A full moon shown down on the mountainside, bathing the white tents of an encampment in a pale milky light. At first glance all was calm within the forest of tents, but at closer inspection, a kind of nervous energy filled the place. It was not a pleasant emotion, like a stomach ache made into a feeling. It was not at all a place one would like to be.
The source of this dismal atmosphere became evident with a glance across the plains. Not a league away from the mountain was another encampment. At least three times the size of the first camp, this temporary establishment had an ominous look about it; partly do to the fact that the canvas of all the tents had been dyed black. This characteristic had earned it the name: "The Devil's Own Camp".
A wind began, stirring up dust from the field. It blew towards the mountain where it stopped, depositing the once airborne dirt into one of the white tents by way of an open flap. The soldier inside did not seem to notice the particles that had now covered the tent's interior with a fine layer of grit. In fact, the man did not appear to notice anything at all. His stunning gray eyes were riveted to a certain spot on the canvas wall, though he did not really see it. His attention was focused solely on his past. He scrubbed a hand through his chestnut colored hair as memory after memory flashed before his eyes.
He moaned softly as he saw himself, ten years earlier, leaving home at the tender age of fifteen, promising his family glory upon his return. Well, he had found no glory, just hell under the name of war. He sighed and turned over, ignoring the rocks that dug into his back through his ground pallet.
Another event played through his head: He was walking along a dirt road, cloak pulled tightly over his shivering form. Five years into the service, he was aloud a visit home. He rounded a bend in the road and stopped dead. His house, or what had been his house, was completely demolished. Burned wood and charred stone littered the area along with the pitiful remains of his family's meager belongings. But this was not the worst of it; in the middle of the wreckage were the still forms of his mother and two sisters. Blood caked their bodies, leaking from the places where they had been stabbed multiple times. He recalled how he had searched for the killers, wanting revenge. He had never found them and, after several days, was forced to forsake the mission and return to the army. Though he had tried his best, he had never forgiven himself for failing.
And so, for hours, it went on like this. He recalled countless events from his life in the military and watched as they played themselves through his head, all of them depressing. The first time he had fought and killed (he still flinched at this memory), the time he had been wounded in battle and had lain unconscious for a week, his attempt to desert when he had found his only friend had died. There were so many recollections, multitudes of acts he regretted doing and not doing, all alone with him in the deep recesses of his troubled mind.
At long last a bugle sounded, calling him to report. He stood up slowly and buckled on his sword over his already battle-clad form (he had not bothered to change into his night clothes). A leather jerkin over a wool tunic was the only armor that protected him from the enemy. He owned no helmet so the only object that covered his head was the thin strip of red cloth that he always wore into battle. He stepped into his leather riding boots and walked out the narrow opening that served as a door.
The cool night air greeted him as he stepped out into the semi-darkness. The only source of light was that of the stars and moon as the sun could not yet be seen on the horizon. He stopped briefly to saddle his horse then, leading it as well, continued to the center of the encampment.
Most of the army was assembling as he arrived, all fifteen-hundred of them. He casually strolled into his place among the cavalry, grateful for the fact that he was not a foot-soldier. They had the lowest chance of survival out of the army because they were always sent into battle first.
Once they were all lined up the General stood forward to issue orders. He was a short man with a stern face and spoke in a deep, gravely voice, "All right, the plan is to use the three-pronged pincer attack. Half the cavalry will circle to the east and half to the west. You will lie in wait until the signal is given. The foot-soldiers will be on the slope, ready to charge, with the archers covering them. We'll catch the enemy in the middle. Are there any questions? No? Good. Assume position!"
The gray-eyed soldier was put onto the group that was to circle east. It was under the command of the Major, a tall dark man with the look of experience about him. The man groaned when he saw this, though he had only spoken to the Major once or twice he had never liked the man. He had found him rather arrogant.
The two groups of horsemen (five hundred in each) were given the order to ride. Hooves pounded earth in a torrent of thunder as the soldiers headed out to do their duty, aware that some would never return to see the camp again.
As they road into the coming dawn, the man surveyed the enemy camp. Already the warriors there were lined up in columns of forty-five long and one hundred deep. Each face had been colored red and black in a mask of violently shaded war paint. Even from this distance it was a terrible sight to behold. The Devil's Own Camp truly earned its name.
Curiously, the enemy fighters did not seem to notice the horsemen gathering on either side of them. Their attention was given to the five hundred that waited on the mountain side. Suddenly, from within their ranks a horn blew, shattering the morning stillness. It was a terrifying sound, like that of a desperate animal with no where to run. Another note joined the first, and another, until the dirge was taken up by at least fifty instruments. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the sound stopped, leaving the dawn more silent than ever before.
A new sound began. At first the man thought it was the beating of drums, but then realized it was the thumping of thousands of feet. The enemy was moving. The sound picked up pace, faster and faster; to the men's ears it was now one-hundred times louder than thunder and one-thousand times more terrible. They were charging across the plains, a huge mass of ferocity. A war cry ripped from every throat, a noise loud enough to drown out that of the charging feet.
The signal was given and the man felt himself charge forward, closing in on the enemy. Only now did he recognize the absolute size of the opposing force, monstrous compared to their minute band. The last thought that entered his mind before he was swept into the fighting was that they did not stand a chance. Even if the divine lent them their almighty power, this was a lost cause.
He drew his sword and stabbed downward at the first face he saw. Warm blood splashed over his hands as hid blade split the man's skull. He tugged the weapon free and slashed, tearing open an enemy's throat. He saw an attacker prepare to drive a spear into his side and wheeled his horse around to dodge. It was too late; the spear missed him, but was embedded deep within the horse's chest. Cursing, he threw himself out of the saddle and into the thick of the fighting.
No longer caring, he flailed about wildly with his blade. This was a mistake, as he soon learned, when a javelin pierced his leg. Blood cascaded down his leg in a shower of pain. Madly he hacked about him, ignoring the countless wounds he was receiving. It was lost; he had known this before the fighting ever began. There was no chance of victory, no chance of rescue. He was going to die, but he was going to take as many with him as possible.
A snarl rose on his lips as he attacked the nearest person, attacking with blade, teeth and limbs alike. Abruptly, he was on the ground, blood pooling around him, his own blood. He grinned suddenly as numbness set in, a terrible, and despairing grimace. A lost cause. His eyes closed forever. Lost cause...