Tuesday, October 27, 2009

DV extras part three

This section is when Martil trains the Norstalines ... sequences that survived only in much shorter form! The first one is the initial training and then, further down, it goes into shield wall training. I was trying to make the point that you can't just wave a magic sword and expect to have an army appear ... but I hope that was made anyway!

As to the men, training them was the most important thing. They were in three groups, and Martil made these into squads, trying to use the rivalry between them to spur each other on.
First came Sendric’s guards. There were two 10-man squads, as well as two sergeants and a lieutenant called Rocus. They were all well armed, with mail shirts, shiny helmets, shields with the Count’s crest and long swords. They had been drilled to perfection - to carry out ceremonial duties. However, the manual of arms was not the best teaching device for the skills necessary to fight your way through a shield wall. And if their swordsmanship was clumsy, their fitness was abysmal. Too much time standing post, and not enough time running, had them exhausted after only a few minutes of Martil’s training.
The hunters numbered 11, as well as a chief hunter called Tarik. These were fit men, used to running all day and night, brilliant archers to boot, but unused to working with others. They operated in small groups of two or three usually, they were unable to take orders and were just as likely to chase after a deer as they were to follow Martil’s instructions.
Then there were the militia. Sendric had tried to choose those men with at least 10 years service, but not so many years that they were too old for this sort of venture. He had selected a dozen men, as well as a lieutenant called Wime. They were tough men, who were all veterans of tavern brawls and street fights. Martil knew this type of experience could not be beaten, it was the sort of thing you needed to survive a battle. They were crafty, could take orders, and knew all about operating as a team and protecting your mate’s back in a fight. But they were only armed with thick wooden sticks, and wore only boiled leather coats for protection.
Each group had its own abilities, and its own weaknesses. Using each to the greatest benefit would be the real challenge.
The first day they looked a strange sight. The guardsmen were lined up immaculately, two ranks, sergeants at the ends, Rocus at the front, all in their polished armour and all standing to attention. The hunters stood in a group, chatting among themselves, while the militia had formed into a rough line but stood relaxed, waiting to see what he would do.
Martil had no intention of giving them a big speech, or impressing them with his war stories. It was more important to win their respect. Besides, he planned to let Conil tell them a few things and let that spread among them. For now, he would keep things simple.
`I am War Captain Martil, the wielder of the Dragon Sword. You have sworn to obey this Sword. Now I want to see how far you are prepared to go. Follow me now!’
He formed them up and then took them on a run. He knew he was not in great shape, but it was not so long ago that he had run two miles each morning over rough ground, in armour. He was able to set a pace that made the hunters stop talking after the first mile, and left the militia and the guardsmen in particular gasping.
He was pleased to see none dropped out, all three groups were determined they should finish the run as a whole, so as not to lose face in front of the other two. But the guardsmen were plainly exhausted at the end. If they had been asked to fight at this point, they would have been slaughtered. With a bunch of recruits, he would have told them this, as part of the process of breaking their independence, to the point where they would obey him in battle without question. But that process took time, time he did not have. For a start, Queen Merren was demanding they begin attacks as soon as possible. So instead he tried to work more subtly.
`You did well. For the first time. Fighting all day in armour that feels as though you are carrying a child on your back will leave you exhausted. Now drink water, rest and we shall try a few more tests.’
He took his own advice, changing his tunic to hide the sweat stains, then returned to hand out shields and wooden swords to train with.
He set them against each other in pairs, trying to ensure each fought against a man from a different group. It made for some spirited exchanges, as guardsmen accused militiamen of cheating when they used moves they had learned in street fights.
Martil tried to show them all how to handle their swords better, persuade the guardsmen that nobody was ever sent from the field of battle for cheating and explain it was no good complaining when your guts were hanging out.
The militia responded well, but the proud guardsmen insisted on fighting as if their opponent was a stuffed dummy. Finally, he decided to prove how bad they were.
`Pick your three best bladesmen. They will take me on, and if they win, you get the afternoon off. If I win, you run another two miles. And all they have to do to win is touch me with a wooden sword,’ he offered.
The other two groups watched with interest as Rocus selected himself and his two sergeants, both massive guardsmen. A circle was formed and Martil stepped in, loosening his muscles and using two wooden swords, rather than the Dragon Sword.
`Any time you are ready,’ he grinned.
Rocus rushed in, sword held high, and it was easy to spin away, delivering a thrust to the belly as he did so. The guards lieutenant folded over, blocking one of his own men, so Martil swarmed in on the third, both swords working furiously. The guardsman managed to block the first few cuts but they were arriving so fast, and from so many different directions, that he received a whack on the ribs, another on the shoulder and a third across the head before reeling away. The last guardsman circled away from Martil nervously, who had no intention of letting him run. A feeble thrust was blocked, then Martil rammed both swords into the man’s stomach.
He let the wooden swords drop and turned away to see the rest of the men gazing at the three big men rolling around on the ground. The hunters and militia were grinning, while the rest of the guardsmen just looked shocked.
`We’ll let those three recover a little before they go on their run,’ he announced. `But I hope a lesson has been learned by you guardsmen. The three men you have been listening to could not even lay a sword on one man. If they fight like that against Gello’s men, they would all be dead now. Something to think about next time I advise you how to stay alive.’
And after that, they did listen, even Rocus.
Martil worked them hard, trying to get their fitness up first. The hunters excelled here, making the other two groups look foolish on the runs, while the guardsmen were left floundering even on the forced marches.
The guardsmen had initially laughed at the militia when they had been introduced to sword use. The militiamen were more inclined to use their swords like clubs, and Martil had to instruct them in basic sword use. But when it came to combat exercises, the militia took great delight in beating the guardsmen, their experience in fighting obvious compared to their ponderous opponents, who seemed to be in slow motion most of the time.
But although they were the group that finished last most often, the guardsmen had a stubborn pride, and held themselves to be above the others. This was of particular concern to Martil. Not only did he expect the guardsmen to be his main strike force, but their attitude threatened to fragment the small army. He had to work doubly hard to make them see how they all had to rely on each other. The Queen and the Dragon Sword, as well as the presence of Count Sendric, these were enough to secure their loyalty. All these men knew what was at stake - they had been told to bring their families along, in case of reprisals. But Martil felt they were not truly behind the cause. He was a Ralloran, and they were not ready to die for him. Not yet.
Of course there were other problems.

Meanwhile he had the time to not just work on Sirron and his farm boys, but also the other men. They had performed well from ambush and had stood their ground as the archers destroyed a small band of cavalry but Martil knew the next time they fought, it would be against a full squadron of cavalry, enough men so it would come down to a stand-up fight.
The men were ordered to wear hauberks, the heavy chain mail shirts of small, inter-connected rings over a thick leather coat. Some were second-hand, most of these had arrow holes in them, crudely patched, while naturally the guardsmen’s ones looked impeccable. Martil could see how the farm boys were struggling in the heavy coats. While a hauberk did not restrict your movement initially, the weight would grow progressively heavier. Even the fittest of men, after an hour of fighting in one, would be exhausted. Then he made them take up shields, and spears. Every man looked unfamiliar with these but Martil knew this was the weaponry that would keep them alive when fighting cavalry.
He drilled them hard, teaching them the basics of spear fighting, keeping them at it until their right arms were too tired to even lift the heavy spears any more and they were heartily sick of practising the same strokes, up at a cavalryman, down at an infantryman, and the thrust from the second row of a shield wall into your enemy‘s front line. He fretted that the training was nowhere near enough but knew he did not have much time so, as quickly as he dared, he went to the next stage.
`A shield wall only succeeds while the men in it have courage and heart,’ Martil told them. `But if you do not have trust in each other, if you fear for your own safety, it will crack like an egg. Stay together and live. Try to run and you die. Understand?’
They nodded at him but Martil was not convinced. They would have to see it to feel how effective it could be.
He formed them into three ranks, the guardsmen at the front and sides, the farm boys at the back and the militia in the middle. The guardsmen dropped to one knee, shields rammed into the ground, spears pointing upwards. The militia stood close behind them, shields held high to protect both themselves and the guardsmen, spears also held high. The farm boys were close behind them, bracing the militia and supporting the spears. He rode along the front of the wall then, showing them how no horse would charge home into a tightly packed wall of spears.
He took one of the captured heavy cavalry horses, a huge beast, and spurred it at the line. He knew that, to the men in the front row, it was a daunting sight. But even the trained warhorse would not press home the charge and veered away from the massed iron points.
`A man on a horse needs four feet of room to ride and swing his sword. A man with a shield and spear needs only two feet! So each trooper is riding down a corridor that ends in three ranks of two spears - that’s six spears to each horseman!‘
He saw they were gradually getting the idea, so he let them feel confident, then moved onto the next stage.
`I need three volunteers!’
He ignored Sirron and the other farm boys, instead selecting three guardsmen. These were ordered to put down their spears and link shields instead.
`Look impressive, don’t they?” Martil said, pointing to the three big men, standing tall in their hauberks, shields held confidently, overlapping each other on the left-hand side to present an impenetrable wall.
He bent down and picked up a shield himself.
`Lads, all you have to do is hold your line,’ he told them, then broke into a run.
The three men tensed, the man in the middle crouching slightly to try and take the expected impact, but at the last second Martil turned and smashed into the man to his left. The guardsman took a step backwards to keep his footing and Martil spun, using both his speed and the momentum of the turn to crash into the man on his right, who was unable to brace himself properly. The force jolted him back into the last man and the two of them stumbled backwards, the man on the right going down.
Martil threw down the shield he was carrying. `This shield wall is dead. Every man who was within it is dead,’ he said conversationally. `Now, let Sirron and his boys come forward.’
The farm boys walked out awkwardly, looking uncomfortable in their armour. One of the younger ones stumbled over another‘s spear, drawing a jeer from the guardsmen.
`Your lives depend on these men,’ Martil snapped. `Doubtless they would find the sight of you trying to milk a cow equally amusing.’
Abashed, the guardsmen fell silent. It was a start but Martil decided he had to make the farm boys win the respect of the others.
`For the next exercise, I will need three guardsmen. If they can break open a shield wall, they get a bottle of brandy to share.’
A howl of protest rose up from the ranks of the men.
`Don’t think that’s fair? Well, how about this. If they can break the shield wall, you all get a barrel of wine to share. But if they can’t, you have to cook dinner for the farm boys tonight. Agreed?’
Martil looked over to where Wime was talking quickly to Rocus, but the tall guardsman waved him away and shouted his agreement.
Grinning, Martil formed the eight farm boys into three ranks, with himself in the very centre. Quickly he showed the others how to brace the rank in front of them by putting their shoulder in the middle of the man’s back, and the feet behind the man’s heels. He showed them how to overlap their shields, to make an unbroken wall. He also instructed the front row to crouch down as the guardsmen approached, then push upwards with the shield at the last moment, so they had some momentum when the two sides met.
`A shield wall is a fearsome thing. You are closer to the men you are killing than you are to the woman in your bed. But stand firm. It is the side that blinks first who dies,’ he told them. `The front row just needs good nerves and strong arms. The second row is where the shield wall is won.‘
Meanwhile Rocus had selected his three biggest men and was telling them to charge in hard.
`Remember to push back hard, and we’ll dine well tonight,’ Martil told them.
The three guardsmen raced in, not at full speed but at a good pace, sensibly sacrificing speed so they could stay together.
`Crouch now, push up when I tell you. The rest of you, get ready to hold hard,’ Martil snapped. `Brace them!’
The guardsmen yelled as they ran the last few yards and Martil bellowed at Sirron and his two brothers to rise. The three farm boys crouched, then pushed themselves up as hard as they could, just as the guardsmen arrived. Shields clashed on shields but the force of the guardsmen’s charge would have bowled the farm boys over, except it was transferred into Martil and the men beside him, and to the ones behind them. The second rank held the first, and the third held them, absorbing the force of the charge. The line bowed but stayed as one.
`Push!’ Martil yelled, shoving Sirron as hard as he could so the farm boy straightened and began heaving back at the guardsmen.
Even in the second row, Martil could smell the breath of the guardsman pushing hard at Sirron. The two were shield to shield, hard against each other. In a real battle, they would be too close to use even a short sword, which was where the second row came in. They had room to swing a blade, attacking the head of the enemy’s front line. Of course your enemy’s second line would be doing the same thing, so you also needed to protect the man in front of you with your shield. It was brutal, fearsome work. Made more so when your enemy used tricks like giant axemen to break your line before their shield wall struck.
`Heave!’ Martil roared, and felt the farm boy behind him force him forwards. He used that momentum to propel Sirron forwards. But the guardsman facing him had nobody behind him to prop him up. The three guardsmen stood for a few moments more before the transfer of momentum saw them pushed backwards, to stumble and fall.
Stunned silence greeted the sight of the three men on the floor, then the farm boys cheered each other, and were quickly joined by the militia, who always enjoyed seeing guardsmen humbled.
Martil dropped his shield and wiped his face. His left shoulder and arm ached, while his back was also tender from having a shoulder stuck in it, but thanks to the armour and the padding underneath, he doubted he would have much more than a small bruise.
`I hope you were all paying attention,’ he told them. `You just saw a bunch of farm boys, who are only just learning how to use their swords, defeat three of your best men. That is the power of the shield wall. It will help you survive in battle as long as you are prepared to stand strong. But if it is broken, you are all dead. Remember that.’
He formed them into a shield wall, and had men take turns standing in each row, as well as joining him in running at the shield wall and forcing it to stand firm to repel them. By the end of the day, the men were exhausted, but Martil felt they all had a better idea of what they would need to do. He had been pleased to see men, not just Wime and Rocus, calling out encouragement to each other, and telling each other to hold hard, or push back. They were not ready to take on a rival shield wall, but he felt they could probably stand up to one charge of cavalry.
Martil made sure the farm boys were to receive their reward - being waited on by the militia as the guardsmen peeled vegetables and roasted meat. One advantage of having farmers in camp was they had brought bags of seeds with them. But the biggest advantage, of course, was having Karia and Barrett, who could make vegetables grow overnight. Martil had the guardsmen clean the armour, just to reinforce the punishment for losing.
`I told you he never makes offers like that unless he is sure he’s going to win,‘ he overheard Wime tell Rocus, which brought a smile to his face. He then washed quickly in the cold stream and went to find Karia.

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