Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Oathmark: Battles of the Lost Age ...Part IV: Louis' Tale

***Editorial Note*** this narrative story was originally posted in sections along with a detailed battle report.  As the length of those reports got to be a bit excessive I opted to remove the narrative bitz and lump them into a separate post here along with some of the images.

The battle report sections can be found here:  Part I Part II Part III

Louis' Tale

The dust caked Louis' throat as the marched.  The feet of the men and horses in front of him stirred the dry dust from the road surface, and the rest of the column quickly became coated with the fine powder.

...And still they marched.

The Marquis had gotten himself, and the Grand Armee, into a spot of trouble, somewhere off to the east.  And now Louis and his comrades were tasked with bailing him out of his mess.

Rumors had trickled back through the villages about the viciousness of the fighting, along with a trickle of wounded and broken men. Occasionally a dispatch rider returned to the garrison with official news and orders from the Marquis himself... 

It was just such a rider that brought the order that had set Louis' unit in motion along with the other companies of men from the Garrison of Rhenes.  He and the other tired, dusty, men had been in motion, seemingly non-stop, for the past three days.  They marched from sun up till nearly dark passing through tiny villages, rich pasture land and rolling hills.  Their halberds and shields growing heavier with every step.  Ahead, to the east, there was war, but here the late autumn sun shown on fields ripe for harvest.

As it grew dark each day le Sergent had found them a field or copse to collapse in.  No fires were lit.  Hard bread and a hunk of cheese were the only sustenance they had, though Louis had managed to procure a mug full of the fortified wine that one of Toby's boys carried in barrel on his back.  Both food and beverage were wolfed down quickly before Louis fell into exhausted sleep, the aching of his blistered feet temporarily eased by the potent wine.

The next morning found them on the road again.  They were approaching yet another small village, really just a cluster of a few buildings and their associated fields.  Louis and his fellow halberdmen were in the middle of the column with a small cavalry unit and a unit of archers with their deadly bows to their front.  Behind were the unit of spearmen, the Rouge Cerf (Red Deer or Bleeding Harts) and finally Toby's lads with their hunting bows and potent wine.


Louis was regretting the previous evenings fortified wine, as he wiped sweat from his aching forehead.  He craved water, and a nap in the shade.  Rumor told that they would join the Grand Armee' the following day.  But, today was just more marching...and on they trudged.

As they past through the village Louis became aware of a commotion in the units in front of them.  Men were shouting, and pointing off to their right, southward.  They were straining their necks and leaning that way to attempt a better view as they marched.  Louis' unit was between buildings and could not see to the right, they could not tell what the excitement was about, but they could see that it was growing.



"Keep Moving!!"  le Sergent bellowed.

...but as soon as the words left his mouth Louis saw the Cavalry unit at the head of the column suddenly wheel to the right and advance out of sight.  As Louis and his companions finally cleared the building, the archers to their front also wheeled right and stomped over a hedge into the field that now came into view.

Louis saw the Cavalry troopers advancing cautiously toward a copse of trees.  The Archers  shook out into line and paused momentarily while the men hurriedly bent their staves and stretched the bow cords, all while loosening the sheafs of arrows in their quivers.

Louis looked beyond the archer unit, further off to the right (south) across the open field, and the cause of the commotion became clear.  Coming from a small valley between two hills was a warband of lithe Elves and sturdy Dwarfs.  In the center, moving to assault the marching column were units of dwarfs and elves each brandishing weapons and shields.  Behind them were a group of what appeared to be archers with long elegant looking bows.  Off to their right, and atop one of the hills, was a unit of mounted elves, also carrying long bows.


"Sacre Bleu" Louis muttered, the battle fear suddenly gripping him, threatening to turn his bowels to water.

Louis hurriedly dropped his haversack and blanket roll onto the growing pile of equipment by the road side. He absently wondered if we would ever be back to retrieve his meager possessions. Louis loosened a tie and slid the leather protective cover from the long blade of his halberd. He kissed it for good luck and rushed to find his place in the front rank not far from the drummer who beat an urgent rhythm of assembly.

le Sergent bellowed an order "Wheel Right!!!! Forward now boys! Over the hedge! FORWARD!"

Behind them Louis caught a glance of the Spearmen, with their red stag emblazoned shields, also wheeling to the right and heading off between the buildings of the village.  Toby's archers were moving quickly forward and into the field behind the halberdmen as they advanced.


"Forward Boys!!  There are the enemy..." le Sergent bellowed, pointing across the field at the approaching foe.  "...there they are!! They hope to stop us from joining the Marquis!! THEY SHALL NOT!!  Kill THEM!!! Kill them ALL!!!"

Louis shouldered his halberd, quickly checked his place in line, elbows nearly touching the men to either side.  He could feel the presence of Pierre immediately behind him, his stinking breath hot on the back of Louis' neck.  Louis took some comfort in the closeness of his companions.  The familiarity of the formation and his equipment gave him a sense of confidence and power. 

They were Ready.

He took a deep breath, fought down his fear...allowing it to turn to anger... and moved forward in unison with his fellows.

...it was time to put the months of training with the heavy halberd to use.

A Shiver ran through Louis' body, though whether it was fear or excitement the halberman could not say.  The killing time had arrived and Louis and the rest of his unit moved forward to meet the oncoming enemy.   The unit of dwarf warriors and the elf warriors continued to advance toward the march column which had now turned into a ragged battle line.  The halberdmen advanced aggressively with the small cavalry unit on their left and the two units of archers forming up, and advancing behind them.



"Close ranks you Bastards, keep it tight!" le Sergent bellowed at his troops.  Louis again touched elbows with the men to either side and could feel the weight of the ranks behind him.  He tightened his grip on the shaft of his weapon and forward they went, now slanting slightly to their left to directly confront the unit of dwarfs who were spitting insults at the halberdmen in their guttural tongue.

Louis heard an odd whooshing sound and saw a cloud of arrows suddenly rise up over the dwarf warriors from the elf archers behind.  The arrows arched up gracefully, a mere rushing of wind, but then they peaked and plummeted down directly onto Louis' unit.  The arrows fell like pelting rain, one shaft glancing off of Louis steel helmet.  The majority of the arrows fell onto the ranks behind Louis.  The halberdmen leaned forward slightly as if struggling against a strong wind.  The screams and cries of wounded men behind him terrified Louis, what if he was next?

"Close Ranks boys!! fill the gaps!" le Sergent hollered looking back over his soldier at the open spaces that the arrows had carved in his unit. 

Off to his left Louis also saw the mounted elf unit unleash a volley of arrows at the cavalry unit covering their left flank.  Several horses and men went down but the cavalry unit continued to advance slowly, maintaining the line with the halberdmen.

Louis broke out in a cold sweat.  This was happening.  Already men from his own unit were dead or dying, some limping back to the road with grievous wounds.  The enemy was in front of them, the dwarfs pounding their weapons on their shields in a menacing rhythm as they advanced.  Death had come to this field and it was preparing to reap its bloody harvest.



Again Louis heard the thrumming sound, though this time it came from over his left shoulder.  One of the Marquis' units of archers fired a volley that arched up over the halberd men and onto the approaching dwarfs.  The experienced dwarf warriors quickly brought up their shields and only a few shafts struck home causing dwarf soldiers to fall out of line. 

Still they came on.

Before they had fully recovered from the shower of arrows Louis heard the thrumming sound from the front again.  The elf archers were firing again!!  Louis cursed and spat as the arrows arched high.  But this time the deadly shafts angled to Louis' left and fell like a hail storm on the cavalry unit.

Where the small cavalry unit had been, was now just a mass of screaming men and dying horses.  Riderless mounts bolted in different directions, some dragging their hapless riders with them. Dead men and flailing horses covered the ground.

The unit was gone, destroyed. 


Fear gripped Louis' guts even tighter, threatening to overwhelm him.  From the gasps and curses coming from the ranks behind him, Louis could tell he wasn't alone in his thoughts.  Louis wasn't sure that they would go on, his unit was now hesitant. Ahead were the grim faced dwarf warriors coming to kill them, while their right flank was threatened by the approaching Elf warriors, and their left flank was suddenly exposed. Only broken men and Dying horses remained there...

From the left flank another volley of arrows slammed into the halberdmen from the mounted Elfs in the stone walled paddock. But the Elfs had fired while they moved up and over the stone wall, and the motion threw off their aim and only a few arrows stuck the halberdmen, and mostly onto the large shields that covered their backs.  While they injured few, the pelting arrows further slowed the advance of Louis' unit.  The mounted Elfs cantered forward to close up on the right flank of the dwarf warriors, threatening to move into the now open flank of Louis' unit where the mass of dead and dying horsemen lay.

Suddenly, Louis noted the Elf unit that had been approaching their right flank, as it wheeled sharply and advance rapidly to their left.  The Bleeding Harts had made their presence known! Louis could just make out the unit of spearmen emerging from behind a farm building, threatening the entire left flank of the enemy formation.  But, the Elves responded quickly and moved to confront this unforeseen threat.


Louis' attention was snapped back to the front and the approaching Dwarfs.  A large Dwarf with a thick blonde beard was brandishing his sword and urging his troops forward.  But the Dwarfs were hesitant as well, and advanced only slowly, constantly dressing their lines and insuring that their shields remained tightly overlapping.  They were now only a few paces to his front and Louis could clearly see the enemy.  The Dwarfs wore fine looking chainmail and helmets with blue and white tabards and shields, they carried a mix of swords, axes, and hammers, their grim bearded faces set in determination.  They were here to kill, and the killing time was approaching rapidly, but they did not rush to meet it.

The Dwarfs advance was further slowed when they were pelted with arrows from Toby's lads.  The long ash shafts hit home with tremendous force and several more dwarfs fell out of line, though most successfully protected themselves with their shields.

"Get ready Lads!! HERE THEY COME!!" le Sergent shouted, pointing with his sword at the slowly advancing Dwarf soldiers. "Front rank low, second rank high, just like we practiced boys, kill them, Break them!"

And on they did come, grim bearded faces peering over shield rims.  They came on slowly, methodically.  Louis switched to an overhand grip on his weapon, the hooked blade now pointed downward slightly toward the ground. Louis felt the weight of Pierre's blade up above his shoulder and helmeted head.


As the dwarf warriors approached within two paces of the Halberdmen, Louis gritted his teeth, allowed a war cry to grow in his throat, and he poured all of his anger and fear into his weapon.  Along with the rest of the front rank, Louis struck.  Halberds lanced forward low along the entire battle line.  Louis' blade shot forward between and under the shields of two advancing dwarf warriors, meeting no resistance, he shifted his strike to the right and pulled the blade back toward him, hard.  The hook on the back of the blade caught the leg of one dwarf and pulled him off balance, causing him to stumble slightly and lower his shield.  This happened all along the line.  Halberds struck or hooked shields which were lowered, or else tipped back into the faces of the warriors behind.  Blades struck ankles and feet below shields causing dwarfs to stumble and hesitate.

...and then the second rank of halberdmen struck from above.

Louis heard Pierre grunt behind him as he brought his heavy bladed weapon down in a devastating two handed strike.  The halberd blade struck the flat topped helmet of the dwarf that Louis had tripped and it crunched through the metal and into the skull below.  Gore splattered onto Louis face, though he hardly noticed as he forced his weapon forward again, this time at chest height, catching another off balance dwarf in the shoulder with the tip of his blade.  The thrust did not pierce mail but it staggered the dwarf and opened him to another strike from the second rank.  A vicious blow caught the dwarf in the same shoulder where Louis had pinned him.  The blade smashed through armor and a welter of blood stained the white of the dwarf's tabard.  The blow drove the second dwarf to his knees where he screamed and collapsed face down.

Suddenly they were retreating!  The dwarfs fell back in panic, their front rank devastated. Glancing right and left along their line Louis saw a mass of bloody, blue and white clad, bodies in front of their halberds. They had smashed the attack and their foe were retreating before their blades.  Louis and his comrades glanced at each other, amazed at the turn of events.  Some stumbled out of line in pursuit of their enemy and the formation began to loosen.  Harsh commands from le Sergent brought them back to their ranks, but their advance had been paused by the bloody destruction they had wrought on the enemy....But, THEY WERE ALIVE!!!

Louis, shaking with adrenelene, watched as the defeated Dwarf warriors retreated about twenty paces and reformed, only to be pelted by arrows from Toby's archers who dropped a couple more of the reforming warriors.  To his left Louis also saw arrows lance into the mounted Elfs who had emerged from the stone walled paddock and several of those riders were struck and fell out of line.

Louis was also vaguely aware of sounds of battle from the right, behind the farm building.  The Elf warriors were apparently tangling with the Bleeding Harts, but it was impossible to determine who was getting the better of that encounter. From the shouts of fighting men (and elves) and the clashing of weapons and shields it was clearly a sharp and hard fought battle.

Louis attention was drawn back to the left as the mounted elfs loosed arrows at the archer unit on their left flank.  The elfs advanced slowly as they fired, moving up to threaten Louis unit's left flank, but the archer unit that had just been punished by arrows returned the favor and brought down several more of the mounted elfs with a volley of their own. The archers marched forward after firing to cover the halberds left flank. 



"Eyes Front!!!" le Sergent bellowed.  Pointing with his halberd toward the reforming Dwarfs he continued "there are our enemy!! We have wounded them...now we must finish them!  FORWARD!"

Louis and his companions stepped over the mess of dwarf corpses that lay in front of their ranks and they began to move forward.  The dwarfs, seeing their enemy beginning to approach, suddenly wheeled and moved rapidly left toward the shelter of the stone walled paddock.

Seeing their wounded enemy trying to escape, Louis and his companions surged forward.  The dwarfs dashed to the left, but in good order.  The halberdmen watched them go as they marched forward, cursing that their quarry was slipping away.

It was the lilting voice that brought Louis eyes back to the front.  Louis gasped in astonishment at what he saw.  There, revealed by the retreating dwarfs, was the Elf archer unit. Two long ranks of tall figures dressed in ranging garments of earthy colors.  They were beautiful, fair haired and elegant. And they were ready!


Louis quickly realized that the voice he had heard was the Elf units officer ordering his archers to nock another arrow.

"Forward!!! Kill the Bastards!" le Sergent screamed, now directing the men toward the archers, the dwarfs temporarily forgotten. So, forward they went.  Louis adjusted his grip on the haft of his weapon and quickened his pace forward, but had to look down to carefully step over another dwarf corpse.

His eyes came back up at another lilting order from the elf archer captain.  Louis watched in horror as the bows came up, bow strings were drawn back to cheeks with well practiced ease, ...and then they came.  These arrows did not arch up and over before plummeting down onto them as they had before.  These arrows came straight, fast, and deadly.  Seemingly in the same instant that Louis saw the archers loose, the arrows were among them.  Arrows buzzed around Louis like a swarm of angry bees.

Louis' head snapped right as a bodkin sliced through his cheek, he felt the iron tip scraping along his cheek bone as it flew by.  A second impact struck Louis' left shoulder spinning him that direction and forcing him to lose his grip on the halberd shaft.

Louis's shoulder exploded in pain, an involuntary grunt escaping his lips.  Louis fell to his knees, his right hand going to the length of arrow shaft and fletchings that protruded from his shoulder.  Warm blood rushed down his arm and chest beneath his armor. 

All around him other halberdmen were down.  Louis saw le Sergent, one arrow protruding from his gut and another from his right thigh.  The man still attempted to organize the unit, but even as he watched, Louis saw the color drain from his commanders face...and the man fell.

The few remaining uninjured members of Louis' unit stumbled to the front of the unit, stepping over the dead and wounded.  They shifted their halberds to a one-hand grip and un-slung the shields from their backs.  These brave few overlapped their shields and sheltered their wounded comrades from further attack. Louis knew that by using their shields his comrades could no longer attack, but they could stand firm in defense.

Someone was in suddenly in Louis' face, pulling him to his feet and shouting at him to head to the rear.  Louis groaned as he stood, the pain in his shoulder flaring intensely, he glanced forward seeing the Elf archers slowly backing away from devastated halberdmen. 

Louis turned right and was forced to carefully step over Pierre's body, which lay flat on its back, arms outspread.  Pierre's face still displayed utter surprise despite the arrow fletchings protruding from his left eye.  Louis quickly looked away, his breakfast threatening to come up, he stumbled on.

Louis, now facing to the rear, watched as Toby's boys notched, drew and fired a volley toward the mounted elfs, though he didn't turn to see the results of this volley.  He simply clutched at the arrow in his shoulder and moved to the rear...



The battle sounds that continued behind him were suddenly pierced by a horn blast from the Elf archers.  The horn continued to sound as that unit backed away from the remnants of the Marquis' relief column.  Apparently it was a call to retire from the field. 

Louis noted that only a small number of the elf soldiers emerged from behind the farm building to his right to rejoin the rest of their force.  They must have been savaged by the Bleeding Harts.  But Louis did not see that unit emerge from behind the building either, and he wondered where they were, or if they lived.

The forces of the Marquis had also started to pull back, or at least checked their advance.  It seemed a unspoken agreement had been reached between the forces.  Both warbands had be brutalized, and neither force was willing to sacrifice more, so despite a few overzealous archers loosing shafts at the retreating foe (from both sides) the two sides grew apart, each dragging away as many of their wounded as they could.

Louis continued back to the road and found the pile of blanket rolls and haveracks where they had left them before the fighting started.  Here he dropped onto the road with a grunt and leaned against the pile of belongings staring up at the sky.  The pain in his shoulder smoldered, and he wiped away blood from his cut cheek.

Louis' fight was over, and he thanked the Gods for that. 

...now if he could just get this damn arrow out of his shoulder...

..and maybe some ale. Louis was parched....

Cheers for now,

Blue


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