Chapter II: Adrian von Heschburg
Thunder boomed across the cold, cloudy skies as Adrian slid the whetstone across his sword one last time. He looked up and could tell it would rain pretty soon. Thunderstorm, he thought to himself. Perhaps the farmers would be happy, then, as the water would help their crops. Adrian stood up from the stone bench he was sitting on and took one last look off the balcony of the tower. He was a knight, a young man of nobility in eastern Vessia, albeit a minor one. The eastern frontier of the Empire was famous for the knights that it produced, such as those who were fighting in the Swavian Rebellions at this moment; these knights were naturally strong and hardy, like the Varan to the north, as their ancestors had protected these lands from countless invaders. The largest eastern town was Hepburn, where the eastern royals lived. Marschburg and Heschburg were smaller, founded as castles to protect against dangers from the east, with developed trading communities around them. To the east lie the great expanse known as the Eastern March, mostly unexplored by westerners, and inhabited by a warlike pagan folk known as the Wickans. The Wickans were largely independent, living in scattered villages and towns dotted all across the March, but collectively their kingdom was known as Eastwick.
Adrian placed his sword back on his weapon rack and laid the whetstone on a nearby workbench. The pitter-patter of raindrops began suddenly, and in the late evening this sound could be soothing - especially next to the warm fire that burned in his room. His eyelids got heavy and soon enough he was fast asleep - well-needed rest after practicing his swordsmanship earlier in the day.
Adrian was awakened an hour and a half later - but not by the sound of rolling thunder or heavy rainfall - but rather the sound of the town bell. It was ringing loudly and Adrian wasted no time jumping to his feet and rushing over to his balcony again. There, he could see in the courtyard, a gathering of peasants. Standing on a platform was a man dressed in some traveling gear, probably a scout, hands in the air and apparently telling the townsfolk something. Something was wrong, Adrian knew that much. He turned and headed back to his weapon rack, grabbing his sword.
A loud rapping was heard at Adrian's door. "Lord Adrian! Come quick, raiders have been spotted!"
Adrian loosened the bolt on his door and pulled it open. A young squire nearly fell on his face as he rushed in. "Raiders! From the March!" The squire was panicked and nervous.
Adrian nodded, "calm yourself, Dodson, and get your arms and armor," Adrian told him, walking to his armor rack quickly. He quickly pulled a mail coat over his person, and Dodson did the same. They also pulled a purple surcoat over the mail and grabbed a heater shield from the rack. "Come, let's go." The two young men walked down the stairs and out into the rainy courtyard where they could see the scout. At least twelve more knights also arrived, all very young, with their squires. The peasants moved out of the way to let the nobility approach.
The scout, who looked like an outlander, was very nervous when he spoke. "Raiders spilled from the forests! I saw them with me own eyes! They're coming this way! You must do something!" The scout waved his hands in the air, eyes wide as ever, and rain dripped from long beard.
Frederick, one of the knights in attendance, stomped forward. "Could you lead us there? You saw'em, you should remember the way, yeah?" Frederick was one of the oldest knights here at twenty-nine, and so most looked to him as the de facto leader.
The scout nodded quickly, "of course, of course," he said quickly, smiling, "please, you must do something!"
Frederick turned around and looked at the knights and squires. "Arm yourselves and grab your horses. We ride for battle," Frederick announced. As soon as the words left his mouth the knights scrambled to prepare. Adrian and Dodson rushed over to the stables, saddled their horses, and mounted them, riding for the northeastern quadrant of the town to meet the others.
"Think its bad?" asked Dodson.
Adrian shrugged, "don't know. Stay close to me, Dodson, I mean it."
Frederick had managed to muster twelve knights, making a total of thirteen including him. Fifteen squires also came along, as did a dozen of the townsfolk who owned horses. The town militia was not a superior fighting force, but they would not miss an opportunity to kill raiders and collect booty - especially when most of the work would be done by the knights anyway. At the head of the entourage was the outlander, the scout who reported trouble. Frederick led the retinue of knights and squires, and behind them the peasants followed on their farm horses. The rain had let up only a little, and the party was drenched. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed, but other than that no one saw any sign of raiders.
"How far," Frederick barked.
The scout looked over his shoulder, "not to far now," he said nervously. "Just beyond these woods," he finished.
"Woods?" Frederick inquired worriedly, "you said they had come out of the woods."
The scout didn't answer for a moment and finally stammered, "they retreated when they saw me." Frederick sighed, apparently dissatisfied with the answer, and continued on into the forest.
It was wet, dark, and hard to see, and Adrian certainly didn't like it. He had hunted before, like most knights, but that was mostly done in the western forests, not the eastern ones. He had to keep a sharp eye on his surroundings should their be an ambush. It was a bad idea leading these men, but Frederick was in charge - not him.
"Slow down," Frederick told the scout, wanting to slow the pace of the horses in the forests. The knights needed time to observe their surroundings. "Slow down," he reiterated when the scout ignored him. "Hey!"
The scout suddenly darted off in a wild gallop through the wood. Frederick pulled the reins of his horse to stop and cursed. "Where's he going?"
A sound the knights knew all to well sounded out. Thwish! One of the horses neighed wildly as an arrow planted itself in its shoulder, throwing the unsuspecting knight from its saddle. Thwish! Thwish! Thwish! More arrows came from out of nowhere, wounding the horses and throwing them into a wild panic. Those men who remained mounted pulled closer together and held up their shields, lest an arrow end their life. Volley upon volley of arrows shot forth from all around, clanking off of the knights' armor, or fatally injuring one of the peasants. Even Adrian and Dodson was knocked from their horses.
"Where are they?" one of the peasants cried out, horrified. "I can't see them!"
Frederick barked at the men, "steel yourselves men! Stay together! The blessing of the Most Holy is upon us! We will not fall!" Almost as soon as Frederick was finished, an arrow embedded itself in his eye socket. "Ach!" His lifeless corpse suddenly dropped from his horse with a loud thud.
"Run!" The peasants scrambled and fled back to where they came, but were confronted by a host of fearsome warriors wielding axes and swords. They were mercilessly cut down in the rain as they cried and screamed.
"Steady!" one of the knights called out. The disciplined knights and squires stayed together in a circular formation, all of them now grounded. The ambushing party slammed against their shields and banged at them ferociously with their weapons. The Vessians held their ground and took opportunities to maim one of the assailants. "For the Most Holy, for Vessia, for the Emperor," one of the knights hollered as he was cut down, taking at least three attackers with him. The knights and squires did what they could, and fought valiantly, but they were nevertheless cut down one by one by the sheer numbers of their attackers
Adrian himself was knocked out cold by a mace.