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Chapter Fourteen

 The two forms collided with the vergrinn and bore it to the ground.  In the dim light Amundr recognized his two dogs, Samr and Gramr!  He looked around for his sword as he heard the dogs fighting the vergrinn.  Desperately, he grabbed the blade from where it had fallen and rose to rejoin the fight.

Samr was flung through the air and landed at the base of a nearby tree, unmoving.  Gramr had been shaken loose and he and the vergrinn were now warily eyeing each other.

“Gramr, heel!” Amundr said.  Gramr hesitated, but withdrew behind his master.  Amundr lunged towards the vergrinn, slicing deeply into his torso and removing his arm with his backstroke.

Gramr’s whines drew Amundr’s attention.  He knelt beside Samr’s still form and found that the hilt of the vergrinn’s flint knife was sticking out of a gaping wound in his side.  He stroked his faithful dog’s muzzle and said “Oh, poor Samr.  Brave, loyal Samr.  I’m so sorry.  Go in peace.”

Amundr paused to catch his breath and survey his surroundings.  The lads from Eyjolf were putting up a terrific fight back towards the hill and he could hear the sounds of the struggle all around him.  He sprinted back towards his friends to help.

The advantage of surprise gone, the vergrinn still fought hard and wounded many men.  A long howl rose from the woods to the east and from within every hunting pack of vergrinn engaged in combat, one of the beasts withdrew.  They took advantage of the noise and confusion to slip silently away from their enemies, following the new Pack philosophy of retreating to bear news.

The last of the vergrinn still fighting were slain in short order, and the Duke called for the captains to take a census of their men and meet once again on top of the hill.

***

The captains reported in that the census was complete.  They had lost eight score men to the surprise attacks, and most of the horses were now running free in the woods.  The sentries who were on watch were mostly dead with the exception of a few on the west wide of the hill.

“…overall, we did well considering what happened to the sentries.  It was a good thing someone stumbled upon the vergrinn when they did.”  The Duke’s war leader finished his report and stepped back.

“Thank you.  At least now we know where the vergrinn went who were missing from Eyjolf.  I want our men to tally the corpses and determine how many of the foul creatures were slain.”  The Duke paused.  “Haul the vergrinn carcasses to the clearing on the east side of the road and burn them.  We need to rest for a few more hours before moving on.”

As the captains broke up, the Duke turned to his war leader.  “Things could have gone much worse.  Who raised the alarm?”

“I don’t know for certain.  Most of the men think it came from one of the kids down there.”  He gestured towards the encampment of the men from Eyjolf.  The Duke raised his eyebrows.  Perhaps there was something to the legend of the Wolf Spears after all.

***

The next morning, the camp was abuzz.  They had sent out parties of trackers to find the horses, and of the five hundred horse they had started with, one hundred were missing or dead.  Of the dead men, two score had been cavalry, so three score of the mounted spearmen were forced to march in the companies of foot soldiers.

It turned out that they had killed three hundred vergrinn the night before.  That still meant that with the five hundred previously slain and the eight hundred on the plains before the town, there were four hundred vergrinn unaccounted for if the earlier count of two thousand was correct.

“I don’t like this,” the Duke said to his war leader.  “They must have seen our scouts and followed them back to our camp.  Instead of attacking, they waited and brought reinforcements.  That’s just not something the vergrinn do.  Men everywhere reported that vergrinn retreated last night during the battle, so their main force must know we are coming now.  I hope the missing four hundreds don’t have any more surprises in store for us.”

It was mid-morning before they set out for Eyjolf.  They were four leagues from the city walls and a hard march would take three hours.  They took an easier pace to conserve their strength for the coming battle, so it was that in mid-afternoon as the late autumn sun was already sinking low they came at last to the relief of Eyjolf.

***

When Eyjolf had been built after the last vergrinn war, the forest had been clear cut in a circle three miles across.  The location had been chosen for the springs of water that were located at the center of the circle, and the town was located in the center of the circle over the springs.  The keep was located in the center of the town and the springs were within its walls.  The walls of the city were fifteen feet high and constructed from logs as thick as a man’s forearm was long, while the keep was mostly of stone with walls thirty feet high and taller than any nearby building.

The King of Alarr and the Duke of Gudmund had used the lumber from the forest in the construction of the town walls and several common buildings.  The lumber that remained was made available to settlers to help them construct their homes and barns, and rock had been quarried from outcroppings near Eagle Point.  Saegrimr’s village was actually founded by folk working in the quarry or supplying the workers with food and trade goods.

As Amundr, Saegrimr, and the rest of the mounted men circled the city at the edge of the woods, the youngest knights began to wonder what lay ahead.  Neither of them had ever fought in mounted combat such as this, and Herfinnr had mostly schooled them in fighting with sword and shield in a standing position.  They were both fair horsemen, but neither was practiced in firing a bow from a saddle or in using his spear as a lance.  At the edge of the clearing, Amundr had ordered Gramr to stay.  He would return for him when time allowed, but the dog would likely just be in the way on the battlefield.

Amundr looked back and saw that the infantry were almost to the city walls away to the south of the city.  He wondered what kind of reception they would get from the people of Eyjolf.

***

The footmen of the muster of Gudmund were marching steadily towards the city of Eyjolf.  In the distance, they could see men atop the battlements of the keep, waving excited greetings to them.  The defenders were shouting and pointing towards the vergrinn in the distance, but over the din of the marching men nothing could be heard at this distance.  They marched steadily onward.  The vergrinn in the open plain before them made no move to retreat, apparently realizing that there was nowhere to flee to on the open plain.  They had shifted position slightly, and it was disappointing to see that unless they were driven back considerably by the cavalry’s initial charge, any sortie mounted by the city’s defenders through the main gate would come from behind the advancing infantry instead of from the vergrinn’s flanks.

The cavalry had finally moved into position and the Duke slowly led them towards the vergrinn.  Their plan was to approach within bowshot and begin shooting vergrinn at range.  The vergrinn would either charge the cavalry or, more likely in the Duke’s estimation, flee before them in a panic.

As the cavalry approached, the vergrinn remained in position.  A long howl rose over the plain, which Amundr understood to mean “Be steady.  Wait for our moment.”  As he puzzled over this, he saw that the vergrinn were propping up large rectangular wooden shapes and were ducking behind them.  They were using shields!  The cavalry approached to within 150 yards before beginning to fire an ineffective volley of arrows towards the vergrinn.  Something about the shields they were using struck him as odd, but he couldn’t quite figure out what it was.

***

The infantry were approaching from the rear, and they saw that the vergrinn were raising shields to protect against a volley of arrows from the cavalry.  Several of the captains smiled.  They would get to draw first blood.  “String your bows and prepare to fire!  We’ll close to within bowshot and we’ll have them from both directions!”  The cry went up and down the line to ready bows.

In the distance, the Duke saw the infantry approach to within two hundred yards and lay down their spears and shields to ready their bows.  This wasn’t exactly how he had envisioned the battle, but it would be effective nonetheless.  In the distance he saw the gates to the city opening and he hoped the city’s defenders wouldn’t draw the attention of the vergrinn to the bowmen behind them.

***

Suddenly, Amundr realized what bothered him about the shields.  They were doors!  The vergrinn must have dragged every door from every dwelling for miles around, but even that wouldn’t have been enough.  Where could the doors have come from?  He looked in the distance behind the infantry and saw the city gate a quarter mile away.  It had opened, and he could barely make out a few dark figures moving around near it.  They were sneaking out and then disappearing in the tall grass of the plain between the city and the approaching infantry whose back was turned to the gate.

“It’s a trap!  The vergrinn have taken the city and are sneaking up on our men from behind!”  Amundr rode over to the Duke and repeated his warning.  The Duke looked out across the field and quickly came to a decision.  He seized a horn and sounded the charge.  Horsemen all across the line spurred their horses forward as fast as they would go.

Across the field, the infantry wondered what was happening.  “We can’t fire at them now!  What is the Duke thinking?”  All down the lines the captains told their men to ready their spears and shields and prepare to meet the vergrinn in melee combat.

***

The vergrinn knew their plan had gone awry, but they still thought they might catch the foot soldiers unaware.  They turned towards the approaching infantry and ran at them as fast as they could, snarling and growling.  Their noise masked the noise of their brethren approaching from the rear and prevented the humans from hearing the warnings being shouted by the approaching cavalry.

The infantry braced themselves and set their spears to absorb the charge of the rapidly approaching vergrinn line.  There were more than two men for each of the approaching vergrinn, so they felt confident of their ability to handle the enemy.

Across the field, the cavalry urged as much speed as they could from their horses.  Amundr, Saegrimr, and a few other men who were smaller of stature and lighter, outpaced the rest.  In a few seconds they were streaking past the vergrinn and Amundr was screaming “Behind you!  They’re coming up behind you!”

Some of the infantry heard the screams and turned back towards the town.  “We’re surrounded!”  A few of the captains kept their heads and ordered some of their men to face each threat, but several companies were thrown into confusion and the company on the eastern flank of the formation panicked and fled towards the tree line.

The leading edge of the cavalry reached the vergrinn just before they met the infantry.  They struck and swept past, veering sharply to avoid the spears of their comrades at arms.  They picked their way past the infantry and sought the vergrinn who had been sneaking up behind them.  The vergrinn had long spears and strong arms, and they had learned the art of setting their spears to check a cavalry charge.  For the moment, both sides paused to re-evaluate the situation.

The cavalry had finished their initial sweep through the vergrinn line and had felled a quarter of the enemy with minimal losses.  The infantry now re-formed their ranks while the cavalry swept behind them to deal with the vergrinn ambushers.  No longer concerned with the threat to their rear, the infantry advanced.  With the vergrinn losses, there were now almost three men in the infantry line for every vergrinn they faced.  The two lines met, and the overwhelming numerical superiority quickly turned the battle into a rout.

Meanwhile, the full cavalry force was now circling between the former vergrinn ambushers and the infantry formation.  Neither side was willing to close the distance – the cavalry’s primary advantage of speed and mobility thwarted by the vergrinn formation being arrayed like a company of pikemen.

“Ready bows,” the Duke ordered.  The vergrinn saw the horsemen readying their bows and decided the time had come to charge.  The mounted men loosed a volley of arrows that dropped a hundred vergrinn in their tracks before they had to set aside their bows and take up their swords and spears.

Unwilling to let the vergrinn attack the rear of the infantry formation, the Duke and his men held their ground.  The numbers were much more even in this skirmish than in any of their previous encounters, and the vergrinn’s superior strength was taking a toll.  More experienced knights fought as one with their mounts, the horses kicking at any enemy within reach.  Inexperienced horse warriors such as Amundr either clung to their mounts as they attempted to flee in terror or were flung from their backs.  Amundr managed to skewer a vergrinn on his spear, but his horse reared and the spear was wrenched from his grasp.

Amundr drew his sword to go after the next vergrinn.  The red blade caught the light of the afternoon sun and suddenly looked as if it was a flaming brand, burning brightly to hold back the tide of darkness.  The reaction was instantaneous.  Every vergrinn on the field raised their voice in an eerie, pained howl.  There was an answering howl from the edge of the forest, but the men from Gudmund took advantage of the temporary distraction to strike decisively at their foes.  In a few moments, the battle was over.

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