The grass arched, laden by the heavy droplets of morning dew that reflected the dawn rays like a million prisms strewn across the field. Amidst the glitter were the dark sockets of crushed foliage that welcomed the hundreds of rapacious scavengers swirling above. One by one they plummeted to the green blanket of the riverside grazing land to thrust their ravenous beaks between leather and steel; eager to reach the soft flesh beneath.
For those who were late to the feast, the most juicy morsels had already been plundered as each corpse stared blindly into the afterlife with sunken pits; bloodied by the violence with which their contents were removed.
With a start, the crows and vultures took flight, like a vast shadow shattering into the sky.
It did not take much to discern the cause of their frightfulness, for any being standing on that open field would have felt the ground trembling.
On the horizon, dust billowed forth, and through it the dark silhouettes of mounted men could be seen rising and falling with the gate of their horses.
From the low land near the river, a lone rider emerged through the brush. With great equestrian skill, the man drove his horse between the ranks and rode steadfast toward the General. The rider and his horse slid to a halt before the Generals entourage and spoke in panting breaths to a Knight. A gauntleted hand waved him away once the pertinent information was received.
The Knight turned his horse and trotted forth, raising his face guard before speaking. “Sir, they've arrived. They're signaling a request for Parlé.”
Upon an armored steed, a monstrous man turned his furrowed brow into the sun. “Assemble the Generals.”
The Knight nodded and swiftly shot his hand out toward another man. With a grunted order, he was off.
Minutes later, several riders approached. All were clad in ornamental armor that glistened with polished perfection.
All but one.
At the trailing end of the party was one dark rider, his head hidden by a soiled hood. The only visible armor being a battered pauldron that lazily bobbled atop his left shoulder as he rode toward the rendezvous.
“Gentlemen, I've gathered you here because we are not going to bother speaking to these barbarian swine. I have no intention of exposing myself to their treachery. There's no doubt in my mind that there are sharpshooters, most likely crossbowmen, hidden nearby. They want nothing more than to lure us into an ambush. Are there any objections to my decision?”
“Only one.” Said the hooded rider.
The General peered at him with a glare that could ignite water. “What is it.”
The rider pulled back his hood, placed his forefinger and thumb into his mouth and turned toward the ranks. A searing whistle surged from his lips as the veins in his neck bulged nearly to the point of popping. When he turned to face the assembly once more, a large portion of the forces behind them had begun their withdrawal from the battlefield.
The General's eyes went wide with rage. “What in hell's name do you think you're doing? I paid your fee did I not?”
“Yes, you did.” Said the rider, pulling his hood back over his head. “However, you have not met the requirements of the contract you signed, and therefore I am no longer required to be under your command.”
“Lies! What do you claim is my infraction on the contract?”
“Plainly, on line sixty three of the codex, it is listed that my men require the pleasure of the female form. Be it by your pocket, or by allowing us to pillage from conquered lands. You've denied us the right to pillage the past three hostile villages we've gone through, and you've not produced the required payment of companionship that is so explicitly penned on the contract you signed. I am free of bond, and wish not to throw my life, nor the lives of my men for that matter, into this obvious massacre.”
“Melchior, you traitor. You can't do this to me!”
The other men at the gathering glanced at each other with mounting enmity. Each of their hands inching toward the steel that swayed at their sides with every lurch of their oblivious mounts. They burned hatred into the back of the hooded rider as he turned his steed and began to trot away.
The General watched in growing anxiety as his ranks dwindled, all before any bugle calls rent the stagnant air that hung with rot above the battlefield.
“Sir.” One man uttered. “Would you like to reconsider the parlé?”