CHAPTER SIX: ONE SPY, ONE ARMY
Rainscale had her 100 warrior mares and stallions gathered, tense and ready for battle. There were a few young warriors, only just passed their second year-days and recently sorted into Rainscale’s platoon after a few spaces had opened up. There were many two year olds waiting for a spot in a platoon, Ashfall himself had had to wait a few seasons before he’d been sorted under Rainscale’s command. The numbers had to keep to exactly 100.
A young warrior stallion with sparkly silver wings suddenly bucks under the preasure of the tension and adrenaline running through Rainscale’s warriors like a single bloodstream, breaking the awkward silence and stillness. He accidentally kicks a mare, of about 30, who pins her ears in annoyance and nips at him, doing nothing to calm the foolish warrior’s excited nerves.
Ashfall looked on as havoc broke out among the surrounding Sielfaci, their tails lashing, ears flat back, and hooves lifting up and stomping down frustratedly at the pain of the wait and exasperated anger at their fellow troops. Suddenly Rainscale, who had been rapidly filling with rage at watching her warrior’s disorder, snapped them out of their silly trances.
“Order!” she barked, and the Sielfaci all fell still, their wings folding neatly back onto their backs and the guilty steeds dropping their heads in shame, still casting fierce glances at one another. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Ashfall had only participated in one battle before, a small one over foreign Sielfaci passing into their territory, therefore his experience was low yet his skills sharp. His Asherguard had been strict and trained him hard, but understood Ashfall well.
Thunderbane had, over his many year-days, collected all the stories of the five ancient Flampades. He had passed these bloody battles, enigmatic myths, and thrilling legends down to Ashfall, and only Ashfall, as no one else would listen to him. For once Thunderbane had done something unforgivable, and was haunted by it with the disgust of his Flampade for the rest of his life. Which he still lived, tucked away in silence, in his own world where the tales of Hellagon could replay in his head and he could be sucked into the magnificent stories.
Being Ashfall’s Asherguard was one of his punishments for his terrible deed. Thunderbane had never wanted to mentor an Ashling, and yet the duty had been forced on him by the soresta. His other punishment was banishment from the army’s ranks. It was a cruel punishment, as any capable Sielfaci who was not a warrior, or anything else, was viewed as a coward, which made Thunderbane’s existence a miserable one.
Mentoring Ashfall was the last sane thing Thunderbane did after his mistake, before he fell into the depth of his thoughts and could not be rescued. He was deemed a ‘potentially dangerous lunatic’ and kept locked up under heavy guard to rock back and forth, muttering nonsense and living in his fascinating stories and legends.
“Take flight!” Rainscale bellowed, and the whole assembled Storm Flampade army flooded into the sky. Ouch. Rainscale sure was loud. Ashfall often dived into sleep with her annoying voice still ringing in his sensitive ears. He wished he’d been sorted under a different, quieter battle-leader’s command.
What was going on though? Why had the whole army been called to duty without any notice or explanation? But the pre-battle state of the army demanded silence, and so Ashfall did not dare speak his confused question. He guessed, though, that since it was the Season of Ice and many territory’s water supplies were frozen over that it was over a matter of drinking in another Flamnpade’s territory. A stupid move. If Ashfall was ever soresta, which he did not intend to be as the task was dangerous and he could potentially be murdered in the Tournament of the New Soresta, he would make sure to never set a foot in another Flampade’s territory.
Last Season of Ice Water Flampade had attacked Air Flampade, he remembered, and a tiny group of ten spies, including the small Flampade’s soresta and highest ranking battle-leader, had been overwhelmed by 1000 warriors, leaving the battle-leader dead and the soresta grieving for the loss.
“Spies returning!” a battle-leader called. It was customary to send a small group of warrior spies to count the numbers and assess the situation if foreign Sielfaci entered your territory. Ashfall perked his ears, eager to hear the information that the spies had gathered.
“An Air Sielfaci has been spotted in our territory!” a steed whinnied. “They appeared to be spying on our predicament!” the informed Sielfaci continued. “And they were alone. Just one single steed. They have been captured and are under heavy guard while they are interrogated. We will ask Silverwind about this incident tomorrow when the spy is settled.”
“Return to the current pasture and await further instruction from your battle-leaders!” the soresta told all the Sielfaci. They were disappointed yet relieved that there had been no battle, as any fight includes losses on both sides, and a tension between the two Flampades that is on a hair trigger and could go on for many seasons before the dispute is finally settled.
As her flew back, the warm currents under his wings as he flew with his fellow warriors, Ashfall wondered what the scallings would think about this. They would be excited, jumping about and asking many questions for sure. They would deflate when he told them that there was no battle and that there had been no excitement, but would pester him to finish the tale of Moonray, which he was more than happy to do.
Thunderbane had enjoyed the stories when they were kept to himself, but Ashfall not only loved the tales but relished in the delight of sharing them with joyful and hyper young scallings and newlings, to set their minds reeling with mysterious endings and puzzling morals.
“What happened! What happened!” they gibbered at him excitedly as he landed.
“Nothing but a-”
“ASHFALL! I did not tell you to disperse! Formation training, NOW!” Rainscale screeched at him. Ashfall sighed. He had been dying to tell the scallings of the most exciting bit of Moonray’s tale, but guessed he would have to wait until the end of an excruciatingly boring formation training session, something which Rainscale unfortunately seemed to love. Ashfall turned his back on the scallings and sauntered off to join Rainscale.