who have insulted us both! They are still there! Perhaps, if you are fortunate, you may even capture someone who knows the answer you are seeking. Go! Where there are strength and wisdom, justice will prevail. Where there is one without the other, all is lost. You have the strength once more. Go find the wisdom!” With that, Meltran turned away, not deigning to even acknowledge anyone else’s presence.
By this time, the rest of Valun’s army had caught up with their fellow. Anticipating Valun’s wants, they had brought his horse and armor along with them. In a short time, Valun was fully armed and mounted upon his horse once more. He snatched at the reins. “Well? We are not here to remain in the background and watch the slaughter like judges! Come now!” Urging his mount forward, Valun rode to meet his returning men. The men lessened their speed at his approach. Furious, he called to them “No! There is no time for stopping now! See, they are waiting! Charge with me now, and let no man falter in his step! Onward, Corridanes!”
Turning his horse, Valun galloped far ahead of his men, his sword raised as if he were carrying a banner rather than a blade. His great speed gave his falcon headpiece, the wings of which were outstretched, the appearance of launching away altogether. The Valkyries, who had been caught unawares by their lord’s sudden charge, galloped anxiously after him, as he had made himself a mark to every Brandian bow. In fact, only moments before they could reach him, a hail of arrows were unleashed. Most missed, but one came so close that it would have killed the bird, which was torn clean off of the king’s helm to land several feet in the rear.
A moment later, Valun laid low the man who had slain the emblem of his house. The battle was joined once more.
This second clash of the two armies proved to be even more chaotic and brutal than the first had been. Valun, refusing pleas from his men to fall back for his own safety, plunged recklessly into the midst of the Brandian forces. After a few tense moments, however, the Valkyries were able to push their way through to his side and surround their lord.
Breathing heavily, Valun leaned forward, grateful that his charger was still able to hold it’s own head up, unlike it’s master.
Perceiving the death-cry of a Valkyrie swordsman as he fell to the ground slain, Valun looked up. For a moment that seemed to last an age, he stared at the man standing not six feet away. In the next instant, he cried to the archers standing on either side "Stay your hands! You others, capture that man alive and bring him to me! Alive, I say! You may die if you do not!"
Wasting no time, three of the swordsmen and one lancer charged off into the melee.
Turning to those who remained, Valun said "Come. We will await their return close by the lord Meltran's camp." Accordingly, Valun and his four remaining men turned and fought their way back to the outskirts of the battle, and from there made their way to a small rise not far from the camp of Meltran and his followers. At the word, the men planted one of Valun's standards at the highest point, so that all would see it, to take heart or lose it, as their loyalty dictated.
After a few moments of silence, as the air rang with the sounds of clashing metal, battle-cries, and death agonies, Valun turned to his companions once more and said "I desire to know whether my commanders also remain alive. I am afraid I must order that you go in search of them. But do not let them leave their men!"
The two remaining horsemen saluted and galloped off. Now, for the first time that day, Valun was able to observe the battle, the vast majority of which had been some distance from him. It took careful combing of the frenzied scene before he was finally able to spot one of his own banners; evidently several of the standard bearers had already fallen. Valun felt sure that where he had found one, he would soon spot the others, and his confidence was not in vain. In a few moments, he had spotted two more scarlet banners. His attention was soon brought back to the first he had spotted, though, as it had suddenly begun to sway wildly from side to side. Someone clearly meant to attract everyone else's attention. Seeing this, Valun optimistically decided that one of his commanders was signaling his survival. The king became doubly sure of this when the banner farthest from him began to behave in the same manner, and then abruptly stopped after a few moments.
Valun, satisfied at the nature of the signal, indicated to his remaining two guards that they should do the same. This done, he said "One of you make your way to the lord Meltran's position and ask that he return here with you."
Without waiting for further speech from his king, one of the men, who had noted the Brandians' position earlier, sprinted off.
It was not long before Meltran himself appeared beside Valun on the crest of the hill, having easily outdistanced the messenger. A few more moments passed in silence, which Meltran broke. "Ah, I have not run so swiftly since I was but a page. I was told you desire speech with me?"
"Yes. In deference to the wisdom that comes with age, as you asked me to do, I ask you what you see and what you would do."
"I see a desperate battle of desperate men. I say that if I commanded the army which is on the field now, I would order a retreat of the left flank, which is closest to the cliffs. And now I would ask you something: where are your archers?"
"Truth be told, I do not know."
"Folly! Folly! Pull your men back! Pull them back, I say!"
"Every man, or the left flank only as you said before?"
There was a pause. "The flank only. I see your man's plan now. Cruel it would seem, but it may very well end the battle. You may move to order your men to fall back, but if you do not do it soon, your commander will order the move of his own accord."
A pause. "Ah, I see what you mean. It is the only thing to do. We will wait. My man is clearly deserving of more credit than I give him."
Pointing toward the banner farthest from the lords, Meltran recalled Valun's attention to it. "Look. Away on the left flank. Your man has made his move. He pulls his men back. It is a dignified retreat, still. Clearly strategic only. I wonder that Damerson does not see it. Your man hopes for a stream of foes, whom, you see, he will push against the rocks if all goes well."
The commander in question, David, was not at liberty to elaborate on his plans himself, being in the midst of the battle, but it was as if Meltran had read his mind. Close by the center of the line, alongside the standard, he rallied his men.
"Hold the line! Let there be no break now, at the point of all! Every man of you gave your word to follow the sword and anvil! Those that step back now forfeit themselves to judgment! Hold the line, for your own glory, for the glory of your land, and the glory of your name forever more! Your sons will say 'My father fought at the cliffs' and ever hold their heads higher for the fact! Stand now! They come!"
Damerson's hesitation had broken; he had given the word to broach the attack with new vengeance.