The Invasion of the Tearling - Erika Johansen

Chapter 1


The Second Mort Invasion had all the makings of a slaughter. On one side was the vastly superior Mort army, armed with the best weapons available in the New World and commanded by a man who would balk at nothing. On the other was the Tear army, one-fourth the size and bearing weapons of cheaply forged iron that would break under the impact of good steel. The odds were not so much lopsided as catastrophic. There seemed no way for the Tearling to escape disaster.

—The Tearling as a Military Nation, CALLOW THE MARTYR

Dawn came quickly on the Mort border. One minute there was nothing but a hazy line of blue against the horizon, and the next, bright streaks stretched upward from eastern Mortmesne, drenching the sky. The luminous reflection spread across Lake Karczmar until the surface was nothing but a glowing sheet of fire, an effect only broken when a light breeze lapped at the shores and the smooth surface divided into waves.

The Mort border was a tricky business in this region. No one knew precisely where the dividing line was drawn. The Mort asserted that the lake was in Mort territory, but the Tear staked its own claim to the water, since a noted Tear explorer named Martin Karczmar had discovered the lake in the first place. Karczmar had been laid in his grave nearly three centuries since, but the Tearling had never quite relinquished its shaky claim to the lake. The water itself was of little value, filled with predatory fish that were no good to eat, but the lake was an important spot, the only concrete geographical landmark on the border for miles to the north or south. Both kingdoms had always been anxious to establish a definitive claim. At one point, long ago, there had been some talk of negotiating a specific treaty, but nothing had ever come of it. The eastern and southern edges of the lake were salt flats, the territory alternating between silt and marshland. These flats stretched eastward for miles before they ran into a forest of Mort pine. But on the western edge of Lake Karczmar, the salt flats continued for only a few hundred feet before they climbed abruptly into the Border Hills, steep slopes covered with a thick layer of pine trees. The trees wrapped up and over the Hills, descending on the other side into the Tearling proper and flattening out into the northern Almont Plain.

Although the steep eastern slopes of the Border Hills were uninhabited forest, the hilltops and western slopes were dotted with small Tear villages. These villages did some foraging in the Almont, but they mostly bred livestock—sheep and goats—and dealt in wool and milk and mutton, trading primarily with each other. Occasionally they would pool their resources and send a heavily guarded shipment to New London, where goods—particularly wool—fetched a greater price, and the payment was not in barter but in coin. The villages stretched across the hillside: Woodend, Idyllwild, Devin’s Slope, Griffen . . . easy pickings, their inhabitants armed with wooden weapons and burdened with animals they were unwilling to leave behind.

Colonel Hall wondered how it was possible to love a stretch of land so much and yet thank great God for the fate that had taken you away. Hall had grown up the son of a sheep farmer in the village of Idyllwild, and the smell of those villages—wet wool caked with a generous helping of manure—was such a fixed part of his memory that he could smell it even now, though the nearest village was on the western side of