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A Clash of Colours
Southeast of Tothmor

On the moors south and east of Tothmor lay a small village called Sikyon. Nearby, the combined forces of the Order and the Hæthian nobles had made camp. It was a disjointed affair. The smaller part of the camp was occupied by the knights and their attendants, and they had set up according to their standard practices. Their tents were erected in linear formations with approximately equal distance to each other, their horses were gathered in one section and cared for, and most of the men spent their time tending to their equipment.

The larger part of the camp belonged to the Hæthian nobles and their contingents of soldiers, which meant that they had made camp as each lord pleased, typically with his own conscripts circled around him. Some maintained good discipline, while others gave their men free reins; brawls were not that uncommon as the soldiers, many of them little more than peasants given a weapon, were looking for ways to while away time until they would meet the enemy. There were also the longbowmen, some of whom fought for the nobles and some of whom were recruited directly by the Order; they were mostly left to their own devices and banded together when they could, forming small enclaves amidst the other groupings in the camp.

The army had reached this position some days ago and chosen to make permanent camp. Now, scouts reported that the outlander army had all but reached the Mearcian positions on their march towards Tothmor, and both sides were preparing for the inevitability of battle. It was late in the day when Leonard, marshal of Hæthiod, strode through the Order’s part of the camp. He reached one tent that was larger than the others and guarded by soldiers, though they did not hinder the marshal’s passage. Leonard walked straight in and found the lord marshal and Sir William waiting for him.

“The last scouts confirm,” Leonard told them. “They are about fifteen thousand strong on foot.”

“Seems initial reports were exaggerated,” Reynold said with a touch of disdain. “I seem to recall hearing at least twenty thousand were marching on Tothmor.”

“They still outnumber our infantry, even if not by much,” William pointed out. “What about the horse?”

“It was harder to ascertain,” Leonard admitted. “But my men would estimate some hundreds, perhaps equal to our number.”

“Should not be a match for our knights,” the lord marshal remarked dismissively. “With five hundred of those, we can ride anything down.”

“The fact that they have a sizeable force of cavalry should caution us nonetheless,” William argued.

“You fear being outflanked?” Leonard asked.

“A certain part of our troops are our bowmen,” William answered. “This flat land is ideal for cavalry movements. Should their horses manage to circumvent us, they can not only outflank us, they can clear our archers with impunity.”

“Which is why we will keep our knights in reserve,” Reynold explained. “I will take charge of them personally. Once we know where they have committed their cavalry, we will counter with our own. Push theirs back, then wheel around and charge their infantry in the flanks.”

“That seems sound,” William agreed. “But you intend to lead the knights yourself, my lord? What of infantry reserves?”

“As you said, our footmen are outnumbered. We cannot afford keeping any reserves.”

“You will commit the entirety of our infantry to the front lines?” asked Leonard. “That is highly unusual.”

“Our situation is unusual,” Reynold argued. “Most of our forces are levies. We barely have any Order infantry to shore up the centre. Do you think these outlander scum will keep any reserves?”

“No, my lord,” Leonard admitted. “But I would believe our differences in tactics a strength.”

“Not on this occasion. When this rabble attack, we can expect them to send their entire force against us. But as long as our infantry can hold, I will lead the knights forward, and they will decide the battle in our favour.”

“I see your reasoning,” William said, though he sounded unconvinced. “I am merely uncertain about changing our standard tactics. The captain of the army should remain out of combat with reserves to deploy when something unforeseen happens.”

“As long as the infantry holds,” Reynold said dismissively. “As first lieutenant that is your task. Is that not also your reputation?”

“It is, my lord,” William acknowledged with a nod.

“Good. Hold the line and wait for my attack. Once our knights charge, we will end this battle.”

“Very well, my lord,” William replied, and both he and Leonard took leave of the lord marshal.

Outside, the marshal of Hæthiod was about to move towards his own tent, but a gesture from William halted him. “Sir Leonard,” William spoke. “Despite my origins here I have little experience fighting the outlanders. Are they as we all seem to expect?”

“They are ruffians,” Leonard remarked with derision in his voice. “They prey on those weaker. Attacking in the night, going against easy targets such as villages, outlying towns, or farms. The force we face may be larger than what we have seen before, but they are the same men. If we show them strength, they will flee.”

“I suppose you are right,” William conceded. “I am merely cast into doubt by their presence in this manner. They have brought horses across the Langstan, which must require organisation. Doubly so if they have also brought siege equipment. And we must assume they have, for why else march towards Tothmor?”

“I see your concern,” Leonard granted. “But it still fits their pattern. They seek the richest target, so they aim for the capital. It is still the thinking of thieves and brigands. Bringing a horse across the wall does not make them a disciplined fighting force,” Leonard continued his argument. “They come here seeking plunder, and they will disappear when met with retribution.”

“I suppose so,” William muttered.

“Do not worry,” Leonard told the knight, clasping his shoulder. “As long as the infantry holds, our knights will tear through their ranks.” With that, the marshal left the knight standing alone in the bustling camp.

~~~~

Some thirty miles away lay the outlander camp. It was laid out in an orderly fashion with its tents raised symmetrically and sentries posted at the natural vantage points. By the edges of the camp were dug trenches to hinder approach, and large, wooden pikes had been dug in to prevent horses from leaping across and into the fortified area. With the camp set up, trenches excavated, and watchmen assigned, the remaining soldiers were engaged in various activities of their own design. Some played dice and gambled with coins, knives, pieces of clothing, and what else might be found.

The soldiers could be roughly divided into two groups. About two thirds of them wore a dark red robe over their scale or mail armour. They had iron helmets covered in black cloth, which could be lowered akin to full headgear to cover the face from wind and dust and leaving only a small opening for the eyes. In camp and on a peaceful evening such as this, however, all the soldiers had their headgear wrapped around their helmets and showed their faces openly as they conversed, jested, laughed, and passed the time.

The remaining third of the soldiers were less uniformly attired. Most of them wore robes, tunics, and cloaks of different colours. Not all of them had a helmet to put on his head but merely a thick cloth cap, which could also be lowered to cover the entire face. Their equipment was more diverse as well; they had spears and shields of different sizes, and some of it was more worn than the rest.

Finally, there was a small group of soldiers who kept to themselves. They wore leather and cloth dyed black, including their boots. The colour would often fade or become worn through use, and they would frequently reapply the dye to their boots. Whenever they had done so, it would leave a faint trace of black dye on the ground where they walked, outlining the sole of the boot; hence their moniker as ‘blackboots’ among the Mearcians, who often after a raid would find no trace of the enemy except the outlines of black boot prints in the ground. They were few in number in this army, however, amounting to a few hundred at most, and they served primarily as scouts and watchmen.

In the centre of the camp stood a tent grander than the others. Inside was a proper bed with pillows and silken sheets among other pieces of furniture, and an assortment of fruit and a golden flagon of wine was placed upon a table. The men inside were dressed in richer attire compared to the common soldiers. Their red robes had threads of gold woven into them, they wore rings on their fingers, and necklaces of precious metals and gemstones hung around their necks. While they had steel helmets with the typical cloth wrapped around them, the fabric was white instead of black as for the rest of the army.

There were four inside the great tent dressed in this way that distinguished them from the rest. One of them sat on a divan, while the other three stood waiting. A few servants flittered in and out, supplying the men with whatever they desired and otherwise keeping themselves away from attention. Lastly, there was one more person, keeping to the fleeting shadows created by the lamps in the tent. His armour and outfit was dark, helping his concealment; little more than his eyes could be seen, which were of a yellow hue.

“Jenaab Sikandar,” said one of the men entering, speaking the native tongue of the outlanders. Their language came as a flowing sensation, like a river that on occasion experienced a sudden drop or change in elevation. “Now that the enemy is within sight, we are all eager to hear your plans.”

The person asking was the shortest in the room and had directed the question to the seated nobleman, who rose from his seat to stand towering over the shorter man. Both of them had the same dark eyes and tanned skin as the others in the room, which was also considered typical of the heathmen. In fact, only their clothing made them different in appearance from many of the people inhabiting Tothmor.

“Jenaab Dalir,” said Sikandar with a smile, “ask and you shall be answered. Tomorrow we will march out and face the enemy near their current position.”

“We are ready to give battle then?” asked a third man. Unlike the others, who had moustaches or more kempt beards, his hair was growing wild.

“Yes, Jenaab Arash,” Sikandar told him. “They have a strong position near their camp and will no doubt be glad to fight us there. We will not disappoint.”

“And you have devised the means to victory surely, supreme commander?” came a question from Dalir.

“I have,” Sikandar nodded. “Jenaab Dalir, you will lead the infantry. You will hold the front line and ensure it does not falter. It is a position of utmost honour.”

“I am grateful,” Dalir bowed. “And when you say infantry, you mean I am to lead…?” he asked without finishing his sentence.

“Not the Anausa,” Sikandar said, which made the other commander, Arash, give a slightly contemptuous smile. “You will lead the conscripts taking the brunt of the blow. Jenaab Arash will put his expertise to use by leading the Anausa.”

“I am honoured to be chosen to lead the true infantry,” Arash said, bowing his head deeply and thereby concealing his grin.

“Which leaves Jenaab Rostam leading the Zhayedan,” Sikandar finished, looking at the third of his lieutenants who was also the tallest of the men present. Rostam did not reply except inclining his head in acceptance of his position.

“And our task during the battle?” asked Arash.

“Infantry against infantry, our Anausa should prove stronger. Jenaab Dalir will hold the front line as long as he can. Once close combat has begun and becomes protracted, Jenaab Arash, you will bring the Anausa into close combat,” Sikandar explained. “This battle will be decided on horseback, however,” the supreme commander continued.

“As strong as our Zhayedan are,” Rostam began, “these Mearcian knights are not to be underestimated. We may have more horsemen than their five hundred, but even so I do not favour our odds.”

“Perhaps Jenaab Rostam has no faith in the chosen of Shahriyar?” asked Dalir in a mocking tone. “If he doubts his ability to lead our cavalry, I would humbly take his place. I have no doubt in the victory of Shahriyar’s soldiers,” the nobleman spoke, accentuating the personal pronoun in his last sentence.

“Do not speak to me thus,” Sikandar said, and his smile vanished. “I am no courtier for you to wag your tongue at.” The yellow-eyed warrior behind Sikandar gave a low grumble, almost inaudible.

“Jenaab, I meant no lack of respect,” Dalir hurried to add, to which Sikandar waved his hand dismissively to silence him.

“Jenaab Rostam speaks the truth and will not be vilified for it,” Sikandar added. “Our Zhayedan cannot defeat these knights in an even fight.”

“With permission, Jenaab,” said Arash. “I thought it was the preferred tactic of these Mearcians to let their knights charge at the enemy infantry? Tearing the ranks apart, allowing their own footmen to surge forward and shatter the enemy formation.”

“True,” Sikandar granted. “And should they do this, it will be Jenaab Dalir’s task to keep our infantry together and yours to support him,” the captain explained. “While their cavalry is thus engaged, ours will outflank them and crush those damnable longbows of theirs.”

“And if they do not engage their cavalry directly?” asked Rostam.

“You must draw them out,” Sikandar said. “We cannot allow their knights to remain at large, able to join the fight at the crucial moment. Engage their knights, draw them back. I will keep infantry in reserve to support you. Even those demons must die if given enough blows.”

“Your will is my command,” Rostam said, inclining his head. The other two subordinate commanders, Dalir and Arash, immediately repeated this sentiment.

“Good. Tell your men to prepare for battle tomorrow, and let them know that the god in the mountain is watchful,” Sikandar impressed upon his lieutenants. They gave a final bow and backed out of the tent, avoiding showing their backs to their leader, who returned to his divan and fruit.

~~~~

The following morning was cold, considering it was not many days past the height of summer. A heavy blanket of clouds lay across the sky as two armies marched out of their camps until they could take positions opposite each other. As the soldiers went into formation, the lord marshal met a final time with his lieutenants before they split up to take their designated posts. “Our infantry has the stronger position,” Reynold said as he gazed east towards the enemy. The land sloped slightly downwards which meant the outlanders would be moving uphill when closing the distance between the two armies. “Under no circumstances are you to move forward and yield that advantage,” the lord marshal said forcefully. Leonard, William, and Stephen each nodded in understanding. “Keep your men in reins. Just hold your ground until our cavalry can engage, and the battle is ours.”

With those words, he dismissed them and took his own position at the back of their army with the knights. In front of him were the Hæthian longbowmen, many hundreds of them. Beyond were lined in numerous ranks the infantry, standing closest to the enemy. Stephen rode north to take command of the left flank, Leonard rode south to position himself by the right flank, and William rode east to join his men in the centre.

With everything prepared, the lord marshal nodded to one of his bannermen, who waved his banner as a signal. In response, the archer companies moved forward until they were close behind the infantry and in range of the enemy. They prepared their bows and arrows, ready to shoot volleys upon command. With the next signal, this command came, and the air was filled with hundreds of arrows.

On the other side of the battlefield, the outlanders waited. Their front lines consisted of the unevenly uniformed soldiers with their mismatched equipment and weapons. They formed an outer shell of sorts, covering not only the front but also the edges of their entire infantry formation. Inside this shell were positioned the red-robed infantry, the Anausa; further behind, beyond the reach of any arrows, was a reserve of Anausa infantry as well as the Zhayedan cavalry.

As the longbowmen’s barrage of arrows began, cries of alarm were heard among the outlander army. They raised their shields in protection, enduring the first volley without response. Then their commander Arash gave an order, and half of the red-robed footmen took out bows from their backs. In front of them and into the ground, they had stuck arrows in preparation of battle, and now they began shooting them rapidly while the other half of the soldiers continued to use their shields to protect themselves and their bow-wielding companions from the enemy archers.

Up towards four thousand arrows were launched at once and sent against the Mearcian army. Confusion spread immediately; at this distance, they had not been able to spot the Anausa armed with bows, especially not since they were standing behind the irregular troops at the front line. The Mearcians were not accustomed either to what was clearly deployed as the enemy’s infantry carrying bows into battle. The few Order soldiers among the infantry carried large shields that kept them safe, but the more varied weaponry among the Hæthian levies as well as their typically inferior armour left them more exposed. The first hail of arrows did far more damage than what their own longbowmen had done to the outlanders. It was followed by another and another.

~~~~

Sitting atop his horse and surrounded by his mounted squire and his own bannermen, William watched with increasing concern. As first lieutenant, he was in charge of the infantry of the Mearcian army, yet he was still subordinate to the lord marshal’s supreme command.

“Sir,” said William’s squire. “What is happening? Is this what was supposed to happen?”

“Their infantry is trained as archers,” the knight said in astonishment. “They have thousands upon thousands of footmen over there wielding bows, barraging us with arrows before switching into close combat.”

“How is that possible?” asked the squire.

“It is warfare unlike we know it,” William said with a frown. “But they cannot be heavily armoured if they are to retain the agility and strength to shoot many volleys. We must close the gap and engage them.”

“Did not the lord marshal forbid us from advancing?”

“When knowledge of the enemy changes, so must our battle plan. Our men will fall apart if we are to endure this for long,” William argued. “Ride to the lord marshal, tell him he must order us to advance.” The squire wasted no further time but turned his horse around and galloped through the lines of archers until he reached the back of the army.

“My lord,” the squire said as he reached the supreme Order commander, slightly out of breath from the sudden exertion. “Sir William requests that you order the infantry to advance. We must attack, he says, before their arrows tear our ranks apart.”

“I will do no such thing,” roared Reynold over the sound of arrows being released by the longbowmen. “Cavalry will decide this battle, and I will lead them forward where and when appropriate. Tell Sir William to keep his spurs steady and his nerves in check!”

The squire looked towards the mass of riders behind Reynold but found none sympathetic to his cause; if they were, they did not speak up. Unable to do anything further, the squire inclined his head to the lord marshal and turned his horse around, riding back towards his lord.

Whilst arrows continued to rain down from both sides, William kept an eager look back towards his own lines. It was only when he saw his squire returning to him, yet no signal from the lord marshal’s bannerman to advance, that his countenance became clouded.

“Forgive me, my lord,” the squire gasped. “I could not sway him.”

“It was not your failing,” William said tight-lipped, gazing back towards the infantrymen under his command. Holes were beginning to appear where the outlander archers had done most damage. Swallowing, the knight made his decision. “Signal the advance,” he told one of his bannermen. The man in question gave an uncertain look since no such order had come from the banners around the lord marshal, yet he dared not disobey; hesitating, he signalled with his banner that the infantry was to advance.

William looked north and south towards his flanks. Yet neither of the bannermen there gave reply; both Stephen and Leonard were following the lord marshal’s orders, refusing to acknowledge William’s command. In front of him, the infantry under his direct command in the centre were becoming confused. The men-at-arms had seen William’s bannerman signalling for them to approach the enemy, but they had the night before been told the same as their commanders; they were not to move forward under any circumstances.

“My lord, what do we do?” asked the squire.

“Baldwin,” William said to him. “Are you prepared to follow me anywhere?”

“Into death, my lord,” answered the boy earnestly.

“Good. That is our destination,” the knight declared and spurred his horse forward into a slow trot. Baldwin quickly followed suit. The two riders reached the back of their own infantry lines and pushed through them. They were now within reach of arrows, but their armour and shields protected them, and they continued past the footmen.

Now in full view of the entire army, William drew his sword and raised it high. He glanced behind him and then yelled the old battle cry of the Order whose origin was all but lost to time. “For the Alliance! Men of the Star, charge!” Next to him, Baldwin did likewise. Without further hesitation, William spurred his horse forward in a trot, attacking the enemy by himself.

Bewilderment seized every man upon the battlefield, Mearcian and outlander alike, who was close enough to watch the lone rider charging a host of foes. Only Baldwin, most loyal of all the squires in the Order and no older than fifteen, did not hesitate either but charged alongside his lord. The spell of confusion endured a moment longer before the entirety of the Mearcian infantry roared in lust for battle and stormed forward across the line. The decision was taken out of the hands of the flank commanders, Leonard and Stephen; they could only do as their soldiers did. Centre, left and right flank, every man surged forward towards the outlander army.

~~~~

It took what seemed like mere moments for the Mearcian footmen to cross the distance and engage the outlanders. Although William and Baldwin arrived first and crashed into the enemy infantry lines, they were immediately supported by their own soldiers, now eager to cross blades and draw blood. General hand-to-hand combat erupted all along the frontlines from flank to flank, and soon both armies were deeply embroiled. The longbowmen ceased shooting due to the danger of striking their own, and the red-robed Anausa infantry put away their bows, gripped their short spears from the ground and their shields from their backs, and charged forward to support their own front line. So forceful was the Mearcian charge that the ill-equipped soldiers on the outlander front ranks were all but shattered within a handful of moments; their leader, Dalir, attempted to keep them in line as long as possible, but their lines were quickly torn asunder. Acting swiftly, Arash gave a new command to his Anausa infantry, who now stormed forward and kept the outlander army in formation.

Meanwhile, far behind where the infantries clashed, the lord marshal was seething. “I gave him direct orders,” he shouted. “I will have his spurs for this and then his head!”

“My lord, what should we do?” asked one of the nearby knights. Reynold glanced around, looking at the riders behind him and then at the clashing infantry ahead of him.

“We wait,” the lord marshal said with a clenched jaw. “Cavalry will decide the outcome. We wait.” Upon hearing this, the knights, their squires, and their sergeants steadied their horses and waited.

They were not long disappointed. With the foot soldiers heavily engaged and the lines wavering, Rostam gave signal to the Zhayedan. Seven hundred red-clad riders moved out, riding in a semicircle north towards the Mearcian left flank. As soon as this became apparent, the knights mirrored this movement. Five hundred heavily armoured riders in black surcoats rode north, clear of the battle lines, until they stood opposite their outlander counterparts. Only soil separated the two mounted companies with no obstacles in their path.

Both cavalry commanders gave signal, and more than a thousand horses thundered forward. Spears were lowered, shields steadied, and the men braced themselves for impact, red against black. The five hundred knights rode in a near perfect wedge formation; as they reached the Zhayedan, their discipline and heavier armour won the first engagement. Like an arrow, the Mearcians penetrated into the ranks of the red riders, throwing many of them off their steeds. Spears splintered and shed blood. The knights drove the Zhayedan back, and behind them came their squires and sergeant in support. Soon, they had pushed the outlander cavalry back east beyond their own battle lines.

The lord marshal laughed as he grasped his sword and struck another foe. To his right, he could see the outlander infantry battling his own troops; once the enemy cavalry broke away, they were in position to bear down on the outlanders’ flank and shatter them. Another enemy fell and another. In the distance, he could see the outlander captain sitting on his horse, surrounded by a small guard. The lord Sikandar was watching the cavalries fighting, and soon after he gave a signal according to his stratagem.

Two thousand of the Anausa infantry, so far kept out of the battle, now rushed north towards the cavalry engagement. They were equipped with longer spears than those of their brethren fighting the Mearcian footmen, which came into great use. The new troops swarmed the knights, who lost their momentum. They were fought to a standstill and chaos erupted as the outlander foot soldiers wove in and out, dragging knights from their horses and killing them.

Reynold cursed as his own horse was slain underneath him and he fell to the ground. Immediately three outlanders surrounded him. He evaded a blow from the first enemy and gave one in return, but his second foe entrapped Reynold’s shield with his sword, wresting it aside. The third outlander brought his spear forward and embedded it deep in the lord marshal between where his left shoulder plate met the mail shirt underneath. With a dazed look, Reynold lost the grip on his sword and dropped to his knees before he finally fell dead to the ground.

~~~~

Where the infantry lines clashed, the battle was also hard fought. After leading the charge, William had soon lost his horse. He moved in and out of combat, appearing wherever the line threatened to waver and swinging his sword into action. The front soldiers of the outlander army had for the most part been killed or sent retreating long ago, but the red-robed Anausa remained and had filled the ranks instead. Under the leadership of Arash, they fought with discipline and skill, much like Order soldiers, and they were equal in number to the Mearcian infantry. Slowly but surely, they were pressing forward, and William was constantly forced to reinforce his men, either in person or by sending soldiers from the back towards where the outlanders threatened to push through.

Though unhurt, sweat pooled by his brow to such a degree that it threatened to blind him. Retreating a few steps, the knight threw his helm away to let his head be cooled. He was wiping the sweat away with his bracer when Leonard found him. The marshal of Hæthiod had taken several wounds, but none seemed severe; despite his age and condition, Leonard walked briskly towards William.

“Look!” he yelled over the sounds of battle, directing William’s attention to the north. The black surcoats with the white, seven-pointed star were lost in a sea of red robes, blinking out of sight. “The knights must retreat and regroup, or they and we will be overwhelmed!” Leonard claimed.

“Why does the lord marshal not sound a retreat?” asked William with a yell.

“I suspect he is blind to the truth,” the old marshal said bitterly. “If he is not dead already. His arrogance will not let him retreat. Go, relieve him of command,” he said to the knight. “The men listen to you above any other. Reform the ranks and lead a new charge, and we might hold a chance to turn the tide.”

“Our infantry,” William shouted back. “You have gone from the right flank, and the left flank is already caving. I fear Lord Stephen is dead. If we lose here, the knights will not avail us!”

“I will hold the centre in your place,” Leonard declared. “The flanks must survive as they can. Now go, go!” he urged.

The knight hesitated only a second before he turned and sprinted north. As he approached the site where the two cavalries fought, William spotted a riderless horse. It was skittish and unnerved by the loss of its master, but he sheathed his sword and placed his hand on its muzzle. The mare calmed to the touch and allowed William to mount; sensing an experienced horseman in the saddle, the beast regained its nerve and became a sentient tool at his disposal. He spurred the horse northwards and galloped away, finally reaching the chaos that reigned over the cavalry engagement.

The lord marshal’s sergeant and bannerman was still on his horse; due to the nature of his supporting position, he had not become as deeply entrenched into the enemy ranks as the knights had. William rode directly towards him and seized his attention by grabbing his right arm. The sergeant almost struck out with his left hand but stopped once he recognised the first lieutenant. “Sound the retreat,” William commanded the sergeant. “Not a full retreat, but only for this company.” The sergeant nodded and grabbed the horn hanging around his neck. Lifting it to his lips, he blew two clear notes into it. He waited a few moments and repeated the signal. The sound caught the attention of the Mearcian riders, who knew its meaning. As well as they could, they turned their horses around and galloped back.

Some of the knights and their followers were unable to extricate themselves and were cut down as the remainder retreated; however, most of the remaining men in black surcoats escaped from the Zhayedan surrounding them. Rostam, the commander of the outlander cavalry watched the retreat of the knights with an unreadable expression upon his noble countenance. His sword was blank and had not been bloodied since he had kept to the rear directing his men; as they now turned towards him to wait for orders, he signalled that they were not to give pursuit. By Rostam’s side was a yellow-eyed warrior akin to Sikandar’s shadow; he growled something as Rostam gave this order, but the latter repeated his command. Both riders and infantry from the outlander army obeyed and halted. Soon and not far from their own position, they saw the knights reforming their line and preparing for a new charge.

~~~~

While the knights, their squires, and their sergeants prepared themselves for a final engagement north of the main battle, the Mearcian infantry had sustained heavy losses. The centre held for now. Whereas the flanks consisted entirely of the Hæthian levies, William had placed the few Order footmen under his direct command in the middle of the army. Their superiority compared to the common conscripts along with William’s leadership had so far held the outlanders at bay and inflicted equal casualties upon the red-robed Anausa.

Yet glancing north and south, Leonard, the marshal of Hæthiod, was met with same vision. Both the flanks were being pressed back. The soldiers of poorest quality were fighting there, and their inferiority in training and equipment was showing. Furthermore, both flanks were bereft of their leaders; Leonard had moved to the centre, and Stephen was not to be found. The marshal’s observations were disturbed as his own men were pushed back and an enemy came charging at him, recognising a valuable target. Leonard avoided the blow and thrust his own longsword into the outlander’s stomach. As the marshal withdrew his weapon, a spray of blood followed and vanished again. The outlander’s robe was already crimson in colour; as for the marshal, both his face as well as the white star on his surcoat had been splattered red hours ago.

Stepping back, Leonard gazed north again. He saw the knights regrouping, supported by the squires and sergeants; hope flickered across his face as he measured the distance to the Zhayedan, calculating what impact could be delivered by a proper cavalry charge. If the outlander horsemen could be forced back and sent into retreat, the Order knights would have a chance to bear down on the left flank and crush the outlander infantry.

“Milord!” yelled a soldier, grabbing Leonard by the arm and turning him around. Gazing southwards, hope shattered and left Leonard with a devastated look on his face. The right flank was fleeing. The Hæthian conscripts, having been battered by arrows and the Anausa, were running for their lives. Furthermore, their flank commander was too far away to call them to order and have any hope of restoring the line. Glancing north again, the conclusion of the battle was beginning to become apparent. Soon, the left flank would yield as well. The centre might hold a while longer, but it would be enveloped from both sides and they would be cut down to a man. It became clear that the battle of Sikyon was reaching its end.

Lowering his sword in acknowledgement of the inevitable, Leonard looked around until he saw the bannerman for the centre companies. Running towards him, the marshal grabbed his shoulder. “Sound the retreat,” he yelled into the man’s ear. “Full retreat, do you hear? Full retreat!” The bannerman stood frozen, and Leonard shook him by the shoulder and repeated the order. Finally, the soldier fumbled until his fingers grasped the horn by his side; he placed it against his mouth and gave three blows. Holding a moment’s pause, he repeated the sound. Confusion was evident among the Mearcian army as the other bannermen repeated the signal and the common soldiers became aware of what this meant. Upon the flanks, the remaining foot soldiers broke away and ran west. In the middle of the battle lines, the infantry began a more orderly withdrawal, protecting themselves as best they could, yet it was still a full retreat acknowledging defeat.

~~~~

North of where the infantries clashed, William heard the signal. The bannerman by his side moved his hand towards his horn, intending to repeat the signal. “Hold,” William commanded him. “Delay the order.”

“But milord,” argued the sergeant, “the rest of the army is in retreat. We must as well, surely!”

“If we do,” William said, “their cavalry will have free rein to pursue us. They will slaughter our infantry like cattle, riding them down. We have to engage them.”

“But milord,” the sergeant tried to object before his commander cut him off.

“Sound the charge,” William said and repeated himself with a yell. “Fight while you can! Sound the charge!” Moving his horse to stand in line with the others and guiding it into a slow trot, William breathed the last verse of the Knight’s Oath softly. “My sword fears not death. My shield defends the weak. My armour protects the realm. My oath is my honour. I am a Knight of Adal.” With those words, the remaining few hundred knights and their followers made a last charge towards the enemy.

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About the author

Quill

Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; all tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. See also my website for more information on my work and world.

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