Chapter 2: No Quarter
In the decades that followed, Tancred and Clovis had a falling out. Tancred rallied supporters and left the village with promise of a better safer future elsewhere. The feud between the two grew violent when Tancred scheduled his departure just before the winter months and raided the village’s food stocks as he left. Clovis assembled a militia to retrieve the stocks and a bloody encounter ensued in the marsh valley that led to the plains beyond the mountain range. Clovis’ men returned with enough food to last them the winter, but lost several good men in the process.
As both communities grew, the skirmishes became battles and the battles eventually erupted into full fledged warfare as they fought for supremacy over grazing lands, herds of nomadic wildlife and other resources.
Mainard grew up to become a leader within the militia, and defended the village successfully on many occasions. Together, his childhood friend Gunther and himself commanded a quarter of the militia.
Clovis became ill only a few days after Mainard celebrated his thirty first birthday. He did not survive the winter months of that year. The militia men that weren’t on duty formed a guard for his pyre in the field near the stone fence.
“To a great man.” Said Gunther, “Let it be known that without him, we would all have been lost.”
“Here here.” Erupted the crowd.
“Mainard?” Gunther said, requesting a few words from the fallen heroes son.
“My father…” he stopped, holding back his emotions. “… was a great warrior, a great leader, and a great father.” he continued. “But above all, he wanted peace. It’s sad for me to know that he didn’t live long enough to see that peace come about. I take it upon myself to make his wishes a reality.”
“Here here!” The crowd erupted once more as they raised their cups in honour of the words said.
Mainard raised his cup as well and poured its contents on to his father’s pyre. “One more drink for you father.” He said before turning to the men at his sides. “Light it.”
The two men reached for the torches at their sides and began to ignite the kindling which exploded into flames due to the alcohol. The crowd cheered and drank as the smoke rose to the sky, signifying Clovis’ soul returning to the Otherworld.
Mainard turned his gaze to the forest in the distance and imagined Tancred’s village in the plains on the other side. “I’m coming for you.” He said in his mind, as he picked up another cup and drank the bitter beverage until his mind went numb.
The next morning, Mainard rolled out of bed with a splitting headache.
“Come back and lay down.” said a woman, covering her naked body with an animal pelt.
“Urgh.” Mainard grunted. “I have things to do.” He moved passed the curtain of his bedroom and walked in to the main chamber of his hut. To his right was the wooden mannequin which wore his fathers armour. He looked down at its side and his eyes locked on to the marble pummel of his family’s sword. His father’s voice was heard in his mind as he remembered the conversation he had only days ago as his father lay on his death bed.
“This bronze blade, Mainard, has been passed down from father to son for so many generations that our family has lost count.” He stopped for a moment to cough, holding a bloody cloth in one hand, and the handle of the sword in the other. “It is an ancient tool that bestows upon us gifts of courage and wisdom. With it at your side, and in your hand, you will reach the edge of your potential.” He stopped again, taking in sharp breaths. “Never forget, that it holds within it, the life force of every one of its owners. When I die, I will reside in it, and be with you when you need me most.”
“Father, I need you now.” Mainard said, as he returned from his memory. He reached for the handle and pulled the blade from its sheath, holding it as his own for the first time. He felt the power flow from it as the fog rolled down from the cold blade to pass over his hand. He felt the hair rise on the back of his neck. “There will be peace here, if I have to kill every one of Tancred’s people.”
The next day, Gunther and Mainard gathered in the village circle with their men. All together there were fifty armed men; nearly half of the militia.
“Alright. We have very little time to spare. It’s time to cut the head off the snake. You all know what’s at stake. Take hold of your fears and cast them aside.” Gunther said to his men. “Come on Mainard, let’s head out.”
Mainard remained silent, but turned to follow Gunther as he made his way to the edge of the village.
It took the group the better part of the day to travel to the edge of the marsh valley, where they camped for the night. Mainard had erected his shelter and was in the process of collecting fire wood when Gunther came to talk to him.
“Are you alright? You’ve been more quiet than usual.”
“I’m fine.” Mainard replied, picking up another dry twig that lay just beneath the snow at the edge of the marsh.
“There aren’t any will-o’-the-wisps out tonight.” Gunther said, examining the stark darkness. “Isn’t that a relief?”
“It is.” said Mainard.
“Come on, my men have already gathered enough wood for the night. You can use some of ours.”
Mainard rose and began making his way back to the camp. “I’m fine with what I have. Thank you.” When he reached his shelter, he dropped the wood he had gathered in to a pile and began sorting it for burning.
Gunther walked by, “If you need anything, let me know.” He said as he made his way to his shelter.
Mainard nodded, but didn’t look up from his task. It only took him twenty or so minutes to create a fire that was sustainable. He took some time afterward to find his men and make a list of watches for the night, which he included himself in, ensuring that at least ten of his men would have a full nights sleep. He returned to his shelter to retrieve a few items before he started the first shift with Gunther.
“So, you think they’ll be expecting us?” Gunther asked, as they watched the far end of the valley for movement. It was still, other than blowing snow gliding through the dry frozen reeds.
“I’m not sure.” Mainard replied. “There’s a possibility that they have scouts that have already spotted us.”
“Good point, should I tell the men to put out the fires?”
“No, we need all our strength when we reach them. Without warm food and comfortable rest we’ll be weak and worthless.”
After an hour, two men; one from each of their guards, came to relieve them. Gunther nodded to Mainard as they made their way silently to their respective shelters.
Mainard was glad to see that someone had tended to his fire, and although it was nearly out once again, it would be easier to revive because of their help. He added some wood to the embers and rolled into the pelts with his leather armour still donned.
The next morning, Mainard was woken late. When one of his men shook him awake, the others had already packed their shelters and put out their fires. The sun had not quite risen yet, and he was about to scold the man who woke him as he noticed that they had already packed the belongings he had left out, and put out his fire. He looked about to find that two other members of his guard were beginning to fold his shelter. “Thank you.” He said, “But I can do this myself.”
“Sir, we wanted to thank you for last night.” his Captain said. It’s then that he realized, these men were part of the group he let sleep the entire night undisturbed. “You’re welcome, now tend to your things, I’ll take care of my shelter.”
“Yes sir.” his captain said, nodding to the others who followed him to their area.
Mainard finished tearing down his shelter and met Gunther at the far end of the camp. “Ready to step off?” He asked.
“Then let’s get a move on.” Mainard said, signalling to his captain to follow. He began walking through the frozen marsh toward the plains on the other side.
“Very well.” said Gunther, who signaled his men in turn and followed Mainard into the valley.
After the majority of the day, they passed into the plains. They skirted the mountain side to avoid being easily seen in the flat plains. Soon their fifty strong reached a part of the mountain side they had to avoid.
“Sir, it’s the far side of the Fey forest.”
“I know what it is Captain, we’ll move in to the plains to avoid it.” Gunther said.
Mainard looked at it intently. The tangled roots and dense forest almost pulsed outward to him like the beating of a heart. The trees leafless limbs reached to him like boney fingers.
“You alright?” Gunther asked.
“Stop asking me that question.” Mainard said, cutting his gaze away from the forest and walking past Gunther and toward the plains.
“Right.” Gunther said to himself, turning to the others. “Make distance from the forest.”
The day was coming to an end, Mainard and Gunther met once again at the center of camp to decide which of their men would hold guard during the night. Because they lacked the natural barriers of the valley, no one would get a full nights sleep tonight.
Early the next morning Mainard woke before the others. He packed all of his gear and put out his fire before waking Gunther. “We should keep a scout out here, well hidden, to warn if they attempt to come up from behind us like they did with Tular’s raid.”
Gunther sat in contemplation for a moment. “I know just the man. He’s one of my fastest runners.”
As the preparations where made, Gunther helped the selected individual to create a camouflaged lair from which he would keep an eye out for Tancred’s men. He gathered extra pelts from other men who were willing to part with them temporarily to keep the scout warm during his duty.
Before they left the camp, Mainard sent forward one of his most talented woodsman to scout ahead and return with any knowledge of the enemy.
At midday Mainard’s man returned, and the column came to a halt.
“What information do you have?” Mainard inquired.
Mainards woodsman was out of breath, it took him a few moments to recuperate. “There is a scouting party, I counted six, but there could have been more. They are moving this way.”
“We should move some of our men toward the mountain side and keep twenty or so to ambush them.” Gunther suggested.
“Wait. What were they wearing? Did they have packs, were they carrying hunting equipment or shelters?” Mainard asked.
“No sir, they were bare, nothing but light armour and their weapons.”
“They have a camp nearby.” Mainard mused. “If the camp doesn’t hear from the patrol they’ll send re-enforcements from the village.”
“You’re wise Mainard. The camp itself probably only sends word to Tancred’s village occasionally, we should target it first.”
“No, we should post a small group to wait outside the camp while we continue to the village. Once there, we send a runner back to attack the camp and then retreat. The village will send aid, and will weaken its forces for our attack.”
Gunther smiled. “Brilliant.”
“Choose three men who will stay here from your group, I’ll choose three from mine.” Mainard said. “Make sure they cover their tracks when retreating so they can hide in their shelters without fear of being followed all the way to the camp.”
“Myself?” Asked the woodsman.
“You will stay here and lead the rear guard. You’re the most talented at creating hidden shelters. They’ll need your help if they’re to retreat undetected.
“Yes sir.” He said, looking to Gunther who was in the process of choosing his men.
The remainder of the men moved forward, but with much lighter step. They used whatever was at their disposal to remain hidden from the patrol and from the camp. Nearing dusk, they spotted the patrol and dropped to the ground, covering themselves in snow to avoid being spotted. Tancred’s men nearly stepped on them as they made their way toward their camp.
They marched throughout the night to avoid detection and set up a camouflaged camp just outside the village. The next morning they sent their runner back and waited within their shelters for dusk. Gunther and Mainard had set their shelters so that a miniscule opening would face toward the village. They watched their prey all day, taking mental note of the activity within the community. They watched as the runner from the camp entered and rallied re-enforcements. The plan was working. Ten or so men poured from the village and made their way hastily into the open plains toward the camp.
When dusk fell, Gunther and Mainard crawled to the center of their post with the other forty men and explained the plan. Soon after, it was dark enough to put it into action. Two teams moved to the flanks of the village while a larger force waited just outside the village. Gunther was in charge of the main force while Mainard lead the flanking teams which entered the village first. They walked in slowly, as if they were travellers, their heavy cloaks concealing their weapons. Once within the perimeter, Mainard waved into the darkness to Gunther's group that charged in. As soon as the militiamen heard the screams they ran to their huts to retrieve their weaponry. Mainard’s men moved in, waiting for them to emerge. As soon as they moved through the doorways of their huts, they crumpled to the ground, great gashing wounds across their un-armoured bodies. The battle lasted only a few moments as Gunther’s men dispatched the remaining militiamen and gathered those who surrendered.
Mainard made his way to Gunther in a furious mood. “Tancred’s not here!” He said, kicking a nearby basket in frustration.
Gunther’s brow furrowed. “I smell treachery.” He said.
Just as they mused over the possibilities Gunther’s runner burst into the village. “Sir!” he yelled, with what little breath remained. “Sir.”
“What is it?” Gunther demanded.
“There is a large force, perhaps seventy or so men, on their way to through the marsh valley.”
“What!” Mainard yelled.
Gunther turned to his captain. “Go to the guard from our shelters as quickly as possible. He’s the most rested man. We must send him immediately to warn the village.”
“There’s not enough time.” Mainard said. “They will make it there before he does.”
Gunther looked at his captain who was listening to Mainard intently, waiting for a different order. “What are you waiting for? Go now!” he said.
“Yes sir.” The captain said, bowing away and running toward the shelters.
Mainard looked to Gunther. “There’s only one way we can warn them in time.” He said.
“And how is that?” Gunther asked, with sarcasm deep in his voice.
“I will go through the forest pass.”
Gunther’s eyes widened. “You’ll never make it through alive Mainard. You know what that forest is capable of.”
“More than anyone I know, and that’s why it must be me who goes.” He said.
“Mainard, it’s suicide.”
“If so, then not trying would be the murder of our village on my head.”
Gunther looked toward the dark woods, the skeletal branches swaying in the wind. “I’ll give you my guard to escort you to the border. You’re on your own once you pass there.”
“Thank you. But I can do it alone.”
“The camp may be scouting in that area, my guard will at least buy you time.”
“Very well, assemble them quickly, I’m leaving now.”
Gunther whistled to one of his captains and whispered a few words that Mainard did not hear. Seconds later, seven men waited for orders.
“You’re with him, make sure he makes it to the border of the Fey forest, then return here.” Gunther said. “Go now!”
With silent nods, they followed Mainard as he broke into a sprint.