*Wordcount: 1571 words.
Thunderous clouds in the distance threatened a storm that would send most men scattering for shelter. The army had no such respite. Onwards they marched, their esteemed leader at the fore and the mighty army, tens of thousands strong, arranged in ponderous columns that stretched across the barren landscape.
The dust they kicked up hung heavy in the air, leaving those at the back of the army choking in the footsteps of their allies. Among these ill-fortuned soldiers was a talented and shrewd general, ill-favoured by their emperor and, thus, commanded to see to it that the men in the rear remained organised.
This general’s name was Archimedes, and his temper hung above him like the distant storm clouds.
This whole campaign was a mess, with misstep after misstep leading them to their inevitable loss. The emperor ordered this show of military might based off of a supposed insult, and drew together a mighty force. Their arms and armour were superior to their foes, but their leadership was abysmal and, despite their vast numbers, their foes had powerful defences and fortifications.
Archimedes stewed on this, his eyes stinging from the dust being kicked up. He glanced behind him at the gathering storm, and felt a cold determination grip him.
He was the only one that saw their dismal odds, and that meant that he was the only one who could stop it.
The emperor himself, Eclesius, was a frail leader. A tall, full-bodied man who was weak in the mind and had no talent when it came to military formation. The other men loved him, including the other generals, and Archimedes had come to form a great resentment of them all.
How could it be that only he saw the threat that this ‘emperor’ posed?
It never crossed his mind that he might be wrong. Instead, it cemented a drive that had started as a dream in the recesses of Archimedes’ mind. If he was so attuned to such subtle threats, then wasn’t it at all possible that he would make a stronger leader?
The more Archimedes thought about it, the more sure he became.
Surely, it was destiny! The will of the Gods! Why else would such thoughts implant themselves in his head, if not by divine will?
So be it. Archimedes would save the emperor’s army from the emperor himself, and put an end to this foolish campaign.
The clouds were above them, and the land was shrouded in darkness. Those in the dust suffered the worst in the darkness, as men tripped over unseen rocks or stumbled down holes as dark as the ground. Even with a number of torch bearers, the dust and heavy clouds obscured too much.
The going slowed, but still they marched. There would be no orders to stop, Archimedes knew. They had a long way to go.
As Archimedes watched his fellow soldiers battle through this darkness, hearing those who fell cry out in pain and the whinny of horses fallen themselves, his anger grew.
He gave orders to a trusted lieutenant, and spurred his horse up the column of men.
His armour weighed heavily on him, and the sword strapped to his hip felt like it was pulling him down. Archimedes would give the emperor a chance, try to talk to him.
He would have to see reason eventually, as stubborn as he was. Archimedes ran a hand along the hilt of his sword, and considered what he would do if the emperor refused reason yet again.
Thunder boomed overhead, and Archimedes had to take a moment to calm his horse.
He rode onwards, and tried to shake his fears out of his head.
At the very least, he was glad to be out of the dust.
At the front of the column, rode Emperor Eclesius. He was resplendent, his gilded armour lighting up with every streak of lightening. To the men around him, he seemed like a god upon himself. A force to be reckoned with, shining with the roar of lightning itself.
The great hammer upon his back was wrought in the shape of a roaring lion, and that was how his soldiers saw him.
The Emperor who would claw back lost territories, and restore them all to a glory they had not known in hundreds of years.
The Roaring Lion would tear into their foes, and reduce their army to ruin.
Eclesius himself was not as certain. This whole war had been spurred by his advisors, who he found to be acting behind his back! They had sent messengers and envoys, and by the time Eclesius had realised it was too late.
The damage was done, and the great military campaign had been announced. If Eclesius had reneged on the claims made by his advisors and representatives, he would appear weak. The people of his Empire needed a strong leader, and if they faltered in that belief for a moment… No, it could not be allowed.
So Eclesius had donned his ornate armour, gathered his mighty army, and placed men he could better trust in charge. As for those who acted behind his back, they were secreted away in the night and tortured. He supposed they would be dead by now.
He would let no one stand in the way of his rule, and those who dared act against him would meet a grisly fate.
Eclesius heard the steady gallop of a horse approaching, and kept his pace at the fore.
Eventually, one of his generals rode up, red faced and huffing. Eclesius looked at him, trying to recall his name. Achilles? Archus? Something of that nature.
“My liege.” Archimedes spoke up.
“Is there news?”
“No. I wished to speak to you once again.”
This manner of speaking bluntly irked Eclesius.
“On with it then.”
“This campaign is ill-fated. I’ve voiced my concerns again and again, and you have refuted me each time. The clouds that gather are a poor omen, and the men are wearing down. We cannot hope to win.”
It was then that Eclesius remembered. Archimedes, an upstart young general who had been opposed to this campaign from the start. And here he was, again, singing his same tune and speaking so bluntly to his own Emperor.
Eclesius felt a swelling rage, but calmed himself.
“Archimedes, you have said as much before. If I recall, no one listened to you then either. Our campaign is in righteous cause, and our might is unmatched! I suggest you have more faith in your Empire, and in your Emperor.”
At this, Archimedes fumed. He held the symbol of the holy cross around his neck, and spoke. “My faith is strong, my liege, but it lies in those deserving. God himself speaks against this foolhardy march, the weather itself turning against us!”
And, as if on cue, the clouds burst, and rain poured.
Eclesius stopped his horse, and turned to face Archimedes.
“How dare you?” He roared. “You speak out of turn, general, and show yourself as the brash youth you are. Strip yourself of your general’s armour, and leave. I have no place for men such as you in my Empire, let alone my battlefield.”
Eclesius turned back, and rode to the head of the column once more.
Archimedes, instead of turning around and leaving in defeat, stayed still. He watched his ‘emperor’ ride ahead, his rage reaching a boiling point. He had tried his best.
He bowed his head, clutching his cross, and said a brief suffrage.
Archimedes galloped forward, kicking up mud. The sound of his horse was drowned out by the pelting rain, and he drew his sword.
Before anyone realised what he was doing, he reached the ‘emperor’ and plunged the blade through his back.
Eclesius felt a stinging pain, and shouted out. He stumbled, and fell from his horse. The heavy hoof-falls of the armoured warhorse fell on his head, and he slipped from consciousness.
Archimedes leapt off his horse, cutting and stabbing at the body of Eclesius.
With a mighty shout he drove his sword into Eclesius once more, and left it sheathed in his flesh. He turned to address the stunned men around him.
“You are free! I have slain this tyrant, who would surely lead us to our ruin! I have heard the word of God, and freed us from destruction! In the name of our Lord and in service to our empire, I claim the throne!”
Archimedes was not met by the applause he had hoped for, or even the sullen acceptance he had thought much more likely. Ascension to the throne by assassination was not uncommon, he knew.
Instead, he was met by rage. Men wept, and cried out, and called for his head. The whole war column ground to a halt, with the many tens of thousands behind ignorant as to why.
Men clambered off of horses and charged Archimedes, screaming in fury.
He cut a number of them down, but they were as waves. They did not relent, and tore their way through the corpses of allies and the now muddy ground.
The first one to grab a hold of Archimedes tore at his flesh, gouging lightly at first.
Then the second man reached him. Then the third.
Then, they were upon him.
Blood mixed into the mud in the heavy rain, all of it simply looking black in the poor light. Archimedes was torn apart, screaming.