Chapter 5.5

I could not breathe. Something huge, almost as large as a grown man, with a single horn on its head rammed into me and knocking the air out of my lungs before being cut down. My vision darkens and I started seeing black spots. I struggled desperately to push its weight off but it would not budge.

“One, two, three and pull!” Haron yelled and the massive beast was finally lifted off of me. Sucking in massive gulps of air, my vision slowly clears.

“I don’t have enough fingers on both hands to count the number of times you almost died from being rammed by beasts, Eric,” he grinned, stretching out his arm. I took his arm and pulled myself up, coughing and – whilst still forcing air into my lungs – tried to make sense of what actually happened.

The battlefield was littered with corpses of beasts and men, mostly men. Injured soldiers were being carried off into medical tents to be treated while those suffering grievous wounds were groaning lifelessly on the battlefield, left to bleed out and die. The counts, from both sides, apparently judged those who could not move or be lifted to the medical tents to be too much of a waste of resources to save. Now that the battle was over, the mercenaries and soldiers who are well enough to be moving around were roaming around the field, busying themselves with either looting of the dead or skinning the carcasses of beasts to be sold in the city market.

The outcome of the battle was clear. Count Abel’s banner was planted at his camp and the enemies’, but the amount of dead this time was surprisingly many. It seemed the scent of blood and death in the air was irresistible to the beasts, attracting them from the surrounding forest, and driving them mad with bloodlust.

“Well, if I was born with luck I wouldn’t be a fighting other nobles’ wars now, would I?” I mocked, downing the contents of a waterskin, tasting the iron in my mouth and spitting, before downing it again.

“Honest word. By the looks of this, though,” he pointed at the corpses,” Count Lucas and Count Maize have lost the majority of their forces. Count Abel will probably begin marching into their lands in a day or two to begin the siege.”

” That oaf can do whatever he likes, we’re leaving before dawn tomorrow. What’s the report on our casualties?”

” On the rivaling counts’ side, at least 4000 dead with another half wounded. The rest fled and routed when the beast horde ravaged across the battlefield, including the counts, leaving us with 2000 injured prisoners to deal with. Meanwhile, Count Abel’s forces and our own only decreased by about half with approximately a thousand wounded. The majority of our forces fell on the right wing, bracing against the enemies’ charge.”

“Good. Get our wounded treated and burn the dead. We can’t leave any corpses for the beasts to feast on.”

That evening, while the bonfires lit up the night sky, mercenaries gathered around their campfires, singing and making merry of the day’s victory. All around us, the sweet scent of roasted beast meat, as meat is always on a shortage, wafts in the air. Soon after the battle ended, the spoils of battle were quickly distributed amongst our two armies with Count Abel’s receiving thirty percent of the loot. His expression was close to hostile as the majority of spoils were carted away on wagons to our camp before being escorted back to my hideout in Brule. Knowing his agreed, Count Abel might have purposely ordered the mercenary army to the front lines as fodder against the ruthlessness of Count Lucas’ and Count Maize’s army with the assumption of the mercenary army to be completely decimated or lose a bulk of our forces and preventing us from being able to recuperate our losses, thus being able to muscle his way into confiscating all the spoils of battle.

Unfortunately for him, these mercenaries are all citizens of Brule and part of my private army. The men and women of my companies would normally begin their training once they reach their tenth cycle, though there are those who enroll at a much older age. The training lasts for six years at most with a segment of their training requiring them to be adept at performing tactical maneuvers in groups and emergency medical procedures to enhance their own survivability during times of war. 

As Haron and I settled down and rested our backs against a tree on the hill facing Count Abel’s camp, slowly chewing on our own rations and drinking from the excess supply of waterskins while appreciating the warmth of our campfire and the company of the men and women, a group of horsemen rode in our direction. Haron and the elite mercenaries quickly stood up to block their path.

” A-are you Eric, the mercenary leader?” the leading horseman shouted, wheezing like a man about to meet his maker. His horse was frothing heavily and struggling just to stand upright.

“No, I’m Eric the Bootlover. Now, what do you have for me, messenger?”

The mercenaries closest to me chuckled at that.

“I come from the Kingdom of Rustar, bearing with me message from His Royal Highness.”

“What does the King of the Coast want with a mercenary? Especially one such as myself?”

“M-may I request for some water for my men and our mounts, uh, sir Eric?”

I raised my brows at that. Should I just kill them and pretend nothing happened? No, Count Abel’s scouts probably saw them riding into our camp. Deciding against my own judgement, I told my men to guide the messengers’ mounts to the troughs nearby.

As the messengers placed himself on the opposite side of the campfire, scanning his surroundings nervously.

“The king requests for your immediate extrication from this area. His Highness has heroically defeated the rebellion in the capital and is now marching at the head of His royal legion toward the northern coast to end the squabbles of petty nobles once and for all. As you, sir Eric, are merely a hired sword in a civil war between nobles, His Majesty is willing to part with a large sum of 500 gold coins for your withdrawal from this province.”

What a stroke of luck! I might be have some good fortune afterall. Since there was no mention of having to give up the spoils – I refuse to hand over a single shard of metal anyway –  I hesitated for a few moments, sighing heavily, as if almost regretting this decision.

“Fine, we’ll be off this damned place before daybreak. The prisoners, however, are coming with me. “