[The Lands] – The Battle

The day was bright and hot. Not a single cloud drifted across the lightly coloured sky, below which the gently rustling grass of the wide plains sigh in sensitive serenity. A talkative plains-bird, slightly mottled and almost invisible among the grass, chattered away loudly. A beetle wandered foolishly before the excited and suddenly still bird. A bit closer … then snap and crunch! Another meal, the diminutive bird continued his proud chattering. Some crickets creaked in agreeing reply but kept a cautious distance from it. Another rustle this time. A second plains-bird flapped clumsily and dropped in to the loud protests of the original bird. Mine! Mine! Mine! Clacked the first bird indignantly. The invading bird clacked rudely in return. The first bird snapped and whirred at his enemy, preparing to defend his claim. A worm wriggled unwarily out of his little heap in the ground. The argument stopped abruptly as all four beady eyes snapped quickly to the delicious delicacy that was bestowed upon them.

Thud. The ground shook slightly. Thud, thud and thud. Thud – crash! The quarrelling birds startled away with undignified squawks as strong muscular hooves pounded furiously across the plains, crushing all that was beneath them and squashing the innocent earthworm. All previous arguments were gone as they fled for their lives as fast as their little wings could bring them. Thundering and swift went the bridled horses, war-horses driven to a foaming loyalty to their masters, driven forward into direct confrontation with an approaching horde. And more, and more and more, as the flood of riders flowed frenziedly forth. Their hoarse battle cries resounded into the clear blue afternoon. A horn trumpeted mightily and drums beat a relentless rumble, urging all within earshot, to war! To war and glorious war! With a collective shout, the simple white and blue flag was unfurled and whipped at the wind, flapping in staccato snaps, to war! To war!

At a far distance the oppressive rumble of an impending horde began to reverberate, a sea of green, grey and red, their ominous approach corrupt and arrogant. The riders continued without hesitation. The horizon changed from soft peaceful plains minutes ago to a throbbing and unyielding wave of grey and red as the war cries of the enemy screamed at their senses. They’re coming! Slowly at first, but inexorably, the tide of grey advanced, the harsh bugle of the allied clans challenging the riders to battle. Come, went the drums cruelly, come taste the bitter edge of our axes and piercing points of our spears! Fight us, snarled the horns of the horde. Fight us and die like beasts! The riders raised their voices in a grim, defiant chant and blasted an equally threatening echo. For the glory of the Kingdom of the Named, the High King and the Lands! To war, to war!

With mindless clockwork precision six-foot long lances tipped in hard steel snapped sharply forward. In a timed perfection, the thunder of horses drumming a rushing rhythm, the riders plunged headlong into their hated enemy. The men, without heed, without mind, crashed like a steel bolt into the horde, cutting deeply into the mindless formation. The point of contact erupted into a raging storm of destruction and pure anarchy. Squeals of pain and howls of agony followed quickly after as hundreds of bare-chested brutes were impaled upon the charging lances, lifted up completely from their feet and hurled back, skulls smashed, backs broken and whole shoulders torn away from the body. The lances shattered at the impact, some of the riders flung backwards off their horses to the ground with a wrenching crack, never to rise again.

Like a knife slicing through red dripping venison, the knights tore the horde sharply into two, cutting a swathe left right and through to its foul core. All close-ranged weapons now unsheathed; the riders in their shiny hard armour wielded battle-axes, morning-stars, maces and long swords. Enraged shouts filled the crisp afternoon air following screams and grunts of pain. All thoughts away from their minds, no friendly words from comrades, no gentle touches of caring mothers, no soft caresses from lovers. Only blood filled their eyes, the taste of fear and anger and hatred, the overpowering smell of hard sweat and bitter blood, the sound of death and destruction crowded into a mad rush of rage. Feeling only the sharp rush in their warm blood, the stinging jar of their first stroke, an axe through the tender neck of the brute, a mace crack open a skull or a sword spike through an eye. A spurting gush of rusted blood tainted with anguished cries, the mad and wild, wild exultation of power over life and death.

The brutes replied with unfettered savagery, rude clubs battered at the horseback knights, throwing them off. Blunt obsidian axes slashed cunningly at the bare knees of the war-horses, bringing them shrieking down with their masters. The creatures threw themselves wildly at the horsemen with little thought of their own safety and forcing them down to the ground with inhuman strength. Once the knights with their bright armours were helpless on their back, they were torn from limb to limb and butchered brutally like animals. Pausing only to rip out an eyeball of their fallen enemy and crushing it with their sharp teeth, the monsters continued their slaughter. Each of them had the strength of two men and the berserk bloodlust of battle was upon them, transforming them from rational beings into deranged beasts; none of them expecting to live and none of them expecting mercy just as they had none. War was their God and to worship Him was to purify themselves in the blood of enemies, to send prayers the wailing cries of their dying defeated, to exalt Him the burning blaze of a ravaged city as sacrifice.

It was not the manner of a crisp duel between two swordsmen, nor the grappling intensity of two wrestlers – not even the rough and tumble of a street brawl but the maniacal hacking of flesh and bone. No system, no method, no technique as the battle devolved into full-scale chaos, the bedlam and pandemonium, silencing every other living creature for miles. Blood covered the muddied plains – crimson mud thick with the blood of the fallen as the day continued wearily on. But wait! The knights now backed their steeds slowly away from the horde – what are they doing? The knights continued their hurried retreat to the opposite side of the plains, to the triumphant cries of the bloodthirsty horde. Some of the more unfortunate withdrawing men were cut down as they disengaged from the battle and rode off, leaving the raging horde in milled confusion and still in bloodlust. Where do they think they are going, the motherless cowards! But their impetus was broken – a portion of the horde raced ferociously after the fleeing knights while most of the monsters stopped as they encountered conflicting commands from their war-leaders. What shall we do now and who do we kill? They shrieked. Slowly they drifted into clans once more as violent arguments erupted among themselves. We shall burn and plunder the weakling creatures towns and villages! Rape and rip their women apart, gut their old and feast on their young!

The smoothly sailing hail of carefully fletched arrows flew gracefully in a gentle arc, paused for a still moment then sped downward with a determined rush and found surprised targets. Even as the first storm of arrows reached the pinnacle of their flight, a second barrage left the hands of the longbow-men and a steady rain of arrows fell upon the unsuspecting creatures. In a single body a full third of the horde gave a startled sigh and collapsed. Enraged, the remaining brutes surged forward once more, leaving their dying and dead untended, for what is more glorious than to die for your God? Like a field of new sprung wheat, the battlefield where thousands lay dead sprouted crimson arrows among twitching and cooling bodies.

Before them, the longbow-men fled and with a roar, the horde chased! But the feeble legs of the weakling creatures were not the equal to the might of the horde! See how they stumble as we crush their skulls in vengeance of our brothers! Only one half of the archers survived to fall back a few hundred yards behind another group of heavily armoured men with pikes as twice as long as themselves. Raised resolutely before them, the pikesmen advanced slowly but surely against the horde. Without any semblance of indecision or hesitance the horde poured once again into the marching men, howling for more blood. The first wave threw itself into a raving frenzy and gored themselves at the pikes, snarling, their flailing hands still lashing out to claim more victims. And more and more and more until the front pikesmen were overwhelmed and their dead bodies piled up to a grisly wall of death. Still the horde pushed insanely at the wall of pikesmen and the men were torn down and thrown forward like ragged dolls. Behind the front pikesmen however was another wall of pikesmen but will it stand the unstoppable force of the charging horde?

But wait! The knights who fled during the first clash have returned! In full force the grim riders charged at the rear of the unprepared horde and smashed into them. Finding themselves trapped between a full charge of knights and a wall of pikesmen, the horde finally broke and was torn asunder. Each clan ripped themselves away from the main horde and tried to escape by their own means. Like beasts in a slaughterhouse, the brutes were ran down and mercilessly executed, the nauseating carnage littering the plains as a horrifying reminder to the battle. Those who survived fled the battlefield wailing and howling in despair across the dead plains into the forest and the mountains.

With an enormous shudder, the surviving men laid down on the field, totally exhausted. Soon it will be dusk and many of the ragged returning army will not see another sunrise. Even as the less injured men picked themselves and their comrades up, all was quiet, the sobering sight of tens of thousands of bodies lying upon the bloodied plains made them wish that they were home. For every one of them who limped, crawled or stumbled away, another four did not. Soon, the only sound to be heard in the tranquil evening as the sun gazed lazily at the pink plains became the shrieks of circling carrion-eaters in the sky.

The feast of the victors has just begun.