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This is the first chapter of Battle Realm's original history.

Chapter 1: Tarrant Struggled

Tarrant struggled up the last few feet of rocky slope to the top of a ridge. The land had been rising steadily for the last few days of their journey, and men and horses were both weary from the constant plodding up the broad plateau. In their headlong flight south, he and his clansmen and the other refugees had long since passed beyond the borders of what thought of as the explored world. Now each day brought new challenges swampland, cliffs, unexpected rivers that he had to maneuver his host around, always staying ahead of the menace behind him. It seemed possible that it could continue forever. Now his outriders had come back to him, saying there was something ahead he needed to see. And now that he had seen it, he knew that the long southward run was over. They could not retreat any further, and if they fought they had no hope of winning. He had one last thing to try, a final gambit. If that failed, it would fall to his son to pick the best ground to fight and die on. He was standing on the crest of a high, steep ridge, the southern edge of a plateau that ran in a long semi-circle enclosing the lowlands stretching out southward. He stood in a kind of saddle on the ridge to his left (the east) the ridge ran up to a high, rocky plateau above sheer cliffs. To his right (the west), a lower peak. Directly south, the land ran in a gently sloping shelf, then dropped off where run-off had carved a channel, running steeply downward to the valley floor. Gazing further, he saw swampland, and beyond that a long, fertile plain extending southward, until, at the very limit of his vision, he saw the ocean, and the end of this long, long retreat.

They had been running from the Horde for six months. In the beginning there had been no signal or clash of arms, only a sudden silence, a cessation of news and gossip coming from the villages farthest north, then rumors and isolated complaints a child sent north to stay with his grandmother had not returned. A delegation traveling to the Sea Turtle Clan to negotiate fish prices had not sent its new agreement. In a few days it became obvious that no one who was going north, was coming back. Then scattered reports came in of a herd great black beasts, emptied villages, and ravaged countryside. Encounters with the Horde left few if any survivors there were barely a dozen men traveling with Tarrant who had seen them at close quarters. At times they moved so fast as to outpace news of themselves as they traveled.

The real situation only became clear when Tarrant himself took a sailing boat north up the Frozen Coast and saw what happened in the Horde's wake. The land wasn't just conquered or even pillaged, it was stripped of life. What kind of force was this, that did not even leave trees standing behind it?

Then came the skirmish reports, of inhuman opponents, of good men and horses dying almost before they were touched. Tarrant’s uncle rode out against them, and died. There was no offer of parley. They weren't human; no one knew what they were, so they called them "Hordelings." They never lost; there was, once, a muddled account of what might have been a wounded Hordeling. Their numbers were reported in the tens of thousands.

Tarrant had led the Dragon Clan for seventeen years now since the death of his father; he was the guardian of traditions that reached back past the 700 years of recorded history he knew of. He sat for a full night in the war room of his keep at Dragonholm, weighing honor, strategy, and the life of his clan together. He read his grandfather's scrolls, a compendium of military history and thought. He was a peerless warrior and commander, and he knew his position was an impossible one, and it took him perhaps 6 hours of soul-searching to face up to it: Dragon Clan must abandon its land and run, as fast and as far as necessary.

They ran, a long procession of horses and horse-drawn carts, gathering with them anyone who would listen. They met other refugees, and convinced others to join them - peoples who knew the Clan of the Dragon knew they would not abandon their own territory without a reason. Some clans chose to stay and hold their land, and for this they honored them. Every few weeks they sent scouts back the way they had come, to confirm their fears - the Horde was coming south.

Next Chapter...

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