'...And all the Kingdom wants to fight, and all the Paladins want to fight back. We're all runnin' around near the precipice again.' So said Galomanisula, Prime Minister of Aisorbma, a wise man who knew from his years how valuable peace was.
He also knew that the worst part of falling was realising how difficult it would be to climb back to the place fallen from. But in the years of uneasy peace following the undecidable stalemate, the people forgot the relief of the peak, and through their ancient grudges they sought once more the pit.
On the day of the Battle of the Precipice, they fell.
The following account is taken from historical records, on the day of the First Fall.
Episode Eleven – Riding over the Precipice
Duchess Caira iwl Srindra felt a pain in her right arm. It was what woke her up.
Not that it was unusual for her to feel pains in the night. She had broken her left leg in a riding accident long ago, and although the wizards had healed it she always felt a pain in it when rain was coming, or when she approached home. Just two of the funny feelings one might acquire if, as she was, one was born with a low level of magic. She was good at making fires too, and she had a gift with cats, such that they would always do what she told them to.
But this pain was different. The Duke Tenil gu Srander had rolled over in his sleep again, and her right arm was under him. She pulled it clear, and massaged around her elbow to break the cramp. For a moment she considered setting his beard on fire, just to make sure he didn't do it again, but that would be foolish. He was the general, and however amusing it would be to have Tenil tear off into the night and throw his face into the nearest water-bucket, it would also damage his authority, and hers. And the authority was so new that she could not afford to lose it so quickly.
Two days ago they had journeyed to the lacrosse match at the large stadium in no-man's-land, at the invitation of Lord Samfr de Samfr, who owned the Fireball team. Caira had enjoyed a brief debate with Tenil on the loyalties of the referee, as both sides had scored four goals by half-time and none of the Aisorbmian goals had been disallowed, but Tenil had pointed out that one of the Aisorbmian wingers had been crippled without cost to the Kingdom side, and that the Fireballs were used to giving their opponents an easy time in the first half.
He'd then dared a wager with Samfr that the final score would be 7-5. No true noble would ever dispute the inevitability of the Fireballs' victory, but some of the nearby spectators had raised eyebrows at the suggestion that the Iron Jamtins would score again.
Fifty minutes later the Aisorbmii had won 8-4. Tenil had paid his debts and they'd gone for a drink and a warm bowl of rice pudding with chocolate flakes. Among the rest of the Kingdom crowd, it was quickly agreed that the Aisorbmii had bribed the referee, that their players were little more than thugs and that they had probably been using magic on the pitch, against all the rules of the No-Man's-Land Lacrosse League. There had been immediate heated discussion in the streets and bars, and then a lot of fighting with the nearest heretics. Tenil had immediately cut off all his sponsorship of the local businesses and gone to the hotel to prepare to go home, while the first riot was quelled. By then they had left town. By happy coincidence Lord Samfr de Samfr's own retinue met theirs on the road.
'It seemeth me that there is much need of respect amongst the Aisorbmii,' Samfr had commented.
'Indeed my Lord, that thought had occurred to my mind also, but when I am reminded of recent incidents in Aisorbma I think of how excitable they must become,' Tenil had said.
'I am minded by the death of my own son that the Aisorbmii are more than merely excitable, and that action must be taken, lest they choose to be more aggressive with their excitement.'
'My sympathies to thou and thine,' Tenil and Caira had said swiftly. Then Caira had spoken alone: 'It seemeth me that the King has made known that he has strategies to curb their heathen mannerisms.'
'Verily, 'tis so,' said Lord Samfr, 'but strategies require time to implement in proper fashion, and I have spoken to many who believe the interval is too long. We have pre-empted our King's instruction to raise regiments in the old fashion.'
The discussion had progressed to the discussion of colours, and Lord Samfr had described the uniform of his regiment in detail, and Duke Tenil and Duchess Caira had praised the modern style: a burgundy tunic with velvet belt and sash, burgundy leggings and doeskin boots, and finally a velvet-coloured beret (which Samfr insisted wasn't quite the right shade) with bright-blue feather.
Recruitment of foot soldiers had not yet begun, since it would be difficult to keep secret, as the large number of unattended farms would be obvious. However, under the guise of preparations for a jousting tournament, Lord Samfr had gathered several dozen riders all trained with the lance to wear his colours. He admitted to them there that he regretted that the King had not observed the deep histories between their families, and hastened his request for battle, for he would have enjoyed the chance to openly ride them against the Aisorbmii who had beat them today.
Tenil had offered a plan, and Caira had been proud of his decisiveness. His lands were far to the north, and were those lands to be... attacked... he would not have time to consult the King about sending riders to pursue.
Tournament arrangements were 'adjusted', and within twenty-four hours half the company – forty riders - was making camp under Tenil's command within half a day's ride of the stadium, where a second riot had begun following the revelation that one of the Aisorbmian players – the crippled winger – and the coach were dead. The Aisorbmii seemed to believe they had been murdered by vengeful men of the Kingdom. Tenil hoped they had been, though he resented the manner in which the Kingdom had been judged so swiftly. Caira had had to use much of her influence to calm him down for the night: justice would come soon enough, and the horses were tired. Then she undressed, and he was persuaded.
And so today had come. Today Caira iwl Srindra was not merely the lady of the house; with her fire-making capabilities, she wielded the only ranged weaponry of the unit. She would need to be stable upon the horse to wield this magic, however, and she had no desire to be made an easy target by enemy bows either, so she clad herself in the same uniform as the riders. The nobles were proud; many laid praises before her, and one shyly gave her flowers.
Tenil, when he saw her, said she was beautiful. She kissed him there.
He did suggest, however that she should tie her long brown hair into a bun and keep it beneath the beret, to maintain the semblance of one of the troop; for her part, she merely thought that the beret was the wrong colour.
The sky was grey, an ancient omen of a good day to fight. Samfr's company tracker, Munit de Munit, reported the Jamtins were riding – riding! – north, towards them. Swiftly the riders cleared their camp and saddled up. They rode in a fragmented double-file formation to the east, Tenil at the lead, Caira beside him, to intercept the Jamtins.
The Aisorbmii, fifteen of them, were sighted only a few miles from a westerly Aisorbmii village, presumably their destination. The bugler of the unit, an accomplished rider named Bisift zar Amilan who had no ability for combat at all, signalled the charge, and they formed a wedge. Caira had warmed her hands and spoken words of beginning. Then she had fired.
One of the riders was incinerated. Another fell off his horse, to be trampled by the unit a minute later. Munit fired his bow and caught a third. A distant bugle call was heard from ahead: the village came into view, and Paladins descended the slope towards them.
They rode harder, intending to catch the dozen before meeting in battle. Caira wished at that moment her gift with cats was as effective on horses, but the horse was at least keeping up with Tenil and she would be satisfied with that. She closed her eyes, repeated the words of beginning, and cast her arm forward and fired. This time she missed.
There was no time for a third shot. The village Paladins, perhaps ten of them, had weaved through the fleeing riders and were charging, lances and swords ready. Three Jamtins, at the sides of their rapid formation, wheeled and joined the wings of the Aisorbmii wedge.
She was useless in the charge, being unarmed for close combat, so she rode off to the sides, avoiding the clash. She heard one shrill sound before the clatter of metal and the screams of men and horses – the name of the country of the enemy.
Heathens to the end, she thought. She watched as her husband emerged from the clash, resplendent despite crimson blood splatters in his naval blue attire. More than a dozen burgundy-suited riders followed through the combat, while ten of Samfr's company on each wing of the formation rode entirely around the clash. Caira sent a third fireball into the mêleé which remained, killing a horse beneath its rider. She would pity the horse later, she decided. She rejoined the company, pursuing the riders at the village.
More Paladins, this time on foot, blocked their path. Caira spoke a variation of the words, this time casting fire as a wave across the ground before the unit. Munit fired his bow a few times, and some of the unit drew swords, having broken their lances before. They continued the charge.
This clash was bloodier, but not for Samfr's unit. The foot-Paladins lacked the momentum and steadiness of being atop a steed. Still, in the narrow path several horses stumbled over falling Aisorbmii and Munit fell from his horse.
It occurred to Caira iwl Srindra at this time that she was enjoying herself. Most of the villagers were fleeing, guided by a couple of Paladins on horses. A number of Paladins were struggling to join combat at the door to the barn, so she swiftly sent a fireball towards it. One wall exploded. Beside her thirty riders of the Kingdom tore through the village, slicing, skewering, slaying.
Tenil motioned his horse beside hers and they moved to the outskirts of the village, watching the riders destroy. 'It seemeth our triumph might eclipse that of the Marquis Endam ar Berrito, my sweet,' she said, 'for where they have merely destroyed, we have conquered.' At this, he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
A burgundy-garbed smear flew over the nearest house, and, concerned, the general steered his horse north. Caira followed, and her jaw dropped at the sight of the solitary man defeating noble after noble. In his hands was a sword hilt attached to a large rock. Ridiculously it defied gravity, orbiting the old man who wielded it, sending riders sprawling to the ground.
Tenil summoned Bisift to him, and bade him blow a particular combination of notes through the bugle. This Bisift did, and the Kingdom riders turned and answered the summons. Some charged, as others had, and were swept aside... others paused, wary of the unlikely old man.
It was then that Caira iwl Srindra cast her last, deliberate spell. Without originality, it was another fireball, and she cast it after the last rider challenged the old Paladin and fell. It flew true for the head of the man with the Sword in the Stone.
But it could not succeed. For the Sword in the Stone had a power against magic which no witch or wizard of the Kingdom could know. And so it was that the old man was able to swing the rock faster, and deflect the fireball.
Which flew back, equally true, and impacted through Caira iwl Srindra's velvet sash and burgundy tunic, incinerating through her, and allowed her life's blood to spill.
She fell back into the arms of her husband, Tenil gu Srander, whose life was shattered at that moment. Her beret fell off, and the long brown hair fell from its bun. The Paladin lowered the rock-covered blade and watched the cap fall to the ground, apparently stunned himself by the sight of the dying woman.
A mounted Paladin entered the area, leading another horse by the reins. The Paladin with the Sword in the Stone swung it behind him into the long pack on his back, and mounted the free horse. Then he rode away.
Duchess Caira iwl Srindra died there, on the back of her horse, in the arms of her husband. When Duke Tenil gu Srander regained the powers of speech, he reached out for Bisift's bugle. Upon it he blew his own combination of notes, a tune taught only to a few among the Kingdom.
He spoke softly, so that only Caira could have heard him. 'I hast made the most terrible presumption, my love, in blowing this tune into the wind, but I cannot see an alternative. The wielder of the weapon which slew thee is the Prime Minister of Aisorbma, and I can only think that the traitor among his countrymen can come close enough to deliver a killing blow.
'I have summoned that traitor now, my love. Thy killer shouldst not survive thee more than a handful of days.'
As with the previous episode, the melodramatic viewers of these episodes may wish to mentally add the words 'To Be Continued' at this juncture. The immediate fate of Tenil gu Srander cannot be revealed yet, as he still has an important part to play in the commencement of the War.
We cannot reveal, as yet, the name of the person who heard and responded to the tune of vengeance which now carries across the lands of Aisorbma, although the viewer can be assured that the person will be known to them. Nor can we reveal the fate of the Prime Minster, but the answers to these questions must wait until the next episode.
In the meantime we invite you to speculate on the traitor's identity, in order to create some form of suspense. Have a pleasant week.