Catapults, arrows, swords, axes and magic spells … I have found medieval combat to be one of the most difficult aspects of fantasy writing. Today’s modern warfare is nothing compared to the various sword-wielding maneuvers and medieval combat positions possible during a battle with Knights, wizards and other mythical creatures.
You not only have to study and understand how a sword, axe or other medieval weaponry is used, but you also have to make it exciting and believable for the reader. Here is a sample of such combat from my novel, The Dark Tides, as the Gil-Gamesh and his forces take on an army of Goblins at the Battle of Arkengarth Vale.
“Well done Captain,” Bryan said as he drew Twilight and Dusk . He turned to his assembled men.
“Remember, don’t hesitate for an instant! Your enemy will show you no quarter so give none in return! Cut them down until we are walking on their bodies instead of the muddy ground!”
A battle cry rose up from the men as they dug in, ready to fight. The goblins moved faster along the wall toward them.
“Remember my friends, there’s only farmers and small towns from here to New Camelot! They will be slaughtered by this goblin horde unless we stop them here and now! So let’s show them what it means to be a Knight of Avalon!”
Another cry of grit and determination bellowed from the assembled warriors as the crawling swarm of goblins moved closer toward them. Sarafina bowed her head, evoking a warrior’s prayer she learned at the convent.
“Blessed be the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle. My fortress, my high tower, my deliverer, my shield; and the One in whom I take refuge. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit … Amen.”
“Amen!” they all said in unison as the goblins attacked. The first wave hit the defenses hard, their shrieks and howls cried out as untamed beasts slicing and cutting through the defenders of Avalon.
The Knights and Shield Maidens pushed back, working in tandem to cut through the goblins. Shield Maidens protected their knights with shields in front and either spear or sword to push back while the knights cut a swath through the creatures. The black blood of the goblins stained the muddy the ground as more are brought down, one after the other.
Sarafina protected the Gil-Gamesh while he dispatched the goblins by either slicing through them with Twilight or dispatching their souls with Dusk . As more goblins rushed in, Sir Thomas and the Knights of the Round Table charged in to help the Dragon Guard push back, trying to flank the attacking goblins and cut them off from the rest.
Thomas took position next to Bryan, fighting side-by-side as they have done religiously with Sarafina poised between them. Nevan fought next to his father with Sir Thomas’ Shield Maiden, Isolde, between them. Isolde was one of the oldest Shield Maidens in the service, nearly the same age as Thomas. Her black hair was peppered with a streak of gray under her helm. She could have retired to the Glennish Hills convent years ago, but her lust for battle kept her in the field.
“I hope you’re saving some for me Gil-Gamesh,” Thomas said as he hacked at the goblins with his broad sword.
“I think there’s plenty to go around Thomas,” Bryan joked.
“Less talking, more fighting!” Sarafina yelled at the two men, something she normally wouldn’t do, but in the heat of battle, courtesy went out the window. She pushed back a charging goblin with her shield before stabbing it between the eyes with her long sword; but as many as they killed, more just keep on coming.
As the battle progressed, it almost seemed as if this small force of knights was turning the tide against them. That changed as the howls of wolves cried out from the Vale.
Thomas knew immediately what it was. “Dire Wolves!” he said, sending a chill down the spines of Sarafina and Nevan, for these were the nightmares told to children on Avalon.
Dire Wolves were giant gray wolves that stood nearly five feet tall at the shoulder. Amongst the creatures of Avalon, they were on top of the food chain, predators to all manner of man or beast. It took a special breed of monster to tame Dire Wolves and that honor belonged to Hobgoblins.
Smarter and more cunning than their goblin cousins, Hobgoblins lived in the darkest parts of the forests, finding refuge in dead trees. They learned how to tame the Dire Wolves to help them hunt for food and harass humans. Their evil was only outdone by their savagery on the backs of Dire Wolves.
The Hobgoblins rode the Dire Wolves through the thick brush along the opposite side of the Vale. The Gil-Gamesh thought that was impassable because of the thick, thorny overgrowth that grew there, but the Dire Wolves were quick on their feet, jumping over the thorny bushes toward the frontline defenses.
More than thirty riders charged, cutting down both Knights and Shield Maidens with fang and claw. Over half of the Knights of the Round Table were killed instantly, causing part of the defensive flank to collapse. Bryan raised Twilight into the air.
“Lumina Incandesco! ” he chanted, causing his sword to burst with brilliant light. That signaled Captain Godfrey and the Elves to move in to protect their flank. The Elves fired arrows into the Dire Wolves, but it took more than a dozen arrows to bring one down.
One of the Hobgoblins charged straight toward Sir Thomas and Nevan. Isolde stepped up to block the charging beast, shield in one hand and a glaive in the other. She crouched down low as the beast charged then came up under its chin with the point of the glaive, slicing into it from its throat to its snout.
The Dire Wolf fell on its side, trapping the Hobgoblin’s leg under the weight of the creature. Nevan rushed forward and cut down the Hobgoblin with his sword. Isolde pulled her pole arm out of the wolf’s head.
“That’s how you kill a Dire Wolf, Sir Nevan,” she told him. “Those beasties can’t see you if you’re low to the ground and come up from underneath …” Isolde didn’t finish her sentence as she’s run through by a goblin spear, piercing her through the neck. She fell to her knees, clutching her throat before dying.
“Isolde!” Thomas yelled as he lunged at her attacker, slicing him wide open. But that momentary distraction was enough as another Dire Wolf charged in and snapped down on Thomas’ arm, biting it clean off.
Bryan leaped and thrusts Dusk into the beast, taking whatever dark soul that the monster might have had. The Hobgoblin fell off, allowing Sarafina to kill it with one blow.
Nevan rushed to his father’s side, trying to stem the flow of blood with his father’s cloak. “Father please, stay with me!” Nevan pleaded as Thomas clung on to him, but Thomas could barely speak as he hovered in and out of consciousness.
“It’s alright lad, it’s alright … I’ve lived a good life,” Thomas mumbled. “I’ve gotten to see my son grow into a man. That’s more than any father could ask.” Nevan broke down into tears as Bryan and Sarafina tried to protect them from the goblins.
“Sarafina, you and Nevan take Thomas back to the rear …” Bryan ordered. The two lifted Thomas up and carried him off while the Gil-Gamesh pressed on with the battle.
“Come on ladies! What’re you waiting for?” he yelled as they continued to fight. A sudden rush of goblins knocked the Gil-Gamesh down, swarming over him like ants on an anthill. Bryan fought back, swinging aimlessly at the onslaught of monsters, resolute and defiant. He already lost one friend to these monsters; he would not lose another.
As his mind wandered from the battle, the unthinkable happened. A goblin jumped on his back and reached around, stabbing the Gil-Gamesh in the chest right above the clavicle, missing his armor altogether. Bryan was immediately brought down by the goblin horde as they pounced on him.
Captain Godfrey and Eonis could only watch as the Gil-Gamesh fell. They pushed forward to come to his aid but by the time they got there, the goblins started to fall back down the vale, taking the Gil-Gamesh with them. All that was left behind were his swords, Twilight and Dusk , lying over the bodies of hundreds of dead goblins.
“They took him,” Captain Godfrey exclaimed. “This was never about enemies marching on New Camelot. This was about the Gil-Gamesh. They wanted to capture him when he was the most vulnerable.”
“We’ve got to go after them,” Eonis said as he took off down the hill. “We’ve got to save him!”
Captain Godfrey grabbed him before he took a single step. “You’ll be slaughtered down there,” Godfrey said. “They still outnumber us and now, we’re without the Gil-Gamesh.”
Eonis thought for a moment then realized that Captain Godfrey was right. At that moment, Sarafina returned to the front while Nevan tended to Sir Thomas. She ran up and looked around for the Gil-Gamesh but he was nowhere to be seen.
“What happened? Where’s the Gil-Gamesh?” she shouted.
Eonis walked over and placed his hand on her shoulder. “He’s gone Sarafina. The enemy has him.”