Among The Dogs Of WarMature

A rider trotted up beside the Duke. “Sir, the rangers have begun their assault, however Stahll's archers are still in play.”

I'm not blind. It seems I won't be able to rely on them alone. Pull them back and send in the cavalry.”

“What of our men who follow Melchior?”

The Duke turned to the Knight. “Did I not say it already? They are his men now, and therefore they are our enemy!” He returned to surveying the battlefield.

The rider nodded, and began to leave.

Send Lorick's cavalry. They don't know the clansmen that have deserted, and won't care about cutting them down. Besides, he's been incessantly requesting the chance to use his mastiff's. Now he'll have it.”

The Knight nodded once again, and retired from the entourage.

Melchior deflected another blow and slammed his sword into the armored man. He stepped away from him and watched his unharmed opponent stumble back; a new dent in his brestplate. The man he fought knew how to swing a sword, and Melchior was impressed at his prowess, even under the heavy weight of plate armor. He sidestepped another swing and evaded the return. With barely any armor, Melchior had a mobility advantage that would be the end of this man, if it weren't for the nine hundred soldiers bearing down upon him from his rear. He dodged another attack and kicked the man in the cuirass. In the brief moment of reprieve it gave him, he looked to the melee at center field. The Duke's men were winning, and would soon join this fight, but on whose side? Again he parried, and when the ringing of the steel had subsided, he heard them. The three hundred northern clansman and the nine hundred Endrians of Stahll's guard were upon them. In the midst of the thundering roar, another sound came to his attention. Riders.

Meanwhile, the General's entourage watched, helplessly as their envoy, racing toward them, was cut down by the mounted bowmen of the irregulars' cavalry.

Sir, we must leave, now.” Yvon said, and in that moment, a volley of arrows could be seen arching toward them from the forest's edge. “Cover!” He yelled, as those with shields brought them up, and others simply prayed to their god to be spared.

The shafts rained on the formation, and men of all ranks fell; their horses struck, their bodies pierced.

Stahll was shielded by one of his men, who had ridden up beside him before the arrows had arrived. He pushed the mans helmet off of his shoulder and watched as he fell from his horse, lifeless. “We've been flanked. Archers, return fire!”

With the command called, the archers pulled taut their bows and let loose the fletched missiles.

As the cavalry charged on, Les turned to Rook. “I take the three companies with me to Melchior's aid. You continue with your bowmen and the other two companies and do your worst against Stahll's remaining forces. If all goes well, I'll meet you in the middle.”

Rook nodded, and rode off to the right, signaling his assigned men to follow him.

The remainder pulled left. With Les at their front with his aging nag, they rode on toward Melchior and his three hundred clansmen. They watched the first volley of arrows crash against the battlefield, and Les' heart leaped into his throat at the site of Melchior tumbling from his horse. He swallowed his worry and pressed on, arriving just as the two forces clashed together. With a signal of his hand, the horsemen formed an arrowhead formation. Les drew his blade and let out a cry to which his men followed suit. With immense force, the cavalry pierced the Endrian's flank, slicing deep into their formation and splitting the ranks.

Les watched the wide eyes of his enemy as his horse trampled them under hoof. Although he was caught within the melee, he saw a large portion of his men pull out and regroup at a short distance. They charged in a second time, and Les watched the terror spread across the fighting men. Cavalry was the dominator of infantry. Soon, the ranks would break, and would be cut down; defenseless.

Shoulder to shoulder with the enemy, Melchior fought on. He heard the charging of his cavalry, and watched as the men grew careless with fear. At the moment, there was no room to move, barely none to breath. The cavalry charge had pressed the men together so tightly that he could not bring his sword up. He had even received a few glancing blows, slow moving swings with no leverage that shot pain through his body, but caused no flesh to tear.

Ahead of him, also caught in the crowd, was the armored Knight. Melchior watched as the man ripped off his helmet, undoubtedly due to an inability to take in air. He recognized the young man, perhaps in his early twenties. He had seen him around the Generals tent from time to time, when he played the part of Stahll's irregular forces. Melchior smiled to him, as they jostled, trapped in the swaying bodies. Then, far beyond the Knight, was another formation of cavalry moving up from the forest line. Melchior peered through the crowd, for at the horses feet, he saw some other shadowed figures. Tall enough to be a man, but running like a beast. His eyes widened. “Lorick's mastiffs.” The words escaped his lips without intention, fear driving his tongue.

The war dogs bore down on the formation, they would attack any man not on a horse. Among them, he knew, would be teams of Wolfhounds, trained to unhorse enemy cavalry.

The crowd surged, and Melchior nearly lost his balance. Lorick's cavalry had arrived, and Stahll's men were breaking. The space opened up, and swords began to swing once more. Melchior had no want to be on foot when the mastiffs got into the fray. He turned and began making his way across the field. With the confusion at its climax, he barely had to fight. Most men were trying to do the same as he, and if not, they weren't even sure what side Melchior was on since he wore no colors. By and large, they all let him pass unassailed. All but one; the Knight that trudged with quickening step behind him.

Face me you coward!” Luke yelled.

Melchior turned, “A coward is a man who doesn't fight. A man who doesn't know when it is time to withdraw is a fool, and belongs in the earth.”

You will fight me.”

I can promise you that I will, but not today.”

Luke furrowed his brow. “That will be up to me to decide.”

Melchior's gaze narrowed and he rushed toward the Knight.

Luke took a step back and brought up his blade to parry, but as he readied himself a weight crushed down on his shoulders. He fell forward, his face against the grass. He rolled himself over in a panic to find that an enormous gray dog had toppled him over. It bore down on him with jagged fangs, aiming to tear out his throat. Blood spattered against his face, and the dog fell limp against his chest, its weight making it hard for him to breath. Luke looked up to see Melchior removing his blade from the mastiff's shattered skull. “What are you doing?”

I can't have you dying. I made you a promise, didn't I?” Melchior smirked at him and turned away.

With a heave, Luke rolled the war dog's corpse off his chest plate and struggled to his feet. He picked up his sword and searched amongst the fighting and fleeing men. Melchior was nowhere to be seen.

The End

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