Vol.3, Ch.2, P.2


All was tense at Balasthea. Expectation twanged in the morrowing air, till there came a sentinel’s cry from high up the watchtower. As if whipped into action, the baileys and battlements both bustled with new activity.

It was spotted at last.

Movement—a wriggling buzz flooding from the gates of far Arbel.

I hastily climbed the watchtower. Peering yonder from the top, I at last knew then that fairer horizons awaited us: the margrave had indeed bitten Morten’s unwitting bait. And just as I’d hoped, Arbel’s remnant Fiefguardsmen were now marching straight to this fort. Theirs was the martial mind to smite the Nafílim occupiers of Balasthea, all to stop what they believed to be a pitfall waiting to swallow up their comrades on their return from Hensen.

“Mm… fifty score, thereabouts?” Lise reckoned their number, having followed me up the tower. “Their hand’s shown; they’ve played as you predicted, Rolf. Cull their count here, and the rest unfolds unfraught.”

She had the right of it. Though it was a large force that had harried Hensen, it did not form the full brunt of the Fiefguard, no. A lesser number had remained at Arbel, but “lesser” was little comfort, for were we to attack the fief-burgh at this moment, the home advantage would sorely be theirs. The walls, the cityways, the defences—too much of Arbel would bristle with brutes and ambushes at every corner. In such a battle, our mettle would most certainly diminish till our unmaking.

What was needed, then, was to drag the Fiefguard out from the safety of their city and sap their strength and numbers before the real deal at Arbel proper.

“Would that they keep the hand they’re dealt,” I hoped aloud, taking to hand a longbow and an arrow in preparation, “for long enough, at least.”

From the look of their movements, the Fiefguardsmen fancied a quick, engulfing raid upon Balasthea, with our number forced to stand its ground. A most sound prediction, if not obvious. We had all the fort defences at our disposal; surely we should make use of them.

Yet that was precisely why we chose the contrary.

Balasthea’s bulwarks protected it from all sides, indeed, but those very bulwarks had hitherto defended only against Nafílim spears and spells. Not once have they suffered an attack from Arbel itself. Yet such was precisely our present predicament, and no one here, not even myself, knew how best to tackle it. And that’s to say nothing of the braves themselves, who have never before manned this fort’s defences for their own purposes.

But all was not lost. Our plan was to eschew the stronghold’s strengths altogether and strike the Fiefguard out in the open, right as they draw close to our gates. A long highroad linked both fort and fief-burgh directly, with its course increasingly sheltered by hills and greenery as it neared its terminus. From such cover would our braves pounce upon the Fiefguard amidst their march and fight them in their confusion.

“Timing’s of the essence,” Lise reminded me.

“Essence and more,” I nodded. “Only one chance, now.”

All caution and concentration were poured into my peering of the enemy march. Only when their formation was thinnest could we lunge and strike their flanks. Divide and conquer was our game—bore holes into their file, fragment and drive them to scatter, and cull them in the chaos.

On and on our watch went, the moments moving like molasses. The tail of the Fiefguard’s file had long left the vicinity of Arbel, whilst its head had crossed into cutting range of our waylayers.

“Rolf—the tower quivers,” Lise said at last, alarmed. “We spring now, or?”

“Nay, not yet.”

Indeed, the Fiefguard’s thousand footfalls and hoofbeats were now near enough to subtly rattle the watchtower, and as well, inspire unease in Lise’s voice. Not that I could blame her; only a scant few braves were to be found in the fort proper; all the rest laid in wait beside the road. Should the Fiefguard break through, then our situation would turn most sour, to say the least.

Still, I dared not let our dire defences nip at my nerves. Those who live by war ought fear not death—even as it rushes in as a flickering blade upon the flesh. Of course, never should one neglect to mitigate the risks at hand, but some are as indelible as they are necessary, and they must needs be met with necessary nerve. Victory otherwise remains forever a fantasy.

“Mm…” Lise fretted. “N… now?”

I shook my head. “Just a little closer.”

Closer and closer still, a centipede parading down the country path. That was the Fiefguard, and fast was my stare upon it, waiting and waiting for the exact instant its file was stretched thinnest. A centipede indeed, barbed and bristly with swords and pennoned spears, creeping its way close.

Lise’s frantic eyes flashed to me. “R-Rolf!”

“Now!” I shouted. Rearing back, I nocked the arrow upon the string, drew it taut, and aimed the longbow. Fingers let loose. The shaft shot out of sight. Its target: the sky.


The shrill whistle of the signal arrow as it arched through the pale blue. At once, the Fiefguard collectively flinched and turned their puzzled eyes to the sky. But not a second sooner, and the Nafílim braves lurched from their lurking spots and lunged upon the Men.


The air filled with the Fiefguard’s screams as their flanks were affrighted by sudden foes. Theirs was a march mustered at haste; an easy attack upon the fort was their intention, but the very planning of it was put off till they were filed on the field. Whatever progress they made was for naught: battle was breaking all around them, well beyond both Balasthea’s walls and their expectation.

Morten’s words had damned them to their undoing. For to believe them was to believe that ours was but a force of few. So it was that none of the Men could have foreseen offence as being our hand in this game.

“The lie had too lovely a lustre, looks like,” I said.

“They bit the bait for true…” Lise stared in wonder, “…and leapt right into our bow!”

Time and space played to our great advantage. The set-up, the spots, the springing—all contributed to the cacophony before us all: the Fiefguard’s file was perforated and fragmented, its soldiers sundered and isolated from the formation. Their screams echoed manyfold.

“B-bloody ‘ell!”

“Captain! Your orders!? Captain!!”

Fiefguard swords swished and swung in panick. Nafílim spears stabbed in swift answer. Steeds neighed and flailed wildly, flinging their riders from their saddles. The unhorsed Men: unmade by Nafílim hammers.

“Let not one flee!” Volker’s voice thundered from afar. “Tine them in, cut them off! Fight their flanks! Give them fear!”

I thought then just as I had at Hensen: the war-chief truly was a commander of supreme exception. With him at the helm, the braves battled unbrokenly, all whilst fanning the Fiefguard’s frenzy to pitches higher and higher still.

“Impressive,” I thought aloud.

“Rolf! At the gates!” Lise cried.

I found fast her finger pointing down below. Sure enough, a detachment of Fiefguardsmen had found their way to the fore of our gates. In seeking the most opportune timing to mount the ambush, I’d let the point of the enemy file enter striking distance of the fort.

The fault was mine.

But one well-accounted for.

“I’ll handle this,” said I, turning away. “The watch is yours, Lise. If any queerness comes, give the signal!”

“I will!” she answered, after which I then jumped—down from the top of the watchtower. “W-wait—!”

Lise’s surprised yelp, heard as I descended the great height, but not through empty air, no. Hands gripping the ladder rails, I slid steadily down towards the bailey. Nearing the ground, I kicked off and landed with a large thud. But no sooner did I draw the soot-black blade and bolted straightway to the gates.

“Open up!” I shouted, earning more surprise, this time from the gatekeeping brave. But little time was wasted as he then unlatched the crossbar and pushed against the great barrier. Groaning open, the gates revealed a sight rife with Fiefguardsmen, two of whom slipped through. The first to meet my eyes met also my blade.


Such be the low utterance of many a soldier at the moment of their unmaking. Few are they who leave behind words worth remembering. This man failed to join that mighty minority. So, too, did the one near him.


With two vanguards vanquished, I rushed on with unrelenting speed. Beyond the barrier, ten and more foes yet remained for the maiming.

“Close up once I’m clear! Straightway!” I shouted again to the Nafílim guards.

Putting the gates behind me, I charged and challenged the Fiefguardsmen at the fray. Dragon-burnt steel drove through air and flesh, and by the time the gates finally boomed to a close, five Men had fallen to my blade.


───────── ∵ ─────────


Comment (0)

Get More Krystals