I’m very grateful for everyone’s patience as I get closer to completing Eagle Breaker. As a token of my gratitude, and to build a little hype, here’s the opening of the chapter in which the Eaglemasters begin their greatest campaign ever. No longer spread along two battlefronts, they launch a full-scale invasion of the Ferotaur Wildlands to finally wipe out their ancient enemies once and for all.

But, as the months go on, the great war they’ve long imagined doesn’t transpire exactly as planned…

Chapter Five – To the Wildlands

 

Valeine sat mounted on her eagle, Lielle, atop Veleseor’s walls as she peered northeast, where the Mountains of the Lost barely peaked over the horizon. A month had now passed since Morlen set out alone, and despite all the frightening stories her brothers had told her of that place when she was a child, and the more reliable accounts she’d heard as a Lady, she knew he was still alive. Perhaps malnourished, cold, and one hundred miles from Roftome, but alive. And any enemy foolish enough to attack him alone would fare poorly.

She had no illusions that they would soon be reunited, nor did she take for granted that he would escape at all. But hope was the brightest star that guided him now, and she would let her own burn just as fully every day. Then maybe, when their memories of shared happiness were buried under ones of battle and death after years apart, their paths might meet again.

Her gaze turned toward the capital and the thousands of Eaglemasters flying southward from it, and she only now began to wonder how prudent it was to leave all five cities of the realm with merely a few dozen defenders. True, their greatest and most present threat had always sprung from the territory they would soon invade, and eliminating it could forever bring security and prosperity. But if their war with the Tyrant Prince had taught them anything, it was that new and devastating foes could always strike unexpectedly.

The king eventually descended to the north walls beside her with the Crystal Spear in his grip and his banner men flying the red and silver flags of Veldere. Throngs of the city’s people celebrated his arrival from below, and he sat on his perched eagle to address them while the full army of Eaglemasters landed outside the city’s perimeter.

“My people,” Verald called out while their applause subsided, “I bring you many good tidings. The first, and most joyous for me to share not only with you, but also with my sister and loyal battalions, is that…” He paused to let their suspense grow, and waited until the city became utterly silent before finally announcing, “Your queen is with child!”

A burst of cheers rose from the enthralled crowd, and Valeine smiled broadly at her brother on hearing the news for the first time. Such fortunate events had been scarce indeed, lately. But still her misgivings about their impending departure grew when she pictured his first child learning to walk in the castle halls while he was off fighting battles in a distant land.

“How I wish my father and brothers had lived to see this day,” he continued. “They were the strongest champions of our realm, and would rejoice at the new light that shines upon us now after such a long darkness. By their sacrifices, and those of so many heroes whose valor may never be equaled, we have defeated the shriekers in the East and freed all lands from the scourge of the Tyrant Prince. Yet our war, which has raged since the birth of our kingdom, is far from over. But never have our enemies across the river felt the full force of the Eaglemasters deep within their own wretched lands, until today. And so, I have come to you to say farewell.”

Many dispirited voices rang out in response to this declaration, and he held up a hand to ease their sadness. “But it is not goodbye. Queen Elleth will rule in my stead while she carries your new prince or princess, with my trusted counselors to guide her forward and contingents of Eaglemasters to look after each of our five cities. My army will launch from this seat of strength founded by King Veleseus the Bold to finish the conquest for which he gave his life generations ago. The Eaglemasters will shroud the Wildlands and destroy every ferotaur from the river to their cavernous mountains, and the plague that they have brought to this border for so many centuries will be eradicated! And our future will be brighter for ages to come!”

All gathered citizens made a thunderous clamor, and Verald looked to Valeine in respect. “It’s your city; you lead the way, Sister.”

She took one final look at the many families that she had protected with her life and the lives of her men for the last year, and could only resolve to fight so fiercely in this new campaign that they would be safer upon her return than they were now. Lielle took her skyward with a powerful lunge as she had her bow in hand and her spear strapped over her shoulder, and the king joined her with his banner men and trumpeters on either side. As the entire army ascended, the people of Veleseor honored them by singing the victory song of their city, and the Eaglemasters too began to sing each verse as they passed over the Silver River that divided their realm from the Ferotaur Wildlands.

“To the Wildlands long ago he flew
Veleseus the Bold
The fiercest king we ever knew
For his wrath is widely told
The tens of thousands that he slew
At the river he patrolled
Piled higher than the walls that grew
At his newly built stronghold
But he spurned safe ground and pressed ahead
Into the open skies
O’er lands that filled most men with dread
But were pleasing to his eyes
Together with his eldest son
The Bold King felt no fear
And side by side, many battles they won
With the mighty Crystal Spear
Alas, one returned, a prince no more
Who to his sorry people said,
‘My father could not win his war;
Your beloved king is dead.’
But in the Wildlands he still flies
Veleseus the bold
The king whose memory never dies
While we stand in his stronghold.”

Their formation of nearly three thousand crossed swiftly over enemy shores and cast a widespread shadow on clusters of ferotaurs that frantically scattered at their approach. The nearest packs had been pushing skiffs on wooden-wheeled frames toward the river, but abandoned their vessels in a futile effort as flaming pots of oil bombarded the entire area and set them all ablaze.

“Give them a river of fire!” belted Verald as they swept northwest along the border incinerating entire swaths of land wherever the ferotaurs were dense, and a serpent of engulfed terrain meandered in their wake…

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