By Brett Hainley
The men of the Company of Nine were gathered around the fire. Garald, the captain, was away with the lords, planning strategy. Ulfstan, the Norther, was tending the fire and the pot of stew he had started. The others were caring for their equipment.
Einar, the smaller moon, shined above the battlements, his young face just beginning to give way to the scarred. Gianni, the Souther, noticed the new man, Donal, staring up at it. “What’s got your eye?” he asked.
Donal glanced at him. He was big, not quite as large as Ulfstan, but big enough to swing a longsword as if it were a spatha. He was new to the Company, but not to war. They wouldn’t have trust him at all, but Sean, the old veteran sergeant, had spoken for him. “I was just thinking,” he shrugged, “about the last time I sat in siege, and Einar started showing his ugly side.”
The other men got quiet, and waited to hear his tale. “It was ten, no fifteen years ago. I was a conscript archer for Duke Pellen in his drive against the Fomor.” There was a snort of disbelief at this broad swordsman ever drawing a bow. “I was young,” he replied, “with no more hair on my face than a babe’s, and had yet to come into my full stature. Anyway, my people are known for our skill with a bow.” He turned his attention back to his sword, alternately stroking the blade with his whetstone and wiping it with a cloth.
Arian spoke up. “What about the siege?”
Donal gazed at him thoughtfully. Arian was a young man, younger than any others at the fire, and this may have been his first campaign. “It wasn’t really much of a siege. Not a grand army against a fortified city, like this, here. We were just an early sortie in the larger campaign, sent to test the will and the might of the Fomor.
“We’d scored an early victory against one of the larger tribes, and had pursued them to their stronghold, a small wooden bailey in the hills. The stockade backed up to a high cliff, and the surrounding woods worked with a deep river to channel us into a frontal position. Count Sevier kept our main force back and away. He had the forward camps light fires so there were only a few men to each, and he held muster each morning in different positions, hoping the Fomor would think we had more men than we did. This had the added bonus of reducing the risk of men getting hit when the defending archers shot at the watch fires.
“We held the siege for maybe four weeks without incident, expecting that sooner or later the savages would relent. We’d struck early in the harvest, and we were sure that they hadn’t laid on any kind of emergency provision.
“It was on the second night of the fifth week that things started to go bad. My company was on a knoll above the left forward flank, so we saw it from the beginning. Einar had just risen above the battlements, his ugly side barely showing, when the fires at either end of the front line dwindled, and went out. I was sent down to inform Count Sevier what we’d seen, but soon learned he was already aware. He had sent men to find out what the meaning was. By the time I returned to the hill, two more fires had gone out on either side.
“We watched all night, but no more fires went out. Some supposed that the companies at those fires had deserted, sneaking off into the woods in the night, but the right flank was girded by a river, deep and strong, and surely someone would have heard splashing even if the men had dare the river at night. It was also noted that Count Sevier’s men had not returned, either, and they were veterans of his personal guard, loyal and true, not superstitious conscripts from the low valleys.
“Lord Sevier rearranged the watches, and moved more men forward with orders to shoot down any who tried to desert. But the next night, the same thing happened.
“We had settled in for a long, easy siege. Our supply lines were strong, and the Fomor were unlikely to receive outside aid. Most of those clans hate each other as much as they hate anyone else, carrying old grudges with them like priceless heirlooms. But, now, we knew we’d have to risk a frontal assault.
“The third night, Lord Sevier pulled the men back from the first rank after the watch fires were lit. Meanwhile, he moved the archers to the center and prepared us to move forward.
“In the morning, we advanced on the fort. While most of us offered cover, a small corps fired arrows rigged with lines at the gate, hoping to pull it down across the motte. The Fomor concentrated on us—fools! We were merely a feint.
“In the night, Lord Sevier had ordered ladder built, and while we held the Fomor’s attention, the lord and his guard quietly placed the ladders and breached their walls on both flanks. The valley was soon filled with their cries of surprise and despair.
“The vanguard opened the gate for us, and the main force drove in and we massacred the town, ever man, woman and child.” Donal looked at the stunned faces around him. “You think we were the savages? So did I, at first. But what you don’t know, and what we should have guessed, is what we found inside.”
He stared down at his sword for a long moment, fighting down emotion. “We found the missing men, hung by their feet, dressed like pigs in a butcher’s shop.”