Red Lake


In this book, we see the Rallosian Army’s advance through the eyes of Ilkalla, a Qeynosian Guard at an outpost on Lake Rathetear.
For as long as she could, Ilkalla watched Gerren’s progress up the steep cliffs bordering Lake Rathetear. Even when she could no longer pick him out among the shadows cast by the jagged rocks, she fancied she could see him making his way cautiously along. Finally, she crept into the hut she and Gerren had shared beside their outpost and slept. The Rallosian Army would launch its barges across the Lake and she would need her strength to meet them.
The sun was high overhead when Ilkalla awoke. Her dreams were troubled by the thrumming of the ogres’ victory drums which had started up again while she slept. “Why couldn’t they use a victory flute instead?” she grumbled, latching on to the least of the concerns this day would bring. She had been able to cross the Lake on a coracle twice in one night, but she had been pulling only herself. She was not sure how long the massive, heavy Rallosians barges would take to make the same crossing.
There were very few humans around Lake Rathetear. Ilkalla was the only one present at the strategy meeting, where the aviak and centaur leaders stood before parchment maps, marking off the approaches across the Lake and the defensive positions available. The wide arrows indicating the ways the Rallosian Army could attack were wide swathes of red ochre compared to the tiny ash grey lines for defense. To Ilkalla, the ochre marks looked like dried blood.
“The best course of action is to stop them before they cross,” said Khaza, an aviak general. “The aqua goblins will join with the ogres, not with us. We have fought them too long for them to suddenly consider us their allies,” responded Errod of the centaurs. “Perhaps we could put our defense in two zones, rather than hoping to defend across the entire shore,” said Ilkalla. She pointed to the most likely site where the Rallosian barges would land. “Aviaks in front over the water and the rest of us on the shore.”
“With some aviaks in the flanks to keep the Rallosians from spreading our front lines too thin,” agreed Khaza. “We might not survive for long against the entire Rallosian Army, but we can pick them off and lessen their numbers.” The aviak and centaur leaders sent word to their gathered forces. Ilkalla (a “non-flier” as the aviaks called them) would join a centaur unit held in a third tier reserve.
Mixed now with the steady beat of the victory drums was the sound of chanting. The Rallosians were crossing the Lake, chanting to keep their oarsmen in rhythm and their deep voices carried across the water, bouncing off the mountains. No doubt their ruckus was designed to inspire fear amongst the defenders waiting for their approach. Instead, it filled them with anger and purpose. They might die this day, but they were taking as many ogres with them as they could.
Ilkalla chafed at being assigned to the third tier, but she knew her strengths did not include hand-to-hand combat. She gathered beside her all her own arrows plus the quivers Gerren had left behind. She looked toward the Rathe Mountains again, wondering how he was faring and praying that Tunare — wherever she may be — would guide him. Ilkalla had never been one of the faithful, praying to the gods at every rainbow or stubbed toe, but somehow it seemed fitting to pray today.
The chanting grew louder along with sound of vigorous splashing from the ogre paddlers. They were not skilled watersmen, but they were strong. As the first barge approached, the aviaks went into motion, throwing themselves into the faces of the Rallosians. The ogres’ chanting was now disrupted by the fighting calls of the aviaks — shrill, piercing and challenging. The barges did not halt with this interference; they continued their slow progress forward.
Thanks to the aviaks’ efforts and the skills of the archers in the second tier, the first barge to hit the shore came in at an awkward angle. The spiked boards scraped heavily into the loose gravel shore with enough force that many of the ogres standing ready for battle were set off balance. The centaurs charged in to take advantage of the moment, but another barge gliding in set loose a volley of arrows that tore into the second tier. All too soon, the third tier moved forward.
At the far end of her line, Ilkalla took careful but quick aim at the ogres, trying to avoid the remaining aviaks and centaurs at the front of the line. From the corner of her eye she caught a movement, but was unable to stop the blow. Sinking to the rocky shore, Ilkalla’s mind drifted like the waters surrounding her. “I always thought that water was blue,” she murmured dazedly. As the final blow struck, a shriveled gnoll’s paw floated up beside her on the waves of the red lake.

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