Part One

Whenever Sir John Knighthawke, First Knight of Minoc and son of Galen, fought in the Britannia’s forever war in Eodon, he was struck by how young most of the Britannian troops were. Young lads, one and all, from around 16 to around 25. All were there voluntarily. In a very martial culture like Britannia’s a great many young men were attracted to a life of violence and the military was an important outlet for them. Many of these boys, John knew from talking to them, saw the military as a less dangerous choice than adventuring or guarding caravans but a less boring choice than enlisting as a town guard. Some intended to rotate out after a tour of duty or two, some intended to stay, but either way John was pleased that the boys hadn’t turned to the brigand life because then, sooner or later, he or Duncan would probably have to kill them.

John stood out amongst them partly because he was there for a few attacks, not for an entire tour, but mostly because he was noticeably older than the soldiers, used different armor and weapons, and possessed the bearing and manner of the lower nobility. Most of the boys were commoners. John's upbringing had been distinctly noble in character and he had not realized until well into adulthood that he had no actual noble blood whatsoever. He therefore spoke and behaved different to his fellow combatants. There were some nobles among the superior officers but those weren’t often seen doing the actual fighting. Even the great Sir Geoffery of Jhelom only rarely actually drew his weapons, mostly managing the affair from a distance.

John had learned long ago that in many settings being married to Tanda meant having to put up with the occasional lewd joke at her expense, and spending time around these boys was definitely not an exception. The lewd remarks from some of the boys made a strange pairing with the seeming veneration for John’s status as a Knight and Tanda’s as Governor from others. Either way, the boys appeared to mean no ill will and John took the lewdness in stride. Or, at least, he tried to.

Or, at least, he appeared to.

The actual fighting in Eodon mostly occurred in an open underground pit existing between the Britannian camp and the village of the Barrab tribe. The Barrabs worshiped the giant ants known as the Myrmidex, an evil, violent, and destructive force that sought to cause the ruin and decay that normal-sized ants thrived on. And though, in theory, the war was between Eodon and Britannia on one side and the Myrmidex on the other, John knew that the Barrab tribe was as much the enemy as were the Myrmidex. John had killed many of them in the pit. Most of the boys hesitated to focus on the Barrabs, thinking of the Myrmidex as the priority target. Perhaps that was arguable, but John disagreed, and there were no contrary orders from Sir Geoffrey, so John treated the Myrmidex and the Barrabs equally.

The fighting in the pit was up close and intense, a never-ending game of advance and retreat. Most of the boys were armored in partial plate harnesses and armed with halberds. The halberd was a versatile weapon (part hammer, part spear, part ax) and the boys had been well-trained in all of the various ways to use it. They favored using the halberds as spears, making a formation to split up the enemy’s ranks, then battling in a more chaotic fashion once their ranks were broken.

Given the close quarters, John was obliged to fight on foot most of the time – the pit may be open but the ceiling was low, the lighting was poor, and mounts’ ability to maneuver was constrained. John’s entire equipment setup, from his preferring chainmail armor to his use of the sword instead of a halberd or similar weapon, made him a more mobile fighter than the boys. John wasn’t used to fighting this way, at least not since he was a lad himself, but experience and training both had made him versatile, and he managed. He contributed mostly by whirling and dancing around the edges of the boys’ formation, hacking off the limbs of the enemy and thrusting towards the vital organs in their midsections and doing his best to extract any of the boys who found himself caught alone against superior numbers of the enemy. John had long ago learned how to pierce right through the natural armor of the Myrmidex. The Barrabs, rarely armored to any serious degree, were vulnerable but fast and powerful. Their spears could punch through the half-plate armor of the boys unless they twisted their bodies to take full advantage of the curved, glancing surfaces afforded by the armor’s design. John usually relied on his shield and armor in conjunction, to fix the spears and hold them in place while John stepped inside the spears’ effective range and hacked and stabbed with his longsword. With the Barrab mages, the key was to simply take what damage their spells inflicted, John was well practiced at the art of resisting magic, then close the distance as quickly as possible. Sometimes a lunging motion was effective, as the Barrab mages didn’t seem able to judge the length of the longsword as well as other opponents John had faced and couldn’t get out of the way in time.

The boys lacked John’s experience and flexibility, and injuries were frequent. Fortunately, thanks to the advanced state of the arts of healing in Britannia and the fact that the boys were well-equipped and trained for the task at hand, deaths on the Britannian side were relatively rare, but they did occur. Most of the bodies were able to be taken out of the pits on time – but on occasion the boys were subject to the horrific sight of one of their former comrades’ corpses being devoured by the Myrmidex. Usually they were dead by the time the eating started. Usually.

John also on occasion would conduct solo raids into the Myrmidex or Barrab territories, killing as many of the enemy behind their own lines as possible. It was dangerous and grim work but at least John could ride his horse, or his armored swamp dragon Artex, and use the particular art of mounted combat to which he, as all Knights, had been raised.


  • Part Two

    In the nature of both the war itself and of the combatants, the contrast between the Eodon battlefront and the Ilshenar battlefront was stark. In Ilshenar the primary Britannian security concern was the remnants of Exodus’s cult and his mechanical monstrosities, the battleground was a large underground area known as the “Exodus Dungeon,” and the war mostly was fought by Paladins of Trinsic who had answered, more or less directly, to Dupre. Now that Dupre was gone, John wasn’t sure who was in charge, and it seemed prudent not to ask. The men were content to carry on as they had been; they were occasionally a sensitive lot; and John had learned that most of Dupre’s Paladins lacked Dupre’s skill and charm.

    And John flat out didn’t like most of them.

    Dupre’s Paladins were older than the boys of Eodon, averaging around 30 and the oldest being slightly older than John. Most were of higher social status than the boys who fought in Eodon, and were far too conscious of it for John’s taste. These were not just normal soldiers, not even mere Knights. These were Paladins of Trinsic, answerable only to their commanders and to Dupre – and, at present, Dupre wasn’t around. Rather than the occasional open lewdness at Tanda’s expense that he experienced in Eodon, the Paladins of Trinsic, when they learned who John was, regarded the Governor of Minoc with a barely-disguised classist contempt that reminded John unpleasantly of the heraldry-obsessed descendant of Wolfgang currently wreaking havoc throughout the Kingdom.

    John did not like pompousness or lewdness but, he had learned the hard way, given a choice he preferred lewdness.

    The fighting was different too, consisting mostly of Dupre’s Paladins combing through the Exodus Dungeon and fighting Exodus's forces more as individuals than as a group. It was, in effect, a never-ending dungeon crawl.

    Truth be told John was less-than-impressed by most of the Paladins. They seemed to have developed methods to do the minimum they could but yet appear that they were doing more than they actually were. Perhaps this was laziness or, perhaps, it was an understandable recognition of the fact that everyone knew the conflict wasn't coming to an end anytime soon, so why risk that much? But, then again, John thought of the boys in the Myrmidex pit. That conflict wasn't ending anytime soon either, but there they were, barely not children, giving it their all.

    At least there was enough room in the Exodus Dungeon, with its high ceilings and wide walls, for John to fight from his horse. And it was well-lit from sources both unglimpsed and, presumably, unnatural.

    At least there was that.

    In one instance John found himself facing a cultist and two mechanical beasts at once while, in the background, two Paladins fought one cultist each. John and his horse, fighting as a unit, in the thick of things, moving this way and that, delivering and dodging hits in equal measure, sword and shield and horse acting as a unit, contrasted well with the Paladins, fighting one opponent each using moves better suited to an arena than a battlefield. John couldn’t even remember how their fights turned out, and it disturbed him that he almost didn’t care.

  • Part Three

    Two different battlefields, two different armies, two different styles of fighting. But these forever wars had a strategy in common: Containment. You couldn't beat the enemy but you could hold him back, hold him down, keep him to one area, preventing the cancer from spreading. It was always intended to be a temporary strategy because, sooner or later, containment is no longer an option. Either the enemy dies, or the enemy no longer can be contained and the cancer spreads. Unlike the chess board, in the real world stalemate was never the end of the game.

    And, all the while, the real enemy, the Fellowship's voice, which also (presumably) was the age-old menace of the Elemental Titans, was out there. The depth and breadth of Duncan’s research had impressed John, and, while Duncan was unable to identify the enemy, John was convinced that Duncan had a good idea as to its essential nature, and, in a sense, how to deal with the unique combination of demonic evil and madness-inducing strangeness Britannia sooner or later would encounter directly.

    For now, though, the entity was just….Out there. Waiting on its own next move, or ours. It sat there, thinking, stewing, probably gathering its strength, and its armies, for whatever would come next. At present it neither was combated, nor confronted.

    Nor contained.

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