Unless, that is, you are enjoying reading my newest novel, in which case, I give you:
The Seven Kingdoms
Chapter Forty Four
Hildy’s guardsmen reached the back of the last rank of resistance army soldiers. They began trying to shoulder their way forward through them. Hildy caught up to them and began to shout. “Attack!” She shouted it repeatedly, and the men began to shout it too, even as they started to move forward. Hildy wanted to lead them. She wanted them to see her in the front, to know that she was risking her life with them. The resistance army line began to bulge as the center pushed out, the men to either side following their lead. The cry spread down the line towards each end. The Skull troops around the road, who had fallen back only a little way, began to panic. The gap between the lines let the resistance army troops gain speed, and the slope gave them momentum. They crashed into the Skull lines with a terrible fury. The noise was overwhelming. The Skull soldiers in the rear ranks saw that there were no black robes behind them to stop them, and they ran. The fear spread, and the entire center of the line crumbled and washed away.
Hildy continued to try to push her way to the front as her men surged forward. She needed to fight with them. She finally managed to do it, mostly because of the eagerness of her guard troops, who were trying to keep ahead of her to keep her safe. As they forced their way to the front, Hildy kept up with them, and suddenly found herself running over the grass beside the road with no one in front of her but fleeing enemy troops. Then, the enemy stopped suddenly in a milling mass, having come up against the two large blocks of their reserve troops. The terrified Skull soldiers had no choice but to turn, reform their lines, and defend themselves, but they had no time. They hadn’t even begun to get their lines in order when the resistance army, Hildy right in the front, crashed into them once more.
It was nothing but slaughter. Many of the Skulls had thrown down their weapons. After mere moments, they broke again, and turned, trying to push through or over the troops blocking their way. Hildy killed two enemy soldiers that were still armed and putting up a fight. Then, she reversed her spear, and used the butt end to knock unarmed men to the ground. She yelled at them to stay down and surrender when the fighting moved past them. Hildy could see the first ranks of the soldiers who had not taken part in the initial attack. She could see the confusion on their faces. Some tried to let their fleeing comrades through their lines, but they were packed so tightly and lined up so deep, that this was nearly impossible. Some of them began using their spears to hold their own troopers back, and a few even stabbed the fear-maddened men who came too close.
It was a horrifying mess. Panicked Skull soldiers threw themselves to the ground, or put up their hands to show that they were unarmed, trying to surrender to the resistance army troops. Many tried to force their way left or right to get out of the way, but this was impossible. Hildy tried to ignore the screams, tried not to kill any of the men who had stopped fighting or were trying to surrender. And then she was past them, a fresh line of black-clad soldiers with spears leveled at her. She saw a man before her whose spear blade was smeared with the blood of one of his own men, and she let rage overcome her.
She fought on pure instinct, blocking, thrusting, swinging the tip of her spear to stab at men on either side of her when she had the time to do so. She used everything her father and the black robe they had captured had taught her. The enemy were not well-trained, because the most experienced soldiers were garrisoned in the kingdoms they had helped to conquer, and they were weak with hunger, but these men were fighting for their lives. The black robes would kill them if they fled, the black robes protecting their king on the hill behind them.
To either side of her, her soldiers and guardsmen fought to stay with her. They fought forward step by step, pushing the black lines inexorably back, stepping over the bodies of friend and foe alike. Hildy lost track of how many men she killed. She took another step forward, and her leg nearly gave out on her. Then the pain hit. She looked down. There was a deep gash in the muscle of her thigh, blood welling from it. She hadn’t even felt the spear point as it was driven into her flesh.
She stopped, letting the men around her push past her, letting the battle sweep by. She used her spear as a crutch to help her stand. She found that she was on a small mound, but had no recollection of fighting uphill. She looked around her, able to see over the heads of the troops advancing on all sides. To her front, she could see that her lines, now noticeably less deep than they had been, were nearly halfway through the two dense blocks of Skull infantry, and that the enemy formations were being slowly pushed back, their rear ranks nearly at the base of the big hill. Halfway up the slope of the hill above the slowly retreating Skull lines, she saw a double line of men in black robes that stretched beyond her sight around either side of the hill. Beyond them, nearer to the crest, was a cluster of men in black. She saw glimmers and flashes as sunlight struck silver fittings on their armor, and knew these to be princes. At the very top of the hill a very wide shape stood alone.
Hildy looked behind her to the left. This was the end of her line she was most worried about, where the enemy was moving past and around her shorter formation. Her heart sank. Her line was making a huge, curved bow, stretching back to the forested slope directly behind her, to disappear into the trees. Many of the Skull troops that opposed her lines further up the valley amongst the farm fields had not broken and fled as the assaulting lines in the center had. They now held that arched bow, and had fought her troops to a standstill, and her troops were spread thin there as their lines lengthened. Hildy feared that under those trees on the ridge where the battle had started, enough of the enemy was gathered to break through and roll her line up, but she had no way to know.
She spun slowly in the other direction. On the right, things were going well. Her troops close to the sea were pressing forward faster than the center of the line where Hildy had so recently been fighting. It looked as though the soldiers on and near the beach itself were breaking through the last remnants of the end of the enemy line. They were going to get around the hill, Hildy saw, her hopes soaring, although she didn’t know if there were enough of them to turn the tide of battle. Then she saw one reason that her soldiers near the water were doing so well. Her brave fleet commander had sailed the fleet right to the edge of the breakers off the beach, and his slings and fire troops were raining down death on that end of the Skull lines. Even as she watched, more of the enemy turned to run, and her men surged forward.
A voice shouted in her ear, trying to overcome the din of the battle. It took a moment for Hildy to realize it was Sanara. “We are running out of fire balls. What do you want us to do?”
Hildy staggered, and her friend grabbed her around the waist. Then one her battle healers was there, red tunic sodden with blood that the dye couldn’t quite hide. He knelt and began to bandage her leg, after dousing it with a liquid that burned like fire. “Sorry,” the man shouted, looking up from his task. He reached into a pouch that hung on his belt, and handed her a small bottle. “For the pain,” he yelled. She shook her head and handed it back. She needed to be clearheaded.
“Sanara,” Hildy said, as loudly as she could, “gather every man you have with you. Send your fire balls right into those masses of troops.” She gestured towards the nearby fighting, her eyes fixed on Sanara’s as the girl helped steady her. “But save the last three volleys. We need to get you close enough to that hill to use them there. We need to kill the king.”
Sanara nodded grimly. “Can you stand on your own?”
“I’ll be fine,” Hildy told her, but she felt dizzy and her leg was throbbing. It still felt as if it were on fire. She pulled her friend closer so she could speak into her ear. “I need you, Sanara, you and your men. I hate to do it. These Skull soldiers didn’t ask to be here. They don’t want to be here, not most of them. You need to scare them until they fear us more than they fear the black robes or their own king.”
Sanara nodded again, and took her arm from around Hildy’s waist, making sure she wouldn’t fall before letting go. She turned and ran back to where her fire troops were pushing their carts over a carpet of fallen men. They were stopping to move the wounded men out of the way. Hildy watched Sanara begin yelling orders, and now the carts moved on more quickly, more quickly because they were rolling right over helpless men from both armies.
“What have I asked of that poor girl?” Hildy wailed aloud, her words drowned out by the sounds of more men dying and being maimed, and feeling tears coursing down her cheeks.
Martus Rudder came back out of his daze. He had been completely unaware for an unknown amount of time, still walking slowly ahead. He looked around. He was no longer walking towards the hill. He had turned without knowing it, and was now halfway past the hill and on the other side of the road than he had been. He was alone in a sea of grass, the roar and clash of battle beginning to fade behind him. He set his course for the hill once more. He was already behind the large formations of reserve infantry. He didn’t look back at the fighting. He was finished with fighting.
He found that he was climbing a slope, and lifted his head, looking up above him. A thin line of black robes blocked his way, curving around the face of the hill. He kept moving. He stumbled and almost fell, but managed to stay on his feet. When he reached the line of men, they moved aside to let him pass, taking note of his dangling arm and the blood-drenched, black robe that he wore. One of them patted him on his good shoulder as he passed. Martus just kept moving slowly up the hill.
He lifted his head again. There stood his king, turned sideways to him, watching the battle below. Martus staggered towards him, the butt of his spear still dragging on the ground behind him.