Morning had just broken over the imperial camp and the first few rays of sunlight crept their way over the horizon. Despite this the encampment was already bustling with the many tens of thousands of Imperial soldiers preparing themselves for battle. It was chaotic to say the least. Patrick had ordered everyone be ready and in formation by the crack of dawn so they could arrive at Clarm by mid-day. Evennis was busy nursing his hangover that he had gained from the night before. The battalion officers were making this very difficult with them constantly yelling at their soldiers to get in line. Evennis hoped that the march to Clarm would clear his head, after all fighting with a hangover was never a good idea, he had once tried it back when he was fighting in the Grand Arena and it had made the battle considerably harder, not that his opponent had a chance either way. As Evennis looked out into the encampment a figure caught his eye: A man clad in full plate armour riding into camp. Judging from his armour and appearance it was clear he wasn’t part of any of the great houses armies nor was he a mercenary. Perhaps he was part of Lycaon’s brigade, though Evennis doubted it. Either way he had peaked his interest and Evennis decided it would be best to investigate, after all it beat just waiting around for his hangover to heal.
The rone white fur in the otherwise chestnut coat of the tall, young steed shimmered like gold in the early rays of the morning light as it bore the knight aloft at a lazy stride. Unadorned silver-colored plate shone with the image of the eclipsed sun, the corona radiata, upon its chest. A simple white cloak draped partly over the rhythmically shifting hips of the animal like a harlot's skirt, reaching up to the knight's shoulders in a caress that offered a degree of warmth to them both as the cold, night air began to give way to the dawn.
Eclipse rode with his helm fixed behind him, but within easy reach. His own, lion-like hair put his sunlit horse to shame. He carried a sword and shield as was typical for many of the knights and soldiers preparing for the grand battle. A retinue of knights rode at his sides, seemingly oblivious to the minor divinity that appeared to be in their midst. Either by enchantment or by order, they were under his command, and Eclipse regarded them as both soldiers and brethren in one.
So perfect was this visage that one might have thought he had stepped out of one of the classical paintings that so often hung in the grand halls of nobles. In reality, such picturesque warriors more often than not amounted to little worth on the battlefield, yet a trained eye could appreciate the lethality of this assumption. Inconsistencies in the light's play across the armor could be seen where previous dents had been hammered out. The easy sway of the knight's hips in time with the steed's stride, the broad shoulders, and the fine lines in his hands all spoke of years of past experience and training. Nothing about this knight was new, except perhaps for the banner of the Order of St. Elenor he rode under.
Eclipse cast his gaze about the thousands of troops gathered before him and marvelled at the vastness of the king's army. If this was any sign, then Duncan DeRemier was surely loved. Eclipse reflected. It had been the same with Lord Manshrew many years ago, the very man that they now rode to suppress, perhaps even, to slay. Eclipse tarried his horse and allowed his gaze to drift upward as he subconsciously sought divine reaffirmation of his purpose. Order. Order must be established and maintained. Even the gods will this. He recalled his meeting with the king and with the reverened Lord Lycaon. As far as he could tell, they were sane and honorable men, and he struggled to see why the great Manshrew would oppose them. Perhaps the old war hero, and his own former general, had lost his mind.
Eclipse dropped his gaze to find a pained expression on the face of a man approaching him.
As Evennis approached the man it was clear that his initial assumption was correct. This man was indeed part of the church of Klebrithy, though his armour and sigil were different from the Elenor knights that accompanied him.
“Well met friend” Evennis said with a slight smirk as he gave the man a over exaggerated bow “may I ask whom I have the pleasure of addressing” he continued with a slight hint of sarcasm in his voice.
Eclipse looked down at the man who had spoken, regrettably unable to do anything about their difference in stature from horseback. At first glance, the man appeared to be well built, a good fighter, perfectly caught between the ages of youthful vitality and aged experience, and exceptionally polite. His exact demeanor was difficult to judge in light of the early hour and impending inevitable bloodshed, and so Eclipse withheld any. Only the naive and insane could ever be comfortable before battle. Eclipse understood that such tensions could only be soothed with grace.
“Hail brother.” The knight replied with even tone. “I am Eclipse, servant of The Eight. I am in command of this regiment of knights loyal to the Order of Saint Elenor and to the gods’ chosen king. Please tell me, friend, when I praise the gods after this battle is won, who should I tell them fought righteously by my side?” Eclipse gave a slight smile as he creatively asked Evennis to identify himself in return.
Evennis gave a sly smile as he responded “I am Evennis, some random guy with a hangover. Tell me do you plan to join the rest of the churches forces on the front lines, or is a man of your...rank required elsewhere” Evennis said. More than often the fancy knights who spoke the loudest and stood out the most were the ones who would end up the furthest away from combat.
Eclipse’s expression was appropriately solemn. He respected the men that were about to die and expected nothing different. After a moment, he replied with all seriousness as though he were reminding himself with his own words, ”The only true worship of Timtos occurs in battle, and so this is also our duty. My place is by my brothers’ sides, and together we will not falter.” Heartened by these words, the knight suddenly broke out an unexpected smile, a unbidden sparkle of hope that shot through the ice between himself and Evennis. It was small, but carried with it a sense of understanding and promise of trust.
Rumors had it there was a knight among Lycaon’s men that had come to him with a great following from the west, that this man had thrown away his former identity and titles, and bore a unique name that could only have come from the southern lands. So far, this Eclipse had said nothing of his rank or titles or lordships. He hadn’t even spoken of himself as “sir.” Could this be that man?
“Lord Evennis.” Eclipse interrupted any ongoing thoughts. “I am in search of my brothers and of the Lord Lycaon of the holy order. My men and I are ready to fight and to fulfill our oaths to gods and country. If you can, please direct us to the front line.”
Evennis was surprised, it seemed he had misjudged Eclipse, this man truly intended to fight on the front lines where the fighting would be at its fiercest.
“I am no lord, sir but I too will be on the front lines. Afterall this will be the biggest battle in decades and I do not intend to disappoint Timtos by cowering at the back of the battlefield. If it is Lord Lycaon you seek he and his men have already taken position on the front lines, just outside of the encampment. It will be easy to recognize them, afterall they do stand out a bit from the rest of the militia” Evennis returned a smile to Eclipse as he spoke. If Eclipse did intend to fight on the front lines there was a fair chance he wouldn’t survive. Most of Lycaon’s brigade was poorly equipped and had next to no training. Evennis himself planned to fight near the Blackwell dragonguard, his chances of survival were much better fighting alongside them.
“I thank you my friend. I go now to join them, and I leave you with the only words of salvation that I have to give. Remember the gifts of Jykher and Othys, and the commands of the most holy Leplo, ‘Once your enemy lies defeated, you should also avoid hurting him.’” Eclipse saluted with a fist across his chest. “For the Eight. For order.” Then, the angelic sun that was the blonde paladin turned with his company and made for their place beside Lycaon’s poorly prepared brigade.
Eclispe sat mounted aside his ragtag cohort of knights from Ralda and his new brethren from within the Order of St. Elenor. He beheld with stoicism Sir Lycaon as he began an inspirational speech to prepare the uninitiated for their first, and possibly last, battle. The grandmaster of the order was very much like himself, in a way. He was fair of hair, a righteous and noble figure, and capable of inspiration with but his unwavering glare. Yet there seemed to be a hollowness to his words in that stark morning light, as if the man didn't didn't hold any true belief in what he was saying.
Eclipse showed no outward sign of reaction as he questioned the validity of Lycaon's claims. Andrew Manshrew was ignoble? A slaver? This wasn't the man he had known. Of course, such things surely had to be said of the enemy when going to war against them, and Manshrew had in fact chosen war. Perhaps it was true, and the man had fallen from grace. The dark gods have unfortunately broken once noble men many times before, may their souls find forgiveness. Try as he might to hold out for a worthy excuse for Manshrew to act as he did, Eclipse couldn't think of any legitimate reason for him to have turned against the good King DeRemier. The grating curiosity nonetheless wouldn't leave him in peace.
Seeing the elephants successfully dispatched with the miracle of magic heartened even virgin warriors, and under the halo of flying arrows arching down upon the light infantry before them, the men and women of the holy order bravely began their charge. Steed, and armor, strength, and skill gave Eclipse a disproportionate edge against the enemy among his allies, and he was keenly aware of it. He felt a sense of displacement as the fighting began at the front, that even though he charged and struck and trampled, he didn't belong there. His duty was not to waste himself grinding the rabble and fodder that the enemy threw in front of itself like a shield of meat. No. He had to be more effective than that. He was made to do more than that. "Gods use me." The white knight whispered in prayer as he looked up in an opportune moment of stillness between attacks, straining to see whatever it was the gods wanted him to realize. The motion of hundreds of bodies and flashing blades all around him was blinding, causing friend and foe to blend with each other in a visual cacophony. Quickly, Eclipse made out the images of Sir Daeleth and Lord Lycaon, a young woman defending herself with axe and shield, and just beyond them, the approach of Lannistark soldiers. He knew what he had to do.
Manshrew's reinforcements had arrived, the heavy infantry influx causing a vigorous surge in the fighting. Soldiers were falling at an accelerating rate and the line began to push back in favor of the Manshrew forces. As unexpected as a bolt of lightning in the blue, a gleeming silver streak of metal atop rippling golden muscle burst at full charge from an odd angle past the forward melee and careened directly onto a Lannistark commander. "For Timtos!" Like a lance, Eclipse' halberd drove mercilessly into the flank of the man and instantly unhorsed him, the jarring impact bringing the man's steed down on top of him to follow. The surrounding enemy soldiers struggled to control their mounts as they prepared to deal with the foolish knight who had dared to dive so deeply apart from his allies into their higher ranks. Having lost his halberd, Eclipse drew his dwarven steel sword and raised it high as his adrenaline-fueled horse reared up to strike at the other horses around itself, driving them back. "For Formaroth!" A heated mounted combat ensued as Eclipse was promptly joined by a few of his fellows that had followed him closely ever after events in Ralda and took his lead to unsettle enemy command.
These valiant break-aways were few, however, and the distraction they provided was brief, although they did manage to sap some of the momentum of the enemy's sweeping advance. Instinctively coalescing into a defensive formation, the knights held their ground for the most part, aside from the constant jarring and drifting that occurred as they circled around each other and their enemies. Blows were traded, and wounds given and received. Yet, despite their efforts, the call for a retreat sounded behind them. The knights of the holy order were pulling back. Alarmed by the unexpected order, Eclipse stole a glance at the surrounding battle for a tactical assessment and realized that he and his men were about to be left stranded behind enemy lines.
Retreating. It felt like a betrayal. Was any cause worth taking lives over not also worth giving your own? Of course it was, for that was justice. That was honor, and it was owed to the enemy. Yet turning tail and beating a tear back to safer waters wasn't without its complications and costs. A sudden flash of steel in the corner of his eye, and Eclipse deftly parried an attack aimed at the back of his head behind himself at the last second. Doing so, cost him a moment of precious time that he hadn't given an order. In a moment of personal indecision, one of his knights suddenly broke formation and darted off for Lycaon's brigade, but his steed was tired, and he was immediately surrounded and felled, unable to defend himself from two sides at once. "Kenneth!" Eclipse cried out in vain, unable to spare his sight to even watch the man's demise as he was forced to continue his own fight for survival against one of Manshrew's mounted combatants. His circle was now reduced to five. "Hold your ground!" The paladin ordered at last as he realized what they must do. He kept fighting. "Our lives belong to each other! To the Eight! We fight to the end!" Like an infection, Eclipse's unwaivering conviction spread to everyone around him, his words causing an awakening of dormant strength in even the animals they rode upon. They didn't want to die, but somehow fear of it drained from thier blood in acceptance of the inevitable. A resolution solidified in their hearts, and an uncanny confidance steadied their hands. Maybe a man would eventually go down, but he'd die before he saw the brother next to him go down. With the prayer for deliverance unspoken on their lips, the Knights of Eclipse turtled up with the glint of mad zealots in their eyes.
The men of Cawanor came, as did the Anjervine cavalry, former enemies now turned ally in common purpose, and the tides of war shifted back as the trap was sprung. Time passed infinitely slowly. So many had died. The Manshrew forces had gone into full retreat, fighting no longer to advance, but only to escape. The battle was over, the victor declared, and it was only right to allow this enemy to slink back and lick its wounds. They were our brothers afterall, people of Formaroth, not some invading, non-human species, and they deserved mercy. To deny them this would be to curse the entire country forever to be fractured, brother against brother, depending on what lands they had been born in and what side of the war those lands had been on. Hard feelings would linger for centuries like an illness, poisoning the future kingdom and feeding the spread of dark influence.
A voice cut straight into Claus' ear with the heart-stopping boom of an angry father. A lone knight, armor battered, both he and his horse tainted with blood, strode up suddenly to come between the mercenary captain and the target he had only ever dreamed of killing. Eclipse was alive, and although he bore the pattern of the holy order on his barding, it was against Claus that he faced off. Putting his back to Andrew, Eclipse glanced over his shoulder at the would-be rebel king from atop his bleeding but still beautiful steed. The knight's look was knowing, and disapproving, yet he said nothing to Manshrew except to unexpectedly dismount and push the reigns in his direction, offering an easy escape. Not even looking back to see if the man took them, the blonde knight stepped toward Claus with sword in hand. "You are Sir Rotstein, leader of the Steel Fists, are you not? You enrage the gods with this act of dishonor! To prey upon the wounded and fleeing after their defeat! These are people of the future kingdom of Formaroth, our brothers and neighbors! The battle is over. There is nothing to be had here save for the seeds of resentment and bitterness. Leave these people their food and belongings so that they may survive this. Heed Leplo the Mercygiver, call off your men, or I shall be forced to remove you from command."