It had been twenty-four years since she’d last seen it, but the place looked exactly the same, the same stone walls covered by age painted in living green, the same moat protecting the castle and its inhabitants. Nevertheless, something was different, that banner flying at the lord's tower, it was not her father's banner; a silver longsword on a wooden field. The castle was taken by brigands, mercenary scum paid by the Rixucavelets, with that bitch of a Queen leading the later. Reira Longsword, Countess of Stone and Waves, had just returned with her whole levy, after receiving permission by her King. She was decided, she was going to take his home back, or die in the attempt.
She started the way back to the camp, mounted on a black warhorse with no name, it was a gift from Duke Berdigar, when he professed his unconditional love for her only one week after her father’s demise. Reira had no intention of marry him, but the horse was a fine beast. Countess Longsword started to wander how that rabble could take her home, it is not the biggest castle the kingdom has, true, but that moat; she was convinced that was an impenetrable defence. Alas, that did not matter know, she knew what has to be done. Besieging Stone and Waves, her father would die again if he knew about it. <<Fear was not an option now>> she thought, <<This is not for the kingdom, this is personal. All my men know their homes are being sacked, their sisters and daughters are being raped, their honour butchered. A low-life scum is sitting on their lord’s throne. They are impatient, as I am, there will be no siege>>. Noise from the camp started to be a distant whisper, and Reira was thinking about only one thing.
When Reira arrived at the camp, the Xul was giving the rule of the sky to his three daughters, the moons that soon will shine in an endless map of stars and give life to certain stones in Grondum. She was received by Baron Ulvos Luminer, a fine and honourable man, lord of Fort Guardian, a small wooden castle that was destroyed to the ground by the same band of brigands, his cavarly and scouts were the first to arrive and start the siege. Reira could see he was wearing a brigandine, with chainmail protection for the arms, legs and aventail for his neck; steel pauldrons for his strong shoulders and his arms were protected by a full set of rerebrace, couter and vambrace, with his bascinet under his right arm. But the most attractive part of his armour was his surcoat with his coat of arms: a black wolf hunting on a red field. When she was close enough, Countess Longsword smiled at him and observed how the old knight turned red and looked at the battlefield of dead leaves that was the forest floor. —Your Grace— greeted the blushed Lord. He was accompanied by his son, Nelvos, a young man with a strong back and fair of hair. It seemed to have no lips; his beard was a black wall on his face and had a similar set of armour as his father, but on his coat of arms, the wolf was howling instead of hunting. —Your Grace— Said in a deep mature voice, an odd feature for a man of his age, sixteen cycles of Grondum.
—Your Graces— she replied and dismounted. —Tell me you have good news for this cause, Baron Ulvos— Said the Countess as she leaved her horse with her page, a young nobleman by the name of Kiev Burus, son of the Lord of Tower Fairis, and the village of Fairis, the other vassal of House Longsword. She took off her helmet, a well-crafted piece of armour with the visor forming a sword with the point looking down. She was fair of hair as well, and it was black as a starless sky. Her skin was white as the clouds, but had turned golden by being touched by the Xul so many times for so many years at the training yard or in the field of battle. She was the only daughter of Count Jubiel the Strongsword, loved by all, right hand of the Grey King. A count so high awoken jealousy between the court, and when he was the only one to remain loyal to the king in that lowly treason... <<No>>. She thought. No memory will distract me of what is now my first duty.
—I do not—. Replied grimly the old soldier. —They have at least five hundred men, it is not a cheap company, they call themselves The Band of Brothers. The Band of Bastards I would say. A serf told me that they overran the garrison, the gates were open and the men had no arrows to shoot. It seems it was a work of sabotage. This is no ordinary mercenary band—. Informed the Baron. Reira grunted and asked his vassal. —What about the hostages? Do they have any? How many? Who are they?
This time his sons announced his own answer by a sigh. —We do not know, my liege. We have not been able to send any emissaries. If a man of ours approaches they start shooting arrows. They do not seek audience, they are paid to do one thing, raid and loot. But it seems they did not expect to have an army at his gates this morning. We are going to take back the castle, my liege, worry not—. The heir of Fort Guardian shined with confidence, confidence that was welcome by the Countess of Stones and Waves. —Thank you, your Graces, reunite all the commanders and captains in the war council, I will join you soon. The two knights made a reverence and parted away.
Reira’s page Kiev had returned and was ready to take another task. —Bring me food and drink, the fastest things you can hold, go now—.
—Yes, my Countess— replied the young boy and went to fulfil his duty as fast as he could, he had long slim legs, and was an agile youngster. Reira decided he was not going to take part on the assault.
She passed all her soldiers, all of them giving her smiles and reverences. “My lieges” and “We’ll destroy that rabble, my lady” could be heard. But she also saw faces full of concern. Yet, the expressions that erupted anger and determination swiped and were contagious, and soon, the men were singing songs of anticipated victory.
After a humble supper of sausages and black beer, she arrived at her tent; it was all just put in the right place not long time ago. The maps were on the table and the two barons were looking at them. There were also two commanders, five captains and a special guest, a knight sworn directly to the king, and had brought with him his retinue of famous Knights on Foot, sixty-three battle hardened men that were in many battles with the king’s vanguard. —Your Graces, let's get into it—. She started. — I am going to say it now. There will be no siege, we assault the gate at dawn—. The look on their faces were not surprised at all, it seemed that, they expected those results. Baron Ulvos rolled up a pair of maps and gave it to his son, and started to point at the map he had left. —Sadly, a direct assault to the gate it's our only option, we can build a ram during the night, but those men will be probably too tired to fight, a siege tower is out of the question, in my opinion. For the few observations we had and the information some serfs who were outside the walls gave us, they have at least five hundred men. We have double of that, but the moat and the arrows from the wall are going to causes us tremendous casualties—. There was silence in the tent, it seemed there was nothing to add. The countess broke the silence by planning the assault, there was no time to lose. —We have archers of our own and the walls are not that high. Build the ram. Spears first, captain Guy will be the van, shields always up, taking shots for the archers. Then a well distributed line of archers with men-at-arms and the Knights on Foot behind. Stone and Waves it is a hill surrounded by woods that does not make honour of its name, so let's have those troops hidden, maybe the bandits fall into our trap and get to believe we are just a few and go out the walls. Once we break the gates and take the walls, the inner castle will not be much of a challenge. We must break them at the gates before they break us. And that is all, your Graces, may our Mother Cosmos give us valour, and the Saint of War fill us with fierce and fire.
She dreamt of her father, he was young again, and she was little and weak. His voice was clear as the days he was alive and his smile was warm as well. —My tiny lady, my gorgeous piece of star, you will be a wonderful woman, I just know it. You will be a wonderful lady, you will marry the prince, I am sure of it. You could marry the Xul, that is how gorgeous you are. —Father, they took our castle— she said with his grown-woman voice. The smile died on her father's face, and his voice was now a command. —Then go and take it back, my fierce daughter, you are strong as steel, I just know it—.
The cold awoke her, her muscles were stiff and hurt, she arose and stretch herself, and commanded. —Kiev, bring my amor, my shield and my mace. It is time—.
Her soldiers were ready, her commanders were ready and her orders were known and obeyed. She stood at front of them and gave a good look. Fear was not around, nor doubt. Only a fierce determination forged by justice and steel. Kiev put her mace on her hand and tied her shield. She knew he was upset with her, but that did not matter. Let him be upset, better than been dead. She knew the duty to share with her men what was lurking on her mind. She put her closed helmet on, hiding his beauty, shining with braveness.
—Good men of mine! There are dogs eating our food and killing our love ones in our own home. Follow me and let's destroy them! Charge! —.
And Reira of House Longsword, Countess of Stones and Waves, swung her mace at the direction of the castle and run to battle.
Not much time has passed before a rainstorm of arrows was pouring on them, the sound of the arrows breaking against the steel plates surrounded her, but as well as the sound of those same arrows penetrating mail and gambeson, and men dying. Allied arrows flew as well in direction of the castle, and Reira was glad to hear the sounds of falling men off the walls. It seemed that at least, they had no armour rival to Reira's men. Arrows got into her shield, making it difficult to hold, yet she stood firm. Finally, the ram got to the door and started ramming it. The sound of wood being violent hit against wood, turned into Reira’s world. She was waiting that door to fall. At her side were his loyal vassals, the Baron and his son, shield raised up, surrounded by loyal men-at-arms.
A big thunder of a sound exploded inside Reira’s helmet, an arrow had hit her, breaking in the process. Her ear was ringing, but the Baron’s voice was even stronger. She heard his question far away from there, when she was ready to answer another sound emerged, this time from the main gate, it had been opened and the men were flooding in. And she was right behind them, encountering her first opponent, a man bigger than her, but twice as slow and stupid. He was carrying a spear, so Reira just cut the distance with her shield and strike fast at his rusty helmet, the man went back, in time to the countess to use her wrist to make another blow and with all the force of her body, cracked the helmet and the head of the man that was standing between her and her home. Other men were in her way, but she was a well-trained woman, and just had to parry and strike. But then, two men were blocking her way, she knew this was going to be a harder battle, but there was no way back. She took the initiative and started attacking one of them, the man, a common thug in chainmail, deflected her blow, but that was what she wanted, again with great technique she stroke at her chest with the full head of the mace. The man fell and the other one attacked, he was carrying a hammer, a dangerous weapon of war. She used her shield, yet, with every blow, it was turning into an unusable piece of wood. The other man was not dead and grabbed her by the leg, in time to the other enemy to strike a good blow on her left arm, the pain rose up her teeth and went down her leg; it paralyzed her. A second blow was on her way but suddenly, a long halberd came down and destroy the bastard´s skull with a single blow. A knight with a hound skull bascinet looked at her, and nodded.
The battle was almost over, the arm was killing her. All the rabble that was left were dispersing to the main hall, where her throne awaited her. Baron Ulvos and his son came at her side on time, they were covered in blood and some parts of their armor were damaged, but they seemed fine.
She met the leader, a big mole of a man, all stomach and arms, with longer hair than her, and bigger beard than young lord Nelvos. He did not say a word, he hissed and his men attacked. She stood back, she was sure in that moment, she had a broken arm. The villain was holding a zweihander, a sword only used with both hands. Nelvos was a great fighter and his father as well. The later was the bravest, took the fight to the mercenary chief himself. Alas, Reira looked with horror how the monster of a man grabbed Baron Ulvos by the head and stamped it against a wall, the baron was wearing a helmet, yet he seemed affected. Reira forgot her pain and advanced as fast has she could, but it was too late, his helmet fell, leaving his head without the protection of a solid steel plate. The two-handed sword was sharp and cut clean, the head of the baron fell next to his helmet, and his body collapsed. —No! — Shouted his son, making his kill faster and attacking the chief now. Reira saw as well the King’s Knight with his helmet on and his visor down, only darkness for eyes. It was over, none of her enemy's men were leave alive. The mercenary fell on his knees and said with a big smile on his face “I surrender”. Reira draw her sword, that she rarely drawn on the battlefield, the silent sound of leather against the steel gave her pleasure for a moment. She gave it to Baron Nelvos, and he finished the job in name of his father. The Battle was over
The corpses were being collected and Reira went to her now chambers, her arm was taken care off by the physician and she went out and looked out the balcony, she saw the endless mountains of forest she called home, and remembered that it was not over, her king still needed her, but right now her home was secure again, her banner flying up the sky, and that was all that mattered.