Part one of a small story about the clash between a Chivalrous Kingdom and an empire expanding into sovereign territory.
A meeting at the Bannon ford.
The rolling din of battle came in waves. Tumbling, gathering sound and crashing in crescendos. Steel, iron and wood clashing and crashing, people screaming, others bellowing, horns sounding and drums beating; all lasting a few minutes only to slide back for a brief respite as wills faltered, courage was shaken and lungs spent of air.
Hours had passed since the lines had first clashed and still the forces on the southern bank of the Bannon clung tightly to the ford. The sun was high in the sky, another scorching day in a long summer and the river ran low making the ford easy enough to cross on foot.
Carik was relieved he wasn’t at the front but still wished the low hill they were stationed on to the left of the main force was further away. From here he could discern a scattering of bodies bobbing along westward in the lazy current on their journey to the sea and final resting place. He could see and hear the intermittent clashes. He could see the columns of imperial troops line the road north and he could see the kings army, outnumbered but holding a strong position lined up on the slopes of the southern bank of the Bannon. Looking back he could see the kings road head south for a couple of miles until it cut through the forest that stood sentinel to the south and west for miles.
They had been set to guard the left flank four hundred yards or so from the forest; a task a more impetuous individual would be stung by, seeing as this battle was only being fought on the riverfront. Carik however, had never been keen on the idea of being in a battle and had always avoided trouble if he could manage it. Lucky for me we should be pretty safe right here, he thought to himself as he looked around at the ragtag group sat on the sun baked grass. Turning to his right he winked at Coudin, his nephew sat cross legged next to him and then to Burt who he worked with in the quarry. Coudin looked skittish. “Don’t worry mate” said Carik “From the looks of it they’re doing no more than padlin' in old Bannon today”.
“Well I hope it stays that way”.
It did stay that way for a while. The intermittent sounds of fighting drifted to their ears and the sun began its westerly descent; painting the sky layers of amber red.
A horn piped in the south and dust was rising. Around him he saw many scramble to their feet in varying states of readiness.
“Calm down! Calm down I say!” said lord Colwyn in his too quick, nasal voice which made him sound like he suffered a perpetual cold. “I imagine it’s the merchants guild bringing reinforcement for the men at the front. Calm down and don’t make a show!”. He stood, flanked by his two retainers. A petty lord from a petty family. He had been in a foul mood since being assigned to the host on the hill with orders of guarding the left flank from the minuscule possibility of a sneaky attack from the forest. He had come to gain glory and honour for his name and had made it clear he thought himself above leading a militia of drafted commoners. Carik thought he was a cunt.
Some time later a messenger rode towards them. Coming from the commanders retinue stationed behind the van and to the south the reinforcements were now barely half a mile away. Colwyn strutted out to meet her, chest puffed like a peacock, resplendent in his gold plate and mail reflecting the smouldering hues of the setting sun. “Hello fine young lady, what brings such a delicate flower to a dangerous place like this? Pray tell, what are the tidings? Have you come for my leisure or my… pleasure?”. She sat atop her horse and met Colwyns eye. “The guild have come with a fresh militia, my... lord.” she replied and Colwyn bristled at the pause “They are to head on to the ford and reinforce the front. Commander Veldir- ” Colwyn looked excited by this “Yes, I gathered that. Very well, off with you now, but, one thing before you go! Tell Veldir that me and my company are eager to join the frey! I wish to whet my sword on the field…” and in a quieter voice and with a predatory smile added “But also in the sheets ” He turned around to the unit gathered behind him, enthusiastically gazing around at them, the majority of whom avoiding his gaze. “Hey lads! What say you? A chance to win great honour for yourselves and for your king!”. Carick suddenly found his boots to be of great interest. Colwyn had won no friends here with his disdain for those under his command and his apparent eagerness to get everyone killed in an idiotically glorious charge. The honourable lord looked back at the messenger and she met his eye again, a wry smile on her dark angular face.
“As you please my gallant lord I will tell the lord commander of your astounding courage. However, I was told that you are continue to hold the left unless ordered otherwise… One thing before we part though… I don’t play with little boys swords”. With that she took up her reins spat on the floor and spurned her dappled grey horse back towards the front.
Colwn straightened and indignantly threw his helmet to the floor and shouted at no one in particular “Who did that whore think she was?” his voice had risen to a screech “Such dishonourable treatment! I came here to fight and bring home glory! She should be pulling her trousers down and begging for me to slay her.” Burt laughed, very loudly. Uncontrolled laughter rising deep from his belly. “Well now, you filthy quarry scum. What do you find so amusing?” He glowered, stomping towards Burt. “Nothing much m’lord” Burt managed to say between hoots, folded in half, supported by hands on knees. “Oh no, please, I am very interested and as your commanding officer, and your better, I order you to stand straight this instant and tell me what is so funny”. Burt stood slowly shoulders shaking. “Tell me now and if I find it funny I may not have you flogged.” Silence; Burts laughter dead. “Tell me now!” Cried Colwyn. “Well, it’s just that I doubt you could fight a man if ‘e was dead, let alone set foot in that river for fear of getting your pretty boots wet and I don’t think you could have ‘slayed’ her even if she later down and asked you to!”
A sword was drawn in a flash and Colwyn stared at Burt, sword pointed towards his throat. “Say that again” his voice shook and Carick didn’t know if he was trying to suppress rage, tears or both. He stood there, not knowing what to do spear gripped hard in his calloused hand. I wonder if I could actually kill with this thing? Would I have the bottle to do it? Could I do it in anger? To protect someone? Could I do it to keep my own hide in one piece or would I just stand still as I am now… like a frightened rabbit?
“Say. That. Again”
“I said -”
At this moment, close by, a trumpet blasted as if to interrupt. The reinforcements were close now, a hundred yards or so from the rear of the van. Colwyn halted in his tracks. Carick standing rooted to the spot peered out over the newcomers. A thicket of spears, marching in formation with a line of crossbowmen in front and horsemen, cantering on the flanks.
Commander Rodrick Veldir sat atop his Chestnut warhorse flanked by his retinue nestled between the rearguard and the van. He slumped in the saddle watching the battle unfold on the banks of the ford. One hand resting on the Pommel of his sword, the other twiddling his long grey moustache. He was bored. It had been relatively uneventful, which is the nature of such a battle. This pleased him as it meant he just had to sit and wait to be reinforced. He was however anxious for those reinforcements to hurry up and get here because the men at the front were tiring and outnumbered. So far there had been relatively few casualties on either side as most of the fighting had been shield banging and a bit of stabbing from a safe distance. Any commander knew that the real killing started as soon as one side turned tail and any seasoned soldier could tell you same once he'd stopped grumbling. So he sat there. Comfortable in the knowledge that all he had to worry about was the riverfront holding for another few moments as the approaching reinforcements raised by the merchants guild and led by the lord commander himself arrived to take control of the army.
He twisted in the saddle, leather creaking almost as much as his achy old back. Bugger me am I getting old! Not long now, a couple of moments and I can rest. He could see the approaching host clearly now, only a couple of hundred yards away. He savoured the idea of laying down on the furs in his cart.
“Uh, m’lord, should we turn about face?” said his squire, Rupert, a young lad of about fourteen years, spotty face timid beneath his too large helmet. “No, my lad.” Rodrick said kindly, “we need to be ready to plug any gaps” he looked at the banks and saw a new wave of imperials readying to wade into the ford. “There's a fresh batch crossing now, and quite a large one at that” and he pointed Rupert's eyes in the right direction.
A rustle went up amongst the rearguard, men began to cheer and laugh. Their allies had come. Rodrick craned his neck around grimacing at the crepitations emanating from his neck. His men leant on shields, and used spears to prop themselves up. Cheers very quickly turned to sounds of disbelief and panic. Soldiers began to back pedal, drop spears, push comrades out of their way and run towards him. “What’s going on?! Get back in formation you fools!”. Thunk, a quarrel had buried itself deep into Rupert's thigh, he squealed and his horse lurched forwards spilling him from the saddle. Crossbow bolts slammed into shields and horse, pierced armour and soft flesh. Men fell all around him, many more ran. The rearguard had become a pincushion. Any thought of cohesion and shield wall was lost. Veldir saw the horses charge, closing on the broken formation and saw stragglers trampled. Wails and shrieks pierced the air. Lance and sword and hammer dealt death without bias to the backs and heads of those fleeing. “M’lord! Heeelp me!” Wailed Rupert “help me up I can’t move my leg” and his voice broke off into desperate blabbing and crying. Veldir saw horsemen closing on his position “only one thing to do at a time like this Rupert, my lad, I must survive to lead what remains... you would have made a fine man. I mustn’t hang around or they’ll have my head!” And with that he fled. Ruperts piercing pleading wails followed him but did him no good. Rodrick didn’t look back. He was still alive. That’s all he cared about.
Carick stood watching the carnage unfold. His legs shook. He witnessed the crossbowmen burst forward and let loose a volley into the back of the rearguard. Many men struck by bolt lay writhing on the floor or crawling and hobbling towards what they hoped was safety only to be trampled and gored by cavalry as they slammed into the rear. Already reeling from the unexpected volley of bolts they shattered like glass as soon as the charge hit home. Turning tail they ran and were herded towards the rear ranks of the men who were already engaged with Imperials on the riverbank.
Crushed from both sides the front crumbled. The real killing had now begun in earnest and the Imperials had taken the southern bank.
“Shit! Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!” Carick said to nobody in particular. Horsemen were now riding full tilt toward the host on the hill, the crossbows already marching towards them, almost within range. Carick felt as if every lance and every crossbow was aimed towards him. He was shaken from watching what had just happened; he wasn’t a brave a man. He knew this and had no pretensions otherwise.
The only way to flee with a chance of survival was into the forest; It was obvious to Carick that the road would be guarded and anyone traveling down there would be cut down. He dropped his shield and spear, grabbed Coudin by the arm and started to run towards the woods. Don’t want to go in the woods but we’re gonna have to…
“Coudin, stay with me! Burt, come on, we’re gettin’ out of ‘ere!” He yelled. Shouts filled the air. He saw Colwyn jump on his horse and ride some men down in his haste to escape. He looked left and right and saw that the host on the hill was in full flight towards the road south without having lifted a sword in violence. Bad idea Carick thought. I ain’t stickin’ round to watch this show.
“Come on, Coudin, I promised your mum I’d get you ‘ome in one piece.” Carick said as
“Uh, uh, Carick I’m scared! My legs are tired! I can’t keep up!” He moaned, sweat dripping down from his forehead, under curly black hair to his chubby cheeks. He’d always been soft. Couldn’t hack a day in the quarries but by the Gods could he bake. And by the Gods was he a good lad with a heart of gold. Carick loved him like a son, although he was harsh with the boy. Since his dad died when he was a babe Carick had helped his sister raise him. He was always picked on by the other children but no matter how hard Carick tried to teach him to confront the bullies it never stuck. Coudin didn’t have it him. “I need…” He puffed like a bellows “to rest”.
“I can’t go without you, and trust me lad, I want to get home in one piece so get that arse into gear and run you flabby git!” Carick growled.
Burt was running beside them, deep wrinkles of concern and anxiety cutting deep chasms into his forehead. “We can’t go in the woods” he said “you know the stories!”.
“The elves…” deep panting breath “still live there…” another laboured breath “they’ll finish us if those horses don’t first!” cried Coudin.
“Stop being chicken shits and run faster!” Carick said through gritted teeth.
Horse hooves hammered the ground. Behind them he could hear men falling, the sound of death and fear. To his left he could see men fleeing, the cavalry charging here and there, chasing down the largest groups, all of which were heading towards the road and luckily luring the better part of the cavalry in their direction. The hoofbeats were closer. He looked around, "Woah!" He yelped as a mace swished past his head “Argh! Keep running!” He angled his run away from the Cavalier that was turning and preparing to charge again. The woods were close. “Run! Get to the trees and we’ll lose ‘em!” He roared as he continued to sprint, breath ripping at his throat and the taste of copper in his mouth.
He was watching Burt and Coudin more than he was his footing. A horseman was closing on them too, lance tipped and pointing at them. He tripped, slammed into the floor and saw stars. Scrambling back to his feet dazed he saw the cavalier descending upon him, mace mid swing; all he could do was raise his arms to protect his head as it arced down towards him. Pain shot like an angry thunderbolt from his left elbow.
“Argh!” He fell to the floor again, tried to move his arm to help regain his feet but it bent in the wrong direction, sending a fresh jolt of pain through his body. He lifted his head and looked for the final blow which didn’t come. The horseman had found another more interesting target with expensive glittering armour and was now chasing him down.
Thank the Gods for that, serves you right for coming dressed like a peacock he thought to himself. His body was shuddering with pain. He looked for his nephew and Burt, but they were not running anymore. Burt was laying facedown, broken lance standing upright from his back. Coudin was screaming, lying on his back, hands outstretched. Pleading for mercy, crimson blood surrounding a deep gash in his face as a horse reared up on its hind legs. Carick watched helplessly as his nephew was crushed under the hooves and fell silent.
Carick roared. Seeing Coudin trampled into the dirt roused a beast inside him. He surged forward. Left arm forgotten he yanked his hatchet out of his belt. “Waaaagh!”.
He closed the distance quickly, swung with all his force, missed the horseman but sunk the hatchet deep into the horses neck. It reared up, taking the hatchet with it and threw the rider from the saddle who was now desperately scrabbling for his sword which had fallen ever so slightly out of his reach and was getting further as he scurried away on his back, kicking his heels into the dry dusty grass. Carick threw himself onto the horseman, pulling his knife out as he went, tears rolling down his cheek and face drawn into a rictus of a snarl. Through his blurry eyes all he could see was the shape of his target and hear his ragged and panicked breaths as he flailed his arms in a desperate attempt to defend himself against the frenzied attack.
“No, no, no, no, nooo!”
The knife rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell. He growled as he stabbed the now unmoving bag of flesh. He continued to stab and stab and curse, until he heard more hoofbeats thundering towards him and fear and pain quickly returned to replace his rage. He attempted to wipe his eyes but only managed to smear blood across his face.
He staggered to his feet with wobbly legs and looked at the mess he’d just made. Forced himself to look at Coudin and almost lost the contents of his stomach. He was tempted to sit on the sun baked and blood soaked grass to try and save what was already gone. However, Carick was not a hero. Neither was he a fool. He sobbed and began to run towards the forest cradling his left arm, every jolting step becoming ever more painful.
He reached the tree line and he slowed, safe from the perusing cavalry. As he turned around to look back the massacre was unfolding. Men ran in all directions, most towards the kings road and their inevitable demise. Nobody else had made it to the woods.
I’m sorry Coudin he thought to himself. Pain welling up from deep inside his chest and matching the pain in his arm.
I’m so sorry.
He turned and fled into the twilight of the forest; an endless sea of silver birch standing before him.
A Battle Brother Detachment. Known for precision strikes and pivotal unexpected and rapid attacks against enemy strongholds.
They are called Thunder Bringers because their lightning quick strike teams have hit their target, fulfilled their mission and withdrawn before the bulk of the enemy even knows what's happened, only hearing the thunder of their attack.
Their insignia reads:
"Lightning before Thunder"
Planet: Acrachy. System: Archanaed system.
The Thunder Bringers disembarked from the Perun pattern drop ship. Bullets pinging uselessly off green drab composite plates. Laser bursts burning and smelting themselves into power armour.
Before the first heavy rifle round was fired or the first blast of plasma sent steaming through the air, Captain O’Conal barked out the ancient battle cry of his brotherhood, the words of which had been long etched onto the blade of his sword "Lighting before thunder!”
And with those words heavy rifles sang as they filled the air with rocket propelled rounds whilst the shrieks of their enemy added to the symphony of righteous death dealt.