Sah’rah watched Tar’vid and his friend walking towards the back of the column. She’d been stern with them, but it had to be so, one weak link in the shield wall would be disastrous and so Tar’gorth was allowing only those with six months or more formation training to be on the front line.
“Where do you require me?” Tar’lin asked, incredibly upbeat she thought... that would soon change.
“You’re to go to the rear of the column, just follow Tar’vid and you’ll be on the right path,” Sah’rah told her fellow Paladin, looking him dead in the eye.
“That’s a joke right?” he replied in shock, his hands starting to tense angrily.
“No joke, Tar’gorth’s orders” she stated, never breaking from his gaze.
“But Tar’vid’s our most famous fighter, by the Gods Sah’rah the Saints chose him!” he protested loudly, Tar’lin wasn’t the first, though she hoped he’d be the last.
“Not my choice, orders are orders and Tar’gorth’s giving them... to the back Tar’lin” she replied calmly, Tar’lin cursed under his breath as he moved off.
She let out a short breath, not realising her hand had gone to her sword pommel, it was a reaction she’d thought wouldn’t be necessary until leaving the camp grounds. Several more Paladins arrived shortly after, each of them protesting at their treatment like the rest, though they seemed somewhat mollified knowing the Saints chosen had also been sent to the rear with them. Once she was sure all the Paladins assigned to them were in place, or at least close to being so, she made her way to the portal arch, finding Tar’gorth instructing his captains on the battle plan.
“...though I fear this will be a rescue operation. Now, go to your units, we move out as soon as the portal activates” he finished, the captains giving a salute before departing to their units.
“How did the others take it?” Tar’gorth asked her, his face softening a little.
“About as well as expected, sending Tar’vid to the rear was a good idea... it seemed to kill their arguments for being on the front lines” she replied, feeling they had used him unfairly to pacify the other Paladins.
“That was my intention, besides, Tar’vid’s reputation is as a duellist... a brawler perhaps, not a soldier in a war. I intend to keep him safe as the Saints intend” Tar’gorth told her, though she knew he was fond of Tar’vid and it sat ill with him that he had been lumbered with so many untrained Paladins.
“You don’t have to justify it to me, I trust your judgement completely” she replied, spotting the Mage approaching the portal arch and preparing his spell.
“I know lass, but I feel I have to anyway... looks like we’re about ready, you should get to your unit, we’ll be moving soon.”
Tar’gorth turned to watch the Mage work his spell and she moved away swiftly, joining up with her unit of spear infantry, her sergeant passing her one of the tower shields they all carried. Sah’rah thanked him before tying her helmet liner under her chin and unhooking her nasal helm from her belt, she pushed it down on her head, letting the chain mail coif rest on her neck.
“Do we have marching orders?” Gable her sergeant asked, he wore a great helm, though she knew him from the large black beard underneath.
“We do, you’ll be happy to know we’re the first unit through... we got the van” she replied happily, knowing her soldiers were fiercely proud of the training they’d been through, pushing themselves beyond all others.
Gable smiled broadly, for a man of his age he still had most of his teeth, an oddity she thought. Gable shouted out the order to form up to a great roar, this was what they had trained for after all. The portal gate sparked before blinking into life bathing them in a shower of light.
“Advance!” Gable shouted out from beside her, her unit of six hundred forming up into a column only eight wide so they could march through the gateway unhindered.
The portal shimmered before them, though there was no reflection when stared into, nor a vision of what could be on the other side. Sah’rah took a deep breath as they approached, taking care not to break stride.
“Here goes” Gable whispered under his breath.
‘Here goes indeed’ she thought as they passed through the portal.
Sah’rah heard the crunch of snow underfoot as they emerged on the other side, she had no time to get her bearings however as the next soldier passed through behind her. They’d have to march some distance before they could safely stop she knew, snow continued to fall as they marched obscuring any tracks Tar’gelth’s detachment may have left behind... thinking about him still made her angry, but she squashed down any of those emotions, if Tar’gorth was right this would be a rescue mission.
“It’s so cold captain,” Gable said to her, his hands visibly shaking.
“I hadn’t noticed” she replied with a wry smile, knowing the sergeant was aware of her physiology.
Gable chuckled, along with several others around her, though she never took her eyes off the ground. She noticed several shallow furrows along the way, but no footprints or signs of movement... perhaps the snowfall had covered them she thought peering into the distance. She was finding the low light difficult to see through, especially with the growing snowfall. She heard the snort of oxen as one of the cavalry divisions came up alongside them, The thick hides and muscle of the beasts perfect for this weather.
“This low light’s posing a problem, what can you see?” she shouted over to them.
There was a brief exchange of words amongst the cavalry before one of the mounted soldiers shouted back. “Sah’eca says there be something up ahead, possibly a mile or so away... just seems like a black mass so far, you want us to investigate?”
“No,” Sah’rah called back if there was a trap ahead the cavalry would be bogged down without infantry support. “We march together, we can’t afford to be caught out on our own around here.”
The cavalryman relayed her message before indicating to her that Sah’eca understood, still, the following mile was tough going, the snow starting to deepen under the constant downfall.
“Up there!” shouted one of the cavalrymen, pointing frantically in front of them.
It was a few minutes more before Sah’rah could see, it was a mass of dead... as they reached the fallen it was clear these were their own, the frozen bloodied bodies only distinguishable by their uniforms.
“Halt!” Gable called, his voice distressed.
Sah’rah had to remind herself that most of these soldiers had never seen a battle, many probably hadn’t seen a dead body.
“Search for survivors!” she called out, her men spreading out to search the bodies, knowing that only Paladins could have survived this weather for so long.
The search went on for hours, more units joining them in the search by the hour.
“Strange, some of the men to the rear have wounds to their backs, you think they tried to run?” Gable asked before leaving another soldier be, confirmed dead like the rest.
“Perhaps, but why didn’t they get further... there’s still more dead to the front” Sah’rah replied, thinking over Gable’s words.
“I have one, someone’s still alive!” came a shout from near the front.
The soldiers continued searching, but the Paladins rushed over, perhaps hoping their healing could save the lone survivor. Sah’rah reached them first, she scowled slightly at the sight... of course, the survivor was Tar’gelth.
Sah’rah leant over him and placed her hands on his chest, chanting the prayer of Salnah and healing Tar’gelth’s many wounds.
“What happened here Tar’gelth, why did you engage?” she asked.
He turned his head to her and for the first time she saw fear on his face. “We didn’t intend to... we formed lines, I was happy to stare them down until you arrived... but...” Tar’gelth’s words were interrupted by a solemn horn blast, men appearing quickly in the snowfall.
“Shield wall! Shield wall!” Came the cries of the captains and sergeants, Sah’rah and the soldier carrying Tar’gelth back behind their lines.
“Wait... they came...” Tar’gelth started. his breathing still shallow.
“It’ll have to wait. I have people depending on me now,” Sah’rah told him, leaving him in the care of the first line healers.
She was still angry with him, her anger amplified by the fact his recklessness had gotten everyone killed... except him of course. She joined in the battle line, Sah’rah’s shield still in the care of one of her soldiers.
“You think they’re better trained than us?” Gable whispered to her, suddenly the confidence of his training had vanished.
“Not a chance, Tar’gelth was reckless... we’re the best of this army” she responded coldly as her anger boiled over, besides, they would have a mass of bodies to tread carefully over to get to them.
The enemy advanced slowly, picking their way through the bodies that disrupted the tightly packed formation a shield wall required. Tar’gorth bellowed the order to hold, a front of solid wood and a thicket of spears greeting their foes. When the enemy finally closed on them they stood silently, their own shield wall not yet formed. Tar’gorth would make them pay for that arrogance.
“Fire!” he bellowed, a hail of arrows darkening the sky... even more so than before.
The enemy’s great round shields came up quickly as they weathered the storm, but still many were hit and a lot of shields were rendered useless... but they were unbroken, the shields were tossed aside as men moved forward to replace their fallen comrades.
“They look so savage,” Gable said quietly, probably noting the furs and animal skins worn over their mail, though Sah’rah was sure the extra layers had helped during the arrow storm.
One of their taller men stepped out from the line, bellowing a challenge in his feral language, he stood well over six feet tall and heavily muscled, his long dark beard still matted with dried blood. Looking around she saw the fear on the soldiers’ faces and wished Tar’vid was on the front line to accept the challenge.
“Cowards!” he bellowed in their own tongue before going back into the enemy line.
Sah’rah braced herself, the enemy raised their shields and began to advance cautiously, banging their weapons against shields and causing a thunderous noise that seemed to shake the ground.
“Plant shields and brace for impact!” shouted Tar’gorth, the command echoing down the line.
Almost as one, the enemy forces broke into a jog, then closed the last few feet at a sprint, the planted shields taking the brunt of the force as spears splintered on armour, though the thicket did a fine job at halting many of the charging northerners and breaking their cohesion. Sah’rah braced against her shield tightly, the pressure on it immense, the soldiers in the rows behind her thrust over the top with their spears, drawing screams and grunts. She was driven to one knee as a great axe splintered through her shield, Gable taking the opportunity to slide his sword through the gap and into her attacker. She was terrified, all the drills, all the training hadn’t prepared her for the actuality of battle and from the looks on her soldier’s face’s the same was true for them. She stood back to her feet once more, pushing forward with her shield and drawing her short sword, a Paladin long sword was of no use here after all. There came a great bellow and Sah’rah was sure it was Sah’eca, her heavy oxen cavalry smashing into the enemy lines, she was emboldened by the move and pushed back with her shield before driving her blade forward, feeling it bite into something soft and pulling back before locking up the shield wall once more.
“We need to form up behind!” she heard Tar’gelth shout, his voice strained with panic.
“Someone shut that fool up!” Tar’gorth bellowed.
She heard several soldiers restrain Tar’gelth as he continued to shout. “They came from behind us, we didn’t initiate battle... they did, we were cut to pieces!”
Sah’rah froze, the wounds in the backs of the furthest soldiers making sense, the furrows in the snow where the enemy must have dragged away their dead to trap them, then it hit her... Tar’vid and the Paladins were at the back, they’d be slaughtered... then a horn blew out across the battlefield, followed by several more... from behind.
“The Saints preserve us,” she whispered.