The scene: On the high hill overlooking the valley
Light snow fell on a brilliant morning. OFG's battle line stretched wide on the high hill. The war engines were being rolled into place as the archers were being moved into position. Col Ti avoided her hard eyes and stood just behind OFG, at her side.
He had received a brutal dressing down for his part in the fight with her guest the previous night. Many of his men had been sent to the brig for the brawl, including Lucky who turned out to be the worst of the lot. Lucky's conduct had been so unbecoming that he would be confined for several weeks. Col Ti winced at the embarrassment he'd caused his liege, but smiled quietly to himself thinking of a few blows he'd justly delivered to Bourbon of the Red.
“How's that jaw, Colonel?” Asked OFG flatly
Col Ti cleared his throat and stood taller to attention wondering how she knew what he was thinking. “Fine, Sir.”
The field was rippling with activity. Messengers rode from all directions providing updates and delivering orders. The enemy could be heard moving in the distance. Several cohorts had been sent to flush out the enemy from deep within the forest.
Bourbon of the Red and his men were in formation on the right flank in the lower ground. The giant warrior wore the head of a massive pig as his war helmet and a huge red hog hide as his cloak. The tusks and knuckle bones of many defeated pigz hung around his neck. In Bourbon's hand was his Schweinehammer. The like had not been seen in the land in a hundred generations. He alone could wield it, such was the size of the war hammer. The staff of the much feared Schweinehammer was as tall as Bourbon and the stone attached to it weighed as much as a calf. He had been known to unhorse a man with a single blow. On his belt he wore a dagger of unexpected beauty which belied its awful deeds.
Some of Bourbon's men were still drunk from the night before. This intensified their howling rage as they whipped themselves up into their battle frenzy. Their war cries pierced the morning and ran shivers down the spines of some of the younger war hens. Bourbon's men were said to be the most courageous in the known world and would not break formation under pain of death.
Col Ti bellowed orders and moved the war hens into position. OFG gave an encouraging nod to the young speckled hen who replaced old Franhilde as her standard bearer. Young Ginny had never seen battle and was awestruck by the great spectacle. “Stay with me,” OFG told the young hen assuredly, “and keep the standard raised. At all costs.” Ginny nodded nervously but set her jaw. She would not fail. Overhead a pair of hawks screamed into the wind.
“Col Ti,” Commanded OFG, her blood hot, “It is time. Cry havoc and let slip the hens of war!”
At his signal the drums began the cadence which was taken up by the war hens all beating their swords against their shields. The sound was deafening and it filled the great valley. Bourbon of the Red strode forward swinging his mighty Schweinehammer and calling the pigz to battle. Col Ti raced up and down the battle line and howled his terrible war cry, rallying the war hens.
The great beasts screamed their mighty retort and thundered toward the battle line. The ground and trees shook as the pigz hurled themselves forward. The fearsome pigz charged out of the underbrush, wild with fear and dread and bloodlust. The battle was about to be joined.
Suddenly a massive black horse sailed over the battle lines darkening the sky and landed just in front of OFG. She immediately recognized the mysterious horse and rider who seemed to appear out of nowhere. OFG turned to shout, “Hold the line! Hold the line! Keep your positions! Col Ti! Hold those men!”
The rider slipped silently from the saddle. He boldly stepped toward the charging pigz, first at a steady walk as he judged the distance, then faster running to meet his foe, soon the big man raced forward, drew forth his bow, and the mighty assassin smote the first beast with a single shot. The great pig tumbled into a heap. Stunned, the war hens behind him gasped, then the air was full of the loud victory cheer, “Huz-zah!”
To the beat of the war hen's swords on shields the big man continued his charge. The second pig lowered his head, screamed his rage, and met the challenge. OFG could barely breath as she watched the two large figures race toward each other. The big man ran, seemingly unaware of the huge pig's horrible ferocity, and without great effort he thusly felled that pig also. The pig bellowed one last bloodcurdling scream and then lay still.
The big man turned and faced OFG. And there he stood as the war hens rushed forward. Bourbon and his men charged also and made sure that each pig got hence to its miserable death.
In the ensuing chaos and jubilant cheers of victory the big man walked slowly toward OFG. He slung his bow over his shoulder as he crossed the battle grounds. Standing before her he took her face in his hands, pressed his forehead to hers, and then walked away without saying a word. She watched him take the reins from his companion, mount the large black horse, and he disappeared back into the great forest like an apparition. His dark companion trotted behind him. And then they were gone.
OFG was aware of pounding footsteps and looked up to see Princess Kai and Zander rounding the bend at great speed. They had been leading the right flank in the woods behind the pigz. Kai tried to push past OFG, looking around wildly. “Was he here?” Kai desperately cried. “My father, was he here? Where is he?”
“He's gone, Kai.” OFG gestured toward the forest. “He's gone. You know it has to be this way.” Explained OFG holding the young princess by the shoulders. Kai shook loose and took a few steps toward the forest but knew it was too late. She had searched the countryside before for the big man. He could not be found nor tracked by any means.
“But,” Kai started to say as useless tears started to fall on her shining battle armor, “...he never even....” And then she wept openly.
Leaving his sister to her private grief, Zander followed OFG down to the battlefield. Whatever warmth had been in her eyes while the big man was there was now gone. She yelled orders and directed the troops as she made her way down the hillside. In the cold morning the smoke from the blood soaked ground rose hazily.
Bourbon of the Red was standing victoriously over the carcass of one of the slain beasts. A great “huzzah” rang out when he ran his dagger down the belly of one of the pigz, reached into the great maw, and pulled out the heart of the evil brute. He held it aloft for all to see, all the while singing a great victory song in his native language.
About them the ducks and hens had started the process of hauling the carcasses up the hill to the Great Hall. Huge carts of bloodwine were being brought down to the battlefield for the victorious warriors as the work parties prepared for the great harvest at the top of the hill. Bourbon's men had released the horrible heads from the pig carcasses and had hoisted them onto great pikes as a sign of victory.
The young dark prince sat quietly looking up at the gruesome sightless eyes. All around him was the activity of triumph. The great carts were loaded and the war hens had taken up the ropes, straining to pull the spoils of war up the hill. Behind him Zander could hear Col Ti barking orders and the creaking of the wheels as the carts started to lurch forward.
The pup sat, still carefully studying the pigz heads. The ghastly eyes still held the terror of their defeat and blood dripped in pools at the base of the posts on which they were mounted. Zander took this all in. “Soon,” He thought to himself, “Soon this victory will be mine.”
In the distance he heard his mother calling to him, “Zan-der.... Zaaaaan-der.....”
He turned to go, then looked back once more at the pig trophies, threw back his head and for the first time howled his war cry.