The Battle of Forevermoore
(Year 1605 PA, WinMonth, Day 30)
It took them almost a week to get to their next battle staging point. The 109 were tired and dirty as they approached a grassy set of low hills, very similar to the grassy sets of low hills they had been marching through for the last month. However this last set boarded on a boggy patch of water called the Forever Moore, which stood between them and the hills.
Flinty had forced them to halt here for the day, not willing to let Norman press the men on any further until they had rested and washed the travel dirt from their weapons and themselves.
According to the map, their next stop was just around these hills and this swamp. Norman agreed to the stop only after PK volunteered to lead a scouting party ahead to gauge the enemy and their position.
Norman’s book detailed they must fight and win tomorrow. He was not so sure, looking at his numbers compared against how many they faced in this last battle. He was anxious for that rotegoblin report PK promised. The time was now to make military plans, not in the morning as they marched into battle.
Norman never rode at the front of the van when it traveled. He preferred to be about midway back, behind the foot but ahead of the heavy cavalry. The light horse rode early, behind the banner men and other officers. After the light horse were the foot soldiers. Norman like to joke that he road in the middle to be with his men, but in all actuality he did it because he liked the smell.
Dirt, dust and sweat smells mingled with the sensations of fear and excitement, and kept Norman grounded in the here and now. Riding out front he would find his thoughts drifting; perhaps to days past or events in the future, or quite often thinking of Nutso Nurse and the little garden plot they shared back in the village. No, the middle was where it was at for Norman, it kept him alive and ready to go without hesitation.
PK usually led the van, at least on non-combat traveling marches. He cut a fine figure in his always-clean armor and stately horse. It served the 109 best to have PK as the visual figurehead when in the public eye.
Leading the van into battle was not for PK to do, however. That was Flinty’s job. Fierce and foreboding, the man who often led others to their death was Flinty, and he did so out in front with pride and honor. A tall, dark and opposing man, Flint was a fellow of very few words. Not because he didn’t have any to say, but because a rotegoblin cleaver nearly cut his lower jaw off when he was just a boy.
Only five years old, yet brave enough to stand above his wounded mother with a blade too heavy for him to lift as a flight of rotegoblins came down on him. Some of Norman’s men witnessed the boy take the cleaver to the face as he protected his mum. Sliced him open from ear to mouth, clean through bone, muscle and tongue. But he did not falter, and somehow found the strength to bring the blade to bear on the rotegoblin. Norm’s men were on him at that point, making swift work of the remaining rotegoblins.
Thank the Gods that Nutso Nurse was with them on that foray. She had the boy’s wound cleaned, stitched and bandaged quickly. There had been no numbing agents and the wine was tainted, so the boy had to bear the pain with his full faculties. Norm and he locked eyes during the stitching, and it was that moment he knew Flint would find some way to live. Some way to extract revenge on the rotegoblins. That drive was why good ‘ole Flinty led the men into battle.
The boy Flint wandered the village for the next two years with all sorts of bandages on his head. Took his meals in liquid form through a stalk of tubegrass, and pitched in with odd jobs here and there the best he could. When he had nothing to do, he spent every waking moment following Norman around or watching the men battle in the practice fields.
When at last the bandages were off and Nutso proclaimed him fully healed, Flint reported the next day to the new recruit line. The drive to be a member of the 109 was apparent in his face, just as plain as the scar. When Norman approached the new recruit line, initially dismayed at the lack of prospects, he paused when he reached the point where Flint stood. The boy was eight now, or close enough. A fine squire he would make, thought Norm. Or at least one that wouldn’t talk back, he joked to himself.
Two years at squire, another four in the scouts. After that it was squad serjeant then officer in rapid succession, landing him finally at the number three spot firmly.
The other reason Flint was number three had to do with when he did talk, everyone heard him. The damage to his jaw and tongue left him with a pronounced speech impairment. Flint had to speak loud and strong for people to understand what he said, making his words distinctive even above the din of battle. When Flint spoke, everyone listened and everyone heard. His words became synonymous with commands, and thus Norman leveraged him in that fashion.
So Flint led the men to battle, and PK led the men otherwise. Norman led the men in spirit, speaking to them around the fires at dinner or event gatherings. His place in battle was on the hill, calling out strategy to his banner men and directing his troops with precise tactics. PK also stayed back; as the number two, his job was to lead the reserve units into battle, after spending as much time as he could learning strategy and tactics from watching Norman.
Unlike most generals, Norman made much use of his reserves. In fact they were not really reserves at all, but rather a rotating portion of his full command, thus not deficient in fighting whatsoever. PK led them in and out of skirmishes to deliver quick blows to weak rotegoblin positions or shore-up places the 109 were weak.
So, when the line first halted and Norman knew they were short of their goal, he galloped to the front to confer with his officers. Reluctantly he agreed, they would stay near the water here and rest for tomorrows battle. At least he would get some scouting reports. Or hoped he would sometime before the battle actually started.
With only his maps to go off of, and some basic enemy troop estimates as detailed in The Book, all of his strategy work had been with generic forms; nothing specific can ever be determined without specifics, he mused. The Book also made mention of a forest line of deciduous trees that began on the Northwestern corner of the valley. Don’t let them get to the trees! was the notation in the book. That would be a tall order if a few thousand rotegoblins stood between him and these trees tomorrow.
When the supply wagons finally rolled up from the back of the procession, skirting around the warhorse and foot soldiers on the landward side of the line, tents were unpacked and the kitchen was set up and put into full swing. Norman commandeered a small grove of willow trees, setting up his traveling desk under the largest. He would forgo his tent again tonight and sleep in the open air underneath the willows’ drooping canopy.
Under nearby trees his officers did the same, each meeting briefly with their squires or trusted lieutenants. Sending runners off to organize camp or procure supplies. PK stopped only long enough to switch to more appropriate scouting gear before heading out to view the battlefield.
Norman’s own squire, Nex, had brought him some bread and cheese, along with a glass of wine. Northern Red, he noted; hearty and robust, like the blood of an elk, from his private collection he assumed. No one else cared much for it.
Happy now, with his maps and his wine, sitting in the comfort of his desk, he analyzed his plan of attack.
There had to be a reason the rotegoblins were in this particular valley. Norm assumed it was likely for the same reason as him. For the same reason they were in the last valley, too. The two events shared a connection somehow, and the rotegoblins knew of them from some source. He did not have a clue to the source, and could do nothing about the leak, so he focused on how best to enter the valley and destroy the hoard quickly.
Rotegoblins were a tricky lot, he’d learned over his forty-odd years of fighting them. Tricky because they adapted to environment and tactics faster than any human opponent, except those humans of significant caliber.
First off, they communicated telepathically with each other both over short and long ranges. Norman and his team of engineers had never figured out the short range aspect, but study and dissection of various rotegoblins over the years gave him an idea on how to combat the long-range communication stream.
The development of Jammers, or hollow steel spheres filled with acid and wrapped in copper wire, caused some sort of invisible disruption to rotegoblins long-range communications. This was a fantastic discovery as it prevented the rotegoblins from calling in reinforcements when battle occurred or locking-in the position of the 109. Jammers only worked locally and were expensive to make, so they took care of the ones they had.
Special Jammer Engineering teams, usually four men per team, would forage out just ahead of the battle and place their Jammers at intervals to prevent rotegoblin scouts from out running the area of effect. In addition, bannermen for all three executive officers, meaning Flint, PK and himself, carried smaller, modified versions with them into battle. The range was shorter, but still enough to cover nearly all the battlefield.
Norm had already sent word to his Jammer teams to range out and encompass the valley ahead within the Jammer network, but keep the Jammers shielded until a full two fingers of the sun had risen the next day.
On the short-range side is where the instant communication between rotegoblins presented immediate danger. Entire legions of rotegoblins could move and act as one in the presence of certain command rotegoblins. These command rotegoblins evolved beyond typical rotegoblins with enhanced communication capability, and were downright smart little buggers. The first several years Norman fought against these creatures the command rotegoblins were easy to spot, standing behind or off to the side of the rotegoblins in their charge. This made them easy pickings for an archer, thus throwing the rotegoblins into chaos for several minutes until a new command rotegoblin could take control. If there were no others, Norman had witnessed what he called “field promotions” on many occasions, where a random rotegoblin would simply evolve before their eyes and become a command rotegoblin.
Over the years, however, the command rotegoblins integrated into the regular military structure and were virtually indistinguishable from standard rotegoblins unless you were right up close.
So, from the start, surprise would fade instantly once the first rotegoblin made contact with the 109. However, this gave the rotegoblins little edge beyond knowing there was a threat and where the initial threat was located. Norman had used decoy tactics before as a way to lure out and divide the rotegoblin forces, but they had learned their lessons in the past and adapted their own tactics.
No, Norman would need to dig deeper to outsmart them, and think of something special for this encounter. But the decoy ploy was forefront in his mind today for some reason.
His map of the area was not as detailed as he wished, but it suited well enough. This Forever Moore plain was a nice, level battlefield. The valley bordered on the west end by the deciduous forest, and to the east by rocky outcroppings that sat atop and around one of the largest grassy hills in the region. Travel through the valley flowed north to south or vice versa; currently the 109 sat encamped directly on the other side of the rocky hills from where the rotegoblins were indicated in Norman’s Book.
A large force would have to enter from either the north or south. It would take hours at minimum for an expert climber to scale up and back down, with exposure to the enemy throughout the process. He was sure Flint had already dispatched observers up the hill, perhaps a few teams of snipers with their oversized tall bows as well. They would come in handy for sure, but not enough strength to do more than complicate things for the rotegoblins.
No, he had to go in from the north or south. Estimating he was sorely outnumbered, he knew he could not split his force in two and hit from both sides. A token force put in place on the opposite the side the 109 entered in case the rotegoblins tried to retreat and out flank them or secure help, but the size of it would only slow them down, not stop them entirely. Not to mention it would have to be a suicide squad, as there would be no support to help them.
No, he needed to decoy them, but not sure how to do it. How could he bait a rotegoblin army away from whatever orders they had to remain stationary in that damn valley? Norman spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening going over that question. Only stopping when Nex appeared out of the nighttime darkness with a tray of food and a new skin of wine.
It had gotten late, and he was no closer to a plan then he was two weeks ago. Clearing space on his desk for the food Nex brought, Norman dismissed the boy and ate his dinner woodenly. Where was PK and his intelligence on the enemy?
As if on cue, a rustle in the willow’s canopy drew his eyes to PK as he parted the drooping branches and stepped into full view.
“’Bout time,” he said to his number two man. PK may be a friend, but he was still a subordinate and that allowed Norm to berate the man a bit.
“Sir,” PK said stiffly, eyes twinkling gave him away as wanting to say more, but thinking the better of it. “Very little to report, sir.
“The rotegoblin horde is indeed camped in the middle of the valley, almost like they’ve taken up residence. They show no signs of moving but show signs of preparing for something. I do not think it is us they are preparing for, we saw no traces of scouts and their attention focused inward, not outward.
“Now the bad news, I estimate enemy troop strength to be just under ten-thousand.” PK waited in silence for that to sink in.
“Ten thousand,” Norman whispered. That created a five-to-one ratio of outnumbering, that is after his losses and wounded from the previous battle. He was down to two-thousand men right now, and both the north and south passes looked to be too wide for two-thousand men to seal off safely. With that level of force coming at them, the rotegoblins would simply overwhelm them by brute force. The front line would fall and drown in a sea of rotegoblins on the first pass.
Fishing out his bag of colored marking stones, he extracted the ones he wanted and set them next to his maps. A plan was forming in his head. A plan that might just work, if the luck of the Gods was with them.
“PK,” he said, drawing the man in closer with a focused tone of voice. “Here’s what we’re going to do…”
Before first light, the 109 was armed and ready to march into battle. Split into two groups, each had about two or three hours of marching to reach their respective entry points into Forever Moore plain. PK led his contingent south, while Norman and Flinty brought the other north.
The trip was made in silence, so as not to give away their presences just yet, and was fed intelligence from scouts in the hills by way of message-laden arrows delivered with precision by their sniper teammates. Yes, the enemy was not aware of them. No, the size of the force had not changed. Yes, the plan might work. All written in code, just in the event that a misfire caused a message to fall into rotegoblin hands.
With two fingers of sunlight high in the sky, Norm knew his Jammers would be in place and functional, he signaled for their own to be set as operational. After that, he took his usual contingent of support off to a slight rise on one side of the northern pass, while Flint prepared his men. Ten minutes later, Flint gave the “all ready” signal, and Norman acknowledged him by having a blue flag raised. Blue, for today, represented “proceed with the decoy.”
PK gathered his men, horses and all, behind a massive rock fall just outside the southern pass. Looking up and down the line, he hoped this plan was going to work. Dishing out final instructions and assigning route paths, he tried to project as much courage to the men as he could. However it was hard not to think about one of Norman’s rules of strategy and tactics: Never split your force when you are outnumbered.
Now here they sat, split and even more drastically outnumbered. He didn’t have enough force to hold the pass, let alone charge in and try to split the enemy without getting swallowed whole! In fact, his entire horse contingent would shred themselves on the rotegoblin pike line. Norman even said so, stating that the decoy he and Flint set to the north would only distract the rotegoblins a minute or so before they caught on and detected PK’s charge from the south. It would allow the rotegoblins enough time to shift their entire pike formation to their southern front and absorb the blow from PK’s cavalry charge with hardly a bend in the line.
A “suicide rush” was the cavalry term for what they were doing. To simply ride your horse full speed into a line of razor-sharp pikes, hoping the sheer weight of your dying horse propelled you past the three rows of pike bearers still alive. If luck held, your horse crushed some of the enemy, and you killed a few more with your own lance and sword before one of the footmen stationed behind the pikers took you down.
The move looked and sounded daring, but always ended in death. While there was honor in death, there was very little of it in a wasted death. PK said another silent prayer to the Gods, asking the same as the last two-hundred he’d said. “Please let this decoy work!”
On that note, PK grouped his men accordingly. Four long lines of horse stood at the ready, no one said a word. The silence was golden, pierced only by the soft thump! of an arrow hitting the ground near his horse. PK’s squire quickly jumped down and retrieved the message attached to it and passed it up to him. He read it aloud:
“Decoy in position, attack when ready.”
“OK men,” he said. “The time is now.”
He’d put a bannerman out front a bit with the looking glass to signal when the rotegoblins had picked up on Flint and Norman’s decoy and started to see enemy troop adjustments and prepare for an assault from the north. Now he waited for a signal from the man before they launched their ‘suicide rush’ plan.
The signal came, and PK gave the order to move forward. Taking his place at the head of horse-row number two, his lieutenant took row three and two of his squad serjents took lead of rows one and four. They set out at a light trot in order to stay as unnoticed for as long as possible. It wouldn’t take much to be spotted, however, since only one set of rotegoblin eyes needed to pick them out for the rest of the ten thousand to spot them.
A sudden question popped into his mind, wondering how in the world ten-thousand rotegoblins simply gathered here in the heartland of human civilization unmolested. Where were the Oracle’s guards? The Queen’s guards? The Crux? Anyone? Certainly an army this large would have had rumors spread about it in every tavern on the northern continent.
He didn’t have much time to mull the question over. Less than thirty seconds after they left the cover of the boulders the rotegoblin hoard had spotted them.
Command rotegoblin M5-601455-m received the transmission from first one Mark III-S scout rotegoblin, then a few dozen more, all over the course of a fraction of a heartbeat. His logic processor had already factored in that the attack from the north was a diversion. A simple decoy attempt, like so many before that registered on their collective.
New commands were issued, and their force of pikes was directed to initiate a full phalanx across their southern front. A squad of foot and another of archers were dispatched to address the threat of the decoy to the north. Remaining archer commands were shifted north to cover the flanks and provide support to the pike line. The thousands of foot soldiers he command lined up behind the southern pike line as well. In case the force was large enough to break through the pikes, the foot would stop them cold. Probability of decimating the opposing force was greater than ninety-eight percent and rising; confirming that no force could puncture their southern line, particularly when the phalanx was raised.
Preliminary numbers of the force to the south trickled in, and the data appeared corrupted. Some reports listed the incoming horse at far less than enough strength to breach the phalanx. The humans were not acting rationally, something that set his logic processor to almost overheat. Something was not right, and he would need to tap into the overall collective and draw on the wisdom of his brethren for recommendations on these tactics.
It was then, and only then, did he realize the collective was down. There was no warning sensor to inform him that contact with the Main Hive was compromised. Communication to the Hive flowed almost entirely one way: back to the hive. Rotegoblins only received communications when ordered or when waiting for a request to be answered. Therefore, none of them here detected the lack of a Hive connection; until now.
M5-601455-m and all the rotegoblins under him were on their own now.
PK could easily see the rotegoblin pike-line forming up. First one, then two then finally three rows of razor-sharp steel blades set atop hardwood poles whose butt-ends sat rammed into the ground for added strength. In PK’s experience, the poles never gave way; either the person struck by the blade gave way, or the haft shattered, but the pikes never budged when properly planted in the ground.
They were going in at a full gallop now, no reason to hide their presence. PK signaled as they closed in on a quarter mile. Column’s one and four split wide left and right, while two and three held their aim straight for the middle of the phalanx. Less than a minute, he thought to himself.
M5-601455-m watched the assault through several thousand different rotegoblin eyes.
Logic still screamed at him internally. Something was not right, the force attacking him was of an improper size. And there was something else, something eluding his senses. What was it?
The answer came from a front line pike rotegoblin as the attackers charged closer. The attackers held no lances, in fact they bore no weapons, thus had no chance at all to breach the phalanx. Why would the humans do that?
PK had them closing in fast. Too fast perhaps. Five-hundred feet, then four, then three. As they closed to within one hundred feet, PK thrust an arm into the air. The men watching him took their cue and the second phase of Norman’s plan sprang into action.
PK turned a hard left and brought his row parallel with the pike line, while his lieutenant veered right. Meeting up with rows one and four and melting into one long, single-file line of horses that ran straight down the pike formation.
From horseback, not only did the riders then extract horned shortbows, but a second archer, concealed behind the rider also drew a bow. Quickly arrows were knocked and launched, sending random volleys of arrows into the front lines of the pikes.
Panic erupted in the rotegoblin front line. Scores of pike-wielding rotegoblins fell to PK’s mounted archers. Shortbows had much less power and range then a good longbow, but at one hundred feet, they could still punch right through chainmail and thin plate.
The rotegoblin body count within the pike formation continued to mount. There was little they could do but stand there and die. Moving toward the mounted archers simply made them a better target. Moving back was impossible, as the foot soldiers were pressing against their backs, trying to get at the horses. Even the rotegoblin archers were useless, as PK and his men were too close to the front line, so any volley of arrows they launched was apt to hit their own as to hit an enemy.
PK smiled big as he watched from behind his archers, estimating the count of dead and dying rotegoblins. It was a total slaughter!
M5-601455-m was in turmoil. All calculations pointed to the same conclusion that the entire pike line must perish in order for the footsoliders to break through and send those mounted human archers out into a kill zone for their own archers.
M5-601455-m gave the command for the foot to slay anything in front of them in specific sections to create breaks in the pike lines that they could rush through. Losing the pikes was unfortunate, but probability of defeating the humans was still in the upper eighty percentile. Without pikes, they would be helpless against heavy horse. But they would deal with that later, as the enemy did not have any lances.
To be sure, he had sent some Mark III-s Scout rotegoblins around to the enemy flank, and they reported back there was nothing there. No reinforcements, either. Were they trying to lure the rotegoblins away from the field into the pass? Perhaps some sort of trap? That would not work; they were under orders to stay here and kill anything that entered the valley. The rotegoblins would not give chase beyond the mouth of the pass.
M5-601455-m was still trying to figure out the human’s strategy when an alarm sounded in his mind that the probability of success had just dropped from eighty-seven percent to under fifty, and falling fast.
It was pure chaos. Pure and utter chaos!
Norman watched from atop a boulder with his looking glass, a hearty laugh that emanated from deep in his belly shook him and he nearly rolled off his stone perch. The plan was working better than he thought; the rotegoblins were killing their own and doing the 109’s job for them. It was all he and his men could do to remain quiet and not give their position away with laughter and cheering. Boy, this would be a story told around the dinner table back in Lunartic for years to follow. That is if they could finish the plan.
Signaling his troops to take position, he let the rotegoblins commit genocide for a few more moments before taking his eyes off the battle and giving Flinty the nod.
With that, the next phase of Norman’s plan kicked into action as his full contingent of heavy horse and the balance of light horse that did not go with PK galloped onto the plains.
The heavy horse charged straight down the middle. Numbering less than two hundred, it seemed a pitiful attempt as they were facing more than ten times their number. However they were heavy horse, after all. Armored from horse hoof to human head, arrows were useless and footsoldiers were merely trampled to death, kicked to death or slain by the horse’s rider. The only effective weapon against heavy horse were pikes or those monster crossbows mounted on wagons. Bastillia’s, Nutso called them when she ordered some built for the fortifications around Lunartic. Norman called then Bastard-dillas, having been on the receiving end of them a few times.
Heavy horse were slow, however, and so the balance of light horse, about another hundred, split into four groups of twenty-five and trailed behind at a slower pace than they normally would have managed. This kept them shielded from arrows and they didn’t have to absorb the initial brunt force of the first charge. Their job was to follow the initial charge behind the heavy horse and infiltrate the rotegoblin lines. Norman hoped to create a number of pockets of charging light horse that could wreak havoc while seeking out and destroying any command rotegoblins.
Mixtures of foot and archer groups ran after the horses to stake out a front line close to the enemy. Norman would use them to mop up the remains of the rotegoblins or cover their retreat should something go horribly wrong.
M5-601455-m measured the scale of the force about to hit their flank and concluded they would lose this battle. But M5-601455-m would not go down without a fight. He ordered his southern line archers to fire on the mounted human archers. Yes, they would inflict casualties on their own kind, but the losses at this point were acceptable.
The other archers, or rather the majority of archers that consisted of the rotegoblin flanks, were ordered to shoot over the charging horse to hit anything behind. They would essentially be fodder for the horse line, but perhaps they could pull down some of the human troops behind the horse before becoming trampled underfoot.
PK saw the black cloud before anyone else, partially because he was looking for it. Expecting it. At first looking like a cloud of locust, then sounding like one as the cloud approached, PK barely got out a warning yell before it hit. A thousand arrows, black hafted, black fletched and pure evil-looking rained down upon the front lines of the rotegoblins and the position where PK and his second-diversion mounted-archers sat positioned.
PK’s yell allowed for most of those around him to at least un-square their bodies with the front line and diminish their profile against the rain of arrows. Still, several hundred rotegoblins and a few score of PKs men fell in the first volley, peppered with arrow shafts.
The horses took the brunt of the attack, facing either up or down the line, they were full-on targets. Perhaps fifteen of them escaped unscathed. Of the rest, many died on the spot but most took on painful injuries that caused them to toss their riders and bolt.
PK’s horse was one that died nearly instantly. While PK escaped receiving an arrow wound, and being thrown by a wounded horse, he did not evade the crushing weight of a thousand-bloody-stone animal tipping over and pinning his leg underneath.
His foot had been twisted in the stirrup, trying to turn the beast before the arrows hit and make them less of a target. When he hit the ground, he felt the knee pop, the muscles tear, the foot twist and bones break in more places than he could count. Then he felt the crush of the horse and the pain nearly overtook him. He must have screamed, but looking back he’d never remember if he did or not. He only knew that his dancing days were over; perhaps his walking days, too.
Assessing the situation from his fallen perch, he screamed out orders to his remaining men. The horses were gone, those that lived had men quick enough to think on them riding them (and whomever they could gather with them!) to get to a safe distance. He mentally thanked Norman for having such a disciplined bunch. If they could get just out of range of the rotegoblin archers, they could provide some limited arrow coverage of the wounded or stranded. As PK was relatively certain a wave of foot would trample over the dead rotegoblin line to come after them.
He gave orders to shield behind the horse carcasses, and prepare for retreat on foot. His orders followed closely by another wave of rotegoblin arrows that pelted the ground around them. A few screams from his men sounded, the result of a lucky arrow here and there, but mostly, covered by horseflesh armor, they survived. In fact it was best the rotegoblins continued to fire, as it kept their foot troops from moving in.
But after the third wave of arrows, the pause afterword was too long, and PK realized there would be no more arrows. Next came the swords.
M5-601455-m was too close to the flank fighting. It distracted him from commanding the line on the other front, and he wasted valuable time not rescinding the archers’ orders and sending the foot troops in a volley earlier. He issued the commands now, and then turned to deal with the human horse line crashing into his reserve archers.
The final moment of M5-601455-m’s existence was the view of eight trampling horses rushing at him, laying waste to any and all rotegoblins in their path. The spiked iron ball from a human-wielded flail caught him under the chin and separated his head from his body. His synapses closed and M5-601455-m was discontinued.
M5-588415-k received notification he was now in command. Promotions came fast and unexpected in the rotegoblin army. He had in fact been promoted twenty-seven times in the last five minutes. When the human horse had infiltrated their line and roamed their central corridor, command rotegoblins fell like raindrops, and the collective adjusted accordingly by fluidly shifting authority right on down the hierarchy of rotegoblin infrastructure.
Assessing the situation, he opted for retreat to the forest line to regroup and retake the plains. This order did not counteract their primary objective to hold the plains, as the end result was to retake the field again.
M5-588415-k issued the orders, and the remaining four thousand rotegoblins, mostly foot swords and archers, assumed a retreating line. A few squads of archers were left behind to harry the roaming human light horses, and a five-hundred-stout brigade of swords were dispatched to kill what remained of the human archers in the southern line.
Norman surveyed the landscape and shook his head. His less-then-two-thousand-odd rag-tag army, beaten and worn down from two-weeks of marching following a close-call of a battle, was actually winning. The rotegoblins were down by half their number, and he’d only lost a handful of brave men.
A message arrow plunked to the ground next to his squire, and Norman continued to plot strategy as he waited for the boy to retrieve it. The rotegoblins should have turned tail by now, if they didn’t he would simply pull back and pelt them with arrows until they were no more. In fact, that was what he would do, pull the horse and send them around to the new rotegoblin flank and cut off their retreat to the woods.
The squire handed him the message untied from the sniper arrow, and Norman sucked in his breath through clenched teeth. PK was down and his men about to be overrun, and the rotegoblins were ahead of him on the retreat thought. He needed to move fast.
As he issued orders, banner men rode forward with various colored flags to deliver them. Snipers to refocus on identifying and eliminating command rotegoblins. Heavy horse to withdraw and attempt to circle the rotegoblin retreat at full speed and prevent them from reaching the forest. And what remained of his light horse was to break off and rescue PK. This opened up the rotegoblins center ranks to arrow fire since he was pulling his men out of there. So archers received orders to fire at will into the throng, while the foot protected them from rotegoblin arrows with their shields.
The first rotegoblin approached PK swinging its wickedly-curved blade in a slashing arc. PK easily parried with his own sword, despite having a shattered leg pinned under a horse, and countered with a nasty backhanded slash that nearly cleaved the rotegoblin into two. The next two that charged him were cut down by sniper arrows before they closed within ten feet.
Three minutes, he thought. If he were lucky, he could last another three minutes before sheer numbers overwhelmed him and any support he might be receiving from a distance. Looking around, some of his men were faring better, a few horses had returned to snatch the stranded or wounded and bring them back to the makeshift line out of rotegoblin arrow range.
Small pitched battles were forming around knots of his men. From two fighting back-to-back to a dozen encircling a few too wounded to fight. Several more rotegoblins approached him, and he realized his sniper support was now gone. None of the rotegoblins fell before reaching him; only his sword would protect him now. Six rotegoblin blades swooped in for the kill, as PK lost himself to the dancing of his own blade. Quickly forgetting who or what he was, as he danced with death and vowed to take as many with him as he could.
The battle raged on another eight hours. Other than the fall of PK’s mounted archers, equating nearly two-hundred dead men and a similar number of horses, losses were fairly minimal. Norman counted his blessings. Less than two-thousand men had defeated nearly ten-thousand rotegoblins, and suffered only fifteen-percent casualties. There were wounded, of course, about another fifteen-percent, but they were at least not dead.
Perhaps the bright side of the whole battle was that PK lived. When the light horse broke through and swept up behind the rotegoblins attacking PK, the pile of dead around the man was staggering. Dozens of rotegoblin bodies died by the sword of a man pinned to the ground by a dead horse.
PK had lost himself to the bloodlust and gone Berserker. A serjent had to club him with the butt end of a spear to knock him unconscious so they could pry him from under the horse and tend to his leg. The camp surgeon, hand-picked and trained by Nutso herself, assured Norman that while the man may never dance again, he would most definitely be able to walk.
Flint had been the saving grace in battle, however. He had managed to lead the heavy horse around the end of the rotegoblin retreat line and literally destroy the enemy. The two-hundred-fifty heavy horse emerged as the champions of the day, having not lost a single rider or animal, and having accounted for near a quarter of the rotegoblin deaths. A staggering number well beyond the word ‘slaughter.’
Now the task remained of making sure all the rotegoblins were completely dead and they left no wounded or dead of their own behind. A chain of men, five-hundred long, combed the battlefield, signaling for litters if they found one of their own.
For every rotegoblin found, there was a spear through the gut or removal of head. A poor practice in modern warfare, but necessary here, as just one surviving rotegoblin could report the entire battle back to the main collective once the 109 turned off their Jammers. Troop strength, position, weaknesses, etc. No, they learned early to take no chances.
The sun was quite low in the hills, as Norman waited for the last of the snipers to descend the hill behind him and the walking line to finish its task. He had sent the rest back to their base camp from the previous night, and would send this lot home in the next hour or two.
Nex, meanwhile, had fetched Norman’s overnight gear and some food, along with a skin of good Merladian Crimson wine. He would stay with Norman until the morning, when the event was scheduled to occur. Then, Norman would send him ahead on the ride back to camp so the boy would not see anything he wasn’t supposed to.
(Year 1605 PA, WinMonth, Day 71)
The fire had died and Norman was still awake as Mother Erth started it’s rotation towards morning. There were a few hours yet before the sun would rise, but Norman took no chances. He rose and nudged Nex awake with the toe of his boot.
The boy got himself up quickly and, after relieving himself behind the rock cropping now known as ‘Norman’s Mountain,’ he packed up their meager supplies. Following up with a pat on the back, Norman sent Nex on his way by the light of the moon. He would catch up with the boy in two or three hours, likely just before they hit camp.
With Nex gone, Norman climbed his ‘mountain’ and sat with his looking glass on his lap. Some bread and a hunk of dried beef made for a decent breaking of the fast, and he waited.
The sun was little more than a thumbnail in the sky when Norman saw the flash of light and felt the force of it. Less than a quarter-mile away a man appeared; he looked familiar, but Norman couldn’t say he knew him. Holding a package close to his chest, the man looked around quickly and took off at a fast clip towards the tree line.
Norman watched him go, and then brought the spyglass to his eye to get a closer look. However just as he focused in on the man, he simply disappeared. Putting the glass down, Norman confirmed with his naked eye the man had disappeared. Strange.
Climbing down from his perch, Norman gathered the rest of his belongings and mounted Titan. Instead of turning back for camp, however he rode out towards the forest a little. He wasn’t sure why, just thought he’d catch another glimpse of the man and the package he held. Not close enough to be seen, if there were anyone looking, but still a bit closer.
The air had grown cooler since the morning light started shining, and Norman noticed it was still dark despite the sun being more than half past the tallest hills in the East. A distant rumble of thunder caught his ear, and he spurred his horse around and urged Titan back towards base camp. The Heavens opened up to pour before he left the field. Pulling his cloak around him he bundled up for the three hour ride; but not before he heard a distant sound. A sound he had not heard in quite a while. It sounded like… the crying of a baby.
Norman shook his head, gave Titan a boot and hurried to catch up with Nex. “Forty years of this it’s been,” he said to himself. “Twenty more to go.” He wished the Boss were here to talk with. He really needed someone to explain again to him how all this time-shifting worked.