This is an excerpt from an upcoming Splintered Lands story titled Kingdoms in Conflict.
“If that is a precursor to the battle for Abboddóm, then we have already won. They die almost man for man with our poorer troops.” Hálsung gestured at the carnage around them.
“You’re an idiot.” Iudas waved his arm in the torchlight. “They used peasants, same as we do. And they managed to chew up better equipped troops without losing many of their own. They mistimed the ambush, but otherwise, it went well for them. Anyway, spend the night digging graves for our men. We’ll camp here for the night and bury them with the rising of the dawn light.”
“Don’t you mean organizing the men to dig graves?”
“I don’t think I said that. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t say that. So you can either dig a grave, or sleep in it.”
Hálsung grabbed a shovel.
The next morning saw Iudas’s troops advance on Castel. There was little doubt that they would meet resistance there, after the ambush in the woods, but even so Iudas kept them in tight formation, and sent out scouts. If nothing else, it was practice for those soldiers that needed the discipline.
They came out of the woods to find the village was still mostly occupied by those who lived there, a strange occurrence that surprised all of the men in the army. Iudas looked at the pitiful walls of the village, barely more than rotten timber, and began giggling.
Iudas rode to the front of his troops, waving at the village behind him. “The man who brings me the prettiest woman in Castel gets first pick of the loot, plus a gift from me!”
The troops surged forward, the peasants charging in headlong, the more experienced professional soldiers holding back and watching. Although those with bows did unlimber them and begin taking pot-shots at the peasants on the walls. It was pitiful covering fire, but would be enough to keep the defenders discouraged.
Iudas glanced over at Hálsung. “Do you think I should have used this as practice for siege warfare?”
Hálsung shrugged. “I’m not sure. I don’t think they would have gotten that much practice out of it. And the peasants need blooding. They need an easy fight they can win, so they think all fights are easy fights. Better that they cover themselves in slaughter this time around I think.”
“I like that thinking. Perhaps a little mayhem afterwards as well?”
“If there are any creatures left to play with.”
“No village ever dies in the first wave. But Castel won’t survive the day. Not any of it.”
There were screams coming from the village now, for Iudas’s soldiers had broken the barricades and charged through the mud streets, pulling people from buildings, slashing down any who dared to resist. The weaponry of Iudas’s peasants was rudimentary, and broken on occasion, but a stone mace was a brutal weapon against unprotected flesh, and soon the howls of the wounded began to float over the village, providing a backdrop to the scenes of slaughter.
The women, however, were kept unharmed, and as each of the few pretty young girls were found, the soldiers who captured them left the village, eventually forming a line before Iudas. Their ruler strode up and down, glancing at a face, touching their hair, and occasionally ripping their clothes open for a closer look at the important parts.
Hálsung gestured to the village. “They’re all done, lord. There won’t be any more to inspect.”
“Pity. None of them are particularly attractive. But I keep my promise to the troops.” Iudas meandered through the women once more, his hands roaming freely. After a little while, he settled on a young brunette, maybe fifteen years of age. “Take her to my tent, and tie her up there.”
Iudas glanced at the village. It was deserted, aside from the wounded who howled in its streets. “Hálsung, round up all the loot and pile it before the village gate. The men who found me my woman for the night get first choice. And anyone who does not share the loot they’ve found is to be locked into a hovel. I’ll burn them alive later.”
As those words were communicated through the peasants who had sacked the tiny village, there was a mad rush to drop any goods they had found in the communal pile. Losing out on a little bit of stolen food was far better than dying.
“Oh, and Hálsung. Tonight’s entertainments. I think we should have some gladiatorial games. Make fathers fight sons, women fight husbands. That sort of thing. And for the finale, I want to see two healthy men fight. Except cut a leg off of one, and an arm from another. And give them each big heavy weapons they can’t swing well. A large branch or something. You know, usual promise of freedom to the victor and all that. See to it, would you?” Iudas strode for his tent without waiting for an answer.
Hálsung looked over at the little collection of prisoners and walking wounded and grinned. Tonight was going to be a fun night.