Lucas: in lu of things to comeMature

I examined the pile of ash and burnt timber that had been Okerlu, a small village little more than a hamlet; I had set out from the manor to the sight of smoke on the horizon two and a half days earlier. Garth had brought fifty of my one hundred and thirty-two soldiers including Tulip with us. I stared at a burned husk; I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, I struggled to work it out for a while until before realising, in horror, that it was a child. My fist tightened around the reins, fury rising in my gut.

“Lucas?” I tore my eyes away from the body, looking into Tulip’s regal purple eyes. He was sitting astride one of the mountain ponies I kept for when my men needed to ride down bandits or runaway thieves. He was dressed in an armour set I had had forged for him along with a pair of Tantos and a tachi. A katana was being forged for him by the master smith but it was going to take time as the smith had been focussing on producing the three hundred spears on order from the imperial army.

“Yes Tulip” he looked away from me towards the centre of the village and pointed his face furrowed. I followed his gaze; there was a tree in the centre of the village, its branches untouched by the flames that had consumed the small thatch village around it. The branches however strained and creaked, under the weight they bore. My gut wrenched at the sight, dozens of bodies hung from the branches, each had been hung, some of the women and, disgustingly, some girls. “Tulip, take some men and cut down those bodies, and bury them” Tulip nodded and pointed at a handful of men who were sifting through the ashes of one house with their spears, their leather armour stained by the ashes. The men just looked at him. I glared at them, causing them to lower their heads in shame. They scuttled off to cut the bodies down. Tulip trotted after them and took a shovel from his saddle and began to dig in an open area along with two of the soldiers.

I turned to Garth who was clad in his heavy plate armour; its shine hurt my eyes a little. “Garth set up some patrols around the village; search the forests and the rice paddies. I want to know who’s responsible for this monstrosity.” He nodded and galloped off the rest of the men in tow. I was left alone with my thoughts.

        I dismounted and picked up the small husk, but it broke apart in my arms, I stood there shocked, staring at the ash on my arms and hands. My head shot up at the sound of hoof beats, my men were galloping back along the small road which led into the village. Garth, at the head of the small band galloped up to me.

“Master, we have to leave now. There’s a column approaching.”

“What! How many of them are there, what banner are they flying”

“They aren’t sir, but they’re armed heavily. And I’d say around a hundred.”

“Can we outrun them?”

“I’m sorry sir, but they’re already here.” He pointed towards the head of the road which he had just galloped down, where figures clad in makeshift robes were emerging; some mounted but most were on foot.

“Form up in the village centre!” Yelled Garth, the soldiers dismounted and rushed towards the centre of the village, just in front of the tree, Tulip and his men had buried the dead and rushed to their feet from where they had been resting. The horses were led over behind the small shield line which was being formed. My men passed the spears to the back of the line and drew their short thrusting swords. Tulip stood next to me looking aimless.

Needless to say he followed me as I walked towards the raiders as they formed up at the other end of the road. A man walked forward from the line. He was tall and bold, a scar across his chin. His face was rough and he folded his mailed arms when I approached; Tulip and Garth flanking me. I squared up to him.

“Are you responsible for this” I demanded, rage flowing through me. He smirked and looked around, his eyes glinting.

“Yes, wonderful isn’t it, did you like my handiwork with the tree.” He smiled looking genuinely pleased at the horrors he had committed. I noticed that some of the raiders were slowly making their way through the wreckage of the houses. I jumped back just dodging the sword sweep of the man in front of me; he didn’t have a second chance to strike as Garth thrust his short sword into the man’s chest, he gasped and coiled over. There was a cry from the raiders and they rushed forward, two mounted raiders were fast approaching. I felt Tulip’s arm gently push me aside, he drew his Tantos and hurled one of them into the first rider, who slumped and fell from the horse, the second glanced at the rider as he thumped to the ground, then in turn fell back off the horse, as the second Tanto buried itself into his temple.

“Lucas we have to get back to the line now.” Tulip cried as he grabbed my arm pulling me towards the line, where Garth was already bashing the men to form a small opening for the three of us. We squeezed through the line which closed quickly behind us, with Garth taking centre head of the line. He took the visor of his helmet and flung it back over the line, where it landed with a soft thud on the scorched earth.

“Steady! Spears at the ready!” Bellowed Garth, the men at the back of the line drew their arms back, spears in hand. The line was three eight across with Jeon and Tulip adding their weight to the back line, making the number of available spears ten. “Loose” the spears flew into the body of the horde, and it was impossible to make out any casualties. The line shuddered and rippled as the raiders slammed into it, but the line held firm, the rear two ranks pressed themselves forward into the backs of the first rank, who in turn were pushed up against the first rank of the enemy, who armed with weapons designed for battle on a less compressed field; such as spears and long swords, some even wielded massive claymores, were suffering grievous losses as my men lunged their shorts swords forward again and again. Eventually the enemy horde broke away, as they were no longer able to reach our line through their dead, who hadn’t been able to drop due to the compression of men. Three of my men had been wounded, and from what I could see four killed. Though the losses were terrible for our small group, dozens of the enemy lay dead before the line, with six more dead from the spears, further up the road.

Garth pressed his way back to me, and Tulip followed, he had picked up a dropped short-sword and round shield from our dead, and was panting, his soft pale face, splattered in blood.

“Garth do you think we can hold them?” I asked, looking at the bear of a man, he glanced at the line and then further up the road to the horde who were milling around as an angry man on horseback yelled at them pointing furiously at our line.

“probably, but it would be stupid to attack again, they must be down by a third of their strength if not more, I would circle round the houses and attack us from multiple sides.” I nodded, glancing at the rubble which surrounded us, most of it would be impossible to transverse under fire from spears, but there was a small alley to our right, which looked passable.

“What do you advise then?”

“We’ll be over run if they attack again, I suggest we make a break for it on the horses, hope we break through and some of us make it back to the manor and muster the rest of the troops as well as levy some hunters and come back and wipe out these raiders.”

“No we’d lose too many men that way” Piped up Tulip, Garth scowled but then nodded

“He’s right Master, but I see no over option.”

“I do Lucas”

“Oh?” Garth and I both looked at Tulip who blushed a little at the attention.

“I challenge their leader to a dual, under Imperial law, all nobles are honour bound to fight another noble if challenged, and that man up their looks like a noble. He holds himself like one”

“But you’re no noble” Garth said

“Yes but I am a freeman, and imagine the prestige a noble would gain if he were to beat me in combat.”

“almost irresistible” I muttered, smiling as Tulip blushed again as I stared at him, I didn’t want to let him do this, but I also had an obligation to my men, and here was my best fighter volunteering to risk life and limb for their lives.

“Alight, but use your own weapons.” Tulip nodded and curtly pushed his way through the line and headed towards the raiders. Dread filled my insides; I glanced at Garth as he rested his hand on my shoulder.

“He’ll be fine; you’ll have him back in your bed in just a few days from now.” I froze and looked at Garth’s smiling face. He smirked at the shock on my face, “Master, I swear to you, I haven’t told a soul, he’s like a son to me, best fighter I’ve ever seen. I had a girl once, believe it or not; she looked at me just like he looks at you.” He patted my shoulder and walked over to the wounded, wrapping a bandage around Vincent’s lacerated arm. I stared as Tulip walked slowly up the road, he turned his head slightly looking back, our eyes met and there was the faintest smile on his lips.

The End

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