The drumming of hoof beats echoed through the ground, once moment they were in the shade offered by the hill, the next they were plunged into the bright sunshine of battle, arrows hit the enemy flanks, immediately a gap had been opened in their lines, Aaren led with several shots from his crossbow, as he drove like a wedge through the enemy. The pincer like flanking move had pierced through the heart of the enemy, taking a heavy toll and effecting cutting off the engaged force from its reinforcements.
The legion of cavalry, their only cavalry, had burst through, spreading like wild fire until they were almost single file and came crashing through, buffeting and shoving men aside, swinging their swords at those that stepped away and trampling those that didn’t. Too late were the Caledonian lieutenants, shouting at their men to break away, the speed of which took them by surprise, they had positioned themselves perfectly, taking out the archers from the rear ranks of the advancing attack, they had neatly nullified the effect they had been having, a small portion of them remained, but they would soon be taken care of as they turned now, using their greater numbers as the hammer, and the shield wall the anvil as they looked to crush the engaged enemy force.
Some of the left flank had recovered and pushed in, but for the moment, Aaren couldn’t catch a glimpse of Eamonn, he sensed that his student was still alive. A hand gesture from a Captain and the cavalry force dismounted, motioning for their horses to keep moving across and up the slopes of the left flanking hill. Storm whinnied briefly in rebellion, but a look from Aaren saw him scurry away, Aaren quickly fanned out those around him to protect the backs of the others as they looked to encircle the cut off enemy. They were caught out now, between the flankers and the main army, and the Caledonians stood no chance after the surprise attack, as they watched their inevitable end drawing closer, now it was the Azarowans’ turn to cramp and harass the enemy.
It took several moments for them to finally break their opposition, Aaren beat the sword of one man from his hand, knocking him down and turned to engage another. Further calls and orders from the officers and they advanced to meet with the line of dismounted cavalry. The left hand side had been fortified, most of the Commissioners were positioned there, Aaren wiped the blade of his sword and sheathed the weapon. He sighed quietly to himself, they had made the most of their surprise and they had been lucky to catch the enemy in such a position, something they wouldn’t get away with again, the bulk of the Caledonian army was in tatters, their own cavalry was gone and most of their archers with them, but their tactics would have rocked their moral, while giving a surge to the Azarowans.
Valon cursed as he saw the flanking movements ambush his men, watched as they slowly collapsed against the oncoming rush of opposition, and knew the end was near. He regarded his bugler coolly, “Sound the retreat” he spoke calmly, keeping the seething disappointment he felt from tainting his words. At this stage, a victory here wasn’t essential, his associates had made constant updates on their overall progress, another hour would see it complete, with all avenues taken care of, but a defeat here was distasteful in the extreme.
The Caledonian leader had been surprised by the ease in which his forces and tactics had been quashed, but he brushed the thought away, coming into this fight he knew a majority of them were little more than petty criminals, used to preying on the unarmed and helpless in the darkens confined backstreets of towns, not trained fighting men, their only real hope had laid with the commanding advantage of numbers, as if seeking comfort from it, they would have their confidence up, with that advantage gone, there was nothing to help drive them on.
They would retreat into the hills, to the secondary position, he would go with them, but there was still something that he had to do, he would met with one of the others a little further down the line, it was time he got some answers.
Eamonn finally dragged himself up the last hill, he grimaced at the dull ache of his thigh injury, pressurized by his belt as it was, there was a slight trickle of blood saturating through the bandage it would soon dry and become scabby as it started to heal but it would hold. It was a shallow gash, nevertheless infection was likely so he’d used his small medical kit to clean and bandage the wound, resorting to the use of his belt to hold it in place, he could feel the leg start to stiffen up as he walked, making movement a little awkward. Already he could see a few camp fires was being thrown together after the battle, though some men were heading back to the castle, clearly ready for another battle. Eamonn walked past several groups busy tending to their gear, a majority were tending to the wounds of others and preparing a light meal.
There was a sizeable company stationed by the entrance to the forest looking for any signs of ambush or sabotage, Eamonn doubted their enemy was foolhardy enough to attempt anything. Despite the unlikelihood, they kept watch, making sure they were still in control of the situation, making sure they were ready respond to the enemy in an instant.
Maarten was still cautious leader, suspicious of everyone around him, even some of his most trusted allies, as such he went out of his way to make sure his allies were kept busy with tasks he could keep tabs on, ever since he gained power a decade ago, he distrusted all members of the Commission, preferring to create his own retinue of highly skilled troops as his own personal staff whilst he kept the Azarowan Commission sector busy with their own missions, as such, he seldom interacted with any of them, other than the peremptory visits he had from Ramsay, the current Azarowan leader.
It wasn’t long before Eamonn found his way through to his companion. The older man took in the wounded and weary figure before him and instantly rushed forward to help his apprentice. “Eamonn, you’re fine. Thank god for that, what happened to you?” he fussed over the younger man for the next few minutes, turning him this way and that and generally making a huge amount of commotion over nothing. The boy was slightly injured and tired, mentally and physically after his ordeal, he felt a touch of affection towards Aaren as he watched his mentor hurrying around the small camp, seemingly ready to appease his every desire.
“What’s going on?” Eamonn asked, he noticed small groups of men were darting off into different directions into the forest, the question seemed to settle Aaren from his earlier worries. He had simply been concerned for his young friend. “The enemy has withdrawn from their position but not entirely, they’ve headed into the forest” he told the boy, “couldn’t we just leave them be now? We’ve won…haven’t we?” he added that last bit after a worried look from Aaren.
The older man shook his head wearily, “No, they’re still out there, they have numbers enough to mount another attack, but we don’t want to go rushing in. That’s why we’ve separated the men, sending them in small groups, that way they can follow them through to maybe finding their retreat position.”
“What makes you think they have one?”
Aaren smiled at that, “Every general has a back-up plan, and we can count on Valon having one too, but we have no way of knowing what might lay in store for us in there.” As if on cue, there were strained shouts coming from the forest then abruptly silenced. The sun was beginning to descend now, the camp fires were slowly burning out, many who heard the cut off cries, urgently pulled themselves to their feet again. Those who were too injured to continue moving were left with a company of foot soldiers and a few of the medics to tend to them along with several cooks. The rest formed into a loose formation and made their way over the hills past the surrounding groves of the forest and into the confines of the trees in pursuit of the retreating Caledonian army.
Small skirmishes were starting up everywhere, the Caledonians had managed to flee in small groups through the overgrowing branches of the trees, some of the lower scrubs cut them off from other retreating Caledonians, some had managed to slip away from their pursuers, others weren’t as lucky, soon encountering and slain by the small pursuit parties.
Progressively the sun’s rays were being blocked out from overhead casting the woods in shrouded darkness, accuracy with a bow was simply out the question as many quickly found out as they tried to take down lone figures in the distance.
The Azarowans were made to fan out, separating them and making them exposed to any ambush attacks coming from the trees, despite their best efforts to bunch together, and now the true skills of the Caledonians were allowed to flourish, swiftly they flanked the larger forces, waiting for the ambush to take place, they were able to bait their more skilled opponents into following smaller groups, separating them from the rest, there was little noise, until the first attack was made.
They darted in and out of the trees, killing several before retreating to the safety of the shadows. The forest was soon filled with sudden shrill calls of terror before quickly being cut off and silenced. They were in a precarious position now, Maarten realised, he had initially called them his men in, but he had no real answers for the onslaught, had no strategy to overcome the nightmare they found themselves in, he looked around at his inner circle, saw the panicked looks on their faces, they were close to caving.
Further on ahead, the king caught glimpses of the earlier parties he’d sent in, navigating their way through the darkness, moving in small groups as they were, they were able to move about unseen and eradicate the Caledonians before they had the chance to strike. But there were pitifully few of them now, save for the cluster that Maarten and his followers found themselves in. His face flushed with frustration, these people had been a thorn in his country’s side since before his time, Maarten felt it was his responsibility, as the ruler of his realm, to abolish those who should rebel against his claim, and now he felt they were playing ‘hide-and-seek’ only the hiders were in plain few, and the seekers had with them very sharp and very deadly swords.
The man quietly called for a halt in the last open clearing, taking in the scenery before him, using all of his experience and know-how to judge the situation. There was one thing that would bring these leeches to the surface, though it was something he loathed to do in such a pristine and picturesque location, and it would destroy the lives of much of the fauna and flora in the area, but it should provide the stab of fear in his enemy’s bellies to bring them out of their holes.
He saw a movement off to the side and heard the sudden cry out of terror. It took a moment for him to realise, then his brows shot up in fear, they were a rare thing nowadays, Maarten knew, they were bred for a single purpose and in his life had never seen them fall short of his expectations. He beckoned forth one of his lieutenants, leaned in to whisper into the younger man’s ear. “They have Rathnodogs.”