The soldiers with their chainmail and tabard, plaid and targe, threw themselves with full force into a fanatic charge, with wild eyes and screaming their slogans. The front lines surged forwards with unbridled felicity, and the battlefield was drowned beneath the footsteps of so many warriors that the incredible noise of their charge was almost a continuous whir. The beat of their weapons on their shields as they ran hammered out notice of their intent, and the spears and swords brandished above their heads whistled a war rant that rang out above every other sound on the battlefield, save the war cries that accompanied it.
The forest of axes and claymores flowed like water across the rough terrain, with soldiers scrambling over rocks, fallen trees, and narrow streams, hacking down dry-stane dykes and ruined remnants of sheilings, tossing aside the masonry and trampling the fireweed.
The mad exultant rush gave them incredible momentum, and they soared across every obstacle on the field like a tidal wave of steel, made blood-mad and fearless by a torrent of emotions. The charge did not hold back, only gathering strength as it hurtled towards the ranks opposite, as more and more men filled in behind it with arms, banners, horses, standards, and the panoply of war. It was as if there were water, poured from an endless jug.
In a magnificent crash of steel and flesh, where the multilingual war cries of both armies commingled into one repeating chant of indecipherable shouts and orders, the reckless fury carried the front ranks, gasping pikemen overwhelmed. Their weapons were splinted as they were bounced between charging gallowglasses, and a hail of blows from axes, claymores, dirks, fists, and shillelaghs came down on those that fell, while those that stood were sent skittering back, clutching entrails, their hands fumbling for their swords, most of them cut down or trampled as the rampaging horde continued, as if the row of pikes had not existed.
The second line fell in similar fashion, and it wasn’t long before they were piled onto the remnants of the first line and used as a platform for the Gaelic troops to mount an attack on the third. The armoured men further back had now abandoned their pikes for their blades, trying to increase their chances in close combat, and to the considerable surprise of Micheal actually obeyed an order to launch a counter-attack. It was a pathetic attempt, as it didn’t have time to turn into a run before the two armies reached each other, but it succeeded in breaking the momentum of the gallowglass’ charge.
The battle quickly became a brutal melee, with scarcely room for the wounded and slain to fall as the many weapons hacked and slashed at tightly-packed ranks, with swords being thrust through chainmail and battleaxes tearing off limbs and carving out great swathes of the battlefield, leaving nothing but scattered gore in their place. The boots of the combatants waded through pools of blood as they marched across the grass, splashing it around.
Micheal turned on his heel, his steel cross sword clanging into the blade of a Campbell man-at-arms, clad in plate armour with akheton and noseguard. The guard of Micheal’s sword blocked the blow from his opponent, and without hesitation he knocked it away in a whirlwind of a parry, following up on the advantage by driving his blade through his opponent’s side and pushing him to the floor in a single move, a swift kick making sure he was down.
The second kill was his kern’s - a militiaman in nothing but peasant’s clothing, wielding a spear, came screaming out of the raging melee when Micheal’s back was turned. The kern came running from the fray, and an instinctive sweep of his shillelagh knocked the militiaman back, and there was a sickening crack as his head hit a stone.
The third and fourth fell together, a single slash cutting the throat of one and digging deep into the side of the other’s neck as he turned his head to call for reinforcements. His shout was cut off, and he went down trying to spit it out before Micheal’s sword finished him. But the blade found its mark only after the words formed on his challenger’s tongue, and his lips were still moving as the sharp edges of the weapon sliced his neck.
“Any more coming?” Micheal demanded, grabbing his kern and pulling him away from the fiercest part of the battle, leading him through a patch of scattered private duels to where they could talk tactics.
“No, that was the last, the rest are beginning to be beaten back, as far as I can tell,” the kern replied, quickly assessing the situation after he’d taken deep breaths. “There are a few knights amongst the rabble, though, Micheal, they might not rout. Until they do, I don’t think most of their subjects will, either.”
“We don’t want them to rout,” Micheal said, handing the kern his blade. “We want them to be driven back into the next row of pikes. Give me another weapon, the blade’s bent. And where’s your brother?” The kern fumbled around for a bit, having to both strap the blade to his waist and take a war axe from the back of his thigh. Micheal was handed the weapon, and looked over it briefly, seeming satisfied. “And your brother?”
“I don’t know,” the kern said, looking around him, on every side seeing nothing but carnage. “Why do you need him?”
“I need my map of the battlefield,” Micheal explained, spitting onto the floor as if he had a bad taste in his mouth.
“What for? You know where we are, there’s that rock you memorised behind you,” the kern mused, indicating the boulder that was partially sunk into the mud. He waited patiently for Micheal to make himself comfortable on that rock, not really expecting an answer by the time Micheal had came up with one.
“I’m not sure why Keir is bothering to defend this narrow bit of ground. It would have been a better idea if he positioned these militia further back, like he’s done with the rest of his army.”
“You sense a trap, Micheal?” The kern wondered, glancing reluctantly up at the peaks behind his gallowglass. To his relief, Micheal turned to the peaks, and shook his head.
“No. Not from the peaks. Seonaidh has archers up there, if anything we’re the ones trying to stage an ambush. I’m just saying that if Keir is trying to wear down our forces, there’s a more efficient way of doing it than holding up back here. The marshland is just a few meters past these militia; he could have deployed them there. They’re better-equipped for that sort of terrain than gallowglasses, they’d have the advantage.”
“So what do you suspect Keir’s plans are?”
“He’s keeping us at bay for as long as possible. He probably hasn’t completed deploying his forces. He wasn’t exactly ready when I looked across at him earlier. Something is taking a long time to prepare.”
The kern was about to reply, but was interrupted. There was a rush of wind, and following behind it was a blast of warm air that startled him and Micheal as a contrast to the cool, damp air of the day. There was barely time to shout a warning before the barrel exploded above the battlefield with a boom that briefly drowned out every other sound of the raging battlefield. The clash of steel, the orders and the taunts, it was, for a fleeting moment, inaudible, and just as Micheal’s hearing faded back into clarity a second explosion shook the earth, making him jump to his feet with a gasp.
The words snowballed, and he let them out in a loud cry, much to the surprise of his terrified kern.
“Charge! Break through their lines! Rush them! Cut them down!”
The gallowglasses, kerns, and clansmen who had became tangled in melee obeyed his command, as a rain of burning oil pelted down upon them, igniting the bloodsoaked grass. They finished off their duels without honour, or simply abandoned them, and mounted a scattered but synchronised rush against the ranks of militiamen.
The marshland where they’d been fighting was quick to produce smoke when burned, and within only a few seconds the visibility had been reduced to practically nothing. The flames could cast sparks onto the wind with impunity, and further explosions, followed by further burning rain, would inevitably cause destruction as the Gallgaels and the militiamen commingled in the narrowest part of the glen, confirming Keir’s reasoning for deploying his men as he did.
The smoke became darker as the burning flesh of several soldiers added to it, and the explosions became almost like a drumroll, in constant rhythm like the steady beat of a bardic song. They were, of course, much louder, and never failed to make the ground tremble.
Soon, it became almost like running through a burning house, and could well have been if the floor of the house was also flooded. Trying to anticipate where the next barrel would deposit its payload was impossible in the near-dark; only the glittering metal of armour and weapons that happened to reflect the light of the fires was visible. Faces and identities were obscured, and the fighting slowed to mirror the confusion, moving at a ghostlike pace as the clash of two weapons became increasingly more distinctive.
“Mangonels,” Micheal snarled, with obvious hatred of both Keir’s use of the artillery and how something so obvious could have been so well-concealed.
“Base curs, this is his only solution to the gallowglass?” a nearby soldier asked, as he dragged Micheal, who had been shaken from his rock by a blast barely ten feet above his head, to his feet. The gallowglass was clearly trembling, either in shock or because of the almost unbroken shaking of the ground. But he was loathe to admit it, and from the way he immediately reached for his war axe it seemed that his fighting spirit had remained intact.
“This is just to piss us off.”
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