Chapter 5 Excerpt from The Siege of Anticus: A Zombie Fantasy Novel
New material time! Again, not edited, probably bad.
Lieutenant Villios called the troop to a halt at Boulden’s gesture. He told the sergeants to get their troops armored and ready, then moved over to where the commander was looking over the map of Northreach with Herndin. Boulden’s thick-knuckled finger was settled on a spot north of Anticus, labeled in a spidery hand with the name of Brethford.
“That’s it,” the commander said, “first place we’ve reached that the Baron’s boy mentioned as a possibility. We might not find a damn thing, in fact that’s what I‘m hoping for. But I want to be ready for anything.”
“How many people live there?” Villios asked, trying in vain to garner information from the sparse details available from the map.
“Best estimates say about 300 souls,” Boulden answered. “It’s one of the larger villages in the Reach, three days or so travel from the city itself. Apparently used to do get a fair bit of traffic back when.” He grunted in acknowledgement as one of the troop approached with his plain iron breastplate, and continued his study as his armor was strapped on
Villios and Herndin both were assisted with their armor at the same time, the only difference being the steel construction of their own arms and armor. Pauldrons at shoulders, resting comfortably for now on the quilted padded doublets they wore, vambraces protecting their forearms like the greaves strapped to their shins. Arming caps, quilted like their jerkins, helped cushion the weight of the helms they donned.
Like many of the long-time sailors, Boulden wore less armor than most. His helm was little more than a cap with nose and cheek guards, eschewing even mail to protect his neck. The commander had seen too many armored men pulled beneath waves in an instant, or drowned in ankle-deep water when the weight of their own armor and exhaustion prevented them from rising.
The Uprising had convinced Villios of the value of more protection, although he did eschew the heavy articulated mail that many of the Antici nobles armed their troops with, in the Estavian fashion. The lack of efficacy of that armor against the lightly-armored troops Anders commanded did little to dim the enthusiasm of the wealthy for the gleaming plate. Still, after a frightened farmer nearly opened Villios’ throat with a sharpened hoe doing a routine patrol while fighting through Westfield, the lieutenant decided that a layer of mail between his vital areas and the outside world was worth the additional weight.
A heavy steel broadsword hung from his left hip, a thick-bladed dirk rested in the small of his back. His sword-and-anchor emblazoned shield remained strapped to his mare, as did those of Boulden and Herndin. The rest of the troop had theirs, smaller with more wood than iron, strapped onto their left arms, their spears clutched in the right hand. Iron shortswords hung from their belts, and each soldier wore hardened leather armor in the same manner their leaders wore their metal.
That had been one of the first things Anders had done, after it started to become clear that he was going to be a general whether he wanted it or not; standardizing the armor and weapons of his troops. Cheaper to outfit and easier for training raw sailor or Gutters-dwelling recruit, the standard-issue approach served him well, especially in comparison with the chaotic first days, when every man next to Villios used a different personal weapon and he’d need to be careful to avoid getting his head lopped off with the errant swing of his neighbor’s greatsword.
The enforced discipline had lapsed since the end of the war, as evidenced by the scattering of personal arms throughout the score of troops finishing their preparations. The Baron allowed them, provided each soldier carried the regulation spear and shortsword. For many, it was a token, better than any badge or crest, of the man they served under.
Villios looked back at the pair of men still frowning at the map. Despite the plain armor, their was no doubt who the leader of their troop was, solid Boulden, many times the hammer to Ander’s anvil. As for the other man, for the first time on this excursion, Herndin looked like a Priest of Kor, the symbol of the Bull molded on his breastplate and decorating his massive shoulder pauldrons. It had been years since Villios had last seen him armed for battle, since the closing days of the Uprising, and he’d almost forgotten how the sight of the man could inspire even a non-dedicated man like himself to nearly give in, fall to his knees in supplication, and sing the war-chants of the Bull God.
This time, however, the sight of the soldiers arming for battle filled him with a growing sense of disquiet. There was no war going on, no invasion, no revolution. They were in one of the few areas the Lord’s Uprising had not even touched, a land accustomed to peace and simple community pleasures. Villios knew their mission was one of reconnaissance, of ascertaining the truth behind the message from the Baron’s son. Somehow, though, the lieutenant took comfort from the weight of the chainmail and steel plates, and found himself gripping the hilt of his broadsword fitfully as the commander prepared to address the soldiers.