Carick stood watching the carnage unfold. His legs shook. He witnessed the crossbowmen burst forward and let loose a volley into the back of the rearguard. Many men struck by bolt lay writhing on the floor or crawling and hobbling towards what they hoped was safety only to be trampled and gored by cavalry as they slammed into the rear. Already reeling from the unexpected volley of bolts they shattered like glass as soon as the charge hit home. Turning tail they ran and were herded towards the rear ranks of the men who were already engaged with Imperials on the riverbank.
Crushed from both sides the front crumbled. The real killing had now begun in earnest and the Imperials had taken the southern bank.
“Shit! Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!” Carick said to nobody in particular. Horsemen were now riding full tilt toward the host on the hill, the crossbows already marching towards them, almost within range. Carick felt as if every lance and every crossbow was aimed towards him. He was shaken from watching what had just happened; he wasn’t a brave a man. He knew this and had no pretensions otherwise.
The only way to flee with a chance of survival was into the forest; It was obvious to Carick that the road would be guarded and anyone traveling down there would be cut down. He dropped his shield and spear, grabbed Coudin by the arm and started to run towards the woods. Don’t want to go in the woods but we’re gonna have to…
“Coudin, stay with me! Burt, come on, we’re gettin’ out of ‘ere!” He yelled. Shouts filled the air. He saw Colwyn jump on his horse and ride some men down in his haste to escape. He looked left and right and saw that the host on the hill was in full flight towards the road south without having lifted a sword in violence. Bad idea Carick thought. I ain’t stickin’ round to watch this show.
“Come on, Coudin, I promised your mum I’d get you ‘ome in one piece.” Carick said as
“Uh, uh, Carick I’m scared! My legs are tired! I can’t keep up!” He moaned, sweat dripping down from his forehead, under curly black hair to his chubby cheeks. He’d always been soft. Couldn’t hack a day in the quarries but by the Gods could he bake. And by the Gods was he a good lad with a heart of gold. Carick loved him like a son, although he was harsh with the boy. Since his dad died when he was a babe Carick had helped his sister raise him. He was always picked on by the other children but no matter how hard Carick tried to teach him to confront the bullies it never stuck. Coudin didn’t have it him. “I need…” He puffed like a bellows “to rest”.
“I can’t go without you, and trust me lad, I want to get home in one piece so get that arse into gear and run you flabby git!” Carick growled.
Burt was running beside them, deep wrinkles of concern and anxiety cutting deep chasms into his forehead. “We can’t go in the woods” he said “you know the stories!”.
“The elves…” deep panting breath “still live there…” another laboured breath “they’ll finish us if those horses don’t first!” cried Coudin.
“Stop being chicken shits and run faster!” Carick said through gritted teeth.
Horse hooves hammered the ground. Behind them he could hear men falling, the sound of death and fear. To his left he could see men fleeing, the cavalry charging here and there, chasing down the largest groups, all of which were heading towards the road and luckily luring the better part of the cavalry in their direction. The hoofbeats were closer. He looked around, "Woah!" He yelped as a mace swished past his head “Argh! Keep running!” He angled his run away from the Cavalier that was turning and preparing to charge again. The woods were close. “Run! Get to the trees and we’ll lose ‘em!” He roared as he continued to sprint, breath ripping at his throat and the taste of copper in his mouth.
He was watching Burt and Coudin more than he was his footing. A horseman was closing on them too, lance tipped and pointing at them. He tripped, slammed into the floor and saw stars. Scrambling back to his feet dazed he saw the cavalier descending upon him, mace mid swing; all he could do was raise his arms to protect his head as it arced down towards him. Pain shot like an angry thunderbolt from his left elbow.
“Argh!” He fell to the floor again, tried to move his arm to help regain his feet but it bent in the wrong direction, sending a fresh jolt of pain through his body. He lifted his head and looked for the final blow which didn’t come. The horseman had found another more interesting target with expensive glittering armour and was now chasing him down.
Thank the Gods for that, serves you right for coming dressed like a peacock he thought to himself. His body was shuddering with pain. He looked for his nephew and Burt, but they were not running anymore. Burt was laying facedown, broken lance standing upright from his back. Coudin was screaming, lying on his back, hands outstretched. Pleading for mercy, crimson blood surrounding a deep gash in his face as a horse reared up on its hind legs. Carick watched helplessly as his nephew was crushed under the hooves and fell silent.
Carick roared. Seeing Coudin trampled into the dirt roused a beast inside him. He surged forward. Left arm forgotten he yanked his hatchet out of his belt. “Waaaagh!”.
He closed the distance quickly, swung with all his force, missed the horseman but sunk the hatchet deep into the horses neck. It reared up, taking the hatchet with it and threw the rider from the saddle who was now desperately scrabbling for his sword which had fallen ever so slightly out of his reach and was getting further as he scurried away on his back, kicking his heels into the dry dusty grass. Carick threw himself onto the horseman, pulling his knife out as he went, tears rolling down his cheek and face drawn into a rictus of a snarl. Through his blurry eyes all he could see was the shape of his target and hear his ragged and panicked breaths as he flailed his arms in a desperate attempt to defend himself against the frenzied attack.
“No, no, no, no, nooo!”
The knife rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell. He growled as he stabbed the now unmoving bag of flesh. He continued to stab and stab and curse, until he heard more hoofbeats thundering towards him and fear and pain quickly returned to replace his rage. He attempted to wipe his eyes but only managed to smear blood across his face.
He staggered to his feet with wobbly legs and looked at the mess he’d just made. Forced himself to look at Coudin and almost lost the contents of his stomach. He was tempted to sit on the sun baked and blood soaked grass to try and save what was already gone. However, Carick was not a hero. Neither was he a fool. He sobbed and began to run towards the forest cradling his left arm, every jolting step becoming ever more painful.
He reached the tree line and he slowed, safe from the perusing cavalry. As he turned around to look back the massacre was unfolding. Men ran in all directions, most towards the kings road and their inevitable demise. Nobody else had made it to the woods.
I’m sorry Coudin he thought to himself. Pain welling up from deep inside his chest and matching the pain in his arm.
I’m so sorry.
He turned and fled into the twilight of the forest; an endless sea of silver birch standing before him.