Yathebon taking his army didn’t concern him. Even with Yathebon gone, Natas had more armies, enough men to outnumber the Nusallean forces by four to one.
“And what if you do not find a pass through the mountains as you propose?” Natas said.
“Then we keep going west and girt them,” said Yathebon.
“Into Soravia? I would have a war on two fronts at the same time.”
“If I may, my king,” interjected Assebar. “My parents are Soravian. They migrated to Sidea when I was a babe.”
“Your point, General?” gurgled Natas.
“My father told me that no civilised Soravian ventures north to the region mentioned by General Yathebon. There is nothing but desert there where savage nomadic tribes forever war with each other. They tend to kill strangers on sight.”
Natas’ face darkened. “Are you suggesting that wandering tribes are any match for one of my armies?”
Assebar nervously cleared his throat.
“No, of course not, my king. I am merely saying General Yathebon’s plan has merit. The desert tribes would pose no threat. If necessary, he could march briefly into the desert and around the mountains without the Soravian Queen’s knowledge.”
“Aye, my king,” said Yathebon. “At worst, we may be a little late for the river crossing. But once the Nusalleans retreat from the main battle, we could cut them off and delay them long enough for you to bring up the main force.”
Natas grinned. “Excellent. General Yathebon, you will lead your army on the morrow.”
Yathebon, bowed his head.
“Leave me now; all of you.”
Every General bowed his head and rose from their seats, leaving the tent without Natas’ acknowledgement. He continued to drink a few minutes longer in solitude, before deciding to retire in his tent for the evening. A Black Eagle swordsman snapped to attention as he left the command tent, into the chill air of the rainy night. His men chatted around hundreds of fires stretching along the river’s sandy bank. A glance across the river showed him that the Nusalleans did the same. Only approximately 400 paces separated them. Could Tonunda be somewhere on the northern bank, seeking him out too?
Conversation from the nearest soldiers’ fire permeated his hearing.
“I had heard that he was a feral man, reared by dogs and can command beasts to do his will,” said a swordsman in a revered tone.
“Aye,” said another soldier, drawing his cloak tighter about himself. “I would not want to face him. Men call him “Tonunda the Savage” for good reason.”
Natas rounded on them, glaring at the mention of Tonunda’s name. Every face in the yellow glow of the fire looked at him lividly. His gaze noted a shift in the eyes of his ashen faced men, looking down. In his anger, he had subconsciously crushed the chalice. He tossed it aside as he singled out a stocky NCO among the group.
“Devra, your men are on watch tonight,” he rasped.
The man quickly got to his feet, standing at attention.
“We are from the 4th army, my king. Two Ruscats of the second are already on watch.”
“Then you are to tell them that you could think of no greater privilege than to assist them,” Natas said evenly.
“A.. aye, my king,” he stammered.
Natas ignored their salutes as he made his way to his personal tent. No doubt, once he moved out of earshot, the soldiers would utter all manner of obscenities.
Black Eagles stood at their posts around the tent; ten in all. One of the swordsmen by his tent flap raised it as Natas paused to take a final look across the river. Possibly on the other bank, stood the man he hated more than any other on this earth. Never before, did he encounter such resistance. His armies normally swept through lands like a scythe through a wheat field. He could enforce his conquests from his throne in Sidea, but this Tonunda; raised an entire nation to oppose him. Such audacity forced him from a comfortable palace to lead his armies personally.
And it will come at a price he vowed.
He hoped to find Tonunda in the coming battle, and plunge his own blade into the savage little king’s heart. Such an action would quash any further resistance to his spreading empire.