We kept on waiting. After another half-hour or so, I tried once more. ‘Have him tootle again, Belkira,’ I sent out the thought.
‘Tootle?’ Belkira sounded slightly offended, but Brand tried it again.
Cho-Ram and Mandor answered immediately, and then after a moment that seemed to last for a year or so, a veritable fanfare of trumpets replied from the west. It was probably excessive, but some of those legions were ceremonial troops from the garrison in Tol Honeth, and I guess there were a couple of military bands in their ranks.
That was what I’d been waiting for. ‘Sit tight, Pol,’ I told my daughter. ‘I’m going to go have a look. I don’t want to start anything until I’ve seen for myself that Beldin’s in place.’
‘Don’t be too long, father. The morning’s wearing on, and I don’t think we want Brand to issue his challenge after the sun goes down.’
I spread my wings and swooped down off my limb to gain momentum, and then I started up into the air, flapping vigorously.
When I got up a couple hundred feet, I could see just about everything. Eldrig’s war-boats were moored to the north bank of the River Arend no more than a couple of miles downstream from Vo Mimbre. The high water had slowed their progress up-river, but it had also made it possible for them to row over the shallows that lie some distance west of the city. If he’d really wanted to, Beldin could have rowed right up to the south wall of Vo Mimbre itself.
The legions, their burnished breastplates glinting in the morning sun, were spread out impressively, and they were marching in perfect order as they advanced on the Nadraks and Thulls. Eldrig’s berserkers weren’t marching. They were running on ahead of the legions. Chereks hate sharing a good fight with anybody.
‘All right, Belkira,’ I passed the word, ‘tell Brand to give the signal.’
This time Brand blew his horn twice. Cho-Ram answered in the same way. Mandor, however, almost blew his heart out. The note from his horn went on and on and on.
Then the gates of Vo Mimbre crashed open, and the knights came charging out.
The charge of the Mimbrate knights is probably the most famous cavalry charge in history, so I don’t really need to describe it in detail, do I?
I probably couldn’t give you a very good description anyway, because something else caught my eye just then. Kal Torak’s black iron pavilion was in the center of the horde, and I saw a raven spiraling up from one of its spires. I was fairly certain it wasn’t an ordinary raven. Either Zedar wanted to see the Mimbrates for himself, or he’d concluded even as I had that the best place to direct a battle was from over the top of it.
There was a surprise waiting for him, though. Far above the battlefield, a single white speck plummeted down toward the raven that was spiraling upward. That particular form of attack is highly unusual for the snowy owl, and no ordinary owl should have been out hunting in the daytime.
There was a puff of black feathers when she struck, and Zedar fled, squawking in terror.
Kal Torak’s Malloreans were good soldiers, I’ll give them that much, but nobody could have met the charge of those Mimbrate knights. I’d estimate that there were at least ten thousand of them. The front ranks charged with leveled lances, and the crash when they struck the Malloreans was thunderous. So far as I could tell, the charge didn’t even falter as the front ranks of the Malloreans were ridden under.
We’d spent months discussing this particular tactic at the Imperial War College in Tol Honeth. The charge of the Mimbrate knights had one purpose and one only. It was designed to keep the Malloreans in place so that they couldn’t rush to the aid of the armies on their flanks. Mimbrates are enthusiasts, though, and Mandor, who led the charge, gave every indication that he fully intended to ride up to Kal Torak’s iron pavilion and start banging on his door.
There were casualties among those knights, of course, but not as many as you might expect. I guess full body armor has its good points after all. Even beyond that, though, the ferocity of the charge demoralized the Malloreans. They hadn’t expected it, for one thing, since there was no real reason for it. Vo Mimbre had stood like a rock in the face of two days of furious assaults, and there was no cause to believe that this day would be any different. We’d taken that element of surprise into our planning. The startled Malloreans gave way as the Mimbrates charged right into their faces, and the charge cut a wide swath through their ranks.
‘Father!’ Polgara’s voice sounded inside my head, ‘Zedar’s trying something else! He just came out of the pavilion again!’
‘Which way’s he going?’
‘East. He’s taken the form of a deer.’
‘I’ll chase him back.’ I veered off toward the Murgo lines and saw Zedar running swiftly through the red-armored ranks. I’ve never really understood why he chose that form. He knew what my favorite form was, and taking the form of a deer wasn’t the best choice he could have made. I got out some distance ahead of him, settled to earth among the foothills, and went wolf. He was running hard when he approached the place where I was concealed, bounding up the hill with his antlers flaring above his head. He stopped abruptly when I stepped, snarling, out from behind a clump of bushes. He tried to dodge around me, but that didn’t work. I was just too close to him. Zedar’s day wasn’t going at all well.
I didn’t really try to kill him, though I suppose I could have. I bit him a number of times in some fairly sensitive spots, and he turned and bolted back toward the Murgo lines. It’s not really a good idea to turn your back on a wolf. I ran along behind him savaging his hindquarters as he fled. He wouldn’t be sitting down very much when he resumed his own form. I made sure of that.
I broke off the chase when I was a hundred yards or so from the Murgo lines, and then I trotted back up into the hills. ‘Beltira,’ I called the twin who was with Cho-Ram and Rhodar, ‘the Mimbrates are fully engaged now. You’d better come on down here and distract the Murgos.’
‘If you wish,’ he replied, and a moment later Cho-Ram’s trumpet signaled the charge. There was a thunder of hooves as the Algar cavalry closed the distance between the place where they’d lain concealed during the night and the Murgo lines. I’d taken cover amongst a cluster of boulders, and I watched Cho-Ram lead his horsemen down the hill to engage the Murgos.
The Algar tactics were quite a bit different from those of the Mimbrates. Heavy cavalry rushes in to crush the enemy, but light cavalry slashes at him. Ad Rak Cthoros had his own cavalry units of course, but they were no match for the Algars. Soon there was a running battle taking place out in front of the Murgo lines, and the Murgo horsemen were definitely coming out second best. Then, when the mounted Murgos were badly out of position, Rhodar arrived with his pikemen, and Brasa’s Ulgo irregulars were artfully concealed among their ranks. The combination worked out quite well. You can’t really get too close to a man with a twenty-foot-long pike, and keeping him from slicing you to pieces with it is going to take all your attention. The Ulgos are a short-statured people, and they move very quickly, as a large number of Murgos found out that day. Ulgo weapons are very unpleasant things. There are a lot of hooks and saw-edges involved in them. A wave of screaming rose from the Murgo ranks, since those Ulgo knives aren’t really designed to kill people instantly. Ulgos probably hate Angaraks even more than Alorns do, so they tend to take their time killing Murgos. The Murgos they killed were only incidental, though. Brasa’s instructions were to take his people through the Murgo front and to deal with Grolims. We’d provided the Ulgos with black, hooded robes, and that permitted them to move around among the Murgos almost at will. If Zedar grew desperate enough, he’d probably try to call on the priests of Torak to assist him in breaking the rules, and Brasa was making sure that when he tried that, not very many Grolims would be around to answer the call.
I watched from the top of that outcropping of boulders, and when I saw that the Murgos were fully engaged, I sent my thought out in search of Beldin. ‘Where are you?’ I called to him.
‘About a half-mile from the Nadrak lines,’ he replied. ‘The Chereks are already working on them.’
‘You might as well take Cerran’s legions in. The Mimbrates have got the Malloreans pinned down, and Cho-Ram and Rhodar have got the Murgos’ full attention on this side. It’s time to hit the Nadraks and Thulls. See if Cerran can break through them with some of his legions. I think the Mimbrates could use some help.’
‘I’ll get right on it.’
‘Polgara!’ I said then.
‘I’m busy, father. Don’t pester me.’
‘What are you doing now? I told you to stay out of this!’
‘I’m at Torak’s pavilion. We ought to know what he and Zedar are up to.’
‘Get away from there, Pol! It’s too dangerous!’
‘I know what I’m doing, father. Don’t get so excited. What did you do to Zedar? He’s limping around and groaning.’
‘I nipped him a few times. Is feeling sorry for himself about all he’s doing?’
‘No. He’s trying to persuade Torak to go outside and take command of his army. He isn’t having much luck, though. Torak refuses to move.’