Sitting there on the hill looking out over the site of an imminent slaughter, Wynefrede realized that she was enjoying herself. The air was fresh and a pleasant breeze carried the smells of fresh grass and wildflowers. She sniffed. And meat pies. There were vendors making their way up and down the hillside hawking pies, commemorative shirts, whistles, and ridiculously overpriced water skins emblazoned with the Armforge Guild logo.
On the next blanket over, Margarett and Benedicta had opened their picnic baskets and were comparing their packed lunches with other ladies and gentlemen.
Raphe leaned against Wynefrede’s shoulder. “This reminds me of going to see the fireworks of going to see the fireworks when I was a kid,” he said.
“I was just about to say the same thing,” said Wynefrede. “We’d get there early, to get good spots. Then, just after sunset, they’d start setting them off.”
“I hope we don’t have to wait that long,” he said.
She glanced down at her shadow. It pointed straight ahead, towards the the armies below. According to the map in the playbill, the battlefield was north of the hill, which meant that the sun was directly to the south, which meant the time was…
Raphe took out a pocket watch. “It’s nearly noon,” he said.
“I didn’t know they had watches on Krim,” Wynefrede said.
“They do if you’re willing to pay enough. You can get almost anything on Krim if you’re willing to spend the money. Except coffee, apparently.” He unclipped the watch and passed it to her.
She held it in her hand. It was heavy, much heavier than she expected, and as big as the palm of her hand. In fact, it was more of a clock than a watch.
“It’s completely hand-made,” Raphe said. “I’m an engineer myself, and the level of skill required to make something like this, with the limited tools available on Krim, is amazing.”
She passed the watch back.
“My source also has access to guns,” Raphe said.
“I didn’t know they had guns on Krim,” said Wynefrede.
“All you need are the materials and you can make one yourself,” he said. “The problem is quality control. From what I understand, if you try to shoot it, the guns are likely to explode on you. And getting gunpowder is also a challenge, since the raw materials aren’t easy to find.”
“Oh, I think something is happening.” Wynefrede picked up the opera glasses that Raphe had given her and looked down at the battlefield. “The cult has a cannon,” she said.
The word spread quickly through the crowd. Everybody seemed surprised.
“What if they shoot at us?” Margarett asked.
Wynefrede passed Raphe the glasses and he stood up to get a better look.
“I don’t think the cannon can reach all the way here, especially with us being as high as we are,” he said.
The crowd around them quieted as the cult’s soldiers maneuvered the cannon into place. On the other side of the battlefield, the Armforge Guild army was readying a cavalry charge.
There might have been a shouted order — Wynefrede was too far away to hear — and the mounted knights broke away from the infantry, accelerated across the muddy stream that ran down the middle of the battlefield, and approached the foot soldiers belonging to the cult.
“The cult is going to get massacred,” said Wynefrede. “They’re never going to get close enough to the castle to shoot at with the cannon.”
As the calvary approached, the cult’s swordfighters and pikemen held their ground. Then, at the last minute, they turned and ran, opening a clear path for the knights to follow right through the center of the cult’s army.
“Are they running away?” Wynefrede stood up next to Raphe as others around them got to their feet as well. She stood up on her toes to try to see over the heads of the people in front of her, then moved a little to the side until she had a clear view.
The calvary was now moving forward in a narrower, solid column, with the cultists continuing to move out of the way. Then, at some unseen signal, the rest of the cult’s fighters all moved to the sides, opening an empty corridor from the charging knights directly to the cannon.
The cannons roared and the round cannonballs flew straight into the calvary. Limbs, bones, pieces of armor, and weapons flew in all directions, devastating the charging knights and causing occasional injuries to cult fighters who hadn’t managed to get behind their shields fast enough.
The cannons roared again and then the cultists closed in and killed those guildmembers who were still alive.
“It was a bad idea to bring swords to a cannon fight,” said Raphe. “I’m guessing nobody expected the cult to have heavy artillery.”
“The playbill didn’t mention it,” said Wynefrede.
The cult’s fighters dragged dead bodies out of the way and their cannons moved forward.
“They’re switching to grapeshot,” said Raphe.
The next time the cannons fired, the smaller missiles cut through the advancing foot soldiers of the Armforge Guild. Now, the numbers on both sides were roughly equal, but the cult also had cannons and the other side didn’t.
The guild leaders must have realized that.
Someone gave an order and the Armforge Guilt turned away from the cult. The soldiers fell back, moving off the battlefield, across the bridge, and started moving towars their castle.
The spectators on the hill groaned and some started a chant, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” The ones at the bottom of the hill, closest to the action, tried throwing fruit at the combatants, but were too far away to reach anyone.
The cult’s fighters spread across the battlefield, killing wounded enemy soldiers, stripping off their weapons, and tossing the bodies off on a pile to the side.
“If this turns into a siege, it can last forever,” said Raphe. He and Wynefrede sat back down, as did most of the other spectators around them. He opened the playbill.
“I think they’re going to have to get the cannon across the battlefield and over the bridge to get it close enough to the castle,” he said. “But if the guild attacks while they’re on the bridge, they can push the cannons into the water, or just take them over. It’s going to be risky.”
“Can they come around from the side or the back?”
Raphe spread the playbill down in front of them and turned to the next page, which had a bigger area map.
“Looks like the castle is on an island in the middle of the river,” he said. “Or, at least, the river splits and flows on both sides around it.” He put the playbill away. “A lot of people are going to be really unhappy tonight. “
“The Armforge Guild were heavy favorites to win this battle. All the betting was on how long it would take the cult to surrender. I had it at five hours.”