Chapter 34 Battle Cleanup
“Into the ditch! Get into the ditch!” Kegan was shouting at his men as the cavalry bore down on both sides of the bridge.
About half of his men managed to follow his orders, and even some of the village’s men at arms were jumping into the ditch rather than trying to withstand a cavalry charge.
The fighting on the bridge had stopped as both sides turned to deal with the larger threat. Kegan took the javelin he had in hand and threw it through the head of the leading horse. The animal went limp and collapsed, the rider somehow came out fine. But the line of horses had a hole in the middle as the nearby horses moved around the fallen creature.
The charge happened much slower than Kegan had expected. The riders kept their mounts from running all the way into the ditch, but they still stopped close enough to lash out with their lances and spears.
Kegan’s knights were either taken out or forced into the creek ditch. On the village side, there were fewer men at arms, but they had reacted later to the charging horses. The two unbloodied knights held the bridge, while the third one that Kegan had fought earlier was knocked back into the creek. Three of Kegan’s men had swarmed the downed knight and ultimately killed him by drowning him in the shallow one-foot water.
Kegan took the fight to the horsemen. The animals were dancing about trying to kick him. He dodged around the kicks and drove a spear into the rider’s gut. The horse shifted when the rider screamed in pain, and the lateral movement caused the spear shaft to snap. But now Kegan had an open path to the side of the horse. He pulled out the iron mace he’d made recently. Two feet of thick solid iron bar, topped with a ridged head.
He cracked the front leg of the horse first causing the horse to whinny in complaint and fall down lower to the ground. He jumped and swung the mace upwards at the same time, connecting with the lower part of the struggling rider’s helmet. The metal bent in, the man’s head snapped back at a bad angle, and his neck broke killing him on the spot.
Kegan put the horse out of its misery with another swing of his mace. He then pulled the half spear out of the dead rider’s gut to use it like a javelin.
A combination of the improvised javelin and his mace once again made quick work of the next horseman. There were three horsemen left, but they backed off when they realized how badly outnumbered they were.
Four horsemen from the other side of the bridge also broke off their attack. One of them had gotten too close to the ditch and the ground had given out, spilling horse and rider headfirst into the creek.
Before they had backed off too far Kegan shouted “Javelins!”
About ten javelins flew out, striking a few of the horses. Even though none of the horses or riders were killed they’d decided they had fought long enough and went into a full retreat.
The village men at arms and cavalry had fought to a bloody standstill on the other side of the bridge. Six horsemen lying dead, the rest unable to join the narrow fight on the bridge.
Kegan looked at his own men. Only about ten of them looked uninjured.
“Take the armored knight’s body. Get into the woods.”
Kegan helped them carry the knight off as they all retreated from the ongoing battle.
It didn’t take them long to reach the hiding spot with all the pigs, and the three men Kegan had left behind to watch them. Walter tried to ask questions about what had happened, but Kegan just waved him off. “Strip the valuable armor off this Knight. Everyone, make your way back to the Keep as fast as you can. Stay off the roads, and don’t light any campfires.”
“Are you not coming with us?”
“No, I’ll make sure there are no pursuers. And then I’m going to pay Trivary a visit.”
Kegan made his way back to the village they had attacked. He’d taken ten of the remaining javelins, a shield, a mace, two daggers, and a sword. It was more gear than he normally carried, but he’d rather lug it all around than run out of weapons.
There were two men at arms on horseback following the obvious trail that Kegan’s men had blazed through the woods. They both had crossbows.
Kegan waited for them with his camouflage perk active. He waited until they were only ten feet away and he hurled a javelin at the rider on the right. It punctured through the man’s chainmail and into his heart. The second man only had a moment to be surprised before he met the same fate. The horses were upset but hadn’t immediately fled. Kegan managed to eventually calm them down. He loaded up the horses with the two men’s armor and weapons.
The armor that most of these men wore continually impressed Kegan. He knew from experience that his javelins could go right through an unarmored body and come halfway out the back. His javelins were only penetrating this armor by a few inches. Not enough to save these two from him, but it explained why his men’s javelin throw wasn’t effective against the men at arms.
He switched out some of his own armor with what the men had been wearing. Left the bodies in the forest and proceeded back to the village with the two horses carrying the gear.
Kegan watched from the forest as the battlefield was cleaned up. Women and children were crying over the bodies of fallen men. All of the dead bodies were being stripped of gear and clothes. The reuseable weapons and armor went in one pile. While the useless wooden gear, blood-soaked clothes, and some of the dead bodies went into a shallow slowly burning ditch. After seeing two men he recognized go into the fire, he realized it was only his men that were being burnt in the ditch. Everyone else was being laid out next to individual wooden funeral pyres.
Before the sunset, Lord Trivary rode into town with a few knights behind him. Kegan was glad that the man had shown up. It would save him a trip back to the other village.
The funeral pyres were just glowing coals as Kegan snuck into the village. It was a cloudy night, but the moon was bright, so it would have been easy for someone to spot an intruder if there had been any guards posted.
Kegan wore the armor he’d stolen, and only applied one layer of his camouflage perk. People’s eyes might glide over him from a distance, but the effect wouldn’t be noticeable if he was close or someone focused on him.
The manor house did have two guards posted outside the main door, but they seemed unconcerned as they just chatted with each other.
Kegan circled around the manor house to make sure there weren’t any back entrances that Trivary might escape out of. There was a cellar entrance in the back of the manor with a set of double doors that opened upwards. While he was watching a servant opened the cellar doors and walked off into the village.
Kegan snuck up the cellar doors and slowly opened them, there was a set of stairs leading down to a set of heavy wooden door that was slightly ajar. He thought of how to block this entrance for a second, before changing his plans. He didn’t need to fight his way in and trap Trivary. Instead, he’d just sneak around and try to find him before starting the fighting.
At the bottom of the stairs, he was about to open the door when it suddenly opened in front of him. A young maid came out of the door and almost walked into him. Her eyes went wide in fear upon seeing him. Kegan’s hands launched out one wrapping around the back of her neck and the other clamping tight over her mouth. Then she was yanked through the door and pressed up against the stair wall. He didn’t want her screaming and ruining his sneaking plan moments after he’d decided on it.
He listened carefully for a few seconds to determine if anyone was saying something on the other side of the door, but it was silent. He looked back at his captive wondering what he was gonna do with her. She was panicking, her eyes were wide, her hands were pushing at Kegan’s wrists, and her feet were kicking feebly at his shins.
“Calm down” he whispered harshly.
She stopped kicking, but then she seemed to sag down. Her eyes closed as tears streamed down, and she started shaking.
“I’m going to remove my hand, if you scream I will hurt you, do you understand?”
She nodded her head.
Kegan slowly removed his hand.
She slumped down and backed into the corner of the stairwell.
“Please don’t … please”
He checked inside the doorway. There was a kitchen inside, with a few tables, a hearth, and two closed doors. No one was in the room.
“Is anyone else coming back?”
The girl was still crying and didn’t even seem to have heard his question. Kegan left her outside the kitchen and closed the door behind himself. He went and checked the two doors. One of them lead down a narrow hallway, and the other was a larder with salted meat and vegetables. He helped himself to some food before walking down the narrow hall. It was cramped for him, but people as small as the servant girl would have been fine.
There was a small set of stairs leading up, but he heard voices coming from a side door. He opened the door into a larger hallway that was very poorly lit. Looking to his right there was a set of stairs going up, and two heavy doors on either side of the hallway. To his left was a guard looking at him.
The guard chuckled, and spoke quietly:
“Back already? Guess you weren’t as lucky as you thought you’d be.”
Kegan walked towards the guard.
“I ain’t giving you the coppers back, even if you are here to take the shift back. I told…hey you aren’t-”
Kegan’s fist slammed into his unprotected throat. The guard grabbed his throat with one hand and tried to draw a sword at his waist with the other hand. Kegan grabbed the guard’s head in both hands and wrenched his neck. The guard’s body went limp, and Kegan was about to drop the body when he heard a voice he recognized
“Keep it down out there!”
Trivary. Kegan tensed up and set the body down quietly. Looking at the stout oak door that the voice had come through. There was a tiny window at the top of the door with metal bars. There was a strong-looking metal lock on the door as well.
Kegan was not familiar with the concept of jails, so he didn’t realize exactly what he was looking at. All of Kegan’s prior experience with doors was that they were meant to keep people out, not keep them in. He thought he could probably break down the door, but it would be loud and take him a few minutes. He thought Trivary might be able to escape through some alternate route in the room.
Kegan thought his best chance of catching the man would be waiting for him to leave the room, so he sat down quietly next to the door, listening to the conversation inside.
“Where were we?” Trivary asked
“Tribute obligations” A sullen voice replied
“You sound like a petulant child, I am allowing you to retain your titles and your land. But yes, on to the seasonal tribute …”
What proceeded for the next two hours was an incredibly boring discussion about grain, copper, fighting men, cows, pigs, chickens, eggs, and every other minor item that this village produced. Both men were very knowledgeable about the relative worth of these things and spent dozens of minutes at a time discussing the minutiae of production. If this is what lords were supposed to know, then Kegan was strongly reconsidering his attempts to join the nobility.
After the negotiations finally wrapped up, Kegan got excited that Trivary might finally leave. But then another topic came up.
“Can I know where you managed to get a muscle mage to fight for you?”
There was silence for a long moment, then Trivary let out a long sigh.
“I suppose you should know a few things if you are going to be my subordinate. I have no idea where that particular muscle mage came from. I’m not even sure if he is muscle mage or a full-on flesh mage. He has been squatting in Lord Tasmeel’s Keep. The Count sent some men to clear it out and take over. But the mage, Kegan is his name, gave them the entire contents of the treasury. No one wanted to die taking a penniless Keep so they just left. The man resurfaced a few days ago attacking one of my villages and stealing a bunch of pigs. I lied to him and told him that you were responsible for taking most of his money, so he came to attack your village. I just followed and waited for the opportune moment to attack.”
“So you took care of two problems in one fell swoop.”
“I thought I would, but no. Kegan and most of his men escaped. I sent scouts to follow them, but he isn’t my problem. I told the capital that there is a rogue flesh mage on the loose. They will send an exterminator group. And I’ll get a small portion of the bounty.”
“He was worse than fighting an elf. Do you really think an exterminator group will be enough?”
“I know … I heard the reports from the Count’s men, and how he fought on the bridge. He has the strength of a muscle mage, the healing powers of a flesh mage, the ferocity of an Orc, and if some rumors are true, the appetite of a goblin. He is some ungodly abomination. If you ever encounter him again I will not hold it against you to surrender to his demands. Let the Kingdom take care of such monsters.”
Kegan felt flattered and smiled to himself at the description. The hit squad coming after him was a little worrying, but there was no reason why he needed to just sit still and let them find him.
“You’re … you’re sure the Kingdom can handle him?”
“Yes. The hit squads are composed of mages and their handlers.”
The other man sputtered “The Royals don’t use mages!”
“Oh don’t be so naive. The only reason we haven’t been slaughtered by the Elves and Orcs is the use of mages. It’s a badly kept secret that the royals use a special gem to summon child mages from the demon planes and train them up to be loyal to humanity.”
As the topic shifted further away from Kegan’s exploits he was increasingly bored until the last sentence. That sounded a bit like the world gem that spawned the goblins. But this was a world gem that spawned humans.
Kegan, in his excitement, hadn’t realized that the conversation was finally concluding. They’d drawn close to the door.
“Stephens! Open up, we’re done in here.”
Kegan tensed, as he processed what Trivary had just said. He felt frustrated at himself as he flipped over the guard’s body. Sure enough, there was a large key that looked like a perfect fit for the door. He’d just wasted hours listening to a boring conversation when he could have killed the man much earlier.
He unlocked and opened the door. Smiling as he saw Trivary’s terrified face. A moment later Trivary was dead with a broken neck. The other man wasn’t someone Kegan recognized, but he seemed to recognize Kegan. “I yield! Please, it was all him, I would never attack you my Lord Kegan!”
Kegan frowned. He hadn’t thought of what to do with this man. From the conversation, he’d overheard this man hadn’t actually done anything to Kegan. The man looked only a little fearful. His words hadn’t matched his tone. Instead, he had a calculating cautious demeanor.
Kegan tilted his head slightly, an idea coming to mind as he thought back to the boring two-hour conversation he’d heard. “How about you work for me?”
“Uh … of course. Sorry for my impertinence, my Lord, but what would you ask of me?”
Kegan looked back at Trivary’s body and then turned back with a big grin. “I’ve recently acquired some new holdings, I want you to manage them.”