I’ll concede that father’s generalship during the battles was masterly. He countered the enemy’s every move almost before Zedar made it. The charge of the Mimbrate knights was decimating the Malloreans, but even before Zedar could issue orders to the Murgos, father unleashed Beltira and his combined force of Algars, Drasnians and Ulgo irregulars, effectively pinning down the most numerous of the Western Angaraks.
With the legions and Eldrig’s Cherek berserkers marching up the Valley, Zedar didn’t dare weaken his right flank by ordering the Nadraks and Thulls to come in and reinforce the Malloreans. The only available force Zedar had left were his reserves, and once he committed them to the battle raging before the city gates, Belkira was free to advance against the Angarak rear.
It was at that stage of the battle that mother and I, still merged in our assumed form, drifted across the bloody ground toward Torak’s pavilion. Battlefield intelligence has always been sketchy at best. Many a battle has been lost simply because ordinary generals have to wait for couriers or scouts to report enemy movements before they can respond. Father didn’t have that problem. The rest of us could – and did – communicate with him directly and almost instantaneously. Moreover, mother and I could eavesdrop on Torak and Zedar and pass along what we heard, so father could counter Zedar’s moves before he even made them.
Zedar was pleading with Torak to arm himself and go out of the pavilion to strengthen Angarak resolve, but the Dragon-God adamantly refused, since this was the day he’d so long feared.
I’ve looked into the Ashabine Oracles recently, and I can’t for the life of me see how Torak erred so profoundly in his interpretation of certain passages. He evidently assumed automatically that he was – and almost always would be – the Child of Dark. Then, by extension, he leapt to the conclusion that the Child of Light would always be the Rivan King, Iron-grip’s heir. That combination did take place at Cthol Mishrak when Garion ultimately destroyed Torak, but that was a different EVENT, and it took place in a different war, some five hundred years later. Torak evidently confused the two, and that was the error that won the day for us at Vo Mimbre.
Despite Zedar’s shrill importunings, Torak himself remained quite calm. ‘It is not yet time for me to go forth to confront mine enemies, Zedar,’ he said. ‘As I have told thee, this day is in the hands of pure chance. I do further assure thee, however, that one EVENT shall precede my meeting with the Child of Light, and in that EVENT shall I prevail, for it shall be a contest of Wills, and my Will doth far outstrip the Will of the one who shall contend with me. That is the contest which shall decide this day’s outcome.’
Merged though we were, some of mother’s thought still remained concealed from me, but I did catch a faint tightening of her resolve. Mother was obviously preparing herself for something, and she was deliberately keeping it from me.
‘I must reinforce the Malloreans, Master,’ Zedar was saying with a note of desperation. ‘Have I thy permission to commit such forces as we are holding in reserve?’
‘As it seemeth best to thee, Zedar,’ Torak replied with that God-like indifference that must have driven his disciple wild.
Zedar went to the entrance of the pavilion and issued his commands to the couriers posted outside. A short while later, the Angarak reserves began their march toward the battle raging before the city gates – even as the Chereks and General Cerran’s legions broke through the Nadrak lines to come to the aid of the Mimbrate knights.
Then, as the confusion on the battlefield increased, father added to it by telling uncle Belkira to unleash the Rivans, Sendars and Asturian archers who’d been concealed in the forest to the north. Bleak and silent, they emerged to occupy the positions Zedar’s reserves had just vacated.
The messengers, all bearing bad news, almost had to line up outside the iron pavilion at that point.
‘Lord Zedar!’ the first exclaimed in a shrill voice, ‘King Ad rak Cthoros is slain, and the Murgos are in confusion!’
‘Lord Zedar!’ the second courier interrupted, ‘the Nadraks and Thulls are in disarray and do attempt to take flight!’
‘Lord Zedar!’ the third bearer of bad tidings broke in, ‘the force to our north is vast! There are Asturian archers with them, and their longbows will obliterate our reserves! Our center is in deadly peril, and the reserves will be unable to come to their aid! We cannot attack the archers, because they are protected by Sendars and Rivans!
Rivans!’ Torak roared. ‘The Rivans have come to this place to confront me?’
‘Yea, most Holy,’ the now terrified messenger replied. ‘The grey-cloaks do march with the Sendars and Asturians upon our rear! Our fate is sealed!’
‘Kill him,’ Torak told one of the Grolims standing in attendance. ‘It is not the place of a messenger to speculate.’
Two Grolims, their eyes alight with fanatic zeal, fell upon the unfortunate messenger, their knives flashing. He groaned, and then fell to the floor.
‘Doth he who stands at the forefront of the Rivans bear a sword?’ Torak demanded of the other messengers, who all stood ashen faced and staring at their fallen compatriot.
‘Yea, oh my God,’ one of them replied, his voice squeaky with terror.
‘And doth that sword flame in his hands?’
‘Nay, my God. It doth seem but an ordinary sword.’
‘Now is my victory assured!’ Torak exulted.
‘My Lord?’ Zedar sounded baffled.
‘He who doth come against me is not the Rivan King, Zedar! It is not the Godslayer whom I must face this day! His sword is but common iron, and it is not infused by the might of Cthrag Yaska! Verily, upon this day I will prevail. Bid my servants arm me, Zedar, for now I will go forth from this place, and the world shall be mine!’
‘Father!’ I almost shouted the thought. ‘Torak’s coming out!’
‘Of course he is, Pol,’ father replied smugly. ‘That’s just the way I planned it.’ Trust father to take credit for almost anything that happens. ‘Come out of there now. It’s time for you and me to join Brand. Don’t dawdle, Pol. We don’t want to be late.’
‘I do wish he’d grow up.’ Mother’s thought was almost clinical as we wriggled back out of the narrow window. Things were moving very fast now, but I still had time to develop a strong suspicion that something was about to happen that I wouldn’t like. That suspicion was powerfully reinforced by the fact that this time, mother remained merged with me when we discarded our owl. She’d never done that before, and she adamantly refused to explain it.