Sven bent armored knees to pluck an apple from the cold hands of a Cold Hand. He polished it on the corpse’s coat before he tilted his head to examine the face of the dead man. His eyelids were unnaturally puffed, lips swollen and blue, and the tip of a tongue protruded from his mouth grotesquely. Poison was a miserable way to die. The first bite of the apple is delightfully sweet as the knight straightened.
“Troels,” he said, speaking around the fibrous fruit currently occupying his mouth. “How sits the tally?”
Finally, he wrests his eyes away from the blue-hued corpse to the commander of his forces.
“Just over five hundred dead,” he says, sniffing in a disapproving way at the poisoned body. “Including… them.”
Sven nods, taking another bite and munching slowly.
“Our losses?” he asks, swallowed and took another bite.
“Some wounded, but they’ll recover. All still capable of fighting, but I’d give the spears a chance to catch their breath,” he carefully schooled the disapproval off his face before the knight before him could see it. They were both of the Bear Hide and had strong opinions on forth-right action. Sven took the tally in stride and nodded before tossing the remains of the apple on the corpse he’d taken it from.
“We won’t have much rest, I’m afraid. We need to press east hard to get to this land bridge before winter falls upon us,” he says, wiping juice from his mouth with the back of a hand and turning back towards his troops. They had hit hard and utterly destroyed this force before they were even aware they were under attack. Laying in wait, as they had been, had blinded them to the Imperial force’s approach. All the better, really. Hard marching troops through unpatrolled woods was typically a recipe for disaster.
Troels for his part nodded, accepting the necessity.
“We will need to find a secure footing before winter snows fall, my Lord. Or cut the Southerners loose,” he said. They were both keenly aware that the northern winters were debilitating to the Gothics in their ranks. The knight just shrugs without answering.
“Find me a rider. Sir Ingvar’s forces are some miles to the West handling the rest of the Unseen’s forces. I wish to know how they fared. Ask if there is any word from the Avalanche and his boys with their orc fiasco,” Sven intoned, striding out of the killing fields towards his horse. Troels snaps a salute and turns on his heels, barking orders to those soldiers too foolish to see the foul mood that had claimed him.
A few men helped Sven mount the armored warhorse before he heeled away and made a slow cantor to the servants setting up his tent. What old age and countless battles had taught the grizzled knight was this: there was no honor in war. There was only the living and the dead. In duels? In boasts? In Courtly love and politics? There, much honor could be found. Far from this… slaughter. What difference did it make to these men whose blood soaked the earth, to die from sword or spear or poison? What difference did it make, if Sven had loudly declared to them that he brought troops against them and to form ranks for the charge? They were just as dead. And the dishonorable action of one knight had likely saved hundreds of lives.
No. The ‘honorable’ war was one quickly lost. To survive, you needed to understand just how far your enemy was willing to go to kill you, then go further to make him die. Always have one more knife than your enemy believed you to possess. Never let them take your full measure. The first priority of any battle was to survive. The *second* was to kill the enemy. And the third was to weaken your true opponent sufficiently that politics can resume. War without a political exit was doomed to extend forever.
So he would teach the Rimelands just who it was they faced. Just how brutal he could be. And when enough of the Clans had been put to the sword, the others would capitulate. And once again, there would be peace. He would make the very thought of raising a sword against the Empire so disgusting, so horrifying, that the Rime would gleefully abandon their horrific monstrosities they had enslaved themselves to.
Then, they would all find warmth and love in the kind and gentle embrace of the Emperor and the kind and gentle redemption of Benalus.
“A thought so sweet, I just may weep,” he grunts to himself with a laugh as he heels his mount to greater speeds.