Prota 20

Prota 20
The Battle of Ethos

Fresh crimson blood dripped from the spear onto the battlefield. The red mahogany haft became one with Apistos as he carved through oncoming enemies with perfect blows through hidden gaps found within their armored bodies. He was the most feared warrior in all of The Lands, and any man who faced his spear knew that death stood before them.

The young warrior was raised in the town of Ethos, which became a breeding ground for troubled youth to train as lethal warriors, who were then auctioned for high prices to army generals. For their own defense, the monarchy of Ethos decided to keep their best men and amass an army for themselves. Through brilliant demonstrations of his cunning abilities on the training grounds, Apistos became their most prized asset from an early age.

He and the rest of the army were brutally treated as slaves. Their only purpose was to train vigilantly day and night, and the brave few who dared to complain or misbehave were severely punished—often beheaded in the middle of the grounds for all to watch. They were made examples of by the old king who was feared by his people for his sadistic behaviors.

Apistos always kept to himself and was the first to complete tasks and training drills given for each day. He completed them in superb time and quality; his spear would precisely strike down each target, his muscular body would climb and crawl flawlessly through the dilapidated obstacle courses, and his bare hands would slay any animals that were thrown into the barred cage with him. The young warrior became greatly respected amongst his fellow combatants, and the king took notice of him. He often invited Apistos into his chambers for food and wine, to which he reluctantly accepted. He despised the king, as did the majority of slaves, but cleverly made the king believe that they were good friends. Apistos sought freedom and had been devising a plan to murder the king.

One evening, Apistos and the king refilled their cups of wine after a feast and ventured into the training grounds alone. They walked to the cages where wild animals were kept to battle with warriors. The king slurred his speech and stumbled on his footing, but Apistos kept steady. He would tip his cup to the side of his mouth and pour the wine over his shoulder while the drunken king kept indulging.

As they walked, the king stopped to tease a sleeping wild boar that snored aggressively in its cage. The creature was massive in size, about seven feet long, and grew a thick pair of teeth, which curled upwards from its bottom jaw. The king told a story of his younger years of killing one with his bare hands to provide food for his family when Ethos was a younger nation. As the old king acted out the story, Apistos noticed that the cage door was left unlocked and contemplated pushing the king in for the beast to devour him. Apistos did not fear for his own life as he had killed larger bores before, but he fought off the strong urge and let the king live another day after seeing a guard from a distance watching them. He knew that he had to remain patient and urged the king to slowly make their way back to the chambers.

The son of the king noticed the increasing admiration his father had for Apistos. He warned him to be cautious, as the prince did not trust the warrior, nor any other slave, for that matter. The king kept dismissing his remarks and claimed that he trusted the greatest warrior in all the The Lands with his own life. Soon after, he anointed Apistos as his own personal bodyguard to seal his trust in him. The prince grew a heavy resentment towards Apistos and distanced himself from his father. With this new title, Apistos accompanied the king almost everywhere and met many monarchs and foreign rulers. The king would show off his abilities of spear throwing and grappling with wild beasts, impressing many abroad.

On a trip to the neighboring land of Tamros, the king left Apistos alone with their army general, Zeikrus, as the two kings kept alone for a private meeting. The general praised Apistos for the skills he witnessed in the fields earlier and abruptly offered a deal; if Apistos trained his army for their upcoming invasion of Ethos, he would guarantee him freedom after they conquered Ethos. Apistos was confused and asked why he trusted to reveal such a plan to a man he had never met before, especially the personal guard of the king. Zeikrus replied, “I see not a king’s guard but a masked man who limps from a life of kneeling.” He continued, “You have been bought and sold and sharpened and wielded like the very spear you bear. I can unshackle you from this tyrant and provide you a lifetime supply of women and wine to bathe in, otherwise anoint yourself with oil for a lifetime of chafing.”

Apistos knew that his army was vast but lacked experience in training and combat. They were an exuberantly wealthy land which kept purchasing slaved soldiers in bulk from Ethos with no regard to their quality or skill. He did not trust the general and saw him as another power hungry tyrant, and he thought of a plan.

Apistos looked to the floor dishearteningly and replied, “I wish to grow old to serve my true kings who do not wear crowns over skin of flesh and bones. For they, the gods, have sent you to unshackle me. I would be forever grateful, general Zeikrus, to be yours, bounded by faith in you.” The general grinned and patted the young warrior on the shoulder who knelt before him. Apistos got up and proposed to Zeikrus an idea. He explained that since he knew the grounds and chambers well, he would quietly raid the area with a handful of Zeikrus’s best warriors and assassinate the king while the rest of Zeikrus’s army awaited, hidden in the forest for his return. Apistos guaranteed that the king and his generals would be killed so that the army of Zeikrus could then follow him back in and infiltrate the sleeping army of Ethos. The naive general liked the idea and agreed.

The cool damp night settled over Ethos as the king and his people had fallen asleep hours prior. The guards were kept awake with the help of ringing crickets that hid beneath the tall grass. Only one man stayed alert, whose excitement broiled through his veins with what was to come. Apistos snuck out from the chambers to the start of the forest where he had hid his belongings under a heap of fallen branches—brown leather strapped sandals, a red cape, bronzed greaves, a circular shield, a helmet, and an iron tipped spear. He kept his torso bare as the weight of chest plates unbalanced his thrusts and throws. He required impeccable precision that night and was willing to sacrifice his own blood. He undressed from his uniform and linens with only his white undergarment on. He then slipped on the sandals and neatly wrapped each leather strap around his calfs before tying on the greaves. He draped over the red cape and pinned it down with the Golden Emblem of Ethos, which was given only to the highest ranked soldiers of the Ethonian army. Apistos grabbed onto the helmet with his left hand and knelt on one knee to grab the spear with his right. He then got up to venture through the vast forest to meet the awaiting general Zeikrus and the army of Tamros.

Thousands of men flooded pockets of the lush forest, holding spears, bows, swords, and iron flails. They wore tattered garments and paddings for protection and mostly appeared haggard looking. The general stood at the front with ten men who boasted appearances of seasoned warriors. They wore linen uniformed shirts with metal armored plates on their shoulders and torsos, greaves, tall crested bronze helmets that covered their faces, and they gripped onto spears while short swords dangled from their hips. The general explained to Apistos that his ten best men were to accompany him for the quiet raid through the chambers. Apistos looked at the disciplined stance of the ten men and was impressed as they clearly stood out from the thousands behind them. Apistos told the general that they would return before the first light after successfully completing the mission, and if not, they should proceed to launch the invasion without them.

Before Apistos left with the ten men, Zeikrus presented him with a gift. It was a red mahogany spear with illuminated yellow gold tips on both ends with a perfect balanced weight and stature. Apistos gripped the new spear while dropping his own to the ground. He mimed a few thrusts into the air and then fiercely threw it towards a tree. The spear sliced through the air and into the thick trunk flawlessly. He then ripped it out and inspected it further while Zeikrus watched and smiled. The thickness was perfectly grooved around his hand and the length was just right for his height. As Apistos admired the new weapon, the general grinned and said, “A sign of gifts to come for the impending free man.” Apistos snuck a grin for himself and then turned to thank the general. He walked back over to Zeikrus and reminded the importance of waiting for the first sunlight to invade if they had not returned by then. Apistos left with the ten men back out of the forest and into the castle grounds.

Apistos told them to be as quiet as possible as they made their way through the backside of the castle. A wooden ladder leaned against an opened window of the furthest tower which he had set up earlier. He explained that they were to make their way up the ladder and through the hidden passages of the chambers to reach the sleeping king.

One by one, the men climbed the ladder and went through the window to find themselves in a dark abandoned chamber. Apistos ignited a torch to lead the men through the dark and dusty cobwebbed hallways until they reached the final door that opened to the hallway that led towards the king’s bedroom. Apistos explained that the hallway was often heavily guarded with at least five men. The door had a tiny crack, which he peeped through to count the guards. There were five soldiers holding spears and shields guarding the hall of the king’s bedroom. Apistos explained the plan: He would go back the way they came from and enter the hallway appearing normal. As soon as he grabbed the attention of the five guards, the ten men of Zeikrus were to flank from behind and slit each of their throats silently. He mentioned the king was a heavy sleeper from his abuse of wine and that the sounds would not awaken him. Apistos made his way back and left the warriors to peep through the crack and wait for the distraction.

Apistos appeared in the dimly lit hallway as he turned from the staircase towards the five guards. They all turned to him and questioned where he had gone for so long and why he had been dressed in battle gear. The ten warriors watched closely through the crack and quietly pushed the creaking door until the guard closest to them heard and swung back to look. The ten men burst through and slit four of the guards throats as Apistos pulled his spear out from the head of the one closest to him. They quietly laid the dead bodies onto the floor and gathered around Apistos for further instruction.

He told them that through the black door, they would find the sleeping king whom he wanted to kill himself. He slowly opened the door as the men waited at the entrance and found the sleeping king in his bed snoring like the boar he once mocked. Apistos hovered above him with his new spear and watched the old king take in his last few breathes of life. He raised the spear and impaled the king’s heart directly. He then pulled out the spear and in one downward motion, Apistos stabbed the bloodied tip through the delicate throat of the king, which pierced through the mattress and wooden bed frame below. The silenced king squirmed around while staring into the eyes of Apistos. In a few seconds, the king stopped and laid motionless with a pool of blood circling around his head. Apistos pulled the spear out of his neck with both hands and looked back at the ten warriors who stood ready for the next instruction. They all hurried to move the dead guards from the hallway into the king’s room and closed the door behind them. They darted back towards the dark chamber hallway and through the window they first entered. As they finished climbing back down the ladder, Apistos told them to wait for his signal from afar to ensure there was a clear path back to the forest. They obeyed his orders and awaited for his signal as Apistos disappeared into the dark open field.

Apistos finally showed up in the far distance with a torch and signaled for the men that it was safe to approach. The ten men veered towards him to get back to their hidden troops in the forrest as planned. As they edged closer, a loud clank was heard from behind, causing nine out of ten of Zeikrus’s men to halt and turn around. The furthest warrior behind hung slightly off the ground with his body impaled by a spear. He squirmed while gripping the spear with both hands that dug deeply into the ground behind him as blood trickled from his mouth. The rest of the nine startled men turned back around to find that Apistos had disappeared again, and one by one, spears rained from the darkness and pierced through each of their dull armored bodies. Apistos reappeared and silenced any survivor with a quick thrust of his spear into their necks. Ten new Ethonian warriors came into sight from their hidden spots and circled around Apistos while retrieving each of their spears from their impaled victims. They nodded at Apistos and followed him towards the barracks of the training ground where the army of Ethos lived.

The nighttime eroded as the sky inched closer to sunrise. Apistos and his own ten warriors reached the entrance of the barracks gate as it was left wide open. Two dead guards of the king were propped against the wall in the same positions that Apistos had left them earlier. Hundreds of warriors were armed and ready for battle. Most of them wielded spears with shields while the rest clenched swords and daggers. They followed Apistos out and divided upon his commands. He sent a quarter of the men towards the castle entrances and the rest with him towards the forest. The final stage of his extensive plan was also the most difficult to execute, but Apistos was certain that his hundreds of warriors would fend off the thousands of men who lurked in the forest. The warriors who staked out the castle grounds were to kill any awoken guards or rulers who tried to flee, while the rest went with Apistos to the start of the forest and set up a lined formation to block off the army of Tamros. As the first beam of sunlight peaked through the forest, the ground began to rumble underneath.

Apistos stood in the center of the defensive front line. Their shields protected the left and right of each man while their spears hovered closely between the empty pockets. Their gaze was steady but their heartbeats were rampant. The still air quietly loomed amongst them while distant sounds of screaming from the castle were faintly heard. A red cardinal fluttered blissfully in front of Apistos and landed on a nearby tree branch—the perfect view for the spectacle that was about to begin. He stared at it and smirked to his friend on his side with a quip, “A bird is only as free as its wings can flock.” The friend laughed while the trees in the short distance started to sway. The snapping of twigs and a thousand howling voices became louder as each second passed. Shadowy men started appearing as their dull weapons slashed recklessly through branches and leaves. Apistos remained as steady and calm as his golden tipped spear, which stood apart from the rest, awaiting to fulfill its purpose. The horde of the unorganized army drew nearer until closing in on the line of warriors and clashed with tremendous force.

The warriors knocked off and killed a slew of men instantly with one simultaneous push and thrust of their spears. They collected themselves back into the line and repeated. Rows of men were killed and buried under their feet as the warriors of Ethos kept moving forward. The army of Tamros became terrified and ran backwards as they saw their men getting viscously slaughtered. Their poorly aimed arrows shot from afar would land into trees or cause friendly fire. The Ethonian warriors in the back lines became bored and flanked their enemies from around the sides.

The warriors ran through the forest with tremendous speed and killed many petrified men of Zeikrus who attempted to retreat. Apistos did the same and slipped backwards through his line. The men to his left and right quickly shifted together to reconnect the line to which he had broken. Apistos ran from the side and then straight ahead while killing anyone who crossed his path with ease and brilliance. His spear would thrust in his right hand while his shield grew heavy in his left. He let go of it and also pulled his helmet off for better vision. He slashed the helmet across the face of a dying man who grabbed onto his leg and continued running with a mission to find and kill Zeikrus. The crowds lessened as hundreds from his army fled back while dropping their weapons. By then, the warriors no longer had to hold a line and scattered towards the cowering men.

A few horses had been abandoned and galloped away, but one stayed tied to a tree by its muzzle and aggressively neighed while trying to break free. Apistos slowly walked towards her in the midst of battle and carefully reached his arm out, but the white horse continued to veer away. He remained poised and was finally able to brush his hand over the luscious hairs of her crest. The horse calmed as Apistos softly patted her nose. He lifted his hand to grip the rope around her muzzle and cut it with his spear. At first, the freed horse reared ferociously while neighing but then calmed and rubbed her nose on Apistos. He patted the horse and graciously mounted her. She started to rear as he held on with his left hand and kicked for her to trot next to the fighting warriors.

Apistos raised his right hand, clenching the golden spear and fiercely yelled for all his brothers to hear: “Let them feel the power not of shield or spear, but of free men!”