While there were numerous skirmishes between what would come to be known as Weirmonken and the forces of Amber, the singular and most decisive battle of the campaign took place almost in the shadow of Kolvir itself. The Battle of Jones Falls saw a large force of shapechanging shock troops take on a force out of Shadow, under the command of Prince Osric, Prince Benedict’s Qiang footmen, and Baroness Qin Shi’s elite household cavalry.
Unfortunately, one Prince’s hubris would see the battle start… poorly.
I. Prince Osric deploys his Shadow troops on the forward ridge, looking out over dark expanse of forest (this will one day become Arden, but for now is the edge of Shadow. Above and behind him is a small plateau, which then drops down to flood-plain before Amber itself. He anchors his flanks on the forest’s edge on either side, and deploys in line, with three Battles of armoured infantry, interspersed with archers. It is a strong position, but Osric, accompanied by his personal bannermen, has hurried his troops forward, before the rest of Amber’s forces are ready to march. For now, he is isolated, and facing the might of the oncoming horde.
His men hold their ground, and his archers commit a veritable slaughter as the Weirmonken, funnelled by the thick undergrowth on either side, pack together in tight columns. But they do not stop; they trample their dead and come on in a wave. They assault the line of spears and shields; claws rend pine-wood and canvas, spears tear into changeable flesh, arrows whistle overhead, and the dying begins.
At first, the ones who flee are individuals. Osric is everywhere, an inspiration to his troops, and a living weapon to the Weirmonken, but the lone soldiers become groups, groups turn to battalions, and Osric notices for the first time that his enemy is now stronger.
The dead are rising, their forms twisted and reshaped by the touch of the Weirmonken.
He orders a general withdrawal before more of his troops panic, and falls back with heavy losses. The fighting on his left flank is fierce, and that Battle breaks under the pressure.
II. On the far side of the pass, Benedict hurries his infantry foward, while he suggests that Baroness Qin Shi’s cavalry may be needed ahead. The sounds of battle are obvious, and Benedict fears that it’s the sound of defeat that he hears.
At this point, both reserve forces are behind the crest, and unseen by the Weirmonken.
III. Osric’s remaining forces are kept in the fight only by the Prince’s unwavering energy. As they back toward the steep outer face of Kolvir’s caldera, he dismounts his cavalry to fight on foot. There will be no charging out of this situation; he knows his only hope is the swift arrival of the rest of Amber’s forces.
He has some archers, who clamber up among the rocks, while others have taken refuge in the trees. An Aethling takes it upon himself to secure the Weirmonken flank. Soon, the trees are aflame, and only screams remain of the men of Shadow.
IV. Meanwhile, the broken left flank of Osric’s forces streams back over the narrowest part of the plateau, plunging headlong into trees night to Jones Falls. They are pursued by a large portion of the Weirmonken, hoping to crush these pitiful defenders, before rushing to lay siege to Amber Castle itself.
A trail of dead, dying, and gruesomely reanimating corpses leads back over the ridgeline.
V. Qin Shi marshals her horsemen to a trot. she can hear the sounds of battle ahead, and like Benedict, notes that the pitch of fighting has changed yet again. She knows that Osric has fallen back on the defense, and awaits rescue. Qin Shi orders her own Battles into line abreast, while detaching one to remain in reserve, should Benedict need the support, or should she call for a second charging force.
VI: Spotting the first soldiers of Osric’s flank running down the slope, casting away weapons and armour, Benedict halts his own line. He famously walks forward, and cocks his ear, then strolls up the hill, before looking back at his soldiers. He calmly walks back, and orders his Battles to maintain steady pace, to lock their shields, and stay calm. “Do all this,” he says, “and the day shall be ours.”
VII. As the Weirmonken pursue Osric’s broken forces, they crest the ridge. At first, thanks to a fold in the gently sloping ground, they do not spot Benedict’s line. The fleeing men and women rush through the scattered woods, but their pursuers do not – they veer left, closer to Benedict. This is when his line, in a matter of steps, seems to appear out of nowhere on the Weirmonken flank.
The Weirmonken attempt to turn and face, but some are unaware of the risk, and others are too tightly packed to move. Pressure from the rear, and the fact they are caught between a steep and perilous wood, quickly breaks any semblance of cohesion. Now it is the shapechangers’ turn to flee, and Benedict orders his men to maintain contact, but not to rush or charge. He wants to carefully destroy his enemy, without risking further losses.
VIII. He does not lead, them, however. He takes some of his best swordsmen to attack an Aethling attempting to rally the troops. The fight is short, but hideous. Benedict is triumphant, but with sorrow he must kill again those of his men who fell.
IX. Qin Shi waits until the last moment to order her horse to the charge, and strikes upon the Weirmonken flank like a hammer on an anvil made of ice. The attack is so unlooked for that all along the line, her cavalry interpenetrates the enemy. These small knots of horseman are surrounded, with heavy losses. But the pressure of the attack is too much. Osric rallies his own best troops, and with a final counter-attack the Weirmonken give way.
X. The forces of Amber pursue their enemy to eaves of the Shadow forest, where the enemy seems to slip away. None of the leaders of Amber’s forces believe a prolonged pursuit to be viable. Behind them is a scene from nightmare, and the clean-up begins.
“Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”
– General Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.