Woody Craig 2014
The repetitive hoof beat was drummed into the skull of every man in the column. But it was the loud irregular staccato of the rain that was deafening not to mention chilling to the core, at first his armour had acted as protection from the spattering of rain and even warded off some of the cold, but now his armour padding was drenched all the way through. Still they rode on, four and thirty men, they covered mile upon mile in a rain that seemed to follow them with its cold biting edge, it was as if though the air was frozen the water would not freeze to dry snow simply to spite them, to keep them wet as well as cold. As he contemplated this insult from the heavens a man rode up next to him, “Captain Jira!” the soldier yelled over the deafening roar of the rain and the din it made upon the steel of their helmets, “How much further Captain?!” he asked. “If you only came to ask me when you can fill your belly Hantar then you may re-join the line.” The captain replied audible over the rain without any strain evident in his voice. Hantar bowed his head forward and returned to the line silent in his reply. After another hour of riding Captain Jira raised his hand calling his riders to a halt, he dismounted and began to set up his tent, there were no servants or retainers here, each man pulled his own weight. The column did the same without a single order being issued. When they had set out these men would have chatted through this process, now they simply went about the duties with a dampened silence, they set up rudimentary fortifications and ditches that quickly flooded. Trees were sparse here and each man was resigned to the knowledge that they would be cold and wet with little natural cover on this night, nonetheless they set up their tents in two circles with Jira’s tent at the centre. There would be no fires on this night, each man his duties done, was quick to sleep, all but one. He lay awake upon his stilted bedroll; the patter of rain was lighter now no longer a deafening white noise, he thought back to Vistus, he had lost six and sixty men to that wretched place, he knew inside that a death in battle was the death each warrior sought but each of those men had been his comrades, many the life of the company. They had won at Vistus, he knew this too but it was not a victory that made him proud, it was not a victory that made him happy. This was too great a loss for the Captain. His men had scarcely spoken since Vistus; they had been ambushed at the village by Andzenian footmen. There had been about two hundred of them cold disciplined warriors the light foot of Andzar, the were led by Malorin Joysword a vile man who’s only joy in life came from killing, he was a mercenary but it was not uncommon for him to work as a commanding officer in various armies. It was funny in a humourless way Jira though that though his men had torn through each and every one of Malorin’s company with only a score losing their lives to the Andzenians it was the Joysword who took the heart of the slaughter, he had whirled through the captain’s men like a whisk through cream, Jira’s men seemed to offer no resistance to Death’s emissary. It was only when Jira was able to rally his troops to him and create an effective shield wall that Malorin’s assault was halted. Jira remembered the smile of the pale skinned thief of life; it was a smile full of morbid enjoyment. After that the Joysword had fled, his own company annihilated. The flapping black cloak was etched into the captain’s mind, the barely perceptible red tinge that stained it flittering away like leaves in the wind unmolested by all but the elements. The story went that the Joysword’s cloak had once been white, when he was captain in the Denayen army but that with the corruption of his soul the Joysword would soak his cloak in the blood of enemies whom he had slain, the story said that the blood was so deep into the cloak that it had gone black and that you only saw the red of its reason before you were to join the hue of the cloak yourself. Jira had seen evidence of this as the cloak he and his men wore was defiled by their own blood, they were the Denayen Heavy Horse the pride of the Denayen army, an elite mounted unit, a Captain had to be able to hold his own against ten men at once, it did not surprise him then that Malorin had been able to cut through his privates like butter, Malorin who had once been a Captain of the same force. What surprised Jira was that such a man could be so vile. The Denayen’s believed that the greatest honour was to protect their comrades in battle; they put the lives of the innocent before their own in every circumstance, self-sacrifice was a cornerstone of military life in Denayer, and it was born from a love of living things. Jira hated to hurt the innocent and even those who committed crimes he would look to the good in their heart to see if there was repentance in their soul. The Joysword was a different story however; though he was born and trained in Denayer he had not learnt their beliefs, it was not that he had been corrupted but simply that he had never been good in the first place. As Jira closed his eyes and finally felt sleep take him it was a burning hatred that filled his dreams, a hatred of the Joysword and all those who sold their blades simply that they may kill.