I haven’t done a challenge in a while, but I had so much fun with this last year (if you’re interested, here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5) that I finally caved and wrote something. Here is the challenge, and here is what I came up with. Thanks to Wendig for bring this most amazing challenge back! I can’t wait to see where the beginnings lead!
Rays from the rising sun illuminated our target ahead. The castle was small and in a state of disrepair, but the large army behind me knew better than to consider the day already won. The old Lord had a grizzled group of men guarding his walls, but they were battle tested many times over, while those around me looked hardly older than ten. We followed our leader because he promised food and a few coins, but I wasn’t in it for the glory. No, I had a bigger prize in mind. And I knew exactly where in that castle it was.
We crowded together on a single hilltop. No one spoke while they shuffled their feet nervously. The knight in charge sat astride the only horse large enough to carry his girth, and even then the poor beast struggled under the load. Foam dripped from his mouth as they paced before the rag-tag army. The man’s worn leather clothes stretched over his chest and legs. He had once worn armor over the leather, but has since outgrown the plate. The only piece he wore was his freshly shined helmet. A huge black plume adorned the top and fluttered in the breeze. He took one last gulp from a mug he carried and tossed it aside. Turning toward the castle, he reached around his huge middle and drew his sword and, bellowing a slurred battle cry, signaled the charge.
In an instant we were running down the hillside, pushing against each other as we screamed and held our makeshift weapons in the air. A young boy raced ahead of me, his small hands making the dagger he held look more like a short sword. His bare feet slid on the wet grass and he hit the ground, leaving those behind no choice but to trample him in our race toward the castle.
Just as I leaped over the boy, an arrow slammed into the man nearest me, taking him down instantly. I immediately raised my small shield over my head and continued running as arrows rained down. As we neared the gates, I slowed my pace, letting others run ahead and begin the assault on the castle. The castle’s guards focused on the group cutting through the ancient wooden gate, loosing arrows as fast as they could, while women in rags dropped stones and pots of hot oil. Men screamed as the oil splashed down, and a pile of bodies was beginning to hinder their efforts to break through. Finally, with a loud crash, the gate splintered and crumbled to the ground, and the roaring mass surged forward, clashing violently with a line of armored soldiers. The sound of metal-on-metal combat was deafening, but I didn’t pause to take part. I made my way through the gate and pushed my way around the angry mass just beyond.
I kept my head down to avoid any confrontations with the guards. I had to get to the top of the tower, and my odds of doing so were not great if I had to defend myself against a well-trained guard with nothing more than a small shield. Looking around, I spotted a mace half buried in the mud, just outside of the warring mob. I glanced around before making a dash for the discarded weapon and retreated back to my place along the wall. Mace in hand, I slowly crept my way closer to the keep.
Back at the gate, the immense Lord finally appeared and began slashing wildly from atop his horse, not caring whether his blade met friend or foe. He advanced slowly, cutting down everyone in his path. I cursed as I watched his progression toward the keep. I needed to get inside before he did, or all my efforts would be for nothing. I breathed deep, taking in the scent of dirt and blood so thick I could taste it. I bolted towards the keep door, swinging my mace at anyone who dared stand in my way. One guard fell with a hit to the shoulder, another by a solid hit to his knees, a third when the mace slammed into the side of his head, caving his helmet inward. They fell, one by one, and I left them behind without a backwards glance. Just as I reached the door, it swung open and a pair of guards ran out expecting to join the fray. The first didn’t even see me before I swung my weapon into his stomach. I slammed my shield against the second, pinning him against the stone keep. He reached for his sword, but the shield blocked his path. Dropping the mace, I ripped his knife from his belt and planted it firmly in his side. When I stepped back to retrieve the mace, he fell forward, making me side step to avoid his fall. When I glanced back, I saw my commanding knight was no longer atop his horse, but he was still hacking his way towards me. I ran into the keep and barred the door behind me. The prize this castle held was too precious to share.
I crossed the large hall, my feet crunching the old rushes as I ran to the wooden stairs beyond. I could hear shouts from above, and as I ascended the first step, another pair of guards rounded the corner. Two swords crashed onto my shield, cracking the wood down the center. We struggled for footing on the stairs, swinging our weapons and avoiding the blows until I landed one on a thigh. The man screamed and fell forward, narrowly missing me as he tumbled down the stairs. In my effort to avoid the falling guard, I stepped right into the path of a sword thrust. Blood poured from the hole in my shoulder as I stumbled down a step, giving the guard a chance to slice into my leg. With a roar, I jumped forward and knocked him down with my broken shield and slammed my mace down onto his helmet. I could hear the injured guard’s cries as he lay at the bottom of the stairs, but I didn’t look back. I ran up the stairs and around the corner, straight onto another wooden staircase, this one winding it’s way upward towards the top of the tower. I met no more resistance as I ran, taking the stairs two at a time. As I reached the door at the top, I could hear the bellowing rage of the huge knight coming from below. The door was unlocked. I pushed it open and stepped inside.