• Newton Webb

Wulf's Company // Novel // WIP

Updated: Feb 1

The camp was busy, even in the cold light of dawn. Sergeant Wulf smashed the ice in the water butt and splashed water over his face. Filling a small box with water he began to shave with a sharp blade. A group of armoured horsemen trotted by, steam billowing from their nostrils. The sound of whetstones sharpening blades screeched across the camp. He washed the last of his shorn hair from his face. One of his men, a looming brute named Falco, passed him a tin mug of tisane, the bitter herbs sharpened his mind and brushed the last vestiges of sleep from his mind. He thanks Falco and turned away.

Falco looked down at the razer. "Shouldn't be doing that Sir, shaving makes you weak."

Wulf looked up. "That's enough Falco. Ready the men for inspection."

He entered his tent and fulled his thick padded jerkin over his cotton shirt. Reaching for his breastplate, he rubbed at a blemish with his sleeve and then put on his armour. Fastening on his helmet he left to find his men forming up outside his tent. They were an odd assortment of men, but they were his. They stood at attention first holding out their shields, then their swords for him to examine. The equipment was of poor quality, but it was functional. If the blades were chipped enough for his nail to catch in it, then he ordered it buffed out, if the shield's design was damaged he ordered it repainted. He was just approaching the end of the line when a peel of laughter caught his ears. He spun around furious to find one of the other companies captains, Sir Hagen of Greyrock smirking at him from horseback with two of men of arms. His face immediately lost all expression, adopting the careful neutral expression of a common man confronted by a noble.

"Sir Hagen. To what do I owe this honour?" Wulf said.

"I must be lost man, I thought I was in a military camp, let before me is such a vision of beauty that I can only be in a brothel," Hagen said. "I do hope you spent some time teaching them to fight and haven't just sat polishing each other."

"We train daily Sir. Half of them are veterans of the border wars." Wulf pointed down the line. "Good soldiers all of them."

Hagan pursed his lips. "Well, I hope they dazzle the enemy as much as they dazzle me. Come chaps. I'm parched." He spurred his horse on and his men followed suit, one of them a larger gentleman with a flawless walrus moustache shrugged apologetically at Wulf."

Wulf turned back to his men and finished the inspection. His captain, Sir Gruber came over and looked back at the retreating form of Hagan. Gruber in stark contrast was squatter and heavier than his fellow captain with thick muttonchops. He growled.

"What did that peacock want?" He asked. Wulf relayed the conversation and Gruber shook his head. "That man wouldn't know discipline unless it could be found in the bottom of a wine glass. You've got some damned fine men here Wulf. A tribute to the company."

"Thank you Sir," Wulf said genuinely touched. Gruber patted him on the shoulder and tossed him a skin half full of uisge.

"Pass it down the line, then get to the quartermasters. You'll need provisions for four days. We'll be marching at the front of the column until we arrive at X Castle. Add it to my account, I'll look over the figures when we leave."

Wulf nodded. As Gruber walked away to speak to the next squad in his command, Wulf took a swig of uisge and felt the warmth flow down his throat and burn in his stomach banishing the morning chill. It was good quality he thought with a smile. He took a second swig and threw it to Falco who after a long glug shared it with the others. He walked through the tents, the layout was different every time the legion camped, but the quartermaster could always be found somewhere near the centre. He looked to where he could see the royal pavilion looming above the small army tends and headed into the circle of wagons which surrounded the Kings tent. As he closed he spotted the banner of a wheat sheaf and adjusted his stride to head in. He waited patiently in a small queue of fellow captains, behind him, the handsomely dressed Sir Gilbert was tapping his boots against the damp earth and twitching in frustration.

"It won't do Wulf, it just won't do." He said.

"Won't it Gilbert?" Wulf replied.

"It won't do at all," Gilbert responded. He pointed at Gilbert. "This is what the army is reducing us to. Beggers." Wulf listened patiently to the favourite complaint of Gilberts. He was saved from having to give his traditional response by the guard opening the tent flap opening and a querulous voice from inside calling for the next claimant.

He marched through the open flap to see a shrew faced man with small spectacles leafing through a book. "You," he remarked. He screwed his face up as if he was swallowing a bitter drink. "You can have hardtack. Six sacks."

"And the rest?" Wulf said evenly.

"The rest? That's all your company deserves."

"The men will be upfront and scouting for the legion. They'll need meat, beans, ale and uisge as all the other companies get."

"I do not need to be lectured by the son of a traitor. Your men will get six sacks of hardtack and be happy. Sign here." The quartermaster spun his book and presented Wulf with a quill. Wulf drew breath, eyes burning when Sir Gilbert pushed past the guard and marched in.

"Give the man his damned rations or my cousin will hear of this." Gilbert raged. The Quartermaster bristled but nodded curtly issuing the relevant writ. Wulf took it and turned smartly to leave the tent. He nodded his thanks at Gilbert who gave him a tight smile in return before turning back onto the quartermaster.

Heading out the back Wulf issued the writ to the quartermasters assistant who promised to deliver the supplies shortly. Wulf returned to his companies site. Falco saw his expression and tossed the uisge skin back to him. "The lads saved you some Sir," he said. Nodding his gratitude, Wulf swallowed the last gulp of the fiery liquid letting it settle in his stomach. The warmth chasing away the anger at yet another slight. His company was known within the legion as the cursed company. An he was the curse. All because of the actions of a father he never knew.

"When the rations arrive, pack up the site. We'll be moving out shortly." He said.

Falco smiled. "At the front again? We must be truly blessed to be given all these privileges." Wulf returned his smile and headed to pack up his tent. A group of ragged archers walked through the campsite and headed up the road. "Who are those?" Falco asked. Wulf shrugged. They carried the legions mark on their standard, so were likely another band of irregulars. "Hopefully they have big hearts and bigger uisge flasks," Falco said. They both watched the archers melt away as they advanced down the road.

The company marched gaily ahead. Falco was leading the company in a marching song and the sun was shining down. The air still had that crisp morning feeling to it and Wulf was smiling as he marched in lockstep with his troupe. Soldiers from the Dukes had hooked up with them and were patroling the hills bordering the road. In front of them loomed the forest of x. Ancient woodland constantly seeking to swallow the imperial highway that cut through it. Soldiers of oak, beech and elm advancing on the trade route, held back by the Imperial road gangs. They were three days march from Castle X. Whilst the king inspected the defences, they were looking forward to a warm barracks and fresh meat for a whole week before continuing the escort to the capital. They watched as the forest swallowed up the irregulars they'd seen earlier.

Falco looked to the flanks and swore. 'Useless bastards' Wulf looked up sharply. He saw their cavalry escorts holding back as the king's army marched past them.

'We are in friendly territory, guess they didn't want to pick through the trees. Road's easier going.' Wulf said. 'Still, it's unlike the Duke's men to be sloppy.' Wulf walked on in silence for a while and then bellowed out to his squad. 'Weapons practice shields up.' Wulf pulled his shield from his back and held it forwards, drawing his short sword. Falco grumbled causing Wulf to growl at him. The men slid into military formation, lifting up their heavy shields and marching with grim endurance. Captain Gruber walked up to them with a puzzled expression. 'Expecting trouble Wulf?'

'Always Captain. Just exercising the men Sir.' Wulf said.

Gruber raised his eyebrows, 'Very good Wulf' and fell back to his position in the centre of the company. A few of the other sergeants took the opportunity to copy Wulf's men and unsling their shields. As they entered the woods, the sun vanished, replaced by a kaleidoscope of light, fierce beams of sunlight breaking through the canopy to illuminate spots of moss and broken logs. Piles of moss-covered logs lined the roadside from where the road gangs had cleared the trees and left the less valuable timber to rot. Birds chirped around them at this unwarranted invasion. One of the new recruits kicked off a new marching tune, a ribald song about a feisty tavern wench who lost her shoe. The soldiers sang and laughed as they marched through the forest. For an hour the army filed down the road and travelled through the forest until ahead of them they saw a squad of soldiers in full battledress barring the road. The banner they held indicated that they were the Duke's troops. Wulf grinned and ordered the men to down packs. The soldiers happily complied, the heavy packs thudded to the earth and Wulf started to walk forwards towards the Duke's men, he pulled out a bottle of uisge and held it up. He noticed the grim looks on the Dukes men just as around him his men started dying. An arrow thudded into the uisge and he instinctively spun to face the trees from the left where cloaked archers were loosing arrows into his men. An arrow clipped his helmet and he ran back to the safety of his men, arrows thudding into his shield. Falco had formed the men up into a circular shield wall. A gap opened just large enough for him to run in and raise his shield over the reformed barrier. He peeked through a gap in the shields and saw the Dukes men staying in formation watching them die. Inside the shield wall, the air was thick, hot and heavy as the men waited out the storm. Every now and then a man would cry out, there was little they could do if an arrow got past the shields. The packs on the floor caused men to trip and stumble but discipline held. Several of the dead were heaped up in the centre of the shield wall. The claustrophobia was stifling. Wulf shifted to the other side of the formation, he saw just behind them another of the companies units was also in a shield wall, he yelled at his men to shuffle towards them. One man stumbled over the packs and fell outside of the shield wall, three arrows hit him immediately, two more soon after. The men inched across the ground holding formation. As they approached the other shield wall, at the last minute the soldiers merged formations into a square. Wulf looked over to Erhard, the other sergeant and asked after the Captain, the other sergeant pointed and Wulf moved to peer through the shield. The company standard still flew, though corpses littered the ground. The Captains voice could be heard bellowing for his men to reform. Wulf and Erhards men began the slow shuffle back to rejoin the Captain's formation. As they did the arrows stopped. All Wulf could hear was the heavy breathing of the men crushed together.

Knowing what was coming next Wulf ordered his men to hold. The men braced for impact. His shield joined the overlapping wall and he peered out through the gaps. From the tree lines on both sides, twenty paces away, infantry appeared forming up into a shield wall. Falco and the men swore, it was the Duke's army, they looked out at men with the same equipment and armour.

'Why?' asked Johann.

Wulf looked down at the young soldier. 'It doesn't matter. They are killing our comrades, they are the enemy.'

'Jax!' bellowed one of his men. 'Jax! It's me, Alwin.' Silence greeted him. 'Jax! What's going on.'

Wulf ordered silence. As the Dukes men finished forming up. 'Brace' he ordered as the shields locked together and then they watched the enemy advance. Falco reported other units emerging to attack the rest of the company. He looked out at the interlocked shields approaching them, he could see the eyes between the shields and wondered if he knew any of them. The sound of the sergeants urging the enemy on as they slowly approached reached them. Some of the other units tried pleading before their sergeants silenced them. Wulf crouched down behind his shield preparing his blade. As the lines got closer the enemy charged, four deep they slammed into the shield wall with a titanic crash. Wulf's blade licked out in the gaps between the shields trying to stab his opponent in the face, he could smell the garlic on his opponent's breath, a sword was trying to stab him in the legs. He stamped his feet to avoid it and spat in his enemies eyes. Getting a lucky strike he felt the blade grind into his enemies eye socket. He fell back and was quickly replaced by another soldier who licked his blade out. The enemy wall was pushing them back. Wulf urged his men on. Step, twist, heave, step, twist, heave. The earth churned underneath them. The temperature within the formation was hot and humid. He could smell blood, faeces and sweat. He stabbed and spit. A sword got past the shields and sliced along his jerkin cutting into his shoulder. They pushed back the enemy and his opposite number tripped. He stamped hard on his knee and slammed his shield down on his pelvis with a crunching sound. A soldier behind him stabbed repeatedly into the fallen soldier's groin. He ground forwards stabbing, pushing, stabbing. His mouth was dry and his bladder was full. He was shouting, cursing and swearing. The soldier to his left collapsed and they filled the gap. Then Wulf almost fell forwards as the enemy began to fall back. They fell back in good order and once again began to dress their ranks. Wulf ordered his men to move left. The formation shifted to the left in steps finally reaching Captain Gruber's men. They merged into a combined square.

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