A Tale of Two Armies – Chapter 3

TaleOfTwoArmies copyAnd so we get to chapter 3 of the expanding tale of Ludwig von Bomburg and his nemesis; von Strauss the Red. This narrative relates to the 1,000 point game Lee & I played a month ago – yes I’ve been very slack.

von Strauss eyed the Empire army with grudging respect as they barreled towards the sacked town. Armour glistened, elaborate banners snapped in the breeze and blades were sharpened to a perfect and keen edge.

The beastmen were as craven as von Strauss had hoped. They were swept aside against the tide of the Empire’s charge as they thundered into the small, ruined, townstead. Blades rose and fell in the morning sun, glimmering like broken shards of light chased by a rainbow of deep claret. A few gors turned to face their attackers, running to improvised defences and lunging and stabbing with crude spears and rusted swords. It made no difference, the herd was in full-blown route. The morning air was filled with the thud of flesh cutting meat, brays of pain, wordless cries of rage and the drumbeat of hundreds of hooves and feet at full run. Carrion birds, gorged on the carcasses of the townsfolk, took flight on broad oily black wings, crying out their disgust, hooked beaks snapping at one another before settling into a lazy circling flight above the town awaiting fresh feed.

von Strauss jumped down from the rocky outcropping he was using as a vantage point and surveyed his own force. The might of the Blood God was arrayed before him. Knights in spiked armour, atop cruel and violent steeds jostled for position at the front of the charge. Along side them Juggernauts snorted and stamped, their own riders itching to cut flesh and break bone. Further down the line, amongst the trees, he could see the form of Baduk. Charged with commanding the second wave, he was hungry to prove his worth. Perhaps too hungry: he was pacing the line with his weapon drawn, every now and then turning to charge ahead before stopping himself. The path of Khorne was a difficult one. The weakest lost themselves to mindless blood lust and were little more than mindless warriors to feed into the gears of the war machine, but those that could control and channel the blood lust were true horrors of war. Baduk was teetering on the edge, his mortal form still adjusting to the blessed power bestowed upon him by their God. 

‘Hold!’ von Strauss roared. They need only wait mere moments more. Just long enough for the Empire force to chase the herd into the woods. Already he could see von Bomburg halting a portion of his force, as expected, to garrison the town, search for survivors and douse the fires. Just a few moments more and they’d be alone and powerless to stop what was to follow. The bray of the Dragon Ogres that had pledged themselves to his cause emphasised the point. The hulking beasts fought amongst themselves to prove their might, thudding clawed fists into pug jaws, snapping teeth amidst barks of mild amusement.

von Strauss turned as the last of the pursuing Imperial units disappeared into the treeline and raised his hand ready to signal the advance.

‘After them!’ Baduk’s voice cut through the background hum of an army ready for war. His words were immediately met with a roar of approval and the hundreds of bodies around von Strauss surged forwards even as he roared the order to hold. Baduk was already tearing through the trees, axes raised high above his head, those contingents closest to him in hot pursuit.

‘Hold!’ von Strauss bellowed just as Baduk’s own order to charge echoed through the trees. The blood lust had been left to build too long, the need to kill left unsaited and it was too much for the weak souls at his command crumbled beneath the weight of their unholy addiction and surged into the woods. von Strauss roared his frustration to the heavens, lashing out with his blade at anyone within reach damn fool enough to disobey his orders.

As the stampede died away and the dust settled he was left with barely a battalion of men. To his utter surprise some of his knights and skullcrushers had stayed by his side. Clearly the prospect of bloodletting not as powerful as the knowledge of what von Strauss would do to them if they dare disobey him.

He knew he had no choice. His army would have given themselves away. von Bomburg would know a large force was in the forest and either be fortifying his position or falling back to the mountain city of Middenheim. Taking one last look at the fraction of the army he now commanded he silently dropped his sword in a chopping action and his army advanced.

***

‘Sir.’ Viktor called as he lowering the telescope, ‘I think you better come and see this.’ The grizzled veteran and head of the von Bomburg household guard rested a hand on the shattered wall defences and sighed with the weariness of a career soldier at war. His lord was quick to respond, yanking the looking-glass from Viktor’s hand before cursing extensively.

von Bomburg drew his sword as he recognized a familiar figure at a quickening horde of warriors of the North. Breaking ahead of the force Knights on massive cruel steeds and hulking steel monstrosities were closing the distance at an alarming rate. He felt the cold steel of fear grip him and he felt the weight of the hip flask at his hip. He turned to Viktor, his guard commander disturbingly calm.

‘Muster the men.’

***

The soldiers of the Empire had advanced under the bellows of their sergeants to put distance between them and the town in the hope sparing any survivors that may be cowering in the ruins. The grass was long under foot and low hillocks offered no protection and only obscured line of sight to the detachment of handgunners and the cannon at von Bomburg’s disposal. The sparing of the peasants meant there was nowhere for von Bomrburg’s men to hide when the hulking cavalry at von Strauss’ disposal broke apart the Imperial line. Against the broken ribs of Immelscheld the foul knights of von Strauss’ army smashed aside their Imperial counterparts as quickly and as efficiently as a farmer bringing in the harvest. von Bomburg watched in horror as they were butchered to a man just as the knights on the daemonic creatures rode past the unit of Demigryphs gifted to him by Middenheim and smashed through his lines, slaying their way through his ranged units and the precious cannon at his disposal.

He watched in stunned disbelief as the two units slowly dismantled his forces. All around him his men died to the axe blows and swings of cruel edged swords. Just eight soldiers and their mounts, that’s all they were. And the two infantry units, with von Strauss at their head, had yet to engage. Perhaps Sigmar had decided it was his time after all…

Then he spotted them, the Demigryph knights that had failed to stop the cavalry charge were left perfectly positioned to attack the rag-tag group of Northmen running towards his own beleaguered unit. And attack they did. The foul tempered Demigryphs stormed into the marauders and butchered them. The knights atop them barely had time to draw their blades before little more than bloody chunks of the tribesman remained.

von Strauss and his unit turned to face the threat but his men knew it was hopeless and some of their numbered dragged him away from the fight, risking mortal wounds at the hands of their lord as he vented his rage, but better death at the hands of their lord than a lifetime of torture at the hands of Khorne for failing him.

von Bomburg stood at the centre of a raging storm of pain and death. His men gave their lives for him, dozens dying to just pull down a single Knight. They would prevail through sheer weight of numbers but the cost would be great. The Demigryphs collided with the warriors atop the daemon creatures and they tore bloody chunks from one another. The brass and metal beasts snorted and snapped as the Demigryphs screeched and flailed, claws of bone and steel crashing in sprays of blood and liquid fire. But already battered and bloodied from prolonged fighting the skullcrushers were driven off as the last of the knights were overwhelmed.

He stood on shaking legs, utterly unharmed with barely a dozen men left alive around him. The rest of his army he already knew were dead, torn asunder by the rest of von Strauss’ force and no doubt the fell beasts that he now knew had lured them from the safety of the mountain city. All around him lay the price of his folly. The broken bodies of his men and the foul corpses of his enemy lay entwined.

As he trudged back up the steep slope towards Middenheim with the survivors in tow he knew that he’d see von Strauss again and that the man would ultimately kill him. He would have no choice but to return to Marienburg shrouded in shame and begin the muster all over again.

***

At the edge of the woods an elegant rider watched the crushed warrior with keen, slate coloured eyes. His hair was long, pale and tinted purple and perfumed with a mixture of oils. Delicate ink work swirled up bare, tightly muscled, arms leading up to a suit of exquisitely crafted silver armour beneath which white robes patterned with pink flames.

‘Come on Ludwig, old boy, chin up.’

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