Every soldier, since the dawn of time, since the very first battle has been fought, has known the grip of dread. His hands shake, he sweats profusely. His spear becomes unsteady, and his shield droops. But it is not so much fear of the enemy; more of the anticipation. Waiting for the first strike, the first blood to be spilled; maybe that blood will be his? He cannot begin to know, and hence the fear.
This anticipation is what gripped the Anakarians now. Perched high atop the Cliff of Sacrifice stood the 1,000 warriors, completely silent. They were in full battle dress, their recently cleaned armor shining in the waning sun. A heavy wind had picked up, and their traveling cloaks flew about them, twisting and whipping around to the sides of the soldiers. Many of these men were staring out across the cliffs, down a massive slope that led to the Northern Landing. This massive beach had been the trade point between Anakaria and the other territories for hundreds of years. Barges full of supplies and exotic goods used to arrive at these massive ports and sell their wares to the Anakarian populous.
There used to be villages for miles around. They were rich towns and cities that prospered from the bounty of the sea. Citizens owned and operated great pleasure boats out of the ports, and many a family of Anakarians was supported by the head of the household working a boat for fish.
But now…now all that was left of those ports were ash and smoldering carcasses of ships. Black smoke curled menacingly into the darkening sky above. The sun stared mournfully on the island of Anakaria, trying to beseech its warm blessing through the unwanted shield of steadily rising smoke. But this did not concern these warriors. All of their eyes were riveted to the marshalling force on the beach. As they watched, huge ships, brimming with crazed hoards from all corners of every land from across the sea, grounded themselves on the sand, and released their hideous cargo.
The slave soldiers were forced into loose formations by whips, and then they were forced in front of the massive earthen ramp that led from the beach to the northern entrance to the heartland. The commanders of those hoards had one objective; pierce the coast, drive inland and capture Anakaria from the inside out.
This was what the small contingent of warriors was here to stop. Not just kill some and run off; the exact opposite. Kill so many that they realize they can't get through, while simultaneously giving time for the rest of the army to regroup and defend the only other entrance suitable for an invasion of this magnitude. The name could not be spoken, even cryptically, among the Anakarian soldiers, for fear of scouts listening in.
The silence of the deadly scene was suddenly broken when a man dressed in the black of an Anakarian pushed through the crowd, all the way to the edge of the cliff, overlooking the sea. There stood the man to which he must speak; Arcas, king of Anakaria. He was the only one still gazing down at the massing force off and below them.
"My king, I bring you grave news from the advanced scouting we just completed," the king turned, half listening, "the enemy is preparing its first assault. We've estimated about three thousand strong." The king turned and grasped the hilt of his short sword. He drew it quickly, raised it high and said "To arms!" The whole force went wild, chanting and clanging their weapons against their shields. "PUT 'EM BACK IN THE SEA!" and, "SEND THE BASTARDS BACK IN BOXES!" were popular war cries as the force rushed down to fill the gap between the ramp and the arch that formed the entrance to the heartland. Many an invading force had walked straight under that arch, and then weeks later stumbled back through it, beaten and bloodied by Anakaria's harsh terrain, its superior soldiers or a combination of the two.
There was a difference this time though. Both those things were going to happen, except the enemy was never passing that arch. They were all going to die within sight of their goal, which would make victory all the more satisfying. Thousands of the enemy would be crushed by the impenetrable wall of heavy infantry shields and thrusting spears. Besting them, they would have to face seven hundred of the finest infantrymen in all the world. These men were given up by their families at birth, never to see them again, to train all their lives for war. They weren't allowed to fraternize with any woman, and were kept in barracks far away from any city.
Many died just in training. They had to wrestle for scraps of food, and carry a shield on their back in all the daylight hours. These men were masters of hand to hand combat, their swords and spears were like extensions of their very flesh. The men chosen for this small group all had warfare experience, and had all killed men hundreds if not thousands of times. Their mission was simple: bar the invasion from the heartland. Period.
Arcas jumped off the last outcropping of the Cliff and landed in the hard packed dirt of the track leading up to the arch. It was about two hundred yards from the lip of the ramp to the arch; plenty of space for the Anakarians to work. "CONAR, GET THE HEAVY UP TO THE RAMP. BUILD ME A WALL." Arcas shouted back over his shoulder.
Conar, field commander for the army of Anakaria, heavy infantry, nodded and turned to face his troops. "LET'S SHOW THE BASTARDS WHAT WE HEAVY CAN DO! TO THE RAMP!" A thunderous roar of agreement echoed off the cliffs around them, and the Heavy drove forward past the infantry, spears in a white-knuckled grip.
Arcas watched them depart, and knew that they all would have a tough job ahead of them. "Erik, sound off the infantry." Erik, Arcas's infantry commander, pulled a small horn from his belt and blew a loud, piercing note. The seven hundred men turned and face their king. Arcas knew them all like brothers. But he knew not all of them were going to go home alive. "Friends, I ask for your ear," the warriors were rigid, hanging on his every word, "the enemy you are here today to stop is relentless. He has conquered the world. We are his last stop. If we allow him to take Anakaria, the world is his. Tyranny will be our way of life. Our entire existence will be worthless if we submit to this power drunk madman's hoards! And so today, brothers, I ask of you only this," the soldiers' eyes widened, "kill them all. Do not spare one life. Every single one of these demons wants what you have fought so hard to protect. Your wives, your children, your homes…the very country itself will become a massive barracks for his uncountable armies. And so now, draw up into formation and ready yourselves! Do not fear death, for only the coward fears death! YOU ARE NOT COWARDS! IN THE COMING DAYS, YOU WILL DIE A GLORIOUS DEATH; A WARRIORS DEATH!" The infantry drew their swords in unison, and roars rose from all their throats. It was going to be a good day; A glorious day for all Anakaria.
It was a much different situation, down on the beach. The thousands of first landing troops were cocky, over paid weekend warriors with nothing to lose. They were here because they had never been anywhere else. Their officers and comrades told them tales of the great, casualty free victories of previous campaigns (which was all garbage, although casualties had been low. But then again, their armies in battle numbered in the millions) So it was going to be over in a couple of hours, and then they could come back and eat some roasts, catch a nap and swim out by the ships out on the sea, maybe. Yes, this meager force would be dealt with before they even crossed the lip of the hill where the entrance to this particular country was. The officers were always right.
"PEASANTS, FORWARD TOWARDS THE ENEMY!" The "cattle driver" as he had been dubbed, cracked the whip high over his head. He stood at the back of his assigned formation, and whipped men in the back files, to drive them into the ones in front, and the domino effect followed.
Up at the top of the ramp, the Heavy had formed their first line. The basic formation went twenty across, two deep. The rest waited, spears and shield ready, to relieve those in front or replace if someone was killed. It had been tried and tested through thousands of battles, and unless some unforeseen flanking position was found by the enemy, or the Heavy collapsed from the sheer exhaustion of the constant spear thrusting and blocking heavy blades and axes, they were impregnable. It was their job to make a wall, so thick and high that it would narrow the killing field even more, making it all the easier to slaughter the opposing force. This wall would be made of bodies.
Arcas strolled through the infantrymen as they prepared themselves for battle, Erik trotting by his side, giving out final instructions; "Make sure that helmet fits snug; sharpen that blade, it's too dull to cut a potato; make sure those spears are upright and ready to supply the Heavy." Most of the infantrymen would run fresh spears to the Heavy in the front, until extremely close combat became their only option. That was when the infantry would boost the body count.
This hill was steeper than it had looked from the beach. The first wave of invaders clawed at the dirt, and even to each other, to try and gain a foothold on the hardened earthen ramp. The cattle drivers in the back whipped relentlessly, driving the barbarians forward. The first ten or so were stumbling over the top just as the whip cracked for the twentieth or so time in the drive. The cattle driver stopped whipping for a moment, to see how many would make it over the crest before he had to start whipping again.
But as he watched, bodies tumbled back over the lip of the hill, massive gashes riddling their bodies. Their lifeless forms crashed back into their already struggling comrades, most of whom lost their footing and fell flat on their faces. Some of them screamed in terror, seeing as one of the bodies heads was completely gone from its neck. It was time to start whipping again.
Arcas began to make his way back to his impromptu command post at the back of the track, near the base of the small rise that led up to the arch. He passed a soldier squatting low, hunched over his Fire Amulet, praying silently to himself. Arcas patted him on the shoulder, and nodded reassuringly. The soldier smiled, but Arcas could see the dark thoughts churning behind his eyes, eating away at his courage. He would be alright once he was in battle, next to his comrades, stopping the invasion in its tracks.
Arcas made it back to the command post with Erik, and they sat in the dirt, cloaks curled up under their crossed legs. Erik seemed to lose his concentration for a moment, gazing into the dirt. Arcas called him on it; "Erik, what are you thinking? You're drifting off when I need your leadership and guidance the most." Erik shook his head lightly and came back to the real world, "Just thinking about the battle, sir…wondering how many of my men will make it back to their homes." Arcas was stunned; Erik was never one to doubt any battle he had ever fought in. "Erik, they've been in worse situations before! Do you remember The Plains? We weren't even equipped for those skirmishes! We had our heavy armor, no cavalry support, and no marksmen. Yet your infantry adapted and captured a key outpost in the defense of this country! Be proud of your victories, my friend. Your hand in those days was of much greater influence than mine." Erik smiled briefly, and then spoke, "You were not the king of all Anakaria then. You lead now better than I ever did or ever will," Arcas frowned, not quite understanding his meaning, "I suppose I'm just afraid that I'm not capable of leading these men in such a battle as this. But this is more of a…martyrdom mission, is it not?" Arcas gave a laugh, scoffing at the concept of "martyrs". "Erik, this battle is meant to kill as many of them as possible, while our fellow countrymen gather their strength, in mind and in men, to move to the port and prepare to defend from the final and strongest assault. We HERE, however, must fight it out until the enemy realizes there is an easier way to pierce into the Heartland. He will pull back to his ships and follow the coast, hoping that he was quick enough to avoid the quite large mustering of free Anakarians that would meet him if he had stayed with us any longer. And unless Anak has forsaken us, he will take much too long." Erik was beginning to agree, or only as Arcas hoped he would, when his eyes locked to the ramp.
"SEND THEM TO ANAK TO BE BURNED!" The line roared in agreement as more spears were jammed into rib cages and faces of the pressing advance of the enemy. The rag-tag infantry crashed into the Heavy's shield wall, crumpling to the ground and being finished by near vertical spear thrusts. Conar was in the middle of the line, eleven men from the leftmost flank of the wall. He had already felled about twenty or so of the invaders, and was plunging his spear into the neck of one of the enemy infantry when he saw a taller man with a whip cross the top of the ramp. Looks like their first wave was almost gone. Already? What a shame.
Arcas grinned as he saw the end of the first wave of enemy infantry crashed into the shield wall and stabbed to death. The Heavy's cheer could be heard all the way at the arch. Their spears were banged repeatedly against their shields, making the impression of heavy thunder echoing off the walls of the track. "Maybe I actually do have nothing to worry about, sir." Erik gave out a laugh. Arcas followed it up with a hearty series of laughter, knowing Erik finally got the point. Arcas sighed, "Go prepare your men, Erik. It's going to be a long day." Erik jogged down the hill into the midst of the preparing infantrymen.
Arcas stayed sitting in the dirt, and found his eyes drawn to the slowly to the slowly dying sun, which was only three or four hours away from plunging out of sight. Its light glinted off the clear blue sea water, and reflected onto the cliffs on either side of the track. For a minute, the king forgot the sounds of spear into flesh, and the sound of sword against shield. His mind drifted…back through the years…