Blademaster of Norda
By Jacamo Peterson
His Majesty Killian III, King of Keltan, was sitting at his desk, in the small study next to his bed chamber. He was relaxing after a full day at court, the hour was approaching midnight. When suddenly, the doors from the outer hall flew open without a sound, heralded only by an inrush of cool air. The King looked up from the scroll he was reading, to find his younger brother Danell standing there smiling.
“Well! Danell? What means this intrusion? Just what brings you here this late in the evening?”
“Why, I only bring Death! Dear Brother, Your Death!” Replied Danell! Just inside the doorway, his hands on his hips. Smirking! As from behind him there appeared a shadowy figure. A Wizard by the look of him, he was already incanting a spell. The King leapt to his feet, dropping the goblet of wine from which he had been drinking, while grabbing for the sword which lay unsheathed upon his desk
At that very instant, the Wizard cast his spell from extended hands, and dark, red, crackling, lightning bolts flew from his fingers, striking the King full in the chest, quite literally, burning him to death from within, while he silently screamed in agony. As his brother stood there smiling.
“Oh Yes, I will be a far better King than you have been, my dear Killian,” Danell stated, “and your lovely wife will become my favorite concubine, Oh!, and, by the way dear brother! Know you this! Your sons also shall all die this night!” As the King, Killian III, collapsed to the floor dead, his body was jerking and smoking slightly.
Meanwhile, in another part of the Royal Quarters, two young boys died instantly from being stabbed through their hearts, as they lay sleeping. At the same time, their sisters, were pounced upon by others, in their chambers, they were bound and gagged. Then they were moved to the top chamber in the tallest castle tower, and there imprisoned. Aurelia the Queen, the children’s mother, was far away at that moment in time. She was visiting with her kin in the country of Danfinia, located to the north of Keltan. She knew almost instantly though, through a vision had by her seer, exactly what had transpired.
Danell, a Prince of the Realm himself, along with those Dark forces who aided him, including a powerful Dark Priest named Rigorda, however had all failed to note, that the eldest of the Kings sons Prince Killian had in fact, two days before left the King’s City. To hunt boar, out in the great forests located to the east. Rigorda was enraged by this news, but he managed to control himself enough to contact others of his order, and arrange for a mercenary force, to be sent to find the Prince and kill him, and all who were with him.
Now the Dark Lord’s plan for the conquest of the vile “Humans” can once again go forward. First take over of a Kingdom, to establish his rule on the surface of the Earth.
Crown Prince Killian, along with Captain Grayhawk, Knight Commander of the Household Guard, ten Knights of the Realm, and their retainers, had ridden out from the Kings City. On a boar hunt headed to the eastern forests of Keltan. To the foot of the Auserlian Mountains, near the head waters of the river Saar, There the forest is almost as thick as the Great Forests of Norda.
On the fourth day of their six-day journey eastward, Grayhawk sensed some sort of danger, coming from behind them, and informed the Prince that they were being followed. Prince Killian surmised that they must be Gaulan bandits. Raiding north of the Keltani border, as they sometimes do, looking for caravans or travelers to rob. However, Grayhawk knew that bandits would not risk attacking a party of armed Knights of Keltan. Though, a large enough group of the Drulgar, (evil servants of the Dark Lord) would. But, whoever they were, they were closing the distance as the day wore on, and that most likely meant an attack on their camp during the night. This was a common enough, Drulgar tactic.
“What do you recommend then Captain Grayhawk?” asked the young Prince, “For I freely admit to having no experience with this sort of thing.”
Grayhawk thought for a moment, and then answered, “Your Highness, I suggest that we should prepare an ambush of our own, and beat them at their own game.”
“Now that definitely sounds good to me,” replied the Prince. “I will follow your lead in this matter Captain. How shall we do it?
“First, Your Highness, let us up the pace for an hour or so, to a canter, that we may have a goodly amount of time to prepare, when we stop. If they are any good at all in tracking, they will see that we are moving at a canter, and think that we are just trying to make good time before stopping for the night.”
“Then let it be so” said the Prince. The group moved into a canter and in the next hour covered about six miles. Untill they came to a good hilltop, covered with large rocks and trees.
“Let us stop here and prepare a normal camp in the center of these large rocks, in this open area” said Grayhawk. Everything must look as though normal, the same as our camps have been thus far.” They pitched their tents in an almost complete oblong with the opening towards the road. They then prepared a large fire ring in the center of the camp. They chopped and collected a good size pile of firewood, set out all of the campstools and other camp supplies as normal. They even placed the Princes pennant in the ground in front of the largest tent. Four smaller cook fire rings, with iron tripods and stew pots were set up, two at each end of the inner circle. All members of the party were horse mounted, thirty five men in all, counting the Prince, and Grayhawk. There were ten Knights, twelve Squires, eight Yeomen, a Cook and two Wranglers, and sixty total horses. The result was a fair sized camp.
A hearty dinner of stew and trail bread was prepared. All members of the party ate well in preparation for what might turn out to be a very long night.
“What do we do now Captain,” asked the Prince, “Sit here and wait to be attacked?”
“Not here, Highness. We will shortly move across the road and into the trees. All but a few men, who will remain and make the camp, seem normal. Our enemies, whoever they may be, will likely not attack without first having a scouting report about the layout. It is the scouts who we must fool so that they will go and report just how relaxed and vulnerable we are.”
“While we hide, back from the camp in the trees, waiting for the main body of them to commit themselves. For only then shall we come to know who, and how many are our enemies and then we shall deal them an unsuspecting blow.”
“I see,” said the Prince. “Surprise them at their own game hey!”
“Well Highness, we are sure to be out numbered, and must hold on to whatever small advantage we may. The outcome of this is not set in stone for either side.”
“Think you then that we are at some considerable risk to our lives in this?”
“Aye! Your Highness. We are surely in some danger. Whenever steel is drawn, life is at risk for someone. From there comes the primal question that all men face in these circumstances.”
“And that question is exactly what? Captain Grayhawk”
“Why, fight or flight my Prince! What else?”
“Run! Why Captain, surely you jest?” asked the Prince.
“That I do, my Prince. That I do.” And everyone around them was laughing. For Grayhawk’s love of fighting was well known.
The camp was laid out east-west off to the north side of the road, with the entrance facing the road or to the South. The horses were picketed on the north side, behind the camp in front of a large rock formation. The east end of the camp was also rocks and trees. The west side of the camp was more open. The layout was such that an attack could only be effectively mounted from the wes,t either up the road and through the front entrance or through the trees to the west on foot.
They will do both, Grayhawk surmised, splitting their force to achieve maximum effort, in an attempt to catch the camp asleep and take it with minimum effort.
After full dark Grayhawk detailed, three Knights and three Yeomen with bows, to be placed in the rocks at the east end of camp. Everyone else then moved across the road and into the trees, well back from the road, so as not to be seen, except for a group of five Squires and Yeomen who were left in camp as though they were sentries and servants still moving about.
Two hours after full dark, three scouts came, moving quietly and efficiently up the road from the west. A number of people could be seen moving around in the camps interior. The fires had burned low. The smell of the evening meal was still in the air. Horses could be occasionally heard blowing and stamping and jingling their bridles. Two of the tents had the soft glow of candles burning inside. The sentry at the front entrance was sitting on a rock sharpening a knife.
Their scouts spread out below the camp, and only stayed to observe for quarter of an hour or so. Apparently then satisfied, they pulled back as one, and moved back down the road out of sight.
As soon as the scouts had gone, Grayhawk had stacks of firewood placed over the coals of the big fire and two of the cook fires. One at either end of the camps interior, stacked so that the wood was not touching the coals, but close enough to begin heating up. Then he had the two wranglers and the cook hiding behind the tents with prepared flasks of lamp oil, to throw on the stacks of wood when the attack started.
Everyone in the party was armed almost the same. All carried boar lances, most had recurve bows, a sword and a dirk, all except the wranglers and the cook. They each had a short sword and a dagger.
The Knights of Keltan do not wear heavy plate armor, even on horseback. Their swords are heavy sabers, and they wear hip length chain mail with hoods and round steel helmets with chin straps. Their shields are of the round buckler type, and their battle lances are similar to the boar lance only lighter and longer. They can and do effectively use their recurve bows from horseback even at a full gallop. Their Squires are trained exactly the same. Yeomen are trained primarily with the bow and the straight sword, and fight on foot in war, as light infantry.
This night, the fight would begin with bows. Grayhawk instructed each man, after the scouts had departed with their report. Take out five arrows, and stick them in the ground on the right side of the archer in a line. He figured if each man got off, three to five shots, then dropped the bow, and picked up his boar lance. That even in a ragged line, they should be able to take down many of their foe. He told them bluntly, only the winning side could call a night ambush “honorable” and that their opponents intended to give no quarter, and take no prisoners, or they would not be attacking at night.
The night grew quiet and still, as they stood waiting behind trees, a good ten to fifteen paces back from the road. They were all grown men here, and most were veterans. Half an hour passed, then another. Everyone was becoming tired of standing still for so long.
Finally, they were there, several hundred yards down the road, dark figures in the moon light. There were many of them in a dark mass, moving slowly. Then they stopped, about a hundred yards west of the camp. Part of the dark mass broke off and began moving into the trees on the other side of the road. Three or four long minutes passed and then almost as one they mounted up, military style.
“These are not bandits, nor are they Drulgar” thought Grayhawk. But before he could ruminate on it further, a sword flashed up in the moonlight and the riders surged forward, first at a trot, to a canter and then at a full gallop. Thundering up the road and turning into the opening before the camp, directly in front of Grayhawk and the hunting party, shouting war cries, waving swords and spears they turned to their right, into what they thought was a sleeping camp.
There were then three almost simultaneous whooshes, coupled with bright yellow flashes, as flasks of lamp oil shattered on piles of hot, dry firewood set over coal beds. As arrow then began buzzing out from the darkness and striking with meaty thunks, into the mass of mounted horsemen, even as dismounted figures, came out of the darkness and lept onto tents stabbing and slashing with swords and spears. All were shouting and screaming blood curdling yells and battle cries. Now even more arrows came out of the dark, striking horse, rider, and dismounted alike. As the last of the horsemen rode into the camp area, the scene was chaos. Burning oil had been blown onto several horses and riders who were swerving into other mounts and shrieking in fear, and pain.Both riders and horses were going down, only to be trod under the hooves of others. Two of the tents were now burning, adding to the melee of noise and confusion.
Grayhawk loosed his fifth arrow at the figure closest to him, then dropped his bow, caught up his boar lance, as others to the left and right of him were doing the same and ran forward into the red mist, behind the veil of the bezerker.
He took the first rider off his horse with an impact that lifted the man free of his saddle and pushed him over his horse. The man grabbed the shaft of the boar lance and pulled it with him as he went over. Grayhawk now drew his great sword, taking a two-hand hold, he stabbed the riders horse, which was trying to bite him, through the neck and ripped out to the side. The horse went down in a heap and he jumped on top of it to get at the next rider who was trying to impale him with a lance. A hard downward stoke severed the lance and a follow up roundhouse cut took off the riders head. He slipped in blood and gore and went down between the dead horse and the live one. He very nearly got his head stomped flat but managed to roll over the dead horse and get back to his feet. Laughing now, a true bezerker, he charged into the thickest part of the fray and engaged enemy after enemy, stabbing, slashing, spinning and chopping.
The fight lasted for over two hours, until at last, Grayhawk rallied together a group of knights and squires around the Prince, and the enemy finally realized they could not get to him. For it was now obvious to all, that their intent had been to kill the Prince.
They broke off the fight and fled running, back into the darkness, those of them who could. They left behind over a hundred and twenty dead and dying. Two full companies of mercenary soldiers had begun the attack. The Princes party lost six Knights, four Squires, five Yeomen and one Wrangler, which made for a total of sixteen dead. The bards would sing for the next two centuries about this battle. But what would be most remembered is that the Crown Prince had killed ten men in personal combat. Though he was but eighteen years old! This fact was later documented by eyewitness accounts.
When the daylight at last arrived, it was a far different Prince Killian who greeted the sun that spring morn. The aftermath of that battle was not a pleasant sight to gaze upon, even for a battle hardened Blademaster. There were also some thirty horses down.
But, the young Prince rose to the occasion. He had funeral pyres constructed for his own dead. Then he spoke for them as they were consumed, sending their spirits on with a royal blessing. Their personal items were packed up for their families.
All the stray mounts left by the enemy were rounded up, stripped of their gear and tack and turned loose to become wild horses.
He left the entire enemy force lying where they fell. The place became known as Killian’s Hill and is covered in bones and ghosts to this day.
He did, however, have all of their bodies searched for clues as to who had sent them. Many newly minted Keltani gold marks were found on them, along with many unusual knives and pieces of jewelry. Some were very rare and expensive. At the end of the day, the Prince called Grayhawk over and said
“Captain, I will not stay in this place another night, with all that has happened here. Let us pack up what we can and move back towards home. I fear there is more involved here than an attempt to kill me. I have dire feelings, and fear for the safety of my family.”
So, pack and move they did. They rode until midnight before they stopped to sleep in a cold camp. Arising at dawn, they rode again. Thirty five had ridden forth from the King’s city, only nineteen rode back.
On the morning of the second day, they were intercepted by dispatch riders who informed the Prince of the death of his father the King and of his two younger brothers by unknown assassins, killed in their beds in the middle of the night. Further, that his Uncle Danell had named himself Prince Regent, because he believed the assassins had also killed Prince Killian somewhere in the wilds of the East. Old Cedric the King’s Seneschal, had, in the hopes of finding Killian alive, sent the dispatch riders.
They stopped beside a small lake for a few hours rest, while the Prince went around the shore to the other side by himself, to come to grips with all this life changing news. Grayhawk meanwhile ordered a hot meal prepared, and all the men were fed, including the five dispatch riders, who were all from an Army unit stationed some miles outside of the King’s city. All were glad to have hot food and as they sat eating, one of the young soldiers who had arrived with the news, said around a mouthful of food,
“Do you not fear for the Prince, all alone out there by the lake? What if we are attacked?” One of the older squires said,
“Son, then I would fear for whoever attacked him. Your Prince is no dandy milksop.”
“How so?” asked the soldier.
“Why a couple of nights ago, when we were attacked by about a battalion of hard core mercenaries, the Prince killed over a dozen of them by himself!”
“Thou art jesting,” said the soldier.
“No soldier, he’s not.” said one of the young knights. “He speaks the truth.”
“And so the legends begin” though Grayhawk to himself
After a time Killian returned to the fire and motioned to Grayhawk, he said,
“Walk with me a bit Captain Grayhawk.” Together they walked back down to the lake.
No one knows what was said in that conversation, but for over an hour they stood on the shore of the lake talking earnestly and often gesturing or shaking their heads, not as if arguing but very serious. When they returned, as they approached the men, all conversation ceased, and they were mostly just standing there looking. The Prince started to say “Men -“when Grayhawk put his hand up.
“Forgive me Sire, let me say this. Men of Keltan, your King, Killian the Third is dead, long live the King.” They all answered,
“Long live the King!”
“Now it is required that you swear loyalty to your new King, Killian the Fourth, by right of succession. May the Gods bless, our King!”
“May the Gods Bless our King,” they all answered. Then all came forward, Knights first, took a knee and sword loyalty oaths. Grayhawk was the last in line to do so.
Killian looked at his not so large retinue and said
“I thank each of thee for thy pledge of loyalty, but I fear we must be about acquiring a somewhat larger Army or we may all find ourselves without heads.” Everyone laughed nervously. “For I know there is at least one other person who would claim my father’s crown, my Uncle Danell.”
“Well Majesty” said Grayhawk mounting his horse, “Let us be about doing just that.”
“Aye” said the King mounting his own horse. “Though I must admit Captain, I don’t think I look very majestic today,” looking down at his bloodstained tunic. “Perhaps if they don’t get downwind of us we may fool some.”
“Highness, er Your Majesty! I mean” said one of the younger Knights. “We could stop long enough to bathe in yon lake.”
“What!” exclaimed Killian, “And ruin the fishing here for years! Nay! Sir Knight. Better that my people see me returned covered in blood and grime as further evidence of this foul business we are all involved in. For having cast thy lots with me, you are all now in mortal danger. My father’s enemies will seek to destroy the entire line including all friends and supporters. We, therefore, best ride like the wind and see what further support we can garner.”
“Sage words, Majesty,” said Grayhawk. “We will truly need all of the support we can muster. I am thinking that perhaps I know where such support might be found.”
“And where prey tell might that be?” asked the King.
“Why at the Knights and Officers Academy, of course.”
“Yes indeed, excellent thinking Sir Grayhawk. There must be over two hundred loyal cadets and knight instructors there. We need only deviate a few hours north to get there. Ride hard men!! Time is precious. Truly!!
Two full mercenary companies of seventy five men each, had launched an attack against thirty five men in a royal hunting party, and lost! A tale to be retold that was!