08. The Devil at War

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The pause in the fighting only lasted for a moment. Then, the red knight raised the horn he was carrying once more and lifted his visor just far enough to put it to his lips.

Again three powerful blasts of the horn echoed across the river, and from behind the bushes besides the remnants of the bridge broke dozens of more men. Hartung stared at them in blatant disbelief.

"Where in God's name did all those soldiers come from?" he snarled, rounding on the captain of the advance guard, who was in charge of scouting and reconnaissance. "I thought you told me this Lady Ayla only had sixty men-at-arms, at most!"

"She does," the man protested. "Look, Milord! Look closely! Those men are armed with pickaxes, clubs and pitchforks. They're no soldiers; they're just peasants!"

One of the "peasants" chose this exact moment to hit his first opponent in the head with a pickax. The crunch of bone was audible even across the river.

"They look like soldiers to me," Hartung growled, doing his best to keep from punching this little worm who called himself captain. "And who by all the apostles and demons of hell," he continued, raising his hand to point at the gigantic red figure racing down the hill on its black stallion, "is that?"

"I... I don't know Sir. I went through the family trees of Lady Ayla and all her vassals, and the friends of her vassals. There's no noble in a red armor living within a hundred miles of here! He has to be a mercenary or some other commoner. He can't be somebody important."


Hartung turned to watch the battle again.

I am calm, he told himself. I am very calm and relaxed. He had no choice but to tell himself that over and over again. If he stopped, he would explode, and probably kill someone. He would also realize that he was being forced to watch his own defeat without being able to do anything about it.

"Unimportant, you say, Captain?"

The red knight had reached the battle now. He didn't even slow down his horse: he was a one-man cavalry charge. Two men were speared on his lance at the first go. Instead of breaking, as lances often did, this one was simply ripped from the bodies who slumped to the ground, torn to bloody pieces. The soldiers behind them tried to duck, raise their shields, run, anything—to no avail. Within seconds, their blood stained the ground, mingling with that of their fallen comrades.

"Well, um, Milord..." The voice of the captain behind Hartung was two octaves higher by now. "Possibly... I might have slightly underestimated..."

Hartung ignored him and instead watched his new foe.

The red knight had just turned to start on another charge. A Falkenstein soldier tried to jump up and stab him from behind. Quick as a flash, a crimson, iron-clad fist came up, grabbed him by the throat and threw him back. The soldier flew over fourteen feet before he smashed into two of his companions, getting skewered on their weapons in the process.

Hartung nodded to himself.

I am Calm. Very calm.

"Perhaps it is just my personal impression, but he looks quite important to me," he stated, his voice deceptively soft. "What do you think, Captain?"

"Y-yes, Milord. I can see what you mean, Milord."

"Good. I would hate for there to be a misunderstanding between us." He turned and fixed the Captain with his eyes. "I suggest that you go and find out who that is, if you don't want this to be the last day with a skin on your back. Understood?"

"Yes, Milord!"

"Now send someone back to the main army. Tell them I want all the archers they have, and I want them now!"

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