Here I am again. Time has played its usual tricks on me since I last posted, as has beer and my own propensity for utter, unbridled buffoonery. Consequently a lot of shit has happened and it all feels like a blurry dream. Fate mocks me as ever, but the joke is on him, one day I’ll die and he’ll be left short of morons.
Satchmo the giant border collie has gone to his new home in the country, and I gather he is causing all sorts of chaos there, as is his wont. The big soft bastard, I do miss him, even his eye-stinging flatulence and hideous latrine-breath. Bless his enormous heart.
Also, my good friend Simon Evans had a brilliant idea which he called The 900 Club. This involved four of us each writing a short story each month consisting of exactly nine hundred words. The only other rule was that it contained a two word phrase which was chosen by a different one of us each month. So Simon, his brother Paul, Adam Stones and I started the blog in January and have posted our first stories, the phrase was “no regrets”. Check it out at http://900club.wordpress.com/.
The epic fantasy tale of Sorrow continues with Part 6: The Field of the White Bull. It is the scene of a bloody battle.
The Field of the White Bull, a place if sacrifice. Every year a white bull is sacrificed and its blood drained into the soil to ensure a good harvest – an age old tradition. But today an even older tradition will be exercised, the oldest tradition of all. War.
War, too, is sacrifice, but sacrifice without reward. Occido, the god of war, is a harsh and unfeeling deity. Occido’s only rewards are death or victory. Or, if you’re lucky, both. The three Templars – Felipe de Gascur, Jean de Riparia and Guillaume the Bastard – have been conscripted by General Saqr. They are ready to die, as all Occido’s acolytes are, and they pray that he is watching.
Civil war has raged for decades in Temeria. Several generals have fought and died in an attempt to gain the imperial crown. Two remain. Saqr and Anma stake everything on one final pitched battle at The Field of the White Bull. The victor will be emperor. The loser will be lucky to get a quick death.
A great many will pay the ultimate sacrifice. And on the field of sacrifice, the war god is never sated.
In this episode, there is no shortage of bravery and camaraderie, but as so often is the case in this war, cruelty and treachery may just dictate the outcome.
Their long march had ended here, on the ridge overlooking the crystal-clear waters of the Nephrates. When the Northerners arrived the hill was bare, but the following morning a dust-cloud had appeared in the south.
The dust was raised by the tramping feet of hundreds of Temerian soldiers marching from the city of Hasan, followed by hundreds more, brigade after brigade of infantry and cavalry. Felipe and his companions had never seen so many troops assembled in one place before, nor soldiers that wore such outlandish war-gear.
“I still don’t trust those buggers,” said Jocelyn, a raddled old mercenary with a vicious cleft in his jaw carved by an axe in some ancient battle, whom the Templars had befriended.
He was glaring suspiciously at General Saqr’s elite troops, known as the Grim Reavers. Saqr had stationed an entire legion of them in five brigades just behind the Northerners and on their flanks, to help them repel the enemy assault when it came.
“Nor me,” said Guillaume, “I reckon they don’t feel half as terrible as they look. Probably turn tail and leave us in the lurch as soon as things get tough, which they will.”
The Reavers certainly looked the part. Even by the standards of the Temerian military they were flamboyant. Each trooper wore a scale mail hauberk reaching to their knees, polished black leather boots with steel-plated greaves, and black breastplates covered in swirling patterns picked out in gold filigree. They carried hexagon-shaped shields inscribed with the symbol of Saqr’s family, a serpentine gold dragon swallowing its own tail, and wore faceless helmets of smooth black steel decorated with curling ram’s horns. For weapons they carried wickedly sharp halberds. The overall effect was sinister, inhuman, like figures out of a nightmare.
By contrast, the Northerners looked like a mob of beggars that had shambled onto the field by accident. Here and there a rich noble stood out, though even their gear was spotted with rust, but by and large they looked like what they were. Waifs and strays, harried fugitives from their native land, armed with the weapons they had carried with them when they fled, or otherwise managed to beg, steal or borrow.
I don’t want to die here, thought Felipe, far from home and ambition and honour. The Gods cannot have spared me so often, and let me achieve my grey hairs, just to kill me in this place.
And then the drums started to beat.