“Push them back down!” Gasper yelled as he kicked one of the defenders that had just ascended the stairs to the top of the wall. His men were by his side, attempting to prevent the defenders’ reinforcements from gaining ground on the wall.
There were several dozen defenders packed on the inner stairs and below the wall, waiting to climb to the top of the wall and reinforce the weakening sellswords above. Some of them were already on top of the wall, but they had a hard time making room for their climbing comrades because they were held in place by Gasper’s men.
He’d just gained his fourth foothold on the wall. And the defenders were getting weaker every moment. Soon, all his ladders would be pouring men on top of the walls and there would be no stopping him.
During combat, Gasper adopted a habit of delivering unexpected thrusts at unexpected times towards random defenders. His quick thrusts had reaped the lives of three defenders so far, and his men had killed many others meanwhile.
He sniffed. “Something is burning.” The smell was coming from one of the other walls. He spotted some smoke in the air above the eastern wall where Viper was attacking. It wasn’t long before the burning smell turned into the odour of melting flesh, and he finally had an idea of what was happening.
He ignored the smell and focused on combat. If he could push his way through these reinforcements, then he would be the first to step inside the fortress. That would likely make him the first to reach Edgar’s living quarters as well, which was what the Viscount needed him to do.
His men were spreading around the wall, flanking any defenders that were still hindering his ladder climbers. It didn’t take long for the wall to fall into his hands, but the defenders on the stairs were still holding their ground, though no longer trying to climb onto the wall.
Gasper signaled for a few of his men who were bearing shields. “Take the lead.” There were several dozen defenders prepared to stop him on the narrow stairs and below. Killing three or four of them wouldn’t help him descend into the fortress. He had to push them down.
The shield bearers came to the front of combat and took the lead. They entangled themselves with the defenders and locked the combat into a balance of strength.
“Push behind them,” Gasper shouted.
His men complied and fell behind the shield bearers that were pushing against the defenders on the stairs. He joined his men’s ranks and began pushing along with all his strength.
The defenders on the ground below were trying to support the ones faltering on the stairs, but they failed to stop Gasper’s men from going down step by step.
Steadily, Gasper and his men began to climb down the stairs. The stairs were hardly wide enough for two men to climb down side by side, but if there was combat, it was likely that one of them would fall off. Fortunately, the front line of his men were the shield bearers that didn’t have to do much in the way of combat at the moment. They just had to push and endure any attempted strikes from the enemy.
A few arrows flew from below and struck at his men. It was fortunate that he had a man between him and the arrows flying up, because that man received two arrows, one of them to the ribs. Several of his men fell down. But others soon replaced them. There were too many for the enemy to kill. But the arrows did slow his men’s descent.
“Be careful of the arrows,” Gasper yelled. “Those who have shields would do well to fucking use them.”
After the first two waves of arrows, his men adapted and began to keep an eye on the archers and take cover behind their shields if they had any.
The descent continued, and soon the first few of his men stepped on the ground. The defenders quickly surrounded the first arrivers of his men and cut them down faster than they could be replaced. But the push didn’t stop. His men kept pushing down, and soon more of them were down on the ground.
The defenders surrounded them, but the ones that fell from Gasper’s men were quickly replaced by others. In a few moments, Gasper found himself stepping onto the ground as well, surrounded by his men who were surrounded by enemies.
The man in front of him fell to an enemy’s blow and he found himself facing one of the defenders. He stepped forward and took the place of the fallen subordinate.
His opponent took no respite and stepped in for a slash. Gasper blocked, and his eyes narrowed as the swords clanged against each other. His opponent was a Warrior.
Gasper noticed a bandage extending from the man’s neck and towards his shoulder under the armor. At least they were both wounded. He stepped forward for a thrust, and his opponent parried it with a step back.
Gasper followed by a slash which the enemy Warrior blocked and returned twofold. Gasper blocked the first slash and parried the second one softly, following by a riposte towards the uninjured shoulder of his opponent. The latter barely evaded with a clumsy sidestep, losing him his balance. Gasper stepped in for a decisive strike, but another defender appeared beside him just at that moment. The defender struck at him fiercely.
Gasper tried to evade, but the new enemy was too close. He got his sword in the way, but the tip of the enemy’s sword cut into his armor. Fortunately, it didn’t break his skin. His sword and armor worked well together to strip all strength from the strike.
The Warrior that had lost his balance regained it and tried to make use of the opportunity to flank Gasper from the other side.
Gasper leapt back and created some distance between him and the two enemies. He fell back into the ranks of his men. He’d slightly stepped out of the ranks while fighting the enemy Warrior which had given the other enemy a chance to flank him.
His men kept pouring down the stairs, but their spread on the ground was limited by the enemies’ encirclement. What the climbing defenders had faced on top of the wall, he was now facing below it.
But the numbers of the defenders were very limited. The encirclement would be broken sooner or later. Gasper preferred sooner though.
He stepped forward again and bait the second enemy into attempting a slash at him. He stopped and the slash whirred an inch in front of him. The failed slash gave him a moment for an attack. He extended both his foot and shoulder towards the enemy, delivering a quick thrust. The tip of his sword struck the shoulder of the enemy swiftly, drawing blood but not incapacitating the defender.
He stepped back into the ranks of the his men again. The wounded enemy followed him and tried to strike at him with an underhand slash. Gasper absorbed it with his sword, and one of his men who were by his side stepped forward, slashing his opponent’s neck.
The Warrior that Gasper had been fighting before stepped in and killed the attacker that had just killed Gasper’s opponent.
Gasper stepped forward to face the Warrior again. He’d almost killed the enemy Warrior a few moments ago. He didn’t mind trying again.
The Warrior began by a swift thrust, which Gasper parried. Gasper’s opponent tried another strike, slashing from the side, but Gasper easily blocked it. He answered the slash with two strikes which his opponent blocked as well.
The enemy Warrior appeared impatient and stepped forward with a weighty overhand strike. Gasper took a half a step back and parried the strike as softly as he could, rendering it harmless. He answered it with two thrusts, one to the Warrior’s shoulder and the other towards his gut.
The Warrior bent to the side and avoided the first thrust, then hopped back and avoided the second. He then tried to swing his sword for another strike, but Gasper’s thrusts weren’t all he was going to receive. Gasper followed the thrusts with a kick that barely did anything aside from surprising the Warrior. But the surprise gave Gasper enough time to retract his sword and go for a serious stab.
Gasper’s opponent saw the stab coming and stepped back at the same moment, attempting to push it aside with his sword. The Warrior’s sword hit Gasper’s but it wasn’t strong enough to completely divert it away. It simply changed the stab’s target from the chest to the shoulder. Gasper’s sword sank into his opponent’s flesh, severely wounding his shoulder.
The Warrior tried to use the momentary pause to deliver a strike of his own, but Gasper leapt to the side with his sword, and his opponent’s strike missed.
Gasper didn’t give the enemy Warrior time to attempt another strike. He swung his sword and bent down for a low slash.
The Warrior put his sword in the slash’s way just in time to block it. Gasper’s sword bounced back, and he used the strength of the bounce to circle his blade around for another slash, which pressed his opponent into barely blocking again.
Gasper followed with a thrust that his opponent parried while sidestepping. Then he added two quick slashes which the enemy Warrior blocked with obvious weakness. Gasper pressed forward and swung his sword with all his weight, delivering a slash that pushed his opponent’s sword away, rendering his body open for a stab. Gasper didn’t miss the chance. He stabbed his sword into his opponent’s heart, right through the leather armor.
The Warrior fell to the ground, dead. And Gasper leapt back into the ranks of his men.
He glanced around. The inexperience of his crew was apparent. For each defender that fell, at least two of Gasper’s men had to pay their lives. But as more defenders fell, his men were given wider berth. More men poured down from the stairs, and the encirclement was reaching its limit.
“Charge!” Gasper roared and paced forward, and his men exploded with similar pace, attempting to break the encirclement.
The defenders didn’t withstand the push for long. They held on for a few moments before the encirclement collapsed. Most of the few remaining defenders in the encirclement fled in different directions when they realized that there was no chance of holding the attackers back.
Gasper took some respite and gazed at the opposite wall where Lucas’s men were attacking. The walls was already taken by the former knight’s men, which meant that his men were already pouring into the grounds of the fortress just like Gasper’s.
Gasper frowned and urged his men forward. He abandoned all thought of an organized advance and commanded his men to charge.
He joined the chaotic charge that flooded the cramped camp of tents and cabins. His men seeped through the camp and landed in combat with the few defenders that were left.
Gasper avoided combat and tried to move deeper into the camp. There was not much resistance left on this side, and he successfully avoided any unneeded combat. At most, he would support his men who were fighting here or there without getting himself committed to any bout of combat.
Soon, he saw a larger house amid the tents and cabins. There, he spied two men fighting. One of them wore a copper mask that Gasper would never mistake for another.
Master Rudolf was fighting against a handsome man who wore a shiny breastplate. Gasper assumed that the man was Edgar, the mercenaries’ captain. He watched for a moment and realized that the old steward was having the worst of the fight. In fair combat, Edgar had the upper hand and was pushing the old man back.
Master Rudolf was barely stopping his opponent’s strikes and contributing too little to the fight. Gasper paced towards the two who were surrounded by emptiness. He spied no one else around but the two combatants.
As soon as he drew close, the two of them noticed him. Master Rudolf gave him a glance, while Edgar stared at him with eyes like daggers.
“Who are you?” Edgar mouthed as he hopped back and away from Master Rudolf, giving himself some room.
Gasper eyed the mercenary captain and prepared his sword. “Gasper,” he said. “You’ll certainly die today. If you don’t make it too difficult for us, we will give your corpse a decent burial.”
Edgar snorted. “So it’s you. I couldn’t believe that Isaac failed when he didn’t return, but it seems that I hadn’t prepared for the unexpected.” He glanced at Master Rudolf as if knowing that he was the one who’d saved Gasper. Then his eyes fell on Gasper again. “You’re holding your sword with one hand, and your other arm is stuck to your side like the wing of a chicken. I’d wager you have lost the use of that arm.” He pointed at Gasper’s left arm. “Why don’t you two just step back and let me go. I will appreciate it and point you towards the gold in this camp. You have rivals here after all.” He gestured towards the walls. “I’m certain you want a bigger share of the gold. If you can find it first and before anyone else sees it, then you don’t have to split it with the others.”
Gasper didn’t reply. He stepped forward and attempted a high thrust.
The mercenary parried, but from his flank came another strike. A slash that was fast enough to force him into stepping back. The tip of Master Rudolf’s sword scratched Edgar’s breastplate and slid off.
Gasper pressed on with a low slash. The mercenary captain blocked it easily, but he was still struggling to regain his full balance.
Master Rudolf didn’t slow down. He approached Edgar and stabbed at his neck swiftly.
The mercenary side stepped the attempted stab nimbly. He tried to swing his sword for a retaliatory slash, but Gasper stepped in for a fierce slash of his own, forcing the mercenary to leap back and evade.
Edgar’s balance was all but gone with the last leap. Master Rudolf took a wide step forward and extended his shoulder for a stinging thrust. Edgar barely parried it, only to receive a fast slash from his flank, Gasper’s slash.
Gasper’s sword didn’t find Edgar’s neck like he’d wished, but the mercenary captain failed to avoid it completely. The sword cut into his cheek and ear, drawing a line of blood on the handsome face.
Edgar gritted his teeth visibly and retaliated with a quick thrust towards Gasper’s chest.
Gasper leapt back, avoiding it by a mere inch, while Master Rudolf stepped in for a heavy slash towards Edgar’s side.
The mercenary failed to evade and the slash cut into his left arm’s flesh. He leapt back, creating some distance from the two of them. But Gasper stepped forward to shrink the distance, and so did Master Rudolf.
Edgar’s face was twisted into a furious expression as his cheek and ear wounds cascaded blood all the way down to his neck.
Gasper stepped to the side and Master Rudolf flanked the mercenary from the other side. Edgar’s face slowly relaxed, as if he’d just surrendered to his fate. The mercenary captain decided to take the biggest of the two birds with him. He leapt towards Master Rudolf with his sword prepared for a reckless strike.
Master Rudolf noticed the danger instantly and leapt to the side, only to be followed by Edgar. The mercenary’s sword rose forth for a mighty descending strike, while the old steward’s sword braced for the arriving blade.
Master Rudolf blocked Edgar’s overhand strike with great effort, and the latter’s sword stopped only two inches from the old steward’s face.
Gasper had already paced towards the mercenary captain’s back. He raised his sword for a high thrust that whirred through the air and pierced into the back of Edgar’s neck, finding its way down towards his heart.
Most of Gasper’s blade sank into the body of the mercenary captain. Master Rudolf sighed in relief as Edgar’s swordhand softened and relaxed. Gasper slowly pulled his sword up and out of Edgar’s neck, watching the blade drenched in blood slowly sliding out of the wound.
Gasper looked at Master Rudolf as Edgar slumped to the ground, dead.
The old steward didn’t wait. “Take his head. Lucas’s men are almost here. I’ll go to Edgar’s house to look for anything that can be useful to the Viscount. If any of the chiefs arrive, slow them down until I come out.”
Gasper nodded and watched the masked old man hurrying towards the house. After he saw him enter, he stared down at the body of the dead mercenary captain. “You’re quite unfortunate, choosing the wrong side.” He paused for a moment. Gasper was on the Viscount’s side. He was doing his lord’s his bidding. But what would come after? he wondered. “I hope our choices do matter in the end.”