All he knew was riding, riding, riding. And he was tired of it, and his horse was tired. Why, then, were they riding? Under damned attack – in his own country, in his own land.
Then it struck Gerard. That was the plan. That was what the damned Ormons wanted. Send out these measly Stordish bastards after him and tire them out, then let the Ormons finish them off.
He slowed his horse and the riders behind him were forced to stumble to a halt.
Gerard yelled, “ABOUT FACE!” and sent up the attack command with his arm.
“Your Majesty?” asked two generals, rearing in their mounts around him.
“You heard me! About bloody face! We’re fleeing these bastards and that’s exactly what they want us to do! We will not run from Ormon assholes in Ghiverny! Now turn around and charge them! Fight! Fight them! Fight!” Gerard hollered. He would not back down from a fight in Ghiverny, no, nor anywhere else.
His men roared all around him and the words, “Fight!” rolled through the ranks like a wave.
And then Gerard knew little more but slashing and hacking, and blood. He led the fray into the midst of those damnable Stordish shits and he sheared through them like pigeon parchment with Long Claw.
Three grandfathers ago, King Nordon had preferred a pike, and of more notoriety had been several kings before that, King Crandal, the Axe-Fisted, named so for fighting Ormons during the Ormon-Ghiverny skirmishes with a hand axe rather than Long Claw. Gerard wasn’t sure what action spurred him to using the hand axe, as the little Queen out in the West, now the Cleaver Queen as her grandfather was known to be the Cleaver King. But, Gerard thought as he sliced through another opponent, he had known infamy for it.
Gerard preferred to skewer his opponents at the end of his sword to gutting them with an axe, but if it killed it an Ormon, then he had no argument with it.
Gerard was more traditional in that he preferred Long Claw, his original forebear’s sword. Polished each day that they had not been at war, this sword served him well, though it now dripped with blood all the way to the quillions. Gerard was a sizeable man and fought well with the sword, his best move being the Up and Cross, though the Martmain ArmsMaster who had taught him as a boy told him to watch out, for it left him open on his shield arm.
And so it did, for his shield was beaten and dented. If this went on much longer, he would need a replacement shield.
He swung at the man astride from him and watched as he fell off of Long Claw. Another Ormon down. Instinctively, he raised his shield and took another incoming blow. Enraged, Gerard wheeled his destrier about and sunk Long Claw into the neck of the man who had just hacked at his shield. Blood spewed forth upon the horse of the enemy and the life faded from the angry eyes of his attacker.
With haste, Gerard turned again to his side to meet another attacker. He cared not if he was fighting as a gentleman ought – if it had elk antlers or boar’s tusks, Gerard was swinging, slashing, and hacking, and his reward was blood. The Wolf of Ghiverny was not playing nicely when it came to his country, his men, and his family.
Suddenly, galloping thundered upon the earth, and then there was a lull. The jingling of his destrier’s armor rang out as he wheeled him about.
Fleeing! They fled! They retreated!
His men let up a roar of victory. All over the battlefield, vacancies of Ormons and Stordish were left, and Ghiverns stood shaking their fists and swords in the air, jubilant.
Gerard let out a long breath of exhaustion and slid down from his horse.
“Petran! You’re okay!” He embraced his son as tightly as he dared. Petran winced, for his armor was bloody.
“You’re wounded. Healer! I need a Healer for my son!” Gerard roared out.
“’Tis nothing, Father! A minor scratch. They’ve run! They’ve retreated!” Petran was caught up in his first after-battle triumph.
“Yes, my son, so they have. As long as you are well, ’tis all that concerns me now.”
“Yes, yes. Are you? Look at you, you’re bloodier than am I! The Wolf!” called out Petran suddenly, still elated. “The Wolf!”
“I am well, hush with that now.”
“Your Majesty, your armor is torn on the side, it must be mended –” an armorer said, buzzing about him.
“Yes, yes, now is not the time. Later.”
“I must insist that you see the armorer for that shield and that tear, Your Majesty,” said a General at his side.
Your skin is only so thick as your armor, was what the ArmsMasters said. And his was exposed.
“Yes, later,” Gerard growled. It was time to address the men.
“And you must see a Healer, before you take an infection, Your Majesty.”
This General had balls of steel!
“And before night’s end, I shall. See that I have a new shield,” Gerard snapped to the armorer at his other side.
Then he roared, “Men of Ghiverny!” He let his voice echo and waited until every man within hearing was listening. “We were attacked today. Given odds we were not expected to live through! And we survived! We triumphed!” He let the word triumphed echo throughout the battlefield. Then Gerard yelled, “They came into the Wolf Lands and expected to defeat us by ambushing us! Do not underestimate them, for they may do so again! Take rest now! Care for our wounded! Be humble, be vigilant in your victory, for make no mistake but that the Ormons will come at us again tomorrow! And we must be smart, we must be strong, and we must push them back to where they are hiding and we must crush them! For we are Ghiverny, we are wolves, and we will not be defeated!”
His men cheered and roared then, with howls and cries of “The Wolf!” going up all among them.
And then it was time to walk the battlefield. Gerard joined his troops.
A gloom settled over the ranks as they killed those who were dying, and moved the wounded to the Healer’s Tents.
A young boy, no older than fourteen, Gerard judged, watched him. Gerard was accustomed to being watched with awe, as men were impressed by royalty and rank. But then, at his feet, an Ormon soldier lifted up an arm toward him.
“Mercy, please,” he called. The man was wounded terribly by a gut wound that had laid him open, judging by the location of the blood seeping through his armor. He would take hours to die.
Gerard said nothing, only stabbed the man through the heart. He waited until the light left the man’s eyes and then stood to move on.
The young boy was staring at him, horrified. With no celebration, the boy whispered, “He begged for mercy!”
“And I gave it to him.” He studied the boy. A squire if he wasn’t mistaken. The boy’s master was a fool for taking him out here so young. “Squire, how old are you?”
“Sixteen,” replied the boy in a brave tone. Lying, of course, so he could fight. If that boy was sixteen, Gerard would fry and eat his left nut.
“Son, that man was a soldier of Ormon. He served his duty to his country. Didn’t matter that he was of Ormon, he could have been of Ghiverny. All soldiers who serve their country fight for their king. That man was dying, son. All men bleed red, be they stable boy or king. And they all deserve mercy, which is what I just gave that Ormon soldier. Never forget that, son. All men deserve mercy, no matter who they are.”
The squire nodded solemnly.
Gerard stepped over the dead Ormon soldier and moved on.
That night, the men played their drum songs and a number of them got drunk. Gerard sighed. He was quite sober, having only had a goblet and a half of wine. He did not entirely disapprove of their celebration, though one day’s win was nothing. He was one of a minority on this battlefield who had fought in the Twenty Years War, and so he was a seasoned warrior. He knew that while today was a win, tomorrow they might easily lose, and they had lost a fair share of men today, and many men were wounded. But he could not bring himself to retire for the evening. Perhaps part of it was that he was lost in the memories of himself as a soldier in the Twenty Years War….
Finally, when he heard the beginning drum line of “To the Victors” begin, he wandered up to the celebration.
At first, the men around him did not recognize him. Then the men across the bonfire started to stare and the drummers faltered.
Gerard gestured for them to continue and when the first line started, his voice was the loudest.
“To the Victors”
In the end, the victors take the daughters
In the end, the victors take the sisters
In the end, the victors take the wives
To the victors go the swords (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the blood (Da-da-DOOM!)
In the end, the victors take the sons
In the end, the victors take the brothers
In the end, the victors take the husbands
To the victors go the armor (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the weapons (Da-da-DOOM!)
In the end, the victors take the wells
In the end, the victors take the livestock
In the end, the victors take the farms
To the victors go the crops (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the lands (Da-da-DOOM!)
In the end. the victors take the villages
In the end. the victors take the towns
In the end, the victors take the cities
To the victors go the plunders (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the possessions (Da-da-DOOM!)
In the end, the victors take the churches
In the end, the victors take the clergies
In the end, the victors take the priests
To the victors go the relics (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the riches (Da-da-DOOM!)
In the end, the victors take the forts
In the end, the victors take the towers
In the end, the victors take the keeps
To the victors go the banners (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the standards (Da-da-DOOM!)
In the end, the victors take the ale
In the end, the victors take the mead
In the end, the victors take the spirits
To the victors go the flasks (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the tankards (Da-da-DOOM!)
In the end, the victors take the duchesses
In the end, the victors take the princesses
In the end, the victors take the queens
To the victors goes the gold (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors goes the treasure (Da-da-DOOM!)
In the end, the victors take the palaces
In the end, the victors take the fortresses
In the end, the victors take the castles
To the victors go the kingdoms (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the countries (Da-da-DOOM!)
In the end, the victors take the dukes
In the end, the victors take the princes
In the end, the victors take the kings
To the victors go the SPOILS OF WAR! (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the SPOILS OF WAR! (Da-da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the SPOILS OF WAR! (Da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the SPOILS OF WAR! (Da-da-DOOM!)
To the victors go the SPOILS OF WAR! (Da-da-Da-da-Da-da-Da-da-DOOM DOOM!)
At the end of the song, men screamed, “To Ghiverny!” and “To The Wolf!” and wolf howls erupted all around the bonfire.
“Speech, speech, speech, speech!” came the insistences of his men.
“Very well. But first – fill my cup!” called out Gerard. He held up his empty goblet.
The men cheered and someone dumped wine into his goblet.
Then the entire crowd was silent, awaiting his speech. Speech – bah! What was there left to say?
He downed his entire goblet in one drink, then howled at the moon for as loud as there was breath in his body.
Men erupted into cheers and roars and howls all about him. Another round of “To the Victors” started up.
Gerard slipped away as soon as he was able for his tent. Let them have this. They would need the momentum come the morrow.