Sunday, 27 July 2014

Battles, Banners and Sieges

Bort struggled to keep the rythmn in time with everyone else. His helmet kept slipping down over his eyes and he stumbled as he pushed it back up out of his line of sight. 

"Should have put a hat on under it, lad." 

Bort turned to look a the grizzled veteran next to him. The man's beard seemed to be trying to take over his entire face. There were the hints of scars underneath the hair. The patches of skin that showed were beaded with sweat, even though the day wasn't that warm. 

Bort looked up and had his vision blocked once more as his helmet slipped over his eyes once more. His boot snagged on something and suddenly Bort felt himself falling forward. His billhook flew from his sweaty grasp. A strong hand grabbed him and stopped his fall. 

"You'll be needing that." The veteran pointed at the fallen weapon. The rest of the People's Army flowed around the two of them as the Veteran waited for Bort.

"Thanks!" Bort gushed. "I'm Bort!"


They resumed their shambolic march. 

"I've never done anything like this before." Bort seemed to be speaking to fill a silence that didn't need filling. "But I saw The Chosen One speaking at the fair and I couldn't help myself." 

Goron nodded to himself as the youth prattled away.

"This is the fifth one of these I've been through." 

Bort's eyes widened in awe.

"The first, I would have been about your age. That was a bad affair all over. Total fuck up." Goron paused. "Actually, they were all pretty awful. Aside from the last one. That last one went quite well." 

"Five what?" 

Goron eyed the lad for a long moment. "Dark Lords being overthrown."

As you might have guessed I'm addressing Battles today! 

So, what is a Battle?
The dictionary rather boringly describes a battle as a fight between two armed forces. I would descrbie a Battle as a grudge between two powerful people being played out by several thousand unimportant people. 

OK, well I've got my Battle's sorted, thank you.
Oh have you? You've managed to successfully convey the horror and panic of the melee? The terror and screams of the dying and wounded? Have you worked out the stench of the blood and ruptured bowels? The animal stench of fear, a rank fug of piss and sweat and iron. Sounds grim?

Yeah, it really does...
Good. I'll be honest with you here. For most people the closest they will ever get is on the sports field, playing Rugby or maybe in the first day of a sale. You see the same emotions, the desperation, the fear and elation, all being played out on the faces of the people around you. It's unpleasant and vicious and embodies everything that humanity is trying to escape, theoretically. 
The thing is, these are the elements you will have to invoke to make a battlefield live. And never mind the weather. If it rains then your Hero will be dealing with the wet and the cold, water running into their eyes and the metal of the armour around them pinging and ponging as the raindrops hit.
A Battlefield is the place where miracle and atrocity, heroism and villainy rub shoulders and do their best to murder each other. Desperation and manic will collide in the scrum, class divides either flip or become even more ingrained (depending on what your upper and lower classes traditionally do).

Wow, that really doesn't sound pleasant.
No, it doesn't. In our world, despite the face that they happened quite a lot, Battles were something that most (non Lunatic) commanders tried to avoid. Far better to out outmaneuver your foe or, better still. starve them into submission by waiting outside their gates. 
Not only were they deeply unpleasant things for the people involved (aside from the combat monsters like Richard the Lionheart) but they were also risky as hell. After Battles ideologies changed,civilisations fell or didn't. The problem lies in the fact that Battles are unpredictable. 
Some armies are better trained, others are better equipped, the best are experienced and well equipped to deal with their foe. The worst have been ideological and unorganised, badly supplied and poorly led. I could (but wont) vomit forth a lod of Von Clausewitz, Napoleon and various other LDD's (Long Dead Dudes) though I don't think you'd appreciate it. 

I see...but, what about the army that the Prophecied One raises, the one made up of hopeful Peasants and retired veterans?
Oh, you mean the slopmongers and the coffin-dodgers? The people who have never been near the military or had some sort of training, the ones who have nothing better to do and have decided to give it one last hoorah. Or at least the wheezing approximation of one. 

In short, Battles are not fun, they are difficult, dangerous and unpredictable. To drift dangerously close to philosophical ramblings; the only one who benefits from a battle is the man who digs the graves.
Oh, and the Looters.

Bort's head rang from the din around him and from the blow to his head he'd taken earlier. Goron had disappeared into the scrum some time ago. It might have been a minute or an hour or an ice age. Each terrifying moment was stretching out before Bort, dripping past him and lasting far longer than any single moment could or should. At the same time everything was a frantic blur of horror. 

He stood where he had been told and clung onto the haft of his billhook for dear life. Then he had waited, just like all of the other strangers around him. a little further down the line someone farted. A burst of nervous laughter went up and then suddenly men up and down the line were farting. At first there was some more laughter but then when the smell started to get worse the laughter dried up. Bort looked around, he was fairly certain someone near him had shat his britches. 

Bort nearly joined them when the drums started. up. It wasn't a mad tattoo or a frantic rhythm. Instead it was a steady and monotonous thrumming. Bort, being a fairly big lad, was in the front line. In the distance he could see a dark blur. 

"That's them." The man next to him breathed, as though to speak any louder would draw their attention. 

Bort stared as the blur grew nearer and the drums more distinct. After a while the mass of Orcs halted. The dim light glinted on pieces of armour and weapons. Bort couldn't make out any of their faces under their full helms. He couldn't quite decide if that was a good or bad thing. Shortly after it didn't really matter.
The banner bearers moved through the ranks to stand at the rear, a horn blasted from somewhere in the horde and Bort felt the earth tremble.
A hundred yards to his left he saw the heavy cavalry surging forwards out of the Dark Lord's host. He stared in mesmerized horror as tonnes of armoured horses and men thundered towards the host of farmers and idealists. 
The cavalry hit. At the same time someone in slightly better armour stepped forward and screamed the order for the charge.

Bort couldn't stop staring. The cavalry's impact had happened to the sound of snapping bones and breaking skulls. He couldn't stop hearing the screams or tear his eyes from the gobbets of flesh that were thrown up by the axes. 

His head rang suddenly. 

"Fucking move!" Goron followed the words with another blow to Bort's head.

The world blurred and Bort caught sight of a flight of arrows rising into the sky. Then his oversized helmet thumped down over his eyes again and the world became a peaceful place for a while. 

The melee was breaking up. Bort couldn't tell what was happening. A man ran past him and he thought he recognised the face. 

"What's happening? Did we win?" 

The running man was spattered in dark blood that looked black. He slowed long enough to gasp at Bort. 
"What do you fucking think?"

Bort looked at the heaving throng in front of him. weapons rose and fell and bodies heaved in surges before falling and being  trampled down by those more desperate to stay alive. 

He saw the cavalry reforming and turning to face his part of the field. 

Suddenly, life on the farm seemed a lot more enticing. Bort turned, dropped his billhook and ran.