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Finally, Znak began the story. “It was not long after we graduated from the academy. Your father was an archery lieutenant; I, an infantry officer. I had not seen much of him after we left officer training, but I occasionally heard about him because he was just as popular as ever. Things were heating up on the frontier with Rozkol. Spies said that there was a massive army approaching our border, and we were mobilized along with nearly every other unit this side of the mountains. Word was that this army was going to try and sweep across our northern frontier. This was the first real conflict that Dirka had faced in nearly one hundred years. There had been small skirmishes, but nothing major. Finally, relations with the hordes of the west hit bottom and we were forced into conflict.
“The Rozkol, you see, had always kept their eye on our northern lands because they controlled the area at one time. There are in fact still today some people there that are not really Dirkan and not really Rozkol. They are the Ungers. Mostly they are simple farmers, but they formed some cities there and the land is very fertile for farming. Much of the Rozkol lands are barren and desert, so the farmland of the north is something they long for even today.
“So, we marched to meet their army before it reached Dirka. In a few days, nearly the entire Harmon garrison left for our western fort. After nearly a week of marching, we reached the town of Junutam. When we got there, we learned that the Rozkol army had already crossed into Dirka. We were forced to march north to try and head them off. It was slow going. We had to cross the Urlan River, which is wide and deep in places. It took us a long time to cross. The Rozkol were swift. They had many horses and could move nearly the entire army very quickly. By the time we caught up with them, they had already begun to devastate the frontier.
“We came upon some villages that had been destroyed. The people were all murdered and the buildings were all burned. This made things even more difficult for us because there were no supplies or food for us, but still we pursued them across the plains.
“At last, we caught up with them. They had been delayed because they were attempting to take a fortified city, and it took them longer than they had hoped. We arrived not in time to save the city, but in time to prevent them from moving forward.
“We set up our camp and waited to meet with the Rozkol invaders. Some people who had survived their invasion came to us for aid and to give us information about our enemy. They said that there were about ten thousand riders, both with bows and spears. They had no siege weapons, but they were very fast and very skilled. Many of them were fierce warriors, both of brown skin and black. We knew that it would be difficult to defeat them, even though our numbers matched theirs.
“We also learned that their commander was Kalihi Farhani, a brilliant and calculating man, but also very cruel and cold. He had led many raids into Dirkan territory in the past, though none of them were of any large numbers. He had a reputation for maximum pain and devastation. He enjoyed torturing captured soldiers and left warnings for others by leaving severed heads on pikes. We knew him well. Still, he was never captured and never killed in all of his previous attacks. The generals were very nervous. They told us to try and hide the identity of the Rozkol leader from the rest of the men because they did not want everyone overcome with fear.
“After three days of waiting and little contact, battle was inevitable. We lined up the next day at dawn to meet our enemy. The battle went poorly for us. They were too swift and too skilled. We were not prepared to fight against so many mounted soldiers, while most of our forces were on foot. On the first day, they broke through our lines and routed us. We took heavy losses. About two thousand men died on the first day, and we only killed about five hundred of theirs. At that rate, we were destined to be overwhelmed in a few days.
“What was worse was that everyone knew who was leading the Rozkol, and now there was panic in the ranks. Some men even deserted to avoid certain death. It was all I could do to keep my own men from running, but we managed to rally our forces and line up again the next day.
“This time the battle went a little better for us, but still our casualties were worse than theirs, and our spirits sank even deeper. We needed to at least hold the Rozkol there until more forces could arrive, but we got word that there would not be any reinforcements for another ten days because they had to travel even farther than we had. No one was sure if any of us would be alive in ten days. At the rate we were being beaten, it was likely that we would soon be completely destroyed, possibly as soon as our next battle.
“The generals came up with a plan. They told all of the officers to instruct their men to try and eliminate Farhani. It was thought that if we could eliminate their leader that they would be weakened, and we could possibly outlast them.
“This was not going to be an easy task because he was always surrounded by his closest advisors and some elite warriors. We developed a battle plan that would hopefully push the riders to our flanks, thus leaving the center weak enough to push through and engage Farhani. We formed a wedge to try and penetrate the Rozkol lines.”
Durbar could not wait to hear how the battle went. He was on the edge of his seat and hung on every word the old warrior used. Never before had he imagined his father in such a huge and dangerous battle. With the descriptions from Znak, he could clearly see his father on the battlefield now. He drew on the image of Adar in his dreams, dressed in armor, and years of seeing his father hunt dear in the woods. He combined those images with the image of his father in combat shooting his bow at charging riders and downing them just as he had so many animals.
Znak, too, was enjoying telling the story. He did not have such a captive audience very often, and he did enjoy talking about his own adventures, even if they were as tragic as the one he was sharing with Durbar. He remembered those days with fondness because he had a strong purpose then. He was a soldier in the Dirkan army and defended their lands from raiders and bandits. He was a hero. Nowadays, he sometimes was depressed with his simple life and enjoyed reminiscing about more romantic times.
“The sun was red in the sky that morning, a bad omen before a battle. We weren’t sure if our strategy would pay off, but it may have been our last chance at beating the invaders,” Znak continued after a long drink from his cup. “My men were among those positioned in the center. Your father’s archers were behind us along with some other units. When we began, everything looked like it was working. The center fought forward while the flanks fell back, drawing more riders to the outside and propelling us forward toward Farhani. We actually reached his unit and began to assault his men trying to get to their leader. But Farhani’s men were even more amazing than the rest of his troops. We were taking enormous losses. His horsemen were cutting down my foot soldiers left and right. The best weapon we had against them was our archers.
“Your father was firing his bow into the Rozkol as they rode through our ranks. He and some of his men were causing a great deal of loss to their side, and we were making progress and getting closer to Farhani, albeit at a high price. He must have shot a dozen of them. Then something happened. Farhani engaged in battle because we were getting so close. He saw that we were nearing his position, and being a warrior, he charged our line to cut us down.
“I had never seen anything like it. He was wielding a huge scimitar with a blade easily ten inches wide at the end. His sword brought death quickly to all that it met, like a bolt from the sky. I shouted to my men to take him down now that he was near us, but no one could do it. One after another they fell to him or his captains. Your father shot one of the captains with an arrow and down he went, but no one could get Farhani. It was as if he were immortal.
“At last he was nearing me. I thought that that was my chance to be the hero. I didn’t care if I died; I was determined to take the Rozkol leader with me. As he approached, I knew that I could not hit him before he sliced me in half with his blade so I moved away to avoid his sword and stuck my sword into his mount, causing it to come crashing to the ground. I had hoped that Farhani might even be killed in the fall, but he was too skilled for that and actually landed without any injury to himself. It turned out that he was just as deadly on his feet as he was on his horse. He immediately killed three men that attacked him when he was down and that left me face to face with him.
“I swung my sword down on him in an attempt to take him by surprise, but he blocked my strike and held his sword there for just a second. In that second, our eyes met. His were dark and sharp and pierced my soul. I was overcome with a sudden fear, as I knew that he meant to kill me, just as he had so many people throughout his life. He had long hair that hung over his face and a thick beard, but his eyes pierced like arrows from his veiled face.
“I was still stunned by the man’s fury when he attacked. By instinct alone, I defended myself. I parried his slashes and dodged his thrusts, but he was too quick for me. I could not renew my attack and eventually he landed a blow to my side. I was wearing chain armor so it absorbed some of the impact, but I was still slashed badly.”
Znak paused and lifted his shirt to reveal a long, wide scar just under his right arm. Durbar was shocked. “I tried to evade the slash,” Znak explained, “but he was too fast and got a good piece of me. It wasn’t too deep, and so I recovered well enough, but at that moment, I thought that Farhani had cut me wide open. I fell to the ground and grabbed the wound. My blood was spilling out of my armor and onto the dirt. It was already covering my hands. I looked up and there was Farhani looking down at me with an expression of satisfaction. I knew that I was about to die.
“Just then, he turned away sensing another attacker. It was your father. He had abandoned his bow and was swinging his sword. He already had disposed of another two captains and was looking to finish the job by eliminating Farhani. The Rozkol commander turned to face him, but he did not have the same effect on Adar as he had on me. Your father did not look afraid. He crossed swords with him and they battled each other. I continued to lie on the ground holding my side but trying to muster the strength to aid your father. His courage had rallied me, and I was again prepared to fight.
“I got up and wielded my sword once again but was attacked by one of the Rozkol captains. As I disposed of him, I looked over to see if your father was still alive, figuring that it would take a surprise attack to defeat the fierce commander. Just then your father slapped the Rozkol’s sword to one side and spun into him. He drove his sword backward and into the man’s belly. Adar held his sword there with his back to the man for only a second, and then pulled it out and returned to a defensive stance across from him.
“Farhani didn’t say a word. He only dropped to his knees. His sword fell from his hand as his strength left him, and a moment later, he collapsed on his face like a tree falling in the woods. I was stunned and just stared in awe, but your father did not waste any time and attacked the next enemy that approached him. I too, continued the battle seeing Adar’s example.
“The Rozkol leaders were dismayed. Their commander had fallen. He was defeated on the battlefield, something they did not think was possible. After a few minutes, the battle ceased and the Rozkol lamented the loss of their general with moans and loud cries. Things had changed. It was now their spirits that were broken, not ours. We were rejuvenated. We had new life, and it was because your father had defeated the great leader who all feared, some thought immortal, and others worshiped as some sort of god.
“What many people don’t know is that your father was presented with Farhani’s sword, that great scimitar that was so formidable in battle. He kept it for several years.”
“What happened to it?” Durbar asked wanting to see the sword.
“I don’t know exactly. He left me with much of his equipment from his days in the army, but I don’t know what happened to the scimitar. I suppose he may have sold it or hid it somewhere.”
“Did he use it in battle after that?”
“No, no. We were allowed a variety of weapons, but the scimitar is largely a Rozkol weapon, and so he was not allowed to carry it.”
“Two days later we met in battle again, but they were not the same. They had lost the will to fight, and we routed them despite being down in numbers. After that, they retreated. Their force had been reduced to about five thousand men, half of what they began with, and many of their best leaders had fallen. We were heroes for fighting off such a fierce foe, but no one was honored more than your father.
“He gained great favor with the duke and eventually married his daughter, which you already know. After that, he and I became friends. I never forgot that he saved me that day, and I vowed to always protect him if he needed it. That is why he continued to come here when you two were living in the woods. I was making good on my promise to help him out with whatever he needed, and that is why I will help you with whatever you need now.”