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“You and your antics Hugh, don’t tell me that you really wish to fight on foot, it’s not a proper way for a proud Galanian noble. Do you intend to drag your feet through the mud with the commoners?“

“You wouldn’t believe how it improves men’s morale Étienne, seeing their lord by their side. Besides, there won’t be any fighting, count Philippe is probably just flexing his muscles in some border dispute.”

Ever since Hugh married Étienne’s sister, their baronies and lives were tied together even stronger than before. The two good friends participated in many tournaments throughout the realm, never winning but always enjoying their lives to the fullest. They were just preparing for their next journey when the messenger arrived, with urgent note from their liege, count palatine Philippe de Lerac, calling them to arms. They were to depart to Enque barony at once with any men they could muster. Not happy about it but obliged with forty days of service to their lord, they had little time to do anything besides rounding up militia and their immediate retinues. Hugh kissed his pregnant wife goodbye and the two friends set off, leading their small feudal levies and a company of mercenaries the count’s messenger dug out somewhere during the two hectic days of mustering. Étienne de Clary was thinking that this border dispute possibly escalated more than Hugh was implying. Why else would the count palatine need them and the mercenaries so urgently?

The road was uneventful so far, the mercenary company keeping their distance at the front, which suited the young nobles. The less need to interact with that greedy scum, the better. The two continued in their conversation as the day went by.

“I don’t like this at all,” muttered the captain of the crossbowmen as he observed the field before him. From the vantage point his unit was on, he could not see anything strange, but he felt in his gut that something was amiss. And where did all the birds disappear? This silence was uneasy… And then they appeared from the thick forest ahead. A few of them at first, but their numbers rose steadily. The captain never saw anything like them, a shambling horde of soldiers in an armor of unknown design. He didn’t know what their intentions were, but from the way they approached among all the clatter of weapons and shields and unnatural growling, he had no desire to find out up close. He issued hurried orders to his men as they scrambled for their arms, their bolts soon leaving on a deadly trajectory towards the apparitions. But the forest kept churning out more and more of those soldiers. His men will soon be overwhelmed. He needed the noble army fast.

“Seigneurs, come quickly! We’ve been attacked by a horde of unknown soldiers! We won’t hold much longer without your help!” sputtered out the exhausted crossbowman.

“Some mercenaries I tell you, crapping their pants at the first sight of brigands. Prepare my armor and horse, we must make ourselves ready for a fight.” Étienne turned to his squire. “In the meantime, send our militia forward, at least they will test their blades in a real combat.”

“It seems I was wrong after all – we will see some combat!” proclaimed Hugh de Lavalet with eyes showing his anticipation of the upcoming engagement.

The volley of bolts could not stop the enemy from approaching, so the captain ordered a withdrawal, just in time to be reinforced by the militia. His crossbowmen were rallying themselves while their captain observed the vicious fight that has broken out between the poorly armed and untrained peasants and the strange attackers. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Just when it seemed that the militia could gain an upper hand, another wave of troops crashed into them, this time exploding in a puff of smoke, killing the poor villagers by the dozens. Meanwhile, their enemies were raising from the ground, their broken bodies continuing to fight. And as if that wasn’t enough, something even more terrifying emerged from the woods. Huge monsters covered in plates and waving enormous weapons.

“Theos protect us…” muttered the captain before commanding his men to cover the militia flank.

Hugh led his guardsmen towards the clamor of battle, only to be taken aback by the scene that unfolded before him once he climbed over the low hill. Ungodly monsters were spreading death and despair in the ranks of human soldiers. He collected himself and ordered his guard to charge. The sun was glistening off their morions and Hugh’s standard was flapping in the air as they struck the brutes, their halberds spelling doom. It was a nasty and bloody fight, but his men did not falter when finally Étienne arrived at the head of his knights, plumes fluttering and hooves thundering. The charge was successful, the knights discarding their shattered lances and drawing their swords to finish the job. Men were cheering and it seemed that the carnage was over. Then the earth trembled. And again. Bloodied and exhausted warriors turned their gazes to the source.

A monstrosity – no, an abomination, worse than anything they could have conjured in their wildest dreams, appeared on the battlefield, moving deceptively fast on its insect-like legs. The knights wheeled for a charge, their squires hurrying to them with new lances. By a quick look on the militia and crossbowmen, or rather what was left of them, it was clear to Hugh that he and his guardsmen must engage the nightmarish creature to give Étienne’s knights a chance to strike.

It was a massacre. Étienne could only watch as the abomination tore men to shreds. When his knights were finally ready for another charge, it was too late. His friend was unceremoniously pierced by a creature’s appendage, his lifeless body tossed aside. There were no last words, no goodbyes. Just a bleak and horrific death. Étienne thought about his sister. And with that thought he landed the final blow, ending the monstrosity’s life and the surreal battle with it.

“Now is not the time baron. Our county lost many great men today, chief among them seigneur Hugh de Lavalet, but we need to be discreet. The time to speak of what we have seen will come, sooner than we would like I fear, but political concerns are forcing our hand in this for now.”

Étienne stood there furious, his hair sticky with blood and sweat, knuckles white from how tightly he gripped his fists. But he trusted his lord and he understood that everything revolved around Hundred kingdoms politics. It was after all a second nature for a Galanian – they were equally versed in poising a lance for a deadly strike as they were in spinning webs of intrigues. But still, the loss of his dear friend pained him.

“As you wish my liege…” he did not have the strength to say much more.

Long after Étienne de Clary left count palatine’s tent, Philippe de Lerac sat in his chair contemplating recent events in Enque. He realized he was a witness to something big. Something, that will change the world as he knew it. Philippe de Lerac could only imagine what that new world will look like.

Three years later, he laid dead at the hands of his subjects, while the world entered a new era.

Jeff Warner
Jeff Warner

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