Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Fighting Followers with Disembodied Brains"

Once Again:

"Fighting Followers with Disembodied Brains"

"We don't have enough men," thought Quan. "Or at least, enough good men." 

The fanatics of Dra'ver arrayed themselves before the ragtag army of King's Chevaliers, Duke Alden's housecarls, and the hastily assembled peasant militia.  Spread along the crest of the rise, their line was long, but thin.

Quan looked over the shaky arbalesters and nervous spearmen under her charge. They were to hold the left end of the line, their flank buttressed by trees and brambles.

She did not expect much from these part-time soldiers.  They would likely collapse on first contact. She'd seen plenty of lines lose heart, their flanks rolled up, as the mass became individuals, no longer cohesive.

But, as a Chevalier, it was her duty to lead, to inspire.  Straightening her back, she rode in front of her line, letting her freshly scrubbed field plate and battle-standard (a raven fighting a viper on a filed of green) draw the fidgeting militia's attention.

"Steady boys.  The man to your right protects you.  Cover the man to your left, and we hold.  These heathens will break. Trust me."

The nervous eyes looking back to her said different.

"Don't worry son, been in your shoes too many times."  The old campaigner winked at the sweating peasants near her and showed them the stump behind her shield.

"Trust me. I know. Man to your right.  Man to your left.  That's all that matters."

Her squire Danll rode up. "Those heathens still down there, chanting and dancing away?"

"Aye.  And when their song's done, it's on."

Danll dismounted to inspect the abattis stakes and chevaux de frise in front of the line. "Rumor has it that another militia is near."

"Rumor doesn't put boots on the ground, son."

"Julius said that Eschen is sending men."

"Have you been to Echsen?"

"No sir.  Heard its under some mage's protection, no one passes through there. Don't know why they'd answer the call."

"Not sure, myself.  But if they do show, and that's the question, I suspect that they could do some good."  Quan settled back into her saddle, pondered the rumor. Hope had stayed a failing battle line more than once.

Quan cleared her throat. "Sounds like we've got some more boys on the way. So make them proud to step into the line, eh?"

A weak cheer went down her line.  Well, it was something...

The song faded in the distance.  Sun glinted off shields and spearpoints.

Quan made her way though the line to take her place overlooking her forces.

"Arbalests wind up.  Hold your bolts til I say.  Make them count, break their charge.  Spearmen, keep your mates with the crossbows covered. Them bolts will punch through mail.  Give them the chance.

"Man to your right.  Man to your left."

The fanatics screamed and charged.

Sweating hands gripped spears. Bodies crouched behind the massed shields. Quan smelled the familiar voiding bladders and bowels.  For all the poets' written glories, battle began, and often ended, in the gut.

"Hold, my boys, and we'll see the sunset!"

The fanatics began to close, a few peltasts and skirmishers on either side darting out, exchanging javelins before fading back into the battle lines.  Slingstones pinged off helmets and shields.  Cries, and men went down, pinioned.

"Loose bolts, boys!"

The crossbowmen sent bolts downrange, then crouched back behind the shields and spears to winch and lever.  Several fanatics tumbled, skewered.

"Keep em' flying boys!  Keep em' flying!"

A sporadic second volley flew, late...  A few more went down as the lead elements hit the stakes, upended the chevaux...

Spears and shields met, crossbows were dropped for clubs, axes, rocks, whatever was at hand.  Quan waded her horse into the line, swinging her sword at any available head or limb. The line held, but out of the corner of her eye, she could see it bowing.  Chevaliers and housecarls plugged holes, desperately rallied back. Spears flew, axes swung, shields held or caved.

"Protect your mates!  Keep them close!"

Quan's horse went down with a poleaxe to the neck.  She hit the ground but kept her feet.  To go down was death.

She locked her shield next to a bleeding peasant's. "C'mon!  To me, my boys!"

The line wavered...

Over the din came an unholy clatter.

"Elda's heart..." breathed a militiaman, looking back and left. "We're doomed."

Quan punched her shield at a fanatic, then hazarded a glance back.

"Nope.  Eschen is here, my boys!"

For out of the woods from the left flank clattered and scuttled what remained of Echsen...

The spider-constructs caught the right flank of the Dra'veri by surprise.  Steel-tipped legs pierced and ripped as the fanatics wheeled to catch the new threat.  Quan's line faded, then reformed as men realized that the clicking horrors were allies.  Tinny howls and screams filled the air.

Quan watched Eschen fight. One, two three limbs would strike, bowing shields and rending flesh. Counter strikes could shatter the minds' jars, spilling their cargo, stilling the construct. Compatriots would rush about, find intact minds on broken bodies, lift them off, replace them on a whole construct, to arise again and continue pummeling their way into the lines.

Quan's 'boys' formed up with the Eschen, crashed against the crumbling fanatic line. Their flank began to turn.  Quan grabbed her squire's horse and mounted up. "Come to me!"

Tinny yells and throaty cheers went up as her ragged line rejoined its mates to the right.  Fellow militia and warriors felt the momentum change, closed gaps, pushed left.

The Dra'veri line began to give, to break.  The chevaliers and scattered allied cavalry circled, and began to give chase.

Men who were panicking moments before gained courage as they began to see their enemies' backs.  The battle line surged downhill, picking up momentum, rolling up the foundering Dra'veri line. The threat to the Greenwald was turned back, for now.  Quan rode down Dra'veri and shouted encouragement.

Pausing in her pursuit, she noted that none of Eschen were among the pursuers.  She turned her horse back, and saw the mechanical villagers hanging back, gathering their own, collecting broken jars and bodies.  A figure in gray moved among them.

She made a quick count.  No more than two dozen scuttled about the field.  Maybe half as many were damaged or broken, never to move again.  That was all it had taken to break the enemy's will, and to shore their own.  Surprising how little it took sometimes.

Quan rode back to greet to the last-minute allies.  The gray figure noted her approach, and rose from inspecting a broken jar.

The figure made a gesture. Quan suddenly noted a Dra'veri playing dead, and retrieved a spear to put an end to the fanatic's act.

When she paused from her task, Quan remembered that she was going to show her gratitude to the "men" of Eschen.

But they were gone.

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