The night of the counter-assault came: the men stood in line, having finished a rushed course on the most basic of tactics. They wielded polearms of quality and strength comparable to their wielders. To the men with wives and families, they donned gambesons of cotton- quilted linens and blankets sown together to form a stiff vest against oncoming attack. It does little against the broad side of a good sword, but it was something at least. The men with no wives, no children, no family- to them went nothing. And yet they stood as bravely before the looming threat as did those men who did had wives, children, and families. They had none of these things behind them to defend, but they had all of themselves before them to prove. These are the goats.
In front of them- way ahead of them- was a smaller party of men. They were lead, or more fittingly whipped from behind in order goad them to go further, by magistrate Bo. The last of the polearms made were given to them. They were of even poorer quality than the former, and two of them were just sharpened hazel poles. These are the sheep…
“Onward, you blithering bastards!” Bo cruelly mocked the quivering contingent, marching on with them, a faint gallop going off in the distance. “give well to brave this night tonight, or relieve your community of a great many burden and give your lives up on the fray!” Bo limped like Koen but got around with a cane- the same cane he used to catch a retreating sheep who thought he could slip away. He was the anti-shepherd, pushing the sheep deeper unto the wolves’ den.
They soon came upon the camp, not a mere hundred or so meters away from the closest active guard, his eyes fluttering and his head bobbing back and forth from lack of rest. Bo examined not the camp nor its goings on but consulted the stars above his head. When he was satisfied by what he read in their celestial glow, he kicked one of the sheep who had with him the crossbow they’d pilfered from General Dok’s would-be assassin. He was the least shaky of the lot and the most trigger-happy. The crickets had not finished their harp when the dozing guard threw himself to the ground.
“To arms!” Bo ordered. From the rushes and greenery, the sheep jumped out and revealed themselves, hand to arms in martials stance. “Arms- ready and steaaaddyyy.” There was not point saying this, Bo thought to himself. The spears shook along with the cowards and made the formation look like a row of flowing reeds. Still, the formation looked large enough to fool the enemy into thinking they had been spotted and were under attack. Alarms within went off and a general ruckus exploded amidst the panic. The galloping sound behind them grew louder.
Soon enough, they coalesced into a shambling mass and began the counter. “Lord Bo, they’re coming…” an eye-patched sheep yelped. “…w-what are we to do?” the galloping grew louder before it ceased.
“Ready?” General Dok asked as he and his horse arrived behind Bo. “Looks like we hooked a big one!” he said, commenting at the horde that was currently rushing towards them. Bo climbed on to Dok’s horse and in response to that one sheep’s inquiry, he merely turned to him and replied:
“Try and keep up.”
The initial instruction was that eight men meet them head on, the remaining seven fall back. Skirmish for no longer than a blink of an eye, and whatever of the eight survived, fall back with the seven.
“What’s the scenery like back der?” Dok chimed as he raced through the mountain pass.
“By some miracle, all of the sheep are alive and are running for their bloody lives…” Bo humorously observed. “If this goes well, we might sweep them clean and lose no men of our own.”
“You consider those men?” Dok guffawed. Bo looked back at the once trembling and cowardly Dao Rong- eye patch flapping in the wind- as he ran like it and called for his comrades to ‘try and keep up’ themselves.
“He’s getting there…” Bo replied. “…not a bad shot with the crossbow, too.”
The camp was near empty, save for a few reserves: most of the marauders pursued the sheep contingent as they fled. With no time to fortify or barricade themselves in, chasing down potential aggressors that could betray their position was the only way.
As the mountain pass neared the end, thicket as tall as small saplings blanketed the open clearing and the sheep contingent had nowhere to run. It was nothing but a dozen poorly armed, cowering men; their crippled commanding major; and a handsomely decorated general ripe for the picking. They downed but did not drop their spears. They inched back as if clutching at straws, praying they be spared by the barbarian horde:
“If this doesn’t work, we’re screwed…” Dao looked towards Bo. “and we’ve you to blame for it!”
“Impossible, this is one of Koenjung’s hair-brained schemes:” Bo retorted. “Somehow they always seem to work…” he looked to Dao as if he had forgotten something. The mere gaze was enough to remind him.
“Oh yes, of course…” he looked to the west of the grassy field and eye something between the reeds that eyed him back. He struck the sky above him with his spear and waved.
“so we are getting a fight out of you lot after all…” a raspy voice boomed from the horde. “you know I was starting to wonder if our initial strike didn’t bite off as much at first,” he bellowed, the dark, filthy hair contrasting the bleached white tunic and thick wool cloak. “but to see the great general’s son whittled down to the point where he’s playing chess with the dregs? This is going to be but mere training with dummies-” he looked to his men, all slobbering and savage, drawing their swords and spears: “have at it, boys…”
But before they could encroach, the wind blew once again . It blew over Dao’s face, but unlike last night, the wind blew straight and true: Dismas had gone, and the sky shone without his light. The tall grass bended ever so slightly to the passing breeze, revealing the contingent of militia men who emerged from their concealment and closed in around the horde- a pack of wolves circling their prey. It was not until the wind blew again that the neigh and clop of horsemen was betrayed, but by then, they had already sneaked up behind the horde, blocking off their escape into their camp- mountain lions ready for the pounce.
No stare, no wait, no moment to savor the confrontation. As soon as the belligerents saw each other, no one knew who said it first- all of them simply went: “to war!”
Iron threw itself against iron, flesh against flesh for some of them. In the bedlam of battle, the distance between ranks fall- footmen find themselves exchanging blows with generals, colonels brandish their metal against militia. Koen’s strategy worked perfectly, they were beating the horde down from front, while the calvary charged to whittle them down further from behind. But they were no ordinary contingent of traitors: they were the vile blackhands of the Wojewode, Dolgoroj.
“Tell your wojewode that I’ll nail his balls to the wood of his grand door!” the short and stocky Koen taunted before lunging his halberd and launching a poor blackhand into the air.
“Quite a harsh…” Bo’s sentence was cut short as he turned to cut through someone who intended to cut him. “Quite a harsh fate for family, isn’t it wojewode?” he taunted the fuming Koen in the heat of battle, for no other reason that to wind him up and see him rip through the enemy ranks.
“Can it, Bohrjia…” he shot back. “Tonight, we water this field with the blood of lowly traitors, and tomorrow I shall mop the floors with my bastard brother’s disemboweled innards! Waaarrrhhggg!” the wind up worked: by the end of his charge, he had three men lined up at the end of his halberd, basically skewering the weapon through them.
Meanwhile, the ugly white-clad lad who taunted them before found his sword against a certain lowly halberd. “You and your allies will die here,” he mocked the ragged recruit. “and you’ll have the priveldge of going first…”
“Save your dialogue for the few who can bear your grinding voice!” Dao cut him off before landing a clean strike into his neck with the not-too-dull side of his meat cleaver halberd. The two fired broadsides, the untrained and critically weak Dao Rong keeping fair pace with the much stronger ugly commander. The commander too bore a specter, the same one Koen bore. He was strong, but sloppy, each move heralding the next. But fast on his feat he was, and if Dao hadn’t moved a second before the specter of his foe did, he would have found himself before the jagged edge of his falchion.
“You won’t live to speak that way to me ever again, mutt!” he roared before dodging a clumsy jab by Dao and weaving through the pole to strike his face. The blade cut close, close enough- but still no cigar. Dao felt his eyepatch flutter away as he stared his soon to be killer dead in the eye.
And there, the ugly commander’s stance fell, and his posture dropped. That eye. That single eye. It was enough to pierce straight through him and immobilize him for a mere a second. It was all Dao Rong needed to escape before his falchion fell before him, hand still gripping it. Dao was forcefully grabbed by the collar of his shirt and dropped on the back of General Dok’s horse as he looked behind him, the ugly commander groveling in pain as a hand pulls him back and he disappears into the rapidly dissipating horde. Amidst the retreating horde though, a specter like that of Koen and the ugly commander stood. It didn’t look like either of them. And it stared straight into Dao with one eye…
“Good job, soldier!” General Dok roared, shaking Dao from his stupor.. “You kept that blabbering preener so well distracting, he forgot to command his own troops!” he let out a victorious laugh. “Look around you lad, we fought them off! And father is well and truly avenged!”
The night was finally won…