Tales of Chance the Mage

Book One: From Here

Chapter 17 - A Rough Field

The coastal region of the Laatine was grassy uplands from below the Ram river down the shore in the direction of Linnet. Behind that, the plain of the Laatine rose gradually toward mountains and the Laat Valley beyond.

Chance thought the coast less fertile than what he saw of the Laatine nearer Onne and Rieurs. Along the shore, a line of bluffs faced the sea. These were covered in shrub and wind-blown pines.

The sea took up more of the view the closer Chance came to the shore. He was following a trail that led him to then down through cliffs to the beach. The breeze there was cold, but the sun was shining.

Chance squinted at first at the bright light reflected from waves then gazed up and down the beach: sandy, a light color, a smoothed crest at high tide mark, the water offshore dark thus likely deep.

It was unlike the beaches along the shore at Kiping. He remembered hiking along the coast there, where rough hills held off a rougher sea, especially so north of Kiping. For a few summers, before he ran away from the Schools, he sailed the coast of the region.

The sleek boats he sailed then were very different from a group he saw on his right. They were pulled up above the tide mark and set out in a row. The boats all were fitted with an outrigger.

As he never sailed that kind of boat before, Chance was curious how it handled. The people who were working the boats did not look at him but were likely aware he was there.

He turned to see if there was a village. What he saw was also strange. Tile roofed, colorful houses were set up a cliff side as if stacked. He thought the village must have steps rather than streets. Chance was interested and would have gone over to it, but he needed to find his army.

Chance began to run down the shore on the hard-pack line just between wet and soft sand. He enjoyed running; it was natural to his body: the rhythm of his legs, lungs and mind. Magic extended his gait. It was magic that became a practice over time, meant to make his running efficient, smooth.

He could keep up with a galloping horse, but he would be tired and low on magic if he did that for long. A horse's trot was a more comfortable stride, and that he could maintain for hours.

Chance passed another village but only glanced as he went by. It was similar to the first one, and all the boats he saw featured an outrigger. Some with two were larger. Chance observed the Coastal people, and they noted him.

* * *

There was a road, as Skor said, but Chance preferred to run along the waves. He was not far along when he noticed dust near the cliffs where the road went. Soon after, he saw two riders, one clearly Dui even seen from across the beach.

He slowed and crossed the open sand to the road. Both riders halted and waited for him. Looking down the road, Chance saw his army.

He was pleased that there appeared to be many behind the two who awaited him. One rider was Coastal, and Chance asked if he were the guide Skor pledged. The man spoke Common in return answering he was.

The Dui man beside him was concentrating hard to speak Common and managed to ask if they were near the way up from the beach.

The guide smiled at him and said to Chance the Dui do not like 'big water'. The exit was not far off, round the next headland; the guide asked if they should go on. Chance nodded and headed back to where a large number of riders approached.

At the head, he saw Vind rode with Ce on one side and Tzesnos on the other. Behind them were ten of Linnet's riders. After them, a distance, rode Dui chiefs. Chance could just make out riders in columns, spaced to keep blown sand from bothering horses and men.

He thought they looked very much like an army. Beerron was sure to think so. Vind raised his arm in salute and Chance returned it.

He ran up to the three then turned to walk along beside them. They were obviously happy to hear they were soon to leave sand and salt air.

Conversation waited until all of the men rode up the cut and were assembling farther inland. Chance stood to one side as they rode by; he guessed there were close to five hundred riders.

Last, he went up the cut and followed the Dui army to where a camp was being set up, away from sea breezes. Seemingly the Dui rode hard to be here so quickly. Chance saw with approval that they first cared for their horses.

Some were setting up shelters while a few others were clearing ground for campfires. Most saw that horses were clean of salt and well watered. A picket was set, and all the men went to marked sites where a banner of one color flew.

Chance made his way through the camp to where he saw many banners raised. As he neared, he noted first red and yellow. There were other colors as well, and he supposed someone from each of the tribes was here.

He appreciated Tzesnos already and was coming to an even higher opinion. He joined them and helped with the evening meal.

There seemed to be a number of chiefs, yet they were as ready to cook as any. He and Vind talked together while they chopped dry meat for a stew. Linnet was well; Rixt was preparing to come with Healers. Chance began to object, and Vind repeated that she was coming. He added that she did not ask permission or if it was needed; however, he thought it was.

* * *

The meal was awkward. A chief of the Green Dui was making jokes, in dialect, that brought laughter from those sitting by him.

Tzesnos began to frown; Ce too did not like this. Chance ignored it and shook his head no when Tzesnos asked if he wanted a translation.

After the meal was done and cleaned away, the chiefs and their lead warriors sat around the campfire and looked at Chance, bluntly expectant. Their faces were without expression although some looked skeptical that a young man such as Chance, High Mage or not, was worth following into battle.

Some held their own notions of what they might do once they won. Those planned to make raids on their way back, after taking this fool's gold.

The group became silent; Chance let that draw out before glancing at Tzesnos, who nodded he was ready. Chance began: "I am grateful you have come and so swiftly."

He waited while Tzesnos translated. Those in the ranks nearest the chiefs shouted his words to the rear. Before Chance could say more, he was interrupted so quieted.

The chief of the Green Dui was young and enjoyed attention. He made a comment for those near him which again caused laughter. He was chief only because the former chief died smashing against Chance's barrier.

Vind looked at the man and asked Tzesnos what did he say. The Red Dui chief translated: "The fancy, proud mage has shown us how powerful he is - at fences."

Tzesnos smiled and finished: "He says 'Surely this army that comes against him is as nothing for one such as he. Why does he not just build another silly fence that no one can see?'."

Tension built rapidly; Vind was considering how the man was going to die. Abruptly, the group was interrupted as a shaman danced into their midst. He was shaking a terrified chicken and hollering.

Chance watched wondering what this could be. The shaman dramatically wrung the chicken's neck, pulled a knife and slit its belly. As the organs dropped to the ground, the shaman knelt and examined them.

He raised his head and howled: "A hungry demon lurks inside this Gold man! It yearns to eat the Dui - kill him now!"

A shocked silence followed while the shaman rocked back and forth moaning. A man of years, sitting next to Ce, spoke in broken Common into the stillness that followed the shaman's outburst.

He asked Ce if they all received the mage's first coin; Ce nodded that each did. Now the Elder turned to the chief of the Green Dui and said that the men here took the first of two coins; until they earned that, they should shut up.

He kept looking directly at the Green Dui chief a moment longer. With a glance at the chicken, he stated a shaman was of no use in battle and should stick to killing meat for dinner. Humiliated and subdued, the shaman left.

The two chiefs stared at each other until the younger looked away. Chance was feeling a hardness that refused to stay down. Without expression, he answered the Green Dui chief in a tone barely under control: "I offer worthy opponents, not farmers and villagers who know nothing of fighting. I can kill one thousand men, but as your shaman said, I must become a demon to do that."

Now it was Chance and the Green chief who looked at each other while Tzesnos translated. The other did not wait but sneered, mocking Chance; he spat out in rapid dialect: "You offer half of what even a poor year of raiding would have given us."

With menace, the young chief continued: "If you do not want us to turn and go home, through your Linnet, then you must pay us more - much more because of your insult."

Tzesnos remained calm and, with nonchalance, translated this for Chance and Vind. When he finished, Chance looked steadily around the group before him.

He turned to look at the man beside Ce. He noted that while Ce was chief, this man was an Elder. He spoke to him: "I thank you for your guiding wisdom and speaking up for Dui honor."

As the word honor was being said in dialect, the Green Dui leaped to his feet and placed his hand on his sword. Chance's eyes brightened, flush with magic; he stood in one powerful move, drawing his sword as he rose. He cast a spell at the other, commanding: "Sit down."

The spell put the chief of the Green Dui back on to the ground with a solid plop; Chance flicked his sword, and the man's hand flew out from the hilt of his weapon. With only the smallest of smiles, Tzesnos translated 'sit down' into dialect.

Those closest to the Green chief moved away from where he fumed; Chance's casual use of magic impressed them. It was intended to.

* * *

Later that night, a messenger rode into the camp while a discussion was going on about strategy. He went to Chance and said the Beerron army was on the move and heading towards Onne. It was now a quarter of the way.

Chance looked over at Vind who shrugged: it was why they were here. Tzesnos translated and the mood among the Dui turned to eagerness for battle. Chance thanked the messenger and gave him a coin for his fee.

Agreement on what they should do in response was reached quickly after Chance's idea of coming from behind was understood and discussed. It was possible, in that Dui could ride quickly and Beerron walked slowly.

To slow more, possibly stop, the army, it was decided among the Dui who would ride ahead and what portion of the rest would go to Baslaat. Those who rode ahead were instructed to harass the soldiers.

The chiefs were ready to be done with this day. All said they knew their part and then went off to where their shelters were set up.

Chance sat with Vind, Tzesnos and Ce a while longer. They listened as he told them that the Third mage was dead. He did not know where the First was, but he was no longer in Rieurs.

His guess was that mage was heading to Flas, away from battle. The First, he commented, did not show much stomach for fighting.

* * *

The dawn of the next day was clear again. Before the sun rose into full day, fifty Red Dui rode out of camp, heading across the countryside to place themselves ahead of the Beerron army.

The remaining army ate an unhurried meal and then rode at a steady gait toward Baslaat. Chance ran alongside the leaders, a mystery to men who rode everywhere.

They paused for midday, to eat and to rest horses. Chance left briefly, rising into the air and gliding away toward the port. He returned in a short time and told chiefs the city was not far.

The road that the Beerron army was taking began on the southern side of the ruin of South March. Chance said they should make a camp at the former garrison. When the Dui army arrived, they went directly to South March and ignored Baslaat.

Chance asked that no one go into the port itself; instead, he wished them to prepare for battle the next day. Horses were watered; men assembled arrows and stuffed quivers.

A rider from the advance company appeared as evening began. He proudly reported the army was being harassed without let up.

Specifically, he added there were perhaps ten Battle mages and most men carried halberds. The foot soldiers were poorly uniformed, carried only one weapon and bore full travel packs.

Dui shot at least equal their own number, especially those who strayed beyond their shields. The army was stopped, unable to move forward because of relentless, commando attacks.

Outside South March, Chance sat into the night with chiefs to talk about halberds and Battle mages. A regular string of riders kept the Dui commanders informed.

* * *

The following day was cooler as a damp wind blew from the coast during the morning. Today was the day Chance's Dui army would fight the Master's army. He spent a few moments with the Opal and amber, then readied to go with Vind. Before full light, the Dui were advancing along the Onne road at a steady pace.

Chance's task was to kill Battle mages. His Dui would die if they tried to take on such a man. Vind rode beside him and seemed to be reading his mind. He leaned over Ido's mane and asked: "What do you know of Battle mages?"

Answering honestly, Chance replied 'not much'. Vind grinned at him then began to tell of his own training, what he was taught to do by rote.

His estimate was that the Master sent neither experienced commanders nor strong Battle mages in this expedition. Vind thought the Master hoped for a cheap victory.

Chance agreed; however, a thousand men, of any quality, were a large number. Tzesnos was riding beside Vind and remarked that the Dui are about to be educated. Ce, a little way back, looked puzzled; Tzesnos explained that they would no longer be only playing at war.

Ce's face showed his mind; Chance, running alongside the leaders, saw and tried to reassure him by stating his faith in their courage.

Most important, he repeated his warning that halberds were a dangerous weapon against a rider bearing down on a man holding one. He asked that Ce pass on that riders should be careful if they could.

The Dui warriors increased the pace until they were soon nearing where the Beerron army was halted by raiders. Chance sped up, passing the front and closed rapidly on a startled rear guard.

Vind led the ten Riders from Linnet and raced after Chance while Tzesnos pulled his riders to the right, Ce pulled his to the left. The first contact erupted as Chance slammed into the middle followed by assaults from the flanks by Tzesnos and Ce's riders.

Chance's sword was out; Nimbus protected him. He tore through the rear guard, scattering it and continued forward, searching for Battle mages. One was not far ahead, and Chance took aim for him first.

The Battle mage was in a clump of foot soldiers who tried to hold back Chance with their halberds. The mage raised a spell which he hurled at Chance who knocked it aside. Behind him, Vind and his men were holding off those who tried to close in.

The Reading Opal rose into the air and shot a beam of color at the Battle mage. It was spectacular: the mage was lifted off his horse, a hole in his chest where Opal's magic pierced him. He toppled to the ground, and the men around him ran away.

The Dui riders on either flank were firing arrows into the ranks of foot soldiers. They were careful to hold back outside the reach of halberds. Chance glanced and then looked again. One group broke off from the flank and drove directly into the main column of soldiers.

It was Green Dui, led by their young chief; they seemed determined to show off their superiority. The men on the ground fell back, the Green Dui charged into them and the trap closed. Ce held back the remainder of the men and kept them to the strategy. But, seeing the Greens being cut down, he shouted a command and charged in to where the Green Dui were trapped.

Chance did not have time to watch or help; he hacked his way toward a second Battle mage. Vind kept right on his trail, forcing a wide path either side behind Chance.

The Battle mage was calling for help and summoning shields. Two others came to his aid, and Chance was confronted by three mages who began to hurl magic at him.

Again, the Reading Opal flashed and one of the Battle mages exploded, his terrified horse bucking and rearing. Chance closed and used his sword on the remaining two; theirs could not parry or deflect his strikes.

Tzesnos also saw the Green Dui, then Ce, enter directly against grouped soldiers. He called his men and then led his riders in an assault that tried to overrun those on foot. He and his riders were pressed hard; the soldiers strained to hold and fought back desperately.

With four Battle mages dead, Chance sought the remaining six. Ce came in from one side, after piercing the ranks of soldiers; Tzesnos rode up from the other. With them and Vind behind him, he rammed his way ahead, cutting open a path to where the Beerron commander's banner flew.

This was his War dream being lived out; he used his sword in a rapid series of hits until he was nearing where magic was forming a shield. The mages and commander were startled as the forward Dui joined in and struck at their backs.

The field became rough; this was the stage where battle became a throbbing mass of men locked in one-on-one combat.

It all worked to distract the commander and his Battle mages, whose magic fell apart. Chance speared into that confusion; Opal struck down three of the mages around the commander.

As the battle went on, becoming more frenzied, Chance opened the defense around the commander with his sword, and Vind charged through. Immediately behind him, a swarm of Dui came and cut down defenders. They pressed without slowing, ever closer to the commander.

Chance felt he could sniff victory: the enemy commander was unable to grasp what was happening, unable to affect it. The Battle mages with him were breaking away, trying to save themselves. Dui arrows caught the ones Chance did not chase down.

The commander was afraid; battle raged around him, creeping nearer. He backed away from the onslaught, then grabbed a pole from an aide beside him, tied a white cloth to the point and held it aloof. He gave up and surrendered.

* * *

Bugles blew and Beerron's army halted in place. The Dui were kept back with difficulty. Vind went along an encircling mob and demanded they do as told. His orders were obeyed once Tzesnos and Ce hollered out commands to stand down.

The rogue High Mage won; the commander stood looking his enemy as he came over to him. He was humiliated to be defeated by an outlaw and primitives. He readied himself to die.

Chance slowed, his sword still at ready, and looked about. A number of soldiers were dropping their weapons and were simply standing still, warily eyeing the Dui riders that surrounded them.

The commander was told to stand at one place; Vind came up and surrounded the man and his aides. The Dui were seething, they wanted badly to ride in and massacre the army.

Chance blocked their emotions and demanded they hold. At the same time, he ordered Beerron's soldiers to group, lay down their weapons and sit on the ground.

He saw many were wounded on both sides and ordered the prisoners to care for theirs. The Dui were doing that too, leading hurt horses away and clustering around those whose wounds were serious, those dying.

If the two armies remained facing each other, there might be uncontrollable killing. Once begun, it would be impossible to stop. Chance turned to the commander and told him to assemble his men and then go to South Marsh.

He told them to pick up their packs, help their walking wounded and march. The young man issuing orders was completely convincing to the gray-haired commander. He was openly terrified by what he found himself in.

He called out commands, the Beerron army formed up and took up their packs and wounded. They began the march back toward Baslaat. Dui riders rode either side and did not look like they would tolerate any defiance.

* * *

The field where they fought was layered in bodies; horses screamed in pain. Men called out for help. Chance spoke to Tzesnos and Ce asking they leave riders at the field for the wounded. A group was selected and came to assist.

Vind escorted the commander; Tzesnos and Ce the soldiers. Chance did not watch the prisoners set off; too much around him needed attention.

He went first to where horses lay or limped in a daze. He put them down to halt their agony. Sensitive, their anguish swept over him each time he ended a life.

When done, he went among the wounded, helping those who could walk and, where necessary, ending a man's suffering.

A shadow made him look up; a messenger was standing close by. Chance finished doing what he could for a wounded man then stood to hear what the messenger would say.

He was told that Skor watched from a hill, near enough to the battle to see it but safe from being drawn in. Once the Beerron army surrendered, he rode to Onne.

Chance was relieved to hear that Rixt and Healers were already on their way here. He went back to bandaging and bringing water to men who lay on the ground; he tried to reassure them saying Healers were coming.

Dui and Beerron men worked side by side over men badly in need. Chance noted they did not carry on the battle and instead were aiding each other. Badly wounded men, laying on the open ground, brought them together if only for this.

Chance and the men remaining with the wounded attended them as best able, and much of the worst bleeding was slowed or stopped. However, they greeted the arrival of Healers warmly, relieved to have help.

Rixt must have driven her horses hard to reach the battle field before sunset. The wagon teams were frothy from exertion.

In the first wagon, Rixt called over when she saw him then sent Healers to where men lay in groups. She parked the wagon and went to him, looking all over his body. More calm now knowing he was not wounded, she turned her attention to a Dui rider that he brought her to.

Chance stood back and watched; he was tired and his magic was over-drawn. However, there was still much to do. Before he left, he touched Rixt's shoulder gently; it was the only thank you that he could express.

He went at a slower pace but back down the road after the prisoners. He arrived when it was dark and first checked South March. Chance needed the amber's help for the next part.

He raised Mage Light, illuminating the ruin, and instructed those who surrendered to stand within an exact space. The soldiers were frightened of him and were afraid he was corralling them in order to kill. Chance insisted; they did as told.

He walked around them and propped sticks in the rubble; then, he spelled a barrier like he made near Linnet. The amber added another spell to strengthen the Barrier cast. Chance did not have enough magic to do it himself.

Once it was up, he told the prisoners what it was, inviting several to test it. Only one did; no one could see it but all were convinced it existed.

Leaving the Mage Light up, Chance told them to make camp and put up shelters. For the moment, they would have to live on what they carried in their packs. There was water still in the fountains of South March for them.

Then, he went to where chiefs were assembling. Vind was red-faced and arguing with several as he came up. Chance looked about, his face growing hard, and drew his sword. He demanded to know what was the trouble.

Vind sat back on Ido, tight-lipped. Chance pointed to a chief and said: "What is this? Why is the Rider of Linnet angry?"

Tzesnos translated and was shouted at by other Dui. Chance was able to understand from Tzesnos that they wished to kill all the prisoners; one hundred Dui were dead, fifty more were badly wounded which Chance already knew.

One chief exploded, not waiting for Tzesnos to finish. He grabbed a bow, fitted an arrow and aimed into the men behind the barrier. He released it with defiance and a war shout.

The Opal, now hovering by Chance's shoulder, spelled and deflected the arrow. Chance's face darkened, tightened; he made a threat saying the next man who tries that will eat his bow.

That did not calm them, but no one went so far as to find out if the mage was serious. Chance told them to calm down and, once patrols were set out, to rest.

None had eaten since the morning, and their hunger overcame their anger. Tzesnos and Ce began to issue commands, and the chiefs sullenly dispersed to their clans.

While the Dui and prisoners ate, Chance forced himself to go back to the battle field. He ran more strongly and realized the Opal was adding magic.

* * *

He arrived and saw where Mage Light showed tents lined up on one side of the road. Even this late, a few more wagons came from Onne and even some from the Communes.

He looked for Rixt and eventually saw her talking with two women. Going towards them, he was surprised to see Esala and Ruby with her.

Rixt was moving her hands to describe exactly how a bandage should be prepared, and both women were listening closely. He saw her show how tight it should be tied. They did not notice him until he was standing with them.

Rixt smiled his way and said Esala was at Linnet on a visit and Ruby offered to help too once she heard of the need.

Esala shrugged replying that it was Dui riders who Rixt was coming to help; how could she possibly go home knowing that.

Ruby called over to Shana, waving her to them. She gave Chance a firm smile saying: "I could not just stay home and cook..."

Shana came up now; she was crying. With halting words, she said she could not do more; she could not help him. Rixt went to her, placed her arm around Shana's shoulder and spoke privately with her. The two left and went to where Shana's wounded man lay.

Esala did not speak again but looked steadily at Chance. She muttered 'so many' and walked away toward the tents. Ruby watched Rixt and Shana a moment then turned to Chance.

She placed her hands on her hips but could not speak right away. She was not a person who went out very much, not counting the Full Moon market. People became hurt but never on this scale.

There was little in her life that was painful. Death, like birth, happened naturally. This was pushing her farther out of her familiar life than she realized when she volunteered to come with Rixt.

She took a deep breath and said: "I am no Healer but can see to the dead; it is a matter of respect and requires no special skill."

Chance did not know what to say; he recalled the chiefs saying one in five died. He was troubled imagining so many; he did not know how many soldiers died.

Ruby sighed and then moved away from him toward where a small group waited. He followed her and saw in the glow of Mage Light rows of bodies laying on the ground.

The dead were Respected before being taken to where a long, deep hole waited. Bodies were not just tossed into it. They were placed gently, hands folded across chests. Chance knew only a little of the ceremony called Respect, the ritual of preparation for all souls who depart this life.

When he left the Schools, he was seventeen and occasionally saw men die in duels. After the few times he witnessed such an event, he merely strolled away with friends to find a tavern. Once they were in one, they drank beer and discussed techniques used.

Chance returned to a line of newly erected tents and came on Shana who was kneeling beside a young soldier, holding his hand in hers.

Rixt was applying a lotion to his lips; his eyes were locked on Shana's. As he became drowsy, he whispered that he hoped he would meet someone like her in whatever awaited.

Then he looked over at Rixt but could not focus. Frightened, he called for his mother, then calmed and fell asleep.

Chance did not disturb the time while Shana and Rixt waited for the man's breathing to stop, his hand to cool. He turned and walked back to Baslaat. His mood was not one to put up with much from chiefs who wanted revenge.

It was dawn when he reached the mound of South March ruin. The camps were waking, chiefs were still angry and Vind looked grim. Prisoners milled within their compound, some tested the Barrier.

Chance was without slept for too long. He walked to where a tent was set up for him and sat, feeling he could not stand again for any reason. Vind came over, followed by Tzesnos and Ce. Chance was told to eat and sleep, do nothing before that.

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