The eyes of the three riders widened as Mannis threw his tribesman’s axe. Its spiked tip thudded home into the rider to the right of Merikay. The rider jolted backward from the saddle to the ground, where he clutched feebly at the haft. Blood filled and ran from the metal rings of his mail shirt, darkening the ground beneath him as twitched into stillness.
Velhaf grinned broadly. Merikay had his answer. The officer tightened his lips and turned his horse back for the safety of his men. Mannis quickly retrieved his axe, before jogging back within the stick fence with his comrades. Cheers went up for Mannis, and hands descended, clasping his shoulders and slapping his back. Wine skins appeared and began to go from hand to hand among the adults.
Velhaf smiled to himself. In a few minutes, he would order the tribesmen to stations around the village. The women and children would have to wait out the battle within their homes… until the last man fell. But for now, he would allow them to celebrate their little victory, as it would be their last.
Kaliva handed him a skin. He sniffed at the opening.
“It is beer,” Kaliva said. “I brewed it myself.”
“And you still expect me to drink it?” quipped Velhaf.
Kaliva shrugged his huge shoulders.
“Well, whether it is the southmen’s swords or your beer, something has to kill you,” he said, pouring it into his mouth.
After handing it back to him, Velhaf was relieved to see the women and children entering their homes. It saved him ordering them from doing so. His attention turned back to the Vindavians. Merikay shouted orders, none of which he understood, except the last.
A quarter of the contingent stomped to attention and marched forward in another broader rectangular formation. They waited as the caped officers rode their horses in behind.
Velhaf sneered. Cowards!
No Nusallean chieftain would hide behind his men.
“They come! Defend the fence!” he yelled.
Nusallean tribesmen agreed among themselves to take up stations with axes drawn along the boundary. A horn blared and the southmen broke into a run for Velhaf’s section of the fence. When they neared the fence, they had the advantage of reach. Tribesmen either stepped aside or back from the initial thrusts. Some fell, partially skewed. Only Jamathan, the farmer died by a direct thrust.
Velhaj, chopped down on a haft and spun, delivering a slash into his foe. The Vindavians had abandoned their spears in such close quarters in favour of their swords. He glanced aside to see how well the rest of his tribe fared. All held their own except for Mannis.
Did Merikay order his direct destruction? The fighting seemed thickest around him. Mannis didn’t seem proficient so much as savage. He slashed wildly into southmen converging on him three or four at a time. Velhaf’s heart sank as a Vindavian soldier kicked the young man’s feet from under him. The sword descended, coming short of its prey as Lekkel cannoned into the southman. Before the Vindavian fell, Lekkel delivered a fluid upward arc, and spun his axe aloft before bringing it down once more. It snapped a section of mail rings where it struck. More southmen took his place, as he fell.