The next selection features my favorite character to write: Captain Vola, cavalry commander for Queen Viarra’s forces. Vola is a Verleki, a horse-riding barbarian from the east. I based her people somewhat loosely on the Scythians, Sarmations, and other Ancient- and Classical-era, horse-riding tribes from north of the Black Sea, with a bit of Mongol, Hun, and maybe even a little Apache thrown in. In Vola’s native culture, both men and women ride in battle and are required to kill a foe in battle and present the head as proof before they’re allowed to marry. In her 2os, Vola was captured by a rival tribe and sold as a slave, eventually ending up bought by General Derron of Kel Fimmaril. Derron recognized her horsemanship immediately and offered her freedom in exchange for teaching her skills to his cavalry soldiers. Now in her 50s, Vola serves as Queen Viarra’s mistress of horse, training, expanding, and integrating her hegemony’s cavalry soldiers.
Vola is my favorite character to write because she’s the character I have the least control over. I rarely start one of her scenes with a clear idea of how she’ll handle a given situation. She’s just this incredibly tough old broad who intimidates pretty much everyone she meets. She’s leather-skinned, tattooed, scarred, wiry, and battle-hardened. But the fun part is that she’s actually quite intelligent and introspective, knowing her bitchy, barbarian reputation causes others to underestimate just how much she picks up on.
The following scene takes place when Queen Viarra’s army is on the march north to deal with the renegade Vedrian chieftain Vedon. While often boring, one of the cavalry’s most important duties is guarding the foraging parties as they search for extra food for the army. While babysitting a foraging party, an Anache scout arrives, warning of an approaching party of Vedrian raiders…
An Anache came running up the creek bed moments later. “Raiding party!” he shouted, pointing back the way he came. “We’ve got a dozen Anache keeping them busy, but they’ve got at least fifty warriors.”
“Gather what you’ve got and get your asses back to camp,” Vola ordered the foragers. “Skirmishers, screen the fodder boys, make sure there’s no other ambushes on the way. Cavalry, with me! Where away?” she asked the Anache.
“Follow the creek bed until you hear the sounds of battle,” the wraith instructed, pointing the way he’d come.
Vola spurred her horse up the dry creek, hearing her squad thundering behind her. Fifty warriors were probably more than her eighteen cavalry could take, but one of Vola’s favorite aspects of woodland warfare was the knowledge that the raiders had no way of knowing how few Tollesian horse were actually attacking them.
A minute or so later, her squad spotted an Anache hauling a wounded comrade over his shoulder.
“How’s the party going?” Vola asked, slowing to a fast trot as they approached.
“One dead, one wounded so far,” the wraith shouted back as she passed, patting his unconscious comrade. “Nora’s giving them one hell of a scrap, but we’re losing ground fast!”
“Let’s save m’girl, lads!” Vola bellowed to her squad, picking up speed again.
She heard the sounds of shouting moments later. Ahead she could see two, no, three Anache exchanging javelins with a band of hairy, shirtless fuckers with javelins, spears, and shields.
Vola belted out one of her people’s battle cries, spooking the shit out of the Vedrian raiders as she charged up. Drawing three arrows, Vola held the two in her bow hand as she aimed and fired on the first raider. The arrow took him in the chest, to the right of his heart, making him stagger back. Arrows whistled past her as other members of her squadron fanned out amid the trees and loosed on the unarmored raiders. Alerted to the presence of Tollesian horsemen, the Gan raised their hide- and wooden shields. Most of the arrows hit shield, but several managed to catch arm, leg, or shoulder.
Loosing her remaining arrows in quick succession, Vola hit shield with her first and eyeball with her second. The eyeball hit fell backward, screaming.
Sheathing her bow, she drew her kopis and charged full-tilt into the first wave of raiders. In field warfare, charging even unarmored spearmen would have been suicidal, as they’d simply form up and brace their spears. Here in the forest, there was no way to set up in formation, or even a respectable mob.
Screeching another Verleki cry, Vola charged her dappled mount into a dumbass who apparently thought his shield would somehow suppress her charge. The impact slammed the warrior aside, and Vola thought she might have heard his arm breaking. At the same time, she slashed her kopis into the shoulder of another warrior, severing his arm or close to it.
Around her and throughout the nearby trees she could hear barbarians shouting in alarm in their thuggish Gannic language. Her horse-boys were tough motherfuckers, those she’d imported from Kel Fimmaril and the local northern Tollesians—mainly from Chyllar. She’d spent much of the past month and a half drilling them in the forest, making sure they and their horses were skilled at maneuvering on cluttered terrain and using the trees and deadfalls to their advantage.
Their prowess showed through as the pants-wearing barbarian sheep-fuckers fell back before their onslaught. As trained, the cavalrymen hooted and hollered as they charged into or loosed arrows upon the disorganized Vedrians. The extra noise contributed to the barbarians’ confusion, apparently convincing most of them that there were far more Tollesian riders than present. Panicking, the warriors turned and fled, a few of them stopping to gather up wounded allies.
Slowing her mount, Vola sheathed her kopis and drew her bow, firing two arrows into retreating backs before the pack had fled out of range.
“Let ‘em run, lads!” she ordered her squad. Around her and scattered through the nearby woods, her squadron disengaged, letting the cowards flee. “How’s m’girl Nora?” she asked, looking around.
“I’m here, thank you, Captain,” Nora assured her, helping one of her squaddies support a wounded teammate. Nora had a bloody nose and a gash in her left leg, but seemed whole.
“I see that,” Vola laughed. Tough girl. “How’s your squad?”
“Five wounded, one dead,” Nora reported. “The Gan were being pretty cautious, I don’t think they knew how few of us there were,” she admitted.
“Get our wounded on horses,” Vola ordered, pointing to two of their downed Anache. “Then search for any prisoners you can find. Make captives any who can walk on their own, kill any who can’t.”