We left the city in haste after I quickly assembled the forces that were assigned to me. It was a two week march from our fair city to the town that had been overrun by savages, we had two weeks worth of food and the men were issued with standard recruit equipment.
As we made our way from the city the main roads were well kept and the first few days were uneventful. The discipline of the men was lacking, most of them were conscripts forced into service. We marched during the cold days and warm meals were all had to look forward to. On the fourth day the road became a path and was riddled with large puddles and small bogs from the rain of the past weeks. We changed our schedule and marched early in the mornings when the top of the mud was frozen, this helped the men but it still hindered the supply wagons which were regularly overcome with mud and became stuck. We all had to pull them free, slipping in the mud which by now had seeped through to our very souls. It was painfully hard work and resulted in a few injuries.
It was cold when we slept and no matter how hard we tried to keep dry everything was wet. After a few more days the fires no longer seemed to warm us, the cold mud sapped our energy and morale was lower by the day. We all slept in our cold and muddy clothes, pulling our cloaks tightly around us shivering until sleep took us, only to wake a few hours later colder than before.
We woke and marched, we became more and more tired. Eventually scuffles and fights between the recruits became a daily occurrence. The supply wagons kept our pace slow we started to lag behind schedule.
Two days before our predicted arrival things changed, a cobbled road appeared it was in good condition we finally managed to clean the mud off of ourselves. The fires brought back their heat, morale lifted and uniforms began to look cleaner. The fires once again warmed us and we slept better than we had in at least a week. We were closer to our destination and morale was on the up. But there was an underlying current the men weren’t happy with what they had been sent to do, the prospect of attacking a defended town and overthrowing the new order installed by these savages would fill any man with terror.
It was our final days march and we were due to attack the town that very evening. I spoke to the men and encouraged them. Yes, we were outnumbered and yes, we were attacking an easily defendable area, but it was my job to keep them together. If one man deserted so would others. We had no siege engines, no healers and no magic-users they had all been sent to the Border Wars under the Kings orders. The men didn’t seem happy that they had to go on this mission, it was a suicide mission. That afternoon talks of deserting were slowly making their way around the camp.
The sun was waning we were marching down the road trees casting a long shadow when we saw a man sat at the side of the road he was sat all alone. I was guiding the horse at the time she had one of the injured men riding atop her. She slowed and eventually stopped, snorted and tapped the ground with her hoof, she wouldn’t go any closer. It was as if she was afraid of the man. We couldn’t get the horses past the man they seemed fearful of him and on edge. I tried to walk past him while tugging the reins. As we drew nearer to him I noticed that there were animals near him. This was odd because the horse seemed afraid of him.
I looked closer and could see five small birds were flying around his head. It looked like he had a halo. The road was surrounded by woods. Trees hung over and I initially thought that it was a trick of the light. The man wore torn, brown, threadbare woodsman’s clothes. He was doing something with his hands too. At first I thought he was casting a spell but as I looked closer I saw that he was juggling with five stones. He was juggling slowly, very slowly and the stones were moving even slower. The horse snorted again the man looked surprised clicked his fingers and in an instant the birds disappeared, the stones fell and he started to rise.
We all felt strangely at ease with this stranger. Normally if something like that had happened we would have all been worried and we would have drawn our swords and shouted a warning at him. We needed information so I approached him. I was hoping he was one of the town’s escaped residents he would have information for us. He told me he had information for us, but that he was more of an observer than a resident.
He detailed the layout of the town and the problems we would face. He told us about the guards, the shifts they worked, where they were housed, where the prisoners were kept, and the food stores. He told us everything we needed to know. We thanked him and offered him some gold as a reward, he refused our money but asked for honey, milk and bread. I sent a man to get what he had asked for I hoped that we had it in the food stores, we spared him some bread and gave him a triple ration of honey. The man asked us to wait while he ate, reluctantly we did. I did not want to have to camp for a night before our attack. There would be deserters, fights and anarchy at the camp.
When he finished his food he jumped to his feet and said he could help us in the assault on the town. We had no spare armor and there were few spare swords, the battle as we expected was going to be a slaughter he would be killed instantly only having his skin and a sword. He asked to speak to the commander I told him I was the commander, he then asked if I would go alone into the woods with him. As I have said I felt at ease with him as if in a dream so I ordered the men to wait, with careful instructions to my sergeant about anyone attempting to desert.
We walked at a brisk pace into the woods they were dark and I couldn’t see very far in front of me because of the trees and the fading light. After a few minutes a bear and a panther leapt out in front of us. I was suddenly overwrought with fear I went for my sword and fumbled it. The man caught hold of my hand and waved the animals away. They both lowered their heads as if they were upset that they had done a bad service against him, I guessed that he was their master.
We walked a small distance ahead and there were another three people kneeling around a map deep in discussion their packs were to one side and a small fire was glowing. When they heard us approach they looked up nodded and then continued their conversation. At no time at all did I think this was a trap, the man just set me completely at ease. The other three were talking about things I had no comprehension of X this and Y that. I sat down around their small fire and the man explained that he along with his allies had been sent to destroy this evil group of savages and to free the town. There was a magic-user, an archer, the man I was with, and a thief by the looks of him. I thought it was a joke to start with four people to free the town.
“Now you are here we can all do it together.” The magician said.
I nodded in agreement, a magic-user would surely help the morale of the recruits I was leading. He then drew up a magical image of the town and surrounding area inside the fire. At first I was stunned that he had drawn a map of the town in the fire but I remember the spell from when it was done during academy training. Together we planned the attack, they would provide a distraction while we got into position. The magician would break the main entrance down, we would enter the town to fight, the assassin was going to kill the leader of the savages, and the archer was to kill those manning the mechanical defenses. I wondered what the messenger would do? As if reading my mind he told me he was a shapeshifter he and some other animals would aid our attack.
I went back and told our forces what would happen, I don’t know if they believed me, but it did seem they believed in the shapeshifter they had all seen earlier. We moved into position and heard noises from the other side of the walls, the savages were screaming, we heard an attack horn blast to our right and a small bird flew down and landed next to me as promised. This was our signal to take cover. We all took cover and waited for the main gate to explode, it never did. The magician had decided to explode the wall to the right hand side of the gate. I figured it would be much easier for him to explode the gate but he had other plans. We ran in and started the melee, swinging our swords with abandon, there had been no time to train these recruits before we left the city. There were odd things happening to the enemy, bugs were blinding them, bears, panther’s, tigers, sprites, nymphs and spiders were everywhere battling these savages. The enemy had no chance they couldn’t co-ordinate themselves. It was all over before it had started, taken by surprise being mauled by animals, bitten and blinded by bugs and then attacked by us it was not long before the retreat was called.
Another horn sounded and the savages retreated into the main castle. It was too late for them we were going to have our victory, we gave chase. When we finally reached the throne room their “king” as promised had already been dealt with, a large garrote across his throat, his elite guards were lying dead on the ground arrows sticking out of their backs.
The way we felt about this battle things couldn’t have gone better. The men were demotivated, tired, fed up, and above all else I think they were afraid of our enemies. But there were no desertions and only a few injuries. These people were a god send. A thief, a magician, an archer and a shapeshifter. Truly AMAZING I tell you!
Maybe they were gods themselves. But to this day we will never know. I honestly don’t think we would have won without them.