The fellow next to me asked if I was nervous. I considered that for a moment. If he had asked me in a different setting, I would have no doubt told him yes. The stories of old and the high born of this realm would have you believe fear is dishonorable and makes you a coward. The only dishonorable thing about fear is not admitting it’s within you. I know very well that the young, impudent, arrogant fool who leads our army, Lord Hargoth( Who has only “earned” the right to call himself a Lord because his high and mighty father decided to knock up his prissy wife), is scared. We are outmatched and outnumbered, soon many, if not all, of us will have arrows in our necks, gashes all over our bodies, our steel drenched in blood. There are perhaps seven or eight hundred of us if I'm being generous, and if reports of the enemy are anything to be trusted, we will be nowhere enough to stop them.
He knows this, but will never for a moment show that he is afraid. It is out of no respect for us, no man wants to think his commander is afraid, he merely wants to uphold the stubborn idea of “honor” that every noble of this land is so obsessed with. Yet despite all of this, today I am not afraid. I’m hot. The bright sun of the east beats down on all of us, my dilapidated tunic clings to my chest, the tip of my spear is hot to the touch, I can feel puddles forming in my boots. Coming from a village in the north, such heat is foreign to me, and I despise it. For once, I am glad I’m not of higher birth, our young leader must be swimming in sweat with that fancy gambeson and overcoat of his. He’ll never take it off, once again thanks to his fervent devotion to honor. If the man - no, the boy, had a wife, honor would be his mistress. Right now, he thinks nothing of women. No, I know exactly what he wants. He wants glory, to be known in halls and taverns in even distant lands, perhaps have a song written about him, sung by the worst and best of bards alike.
He’s not alone in his desires, I’d wager that at least half the men in this army want the very same thing. Yet he is the only one with a chance of getting this, it matters not if we suffer a horrible defeat or a glorious victory, he will be the only one receiving any credit for it. Their hopes are ultimately futile, although I don’t blame them. Ten years ago I’d be here for the same reason, every young man seeks fame and glory.
The rest of the men just want to go home and are praying to the heavens that they’ll survive. In our situation, their chances of getting what they want aren’t much higher than the glory seekers. But as for me, I don’t want any of this. I can’t take my mind off of this incessant sun. All I want right now is a pint of ale and some shade. The funny thing is, my chances of getting what I want are lower than any other man in Hargoth's army. There’s not a single tree for hundreds of miles, and we have hardly enough food to feed ourselves, let alone any ale. I finally answered the man who had spoken to me, “No, I’m not scared friend, not at all. Just hot. Hot as blazes.” The man, a young and sickly looking lad who surely belonged somewhere other than an army, laughed and said, “You and me both, you’re a sight braver than me though. To tell the truth, I’m deathly afraid.” He laughed again, “and I’m hot.”
We’ve known of their coming for five days now, warned by scared and foolish travelers who dared venture beyond the relative safety of our borders. We are the only force in this part of the kingdom at the moment, and weeks away from receiving any reinforcement. For the moment, we are the realm’s only defense from the invading hordes, riding miles and miles from the steppes on our southeastern border.
A sound military commander would have had us take up a well defensible position, and instruct us to immediately begin preparations for battle. Fortunately for our invaders, we do not have a sound military commander. Upon hearing the rather perilous news, Hargoth went on some spiel about the importance of taking the initiative, disregarding the advice of our more senior men, and marching us out of the nation and into the plains frontier, believing it to be imperative to meet the enemy head-on. He spurred us onward, moving the army day and night towards what he believed to be his opportunity for glory, and what the saner among us believed to be our demise.
We are upon our sixth day of marching now, with seemingly no end in sight. In the eyes of our commander, there is no reason to stop or rest, he’s not tired, so therefore the rest of the army isn’t. Yet, what he fails to realize is that he’s the only one out of all us with a horse. Our food supplies dwindle, and many of us grow hungry, but yet again our young lord makes sure he is looked after first and foremost and is well fed. Such is the way of life, I suppose, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. Who your parents are has always determined your status in society, your place in life, and the way you are treated by others. We are all so tired, every direction I look I see exhausted men, who all just want to rest. Lord Hargoth is not completely oblivious, however, he sees the fatigue on our faces, and yet he does not care. He simply tells us we need to have more desire and drive, and that we can rest after we’ve defeated the enemy.
If he keeps on saying these things, there is no doubt in my mind that one of us is going to kill him. But, as the sun begins to set, the usual time he allowed us brief amounts of sleep, Hargoth announces we are making camp for the night. The entire night. We all cheer, overjoyed at the prospect of getting more than a couple of hours of sleep. Men who had looked as if they could barely walk all day rushed to set up their tents near a small stream, rejuvenated at the very thought of a good night's rest. Even when we don't make camp, there is an extra reward for me with the coming of nightfall. The cruel sun that makes me so very hot finally sets. In its place, a freezing chill in the air takes its place. Most of the army complains about, but to me, it is quite welcome, it reminds me of home in a sense. Before settling in for sleep, we eat what little food we are given, and drink from the small stream we made camp next to, the bravest among us even bathing in its frigid waters. We could finally get some much-needed rest.
I'm awoken when the sun is just barely rising up from the west, by Hargoth clanging his sword on his shield. With a groan, I unwillingly emerge from my tent and began to pack it up, as do the other men, hurried by Hargoth and our captains. We resume marching as soon as we finish picking up our campsite, to the surprise of no one. Seemingly thinking we shouldn't get tired anymore now that we've had rest, forces to us march faster, and for longer than we had before. Our already dwindling food supplies are practically non-existent at this point, and we were not allowed any food in the morning. Several men even fall over from exhaustion as the day continues on, simply too tired to continue. Lord Hargoth demands we leave them behind, labeling them as cowardly dogs with "no ambition", as he puts it. Before there had been quite a few men in his army who respected him, now there is no doubt in my mind that he is hated by us all.
We march like this for the next three days. I soon begin to wonder if there even is an enemy out on the plains in the first place, perhaps the travelers had just been frightened by a particularly large group of bandits. Even if there is an enemy out here, it seems like we are going to die of starvation or exhaustion before they ever even got the chance to kill us. If something does not change soon, there will surely be a mutiny.
Late the next morning, we continue our march to god knows where. Evidently hearing something, Hargoth stops and turns to us. “Halt”, he shouts to us, “Listen.” We all come to a stop and go silent, after a short delay. Concentrating on listening as hard as I can, I begin to hear a thumping noise off in the distance and apparently some of the other men do too. “Sounds like horses”, a man behind me remarks. With each passing minute, the thumping becomes louder and louder. Hargoth has a very confused look on his face, even though I’m sure all of us know what is happening.
After a few minutes of waiting, we begin to see dust being kicked up on the horizon. Men who looked like they came from the east appear out of the massive cloud of dust, bow and arrow in hand. Finally realizing what was happening, Hargoth raises his sword in the air, sunlight gleaming off of it. “Make ready men!”, he yells, “we’ve finally found these barbaric animals!” He starts to ride up and down the lines of soldiers, attempting to inspire us. “Today, many of us will be sent to join God in the holy kingdom. But let us make it a fair trade, and send all of these beasts to join the Devil in Hell!”, he shouts in his rather lofty voice. We all began to cheer, despite being a terrible leader, the man could give quite a speech. For the first time in the entirety of the time I spent under the command of Hargoth, I felt like I wanted to follow him into battle.
This quickly changes, whatever respect I gained for him from his inspiring words, is lost with the next word that comes out of his mouth. “Charge!”, he shouted, urging us onward by swinging his sword in the direction of the dust cloud of men and horses. The bravest among us quickly charge forward along with Hargoth, while most of the army stay in place, knowing that a charge against men on horseback would be suicide. I look at the men around me, they all looked as dumbfounded as I am. We all knew that Hargoth was a fool, but not this much of a fool. He and the stupid-but brave- men who followed him are getting closer to our foes, Hargoth closer than any of them since he was mounted. If he survives, I think to myself, maybe all that glory he wants so badly will be well earned. Before he could even begin to fight, Hargoth is rewarded for his bravery with a barrage of arrows from the horde’s bows burying themselves into him. His body slumped backward and fell off his horse as the poor beast fled(several arrows in its hide as well) away from the mass of death Hargoth had forced it to ride towards.
At first, I feel a pang of dismay. Now, we have no one to lead us against this endless and unstoppable hoard heading towards us. Surely we are all going to die. But then I realize something. Our leader was Lord Hargoth. He contributes more to the army's success now that he's dead than when he was alive. This is probably the best thing that could have happened to us, short of not being here in the first place or receiving reinforcements. Those of us who are tactically inclined are free to take charge now, and take charge they did. A man by the name of Roger(he insists we call him Sir Roger, but frankly I have had enough of superfluous titles), who was Hargoth’s second in command back when he wasn’t face down in the dirt, begins calling out orders to us and tasking our captains with arranging their companies in formation. “All of you, stand as close together as you can!” “Pikemen to the front” “Raise your shields!”, he barked at us, giving orders at us left and right as we all scramble to get into position.
None of us had ever gotten to see Roger lead any army before, we just know that he had in the past. Still, I trust him to lead better than Hargoth, really anybody is a step up from him, especially someone who actually seems to know what he is doing and doesn't rely on his noble upbringing and honeyed words to lead. Never in my life have I seen men move so quickly, practically sprinting to where Roger and our captains ordered them to be. In fact, I don't think I've ever moved this fast in my life. Those among us armed with crossbows begin to line up in ranks on a small hill(if you can even call it that) behind us. I suppose quite a lot can be accomplished when certain death is charging right for you. We’re certainly much better off than we were before, but standing so close together makes this heat even more unbearable. I remember the words of the fellow who had asked me if I was scared, back then all we could agree on was how hot it was. Now, I’m not ashamed to admit it, like him, I am deathly afraid.
Our enemy is now upon us, their arrows rain down on our lines, slaying those who are unlucky enough to not have a shield with ease. Hargoth was right, a lot of us will certainly be joining God soon. But thanks to Roger’s quick action, death rains upon the horde as well. I see arrows from behind me fly overhead, several of which find themselves inside one of the horde’s horse archers. Our pikemen thrust their spears into the horses of those who get too close to our lines, throwing their riders onto the ground and leaving them open to be finished off. Still, we are heavily outnumbered, I can see men constantly riding towards us from the horizon, a neverending human stream.
The accuracy of their archers is remarkable, still able to hit whatever poor lad they aim for despite traveling at full speed on their mounts. I heard legends of horse archers from the east, with the accuracy of any talented marksman, but never believed them to be true. Oh but how true they are, several men near me have already fallen to their arrows, and many have flown too close to me for comfort. Somehow, we manage to kill the first wave of them, but for every one of them we kill, another takes their place. I begin to feel hopeless, I believed Hargoth had been leading us to our deaths, but this is far worse than anything I could have imagined. I understand now why the travelers who warned of coming invaders had looked so terrified. The invaders are terror itself.
There is hope, however. The more of the enemy we kill, the fewer men I see armed with bows, and the more I see armed with blades or spears. We might have a fighting chance without arrows falling on us constantly. Still, I've yet to see an end in the charging horde, and the horsemen armed with melee weapons are not to be underestimated. I find myself being forced to move closer to our front lines, to replace those killed. I was not ashamed to admit I was afraid, but I am a little ashamed to admit I'm starting to shake.
Many of our men are soaked in blood, dead bodies line the once empty plains, and arrows from the first wave of horse archers are littered across the landscape. What had once been yellow grass, was now red with blood. I smell an awful stench of blood and sweat mixed together, with dust kicked up from their horses in my eyes and nose alike, disrupting my vision and causing me to cough. At this point I'm at the front of our lines now and must admit, I’m even more scared than I was before. With each passing minute that goes by, I see fewer and fewer arrows heading away from our lines. Behind me, there are maybe eight more rows of men to take our place if we fall, and our enemies just keep on coming. If only Hargoth could see what he’s done, if only he could see where “honor” got us.
To even further cement our coming doom, I see men armed with bows starting to appear again. One of which gets too close to us, and all of us quickly jab our spears at him, digging into his poor horse’s flesh. It almost becomes monotonous, endless waves of mounted men reach our lines, we all thrust our spears at them, over and over again. I’m no longer afraid, I’m tired. It feels as if I’ve been dunked into the ocean with how much sweat and blood is on me, my clothes feel heavy, like a full set of plate armor. I can hardly even lift my spear, let alone use it, and the godforsaken sun that has tormented me so long still beats down hard as ever. One second I’m preparing to strike at one of the horsemen, the next I’m on the ground.
I look down at myself, an arrow right in the middle of my chest. I don’t even feel it, a part of me is glad it hit me, laying down feels nice. I look up at the sun above me, still shining down harshly. Ironic that it would be the last thing I ever see. I wish I could die somewhere with snow, and the smell of pinesap in the air. Instead, I get to die in these hellish, ugly yellow -no, red at this point- plains. For once I’m glad the world works the way it does, Hargoth, that thrice-cursed fool, will receive the blame for our defeat. Sir Roger(I suppose he's earned it) did everything he could, there was just no stopping the horde from the east. Strangely, I see horses ride by me… from our lines, almost trampling me. Perhaps Hargoth won’t go down in infamy after all. My vision becomes dimmer, almost blurry. I know what this means, and yet I’m not afraid. Again, I think of the man from days prior who had asked me if I was afraid. I wasn't then. But I realize now that I should have been, his fear was well-founded. Now I’m laughing, laughing as hard as a dying man can. “At least I won’t be hot anymore”, I say through laughter, “at least I won’t be hot anymore”. As my vision goes dark, I can no longer feel the sun I hated so strongly.