Ledram fiddled with the straps of his shield, adjusting to its cumbersome bulk. It was a simple thing, circular and covered in raw linen. Upon its scarred face was painted a crown, entangled in vines. The symbol of the empress, marking the shields as property of the imperial army.
Ledram loathed the shield. It was not of poor make, but to the sellsword it felt as though someone tied a millstone to his arm. His whole career he had wielded a longsword, using both hands to maximize the speed and power of the blade. The shield would only serve to slow him down, and to steal strength away from his swings.
But then again, a sword alone would do little to stop a bolt from a crossbow, and Led had a feeling more than a few would be flung his way by the days end. Though by which side, he could not say. The grim line of crossbowmen still stood behind the mercenary army, a cruel reminder of Ledram’s unenviable position.
Tors stood next to Led, leaning on his blade. He scratched his stubble as he scanned the town ahead, concern plastered upon his face. “A hundred and forty Jacks is nothing to sniff at, I suppose,” he hummed, “even if it means charging headfirst into a bloodbath.”
“Half of that still goes to me,” Led snorted, wiping the sweat from his brow, “compensation for bringing me into this mess.”
“Half assuming I survive this,” Tors replied, “after all, you don’t have to pay a dead man.”
“Thanks for the reassurance,” Ledram growled.
“Eh, we’ve seen worse,” Tors stated. His words lacked any confidence. “I mean, it’s what, three-to-one odds in our favour? A good blow and they’ll scatter like flies off shit.”
“And one bolt between the ribs will ruin any chance of retirement.”
“Always looking at the bright side,” Tors chirped. “With any luck you’ll be replacing more than just your teeth with lead.”
Led shrugged. “What’s a few new scars to a sellsword?”
Tors began to speak, but was cut off as a horn blasted through the dusty air.
The signal given, Isaac strode out from the motley assortment of mercenaries. An ornate blade was clutched in his hand, and upon his head rested an intricately painted full-helm. “That’s our cue, scum!” he cried, muffled by his helmet, “the last man into the village will have a finger removed! Now don’t cock this up!”
His threats made, Isaac began his march over the dusty plain. Led and Tors followed suit, as did the rest of their company.
They began with a slow jog, shields down and weapons drawn. To either side other islanders, led by their own ornamented commanders, had joined Isaac’s company. The mercenaries matched their pace, presenting a formidable front to the village.
To the far left, the northmen had other ideas. A hulking behemoth, clad in outdated chainmail and wielding a spear as long as a man is tall sprinted across the ditch-strewn field. Behind him charged a mass of monstrous men, wreathed in thick leather tunics and brandishing a crude assortment of weapons.
“Damn his ancestors,” Isaac bellowed, “the bastard is trying to get all the prestige for himself.” The robber-baron turned to his men, and held his sword aloft. “Double-time it, rats! I’ll be damned if I’m outdone by a bloody snowman!” With that, Isaac took off across the field.
Led and Tors had a moment to look at each other, uncertain of whether or not to continue. Their leader running ahead recklessly, the company nearly came to a halt.
A shrill whistle from behind goaded Led into action, as did the barbed crossbow bolt that landed nearby. The threat of a second, better placed shot drove the islanders onwards after their commander.
As Ledram caught up to Isaac he was forced to slow, his footing growing treacherous. Ditches dotted the ground, and chunks of slag and bits of timber were scattered about. Without breaking stride the mercenary picked his way over the mess, keeping on Isaac’s heels.
That’s when the first arrows were loosed from the village.
They were intermittent at first, falling short of the sellswords and sinking into the packed earth harmlessly. But soon more followed, fired from the rooftops in volleys.
Ledram raised his shield and crouched low, nearly stumbling as his weight shifted. Arrows whizzed past him, digging into the dirt and sticking into chunks of timber.
A cry came from his left, followed by two more impacts. Ledram glanced towards the noise.
An islander, tall and heavy, lay on his side, two arrows stuck in his chest. His padded jacket had stopped the worst of the blow, but it was clear the man wouldn’t be going any further. He held his shield over his head, cowering as blood began to stain his jacket.
Led pressed on, stepping over rubble and peaking above the rim of his shield. Ahead Isaac strode, undaunted by the volley being levelled at him. An arrow lay embedded in his thigh, stuck in the baron’s fine suit of chainmail. Another projectile glanced harmlessly off of his helmet, scraping away the paint and revealing the dull sheen of hardened steel.
To the left, the northerners faired far worse. Half their number lay upon the dirt, a few of brutes still dragging their way towards the village. Their leader was nowhere to be seen, either dead in a ditch or already past the wall of houses.
The village was close, alarmingly so. Now Led could see the faces of the men firing upon him. A motley assortment of young and old, stood side by side with hardened soldiers.
Only a few more yards. Then Led could fight the bastards on even footing.