Mattias melted in his armour as the hot summer sun baked him and his fellow knights in the valley. They sat in full war gear upon their mighty war horses with banners of red, black, blue, yellow and green lazily flapped with the weak breeze coming off the Schloss Mountains. Mattias touched his breastplate for the thousandth time since putting on the armour in the early dawn.
‘If your armour is loose best call a squire and get it comfortable lad. Never know when we will go.’ Sir Maria de Real told him. Mattias blushed, ‘It’s fine.’ He did not what to tell the veteran Royal Guard why he was really touching his breastplate. She shook her head. She and many of the veteran members of the Guard had not yet fully accepted Mattias yet, he was after all a jump up and a bastard.
Unconsciously he touched his breastplate again. Today I will show them who I really am, I will earn my spurs. While he could not feel it under his breastplate, he knew the green silk ribbon was there above his heart, the charm to return him safe from this war.
His mind drifted back to the girl who gave him the ribbon with her families colours when it was snapped back to the present by the galloping of hooves. A trio of horsemen were riding towards. Two were carrying great banners, one bearing a green horse on a yellow field of Lady at the head of group, Emilia Alba, the Condado of Fraternidad and the legendary Sword of Arcadia. The second banner was blood red with a great sword framed by the golden feathers of a phoenix. It was borne by Mattias’ commander and mentor Glaucus Petra, the current Keeper of the Burning Feather and head of the Royal Guard.
They were met by a second party of horsemen, coming from the ranks of knights and mounted men-at-arms waiting. Mattias saw that her majesty Queen Alexandria was leading them. Her golden hair bare and the great Sword of Fire upon her back. Other lords and ladies, with senior knights rode with her and they met Lady Alba and Glaucus before the army and talked.
Too far away to hear what was being said, he already knew that Lady Alba was reporting on the result of the parlay she had just returned from. Looking up the valley, Mattias eyed the foe arranged against them. The Dwarf army stood stout and strong guarding the road that went up into the Schloss Mountains and towards their city of Adler. Most of the army bore the black eagle of Adler upon their shields, but Mattias could also see the white bear of Eisburg, the silver pickaxe of Este and the brown barrel of Treffen. An alliance of Dwarven cities not seen since the collapse of the Dwarf Empire of Stein. And all brought against the might of Arcadia.
The Dwarves had suffered several defeats at the hands of the Arcadians already having lost the city of Treffen and their army besieging the city of Stein, home of the Stone Wardens and allies of the Arcadians. They had come to our aid in the war with the Elves, now it was our turn to repay the famous Wardens. Now they hoped to keep us from entering their mountainous homeland by blocking the only path into the mountains.
The meeting between the Queen and her commanders ended as a flurry of riders split to relay commands to the troops. The Queen rode down the line with Glaucus and Lady Alba behind her as she surveyed her army.
‘Soldiers of Arcadia!’ she bellowed to them, ‘The Dwarfs have refused our offers of peace and would rather fight than let peace reign! So be it!’ She paced her horse across the front line, causing Mattias to strain to hear her at times. ‘I will not allow them to continue to attack those who have served their people faithfully! I will not allow those who came to our aid in our hour of need stand alone! They thought that they could take what was not theirs and crush those who stood in their way! They believed that we would do nothing! But Arcadia does not forget her friends! Nor those who betrayed them!’
She drew the Sword of Fire and Mattias swore that he saw a flame shoot from its tip as she pointed it towards the Dwarfs, ‘Their arrogance makes them believe that their shield wall will stand against the might of Arcadia! That the knights of Yuki will be useless! To them, and to you! I have only one thing to say!’ With her free hand she pulled her helm from her saddle pommel and placed it on her head, ‘A La Victoria!’
Mattias raised his lance with the rest of the army and in a single voice yelled the war cry of the Campeador’s, ‘A LA VICTORIA!!’ Kicking his heels back and raking the flanks of his horse Mattias and the Army of Arcadia set off up the valley floor after their Queen who led the charge. The roar of the hooves and the clapping of plate as the army charged filled Mattias’ head and rang in his ears. He had charged in tourneys before, but in an army, with thousands around you, it made it hard for him to concentrate as ears rang.
He tried to focus upon the foe he was charging, just lie when jousting. What he saw terrified him. The Dwarfs were at least ten rows deep, all armed with sword, axe, and shield. They were covered in plate, and chainmail, and their shields were linked creating a solid wall. They were not an army of individuals, but a single unit designed to take the force of any attack and spit it back in their face.
Mattias began to panic as the ringing in his ears grew. This is crazy, why are we doing this? No one has ever broken a Dwarf shield wall! All who had charged their lines, from Orc bezerkers to skilled Elven warriors and even Human knights had failed, so why would we succeed?! The ringing drove Mattias insane. He closed his eyes and dropped forward in the saddle, kicking his legs back, and his horse bolted forward with more speed.
As he left the line, the ringing grew quieter, opening his eyes he looked left and saw he was pulling away from the army. Looking right he saw that he was catching up with the Queen. She rode alone, no one around her, with her head held high and Mattias saw she was not afraid, rather, she was pushing her horse to go faster.
Is this how it was he wondered? When she charged alone into the jaws of the Elves who had just killed her father and routed his knights? Was this what it was like at the Battle of the Four Hills when you went after the Elves with only a sword in your hand and honour to defend? It was then Mattias realized that while many thought Alexandria was fighting the Dwarfs for power, or land, she was actually fighting them for honour. Treffen had betrayed Arcadia and her to the Elves at the start of the war. Now they were attacking those who helped Arcadia. While it would be more practical to not get involved in Dwarf affairs, the honour of Arcadia and the Queen demanded that action be taken.
With the ringing gone and his head clear, Mattias spurred his horse on. I will not allow my Queen to shoulder such a burden alone. She already had borne the honour of Arcadia alone at the Battle of the Four Hills, that will not happen today. Mattias rode harder and his horse kept going faster and faster. Yuki must be smiling on me he thought. He looked right again as he caught up to and passed the Queen. She saluted him and reigned her horse back, allowing Mattias to have the glory of hitting the line first.
I may die here, he thought, but I die with honour and the respect of Yuki, the Queen and all Arcadia. As he reached the Dwarf line he thought he saw fear in their eyes as the lone rider came at them like a fiend. Mattias bellowed his final challenge, ‘Theresa!’
The battle lasted less then thirty minutes. Mattias limped his way through the wreckage he and the Arcadians had made of the Dwarf army, leaving corpses and broken shields in their wake. His horse had died and his ankle had been twisted from the fall, but other than some bruises, Mattias escaped with no serious injury. ‘Mattias!’ The bellow of the Orc Glaucus caused the young man to turn. The Keeper of the Burning Flame stood before him, and behind him stood Queen Alexandria Campeador.
‘Kneel.’ Glaucus growled with a scowl on his face. Mattias, confused did as he was bid. The Queen drew the Sword of Fire and placed it on his shoulder, ‘Do you swear, to serve your master and Yuki with honour, bravery and to bring glory to all you do?’ ‘Yes,’ he stammered out as the Queen lifted the sword and touched his other shoulder before placing it before her, ‘Then rise a knight, Sir Mattias Bastardo of the Queen’s Guard. May Yuki smile upon you.’