Wisdom From The Ashes
Part Ten – Trapped
Zethar risked a quick glance down from the hill top where he sheltered. Harmur’s army gathered below, blocking the only real way down. Steep slopes littered with boulders and jagged ridges marred the sides of the hill, making the climb to the top all but impossible, except for one narrow path that wound its way up to the top. There were bodies strewn along the path, twisted and broken from combat.
Zethar had not expected the arrival of Harmur and his full army. None of them had. The heavily armoured troops had fallen upon the rebels, driving the lighter armoured group away. The retreat to the hilltop had been a slow and bloody affair, many falling as they were hounded along the way by horsemen. Only the solid core of the rebel force had survived the ordeal, mostly comprising of the former gladiators and those that had fought alongside Zethar since the start of the uprising.
Now they were stuck. Though a solid wall of boulders gave them cover from the army camped below, there was no source of water at the top of the hill, and no real shade from the sun that beat down harshly from a cloudless sky.
Katako scurried over to join Zethar, running low to the ground. His movements provoked a small flurry of arrows to arc up into the air from below. They fell down around him, clattering off stones and the hard earth. A tight smile came from the man.
“This wasn’t what I had planned for,” Zethar noted.
Katako shrugged, seemingly indifferent to their situation. “We all die at some time.”
Zethar arched a brow towards him before looking down at the enemy gathered below. “You seem rather unconcerned.”
“If you fight in the pits long enough then death comes to hold little meaning any more. We’ve got some activity,” he noted. “Looks like they are up to something.”
From the camp of the enemy, a column of soldiers on foot were moving forward, making their way towards the path up the hill. Marching ahead were a number of heavily armoured men bearing heavy shields that they used to form a wall with. Archers and more nimble warriors followed behind, sheltering behind the shield wall.
“Crossbows!” Zethar yelled out.
Those of the rebel army who carried loaded crossbows emerged from where they were sheltering, unleashing a volley of quarrels down at the approaching enemy. Most thudded into the shields, impacting to no effect. Only one of the quarrels managed to winkle its way though a gap in the shield wall and a man went down as it took him in the leg. His place was taken by another man, reforming the wall.
Arrows whistled up in response, sweeping across the hilltop, while rebel archers responded in kind. Nearby to Zethar, a man went down with an arrow in his throat, falling to the ground as blood poured forth from the wound. Another took an arrow to the shoulder, the shaft punching through his hide armour. Cursing, he wrenched it free and tossed it aside, ignoring the blood flowing freely down his armour. There were those that went down among the attackers as well, as the arrows fell beyond the shield wall, to take those sheltering behind it.
Running low to the ground, the rebels moved forward to take positions near to where they path reached the summit, waiting with grim expressions on their faces and their weapons held in fierce grips. Those that had unleashed the initial crossbow volley worked at reloading them while remaining in cover.
The enemy soldiers continued their inexorable advance forward, under the cover of their shields and the constant light harassment of the hilltop by archers. Arrows fell down across the summit, keeping the defenders pinned down.
Zethar waited, his back against a boulder, mouth dry and heartbeat picking up. He could feel sweat on the palm of his hands and running down the brow of his head. The waiting was the worst part, listening to the steady clank of approaching men growing louder. Katako looked across to him and gave a quick nod.
Zethar arose from where he had been hidden, turning to face the enemy. “Take them!”
Screams came from the rebels, releasing pent up fear and tension. They surged forward from their cover, charging swiftly over the last few metres, dodging between boulders, to crash into the shield wall.
Weapons sung as they swept down and the peak erupted as cries rent the air. The crash of weapons on shields rang loud about and the wall shuddered under the impact. For a moment it seemed it would hold, but then wavered and broke apart. The fight spilt out over the hilltop as small groups wrestled and clashed. Blood soon stained the ground as bodies began to fall.
Zethar shouldered his way into the melee, hacking down at one enemy warrior. As the man fell, another stabbed at him with a spear. Zethar blocked the blow before slamming the hilt of his sword into the man’s face. A crunching sound accompanied a flow of blood. The man reeled away.
The former gladiators operated as a small ground around Katako, fighting with a brutal; and coordinated efficiency. They cut a swathe through the centre of the enemy’s line, bodies strewn in their wake. Slowly the enemy were forced backwards by the ferocity of the defence. When the collapse came it was sudden and rapid, those remaining fleeing back down the path under the cover of a hail of arrows.
Zethar looked around the field of battle. An arrow landed near him, hitting a rock and bouncing spinning into the air. There were numerous fallen, from both sides of the conflict, some still moving, others lifeless. Of those who had retreated to the hilltop, only around two dozen remained, and many of them bore wounds.
Zethar sought out Katako, finding the man tying a bandage around his left arm, using his free hand and mouth to do so.
“We can’t hold out here much longer,” Zethar noted. “Another push and they will have us.”
Katako nodded, giving a final tug on the bandage. “True, but we will make them suffer for it.” He looked up at the sky. The sun had started to fall towards the horizon. “I do not think they will be back again today. Night is not far way.”
“Likely not, but we can’t take it for granted.”
Suddenly Katako broke into a fearsome grin. “Maybe we should take the fight to them. Harmur won’t come up here to us so why not try and take him out with us?”
“That sounds a bit risky, and not likely to succeed.”
“More risky than staying up here?”
A faint smile played across Zethar’s face for a moment, seeing the grim humour in the situation. “There is that. First thing at dawn?”
Katako nodded. “At dawn.”
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