Chapter One: Opening moves
And so it will come to pass, that the Green Hand will extend to protect,
While the Red Hand extends to resurrect,
And Winged Vengeance shall blind the Lion,
And the Unseen will see the Truth.
- Excerpt from the Arcane Prophecy, believed to be associated with the Grey Company
IC: Gergoran Barka
Location: Camp of the Grey Company, Fields of Mennor
The thin sickle moon was slowly beginning to lose out to the approaching sun - the pink fingers of dawn were threatening to ensnare it. It was the moment before sunrise, when all of creation holds its collective breath for the great Jhi to awake and sing.
But Barka could not see the beauty in the spiritual dance. He had been woken up an hour ago by his secretary, Master Norry, with yet another sheaf of papers. Poor Norry, thought Barka as he leafed through the sheets in his tent. The man doted on Barka and would let him sleep through the Last Battle if he had his way. Barka had to order him to wake him up. Norry was sullenly lighting the lamps and making tea, muttering about lack of rest.
Barka grimaced as he looked at the report from the Ax Legion. Another fist of orcs had come to harass their eastern flank yesterday. Toric and his men had driven them out, but Barka was not expecting the orcs to be this bold, or this careless. Were they merely testing their defences? Barka knew that in battle, you always do the thing your enemy least expects. Except when your enemy expects you to do just that. This orc raid was a useless strategy, Barka knew. What was the Shadow playing at? He would have to talk to Toric about this. The man may not be able to quote sonnets from long dead poets, but Toric knew the battlefield. Barka had often trusted his friend's guts than his own.
"The Maleners arrived late last night, my lord," said Norry in between his subdued mutters. Barka scratched his rough cheek thoughtfully. So the Maleners had decided to bury the hatchet, had they? Barka could not imagine Sessandro ordering his troops to aid him, even if the Dark One himself was knocking at the gates. Perhaps the hot-blooded prince had decided to do the right thing? Still, Barka knew having the Maleners so close to the Belindorans might result in a few fist fights and tensions.
"Make sure they are camped at a distance from the main camp," Barka told Norry. He would have to contend with whoever was leading the Malener army. But Barka was ready to dice with anyone. He knew the numbers and they didn't please him. He needed every man and woman he could find, and he was already thinking of allowing the women to pick up arms as well. That wouldn't sit well with the old-timers, of course, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
He leaned back and thought of the fated words that his friend, Balin had spoken before their parting: "Beware the two-faced Eagle, my friend," he had said. "The Winged Vengeance shall blind the eyes of the Lion, says the prophecy."
The Winged Vengeance. Was that a reference to the nation of Malene? Too many unpredictable elements in this game. And he had raised hopes by resurrecting these dead words. Now, he was bound to them, bound to see it through.
"I am going to have a word with Toric," Barka said, gulping the hot tea that Norry had so carefully prepared. Norry often fussed over his table manners, but Barka figured that if you were standing up and drinking, table manners do not apply.
He stepped out of the tent as the sprawling camp was slowly waking up to activity. The night watch guards were turning in and the cook fires were being lit. It was a pleasant dawn - but Barka couldn't help but feel that he was living in a nest of adders, ready to bite each other at the first instant.
He knew that Toric would be up and about by now. His friend was a farmer at heart and could never stand sleeping in. He would query Toric about the orc raid. And more importantly, he wanted to talk to him about his indulgences with Aema, his daughter. The girl was getting too mischievous for her own good. After returning the salute of the few men who were guarding his tent, Barka made his way to the camp of the Ax Legion.