With Honor, part 8

With Honor

by Leigh Townsend

Part 8

Quelling his momentary panic, Lieutenant Lewis took advantage of the brief breathing space he had gained to assess the situation.   Chaos reigned, with bandits swinging branches, horses bellowing, and soldiers doing their best to stay a-horse.  While the bandits outnumbered them at least three to one, none were mounted.  This gave the army company an advantage.

Matthew quickly noticed another advantage as he watched the melee.  The brigands knew the value of the horses, and were taking great pains to keep them alive and intact.  It seemed their two main goals, wounding or killing soldiers and preserving the lives of the animals, were making it difficult for the bandits to fight effectively.

Unfortunately, although the cavalry soldiers and their mounts were well-trained, the surprise of the ambush and the panic born of separation into tiny groups had many of the fighters forgetting their training completely.  Here and there Matthew could see members of his troop using their fighting horses to an advantage, but most of them were simply sitting on their mounts, swinging swords and dodging logs.  He knew this was an effective technique on the part of their enemy, and without a change it was only a matter of time before soldiers were killed.

Toward the camp, where some of the front line had ended up in the battle, he could see two or three soldiers on the ground fighting furiously for their lives.  An idea suddenly came to him, a way to swing the balance back in their favor and allow the company to utilize their two advantages.

With a rallying cry of “To me!” that could be heard above the sounds of fighting, Matthew urged his horse into a gallop.  As he rode, he repeated his shout as his mount trampled the bandits in the way and Matthew swung his sword at those who were lucky enough to dodge the flying hooves.  When he reached the growing knot of bandits attacking the men on the ground, he brought the gelding into full fighting form.  Spinning, the horse’s hips shoved bandits off balance to be trampled by his heavy feet.  When the rotation brought the back legs clear of the army soldiers, Matthew cued his mount to kick, sending bandits flying.

All around him, through glimpses and changes in the sound of the battle, he could sense the arrival of other cavalry soldiers.  Their horses had also begun to kick, trample, and stomp, battle-ready mounts showing their true value.  Once a space cleared, he and two other still-mounted fighters rode in to the de-horsed men.  Each grabbed an offered arm and swung another soldier onto the backs of their horses. 

Realizing their disadvantage, the bandits began to scatter.  With a battle cry of their own, the soldiers of the army charged after them.  They broke free of the trees and began to attack the camp.  Makeshift tents were trampled.  Food stores were destroyed.  Weapons left leaning against stumps or out in the open were shattered and broken.  The bandits fled, although the army did not pursue.  Their goal had been to strike a blow to the bandits by dismantling their home and by capturing the Golden Wolf.  Without the leader in custody, the soldiers were diligent in completing their second task.

As the company gathered at the edge of the demolished camp, Matthew felt a sudden pain in his thigh.  He looked down, surprised to see the handle of a dagger protruding from the muscle.  A trickle of blood ran down his leg to drip from the toe of his boot.  The heady rush of battle suddenly wore thin and the pain became overwhelming.  Lieutenant Lewis’s world went dark as he slid sideways off his saddle.