A Tale of Two Armies – Chapter 1

TaleOfTwoArmies copyLee and I finally got around to playing the first game of A Tale of Two Armies. 500 points a piece for a bit of Fantasy Battle fisty-cuffs. To say it was a blood bath is a bit like saying Khorne quite likes skulls. Rather than write battle reports we’ll be writing an expanding narrative chronicling the exploits of von Bomburg and his nemesis, von Strauss the Red. The prologue can be read here.

The city gates of Middenheim ground open just wide enough for Ludwig and the other household guard to carry through the body borne aloft on an oversized shield. City guard hurried down steps and from their posts at the towering city walls. Some ran to help carry the body, others to alert the city’s apothecary and surgeon. The captain of the watch approached, unhelming his head and letting ropes of plaited hair tumble free. Viktor nodded in respect to the man, he knew better than to let the barbaric appearance of Middenheimers deceive him. They were, to a man disciplined and brutal warriors. Sweat beaded Viktor’s brow as he struggled with his burden: it had been a long walk up to the mountain keep’s great gates and he wanted nothing more than to see his charge in expert hands of the city’s medicine men.

‘What happened?’ The Captain demanded.

‘An ambush. Warriors from the distant North.’ Viktor muttered through gritted teeth. ‘We arrived in time to drive off the remnants of their force.’

The Captain cursed under his breath. He pointed a gauntletted hand at the prostrate form as a group of guards finally took the burden from Viktor’s failing grip. ‘And he was the only survivor?’ Asked the Captain.

Viktor worked his quivering, aching limbs and nodded. ‘He is a Baron of Middenheim. And he made damn sure the whoresons of the fell Gods faired no better Captain, be made sure of that.’

***

6 Hours Earlier:

‘Where the bloody hell is Viktor?’ von Bomburg bellowed throwing his helmet at Sergeant Helmut. The grizzled veteran caught the helmet deftly and said nothing, letting the Baron vent his frustrations. ‘I mean how hard can it be to follow our trail? The sodding cannon crew managed it! A cannon, Helmut! What do you have to say to that?’

von Bomburg scooped up a stone from the damp, grassy, ground and hurled it through the window of the abandoned cottage with a satisfying crass of glass. von Bomburg paced the clearing between the cottage and the old broken down watch tower whilst those few men that had kept pace with him stood at uneasy attention. Boettcher and his knights all but ignored the ranting Baron: if he’d dealt with one spoilt noble he’d dealt with them all. Behind them the cannon crew unlatched the gun carriage from their horses and stood nervously, at a loss as to what to do.

Only the Halbediers and their nonplussed sergeant seemed to be paying their employer any notice what so ever. 

‘I believe they had horses sir.’ Helmut said flatly.

von Bomburg turned and wagged a finger at Helmut, the plated digit so close it disturbed the sergeant’s impeccably waxed moustache. ‘Don’t get clever with me sergeant. Whether they had horses or not they and Boettcher’s lot managed to keep up. And here we are at the feet of Middenheim without the army I promised Baron Heidegger.’

‘With due respect, lord, they are less than half a day behind us.’

‘Oh well, that’s all right then, Helmut,’ von Bomburg stormed. ‘That’s okay then. Well done Helmut! Well bloody done! I’ll tell old Heidegger that I’ll fulfil the debt my family owes his tomorrow morning shall I?’

Helmut couldn’t help but rolls his eyes. The year Baron von Bomburg had not been kind to him. A man of action forced into activity was as cruel as cutting the legs off a horse and giving it a field with which to gallop. He had tried everything he could to convince the Burgermeisters to ignore the edict from Altdorf but even with the civil war it did little good to provoke the Empire’s largest city. However when the Northern house of Heidegger summoned von Bomburg at the head of an army to fulfil a debt of honour not even the Burgermeisters could argue. It was one of the law ancient laws passed down by Sigmar that still held sway, especially in such mad times that the Empire now found itself in. Thanks to von Bomburg’s vast wealth he had an army raised within days and Helmut, charged with making sure the Baron stayed within the walls of his estate, saw it a logical extension of his duties and took commission to fight at the Baron’s side.

Helmut snapped out of his reminiscence as von Bomburg finished his long and colourful rant and stormed back towards the cannon, bellowing at them to make themselves useful and ready the gun for test firing. Helmut sighed, and returned to his regiment of halberdiers about to order them to forage amongst the wooded outcroppings for fruits and other food stuffs, when the small unit of archers acting as scouts came into view running as hard as they could.

***

von Strauss flinched as he felt the air displace around him. A second later the man next to him disappeared in a shower of blood, meat and shattered armour. He laughed as much from the violence of the warriors demise as his narrow escape from the cannon-shot. In the distance he could already see the crew frantically reloading, the muzzle pouring white smoke. It was a good opening volley and he did so prefer his opponents to make good sport. Though Khorne demanded blood and skulls, von Strauss demanded a challenge and as the latter begot the former his God was happy. It also kept the blood lust from clouding his mind fully. The blood God granted him just enough clarity of thought that he could at least attempt to direct his forces although he knew all too well that Khorne gave no such dispensation von Strauss’ followers.

It had proved thus as Chief Kaldrago had surged forward as soon as the order to advance had been given. He and his motley band of Marauders of the Red Hand had charged forward, picks and axes waving wildly in their air. Thick muscles, heavily marked in crimson, pumped furiously as they were driven mad by their need to kill. Their mangy pack of dogs bounded after them, baying and snapping their distended jaws at the air. von Strauss had to give credit to von Bomburg, he not only rallied his men quickly but commanded them well. Kaldrago and his marauders were currently being torn apart by von Bomburg and his unit of halberdiers. But that made no odds, the savage and his kinsman were there to die and little more. No, von Strauss had to fight the temptation to join the fray and deal with the cannon first. Then he’d have to do something about the knights that were fast approaching from the rear having butchered the hounds, albeit at the cost of one of their number.

The mighty cannon fired again. Another one of his warriors disappeared in an explosion of vital fluids. Smoke, dirtier than the last time, billowed from the barrel and the crew started paling water over the war machine in a frantic effort to cool it ahead of firing again. von Strauss smiled to himself. The pace of his men’s advance was forcing the crew to reload and fire far faster than was safe – out of fear presumably.

A growl rumbled from his throat as he felt the blood lust emanate from his men. They tasted the cannon crew’s fear and they wanted blood. As his lips parted to give the order to charge a whickering volley of arrows clattered against their armour. The scouts von Strauss had chased back to von Bomburg’s encampment had broken cover, feebly attempting to defend their comrades. Much to von Strauss’ irritation it only succeeded in sending his warriors into a frenzy. The unit surged forwards and descended on the bowmen. von Strauss butchered them all with a single sweep of his blade as much to demonstrate his dominance to his men as to vent his frustrations. The move had exposed the flank of his diminishing unit to the cannon. He glowered at the crew who frantically adjusted the position of the gun and he offered up a prayer to Khorne. A risky move as the lord of war was as likely to punish him for asking for aide as he was to grant it.

As von Strauss and his men came about to face the oncoming knights he risked a glance over his shoulder at the cannon. There was nothing he could do about the war machine now, the bowmen had delayed them enough that now their only hope would be to engage the Imperial knights and hope the cannon crew wouldn’t be fool enough to risk firing at their betters. The taper dropped and the cannon bucked and instead of the crack, boom and whoosh of a cannon ball, and the inevitable explosion of body parts there was the shriek of tortured metal and a rolling cloud of black smoke and flame.

von Strauss allowed himself a cruel smile. The cannon had misfired and with it the fate of the Empire soldiers had been sealed. von Strauss drew his sword once more and bellowed a challenge at the charging knights. His warriors surged forward with him clashing with the knights with a thunderous crack of blades on armour. Another of his warriors fell, his head split asunder by the heavy blade of a knight but the ferocity of the warriors was too much even for the Empire’s bravest and they turned tail and fled.

As the knights broke a explosion erupted behind the warriors. von Strauss turned in time to see the brass barrel of the great cannon come apart as it tore itself and its crew to pieces as the powder cooked off in the barrel, too eager were the crew to clear the jam and fire on their foes.

The champion of Khorne let his warriors chase after the knights, knowing they’d never catch them but letting their fury carry them South, back past the ruined, broken-down cottage and straight into the bearly reformed and battle weary halberdiers. von Strauss’ blood sang with the joyful fury of battle as ran at the halberdiers who frantically tried to close ranks around their leader, but he would not be denied his revenge.

He bellowed von Bomburg’s name as he swung his blades on a criss crossing motion ready to dismember the Imperial noble that had cost him his house, his lands and his family.

von Bomburg stared down the rampaging Chaos lord impressed and horrified by the power of the man-monster. He reacted instinctively, pulling his blade free and holding it out, arms rigid, lets braced. The Chaos champion was moving too fast to halt his charge and slammed bodily into the sword tip, the enchanted weapon easily piercing the warriors armour and impaling him fully. The weight of the man yanked the blade free from von Bomburg’s hands making him stumble. His fall was halted as a body fell into him. The halberdier crumpled to the ground the sword that had murdered him pulling free with set, sucking, sound.

All around him his men were butchered. Just six warriors had engaged fifteen of his own and they were killing each other with startling efficiency  In moments it was over: his men were burst and broken on the long grasses that had grown wild between the watch tower and it’s broken down cottage and amongst three grotesque and oversized warriors of the North. Before him stood three hulking men, their armour doused in blood, their blades dripping and notched. Behind them the champion tried to rise, von Bomburg’s blade still buried in his chest, but his strength was fleeing as quickly as his vital fluids.

von Bomburg nodded to the warriors in understanding and bent to pick up the sword that had belonged to Sergeant Helmut. The man had died badly, his arms had been severed and his face split open by a brutal axe blow. He raised the sword in mock salute.

‘Shall we?’ He said with a smile.

They came at him all at once, weapons raised and wordless roars blaring from their horned helms. von Bomburg blocked the flurry of attacks, briefly marvelling at the speed and ferocity with which they were dealt. Only his years of sword art saved his life. At least initially. The first blow that made it through his guard caught his vambrace and he felt his arm break. He howled in pain, backing off, defending furiously fighting for some breathing room.

He gained half a heartbeat but it was enough for him to duck below the guard of one of the warriors and lunge forward, thrusting his sword through the vision slit of another warrior’s helm. There was a gurgle and the warrior dropped. The remaining two renewed their attack. Blades flashed and another warrior fell, his throat spilling blood in squirt flurry of crimson just as an axe blade bit deep into von Bomburg’s side. He cried out in pain and dropped to the floor, a gauntleted hand stained red as he tried to stem the flow of blood.

He rolled onto his back as the last warrior loomed over him, axe held high. Around them dozens of bodies littered the floor, the soil already sodden with blood. He sighed and closed his eyes. ‘Come on you bastard,’ He muttered, ‘Get it over with.’

‘von Strauss is avenged.’ The warrior growled.

***

von Bomburg’s eyes snapped open pain flooding his body a moment later. He screamed in pain and anguish. Hands were upon him, pinning him to the operating table. His arm exploded in pain as he was restrained, and he instinctively went limp.

‘Lord, be calm!’

Viktor’s voice cut through the pain, von Bomburg grabbin his purple and grey tunic and pulling him close.

‘Viktor! Viktor!’ He babbled, he could feel hysteria gripping him. ‘von Strauss…’

‘He’s been exiled lord. To the far North.’ Viktor struggled in von Bomburg’s grip despite his weakened state.

‘No, no, you don’t understand.’ von Bomburg released his grip and wiped a shaking hand over his face. ‘von Strauss has returned.’

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