The press shifted towards him, and Ewerlayn readied himself for it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw one of his men fall with a spear lodged in his guts. Another spear stabbed towards Ewerlayn’s own face, but he batted it aside with his shield.
Then, in one fluid movement he then knocked the spear’s shaft down with his blade and stepped forward to counter attack. His slash was stopped by his opponent’s mail shirt but the impact knocked the man off balance. Ewerlayn’s second slash was lower and bit into his opponent’s unprotected inner thigh. The man crumpled as blood spewed from his artery, and Ewerlayn kicked his weapon away.
Then he had to shift his attention to the next member of the Elorian militia that charged him. He managed to take this one down with a single blow to the neck. The Elorian army really needed to train its soldiers better. Maybe they believed in quantity over quality though, because there was no lack of militia around to take the man’s place. Ewarlyn’s vision was full of tightly packed soldiers in blue. They pushed inexorably towards him like a crashing wave. Luckily, he had his own mob of violent killers to watch his back.
“Hold the line, and ready for impact. Not one of you takes a single step back. We’re going to break these Elorian lilies before us!” Ewerlayn roared to the rank of spearmen around him as he brandished his blade. It was stupid to draw attention to himself in such a way, but he had a weakness for the dramatic. Behind him spears that had fallen as their wielders had tired were suddenly raised and thrust forward all at once to form a bristling wall. Then there was a chorus of heavy thuds and angry shouts as all the spearmen under Ewerlayn’s command stepped forward to meet their enemies’ charge.
The mercenary lieutenant let his men engulf him and move past. He had done enough fighting for now. The two sides had become too tightly packed for sword fighting, and he could use a break anyway. He sheathed his sword and stepped back to get a better view of the battlefield. It was probably time for him to do some real officer work and stop playing around. Hundreds of men screamed and fought over the muddy field that lay before Ewerlayn. Soldiers wearing the blue of Eloria clashed with men clad in the yellow and green of Count Eron var Istabulan. Off to one side of the battlefield were the plain mismatched uniforms of the Silver Blades, the mercenary band Ewelayn held a commission in.
He frowned as he observed the flow of the battle. It didn’t look good. The Elorian forces were pushing the Count’s forces back. The Count’s men were fighting hard, but they were simply outnumbered by the Elorians. That group of archers over on the hill there also seemed to be doing a great deal of damage to the Count’s flank.
“Well there’s not much I can do about that now. Where are the cavalry though?” Ewarlyn muttered to himself as he looked around.
The Count was supposed to have a sizable division of heavy cavalry. It was one of the reasons the Captain agreed to this commission in the first place, that and he was supposed to be rich. The Captain was always saying that mercenaries had to prioritize staying alive and getting paid, in that order.
Ewarlyn didn’t disagree. So, where in all the hells was that cavalry? If they didn’t show up soon the Count’s left flank was going to collapse, and then the Elorian infantry there would spill forward towards the Silver Blades. That would be very bad; there were a lot of the whores’ sons.
Suddenly the sound of trumpets filled the air, and Ewarlyn’s head spun towards the source of the noise. Off in the distance across the torn up fields that lay before him a group of horsemen charging out from behind a hill, and towards the rear of the Elorian forces. One of the riders held a green and yellow banner that streamed through the air behind him.
A smile appeared on the mercenary officer’s lips as he watched them barrel towards the now panicking Elorians. There was the cavalry! Almost immediately the frantic sound of trumpets and signal drums filled the air as the entire battlefield shifted in the face of this new development. The Elorians began to pull back as they tried to deal with this new threat. Even the militia fighting Ewarlyn’s own men soon disengaged. A ragged cheer broke out through the ranks of the Silver Blades as their opponents retreated.
“Let them go. We’re not getting paid per head so there’s no point pursuing them, lads,” the lieutenant ordered his men.
He watched the battle for a few more minutes, but when the cavalry tore through the Elorians’ archers and the rest of their army kept retreating it was plain the day was won. The Count was no fool; he had sprung his surprise at just the right time. The Elorians had been strung out and too engaged to respond properly.
After one last glance back Ewarlyn put his second in command and headed off to find the other Silver Blade officers. He flipped off his helmet and removed his gauntlets as he walked. There was nothing more he could do here, and he had gotten quite thirsty. It had been a long hot day of fighting and a glass of wine would really hit the spot.
A few minutes later he approached the Silver Blades’ large grey command tent. The sound of arguing voices echoed out from within, and he sighed. The captain must not be present. Ewarlyn swaggered into the large brown tent to see what was going on.
The inside of the pavilion was unlit but enough sunlight streamed through the entrances and gaps in the fabric walls that it wasn’t an issue. Several large mats had been thrown over the ground, and a wooden table was set up in the center of the room. It was covered in maps and surrounded by several plain wooden chairs. Just as Ewarlyn had expected most the other Sliver Blades lieutenants were present but not the Captain. Two military looking men were seated at the table and another two were standing beside it. A servant also stood off to one side.
“I see you all survived to annoy each other another day. I hope the same can be said for the others. Any of you know where the Captain is?” Ewarlyn asked as he walked in.
The others all turned towards him, and a younger man who was leaning back in his chair and had his feet resting on the table replied.
“You just lost me five copper, Ewarlyn. I’d bet the others that you’d finally gotten yourself killed. Damn, and it seemed like a sure thing. The fighting was thick and heavy in your area, and for some completely unfathomable reason you feel the need to fight on the front lines. I mean look at you! You were obviously just doing it. How are you alive?” the man joked.
“I am a knight of Azur-Waj, Rahgeid. I am dedicated to the god of war, and do not fear death or battle,” Ewarlyn replied with a smile, as he stepped forward and pushed the other man’s feet off the table.
“Ugh, not that nonsense again! I thank the gods every day that I wasn’t born a third son. If I had been then my parents might have tried to send me off to be a paladin as well, and then I’d be just as stupid as you,” Rahgeid shot back.
Before Ewarlyn could reply, or pour himself a glass of wine, the doorway of the tent darkened as the Captain and the last lieutenant entered. Ewarlyn let out a relieved breath he’d been unaware of holding in when he saw them. In the back of his mind he’d been afraid something had happened to them.
Captain Hyrus was a thickly built older man with a large mustache and a shaved head. As a veteran of many battlefields and wars he had a commanding aura that dominated any room he was in. Everyone in the room went quiet and straightened their posture as he gazed their way.
Of course, he was small compared to the woman that stood behind him. Lieutenant Vorscha was a very tall and muscular woman, but Ewarlyn still found her attractive. She gave him a friendly grin as she entered and he replied with a respectful nod.
Captain Hyrus turned and gave all the lieutenants in front of him a stern grin.
“I’d like to congratulate you all on not screwing this up, and surviving another day. I was just speaking to the Count and he’s more than satisfied with our contributions to the fight. He even praised the skill of our troops. He told me we had grit. Basically, that means we can expect to get paid for this job and maybe we just might get a bonus as well,” he told them.
“Here’s to getting paid!” Rahgeid announced as he raised his cup and then took a drink of wine.
“You can all take the rest of the day off, except you Rahgeid. You’re in charge of clean up, because you look like you’re already all rested up,” the Captain responded with a scowl.
Rahgeid however just smiled and threw the Captain a messy salute.
“Will we be moving on soon?” one of the other lieutenants asked.
“Probably, the Elorians are unlikely to mount another offensive into this part of Hulgaron. They got pretty solidly thrashed here today. The Count seems like he’s too shrewd a man to be willing to pay us good gold just to sit around, so we’ll have to find a new employer,” Captain Hyrule explained.
“That’s fine with me. The pay is nice but there’s nothing but muddy fields and peasant shacks around here. Hopefully, the next place we fight has wine, food good, and beautiful women,” one of the other lieutenants replied.
“You forgot to mention good looking men, instead of all you sweaty pigs!” Vorscha added with a laugh. There were smiles all around at her comment, although some of them were strained. Ewarlyn himself found it hard to conceal a grimace. Her casual joke had unexpectedly drawn blood; he knew he wasn’t the most handsome of men. His nose was a little too large and his other features were bland.
The mercenaries made small talk for a few more minutes before the Captain dismissed them and sent them on their way. Ewarlyn slipped out at the same time as Vorscha.
“I hear you were fighting on the frontlines again, Ewarlyn. Unlike the others I’m not surprised you managed to walk away unharmed. You take that paladin stuff of yours seriously, and you’re one of the best fighters I’ve ever seen. I wish I could have joined you, but the Captain had me serving as his second. I couldn’t exactly tell him no, no matter how much I wanted to wet my blade,” Vorscha told him as they walked out.
Ewarlyn felt himself flush slightly at the compliment despite an effort on his part to remain stoic looking. In truth, he didn’t actually consider himself a great fighter or a particularly dedicated paladin. He simply didn’t know how to act other than the way he had been trained.
“Coming from you that compliment is a great honor. You’re also one of the best fighters I’ve ever come across, and you didn’t have all the advantages my birth and training gave me. I’m not exceptional for a knight of Azur-Waj, but you’re definitely something special,” he replied honestly.
She gave him a happy smile and they continued happily discussing swordsmanship and fighting techniques for a few minutes before splitting up and heading to different parts of the camp. Ewarlyn gazed after Vorscha as she walked away for a few moments before continuing on his way.
With a regretful sigh he wandered off to his tent to clean up and catch some rest. Once he was lying down it only took a few minutes for him to slip asleep. He had long ago grown used to the unpredictable schedule of a soldier.
He woke as someone opened his tent’s flap, and he immediately drew the knife he always slept beside. When he opened his eyes though the sight of one of his men greeted him, so he relaxed.
“The Captain wants you at the command post now. Something’s up,” his subordinate told Ewarlyn.
The mercenary lieutenant frowned in confusion. Why would the captain want to see him now? Had the Elorians gotten reinforcements? No, that didn’t make sense; they would have heard about it long before it became urgent.
“I’m on my way. Thank you private,” he told the other man as he quickly got dressed.
Once he was clothed and armed he strode quickly to the command tent. It would be poor form to keep his superior officer waiting, but if he ran it might alarm the common soldiers. Voices greeted him as he approached.
“…this doesn’t add up. I know the men they’re talking about, and they’re not the type to do something like this!” Rahgeid was telling the Captain as Ewarlyn entered.
“You’re just trying to cover your own ass,” one of the other lieutenants interjected scornfully.
“What’s going on?” Ewarlyn asked with concern.
The Captain turned to him and answered. His eyes were dark and his was face was wrinkled with worry as he spoke.
“Several of Rahgeid’s men were arrested about an hour ago. Apparently they were caught trying to steal coin from the Count’s pay chest. I’m told they’ve already confessed, and that several others were with them but got away with a significant amount of coin. The Count is furious,” the captain answered.
“I’m telling you that story doesn’t make sense. He won’t even let me see my men! He has them locked away where I can’t get at them. It’s bloody suspicious, is what it is,” Rahgeid added with obvious frustration.
Several of the other mercenaries began to speak up. Most of them seemed to blame Rahgeid and disagree with him. The captain however was silent, and looked like he’d just swallowed a spine toad.
“Quiet all of you! Unfortunately, I have to agree with Rahgeid on this. This smells more than a little fishy. It might be some sort of attempt by the Count to lower our pay. I’ll have to go speak with him myself and try to sort it out. I want the company on full alert until I get back,” he told them.
“I’ll go with you; you’ll need someone at your back,” Vorscha commented.
“No, I’m going alone. Stay here and help get things organized. I want to know where every single one of our men is when I get back,” he replied as he walked out of the tent.
As soon as he was gone the other lieutenants began to talk and argue among themselves. Ewarlyn didn’t approve; they should be out fulfilling their duties. Before he could say anything though, Vorscha spoke up.
“Hey, let’s get moving! The Captain gave us orders,” she announced loudly enough to overwhelm everyone else who was talking.
“Indeed, we have a job to do. So let’s do it,” Ewarlyn added in support of Vorscha.
No one liked being talked down to but they knew they were in the wrong, so soon everyone was out of the tent and moving through the camp. Once again Ewarlyn found himself walking alongside Vorscha.
“I hope the Captain can sort this mess out,” he commented.
“I just hope he comes back unharmed. I met the Count and he’s a typical noble snake! It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he stabbed us in the back,” Vorscha replied with obvious anger.
Ewarlyn raised an eyebrow. As the third son of a knight, and a landless knight himself, he was also a noble. Vorscha must have seen the look on his face because she hesitated.
“You’re obviously an exception. I mean, as a knight you get your hands dirty so you’re hardly a noble at all really,” she told him cheerfully as she gave him a friendly slap across the back.
He had fight to keep his balance as the ‘friendly’ blow almost sent him sprawling forward. He turned around and gave her a complicated expression.
“Thanks, I think,” he replied with more than a little sarcasm, and then he rubbed his sore back.
Just then one of the younger mercenaries in his squad ran up. The lad looked exhausted and more than a little scared. Instantly, Ewarlyn’s hand went to the hilt of his blade for reassurance as he felt a spike of worry. This didn’t look good.
“Lieutenant, they’ve arrested him! They’ve arrested the Captain!” the lad babbled.
“Shit,” Vorscha swore.
Quickly, Ewarlyn reached out and took the panicking private by the shoulder. He couldn’t have the lad spreading rumors throughout the camp and starting a wildfire of panic.
“Calm down, private. Now tell me what happened, quietly!” he commanded the lad.
“I was walking through the main camp when I saw the Captain walk up to that Count’s big ole tent. When he approached the Count’s guards drew their blades and surrounded him. They said he was under arrest for planning the theft of some gold or something. Sir, the Captain then tried to draw his blade but one of them guards smacked him down from behind and knocked him out good. Then the bastards dragged him away, sir!” the young private explained excitedly.
“Double shit,” Vorscha hissed angrily.
“Private, you’re coming with us. We need to inform the rest of the officers,” Ewarlyn said as he considered the fact that there might be a battle today after all.
After sending out messengers and quite a bit of running around Ewarlyn found himself addressing the other lieutenants. When he relayed what had happened to them most of them looked shocked and angry.
“There’s no way the Captain had anything to do with any theft, if there even was such a thing. That damned Count must be trying to get out of paying us!” one of the officers said.
“He probably wants to conscript our men as well. Why pay mercenaries when you can just force them to work for free?” someone else added.
“Fucking hells. What do we do, Ewarlyn? You’re the most senior lieutenant since Kevhar retired,” Rahgeid cursed.
Ewarlyn felt a flash of panic as he realized the other man was right. He was in charge now, at least as long as the other lieutenants accepted it. He quickly gave them a quick glance to try and determine where they stood.
Most of them seemed too scared or shocked to question his authority. He doubted anyone would challenge him for the position. It wasn’t like he really wanted it though.
As he gazed around the room he fell deep into thought. What were their options, and what would the repercussion of each action be? The way he figured, it basically came down to surrendering or trying to fight their way out. He didn’t like either option much.
“If we surrender I question our value to the Count. He’ll have little use for officers of questionable loyalty,” Ewarlyn told the others.
“Right, if I were him I’d have us arrested and disposed of as well,” a nervous Rahgeid added.
“If we fight though, our chances aren’t great. Our best bet would be to immediately try and cut ourselves a path North West towards Eloria. That way the count would hesitate to follow us, but on the other hand we might run into the Elorian army,” Ewarlyn continued.
“We don’t really have another choice though, do we?” another officer asked.
“No, we don’t. Fuck surrendering, let’s bloody these backstabbing bastards,” Vorscha growled.
With their course decided Ewarlyn immediately began mobilizing the company, and planning their strategy. He was interrupted though when a runner arrived.
“It’s the Count! He’s marshaled his forces and is coming to arrest us all!” the messenger told him.
“Damn him to all the hells!” Ewarlyn swore as he leaned over the map table.
It was too soon! They weren’t going to be able to make it to safety this way. The bastard must have been preparing to march even before he arrested the Captain. He’d had this entire ploy planned out since the beginning. Damn him!
“One of us is going to have to stay behind and lead a holding action to buy the others time, Ewarlyn. I volunteer,” she told him.
Ewarlyn’s throat went dry and he felt himself sway as a wave of panic ran through him. That would be suicide! He couldn’t let her do that.
“No, I’m in command and I chose this course. I’ll lead the rear guard. It’s my responsibility,” he announced as sternly as he could as he stared Vorscha down.
The muscular woman looked startled but quickly opened her mouth to argue with him. He wasn’t going to let that happen though.
“Shut up! Get your men moving, Vorscha. I’ve given you an order, now move,” he hissed at her with as much false anger as he could manage.
She flushed red with fury at his words and still looked like she wanted to argue, so Ewarlyn pointed to the door and then turned away dismissively. He heard a furious hiss of anger followed by heavy footsteps as she left. When she was gone he let out a relieved sigh. She would be safe now, as long as he did his part anyway.
Quickly, Ewarlyn got to work and prepared to defend the camp. Orders had to be given and soldiers found. He couldn’t fight the Count’s forces by himself. When the first men wearing the yellow and green of the Count’s forces began to stream over the nearby hill he was waiting for them at the edge of the Silver Blades’ camp. Behind him stood a platoon of volunteers formed up into a shield wall. It would have been more impressive if his men hadn’t been so outnumbered. He supposed it didn’t really matter though. All they had to do was delay them, and they were dead anyway.
Ewarlyn watched the enemy form up across the field. He didn’t see any cavalry, which could be good or very very bad. He hoped the Count hadn’t thought them necessary to subdue a mere company of mercenaries.
To the lieutenant’s surprise the enemy troops began to march forward. He had half been expecting the Count to try and parley. He looked back to the grim faces of his own soldiers. To his own surprise he found he didn’t really feel like making a speech. What could he possibly say? Still he felt he had to say something…
“I don’t know about you men but I’m going to try and kill as many of these bastards as possible. If any of you lads manage to kill more than me then I’ll be buying you a drink in the next world,” Ewarlyn shouted. There were a few half hearted cheers and chuckles as he stepped back. He raised his shield and took his place in the wall. An eternity and several seconds later the first wave of green and yellow washed over them.
Familiar screams of defiance, rage, and fear sounded out from all around him. The sound of heavy impacts and wood splintering filled the air as the Count’s forces threw themselves against their shields, but they held their ground and the enemies’ momentum broke. Next came the swords. Ewarlyn stabbed forward as men all around began to do the same. Blades flashed through the air and tore through the ranks of the enemy.
Ewarlyn began to lose track time of time as he hacked and slashed. Spears nicked him and he began to bleed heavily. Oddly enough he felt no pain though as he pushed himself to keep fighting. His men fell around him until only yellow and green remained. The world became a blur as he struggled to kill as much as possible before being killed. Feeling leaked from him as he drowned in red. He had no idea how long he had been fighting. Suddenly he felt himself sag and collapse into the mud. He struggled to rise, but couldn’t for some reason beyond his understanding. As he started to fade away his last thought was of Vorscha’s smiling face. He wished he had told her how he had truly felt, even if she would have just laughed at him. Then he smiled; at least she was safe now…
Book 3 is Out!
The third novel in The Iron Teeth series is now out on Amazon. Please support the author and help promote the book by purchasing and reviewing A Bloody Road. Every review and purchase helps a lot!