Friday, May 16, 2014

Fiction Friday: Border Wars in the Serpent Baronies

Battle report using Knights and Knaves turned into a little short tale.

Courtney Lord Montrose narrowed his eyes. "Keep your swords loose in their sheathes. There's no telling if Arborenne spotted us." Hadrian wiped his forehead leaving a streak of glistening oil across his brow from the mail glove that sheathed his hand.

"Sieur?" he asked. "Do you think he'll ride to meet us?"

The Magnas of Montrose felt the familiar tickle of anger in the back of his mind, the same invitation to rage that plagued him every time he thought about Conon of Arborenne. What horrific image did he see when his mind pointed to the image of the Magnas of Arborrenne? Olyvia, Olyvia, always Olyvia, waiting cold and lonely in her bower—Olyvia burning when the manor burned because she was locked away. He would feel the bite of lance and sword, would Conon, if it was the last thing Courtney did in the Middle World. I will put the tip of my lance through his jaw and see it come bloody from his skull. Let him go to the Lower World with half a face.

Philippus called out from behind them, "There're slingers across the river! Looks like he's seen us after all, my lord!"

Wheeling his horse, Courtney saw the men at once; a ragged platoon of farmers with sickles and pitchforks all arrayed upon a narrow ridge amongst the brush. They were limbering sling-thongs and searching for rocks, preparing to pelt Courtney and his household soldiers from the supposed safety of the riverside. Lord Montrose let out a whistle and dug his heels into Blackspur's flanks. "Fuck 'em, lads! Turn about and charge!" and then he was flying at a gallop, Blackspur throwing up clods of earth and Hadrian gritting his teeth to follow. Courtney could hear Barliman speed to a trot, to a canter, and then a gallop as Blackspur did. He lowered his lance and plunged into the river.

Sarjeant Adwardus and his men grasped spears and shields firmly in hand and followed, the water sucking and swirling at their long mail byrnies. Let Conon discover that his men at the riverbank were routed. Let Conan feel the terror of battle that cannot be turned aside! As Blackspur climbed the far bank, the farmers began to shake and howl. One threw down his pitchfork and fell into a dead run. "At this rate we won't even have to bloody our swords!" Phillippus hollered.

Within moments the conroi was up on the far side of the river, limbs throbbing with the pain of resisting it in heavy mail. The peasantry simply wouldn't stand before a destrier, and they shouted and took to the wood. Courtney spun to his men who had yet to enter the water, household armigeri all, and shouted across the gap to Sarjeant Theo: "Take your men to the ford and lay into anyone you find there! We advance on the village on this side of the river!"

"Aye, sieur!" Theo said. "Come on, you louts, we've a lordling to spank." His men chuckled as he drew back.

For Courtney's part, he rushed forward to follow the fleeing peasants, Hadrian close at hand. The horses tore through the scrub and undergrowth as though it were made of thickened cream. Courtney bore down on the back of a fleeing levyman when the fellow spun about and launched one of his sling-stones at the lord. Courtney sneered, trusting to his armor to protect him, but the smooth stone hit Blackspur and sent the horse into a rage. "Sieur! SIEUR! I can't control... I can't control Barliman!" Hadrian was screaming through the wood. But Courtney had no time to consider his squire's pleas, for Blackspur surged forward and bore him face to face with the peasant who'd flung the stone. A single thrust through the breast speared the poor bastard and sent him to his grave. Not quickly, no, for by the Gods the man survived only to fall quivering and twitching in the dirt, making little groaning sounds as his blood spilled from the garish wound the spear-head made.

With time to yank his spear out and get a good view of the field, Courtney turned back to Adwardus. He saw Hadrian disappearing through a group of trees, Barliman's mouth frothing blood. "S-s-sieeeeeur!" Hadrian howled as he vanished. Courtney sighed. The rest of his men were in good order and seemed ready to take the battle to Arborenne. "Quickly, then. Let's high north to the village and show the great Magnas Conon what we think of him."

But that was easier said that done, for now Blackspur was mad with his wounds. He leapt and bucked each time he saw one of the slingers through the trees, and often took Courtney far off his path. Adwardus hurried on towards the village, and soon enough the sounds of battle began to carry through the hall of boughs and brush that made up the little Arborenne forest. "Damn it," Courtney huffed, wrestling Blackspur back under control. "Move, you cur!" The horse neighed, turned its head, and then at last began to surge towards the village.

Courtney emerged from the trees and into the one muddy street of the town with briars in his mail and a branch tangled amongst Blackspur's gonfalons. Adwardus and his men were already crossing the ford some yards ahead and beyond them Courtney could see a press of peasantry blocking the road, crammed between two timber-framed houses. Their backs were turned to Adwardus, who would have the drop on them, but beyond that he saw why: the other platoon was dying. Theo and the men who'd accompanied him were waist-deep in gore, doing battle with three mounted knights. Several of them had already fallen.

Then Courtney saw Conon and his vision went black with rage. "Olyvia! OLYVIA! OLYVIAAA!" He struck Blackspur so hard that the destrier had no choice but to thunder forward at a break-neck pace. His own men dove to get out of his way as he came reaving from behind, his lance lowered for the final charge. Conon's helmeted face was not so far away now, and this spear was made to bring him his death! But what...? Lord Conon was withdrawing from the battle, backing his horse away from his foes. The coward! "COWARD!" Courtney bellowed. "Fight me coward!" But even as he did, he slammed his spear into one of the levymen who had been hard pressing Carnas there.

The man staggered, the tip of the spear pierced his shin and slammed against the bone... but somehow he was still standing. "Damn you!" Courtney yelled. "Damn you!" he repeated, for lack of anything better to say, practically hurling his blade from its sheath. He hacked at the peasant he'd struck, cutting through cotton tunic and flesh, driving the killing edge of the sword into his throat. But when he looked up to adjudge the battle he saw Conon had not fled after all—he had merely charged to meet the onrush of new foes, and even now his mace was rising from the crushing blow that had dented Adward's helmet and driven the peak into his brain.

"Withdraw! Carnas! Withdraw! We will be slaughtered here!" Desperate, Courtney fended off the sword-blows of one of Conon's mounted squires. He pulled back with the image of the boy's upper lip pressed into his memory: just the very first hairs of manhood, pale and blonde, upon that trembling blood-spattered face. Carnas listened, but not before cutting the squire's mount down from beneath him with his spear and planting the point at the boy's throat.

"Surrender! I surrender!" Carnas dragged him to his feet and the three men staggered away from the battle. Courtney prayed that Conon would not finish his butchery in time to take them on the road.

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