• Published 27th Feb 2012
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The Age of Wings and Steel - DSNesmith

When Equestria is threatened by politics and war, a crippled pony must rise to its defense.

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29. Clement in Command

“It’s impressive, isn’t it?”

Clement looked out from his tent on the hill. Before him stretched the army of Norhart, thousands of blue tents filled with soldiers. His soldiers. He stared off into the distance, trying to count to the end of them, and was pleased when he could not.

“That it is, Lord Clement.” Weston nodded his head.

“That’s Sir, now,” said the young lord with a jesting smile.

Weston grinned back. “As you wish, Sir Lord Clement.”

The army was on the move. They’d left Norharren two days ago, marching east to Norlund. The great northern highway would lead them straight to the crossroads that his father soon hoped to control. But before they could take Norlund, they would have to deal with the Celestial Army.

Clement felt another twinge of excitement. The Princess’s troops would be foes of real worth. Not bandits, or rebellious peasants, but trained fighting warhorses. “It’s going to be magnificent, Weston. We’ll send them running back into the hills.”

“Of course.” Weston gazed at the young knight. “Have you discussed the battle plan with your sub-commanders yet?”

He waved an airy hoof. “There will be plenty of time for that tomorrow. We should reach the Norlund border sometime late in the afternoon. We’ll set up camp there and prepare to meet Celestia’s forces the day after. Are you excited, Weston?”

His squire shook his head. “To be frank, my lord, I had hoped to never see battle again.”

Clement frowned. “Don’t you want the glory of defeating a worthy foe?”

Weston shrugged. “The other side of that glory isn’t pretty. The stories tend to skip over those parts.”

“Which parts?”

“The fear. The terror that you’re going to die at any moment, just another casualty on the field. The blood, everywhere, running like rivers over the grass. The stench of sweat and blood and piss.”

Clement shivered at his squire’s tone. “Enough, Weston.”

“Sorry, my lord.” Weston looked down. “But you’ll see for yourself soon enough.”

His squire had been so grim lately. Clement frowned at him. “What’s the matter, Weston? You’ve been acting this way ever since my knighting.”

Sighing, Weston glanced over at him. “My lord, your father…” He paused, as if searching for the words. “Is this really serving Norhart? Is this really serving Equestria? It seems to me as if this army is marching solely to feed the Duke’s own ambitions.”

Clement gave him a hard stare. “I hope you’re not implying my father has anything but the best interest of his ponies at heart.”

“Of course not, my lord,” soothed Weston.

“Good.” But a small voice whispered in his head, your first duty must always be to the whole of Equestria.

“I think I’m going to bed. I will see you in the morning, Weston.”

“Yes, my lord. You’ll need a good night’s rest for the battle, anyway.”

Clement turned and re-entered his tent, disturbed. What if Weston was right? His father had been rather… distant, lately. More so than usual. Clement felt the familiar fear rising up. Had he disappointed the Duke? His outburst the other night had turned his father’s warm demeanor into stony silence.

Ever since Clement’s mother had died, the Duke’s smiles had become rarer and rarer. Nothing filled his heart with more warmth than seeing his father’s delighted expression whenever he did something to please him. He would give all the glorious battle in the world just to make his father laugh again. But he feared that feat was beyond him.

* * *

The next day passed quickly. Clement was glad that he had allowed Weston to talk him out of wearing his armor; though he enjoyed spending every moment he could inside its gleaming plates, he was hot and sweaty enough by the end of the march without being bogged down by the heavy steel.

They were nearly to the crossroads by now. Less than a day’s journey stood between them and the Great Road, but the Celestial army would be even closer. He felt another thrill of anticipation. Weston’s dark words seemed to melt away in the warm sunlight, the slight anxiety in his stomach banished by the rays of light.

At last, they stopped to make their camp for the final time before the approaching battle. Clement sought out the command tent, where the officers would be waiting. This was to be the moment where he truly took command.

The banner outside the tent fluttered gently in the breeze. The blue droplet waved proudly, as high as Clement’s spirits. He took a deep breath, and stepped inside.

In the tent, Clement found his father’s war council had already convened without him. He paused for a moment in surprise. Why had they not waited? Annoyed, he cleared his throat.

“Are we ready to plan the battle?”

The officers all raised their heads from the table. Knight-Commander Volund coughed in surprise. “Lord Clement. I had not expected to see you here.”

“What kind of leader would I be if I did not help organize our troops?” Clement glanced around in irritation.

The officers were giving each other pained looks. “Lord Clement, we have already come up with a strategy for tomorrow.” Volund gave him an unreadable stare. He motioned to the table, where lay a map of the crossroads and the surrounding area. “Celestia’s forces are here,” he said, pointing a hoof at a group of yellow pennants that stood in the hills.

“There are only about fifteen hundred of them. We have the advantage in numbers with nearly twenty five hundred. We will hit them head on with the main force, which I will lead. Major Vennin will take two hundred and fifty chargers around their northern flank, and Major Dengar will lead two hundred others around their southern flank. We’ll hit them from three sides at once and wipe them out.”

“It seems… simplistic.”

“The best plans usually are. Fewer things can go wrong.”

Clement nodded. “Very well. Which group am I commanding?”

The officers all looked around, their faces carefully blank. He heard a cough. Clement frowned. “Which group am I commanding?” he repeated.

“Ah…” Volund searched for the words. “It was my intention to have you remain at camp, my lord.”

Clement scowled. “I see. You’re all trying to keep me away from the battle.” He blinked and took a deep, calming breath. “I appreciate the thought, Knight-Commander, but I am a warrior in the service of my Duke, and commander of this army. I will not lead from a cushy seat at the rear of my forces.”

“My lord,” began Major Dengar, moving his hooves in placation.

“No, Major.” Clement frowned again. “I’m not going to wait this battle out on the sidelines. I will fight with my troops. I can lead the vanguard.”

Volund choked. “Absolutely not. The Duke would have my head.”

“Fine, then. Not the vanguard. But I will join in the fighting.”

Volund looked at him with a mixture of dismay and resignation. “I… very well, Clement. I’ll put you in Major Dengar’s group. Follow his orders to the letter, am I clear?”

Clement felt a sinking sensation as he realized that he was going to have to prove himself to the officers here—especially Volund—before being given real command of anything more than a seat cushion. “That will be acceptable.” Internally, he fumed. There was little honor to be found charging an enemy’s flanks with a numerically superior force. This was supposed to be his army, not Volund’s. But he swallowed his pride and nodded to the Knight-Commander. “Now, is there anything more to discuss?”

“We were just talking about food supplies when you walked in. I doubt you would be interested, my lord.”

Truthfully, Clement couldn’t care less about the supplies. But he needed to show that he was willing to lead, and a leader would be involved in every aspect of his troops’ lives. Besides, one day he would be the Duke, and this experience would be valuable training. “Actually, I would, Knight-Commander.”

Volund hid his surprise admirably. “Very well, my lord. If you’ll just take a seat we can go over the status of the rations again…"

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