So since several readers liked my earlier story about Bree, the mercenary pikewoman, I went ahead and wrote a story about one of her battles. It turns out that while apprehensive over matters regarding her father in the first story, Bree is kind of freaking savage in battle.
In retrospect, I’m really glad I made Bree a pikewoman. I feel like pikes are an underrated and underappreciated battle formation and I enjoyed getting to explore their use in battle. While mounted knights, heavy infantry, and longbowmen get all the attention in storytelling, pike walls and schiltrons were highly effective battle formations when deployed properly. Historically, the pike-combat that helped make Alexander the Great so successful saw a revival during the late Middle Ages and stayed in use well into the age of musketry.
The story probably happens before Bree’s meeting with her dad, but could just as easily happen after. I’m not super happy with some of the dialogue toward the end, so any feedback is welcome. (Part 1)
“What in the nine hells are they doing?” Bree scowled at the high-elf pike formation further up the mountain pass. “Are they seriously bracing their pikes against the ground?” she asked, turning to Lieutenant Jarl. “We don’t even have cavalry to charge them with; what could bracing their pikes possibly gain them against another pike formation?”
The dwarf lieutenant tugged his beard, also scowling. “No idea, lass,” he shook his head. “Unless it gains them nothing, and they only know how to use pikes as a counter to goblin worg-rider charges.”
Bree continued to study their formation as she adjusted her kettle helm. Bracing the butt of a pike against the ground was effective against a cavalry charge, sure enough, and worked reasonably well against ogres and other small giant-kin. But against infantry that only succeeded in making the formation immobile and the pikes less maneuverable. Plus the angle of the spearhead wasn’t good for penetrating even light armor.
Plus, no rational officer would let their cavalry anywhere near the front of a pike phalanx; and no rational horse would agree to charge a bristling wall of pikes.
Three of the company’s enchantment wizards cast Protection from Arrows and Extended Mass Bear’s Endurance on the front ranks of pikes as Sergeant Berl called the formation to attention. Lieutenant Jarl’s pike cohort consisted of three-hundred and twelve heavy pikers in chainmail hauberks and padded surcoats. Steel mail was standard-issue, though some soldiers owned mail of mithral or dark-steel. Similarly, those who wanted extra protection bought breastplates or spaulders of metal or hard leather.
In addition to their pikes, their cohort carried side arms and wore kite shields across their backs that could be unslung for close-quarters fighting. Most carried broadswords or short swords as side arms, but maces and hand-axes were also common. And everyone carried an extra dagger or two, just in case.
Their cohort was supported by three wizards, five healers, and a squad of fifty-eight heavy crossbows. The crossbows wore armor similar to the pikes and carried heavy mechanical arbalests that almost qualified as siege engines, as well as quick-reloading light crossbows for backup. Each archer also carried a sidearm and a tower shield with spikes on the bottom that could be driven into the ground and used as a portable barricade.
Ahead the high-elf besiegers stood ready in that stoic, self-important temperament common among soldiers from the elf kingdoms. Their armor was that ornate, leafy-looking leather, scale, or partial-plate that looked impressive but wasn’t actually any more effective than what the mercenaries wore.
The crossbows jogged a short distance ahead and off the pikes’ left flank as Sergeant Berl ordered phalanx forward. The elves had corked up a bottleneck a few-hundred yards further up the pass, in effort to prevent relief from reaching the beleaguered city of Ferul. Lady Theodora’s mercenary company had been commissioned by one of Ferul’s allies to uncork the passes to allow relief and reinforcements to reach the city.
Bree didn’t know or care why the high-elf kingdom of Ellené had declared war on Ferul and besieged its lands. But she’d seen the hungry and terrified refugees that had fled to neighboring kingdoms. One band of refugees found themselves driven into gnoll territory and killed or enslaved, with only a few escaping to tell the tale. These bloody high-elves considered themselves culturally and intellectually superior to other races, but tended to be real shitheads when it came to politics and treatment of their enemies—particularly those of non-elf races.
Just ahead, the crossbows raised their shields as elf longbows let fly from behind the pike formation. Bree estimated perhaps four-dozen arrows arching overhead, most of which stuck into the raised tower shields. Only two archers took hits from the elf arrows. One was clearly injured while the other’s armor absorbed most of the hit. A healer rushed to help the wounded archer, propping up his tower shield as cover while she readied her spells and bandages.
Once in range, the crossbows propped up their shields and let fly against the elf pikes. Bolts and metal shot shattered into the front ranks of elves, killing or injuring regardless of armor strength. After each shot, the archers crouched back behind their shields to reload while the pikes continued to advance.
Arrows started to land amid the pikes as the phalanx neared the elves’ bottleneck, marching ten abreast. Most hit among the front ranks, bouncing harmlessly off their arrow-resistant magic. Bree heard a half-orc yell as he took a hit, somewhere behind her.
Once within a few pike-lengths, Sergeant Berl ordered the front three ranks to lower pikes. As ordered, Bree leveled her pike at the enemy, aiming it at a particularly smug-looking elf in the enemy’s front row. Sergeant Berl waited a three-count, then bellowed a charge order. With the others, Bree belted out Lady Theodora’s battle cry and started at a jog toward the enemy formation.
Admittedly, pike charges required a lot of training to pull off, and even then couldn’t be any faster than a moderate jog. It certainly wasn’t something the average underpaid militia phalanx should attempt. For some reason even a lot of fairly experienced officers thought of a pike wall as a static formation that the enemy was supposed to be stupid enough to get themselves killed running into, or—at best—a means of pinning an enemy in place while whittling at their flanks with cavalry or more flexible infantry.
But in truth, pikes were excellent for shoving against and disrupting enemy formations. An experienced piker kept her weapon constantly in motion, shoving back against the enemy, knocking his weapons around, knocking his shield away for a teammate to take advantage of, gut-checking him with the spearhead, stabbing at his face or weak points in his armor. And those enemies who managed to get between the front row of pikes had a second row to deal with, and then a third.
Shouts and the clattering of pikes drowned out all other sounds as the two phalanxes clashed together. Bree thrust her pike at the face of her target elf as she charged in, the extra momentum shoving the spearhead deep into his cheek. The elf screamed and fell back, dropping his pike and clutching his face. Wrenching her weapon back, Bree shoved again, catching another elf in his segmented cuirass hard enough to stumble him into his teammate. As he fell back, Bree took a half-step forward, angling the pike to penetrate between two armor segments. The spearhead wedged deep enough to cause injury, but not much else. Bree yanked it back out to keep the pike from getting stuck.
Around her the rest of the phalanx fared about the same. These high elves clearly weren’t real pikemen and had definitely never faced real pikemen before. Likely they were just regular spear-infantry given pikes, someone apparently assuming the two weapons worked the same.
Advancing in steps and half-steps, Bree and her comrades drove the enemy back. Dropping his pike, one elf drew his saber and charged between two pikes further down the formation. A Tiefling pikewoman in the second rank thrust her pike forward to catch him in the side, her spearhead snagging his chainmail and twisting him sideways. As the elf stumbled to recover, the Tiefling stabbed again catching him in the eye.
Stepping over the first line of enemy dead, Bree got in another good thrust to an elf’s armpit, catching her between leather breastplate and spaulder. The elf woman dropped her pike, clutching her arm and retreating back through the formation.
The half-elf fighting beside Bree hollered suddenly, dropping his pike. Bree glanced down to see a wounded elf wrench a dagger from the half-elf’s left leg. Thinking quickly, Bree lifted her pike upright to slam the spiked counterweight down on the elf’s temple, killing her. The wounded half-elf limped his way back through the formation.
An elf pike caught Sergeant Berl in the side, a few elves apparently deciding to emulate the mercenaries’ movements and tactics. Berl grunted but his mail held. Stepping forward and using his elbow to pin the elf’s pike in place, the sergeant slammed his spear forward to catch the elf in the teeth.
Their front lines collapsing or driven backward, the high-elves began dropping their pikes in panic. A few at a time, they disengaged from the mercenaries and fled back toward their encampment.
“Drop pikes and pursue!” Lieutenant Jarl bellowed to the formation.
Cheering, the mercenaries dropped their pikes at their feet, drawing their side arms and unslinging their shields. Bree charged forward, drawing her broadsword as they chased the fleeing elves.
The bottleneck widened back out after a few dozen feet, the elf camp’s outer palisades visible further up the pass. This left the attacking mercenaries exposed for vital yards before the edge of the camp.
Caught up in her pursuit, Bree was caught off guard when Lieutenant Jarl bellowed, “Shield wall!” On reflex, Bree dropped to one knee behind her kite shield, her fellow mercs falling in around her, staggering their shields high and low.
Elf arrows hit their shields barely a second later, several arrows also deflected by protection spells. Only a few injuries resulted from the barrage.
Rising, the mercenaries gave a defiant cry and surged forward again. Pockets of elves grouped together in fighting withdrawals as they gave ground back toward their camp. Here in the open, the elves got a number of their advantages back, including higher ground, a clear field of view for their archers, and better maneuvering for their lighter infantry. Bree saw Henna, a dwarf-lass friend of hers, take an elf arrow to the eye, but—thankfully—Henna kept swinging. Another arrow pierced the chainmail of a wood-elf mercenary.
Reinforced by their teammates from the camp, many of the retreating elves formed up into defensive clusters outside the palisade. A particularly nimble elf officer with short swords and mithral chainmail ducked a swing from Sergeant Berl’s flanged mace. Stepping to Berl’s right and spinning, the elf slashed one sword deep into the half-orc sergeant’s leg, dropping Berl to one knee. Keeping his dancing momentum, the elf slipped around to stab Berl in the face.
Twirling again, the elf slashed another pikeman in the sword arm, cutting deep enough to disable. Vulnerable, the pikeman took another elf’s glaive across the face before he could retreat.
Bree stepped in to cover the man’s retreat, blocking the glaive elf’s next swing with her shield. She stepped back to evade another series of slashes from the dancer elf.
Corporal Grom, a dwarf veteran who’d originally recruited Bree, rushed in to engage the slippery elf. The elf took a hit from Grom’s kite shield, but managed to keep his feet as he danced back to recover. The elf feinted to Grom’s right, then spun to his left to get around the shield and at the dwarf’s broad back. Anticipating this, Grom spun to the right, leading with his big dwarven war-axe.
Not expecting the burly dwarf to move so fast, the elf caught the blow in his right side. The mithral mail held, but the blow itself crushed ribs and probably collapsed his lung. The elf let out a screaming gasp as he toppled to the dirt. Grom stomped on his neck to shut him up for good.
Bree blocked a glaive-stroke from her opponent while parrying another elf’s saber. Stepping in, she risked a hit from the glaive-wielder to slash the saber-elf across the neck. Though her gamble was successful, the glaive-owner managed a solid hit to Bree’s left side before she could dodge away. Her chainmail held, but she felt the blow break skin despite her padded arming coat. Wrenching her sword from the first elf, Bree stepped inside the glaive’s reach to stab her opponent in the gut. The elf’s leather armor held as well, leaving a gouge that barely broke skin, if at all.
The flow of the battle seemed to change as the fresh reinforcements from the elf camp and the fresh mercenaries from the back of the phalanx engaged out in the open. Bolts and bullets joined the elf arrows as the crossbowmen set up their barricades and began targeting the elf longbowmen behind the palisades. The company’s wizards joined the fray moments later, casting protection spells on their allies to shift the balance of combat. The healers, meanwhile, scurried behind their lines stabilizing any wounded they found.
Bree felt her weapons and armor get lighter as their moon-elf enchantress cast Mass Bull’s Strength on Bree and several teammates. Her next stroke hewed her opponent’s glaive in half, leaving him open for another stab to the guts. This stab struck true, slicing inward and upward with seeming ease. Bracing her shield against the dying elf, she wrenched her sword away and turned to her next opponent.
The high-elf defenders gave way once again against the mercenaries’ superior training, heavier armor, and magic support. A few dozen clustered around to defend the outer palisade even as groups of defenders trapped in the open started to surrender.
“Clear the way!” Lieutenant Jarl bellowed to the mercenaries.
The elf defenders braced themselves, expecting a charge against the gate, only to be surprised when the attackers broke to the left and right flanks, opening a clear field of fire for the crossbows. The arbalests let fly on the clustered defenders, steel-tipped bolts and steel bullets shattering shields and punching through armor.
With the gate defenders devastated, the mercenaries not guarding prisoners rushed the gateway. Starting in twos and threes, the remaining defenders either surrendered or fled. Bowmen abandoned the palisades, though a few of them occasionally turned back to take shots of opportunity at the attackers. Leaving their shields and arbalests, the crossbowmen drew their light crossbows and charged in to aid the pursuit, taking shots of opportunity and crouching behind cover to reload.
Remembering she still had protection from arrows, Bree opted to lead the way. A good half-dozen arrows deflected harmlessly away as she deliberately made herself a target to draw the longbowmen’s attention. The bowmen either fled or surrendered as the mercenaries approached.
The chase carried her past their inner palisade and amid the elves’ tents and supplies. She wasn’t sure when the Bear’s Endurance wore off, but she could feel her fatigue starting to set in. A group of elf healers cast aside their weapons and surrendered to Corporal Grom and two others. Bree saw the elf command tent ahead, just past another few rows of tents.
The sight when she reached the command tent angered and horrified Bree. Eleven half-elves in servants’ clothes lay beheaded while another six begged for their lives. An executioner and elven commander stood over them.
“Stop this!” she shouted, knowing she wouldn’t make it in time as the elf executioner raised his axe again.
A crossbow bolt hummed past Bree to take the executioner in the throat. The executioner pitched backward, dropping his axe into the dirt. Bree glanced back briefly as Elira, a wood-elf corporal, lowered her crossbow.
“And I supposed this was completely fucking necessary,” Bree demanded, sheathing her broadsword before punching the elf officer in the jaw.
“Of course it was,” the commander said, rubbing his jaw. He wore an ornate breastplate that had never seen combat, with fancy hose and doublet. “Corporal, if I’m not mistaken?” he asked, sizing her up. “I was merely weeding out a traitor; surely a non-commissioned officer such as yourself can understand the need for such measures.”
“Wait… are you saying you think one of these half-elves sold you out to us?” Elira scowled, kneeling to cut the bindings on one of the captive servants. Several other mercs knelt to help free other half-elves. One brought a water-skin to offer them a drink.
“Of course one of them did, it’s just how half-breeds are,” the commander raised a brow, as if it was a common-sense deduction. “We let a few nobles bring their half-elf servants along, and, sure enough, one of the mongrels sells our defensive plans to the enemy. How else could you have beaten us? It’s why half-elves are never allowed in the military and shouldn’t even be allowed as camp-followers.”
“Wow, and you sum-bitches have the gall to call my people ‘monsters’,” Draxa, a surface-Drow pikewoman, commented, helping up one of the half-elf prisoners.
“Don’t Dark Elves usually put their half-Drow on the front lines as arrow-bait?” another pikeman asked.
“I meant that as an insult,” Draxa shook her head.
“Ah, the infamous Drow dark-humored wit,” the elf commander rolled his eyes. “Or half of it,” he added. “Say what you want, you’re not going to convince me that a dusty collection of ragtag mercenaries bested a numerically superior force of her majesty’s elves without inside knowledge of our tactics and defenses.”
“So, your incompetent pike-work and obvious lack of a backup plan had nothing to do with your defeat?” Elira asked, placing a gloved hand next to her chin.
“No, no, I understand his position entirely,” Bree said before the commander could reply. “I mean, everyone knows how these damned half-elves are,” she continued, shouldering her kite shield. She saw Elira move her hand to cover a smirk, as if guessing where this was going.
“Corporal?” one of the human pikemen frowned, sounding confused—probably remembering that Bree was married to a half-elf.
“In fact, I can even help his predicament,” Bree added, placing her left hand on the commander’s shoulder.
“In what way?” the elf commander asked, looking up to eye her suspiciously.
The elf screamed as Bree drew her dagger and stabbed him in the testicles.
“There, now you’ll never have to worry about fathering some damnable half-breed,” she told him casually. “What, aren’t you going to thank me?” she asked, making him scream louder as she twisted the dagger a quarter turn before withdrawing it.
“Ingrate,” she accused as the elf toppled to his knees and forehead, screaming and clutching himself.
Stupefied, the others just stared at Bree as she strode away to report to Lieutenant Jarl. Behind her, she heard one of the freed half-elves start laughing with relief.