The two sides met with a momentous crash - a cascade of steel, mud and horses. Men were flipped over, knocked to the floor, or immediately impaled by spears. Their steeds met a similar fate, their cries filling the air. Arian felt something slam into his steel cuirass, the armour protecting him from harm but making him feel as though a horse had kicked him direct in the chest. It didn’t slow him, so he kept pushing forward, swinging his sword into something made of steel, then again into wood, then again into flesh. He heard a cry, but so many men and horses were packed so closely around him he couldn’t tell whether he was the cause or just unlucky enough to be near it.
His horse tried to manoeuvre away from danger, but there was no solid ground to stand on. Hooves cracked and splintered through something, but Arian couldn’t look, and the horse had no room to turn. The field had become chaos personified and as Arian looked around him, he noticed that mounted men on both sides were not aiming for flesh, but for colours, for they were the only true means of identifying friend from foe.
“Push them back! Kill the bastards!” Roared a man that Arian recognized to be Wulfsurd, though he wasn’t in sight. Another voice came in reply, but it was foreign – the enemy’s retort, the encouragement of their would-be murderers. Arian was surrounded by living bodies, but never had he felt lonelier, or more vulnerable. Weapons smacked helplessly against his armour, just as he swung helplessly against the armour of others.
A spear struck him in the helm, the point almost reaching through the slit in his visor. He turned his head and the tip slid helplessly away, so he forced his sword forward towards the man who had tried to strike him and caught him cleanly in the shoulder with a thrust. The blade broke the man’s chainmail and when Arian withdrew it, he saw red at the end and the man twist backwards and drop from his horse to escape. Arian suddenly felt numb and angry; the fear drained away by the presence of adrenaline, and suddenly a desire to survive put an end to his panic.
He pressed on, fighting harder, more ferociously. He might have been inexperienced, but he was well-trained and strong and even as fatigue grew he was able to parry the blows of the enemy, or redirect them to the strongest parts of his armour where they became harmless. As time went on the closely packed mass of men and horses began to open up, giving those in it chance to move and breathe. Knights and men-at-arms both turned and went back to where lines had formed in the battle, then moved after each other again in wanton bloodlust. Men were fighting on the ground now and Arian began having to mind them as much as those still battling on horseback.
“Kill them all! For King Armand!” Cried one Lavellan knight, his accent thick and disgusting to Arian’s ears. Arian pressed on towards him, but a sudden blow came from his blindside and knocked him from his horse. He hit the mud near-winded and had to use a body to push himself up again, grabbing his sword from the grass nearby and standing quickly with the help of some other men who hauled him to his feet. Arian’s horse was gone now, running from the field, and with no hope of remounting his steed he decided to stay with the others who were fighting on foot.
“You there. Sarkanian knight, fight me here!” A Lavellan voice called from a gap in the battle. It didn’t take long for Arian to realize the voice was calling for him and when his gaze found the challenger, he saw a knight in armour as full as his own, with a white stag painted on a blue cuirass.
How did he pick me out? Arian thought, eyeing the knight’s slender, spike-tipped battle-hammer. A moment later Arian realized that it was because of his own armour; painted black with a red griffin, the opposite of the other Sarkanian knights. Arian caught his breath and gulped, then stepped forward towards the Lavellan with his sword gripped tightly in the mid-stance. “Come then!” Arian replied, trying to hide the obvious youthfulness of his voice.
The Lavellan yelled a war cry then charged, and swung his hammer with both hands towards Arian’s left side. Arian quickly moved his left hand down to grip near the end of his sword, then rotated and braced it against the hammer’s blow with a grunt.
Arian pushed then, the Lavellan moving his hammer away before he could be forced off-balance and swinging it around again to strike the prince from the opposite side. Arian followed its movements, blocking the second strike and then quickly stepping forward to within where the hammer’s range was ineffectual. He was met with an immediate headbutt and forced back, having to plant a foot in the ground behind him to stop him from stumbling.
There was no respite for either of them. As soon as Arian’s footing was secure he thrust his sword forward, the hammerer knocking it away to the side only for the prince to turn his wrists over and sent the blood-stained end of his sword clanging against the top of the knight’s steel helmet. A mostly worthless hit, but a hit none-the-less.
The Lavellan stepped back, but Arian pressed onwards and made to cut him. The blade was parried, but Arian was on the push now and followed through with his momentum, striking again and again as his foe was forced backwards. Eventually his strategy worked and the Lavellan tripped on an arm, falling to the ground with a blunted clang. Arian moved closer but found his leg kicked out from under him by the downed warrior and within an instant he joined him in the dirt.
They were scrounging now, racing to get to their feet, to pick up the weapons they had dropped in their fall. The Lavellan reached his first, then crawled over to where Arian struggled and cast his hammer’s spike down, fiercely, towards the prince’s visor. Arian managed to roll to the side just in time, then as the hammer was raised for a second strike Arian rolled back again, thrusting his sword up under the plate of the Lavellan’s helmet and through the chainmail that protected his neck. The Lavellan stopped, shocked, and Arian looked up at him in frustration. He let out a fierce cry then, bestial in its anger, and thrust the sword as hard as he could until the blade went all the way through the knight’s neck and out into the air of the other side.
The Sarkanians around them who had paused their efforts to see the duel suddenly released a yell of victory, cheering Arian’s name into the battle as their foes kept silent in defeat. Arian stood and removed his bloodied blade from his foe’s corpse, then raised his visor for air and clarity. He didn’t know what to think, what to feel – he could do neither, and he simply stood there in that small clearing between the fighting and watched his enemy without a thought for his continued safety.
“Arian!” A yell came, and suddenly the prince felt hands grasping his shoulders and pulling him back behind the Sarkanian men-at-arms. Mounted men moved forward to cover them and Arian turned to see that it had been Wulfsurd himself who had dragged him away from the fighting.
“Harik – “ Arian began, but Wulfsurd cut him off.
“Don’t talk, Prince Arian,” Harik said, then took a horn from his belt and with a large breath blew into it as loudly as he could. The horn’s sound carried over the field and a few minutes later, Arian and Harik watched as Roydon and two hundred riders charged from the western side of the hill and into the flank of the Lavellan force.
Arian did no more fighting that day, but the battle did not end for several more hours. Whereas the Lavellan had at first pushed the Sarkanians back, the appearance of Roydon and his men caught them by surprise and soon the field was equalized. Men of both sides kept fighting but their fatigue grew as much as their casualties, with so much blood soaking into the mud that the ground began to stink of iron.
As dusk approached the sound of horns and trumpets carried across the fighting lines and more Sarkanian standards were raised by fresh mounted men that appeared on the hill from the west. King Valen II led them, his son Caden with him, and they charged into the remaining Lavellan and forced them from the hill and into full retreat. Almost as quickly as they had arrived the fighting ended, and the commanders set about organizing the clearing of the field. Prince Arian roamed about the remains, lost and covered in the grime of battle, until finally his older brother appeared to meet him. The two embraced fiercely and finally Arian allowed himself break.
“I’m sorry, my brother,” Caden told him. “Next time I’ll fight for you.”