Age of Iron

Writing Prompt: You are a king, with the greatest army of swordsmen in the world. Men bend to your will. But there’s trouble brewing in kingdoms to the east. Tales of men who blend with the trees, who fight with weapons that crack like thunder, and of knights massacred, with only lumps of iron in their skin.

Aelfric the Second, Son of Arthur Bannerman (the same Arthur who had united the Four Kingdoms of the West) sat upon the Throne of the Almighty, wearing only his nightgown, legs bare before the court, head in hands, hair spilling over his distraught looking face.

“Your Imperial Majesty, the court awaits an answer.” Antone held in one hand a scroll, the other fixed curtly to the hilt of his rapier. He was a man of esteem by the colours he wore, bright red emblazoned with yellow. “Do you wish for me to repeat the message, Your Majesty.”

“I do not.” Aelfric scowled from under his hands, “Remember yourself Antone, it is your King that you address, not some common rag.” with a deep intake of breath Aelfric settled back into his throne, a face full of scars now regarding the court, who themselves had been exchanging words in hushed tones, they were now silent.

Aelfric tapped a lone hand upon the harp shaped crest of the throne’s arm. The God’s Throne. A feat of artistic vision. A harp on either side made for the arms of a throne far too large for anyone man, and yet still Aelfric seemed to embody the throne with his presence. The seat was formed from the wings of crouched angels, their eyes averted away from the magnificent being that sat upon their backs, their hands cupped and held up in the fashion of a beggar’s. The back of the throne was a delicate mix of angelic and demonic creatures engaged in twisted battle. In the midst of this otherworldly war there lay a cross that formed the spine of the chair, and upon that cross, baring a kindness upon the throne’s occupant, was none other than the Four Kingdom’s Lord and Saviour, Our Christ Above.

“It seems to me we have a choice.” the silence that lay over the court seemed to deepen as Aelfric spoke on, Lords and Ladies alike all fixated on their Divine Majesty, “We can dismiss the reports as rumours summoned up from the East, or likely the South, as a means to extract fear from our Knights, and from my people. Consider it, men that blend with the trees? Men who have harnessed and weaponised thunder? These sound like the tales of the Pagan, somewhat diluted I grant you, but the roots are there. Thor, for example. Did the mighty Thor save the Pagan Hordes from the Four Kingdoms?” a sinister smile crept across Aelfric’s face, summoned by the remembrance of great and bloody battles with the Vikings; siege weapons drove back their primitive forces, many had been burned at the stake, ans many more hung for treason to a land they did not belong.

“And what of the lumps of iron found in those bodies our scouts brought back?” Antone straightened under Aelfric’s steady gaze, they had long been acquainted with one another even before Aelfric’s rise to the throne, and so Antone was long past used to so sour a face, “Even Your Majesty cannot deny the confusion it has caused among our most learned of Consults.”

“That is why, Antone, I advised of a choice.” Aelfric rose from his throne and with a snap of his fingers no less than five chamber-men and chamber-maids appeared from behind curtains, each baring a piece of an intricately crafted bright blue armour.

A lone maid stripped Aelfric of his robe, standing him near-naked before the court, and then together the servants worked at assembling his armour.

“What King would I be to my people, if I did not offer them a choice.” he smiled, and this time something in that smile served to unsettle Antone, “If the East,” Aelfric continued, “or the South, or consider this, if both were to be spreading rumours to amass fear, then it goes to reason they are preparing to attack our fair Kingdoms. That alone cannot be dismissed, that alone is reason enough to go to war.” Aelfric closed his eyes to taste this final word, a word with which he had become intimately involved with as King, “And yet if these rumours are then true, the I see that we have no choice,” he stopped to address each member of the court individually with the casting of his eye, “but to strike first against this Ungodly Menace.” how clever a King and a speaker Aelfric was, to have started by proposing his court had a choice, and yet to end on so finite a statement, “There is then, no alternative.”

The court exchanged hungry words with one another as their Majesty was fitted with the last of his armour, a suit that shone even in the dark of the candle-lit hall. A suit that bore shoulders spread like wings, over-emphasising the muscles of the arms and the chest and the legs, with a helm that bore horns that Satan himself would have envied.

“To War!” Aelfric cried, and the court roared their approval. All save one voice, the voice of Antone.

**

“Major, I can see movement, coming from over the Walls.” Brigadier Johnson, at the time perched in the top of Sycamore tree, reported back to his commanding office by way of radio.

Up in the treetop Johnson could see the entire Western Palace, a mass of towers that converged on a single hill-bound fort. Flags rippled in the wind atop each tower, and banners swung down from the turrets each baring the crest of a Winged Crown of Thorns. Archers surveyed the immediate lands below, and heavy looking Ballista watched out across the Walled Gates of the Kingdom.

Major Alexanders gave a short, thick laugh, “Well lads, seems we needn’t worry ’bout them Walls then, or them there Siege Weapons! The Swords, are coming to us.”

That was all that needed to be said. With a few quick hand signals the forest erupted into a frenzy of movement, movement barely perceptible to the human eye. Camouflaged infantry took to their positions front and centre, rifles at the ready. Several teams took to the embankments they’d previously dug out, now home to the heavier machine guns. Snipers held their place atop the far distant hills that dropped down into the forest. And the low rumbling of some sleeping giant chuntered away unseen.

**

Aelfric looked upon the forest with a sense of bloodthirsty dread. What if rumours could speak truth? What if the Pagans have returned, their Gods, humiliated, having gifted them the power to harness thunder? What if…Aelfric shook his head, tearing his blade from its sheath. He was a man of action, not of thought. Rarely did his mind ever play a part in the heat of battle.

“Charge!” Aelfric cried, lowering his sword with a force of will. The cavalry rode first, storming the flat-lands, hounding down the space between Aelfric’s army and the forest.

Close behind came the Western forces foot-soldiers, Knights renowned for their speed (but would speed be enough?). Spear-men filled the spaces between the Knights, each baring too a shield that would form an impenetrable wall upon command (a tactic they’d borrowed from the Pagan Warriors of old, but just how impenetrable would that wall prove to be?). To the back, His Majesty’s archers, the sharpest-shots in all the lands (was this still to be the case?), knocked arrows ready to fire. There remained only the Priests, superficial men of war, a coven of twelve residing round His Majesty, meant to offer Divine Protection.

The iron of old clashed fearlessly with the iron of new, as began a battle between the ages.

There was a moment in which it appeared Aelfric’s forces bore little to no hope of victory…

Bullets soared from within the cover of the trees, lancing the innocent mounts of war, sending Horse-backed Riders flying into the air. A single shot to the head from a far-away Sniper saw an end to these brave heroes.

Thunder cracked across the flatland as men painted in the likeness of trees (perhaps they were trees?) rose into a charge, each mouth pealed back into a satisfying snarl as man after man of the Sword fell before their shells.

And then came the heavy guns, already cavalry and esteemed Knights alike were drowning in blood, barely a lone blade able to come close enough to strike at these savage demons… and now? Aelfric’s army fell in unimpeded, a roar like that of a God thirsty for revenge ringing out across the lands.

Three machine guns, to steal the lives of thousands.

But the war was not lost. Still Aelfric charged with not a bullet finding its way through him. He faltered for only a second when Clarke’s head exploded in a shower of raining red, and yet (impossible as it was) this Priest was the only of the twelve to fall before the enemies guns.

With a knowing in his eyes Aelfric waved his blade ceremoniously over his head, “Burn them… burn them all!” he cried.

Smoke rose from the far reaches of the forest and in mere seconds fire was tearing its way though the greenery. Aelfric, somewhat misguided in his notion, had sent scouts into the forest under cover of his attack, to set fire to the trees. He believed that men who could blend with the trees must likely be born of the trees, and what better way to devour an army of nature than with their Mother’s own Divine arch-nemesis.

Flames soared into the highest canopies of the forest, burning out those perched in the branches. The Snipers of the far hills were blinded by the smoke and the raging red, the men still in the forest were forced to flee out into the open. The machine guns were abandoned, and in the mass panic of confusion Aelfric’s forces descended on the gunmen.

Guns are a fine weapon from so far a vantage, but up close an personal it was the Knights that held favour with death.

“Shield Wall!” Hagardson, one of the Kingdom’s eldest Knights, screamed at those around him. And the Spear-men came. A great Wall was formed, a wall so eerily alike the one that Major Alexanders had been so wary of scaling.

The tree-beast (as Aelfric’s army had come to think of them) were cut down in their masses. Spears easily penetrating the soft armour these creatures wore. Knights became a blur among the falling blood of the enemy, their supernatural speed sending them dancing from body to body. Many of Aelfric’s men still fell before those that managed to rear their gun in time. But it was too late for a flawless victory from either side. The impossible odds had been evened.

Aelfric charged into the forest, his Diving Consort surrounding his steed, and without so much as thinking of a direction he found Major Alexanders, backed up against a tree.

“You.” Aelfric beckoned the man to his feet, with his sword to the Majors throat, “You are the Ruler of this army, are you not?”

Alexanders clenched his fists as he spat in Aelfric’s face, the drizzle misting through His Majesty’s helm.

Aelfric shuddered, flexing his shoulders so that the wings spread apart, “I wish you hadn’t done that.” he raised his sword to strike.

Alexanders smiled, quickly grabbing at his chest, holding down the switch of a radio, “Release the Kraken.”

Aelfric’s sword descended, and Alexanders’ throat was cut. The Major fell with a sickening grimace forever etched upon his face.

Somewhere deep within the forest the chuntering of an enormous, mechanical beast rose to life. The ground began to shake as the earth was torn up beneath feet formed from tracks, and the very trees themselves swayed from the deepest root to highest crown.

“Kraken?” Aelfric mused, unfamiliar with the name. But the sensations of the ground were clue enough. They hold liege with the Giants of Old? Well, so do I. He turned to one of his priests, bowing down to whisper, “Open the Gates, it’s time.”

Copyright © K R Perry 2019


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