I surveyed the scene calmly. The morning air made my cheeks red from its icy bite, and there were a few birds still twittering despite the massive horde of men. Blade tested the air, nose raised to the breeze, and I met his blue glance briefly. They come, he announced.
“Ready yourselves,” I said loudly. As one, the army raised their shields as archers set arrows to bows. I glanced to the cavalry, their horses prancing nervously at their riders tense anticipation.
“Wolves,” I called, shifting to turn and look at the army behind me. Every man had a large wolf, trained only to follow his command (and mine), a partner both in battle and in daily life. Those men cared for their wolves more than most men provided for family, and often held tighter bonds than with any woman. I drew my sword calmly, the large blade reassuring in my grip. Today would be long and bloody.
There. On the rise. Blade’s gaze was focused on a small break in the forest before us.
“On my signal,” I announced loudly.
A hail of arrows rained toward us, and I watched the shafts barely reach our front lines, stopped by an impenetrable wall and ceiling of quickly raised shields. “Archers!”
Our arrows returned the greeting, and I listened to the distant screams. Today will be a long one, I thought to Blade quietly.
These days always are.
“Soldiers!” The men began to march as one unit at my command, and I studied the forest edge with narrowed eyes. “They plan something. . .” I beckoned one of the marksmen forward. “What do your eyes tell you?” I asked, pointing to the woods.
He bowed briefly before peering intently into the distance. “They. . . They have coldfire!”
“Halt!” I bellowed. “Stay where you are, shields ready!”
Coldfire. . . Blade tested the air again. I can barely scent it. . . But he is right.
Shit. I glanced to the Wolf ranks, then the cavalry. Overpowering our enemies by force would only succeed if they didn’t launch a coldfire attack. If. I hated that word. If. Maybe. Perhaps. . .
I caught the glint of blue. “Fall back! Now!”
The footsoldiers were quick to obey, not one out of formation as they turned and jogged quickly back beyond range of arrows.
But not coldfire. “Shields! Now! Coldfire attack!” Every man on the field vanished beneath his broad, curved shield, Wolf and cavalry ranks also. Coldfire, a slick, glowing blue liquid, sucked the heat out of anything it touched, burning like a white-hot blaze as it did so. Often, armies were defeated by hypothermia alone when the opposing forces used the blue stuff.
“Lupus, take cover!” Djuron hissed, but I waved him off. The large jars leaking silvery blue ooze came sailing at us from catapults just within the forest edges, several shattering against trees behind us. I heard only a few wails of pain, those either too slow or unfortunate enough not to have shielded themselves successfully.
One jar was headed straight at me, and I sheathed my sword and stood in the saddle. Thank the gods for thick winter gloves. . . Djuron let out an oath of terror and dove for further cover with his shield as I leapt, grunting as I caught the ice-covered jar against my chest. I landed hard in a crouch, quickly setting the jar down as the deep cold stung my skin. Remarkably, the jar hadn’t leaked any coldfire, and I checked myself over briefly before mounting once more. “Load that in a catapult and return the favour,” I said sharply. “Don’t touch it with your bare skin.”
Several men bowed and approached, carrying the jar away with rag-wrapped and gloved hands. Djuron was staring at me, and I flashed him a grin. “Now I know why you lead, Lupus,” he breathed.
“You doubted me before?” I retorted playfully. The attack had ceased, and I patted my charger’s neck lightly. The massive black horse, strong enough to pull even a fully loaded wagon on its own, was instead well-trained for war and close fighting. Nox, I called the massive stallion. Blade glanced at me, and I nodded once.
The footsoldiers straightened and marched forward quickly, swords out.
I watched the mounted unit ride as one past me and behind the army, their own swords drawn.
“Archers, clear them a path!” I could see the movement in the forest shadows ahead; the oncoming charge was imminent. Just as the first waves came pouring from the trees, our arrows rained down and laid them flat. “Again!”
The next wave thought to raise their shields, but now the battle was on the ground between armies. I watched our arrows do less damage, and our men do more. “Marksmen, ready yourselves!”
The archers with the sharpest eyes and aim moved forward to a rise in the hill just before the battle clearing, each settling himself in the best position for his craft.
“Do you know, Djuron, why Senn is the conqueror of the known world?” I mused aloud, watching the battle begin.
“Because you lead us, Lupus.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” I retorted. “It is because we excel at winning battles.” I spurred Nox into a gallop, Blade keeping pace easily beside the horse, their shoulders at matched heights, and Nox leapt over a row of our own soldiers, neatly clearing their plumed helmets before landing in the thick of the fighting. I already had my sword out, and began to use it with earnest. One more tribe to conquer, another land to control. . . Senn would soon be the only name the world would know and remember.
This post is part of Flash Fiction February.