Memories: A Human Story

    • Memories: A Human Story

      “I hate it when they do that,” Lieutenant Markoy had growled,staring at the suddenly-empty battlefield before us.

      “Sir?” queried his young aide, taking a moment to wipe the vermin blood from his fine sword.

      Markoy looked slightly down. “When they disengage and pull back for no reason. It’s not like the Shin’hare to attack unless they have superior numbers and they usually fight to the last with the fear of their overseers overriding their fear of death.”

      A rueful chuckle had slipped from Sergeant Dolon, then, his hard grey eyes scanning the misty horizon. “It’s never for no reason, sir. There’s always a plot behind it.”

      “That’s why I hate it,” Markov snarled.

      “Count yourselves fortunate we’re not the ones flat in the mud,” I had added, with a touch more coldness than I intended, glancing down at the churned mud mixed with Shin’hare blood and other, less mentionable fluids. Not that anything ever stopped soldiers from mentioning them, anyway.

      “Yes, ma’am!” I would never get used to hearing that, I mused over my beer, two days later. The fifth child (of six) of a farmer, with four older brothers and a younger one, I’d been more of a rough-and-tumble sort than the boys, even when they tried to coddle me. And now, captain of a fighting unit. I let my thoughts wander further, remembering more of the battle.

      * * * *

      There was a horrendous clattering, approaching in a rumbling wave. Thousands of gleaming eyes and clanking mechanical feet tore from the misty horizon. Individually, they would have been comical. A spider-like clockwork construct of a lower body, topped with a legless, grafted-in shroomkin slave? A strong boot was more than a match for the rabid little things, though they hissed in the clutches of a violent, induced fury. Numbering in the hundreds to thousands, they were more a force of nature than a foe to be fought.

      It was time to call upon our own forces. I withdrew my whistle, as my sergeants shouted for their soldiers to maintain formation, keeping their shields planted. My lieutenants looked to me in a combination of panic and hope. I blew. Four simple notes. E E E A. ‘Help us, you jerks.’ And waited, keeping a firm grip on my rune-carved bastard sword. The sergeants smiled grimly, though the shieldmen and pikemen at the front began to quail, the dreadlings at one hundred paces and closing at a pick-legged sprint.

      I heard them before the others, by virtue of my central position, offering a grimace that was more exhausted snarl than smile to my soldiers. The sergeants shouted for order and for steadiness. The lieutenants tightened their grips on their swords, determined to show their honor or at least die heroically. A few seconds later, everyone heard them, the war cries and bellows that were more scream of hatred and fury than steeling shout or bracing grunt, accompanied by pounding feet, as our allies stampeded into the fray from both sides, swinging short-hafted chopping axes, long-handled war-clubs, and even heavy halberds that would be impossible for a man to control adequately. The orcs had arrived, and were tearing apart the wave of monstrosities with a fury I’d not seen since witnessing their gladiatorial bouts.They only left us a thin trickle of the fleshy, clockwork horrors.

      * * * *

      A thin trickle? I laughed a bit bitterly. A thin trickle of an ocean was still called a river. We’d nearly been trampled by the “thin trickle” that my memory had misnamed so thoroughly. One of my lieutenants, at least four tankards in, gave me a congratulatory clap on the left shoulder, nearly bruising his hand in the process. I offered him a wan smile, which hetook as exuberance and joy to be alive. Still, the rest of our salvation sat nearby. I reached out to give his knee a squeeze, and the young mage jumped a bit, nearly spilling his glass of wine, before returning a dazzling smile. The slightly skittish, shy young man had only his general appearance in common with the flying war mage from the battle, a crazily teleporting spewer of azure lightning and freezing bolts that decimated the onslaught of dreadlings and proved to be the rescue of the entire company. His name was Rastov, and he had three older sisters and one younger. Something primal and ale-blunted in my brain suggested that I ask him what they’d taught him about fighting women. The rest of my brain noted that my men were raising another cheer, and I should lift my tankard. I did. After all, I had paid for the first two kegs out of the reward that the old lord had given each detachment individually. It kept the men happy, and amused the orcs, who maintained their own camp outside the town, decorating their new scars and draining their own casks.

      I realized my mind had been drifting again, and focused, with some effort, on the mage. He was smiling, leaning forward slightly, and I returned the grin and nodded as he repeated his query. He was far less inebriated than I, and had made a good suggestion. I looped an arm around his waist as he slipped one around my shoulders, and we headed upstairs to make some new memories.

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