Harik Wulfsurd sat on his steed at the rear of the Sarkanian battle-line, eight ranks of knights stood in front of him and waiting for the combat to begin. In front of them the archers continued to fire, but when it became clear to both sides that they were unopposed Wulfsurd raised his sword. “Get ready, men!” He called. “They’ll soon on their way to kill us up close!”
Moments later Harik heard horns and trumpets blowing across the valley floor, and he immediately called out a command: “Get the archers back behind us!”
Several captains repeated Harik’s orders and sent them forward to the commander of the bowmen, who blew a horn of his own. Within minutes, Wulfsurd had the infantry make space between them for the archers to pass through and they did so, reforming at the rear where they were originally positioned. The gaps closed again, and it was clear then that the Lavellan infantry and foot-knights were marching to meet them in battle.
“Stand closer together!” Harik ordered. “Be an unbreakable wall of steel!”
The Sarkanian knights closed the gaps between them, plate forming a wall of metal men. Off further down the line, towards both flanks, lords called out for the soldiers beneath them to do the same, with shield walls to form where there were enough to overlap.
The Lavellan were closer now, approaching charging distance, and Harik raised his sword above him. Behind, archers knocked their arrows against strings and drew back, and as a volley of arrows suddenly descended upon them Harik motioned for their own to fly. They fired, and a man near Harik who had been hit in the leg with an arrow groaned on the ground. He closed his visor as more descended, several bouncing harmlessly off the plate of the knights in front of him.
“Hold fast!” Harik commanded, then as though the enemy had been waiting on his word, they began to run the final stretch and charge into their line directly.
Men in full plate were surprisingly agile, but when the two armies finally collided, they could do nothing but rely on brute force to succeed. The warriors smashed into each other, crashing and breaking, and the sounds of battle were suddenly deafening as men pushed and hacked at each other with swords, hammers and axes. Wulfsurd tried desperately to keep order in the inherently chaotic situation, but there was only so much he could do as the Sarkanian line waxed and waned with the natural flow of battle. It was sometimes forced too far back, others pushed too far forwards, but in the opening hour of combat its knights remained steady and its losses few.
“Lord Wulfsurd!” A voice called out, several times, through the deafning combat. Wulfsurd looked around to the source, noticing a knight riding towards him from the direction of the king.
“Arian?” Wulfsurd asked, recognizing him by his armour. “Go back to the kingsguard!”
“Lord Wulfsurd, our flanks are slowly growing unsteady and the men forced backwards. My father says you must bring the centre back with them to avoid being enveloped!” Arian told him, his eyes on where the two armies met, and where the fighting was fiercest. He watched a man get knocked to the ground, then several others smash in his helmet and skull with hammers. His stomach churned at the sight of it, but he could not look away.
“Very well,” Wulfsurd replied. He took up a horn from his belt, the same one he had used before, then blew into it. It was not a signal horn with a specific command, merely a call for attention, a demand that someone listen to his orders. “Ease backwards!” He ordered the men. “Bring them closer towards the hill!”
The knights slowly began to give ground, the centre of the line easing its way back into alignment with the rest of it. Yet despite being done only to avoid envelopment, the Lavellan saw in the movement an army forced backwards, and this gave them renewed motivation to fight even harder. As time passed, the Sarkanian army slowly moved back towards the slope of the western hill not because of tactical retreat, but because their foe was fighting so furiously.
“Keep fighting!” Wulfsurd would roar, his encouragements repeated often. When the armour of a knight was unique enough for him to recognize who wore it, he would even call them by name, urging them to give no further ground than necessary.
Eventually a Lavellan knight wielding a large axe began to force his way through the line, a few meters to Wulfsurd’s left. With each swing he knocked a Sarkanian back into the arms of his fellows or to the ground, and his size and strength seemed a match for three others. As he pressed on hacking further into the ranks, more Lavell filled in after him, widening it, and Wulfsurd swore to himself and urged Arian to stay as he rode closer.
Wulfsurd jumped down off his horse, taking his sword in his hands, and reached the axe-wielding monster just before the final two ranks were broken. “Push them back!” Harik yelled, forcing his way into the battle-line and shoving the axe-wielder backwards before he could harm another.
The Lavellan grunted, then swung his axe overhead and down onto Harik, who raised his sword with a hand on either end of the blade. The two weapons collided with a mighty clang, but the monster of Lavell was no stronger than the beast of Sarkana and soon Harik forced the axe up, then backwards, then down, pinning the weapon behind the enemy’s back. Harik then pulled, forcing the knight closer to him while he threw his own head forward, smashing his head into the knight’s visor with so much force that he was stunned. Then Harik repeated the move and smashed him again, this time releasing his grip and letting the knight stumble backwards and to the ground.
A roaring cheer erupted around him from the Sarkanians, and the few Lavellan who did not pull back from the break were forced to do so by their enemy. Harik stepped over the Lavellan, placing his foot on the knight’s helmet and forcing it backwards to expose the chainmail that protected his neck. “I thought you’d be better,” Harik told him, disappointment in his tone as he forced the end of his sword through the chainmail and into the knight’s throat. The knight gurgled, blood began to pool and Harik withdrew his weapon and stepped back from the combat.
“Harik, are you unharmed?” Shouted Arian, but Harik merely gave him a nod and climbed back onto his horse to continue shouting orders.
The battle continued to rage, and arrows continued to fall sporadically. Behind the melee fighting the archers had continued to fire into each other’s ranks, and many were now wounded or dead on both sides. Yet with ammunition running low the ranged combat was coming to an end, and several archers drew short swords and began moving into the rear of the melee combat to reinforce the infantry.
Despite fierce attempts by untold warriors the battle remained a stalemate, swinging in the favour of neither side. The Sarkanian numbers were slightly greater than their Lavellan foe, but one simple thing forced them into equal footing: the sun. It was bright that morning, the sky clear, and just like had happened to their archers the sun shone into the eyes of those whose backs were to the west.
Seeing this, King Valen II rode with his 600 kingsguard down the slope and sent groups of them to where the line was weakest. Many of those who were mounted left their horses behind the fighting, but several remained to look out across the battle and offer their encouragements. The king was one of them, and he raised his sword high above the knights with Prince Arian and Lord Wulfsurd by his side.
“Fight, brave warriors! Fight for your families, fight for your homes, fight for your country! Fight for your king and to avenge your prince!”
The king’s soldiers were riled by his cries, and they attacked ever harder.