Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fiction Snippet

So I've been putting a lot of time in the office lately and working on some other top secret projects, so to unwind I scribbled down this idea I had.

For some men, picking the battlefield clean after a victory was their favorite part of the battle.  It was low threat and held the promise of loot. It also meant a lot of killing of peasants and other lower rank sorts who were too wounded to defend themselves or remove themselves from the battlefield and not valuable enough to ransom.  Thus those cleaning up the battlefield would get whatever coins and nicknacks these poor souls retained, which was rarely more than a handful of coppers or the occasional holy symbol, in exchange for however they sought to end the unfortunate’s life.  Anyone who had a respectable amount of pocket change would be a noble or person of quality. If they were discovered still alive, the men picking the battlefield were to notify their commander so such important and valuable individuals could receive proper attention and care. A peasant merely trapped under a horse would see his throat slit, while the lowest noble lord holding in his own guts would receive all the treatment available in the hopes he could live long enough to ransom.  

Ansil was not one of these corpse robbers who enjoyed killing their fellow peasants for a handful of pennies.  He went through the motions of searching the battlefield, but claimed little loot and ended no lives as he had no stomach for it.  He was not a soldier and was only here due to being recruited at sword point, such was the reward for placing first in his village’s archery tournament last year.  He had spent the last three months with the Duke’s forces fighting an invasion from the neighboring Bishopric of Tannel, time he would have rather spent with his wife and children back on their farm in Ojil Hamlet.  This battle was likely to be one of the last as the invasion was winding down, the forces of the Bishopric falling back to their last foothold in the Duchy.  Ansil may have been more dilligent in collecting coin since this was likely to be one of his last chances at loot, but he figured he’d rather return home poor and the man he left home as rather than return a rich man who was someone completely different; a murderer.  

Instead of collecting money Ansil spent most of his time on the battlefield collecting arrows.  It had begun as something of a hobby after the first battle he survived under the Duke’s command, a fearsome conflict where the Duke’s forces crushed the Bishop’s vanguard as they attempted to cross a river.  That was the first day Ansil killed a man, or at least he was reasonably sure he had killed a man.  Being an archer in formation, it was hard to be sure his arrow had ended anyone’s life, but after half a dozen battles it was more than likely it had.  Masses of archers did not fire at specific targets, instead loosing their arrows in vast flights, so taking credit for any individual kill was difficult.  In any case, in an effort to distract from the lives he may have ended, after the battle he wandered the field and river ford collecting arrows fired from a dozen units from different regions, baronies, and even nations.  The arrows of the archers from the northern Barony of Sunderhill with their extra long fletchings, or the odd needle pointed arrows used by the Silaean mercenaries the Duke had hired.  Each had its own feel, heft, and color, and he collected them all.  He kept them in a second quiver with his bedroll, a fact that had earned him some mockery from his fellow conscripts. They came back with handfuls of coin, and he came back with arrows of negligible value. Ansil had also managed to collect a handful of bows from various corpses, each a slightly different version of the weapon he carried.  Once he was home he would learn to shoot them all and learn why they were shaped as they were.

This battlefield was less interesting for Ansil.  Under the graying skies of storm and evening he had found few arrows and no bows as the Bishop’s archers had not made it to the field before the battle was decided.  So instead he did his best to avoid the dying, praying for them as he could but not sure if they would accept his heathen prayers.  The lack of acceptance of the divinity of the Prophet was one of the underlying reasons for this war, at least officially, after all.  

The field was growing dark as the sun neared the horizon, never achieving much today anyway due to all the cloud cover.  In the growing darkness if Ansil had laid down, he could have easily disappeared, his clothes caked in the same mud that choked the field to a depth of at least two boots.  He had long ago given up trying to remain clean as the spring rains had been choking the region for most of the campaign and just about everything he owned was filthy.  Luckily since it was nearing the end of spring the last of the snow runoff was working its way down the rivers, meaning he could wash without being quite so concerned about freezing.  Maybe also see about finding a barber to tame the unmanageably bush his hair and beard had come, seeing no care to speak of for months.  But what he would pay the man in, arrows?  He imagined he looked quite the beggar at this point, but most beggars weren’t outfitted with a bow, two quivers, a sword, and thick leather armor.  So more a bandit then.  The nobles in the army had kept themselves neat and clean through the whole campaign and retreated to bathe themselves as soon as this battle had ended, but Ansil had no such luxuries.  Rain and rivers were his baths.  

As Ansil was about to head back so he could beat the rain, as the already muddy battlefield would become a quagmire with any more moisture, a cast off crossbow caught his attention.  He had little respect for the weapon, seeing it as the weapon of untrained cannon fodder, but if he could bring it home at least he could understand it.  He meandered over to the weapon where it lay in the hands of some Tannel man-at-arms, clearly dead due to his lack of anything resembling a right arm or shoulder.  From the look of it some noble lord and his entourage made a last stand here as at least half a dozen horses and two score men were dead in close proximity, all wearing the same black and white colors.  Some carried a banner or device of what looked to be a bear, or maybe a badger.  Ansil was never good with heraldry, and didn’t much care.  He was sure his fellows would be along shortly, working by torchlight into the night to get their loot, and this had the looks of a rich find.  

As Ansil bent over the pick up the weapon he heard a distinct sound; a groan.  The sound he did not want to hear.  He tried to block it out, pretend it was the wind, but then he heard it again.  Definitely a groan and it came from nearby.  With a sigh Ansil slung the crossbow on his shoulder and followed the sound, not having to go far.  It was coming from a pile of corpses and horses, all caked in mud and blood.  Someone at the bottom of that pile had somehow survived both the battle and being crushed.  Ansil figured they were likely near dead, so most likely digging them out and letting the others find the poor soul would be some form of mercy.  Some part of his brain entertained trying to save this person, but the rest of his brain knew that was a ridiculous idea.  

So Ansil set himself to rolling bodies off the pile of corpses, a process that quickly left him covered in even more blood and mud.  It looked like it had been a daring last stand, but ultimately futile.  He uncovered both peasants and nobles, two noble lords of low rank having been trapped in the pile when their horses were killed.  It took him a good twenty minutes to get to the survivor, the whole while the rest of his compatriots were slowly drawing closer as they made their way across the field.  When he finally rolled the last corpse off of the source of the groans he found himself facing a man who was wearing clothes and armor worth more than Ansil’s entire village.  

The man was young but hard looking, the sort who had spent a lot of days with a sword in hand.  His blond hair was plastered to his head with blood as he had half a dozen injuries, most minor as his plate and chain armor had stopped any from biting too deep.  It looked like the man had fallen from his horse and been trampled before he could regain his feet, such was his entire body covered in mud.  But he looked like he would live, and judging by his steel armor, jewelry, and the fact he had all his teeth, he would earn a pretty ransom for someone.  Enough of a ransom for Ansil to pay off his debts to Lord Harlin, that’s certain, and plenty more besides.  Enough to build a proper house and send his sons to school.

And here a plan began to form in the part of mind that had considered saving the man.

Ansil was not schooled, but everyone who knew him would call him cunning in a dreamy, non-threatening way.  He was the sort who always came up with the best way to get the harvest to market and his farm was littered with gadgets to make his work easier.  He was not ambitious, more clever to allow him to be lazy, so his mind was rarely applied to greater causes.  But here, he saw an opportunity that could not be denied and his mind made plans.  Cunning plans.  If he could get this noble back to the Bishopric, he could get the ransom himself. It would require him to avoid his own army, an enemy army, and travel hundreds of miles through unknown territory, if he pulled it off...

After glancing around quickly Ansil reached down and grabbed the noble by his breastplate, lifting him up slightly and shaking him.  “Wake up!  The battle is over and you’re my captive. Do you surrender?”  Ansil clumsily pointed the crossbow at the man’s face in an attempt to look more fearsome, hoping he would not notice that the weapon was not loaded.  The man mumbled something and cracked an eye open, but did not respond with anything Ansil understood.  

“Do you yield?” Ansil said, figuring a small number of small words may make things easier.  At “yield” the man perked up, his eyes suddenly losing their gloss and growing sharp.  

“I yield, I am your captive,” the man caughed out, spitting some blood in the process, before his eyes fluttered closed and he fell unconscious again.  

Ansil laid the man back down and looked around the battlefield.  His comrades were at least a hundred paces off, and night was falling.  He just might be able to pull this off.  

I picture this as being sort of a buddy movie of a fantasy adventure with a peasant archer and his captive night trying to get the captive night home so the peasant can collect the ransom while everyone and their brother are after the two. Wacky hijinks ensue.