Chapter 3: Destruction It was time. As much as I would have liked to watch the ritual's conclusion, we needed to attack while the townsfolk were distracted and their backs still turned.
The shaman raised a steaming bowl of guts above his head and the crowd cheered in response. I raised my arm up and twenty archers drew their bows. I swiped downwards and twenty arrows soared. My arm went up, then down again, sending another twenty arrows skyward. Iron rain scattered amongst the townspeople.
The standing-room-only crowd was so tightly packed that the arrows struck mostly heads, necks, and shoulders. A burly fisherman collapsed gurgling with an arrowhead sticking out of his mouth. A little boy perched on his father's left shoulder slewed sideways and fell with an arrow through his back, his neck snapping audibly as he hit the ground head-first. Two men, both cousins, fell with cries of pain, each pierced by several arrows in their backs and shoulders.
A tall warrioress twitched grotesquely then collapsed as an arrow shattered her spine below the base of her neck. For a moment, the fallen went unnoticed.
The woosh of the arrows and the cries of those hit by them were drowned out by the cheers of the crowd or mistaken for the normal cries of children.
Slain villagers collapsed onto their neighbors in the crowd, who dismissed the commotion as shoving commonplace in crowds this big. Then the second volley hit. The warriors, watching the ritual from the steps of their barracks, were high-priority targets and were specifically targeted. Five warriors on the steps of the barracks, four men and a muscular woman, roared in pain and fell to their knees as arrows pierced limbs and flesh.
A pregnant mother, her bulge just starting to show, screamed as an arrow shattered her shoulder. A young redhead, wearing cheap hide panties and a bra, vomited blood and tugged at the arrow sticking out of the soft swell of her right breast. A skinny farmer collapsed like jelly, an arrow penetrating the back of his skull and emerging in his neck. The cheers of the crowd faltered and confusion reigned. The shaman paused his ritual mid-sentence. Heads swiveled in confusion as townsfolk sought to locate the source of the screaming.
Then the third volley hit. A fat merchant's skull was crushed by an iron arrowhead. A young couple—newlyweds—collapsed into each other, both with shafts sticking out of their collars.
A small child, piggybacking on his mother's shoulders, fell back as an arrow destroyed his chest. Next to him, his older sister of eight sat naked on her father's shoulders.
An arrow came down from a steep angle, piercing her above her shoulder blades and emerging two inches below her right nipple. Blood from her pierced lung dribbled from her mouth as she gingerly touched the puckered flesh of the wound. She examined the blood dripping from her fingers with a puzzled look before collapsing over her father's head.
An arrow fired long hit one priestess right between her legs. She dropped to her knees screaming shrilly, hands pressed to her crotch. Her white dress tore as she fell, forever stained red with her blood. There was a moment of dead silence, broken only by the screams of the wounded.
Panic ensued. Men and women ran, pushed, and shoved in all directions in an attempt to get out of the square. The wounded and any who fell were trampled in the stampede.
A teenage girl with an arrow in her back tried to crawl away only to be kicked in the head and knocked out, never to wake again. A young boy tripped and fell to the dirt. He cried out to his mother but she kept running. Heavy boots stamped down on his arm, snapping it, then his back, then his leg.
His cries were crushed by two dozen pairs of feet. Meanwhile, arrows continued to fall. A big, burly warleader, screaming for warriors to form up on him, took an arrow in the chest and fell with a grunt. Two other soldiers had identified our position and pushed their way to the northern end of the square. Their initiative earned them each an arrow in the chest. A blonde teenager running for her life stumbled and fell, an arrow through her side. She rolled end over end, snapping the arrow and her wrist.
She finally came to a stop in a tangle of limbs and thrashed in the dirt. With the townspeople in chaos, I drew my sword and signaled the charge. Fifty-five warriors eager to shed blood roared in delight, dropped their bows, and sprinted towards the town.
I left five archers behind to give us covering fire. As the crowd scattered, townsfolk sought cover wherever they could—in houses, under stalls, or behind walls. Accurate individual bow-fire struck down anyone too slow, too stupid, or too disoriented to find safety.
A young girl kneeled by her slain father, shaking his shoulder and begging him to wake up. An arrow whistled down, skewering her through her back. She collapsed across her father, her blood mixing with his as she shuddered and lay still.
A fisherman running to his home down the southern boulevard was hit mid-stride, somersaulting end-over-end mere yards from his home. A twenty-year-old warrior with firm breasts grunted and gritted her teeth in determination as she dragged herself on her belly towards the barracks, her broken leg dragging behind her.
Two arrows flashed down, one hitting the ground next to her ass, the other impaling her though her lower back, pinning her to the ground. She lay limply in the dirt, defeated, her chest heaving, all her efforts wasted.
A human carpet of nearly one hundred bodies lay in the square and in the surrounding stalls and streets. Three pre-teen girls who had gone together to watch the ceremony lay writhing beside a covered stall. The first, a brunette with shoulder-length hair and budding breasts, vomited blood and shuddered, an arrow jutting out from her ribs.
The second girl screamed, arching her back as she tugged on the arrow just above her crotch. Her bra and panties had come untied, revealing small, high breasts with erect nipples and a shaved pussy. The third, a redhead with a boyish figure and close-cut hair, lay on her back, hands cupped around the shaft in her belly.
Blood leaked from one corner of her mouth as she trembled, trying hard to overcome the pain. As my warriors entered Zavala, the townsfolk finally had an enemy to fight. The doors of the barracks burst open and a huge throng poured out, spear tips glinting in the sun like the twinkling of stars.
The bastards had responded well, arming themselves quickly inside the safety of the barracks. But the town's warriors had suffered heavily in the initial volleys, and most of the "warriors" trying to form a spearwall were really young, terrified trainees. They might have been poorly trained but there were lots of them—at least forty defenders already formed and more joining by the second. The townspeople were running in from all sides to join the defense of their homes, emboldened by the presence of the spearwall and the puny size of our attacking force.
For all their drills, the trainees were having trouble forming a spearwall at the foot of the barracks. The soldiers and leaders were screaming and shoving them into place as we neared the square. The bodies of the dead tripped the young warriors, forcing them to concentrate as much on their footing as on moving into formation. Wounded friends and family grabbed at legs and cried out for help. Many a frantic young warrior reached down to give aid before being thrown bodily into line by shouting warleaders.
Falling arrows further complicated the efforts of the defenders. A teenage male stumbled over the outstretched arm of a wounded merchant, then took an arrow in the chest and fell back with a squawk of surprise. Four fisherman holding boathooks and knives were hit as they ran into the square to join the defense.
A young trainee of fourteen summers rushed to the side of her slain older sister, kneeling by her side and calling her name. A warleader pulled the girl to her feet, screaming at her to form ranks.
An arrow flashed down, striking the girl in the breastbone. Shocked, the warleader shoved her away, and the young teen fell on top of the body of her sister, her struggles mercifully brief. As we entered the square, my lead warriors slowed and with a mighty roar, we charged as one across the final distance to the spearwall, now swollen to over eighty defenders.
Teenage trainees and soldiers formed up in two ranks in the middle of the line, while townsfolk armed with various weapons and tools were stationed on the flanks. Young defenders glanced around nervously as their warleaders tried to hold them steady. The defenders never stood a chance. At the last second two volleys fell amongst the defenders, causing chaos in the enemy line.
A young woman who had joined the wall armed only with a knife was hit below the ribs and fell sideways into a man holding a spear. A naked young teen with long brown hair took an arrow in one full breast and fell back into the woman behind her.
Her legs thrashed wildly, landing solid kicks on the two girls who had been next to her. A boy to her left was hit and span away, his spear flailing around, smacking defenders and slicing the cheek of another trainee.
Two burly warleaders holding their charges steady were shot; one took an arrow through the eye and fell noiselessly, the other took an arrow in the gut and began to scream in pain. Then my warriors and I crashed into the enemy line.
With practiced skill, I knocked aside a frightened girl's spear, then hacked her across the chest. She span away, shrieking shrilly. Frode hacked off a spear and the hand holding it. Hakon charged through a gap in the prickly wall, lowering his shoulder and knocking over a young maiden in a skirt.
A quick stab downward and the maiden squirmed. Svend displayed great skill by hacking off two spear tips then slashing three defenders with a single swipe. We drove in on the right and center of the enemy line and obliterated it in an instant.
Aslak threw an axe at a portly fisherman, then planted another in the collar of a mature woman wielding a spear. Skari put his full weight behind his shield and bowled right through the line, sending three men flying.
Tove dodged the swing of a meatpacker wielding a butcher's knife then stabbed the man through the chest. Erik leapt through a gap in the spearwall created by the falling arrows. He chopped down a distracted teenage girl, then hacked a big male warrior across the back as he barged through the thin line. Elsewhere, other warriors had achieved similar penetrations and turned to butcher the defenders from behind. Herleif gutted a redheaded eighteen-year-old on his way through, then pivoted and beheaded the boy to her right with a wild slash.
The head-long charge was not without cost. Gunhild slipped on a body at the wrong moment. Unable to stop her momentum, she impaled herself on the spearwall. Asgot dodged right to avoid the spear of a teenage trainee, but the warrior to the trainee's left skillfully adjusted his own spear and Asgot ran straight onto it. Hroaldr charged the enemy's flank and nearly cut a man in half with a powerful chop of his sword.
The blade stuck, so he drew an axe from his belt, punched a man square in the jaw, and cleaved a skull before a cooking knife jammed into his side. In total, twelve of my warriors fell for nearly seventy defenders. The one-sided slaughter broke the Zavalans, and they scattered like dust in the wind. Other Zavalans who had been running into the square to join the melee immediately turned tail and ran.
My warriors cheered and gave chase.
"Take prisoners!" I yelled above the scrum. "Take them alive!" Of course, not everyone heard the order, and some were too filled with bloodlust to care. A tall young man dropped his spear and ran, only to be chopped down from behind. A teen girl wearing a sarong yelped as Hroar yanked her back by her long, blonde hair.
He plunged his sword through her back so deep that it emerged between her breasts. She made a choking sound as blood filled her throat and she stared at the blood, ribs, and cold steel sticking out of her chest. Jerrik threw a knife into the back of a twelve-year-old girl wearing a light tunic.
She collapsed face-first into the dirt, hands grasping for the blade but unable to reach it. The last surviving defender was a blood-soaked girl who stood defiantly against Geir, surrounded by a small group of my soldiers who stood by and watched. The girl's blade-work was skillful yet amateurish, and from the heavy rise and fall of her chest I could tell that she was injured and exhausted.
After a few more tired exchanges, the girl paused, then made one last desperate charge. Geir easily blocked her swing, then lunged forward, ending the duel. With all organized resistance shattered, the remaining townsfolk were now undefended sheep before my ravenous wolves. Some hid in their houses while others tried to flee the village. The ones in the houses could wait, but we had to prevent any villagers from escaping.
I did not want anyone alerting whatever forces might be nearby. Twenty-odd Zavalans made it out of the town and ran for the wood line.
A sandy-haired teenager with big breasts practically dragged her ten-year-old sister by the hand behind her as they ran. A cowardly man who had run at the first sign of trouble crashed through the wheat fields.
A mother urged her two young children to run faster. She paused to take one last look at her long-time home, then hurried after her children.
Sunlight glinted off metal arrowheads as soldiers hidden in the tree line fired at the fleeing townsfolk. All but six were brought down in moments. The big-breasted teenager felt her sister's hand slip from hers.
She turned and glimpsed her sister twitching on the ground with an arrow in her throat an instant before an arrow pierced a round breast and she fell into the field to join her sister. The mother took an arrow in the thigh and went down screaming. Her children ran back to her and she pleaded with them to keep running. But they could not leave her and remained by her side until two raiders came and took them away.
The cowardly man unsurprisingly took the cowardly way out, putting his hands in the air as soon as he realized what was happening. It didn't save him, for an arrow slammed into his chest a second later. The majority of the fleeing Zavalans—some sixty men, women, and children—made a run for the boats by the beach. It was by far the best escape route, but it was also by far the most predictable.
My plan took advantage of that fact. I didn't have enough forces to assault the town and establish a tight perimeter at the same time. If a hundred villagers ran in all directions, my soldiers would not have been able to stop all of them. I let the townsfolk believe they could escape by sea, unaware that that hope would be dashed that hope to pieces.