Raspil, the land lying far to the west of Kellahn, and ruled by Gaeren Banish, takes three days to reach with an army marching on foot. They’re a mix of different men and women from most of the allied armies. Most of the volunteers came from Whitner, Valta, and Linbodi. The other allied groups provided fewer volunteers, but Farrow’s animal tamers and Tayli’s Shadow Watchers all remained behind. The former wanted to keep the animals ready for the main war while the latter was restricted due to the deal made between Deven and Tayli.
The group with Ime is enough for what he has planned.
The dry, barren plains of Kellahn change to lush, rolling green hills. Trees grow in patches and the weather cools. The sky fills with clouds, making the land dark even with the sun high in the sky. A light rain falls to the ground, a welcomed reprieve from the dryness of the land behind.
The numerous towns and villages the armies pass are filled with people. They watch the marching men move by their homes in silence. Though some wear concerned expressions.
Sitting on the top of a particular high hill is Gaeren’s castle surrounded by a well-sized town. Two walls can be seen, one made of thick logs around the town and the other of stone protecting the castle.
No people can be seen walking in the town, but men line the stone wall of the castle. A horn rings out and a gate opens. A large number of men appear from inside the castle, moving quickly through the town into formation outside of the logged wall.
Ime motions the army to stop and his eyes search the wall of men for any sign of Gaeren. None of them look like a ruler. He leans towards Deven. “Do you see Gaeren?”
Shaking his head, Deven points to the towers at each corner of the wall. “Knowing him, he’s probably watching from a safe place in the castle or in one of those towers.”
“So he sits comfortably in a warm, dry place while his men do all the dirty work? Do we really want someone like that fighting with us?” Kylii asks, rubbing his arms with his hands. It’s not the cold alone making him nervous.
Daniil remained behind to keep Tanith and Saunem from the battle and to keep an eye on the training of those who stayed behind with Jaxon. It’s clear from Kylii’s body language he’s having trouble with the separation, but he continuously insists he’ll be fine once the fighting starts.
“Gaeren is a highly skilled fighter. This is a power play. He’s sending the message we aren’t worth his time,” Deven states.
“The only message I’m getting is he doesn’t like to get wet,” Kylii mumbles.
A man walks along the front line of Gaeren’s men, yelling to them in a powerful voice. He slams his weapon against a broad shield and the men echo his words as the rain grows heavier and thunder rumbles in the distance.
“Who’s that?” Ime asks.
“Gaeren’s right hand, Berk Grain,” Deven replies. “He’s as skilled in fighting as Gaeren, but on occasion has been known to go into a kind of blind rage. He’s injured many of his own men in long battles.”
As if hearing his name spoken, Berk and two men approach. Ime motions for Kylii and Deven to stay back as he walks forward to meet the three. Berk removes his helmet, allowing his long black hair to fall over his shoulders. He hands the helmet to one of the men and rests his left hand on the hilt of his sword.
Smiling, Ime rests his own left hand on the hilt of the sword Altan gave him. “A fellow left-handed fighter. I don’t come across many.”
The stern look on Berk’s face only grows sterner. “Ime Gurek, I’m to assume?”
“This is your last chance to turn your pathetic army around and leave. If you do not, I have been given orders to exterminate every man and woman who stand with you.”
“Your ruler has issued a challenge. I’ve simply come to answer it. As I see it, he doesn’t care either way who wins this war because he doesn’t think it affects him. But he’s wrong. If we fall against Klaeon, he will come for these lands.” Ime steps closer to Berk, but the two men at his side draw their blades. “There are no neutral parties to this war.”
Raising his hand, Berk eyes the two men at his sides. They hesitantly put away their swords. “And you believe you can stop him?”
“With your lord’s men added to our own? Absolutely.” Ime’s eyes glance behind Berk to the army waiting behind him. “I hope that’s not all of them?”
“Lord Banish didn’t want to waste his entire army on you. Five thousand men should be enough.”
“Against the three thousand I brought? Maybe. But I hoped to speak with your lord one final time before resorting to a fight. We’re allies, not enemies.”
“I’m afraid you’ve come here for nothing, except for death. I can tell from your eyes that nothing I say will convince you to spare the lives who fight in your name and my lord doesn’t wish to talk.” Berk waves his men off and they head back to their positions at the front lines. “I look forward to presenting your naïve head to Lord Banish.”
Ime steps back. “And I look forward to meeting him.” He waves his hand and the rain he’d been keeping from falling on them as they spoke falls in a massive wave, drenching Berk and his men.
The astonished expressions on their face make Ime smile as he returns to his spot next to Deven and Kylii.
“They didn’t even notice, did they?” Kylii asks.
“Nope.” Ime turns to his army. “Remember why we’re here. Forward!”
The two armies approach each other cautiously at first. As the distance shrinks they pick up speed until they’re running for one another. Weapons are raised in the air and yells erupt across the field. The resulting crash of people freezes each side only for a moment before the armies mesh and the fighting takes over. Weapons flash wildly, men fall to the ground, and chaos ensues.
Ime restrains from pulling his sword, using his magic to keep enemies away as his eyes search the two towers closest to the battlefield. He spies a figure standing on the balcony of one and whistles to Deven and Kylii. They understand immediately what he needs and clear a path for him through the first line of men. Ime crosses the battlefield quickly, using only his magic to keep men out of his path.
Fighters overtake Deven and Kylii as Ime breaks through the last of Gaeren’s men. But Berk appears to Ime’s left, swinging his sword. Ime barely has a chance to avoid the sharp blade, having to draw his sword to ensure the other man’s sword clears his head.
Ime tries to blast Berk away with a gust of wind, but Berk predicts the path of the gust and dodges. Ime tries to use the falling rain as a shield against Berk’s attacks, but again Berk is able to find weaknesses in Ime’s defense, making it obvious he’s fought magic users before.
“You’re going to have to use more than your magic to defeat me.”
Struggling against the larger man’s attacks, Ime slips on the muddy earth and falls back. Berk prepares to run Ime through with his sword, not giving Ime enough time to dodge. Ime slams his hands on the ground and immediately sinks into the earth. Berk’s sword buries into the mud and his eyes widen.
Appearing behind him, Ime raises his sword and slams the hilt onto the back of Berk’s head, knocking him unconscious. Without hesitation, Ime turns and enters the town, running towards the tower he saw the lone figure standing on the balcony.
There are no guards at the tower doors. A sign Gaeren didn’t think any man would reach the inner walls of the castle. But the lack of guards at the doors didn’t prove to Ime there wouldn’t be any inside the tower.
He climbs the stairs quickly, skipping every other step. Windows rush by and he occasionally catches glimpses of the fighting occurring below. Neither side shows any signs of stopping, but there are plenty of bodies on the ground from each.
Men appear in front of Ime, holding their shields as a barrier to prevent Ime’s ascent. Instead of fighting his way through, Ime sends a rush of air at a window and leaps through into the rain. A pillar of earth waits for him and he uses it to catapult himself higher into the air, reaching the balcony where Gaeren is standing.
He lands in front of the ruler of Raspil as the guards behind Gaeren draw their weapons. Gaeren holds his hand up to prevent them from advancing on Ime. His expression is calm as he meets Ime’s eyes.
Gaeren Banish is a tall man, a full head above Ime. His brown hair is cut short and his beard is neatly trimmed. His green eyes reflect the green of his land and his strong features reflect the strength of its people. His armor is scratched and dented from years of use, but the shine shows Ime’s reflection.
The two men stand still, simply observing the other, waiting for the slightest movement to see who will be the first to concede, a battle not of weapons, but of will. Gaeren’s guards look at each other uncomfortably, unsure of what to do. The sound of fighting below grows softer. A triumphant yell lets both Gaeren and Ime know that it’s Ime’s forces who stand victorious with Gaeren’s men lying motionless on the ground or holding their hands up in defeat.
Gaeren takes a deep breath and steps forward, within striking distance of Ime’s sword. “You’ve shown great determination and a strong will coming here. But do you really think I will ally myself with you after killing so many of my men? You’re more naïve than I thought.”
Smiling, Ime steps to the side, inviting Gaeren a view of the battlefield. Gaeren hesitates, wary of the smile on Ime’s face. He walks to the edge of the balcony and his eyes widen to see Ime’s men handing weapons back to his own. Gaeren’s men lying on the ground moan and healers from Ime’s army move quickly across the battlefield, healing all men.
Ime’s army didn’t kill a single man of Gaeren’s forces. Gaeren searches the battlefield and spies several of Ime’s men lying dead on the earth, but even so there is no animosity between any of the soldiers.
“Not a single man dead.” Gaeren turns to Ime in shock. “You told them not to kill even though they’d know my men would be aiming only for their death.”
“You believe we stand little chance against Klaeon’s army. We’ve shown you we may stand a bit more,” Ime says. “If this is what we can accomplish restraining ourselves imagine how much stronger we could be.”
“Then why do you need my help?”
“Because, as much as you choose to deny it, this is your fight, too. I’ve shown mercy. Klaeon won’t.” Ime holds his hand out to Gaeren.
Gaeren fights a losing battle to keep the smile from his face and grabs Ime’s hand. “I will ally myself with you for this war. You’ve proven to be more than a naïve youth. Lead and we shall follow.”