Doors of Inferno
I have seen a hundred battles, but this was the Armageddon itself. Our allies fell like whitings to the whales. There were fathers, husbands and young lads under those iron helmets and armours. But none of them shook their heads to break the gates of hell and march into the jaws of death. Sabres and scimitars painted the earth poppy red and a hail of thousand arrows flew through the air like meteor showers.
Young boys fell like animals raised for slaughter. Longevous soldiers disappeared to be a bard’s tale. The winds kept blowing in a constant rhythm as if singing a celestial lullaby for those immortal corpses.
After all, the battlegrounds resembled nothing but a cemetery for the unburied. What are we doing here? An army of dizzards fighting for a daffy kingdom? Why wouldn’t all war end at once? Before I could find an answer for those questions, I felt a dagger slide through my chest. And all I could remember seeing were the doors of inferno.
Sur Vos Genoux
The dark clouds gathered. Was this an omen?
Some of the soldiers did their best not to turn around. The cries of other soldiers falling to the ground from the enemies arrows made them quiver.
Where on earth was their King? Why wasn’t he leading the army into battle?
All of a sudden, one soldier looked back in awe. A stranger appeared it seemed out of nowhere. He stood right close to the soldier’s side and then smiled.
In a flash, the stranger leaped into the air and then swung his blade. A powerful gust of wind blew across the desert plain.
The ocher soil rose into the air. Soon, the soil began to twist and swirl around like a tornado. While the soldier tried to duck and cover from the violent rotating dust, his eyes caught sight of something of a miracle.
His enemies screamed as they were carried off the ground by this man-made tornado. As soon as the tornado started to die down, the stranger appeared out of it.
The soldier gasped. Who was this guy?
Then he saw the stranger raise his sword once more and exclaim, “Sur vos genoux!”
The soldier fell on his knees and almost cried. Was this the end?
He slowly raised his head when nothing happened to him. The stranger burst out laughing. “Sorry about that.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you. The King sent me to make sure that his army would be victorious!”
The soldier nervously chuckled. “Oh,” he said. “Okay.”
Rays of sunlight pierced through the dark clouds like bolts of lightning. The sun came out & the soldier rose to his feet almost crying, “Thank you for coming to save us!”
On high a peppering of golden, flotsam clouds drifted tranquilly upon a deep-sea sky. In times of uncertainty it is ever man’s way to look to the heavens, just as it is ever the way of a loving God to reassure.
Shoulder to shoulder we shivered through the waning night, awaiting the revelations of dawn. A people of the land, we clung to tools fashioned for the harvest of life, tools wielded now as weapons of death; ax, sickle, and scythe. Bearded men we, nurtured by woman, and weaned on a plow’s handle. Calloused and seasoned, our joys were in life’s labors, being tribally banded in mind and deed.
We had long hoped to be spared this moment, but they were here, the horde, so we stood ready. We knew of the horde from stories told on late nights while the children slept, stories of razed villages, of men slaughtered, and stories of women become slaves and worse, their children adopted into godless ways. Heathens they were, whose horses and heels churned the seeded ground to mud, leaving a tornado’s path of destruction in their wake. We had naught that they wanted save our wives and daughters, but that was enough, so they had come. Though waried by those stories we were tested men who knew our strengths. We were not many, true. And our comforts were few. But what little was ours we would keep. Our fathers had long since laid claim to this plot for both life’s short travail, and for death’s eternal repose. We would not be driven from it.
Behind us were homes built by our own hands, homes kept by proud women who walked beside us, sharing in our triumphs, and our trials. Before us lay a dream of tomorrow, but to realize that dream we must fight with the knowledge that many must die. Curious, My eyes searched the line’s length, wondering which ones it might be, but their expressions foretold nothing.
We heard before we saw them, and felt them before we heard, as the earth shook beneath us from the weight of their numbers. Tens of thousands of hooves thundered from beyond, clouding the horizon with dust enough to blot the glow of dawn, until finally they appeared seeping dark as water towards us, flowing through the hills beyond, flooding across the plains below, their masses driving insects and small game before them, and into our midst.
They were too many.
It was Yevigney stepped to the front. Yevigney, my brother; he of clear head, and a sense for the common good. Twenty paces Yevigney walked before stopping. Twenty paces toward death. Twenty paces that steeled our resolve, so that we stepped out to join him.
They saw us then, those in the vanguard. They bore down upon us in a rush, their screams primal, their faces fierce, their ponies small, but sturdy. A glance showed holes in our line where many were already fallen, but that glance also showed the women of those fallen having stepped into their places, and having taken up their weapons, they being ready to die beside their own rather than to become the horde. Such were our people!
It was an hour only, possibly less. Scores we killed, hundreds maybe, but it made not a dent in their thousands which washed around, and over us, spilling the blood of better men than they to enrich the soil of the plains.
Side-by-side we fought, Yevigney and I, with our booted feet firmly impressed upon the grassy dews, our seasoned muscle allowing blades forged for wheat to mow men as easily.
And back-to-back we fought, each for the life of the other.
When Yevigney fell I went it alone, a young man yet, and reluctant to die with so much still to see, and do. Standing over my brother’s body I held-to with a determined fury, killing with abandon, taking satisfaction from the power behind my blows. There was an urgency in me to make my mark, and to honor those from whom I sprung. I took the blows from their strongest men standing, and returned them with vigororous shouts of rage.
The tempest slowed as the wary devils circled away from my swings and slices, their fight over but for this bloody, railing curiosity that was me. But their kind, being strangers to mercy, would not finish the job. Instead they circled away, giving room to my rage, saving something for the lusts of their women. And when the warriors were passed, those women and children came for me, baring sticks, stones, and vexations. As this noose of depravity tightened around me, I showed them no quarter. My blade bit into flesh time and again, even as the vile women pummeled me, and the filthy children screamed, and the blood-thirsty mob found their own cowardly satisfaction inside the final dregs of the fray.
And when the blows had done their worst, and my body finally wearied, the victors had their way.
That quickly a people vanished. That quickly an insignificant God, watching from afar, despaired at the deaths of his believers directly before vanishing along with the last.
But indifferent to man or God, the horde moved on.
And after, in the wake of evil, as is forever wont to happen, there came a man worthy of those whose bodies fertilized the land... a man with a woman, a plow, and a dream.
The Mundbyrdians knew this day would come; the Wahstrehite army circling around to the east for a surprise attack. But, the King of the West was the one caught off guard when he arrived that morning to a line of Wynsumheord’s proud defenders standing to thwart his ambush attempt.
The clashing of metal and war cries of both armies resounded all around Magnar as he strode steadfastly forward on his horse. In his heart, he knew this battle would be his last, for, The Shining Lord had shown him three visions; A great man of the house of Havardir will fall; be lost; not return home this day. He feared that great man was Syndri, hence the reason he instructed his brother to stay back in the village with Anselma and help the women, children, and weaker folk of Dryhtenhaven to hide away.
To his left, Magnar saw Phelan and Evander, skilled as always. The three knights they were currently up against stood no chance. To his right, his father was fighting alongside Ciril. Clearly, they both could hold their own. The brave warrior’s deep blue eyes continued to scan over the crowd. Where was King Sumphyr and his son? Were they too afraid to lead their own army into war? His hand tightened around the handle of his drawn sword when, suddenly, someone firmly gripped his shoulder. A few strands of golden hair shifted under the weight of Magnar’s helmet as he quickly turned his gaze to meet Jedrik.
“The visions were right,” the bigger man said enthusiastically, “Over half of the Wahstrehite Knights have already been slain. The Shining Lord has certainly delivered them into our hand.”
“Certainly so,” Magnar breathed in relief that the person who had just snuck upon him was a friend and not a foe, “For Wynsumheord, we shall finish them once and for all.”
“FOR WYNSUMHEORD!” Jedrik yelled, rearing his steed and raising his dagger into the air triumphantly before riding back off into the heat of the fight.
Magnar tried, but he could not bring himself to smile. His eyes only began searching the crowd even harder. He had to find the prince. If he would be defeated today, his mind was set on bringing Zekyn down with him.
“Son of Havardir...” he suddenly heard the Wahstrehite heir say in a patronizing voice, “Just the man I desired to see.”
“You wretched devil,” Magnar growled under his breath as the prince rode towards him with a crooked smile.
“Come down from thy steed and fight me like a man, coward,” Prince Zekyn slurred leaping down from his own mount and drawing his rapier.
“I am no coward,” Magnar said with a frown, heaving himself down and pointing his sword accusingly at the prince.
Zekyn laughed, throwing a sudden jab at Magnar.
“You are the coward, Zekyn,” Magnar grunted, meeting the prince’s attack with his own sword, “All this time sending lackeys out to claim my life when you were too afraid to come after me on your own.”
Zekyn’s lips formed a sinister grin as he repeatedly slashed his rapier at Magnar who barred them all with keen precision. Seeing this, the prince stood back.
“Pitiful weaklings...” he chuckled, “No matter how hard you peasants fight, this land and its people will be reclaimed by their rightful king,”
“We will never surrender to you fools!” Magnar said with anger, his hefty sword slicing the air above the royal’s head before clanging loudly against Zekyn’s rapier.
“You think you’re so brave, don’t you, Son of Havardir?” Zekyn asked rhetorically, thrusting Magnar’s sword away and drawing a second rapier from his own back, “You see yourself as the savior of Wynsumheord.”
“I am only a vessel of the true Savior,” Magnar said, retrieving his shield.
Prince Zephyr angrily rushed at the Mundbyrdian again, but the oncoming slashes were impeded once more with his shield.
The sound of metal clanking grew louder and louder as the two foes continued to duel, neither of them finding an opening on their opponent, and both growing more and more furious by the moment. When one jousted, the other blocked. When one slashed, the other fell back. Prince Zephyr knelt to jab at Magnar’s legs, but the warrior jumped and swung at the prince’s head. A quick jerk of the neck on instinct saved the latter from what would have been a nasty gash. Flipping forward, he stood to his feet.
"Enough!" he screamed, holding his rapiers crossed into an X, striding towards Magnar "This ends now. YOU. End now."
The latter held his shield up to buffer, but the prince gave a swift kick to his elbow causing his arm to falter and drop it. Magnar's right hand brought his sword up just in time to hinder the prince's blades from closing in on his neck. The tension built between both forces. If one of them gave way only a little, the other would most likely be sliced clean through.
“You think you can protect Wynsumheord?” the prince asked smugly, eyes watching for the anger to arise in Magnar, “You couldn’t even save your own wife who was screaming out for you as she writhed beneath me.”
This infuriating comment launched Magnar into a rage. Using all of his strength, he finally pushed Zekyn’s rapiers away from his neck. With a loud roar, he barreled towards his opponent, swinging madly, but the prince was spry enough to avoid the attacks. Blinded by his own fury, Magnar stumbled forward, missing the heir completely. Before he realized, Zekyn’s knee had made contact with his spine and he was face down on the ground. Scrambling to turn, he sat up and pulled his sword up just in time to meet what surely would have been a fatal strike. Zekyn only laughed and kicked the warrior's arm with his armored boot sending the sword flying feet away.
"Son of Havardir, today marks your end," he grinned, sheathing one of his rapiers and pointing the other right between Magnar's eyes, "Any last words before you die?"
The angry Mundbyrdian took a deep breath. He knew that the prince was right. There was nothing he could do know. Zekyn began rearing back his sword, so Magnar settled upon something profound to say and opened his mouth.
Suddenly, a galloping horse rushed up behind Magnar. The prince gave a confused expression before being smacked clean across the face and knocked off his feet. Magnar, also confused, looked to see Syndri who had swept past, delivering a blow to Zekyn with his RodStaff. The lad smiled and circled back, lending a hand down to help his brother up onto his steed and whisking them away from the downed prince.
At a safe distance, Syndri stopped the horse and both the men lept off.
"Thanks for the assist," Magnar breathed, half happy to see his brother and half worried at once, "But, I ordered you to remain in the village."
"I know, I know," Syndri sang, "If something happens to Anselma, you'll kill me, surely."
Magnar smiled weakly, but his heart broke a little. The fear of Syndri dying was the reason he told his brother to stay back. Eyeing the battle going on around them, Magnar picked up the sword and shield of a fallen knight.
"You must go back, brother," he said.
"Back?" Syndri shook his head, "I never thought I'd see this day, but I just saved your life, didn't I? It's most often the other way around."
"Yes, but I thank you for it," Magnar laughed, "I knew you had it in you, and finally that confidence shows."
"You're right," Syndri smiled, "so it's here to stay, and I'm here to stay. By your side 'til the end."
Magnar realized that there was nothing he could say to get his brother to go back now. This was fate, foretold by The Shining Lord.
"Brother," Magnar said, putting a hand on the lad's shoulder, "If something happens to me, promise to take care of father and Anselma... she is with child, so the child as well... Promise to stay strong for me and carry on no matter what happens, alright?"
Syndri's olive eyes met his brother's navy blues and he nodded solemnly.
"Of course I will, brother," he said, covering the hand with his own, "And, if something happens to me, I trust you will do the same."
Magnar couldn't even bring himself to agree. He knew that he would not withstand Syndri's death well at all.
"For Wynsumheord?" Syndri held up his staff into the air.
"For Wynsumheord," Magnar said, joining his sword to his brother's weapon before the two returned to help their fellow Mundbyrdians.
She closed her eyes, remembering what had happened here. She remembered it like it was yesterday.
They had heard about people coming and taking land, but they didn’t think it would happen to them. It was well out of the way, not worth conquering. She had been nothing more than a child at the time, 13 years old. The Scout came in, bearing the grave news.
“T-they’re coming. At least 500 men. We-we can’t stop them.” The chaos ensued. They got all of those who couldn’t fight out. Led them to the mountains, or at least, they tried. In the chaos, they forgot her little brother. He was only a baby. As the big sister, she had felt responsible for him. She ran back, snuck back into the village, just as the invaders had gotten there. They came in screeching, inhumanly. She remembered trying to hide in her house, keep her brother quiet. She didn’t make it there. Instead she managed to hide in a hole in the tree. She saw it all. The men of her village had used furniture to barricade the way into the village. There was strategy, but it seemed like madness. Spears were thrown from both sides, and on both sides, men went down. Then flaming arrows went, and engulfed several homes in flames. The moaning of the wounded was almost too much for her to bear. Swords clashed with axes and pitchforks, and metal scraped against metal. Men screamed. Then she saw it. Her father was fighting 2 on 1. He wasn’t going to be able to defend them for long. I leave my brother near a bush, hidden away, and race into the battle. I picked up a large rock and threw it at the head of the soldier and he fell, allowing my father a moment of respite. He didn’t look to see where his savior had come from but continued to fight on. I picked up a small ax from a fallen soldier and faced the fighting. She snuck around, and stood behind her father, hoping he wouldn’t accidentally kill her. She slashed away cutting at the knees and arms of the invaders. She knew the people part because none of the villagers had armor. She found weak spots and exploited them. One of the soldiers went after her, but her father saw. With a cry of outrage, he threw his spear at the attacker, leaving him defenseless. She threw the spear back to her father, killing someone who was about to kill him. But the villagers were outnumbered. They were being slaughtered. She had been wounded when a villager fell on top of her, and she didn’t have the strength to pull him off. She heard the screams for a while until she was so exhausted, she fell asleep. When she woke, someone was shifting the body off of her. A woman looked onto her face.
“I found one, alive! She said turning to someone she couldn’t see. Then the woman turned to me. “Hey, kiddo. It seems you've been through a lot. Do not worry, no one’s going to hurt you anymore." She tried to sit up, and eventually managed it. There were several women with the bodies, helping prepare them for burial. One of them was holding a crying baby. It was her baby brother.
She shook her head to bring herself out of her memories. The Young warrior promised to never let something like that ever happen again. She made sure that there would be at least a handful of trained soldiers at each and every village, even in wartime. That the farmers would know what to do in emergencies. And she would start her academy here.