There it was, the sweet percussionist sound of victory approaching. The drums of Bandog’s soldiers meant there would be no more problems with the Trebuchets; Bandog had taken care of their biggest problem. The only thing left to do was crush Lerriz and his troops in combat. Advantage had been won through calculated tactics, the element of surprise and superior preparation; but advantage did not ensure victory, his sword and his sword alone could only do that. “BRIGADE!!! ADVANCE!!!!!”
The onslaught was the biggest assault assembled in the entire history of the war, never before had a Commander issued an attack with his entire Brigade in tow. He could only compare the sound of the advance to a ten-million foot parade stomping in unison, the energy felt of an earthquake, the air was static, he could smell the burning flesh of orc and men alike. His steed carried him over it all like a dream, his first swing was through the abdomen of an Orc Chanter. He seconded that with a downswing so fierce, it forced him to desaddle in order to dislodge his sword from an Orc Soldier’s head. He dodged underneath a gusting battle axe and pierced its wielder in the side, removed the blade and followed the stab by amputating the Orcs leg at the thigh.
“Trebuchets cant climb mountains!” the Knight laughed at his mentor’s last words of wisdom as he continued to slash his way to the Orc encampment, dodging under the mace-like tails of Snyrpinns. He spotted the Commander’s tent and picked up a light jog, leaping over the slain and shoving soldiers of either side from his pathway. The mayhem left little time to react as one of the six legged beasts came barrelling towards him, its thick belly already spilling innards as it chose his space to crash into. The knight went sprawling to the ground to avoid being crushed by the huge creature. The chance encounter to avoid being squashed gave Lerriz the perfect opportunity to appear from hiding and deliver the first blow.
Lerriz was massive even by Orc standards, he was easily seven feet in height and his chest was the size of a small chariot. “Thinks Lerriz could be defeated, do you?!?” The behemoth barked stretching his war hammer out one handed, preparing to bring down another blow onto the Knight.
The Knight rolled away before the earth cracking hammer slammed down. He didn’t waste a second, the Knight immediately rushed the giant orc. Answering the challenge with an onslaught of slashes, targeting Lerriz’s trunk-like thighs. The Orc brute was explosively and surprisingly quick, stopping the sword with the war hammer handle.
The stalemate was broken almost immediately as Lerriz reached surprisingly quickly, grabbing hold of the Knights ankle and raking him along the ground. The Knight tumbled and clattered away like a bag of coin. He fought back to his feet just in time to receive a front push-kick to the chest that sent him crashing through a tent support beam.
“Ah Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha” the Orc Commander bellowed. “Lerriz is the All Great!!! I’z not lose to you, human!!”
The Knight spat blood as he rose to his feet. “Look around Lerriz, even if you kill me here, you’ve already lost. Surrender now, it’s over.” The Knight said all this with his hands outstretched, basking in the flames and mayhem raging around them, nodding triumphantly to aggravate the Orc even more.
“NONSENSE!! There will be no surrender here, human!!!” The Orc slammed the handle of his great hammer into the earth, as a ram would stamp before charging. “Prepare for your death!!” Orc Commander Lerriz broke out into a full-on, head-down sprint, filled with rage, wanting nothing more in the world than the Knight’s brains smeared over his hammer.
“NOW!!” He ordered. The rope was already in place and R’em — the Knight’s best friend and Shadow Platoon Leader — knew exactly what to do when he got the head nod signal moments before the Orc charged.
There was no time for Lerriz to react before he was tripped. With the swift, fluid motion of an experienced warrior, the Knight sank his sword hilt-deep into the Orcs Massive heart. Death came quick, along with the weight of the powerful Orc Warlord burying the Knight.
The horns of victory blared as R’em and the other soldiers lifted the monstrous Lerriz off of their Commander. The Knight arose with a grunt, there was a broken rib or two he was sure of it, among other minor injuries he hadn’t realized he had before hearing the ongoing horns. Perhaps he would have avoided the cut to his head had he realized his helmet had fallen off before he grabbed the nape of his best mates neck and gave him a comraderic head bang. As if it did not hurt at all, he turned to the others, blood starting to spill down his face “Secure any prisoners, tend to the injured, retrieve any spoils you find valuable, you’ve earned it!”
“You heard the Commander,” Rem reiterated, “Make Haste!!”
“YESSIR!!!” the soldiers responded in unison.
With a foot on the gargantuan Orc chest, he extracted his sword. His Father’s sword. His Grandfather’s sword. It had seen countless battles over the years, but this may’ve been it’s most decisive victory yet. After a moment of contemplation, he lifted it above his head. Cheers and clashing of shields and weapons all around was the response, it was louder, more deafening than any celebration he’d ever heard. Victory!
“Well done men.” The Knight addressed his direct subordinates inside the Orc Command tent; the officers making themselves at ease within the enemies encampment. The smell of burning flesh and debris still lingering in their nostrils; the landmark victory would feel fresh for many years to come. “As you all know we will be returning to the Capit –“
“Excuse the interruption sir” Cobra Commander Dani spoke up. His envy was obvious as ever, “Is this not a meeting for the highest ranking officers?”
The Knight sighed in exhausted annoyance, “That it is, which is why all of you are here.” He held his hand out towards Larson, “Save for Captain Larson here, who’s representing Bandog…”
“Yes, yes,” Dani waved the Commander off with another interruption, “Very unfortunate that our comrade was led to his death by your excellent plan–“
“Commander Farkin died honorably…”, Larson spoke up, “…sir.”
“What’s your deal mate?” R’em leaned over the table eyeing Dani.
“Ahhh….so the shadow does speak?” Dani returned the stare.
“Enough!” The Knight slammed his forearm between them. “If there is a problem, explain your issue Commander Dani, so that we may move on with this meeting.”
“It seems as if the Shadow Platoon leader must be lost…” Dani added emphasis to platoon, in his attempt to pull rank. He cockily folded his arms and looked for the approval of the others.
R’em snickered and snatched away from the table. “Trust me, I’d rather not have to be here to smell the piss in your pants anyhow…”.
The sly grin erased quickly from Dani’s mouth, replaced with smugness.
“Hold.” The Knight called R’em back, “It should be understood that though Shadow is a small unit compared to your own they make up the strength you have in numbers with critical expertise. — “
“This scum is no — “
A hardening of the eyes was all it took for the Knight to stick Dani’s insult to the back of his throat. “Furthermore, Shadow reports directly to me…so by all respects Captain R’em is your equal.”
Dani sucked his teeth in defeat.
“Now then, shall we continue…” the Knight searched every eye in the room for objection. “Very well. Arrow, proceed…”
Arrow’s Commander, Sage reacted immediately, pulling one of his various maps from a canister attached to his belt and draping it across the table before them; along with a small box that clattered open as he dropped it down, revealing miniature wooden insignias. “We are here.” He said, placing six of the pieces down.
“We will make our way to the Capitol in waves, we mustn’t march as an entire unit throughout enemy territory..this big of a force would make too valuable a target for the enemy….” the Knight began, “we will reconvene here, a day’s trek from the castle.”
Sage dabbed one of his arrows in the purplish orc blood at their feet and marked the spot on the map, “These are already marked.” He said issuing the other leaders their own respective maps.
“Arrow, Bandog, Cobra and Darkhorse, you will lead your own units, as you usually do and have done in the past; Shadow your men are with me. Please decide between you which hold city you want to take up camp…”
“Hold city?” Dani protested, “The Capitols only a week’s march straight West, Cobra does not need rest for a week long stroll…sir.”
“No one will march straight through.” Sage stated.
“That is correct, it is too dangerous, the Orcs have many encampments along the border. We must move swiftly, but also with caution.” The Knight added, “Each hold city was chosen based on us all reaching Estatowne on the same day, as long as there are no obstacles encountered…”
“Where are the hold cities, sir?” Darkhorse’s Commander, Yuri joined the conversation, he was normally quiet in group settings, but a tactical mastermind.
Sage answered by dotting the map, “Number of dots is number of days to hold camp…” he stated, matter of factly.
Dani sucked his teeth once again, “Four days??” He jabbed a finger at one of the points, “Ye lot’ve gone mad!”
“If you are disturbed by the position then do not select it, Cobra.” R’em said dryly, “Besides your men wouldn’t want the rest anyways.”
“Take your time, men.” the Knight placed a hand atop the map, “We will reconvene at evening time. For now reward your soldiers for their valiant victory today, I approve any awards you see fit.” With that he took his leave and the salutes from the others.
She and the rest of the K’endake gang had been following and gathering information on the human officer for some time now and knew he was a lousy con; but having finally witnessed him in battle she was convinced, he was a disgrace to warriors everywhere. With her specially made tool, made identical to the devices the humans called telescopes, she watched the man exit Lerriz’s battle tent. “Disgusting…” she muttered under her breath, the heartless soldiers were using the headless body of Orc Warlord as a support beam to his own Command tent. She quickly scanned away, glancing momentarily at the soldiers scavenging the charred trebuchets for usable wood and then onto the small group of men who isolated themselves from the others; they looked to be preparing their weapons and gear for another battle. Finally she found her, “…Orisja!!” She whispered excitedly. Orisja had been her Lerriz informant; the corrupt Commander had unfortunately met his end before they could completely unravel the dark web he was apart of, if not orchestrating. She couldn’t live with herself if she allowed Orisja to stay in the hands of these beasts. Orisja was an extremely loyal, original member of the sisterhood. Together they had fought in many battles, escaped from the toughest of spots and even survived the harshest times of inner circle disagreements. Orisja was a true sister, though they shared no blood relation. The mission could wait for her rescue, it depended on the information only she knew anyways.
They had Orisja and eight others rope bound to freshly positioned post, and also to one another. Not to mention the guards they had over the prisoners, this was a massive unit; they must’ve really wanted Lerriz, there was a squad of archers and twelve roving soldiers for these eight prisoners. She couldn’t risk losing any more sisters tonight; she decided they would have to wait until the humans moved them.
N’Taka stowed away the telescope and made her way down the tree, keeping her feet and movements light, swift as she made her way back to camp.
“Where is T’Shai?” N’Taka startled the nine K’endake Orc women as she approached.
They fumbled around trying to get to their feet and show respect to their leader, spilling mead and dropping their meals as they did.
“You’re fine!” She reassured them. They were not fine, none of them had noticed her approach, before she’d heard the laughter and banter coming from their fire. “Where is T’Shai?” She questioned again. Louder.
“There…” One spoke up, but they all pointed weakly.
N’Taka looked towards the hut then back at them contemptuously, “Put the fire out, it will be dark soon. Eyes up!”
“ALERT!” they saluted and scurried to follow orders.
She knew by the gangs’ actions but the sensual moans coming from the makeshift hut confirmed as much as she approached it. N’Taka sucked her teeth, how could her cousin be so irresponsible when her Uncle — General T’Shon, T’Shai’s father — had been the most decorated Orc General in history. N’Taka unsheathed the blades donned on her back and burst into the hut with a shriek.
“By the seve–!!!!” T’Shai’s cry was drowned out by the spray of her companions blood.
N’Taka sliced the Orcs head in two as the body slowly slumped. “Rule One: No Men at the campsite!” She kicked the lifeless Orc aside, snatched a random garment off the floor and threw it in T’Shai’s bloody awestruck face, “Get dressed we have work to do!”
The stench of liquid fire still lingered as the Knight Commander prepared to address all of his warriors. He stood tall and proud atop the rugged stage his troops had built from salvageable wood they’d found throughout the enemy campsite. They’d even spruced it up with a podium. Issuing awards and promotions — he’d done it before, numerous times, but it felt surreal being in this grand of position, in front of so many men; and by his command with the fallen enemy Orc bodies still strewn across the battlefield. He wanted the men to feel their victory, remember their triumph for what it was, have every sensation they felt to be etched into the soul; The smell of roasted enemies, the sounds of crying defeated Snyrpinns, the taste of smoke, feel the buzz of victory on their skins. They would remember these awards and promotions their entire military careers no matter how many more they received. He would make sure they received more.
The makeshift ceremony went on for what felt like an eternity, by the end of it the Knight was autonomous. The loud roar and banging of shields signaling its completion broke him from the trance after he tapped the shoulders of the final, faceless, awardee. The fight they’d just won was lighter on the mind and body, it felt. The newly promoted men stood foremost saluting the Knight and the rest of the Command team, followed by the rest of his massive force: three-thousand, eight hundred and seventeen strong. He soaked in the history of the moment before returning the Brigade’s salute, “From Heart!”
“TO HILT!” they all echoed in unison, shaking the rickety stage with their thunderous uproar. He was alighted with joy. He was born for this. To Lead.
“Dismissed.” The Knight turned away from the cheering men and to his Command team, “See to your troops, then meet me with your decisions on our movement.” The Knight found Dani’s eyes, “We march at dawn, I intend for this meeting to be brief.”
“Yessir.” They all saluted and parted ways.
“Hell of a way to start your legacy, Commander.” R’em entered the tent congratulating his brother in arms. “Not many have the fortitude…” he spoke with his hands, pausing for effect, “….the fighting spirit…the….the…what’s the word…the balls…” he chuckled.
“Aw come off it mate…” the Knight waved him off, “t’was one battle –“
“…to put on a Brigade level award show like that!!” R’em bent over laughing at his own sarcasm. “In enemy territory no less.”
“Ha. Go on. Make your fun…” the Knight enjoyed the banter. “The men will remember this day! There’ll be songs and stories made by their grandchildren about us! Wait and see.”
“You my friend….are unforgettable…no doubt about that!” R’em chuckled mocking as if he were dabbing an imaginary soldier’s shoulders while pretending to fall asleep.
The Knight shoved his childhood friend playfully. “I was not that bad!”
“Oh no?!” R’em continued to laugh as Sage entered Command tent.
The Knight tightened up and kicked R’em’s shin to reign in his attention. “At ease.” The Knight said as he returned Sage’s salute, “Please take a seat Commander. How are the men?”
Sage cleared his throat, “They were uh….unforgettable, sir.”
There was a long pause before R’em broke into a raucous fit of laughter. The Knight’s cheeks burned but he could not hold back a slight smile as he stared Sage down.
“Please excuse me sir,” Sage apologized, “it was — “
“Stop. No need to explain…” the Knight began, elbowing R’em — who had began to laugh harder — in the ribs as he moved towards the head seat of the Command table, “…today is a day of celebration, good to see you lot having a spin.”
The three remaining Commanders joined them momentarily, Larson being the last to enter. It was expected of the young Captain to have had some difficulties with his men as his position wasn’t as solidified in their hearts; his peers’ had all led forces for years more than he had, even a few of his subordinates did. But he was of the royal bloodline, which afforded him the privilege of skipping trivial things such as experience in battle.
“Very well.” The Knight ended the greetings and warm conversation to begin the brief, “What do you have for me?” He searched the room, waiting for one of them to speak up.
“Darkhorse is prepared to make the journey to Bontar at dawn, sir.” Yuri stated, “my men and steeds will bode best with the two day turn around before continuing on to the rendezvous point.”
“Agreed.” The Knight nodded and looked to the left of Yuri, at Larson.
Captain Larson coughed a few times, his nervousness obvious. The Knight felt no inclination of pity to ease the new leader’s anxiety. “Bandog will take the most direct route to the Capitol — er pardon — rendezvous, and hold in Roristden.”
“That’s interesting…” R’em chimed.
The Knight shot an agreeing, concerned eye towards R’em before bringing his gaze back to Larson. “Not Cobra? Explain.”
“Uh…sir –” Larson started.
“Thanks Cap’, but Cobra can speak for itself.” Dani interjected, “Sir, Cobra has agreed to allow Bandog this route in exchange for five percent of their rations.”, he paused. Done with his explanation until he Dani felt the Knight’s judgement oncoming and so continued, “Plus…I felt it necessary to keep the young Commander out of harm’s way, as Roristden is the most direct and safest route of the options you’ve given us. He will have four days of ample time to earn his mens trust as well.” The cunning Dani always had a way of turning the disdain on others.
“How considerate, Commander.” R’em jeered.
“And that leaves the last two cities between you and Arrow.” The Knight said to Dani in response.
“Three days rest for us,” Dani answered, “the second shortest route, Devers Village.”
“And the longest route will be mine.” Sage took ownership, “It will be good to keep the men moving. We will hold for one day in the city of Snowden before continuing to the rendezvous.”
“Good.” The Knight stood, “The Shadow Plattoon, and I should reach Estatowne behind you all save for Bandog. We will stop for rest in Harrick, it’s a small farm town not 20 leagues from here.” He focused his attention on the sweating Captain, “Send a rider there if you must get a message to me. Stay alert. And stay focused. We are not home yet. This was a great victory, the enemy will surely not take this lightly. The prisoners have been divided amongst your units and my own party so as to spread thin a chance of ambush.” He paused. “That is all. Rest well men and keep a steady number of guards on duty throughout the night. We ride at dawn.”
It wasn’t a long wait before T’shai joined N’Taka by the stream, “You are hopelessly irresponsible cousin…” she stared towards the sunset shaking her head, a look of disgust frozen on her face.
“Ten more seconds Tak…” T’shai sat down next to her, making light of the moment.
N’Taka jolted to her feet, fist clenched, a family tree branch away from tearing T’Shai’s mouth from her face. “What?!?!”
“…with the farmer boy, ten more seconds…” T’Shai was oblivious to her errors.
N’Taka, enraged, got face to face with T’Shai, “Aaaagghhh!”. She turned away before she did more than pretend to crush her cousins skull. After taking a moment to breathe she expressed her frustration, trying to remain as composed as she could, “Orisja!!” She exclaimed, “Orisja…shes alive, she is prisoner to the human army. We must rescue her as soon as possible.”
“Okay…” T’Shai shrugged, “…and we will. Those humans don’t stand a chance against us…” she leaned back, relaxed. “Why’re you so uptight all the time?”
N’Taka ran her hands through her hair, lost for words. “They stand no chance BECAUSE I’m uptight!!” She unsheathed and darted the dagger she’d taken from the floor of the hut into the tree nearest T’Shai’s head. “Maybe you should be.” She stormed off.
“Curse you and your judgement Taka!!” T’Shai spit at N’Taka’s feet. Her lips were still moist when the fist connected with them. T’Shai barely held her balance as the mead cooperated with the blow, she fought the urge to collapse and speared N’Taka to the ground, unloading a fury of elbows and forearm strikes.
N’Taka did her best to block them; as she lodged a knee between them for space, she used her other foot to kick T’Shai’s leg from underneath her. They rolled several times on the slope of the stream bank, never breaking grasp of one another, coming to a splash with N’Taka at advantage pressing her forearm into T’Shai’s chin and jaw. “Calm yourself.” Her command in direct hypocrisy to her actions ad N’Taka delivered several punches to her cousins side.
T’Shai grunted inaudible insults in reply. She bit her N’Taka’s forearm for relief and shoved her away.
They both stood, taking up proper fighting stances. N’Taka rushed forward loading a sidekick; T’Shai ever agile, even when full of mead rolled under the strike and delivered a bruising punch to N’Taka’s inside quad. She dropped from the pain and just managed to wheel around and catch T’Shai’s second hook before it connected. In one motion she rolled and secured her cousin in an arm lock, it wasn’t long before T’Shai slapped her leg furiously in submission. They both laid on their backs staring up into the darkening sky.
“You bit me…” N’Taka sighed.
“You threw my own dagger at my head…”
“I threw it at a tree…”
“Sorry about the farmer…”
“Farm BOY…” T’Shai corrected, “He wasn’t going to last ten seconds anyhow…he deserved it.”
After a seconds pause they shared a laugh. It started slow, barely escaping N’Taka’s disciplined jaw but erupted into a gut aching, tearful bout of laughter as the two cousins made peace.
The sun had fully set and it was completely dark before either of them spoke again. N’Taka thought of past missions she and Orisja had been on together. One in particular reminded her just how valorous the K’endake spy was:
5 months prior:
She had been in deep situations like this hundreds of times and had never once been this stupid. Lerriz’s men had caught her red-handed, N’Taka was now being escorted to the Warlord himself. Her wrist tied to her feet by a long rope. All she could rely on were her ears and nose as they pushed her along with the dark cloth wrapped around her eyes. They arrived at the camp, she knew word of her betrayal would’ve beat them there.
“This way!” A soldier called out to the two Orc who escorted N’Taka. The ground they walked transitioned from the warm valley grass to the cold, wet dampness of rock.
The Orc soldiers holding her arms snatched away, N’Taka was flung to the ground and struggled to stand as the chaotic scene she was blind to unfurled. There were loud grunts and the sound of metal scraping rock, then silence.
A moment later her veil was lifted by none other than Orisja, “La’adya…” she was greeted by her ever loyal savior.
“Orisja….how?” N’Taka smiled elated to see her sister. Orisja’s face was bloody, bruised and she favored her left shoulder; injuries obviously the result of the skirmish she had heard.
“You needed me.” She worked on cutting the restraining rope from N’Taka’s arms and legs. “So I am here, sister. You cannot return to Lerriz’s camp now…”
“I know…”, N’Taka said, defeated, “I have thrown away a years work of climbing his ranks.”
“The girls brought the angiba plants you stole to the camp…”
“The four that were not re-seized, he had wagons full sister! He is trading with the humans, I am sure of it…”
Orisja paused, thinking, “So they did not really burn all of the fields?”, she asked the apparent question to fill the awkward silence.
“They did not sister…”, N’Taka confirmed, “we must hurry back to our sisters.”
“You must…I will stay…”, Orisja stated.
N’Taka stretched, glad to have full mobility back after being transported on horseback with her limbs tied down. “It is not possible, men must’ve seen you escorting these two…” N’Taka froze, unsure of what she was seeing, “Orisja!!! No!!”
N’Taka stood helpless, unable to stop her most loyal warrior, from severing her own finger. “I will assure them the traitor has been dealt with.”
“We must wait until they depart from Lerriz’s camp before we rescue her.” N’Taka informed.
“So they defeated that no good traitor, huh?”
“Sword to the heart. He and his men were overrun quickly…”
“Must be a decent sized force were up against?”
“Aye…” N’Taka confirmed, “They’re led by a fierce Commander.” She sat up abruptly as if she had brought the news to herself. “They may leave soon…”
“Can’t expect them to stay at an enemy camp long…” T’Shai took the words from N’Taka’s mind.
“We’ll be ready.” They nodded in solidarity and made their way back to the camp site to make preparations with the gang.
“There are thousands of them ‘Tak….” T’Shai whispered excitedly as she scanned the camp. They only had two telescopes between the twelve women; she peaked back towards the others and held up a new number. They would compare the two results on the ground momentarily.
“To the North….do you see?” N’Taka whispered instructions, “There is Orisja, she’s still refusing to eat. She will be weak when we get her out of their hands.”
“I see her.”
“I think our guy is there….with the others in blue garment. I saw him earlier. What do you see?”
“I thought you wanted ME to use the viewer?” T’Shai answered, “Yeah that’s him, looking nervous as ever. Did he get promoted?” T’Shai had been covering the human officer’s movements since it was discovered he and Lerriz were in tandem.
“Look!” N’Taka turned T’Shai’s head towards Lerriz’s stables. “Syrpins….”
“They’ll leave them there locked up to starve.”
“Tsk…..” N’Taka started to scale down the tree, “They’re not moving tonight, perhaps at sunrise.”
T’Shai signaled to the counter a final time before following N’Taka. “Four-cursed-thousand!” she growled harshly under her breath.