The men pushed up the slope, gasping with every painful step. In them, the want to quit and stop was growing. A man heaved in heavy breaths and slowed his pace. He stopped for a brief moment to suck in air and let the blood soaked sweat bead off his face. He took a knee and his head rose to the sound of hooves tearing up the field. As he looked up, he saw the dark rider rush past him to turn his courser around. An arm reached down and clutched his shoulder guard.
“Up!” came a gritted voice. “This can end, here and now, so that you may return to your wife and children. But I can't do it alone. I need you.” The man looked up and his voice rang over all of the tiring men. “I need all of you!” His sword once more sliced upward into the sky. “For honor! For Country!” He yelled, nodding for the tired men to join in.
“For honor!” another man yelled.
Then came the voices of many. “For country!”
“To Victory!” Melchior yelled, and the men repeated in one voice, their pace quickening. “Then to our wives and lands, with pride swelling in our chests, knowing that we were here when this war ended. Knowing that the final blow came from our hand, and that the sacrifices that have brought us to this point were not in vain.” His voice shook as he jerked in the saddle, riding up and down the line of men; urging them forward. “And if death takes us!” He continued, citing a famous quote from a legend of the northern clans. “How will it take us?” He asked, his voice trembling with presence, cracking as it reached the limits of its power and range.
They answered in unison, “With sword in hand!” they yelled, the phrase warping into a roaring battle cry as they rushed toward the enemy line.
Melchior had primed them into a frenzy, and he rode past them, knowing that he could drive them straight into hell, and they would be right on his heels the whole way down. As they crested the lip of the slope, he could see that the enemy had already shed their pikes and were making their way forward.
“Here they come.” Said Yvon, watching Melchior and his cohort disappear in the dead ground of the hill. “When they come over the ridge, Luke, you'll charge.”
“Take them out now.”
Luke moved to the front of the formation and raised his sword. “Advance!”
With that, the contingent trod forward, their trained movement pounding a menacing rhythm into the earth. They marched toward the crest of the hill and watched, waiting for the enemy to come over the top.
“They'll be completely exhausted by the time they reach our men.” Stahll said, grinning contently. “He has no chance.” His grin faded when he heard it, a raging torrent of voices flowing over the lip of the hill even before he could set eyes on the men who were its source. His eyes narrowed, and he leaned forward in his saddle. The guttural clamor reverberated in his chest, and for a brief moment he had to question his previous assumption at the number of men that were following Melchior. His doubt was cleared when the three hundred aught men crested the hill in a raging charge. Stahll straightened in his saddle, fear piercing his ornate armor to find its mark within the confines of his racing heart. “Send in the cavalry.” He said, “Now!”
“Sir, we've already sent our cavalry to the egress flank. Would you like me to call them back?”
“Yes! Go now!”
The Knight nodded and trotted off. Stahll watched him as he disappeared beyond the lip of the hill.
“Sir.” Yvon started. “I'm not sure why you're so concerned. There are only a few hundred, we have nearly three times as much in our guard. There's nothing to fear.”
Stahll was staring at him, his eyes wide and his mouth gaping open.
“What is it?” Yvon asked, finally following his gaze and peering off toward where the runner had gone. There he saw the runner, bursting past the crest of the hill with dust spiraling in his wake. He was returning, in haste. “What is he doing?” Then, Yvon's eyes went wide also.
Behind the runner, was a line of silhouettes breaking through the dust. They were mounted men. They were the Blackguard Brigade Irregular Cavalry.
Over the crest they came, rushing forward to take the top of the hill where Stahll had positioned his Generals and guard.
Luke's hopes began to wane when he noticed the enemy's bolstered morale. They charged forward, completely outnumbered, and yet blaring at the top of their lungs. He looked back and saw his near nine hundred men almost hesitant to move forward. Luke was not a fool, he understood the psychology of warfare. He turned to his men, rode near their front line and drew his sword. “For Endry!” He yelled, sustaining the country's name as he rode down the line. He then turned toward the charging enemy and broke into a gallop. Behind him, his men began to run.
It was then that Melchior saw him. A Knight, tearing away from his line and thrusting himself, unprotected, into three hundred frenzied fighters. Melchior smiled and though of what his father had taught him about men like this. In his teachings, his father said that the only difference between a fool and a hero was whether or not he survived the act. The act itself was foolish if he died, and only became known as bravery if he lived. The Knight had gained his respect, and to repay it, he too dug his heels into the sides of his horse and broke away from the men behind him.
Between the advancing forces, these two horsemen raced toward each other; trails of dust and blades of battered grass were kicked up and floated in the air behind them.
The space between the two riders was shrinking quickly. Luke had drawn a line on the field in his mind. This line was that from which he could not return; the point where the momentum of his horse would throw him into the enemy hoard. He paced his steed, pulling back not enough to be visibly more slow, but enough so that if he survived the first blow, he would not find himself in the midst of his enemies' forces. He saw the black blade's sapphire shimmer in the sunlight as the rider wielding it leaned forward, standing on the stirrups; his hood falling from his head in the wind. He prepared for the flicker of time in which he would strike out at his quarry. He got up, balancing himself as his horse huffed air into its nostrils at a blistering pace. “This is it.” he thought to himself. “This is the moment I've been waiting for.”
Melchior's eyes were locked on the Knight, and just as the moment drew nigh, his heart wrenched. Time slowed, for from behind him, he could hear that unforgettable sound; hundreds of wooden shafts, spinning and cutting through the air with their iron tips.