The Swarming in the Dark III – The Warband

Catch up on the past installments in this series here. ⊗ As Orsog led his rowdy band of bruisers down the streets of the fortress and out into Harnea, the legionnaires and camp aides looked

Catch up on the past installments in this series here.

As Orsog led his rowdy band of bruisers down the streets of the fortress and out into Harnea, the legionnaires and camp aides looked on with a mixture of wonder, fear, and scorn. His men were all scar-knuckled types, too prone to drinking and fighting to rise through the ranks, despite their toughness and ferocity. Some were phoidorates, a mixture of Rendic panther-killers with yellow-haired Volaki mercenaries, traitors to their own people. None were disciplined, none adapted to the tight formation-fighting that defined the Asentic legions.

Orsog himself smiled at the looks they got. That was the problem with civilized folk, he thought. They were used to the open combat of army against army, and their whole view of soldiery was built on that. His men would do just fine where he was taking them.

Their procession wound in swaggering disarray out of the military quarter and through civilian Harnea. Hathulian mothers rushed their children inside and hawkers loomed protectively over their stalls. Then it was out through the gates, out into a wilderness that did not scorn or fear them, out into a world with no contempt for men of their kind.
The wilderness might have been harsh, but its harshness was cold, without the smugness or the offended tones of the well-bred folk who despised the men who did their fighting for them. It was a welcome change for the scar-faced, flint-eyed men of Orsog’s band.

Thus far, they had walked beside their horses, but now they mounted up. These were not the big destriers of an Asentic knight, but the small Volaki ponies that wheeled and pitched about the northern steppes. Not all the men were used to riding into battle. Orsog himself did not favor it. The journey would be long, though, and they needed to move swiftly.

After long miles had peeled away behind them, the Volaki ponies told the men they neared their quarry. They whinnied nervously, and their riders had to rein them in. Orsog lifted his nose to the air, like a questing bloodhound. Long years in the wild had taught him to use all his senses. The wind brought him a faint scent of sulfur and unwashed bodies, tinged with a reptilian musk. He leapt from the horse, sword already half-drawn, as an arrow whistled through the empty space where his head had been.

The hidden enemy loosed two other arrows. One found its target in the bull neck of an Asentic legionnaire. As men leapt for cover or charged after unseen foes, a goblin rushed from the bushes and buried his knife in a Volaki kidney. Orsog was enraged at the wounding of his companion, and as the miniature assassin turned to rush back in the forest, he caught it by the throat and whirled it about, cracking its spine on a nearby tree.

“Fight, you dogs!” he roared. “A reward on the most heads!”

At once the wisdom in Orsog’s choice of men became apparent. Goblin hunting is no place for tight formations. They worked well enough, defensively, but gave no advantage over a foe that could vanish like mist into the trees rather than stand and fight. So instead of the most disciplined soldiers, he had chosen the rowdiest, those used to fighting one-on-one, without a friend to guard their flanks.

Orsog found a space wide enough to swing his great Rendic broadsword, and every goblin that emerged was caught by a sweeping blow. A one-eared Volaki mercenary stood near him, crouching behind a tree. Each time an enemy ran past, he leapt on it with keen knives and killing strokes before retreating to his hiding place. Beyond him a Rendic panther-killer, like Orsog himself, whirled about with short spears, plunging them into the foes that darted in and out of their warband.

The foes came in waves, knives and axes flashing as they ran through the soldiers, and out again into the forest. A moment’s rest would leave Orsog panting and counting survivors before the next wave followed, with the enemy coming in from two new directions. Each wave left goblins dead, but his men were bloodied as well.

When the Volaki near Orsog died, he did not avenge his fallen comrade at once. Instead, he rushed after the goblin that had killed the warrior, off into the forest. A moment later he, hurled his Rendic blade through a cluster of the reptilian foes, killing five for the one they had taken. Then he rushed back through the woods to his men.

“Form pairs!” he shouted. “Chase them!”

The men formed “pairs” of anywhere between three and five men, and began to imitate Orsog. Now it was not the men who had to fear goblins bursting in from nowhere, but instead the goblins who had to fear towering men crashing through the brush to kill them. The tide had turned.

A few more minutes, and the deadly work was done. A bloody harvest lay dismembered on the forest floor, and the men were panting with fear, exhaustion, and exhilaration. But Orsog was a merciless taskmaster.

“Mount up!” he barked. “We follow the trail back to their camp.”

To Be Continued…

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