“We’re trapped,” I told Jerem Cozak several watches later. “We’re besieging, but we’ve got ourselves trapped nonetheless. The crossing’s too valuable to sacrifice because it would be impossible to regain.”
We’d just come back from a charge and I was glad to have my mastodon’s back at the valley wall. I was also cursing the fact that neither me nor my beast had injured. If we had been, we would not have to take our next rotation, and I would not have to count my breaths before the Light came back again. Jerem Cozak did not reply.
The watches sped on into evening. The forty sixth and forty seventh towers toppled. My turn to charge came three separate times. After the last, I turned to see two mastodons cut in half by the Light, their hindquarters gone, bawling helpless in the mud until two spearmen dispatched them with shots through their skulls. Their riders sat beside their mounts on the earth, staring unfocused into the distance. Runners soon came to place shovels in their hands.
“I don’t understand this war,” I told Jerem Cozak at midnight. “If we take this city, we have overthrown the Augers but it has all been for nothing. We didn’t look for the lightships because we were fighting. We should have searched the wilderness, instead of all this bloodshed. And from what I’ve heard our ally has done what we have done, only less of it.”
He shook his head. “You sound like Julius, who often spoke thus. But what good would the lightships do if we had no people to find them for?”
There was a crumbling sound as the forty eighth tower toppled. I did not answer him. Two watches passed. Our herd charged again.
Thus we fought our way toward morning. Auger valkyries ran the crossing. We sent men and beasts into the Void to keep from losing the crossing. At some point, I realized that the least dangerous part of the charge was running the open field, where only scattered artillery was falling. Compared to the terror of the Light and the frenzied contact at the ford, the place where only a few dozen men died per watch felt like safe and gentle harbor.