El Lucero Carmesí
Lord Kabeos surveyed the battlefield with an unreadable face. All around him, the captains of his column saw the same thing as he – the battle crumbling. The town still stood, and that could only mean their plan had failed. The Nest’s catapults, still fully under control of Lord Reuel Osier, rained death upon Iain Desmarais’ surviving warriors. On the east, Rudolph Arceneau still held at bay the royal forces, his forces still strong and fighting, true Sons of Fellvast. Even from the distance, one could almost hear the terrifying chants of the warrior-priests of the Autumn Lord pushing the near-barbaric soldiers to feats of strength beyond hope. This was their element – a desperate situation meant their savage God’s favor. And truly, it was a sight to behold. But with Desmarais defeated, Jean-Luc’s warriors in the west were free to join the melee, and then Arceneau would be crushed by overwhelming numbers. It was a matter of time.
Lord Garlan clicked his tongue – a curious sound that matched his horse’s grunts. “First Emmeral, now Iain. This battle is unwinnable,” he said, scratching his long beard. *"I see no need to add to the day’s defeat. Let us ride towards the Silent Lord – perhaps we can salvage something out of this."
Lord Brack nodded, and let out a long sigh. Always the melancholic one, with flair of the dramatic – but brilliant in his own way. His leadership had brought victory in the small skirmishes around Osier’s lands, and it was his forces that routed Lord Reuel’s rearguard in the battle for Bonneau’s castle. “Yes. We should cut our losses, and retreat. There will be no victory here, only death – or worse.”
“No!” exclaimed Lord Aurélien Osier, his face twisted in concern and despair. “We can still win this; we can still retake my castle! The battle is not lost, my Lords. See – the western forces are heading towards their reserves. They will be tired and unprepared. We need only charge them, and their will shall break.”
“Have you ever heard heavy cavalry riding to battle, Osier?” asked Sir Lerrin, a Knight of Alfaden, with no small trace of mockery in his voice. This man was a true veteran, nearly fifty years of age, and witness to a thousand battles. Yet he was as good a knight as any, still strong of body and mind, if perhaps too cynic for the comfort of the younger Lords. “They will hear us charging from miles away. We bring the thunder of our horses, and the fury of our King – no silent business, that. By the time we arrive at their camp, they will be prepared. I run from no battle, but I will not charge headlong into death. Lucretia deserves more than that,” he added, softly patting his horse’s neck, which whinnied in response.
Lord Osier looked at the old knight with disbelief. “Do you doubt the bravery of your own knights, Sir?” he asked, raising a hand palm-forward before Lerrin could speak – a sign of no offence. " ‘Tis true, I have not seen the mighty Knights of Alfaden charge, but I know it is no mean feat to keep the nerve to face them. What are these soldiers of the Puppet King but weak-willed men pushed to war by Lord Leroy’s strings? Surely, they will hear your coming, see your bright armor, and run for their lives."
Sir Lerrin chuckled, and shook his head. He offered Lord Osier a thin smile. “Only a fool underestimates his opponents, Osier. You speak of charging the reserves, where Lord Manier is observing the battle. His knights, his personal guard, are no green boys straight from their farms. They are men bred for battle. Bastien was the greatest duelist in the Kingdom, and trained daily with them until exhaustion. If we even come close to threatening their Lord, be sure that they will be as a mountain against the wind. And once we break against their wall, then the ‘weak-willed’ men will come to finish us off.”
Lord Aurélien was about to reply, but felt Lord Kabeos’ gaze on him, and faltered. The Lords stood silent, waiting for their leader to speak. Seconds trickled by, the silence broken here and there by the sounds of the battle far away.
Finally, the half-elf spoke. “We will not abandon our comrades. We will not let Leroy claim an absolute victory here.” His voice was tense, and it was obvious to them all that he was keeping himself calm with great force of will. “Rudolph still fights – will you let him die, alone and unaided?”
“Is that not what Fellvast would want?” asked Sir Lerrin, with a wicked smile. “A glorious death in a battle lost. I thought that is what all those Fellvastites look forward to. I say we let them have their shot at pleasing their God. There will be other battles, Renaud. We can earn glory and victory in them. Let us withdraw.”
A few grunts of approval were heard, but Kabeos did not smile. “Vaelorius asks for bravery and honor in everything, not just when it is convenient. Perhaps you no longer care for that, Sir Lerrin. But I will not, I will NOT let men die by inaction. Not when I can save them.”
“No,” replied Lerrin, his voice cold, “You would rather lead men to their deaths in a foolish charge.”
A lull in the battle accentuated the great silence that followed those words. Renaud’s face was a mix of emotions. But suddenly and without warning, he smiled, and then broke in laughter. The others were startled. In a light voice, unconcerned, he spoke.
“Of course I would. Have you not heard of the Sentinels of the Unbreakable Light? They indeed foolishly charged against an enemy far beyond them. And, perhaps you might not know this – but they won, even in the face of death. Hard to believe, yes? Yet it happened,” he said, as he put on his helmet, visor up. “And it will happen again.”
Whatever tension that had plagued Renaud abandoned him. He stood tall and proud, and spoke with energy, with youthful optimism. “Death is nothing to fear, when in service to a True King. Vaelorius is with us, Lerrin. Do not forget that. Alfaden himself watches over us, blesses us with his strength. Let us prove ourselves worthy of his attention. I care not if you still believe, if you still hold dear the values of our Order. But I am a Knight of Alfaden: I do not abandon my allies in their time of need.”
He broke off from the conversation, and rode to the ranks of knights waiting for orders. They all came from different places – Knights of the Order of Alfaden, some three hundred of them; a little over a thousand knights of the plains, drawn from several Houses, and one exact thousand of the fearsome Brothers of the Black Bone, warrior-knights of the Arceneau lands, with their baroque armor and their grotesque fetishes. He raised his voice, the strong voice of the Sentinel Knight.
“Hear me!” he exclaimed, in a great tone of command. “Hear my voice, brave Knights of Alfaden, great warrior-brothers of Fellvast, and you mighty knights of the plains! The time has come for us to prove our strength! The enemy believes he has claimed victory. But I say, not yet! We still draw breath, we still long for battle! The heavens are watching, our Gods wait for our actions. Will they find us wanting?”
The knights replied with a loud cheer, banging their weapons on shields.
Renaud continued, as he rode from side to side of the assembled cavalry. “I shall not lie – we ride into a hard battle. Our forces have suffered. Only Rudolph of House Arceneau holds, his legendary strength holding the armies of the Puppet King back. Will he fight alone?”
The soldiers cried their rejection. Kabeos went on.
“We are outnumbered – but have we not lived through that before? The Gods have set a challenge before us. Will we run away from it? I say, nay! Let Vaelorius see our bravery, and judge us worthy of his favor! Let Fellvast watch with pride as we ride to battle with no fear in our hearts! Let us give battle to our enemy with such strength and ferocity, that our ancestors themselves will welcome us with open arms, should we fall today!”
He drew Nebilim, his sword, whose song filled the air with eagerness for battle. In response, the assembled knights drew their weapons, raised their spears, cheered with pride.
“Let none doubt we are the sons of Tulipe! On our shoulders we bear the hope of our beloved Kingdom!”
Lord Kabeos turned his horse around, and faced the battlefield. There was no doubt in this heart: this is what he needed to do. He raised his sword towards the ongoing battle.
“Ride on, brave men! Ride for glory! Ride for Baldwin! For Tulipe!”
And the assembled host of knights charged, storming throughout the battlefield, headed to relieve Rudolph Arceneau. Their banners fluttered in the wind, the shining symbols of their Houses. Rank after rank of great soldiers heading to battle, their voices adding to their thunderous charge. Some cheered for glory, for bravery and honor. Others for death to their enemies, for great slaughter in the name of Fellvast. But above them all, Nebilim sang, bright and loud, a song of victory and hope.
They crashed against the engaged soldiers with such force, that enemy morale almost broke. The might of their charge was strong enough to pierce the ranks of the loyalist soldiers, throwing their organization off, and bringing great confusion amongst their numbers. With practiced ease, the knights broke off the melee, and wheeled to charge again. But before they could repeat their attack, a new threat presented itself: the knights from Megrande made their appearance, making their own charge. They had come not unexpectedly, but far too soon. They struck the rebel knights in the middle of their charge, and both groups of knights became embroiled in furious combat.
The loyalist knights were fewer in number, yet had far superior armor, full plate of the best quality. The rebel knights of the plains did not have the benefit of rich Megrande – most of them were armed in piece-meal armor, a breastplate and shoulder plates. The Brothers of the Black Bone were protected enough by their strange garments of unknown origin, but loyalist steel was sorely testing them. Only the Knights of Alfaden were clothed in better armor, yet they could not be everywhere. Men and horses died everywhere, loyal and rebel blood mingling on the grass. Men fought on foot with whatever weapon they held. Spears broke against shields, swords met in midair as parries and thrusts were seen throughout the melee. Battle shouts and deaths creams rang throughout the field, a terrible dirge for all who heard. But once again, the song of Nebilim was above all. It sang its fury, and enemies fell before it. The rebels rallied around Kabeos, weathering the loyalist storm. The day would be theirs, they believed. The Gods were with them.
But the battle was far from over… and the will of the Gods is fickle…