The Fates smiled upon them this day. There had been little resistance. Those who did stand and fight wore armor far too big for their frames and wielded their spears with such inaccuracy that one could wonder if they'd ever held a weapon at all. The sun had not yet reached its zenith and it was already clear which way the battle would go. With luck, this town would fall to them within the day and it would be an easy occupation.

One man charged ahead of his own ranks. He was clearly a lighter build than those who surrounded him, smaller and likely younger as well. Yet he was rushing against the enemy with a fervor that the others could not seem to match. His shield collided with those who would stand against him, sending them toppling and leaving them easy prey for a quick strike of his spear. Six of the enemy had already fallen by his point alone when the others also reached the line. Soon the little opposition that had been offered was fleeing back to the buildings behind them, with their fierce invaders close behind.

The Charger caught one in the back with his spear, forcing him to the ground. There he writhed and squirmed, completely unused to the pains of battle wounds. His attacker's assault halted. Though his face was mostly covered with his helmet, his body gave obvious signs of curiosity. He prodded the still living figure at his feet, shifting its armor in order to find what sort of man fights with such inadequacy.

The helmet of his enemy was removed, revealing soft brown hair. It was obvious that this hair was used to finer treatment than any proper warrior would have time to give. It was arranged in a tight roll to keep it from hanging below the helmet fixed over it, though a few strands had come loose during the exercitation of the battle. These rogue hairs framed the decidedly delicate features of the face with soft skin accented by an occasional blemish.

The warrior peered downward at the woman at his feet. She wasn't much older than himself, likely unwed and without child. Her face showed nothing but fear as she tried to back away. Unable to stand, she crawled backward, keeping her eyes on the spear point that was poised above her body.

A moment passed and nothing happened. Something caused the Charger to hesitate. His spear remained above her torso, ready to grant her freedom from the pain that she experienced. The point would sway slightly from the left to the right as she moved; always just close enough to threaten.

Another moment passed. The woman's expression changed from outright fear to distant hope. Her eyes began to plead with her attacker, making unspoken promises of service, duty and love if only he would stay his spear. Her body shook, both from the wound in her back and from the joy that had been allowed to grow within her. She seemed to have stumbled before a warrior who had a kinder heart than she'd heard of.

The Charger's spear plunged downward, thrusting the sharp iron through her flesh and tapping it on the rocks beneath her. Her life quickly pooled around her, even before her killer had pulled the weapon from her body. He moved on, confident that death would soon find her after such a wound and eager to find another enemy to kill.

#

The warriors stood in a formation. Not one made for battle; the distance between each man was too great for such. Even when they were standing for their review, these men appeared to be more metal than flesh. A metal helm covered each head and flanked the cheeks of the wearer, while a small strip plunged between the eyes and protected the nose. This left the eyes and mouth exposed, giving the enemy a look at the fierce face of the one who would be their destroyer, a face that held an inhuman appearance when framed by this metal garb. The torso was protected by iron plate mail, which was undecorated for most of the soldiers. Only the knights possessed any marking here. Greaves protected the lower limbs from any errant blows. A large round shield hung from the left arm of each warrior while the right hand held a spear. During battle, the shields would overlap and the spears would extend above the wall that these created. This was the most fundamental tactic of Altonian warfare.

After their review and dismissal, one among their ranks was summoned. Standing before the officers in charge of the expedition as they sat behind a long table, he seemed unreasonably young. Striped of his armor, he had a much more human look to him than his superiors did, still bearing the heavy metal. The others bore scars to signify their history in battle. He did not. Grey highlighted the short beards of those who wore them. The young warrior had not even grown his first whiskers. Yet despite the obvious differences between the young man and his more seasoned superiors, there was a subtle similarity. Neither seemed intimidated by the other, although both sides certainly tried.

"You broke ranks, Squire," the Captain began. His armor was white and well cared for, something that drew not a small amount of contempt from the commoner before him. "You were reckless and put yourself and your fellow Altonians in danger," A grunt came from the man before the knights. The Captain continued. "As though that wasn't enough, you murdered a young woman. She posed no threat to you and you still ended her life. Its simply shameful." With a contemptuous wave of his hand, he added, "Defend your actions."

"These people were not warriors. They were not even soldiers. It was all that they could do to put on the armor of their fathers and husbands. I could have killed each and every one of them without the aid of my fellow Altonians. But they would have fought us to the end had they not believed that we were their clear superior. You've seen how people will defend their homes. These people needed to know that even one of our men are capable of killing any number of them."

"Such is not your place to decide, Tredias. You are not a knight yet," one of the armored men objected.

"Tredias may have acted rashly, but he was not in the wrong, Raius," another said. "We won the day and my squire did manage to put such fear into these people that they will be loath to attack us before we are done with their village." There was a silence for a moment before the Captain spoke again.

"Very well. Now, about the killing of the girl." Tredias' glare softened somewhat and his body loosened upon this change of subject. A single glance at the man who had defended his actions warned him that he must restrain himself if he hoped to survive this encounter unscathed.

"It had to be done," Tredias said, as calmly as he could. Even so, his pride was not completely absent. "A woman who is willing to stand before our forces is too dangerous to continue living. She had too much fire within her. It would have been trouble in the near future, as she joined and aided the resistance to our occupation."

"So you killed her, an unarmed, wounded woman, because she might possibly have become a nuisance later?" the knight Captain asked.

"I would have killed her eventually. It was just easier to do it at that moment."

No further questions were posed and Tredias was then dismissed and the knights were left alone to speak amongst themselves. The young man waited outside the door, his arms folded over his chest as he watched the closed portal. One might think that he'd intended to see and hear through heavy oak the way his gaze never moved. He was well aware of the possible outcomes. Either the knights would call him back in and hand down their punishment or they would all file out and act as though nothing had happened. He also knew that the consequences would be great if he was found to be in the wrong. All of his training would be for nothing if could no longer continue down this path, for what good was the warrior if he was not allowed to fight.

The door opened. Although he tried not to show it, Tredias started at the sound. For two dreadful moments, nothing happened and he became certain that he would be summoned inward. Then, greeted to the relieved breath of the young warrior, the knights began to file from the room and disperse to their own chambers. No one gave Tredias any real regard until the final knight exited. He gave the younger man a tired nod and the two walked away to their chambers. For a time, there was only silence between the two, but eventually the boy could tolerate it no longer.

"Thank you, teacher," he said.

"Do not thank me," the knight responded. "I have done nothing more than my duty to you." A smile, barely visible behind the thick black beard, rose up. "It was I that taught you to do more than be a follower of men. I would be without any kind of pride if I were to teach you something and be unwilling to defend you when you did it," He paused before speaking again. "It has been five years since I took you from your home and made you my squire. Soon you'll reach the prime of your life and you'll become one of the youngest knights our kingdom has ever seen. Beyond that, you will become a far greater warrior than we've ever known. Stronger and swifter than the Fates themselves." The two walked for a bit longer, taking a more indirect route to the room they shared. They spoke of various subjects and ideas, favorite stories and pleasant memories. The sun had long since begun its descent behind the far mountains when the pair finally found their lodgings. The next day would be frightfully uneventful, with the local populace already subdued and willing to accommodate the imposing army in exchange for their safety.