[RP Episode] The Flames of Change


#41

The horde was on the move once more, the Elves have spent nearly a week at Redmont, and had left it a smouldering ruin. They collapsed the city gates, burned the houses, and de-constructed the city’s trebuchets for their own use. Not many know how to build and use trebuchets, but Zhei-Yiang and her warlords knew them from back home. The mechanism was somewhat different but the concept was the same, and with a few alterations, they knew they could be of use.

Zhei-Yiang’s suspicions of trouble from the west were confirmed with reoccurring and increasing reports of enemy scouts, so she marched her host south east, towards another mark on her new map, a smaller one than the city, so she assumed it would be an easy target. She sent scouts ahead, as per usual, as a few of her warbands travelled further afield, parallel to the main host, plundering any village they came across if there was anything to be had.

Nearing their target, the main host came to a full stop. A large warband was formed and sent forth to assault the fortress, and a pair of their newly acquired trebuchets were taken with them. ‘‘A perfect opportunity for target practice.’’ thought Zhei-Yiang. She would have her more experienced troops from home teach the new recruits how to handle siege weaponry, on a real target. Her scouts reported no artillery within the Vahan fortress aside from some ballistas.

And so they went, an army of 10k against a speck on the map. They flooded in towards the Burh from seemingly all sides at once, men and women on horseback, screaming death’s name so it echoed across the land. They began shooting a storm of arrows upon the wooden palisades of the fortress as they circled it, and Elven foot soldiers wearing Vahan armour approached from behind them as their reconstructed trebuchets were pushed in to position.

The siege had commenced.


#42

On the outer palisade, the levies ducked and sheltered from the arrows launcher by the enemy horse archers, which had soon feathered the upper parts of the palisade with their shafts so that each tree trunk looked like a pincushion. The ballistamen, Order engineers, did their best to fire back, with mixed results. While a missile would often be enough to fully impale a man regardless of armour, or in dense formations perhaps even several, their rate of fire was hampered by the need to duck from enemy arrows every few moments or so.

The men on the far side of the gate concentrated their fire on the enemy formations of infantry, sending their heavy bolts tearing into the tight ranks. But it was like spitting at a fire, and it had no meaningful impact besides killing every few. Still, with the enemy all around them, killing was all they could do, so kill they did.

Lord Ermanarikis had taken to the top of his donjon tower and was dismayed at the scale of the enemy attack. There were thousands of them. He knew the outer wall, with its weak troops, would fall swiftly, and so he’d ordered the food reserves to be brought inside the inner wall, and left the terrified civilians outside. In war, one must be hard, and the men on the wall would fight that much harder knowing that their families were directly under threat. The women and children huddled in and between buildings, avoiding the areas where arrows fell, and could do naught but pray.


#43

Before the infantry could reach the fortress, the trebuchets were aligned, loaded, and fired, sending a boulder flying across the field, and hitting ground outside the fortress itself, dealing no damage. With a few adjustments, the siege unit at the trebuchet were to fire another shot, now they enriched their projectile’s devastation effect by dousing it with oil and setting it aflame before launch. Aimed at the wooden wall and its towers that were opposite of the inner gate, they let loose.

The infantry in the field meanwhile, mimicked the troops at Redmont and held up their shields at incoming arrow fire while the cavalry did their best to keep the Vahans at the ballistas too occupied with getting shot at to load and fire any more as they continued to ride around.


#44

Seeing the flaming stones of the trebuchets creep ever closer to the first gate, the Lord knew that he would not hold the first wall. The gate would be destroyed, the first ring breached, and he did not have the forces to do anything about it. So he beckoned the trumpeter, and did the only thing he could.

He gave the signal to retreat to the inner wall.

As one, the Order engineers and other seasoned troops descended from the wall and, holding their shields over their heads to ward off stray arrows, they ran up the narrow, curling path to the hilltop, to the gate of the second palisade. The road to get there curled all the way around the hill, so the enemy either had to climb the steep slope, or run all the way around the wall’s perimeter, while under heavy fire from the men on the hilltop.

On top of his tower, Lord Ermanarikis was angrily confronted by one of the local nobles. “You never intended to protect the people! You always planned to abandon them!” The man raged, while the impassive Lord stood there and let him vent. When the man was done, he spoke calmly. “They were lost the moment the enemy got here. We don’t have the men to defend the entire fortress, and with their horse archers, we would never have been able to offer meaningful resistance of the first wall.”

Inside the inner castle, he formed his four hundred into two units. One would stay on the parapets, to shower the enemy with projectiles and make their climb of the hill even harder and more tiring, while the other, larger unit would form a mobile reserve within the walls, to counter them if they breached and fight their tired men face-to-face. They would face a tough climb while under fire, and then, an uphill battle against troops trained and experienced for just such a work. And he would give them great slaughter.

Ermanarikis pulled on his tall, feathered helmet. He was a Lord of the Order, a champion of Sagonos and giver of slaughter to His enemies, and his equipment displayed this for all to see. His armour, plate over mail, had been oiled and polished till it shone, and he took a heavy round wooden shield from his squire. Its rim and boss were iron, the boss engraved with the letter sigma, the rim with prayers for success in battle. On it was painted a snarling boar goring an unwary hunter - a warning to every warrior who would take his prey lightly. Tall leather boots had plates of iron at the sides to ward off the blow to the ankles that came under the shield. From buckles hung a deep green cloak, and from his waist hung two swords - one long, and one short.

“Come”, he spoke to his retinue. “Let us go to war.”


#45

As the outer palisade collapsed, the Elven troops marched in, finishing the destruction that the trebuchets had started. They began looting the barracks and forges scattered about, all the while moving from cover to cover, avoiding enemy arrows as they neared the inner fortress. But they knew they could not breach it alone, they needed support yet again.

The trebuchets outside the fortress were adjusted again, loaded, and fired, until they hit their intended target. They continued to pummel the inner gate and the fortress within until an opening was made, and the enemy’s advantage of elevation was eliminated, or at least subdued. As the smoke poured from atop the hill and the screaming had somewhat subsided, a horn was sounded for the trebuchets to stop, and the Elven warriors pushed forward in their melee assault. Holding up their shields as they ran up the path around the hill, avoiding enemy fire as much as falling debris.


#46

The wall was breached at the gate, but still flanked by strong ramparts crowded with Ermanarikis’ warriors. They rained spears and axes down at the elves below, who struggled up the hillside. They were encumbered by their heavy armour and having to hold their shields over their heads, and the steep hillside proved a formidable, exhausting obstacle.

Inside, Ermanarikis had arranged his soldiers in three shield walls, in a semicircular formation around the breached gate. The shield walls’ flanks were anchored by buildings or the walls, and the men in front had dropped their spears to keep shortswords at the ready. They held their shields in front of them, rattling them agains their neighbours’ to make sure it was a solid wall. They overlapped to ensure enemies would have to thrust through two layers of wood. The men behind them held their shields overhead to ward off stray arrows, and held their spears at the ready to jab at foes over their front row comrades’ shoulders.

Due to their position on the hill, direct fire from enemy bowmen was not possible. This meant the elven infantry would have to make their assault unsupported. The Order men were tough and disciplined warriors, and would prove exceedingly hard to break. Ermanarikis himself was in the first row of the middle shield wall, eyeing the elves over the iron-rimmed edge of his shield. The enemy was breathing heavily and moving sluggishly by the time they made it to the top, but the sight of their foe seemed to fill them with new energy as they waved their swords in the air and charged. The lord watched the foe who would come to his blade. It was a slender-looking man, with a stolen helmet and mail shirt and several javelins embedded in a shield that still bore the bloodied device of the Redar levies. The man came at him, shouting and cursing.

The Order warriors braced.

With a huge crash and a jarring impact Ermanarikis could feel moving up his arm, they impacted the wall. He jabbed out with his shortsword under the shield’s rim, looking to gauge the enemy’s thigh or groin. Over his shoulder, a spear jabbed at the foe’s collar. It proved to be just the distraction needed for Ermanarikis’ sword, seaching for the rim of the mail skirt, to slip under and carve deeply into his foe’s leg. He was shouting at the enemy, calling them despicable leaf-eaters, prey of the Garden, the shit of cattle, and all sorts of insults.

The elf screamed and fell, and, keeping his shield raised, Ermanarikis stomped on his other leg to hear it snap with a sickening sound. Another elf pressed up to him, clearly struggling to not lose his footing on the wounded man’s belly, and he was rewarded with a spear thrust to the next that spilt his life blood all over his leather coat and made him fall on top of the wounded elf, choking.

All around him, the Order warriors fought. Men searched with their knives for gaps in the enemy’s armour. They jabbed at groins, legs, ankles, while the spears stabbed overhead at faces and necks and collarbones. An Order warriors flicked his knife at an unhelmeted elf’s face, tearing his cheek open, before headbutting him in the face. Another slammed his foe with the shield’s boss and, while the enemy was dazed from the blow, cut his neck open. Five elves fell for every warrior that was cut down. At a whistle’s sound, the shield wall, which had been slowly pushed back by the flow of enemies, halted.

At the back of the formation, a drum started pounding. Its heavy, rhythmic beats of doom, doom, doom, filled the air despite the screaming, clanging of steel, and cursing that was everywhere around.

When it beat for the fourth time, the Order formation, as one, heaved and pushed, spears and knives reaching out, hungry for elven flesh. Many slammed home, but many more glanced off mail or breastplates or shields taken from the fallen of Redar. It mattered not. Soon, the drum had beat four times again, and the men heaved once more.

They were the warriors of Sagonos, trained, disciplined, and eager, and they had practiced the shield wall a thousand times.

Ermanarikis knew, and his men knew too, that his foes would only come at them to die.


#47

The Elven warriors continued pouring through the breached gate, now a mixture of heavy armoured infantry as well as light foot savages with war axes which they took to the wooden shields of the enemy. As the Vahans continued to jab them repeatedly with their spears, the Elves eventually had enough, and began grabbing on to them in number to yank them from its shield wall, often times cutting themselves in the process. As the Vahans slowly began to run out of arrows and javelins to throw and shoot at the Elves from the ramparts, the approach to the top of the hill became increasingly easier, and ever more warriors made it to the fight.


#48

Numbers began to tell. Though it took half a dozen elves to drag down one Order shield-warrior, Ermanarikis knew they had scores for every man of his. Despite the wall being reinforced by those warriors on the wall who’d run out of spears to throw, slowly but surely it was being ground down.

He could not win. This he had known from the start.

The only thing he could do was to bleed them as much as possible. But he could feel his arms grow leaden with the weight of weapon and shield, and knew he must be relieved. And at that time, the drum pounded four times in quick succession - the agreed signal. As one, the men in the ranks behind Ermanarikis’ front line turned ninety degrees, pairs of them now facing each other and leaving just enough of a gap for a warrior to squeeze through. Though these gaps, half of the frontline warriors fell back, and they were quickly filled by men from the second rank who pushed forward before the Elves had time to exploit. The drum beat four times again, and the other half of the frontline fell back also. Once away from the front, Ermanarikis made his way to the back of his formation to give further orders.

The sounds of war - weapons clanging, shields banging, men screaming and shouting hatred and curses - made it hard to understand each other, so the knights had to shout to make themselves understood. Only the deep thumping of the drum could be heard over the ruckuss. The Order forces were now down to half their number, but they knew they’d left the ground in front of them carpeted with corpses. At Ermanarikis’ direction, the drum began to pound a peculiar rhythm - twice quickly, then once, then twice again. The Order forces knew this was the signal to go backwards in order to let the corpses carpeting the floor impede the enemy and break up their cohesion. They fell back roughly ten meters, and any elves who followed them had to clambed over the corpses while being jabbed at by spears.


#49

As the Vahans backed up a bit, the line of Elves moved forward with them, and Elven warriors behind them began pulling away the dead from under their feet to clear the space. With that bit much space now on even ground with the enemy at the top of the hill, the lightly armored warriors in the back ranks kneeled for archers to mount them, and then stood upright again to lift them up, to give them a shooting angle over the front line so they could fire upon the supposedly relieved troops. Reinforcements from bellow had meanwhile brought ladders with them to the top palisade using the path and have begun an effort to climb over the wall and gain yet another advantage of elevation to aid their comrades pushing in through the gates.


#50

The remaining troops on the wall kept flinging spears and shooting arrows at the assailants, but at a new drum signal they moved to pre-placed braziers and switched targets.

Ermanarikis had long decided that, if they would not have their fortress, no one would. When he saw the castle was close to falling, he muttered a prayer for forgiveness to Sagonos, and had the drummers signal the scorched earth. Order bowmen sent fire arrows arching over the enemy assailants scaling the wall, setting fire to several buildings in the lower courtyards, regardless of the Vaha civilians cowering within. They would rather burn down their castle with them inside than yield it to an enemy’s use.

The halls of the castle had been thatched with dried straw and reeds, and in the drought of the late summer they flared up instantly like torches. The screaming reached new heights as civilians crowded at the exits to escape the blaze that spread from building to building, but many could not get out in time. Sagonos had their souls, and Ermanarikis vowed to seek their forgiveness once he joined them in the Garden. Surely that could not be long.

With elves pressing close on all sides and enemy arrow fire, inaccurate but plentiful, striking his troops, he had them press flaming torches into the buildings of the inner yard and the wooden tower, and amidst that blazing inferno, made his last stand in the middle of the mustering square. They fought like devils, stabbing and cutting and hacking at their foe. Many went berserk, laying into their enemy in a whirlwind of axes and violence. They tore deep holes into the enemy formation before succumbing to dozens of wounds. Ermanarikis was shot once, twice, yelling in his desperation to smite one last foe, to kill just one more. In the end he fell to his knees, the tendons of his leg cut by an enemy, and after the elves fell upon him in their rage, the blood stained the ground for yards around.

The Order died fighting to the last, and many of those who sought refuge with them burned with them. Such was the price of victory.


#51

The fortress burned, and the Elves withdrew. Their warlord sat saddled on his horse, overlooking the carnage, when Zhei-Yiang herself rode up to him. Having seen the smoke from a mile away, she rushed forth in fury to meet with her warlord.

‘‘What have you done!?’’ she yelled at him from behind. The warlord turned in surprise as his queen continued to screech at him. ‘‘You were supposed to capture the fortress, not raise it!!’’ The warlord adjusted himself in his saddle and explained, ‘‘That was our plan, yes. But the enemy had other ideas it seems. They burned the fortress, not us, and themselves with it rather than have it fall in to our hands, my queen.’’

Together they stood atop their hill for a little while, observing the wooden fort slowly collapse in to itself in the inferno as the last of the survivors staggered out of it. They had gained nothing from this assault. No shelter, no supplies, nothing, only death. The Vahans may be the ones who are all dead, but they were the victor here, not the Elves. The Vahans achieved their goal, the one and only way they could, and the Elves did not.

It was then that Zhei-Yiang realized she could not effectively fight this enemy head on and gain anything. The significance of armored troops in warfare was obvious, and she had none. The significance of holding and exploiting defensive fortified positions was obvious as well, and she had none of those either. The only advantage her people had were their speed and maneuverability, and so far, that advantage has been damn useless.

Zhei-Yiang and her troops met up with the rest of the horde and passed the former Burh Ermanarikis before settling down in a quiet spot amidst the hills where they could rest and lick their wounds, away from the smoke of the fort that could lure attention. Her scouts around the region and Redmont came and left, no word of enemy activity besides cowardice has been reported as of yet.


#52

A day after the fall of the Ermanarkis Burh, roughly half of the Elven scouts did not show up.

Darmon surveyed the ruin of Redmont, and the destruction all around it. As far as the eye could see, burned buildings and shattered walls dotted the land. There was little grass remaining, as the very ground itself had been turned to mud by the movement of thousands of hooves and feet. The city itself was a dying hellhole, the houses pulled down and the fortress smashed.

His second in command, Sir Duncan of the SwanKnights, rode beside him. The thousands of Vahan cavalry were pulled up behind them in rank upon rank of mailed riders, banners fluttering in the wind and spearpoints gleaming. Darmon turned around. Dozens of miles away, a small dust cloud marked the passage of the infantry, toiling in his wake. He tugged on his beard for a moment.

”The scouts found a few dozen of the enemy scattered about, scouts. We slew half their number, but the remainder got away, and they’ve had watchers set on this place for sometime I’d wager.” said Duncan, shining in silvery blue.

”Send word to the King. The enemy is not here, and this is no suitable ground for an encampment.” replied Darmon, Master of Horses.

”Yes milord. And us?”

”Find their trail, and follow it.”

Darmon moves his forces slightly southeast of Redmont, and set up camp briefly, while his scouts scattered in all directions. After three days, they returned, with a few empty saddles but information. They brought news of the Horde, which was encamped a few miles from the heap of rubble that was all that remained of the Order’s fortress.

”You saw no survivors?” demanded Darmon of the scout.

”No milord, but I managed to slip into the ruins myself. The ground is soaked with blood, and burned carcasses are everywhere. They burned, all of them.” The man shuddered.

Darmon let out his breath in a explosion of noise. He knew what effect this would have on the Grandmaster, also known as the ‘Butcher’. But the an idea had been now stirring in his mind, and this new development could allow it to come to fruition.

He sent to the King, telling him of the news, but asking him that if the Order abruptly left the main army, that they be let go unhindered. In the meantime, he broke camp, and began moving east, leaving the wreck of Redmont behind.


#53

When he heard the news, a few days later, Belisarios quieted. His usually boisterous and loud demeanour faded, and only those who knew him well would have distinguished the black flower of hatred blooming in his heart, shining in his eyes like a foul beacon of unlight.

Lord Ermanarikis had been his friend. His men had been his men.

Much like Lord Darmon had predicted, he gave the order to break up camp. A mere hour later, the men had packed their tents, equipment, weapons, armour, and supply train back onto the beasts of burden, and they simply left. The Order contingent, now numbering five thousands after the men from Sagath and Kaupis in the west had caught up with the King’s lumbering force, filed out of the camp in total silence. There was no drumbeat. No music.

Their purple and gold banners fluttered in the breeze as the men made their way, the steady thred of their footsteps crushing the dirt of the road the only sound that drove them. Officers rode, brooding, along their silent men. It had more of an air of a funeral procession than of an army on the march. It was only when the smoke-wreathed hilltop of Ermanarikis came within view that the men made a sound.

It started at the front.

A dirge of mourning was chanted for their fallen fortress and its warriors as the army made its way up the charred remnants of what had been the front gate. Much of the palisade had been rendered to ashes, and the dirt that had been packed between had spilled over so that where once walls and towers had stood were now only shallow mounds of dirt and soot.

The inside was worse.

Charred beams and pillars showed where the halls and buildings of the fortress had been. Smoke still drifted from smouldering patches of wood here and there. The stables, the barracks, the forges, the granary, had all been burned. There were corpses everywhere, blackened and charred, the heat having shrunk men to the size of children, and children to the size of infants. The elves had left them where they burned.

The Butcher rode silently, not looking left or right, his eyes fixed on the hilltop. In his mind’s eye he could see what it had been - the proud walls, the banners fluttering from the tower, a beacon of Sagonos’ light in the wild reaches of the eastern kingdom. Now it was more dreadful than any heretic’s pyre.

At the top, in the soot of what had been the exercise yard, he could see the circle of shrunken puppets where the men made their last stand. The heat had been fierce enough to melt mail and weapons to fused lumps of iron, which the elves had evidently not bothered to collect. He dismounted and took a number of the nuggets from the sand. He tucked them away in a pouch, silently, before turning to his officers. “Pitch camp here, by the thousand and hundred. Beat out any fires that remain, and collect all the iron you can find. Have the quartermaster summoned. I will have the metal forged into blades to pierce elven hearts. Post sentries and outriders, and warn at any approach.” When the officers bowed and turned away to execute his commands, the Butcher held up his hand. “And make no mistake. A thousand elves will burn screaming for this atrocity. You may go.”


#54

Three days have passed since the battle for Ermanarikis, three days the horde remained encamped in the hills further south. Three days ago, the scouts reported movement further west from Redmont, they described a large army marching towards the city. One the second and third day, skirmishes between scouts have taken place, and about half of Zhei-Yiang’s scouts didn’t return. Those who did reported a Vahan army reaching Redmont, or what was left of it, thousands of men on horseback. Not soon after, another army of thousands, this one including foot soldiers, has been spotted approaching and making camp at Ermanarikis itself.

‘‘Good call…’’ commented Zhei-Yiang’s new second in command, Xuan-Lee, after she had her first one executed for rendering Redmont useless, and her second one demoted and ordered to be put in to the front lines of the next battle for loosing hundreds of men for a pyre, ‘‘Good call we decided to not stay there.’’ he continued. Zhei-Yang nodded as she looked down upon her stolen map of the realm. Their last endeavour had not been fruitful, she did not get the supplies she had hoped for, and her horde was beginning to run out. The enemy was now on their tail, and if her scouts were to be believed, they are close, they are armoured, and they come in numbers, which is exactly what she feared.

Instead of a victory and a celebratory feast, the horde was instead defeated and left to mourn their comrades. Zhei-Yiang knew they could not fight like this, no matter how hard her men cry out for revenge, they needed more goods to fuel any further advance, and the lands behind them are depleted, in flames, and swarming with enemies, and enemies that were in pursuit of them at that.

This is where it dawned on her, finally an opportunity to use her advantage in speed and manoeuvrability to her gain. She will outrun her pursuers and head to the southern river, where they can effectively store up on water supplies, and cross it to disappear in to the southern forests where the horde could disperse in to smaller groups, head in each their own direction where they can hunt and gather freely before meeting up at an agreed upon location. As such, any pursuer would surely loose track of them, and would be left to guess if they had left, or if and where they would strike next…

And so they went.


#55

While the Horde began their run to the river, Lord Darmon’s vanguard arrived at the ruins of the fortress, just in time for his mounts scouts to report that the gigantic mass of men, horses, and some unknown large shapes that made up the Horde was moving south as speedily as possible. Darmon knew what that meant. There were woods and forests into which the enemy could disappear, and where his cavalry would be massacred. He went to Belisarios, after sending another messenger to the king to come as speedily as possible.

“They are the move, marching towards the river.” The Horselord burst out, as soon as he first saw the Grandmaster. Darmon wasted no words. “I intend to hit their rearguard with all the strength at my disposal. While they are crossing is when they are vulnerable.”


#56

The Butcher scowled. “They will deploy most of their armed strength as rear guard. You’d be fighting most of the army by yourself. Are your men up to this? Unless…” He glared at the parchment map in front of him, as if by force of anger alone he could force it to reveal its secrets. Then, with a sudden burst of energy, he turned to his lieutenants. 'Break camp, form the marching column, no musicians. We move in thirty minutes, leave the tents behind if you must. Speed is of the essence now."

Half an hour later, the Order forces stood to, rank upon rank of gleaming shield-warriors assembled by their hundred and thousand in the fields before Ermanarikis’ remains. Banners fluttered in the wind, a forest spears reached to the sky, and every last one of them was all but chomping at the bit to be let loose at the invaders. At a signal, the force moved out, heading into the woods slightly to the south.

At his departure, the Butcher exchanged a last few words with Lord Darmon. “We will hit them from the east, where they are vulnerable. It should take them more than a day to move all their men and families and baggage across the river. Perhaps two. We will sow panic, and once the enemy loses all cohesion, you can strike at your leisure. Good day, my lord.” And the last the Lord saw of his Order compatriot was the purple cloak fluttering in the wind as its wearer chased after the vanguard.


#57

While the Order moved out, Darmon swiftly led his horsemen after the Horde. They found the enemy’s rearguard, some miles from the river. After a few brief skirmishes, during which both sides lost roughly even numbers of scouts, the Vahans drew back, remaining some miles away. When word came back from his remaining eyes and ears ahead of his forces, the Vahan lord began moving forward, and drew up his forces on a low bank of hills, overlooking the river and the crossing, about a mile and a half distant, with the SwanKnights on the right flank and his own men on the other, while the center was composed of the remaining knights and free riders. They say silently upon their horses, gazing out from the hills, the horses stamping nervously while the men spoke but little, watching through the early morning mists. Here and there, torches glimmered. Darmon had armed his archers with fire arrows, knowing that some great beasts awaited them. All creature fear fire, and the Vahans were above all hunters, eaters of flesh and stalkers of prey. And spread out in front of them, was a literal horde of elves.


#58

The horde has been busy. Having crossed a number of rivers in the past on their journey to this land, they were well prepared for another such undertaking. Their carriages were loaded with enough planks and timber to convert them in to rafts, complete with railing which the carriages already had. The first wave ferried over were warriors and their respective horses, to make safe the other side of the river for the rest of the horde. The second wave carried supplies and civilians. The third wave carried yet more warriors, the queen, as well as other important political personnel. The fourth wave, out of quite a lot more to follow, carried over livestock. During this time, a number of their elephants have been continuously prodded by their riders to cross the river by walking over it, which was a painfully slow task, as they were rather frisky creatures and did not like the deep water. Standing 6 meters tall, the elephants managed none the less, the effort only slowed down at the river’s deepest, which is about 4 meters deep.

Just as the first wave of elephants came ashore, and the 5th wave of rafts had pushed away from the northern side of the river, Elven riders came rushing in spreading warnings of an incoming enemy force. The scouts reported that it was not their full force, only their armoured riders who rode ahead of their host it seems. Xuan-Lee, the horde’s second in command who was left on the northern side of the river to supervise crossing efforts on her behalf quickly barked orders to the lot of his troops and the rest of the warlords. Their plan was to establish a defensive perimeter away from the rafts and civilians, and hold off the enemy until they have safely crossed.

In the first line, there was the Elven cavalry. Elves with swords, bows, and throwing javelins waiting for the enemy to charge, only to ride forth to meet them mid field. The Elves knew the enemy had superior armour, so the first line was to charge at the enemy, throw their javelins, and empty as much of their arrows from their quivers upon them as possible, and if able, retreat through the second mass of troops back to safety in the chaos. The second formation was a double layered line of troops. The first were shielded spear men, with yet more spear men a row behind them, holding their own spears over their shield wall as well. The shield wall would open to form gaps the allied cavalry could retreat back through. The third mass of troops behind the spear men were archers who were to open fire as soon as the cavalry fall back. These archers had light shields of their own to hide from any incoming enemy arrow fire.

If, or rather when the enemy charges the shielded spear men and brake through their line, the archers were to fall back, and the remainder of the Elven warriors on horseback behind them were to ride forth in mass and overwhelm the enemy. Utilising bows, javelins, spears and any other throwable weapon at their disposal at will. And if even they were to suffer greatly, a surprise was waiting for the Vahans at the back of the beach if a retreat was called.

Just as they formed their ranks, the enemy could be seen from a far, the Elves could almost feel their piercing eyes stare at them from the foothills.


#59

At the same time, having force-marched and crossed at a ford further south, the Order forces were crouching among the forest’s undergrowth. The woods were the Vahans’ natural habitat, the lands where they were most comfortable, and the Order, aware of its weakness in cavalry, had made an art of forest warfare.

Lighter troops, having left their mail behind, crouched in the treetops with arrows nocked. Enemy pickets, mounted on horses, made easy pickings from afar in the dense woodland, and were swiftly overtaken from above. The soldiers observed how the enemy had ferried across a small vanguard before they started bringing over their vulnerable civilians and baggage, leaving the bulk of their force to Darmon’s troops on the far side.

Far as the Butcher was concerned, this was entirely fine with him.

Still crouched, he lifted his arm. One of the light troops loosed his arrow, trailing smoke behind it, and at that signal the Order forces jumped to their feet and started shouting and banging their spears on shields. Behind him, the Butcher heard the first pounding of the great war drum, soon to be joined by the wailing of the bagpipes and smaller drums of the musicians.The Order forces formed a long line, ten ranks deep, and advanced as one with spears banging rhythmically on their shields. They chanted, “Er-ma-na-ri-kis!” as they marched, hungrily, towards the enemy’s horsemen and the panicking mass sheltering behind them, amongst whom the falling arrows had begun to reap death.

The time for vengeance was come, and it would be paid in blood.


#60

Meanwhile, across the river, Darmon sat astride his horse, watching while the Elven host deployed to meet him. He made no move to attack, but sat calmly, waiting. His was a patience old as mountains, and every moment that he waited was to his advantage.

There was a problem for Darmon to grapple with. If he did fall like a thunderbolt upon the host that stood before him, his horsemen would cleave right through their line of spears. But directly afterward, and with their charge spent and lances shattered, a general melee would ensue, in which Vahan armor and skill in close quarters would be tested against overwelming numbers. Darmon had foreseen this outcome, and so reserved the tactic for a last ditch scenario.

But Darmon did not stand alone. Belisarios, sometimes called the Butcher, was beginning his assault upon the enemy’s rear, his warriors baying like hounds in their desire to rip the life from every elf they could lay hands on. It was on Belisarios that the outcome of this battle depended, and so Darmon waited.