Well, over a year has passed since this story has been updated. I got so many reviews saying it was dead and abandoned like all my other stories. No, it's not dead. As you can see, I have an entirely new chapter here for you. It's around 67 pages long and over 38,000 words. That's a new record for me. Why did it take me such a long time to release it, you say?
My computer broke and I had to do everything on an Ipad. It was hell. I could feel the quality of whatever I was writing decrease each time I wrote another word. Considering what I normally write isn't all that good, losing any amount of quality is devastating. Luckily, my Beta helped me by pointing out the majority of errors I made during this chapter, so give thanks to 7137 for editing this chapter.
Since this chapter was huge, pointing out all the things I wanted to say about it would make the AN enormous. Instead I'm going to say a bunch of other stuff that have nothing to with this story:
Fate Grand Order got an English release. Go play it!
Fate Apocrypha got an anime. Go watch it!
The next story I will work on is 'With Proper Guidance'. I will be getting a new PC soon, so hopefully it won't take as long to release the next chapter.
Nioh is awesome.
Buying a WiiU was a mistake.
Okay, I think that about wraps it up.
Before I pass out from lack of sleep, do tell me what you think of the chapter.
Hooves thundered against the muddy puddles covering the road to Blackbay. Water and dirt flew in all directions as the hooves belonging to fourteen horses of different breeds galloped over the mud that had weeks earlier been the road leading to the Western Forest. Rain and boots had turned the hard soil into a soft sludge, trapping the feet and hooves of whoever tried to travel over it. It was impossible to determine how deep the natural trap was, but travellers had been swallowed up to their knees in the surprisingly treacherous mud.
The small herd now raced across the surface of the temporary swamp. Travelling at full gallop would have been suicide under normal circumstances. The horse's hooves would have sunk into the mud while the momentum the horse had accumulated would have broken bones and ripped muscles as its body tried to continue forward. It would have been a painful and pitiful end for a beast meant to carry soldiers into battle.
These horses did not sink into the ground. As soon as they touched the mud, its surface seemed to ripple, as if the liquid had suddenly become solid. Each horse weighed near half a ton, but the weight of the horses didn't matter as each and every one of them galloped over the dirt and water like it was pavement. What should have taken the fourteen horses hours to cross instead they passed in less than ten minutes.
Shirou would have patted himself on the back if he wasn't trying to keep control of the small herd trailing behind him. He held a single reinforced rope in his right hand, a rope tied to the several reins belonging to the horses following him. His right hand held the reins to Kuro, and he was trying not to fall off the horse at such high speeds.
Riding a horse using both hands was not the easiest thing to do, not if the person in question was a city boy with no prior experience regarding equine creatures. Emiya Shirou might not be as sheltered as most teens might, or even as sheltered as most magi teens might, but prior to traveling back in time he had not been in contact with any equine beast aside from the horses he had seen in movies and such. That's why Shirou was rather proud of himself for learning how to ride 'adequately' in such a short amount of time. With his superior reflexes and reinforcement, Shirou could beat any human opponent hands down, as long as they weren't similarly reinforced by mystic means. Riding was not an impossible task when considering his magecraft.
It was too bad his talents did not foresee the event of leading a herd of horses using a single hand at full speed. He would have gotten some training in if that were the case. If only he knew how the trip back would have turned out...
Two days ago, Vortimer had ordered him to ride for Blackbay as fast as possible. Before he left however, the commander had given him some advice for the road.
'Don't show bandits any mercy.'
Bandits had been the guise the Cornishmen had been hiding under. Shirou and the Albionic soldiers had defeated the Cornishmen hiding in the Western Forest, so he had assumed there wouldn't be any bandits left. Maybe a few deserters who had decided to pick up the role of a highwayman, but not that many, surely?
The first time Shirou had fought a small group of bandits, he had given them the option of surrendering. They were a group of four men armed with spears and axes. One of them, the leader, rode a horse, a chestnut mare covered in injuries acquired in battles, or more likely robberies. All of them wore dirty rags and looked as if they hadn't bathed in a year.
He had assumed they had resorted to the life of a bandit out of desperation and had offered them a chance at surrender. The punishment for banditry was usually the cutting of the hand if they hadn't killed anyone (death if they had), but Ludvig declared that all thieves, bandits, and poachers who defended Albion would be pardoned. It had been his assumption that the men would prefer the pardon over the loss of a hand. That was until he analysed their weapons.
Shirou read the history of the weapons the bandits carried and knew instantly that they had been used to kill several times, often for no reward. Theft, murder, rape, and torture were among the crimes the weapons had been used for. Grasping the history of the spears and axes made him feel violated, as if he had been there when it happened. The Cornishmen had been cruel and evil, but there had been a discipline in their evil, slim as it was. They were in Albion on a mission; the evil acts they committed were a bonus for them.
The bandits blocking the road committed evil acts for enjoyment, not out of necessity. They would invade the homes of villagers, murder and violate as they pleased, and leave with their belongings only so they could afford to murder and violate the next day. Their only option now would be to surrender and fight for Albion, and Shirou hoped they would take it. Albion needed all the soldiers they could get, even the despicable ones. He would have preferred to punish them on the spot, but four more men could mean the survival of four dozen.
They had refused him and had proceeded to call his parents the results of incest and bestiality. At that point, the leader had ordered his lackeys to attack him, only to fall off his horse as a black arrow tunnelled its way into his brain. The other three bandits had barely noticed and were too busy trying to stab their weapons into his skin, but three quick swipes with Curtana had turned them into limp puppets as their blood soaked into the ground.
He had left the bodies where they were for the crows to feed on, but he had scavenged the weapons and the coin they had on their persons. The army needed any and all steel they could get, and gold could buy both steel and weapons.
He loaded the items onto the chestnut mare and rode off again, intent on making it in time to defend Blackbay and not be delayed any further. He had no idea how hard that would be….
Seventy-six… he had fought and killed seventy-six bandits in less than two days. The road leading to Blackbay was crawling with thieves, thugs, bandits, and brigands. Each time he fought a gang of bandits the herd of horses he was leading would grow and the supply of low grade steel would increase. Now each horse carried a small saddlebag filled with swords, axes, and spearheads and another filled with copper and silver. A small fortune in times of war.
It didn't help Shirou at all, since it just made his journey harder. Especially when he was on a schedule and he had to ride as fast as possible. He had considered hiding his cargo, burying it, and then digging it back up after the war was over, but decided against it. The steel was necessary for weapons and even though the army was supplied with enough spears to have spares, secondary weapons such as axes and javelins were in short supply. The steel had to come with him.
Then what about the coins he had scavenged? Surely he could leave it behind? He still had the money left from the wargs, and it wasn't like he needed cash to survive when he could simply trace or alter anything he might want or need.
Again, he came to the conclusion that the army needed it. The Southern Army might be a defending one, but that did not change the fact that soldiers needed to be paid, and that pay was usually in coin. The gold earnt from raiding Saxon shores would help in paying some of the wages, or even most of them, but until then, the army was in dire need of funding. Even the most patient of soldiers would not wait forever for his pay if he was risking his life for it. As the captain of the archers, Shirou had the responsibility to ensure the archers under his command didn't rebel. He was fairly certain he had nothing to worry about. Aside from the fact that he had given them bows, all of them based off of his mystic code, a weapon he still hadn't come up with a decent name for, he had also trained them in the use of said bows, and he had given them the protein (warg meat) necessary to build the muscles required to use said bows properly. So he had nothing to worry about, but the same could not be said about the rest of the army. So he had to collect all the cash he could in order to make the soldiers happy.
Or at least that's what he had learnt from Vortimer. It was why Vortimer had made such a big show out of dividing the spoils of the battle. In order to keep morale up and loyalty unwavering, rewards were necessary, but coin was the best way to ensure the soldiers stayed long enough to earn rewards. Therefore, hoarding was encouraged.
The problem was he needed to travel as fast as he could in order to reach Blackbay in time for the battle, and riding fast meant carrying a lot of momentum. Add steel and silver and you get a lot more momentum. Momentum on muddy roads was not safe for the horses, as Shirou had frighteningly discovered.
The first time a horse had sunk into the mud and broken its leg, Shirou had been at a loss what to do. The horse had naturally been out of control because of the pain from its broken leg and he had been forced to project chains to hold it down. Once it was safely tied down to the ground and he wasn't in danger of being kicked to death, he had finally been able to get a look at the fracture.
It had not been a clean break. The bone had snapped near the knee joint, and the fracture had travelled along the bone up to the socket. The sharp edges had cut right through the skin, and the bone could be seen jutting out from the leg, covered in blood. It was a gruesome sight made even worse because it had been Shirou's impatience which had led to the accident in the first place.
He had heard from the other soldiers that horses too old or weak to work were put down for the meat, but he wasn't going to kill a horse for his mistake. He spent the next hour healing the leg and designing a spell meant to turn soft mud into a solid surface when touched. Runes and formalcraft were very versatile in that regard, and the result was enough to turn the deadly road into something akin to a paved highway in practice. It wasn't a very practical solution for large groups, though, since the runes required maintenance every four hours and the formalcraft circles he used were carved into the saddles and the leather couldn't hold the prana necessary for very long. A more talented magus might have made the spell more efficient by absorbing more mana or making the runes more stable, but Shirou had limited talent outside of his tracing. His crest from his unknown biological family gave him some leeway in terms of magecraft, but not enough to whip up a brand new spell on the spot without it having some serious flaws. Even if he used the best material available and his tools were of Clock Tower-quality, the results would still be lacklustre given his hurry and lack of talent.
Still, it was good enough to give the fourteen horses he brought with him proper footing, but the spells wouldn't do the army any good if they needed to march on the road. They'd have to wait for the road to dry or choose another route if they had to go anywhere. He pitied Vortimer and the men under his command. They'd have to slog through the swamp on their way back, and they wouldn't have the luxury of magecraft.
Unless they used the roman roads which held up well, but that would be a detour, and Vortimer might not want to waste time on being comfortable if it meant losing the war. On the other hand, he would also want his troops to be able to fight when they arrived, and marching through the mud would tire the soldiers out to the point of exhaustion. Perhaps he would divide his forces into the faster cavalry and the slower infantry and have the faster cavalry use the roman road so that they would arrive in time for the battle?
He didn't really know which one was the faster route for a normal person. The straight road saved on a lot of distance, but it had been transformed into a swamp by the rain and the boots of soldiers. The roman road added quite a lot to travel, but it was easy to cover a lot of distance using it. The infantry would have an easier time using the straight road while the cavalry would have to use the roman road, if Shirou's theory was correct. Then again, Shirou's theories were not always the most logical ones.
Several pillars of smoke rose above the treeline, and Shirou grimaced as the smell of hundreds of unwashed men and unsanitary latrines filled the air. The stench hit him like a sledgehammer, and he fought the urge to gag. Before he left on the mission to hunt down the Cornishmen, he had spent every day in the camp, slowly getting used to the stench of the waste accumulating in the shallow trenches dug at the outskirts of the camp. When he left he, could barely smell it, even though the latrines had to be expanded every other day. Now he had spent so much time in the forest where the air was fresh and clean and the only stench nearby was that of horses. The only time you had to endure the horrible smell of human waste was if you had to go to the bathroom, and even then it was nowhere near the horrendous experience of using the latrines of the Southern Army.
Now he was nearing the army's camp, and the stench was becoming more and more noticeable by the second. Blackbay had its own odour, but it was the combined smell of fish, waste, decaying wood, and livestock, and even then it was controlled and cleaned regularly. The camp stank of human excrement, plain and simple, and there was nothing controlled about it. The latrines were simple ditches that had been dug out at the edge of the camp and left to stink since the knights were busy with other things, and the rest of the army had little experience with managing a military fortification.
As he rode into the camp with the horses behind him, another smell entered his nostrils.
The smell of burning flesh.
Large bonfires had been lit in the outskirts of the camp, black smoke rising from them like storm clouds. The fires were huge, much larger than what a normal bonfire had to be during a celebration. This was not a festival, though, and it wasn't the smell of beef or pork he had noticed either.
Two large piles lay close to the fires, but not close enough to ignite themselves. One was filled with firewood of different sizes, ranging from simple branches to entire logs that looked as if someone had cut down a tree and called it a day. Leaves and pine needles made up as much of the pile as actual wood did. It was apparent that whoever had ordered it had been more focused on quantity than quality.
Well, they did say quantity was a quality of its own.
The second pile was more ominous, and looking at it made his blood boil.
Human bodies, naked and limp, had been thrown over each other without a care for the dignity they might have had in life. Their lips were a freezing shade of blue and their skin a pale white. None of them had the expression of fear or panic one would have expected a body would have in times of war, only a calm and almost terrifying stare into nothingness. All of them were men, and most of them were thin and old, past their primes and far past their expiration dates.
Two teams of four would lift and throw firewood and the bodies of dead men into the fire. The smell of fat and meat burning wafted into Shirou's nose, and for a moment he could see himself walking through the burning ruins of what had once been his home. The vision was so clear he could almost feel the flames scorching his skin as he walked past them.
"Not what you were expecting, is it, boy?" a voice said, pulling him out of his nightmare. He didn't need to turn around to know who the speaker was, he already knew Ludvig would have ordered the guardsmen to alert him the moment anyone from the task force sent to eliminate the Cornishmen returned. Besides, the only one in the army who would use such a condescending voice when addressing the only magus nearby was Ludvig.
He didn't tear his eyes away from the cremation taking place in front of him. It was so unlike the orderly funeral pyres he saw in the movies. No last words for the dead, no fancy clothes or offerings to the afterlife. Only two men who grabbed the hands and feet of the dead and threw them into the fire, just before a log fell on top of the dead, crushing them between wood and burning embers.
"What happened?" He didn't see any signs of battle on the bodies. No wounds or bruises that could become lethal if left unchecked, nor was there any indication that the camp had been under attack. How could these men have died?
"Disease," Ludvig said grimly. "Started about a day after you left. The old men started coughing; Nothing strange about that considering we're not the most prepared army. Then a few days ago, all of a sudden they started dropping like flies. Most of them were from the tents closest to the latrines and all of them were old men. Turns out the weakest died even before the battle started." The knight spat on the ground, a contemptuous look on his face. "These fools had no idea how to dig latrines; it was like they were asking to die."
Sanitation and hygiene; two concepts barely developed in the Middle Ages. Had they only dug the trenches further away from the camp and washed more often, maybe they would have survived. It wasn't even their fault, really. Even Shirou had thought the latrines were an acceptable distance away, although he had never used them, and he had never actually dug a latrine before. The luxuries of the modern era had removed the need for such a task long before he was even born.
How many illnesses were associated with improper waste disposal? Cholera was one of them; it had been the source of countless deaths in Japan over the centuries. How many else were directly related? How many more indirectly? Too many to count. Shirou didn't even know all that many diseases to begin with, since he was rarely sick, and never had to go to the doctor. He also didn't have much interest in medicine, either. The only thing he could offer was knowledge of proper hygiene, knowledge he had assumed they already had. He had general knowledge such as making sure waste was disposed of and to clean injuries. Ancient Greeks and Romans knew that, and Shirou was fairly certain it was common sense even before that.
Then again, they were in the beginning of the Dark Ages, weren't they? A lot of the knowledge the Roman Empire had accumulated during its existence had been lost after its fall. Was it possible that sanitation was part of the knowledge lost? If so...
No, he wasn't going to blame himself for this. Ludvig had said so as well: the soldiers had dug the latrines too close to the camp despite the risk of germs and bacteria. Ludvig knew at least enough about hygiene to realize it was a dangerous thing to do, and yet the soldiers had done so anyway. Whoever had been in charge of latrines was at fault, and if Shirou knew Ludvig properly, the man in charge had already been punished for his crimes. There was even a chance the first body to be burned was the man himself.
"What are you going to do now?" he asked the Commander of the Southern Army. Judging by the amount of ash covering the ground, more than thirty men had been burnt already. Kiritsugu had showed him a memory of an apostle-hunt once. They had been forced to burn over fifty bodies by the end of the hunt to ensure no apostle could use them as familiars later on. The ashes in that memory had been a little less than twice the current amount. Over sixty bodies still remained to be incinerated. Considering the fact that they were outmanned before, losing a hundred men was not good for morale. Morale was necessary for keeping control of the army, and it was Ludvig's responsibility to have control.
"I had the man responsible flogged for his incompetence. I'd have him hanged if we were at peace, but instead it's the frontlines for him. All we can do now is ensure sickness doesn't spread to the rest of the troops. The latrines have been covered with firewood and torched, and new latrines have been dug in the forest. I'd bore you with the details about digging latrines, but frankly it's boring as shit. On the other hand, I called a meeting with the captains, and as I understood it, you're a captain as well, aren't you?" The grim knight spoke with his usual dour expression.
If getting rid of the Cornish soldiers had raised Ludvig's opinion of him somewhat then it had been by an extremely small margin. If anything, Ludvig's behaviour had become even pricklier than when he left. The frown adorning the knight's face had grown even deeper, and permanent wrinkles had appeared on his forehead. His hair was still a mixture between black and white, but the roots were more salt than pepper, and it was wild and messy. When Shirou had first met the man all those weeks ago in the tavern in Blackbay, his beard had been trimmed and hair combed and pulled into a braid. Now he looked as if he had just gotten out of bed and forgotten to wash for at least a week.
"Yeah, I guess," Shirou spoke, his eyes glued to the pyre. It had been a long time since he had seen flesh burnt to a crisp. The smell of meat cooking, the sound of fat bubbling, it brought up memories from the back of his mind. They weren't happy memories. Black smoke could never be associated with happiness.
Ludvig didn't seem to care about Shirou's previous experiences with fires. The tired knight simply turned around and headed for the tent which had been used as the War Room ever since the army had arrived. Shirou didn't follow him; he had already learnt the routines of the war council. It would take an hour before the meeting would begin, since most captains were too busy with their duties to drop everything at the call of the commander. Ludvig would be the first one to arrive, and then it would take an hour before the rest of the captains had all gathered.
If he was correct, then he had about half an hour left before he had to show up for the meeting. Even if he liked to be early so that he could inspect the progress of the other captains, he had never once been the first to arrive after Ludvig. If the routine had not changed, the knights expected him slightly before the lion's share of the captains decided to drop their tasks for their commander. That gave him plenty of time to find someone to take care of his horses.
Now that he wasn't galloping at full force, he found the herd behind him to be relaxing. Leading the horses had a surprisingly therapeutic effect, even with the stench of the camp burning in his nose. Riding through the camp, the horses following him, the mud sloshing around as the hooves trudged the already beaten earth into a mixture of dung, dirt, water, and the occasional vegetation, he found himself simply wandering around. He knew he had to leave the horses somewhere, but for some reason he couldn't remember where he could do so.
The army's stables? He didn't think it would be such a good idea. The stables were too, for lack of a better word, spartan for the horses behind him. Hastily built wooden walls and leaky roofs might work if the horses were there only for a few days and were in good health when they arrived, but Shirou's horses were already thin and sickly. He needed to get them some good feed and warm shelter. He doubted they would be good warhorses, and the army stables only provided for warhorses. He didn't want them to be used on the frontlines as warhorses, either, especially not with the battle so close at hand. While most warhorses such as destriers and coursers were bred and trained for warfare, the poorer cavalry would ride all they could get their hands on if it meant an advantage in the charge. A horse close to death wouldn't be much of a loss, would it?
The Blackbay stables, then? It would be a place where they could recover without being put on the frontlines. Except the Blackbay was a fishing village and only had enough feed for the few animals they already had. Even if they only needed to graze on the fields, they would need to compete with the donkeys and cows already living there. Blackbay was not a large village, and the fields weren't that fertile to begin with. There was a reason only a single farmer lived there. Adding a dozen horses in need of extra feed would only make Shirou's problem the village's problem.
Where else, then? The village and the camp were unfortunately the only two places Shirou knew of, aside from Shamblefields. He had spent a few hours in Shamblefields and learnt the geography as Kiritsugu had taught him, but he didn't know anyone there. He did know Rani and the younger girl who served at the shop, but they had enough problems to deal with. Rani had to deal with the aftermath of Jerad's treachery and handle being the village pariah. His idea to associate himself with the shop had not even begun yet; how could he ask her to take care of his horses?
Maybe asking her to take care of his horses could be the beginning to his plan of associating himself with the shop. If he made such a public show of him handing the small herd over to Rani, then the word would spread that he was connected to her. Ludvig's plan of having a saint in his army had turned Emiya Shirou into something other than a novice magus with a somewhat dangerous education. Now he could add 'Fake Saint' to his oddly structured résumé, not that he'd ever want to show it to any possible employer/ club president. His future employment aside, his base might be in Blackbay, but he was famous enough to think word had reached Shamblefields.
Yes, that could work. If he rode to Shamblefields and gave the horses to Ran,i then the villagers would no longer treat her as a traitor, and the army would hear from the villagers how he had given her the animals as a gift. If he also added some kind of mark that represented him, then the soldiers would really think twice about taking anything from the shop. Then what would he use?
His brilliant plan to mark the shop as 'his' came to a halt. What kind of mark could he use to let other people know the shop was under his protection? He hadn't thought about it. All he had come up with was putting some kind of sign on the door and that would be it. Now that he was actually close to going through with it, he didn't know what to use. What did the soldiers know about him? He was an archer and a magus and, technically, a saint. He was also a foreigner, but how that helped him he had no idea. His most famous and well-known characteristic was his status as a saint; could he use something related to that?
Probably not; the only thing he could come up with when it came to saints was the Christian cross, and no matter how famous a saint may be, the cross was too common a symbol to be tied to a single individual. Other than Christ himself, but Shirou didn't think that would be a good idea. The Middle Ages were famous for their persecution of people who pretended to be something they weren't. They might be religious, but they weren't stupid. Even Shirou knew gods existed, and the Church had their Sacrament. No, the cross was not a good idea.
Likewise, his status as an archer was a bit too vague. The bow was too common as a tool in this day and age. Nearly every village had a dozen men who knew how to use a bow adequately. Even Blackbay, a fishing village with little business hunting, especially considering the wargs stalking the forest, had a few decent archers in their midst. It seemed that, like the cross, the bow was not good enough as a symbol.
Perhaps he could just make a new symbol once he got there and simply let the villagers assume it was his by making it himself. He knew enough about the plants in the forest by now to make a decent enough dye which he could use to paint the door with. It would be a crude black paint, but he wasn't in it to become a famous painter. He wasn't in it to become famous at all. He only needed the villagers, and the army, to realize he was responsible for the store from now on. Black was good enough for his purposes.
With that said…
"Riding to Shamblefields and back would take half a day at least. It'll have to wait until after the meeting with the other captains. I have to do something about the horses first," he spoke to himself, not caring about who was listening.
He needed someone he could trust, someone who would take care of the horses and not give them to someone else who would butcher them for the meat or ride them into battle. Or simply sell them for the silver. Someone who knew enough about horses to care for them and who wasn't too busy. Someone who would listen when he said to make sure they were given proper food and shelter. Someone whose loyalty was unquestionable…
Hadrian emerged from a tent, clad in his regular brown and green clothes. He had changed since Shirou had left two weeks ago. His arms were more muscular and his torso had bulged in size. He hadn't been skinny before, but he had never been completely healthy, either. The diet of a commoner was not the most nutritious, and even a hunter would suffer from lack of protein since he would have to sell much of the meat he caught. Now, after a steady diet of fruit, vegetables, and warg meat, Hadrian looked like a different person. He stood straighter, and his face did not have the gaunt features he had grown to expect from a commoner. His clothes, once loose and baggy, now seemed to strain slightly against the muscles hiding under the fabric.
Well, that was a surprise. He knew warg meat was packed to the brim with magic energy and nutritious to boot, but he hadn't been gone that long. How the hell had Hadrian managed to bulk up in size in just over a week's time? Warg meat must only have been a single component. The exercise with the bow must have been another, but that couldn't be it, could it? A third component had to be involved as well, unless warg meat was the medieval version of steroids.
He should probably check in on the archers to see if the rest of the company experienced a similar increase in physical mass. It would be great if they did. Given the limited range the archers had when he left due to their muscles, if they had gained even half of Hadrian's muscles, then they would be much more effective in combat. They'd be able draw the bow further, hit the enemy at a greater distance, and decrease the chances of hitting Albion's soldiers.
He had not expected any good news at all considering the disease which had struck the camp, but there was a silver lining to all things, he supposed. He could dwell on that later, though; he had more important things to do.
Hadrian looked surprised when he first saw Shirou, but the surprise soon gave way to excitement. With a fast pace, he crossed the small clearing in the camp between them until he stood a few feet away. With a practiced grace, he bowed in respect to his captain before he straightened with a smile.
"I did not think you would return so soon, Sir Emiya!" Hadrian's tone was respectful, but there was a distinct hint of relief in his voice. Had he been worried Shirou wouldn't arrive in time to fight against the Saxons?
"We received a message from Ludvig telling us to return as quickly as possible once we defeated the bandits. Since traveling alone was faster than traveling by the army's pace, I arrived much faster than the others." His ability to simply trace whatever he needed such as tents, blankets, and tools made traveling much easier alone than in a group. Projecting blankets for the horses and a tent for himself had decreased the amount of luggage necessary whereas a large group of soldiers would need more than what Shirou could safely project.
Make no mistake, Shirou had gotten much better at tracing his explosive arrows lately. When he had fought Scarface, he had wasted a lot of prana over a large period of time when creating traps, reinforcing his body, and creating weapons, and when he had actually started creating the arrow, he had been inexperienced at the particular branch. After a few weeks of practice, he had been able to trace them relatively effectively. Even so, tracing the tools and equipment for an entire army of four-hundred? There were limits, even for him.
"It was about the Saxons arriving early, wasn't it?" Hadrian asked quietly, a frown on his face.
That was… surprising. He had assumed Ludvig would have kept quiet about the sudden development in the Saxon strategy. At least that's what Shirou would have done. Yes, he would have made certain the soldiers weren't caught unawares when the Saxons came knocking on their front door, but he wouldn't have announced it out loud that the enemy, who was superior in numbers and equipment, had decided to start their invasion earlier while they were still training.
Then again, this kind of situation was the kind of 'Damned if you, damned if you don't' situations he hated. On one hand, they had panic and desertion, while on the other, you have unprepared men being slaughtered for no good reason.
Wait, if it was common knowledge, then why did Hadrian whisper it to him?
"What makes you think they will arrive early?" he asked, careful not to reveal anything in case Hadrian was simply fishing for information. He didn't think the hunter had any ill intentions, but he also didn't think it was a good idea to hand out information to anyone and their mothers.
Maybe he had let some suspicion seep into his voice, because Hadrian straightened his back and assumed a pose with his fist against his chest in what he assumed was the medieval version of a salute. He had seen it done a few times before, but there didn't seem to be any formal rules for salutes. Some bowed, some kneeled, a few stood with their hands behind their backs, and others pounded a fist into their chests. It all seemed to depend on personal preference.
"As the second-in-command of the archers, Sir Ludvig demanded my presence during the War Council in order to inform the commander and the knights of the status of the archers. I have therefore been informed of the news regarding the Saxons and the army's plans for the battle in order to better aid them in creating a strategy." The hunter stood as if someone had replaced his spine with a steel rod. Stiff and obviously uncomfortable, Hadrian had never acted so militaristic before. Respectful and (fanatically) loyal, but he had never acted so formal before.
Had this something to do with Ludvig? He didn't need think too much about the different kinds of reasons Ludvig would have to make 'Shirou's' troops act differently. Shirou had been strict when teaching the archers how to use the bow since it wasn't a toy, but he had never been one to require military discipline aside from what was required in battle. He left the actual military training to the man responsible for the disciplinary side of the training, a man with a sour expression worthy of Ludvig's frown.
Shirou had been gone, however, and that gave Ludvig plenty of time to enforce his ways on the army. With both Shirou and Vortimer away, there was no other knight left in the encampment willing to oppose Ludvig's rule. In hindsight, maybe that was what Vortimer had meant when he said Ludvig wanted them both gone from the camp. Rather than Shirou being a hindrance, he simply wanted to undermine Shirou's 'authority', precious little as it was. Making Hadrian a part of the council not only put pressure on Hadrian psychologically, it also made it easier to influence him. How to act, how to greet one's superior, how to think, who to obey, etc, he could go on, but the point was that Ludvig had most likely spent the time Shirou had been away to expand his influence on the army while undermining Shirou's.
He hadn't thought of it like that until he had seen the way Hadrian had greeted him. What else had changed in the few days he had been away?
Ludvig better not have messed with his archery range. It took him a long time to clear the trees and ground to the way he liked it. If Ludvig had set up some kind of training ring in his archery range then Shirou was going to make sure he regretted it. His archers had spent just as much time as he had cutting down trees and removing the stumps. He wasn't going to let Ludvig walk all over it like he owned the place.
Hearing Hadrian's voice brought him back from his thoughts of guarding his archery range with an explosive arrow at anyone who didn't belong with the archers. The second-in-command had not moved from his salute; the man had stood as straight as possible despite the minutes passing as Shirou contemplated the consequences of leaving the camp.
"Sorry, I was thinking about something. Yes, it was about the Saxons. The rest of Vortimer's forces will arrive in a few days, but I was needed earlier in case the main force was delayed. The army needs its saint, right?" Did he ever mention he hated the title Ludvig had given him? Not often enough, if his annoyance every time he was forced to remember it was any indication.
"Of course, sir. In any case, Sir Ludvig has summoned all the captains for a meeting. I was on my way, but since you're here, I take it I won't need to attend?" The hunter looked relieved as he spoke, as if having to spend time in the same tent as a bunch of knights was terrifying. It probably was, considering Hadrian's low birth should not allow him to speak on equal standing with knights, but his status as temporary commander of the archers forced him to. A knight, raised from birth believing he was superior to commoners, might take offence to having a lowly hunter talk to him or correct him in matters of war. Especially if said hunter had a position which was in some ways superior to his own.
"I'd prefer it if you did, but I have a different job for you. If you're willing to take it, that is." Going back to the topic of the horses, he pointed to the herd behind him. "I need someone to take care of the horses. They're not part of the army's cavalry, so I can't leave them in the stables, and they're not meant to be used in battle either. Is there any chance you could help me take care of them until I find a place for them?"
He had already decided to hand them over to Rani, but he needed to make she could take care of them first. He couldn't just drop them off at her shop and expect her to nurse them back to health. He was fairly certain she'd agree, but he knew better than to take things for certain. He had been certain Wyrda had been a kind hearted woman, but that had gotten him stuck in the past. He wasn't making the same mistake twice.
Then again, maybe Rani was also an evil witch and was simply using him to get away from the Albionic soldiers threatening her evil plans for world domination. He wasn't the best judge of character, to be honest.
"Are they yours?" Hadrian asked as he took the rope connected to the reins of the horses.
"Depends on what the law says about bandits trying to steal from you says. If a bandit tries to kill you, does the bandit's horse and gold belong to you if you kill him instead?" Laws were weird in feudal Japan; he had no idea what kind of laws were in effect in medieval Europe.
"If the bandits were killed by soldiers on an official mission, then part of loot goes to the crown or the local lord. You were attacked on the way back, so you were not on a mission anymore. You might still have to pay a tax on the horses if you intend to keep them since you were a part of the army at the time, but the ownership of the loot falls to the one who defeated the bandits," Hadrian explained. It made sense that he knew the laws concerning loot and animals. As a hunter he might have had to fight a few bandits every now and then; knowing what he could keep would have been vital in case he was caught keeping the gold he found without permission.
"Then they're mine, yes. Could you do it?" He was really hoping the hunter could. There were few people he could trust with a horse, let alone a herd of them.
"Of course, sir. We can keep them in the our stables." The second-in-command smiled at him, completely missing the reason Shirou had asked him in the first place.
"No, we can't put them there. The army's stable is meant for the army's horses, and they're not really built for weakened horses, you know. These horses are starved and sick; they need a place they can rest and recover. If they have to share a stable with the cavalry, then they'll just get even sicker," He tried explaining the reason he asked the hunter to take care of them.
"I understand, but I wasn't talking about the cavalry's stable. I was talking about the archers' stable."
"Allow me to show you."
The wind tore at his hair and sent it flying in all directions. Short as it was, he had no way to tie it down, and yet it was long enough to get in his face and obscure his vision. He could always put on his helmet, but then he'd have to put on the padding as well. If he did that, then the men around him would also start equipping their armour, which would make the rest of their army put on their equipment, and before long the entire army would be in their long boats. Seeing how the last and largest part of the Jutes hadn't arrived yet, putting on his helmet was more trouble than the small amount of relief it would bring.
A lock of his hair whipped around and slapped him in the eye, the stinging sensation making his eyes tear up. He grabbed a hold of the offending lock and sliced it off with his seax. Letting it scatter in the strong wind of the sea, his eyes narrowed as the wind blew the lock back onto land, Saxon land.
'The noble Horsa will not live to rule land in Britannia.'
"Horseshit," Horsa muttered.
"You say something?"
Next to him, a man even taller than he stood. Wearing chainmail and small pieces of plate armour, a round shield strapped to his back and a sword hanging from his waist, Hengist was looking at him in confusion.
"It's nothing," he answered. Had it been any other man, they would have conceded the point, but Hengist was his brother. Not even their own mother could understand him better than Hengist.
"You're still worried about what the spirits said?" Hengist asked, scratching his beard.
"Do you take me for a fool? Of course not; that woman was a fraud, or a Britannian spy. I'm not about to let a fake prophecy dictate my fate." The words left his mouth in a growl. If it was to convince Hengist or himself he didn't know.
Hengist sighed and looked out at the sea. In the distance they could see the white cliffs of Albion. It would have been a perfect opportunity: to set sail and head straight for Port Dubris and slaughter everyone from there to Londinium. In fact, it still was a perfect opportunity. According to their spies, Albion had gathered their forces near a village called Blackbay near Hastings, leaving the Port almost undefended. They could have attacked the port, guarded only by town militia, and ransacked it. Once they had established a foothold on the isle, it would have been much easier to transport reinforcements from the mainland onto Albion. Of course, transporting the slaves they captured would have been easier as well with Dubris in their control.
Out at sea, water sprayed as a large black form emerged from the salty waters. A thick and slimy head, small beady eyes, fins the size of a man, and a long horizontal tail fin, it was the epitome of a sea monster. The entire monster measured about fifty feet in length and looked fat enough to feed a village for a month. Different clans had different names for them; whale, sea bull, and ship wrecker being a few. They weren't actually aggressive, not unless they were attacked in turn. Speaking of which…
As the black whale had barely made it out of the water, a set of jaws burst out from underneath and clamped around the behemoth like a wolf's jaws around a salmon. Teeth larger than him sliced into the smaller sea creature, and blood dripped down the whale as it was torn in two in the time it took for him to grab a hold of his sword.
Rising from the waters like the enormous serpent it was, Jörmungandr swallowed the piece of whale in its mouth like it was nothing more than a morsel. When compared to the enormous sea serpent, the slab of meat and fat might not have seemed very large, but he knew that piece of whale weighed several tonnes. The serpent was halfway between them and Port Dubris, so it was obvious the enormous serpent was more than huge if it had managed to kill a whale in a single bite and looked more than large enough to flatten an entire village simply by falling onto it at such a distance.
Hailing from the Northern Seas, Jörmungandr rarely ventured from those waters. Not out of fear, for nothing could intimidate the world serpent. It simply had no need to leave the north. It had all the food it could ever eat, though how the people living there could ever survive by fishing he had no idea, but they seemed to thrive somehow. No, the only reason the great serpent of the north would leave the north would be…
A roar emanated from the east, making his ears ring from the sheer volume of it.
…to meet the great serpent of the south.
Leviathan, the serpent spoken of by the Christians of the south and the Brits, rose from the water. Its emerald scales were an almost beautiful difference from the sapphire blue of Jörmungandr. Whereas Jörmungandr had a snake's head and body, Leviathan was a mixture of several creatures. It looked as if a dragon had forced itself onto a shark and the child had never stopped growing, feeding on the hatred borne from the violent mating. There was nothing gentle about its appearance, no kindness or elegance. Its scales were beautiful the way jewels were beautiful, but putting rubies or emeralds on a monster didn't exactly make it a beauty.
In size, they were about equal. Jörmungandr was slightly thicker, but the difference was negligible. Perhaps Leviathan was longer, but it was impossible to tell. Jörmungandr was large enough to wrap around the world; even if they were completely still and next to each other, Horsa was not going to compare the two of them with a measuring stick.
In the blink of an eye, they had crashed into each other. The sounds of their clash, flesh smacking into flesh, made thunder seem impotent. Water was whipped into white froth, and Horsa could see fish and creature alike beaching themselves as they tried to escape. The waves pulled them back in, only to crush them against the rocks as the next wave arrived.
Roars and hisses were heard as the two giants wrestled and coiled around one another, blue and green in a chaotic mess.
"Fucking monsters should learn to keep it in the bedroom. Do they have to do this every night and day?" Harvald grumbled, his bloodshot eyes a sign of severe lack of sleep.
"You want to go over there and tell them to stop fucking just because you can't sleep? No? Then stop complaining!" Ivar snapped, his own eyes red as well.
The entire army was suffering from a lack of sleep. The sounds of the serpents made it difficult to rest, and they continued each day and each night before they returned to their own territory.
It was not a fight for territory which drove Jörmungandr to leave his northern seas. The Leviathan didn't need to leave its home if it simply wanted more food or territory.
They wanted to mate.
Each winter, both Leviathan and Jörmungandr would meet at the waters separating Britannia and the continent. Sometimes they would couple for just a few days, leave the surrounding waters nigh untouched, and then depart for their own seas. Those winters were the worst. The great serpents would not eat as much of the bounty of the sea, leaving plenty of food for the fishing villages near the coast. That was not the problem; the real danger came when their offspring left their parents' respective seas and ventured out on their own. The rich seas around the world had been left bountiful during the winter, which meant more food for the lesser serpents.
More serpents would survive those springs and summers, and when they had eaten most of the fish in the sea, they would search for other prey. They would either attack other serpents, one of the reasons the seas were able to recover, or they would go after humans. The life of a sea serpent was short and brutal, even more so than a human's. Fierce battles between siblings could be seen from the coast each spring, growing larger and more violent as the siblings grew larger and larger. The larger sibling always won, but even the largest spawn could not match its parents. He had once seen Leviathan swallow one of its children whole, even as it still tried to coil its body around its parent's head in a futile attempt to crawl out of Leviathan's gullet. The fact that the child's body was longer than ten ships made the feat even more terrifying.
The longer the great serpents took when mating, the less fish they would leave in the sea. As a result, their children would start fighting amongst themselves earlier than usual, and feed on their siblings' corpses earlier as well. Only the strongest spawn would survive more than a few months, but they didn't last longer than that. Not when Leviathan and Jörmungandr both wanted to feed and the seas are empty.
The current mating season had lasted a good nine weeks, a sign of a safe spring. The fishing villages might not fare well during the first few months, but even they preferred a poor spring over a dangerous spring and summer. In truth, the fishermen weren't in that much danger during the poorer springs. True, the larger serpents might attack a sailor or two, but they actually preferred to attack their own kind. The seas were always quick to recover once the majority of serpents were killed and the cannibalistic urges of the monsters helped.
An enormous tail covered in emerald scales crashed into the sea, sending water flying into the air. Even with the distance separating them, Horsa could feel small drops of salty water land on his face. The stinging in his eyes made him forget his frustration for a moment, but it wasn't enough.
Attacking Port Dubris would have been a perfect idea, had it not been for the serpents occupying the sea directly outside of Port Dubris. To be more precise, it was Jörmungandr who was occupying those particular waters. Leviathan spent its time to the west, hunting and resting whenever it wasn't visiting the other serpent for obvious reasons. It would meet Jörmungandr in the afternoon, having spent the morning feeding, and return west just before the sun set.
Trying to invade using the port would end in failure. The journey there would take hours, long enough for the serpent to return to its territory and attack them for the meat. The only path to Albion was the gap between their territories during the night, a trip which would be as tiring as it would be dull. It was why they had to attack Blackbay, and it was also why the Brits had camped near the village.
Blackbay was essential to any invasion during the winter. Under normal circumstances, no army would try to disembark right next to another army. It gave the enemy a huge advantage, especially if the enemy had time to prepare. If they tried to attack during the summer, spring, or autumn then they would sail to the next town and sack it for supplies and coin. That was not possible during the winter. The sea serpents guarded their waters too closely for a large fleet to sail along the coast. The lone fisherman vessel might get away with it, but a fleet of a hundred ships filled to the brim with men and horses would entice even the laziest of monsters. Therefore, the only place for a large fleet to disembark would be Blackbay.
And their fleet was large.
They had amassed an impressive army of six thousand infantry and five hundred horsemen. They weren't true cavalry; in fact, they were just barely equipped properly. Armed with a shield, a spear, and an axe or a sword, they were only useful for distracting the enemy at best. He knew the Brits had better equipped cavalry, but their numbers were pitifully low; at least that was what their spy had told him. A force of three-and-a-half thousand infantry and about seven hundred cavalry had been the numbers described in the latest report a few weeks back. Those numbers were ridiculous for a defending army, maybe even for an invading one. Defending armies were normally better equipped and fed. They could gather more men as more soldiers would be willing to defend their homeland.
Trying to defeat their Saxon army with such a small force would be suicide, but maybe they did not intend to defeat them using that army. The last few reports had mentioned a wizard capable of supplying the army with weapons and slaying great beasts. The morale of the enemy's army had increased while their own army had been unsure of what the rumour meant. If the rumours were true, then it meant the Saxons would face a much greater foe than anticipated.
It was a lie. Putting aside the slim chance the Brits had of recruiting a wizard, the enemy commander was Sir Ludvig, a greedy knight who had a shrewd mind. He knew the importance of high morale and tactics. He would sacrifice a small and weak army in a delaying battle if it meant he would be able to gather a stronger force later on. The wizard was only meant to bolster the soldiers' courage enough that they wouldn't run away from a lost battle. That was the kind of man Ludwig was. Horsa remembered him from the time he and Hengist had fought as mercenaries for Vortigern. They had fought with Ludvig, and had been impressed by the old knight's sense for battle, his eagerness for victory and prestige. If only he wasn't so loyal to Albion, then Ludvig might have joined them as they conquered it, perhaps even becoming a jarl himself. It was no exaggeration to say that out of all the men Vortigern had under his command, only two of them were worthy to be called men. For warriors such as Ludwig and Maleagant to be wasted on Vortigern, it was rather infuriating.
At least Maleagant had decided to join them a few years ago. What little help the knight had given them before he had been discovered and executed had been just what they needed to unite the Angles and Jutes with their Saxon army. The knowledge that most of Albion's forces had been sent to guard the Western and Northern borders had been the final nail in Albion's coffin. Before Maleagant had told them this, the common view was that any army trying to land on Britannian beaches would face a united army. It was enough deterrent for most of the war chiefs thinking about expanding their territories north.
Now ,though, when their northern neighbours were weakened from a civil war and the Saxons were stronger than ever, who had the men to stop them?
"Lord Hengist, the other chiefs wish to speak to you," Ochto said as he approached. The man was wearing the mail of a rich man, not the dull and rusted one a poor soldier would own. His was made from riveted links, and the red cloak over it showed his status as a landowner.
"I'll be right there," Hengist answered. Ochto would have left had Horsa not stopped him.
"Don't you mean `Us´, Ochto?" Horsa hissed. Ochto looked around, hesitantly meeting his gaze.
"The chiefs wish to meet us, both Hengist and I. That is what you meant to say, right?" Horsa said, his hand resting on the pommel of his sword. Ochto noticed his agitation and bowed quickly.
"Of course, Lord Horsa, my mistake. I am simply under Lord Hengist's command and so I thought I should inform him. I'm sure a messenger will arrive to inform you shortly," the man spoke as he faced the ground. Although Horsa could not see his expression, he knew the man was desperately praying it was the truth.
"Leave it. The chiefs are an obnoxious lot; they probably ordered him to only ask for me on purpose, knowing it would piss you off," Hengist reasoned as he started walking towards the great hall they had taken to using as a base the last few weeks.
He was right, as always. Hengist and Horsa were the strongest fighters in the army even before they had acquired the enchanted weapons a few weeks back. Hengist's sword and shield which could burst into flames hot enough to soften steel with a single clash and Horsa's bow which would never fail to strike its target.
An old wizard had died in their territory without an heir to inherit his craft. They had not known he was a wizard at first; he kept mostly to himself. The villagers had made fun of him, saying he spent his time ploughing his goat, but when one of the farmers had tried to loot his house so soon after his death, he had met a gruesome end himself.
The spells the wizard had cast around his home took the lives of dozens of men before they were able to enter it safely. In it, they found the treasures they needed to truly unite the clans. Their weapons, enchanted with magic.
There had been a few others, but they had given them to the other chiefs as offerings to create bonds of gratitude. None of them were as great as the weapons he and Hengist carried. Most of them were just barely magical. A ring which warded off disease, a coat which warded off rain, and a drinking horn only faithful women could drink from, they served as fine gifts since neither of the brothers had any use for them.
They had kept the weapons for themselves, but the chiefs had not liked that at all. They had complained that it was unfair that two brothers from the same clan got to keep the only magical weapons from the dead wizard. Demands were made, claiming one of the brothers would have to give up his weapon.
Hengist had beaten the chief who had said that half to death using only his fists.
`Even if I give up my weapon, I can still kill all of you. It would be for the best if you were content with the items you received and let us keep our own.´
The chiefs had learned their lesson poorly, but at least they didn't try the direct approach again. They had abandoned the idea of forcing the brothers to submit and had instead tried a more subtle ploy.
Spreading lies and discord amongst Hengist's and Horsa's followers, one of the chiefs had approached them with the proposition of helping Hengist quell the rumours if Horsa surrendered his weapon to the chief's son. Hengist had not taken the offer, and the chief's body had been found in the river the next day.
Well, half the body had been found. The arms and legs were still missing.
"I'm tired of playing games with the chiefs. If they don't stop, then I will take my half of the fleet and invade before them. Once we are the chiefs of Albion, I won't have to listen to their idiotic demands." His words came out as growls. His patience was wearing thin, and the lack of sleep wasn't helping, either. His temper had never been any good, his blood was quick to boil, and his head was best used to bludgeon other people with. Hengist had always been the same when they were younger, and they had gained a reputation for their brawls.
It was only in recent years that Hengist had begun to think things through and plan his raids calmly. For most Saxons, it meant he was losing his edge, that he was past his prime and growing old. Had anyone even so much as insinuated Hengist's change in front of Horsa, then he would have crushed the man's skull in an instant. Hengist was his brother and his only equal. To disrespect Hengist was to disrespect Horsa. Death was the only compensation a man could offer for such an insult.
Yet not a single soul had said so. Not even the chiefs, arrogant as they were, had hinted at it. That was a good thing, for it meant Hengist's reputation was still free from blemishes. He was still the man Horsa had grown up with and raided Britannian shores with.
So why had the chiefs only approached Hengist with their offers of cooperation?
He was not jealous of his brother's achievements. Had they offered him their assistance in exchange for his brother's weapons, he would have rejected them immediately. Even if Hengist had changed recently, they were still brothers. Their loyalty to each other was incomparable to anything else in this world. No amount of land, gold, weapons, or women would change that.
It was undeniable, however, that Hengist had changed. He spent more time planning the raids. He would deny permission to raid foreign shores because of petty things such as weather or seasons. What did it matter if they raided a village during the summer or fall? The act of raiding was a reward in itself. Hengist had lost his spark for battle, the edge that had made them so famous. He was more concerned with how much food they needed to survive the winter or how much they would earn if they traded in one village or the other.
Even if that was true, Horsa stood by his brother. Even if Hengist changed, Horsa would raid more to make up for his brother's weakness. He would become the ultimate warrior, the one who stood at the front of the line and showered himself in glory.
He had shown his strength when he gained his bow. He had killed a bear before it had even gotten in range for a spear using only arrows shot from his new weapon. The chiefs had seen it, they had accompanied him and Hengist on their hunt. Horsa's bow had felled the bear, while Hengist had used his sword and shield to massacre a herd of aurochs.
It should have been obvious Horsa was the stronger. He had killed a bear, a dangerous beast even with a dozen men. A single man could kill an auroch with a spear. That, along with Hengist's change, should have convinced the chiefs he was the stronger man.
Yet for some reason the chiefs had only approached Hengist with offers of gold and slaves. Not a single one of them had asked Horsa for his help in weakening his brother by removing his weapon.
It was common sense. The chiefs wanted a strong leader to command the army when they invaded. Only those with magical weapons were viable leaders, and the only warriors with magical weapons were Horsa and Hengist. Their greed for power aside, they would not dare to remove the magical weapon the commander carried before the invasion. They were greedy, fat, and much too old, but they knew robbing the leader of his symbol of power before the invasion was stupid. The best they could do was to remove the weaker brother's symbol of power so that their own sons could grow stronger.
So why were they trying to take Horsa's weapon away and not Hengist's? Hengist was the weaker one, the cowardly one, the one who was more interested in saving coin than fighting.
Did they really think Hengist was stronger than him?
"What's wrong?" Hengist's chased his thoughts away like a wolf did a deer.
"What do you mean, brother?"
Hengist grimaced before he answered. "Your face was… strange. You looked horrified for a moment, as if you had angered the gods and they were here to punish you."
Had he let his thoughts affect him so? For him to let his guard down to such an extent, it was the lack of sleep that was at fault.
"It was nothing. Let us go. We don't want to keep the honourable chiefs waiting, do we?" he drawled. Hengist snorted, a sign telling him all he needed to know what his brother thought of the people leading the other tribes.
"No, we don't want them to think we don't respect them. Why, they might just try to leave before the invasion starts. " Hengist's jokes were as dry as firewood from the year before. Very few had the privilege of hearing them.
They left the scene of the two giant serpents wrestling in the sea, and began to walk to the house the chiefs had claimed as the meeting place. The men parted before them, a sign of respect for the two brothers. Respect for both of them, as equals.
Yes, they were equals for now. At least until the invasion began in earnest.
Horsa would show everyone who was the superior brother.
"Hadrian, what is this?" Shirou asked, his eyes glued to the scene in front of him.
"What do you mean, sir?" Hadrian asked perplexed.
"I mean, what happened to the archery range? Why is it… more than just an archery range?"
When Shirou had left a few weeks ago, the archery range had been a small clearing with a few bales of hay at one end and a few poles on the side to measure distance. As Shirou looked out at the current range, he couldn't help but feel a small fear that maybe things had spun out of control when he was gone.
"After you left, we continued to practice, but soon after, we received another group of soldiers who wanted to join the archers. As per the orders, we gave them the basic training you taught us and drilled them in the use of the bow. As it turned out, however, a few of them were actually builders and engineers. Their forefather had been in the roman army and had been in charge of building the camps of the roman legions, or castra as I believe they were called if I'm not mistaken. Since they were people of important trades, Ludvig had assigned them to the archers to minimise the risks of them dying," the hunter explained calmly, not at all shaken by Shirou's disbelief.
"Yes, get to the point." Shirou stressed, his patience having been tested enough in the last few days of riding.
"Since the camp had for the most part already been built, they offered to apply their trade at the range when not training with the bow. Because a large part of the archers spend most of their days here, I thought it would be a good idea to build some sort of permanent hall here to make it easier on the men in case it started raining and they didn't want to trek all the way back to the camp." He gestured to the building made of wood in front of them. With a length of about fifteen meters, a width of seven meters, and a height of four meters, it was an impressive construction given the timeframe they had to build. The roof was made from wooden shingles and was structurally quite safe. Before he used structural analysis on the house (and it was a house) he thought it must have been rushed and therefore not safe to be inside it. But according to his analysis, it was as good as a wooden house built using medieval methods could be. It was an impressive feat of architecture.
"That explains the meeting hall. What about the rest?" Shirou said, waving his hand at the other various buildings around the small range.
Counting the hall, a total of eight buildings could be seen from his current position. He might see more if he walked around the clearing, but he didn't think he needed to see anything else for now. Why had there been a need to build a camp when they already had one close by?
"Well, once a food hall was built, we thought it would be wise to build a place to sleep, and so we built the barracks. Why walk back to the camp when we would still need to walk back to the range in the morning? After that, we needed a place to store the equipment and the supplies we were given, so we decided on the storehouse over there." He pointed at one of the larger buildings. "We didn't want to build temporary latrines all the time, so instead an outhouse was built. Since we had been given a few horses to help with communication, we set up a temporary stable, which became permanent once we remembered you owned your own horse. Unlike the stable at the main encampment, this one is built properly to hold horses for longer periods of time."
The outhouse was just a small shack, but the stable was almost as big as the food hall. He couldn't see any horses, but it could easily fit ten of them. The architecture was simple, but sturdy. Thick wooden logs to keep the heat inside and wooden shingles to stop the rain, it was definitely better than the cavalry's stable back at the main camp. The quality might be because of the small size of the stable, but he was right, the stable here would be good for the horses.
"And the rest?" he asked again.
"Once it became clear we'd be staying here for longer periods of time, we began digging for a well. The soil here was relatively loose, so we didn't have too much trouble. The palisade was necessary in case the Cornishmen attacked us. Yes, Sir Ludvig told us about the Cornishmen," Hadrian explained when he noticed Shirou's shock. "The baths were built once it became clear that the camp's baths were too busy to be used. They're joined with the wash place as well. The kitchens aren't quite finished yet, but they can be used…" Hadrian continued to explain all the different buildings around the camp, the new camp, but Shirou had already tuned him out.
This wasn't just an archery range anymore, this was an entirely separate camp. An army camp outside the army camp. He was afraid Ludvig had tried to gain control of the archers to turn them against him. As it turned out, they had distanced themselves from Ludvig even further. Ludvig feared Shirou gaining control over the army, even Shirou could tell. He needed Shirou to keep morale up, but he couldn't let Shirou become the actual leader. He didn't even need to have a second opinion to know that in order to become a nobleman, Ludvig had to be the richest and most successful knight at the end of the war. To do that, he needed control of the army, but if a faction of the army splintered off and more soldiers joined the other faction, then he wouldn't be the leader of the army, would he? He'd be one of the leaders, and he'd have to share the prize with the other leader.
He felt his headache pound away at his skull as he thought about the meeting with the commander earlier. Did Ludvig think he had planned this? Surely he didn't think Shirou had the brains to plan everything out? Not that he was dumb or anything, he just didn't have the energy to spend on politics. Convincing his men to distance themselves from the main force was a political move, one meant to increase Shirou's influence while cutting off Ludvig's own. Shirou might think the old knight was a jerk, but he didn't want to cause discord in the army.
He went away for less than two weeks and this happened? How on earth were they able to force him into a political clash with Ludvig in a mere two weeks? How had they even managed to build it all in that small amount of time?
"Hadrian, how did you manage to build all this? And how much did you build in total?" he asked, stunned. Hadrian beamed at his question, mistaking his disbelief for awe.
"Like I said, the men we received were descendants of roman engineers. They had been taught the secrets of roman architecture. Many of them had been former auxiliary troops who had earned citizenship and were veterans of the Roman wars. That knowledge and experience had been passed down to their children and were put to good use when they got here. You'd be surprised at the efficiency of their techniques. While not as impressive as forging a spearhead in seconds, they were nonetheless the most skilled craftsmen I have ever seen," Hadrian explained excitedly.
"And how much in total?" he repeated his question, feeling his patience wearing thin.
"Let me see: the palisade, the food hall, the storehouse, the bathhouse, the washing house, the well, the stable, the kitchen, the outhouse, and the pigsty make ten buildings in total, if you consider the well and palisade as buildings. The pigsty isn't really a building, either; we didn't want to travel to the town every time we wanted to eat meat, so we bought a bunch of pigs and made a shack for them. We can tear it down once we run out of pigs and use the timber as firewood. We also managed to build you a small house so you wouldn't have to share with the men. I think you're going to like it, Sir." The hunter didn't notice Shirou's attempts to control his breathing. He was too proud of his achievements to do so.
It wasn't that big of a deal. The archers couldn't practice close to the camp due to the danger of a stray arrow flying into human flesh. It made sense to make a small camp by the range to make the life easier on the archers. If the archers could spend most of their time practicing instead of walking back and forth between the camp and range, then it would make their training much more efficient. From a practical and theoretical point of view, this was a good tactical decision since the Saxons wouldn't be able to surprise them given their current position across the sea.
The only problem was the commander and his fragile position as such. Ludvig wasn't a charismatic leader, and he wasn't exactly a strong one, either. He was a respected one, but only out of fear due to the backing of the duke and his skill with a sword. The knights rallied behind him, but mostly out of a lack of a higher ranked noble knight. Vortimer was a threat to Ludvig's command, as was Shirou. Until now, Shirou had not been a very strong one as the deal they had made automatically rendered Shirou's command null as long as Shirou's was "given" the slaves once the army raided Saxon shores.
Their deal was only a theoretical one, however. If he wanted to, then he could back out of it at a moment's notice. Doing so would cause friction between him and Ludvig, but they weren't exactly on the best of terms at the moment. It would fracture the army in two different camps as well, like it had already started doing. The knights and the higher ranked soldiers might side with Ludvig due to their knowledge of the scam Shirou's 'sainthood' actually was. They were the rich and better equipped part of the army, and made up the backbone of the cavalry as they were the ones who could afford the armour needed to equip the horse.
The rest of the army, however, might not side with Ludvig. Even if a large part of the remaining men did not choose sides, many would join Shirou. Shirou had been the one to give them weapons and shields, he had been the one to provide food in the form of the warg meat, and he was the 'saint' of Blackbay. He was willing to bet that won him some serious allies among the rank and file soldiers.
Doing so would make them easy pickings once the Saxons arrived, and it wasn't like Shirou was going to break the deal with Ludvig to begin with. He needed to keep his end of the bargain in order to ensure the freedom of the slaves Ludvig would take when he raided the Saxon shores. He had to make sure he and Ludvig were on the same side, even if Ludvig hated his guts. The camp, clever and handy at it was, made it seem like Shirou was trying to make some kind of faction breakaway.
Why he would ever want to make a faction breakaway when he needed to be on Ludvig's side he had no idea, but he knew leaders were susceptible to paranoia if their position was a fragile one. He needed to talk to Ludvig and tell him what really happened. It was better to get it over with as soon as possible. They had a meeting soon, so he could do it once the rest of the captains left.
"You know what? Good job; I'm proud of you." Shirou sighed. Hadrian hadn't intended to put him in this situation. He had made a good decision to maximize the efficiency and preserve the health of the troops. It had been the deal Shirou and Ludvig had made which made it seem much more than what it actually was. It had been a secret deal, not something Hadrian would have known about. He couldn't fault him for coming up with a good idea and going through with it. Actually, when he thought about it, if Shirou hadn't made the deal with Ludvig and Hadrian had waited until Shirou had come back from the mission to ask for his permission, then he would have been disappointed at Hadrian's lack of initiative. Why would he need to ask for Shirou's permission to make the range more useful for the archers?
"Thank you, Sir. Do you want me to take care of the horses while you meet with the captains?" Hadrian said, pointing at the herd behind him. Shirou gave him the reins for the horses, even Kuro's. He still needed a horse to get back to the camp in time for the meeting, but Kuro had been carrying him from the Western Forest to Blackbay in just a few days. She had to rest in order to recover her strength in time for the Saxon invasion.
"Can I borrow a horse from your stable? I have to get back soon." His day had not improved since he had arrived at the army camp. Going by his luck, the stable would be all out of horses.
"Of course, I'll have one of the men saddle a horse for you. Any requirements?"
Requirements? How many horses did they have in the stable to be able to offer requirements?
"A steady one? I've been riding pretty fast the last few days and I could use a horse that doesn't make me fly off the saddle." Kuro was a gentle one, but riding for several days leaves a person's thighs sore beyond belief. He didn't want to ride at all, but running at high speed with his thighs would be even more uncomfortable.
"I'll have the palfrey saddled for you, then. Give me a moment; I shall inform the stable boy." The hunter led the horses into the stable, leaving Shirou alone in the open to ponder on the camp's new features.
Already he could see several differences to the old camp and the new camp. The old camp had started out as a single tent, and when the army started arriving piece by piece, the camp would expand in a circle, albeit an uneven one. That meant it was chaotic in nature and required a week before it was possible to navigate the different parts of the camp.
The new camp, however, was completely different. The range had been the first part of the camp to be made, but it was in the edge of the clearing, facing outwards to ensure no arrows flew towards any visitors. The palisade formed a rectangular shape with the proportions of a playing card. Two central streets crossed the courtyard, enabling people to walk across it unhindered by buildings. The outhouse and the pigsty were in a corner of the camp, while the kitchen, food hall and sleeping hall were in the exact opposite corner.
The buildings were also completely different: the army's camp was filled with tents and a few shacks for cooking and blacksmithing. The archers' camp was made of permanent buildings meant to stand the test of time. It was smaller, but it felt more like a small village than a camp. He had to admit it, roman engineering was impressive.
"Sir Emiya?" a voice called out. He turned around and saw a young boy, barely a teenager, holding the reins to a relatively small horse. It was a brown horse with a long coat fit for colder climates. In size, it was slightly larger than a pony.
"Yes?" he answered.
"Captain Hadrian asked I bring the palfrey to you, but one of the messengers took it before I could stop him. His companions took the other horses as well. Aside from the horses the captain just brought in, this is the only one we have left. He's more of a work horse, but he's trained to carry riders. Is he fine with you, or do you wish to wait for a messenger to bring back a horse for you?" The stable boy looked terrified at the prospect of telling him someone had taken the best riding horse in the stable. He shouldn't have, though Shirou had no reputation of shooting the messenger.
He did sigh when he realized the ride back to the camp would be an uncomfortable one.
"It's fine, I'll take him." At least the boy had taken Shirou's saddle from Kuro and placed it on the horse. The stirrups would be useful; he did not want to travel all the way back to the camp without stirrups. His legs were already starting to cramp, and the thought of having to hold himself in place using his legs was a nightmare given his sore thighs.
Ignoring his protesting legs, he climbed onto the small horse. Given the small nature of the stallion, climbing onto it was easier than Kuro and Miyu. Kicking the sides of the horse gently, he set off into a gallop. He would be making it to the meeting on time, even if his aching muscles said otherwise.
He only barely made it.
Handing the reins of the horse over to a stable boy, he ran to the war room, dodging and twisting out of the way as the many soldiers bustled around the centre of the camp. It reminded him of Shibuya Crossing, though at a much smaller scale.
He reached the tent containing the war room and slowly pushed the curtain aside. The room was filled to the brim with knights and what he assumed to be nobles. They did not wear the armour of a knight, nor did they wear the relatively bland clothing of a peasant or craftsman. Rich and deep colours such as blue, red, and gold appeared around the room at different intervals. While knights outnumbered the nobles four-to-one, the sheer variety of the nobility's colours made them seem more numerous than they actually were.
Never before had there been so many occupants in the war room, and at first he had feared he was late. Back in his own time, it was easy to be punctual. He could look at his wristwatch and figure out how much time he would need to get to an already scheduled appointment, like school or a part-time job. Hours, minutes, and seconds were established facts where he came from.
The Middle Ages, though? They went after things like dawn, morning, midday, and evening. Even if he had his wristwatch to tell him exactly what time it was, the Middle Ages weren't that accurate when it came to time, and it was the commander's time that ruled. So even if Shirou's watch was a hundred times more accurate than Ludvig's, it was still Ludvig who decided if he was late.
He looked at the table in the middle of the room. The lit candle, supported by a silver candleholder, was almost completely gone. Only a few centimetres were left of the once tall candle. The candle had been the knights' way of determining when a meeting would be held. During the morning, knights would enter the tent and see if a candle had been lit; if it hadn't, then no meeting would be held before supper. After the knights had eaten, then they would check the tent again to see if a candle had been lit. If it had, then they would be able to determine how much time they had by looking at the notches on the candle and how many were left. Once the candle had burned down completely, the meeting would begin.
He had a solid fifteen minutes left if the remaining amounts of tallow were to be considered. He hadn't needed to rush at all, he could have ridden back at a leisurely pace….
A man wearing black and red, sitting in a very decorative chair, leaned forward and blew out the candle.
Shirou could have done a lot of things. He could have glared at the rude man for breaking the traditions of the knights, even if he wasn't one himself. He could have berated him for it. He could have scoffed and snorted at the noble, even though he knew it would have been a bad idea to upset a noble with knights of his own. He could have gone up to the table and lit the candle once more to give the rest of the knights a chance to arrive before the meeting started.
He didn't do any of those things. He wasn't afraid of the man. Yes, the nobleman might have had knights of his own who could attack Shirou if he said the wrong thing, but he doubted any of them could defeat him. The man himself was quite thin and old, his face was pale, and Shirou could see bags under his eyes. Even if he wasn't a magus capable of destruction beyond a human, he could take the old man in a fight.
That's why he held back and didn't say anything at all when the old man leaned back and looked at Ludvig.
Not a single person in the room had said anything at all when the old man had broken the rule of waiting until the candle burned down by itself. Ludvig was silent, the Field Marshall was silent, the captains of the various units of infantry were silent, and the knights around him were silent. They all held their tongues even when it was clear they wanted to say something about the candle. It was so silent you could hear a pin drop to the rough wooden floorboards.
Why did they not say anything? Who was the old man? Ludvig showed him more respect than anyone he had met before, so it was obvious the man was a noble. He had not respected the baron of Blackbay, obviously the old noble was ranked higher than a baron. An earl or a marquis, then? The only duke in Albion was Vortigern, and the old man looked too frail and weak to be a noble of an entire duchy. He looked more like someone who barely had enough food to eat on a regular basis.
"As His Grace Duke Vortigern commands," Ludvig spoke, his eyes glaring meaningfully at Shirou as he tried to convey some kind of message through. "The war council will now commence."
Was Ludvig serious? The old man who looked as if he would dislocate a hip getting out of bed was THE duke of Albion? The brother of the previous king and Warlord of Britannia? He sneaked a peek at the man from his corner of the room.
Duke Vortigern was staring at him, his eyes a shade of blue closer to ice than anything else. The expression the man wore could only be described as neutral. He sat relaxed in his chair, his thick and expensive robe covering him and hiding most of his body. The goblet in his hand probably contained wine of some sort, but he did not seem at all interested in drinking it. Instead, he seemed to be observing Shirou with an unreadable expression.
The knights had noticed the way Vortigern was staring at him. Their eyes flickered between Shirou and Vortigern, waiting on who would be the first to break the silence. Seconds ticked by without anyone saying a word, despite Ludvig's announcement just moments earlier. Ludvig himself was stiff as a board, though that wasn't much of a difference from his usual behaviour. His lack of initiative was, however, a large deviation from his normal attitude. The commander he had come to know would lead the conversation, make demands, and ask questions of his subordinates.
Seeing Ludvig remain silent and wait for the duke to speak up was a nice change, but it also worried him. It made him wonder what kind of man Vortigern was to intimidate Ludvig.
Minutes passed before Vortigern dragged his eyes away from Shirou. When he spoke, it was with the voice of a man half his age.
"What's wrong? The council has commenced, has it not? Do none of you have anything to report?" His voice was sharp and direct, not unlike how Ludvig would speak when he was the highest ranked knight in the room. There was a gravelly tone to it, as if he had something in his throat and it was blocking some of the sound somehow.
The room filled with sounds of shuffling and mumbling as the knights and nobles in the room looked to each other, each waiting for someone else to go first. Each time someone gathered the courage to speak, the look Vortigern sent in their general direction shut them up before a single word left their mouths. This continued for quite some time before Ludvig spoke, his deep baritone voice filling the room.
"I would suggest Sir Emiya inform us of the mission he was sent on with Sir Vortimer. The status of the Cornish invaders is of utmost priority, is it not?" Ludvig was calm, and not a single word was hiding a veiled insult or barb. Gone was the irritated and tired knight who would snap and order other people around. This Ludvig was not the biggest fish in the pond. He was merely another knight, a knight with a superior in the vicinity.
Vortigern nodded at the man's suggestion, his head slowly rising and falling with each movement. "An excellent suggestion, Sir Ludvig." His eyes targeted Shirou's face once more, as if the two circles of ice were trying to drill holes in his face. "Well, Sir Emiya, what news do you bring from the Western Forest?"
If Shirou wasn't the centre of attention before, he sure was now. The eyes of every knight and noble in the room were focused on him, and the silence was uncomfortable to say the least. The only sounds heard were the bustle and noise of the camp outside, and even those were being suppressed by the thick tent fabric. Copious layers of linen and fur isolated both heat and sound, the former for comfort whith the latter for fear of spies.
To say he was uncomfortable was an understatement. Shirou was neither a knight nor a noble. Up until now, he had never been required to make any actual reports aside from the progress of his archers and the weapons he was forging/ crafting. He could usually sum it up in three sentences, and he might have to answer two or three questions, but that was about his involvement in the ordinary war council. Having to take the stage like this wasn't what he was used to.
Vortimer would have had no problem with it, though, the man had the charisma of a king.
"We travelled to the Western Forest and split our forces into two separate groups. A vanguard would be the bait which would lure the enemy into a battle and a larger main force which would lag behind in order to remain unseen. The vanguard was led by me while Sir Vortimer led the main force. The initial assault went as planned, though the Cornish forces were larger than we expected and were mixed with Irish soldiers. It wasn't until they started losing that the Cornishmen did something unexpected." He paused, unsure of how he should continue. How would he explain the presence of Morholt, and his defeat, in a believable way?
Morholt the Troll, a brute surpassing even Scarface in terms of muscles. From what he had heard from Vortimer, Morholt was a knight in Ireland, as ridiculous as it sounded. It had less to do with his knightly values and more to do with his insane strength and durability. According to rumours, the king of Ireland had angered a witch, and out of spite, the witch had replaced the king's son with a changeling. Instead of being angered over the loss of his son, the king welcomed the man-eating monster and raised it as his new son. Once it grew as tall as a man, he started sending it out to harass the other local kings of Ireland until they acknowledged him as the true king, or until Morholt ate the kings and their families.
If the rumours were to be believed, Morholt was simply too difficult to control and would sometimes eat the kings even after they surrendered. Or that he couldn't be kept near the castle due to the risk the troll posed to the king's wife and daughter. Morholt's hunger for the flesh of beautiful women was infamous enough for young women to permanently scar their own faces if they learnt that Morholt was nearby. Even worse, the king of Ireland knew of his `son's´ appetite and didn't seem to care much, even after his youngest daughter was consumed by the monster. The loss of his youngest daughter would have emotionally crippled a normal man, but the king merely forbade Morholt from entering the castle and forbade his remaining daughter from leaving it.
Whether or not all of it was true didn't matter, what mattered was that the monster wouldn't be able to hurt anyone for a long time. His injuries made certain of that. If he was lucky, then the injuries would prove fatal, considering Morholt did not possess the same degree of regeneration as Scarface. His vitality was that of a monstrous beast, but the weapons Shirou used were enhanced with magecraft. Even better, the tip of Curtana was made of actual steel and wouldn't disappear the way his traced weapons would. The shard was covered in dirt and blood of other people, both of them able to cause infections by themselves. Unless Morholt was capable of removing the shard immediately, which Shirou highly doubted he was capable of on his own, then he'd be facing a severe infection and possibly blood poisoning in his skull.
Was that enough to kill a troll? He had no idea, but he hoped it was.
"The Cornishmen used a bell to… summon Morholt the Troll, the Irish knight." He could hear the necks of the knights around him snap as their heads swivelled to look at him. It was almost rehearsed, a series of cracks were heard from all around the room when the knights who had not been paying much attention suddenly realized the importance of what he was saying. He would have chuckled at the look on their faces if he didn't agree with their thoughts.
Ireland had allied with Cornwall and declared war on Albion at the same time as the Saxons did.
It was bad. Fighting the Saxons was bad enough, but fighting a combined army of Ireland and Cornwall was downright awful. Technically it wasn't quite as impossible as it seemed at first. The western front was an established army with clear ranks, competent officers, and adequate equipment. They were already prepared to fight against Cornwall; it was the reason the Western Army had been organized in the first place.
It was just frustrating that everything happened at the same time. Ireland, Cornwall, and the Saxons, they each posed a real and dangerous threat. Facing them at the same time put the duchy in an unprecedented crisis.
"I see. I met Morholt once when I visited Ireland quite some time ago. He was an ugly bastard, the very epitome of a big brute. Seeing how you received our message and returned early, I can't even imagine how you drove him off. How many men did you lose?" the duke asked, his voice unperturbed by the revelation.
"We lost about thirty men, two of them being archers. The enemy turned out to be larger than we had anticipated; they were closer to three-hundred men as well as Morholt. Our vanguard was not even half of that number, so we thought it was odd to have such a low number of casualties. We interrogated the leader and learned that the Cornish forces in the forest were criminals and beggars sent to weaken the enemy and remove a part of the starving population at the same time. Only the Irish soldiers were properly trained." He had memorized the part of the report concerning the enemy's numbers and training. It seemed like the sort of information Ludvig would be interested in and would come in handy in the future.
"And the commander of the main force? What became of Sir Vortimer?" The duke picked up an apple from the table and took a bite. It had been a rule not to bring any food into the war room because it might stain or damage the maps or reports the knights brought in. Nobody seemed to mind if the duke did it, though.
"He arrived halfway through the battle and cleaned up the rest of the enemy forces. He was also the one who captured the commander and interrogated him. We decided it would be for the best if I rode ahead and delivered the report and he travelled with the rest of the army to ensure they didn't disperse without a leader. He should arrive in a few days if the weather doesn't get worse." Rain made everything worse, including long marches. The last few days had not been quite as rainy as before, but it hadn't been warm or sunny enough to dry the muddy roads. Considering it was in the middle of winter, shouldn't it be colder than that?
Was it possible that the entire weather was being affected by a larger magical phenomenon? The wargs had been enough to cool the local climate to freezing temperature. By no means warm, it was not as cold as he expected English winter to be. Of course, he was no expert on European weather during the middle ages. Climates change during the ages, and he had never been to England before. It might be natural or it might be because of some Phantasmal Beast having a laugh; he wouldn't be able to tell either way. It wasn't like it mattered at the moment.
"Excellent! It warms my heart to hear the `Saint of Blackbay´ fought by my son's side in defence of Albion. God is sure to reward you." The duke threw the apple away, not even looking at where he threw it. It landed in a corner, bound to attract ants unless someone picked it up.
"Your son?" Shirou repeated. Had he met Vortigern's before? Wait, did he mean…?
"I'm talking about Sir Vortimer, of course. Did he not mention I was his father?" A cold smile crept across the duke's face as he spoke. He obviously drew enjoyment from the knowledge that he had surprised a magus. Usually it was the other way around; a magus would in most cases toy with those unable to use magecraft.
In hindsight, it did make sense. Vortigern had been married to Rowena, the current queen of Rheged. Rowena was a magus, and most likely a powerful one at that. Vortimer was Vortigern's son, and he had mentioned his mother was a magus. The only missing piece of the puzzle was Vortimer's dislike of the duke. Why would he not like the duke if he was his father?
He needed to have a chat with Vortimer when he arrived.
"He… failed to mention that. We never really spoke about our parents; we were too busy with the preparations for the battle." A lie, but the duke didn't need to know that.
"Of course, but that is of no importance. I believe we need to focus our attention on what this means to the war at hand. Ludvig, what information has our spies told us?" The duke's voice was cold, far colder than anything Ludvig had ever been capable of.
"The latest report tells us that the Saxons have approximately seven thousand men with about five hundred being cavalrymen so far and are almost ready to invade. They are waiting for the last ships to be constructed or arrive before they will commence. Our only advantage is the cavalry. We have slightly more riders than they do, and ours are far better equipped. They are planning to overwhelm us with infantry since they have far more foot soldiers than we do. We possess slightly more than four thousand infantry now that Your Grace's personal forces have joined the army and our cavalry have reached almost eight hundred." Ludvig held the rough parchment in his hands and read the report his spies had given him. Shirou had no way of knowing how much of that information came from Morgana, but he was fairly certain the more accurate numbers came from her.
"Our main concerns can be divided into two categories: our numbers and the equipment. The problem with the equipment is no longer as troublesome as it once was. Sir Emiya's talents have proved to be quite useful, and every man now has at least a spear and shield. The lack of steel has proven to be bothersome, to the point that we have been forced to issue maces and axes of bronze for the poorer soldiers, but we have that situation under control. What we have to focus on is the numerical situation. They have superior numbers; we already know that. They will land on the beaches on Blackbay as they always have during the winters, and will use their shields to form a shieldwall. We will do the same once they land. Our archers," the knight nodded in Shirou's direction, "will thin their numbers before they get close, hopefully causing enough panic to cause disorder in their ranks. Sir Emiya will use his magic to kill as many Saxons as he can before he joins us in the cavalry."
Aha! There it was! He had been waiting for something like that. Ludvig must have noticed the new camp the archers had built and come up with some way to counter it. Obviously the best way to do that was to remove him from the archers completely.
He wasn't even surprised. He knew Ludvig felt insecure in his command, and this was simply a way to strengthen his position. He didn't like it, but after seeing the new camp, he couldn't argue. Doing so would incite more conflict between them right before the battle. He just had to bear with it for now.
"I don't mind joining the cavalry, but I have not been given the proper equipment as a mounted soldier. I will need time to prepare before I can ride with the knights into combat." He kept his voice calm and even, because he didn't want to give Ludvig the satisfaction of knowing he had annoyed him. It would piss the knight off more than arguing back.
"I will have a blacksmith get to work on it. Go to the stables and get a caparison for your horse as well. It's a.…"
"It's a type of gambeson for the horse. Yes, I know what a caparison is. I haven't spent the last couple of weeks inside a military camp for nothing. Also, I would prefer it if I could help the blacksmith when he works on my armour. I could do it faster than a normal blacksmith would, and make it better as well." Shirou said, his neutral tone hiding his irritation. He had spent the entire time in the camp analysing everything he could. He knew the exact name for every kind of armour and weapon Albion had at its disposal.
"Very well then; is there anything else about your expedition you would like to add before we move on?" Ludvig asked, his confidence returning once it appeared the duke wouldn't try to intervene in the meeting again.
"Morholt was gravely injured during our confrontation, but he escaped before I could finish him off. He might die from his injuries, but magical beasts have more vitality than ordinary humans. He might survive and return to Ireland. We took the remaining soldiers as prisoners, and I have spent the last two days fighting the bandits stalking the roads. That is all." If the previous meetings were any indication, then there wouldn't be anything interesting to hear after he said his piece. Even if the duke had arrived, the information the other captains had to give wouldn't change aside from the way the knight gave it.
As expected, the captains were more formal when giving the reports, using words such as `Sire´ and `Your Grace´. Shirou felt out of place even more than usual as a result. Not only was he the sole foreigner, he was the sole child, the sole commoner, and the sole magus. He was also the only one who didn't know how to use formal speech in the Middle Ages. Suffice to say, he stuck out like a sore thumb.
In the end, he decided he had nothing new to offer, and stole the chair of the knight who had been called to give his report. The young nobleman gave him a glare, but it was a half-hearted one. After having spent time talking to the other knights for weeks, they didn't think of him as a complete stranger anymore. The knight in question had once approached him for help. He had broken his helmet and needed help fixing it. Shirou had fixed it, and the knight now owed him a favour.
The chair was not the payment, however. Anyone who abandoned their chair during the war room, no matter the reason, lost the right to the chair. The only exception to the rule was Ludvig, and now Duke Vortigern had been added to the list.
So the chair was now Shirou's, at least until he had to get up for some reason.
The hour passed slowly, like it always did during a meeting. It was not as if they had these meetings for no reason other than to talk to each other. Each week, they had to know just how much they could afford to spend on food and pay. The captains had to plan accordingly as the deliveries they received varied from week to week. If a captain let his troops eat too much, then they would have to go hungry for the rest of the week.
Shirou didn't have to worry about any of that. The army was in charge of paying the soldiers, but Shirou had to plan on how much he could feed his archers. Considering he had a surplus of warg meat and he had a discount on fish from the village, his archers were well fed and happy. That's why he had nothing to do during the rest of the meeting. If the duke wasn't present then he might have spent the time taking a nap, but he wasn't dumb enough to disrespect a duke. Ludvig was one thing, but a duke was another.
Maps were shown, wooden men and horses representing infantry and cavalry were moved around and numbers were repeated. He already knew most of them by heart, so it failed to catch his interest. He was waiting for the council to end, so he could go to the blacksmith. He had to get some kind of armour ready, one he could use on horseback. He wasn't going to get full plate armour for several reasons. Kuro also needed armour, not just the thick, quilted blanket called caparison. The steel required would come from the weapons he salvaged from the bandits. He just needed to use alchemy to create a proper forge to increase the carbon content while also creating a crucible capable of withstanding the heat necessary to create crucible steel. He had a lot of work to do.
"I believe that is all for today. Tomorrow we shall perform a practical exercise with the entire army. Expect everyone to be ready in full armour and well rested. Does Your Grace have anything to add?" Turning his head to the duke, Ludvig handed authority back to his superior. After a moment of thought, the duke spoke.
"Everyone except Shirou Emiya may leave."
He wanted to sigh.
He didn't sigh, of course, to do so would be an insult to the duke, and a grave one at that. It didn't change the fact that he was, in all likelihood, the person with the most work to do, and he was the one who had to stay behind. He wasn't even surprised by the order. The duke's history with magi and Shirou's status as one meant they were destined to have some kind of confrontation at some point, but did it have to be when he had so many things to do?
The knights and captains strolled out, all of them glad they did not have to spend more time in the same room as the highest ranked noble in the duchy. Noblemen were not known for their good behaviour, and even other noblemen knew that.
Ludvig was the last to leave. With a respectful bow, the oldest knight left the war room.
Silence hung over the tent almost as bad as the stench of sweat and old furs. Standing up, he left his comfortable chair in order to stand in front of the table covered with maps and war pieces. The tallow candles sputtered, a testament of the silence if the only sound they heard was that of a candle.
"Is there anything I can help you with, Sir?" Shirou asked. He knew the duke wanted to talk to him because he was a magus, but he didn't know how to start the conversation.
"You don't address me as you should."
Shirou frowned. "I'm sorry?"
"A knight is addressed as `Sir´. I am not a knight. I am a duke, Duke Vortigern of Albion." The man was not upset, at least not visibly so. "The duke is the highest title a nobleman can have, to be higher is to be royalty. I used to be royalty, actually, back when I was a prince and my brother ruled Britannia. Now I am a duke, and I rule over other noblemen such as knights, barons, and earls. When people address me, they address me as `Your Grace´ or `Sire´. Yet you do not, and neither did Rowena. I suppose that is something magi have in common; you separate yourself from the world in order to live in your own little world, and as a result, your minds do not work the same way ours do."
He leaned forward, the wooden chair creaking in the process. It was an old chair, but made from oak and masterfully crafted. It wouldn't break, but the noise it made seemed dangerously loud in the quiet tent.
"Would you like me to address you as `Your Grace´, then?" he offered.
The duke scowled, clearly not appeased by his offer. "False respect does not interest me, not after the Saxons betrayed me during the last invasion. Hengist and Horsa used the same words as you just did. Rowena as well, before and after bed. Hearing you say them grates my nerves more than you can imagine. No, I don't want your insincere respect." The duke pulled out a bottle from under the table and poured a single goblet of the liquid within. The smell wafting from it told Shirou it was wine, exceptionally strong wine at that. He took a swig of glass goblet, not even bothering to offer Shirou some.
"I want you out of my land."
The moment Shirou heard those words, he felt a ball of anger form in his stomach. He could feel his nails bite into his own palms and draw blood, the downside of having been on the road for a long time. The duke wanted Shirou to leave Albion? After getting rid of the wargs, equipping the entire army with spears and shields, training the archers, and defeating the Cornish forces acting as bandits, the duke wanted him to leave?
The reason Shirou had stayed in Blackbay was because he wanted to investigate the area he had arrived in. Blackbay was the closest village, so it made sense to stay there. He would have started his research right after the invasion was over, but now the owner of the land wanted him out of the entire duchy.
He was beginning to hate the Middle Ages.
"I'm sorry, but may I ask why… Sir?" He had his suspicions, but he had been wrong before.
"I don't like wizards, that is all. Having one in my kingdom is an annoyance at best, a catastrophe at worst. Experience has proven me right," Vortigern said as he sipped his wine. His spindly fingers held the glass goblet as if it was the most important thing in the room.
So the man was bitter over Rowena's betrayal. Understandable, but it did not help Shirou. He needed to stay in Albion, at least for a while so he could study the area around it and find out why he had arrived there specifically.
"Sir, perhaps I could offer something in return for me staying in Albion for a little while longer. I have already helped the army and Blackbay, so I'm sure there is something I could do for the entire duchy." If the duke was serious and actually banished Shirou, he might lose his only way of returning to his own time. He would have to create a secret base in the forest if that happened, but that would be the worst case scenario. He needed to find a way to avoid that. Hopefully one which did not involve causing a civil war while in the middle of an actual war.
"I have no need of a wizard after the war is over. Maybe, if you ask nicely, my incompetent nephew would be willing to take you in. He was always fond of that flowery man after all." He scratched his neck with a thin finger. "Although, I do suppose I ought to reward you for services rendered. Ludvig informed me about your deal concerning the slaves he will capture. While the taxes I would have received when Ludvig sold them had been welcome, having them live as free men will allow me to impose taxes on them directly. It matters little to me, as long as they don't try to rebuild their villages across the sea. Your plan to allow them to live in Blackbay is therefore not allowed. They will live further inland as free men or as slaves. The choice is yours."
If his desire to remove Shirou wasn't bad enough, now he was derailing the deal Shirou had with Ludvig. Should he have seen this coming? Making the deal with Ludvig felt like it had been the best option at the time, but now there was a bigger fish in the pond. Shirou might have had a little power, just barely enough to sway the council at the meetings, but he couldn't be seen arguing openly with the duke of all people.
He was really starting to hate politics.
Shirou grit his teeth, careful not to let his displeasure be shown to the duke. "Move them inland and have them live as free men, then. But…."
"That is not the reward you asked for when you made the deal, correct?" Shirou was going to ask about the possibility of being allowed to live for just a month after the invasion was over, but he didn't feel like he had the leeway to correct the man. "Ludvig made you a promise in my stead and you fulfilled your end of the bargain. While I don't like the fact that he made such a promise without my permission, I also don't like to break promises made in my name. Therefore, after the war is over and we have won, you shall be knighted as a knight of Albion and given an appropriate amount of gold, as custom dictates."
Now he was being knighted?
Was the duke trying to confuse him? Could it be one of those bargaining strategies where the goal is to make the opponent too confused to understand the real goal?
If it was then Shirou had lost already.
Why would he give him a knighthood in Albion? Why knight him at all? The duke was rich enough to give him pure gold as payment. There was no need to go as far as to give him a title and rank.
As custom dictates? He needed to find out what custom Vortigern meant. He was missing vital information in this conversation, as usual. He needed to find a library of some sort and read up on what laws were in place. Blackbay, for all its charms, was not a place of high society. He had been here a few months already, and he had not found a single book. Most of the people living in the area were illiterate, and the few who could read were not in the position of owning books in the first place.
"A knight, Sir?"
"One of the reasons the peasants and fishermen are willing to join the army. If they distinguish themselves on the battlefield, then they have a chance of being rewarded by the nobleman they serve. Only a scarce few ever receive the honour, but the dream lives on in every man who wishes a better life for his family." The duke finished his first glass and poured himself another. "You have been made a knight-apprentice, a laughable title if I've ever heard of one. If I did not make you a proper knight after everything you've done for the army, then the soldiers on the frontlines would rebel. Why would they be knighted if you could not?"
Duke Vortigern downed the wine in his goblet, clearly not caring it was still early in the morning. Placing the glass goblet on the table, the man controlling the armies of Albion glared at him, his icy orbs not yet affected by the alcohol.
"I do not want to give you this reward. The circumstances have forced me to hand it to you, but the thought of knighting a foreign mage, quite frankly, it disgusts me. I cannot banish you, nor can I tell my men to refuse you entry to my land. As a knight, you can make a living outside of my duchy, though you will be bound to Blackbay as it is here you will be knighted. You shall be allowed to return here, as long as you don't make it a habit to stay for long periods of time, of course. Arthur, my nephew and the new `king´ of Britannia, is looking for knights to support him in unifying the island, or at least the parts the Romans once ruled. Once the Saxons are finished, both he and I will be turning our attention to Cornwall and Ireland. I do not want you in my army, but maybe he'll accept you in his."
He finished his explanation and leaned back in the stuffed chair. Covered in fine furs and fabrics, jewellery of gold and silver, the duke looked just one would expect of a nobleman. While the rest of the camp was covered in mud and soot, the duke looked unjustly clean.
It made what he had just said that much more infuriating.
A knighthood and gold? Those were two things he had no need for. Sure, he might be able to help Rani with the knighthood, but he had already come up with a solution for it. He didn't need gold to begin with; he already had enough to survive comfortably in Blackbay. What he needed was a place to stay near the fishing village, but the duke of the land did not want him in Albion.
What were his options? He could always ignore what the duke said and stay… but he doubted the duke would accept that. The man had experience in dealing with Rowena and possibly Morgan Le Fay. He wouldn't be so confident if he wasn't willing to back it up. He had no problem enslaving the people across the sea, and he had no problem forcing his people to fight in order to do it. Shirou wasn't willing to bet on his generosity and tolerance when it came to the safety of the people of Blackbay.
He'd have to leave.
Blackbay, the only place he knew had any connection to Wyrda, the village he had planned to make his base of operations, he would have to leave it.
"Sir…" he began, but the duke interrupted him.
"Leave, I have said my piece, and I have no desire to hear yours. I know you wish to stay in Blackbay for some reason, but I have no reason to let you stay. Win the war for me, Sir Emiya, then leave my land. Now go and see to your duties. I'm sure there is something a mage can do to before the Saxons arrive." The duke didn't even to bother to look him in the eyes before he poured himself another drink.
Shirou was really starting to hate the Middle Ages.
"That could have gone better," Rowland said as Shirou sat down on the wooden bench in the tavern.
"Tell me about it; that old man didn't even give me a chance to negotiate a deal or anything. He just said what he wanted and then told me to leave." He accepted the bowl filled a stew made with mutton and potatoes. Tracing a metal spoon, he dug into his first decent meal in days. He immediately noticed what ingredients had been used.
"Aye, the lass from our neighbourin' village came by and told me ya made a deal with her or something, told me to accept this as an incentive for helpin' her. Turns out she was married to a merchant who was using a very peculiar tradin' route at sea. Dangerous waters, but the man had been able to find a safe path to the lands she came from…." Rowland would have continued, but Shirou cut him off.
"You mean Rani? She came here?" A lone woman traveling to a village where she didn't know anyone would have been easy pickings for any bandit. Shirou wouldn't have noticed the dangers it meant before, but after dealing with highwaymen for the last few days, he was well aware of what it meant to travel alone.
"Aye, that's the one. Bein' a former merchant meself, Ah started talkin' to her, and she surprised me. The lass have got a good head on her shoulders. Would have made a good merchant all by herself if she hadn't gotten married so soon." The large man sat down on the opposite bench, his own bowl steaming as he started eating.
"So…" Rowland started as he chewed on a tough piece of mutton. "The duke wants ya to leave."
"Pretty much, yeah," he answered, going over his meeting with the duke in his mind.
He could have stayed and argued, but he knew a stubborn old man when he saw one. The duke would not budge on the matter. If Ludvig disliked him for being a magus, then truly Vortigern hated him for it. Shirou's words would have had no effect on him. It might have annoyed him, but that would undoubtedly have hurt Shirou in the long run. As the ruler of the land, he had the power to destroy everything Shirou had been working for: a peaceful life for the villagers of Blackbay.
"After the invasion ends, he would knight me, and then I would have to leave. So pretty soon."
Rowland scratched his beard, a sign of deep thought in the tavern owner. "A knightin' ceremony usually takes a week o' banquets and debauchery, but Ah'm guessin' he won't take that long to parade someone he doesn't like around. Ah'd give ya about two or three days before he tells ya to sod off. If what ya said about the Saxons is true, then ya'll be gone in a week."
That's how much time he had before he needed to leave. He had not considered the possibility of being forced to leave before, and now he only had a week to prepare. True, he didn't have much to pack, but he had been prepared to actually buy a house and create a workshop in the edges of the village. Now all the plans he had made were useless.
Actually, maybe not all of them were useless. He was still allowed to come back a few times, and Rani's shop was going to be under his patronage. He could stay there while he studied the forest. It would slow his research down, almost cripple it, in fact, but he didn't have anything better to do. He didn't have any other plans for the future to begin with.
The thought did little to cheer him up.
"So what's yer plan now that ya don't have much time left?" Rowland asked, still chewing on the same piece of stubborn mutton as before. The sheep it came from must have been almost as stubborn as the duke.
Was he starting to insult the duke in his thoughts? He must have been more bitter than he thought.
"I have to check in on the archers again before the battle. Need to make sure they didn't pick up any bad habits in my absence. I have to check in on Rani and tell her the `good´ news; that I'll be a knight by the end of the war, if I survive, that is. Make some armour for Kuro and reinforce the armour the blacksmiths made for me. I also need to learn how to ride in a cavalry formation. Oh, and on top of that, I need to talk to Ludvig about the camp the archers made without permission. I was also thinking on getting some sleep done every now and then." He was tired, understandably so. He had been riding for the last few days, and his legs were sore from the journey. Sleeping in a sleeping bag for several days in a row wasn't very fun since he couldn't move and his sore thighs would constantly wake him up.
Now at least he had a proper bed. It was a shame he wouldn't have much time to sleep in it.
Three days left until the Saxons arrived. A mere three days before he would have to think about where he would go.
"Well, Ah don't mean to be rude and put more responsibility on your shoulders, but…" the old man across the table said.
"What's wrong?" Did something happen when he was away? He'd have to add it to the list, then. A lot of things happened.
"When we were about to fight the wargs, ya enchanted our weapons for us. Could ya do it again, except usin' proper weapons?" Rowland stood up and walked to the cabinet in the corner. Opening it, he pulled out a sword. It was a typical early medieval one-handed sword, also known as an arming sword. It had a relatively broad blade and a round pommel. Using magecraft, Shirou could tell that the sword had been forged by one of the smiths at the camp a few days ago.
It wasn't a great sword, either. As could be expected by a young and inexperienced swordsmith, the core was made from iron and the edge forged using various kinds of steel. Most of the edge was of mild steel with the tip being relatively hard. Imperfections could be found in the blade, but those were mostly from the slag and a few cracks.
Sadly, these blades were not the exception. Steel was valuable, and the fact that Rowland had been able to purchase one was rather luxurious. The quality was mediocre, but mediocrity was the norm for this age.
He could definitely turn it into a mystic code. He'd have to use alchemy to remove the imperfections first and then insert carbon into the edge and core, but he could work with it.
He'd just have to lose an extra hour of sleep.
"Leave it on the table next to my bed and I'll work on it tomorrow." He had a lot of ideas for the blade, too bad he couldn't start work today. He had an appointment with the bed, one he couldn't cancel.
"Thanks, lad, Ah knew Ah could count on ya," Rowland said as he got back to eating his stew.
Finishing his bowl, Shirou placed it in the basked meant for dirty dishes and went upstairs for bed. Sinking into the mattress stuffed with wool, he embraced sleep before he could even pull up the covers.
"The crest?! What about the crest?"
"The first few circuits we transplanted seem to have been a success, but the boy is.…"
"I don't care about the boy! How many circuits did you transplant?"
"My wish is merely a reflection of his."
"Papa, let's play the walnut game!"
"It was too early, Shirou. Please, forget this for now."
The E—rdis-t U-
Gromwell held the greaves and gauntlets in his hands, inspecting his work one last time before handing them over to his customer. Shirou didn't say anything, knowing that blacksmiths disliked whenever someone commented on their work. Most customers a blacksmith got were commoners, average men who needed a tool forged or repaired. They knew nothing of the process required in order to turn iron into steel and steel into a blade or tool. For such a layman to criticise a blacksmith who spent years learning a trade, it would have been a grave insult.
He did find it a little annoying, especially considering he had helped forge the items in question.
Gromwell was a young smith, very young in fact. He had barely left his apprenticeship, though not entirely by skill, perhaps. His master had been one of the blacksmiths Shirou had worked with, but the man had died from old age shortly after they began working together. The young apprentice had been given his master's forge and told he was now a blacksmith.
His swords were… adequate. Not rubbish, they wouldn't fall apart after a few swings, but he had been the one to forge Rowland's sword. He simply didn't have enough experience to be a bladesmith. Knives and tools were easy compared to swords, so he wouldn't have trouble finding work as a village's smith, but he wouldn't be a famous swordsmith either.
The reason he was not an excellent swordsmith was his master's decision. The old smith had not dedicated much time on teaching how to forge blades. Shirou had questioned the apprentice about it, and Gromwell had admitted his master had not taught much about weapons. The old man knew he had little time left before he kicked the bucket, so he spent as much time he could teaching Gromwell a single area of expertise so he could be a master of it.
Gromwell was not a great bladesmith, because he was a great armourer.
He knew how to make good steel from iron. Forging the steel into a good blade required knowledge he did not have, but when it came to armour, he was a prodigy. Chainmail and plate armour, greaves and gauntlets, pauldrons and sabatons, Gromwell knew how to make them.
He sadly didn't have enough time to make them all. Armour was not something a smith could hammer out in a day, since each piece of armour required more attention to detail than a blade or speartip. A single breastplate could take weeks to make depending on the circumstances.
In the end, he had to make do with what he got.
"Looks like everything is fine. Try them on." The young blacksmith placed the pieces of armour on the counter before disappearing into his shop.
"Okay…?" Wasn't the blacksmith supposed to be there when he tried using the armour? Where was he going? Picking the metal gauntlet from the counter, he slid his arm into the piece of metal and leather which would be protecting his fragile flesh.
Since he had never had his measurements taken at the blacksmith, Gromwell had not been able to make the steel parts covering his fingers. Instead, the gauntlet covered his forearm and the back of his hand. The plate covering his hand extended all the way to his knuckles. The metal itself had been hammered to accommodate the knuckles better than a flat plate. Rather than a true gauntlet, the soldiers had referred to them as half-gauntlets, while the nobleman called them demi-gauntlets.
Either way, Shirou preferred this version better. The steel wouldn't get in the way when he tried using his bow, so he wouldn't have to take it on or off when he had to switch from archery to cavalry. The quality of the steel was much better than the blades as well. Whatever mistake Gromwell made when forging swords, he obviously knew how to avoid it when making armour.
It might also be because of Shirou's 'improvements'.
The leather was thick, deliberately thicker than what a normal glove would be. It needed to be able to absorb the shock of swords and axes clashing against the plate. His fingers were once again uncovered and free to move, likely due to the same reason as before. Why would the smith make a glove for a soldier he didn't even know the measurements for?
The greaves and cuisses were simple in design. They curved around the lower leg and thighs, leaving only a small area at the back of the leg unprotected. Felt and leather padded the inside to absorb the shock. The only complaint Shirou could think of was the large size of the greaves. They were made to fit the regular youth soldier, someone slightly larger than Shirou. He could use alteration to fix it, but armour was not his specialty.
"They feel good?" Gromwell returned carrying a package wrapped in furs.
"The greaves are a bit too big for me, but I can fix that. Otherwise, they're fine." Should he use the extra metal to increase the overall thickness? Would he really need it? Runes and alchemy would make the greaves more useful than an extra millimetre of steel ,and removing the excess would make them lighter as well.
"You can? Right, magic and all that. What about the gauntlets then? Want me to add more padding?"
"No, I'm good. How much will it cost me?" Armour wasn't cheap. Swords and armour were expensive, and weren't used by the majority of soldiers. Most men would settle for gambesons and spears and axes. Shirou had the money to pay for it, but he needed to know how much of his savings would disappear.
"Sir Vortimer already paid for the whole kit. The only things left are the helmet and the chest armour." Unfolding the furs, he revealed the contents of the package.
A helmet rested on top of a shirt made from hard leather covered in small rivets. The helm was conical in shape, a nose guard extending outwards to create protection around the eyes and cheekbones. Two plates hung loosely from the sides to protect his cheeks.
"The helmet's not my best work. I didn't have much time to work on it, but it'll work in combat. So long as you wear padding underneath, it'll take the hit with ease." He emphasized his words by knocking on the helmet with his knuckles. A dull, metallic sound followed each strike.
"I'll take it, then." If he found anything wrong with it, he could always fix it with magecraft. Regardless of the quality of the work, he was going to use magecraft on all his equipment. He wouldn't have the prana to turn every spear or axe in the army into a mystic code, no matter how insignificant the spell was, but his own equipment he could at least use his spells on. He had asked the knights at least if he could enchant their weapons for them.
Being the trusting examples of friendship that they were, most of them refused. Some knights accepted the offer, but only on the condition that he made the enchantments subtle so that the other knights wouldn't notice.
Pride was important for some people, apparently.
"So that's the chest piece?" He pointed at the leather shirt.
"Aye, the Jack-of-plate. I've been trying the different methods my master taught me, and I think this is the best one of them." He untied the strings and opened the shirt, revealing similar rows of studs. "I used both rivets and sewing thread to attach the plates inside the leather. The plates were scavenged from an old breastplate, but the steel is still good. The sleeves can't hold plates since it would hinder you in battle, so I made them from extra thick leather and stuffed them with felt. It won't hold as good as steel, but it's better than nothing."
Yes, indeed it was. Coupled with reinforcement and a few runes, the armour would make Shirou a walking tank. As long as the enemy didn't have anything magical in their arsenal or, even worse, a magus, Shirou would be safe from most dangers on the battlefield. Unless the Saxons decided to do a cavalry charge on him. He wasn't confident on surviving that.
He wasn't even worried about the battle against the army with superior numbers anymore.
Taking measurements for a horse wasn't easy when the person doing the measuring had no idea what he was doing. Rowland was discovering that at the moment.
"The legs are too fragile not to be protected, but the standard caparison doesn't offer much against physical blows. If I use human greaves as a model, can I adapt them to the legs of a horse? It'll have to be leather and felt, with runes to enhance the protection. Can I use steel plates inside the leather like the jack-of-plate?" the lad, Shirou, spoke to himself as he use a measuring stick to measure his horse's legs.
Rowland opened his mouth, but before he could speak, the lad interrupted him. "A single plate of steel would be too cumbersome for a horse, and the risk of them sliding off would be too high. The lower greave would have to be attached to the upper one, which itself would have to be attached to the caparison. Are leather straps the best solution? Metal joints would be too awkward for a horse, wouldn't it?"
He didn't bother responding, since the lad answered his own question. "Let's see, yes, joints wouldn't work on a horse, but using straps or rope to tie each piece together would be a better fit. As for materials, though: felt and leather don't hold prana too well, but they are easy to make the parts out of." The young wizard walked to the table and grabbed the stick of charcoal lying there. Writing down what he had measured, he began to draw out different shapes on the parchment.
Rowland would have considered it a criminal waste of parchment, but the boy had bought it all using his own money and had waved away Rowland's advice. Magic could wash away the charcoal without damaging the parchment, so it wouldn't be a waste. Putting his ideas down on parchment helped the boy work. Rowland had peeked at what he was writing, thinking that it would help him understand the weird terms he was using.
It didn't make a lick of sense to Rowland. The boy was capable of reading and speaking Celtic and Welsh with barely any accent in either language. For a boy, it was impressive to speak two languages, but to be able to write in both? Only scholars were capable of that, though perhaps having a scholarly leaning came with being a wizard. Having a third language would have made him one of the most educated men (or boys) in Britannia.
Except it wasn't any language he had ever heard about before. The symbols the boy used were just a bunch of lines and dots here and there. As the boy wrote more and more, Rowland simply gave up. Either he was writing using a magic language, or he was writing in some kind of code. Rowland wouldn't be able to tell which one it was, no matter how hard he tried.
At least the pictures were easy to understand as long as he knew what he was looking at. Long, but thin and flat steel plate would go into a greave made from leather and fabric which would fold around the horse's legs. Not that hard to understand. If only that was the end of it….
The boy had been able to secure a bunch of old axes and swords from somewhere and had spent the night drawing different forms for armour for his horse, Kuro. The caparison helped against arrow, but the young wizard was not satisfied with that. The boy was making an entire suit of armour… for a horse… when even he himself didn't have that much armour.
Were all wizards as odd as Shirou?
They had spent the morning taking measurements since it didn't matter how good the armour was if it didn't fit the horse. He'd thought it'd be quick; just throw a blanket over a horse, cut and sew the excess material, and that's it, a nice piece of horse armour ready to go.
Oh, he was wrong.
So very wrong.
The blanket, or caparison as Shirou called it, had been done fairly quick. He had been surprised when the lad had corrected him on the right word. It wasn't too long ago that Rowland had to correct him on how to everything he did, but the lad was a fast learner. Now he knew more about swords and armour than Rowland did, though Rowland wasn't a soldier by trade.
He had been ready to leave once the blanket was done, but the lad had asked him to stay. Naturally, he stayed for a bit.
That was about two hours ago.
The lad might have been a wizard and a great swordsman (or swordsboy), but he knew little about making armour, especially for horses. He kept going on about shock absorption and different `alloys´ and `ergonomic design´. Rowland didn't even know what the words meant, but they didn't have anything to do with horses from what he recalled when he was a lad and worked at a stable.
Screw it, he had wasted more time than he intended anyway, he might as well just stick around for the end of it.
Shirou did promise to fix his sword by the end of the day.
"And that's the last leg. Great, now we can start making some real armour." The lad rubbed his hands together before looking at the pile of rusty swords and axes. A swordsmith wouldn't re-use steel as rusty as that. Only the desperate smith would consider reforging them. Rowland wasn't a smith, but he had gone to the smithy often enough to see a little of the work that went into forging.
It wasn't his problem, though the boy probably knew how to handle it with magic somehow.
"Right then, what are ya goin' to start with?" Magic wasn't something an old tavern owner like him was used to seeing. Even the small acts of magic were interesting.
"That's a surprise."
The lad picked up a couple of axes before unceremoniously breaking the handles off of them. "You'll see once I'm done. If I show you each step, then the result won't be as impressive. If I show you nothing but the finished product, on the other hand, the effect will be more impressive." The lad gave him an excited grin. "You better look forward to it."
Right, once the wizard gets excited about something, it meant ordinary folk needed to leave. If there was even a hint of truth in the rumours about Merlin and Morgan Le Fay, then his best option would be to get out of there.
He knew the lad, and he knew the lad had a good heart.
He also knew the lad got excited about fighting a bunch of wolf-demons and making weapons of slaughter.
Whenever he started grinning like that, Rowland made a point not to be in the same room.
"Ah guess so…. Ah'll be on me way, then," he said as he walked out of the room, careful not to think on the lad's grin.
He wasn't scared at all.
He just had something to do on the other side of the village.
"You wanted me in the cavalry, Ludvig. Be careful of what you wish for," Shirou said to himself. The lad's words barely concealed the laughter in his voice.
Didn't he have to go to Shamblefields for something?
Yes, he had to… buy something.
Wizards were scary.
Three days passed a lot faster than Shirou had anticipated.
"Sir, Commander Ludvig sent me to get you. The Saxons have arrived! They've been spotted in the horizon," a young servant girl, barely older than him, shouted as she stumbled into the small cabin the archers had built as Shirou's quarters. She immediately gasped and ran back out once she saw him dressed in only a towel from the waist down.
"Okay…?" he answered her fleeing form. For a moment, her embarrassment was enough to make him consider apologizing for not locking the door properly.
That was when he understood what she had said and he sprang to action. Throwing his clothes on, he ran out of the cabin. The morning chill struck his still wet skin, but he didn't even notice it. Looking around, he saw the state of the camp.
The servant girl, whom he could see riding out of the camp on a small bay horse, had been loud enough for all the soldiers present to hear her. Like a beehive filled with bees, the men ran around picking up equipment and weapons, shouting orders and requests depending on their ranks. It was a messy affair, one Shirou didn't have time for.
"Hadrian!" he called out as soon as he saw the muscular hunter. The second-in-command had emerged from the barracks, still sleepy from the looks of it. His sleepy expression disappeared, however, once he noticed what was happening.
"No time to explain, but here's the gist of it: the Saxons have arrived, but I don't know how many or how far they've gotten. Get the men ready and march to the main camp as soon as possible. I need to talk to Ludvig beforehand, so I'm riding ahead. Any questions?" The news might've been sudden, but they had been expecting this for days now. They had plans and procedures for this. They wouldn't be much of an army if they didn't.
"No, Sir! I'll be there before the morning bell rings!" the hunter answered stiffly. It was one thing to know what to do in an emergency, but it was another to actually do it.
"Good, make sure they're all prepared for a battle as soon as they arrive. Armour, weapons, bows, and arrows, everything should be ready," he said, walking back to his quarters. He didn't wait for the salute the hunter was sure to give him. Time was of the essence.
He traced a large backpack and stuffed all his armour into it. Putting the armour on long before the battle wouldn't be necessary, since he'd have time to do that after he talked to Ludvig. The only thing he didn't shove into the backpack was Curtana, the sword he had accidentally broken a few days earlier. He looked at the flat tip now adorning the blade. Reforging the sword to have a proper point would have damaged the properties of the blade, even if he used magecraft to do it. The age and the blood of beasts coating it had given it a mystic enchantment, similar to the one his bow had. If he wished to destroy the enchantment the he could heat it up in the forge and hammer out a point, but it would have been a waste.
Instead, he had used runes to heat only the flat tip, and turned it into a sharp edge. It could still be used for thrusting, it simply wouldn't have the pointed tip specialised for thrusting swords.
Tying the belt around his tunic, he slid the sword into the scabbard and picked up the backpack.
It was time to defend the innocent.
Riding to the camp didn't take long, and before he knew it, the sound of thousands of troops reached his ears. The main camp had never been quiet, but the news of the Saxons had turned the volume up to eleven. Men shouting orders and steel clanking against steel, noise filled the camp. The Southern Army was awake.
"Commander Ludvig!" he yelled over the noise, catching the attention of the commander. The men between them parted as he rode to the knight.
"I'm surprised. I didn't think you'd be so fast. None of the other captains have arrived yet, and they live inside the camp," Ludvig said, his voice revealing genuine surprise.
"When were the Saxons spotted?" he asked the knight. "How long until they can disembark?"
"My spy told me last night that they would set sail in the night. Only the captains in the camp were informed yesterday, and we sent a small force to guard Blackbay. The soldiers stationed at the village were told by the fisherman that the fleet had been seen in the horizon about an hour ago. If the weather holds up, then we have little more than three hours until they reach shore. We shall march as soon as the army is ready, and we'll probably arrive in an hour." Ludvig eyed him. "Are the archers ready to march?"
"They'll be here soon. Shall I tell them to head towards Blackbay instead?" he asked.
"Please do. I'd like us to assume formations as soon as possible once we arrive. Waiting for the archers would take much needed time," Ludvig answered, not a hint of hostility in his voice.
He'd been remarkably polite the last few days. No hidden insults or barbs, merely a professional knight doing his duty. If he had acted like this the entire time as commander, then Shirou might have liked him. It was too late for that, however, but Shirou appreciated the pause in their hostile partnership. Maybe it was the battle looming closer than before, but Shirou didn't mind the change in Ludvig's act.
"I'll send a messenger, Commander. See you at Blackbay," he said as he pulled the reins and rode away, Kuro kicking up mud as he quickly left the encampment.
The initial plan had been for Shirou to command all archers at the sideline of the battle, protected by stakes and a small infantry force wielding spears. That was what Shirou had practiced for and the reason he had memorised all the signals a captain needed to know in order to properly command his men.
Ludvig had for some reason thought it was a good idea to change it while he was gone. His archers had gained a good number of men, but they had been divided into two different companies, one on each side of the battle. Shirou had been given command of the left side of the soon-to-be battlefield, while a knight Shirou had never heard of had been given command of the right.
Hadrian had luckily stayed with Shirou's company, since the archers required a leader once Shirou joined the cavalry. Without a leader to order where to strike, the archers might panic and start shooting their own side. It would be Shirou's, and later Hadrian's, responsibility to order strikes.
As thousands of soldiers trampled the fields outside of Blackbay into a muddy mess, Shirou's expectations of war were once again wrong.
"It's so chaotic."
Infantry shuffled around, searching for a good place to deploy their shieldwall. Cavalry rode out of formation, knight and horse looking just as confused. Captains shouted orders, each one trying to make themselves heard over the sounds of armour and weapons clanking together.
The battle hadn't even started yet.
"It is, isn't it?" a jovial, yet tired voice said.
"You didn't mention that Vortigern was your father."
Vortimer grimaced, Shirou's words having taken him by surprise. "Found that out, did you?" he said, a gauntlet-covered hand scratching his head.
"Vortigern himself told me. He seemed surprised you hadn't told me you were the duke's son." Maybe his words were harsh for someone he hadn't known for more than a few weeks, but he considered Vortimer a friend. Being deceived by a friend was never a fun thing to discover.
"He wasn't surprised, believe me. Ludvig probably told him beforehand that you and I worked on this mission together, and he knew I don't want to talk about who my father was… who my father is. It's a bit of an open joke among the nobility, but my father and I… we don't like each other very much," Vortimer said, riding up to Shirou's place on the hill.
"Why?" What could have happened to make a father and son dislike each other?
"My mother happened. The witch Rowena betrayed us, and how we handled the betrayal differently made the gap between us widen. There are other things as well, things I do not wish to talk about, but for what it matters, Shirou: I'm sorry for not telling you." The knight didn't look at him when he spoke, instead directing his gaze at the approaching ships. His expression might as well have been carved from granite, but it still wouldn't have looked any softer.
'Things', indeed. Shirou had only seen Kiritsugu wear that expression before, when he spoke of his own father.
"I forgive you," he said. Vortimer's head swivelled around to look at him, mouth wide open.
"It's not really my business why you never revealed your father, but you have your reasons. I decided to forgive you if you ever apologized, because you never really did anything wrong. I just didn't like being surprised by the duke like that. He didn't seem to like magi, so I got angry for no reason for not being told about him from you." Surprises weren't bad (unless you were like Kiritsugu), but meeting the duke had been a bad one. Finding out about the duke's hatred of magi made it worse.
"So you don't have to worry about telling me about it. When you feel like telling me, let me know. What are friends for if not for that?" he said, gripping Kuro's reins in his hands. "I have to go take care of the archers now. I'll see you in the cavalry later."
He left Vortimer on the hill, the knight still looking shocked. It took a while before the duke's son even closed his mouth. When Sir Vortimer finally urged his horse to move, it was with a small smile on his face.
"Friends? Maybe a friend is what I needed from the start." He looked at the slowly disappearing form of the magus, his eyes fixed on his back. "Maybe it was the reason I lost to begin with."
The army was finally in formation. The infantry had deployed their shieldwall. Round shields covered the front, while an innumerable amount of spears stood ready to impale any enemy foolish enough to approach. The soldiers not standing at the frontlines held their shields upwards to protect from arrows, their spears instead pointing up to avoid their comrades.
Armoured knights sat upon their destriers, the horses in turn wearing caparisons and the reins reinforced with linked rings to protect from cuts with a sword or axe. Each knight or man-at-arms carried a round shield on their left arm and a long spear specifically made for cavalry charges in their right hand. Their horses kicked the ground, turning the already ruined field into a black sop of mud.
Shirou stood with the archers, his long black bow in hand. It looked almost comical for a child to carry such a large bow, but the real humour was found in the fact that the one held in the hands of a child was by far the strongest one on the field that day. His arrows had been made beforehand. Aside from his explosive arrows (Fire arrows, was that a good name?), he had blade arrows made to cut through several opponents at once using compressed wind and concussive arrows made to release a shockwave meant to stun the enemy and disrupt their formation. He could always trace more arrows if he needed, but these were meant for crowd control.
In all honesty, Shirou was more useful amongst the archers. He could pick off groups of enemies from a distance and completely destroy their ranks. The fact that Ludvig had assigned him to the cavalry spoke of fear and rashness. As a part of the cavalry, Shirou had a dangerous task to scare the enemy into routing. Killing soldiers was the second objective compared to herding and scattering them. Adding one more horseman was a loss compared to his worth as an archer.
Still, he had already ensured his best chances of surviving, and he was going to ensure the entire army did as well.
The ships were closer now, close enough that Shirou didn't need to reinforce his eyesight in order to see the men stuffed into the boats. They carried axes and spears, shields, and swords, and for a moment Shirou was afraid he'd mistake them for Albionic troops.
Then he saw the clothes they wore, and he realized he didn't need to worry.
Each Saxon soldier wore a tunic of some cheap fabric under a hauberk, but all of them had tribal markings on them depicting patterns such as claw marks and animal heads. Their helmets carried marks as well, either blue or red from a natural dye.
The first ship reached shore, and the men jumped off the wooden boat. Their boots sunk into the sand and water, splattering the dirty water everywhere. The Saxons didn't mind their wet boots. They had their eyes on the Albionic forces hundreds of metres in front of them.
Shirou had wondered why they would choose to fight a pitched battle. The knights at the war council seemed certain of the fact that Blackbay would be the battleground for the first attack, the stepping stone of the Saxon invasion. How could they be so certain that the Saxons would do as they thought?
The knights had explained that the sea was crawling with sea serpents at this time of year, and the only safe path across the sea would lead them directly to Blackbay. A single merchant ship wouldn't bother the serpents, since the wooden construction made the small humans inside the ship too small a prize for the hassle even for the largest serpents.
A fleet of hundreds of ships had enough meat to lure any monster to the surface. Even if they tried to sail along the coast, the waves caused by the ships would attract the predators. The Saxons would disembark at Blackbay, and the Southern Army would stop them from staying.
Ship after ship reached the shore, and Shirou could see men jump off the boats and cluster around like ants forming a hasty shieldwall to protect from arrows. They did not advance yet, instead choosing to wait for the other ships to arrive. They didn't need to bother with the shieldwall, though. Even Shirou's new bows did not have the range to hit them from so far away. It spoke of discipline, however, something Shirou was supposed to deprive them of.
"Should we take aim, Sir?" Hadrian asked.
Shirou shook his head. "No, you'll only tire yourselves out. Wait until they come in range." Fighting the Cornish and Irish bandit had been an ordeal, but seeing Saxons continue to disembark ship after ship was on another scale entirely.
A trumpet was heard across the field. It came from the cavalry, the unit under Ludvig's direct command. Three times the horn was sounded, and Shirou reinforced his eyes to see Ludvig. Ludvig had no way of seeing him from so far away, but he knew Shirou could see him. The old knight waved his hand forward, not to order his men to advance, but to let Shirou know enough Saxons had disembarked for him to start attacking.
They had already formed lines along the beach, two lines of shieldwalls next to each other. It would have been more effective to have a single wall to minimize weak points, but the markings on the helmets and shields were of two distinct patterns, most likely a sign of two different tribes or clans.
"So they're not a single unit in combat, then? Can we use that to our advantage?" he said to himself.
He nocked an arrow and drew it back. It was his cutting arrow of wind, designed to cut through wood and flesh, as morbid as it sounded. It was meant to show them that their shields were useless, hopefully making them drop them in confusion and making them easy targets for the rest of the archers later on. For now, though…
…It would kill.
The Wind arrow sliced through the air before it hit the wooden shields of the Saxons. It must have looked puny to them, a single arrow heading for an army of Saxons. They must have thought it was the mistake of some amateur who drew the arrow too early. A pathetic excuse for an archer it must have been who fired it.
It didn't look so puny once the wind which followed its edges sliced through three shields in a row and everyone behind them.
They didn't move at first, they probably didn't even realize what had happened. But as their wooden shields fell apart and their arms, legs, and torsos soon joined them on the ground, panic spread among the Saxons on the beach. Panicked voices yelled and shouted, asking what had happened.
Shirou nocked another arrow. More men fell apart.
Shirou felt a ball of revulsion in his gut, but he didn't stop. He was saving the villagers of Blackbay, he was saving Albion.
It just meant he wasn't able to save everyone. Not yet at least….
Another ship reached the shore, the largest one in the fleet, it seemed. It was almost too large a ship to be able to land ashore, but the massive boat managed somehow. More men left the ship, swinging their axes and swords in excitement, no doubt eager to plunder the Albionic shores for all their riches. They had not yet noticed the panic their brethren had fallen into, and set up their shieldwall. The other two clans already on the beach yelled at them, but the men did not hear them.
They knew they should have listened better when a gust of wind sliced their centre into a mess of blood and innards. Screams and yells began anew, confusion and panic following swiftly behind. The Saxon invasion had begun. It was a massacre.
Horsa knew something was wrong when his ship reached shore. He could hear the roars of battle and the screams of the dying and wounded. Fury boiled in his chest as the sounds increased in volume, but he could not see the battle yet.
The orders had been for the first five clans to arrive before charging into battle. Attacking with less would only result in encirclement and a swift defeat of the vanguard. They might have the overall numerical superiority, but the limited number of men on each boat was a bottleneck for them. They needed to hold back to the ships and fight defensively in order to gain a foothold on the beach, but the screams he was hearing told him fighting had already started.
The Britannian forces wouldn't have attacked them, he knew that for certain. Fighting on the beach would have put the Britannian cavalry at a disadvantage due to the loose soil, and sending out the inferior infantry would have been a death wish once reinforcements arrived. No, the vanguard would've been safe if they had stayed near the beach, but the sounds he was hearing told him they hadn't.
"Row faster, dogs! I'll have you whipped if we're late!" He struck a slave rowing the ship with the back of his hand. The woman crumbled under the blow, but she knew pain was no excuse to avoid work. More pain would be the punishment if she tarried. She quickly got back up and started rowing, blood seeping from her destroyed lips.
"Southern women have a good way of handling pain, at least, hopefully the Britannian women will have something similar," he said, eyeing the shore filled with ship already. "It's been a while since we had any women from Britannia. Think we'll have any good ones this haul?"
"I hope so. They sell well in the South, and we need the coin for next winter," Hengist replied.
"Always with the coin, brother, I was talking about in bed."
"Didn't you hear me? I said next winter, we'll have a whole year to test them before we sell them off." Hengist's laughter spread around the ship as the soldiers around them heard the joke. Only the slaves remained quiet, they were too busy panting for breath to laugh and they did not find the joke amusing to start with.
The laughter ended abruptly as another wave of screams was heard from the beach. Hengist and Horsa both looked at the source of the noise and frowned.
"Something has gone wrong. Pick up your bow, and keep it ready. We'll need it once we disembark," Hengist said, strapping his fire-themed shield onto his arm and unsheathing his sword. Flames licked the edges of the sword already, its eagerness for battle proving it was a magical blade.
"I don't need you to tell me that," Hengist responded as he held his magical bow in his left hand. He had no need of a quiver. The bow made the arrows itself from magic each time he touched the string.
Their ship crashed onto the beach, the momentum carrying it forward long enough for them to jump onto dry land as opposed to the wet sand. That's when the first sign of trouble appeared.
Blood had already started running onto the shore, something they had not expected even had the Brits decided to counterattack them while on the beach. The sheer number of fallen men required to make the ground slick with blood shouldn't have been reached yet, from both sides combined. Over two dozen ships had disembarked, but they couldn't have all been slaughtered.
They ran through the labyrinth of ships created by their fleet. Screams and cries were heard, but a chill ran down Horsa's spine as he actually listened to them.
All the curses and shouts for help were made in their tongue, not that of the brits.
They reached the battlefield and, for a second, Horsa regretted being so eager to invade.
According to the ships which had reached the shore, over a thousand men had disembarked already. They were the vanguard, equipped to defend the beach from attacks. Heavy armour and shields thicker than usual, they were not meant to push forward and attack. Their job had been to capture the beach and wait for the rest of the fleet to arrive.
A few hundred men were left of the vanguard. The rest were on the ground, hacked into pieces by some unknown enemy. He didn't mean that the enemy had cut off an arm or a head here and there, he meant that the bodies of the Saxons vanguard had been sliced into a multitude of pieces. Their chest and bellies had parted, revealing innards and organs. Heads and arms, legs and feet, they seemed to have been sliced off randomly, if cleanly.
A whistle reached his ear, a loud singing like that of the wind in the forest. Before his eyes, four men fell apart, their blood joining the rest of the men. Their panicked expressions told him they had not realized they were dead yet. They had been in fear in the last moments alive, but the notion of dying had not reached their minds before they fell.
They needed to retreat, quickly before they lost any more men. This was not cowardice, it was strategy. If they could alert the fleet before the main force reached the shore, then they could attack Shamblefields and establish a base there. They could devise a plan of attack on how to counter this enemy.
He heard a horn from behind, the horn of the main forces.
It was too late to retreat. They had to push forward now.
Planning could only be done before the battle commenced. Once forces clashed, even the greatest strategist couldn't control his forces, he could only alter their path slightly if his words were heard. On the sea and in boats, Horsa's warnings could have been heard, and the fleet could have altered their course to Shamblefields, even with the danger of the sea serpents.
Now thousands of Saxons marched on the beach of Blackbay, their swords aching for meat to cut.
They could not make them retreat, so they could only push them forward.
"Charge!" Hengist yelled, having come to the same conclusion.
It was a rash thing to do, to command a charge before they could even get into formation. It was undisciplined and would lead to unnecessary deaths from archers and infantry alike.
However, it was their only option.
The enemy could strike them from anywhere, using attacks no shield or armour could block. Trying to get into formation and form a shieldwall would only result in further deaths by this… invisible assassin. The best thing they could do was to abandon the wall and charge the enemy and try to overwhelm them with numbers. Hopefully the assassin would be amongst them and die in the clash.
They had come too far to turn back now. To return without the food and slaves Albion could offer would mean doom to their own people. They either died now, or they died in a month. A glorious death was better than one from starvation.
Besides, Horsa and Hengist were not outmatched in magical warfare. This assassin would not last long against the greatest swordsmen and archers soon to walk in Albion.
The Saxons charged over the field, most of them confused over the decision to abandon the shieldwall, but they obeyed. The wind sliced Saxons apart as they ran, but the large number of soldiers on the field meant few noticed their deaths. They had been gathering their anger and bloodlust for the last hour, preparing for a massacre of brits. A charge suited them just fine.
Fire erupted on the field, burning the men in the inferno to a crisp. The men around the flames were blown away and didn't get up, the boots of their own comrades soon trampling them to death. Once more the fire appeared in the midst of the Saxons, killing and maiming over a dozen men at once. Horsa would have been impressed if he wasn't furious over the cowardice of his enemy.
To use magic to attack from afar was a coward's tactic. How craven could they be…?
Looking at his magical bow, a feeling similar to shame gripped his heart before he squashed it. He was not like the Brits, he was a proud archer and warrior of the Saxons. He would show them the meaning of warfare.
"Get on a horse, brother! We must get closer to the battle to find the one responsible," Hengist said, ripping a man off a horse and climbing onto the saddle himself. Horsa did the same, throwing the lesser Saxon to the ground and kicking the horse's sides with his boots. The horse galloped towards the battlefield, its hooves covered in the blood of its master's brethren.
They had an assassin to kill.
He pulled his bow up and drew the line back, an arrow magically appearing on the string. Aiming a bow on horseback was an art he learned long ago. He let the arrow fly, watching the shining projectile hit a Brit in the chest and penetrating his lung.
The first dead Brit went to Horsa, the greatest of the Saxons. When he killed the assassin and claimed Albion as his land, he would have the bards sing songs about his first kill in his invasion. He drew the line back again, this time aiming at a knight on a horse. The arrow would strike him in the gaps in the armour. He let the line go and watched it sail into his prey...
Or he would have, had an arrow not gone through his throat before he could.
"Horsa!" Hengist screamed in horror. "No!"
The arrow he had aimed at the Brit did not fly true. Instead, it struck the knight in the shoulder and knocked him off his horse. The bow, the magical weapon Horsa had intended to conquer Albion with, fell from his hands. He tried to breathe, but there was something in his throat blocking the air. Was it blood? Or was it the wooden shaft of the arrow itself? Pain spread from his neck like fire. He tried touching the injury, but his arms failed him and and hung limply at his sides. His legs, which had clamped down on the horse's sides, lost their grip, and time slowed down as he tumbled from the saddle.
He struck the beaten soil hard, the arrow shaft in his neck breaking as he rolled in the mud. It was odd, though, since he didn't seem to be winning at all despite his weapon. He was supposed to prove his superiority as a warrior, but why was he lying on the ground? Had he been injured somehow? Could the arrow in his throat be the cause? Impossible, he couldn't be defeated by an arrow, not when he was the greatest archer on the battlefield. It was just a scratch. He'd walk it off once he got up.
He must be tired from the lack of sleep. He only needed to rest for a while, then he would get back up and slaughter his enemy. In the distance he could hear Hengist roar in anger and the sound of his sword lighting up in flames. Why was he so angry? It wasn't that serious, he simply needed to rest.
Only a quick nap….
Horsa would live to rule. He would prove he was born to be king, soon.
His arrows had run out already. His Fire arrows, his Cutting arrows of wind, his Kinetic arrows, he had used them all in order to destroy the Saxon formation. It had worked, though. The Saxons were in disarray and madly charging the Albionic lines. Those who had seen the damage Shirou's arrows had caused had thrown away their shields, knowing the thin pieces of wood wouldn't help them and hoping the increased mobility would keep them alive instead. In a way, they were right. Shirou wouldn't waste a magical arrow on an opponent who would die as soon as they met the shieldwall of the Albionic troops. He would focus on the masses of soldiers hiding behind their shields.
He would have liked to continue as he had until now, but even though his arrows were potent weapons, they did cost their prana to make, and the swarm of Saxons approaching was too large to be taken out using magical arrows, even with his current od. It would have been fairly easy for him to kill at least a third of the Saxon army before they even disembarked by destroying the ships with some kind of magical arrow, but Ludvig had declined the offer. The ships were important to the army, and destroying them would be a crime.
Shirou thought the order stank of greed, but he couldn't disobey a direct order. He just needed to defeat as many Saxons as he could to minimize the total amount of casualties. It wasn't like the Saxons could retreat after the battle, either. They had come here to plunder food for survival, and Ludvig wanted the ships afterward. The moment the Saxons had decided to plunder Albion, their fates had been sealed.
A group of horsemen emerged from a ship. A hundred horses with riders armed with shields and spears thundered towards the Albionic lines. The shieldwall would hopefully hold, if Ludvig's training was sufficient. The fact that the Saxons had deployed their cavalry meant it was Albion's turn to deploy their own.
It meant it was Shirou's turn to join the battle.
A light appeared on the battlefield. It was a warm light, like that of a candle. Had it been a torch, then he wouldn't have bothered with it. Plenty of the Saxon soldiers carried torches in their off hand in order to throw it at the enemy before using their shields. It was not a simple torch the mounted Saxon was holding, however. The intensity of it was insane, glaring into the eyes of everyone who even so much at looked in its direction. Ignoring the annoying glare, Shirou looked at the Saxon holding it.
He was a captain, or their version of a captain at least. His armour was heavier and much more decorated than the common soldier. The weapon in his hands was the source of the light. It was a bow, and the light forming was the arrow he was aiming. The man let the arrow fly, and it struck through a Albionic soldier's shield and killed the man immediately.
The man had to die. He was the sort of man who would turn the tide of a battle and gather men around him, not because of charisma or loyalty. He simply had magic on his side. Common folk did not understand magecraft, they simply believed magic was the decider and all acts of the supernatural were magic.
He and the Saxons drew their bows back, an arrow appearing out of nowhere on both strings. Shirou's arrow was a dull black, completely different than the one the Saxons used. Shirou let go of the arrow quickly, faster than the Saxon could if he wanted to aim properly. The black arrow was faster than the average arrow as well, having been fired from the strongest war bow on the field, with the possible exception of the opponent's magical bow. It struck the Saxon in the throat the moment he released his own arrow, probably damaging the spine in the process and inflicting a fatal wound. Nothing short of magecraft could save him, though if he had a mystic code at his disposal, then perhaps it was possible they had a healing artefact as well.
The mounted archer fell from his horse and tumbled onto the ground. It didn't take long before his fellow horsemen rode over him and crushed his body under their horses. He disappeared under the Saxon cavalry, dead before he could leave his mark on history.
Shirou breathed a breath of relief. He had stopped the Saxon from using their ace in the hole before it could do any major damage. It had killed a man before Shirou could act, his face being burnt into Shirou's mind. He needed to find out who the man was and make sure his family was taken care of.
At least the Saxon had decided to aim for Ludvig as his next target. The old knight had been knocked off his horse and landed in a hapless heap in the mud. He didn't seem injured, though. His shoulder wasn't hampered in its movement as it would have been if the arrow pierced flesh. His shiny armour on the other hand was covered in mud, and he wouldn't have time to clean it.
He hadn't even joined the battle yet, and he was already filthy.
Maybe his schadenfreude at Ludvig's misfortune was inappropriate, but he didn't let it bother him. The man deserved a little humiliation after the way he had treated Shirou and the archers for the last few weeks. Having to fight covered in dirt wasn't as bad as having to be bait for the Cornishmen, so Ludvig got off easy in his opinion.
The smell of smoke reached his nose, dark and heavy smoke from burning meat with open flames. It was the same smell which had greeted him when he reached the camp days ago, when they were burning the bodies of the deceased. They had finished burning the dead long already, and there had been no signs of sickness since then, so it couldn't be from the pyres of the dead.
It was coming from the battlefield. A mounted warrior was riding amongst the lines of Albionic soldiers. His sword and shield were burning… no, they were coated in flames, but they weren't burning. They were a pair of mystic codes, likely related to the archer's bow. The flames generated by the shield melted the spear tips and swords that struck it, and the sword cut through armour and shields as if they were butter. The Saxon himself was riding through the Albionic troops as if they were nothing, cutting them down one after another regardless of rank or armour.
His face was the definition of furious. A never-ending scream tore its way out of his mouth. He bashed the knights coming close with the flaming shield and the helmets melted at the very touch, burning the faces of those within. Heads flew when the sword touched the necks of the owners, but no blood flowed. The fire cauterized the wounds before a single drop escaped.
The man was crazy, that was for certain. Even with magical weapons, he'd die from being surrounded if he went alone against the entire Albionic army, even if he looked to be holding his own at the moment. Why was he crazy, though? Could he be one of the men affected by the drugs and poisons Morgana would be sneaking into the Saxon camp? If he was, then the plan had backfired tremendously. The man was cleaving through men practically unopposed.
Shirou nocked an arrow and aimed it. The shield would defend against arrows, probably even magical ones, so he couldn't just shoot through it if the magus who made the shield was competent. He'd have a better chance if he aimed for an unprotected area.
He let the arrow fly and watched it sail into the crazed Saxon's back. It never hit its target.
The shield flared into a massive inferno, enveloping the rider and horse in a protective bubble of fire. It burned every man who got close to it, and those already within it range were incinerated as even the steel they wore melted. After five seconds of burning heat, the bubble disappeared, and the Saxon continued his rampage.
Did the shield protect against projectiles? He looked at the shield and used structural analysis on it, hoping to read anything about its properties. Most of the enchantments placed on them were advanced, but they were made in a simple construction. Trying to read an opponent's mystic code without an idea of where to start would have been impossible for a hack like Shirou, but he already knew what he was looking for. He was searching for anything related to projectiles… and he found it.
The shield did have a defence against arrows and javelins. The magus who created it wasn't a very skilled one. He was a second generation at best, and his runes were sloppy, even by modern standards. The fire bubble appeared whenever a projectile was about to hit its wielder, and the stronger the projectile, the stronger the defence. The shield and sword ran using both od and ambient mana, but when the wielder used it for long periods of time, it would drain the wielder's life force.
It meant the Saxon would eventually die if he continued taking on the entire army by himself while the majority of Saxons were struggling with the shieldwall, but he would cause an innumerable number of deaths before that. To top it off, Shirou couldn't fight him at a distance.
It was a good thing Shirou wouldn't be fighting at a distance anymore.
"Keep hitting them with arrows while I'm away," he told Hadrian, the hunter nodding even as he aimed another arrow at the Saxons.
He dismissed his bow and climbed onto Kuro's saddle. It would be her first battle, and he hoped she was ready for it. He hoped he was ready for it.
He gripped the reins, and in an instant, they were hurtling towards the frontlines. The armour Kuro wore was silent from the padding and the enchantments Shirou placed on them. She must have looked frightening, a black horse covered in dark steel armour thundering down a hill towards the battle.
He hadn't made Kuro's armour black by choice. He had built a small furnace and melted the weapons from the bandits he'd been attacked by. He also added crushed bone from the wargs into the crucible, in order to add protection from magic attacks and increase durability. The result was an alloy which was completely black even when polished.
It was perfect for armour, both physical and magical. It had better toughness than the steel he had used to make it with, and the magical properties of the wargs absorbed a part of the magical attacks and used it to shield against the same attack. He had even added a bit of the alloy to his own armour.
That alloy now covered Kuro's entire body, making her and Shirou a small tank.
Hopefully it would protect against the Saxon's flames.
By the time they arrived at the frontlines, the Saxon had gotten closer to his brethren, realizing he wasn't as protected as he might have thought he'd been. He was still hacking and slashing like a madman, but he was wary of being surrounded like he was earlier. He would rush into Albionic lines and cut down anyone he could get close to before dashing back into Saxon territory. The blitzkrieg tactics he was using had the same effect Shirou's arrows had on the Saxons at the beginning of the battle. The Albionic shieldwall was wavering under the stress of the magic attack. The fire protected the man from arrows, and he could create a wall of flames to charge into spears. It would have been strange if the Albionic troops didn't waver.
It took magecraft to counter magecraft after all.
Was the man a magus? Shirou had no idea. He fought with a mystic code and seemed used to it as he swung his sword. The codes themselves were something an amateur would make, but they were effective in combat. He could be a hack like Shirou, but his true talent was in fighting. Either way, Shirou had no choice in the matter.
He had to stop him, just like he did the mounted archer.
He traced a cavalry spear in his right hand. The spear was longer than the ordinary one, and slightly tapered towards the front. A handle of rawhide covered the middle of the shaft, giving better grip and protecting against splinters. The spear tip was black, and of the same material as Kuro's armour. He had made it of the leftover material when he finished making the steel ,and he didn't want to waste it. In the end, he crafted a cavalry spear, one which could be used on foot and on horseback. If the speartip wasn't magical enough, the shaft had runes carved into it and the rawhide had runes drawn on it with blue woad.
The fiery Saxon charged into Albionic lines, and Shirou met him head-on. Shirou's spear struck the Saxon's shield, and if the shaft hadn't been turned into a mystic code, then it would have turned to ash in an instant. Even from two meters away, the heat from the shield was toasting his skin and drying his eyes.
The clash lasted for less than a second without a winner. Both riders felt the shock, and reeled in their saddles. Shirou's shoulder ached at the impact. If he hadn't reinforced his body, then the arm would have been torn from its socket. Most likely the shield had similar effects. The sword increased the wielder's strength, speed, and stamina. The reason he knew that because reading swords was much easier, but the shield still had many more secrets he didn't know. Enhanced durability could be one of them; he doubted an ordinary man could have taken a hit like that and still remain in a saddle without stirrups.
The Saxon returned behind Saxon troops, and Shirou remained behind Albionic lines. If seen from the sides it would have appeared as if Shirou and this crazed Saxon were the leaders of the clashing armies. One armed with weapons of fire, the other armed with a spear and armour which turned its surroundings into ice.
Tracing a kite shield onto his arm, he took a moment to inspect his opponent from up close. He was tall and heavily built. His neck was built like a bull's, and his muscles were not far behind. He was a practical mountain of muscle and bone, just like the archer.
It must have looked rather funny. The Saxon looked almost too large for his horse, while Shirou looked too small for his own. The polar opposites; one a behemoth of fire on Saxon's side, the other a child of cold on Albion's side.
The Saxon looked at his newly traced shield, and his eyes turned cold.
"You, are you a wizard?" he growled through clenched teeth.
"Yes, I am. Will you surrender?" He could always hope for the best. He could see the Saxon men who heard him freeze at his words. Facing a wizard was not something an ordinary man would want to do, even those under the influence of mind-altering poisons.
"You were the one who killed the men by the boats, then? The one who forced us to charge?" His words grew louder and louder, rage fuelling his voice. Even over the screams of the battlefield, the words of the Saxon were heard loud and clear.
"Indeed, but you did not answer my question. Will you surrender?" He could see the reaction his answer was having on the Saxon troops. They weren't pushing forward anymore, and a gap had been created between the two armies. Both sides used this lull in the battle to rest and breathe, but the Saxon side were in bad condition compared to Albion's. Many of them had lost their shields, and were dead or dying on the ground. The fact that so many of their allies had died so fast must have terrified the Saxons, made them hesitate and waver.
There were still so many of them left, though. The Albionic troops had not lost nearly as many men as the Saxons, and most of them were due to the man with flaming weapons, but they were still outnumbered. Elsewhere on the battlefield, he could see Ludvig and Vortimer ride with the cavalry into the flank of the Saxons, stabbing and cutting everything they could reach before retreating to avoid being flanked by the Saxon cavalry. To his right, he could see Rowland swing his now magical sword at the Saxons, its nigh indestructible blade smashing shields and helmets into scraps.
"One last question, then. Our archer with the magical bow… do you know who killed him?" the Saxon asked, his breathing heavy with barely repressed anger.
The archer with the magical bow? That was the mounted archer Shirou had killed, wasn't he?
"You seem to know who I'm talking about. Answer me!" His expression must have shown his thoughts because the Saxon brandished his sword at him, sending a wave of flames in his direction. The fire didn't reach him, but the heat certainly did. It had been meant to intimidate, not kill him.
There was no point hiding it. The Saxon would go on killing until he found the murderer, it seemed, and Shirou needed to stop him. It was too late to undo what had been done. It had been ever since the war began.
"I'm the one who killed him."
The words slipped out of his mouth so easily it scared him. Just a few weeks ago, he puked after having killed a single man, but now he could kill soldiers and admit it to their comrades. It saddened him that it had come to this, but compared to a fire where everyone died, it didn't seem half as bad.
He had to steel his heart.
'My blood is… and my heart of...'
He blinked. His mind had wandered in the middle of a battle. He thought he had better focus than that.
"You did it? A brat like you?" the Saxon laughed. "My… Horsa was killed by a little shit like you?" he bit through his lip, blood pouring from the destroyed skin.
"I'm going to rip you to shreds."
Shirou would have responded, but he knew he wouldn't have time if he wanted to spare Albionic lives. He spurred Kuro forward, the troops parting to let him through. He met the Saxon in the gap between, and the clash between Shirou's spear of ice and the Saxon's shield of fire began anew. Both the shield and spear survived the exchange, but a small shockwave erupted from the meeting. Both the Saxon's horse and Kuro neighed in protest, but they obeyed their riders' commands.
They clashed again and again, loud explosions occurring with each exchange. The fighting of the troops had commenced, but both sides knew better than to approach them. A large circle had been created, and entering it would have meant exposing oneself to the dangers of the two riders within. Dangers not posed by other ordinary men.
A pattern evolved as they fought. Shirou's spear aimed at the Saxon's unguarded limbs, limbs the Saxon would either have to defend with his shield or sword. If Shirou missed, the Saxon would counterattack with his sword, which Shirou would have to block with his spear or shield. Luckily, he had used the wargsteel to reinforce the shield as well. Otherwise, he'd be roasted within minutes by the heat alone.
He stabbed with his spear, the Saxon blocked. The Saxon swung his sword, Shirou blocked. Shirou swiped his spear, the Saxon blocked. The Saxon thrusted his sword, Shirou blocked. His hatred of Shirou aside, the man was skilled. It was easy to understand how the man had achieved such a high standing amongst the Saxons. If only he wasn't trying to kill Shirou, that would be perfect.
The screams around them continued to multiply as the injured fell and the dying increased. After what must have been their twentieth exchange, he decided something had to change. They didn't have the luxury of time. The Saxons outnumbered them, and if it turned to a battle of attrition, then it was clear who would win. The warrior with flaming armaments might be using his life force to fuel the flames, but he might survive long enough for the Saxons to defeat the Albionic troops. That could not be allowed to happen.
So he had to destroy the shield.
Kuro was getting tired, and so was his opponent's mount. Both of them were breathing heavily and slowing down. Unless Shirou managed to kill the Saxon with this attack, they'd have to finish this on foot, or at least that's what Shirou thought. The man trying to kill him didn't seem to care for his horse at all with the way he was driving it.
Either he destroyed the shield and killed the Saxon with his next charge, or he destroyed the shield and knocked him off the horse. The shield had to go, either way. It couldn't be allowed to be picked up by another Saxon afterwards.
Prana flooded the spear in his hands, pumping it so full of magical energy it grew unstable. Being a magic weapon already, the result when it would collide with another mystic code would be chaotic. Shirou hoped it would be enough to overcome the shield's durability; the thing was tougher than most shields in videogames.
He charged, and the Saxon followed suit. To the Saxon, it must have seemed as just another exchange, another attempt at stabbing him with a spear. Unknown to the Saxon, Shirou was actually aiming at the shield in his left hand. The Saxon brought up his flaming shield to stop Shirou's spear just before it would have connected with his chest….
At the moment of impact, a thought crossed Shirou's adrenaline-addled mind.
'Maybe I should have thrown the spear instead?'
The prana inside the spear exploded the moment it struck the shield. Both the Saxon and Shirou were thrown off the horses and landed painfully on the ground. The shrapnel from the spear and shield flew everywhere, but neither the riders nor the mounts were harmed by it. Kuro's armour protected her from damage, and the Saxon's horse had been shielded mostly by the shield's flames.
The shockwave made them both gallop away in panic, though, leaving their riders to finish the fight on foot.
Shirou was the first to recover. He was smaller and further away from the blast, but he still had the wind knocked out of him. Rolling back on his feet, he looked at the spear in his hands. Nothing remained of it except the handle covered in rawhide. It looked like a strange baton, though not an effective one.
The Saxon got up and shook his head. Seeing an opportunity, Shirou threw the remains of his spear at the Saxon, and it struck him across the cheek. A loud smack resounded in the circle, and the Saxon saw red as he looked at the offender.
The shield was gone,destroyed in the blast. The Saxon's left arm looked bruised and bleeding, but he held his sword in a two-handed grip fairly well. He seemed to have a lot of life left, which was bad because he was only using half as much life force as before.
The traced shield strapped to Shirou's arm disappeared in a show of light. The shield had only gotten a few direct hits, but it had been constantly protecting Shirou from the heat and the occasional stray flame. Drawing Curtana, Shirou held it in two hands as well. His body was reinforced, his sword had been repaired (sort of), he was covered in armour ,and his opponent was furious.
It was time to earn his pay as a future unwillingly banished knight of Albion.
The Saxon swung his burning sword, intent on cutting through Shirou's sword, armour, and flesh in a single strike.
Only for Shirou to block and redirect the swing with Curtana before cutting at his neck.
The Saxon dodged backwards, and his eyes narrowed. "What is that sword made of? Both it and the spear survived my flames."
"Oh you know, just good old Britannian steel," Shirou joked.
'That and a hefty helping of wargdust.' He may have attempted to forge weld the blade with wargsteel and to reforge the tip a bit. His theory had been that the magical properties of the wargs would react with the mystical effect the blade already possessed, allowing him to forge a point. It hadn't worked, but some of the wargsteel had fused with the sword's surface.
At least, it managed to hold off the Saxon blade.
"Keep joking like that, boy. Let's see how funny you are without a tongue!"
The Saxon swung his sword with anger, but there was skill in his attacks. He was faster, stronger, and definitely more skilled than any of the men Shirou fought in the Western Forest. The flaming sword clashed with Curtana, and sparks flew. The heat burned Shirou's skin, toasting it from being in the mere presence of his opponent's blade. If he hadn't applied warg bones to Curtana's steel, even his reinforcement might've failed. The cold his wargsteel armour was exuding told him he didn't need to worry about the radiating heat, but he didn't know if the fire could get any hotter. If the Saxon used more life force, it was possible he could reach even higher temperatures.
Shirou stepped forward and hacked at the man's exposed flank, but the Saxon blocked it before kicking at Shirou's face. The boot barely grazed his face as he traced a knife in his hand and stabbed at the Saxon's exposed Achilles' tendon. Retreating to recover his stance, the Saxon kicked dirt into the air, hoping his opponent would be blinded by it. Shirou didn't fall for the trick, and merely threw the dagger at the man's face. It was blocked by the sword and melted into a puddle of iron before shattering into glimmering prana.
The swords met over and over again, sparks flying each time. Shirou was reinforcing his body, but the Saxon was stronger than him naturally, and the sword was increasing his physical ability. The shield had given him a boost in several departments, and the effect was still active. The man had a body which was naturally stronger than Shirou's as well, considering it had been born in the Age of Fairies, and he was burning away his own life in order to take Shirou's. If Shirou could use his bow, he could end it at any moment, but the Saxon wouldn't let him get the distance required. So he had to finish him off with his sword.…
Did he have to use Curtana, though?
He could trace swords in mid-air, but could he fire them as well? He could give them push, at least, to act as javelins. They wouldn't go as fast as an arrow, but he didn't need them to in this fight.
He traced a dagger, a simple dagger without any special design. It was in front of him, as usual considering he would pick them up at that height. The Saxon was attacking again, this time using a large swing for power.
He created an image in his head, an image of a dagger flying through the air like an arrow. It would be fast and heavy, capable of piercing armour, like a bullet leaving the barrel of a gun. The hammer in his head was cocked and ready to fire.
The dagger shot forward. It stabbed into the Saxon's left arm, breaking the bone within. He groaned from the pain, dropping his left hand from sword hilt. The fiery sword missed Shirou even without him having to dodge. It hit the ground and burned the grass to ash.
Shirou swung Curtana, and it cut into the Saxon's throat. Blood flew as half of the man's throat was opened in an instant. Drops of red covered Shirou's armour as the large man collapsed beside him. Gurgling could be heard as the man died in the mud, his hands desperately trying to stop the bleeding to no avail.
Shirou decided to take pity on him. He reinforced Curtana and stabbed it into the Saxon's chest, piercing the heart. He stopped twitching a moment later. His body relaxed, and he became like the other men who died on the battlefield.
Shirou looked down on the dead body in front of him. Who had he been? Had he family? Had he known the archer? He must have, considering his reaction to seeing his killer. Were they friends, maybe?
Had the circumstances been different, he would have liked to bury the man, but he didn't have the time for it. The battle was still raging, and he had a job to do.
He picked up the sword of the fallen Saxon and traced a scabbard for it. Hanging the mystic code on his belt, he jumped back into the fray, Curtana in hand.
"Sir Shirou?" a nameless soldier asked as Shirou arrived at the flank in the most danger of being routed. What had begun as a battle with both armies arranged in somewhat straight lines, had devolved into something much different. Some parts of the Albionic troops had pushed forward, others had retreated back. The frontline had become a random series of waves.
He had found Kuro amongst the Albionic troops. She had stayed close to him, even though she was tired. He knew he couldn't ride her into actual combat anymore, but she could take him to where he was needed. The weakest part of the formation needed reinforcement, and reinforcement was something he was rather good at.
The Albionic troops had parted to let him through, and soon enough he reached the thinning lines.
He nodded at the soldier and traced a spear, the same one he used against the Saxon. He jumped off Kuro, and the horse trotted a distance away from the fighting.
It was longer than the ordinary spear, so it would serve well in the infantry. He got to the front of the wall, and raised his shield before stabbing his spear into the Saxon line. He felt the resistance of a wooden shield before it gave way and his mystic code stabbed into flesh. No ordinary shield could stop a spear made using magecraft. It was a shame he hadn't thought to mass-produce the spears before the battle. It had been a late addition to his arsenal.
And so he spent the day; not using his bow to rain arrows on his enemy, not riding Kuro into the infantry, but simply stabbing the Saxon lines until they broke.
Over and over again.
"And that's a wrap, everybody!" Taiga screamed as she jumped around.
The cast of Fate/ Stay Night, Fate Zero, and Fate Apocrypha were gathered at an enormous table, each one looking more exhausted than the other. Even the more stoic servants were slumped in their seats.
"Taiga," said a tired Saber (Arturia, or perhaps Altria, Pendragon). "We just finished the chapter, do we really have to celebrate it now?"
Indeed, the latest chapter of 'Archer of Black' had been finished and everyone had been working overtime to deliver it. Even the piece of **** computer the author had used to edit the chapter had broken its fan and overheated as he was about to upload it. Over a year's work had gone into writing it, and everyone was aching to go home.
Archer (EMIYA) wanted to go back to the throne and think up ways to make Shirou's life a living hell.
Lancer had wanted to go fishing before they started working, but he had unfortunately died in the process of writing the scene with the horse armour..
Gilgamesh wanted to go back to the church and think up ways to make the Faker's life a living hell.
Berserker wanted to yell.
Caster (Medea) wanted to go back to Ryuudou temple and make Emiya Shirou's life a living hell.
Assassin… was stuck at the gate to Ryuudou Temple.
Rider (Medusa) wanted go back home and read her adult books.
Saber (Arturia/Altria Pendragon) wanted to back home and eat Shirou's cooking.
Saber Alter wanted to go back home and eat Shirou's cooking, or she would think up ways to make his life a living hell.
Rin wanted to go back home and relax or she would make the life of whoever disturbed her a living hell.
Sakura wanted to go back home and snuggle with her Senpai or she would make the entire world a living hell.
Shirou wanted to go back home and relax, and not be the target of hatred of several legendary figures.
Taiga didn't care for the wishes of her slaves, however, and continued with her energetic speech.
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Saber! Do you want to know why?" Taiga screamed into a magically appearing microphone.
"Because so many amazing things have happened to the Fate franchise lately! The Apocrypha anime was released and Fate Grand order got an English release as well. Cardinal had to change his account to English and lost all of his golden star servants in the process, but it was worth it. He can just summon them again, right?" she laughed.
"I mean, it's not that hard to summon Arturia Pendragon (Saber), Siegfried, Ishtar, Emiya Alter, Tesla, Jeanne Alter, Miyamoto no Yorimitsu, Santa Alter, Santa Lily, Astolfo, Chevalier d'Eon, Elizabeth Bathory (Brave & Caster), Anne Bonny & Mary Read (Archer & Rider), Chloe von Einzbern, Fionn Mac Cumhaill, Kiyohime (Lancer), Medusa (Lancer), Sakata Kintoki (Rider & Berserker), Nursery Rhyme, Leonardo Da Vinci, Gilgamesh (Caster), Tamamo Cat, Ibaraki Douji, Chacha, Angra Mainyu, Nitocris, and Mordred. It's not as if ANY of them are locked behind events or story, or anything. Hehehehehe. Hehehehehehehehehehehe. HeheheheheheHEHEHEHEHEHE! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! Why couldn't you announce it before I got Ishtar?! WHY!?"
As Jeanne D'Arc used her prayers to exorcise the evil spirit of Cardinal Grief from Taiga's body, chatter began among the cast of Fate. Food appeared on the table, as if by heavenly command, to dampen the rage leaking from Saber and Saber Alter as the two stared in Shirou's direction, their gaze telling him what would happen if he didn't cook for them the moment they returned home.
"Weren't we supposed to have a Rap Battle… I mean, a 'Diss Battle' between Gilgamesh last chapter? I recall Taiga mentioning something like that two chapters ago," EMIYA asked the Diarmuid, the Lancer from Fate Zero, as he began to fill his plate with various delicacies from the table. He ignored the pleas of help from his younger self as the boy's many lovers dug into the food. They both knew the food was fake and would disappear the moment they left the magical space they were currently in. The both Sabers did not know that however, and he would need help in cooking enough food to satisfy their intense hungers.
It wasn't his problem, though. The only woman he was worried about was Ishtar and the way she was looking at him. Her body currently looked exactly like Tohsaka Rin's and the smile on her face did nothing to ease his worries.
Lancer had also dug into his meal, but quickly answered once he swallowed the chicken he was eating. "It seems they tried to hold one, but Berserker kept yelling the same thing over and over so he was disqualified."
"So why didn't we hold another one if Gilgamesh won?"
Lancer smiled. "Because Berserker kept on yelling. Every time Gilgamesh tried to speak, Berserker would drown every word in more roars. In the end, it devolved into a shouting match as Gilgamesh tried to outshout Berserker, but he didn't have a high enough Strength or Endurance stat for it. Since Gilgamesh didn't manage to say a single word, both of them were disqualified. It was quite sad, really. Gilgamesh looked ready to cry."
"So why didn't we move on to another round?" EMIYA asked, his curiosity increasing. His greatest challenger had already been removed, he might actually win the chance to leave Alaya's service.
"Saber was supposed to face Caster, but being the Saber-obessed fangirl that she is, Medea didn't want to insult Artoria, so she spent the entire match insulting Shirou instead. Since she didn't diss Altria even a single time, the Witch of Betrayal was disqualified." Lancer explained, noticing the archer's interest.
"She got angry that Caster kept insulting her master and responded in turn. However, because it wasn't Kuzuki's fault Caster was being mean to Emiya, her disses were half-hearted and she kep apologising for them. I've never seen anyone insult another person with such polite insults. It was like watching a puppy growl. That's when Caster went into full fangirl-mode and started taking pictures of Saber's embarrassed face. They were both disqualified." Noticing the rapid pace the Sabers were eating, Lancer filled his plate once more.
"And who was next?" Archer's heart was beating in his chest. Who would he face?
"Assassin was supposed to face True Assassin, but Assassin was stuck at the Temple Gate and never showed. On the other hand, True Assassin tried to be born using Assassin's body, so he was disqualified for trying to kill his opponent. Too bad, I was interested in that battle too." Lancer sighed, but didn't have time to eat before Archer grabbed his shirt and pulled him close to his face. "Okay, Archer, I know I have a pretty face and really tight clothes, but I'm not into men."
Ignoring the comment, EMIYA looked at the Lancer with the eyes of a man obsessed. "Then what?"
"Right, Rider was supposed to face Avenger, but she didn't understand the whole insulting thing and tried to petrify him with her eyes. She was disqualified too, but Avenger didn't understand the concept, either. He tried to kill her and they were both kicked out. Heroic spirits aren't really good at using words to resolve conflicts. Do you think that's the reason why we became heroes to begin with?"
EMIYA dropped the Irish man on the floor, not even registering the complaint the Lancer gave as he tumbled to the ground.
There were no other servants in Fate/ Stay Night. Had he done it? Was he finally free?
"It was a shame about the prize, though," Lancer remarked as he got up. "The production staff got so mad at Taiga for spending the entire budget on this party, they had to use the wish reserved for the prize just to keep the company afloat. Good thing there wasn't a winner in the end, right?" Diarmuid laughed, not even noticing the tears streaming down EMIYA's face.
Elsewhere at the table…
"So we finally got our own anime, huh? I thought they'd make some kind of cross-campaign with the English release of Fate GO, but that never happened," Siegfried said as he poked around his food. Spartacus laughed at his side. His Mad Enhancement had been temporarily dampened for the evening, making his sanity return for a brief period of time.
"Indeed, my friend, although I never thought we would be getting much attention to begin with. Unlike Stay/Night or Extra, we don't have our own game. We're just a Light Novel and the original game became FGO. I'm lucky I made an appearance in the first episode." The temporarily sane warrior laughed once more.
"Maybe you're right. We aren't main characters in Apocrypha or FGO so we can't expect much, but at least I made an appearance in Orleans. You appeared in Septem, didn't you?" the greatest warrior of Germany asked, his spirits lifted and appetite returned.
"Indeed, my friend. Along with Boudica, I brought my strength to the frontlines and we stood against the oppressors. I heard you did as well."
Siegfried smiled, the memory of serving a worthy master resurfacing. "I might not have been at full strength, but I tried my best to bring honour to my legend." Fighting Fafnir once more had been exhilarating, enough to make his blood pump. However, the most important part of that fight had been the master who fought with him. If he had the chance, the next time he fought in a Holy Grail War, he would like for that same master to summon him. Then he would show everyone the great power of Siegfried.
"And what a worthy legend it is…" Spartacus exclaimed, his face split in two by a grin. "Fighting beside Saint George, slaughtering dragons and saving France, The Great Dragonslayer…"
Siegfried smiled at the energy of his fellow servant. He didn't like to boast about it, but he was proud over his legend. It hadn't ended well, but he had saved many people and loved many as well. He was a great hero, in the end.
"The Great Dragonslayer surpassing even The Dragonslayer Siegfried himself: Sumanai-kun!"
Siegfried choked on the meat he had been eating and struggled to clear his throat. Spartacus noticed his and slapped his humongous palm on Siegfried's back. Even through his magical armour, he could feel the hits he took decrease his HP.
"Don't worry, Sumanai-kun. Three Star Bronze servants like us have to stick together. We shall show these Gold Star servants what a real hero is made of," The berserker said, holding his gigantic fist in an inspirational pose.
Recovering from his shock, the knight of Xanten glared at his comrade. "No, my name isn't Sumanai. I'm Siegfried and a Four Star Gold Servant!"
Spartacus looked at him and chuckled. "My friend, that meat made you delirious. Siegfried can't be the Dragonslayer who held off an army of wyverns. His attack stats are awful and his Noble Phantasm is useless. He can't even use the defensive Noble Phantasm he got from bathing in dragon blood. You can't be him."
The words pierced his self-confidence even more than Fafnir had once pierced his flesh. It was true that his Armour of Fafnir had been sealed during FGO, and his Attack stat was painfully low. His NP was also rather pitiful, even against Lancers. His Dragonslayer skill was also an active one, which meant it had a cooldown and wasn't active for very long. His passives were also rather useless, and didn't contribute much. Even in Fate/Apocrypha, the one chance he had to shine by fighting Karna, he had been turned into a side character.
However, that did not mean he had to be called Sumanai-kun.
"Sumanai is something people decided on their own. There isn't even a legend about a hero called Sumanai!" He'd even been turned into a running gag in the Nasuverse. Was there no justice for heroes anymore? He might as well become a Lancer already, since his Luck stat was E-ranked. What's the point of being a Saber if he was underpowered all the time?
"You are mistaken, my friend. The Throne of Heroes has a legend called Sumanai recorded in it." Spartacus told him.
Siegfried was about to refute him, but knowledge containing a hero called Sumanai trickled into his mind from the Throne of Heroes. A hero with awful Attack, pitiful NP, no defensive NP at all, a defensive skill which only applies to dragons and has a cooldown, and a barely decent NP-gain; those were the characteristics of the Heroic Spirit Sumanai.
He was Sumanai-kun.
"You know, this omake has gone on a bit too long. Should we call it quits?" Rin asked her companions.
"Fine with me, I'm only here because the author wanted a long omake for a long chapter. It took over a year to write this thing on a stupid Ipad, so maybe it's safer to just let him do what he wants. He seemed pretty angry he missed the chance to release this chapter on the same day as the release for Fate GO and Apocrypha," Ayako Mitsuzuri answered.
"That was a fairly detailed explanation from a side character. Should we ask Jeanne to exorcise Cardinal's evil spirit from possessing you?" Rin teased her friend.
"Good luck with that. Jeanne drank wine, but the body she was possessing has a low tolerance so she got drunk and is currently busy molesting Sieg. Poor kid, he looks terrified. It was bad enough when Astolfo was ripping his clothes off, but now Jeanne is trying to as well." Both girls laughed as the homunculus and servant disappeared under the table, Sieg's helpless cries going unanswered. "Actually, Cardinal gave me a note and told me to tell the readers everything before the omake ended. If I did then he would make me a character in 'With Proper Guidance' and a possible love interest."
"Grab a number and get in line. Shirou is mine and no one else's," over a dozen different voices said as they heard Ayako's intent to enter the Emiya household. Glaring at each other, the women at the table started arguing why Shirou was theirs, before blades were drawn.
"Seriously though," Rin asked, as she left the melee the moment she saw Ishtar as a carbon copy of herself. "This omake has so many FGO and Apocrypha references, I doubt the readers are going to understand all of it. Why make an omake so convoluted and needlessly long?"
"He had an answer for that, I think." Ayako looked and the note and found the answer. "Here it is: it says…."