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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Eternal Ice - Chapter 14

War with The Necromancer.

Chapter 14 - Call to Arms

The campaign against Lim-Dul solidified young King Darien's place among the great king of his land, and elevated Varchild's name to the legendary ranks of Jarkeld and Stromgald. It is still regarded, over a thousand years later, as a classic tale of overcoming tremendous obstacles against a more powerful enemy and confronting that enemy, regardless of the personal cost.

The legends tell of the slow, measured buildup of Kjeldoran troops, of the rallies and the stockpiles necessary for battle. They speak of generating all of this for an unprecedented winter campaign, and setting out in the teeth of a blizzard, in order to find and defeat Lim-Dul. They tell of hunting the necromancer's command through the mountains until finally they met him in mortal combat.

This was a glorious time. A young king, a devoted general, and loyal allies in the form of the Balduvians, all coming together to oppose a deadly opponent that threatened everything between the Karplusan mountains and the sea.

And is it any wonder that some supplemental tales of the campaign make mention of a figure named Jodah, hanging at the periphery like a storm crow, waiting for the final battle of the Ice Age?

-Arkol, Argivian Scholar

The war did not begin well. Lim-Dul had been preparing for months, and his armies were spread far and wide and deep into the heart of Kjeld before any defense could be coordinated. What little troops they had were not enough to fight these legions that were popping up in a thousand locations at once, with each fallen soldier being added to their ranks.

The larger towns and villages were now falling. Breway to the north was put to the torch, the population of Jarka disappeared one snowy evening without a trace. A platoon of skyknights was found frozen in a great block of ice near the sacked town of Freyta. And Mikkel, a few days journey from Krov itself, was assaulted on the Feast of Kjeld, and repelled only by the devotion of its priests and some traveling druids.

The icy winds coming down from the glacier and full on winter blizzards kept the aesthirs grounded for the most part, and the homes had to be abandoned while the forces of Kjeldor were forced to let their land be overrun while taking the necessary time to train to fight a force unlike any they had ever found in the nation's thousand years of history.

As for Jodah, he spent most of the time studying both within the royal library and consulting with Gustha, as well as traveling by way of safe havens to seek out any possible information or tools that would win them the day. Although, not to forget the bigger picture, Jodah did take the time to inquire Gerda at the School of the Unseen about the results of Arcum's weather prediction machine, and was satisfied with the prompt response from his former pupil and her plea for him to return to once again lead the school.

Jaya was used as Jodah's eyes and ears to keep watch on the mood of the city, and the mood was not good. Because of the recent power vacuum within the military's ranks, many were trying to jockey for what they felt was their rightful rank and prestige.

Then the coldest part of winter passed, and the army ever so slowly began to gain ground. Jodah had discovered a Fyndhorn pig that was excellent at sniffing out the undead beneath the snow, and soon enough columns of smoke could be seen littering the sky as undead bodies burned. These small victories boosted morale and petty rivalries began to dissolve.

But while spring was approaching, the days only seemed to get colder, and the it was clear that Arcum's machine was correct... then word came from Lovisa's scouts that Lim-Dul was massing his forces for a final assault on one of Kjeld's major cities, and they did not have the numbers to be able to defend Kjeld, Krov, and Soldev all at once, so they had no choice but to mass their forces north of Krov at the base of one of the mountain passes that the undead army would be forced to travel through.

The forces of Kjeldor gathered. Skyknights patrolled the pass, and both foot and horse massed. Soldevi machinists brought with them some golems that they claimed were as deadly as the Yotian Soldiers of old... but the reality was they melted the snow around them and became hopelessly stuck in permafrost.

Jodah was afraid that Lovisa and her forces would not show, but appear they did. While not as well armed as the Kjeldorans, their numbers were vast. Warriors and shamans and even their families arrived, with all their belongings kept on wagons pulled by aurochs . Lovisa Coldeyes appeared upon a metal sled pulled by two pygmy allosaurus .

Almost immediately there was conflict between the two groups. Kjeldoran military protocol demanded that newly arrived leaders always present themselves to the commanding officer. The Balduvians saw themselves as allies, not subordinates, and waited for the Kjeldorans to visit their camp, presenting welcoming gifts. After a day of cajoling, negotiating, and near-threatening, Jodah got Varchild to agree to visit Lovisa Coldeyes' encampment, with Jodah, Jaya, and few hand-chosen captains in tow. No gifts were brought.

Generations of battle between the two peoples couldn't be completely quelled even in the face of a shared enemy, and Jodah sees the glares from the barbarian faces as they make their way to Lovisa's tent. Pale bear rugs and incense fill the tent, and Lovisa greets them from atop a throne of cedar while the lack of any other chair within forces Kjeldorans to sit on the floor.

(Will the alliance shatter simply because of this? Or will there be something more?)

Both Varchild and Lovisa remain silent, waiting for the other to speak, so Jodah opens up the talks. Lovisa pointedly questions why the king could not show up himself, and Varchild professionally explains that he is performing important work of coordinating the war effort back home, which includes ensuring they have sufficient supply lines to sustain them throughout this war.

Back and forth they prod at each other, and in the end Lovisa is satisfied that Varchild has some bite in her. They may have fought against the fallen Jarkeld, the Arctic Fox, but they also admired his faith in his men.

"Jarkeld was a great warrior," agreed Jodah. Varchild said nothing.

"So your king," said Lovisa , "he has been planning for this battle. What does he think we should do?"

Varchild spoke sternly, as if to a child, "As you said, Lim-Dul outnumbers even our combined armies. The plan is to bottle him up and only let him fight with part of that army. That is why we are at the base of the pass. We will stop him here, bringing as many troops as we can in a larger arc around his forces. It will be heavy cutting, but we should be able to break his lines."

Lovisa ignores her tone and focuses on the important part, the plan itself, and nods in agreement.

Varchild remained intense, but her tone softened slightly. "The plan is to put the main body of wizards behind the center of our line, and use them, along with that body, to punch a hole in Lim-Dul's center, both dividing his troops and allowing us to reach Lim-Dul himself."

If they can take out Lim-Dul himself or force him to flee, the mindless army will be easily wiped out.

Lovisa says the plan is worthy of a Balduvian, and then adds that she must have left out that the Balduvians will of course be placed at the center lines protecting the spellcasters, and that's when another argument breaks out. Varchild yells that trained soldiers need to hold the center, not primitive rabble, and they'll instead be assigned to the flanks to contains Lim-Dul's forces. Lovisa defends the Balduvian's battle prowess by citing their effectiveness against Kjeldorans in the past. Jodah interrupts and scolds Varchild for attempting to order her ally so, and appeals to Lovisa by telling her that Balduvian's are more adept at maneuvering through the snow, and she shouldn't allow her pride to topple a plan that she clearly agrees to.

Lovisa tells Jodah that she will hold to her part of the plan, but he'll find that her forces will be the ones to reach Lim-Dul first. Varchild contests that claim, and so Lovisa lays down a wager of a white stallion versus a keg of her people's finest wine when they find out who is right.

The talk soon ends and Jodah, Jaya, and the Kjeldorans make their way back to their camp. Jaya tells Jodah that she wants to stay behind to weigh out Lovisa's mood, but Jodah tells her that style of pomp and bluster is the Balduvian way. It's Varchild he's more concerned about.

Jodah tries to talk to the general, but he's interrupted by Gustha with a message that Arcum Daggson needs to talk with him immediately. Jodah nods for Jaya to follow after Varchild while he takes care of this new matter.

Within Arcum's tent, the machinist tells Jodah that the new data that he provided from his school has only confirmed his readings. The days will only get colder, and even if they win out against the necromancer, they will still lose.

"At least we know of the danger," said Jodah.

"Is it a danger any of us can deal with?" questioned Gustha.

"There may be more at work here than just the ice," replied Jodah. "There are greater forces abroad in the land." He thought of the planeswalkers and wondered if any of them were involved.

Then on cue, a feeling... a need... for Jodah to be elsewhere appears within his inner most being. Freyalise demands an audience with him. Jaya tells the two that he has to leave, and while he knows he cannot completely ignore the call, he looks around for Jaya and hopes he can find her before he finally answers.

(Oh? Why does he need to talk to Jaya first?)

...Outside Varchild's tent...

Jaya hears what sounds like furniture being knocked over and walks inside and asks the general if she can help. Varchild understands that Jaya has been sent by her master her keep her from doing anything stupid, and Jaya doesn't deny it. And so the task mage gets straight to the point and asks the general if she can win without the aid of the Balduvians as allies.

Varchild knows it's not so, but she recognizes the sentiment from Jaya as one coming from city-folk. That all arguments can be solved if everyone just sits down an talks. She then tells Jaya that she grew up in the hinters and lost family to barbarian raids. She's lost people to the undead as well, but out in the hinters they're viewed as a force of nature whereas the barbarians know exactly what they're doing. She became a knight and trained all her life to kill barbarians, and now she has to fight along side them.

When asked why she didn't join with Garrison if she hates the Balduvians as must as she does, Varchild explains that there was more to the words that Garrison was preaching. When she first arrived in Krov, she quickly learned to hide her accent because of the bias against those not from the city. When Garrison spoke of "Kjeld for Kjeldorans," he really meant "Kjeld for the city folks."

She carries on because the king trusts her and put his faith in her and she refuses to let him down. But that doesn't mean that Garrison was wrong about the threat that the barbarians pose to their nation.

Jaya is ready to argue the point when a summoning settles within her. A wind picks up around her as she leaves the tent. A warm wind. Jodah runs up to her and together they move to a hill to the south, and waiting for them is a cross-legged Freyalise floating in the air.

(Wait... what was he going to tell Jaya! He didn't say anything!)

"It's about time you responded," said Freyalise. "I am glad you could make it. It is now time for bargains to be fulfilled."

* * *

The Alliance

Even though Mairsil the Pretender was defeated in Book One, I kind of thought that Lim-Dul would last through the end of the trilogy. Looks like that probably will not be the case. The coming battle is being described as the final battle after all.

After all that hype... all that playing possum and deception and infiltration within the military's ranks... the beginning of his downfall began with some pigs.

And looks like the Balduvians and Kjeldorans will be done with each other the second that the battle is over. It makes sense if it does happen that way, but I was hoping for some big event to trigger it. Some form of dishonor or perceived betrayal. That very well may still happen, but I'm not sure that it will at this point.

The War

This war is already over! And it only just began in this chapter. If this book was longer, I'm sure Grubb would have liked to added in more details about specific skirmishes and battles, but space is limited, and he already wrote his war novel with The Brothers' War. This book is about how humanity has changed to survive the Ice Age and about the planeswalkers and the evolution of Jodah from clueless student to confident Archmage Eternal. The details of war have to take a back seat.

The Call

What an inconvenient time for Freyalise to butt in to events... but of course that's also the best time for things to happen story-wise. Will we get answers as to what's happening with the weather? Will we find out who is pulling Leshrac's strings?

The Phrase

We've finally hit my first instance within this book where I felt like Grubb was breaking the fourth wall.

"The archmage sent you," spat the young general. "To make sure I don't do anything foolish!"

"Pretty much," said Jaya. "But I also came on my own. You saved my proverbial bacon, and the king's by listening to me when I warned you of the assassination attempt. I thought I might be able to help."

"Saved my bacon?" Really? I know that pigs were at least mentioned within this chapter, possibly as a way to help make that phrase feel in place within this world, but it just doesn't work for me, and it easily could have been replaced in any number of ways.

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