Monday, September 3, 2012

No More Joan

I have a headache and it's Labor Day, so my flash fiction for this week is an alternate history piece I wrote a while back involving a mercenary party and some French survivors from a defeat at Orleans where Joan of Arc died.

     Edward raised his claymore in defiance, tilting the blade forward slightly.  "Ye'll have to up my pay if ye expect me to storm that bridge without a speck o' light," he declared.  "Don't ye know of the demons roamin' about?"
     The man being threatened, a tall, bearded veteran answered, "Demons!  You Scots and your demons, you'll bleed me dry.  I will give an extra half noble to anyone that makes it back alive."  He emitted a deep sigh, running his fingers through dense dark hair.  "Hirelings..." he muttered.
     Edward backed off.  He smiled slightly, but his eyes were still hard. The men, an assortment of burly Scotsmen, charismatic Irishmen, and lanky Englishmen, formed into a basic striking formation.  They stood five men abreast, with a span in between, and sixteen men deep.
     The front line would be quite intimidating in better light.  Edward stood at the far left.  He was half again as broad as an average man, with solid muscle over thick bone.  Another Scot, known as McCutchor, hefted a full-haft axe in one massive arm, the other holding a rough-hewn shield.  The next man was a retired member of the King's bodyguard.  A grim man with a dark mustache, he was the only mercenary with full plate armor.  Grey-eyed Cormac was the only talker of the group.  His skill with the mace was limited, but his wisdom and strategy was revered.  He called the commands in combat.  The last warrior in line was perhaps the most qualified.  A relative of Richard the Lionhearted, Gregory had struck a knight while acting as his squire, shattering his honor.  Even still, the man was a well-trained fighter with the longsword and a member of English nobility.
     Across the swift creak marched a unit of Frenchmen.  They outnumbered their foes two to one.  However, their morale was broken.  Joan d'Arc, their beloved leader, had been slain in an attempt to recapture Orleans.  The survivors had evaded capture by the skin of their teeth.  Now they groaned at the sight of far-off enemy infantry.
     The leader, incredibly nervous and less vigilant than his underlings, spouted several curses.  "Form up and ready yourselves.  We shall stop before the bridge," he ordered in French.  They followed his command.
     "The French have stopped," said Cormac back on the English side.  "Orders?" he asked his commander.
     The commander stroked his beard and scanned the French position.  "Cross the bridge and reform.  Strike first only if you must," he replied.  He remained at his post along with two guardsmen who were not among the hired.
     The English force began marching toward the bridge, an oak structure twenty paces across.  The distance between them and it was short, so they arrived quickly.  Boards thumped loudly as the men charged over the bridge.  Cormac called for the men to reposition when all were off of the bridge, changing into a ten-wide rectangle.  The French lines were six men wider.  They stood rigid a hundred yards ahead.
     Neither force urged forward.  The sun had fully set by this time.  The Scots, including Edward, were becoming jittery.  Every time a shadow shifted in the distance they flinched.  They were rare troops in an English army, as most of their kin fought for the French.  The Scots would fight with as much courage as the others though, when the time came.
     The French men wore faces of fear as they looked upon the intimidating force before them.  "I elect to fight them now," the leader said to his men.  "It is as good a time as any.  Are you with me?" he asked.  The Frenchmen murmured agreement, not without an ounce of reluctance.  "Very well.  Men, for the sake of fair Joan, charge them!"
     The Frenchmen, most of them swordsmen, began a hard lope toward the English.  The English held their ground, readying their weapons.  At the last moment they charged, cutting down the front line of the French.
     Edward hoisted his claymore and hacked a man open at the collarbone, a mortal wound.  McCutchor beside him swung his axe in short arcs, piercing the light armor of the French soldiers.  These men were professional killers.  Cormac, right leg slashed early, shouted a battle-cry in old Irish.  His mace could shatter skulls in a single blow.  The other two of the original five weren't quite so lucky.  The retired guard took a gash to the neck, but only after inflicting two casualties.  Gregory had met a hardened veteran, one of few men on the battlefield who could best him at swordsmanship.
     The mercenaries continued their merciless strikes against the French.  The moon was just rising above the horizon when they gained the advantage of number.  A mere four dozen combatants remained on each side.  Edward had taken a slight cut to the forearm, but he was otherwise unscathed.  Cormac was long dead, stabbed repeatedly in the torso.  McCutchor was taking his last breaths, too weak to raise his axe.
     The French leader cried, "I call for surrender" in his best English, but he too was reduced to a bloody corpse in moments.  The remaining Frenchmen, nothing left to lose but their lives, broke and ran.  Every man was slaughtered.  The hirelings had won.  They paced backward eagerly, awaiting their hard-earned pay.

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