Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: Eagle En Garde by Olga Godim
Eagle En Garde by Olga Godim
This is an excerpt provided by the author for the Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off Competition
Very early in the morning, a multitude of white rope ladders dropped down from the top of the castle’s walls to the ground. The heavily armed soldiers in brown uniforms swarmed over them down to the valley floor.
Darin glanced at his pocket watch. The alarm raisers were not expected for another candlemark, and Plark’s phalange even later. Without Plark, the Eagles were at two-thirds of their strength, not near enough for an easy win.
He took a rough estimate of the descending enemies. Over four hundred people shimmied down very quickly, the small valley ringing with the echoes of their voices. The Eagles had just run out of choices. The captain’s whistle added a new dimension to the valley. Almert’s fighters emerged from their surreal, golden-white hideout, yelling the Eagles’ battle cry. Serpent’s soldiers sprinted for the stables, screaming and pointing at the gray figures of Darin’s men rising around it. The archers let fly.
Darin dashed toward the main entrance, protected by Olin’s squad. He should be there. The fighting would be the fiercest at the gates, and his soldiers would need him. He hadn’t made the wide double gates before the first tide of brown uniforms, armed with sharp steel, hit the stable walls.
Moving like a gray lightning, Darin broke one brown cluster after another, using all his tricks, painting the air with blue tracery, both his swords unmistakably finding their marks, but more and more of the enemies sprang up to replace the fallen ones. He kept a grim score in his head, while the world diminished to the sequence of pas. Lunge, parry, cut. Nine. Advance, slash, twist. Ten.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Bonny fighting alone, without the youngsters at his back. Bonny’s face was bloody, but Darin’s brain didn’t register the specifics. His friend was on his feet; that was all that mattered. Darin whirled to dispatch a treacherous bandit attacking Bonny from behind. Fifteen. Then he had to fight another one who sprouted in front of him, and then two more, while Bonny protected his back. Eighteen.
The brown mass seemed to swell, rising on the yeast of the Eagles’ blood and flesh. They were losing. For the first time in twenty years, the Eagles wouldn’t come out of the job the winners. They wouldn’t come out of this job at all.
Bleak determination settled in. He would die, too, but not before more of the enemies preceded him on the way beyond. He hacked at his foe, and a wide brown chest parted readily before his hungry sword. Twenty-one. A red jet spurted all over him, as another brown uniform split in the middle. Twenty-two. Darin sidestepped the falling body without registering the face. A scimitar flashed to his right. He spun, cutting the hand wielding it at the elbow. Twenty-three. Or was it twenty-four? Both his arms had grown heavy. Every swing of a sword came at a higher price, and still the enemies multiplied.
The battle lasted forever. In the beginning, Serpent’s army outnumbered the Eagles more than two to one. As the battle progressed, the odds became even worse. In the rare moments of lull, when Darin ventured a quick glance over the battlefield, he saw the gray figures fighting in clumps of desperate resistance, half-swallowed by the brown waves. The Eagles’ traditional defensive five-man back-to-back stars lost point after point, as the mercenaries went down. The air vibrated with the clang of swords, human screams, and the sick, sucking slurps of meat cleavers. Above the ghastly cacophony, the nightingales among the birches continued their sun-welcoming symphony, oblivious to the death and suffering the senseless humans inflicted on each other. It couldn’t last much longer.
He didn’t hear the thunder of hooves above the din of the battle, but he saw them, and could’ve cried in elation. Plark’s phalange had arrived at last.
Gray riders swept into the valley without stopping, mad at the carnage they unexpectedly encountered, their swords in the air, hearts full of hatred and resolve, throats raising a war cry so terrifying it finally silenced the nightingales. The brown army wavered under the onslaught of the fresh, vengeful cavalry, caved in, and eventually collapsed.
The Eagles didn’t accept their surrender. Enraged for their fallen comrades, intent on paying the enemies dearly for the first not-quite victory the Eagles had suffered in years, the mounted mercenaries under Lieutenant Plark’s command raced at breakneck speed across the battlefield from one brown group to another, cutting them all down in a fit of vengeful violence. When defeated enemies tried to escape, the gray demons on their warhorses chased them down over the valley floor and mercilessly killed them on the run.
Darin found himself without an opponent, and the battle frenzy trickled off him like blood, fast and hot, leaving him shivering. Dumbly, he lowered both swords. When had he acquired the second one? People moved around him but he couldn’t distinguish between friends and foes. He didn’t see colors. Was it evening already? His right side hurt brutally, probably from too much exertion. He attempted to rub the offending muscles, but his fingers dipped into something wet, and the pain flared anew. Inhaling sharply, Darin looked down. Blood streamed along his right side, collecting in a red pool at his feet, one of so many that the grass seemed crimson. Strange, he didn’t remember being wounded.
The people around him started swaying, and the ground spun gently. When he saw his second, Olin, striding toward him with a troubled expression, blood staining the front of his tunic, lips moving, Darin couldn’t hear a word. He was slightly surprised such a serious officer as Olin would play a joke on him at this time. His last coherent thought was one of triumph and pride. His people hadn’t let the enemies enter the stables.