They rode for two days before making a camp that would serve as their base of operations. They didn’t want to strain
the relationship they had with Buenasha by having a battle on their soil, so they just barely crossed over the border into
Malaquent. The border here was not well guarded, as Malaquent had a truce with Buenasha. Most of the border guards were situated
to the north to guard against Tertomal, or to the north east, to block refugees from Kelnar from entering Malaquent. That
was one of the reasons the rebellion was based in Buenasha. The politics of the Sambikt peninsula were taught in the Compound,
but Taru had never really cared to pay attention to them. They had been discussed a few times in her lessons with various
teachers in the camp, but she still didn’t really care that Kelnar was a xenophobic patriarchal monarchy, or that Shenta
was an oligarchy with very strict classes. She only really cared about Malaquent, knowing it was a dictatorship with a corrupt
Their camp was situated in a small but dense grove of trees, it would not be visible from any areas around it, even the small
rise that they had decided to use for a good scouting location. There were 10 scouts in the group, they rode much faster,
smaller horses, and they were dressed in greens and browns, and their clothing was crafted in such a way that if they were
flat on the ground they didn’t show up. Taru was impressed with their costumes, and all of them were slightly gifted
with earth, making them more invisible. There were also three trained hawks that worked with the scouts. They were an early
warning system. They would return to their owners whenever they spotted other humans or Cheveyos nearby. It wasn’t a
perfect system, but it was an advantage they had that they were going to use.
After camp was set up, and the horses fed and watered, half of the group was assigned with securing the perimeter and the
other half was to make food and gather wood. Taru was part of the wood gathering group, and was soon left with nothing to
do. She sat and watched the others still working. They were efficient, if a little unsure of what they were doing. Taru was
slightly concerned about this, as she knew that whomever Demerita was sending would have had a least a little battle experience
under their belt. The rebels were all untried, except for the rare few who had fought in a battle or two before they had escaped.
Hawk paced all around the camp, making sure that everything was done properly.
This camp away from camp was quite boring, there was nothing to do but sit watch and wait for something to happen. Luckily,
or so she thought, they didn’t have to wait long. It was only three days before the scouts informed them that a small
force was heading their direction. Hawk decided to proceed with caution, and gathered their whole group to attack the much
smaller force. Taru was excited and more then a little bit nervous about her first fight. They tacked up and headed out, leaving
only ten behind to watch the camp. It was a short ride to the rise that they had sent the scouts to. They found that the enemy
formation was only half the size of theirs, but even at two to one odds Hawk was not pleased. All the soldiers in the approaching
formation were mounted, which was something Hawk had not been expecting, and all of them wore full armor. The rebels were
also fully armored, but it was yet another thing that proved their information was not what it should be. Hawk trusted Nikkaron
completely, but there had to have been a disconnect in their communication. That was something that would have to change in
Hawk barked three sharp orders, and their formation split off into three smaller units. They would go at the enemy from three
sides. Taru was in the center group, again towards the center of the formation. They didn’t move much from their position,
they wanted to keep the advantage of the high ground, but the three groups spread enough so that they would be able to move
freely. One thing that Taru noticed was that none of the enemy soldiers was a Cheveyo. That meant that no gifted humans were
with them. There was no way they would send only half of a unit. That would give them a marked advantage.
The fight itself was blurred in her mind after it happened. Everything moved both faster and slower then normal. Taru tried
to explain it to Jaki later, but words failed her. Their charge was filled with lots of shouting and yelling, and Taru felt
an urge to add to the noise. She didn’t want to shout mentally, but she did make as much noise as she was able, low
grunting sounds in low in her throat. Free moved under her, a rippling muscle and mane and tail feathering in the wind. She
pulled her lance at a signal from the lead rider, these lances were not like their practice ones, these were sharpened, and
here her target was not the shield of her opponent, but his neck.
The two groups hit in a loud crunching sound. Men and horses screamed in pain, and Taru found herself faced with her first
opponent. She narrowed her eyes, and focused on his neck, thrusting her arm forward at the last moment to strike in the vital
area. She didn’t realize that her blow had been true, because the lance moved through a man’s flesh much easier
then when hitting a shield. She only realized that she had hit him when the lance was ripped from her hand by his neck. She
pulled her hand away and was surprised to see it, and half of her arm, covered in blood.
Not taking time to worry about that, she pulled her sword and shield, and was met with her next opponent. He was still armed
with a lance, and she brought up her shield just in time. The lance glanced off of the metal covered wood and jarred her shield
arm, almost making her drop her guard. It was just a glancing blow however, and she quickly wheeled Free, and he lashed out
with hooves. He struck the charging opponent’s horse in the chest, leaving two bleeding gashes. The other horse was
well trained however, and didn’t spook back like Taru was expecting.
The rider struck at her with his lance, and she dodged just in time, again the lance grazed her shield, but this time she
took a hit closer to her head. She needed to get less space between to even her chances. Her sword was no match for the lance
at this distance. The need was taken from her as another rebel stabbed her opponent through the back with his sword. Taru
flashed him a smile before wheeling Free towards another soldier. It was easy to determine who the enemy was, their armor
was uniform and neat, the rebel’s armor was cobbled together and none of it matched. She saw two soldiers attacking
a single mounted rebel, and she charged towards them. She had Free ram the one horse as it reared, knocking it and it’s
rider over. The distraction proved enough for her comrade to dispatch the other soldier. Taru looked around, and saw that
the battle was slowing, a few soldiers remained, but for the most part those wearing green and silver for Malaquent were on
the ground, or racing back towards their base.
Taru took her first deep breath since they had first charged and suddenly was exhausted. The battle had lasted only minutes,
the Malaquent soldiers had obviously been unprepared for this fight, and they were now paying the price. Hawk was luring around
the bodies, and ruthlessly killing any soldier that was still alive. There were a few rebels injured or dead on the ground,
and a few that had injured horses. Taru dismounted to find that her legs couldn’t hold her. She gripped desperately
at Free’s saddle to stay on her feet. Someone came over and helped her to a seated position. She stuck her head between
her legs and sucked deep breaths. It took her a while to calm herself, but she slowly realized that there was a lot going
on around her, and Free was nibbling at her hair. It was that strange sensation that pulled her out of her funk.
She gathered her legs under her, and looked around. There were many horses mingling around the area, and most had belonged
to the soldiers, and Taru realized what a wonderful gift they had been given. Here were already trained warhorses that they
could use to replace the ones that were injured in battle. She took Free’s reins and led him over to a tree that had
been knocked over to tie the horses. She looped his split reins over the tree. She walked to Hawk, his normally pristine white
fur stained with blood. His tongue hung limply from one side of his massive jaw, and he glanced up at her when she walked
over. He gave a short wag of his tails, and shook his fur, sending a few droplets of red flying.
“Not bad, but from now on they will be prepared and we will have to work harder to have such a victory.” Taru
didn’t know if he was talking to her, or if he was speaking to himself, but she nodded in reply. She placed a hand on
his soft head, and gave him an awkward pat. She still wasn’t sure what the appropriate ways to touch a Cheveyo were;
Blue Sky had not allowed her to touch him at all. This seemed to be ok, as Hawk was pulled from his musing.
“You can help gather horses, be careful as they are probably all spooked from the scent of blood now that they don’t
have riders to help them focus on the battle. We need to get as many uninjured horses as possible. The soldiers gave us quite
a nice selection today.” He spoke in his usual collected voice, but Taru saw that his eyes were still a little more
wild then usual. She wondered just how hard it was for the Cheveyo to control himself with all of these defenseless prey animals
lingering. Some of whom were wounded. Taru was one of the few people who never forgot that Cheveyos were predators first,
and while they were intelligent to the same level as humans, they had an instinct that humans did not. They were bred primarily
to fight and kill. Every inch of their bodies was designed for the maximum lethalness.
She had no trouble gathering the horses that were wandering around, trying to avoid all the blood and broken bodies. She led
them two at a time to the tree, and tied them carefully. There were 22 uninjured horses when she was done, and that meant
that even counting their injured they had 15 new horses to add to their stables. Only eleven rebels had been killed in the
fight, and another twenty hurt. Taru’s shoulder was sore, but she didn’t feel the need to see a healer, so she
kept trying to find little things to do. Right now the three leaders and Hawk were arguing about whether to go after the remaining
soldiers or not. Hawk was attempting to convince them the best idea was to send a scout or two and see how far their camp
was and if there were any backup forces in the camp. Taru thought this was the best plan, but she didn’t have a say.
It only took a few minutes before the others saw the wisdom of his reasoning and they sent two of their best scouts to find
the camp. The rest of them headed back to their own small camp, to tend to the wounded and burry the dead. They would prefer
that their fallen comrades could be buried closer to their camp, but it wasn’t safe to transport dead that far. Disease
was a possibility, and it was not logical to transport such ungainly things over that distance. They all ate, cleaned any
wounds that they could, and waited for any report from the scouts.
Taru didn’t know very many of the others here, so she kept to herself, and looked after the horses. The new ones were
still slightly spooked, not used to the smells and sounds of this camp. She tried to soothe them, and helped to rub down all
the horses. They couldn’t afford to have any of them come up lame or colic. All the water they were given was warmed
and they were given very little grazing area. She brushed all the knots out of their manes and tails, and braided the tops
of their tails to keep them from getting messed up more on the trip back. The mundane task calmed her, and she finally had
a chance to look back on what had happened earlier. She had killed at least one other person. She didn’t know how to
feel about this. She was glad that they had not hurt her or any of her friends, but she didn’t know how to feel about
taking another’s life. She knew they worked for a corrupt leader, and that they fought under his banner, but until recently
she too had done that. The one thing that made her feel better was that there had been no Compound Units there. These soldiers
chose to fight for Malaquent.
The scouts returned to report that there were only 20 soldiers remaining and that the camp was less then an hour’s ride
away. Hawk decided that he didn’t need everyone to come with him, and gathered thirty to ride with him. He asked Taru
specifically to watch the horses, the new ones were still shifting uneasily on the line and she really didn’t want to
leave them. There was one horse from the soldiers that she was drawn to especially. He was a massive solid black creature
with a small star hidden by a long forelock. His mane and tail were not trimmed like most of the horses. She rubbed him down,
and braided his tail like the others, but then moved to braid his mane as well, as it was long enough. She spent more time
with him then with any other horse besides Free.
It wasn’t until the next morning that the small group returned, with only three injured. Hawk was again sporting blood
all over his fur, and he walked off to wind a place to bathe. Taru had taken care of her blood soaked clothing the night before,
knowing that it helped when working with the horses. Hawk returned a short while later, and they packed up camp. No one really
spoke on the way home, but a few sang songs for the dead. It was a custom of the northern part of Malaquent. Taru’s
people didn’t have that specific ritual, but she respected the acts of those who did. In reality Taru didn’t have
any real beliefs. She had been taken from her parents before they had a chance to teach her of the tribal gods that protected
her people, and in the Compound any type of worship was outlawed. She had known a few who broke those rules, but they were
quickly taught that that was a bad plan.
The ride back seemed to take twice as long as the one there, but eventually they were home, and she was putting her gear away.
She walked to the end of the now full stables, and said goodbye to the new black stallion and Free. Hawk saw her, and stopped
her as she left.
“That new stallion, the black one. He seems to like you. You would be a good one to train him.” Hawk didn’t
ask, and that was the only reason Taru considered it. She did love this new dark horse. She nodded to Hawk and turned to leave.
“Before you go Taru, he needs a name. A horse, like a person needs a name.”
She was surprised, but she thought about it a moment before she gave him her answer. She had never been asked to name anything
before, and she didn’t want to mess it up. She looked back to when she had first seen the horse; he had been guarding
the body of his fallen master. She looked at his powerful frame and long mane and tail. She wasn’t one to think about
things for forever however and after only a few moments she smiled at Hawk.
He should be called Loyalty. She said, knowing that no other horse in the stable had the same name. Taru also knew
that most of the creatures in the camp were named with single names to separate them from the Cheveyos. Most Cheveyos, excluding
Hawk, kept the double names given to them in the Compound. To give an animal the same type of name as a Cheveyo would be considered
rude, so they were given single names. Hawk gave her a wolven smile and she knew she had chosen well.
Onto Chapter 9