Rorik had assembled the bulk of his men, and was preparing to assault the fort. Nobody had seen any sign of the defenders, and he had therefore cautiously decided to assign a third of the men to guard the camp. If they lost their supplies and equipment, even if they had crushed the northern raiders, they would have to turn back.
Loïck once again eyed the old wooden fence, and clutched his mace and shield. He was on foot, as he would have to dismount anyway to enter the fort, and he preferred not to lose his horse in the melee that would ensue. If there would be one.
Maybe the northerners had left ages ago, not judging the fort worth defending. They would be right, Loïck thought bitterly. It was located on the far west, at the edge of the mountains separating them from the Western Sea. It had no strategic value whatsoever. It was truly a questionable decision to send them here in the first place.
The Republic had to take it back sometime, as it would go against their interest to let the Northerners retain any territory. The assault party, composed of a few hundred men, slowly advanced towards the top of the hill. Rorik himself led them, imposing the slow and regular pace.
There was no need to run, as there were no projectiles raining down on them. It would be foolish to risk exhaustion by running around needlessly. Loïck had his round cavalry shield raised up to his chin, confident that his great helm would protect his head from any projectile.
They anxiously kept an eye on the fort, expecting enemies to appear at any moment. It was unlikely that the northerners had hidden inside the fort and avoided detection since they had arrived, but few men would needlessly risk their lives on a question of probability.
He started breathing a little faster, as the abrupt hill took its toll on his legs. The first men had almost reached the top, and Loïck took a quick look at Jason behind him, who nodded to him.
All of sudden, he heard a scream. He quickly turned his head back, just in time to see another man disappear. He stared in disbelief as he watched half a dozen men fall down in holes dug at the few breaches of the wooden fence. The holes seemed large and so deep he couldn’t see the fallen men from where he was standing. It looked like the holes had originally been hidden by a thin layer of dirt and branches.
Confused, he was looking for Rorik for further command, when arrows suddenly began raining down on them, immediately claiming the lives of a few unlucky men. They were easy targets, standing on the side of the barren hill, and he immediately crouched down on one knee, protecting himself with his shield.
Should they try to get into the fort? Crawl over the fence, maybe climb down and up the holes? A few cries and grunts came from men who were hit.
An arrow hit him in the head, knocking him back but it was deviated by the edges. He heard several more screams of pain. The arrows came from the forest, shooting from a half circle around them. With a grim realisation, he saw a horde of screaming men come charging out of the forest towards their camp. They had in the end walked into an ambush.
“Back to the camp!” Somebody shouted, and he began to slowly advance back, bending his body as to make the smallest target possible. To his relief, Jason was still there, not far ahead of him. He felt another arrow graze his hip, and then two in succession hit his shield, one of them piercing through it.
He heard a scream coming close from his left, and then saw a fearsome sight. A long arrow and thick arrow had pierced the man’s shield and armour, burying itself deep into his shoulder. Loïck’s eyes widened. That shouldn’t be possible.
He sped up, half running now. There were now constant screams from the wounded lying on the ground, with arrows sticking out of their body. The men who had stayed to guard the encampment were now locked in a vicious melee with the northerners.
The rest of their men from the failed assault then joined the fray, some screaming various war cries. Loïck eyed a man who looked like a savage. He was tall, wearing skins and leather and had a short sword in one hand. His face was smashed to a pulp when it met with Loïck’s mace.
Another Northerner came from the side, alerting Loïck with his scream of anger. Instead of retreating under his charge, Loïck cut it short by throwing himself against him, his shield bumping into the savage’s head with a chilling breaking noise.
Loïck charged again, whacking a northerner in the back of the head. The northerner had been fighting one of his comrades, who gave him a thankful nod.
As he ran turned at the corner of a tent that hadn’t been trampled down yet, an enemy took him by surprise. The man smashed his sword into his stomach, knocking the air out of his lungs. His armour saved him however, and he bumped the mace into the barbarian’s face and took a few steps back to catch his breath again.
Something knocked him on the head and he was thrown to the ground, his ears ringing. Then, as he tried to get up, he felt a weight fall on top of him, knocking him down again. He rolled around with difficulty, throwing the northerner off. It was probably the man who had smacked him in the head from behind.
“Fucking coward...” He mumbled dizzily as he got up again. He soon found himself face to face with another barbarian, and for a moment, they both stopped in their tracks. Then they abruptly swung at each other. Loïck’s mace hammered into the opponent’s weapon, the sword breaking free of the northerner’s grip.
He looked at the northerner with a relieved smile hidden under the helmet, as the northerner found himself without weapon. He swung back his mace and then he took a kick in the face, thrown back and sending his mace swirling through the air.
“What the fuck...?” He muttered as he tripped, falling down on his back. The northerner immediately jumped on him, locking his hands around Loïck’s throat. Loïck immediately grabbed his hands and desperately tried to pull them away. To his surprise, he found himself slowly overpowering the savage, pulling his hands away from his throat, and then rolling around as to find himself on top, which causing the savage’s fur headwear to fall off.
The long hair and delicate features surprised him, and made him hesitate. He had been drilled his whole life not to fight women, and here he was, strangling one. The hateful eyes almost looked foreign on her face. She felt his grip weaken, and then took one hand away from his, grasping after something to use as a weapon.
She found a mace, and quickly smashed it into the side of his helmet, knocking him off balance. Unfortunately for her, she couldn’t put much strength behind, using only her underarm and wrist. But as she pulled herself up, she received an iron fist in the side of the head, knocking her out. But then another one came, smashing into her face, and then another one. And another one.
Loïck breathed heavily, looking with exhaustion at the bloodied mass that had once been a woman’s face. After the hit with the mace, he had swung his fist almost by reflex, and hadn’t stopped. He tried to stand up, but the world was spinning around him and he tumbled down, lying next to the dead northern woman.
The sound of metal clashing against metal slowly disappeared, leaving place to the cries of the wounded, and the silence of the dead. Loïck pulled himself up with a grunt, this time managing to stay on his feet.
Now the question whether the northerners had been defeated, or whether they had slaughtered the knights coming from the south-east. Loïck slowly scanned his surroundings, seeing everything through a blur of red fog.
He suddenly realised that he was weaponless, and quickly stumbled over to the mace. Then he heard voices coming closer, and clutched the mace tightly, prepared to go fight whoever may come.
To his relief, it was a couple of battered knights walking through the camp turned battlefield, both with their weapons raised. Upon seeing him, they lowered their swords, letting their arms rest.
“Hello there. Did we win?” Loïck uttered in a voice muffled by the helm.
“I hope so.” One of them said tiredly. He had one arm hanging by his side, useless. The other knight seemed much more enthusiastic.
“My Friends! This is a great victory!” He cried out. Then Loïck noticed that the man’s great helm was dented in the side. Loïck and the other knight watched when the man took the helm off, and they saw with horror that part of his head had been smashed into his skull.
Alexander, the one called the jovial knight, just confusedly stared at the blood in his helmet with furrowed brows, and then suddenly collapsed. Loïck looked back at the other man, as if to confirm if he had seen the same as him. This was the first time Loïck had seen a knight been slain in combat. In the dukedoms, they had cut down peasants in huge numbers, in night raids and ambushes. No real danger for heavily armoured men there.
Loïck let himself fall down on his butt, putting his head in his hands. He almost feared taking his own helm off, and discovering a similar wound.
They could have been completely wiped out. The northerners could retreat back into the forest anytime. It was their home here, after all. If the fight had gone in the others favour, the few men that could have escaped would have been hunted down and killed, weighed down by heavy equipment. And if not, they would die of the cold and the hunger, maybe even of thirst.
For the first time in his life, Loïck experienced true fear for his life. He sat for a few more minutes and then resolved himself, taking the great helm off.
Then he stared petrified at the thick blood in his helm.