Topic: The Chosen Family

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    Alexander
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    Our soldiers were made ready on the early dawn of day
    From windy Warlon Kingdom they were marching us away
    From mountains then to forests to the desert near the coast
    To fight in bloody battle against a mighty foreign host

    Leon peered into the branches at the base of the hill, looking for signs of his scouts – or their enemies. He was relieved to see Sigrun, his pale chain shirt and conscript’s helm easily identifiable beneath the tabard displaying Chosen Family’s green-and-silver crest. Dash, the mastiff hound, padded silently behind him, his silver coat dirtied and his jaws agape in quiet exhaustion.
    The stocky Sigrun removed his helm and ran his hand through a sodden mop of matted, dirt-coloured hair. He walked up the hill and spoke while looking over his shoulder. “There are five of them,” he said wide-eyed. “I thought there were supposed to be few in number.”
    “They are riff-raff,” Leon said. “A bandit army doesn’t become large in size on its own; it has to be formed from the unification of different groups. This one probably fled when they saw our own army approaching. If scout reports are correct…” he looked at Wulf – the third member of their company – who had scouted the brigands himself.
    “….our main force has superior numbers,” Wulf said. “They were around a dozen in number. If there are five here, our own force will be able to defeat them easily.” The stubble-chinned yeoman was sharpening a bodkin knife with a whetstone, chewing on a stalk of wheatgrass.
    “We should go back to the main force,” Sigrun said. “Three against five are bad odds even for a mercenary.”
    “We have the element of surprise,” Leon said. “If we turn back, we’ll be exposed on two fronts. We must kill them all in a surprise attack.”
    Sigrun gritted his teeth. “Then we should hurry. Or there won’t be an enemy left by the time we get back.”
    Leon raised his hand and gestured them behind him. He stalked down the hill, and advanced on the clearing. Sure enough, some hundred yards beyond, there was a clearing, and several voices arguing.
    “Should I try to go around behind them?” Sigrun asked. “Cut off their escape?”
    Leon shook his head. “It’s too dangerous. If it were to alert them the ambush would be turned on us tenfold. We must kill them all in a surprise attack.”
    Sigrun nodded, patting the dog beside him. Until death, every day was treated like every other.
    The group edged as close to the clearing as possible. Up ahead, not 20 feet away, a group of men sat catching their breath, and arguing over their route and complaining of a fat companion that had slowed them down. “Weapons,” Leon whispered.
    Wulf pocketed his whetstone and held his dirk up to the spotted light coming through the trees. Satisfied, he stuck the knife in his belt, took up his bow, and tested the resistance on the bow string. He climbed onto one of the larger rocks at the edge of the clearing, using the tree beside it for support, and stuck a fistfull of arrows onto one of the gnarled roots lumped over the stoneface. In his grew cloak and brown leathers he blended in well.
    Sigrun drew a two-handed axe from his belt, checking both sides of the blade, and sheathed his own dagger at his side.
    Only Leon wore a small wooden shield to his right arm, testing its balance to make sure it would compliment his pointed helm and shirt of steel rings. He unsheathed his longsword, clicking his teeth at a spot of rust on the blade, before re-sheathing it in favour of a common militiaman’s spear. If an opponent got under his thrust (or the shaft got stuck in one of his victims) he would unsheath the sword for closework. Otherwise, there was only one thing left to do:
    Leon looked to Sigrun, then to Wulf, who both nodded. He raised his hand. Wulf drewback on the bowstring, and – upon seeing Leon’s gesture – fired.
    Leon and Sigrun charged, Dash barking and howling at their heels. The arrow sailed into the clearing and struck; a tall lanky outlaw fell with his throat pierced. The others all began shouting and fumbling at once, tripping over one another and scrambling for their arms. One rotund fellow fell backwards over another, tackled by Dash, who began biting and ripping at his arms and face.
    Leon ran forward and drove his spear through the shoulder of one brigand. Sigrun hewed the legs off another. A third brigand dragged a mace from the ground, but Wulf loosed another arrow, and the his target staggered back with an arrow in his side.
    A second spear thrust went wide, and Leon’s target jabbed at him with a short, notched blade. Leon felt the weapon thud into his shield, and stabbed his opponent in the thigh. Then, as the fat man rose to his feet, kicking away the warhound, Leon turned and tripped him. His wounded opponent faltered, but attempted another flurry of sharp, quick stabs. Leon turned on him, but thrust too late, unable to keep both men at bay.
    On the other side of the clearing, Sigrun had wheeled on the dark-eyed fellow with the mace, answering his foe with a two-handed axe-swing that nearly shattered his opponent’s weapon. A backswing just barely missed taking his opponent’s arm off at the elbow.
    Leon planted his feet, steadied himself and drove the spear hard into the fat man, who careened back and toppled over. Dash and Wulf sprinted towards Sigrun’s opponent. Leon dropped the spear and unsheathed his longsword just in time to feel his second attacker’s notched blade slicing through his steel rings. He batted the man aside with his shield, turned, and grazed his attacker’s wounded shoulder with the keen edge of the blade. They exchanged blows once, twice, three times before Leon got him off balance. He parried high with his shield, and swung low, slashing through his foe’s midsection.
    Behind him, Sigrun stood toe-to-tow with their final opponent, who gave Sigrun a terrible blow to the ribs. The brawny companion swung sideways, hard, with his axe, and his opponent fell headless in a heap in the underbrush
    Leon stumbled towards them. “Is that all? Is everyone alright?”
    Sigrun grunted, checking his armor for damage. He had some nasty bruising, but was otherwise fine. Leon’s rings had been severed, and blood ran freely down his side, but the cut was shallow at worst.
    “That could have gone much, much more badly,” Sigrun said.
    “Well shot,” Leon said to Wulf.
    The bowman shrugged. “Throat’s easy when they don’t know you’re shooting at them.”

    None of the brigands had anything much of value, but all were carrying a few coins, and the fat man’s boar-spear was a significant improvement over Leon’s own. It certainly would have helped in skewering the fat man, who was practically a boar himself.

    Within an hour, they were headed back to the front with Leon at the head of them. Sigrun was worrying at his “Why would such a large group flee from our main force? Don’t outlaws usually have a plan when they scatter?”
    “They didn’t seem like the rest of the raiders,” Leon said. “And the coins… they all had the same minted currency. As if….”
    “…someone paid them to split our own forces.”
    Sigrun winced. “If that’s the case, it’s a good thing only three of us went to intercept them. Still.. that’s a cunning move…”
    As they crested the ridge, Leon drew a sharp breath. There were smoke trails up ahead. He immediately unsheathed his sword. “The enemy has already engaged!”
    The three ran towards the battlefield. There were bodies. This was bad….

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