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Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: Swords of Secunda by Adrian Collins


Swords of Secunda by Adrian Collins

This is an excerpt provided by the author for the Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off Competition

Pavel spoke. “Brother captain, I still advise you, do not lead from the front. Send some of the Fifth in first to weaken the foe. You are too valuable to the attack to be lost with the first axe-swing.”

Uthiel smiled. “I’ll not send men where I myself would not go first.”

“I would expect no less,” said Theon from the other side.

“Neither would I,” piped in Tarren. “Uthiel just doesn’t seem happy unless he is trying to get me killed.”

“Archers to the fore!”

Uthiel winced at the command from the lord general. This was it. He dipped his head and placed his bucket helm over his head. Immediately his view of the world changed to two slim slots and the reverberating sound of his own breathing. He hefted his shield on his left forearm and raised his right hand to the sky.

Dropping his arm forward he called at the top of his voice. “For Mother Secunda! Onward!”

He began at a walk, and felt the ground beneath him tremble a little as his men fell into step beside him. There was no point in running yet, there was no danger this far out of shot. Uthiel didn’t even draw his sword. He would need all of his energy should he make it to combat. In that moment, his lips moved silently as he prayed to the spirits of the brothers who had worn his armour before it had been bestowed upon him.

My brothers, shield me from our foes. Allow me to reach combat. Allow me to decide my fate, face to face with the enemy. Do not let the arrow or throwing axe pierce my flesh. Let me lead these men as they deserve to be led, the entire way into the city, or the entire way to the Shield Wall in the Sky.

There was a loud chorus of bowstrings being loosed and he looked up to see the first flock of arrows fly over their heads from the Secundan bowmen behind them. They took a short while to reach the pinnacle of their arc, and to then make their way down. Most of the shafts clattered from the walls or landed short into the dirt. One or two dark shapes upon the wall fell from sight.

Uthiel hefted his shield a little higher as step by step the walls seemed to grow menacingly before him. The first volley of arrows from the barbarians loosed and flew towards the Secundan van. Uthiel watched their arcs as they landed almost fifty feet short of the advancing line. Secundan bows had the longer range against the barbarian short bow, but soon that would not matter.

A second volley of Secundan steel hail flew at the defenders, this time felling a few more as the archers of the Fifth found their range. Uthiel watched the walls intently as he saw the enemy recover and lift their drawn bows to the sky. The barbarians loosed once more.

“Pull in! Shields up! Keep moving forward!” called out Uthiel.

The men around him closed ranks and lifted their shields to the sky, creating a dark shade pierced only by shafts of light. Uthiel could hear their ragged breathing and their feet pounding upon the ground like their hearts would be hammering inside their chests. They stank of fear: sweat, dried spit, vomit, soiled breaches. There were men praying, men begging to see out the day, men sobbing in abject terror.

Then the first arrow hit like a hammer from above. It was followed a thousandth of an eye-blink later by a few hundred more. The sound was unbelievable, though it lasted but a long moment at best. Steel slammed into wood, plate or chainmail, and for the unfortunate few, flesh. The clatter of shafts glancing away or falling to the ground after hammering down was just as deafening. There were screams. Men fell. Uthiel could hear them like they were shouting in his helmet.

He heard one man call out to his friends not to leave him. It was a squeal of desperation, begging for help.

“Stay tight!” roared Uthiel. “Keep your formation, by Armenius!”

Beside him Theon shouted. “Shields up lads! Only a couple more volleys!”

Uthiel kept pushing his men forward, step by step. They moved in a well-drilled jog, the knights like the steel tip. Uthiel risked a glance above the rim of his shield. The bows upon the walls went up once more.

“Here they come again! Get tight! Brace!”

The arrows slammed down again. Uthiel tripped as an arrow lanced into the dirt before his foot and two more slammed into his right pauldron. The soldier behind him took the following arrow in the gut, the head bursting through the mail and dropping the screaming man to the ground. Uthiel looked back and saw the soldier trying to pull the arrow out as more arrows crashed down. Three more men fell as the break in the shields widened around the sprawling wounded.

Rough hands grabbed Uthiel from either side and pulled him back up. Uthiel glanced up and saw Pavel and Theon protecting him with their own arrow-ridden shields.

“Up my brother, get the men back together. We need to keep going.”

“Back together! Shields up!” called Uthiel, all of a sudden out of breath.

He risked one more look. They were only fifty feet from the base of the rubble. There, he knew, it would be time for recklessness. It would be a time for heroism. It was a time for him to lead. Uthiel felt the familiar burning of the talisman against his chest. He felt fresh strength lend itself to his limbs. He welcomed the feeling. Armenius was with him in this bloody endeavour.

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