Part Eight

“They look a little pissed, sir.” Arp said. The goblins down in the valley did look agitated.

“I think they’ve just realized that it’s not their cavalry,” Evans drawled.

“Yeah, but whose, then?” asked Arp. Lewis didn’t want to hope too much.

Coleman laughed. “Just when you think you have a grip on the whole thing, the world goes and fucks with you all over again. I’m down with orcs and goblins. Dragons were a stretch, but okay, I’ll buy that. Crusaders? Who else rides horses and has big red crosses on their shields? They got their asses kicked 800 years ago, about 400 miles over that way.” He waved vaguely westward.

Lewis smiled. “Right now, I wouldn’t care if the Waffen SS showed up so long as they pointed their guns that way.” He gestured toward the goblins, who where shifting front to face the rapidly approaching cavalry.

Evans lifted the binoculars again. The crusaders were about a half mile out from the nearest goblins.

The southern regiment of goblins, the one that had attacked up the road, was scrambling forward to face the new threat. The northern regiment, closest to the oncoming cavalry, had rolled out into a broad front, five ranks deep.

“Captain, the new guys are stringing bows,” Evans said without looking away from his binoculars.

Lewis turned to Coleman and asked, “Coleman, the crusaders weren’t archers, were they?”

“No sir. Well, not the knights, anyway. Some of the infantry were archers. But European knights never fought with bows.”

“Sir, you better take a look,” Evans said.

Lewis raised his own binoculars. The crusaders had spread into a broad front, three ranks deep. They maintained the same trot they’d been at since the Marines first spotted them.

Lewis watched as the armored knights raised their short bows and fitted arrows to the strings. Trumpets sounded. As one the crusaders drew back, and five hundred arrows flew.

“What are they doing firing a half mile out?”

Lewis dropped the glasses. He watched the gray cloud of arrows climb skyward. It looks like they’ve got the distance…. And there goes another volley.

Evans was incredulous. “How the hell could anyone draw a bow that could shoot an arrow that goddamn far?”

Five flights of arrows were in the air when the first round hit. Those five hundred arrows hit the goblins like the wrath of god. “Holy mother of fuck!” Evans shouted.

“I don’t believe it. Every single one of those arrows hit.” Pethoukis said softly, stunned.

“What?” Lewis asked.

“I mean not a single god-damned arrow missed. Look.” Lewis raised the binoculars again.

The front rank of the northern regiment was lying dead, most with more than one arrow sticking out of their helmets. Then the second volley hit, with the same lethal effect.

“Whatever mojo the goblins got, it ain’t dick compared to whatever the crusaders got,” Coleman remarked.

Lewis and his men watched the last three volleys hit, each slaying hundreds of goblins as the crusaders cased their bows and unlimbered lances. They didn’t look like the lances from the movies, Lewis thought. “Coleman? What about the lances?” Lewis passed his binoculars to the young corporal.

“Those can’t be jousting lances. They’re shorter, lighter. Maybe ten feet, tops. Jousting lances were fifteen, eighteen feet long easy.”

The knights were closing the gap fast. A trumpet pealed again, a different call. “At least they don’t use those fucking horns,” Pethoukis said.

The lances came down. The horses sped to a canter. Lewis remembered they wouldn’t start to gallop until they were closer. It would tire the horses too quickly.

“They’re charging.” Evans was right, they’d moved to a full gallop, and they were still 200 meters out. “Those are some fast horses.”

The front ranks of the goblin regiment were piles of arrow-riddled corpses. The goblins were panicking. What guns and bombs and mortars hadn’t done, 2500 arrows had. “I think they fear this enemy a little more than they fear us,” Lewis said.

The goblin NCOs were frantically trying to restore discipline. They chivvied the surviving ranks back in line with the flats of their swords and with screams the Marines could hear up in the village.

The knights lowered their lances. They hit the front rank of goblins at full gallop. Lewis watched a knight jump his horse over a crouching goblin, piercing him with the lance as we went by. He allowed the lance to drop down, his forward motion pulling it out of the dead goblin. In a single smooth movement, he rolled the lance over his shoulder and spun it back around for another target. Beautiful, Lewis thought.

The momentum of the charge carried them clear through the depleted goblin lines, where they wheeled and charged into the goblin’s rear. With the knights in their rear, the goblins broke and ran.

That, Lewis thought, is about the most dumbass thing you can do when you’re fighting someone who can ride faster than you can run. Lots of things can get you killed on a battlefield, but few more certainly than turning your back on the enemy.

The knights split into two uneven groups. The smaller one, about a hundred, started chasing down the routing goblins. Some of the crusaders pulled their bows back out, and commenced to leisurely shooting at the backs of running goblins. Others couched lances again and went after still-coherent pockets of goblins, charging and bursting them apart.

Evans said, “Damn these guys are slick.”

The larger group of crusaders reined in, dressed ranks, and aimed themselves at the other regiment of goblins moving up from the east.

This time, they left their bows cased. They moved to a canter to close the distance. The knights’ trumpets sounded, warring with the skirling of the goblin war horns. The crusader formation altered slightly, as the two wings of the lines dropped back somewhat making a giant mounted wedge.

“They’re going to try and split the goblins in two.” Lewis commented.

The center of the crusader wedge charged directly at the middle of the goblin line. The goblins stood, braced for impact.

The second goblin regiment was better prepared than the first. They stopped, knelt, and held up their shields. It looked like a giant flat turtle from where Lewis stood. “Just like the Romans!” Coleman said.

At the center of the wedge was a knight in golden armor, and on each side were knights carrying long, narrow banners. Through the binoculars, Lewis could see that one banner had a lion, the other a weird sort of cross. Behind them, Lewis noticed there were a few riders not wearing armor. Strange, given that all the others were.

Was the golden knight the leader, Lewis wondered? At a full gallop, the gold-armored knight aimed right at the center of the goblin line and lowered his lance. The rest of the knights followed suit, and with an incredible crash they hit the goblins. The noise was remarkably loud, even at a distance of near a mile.

This strike didn’t work quite like the first one. Were the goblins just more prepared, or better trained? Lewis couldn’t tell. The knights didn’t penetrate the line, and horses reared up as the goblins marched forward a single step and slashed out with their swords. Horses fell, and their screaming sounded like men. Lewis winced at the sound.

The golden knight was one of those unhorsed. He bounced back up like he’d hit a trampoline. Good christ, Lewis thought, as the crusader jumped completely over the first rank of goblins.

“Did you see that!” Coleman shouted.

“Look at that fucker go!” Evans shouted. The golden knight was alone, surrounded by ranks of goblins. Through the binoculars, Lewis watched him lay about with his sword. Goblins flew. One goblin rushed in from his off side. The knight lashed out with his shield. Lewis heard the impact above the clamor of the battle as the goblin flew a dozen feet back, bowling over a handful of goblins before skidding to a boneless stop.

Lewis watched, incredulous, as a dozen more knights leapt over the first rank of goblins to land next to their leader. Instantly, they formed a wedge behind him. The golden knight shouted and pointed with his sword, and they waded through goblins, swords flashing and blood spraying.

“It’s like watching ‘300’ on an IMAX screen. I don’t fucking believe it!” Pethoukis said from behind his own binoculars. He’s right, Lewis thought. Like a photorealistic, ungodly gory cartoon. The knights must be inhumanly strong. Every strike with a sword sent goblin limbs flying, and every hit with a shield crushed a goblin to the desert floor.

While this flying wedge carved a bloody hole in the middle of the goblin ranks, the other knights had dismounted. Leaving one in five of their number to mind the warhorses, they formed ranks of their own. With a mighty shout, they threw their lances like spears. Many of them went right through the shields of the goblins, stringing them up like kabobs.

They drew swords and took a deliberate step forward, shouting, and struck as one at the goblin shield wall. The crack was painful to hear, even up in the village. The first rank of goblins mostly dropped, beaten down by the incredible force of the attack. Another step, another strike, and the goblins were driven back, onto their knees. They aren’t long for this world, Lewis thought.

“How the fuck strong are these guys?” asked Evans, bewildered.

“I hope they’re friendly.” Pethoukis watched the wedge, led by the golden knight, cut through to the back of the goblin formation. “To us, I mean.”

“The enemy of my enemy…” Evans said.

“Is not necessarily my friend. Ten years here should have taught you that,” Lewis said.

***

“Well you don’t see that every day.” Pethoukis said. “Jackson would have liked to see this one.”

“True.” Lewis said, and watched.

The bulk of the knights had stayed down in the valley. A small group rode up the battered road to the village.

The horses had trouble negotiating the craters made by the bombs. Lewis saw one of the knights pointing at the goblin corpses lining the gully to the side of the road. These knights looked right out of a story book from when he was a kid. They had plate armor, head to toe. Over the armor they had a long, white vest-like garment that didn’t cover the arms. Coleman had called that the surcoat.

Each of them had some heraldic device on the surcoat, but they all had red crosses on their shields, now hanging from their saddles. The crosses weren’t simple crosses like he remembered from the books, they were complex, pointed, with bars on each of the branches of the cross. The bottom bar on the lower limb of the cross was angled, like the crosses he’d seen in Russia. They’d left the lances behind. The horses were armored, too, and they were big like Clydesdales.

The three knights at the front of the small column were more impressive than the rest. Their armor was washed in gold and heavily inlaid and engraved. He thought the one in the middle was the golden knight they’d watched in battle. As they got closer, Lewis saw that the armor didn’t all look the same – there were some definite differences in style between the different suits. He thought, some looked more – what? – streamlined, I guess.

Behind the three fancy knights were five men who weren’t in armor. Two were dressed like Friar Tuck out of Robin Hood. They had brown robes cinched with rope at the waist and bare feet. Two more had fancy robes, they looked like nothing more than the Russian Orthodox priests Lewis used to see in the when he was stationed at the embassy in Moscow. Their robes were cloth of gold embroidered in greens and reds. They wore huge beards and their heads were topped with large hats in the same colors as their robes.

The last one, though, looked like some random mujj. He was wearing jeans and tshirt. He didn’t look comfortable on a horse, and looked even less comfortable with his companions.

Bringing up the rear was a squad of general issue knights – fancy armor, but clearly not as well tricked out as the ones in front.

As the party approached the barricade, Lewis moved up to greet them.

Lewis had taken off the goblin armor and was back in utilities, though he wore the sword around his shoulder on its baldric. His kit was filled out with .45 at his other hip and carbine over the shoulder.

Behind him, he had Arp and Angelo still in their goblin armor and another dozen Marines with automatic weapons. Though what good it would do if things went pear-shaped, he didn’t know. These bastards went through the goblins like they were pussies. And we’d been running from them for a week.

The knight at the center of the procession lifted his visor. He was a handsome man, in his thirties maybe, Lewis observed. He swung gracefully from the saddle and motioned for his men to do likewise. On foot, he came a little closer and held up a hand in greeting.

He spoke in a deep baritone. What he said, Lewis hadn’t a clue. But it sounded French, somehow. He raised his own hand in return. The knight smiled broadly, infectiously. Lewis couldn’t help but smile back. Damn, this boy’s a charmer. The knight turned and brusquely commanded the Arab forward. Lewis was sure it was a local, he had the look of an Iraqi, maybe mid-twenties with a scruffy beard and deep black hair.

The Arab bowed stiffly and gracelessly to the knight and turned to Lewis. In pure, almost unaccented American English, he said, “I am instructed to tell you that you see before you Prince Raimond of Messene, Baron of Vashkar, Duke of San Brin, Knight of the Rose and Dragon, and Crown Prince of Avalon. He brings you greetings from his royal father, the King, and wishes you take him to your leader.”

***

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Continue on to Part Nine.

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