“Legions into position!” Bellowed General Trajan. He paced at the fore of the battle-line upon his fearsome war stallion. A brilliant battle-hardened steed, white as freshly fallen snow. The General painted an inspiring picture in his fine coat of plates, proudly painted with the crowning eagle of Daynar. Upon his curved helm towered a horizontal crest of bright blue hair. Trajan was a veteran commander, adored by his men for slogging in the thick of danger at their sides. He led from the front. By example.
“Into position!” Echoed the commands of twelve captains. Then twenty four junior officers.
The legions obeyed on demand. A deafening cacophony of clanging metal and stamping boots.
Would their stellar discipline hold against the horrors on the horizon? Bannoc didn’t know. Nervousness cut him like a knife. He trembled with excitement, some fear running right to his gut. A perverse kind of joy. This was it, the moment he had been waiting months for! His first pitched battle. He whispered a swift prayer to the Storm-God.
All around him stood the members of his father’s warband. He never could have asked for finer company. His father, Korol and Amawyth. Vanscar, Harran and Farnan. Karenda. Beside the Karvosi warband was a conglomeration of Getae tribes. The Waeroki were present, the Amreki and Orgashi too. Dozens of fierce tribes, raring for a fight. They would all have to wait for their opportunity to wet weapons. Biding time some distance from the front, behind three legions. When the trumpet signaled and the centre gave way to funnel trolls into the ranks, it was their mission to surround the foul beasts and butcher them. Until that signal they would hold their position past the legions and their bristling wall of large, teardrop kite shields.
Bannoc did not know much about battle strategy on such an epic scale, but Trajan’s plan seemed both bold and tactically sound.
It did to many others too. Until the troll horde inched closer…
Trajan had deployed on the hills, snatching the high ground. From there the army watched an ocean of trolls stomping towards them. This great storm of hulking monsters. Thousands, too many to count. The closer the horde got, the less realistic Trajan’s plan seemed. Fear began to seeth in the ranks. Some soldiers were praying aloud. The trolls were hideous abominations, taller than a human by nearly two heads. Some were grossly rotund, others lean. Huge bodies coloured like ash coated slime. All were terrifying. Maws of sharp grey teeth to rival a shark’s snarled savage curses, baying for human blood. Evil piggy eyes glared, black as coals, red in the middle with bloodlust. They wore nothing in way of armour, little more than rags. But their weapons screamed brutality. Huge mauls that could crush a human to pulp. Cleavers with long, heavy blades still stained scarlet from past raids. Some trolls brandished bunches of severed human heads. The grisly trophies stirred panic in the legions. Their iron discipline was legendary, yet they had never faced such terrifying foes in battle before. No human had seen a troll in over a thousand years. Now they were facing a head on collision with thirty thousand.
The fight of our lives.
Bannoc could scarcely contain his anticipation. His body hummed with skittish energy. His heart pounded. The sword felt sticky with sweat in his grasp. He could see the front line ahead of him, assembled on a sloping section of the hills. Their shields were up in a tightly packed wall, spears poking out. Behind them waited swordsmen. Apart from their specific weapons, all soldiers of the legions wore the same uniform gambesons and heavy mail hauberks reaching the elbows. Sturdy kettleback helmets with protective cheek plates. Just in front of Bannoc and the Karvosi, a line of imperial archers quaked. Behind the tribes were the imperial engineers and their catapults.
The endless sea of trolls would soon be in range. They advanced, roaring and snarling. Crashing their weapons together! A thunderstorm of bloodthirsty noise.
As fate would have it, thunder clapped moodily in the grey sky above. Rivulets of rain began to drizzle, pattering an eerie metallic tune on the massed armour below.
Korol threw his arm around Bannoc’s shoulder. He leaned on him heavily, grinning wolfishly as he pressed their cheeks together. “The Storm-God favours us this day, brother.” He butted their foreheads and stepped aside.
Bannoc felt it too, the Storm-God’s approval. He heard it roiling in the furious clouds above. He looked to Amawyth and Vanscar at his left. They nodded with anxious determination.
The trolls were now only a few yards shy of falling into range. They hooted and howled, promising destruction. The very horizon came alive with their presence.
“Load catapults!” Shouted Trajan. “Archers, knock arrows! Await command!
The orders ran swiftly through the ranks. Meticulous training won out over fear, but the troops were still shaken.
There was Trajan to lift their spirits! He spurred his horse, drawing his ornate sword inscribed with his numerous victories. He raised the blade high to draw his army’s attention from the black horizon. A rider holding a banner aloft joined him. The Empire’s glittering gold eagle on a blue background fluttered for all to see. It fed the legions a penny’s weight in hope. The rest of the fire came from Trajan, a proven commander, the consummate leader who had led legions all over the world.
“Soldiers of Daynar, hear me now!” Trajan cried. “In Gorsovia, they said victory was nigh impossible. At Reshford, impossibly outnumbered, you, the mighty legions of Daynar, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat! We fought the southern nomads and crushed them. We battled the Cadocian’s and won. Remember that you are the finest soldiers this world has ever seen!”
Murmurs of agreement went up. Embers of belief started to return. Trajan knew how to stir his troops.
“None rival your discipline, your resolve! We are the legions!”
The murmurs broke into cheers!
“Show these troll bastards how humans from Daynar deal with heathen meat! For the Emperor, for Daynar!” Trajan screamed like a madman and waved his sword.
The reaponse was earsplitting! The legions roared defiantly, kicking up a clamour by banging their shields. They cheered raucously!
“Day-nar! Day-nar! Day-nar!”
The machines of war let loose! Rope and sinew groaned as blazing boulders launched overhead. Bannoc had never seen machinery of war before. It was amazing. The massive missiles arched through the sky, crashing down on the trolls, sending bodies sprawling! One volley. Two.
Bowstrings twanged, arrows hissed!
The trolls broke into a sudden run as the sky stained black with thousands of barbed arrows. The shafts fell like deadly rain among the monsters. They screamed in pain, with rage! Scores died, yet thousands continued to charge recklessly, some riddled with arrows! Their footfall shook the earth.
“Loose at will!”
Only three hundred yards away now, Bannoc thought. It was all he could manage not to twitch on the spot. He wanted to be at the front!
More hails of arrows and artillery cascaded on the oncoming nightmare.
Two hundred yards…
Another wave of arrows dropped scores of trolls. The horde pressed on.
One hundred yards…
“Hold fire! Front lines brace! Brace for impact!”
Imperial shields locked together tightly.
Gigantic spears and cleavers began flying at the front lines! They crashed into and bounced off shields. Some soldiers went down screaming, blood spraying. There was no time to tend the wounded. Others stepped over them to fill their position.
“Hold your ground! Hold!”
It was only in those nail-biting moments preceding the clash that Bannoc accepted just how horrifically outnumbered they were. He took deep, calming breaths.
Storm-God help us.
The trolls crashed into Imperial shields, a surging wave of fetid flesh and cruel weapons breaking over the man made wall!