Flavor: epic battle
Violence: whole lotta
I will probably now lose my credibility as a ‘realistic’ fight scene writer. But oh well, it will be cool!
“Hold Forth Andraste’s Soldeirs” is based on “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (of which I know neither the words nor the exact tune), and any battle anthem by Manowar.
The Night Battle
Zevran contemplated the irony of life.
The comely tavern wench had mentioned that Lloyd hid himself in the cellar every night and let the phantom horde pass him by, while the more valiant men and women of Redcliffe fought them. Zevran thought this a fine and practical idea. He’d been strolling into the town proper to find such a bolt hole when he’d been impressd into service. They’d shoved a bow into his hands and sent him off with Ser Vincent.
Which is why he was now standing here on the narrow wooden walkway that joined the cliff road to the sawmill. Except it no longer joined, exactly. They had torn up the planks between their station and the road, to prevent these phantoms from turning and attacking them. Zevran presumed the things could not fly.
He and two other elves stood near a brazier. One was a tow-headed kid and the other — one of the ironies Zevran was contemplating — was that spy from the tavern. Beads of sweat, like jewels in a tiara, popped out on the spy’s forehead every time he glanced at Zevran. Zevran, for his part, ignored the other elf as if he didn’t exist.
Zevran stood in front of the burning coals in the brazier to preserve his night vision. It also kept his face and distinctive tattoo in shadow. He didn’t think the knight would notice or care. Ser Vincent had been sorely wounded. He sat in a chair, his mangled leg propped up on the walkway rail. His face was white beneath a dark beard and he carefully measured out medicinal doses from a bottle of whiskey. True to his chivalrous calling, he was trying his hardest not to get drunk and pass out on duty. Each time he gulped a swig, he grimaced and cursed. Zevran suspected he was growing tired of waiting. The assassin sympathized.
When night had fallen and the gibbous moon rose over the lake, the defenders of Redcliffe could see their foes boiling out of the castle and coming inexorably across the bridge. The phantom army raised a faintly-glowing miasma around them, like a cloud of dust. The evil mists gathered force at the bridge gate and… stopped. Whatever the small contingent of knights and Grey Wardens had done, they’d effectively halted the onslaught. The rest of the defenders had been getting bored waiting. Or… at least Zevran had.
Ah well, it was marginally more fun than holing up in some dank cellar. Or so he assured himself.
At last the ring of metal on metal drifted down the road. Zevran perked up his ears and craned his neck to see. After a few minutes, the knights jogged down the hill in an orderly retreat. They passed the end of the broken walkway and gathered in a wider section of the road just before the bridge. The far side was bordered by steep rock and a pile of wooden containers; the near side by a sharp drop-off a few storeys high. There, the defenders turned to once more engage the pursuing phantoms.
The creatures looked solid enough, save for a faint green luminescence about them. They were human-looking but clearly dead, their faces no more than grinning skulls. Zevran nocked an arrow and drew the fletching smoothly to his jaw. He sighted down the shaft at the milling figures. Such chaos on the battlefield; anyone could be felled by a stray arrow. The Wardens’ giant was easy to spot; the Wardens themselves, not so much. The human had been wearing armor just like the knights. Ah, yes — there. The one in the mis-matched helmet.
Zevran parted his lips and exhaled gently, like a lover’s sigh. He loosed the arrow.
The Warden was surprisingly quick. He whirled at the last moment, just as the phantom behind him dropped like a stone, an arrow in its skull. Zevran saw a flash of surprise, lost in an instant as the Warden turned to a new foe.
The assassin slowly drew another arrow, listening to the faint caress of the shaft against the wood. The elven Warden was more difficult to spot, almost impossible to track. He moved swiftly, not in a panic, but in effective viciousness.
Zevran let fly again. This Warden was nowhere near the shaft by the time the arrow sped past him and buried itself in a phantom eye socket. The creature pitched back, lost among its fellows.
“Hey,” Ser Vincent barked; “Quit wasting arrows.”
“I assure you,” Zevran told him levelly; “as soon as I miss, I will cease.”
The knights and Wardens gave ground, but grudgingly. A phosphorescent river churned against the dam of the defenders. Mortal men grunted in effort, or pain. Metal rang out as weapons and shields clashed. The phantoms screeled eerily, their shouts like ghostly whispers. Zevran calmly loosed his arrows into the fray. He hadn’t missed yet.
As the line of defenders moved back towards the bridge, the road widened, allowing more of the undead warriors to reach the knights. Somene yelled a signal, and magic flared. The front row of phantoms turned to ice, and the knights fled.
“Sten, hold the bridge!”
The qunari giant stopped at the middle of the span and turned, allowing the rest of the defenders to flow around him. The two Wardens were the last. The undead creatures were clawing at their frozen comrades, intent only on passng the obstacle. They tore limbs and heads off in their frenzy. Then the dam broke and they rushed the lone figure standing there legs braced, hammer gripped in both hands.
Screaming for blood, the phantoms lunged. The qunari swung his hammer in a lazy arc, appearing to put little effort into it. A swath of phantoms went over the side of the bridge, half of them smashed by the hammer, the other half battered to pieces on the rocks in the cascade. Then the hammer swept back, felling another row. Then another. The massive hammer swung like a pendulum.
At the far end of the bridge, someone had grabbed a torch and was waving it. “There’s the signal,” the elven spy said excitedly. “Ser Vincent!”
“I see it,” the knight growled. He braced his crutch and heaved himself upright. With one last look of disgust at the whiskey bottle, he hurled it into the brazier. Flames leapt up from the coals. “Arm!” the knight barked.
Zevran put his arrow away and picked up one of the pitch-dipped ones. The other two elves held theirs nervously, waiting for the orders to light and fire them.
Ser Vincent stared past them, squinting against the fire’s light. His eyes darted side to side, watching the lower end of the road, where one lone giant had the horde stopped cold, and the upper end, where more of the creatures were still coming.
Several tense moments passed, counted out by the rhythmic swing of the qunari hammer and the pounding heartbeats of the archers.
The elves dipped their arrows into the flames then put them carefully to string.
They weren’t aiming at anything. The stacks of barrels and crates lining the curve of the road were literally as broad as a barn; it wouldn’t take a crack shot to hit them. The elves held their bows drawn, flames licking the ends of the arrows.
“Ser…,” the kid said nervously as the knight withheld the order to fire.
“These are going to burn out,” Zevran griped.
The patch of road swarmed with the phantasmal mass. They gathered to rush the qunari.
Three flaming arrows streaked over the heads of the undead warriors and thudded into the wooden barrels. And then, nothing happened.
“Light!” Ser Vincent barked again, and the elves selected fresh arrows. “Draw….”
Three of the ghostly warriors took notice of the archers. They began to edge out on the two struts the held up the walkway.
“Uh, Ser…!” the kid gulped.
“Ignore them. Fire!”
Again the arrows hit their mark with nothing to show for it. Zevran cursed the idiot who’d laid this trap. Hadn’t they opened the barrels of oil? The fool knights should have slashed the kegs open as they retreated at the very least.
The undead warriors on the walkway struts were getting closer. Their jaws gaped in glee at the prospect of slaying some weak and vulnerable archers. Fortunately, they were also as clumsy as regular shems. As they rushed forward, they tripped or slipped, and fell crashing to the stone far below.
“Fire again!” Ser Vincent said, voice rising in panic.
Brilliant plan, Zevran thought sourly. He lit and shot another two arrows while his comrades managed one more volley.
Zevran had a third arrow on the string when the oil went up. It didn’t just burn; it caught alight too hot, too fast, and far too strong for its containers. Huge fireballs blossomed along the line with a tremendous thunderclap. Zevran slitted his eyes as the wind flung particles of dust at his face, but he couldn’t turn away. In an instant, the fire burned an image into his eyes, the image of splintered wood and nails spewing out at the phantom warriors, ripping, shredding right through them.
When his ears stopped ringing, he could hear himself laughing. Oh, that had been marvelous! The entire section of road lay covered in the limbs and glowing miasma. If they had been flesh and blood…. Zevran felt a tightness in his groin at the thought of such carnage. He grinned like a maniac.
The remains of the barrels burned hot, loosing dark, greasy smoke into the sky like a twisted banner. The stragglers at either end of the trap, many of them burning, stumbled forward towards the bridge. The Wardens’ qunari fell back, and a ring of knights at the far side dispatched the remnants of the horde. There rose a ragged cheer, echoed by the townsfolk, further below.
Then, as if in answer, came an angry roar from the castle across the lake. The entire edifice shimmered in sickly green light. A column of green and black smoke rose from the highest tower.
This can’t be good, Zevran thought.
“How do we get down?” the spy asked the knight.
Ser Vincent chewed his moustaches nervously. “This way. Like the rest of the deadwood.” He stumped towards the sawmill, where a winch and platform stood overhanging the lake.
Bannon took a deep breath. It was his last and only chance for one. His trap had worked better than his wildest imaginings, and the undead horde had been defeate while the night was still young. He let a cocky congratulatory grin spread across his face as he looked over to Alistair. The other Warden grinned back. The knights let out a whoop as the last of the phantom army dissolved into mist at their feet.
The celebration was short-lived. Whatever mage or demon was in the castle, it made it’s ire known. “This can’t be good,” Bannon said.
The pillar of magic began spilling down the sides of the castle, like sickly water in a fountain. Clouds boiled and clumped and began to take form. Ghostly screams echoed across the water. The drumming sound of hooves and shrill whinnies bespoke of the army now forming.
“They’re coming across the lake!”
Ser Perth shouted, “Knights! To the Chantry!” He led the weary warriors down into the town.
Bannon turned to Morrigan, who was staring at the surge of magic pouring from the castle. “Morrigan?” The witch was smart enough that he didn’t have to voice the whole question.
“‘Not good’ sums it up quite nicely.”
“Shit. Let’s go.”
“Move those barricades! Move! Move!”
“They’re coming from the shore!”
“Form lines! Hold fast!”
The defenders scrambled to turn their barricades around, faces pale and drawn even in the ruddy firelight.
“Morrigan,” Bannon said breathlessly, trotting beside her; “how long can you keep casting ice?”
“That would depend on how fast I cast it. I will need to conserve my energy if this battle is expected to last until dawn.”
“I need an estimate. Just tell me how often you can do it.”
“Without casting any other magic? Two or three minutes.” Morrigan followed him as he leapt aboard a wagon serving as a barricade. “I’ll still tire, eventually.”
“All right.” Bannon nodded as if he had an idea what she meant. “You! You lot, stand here and defend this gap.” A group of burly men armed mostly with farm tools formed a ragged line. Bannon waved over some archers. “Up into the wagon.” There weren’t many, but then he spied some elves with bows trotting out of the darkened town. “You three! Over here!” Bannon had an idea, but looking at the sweaty, scared faces of the townsfolk, he didn’t know if they could accomplish it properly. Well, he had to give them something. And keep it simple.
“Listen up!” he said in his hardest battlefield voice. “You’re going to hold the enemy here. When Morrigan gives the signal, drop back. Fall back right away, or you’re going to get frozen.” He looked over at the witch. “Morrigan will freeze the phantoms. You archers: they’ll be just like the targets you’ve been shooting at all day — they’ll stand still.” Someone coughed a nervous laugh. Bannon grinned wryly. “Shoot ’em in the head, just like at practice.”
“Piece of cake, Warden,” Anselm called.
Bannon shot him a confident grin. “Good lad!”
A movement near the center of the defenders’ circle caught everyone’s eye. Bannon turned with the rest and saw Leliana climbing an upturned wagon. She wore her old robe as a tabard over her armor, the sun symbol of the Chantry gleaming in the torchlight. It was slit up the sides to leave her legs free, showing the leather guards.
“Sweet Andraste,” the Sister’s voice rang over the defenders; “Hear our call! The blessing of the Maker shine over us.”
Zevran didn’t know whether to laugh or curse fate. No sooner had he extricated himself from battle than he got drawn back into it. And that kid had called the elf ‘Warden.’ Zevran hadn’t gotten a good look at him in the dark and chancy torchlight, but the elf now stood not three paces from him, back turned, consulting with that mage of his.
Zevran stared. His hand itched to take his dagger and plunge it into that unsuspecting back. What are you thinking? he snarled silently. He rubbed his palm on his shirt, trying to relieve the itch. You want to get out of here alive, don’t you? He frowned. He busied his hand with grabbing an arrow and putting it to string. The phantom army would be on them momentarily. The Warden’s plan was simple and neat. And of course, doomed to fall apart at the first engagement with the enemy, like every military plan did.
Alistair trotted after the knights. “Polearms!” Ser Perth called. They didn’t have lances, so they made do by pulling up some of the smaller sharpened stakes in the barricades. Ser Perth directed them to the wide avenue leading to the lake, positioning them between the approaching army and the Chantry.
“Sweet Andraste, hear our call!” The knights turned to the battle angel standing atop the highest barricade. “The blessing of the Maker shine over us.” A shimmery light rose above Sister Leliana, bringing a gasp of wonder from more than one throat. The light glimmered and strengthened, rising over the defenders. Alistair touched a hand to his throat where he used to wear the symbol of Andraste. Around him, the knights performed the same obesiance. Leliana began to sing Hold Forth Andraste’s Soldiers, her voice gaining strength as others began to join in.
“The Maker is with us!” Ser Perth called. “Form the line!”
Alistair turned towards the lake and set his feet in a ready stance. He slid his back foot out a bit further, then lowered the butt of his big pointy stick to the ground. This is one thin line, he thought, without wavering.
They could hear the pounding of hooves now, which was truly odd, as the horsemen were galloping over water. As crazy as that sounded. Maybe it was all a dream. Alistair twisted his spear, grinding the butt more firmly in place.
“The buildings will slow them down,” someone said.
Ser Perth called out, “Stand fast, men! We are knights of Ferelden!” A flash of white showed through the opening of his helmet as he bared his teeth. “It will be just like the battle at River Dane!”
The knights cheered. Alistair’s mouth twisted in a bitter grimace; he couldn’t join them. River Dane had been the battle where Loghain had become the Hero of Ferelden. Now he was a coward at best; at worst, a traitor.
Alistair did raise his voice with the next cheer. “For Redcliffe! FOR FERELDEN!”
Hold forth, Andraste’s soldiers;
Our voices raised in song.
Hold forth, ye faithful soldiers;
Maker’s Love will keep us strong.
The phantom horsemen rushed between the buildings, flowing like a river. They came barrelling down the main street, shrieking their war cries.
As one, the knights raised shields, ducked heads, and lowered their makeshift pikes. The front line of horsemen hit them with an audible crash. Alistair felt as if he were battling the ocean. He held his breath at the impact. A horse and rider impaled themselves on his spear, dissolved into heavy mist, and broke over him.
Ghostly screams filled the air, as did the echoes of whinnying horses.
Another wave washed over the knights, who stood like a dam before it. A few human cries answered the phantom screams, but the knights stood fast.
The charge had been broken. The horsemen milled about in turmoil, then they wheeled away and formed up for another charge.
“Hold the line!”
Carry on, Andraste’s soldiers;
Never falter, never stray.
Carry on, world-weary soldiers;
Maker’s Light will guide our way.
Alistair blinked sweat out of his eyes. The rushing in his ears lessened, and he could hear the defenders singing. His heart swelled in his chest. This was where the battle line was drawn, and they weren’t going to give an inch of it! Not while they had breath in their bodies. With a roar, Alistair pushed forward, meeting the charge with the face of his shield and the point of his spear.
Stand fast, Andraste’s soldiers;
Our faith will be our shield.
Stand fast, world’s bravest soldiers;
To Evil, never yield.
The enemy hit the knights with an impact that seemed to tremble the whole battlefield. Men and metal screamed. The line buckled. Alistair felt the men to his left falling, staggering back. He shoved a phantom beast off his shield and stabbed it with his spear. As its fall created a brief opening, Alistair tossed the spear up to reverse into a throwing grip. He took a step forward and threw with the might and power of a Grey Warden.
The spear flew through the neck of the fallen rider, two phantoms beyond it, and lodged in the ribs of a third. The fallen knights staggered back up, those that still could. The line rippled and re-formed, but began to fragment quickly. With a roar, Alistair drew his sword and launched an attack on the enemy. He swung his sword like a scythe, felling the undead like wheatstalks. He pushed deep into their ranks. They would not get to the villagers he protected, not easily.
The rest of the battle was lost in a haze. The light was a dim, ashen grey. Few torches still sputtered, giving little light and no comfort. All over the are of the battle, the ghostly miasma gave a faint luminescence. As it dissipated, the bodies of the dead and the blood of mortals was revealed.
Alistair trudged wearily towards the Chantry. His sword nearly dragged on the ground; his arm hadn’t the strength to lift it to its sheath. His left shoulder burned. His shield hung like a lead weight. The Redcliffe device on the front had been scored by a blade, the tower was now broken with a jagged streak like lightning. All Alistair could think was, there should be more blood. There was no blood on his shield, nor on his chestplate, helmet, or gauntlets. He’d been fighting, but there was no enemy blood on him.
A weak gasp drew his attention. He stopped trudging to look around. There, where the green mist was leaking away, lay a body. “Ser Perth!” Alistair’s voice came out a hoarse croak. He hurried to the knight and dropped to his knees beside him, his sword clanging to the ground. He worked his tongue to try to lubricate his voice. “Someone! We need help, here!” He bent over the knight. Ser Perth was covered in blood. Why was Alistair’s armor clean?
Ser Perth opened his eyes and reached weakly for Alistair’s arm. “Andrew….”
“It’s Alistair,” the Warden replied gently.
The knight didn’t seem to hear him. “Tell Mother…. Tell….”
“He was your brother,” Alistair breathed. He hadn’t known. “Tell her what?” The knight didn’t respond. “I’ll tell her, I promise. Ser Perth? Stay with me!” He clutched the knight’s hand. “You’ll tell her! You’ll be able to…. Just hang on.”
It was too late. The light went out of Ser Perth’s eyes. Slowly, gently, Alistair lowered the knight’s hand to his chest. He closed the staring eyes, then turned up his own hand to look at the gauntlet. Now there was blood on his armor. Alistair hung his head.
— In an instant, the fire burned an image into his eyes, the image of splintered wood and nails spewing out at the phantom warriors, ripping, shredding right through them.
Nailbombs, baby! Got to love them carpenters!