Home > First Lord's Fury (Codex Alera #6)(6)

First Lord's Fury (Codex Alera #6)(6)
Author: Jim Butcher

Against any other foe the Alerans had faced, that would have been quite sufficient, Ehren reflected. It seemed quite unfair that such an enormous act of wanton destruction should prove to be nothing more than a moderate setback, regardless of who the enemy might be.

A quiet and rational part of his mind, the part that did all of his mathematics when he was faced with columns of figures, told him that the vord would be Alera's last foe. There was no way, none at all, to defeat them with the forces Alera had remaining. They were simply breeding too swiftly. Most wars, in the end, came down to the numbers. The vord had them.

It was as simple as that.

Ehren firmly told that part of his mind to go to the crows. It was his duty to serve and protect the Realm to the best of his ability, and he would not better attend to that duty by listening to such demoralizing naysaying, regardless of how correct it might be in a historical - and literal - sense.

After all, even driven to her knees, Alera was still a force to be reckoned with. The greatest gathering of Legions in a thousand years had congregated on the open plain around the city of Riva - the vast majority of them made up of veterans from the continually warring cities of Antillus and Phrygia. Oh, true, some of the troops were militia - but the militia of the sister cities of the north were quite literally as formidable as any of the active Legions of the south, and smithies were turning out weapons and armor for the Legions more rapidly than at any time in Aleran history. In fact, if they could have produced even more equipment, the Realm had volunteers enough for a dozen more Legions to add to the thirty already encamped.

Ehren shook his head. Thirty Legions. Just over two hundred thousand steel-clad legionares, each one part of a Legion, a living, breathing engine of war. The lower ranks of the Citizenry had been distributed among the Legions, so many that every Legion there had a double-sized cohort of Knights ready to do battle. And, beyond that, a full bloody Legion Aeris, its ranks consisting solely of those with the skills of Knights Aeris, led by the upper ranks of the Citizenry, had been harassing the foe for months.

And standing by beyond even that force was the First Lord and the High Lords of the Realm, each a furycrafter of almost unbelievable power. There was strength enough in that camp to rip the earth to its very bones, to set the sky on fire, to draw down the hungry sea from the north, to raise the winds to a killing scythe that would destroy any caught before it, all protected by a seething sea of steel and discipline.

And yet refugees, fleeing the destruction spreading from the heart of the Realm, continued to flood in. There was a desperate edge to the voices of centurions driving their troops to drill. Couriers, riding the winds, went roaring into the skies on thunderous columns of fury-guided air, so many that the Princeps had been forced to establish a policy for lanes of approach to prevent the fliers from collisions. Smithies burned their forges day and night, creating, preparing, repairing, and would continue doing so until the vord overran them.

And Ehren knew what was driving all of it.

Fear. Unmitigated terror.

Though the gathered might of all Alera spread for miles around Riva, the fear was a scent on the air, a shadow hovering at the edges of vision. The vord were coming, and calm, quiet voices whispered in every mind with the capacity for thought that even the power gathered there would not be enough. Though Gaius Sextus had died like a rogue gargant brought to bay, crushing his foes as he fell, the fact remained that he had fallen. There was an unspoken thought lurking behind everyone's eyes - if Gaius Sextus could not survive the vord, what chance did anyone else possess?

Ehren nodded to the commander of the score of guards surrounding the command tent, spoke the current passphrase, and was admitted to the tent without needing to so much as slow his steps. Nothing much really slowed Ehren's steps these days, he reflected. Gaius Sextus's letter to then-High Lord Aquitaine had apparently seen to that - among other things.

"Five months," snarled a rumbling voice, as Ehren entered the tent. "Five months we've been sitting here. We should have been moving south against the vord weeks ago!"

"You're a brilliant tactician, Raucus," replied a deeper, quieter voice. "But long-term thinking was never your strongest suit. We can't know what surprises the vord have in store for us on ground they've had time to prepare."

"There's never been evidence of any defenses," Antillus Raucus, High Lord Antillus retorted, as Ehren brushed aside the second tent flap and entered the tent proper. Raucus faced the Princeps across a double-sized sand table in the center of the tent that bore a map of all Alera upon it. He was a big, brawny man with a craggy face long used to winter winds, and he wore the scars of a soldier upon his face and hands, the reminders of nicks and cuts that had been so numerous and frequent that not even his considerable skills at furycraft could smooth them away. "In all of our history, this is the most powerful force ever assembled. We should take this army, ram it right down their throats, and kill that bitch of a Queen. Now. Today."

The First Lord was a leonine man, tall and lean, with dark golden hair and black, opaque eyes beneath the simple, undecorated steel band of his coronet, the traditional crown of a First Lord at war. Dressed in his own colors of scarlet and black, still, Aquitainus Attis - Gaius Aquitainus Attis, Ehren supposed, since Sextus had legally adopted the man in his last letter - faced Raucus's insistent statement with total calm. In that, at least, he actually was like Sextus, Ehren thought.

The First Lord shook his head. "The vord are obviously alien to us, but just as obviously intelligent. We have prepared defenses because it is an intelligent measure that even fools realize increases our ability to defend and control our land. We would be fools ourselves to assume that the vord cannot reach the same conclusion."

"When Gaius led our forces against the vord, you advised him to attack," Raucus pointed out. "Not retreat. It was the correct course of action."

"Given how many vord came to the final assault on Alera Imperia, apparently not," the First Lord replied. "We had no idea how many of them were out there. If he'd taken my counsel, our assault would have been enveloped and destroyed - and the vord were expecting us to do so."

"We know their numbers now," Raucus said.

"We think we do," Aquitaine shot back, heat touching his voice for the first time. "This is our last chance, Raucus. If these Legions fall, there is nothing left to stop the vord. I will not waste the blood of a single legionare if I cannot be sure to make the enemy pay a premium for it." He folded his hands behind his back, took a breath, and released it again, reassuming his air of complete calm. "They will come to us, and soon, and their Queen will be compelled to accompany them and coordinate the attack."

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