The voice of Solon Theros boomed in the arena. “Your enemy is your enemy…”
Pal Hargrane adjusted his grip on the sword and raised the shield again. Solon Theros called a halt to the battle, but his tone forebode ill comings.
Hargrane’s wooden shield, painted with Ternemeer’s three white stars on a blue field, separated him from the Dracken Deep soldier opposite, who raised his flail. The spiked ball dangled above blood-spattered dirt. A moment before, the spikes gouged Hargrane’s shield, and his blade nicked the Drackean’s cheek. The mark trickled red into the man’s dark beard above his own shield, which bore a dragon head, black on dark green.
“Allies You Have None”
“Your countryman is your enemy…”
Hargrane looked to his left and right. Ternesmen along the line, few remained, did the same.
Hargrane’s true countrymen were far away—across the sea, his mother told him. Vikings killed his father and sold his mother, the babe Pal in arms, to Darkmeer traders, who brought them to the Low Countries. Pal grew up starving as a slave, working beside his mother in the mud fields of the Lionsgate Wards, until Ternemeer raiders captured them. Pal was in his twelfth year.
In Ternemeer, they were better treated. They weren’t slaves to the Ternes but bonded laborers, indentured for an indefinite period to pay their own ransom. Such were the customs in Darkmeer. But Pal and his mother had good food, comfortable quarters, and not so long work days. The Ternes protected them from raids by the Warders as well as the Drackeans. Now, years later, his mother was treated as any other Terneswoman, and Pal Hargrane fought alongside Ternesmen and loved them.
With pride he carried the shield with their coat of arms. The blue field was the Ternemeer, a lake after which the surrounding territory was named. The three white stars were reflections in its surface, representing hearth, family, and the protection of one’s neighbors. Ternemeer was his country. The Ternes were his countrymen, indeed.
“Allies you have none—Fight!”
The command echoed between the walls. Three hundred warriors stood, brows furrowed, heads cocked. Pal Hargrane struggled to make sense of the words. Blood pumped hot in his ears. His head spun.
Before the echo faded, a cry of rage rose up from behind Hargrane’s recent opponent. The red mark on the cheek was replaced by a spiked ball and a splash of blood.
Nostrils filled with the smell of copper, Hargrane braced the shield and rushed the new enemy. His blade separated the life from the Drackean’s body, as battle cries again filled the air over the arena at Aldefane.
“Fight!” echoed in Jarl’s ears. To his right, a Ternsman loosed an arrow into the back of a footman, another Ternesman. As quickly, Jarl drew the string of his own longbow and put an arrow into the first. As cries rose up from the battlefield, warriors fell upon it. The nearest target was a Ternemeer swordsman, back turned, eighty yards away.
While Solon Theros spoke, Theodoard got to his feet. He stood knee-deep in running water where he almost drowned. Crossing the stream with his company of armored flail men, he tripped. A man in plate mail is not quick to rise from prone. Soaked with water, he is less quick. Face down in a foot-deep stream, he doesn’t breathe.
Theodoard picked the flail and shield from beneath the rippling surface, grumbling under his breath. He missed the entire battle. For that, he would be ridiculed. There was a Drackean footman now, turning toward him with a smug look.
“Allies you have none—Fight!”
Or maybe it wouldn’t matter so much. Theodoard charged.
Gareth Tor dropped his bow and drew his sword. Any archer who did not would be the first target of any other archer who did not. A Ternemeer armored warrior charged toward him. Another warrior, a Drackean archer like himself, sword drawn, charged the Ternesman from the flank.
When the Ternesman went down, Gareth Tor charged the Drackean, who he recognized. Tor feigned a cut but thrust instead, as he had done in a dozen sparring matches against Seitse Baack. Seitse never did learn to avoid the feint.
Pal Hargrane turned to face his next opponent. None were near. Fallen bodies lay around him. Sixty yards distant, a Ternesman raised a bloody sword. His eyes met Hargrane’s. Then he stopped. The eyes grew round, and the Ternesman fell forward, an arrow in his back.
Hargrane followed the arrow’s fletching to a Ternemeer longbowman. The Ternesman nocked another arrow. Shield leading, Hargrane moved toward the Ternesman. Another warrior, a Drackean flail man, moved in the same direction with the same purpose in his step. The bowman aimed and, as quickly, shot. But the arrow was for neither warrior.
Crouching to pick up the fallen Ternesman’s shield, Gareth Tor looked up in time to see the profile, a steady vertical line and a diminishing horizontal—a receding elbow—a hundred thirty yards distant. He raised the shield and ducked behind it. The arrow’s steel head slammed into the wood, which shuddered at the impact.
Tor grabbed his bow from the dirt and drew an arrow, while he stood. Two armored warriors moved to engage the Ternemeer longbowman, but they were two shots away.
Tor’s first shot went wide. The Ternesman’s next arrow plowed into the ground at Tor’s feet.
While the Ternesman was at the far end of bow range, Tor was well within reach of the other’s longbow. As the Ternesman drew again, Tor let fly another. It too went wide.
The warriors charged the Ternesman, who turned his draw on the swordsman, twenty yards away. Tor nocked and drew, steadied his aim, and released the arrow.
Pal Hargrane charged. The longbowman nocked a third arrow and drew it back. Then he pivoted. Hargrane looked into the Ternesman’s eyes. They were blue. He covered the eyes with his shield, still charging. The arrow rang his helmet like a bell.
An instant later, Hargrane and the Drackean flail man closed on the longbowman, as the last drew a sword. Three weapons raised. Battle cries pierced the air, and an arrow slipped between the two armored men to strike the longbowman’s chest.
While the swordsman checked his swing, Theodoard allowed the flail to follow through. The sword would be quicker, but, now that one bowman was down, the more imminent threat to both warriors was the other bowman. Panting under chest plate, Theodoard yanked the ball from flesh and turned on the Drackean across the field. It was a long way to run. Flying arrows made it longer.
But the Drackean bowman held the missile weapon straight out to one side. Then he dropped it. Relieved that he wouldn’t have to run again, Theodoard raised the flail, but the sword was quicker.
The Drackean bowman, now armed with sword and a Ternesman’s shield, fought well, but Pal Hargrane saw the feint. He avoided the thrust and planted a blade in his opponent’s ribcage. The bowman slumped to the ground. The shield lay across the body. Hargrane’s eyes fell to three white stars on a blue field.
Again, the command echoed between walls. “Halt!”
“Missiles cannot be fired into a melee” (Chainmail, 16).
I allowed it. Though the melee phase follows missile fire, opponents in contact are considered to be engaged in melee. But, having no allies in the fight, Gareth Tor didn’t care if he missed the intended target.
While rolling the attack, I thought of a couple ways to handle a miss. Fond of neither, I was glad the bowman hit the mark.