(17 years before the Great Plague)
The sun was setting late on this summer day, and it seemed that even then it wasn’t quite ready to set without a fight. It cast brilliant streaks of pink and red all over the darkening blue canvas that was the sky, like a gleeful child with a paint bucket and a license to spill. A few clouds were bravely withstanding the onslaught, while the rest of them had probably decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and shuffled off to someplace else.
Back home in Anglos, the sun would have set over houses and inns with smoke gently wafting from their chimneys, or serene meadows dotted with the occasional clump of trees outside the city walls. Here, there was far more tree than meadow on the horizon, and the ground was a lot hillier and broken up than the flatter, smoother plains outside the city. And the trees – such odd trees they were! Long and pointy and prickly, these trees were.
Captain Timothy Mossridge sighed. They weren’t bad looking trees though, lush and thick with dark green leaves. He had always been a city boy at heart, so woodlands were not really his go-to habitat to begin with, but he could still see himself living in a city with these surroundings. Maybe that was something that could yet happen in future. The Anglish, the people of Anglos, had made a decent several decade’s worth of progress in occupying the lands here in Terra Magellar. And these lands were just as fertile as the ones back home, even if the crops and creatures that grew on them were not as familiar.
He looked at the camp his men were setting up. The tents were almost all set up, shyly flapping in the gentle breeze. A low fire was finding it difficult to understand just why it had to be lit up at this time of day, and the two soldiers who were busy trying to set it up had the look of harried parents trying to convince their child that the green mushy stuff was really good for the child and would it please, please eat it without fussing so much.
On the nights before this one, the men would have brought out a few mugs of ale and begun singing or joking among themselves. But, and Captain Mossridge was happy to see no exceptions to this rule, they were quiet and quickly about their business this evening. According to the scouts who’d just returned, the village they were marching towards was only some hour’s march away. They would probably reach it before noon tomorrow if they set out at the usual time in the morning.
And the thick clumps of forest that surrounded their current clearing could easily hide a sneaky ambush intent on prematurely ending their march if they announced themselves too loudly.
Timothy turned around. Two soldiers were saluting him.
“At ease, Privates Sandler and Durmont. What news do you report?”
“Very little of it to report, Captain,” said Sandler, a slightly hunched and slightly lopsided yet otherwise athletically built young man, “The perimeter looks clear, but we found some traces of Indians that were in the area a day or so ago.”
“They were mostly traps set for animals, we think,” added Durmont, a chubby-faced and otherwise lean soldier with the kind of cherubic features that made him look dangerously teen-aged if he shaved off his moustache and stubble, “Nooses and the like. Nothing terribly dangerous.”
“That is good news indeed, but we must keep our guards up all the same,” said Timothy, turning again to gaze into the spot in the distance his eyes had rested on before the visit from the patrol, “The village they call Wingatoo is less than a day’s march from here. We are very likely to be surrounded by Indian savages should we make any false moves.”
“Agreed, Captain!” said Sandler and Durmont in unison.
“Good! Fetch Sergeant Dallyworth and Private Marshall and tell them to report to me, would you? You may go.”
“Yes, Sir!” Again in unison.
As the two soldiers walked away in that military manner that almost resembled a march, Timothy watched the tip of the big fiery ball that was the Sun finally give in and slink down past the horizon. The colours it had thrown up into the sky during its last bursts were somehow even more gaudy and wild than the streaks that preceded them. A last cry of rebellion against the dying of the day, a throe of sound made into light.
He liked this outfit of Anglish soldiers, thought Timothy. He hadn’t commanded them for a long time, but he could see that they were above average for their experience level. Given that they were only capturing a single village, he had expected a second rate army with more stragglers than soldiers, so the mostly well-ordered squadron he had been given instead was a nice surprise.
He turned his eyes away from the horizon and began walking towards the two figures Dallyworth and Marshall who were now approaching him.
The village of Wingatoo lay before them in the striking heat of a sun just approaching its peak. It was oddly situated at the border of a forest, so that half the village was obscured by outcrops of trees while the other half sent the smoke from its huts waft into uncluttered air. Timothy, even at this somewhat large distance, could see a sense of muted urgency in the movements of the villagers.
The Indians knew they were coming.
But it didn’t matter.
Timothy surveyed his troops once more, a solid, unflinching formation of thickly armoured soldiers stretching several yards to his left and right. They most certainly outnumbered the villagers he could make out; they probably outnumbered those hidden in the trees as well.
He directed his troops to an elevated position a little to the left, which also placed them within archery range of the village.
A line of soldiers behind him nocked their bows with arrows, some of which were flaming. They took aim, the tips of the sharper arrows glinting in the summer sun.
And then that bright blue sky was fractured by a flock of spindly arrows, some with fiery hair and the rest with flinty noses, all bearing down on the village of Wingatoo. They struck with fierce precision, and several huts began to catch fire even as Timothy led the charge of his infantry down the slope.
They had covered less than half the distance when they saw the Indian warriors come charging from among the huts. Like the savages they were, their charge lacked the grace and order of Timothy’s men. It simmered with a raw fury though, like a wild beast that had just been slashed in the face.
As one, his troops swung their shields in front of them as the wailing war cry of the Indians assailed them. As they drew closer, some of them flung crude axes at the front line. Their shields withstood the whizzing heads of the axes. Timothy’s men had been prepared for these.
But it was not just tomahawks that were thrown. Some of the Indians slung balls from which thick acrid smoke bellowed out. These balls did no damage when they landed, but their smoke snuck into the eyes of the soldiers and proceeded to sting and burn at will. Timothy’s men had not been prepared for this.
They still outnumbered the Indians though, and were on average better fighters. As the two armies clashed, even with their tearing eyes, Timothy’s men crushed and sliced their way through the opposition.
The thick grove of trees to their right had been a bit of a giveaway, so the Indian ambush that charged in from the right wasn’t as much of a deadly surprise as they would have liked to be. They met a similar fate as their fellow warriors had only moments before. As Timothy and his infantry smashed their foes, another flock of assorted arrows swooped into the village, with many daring to fly into the half of the village obscured by trees.
Perhaps it was the sight of that splintery shower of flame, raining havoc on the village of Wingatoo; perhaps it was the despairing cries and screams of the Indian villagers scrambling for safety. Whatever it was, for a moment, Timothy gazed at the burning rooftops of the forlorn-looking huts. And in that moment, he did not see the axe.
The one that was twirling, soaring through the smoky air towards him.
The one with the very recently sharpened head.
The one that struck him in the gap in his armor between his torso and his right arm.
The one that wedged itself deep into his shoulder, almost slicing his arm off and continuing its dance through the air.
He didn’t see it, but he felt it.
With an anguished yell, he tore the axe out of his arm, which wasn’t the smartest move to make. Blood began to pour out of the wound. He would have attended to it immediately, if not for the fact that the owner of the axe was now bearing down on him, fiery eyes hungry for a scalp.
The Indian was forced to swerve to avoid Timothy’s shield bash though, and before he could recover, another soldier slashed his hide-covered back open with a broadsword. The Indian was violently taken care of, and Timothy used the respite to try to stem the bleeding. When it was down to a manageable level, Timothy cried out in agony.
“Archers, on me!”
The archers were interrupted by another ambush from the other side though, one with a lot more venom and a little more success against their target. Timothy quickly directed some of his men to assist the archers, while he manoeuvred the rest of them into the half-aflame village.
There was far less opposition here; a few souls, courageous to the point of stupidity, attempted to snatch a few kills by surprise, but were dealt with swiftly and mercilessly. Women and children screamed in terror and flaming villagers cried in pain as Timothy’s men poured into the heart of the village.
He grinned with grim satisfaction as he struck an enraged woman with the back of his armoured fist. He wondered what she had expected to achieve with a mad dash like that, flimsily clad and scrawny as she was; he may have been gravely injured, but not to the extent that she could add anything of note to that injury.
He held his men in the more open half of the village until the remainder of his troops re-joined them. So far, there had been some injuries such as his, but only a few casualties among his men, as he had expected. He would have liked there to be none, but even a one-sided battle such as this one was bound by the rules of reality; no army in the history of Faeritalum had ever entered a battle and come out completely unscathed.
When all his men had gathered together once again, they swept into the forested half of the village, a swarm of iron-clad men laying waste to everything that was not already broken down or burnt to a cinder. Another ambush, a final fleeting gasp of valour by the Injun villagers, was swatted away with the ease of a bear smacking a rat away with its claws.
When the final dregs of opposition had been cut down with force, their war cries no longer containing the gusto they had had at the beginning of the battle, Timothy’s men proceeded to pillage the huts that weren’t completely destroyed, and round up the women, children and other villagers that hadn’t put up a fight or been killed in their feeble attempts to do so.
And Timothy grimly smiled once again.
He waited for all the prisoners to be lined up and kicked roughly to the ground in front of him before he pulled out the scroll. The words had been translated to the gibberish language that these Indians spoke, or so he had been told. He winced as his arm stung him once more, like the bite of a whip, and gritted his teeth to chase the pain away faster. They would learn the Common Tongue soon enough, he thought to himself, as well they should.
His first words demanded gratitude, for their lives had been mercifully spared. They were now about to join the most important, if not the greatest, civilization in all of Entropea, and they were to become inhabitants of Faeritalum, the crowning masterpiece of Entropea’s great creator. They were to accept that there was only one God, and that he, in his infinite greatness, had created the Men of Anglos, the greatest of the kingdoms of Faeritalum, and the Men of Romantiga, and the Men of Lativiéne, and the Men of Düschland, and even the Men of Zyltravania, all as his favoured people on his favoured continent of Faeritalum, and the other lesser races of Entropea were meant to serve them.
In return, Timothy read fervently from the scroll, they would be introduced to a society and culture far superior to their own, and be granted great knowledge and understanding of the ways of the world of Entropea, and in doing so learn their true place in said world. This was their chance to repent for their ignorance, for their primitive pasts, and in doing so possibly earn a place among God’s favoured people in Heaven after their time among the living had come to an end.
In the gibberish language of the Indians, it became more of a mouthful than Timothy would have liked, even though it wasn’t his first time reading the words. He couldn’t help but feel like he was trying to chew a strange cut of meat as he spoke. He also wondered if the children among the prisoners could even understand the words being told to them. He immediately concluded that it didn’t matter – they had plenty of time to figure it out later.
There was more to read on the scroll, but his arm started acting up again, a worryingly nagging pain that refused to be put to bed and ignored. Timothy decided to wrap things up prematurely, and ordered his men to begin the march back to base.
Their work here was done. More or less.