“Mighty father of Storms, lend your loyal servant strength. Prove my claim,” Bannoc pleaded, his whisper steaming before his face as hot breath mingled with the gelid morning breeze. His eyes were closed against the cold, his breathing soft as the snow beneath him. The chilled kiss of frost on his lids was comforting. One last luxury ahead of the storm.
In the distance, a monotonous cacophony of clanking steel and tramping boots echoed over the treetops…
Any moment now, the Imperial convoy would come stamping into the clearing, following a rudimentary, man-made trail carved out by Bannoc’s scouts only a day prior. It was an artful ruse, aimed at enticing the unwitting deeper into the bush. Into a frozen tomb lined with iron shod teeth. In reality, this woodland had no trails. No roads. It was dark and desolate and wild, enveloped by heavy snows. Towering trees stripped of their autumn leaves, twisted in every direction, branches grasping like gnarled claws. Pitiful motes of sunlight speared through the canopy above. Only barely enough to see by, but it was all the native tribes required. The Getae knew these forests better than their own shields. The warriors behind Bannoc waited in silence for the signal. With bated breath. Like his peers, Bannoc itched for action. He hungered for the bloodletting. But they had to wait for the right moment to launch their ambuscade. Much was riding on the flawless execution of his plan, including his acceptance into the new tribal coalition. Warchief Farkor the Redfang had explicitly expressed this; no victory, no place with the Getae.
“Imperials inbound,” whispered Malorix of the Umbori.
On cue, the sounds of marching grew louder. Bannoc opened his eyes. Vanscar was standing beside him, but the warrior did not make eye contact. They had been the closest of friends once. Until Bannoc proved himself again, that friendship was suspended. He had let Vanscar down. Now is the time to right all wrongs. To show those who would disbelieve, that the mighty mauler is back. Soundlessly, he slid half his sword from its scabbard.
The first Imperial soldiers emerged. A great blue standard emblazoned with the crowned eagle of Daynar rippled above the men at the fore. They marched in orderly fashion, three abreast with their spears at their sides, teardrop shields slung across their backs, as was common during a march. The unforgiving surroundings hardly could have helped their morale, yet they pushed on steadily. The soldiers of Daynar were renowned for their mechanical approach and stellar training. Only the naïve might believe that the cold alone would shake them. Not even the fog veiling the path dissuaded their progress.
“Knock arrows. Ready the spears,” whispered Bannoc.
Malorix mimicked a bird call, and Getae warriors hidden behind the rows of trees either side of the trail prepared their projectiles…
Behind the first screening line rolled the supply wagons, likely laden with an array of concealed arms, and bulging sacks of grain and salted meat, all pulled along by muscular ponies. A few officers on steeds clopped after the wagons, pursued at the rear by even more soldiers. A meticulous column driving through the forest.
The Getae waited. And they waited…
Then the bird call resonated again. At first, the Imperial soldiers failed to hear the whistling of shafts and spears over the rhythmic pounding of their own steps. They soon heard the anguished cries of their wounded companions. Dozens were caught by the volley as it cascaded like steel capped hail from the treeline either side of the path. Men fell wailing. Shock surged through the column!
“Ambush!” Roared an officer, wresting control of his spooked steed. He drew his sword and held it aloft. “Order! Order!” He bellowed, fighting to regain control as chaos ensued. Moments later, he was thrown from his horse, arrows protruding from his chest and face.
“Uraka tunala keor! Uraka tunala keor!”
To the startled soldiers, the outlandish chant reverberating through the forest must have sounded like a nightmarish song of savage bears and snarling wolves. The din of monsters, not people. It would daunt even the most stoic of adversaries.
This day, none shall live! This day, none shall live!
Bannoc could almost feel their blood curdling. The heavy fog between the trees now a sinister mist from Hell, masking the demons that lurked beyond. The Getae roared and howled! They slammed their shields and stamped their spears! Surprise soon turned to fear. Panic gripped the Imperial legion and spread like rot. Soldiers scrabbled to pull their shields from their backs. Men dropped their spears in terror. Swathes broke away and made to flee.
There was nowhere to run.
Bannoc was one of the first to leap out, brandishing his sword and shield! Bellowing hoarsely! It was important that his people saw him charging head-first into the fray. He barged into a stunned soldier, who balked at the sight of the spittle spewing savage with the tattooed face. The man’s throat was cut before he even had a chance to draw his own blade. The tribes spilled from the trees and set upon their hated foes! No mercy was shown. As the pincers of the ambush slammed shut, the Imperial column erupted with utter confusion! Complete disarray befell them. That famed discipline, their methodical might, counted for nothing in the frozen confines of the forest. The Getae guerillas engulfed them on all sides! Whinnying horses, their flesh lacerated by vexing arrow shafts, staggered or fell flailing, tossing their Imperial riders to the scarlet snow where they were crushed underfoot or murdered by marauding warriors. Pockets of Imperial soldiers strove to fall into defensive positions, desperately struggling to restructure their ranks. All in vain. Downcast and battered, they strained to hold the lines as blow after blow rained down on them, rendering them broken in their armoured shells. Stabbed with spears, torn open by slashing swords, they writhed in the icy muck, holding their bloody flaps of skin in place. Others attempted to staunch the flow from severed limbs, while the least fortunate stared down with hazy eyes at the disembowelled innards dangling from their slit stomachs. The exhausted, the dazed and the desperate, stumbled through churning pools of blood, tripping on the bodies of the dead and dying. The screams of men and beasts filled the ears of victor and vanquished alike. Perforated by the stench of death. The Getae slaughtered. They butchered and killed. It was a massacre. Blood stained the snow.
The day was won.
Despite the horror, despite the calamity, the victors were overcome with a frightening elation. The sheer racket and clamour of conflict, the titillating exhilaration of extreme exertion. The pulsating drive found in battle! Rage and excitement sending euphoric waves coursing through their veins. This was the Getae dance, born in a cesspit of perpetual war. They felt more alive than at any other time in their existence. At last they had found victory! Their first in months.