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By Monty Ashley A tale of Dominaria


"Some say the warriors of Kjeldor fight out of pride. Some say we fight because we don't know anything else. There are some who say we're fighting over the weather. I say we fight for our home. I say we fight for Kjeldor. I say we fight for King Darien!"

"You're going to see some things in this battle, and you're going to be afraid. Do not give up. Do not slacken. Remember, your fellow soldiers are counting on you, and you are counting on them. Fight well."

When the first attack came, it was almost a relief. We'd been holding our positions in the fields north of Kjeldor for just short of three days, and some of the men thought that a rampaging horde of Stromgald's meanest, most vicious fighters was preferable to spending one more minute crouched behind a fortification, waiting to be told to fight. They were wrong, of course, even the most vicious leg cramp can't compare to the things that Stromgald threw at us. There must have been thousands of them, all charging at us from over the horizon and screaming. It was very showy, of course, but it also gave us quite a bit of time to prepare. Personally, I've always thought that screaming before a battle is a waste of breath that you're going to want later. But the Stromgald army was screaming continuously as it came at us, and I guess in a less-disciplined army than ours, it might have had some effect.

I've never put any stock in the claim that the armies of Stromgald were composed of the dead, but some of the things I saw that first night made me doubt myself. The vanguard of the Stromgald attack was cut down by our javelin squad, but they just got right back up and kept coming. A few got pinned to the ice by the javelins, but everyone could see that they were still moving. Our line held, however, and when the first wave reached us, they were stopped cold. Even our rawest recruits managed to stand there and chop down their enemies. It wasn't easy, but we beat them.

After the first day's battle, I had some of our men clear away the Stromgald corpses. We usually don't bother with that on the theory that it will demoralize the second wave if they have to wade through the remains of their comrades, but this time, I thought it was a good idea to make sure nothing unusual happened.

"Today, we fight Stromgald. But they are not our only enemy! Over the mountains, you can be sure that Sek’Kuar’s orc horde is watching us, and if they see weakness in us, even if we prevail today, they will flood across the borders of Kjeldor.

"This is not to say that I fear the orcs. I fear them no more than I fear the Stromgald army, or death itself. I would gladly face any enemy that threatens Kjeldor. But if, in defeating Stromgald, we can also put fear into the heart of Sek'Kuar, we can truly say that we defeat two enemies at the same time."

The first night had clearly been a feint, so I positioned half of my men on the west battlements and half just outside the eastern walls, camouflaged by the trees and shrubs that have managed to grow through the ice. Sure enough, the attack came in two parts. If we hadn't been ready for it, their knights would have overrun our position in an instant. As it was, we slowed them down, because we were positioned in exactly the right places to disrupt the timing of the attack.

It wasn't easy. The fact of the matter is that my men are soldiers; as a unit, I'll put them against the rank and file of any army on Terisiare. But the Stromgald knights are something else: incredibly strong, heavily armored, frequently mounted on huge war steeds which sometimes fly -- they're formidable opponents, and there is no shame in saying that they were able to break through our front lines. That, after all, is why we have reinforcements.

And thanks to the planning of Darien's hand-picked Field Marshals, we had more reinforcements than even the vaunted knights could handle. As the knights broke through, we closed ranks behind them. We took some casualties, but we showed them what an army really is. It's not just a really big group of people with swords, although that doesn't hurt. It's a really big group of people with swords and a single purpose. It's efficient communication and discipline. And most of all, it's people willing to die to protect their compatriots because they know their compatriots would die for them.

After the second night, I had to go through the lines and reallocate men. The squads outside the east wall had been hit hard and needed extra men. It was at this time that I decided to deploy our Jötun squad. Not many of the giants were willing to stand with us, but a few had seen what happens to a land when Stromgald gets through with it, and that provided us with just enough of them to make up a specialized unit that I hoped would provide a surprise for whoever -- or whatever -- came at us the next night.

"Some of you would rather be home with your wives and children. But I tell you now that if we do not stop the Stromgald army, your home will be no more. If you want to keep your wives and children safe, you will stand and you will fight and you will show what it means to be Kjeldoran"

The fighting on the third night was the worst. They just kept coming at us, and by this time there was no denying that some of the enemy were already dead. They were dead, but they kept moving and fighting. Dead men, from Stromgald and Kjeldor, and even some who looked like they had been dead so long, their homelands were forgotten forever -- they all held weapons and fought us with a blind, unreasoning fury. We'd cut them down and they'd just stand back up and fight on. And all we could do is keep fighting and try to stay alive.

I can remember bits and pieces of that night, but it doesn't seem to fit into a whole picture. I remember climbing up the leg of one of our Jötun soldiers to get a better angle on a Stromgald horse. And I remember that same Jötun almost crushing me when he fell after getting an arrow to the eye. And there was the horrible moment, much later, when I realized the giant Stromgald zombie I was fighting was that same Jötun soldier again, and I'd never even learned his name.

As the fight wore on, and the enemy's numbers never seemed to shrink, our training showed its value. Our army got stronger as the night went on, as though the first four hours of hand-to-hand combat was just a warm-up. We learned what we had to do to defeat the Stromgald army, and we did it. Over and over again. By the time the fighting was finally over, we had less than half of our original numbers. But all of us that were left felt like we could have fought forever. When the last dregs of the attack came, we were able to wipe them out easily, even though they were probably more formidable than the entire force we'd faced on the first night.

I've never been so proud of my soldiers. They'd been forged in the crucible of war and had shown themselves the mightiest army on Terisiare. Unfortunately, I knew that there would be one more night of the battle of Kjeldor, and that night would decide it all.

"And know that you will not be alone! Your generals will fight alongside you, your king will fight alongside you, and I will fight alongside you. Although you will be frightened, this will be the defining moment of your life, and of Kjeldor's life. Will you live up to it?"

On the fourth night, there was no army to face. No swarms of zombies. No knights on flying horses. Not even regular conscripts. All that we saw was the Haakon, Stromgald general, and for the first time, some of my men broke and ran.

He seemed to be ten feet high, with a sword that must have been twice that. He was covered in black armor that somehow gleamed in the dark. As he strode across the field of battle, Darien was there by my side. Then he was past our lines, waiting for the Stromgald general to face him.

The two leaders of the armies fought for hours. When Darien had the upper hand, all of us in his army could feel it. And when the general in the black armor battled back, it was like he was cutting each of us. It was a truly titanic battle.

As dawn approached, we realized that the horizon wasn't getting any lighter. A scout was the first one to realize what should have been obvious: the Stromgald army was waiting and watching the battle, just like we were, from the other side. An ominous black mass of knights and soldiers we'd already fought and defeated stood waiting for Darien to fall so they could finish us off.

That was what triggered our attack, I think. It was the realization we all came to that Darien was willing to die to protect his land, but that if he did, we would have just stood and watched. As one, we swarmed out of our emplacements and charged.

If King Darien and Haakon weren't expecting our attack, it didn't show. Darien effortlessly synchronized his assault with ours, and the Stromgald general cut us down like stalks of wheat. But we kept coming, wave after wave of seasoned, professional soldiers, throwing themselves at the Stromgald general. And it worked. Although individually, we were no match for him, we slowed him down enough that Darien, who looked a lot more bloodied up close, was able to finish him off.

We lost more than half of our remaining men in that battle. And when the Stromgald general fell, I looked up to see his army slinking back across the horizon. Not one of them had even taken a step forward to protect his leader.

We had won. The Battle of Kjeldor was over.

"And at the end, when it's all over, and you've lost some friends and seen things you'll wish you never saw, remember this. If we prevail, it will be because we fight as a unit. We work together. And we succeed together. We are unstoppable. Let's go prove it."

As we regrouped and began to return to the city, I surveyed the field of victory. There, on the horizon, I saw lines of thick black smoke rising into the dawn sky. A faint alien sound came from that direction, but that was quickly drowned out by my voice, shouting orders to get back into position.