Tuesday Critique: The Battle Joined

Here’s my latest work on Sons of Alba, Book 2: Son of Redemption.  Seumas is on the brink of his first battle, one that will change his life forever.  (Disclaimer: a bit violent)


They crept so close they could smell the smoke from the Sassanach camp fires, could hear the distant whinny of a horse and the odd bellowing laugh from a soldier.  Through the branches Seumas spied a banner: the purple and gold of Northumbria.  He glanced at Dadaidh, who returned a tight smile as if to say there was no going back now.  
Seumas had no desire to go back.  Not now, not with his first taste of battle so close to his lips.  He grinned back and soothed his horse, waiting for the Ard Righ’s signal.  Filtered through the forest sounds came the clank of metal camp ware.  The Sassanaich were eating breakfast, just as any other morning, oblivious to the creeping threat that even now drew a snare around them.  
Then the hum of casual conversation was joined by the distant hum of the piob mhor and erupted into loud cries of alarm that spread through the enemy camp like a wave.  Seumas pictured the Ard Righ and his main force riding across the glen toward the Sassanaich.  Now the clash of swords being drawn and axes being hefted replaced the innocent sound of spoon on bowl.  Now the voices once raised in companionable laughter lifted in shouts of rage.  
Seumas tightened his hand on the grip of his sheathed sword, loosened it a bit from the scabbard.  His horse shifted under him, pawing with the same restless energy that coursed through Seumas.  
On the other side of the camp, the pipes grew to deafening menace, and Seumas could well imagine the sheer terror they could inflict on the enemy.  Yet for all that, they still had the ring of home, of Alba, to him.  
With a cacophony of screeching and banging, the battle joined, a violent coupling whose throes carried through the forest and sent the corbies flying from the trees in a flurry of black wings.  It wouldn’t be long, now.
And then it came – the first retreater crashed through the undergrowth on foot, stopping short at the feet of Domhnall’s battle line, his face a rictus of fear.  One of Domhnall’s warriors stabbed the man with a spear, and he fell with a cry like a slaughtered deer, his eyes rolling up and blood gushing from the wound. 
It was not the first time Seumas had seen death.  Nor was it his first glimpse of violence.  He’d hunted before, of course, and animals had died by his hand for the nourishment of the clann.  But this was something different.  This was unnatural, an abrupt interruption of the flow of life as man met man and heaven met earth in a collision that shook the very stones.  
Seumas stared at the dying man for three slow heartbeats before Domhnall Mor called out his war cry and the horses surged forward as one, bursting through the trees and upon the bloody rout that was the Sassanach army.  And then he had no more time to think.  He slid his blade from its sheath with a metallic scrape and drew back his arm to strike.  
With a mighty yell he heaved his sword down onto the nearest man.  He dared not pause to think – it was merely another exercise, no different from striking at wooden effigies or playing at sparring with his friends.  He spared no thought for the bulging surprise in the man’s face or the blood, but the image seared onto his mind in a brief flash as he turned to face the next foe.  
Beside him, Dadaidh did the same.  He beat men with his sword much the same way he beat hot metal with his hammer.  But he looked a stranger, with the battle light in his eyes and his kindly face twisted with life-or-death effort.  Strange beyond words to see the father that had once calmed his childish fears appear like a thing out of a nightmare.  
Domhnall Mor was much the same.  A beast of a man, leagues taller than any other on his massive charger, he was no longer the gentle giant of an uncle Seumas knew.  With shouted orders for his men to follow, he drove further into the fray, clearing a path with the unmatched reach of his claidheamh da laimh.  
They made a steady progress, pushing through the foemen like the head of spear, and as they went, Seumas saw their goal – a man as giant as his uncle, with copious amounts of yellow hair streaming from under his domed helm and covering half his fierce and bloodied face.  He swung a battle axe as though it was a willow switch, sending men flying with the force of his blows.  
“That’s Eadwulf,” one of Domhnall’s men shouted, pointing with his sword at the juggernaut forging his way toward them.  “He’s the Righ of Bernicia.  If we get him down …”
The rest of his words were swallowed in the din.  But Seumas had no need to hear.  He knew the value of this prize.  If Eadwulf fell, the Sassanaich might well scatter.  Urging his horse onward into a void in the crowd, Seumas slashed at an attacker and another and another, until he was close enough that he could see the icy blue glare of Eadwulf’s berserk eyes.  He saw him.
Dadaidh called out his name, but he was too far to stop him.  
Then the hulking warrior pulled his axe free of its last victim’s helmet and spurred to meet him.  Fear succumbed to pure hard-headed courage and Seumas raised his sword in readiness.  The double-edged axe flashed as it fell and Seumas caught it on the flat of his sword.  The shock of the blow left his fingers numb, hardly able to grip the sword, but with a mighty effort he threw off the haft and tried to wrench it from Eadwulf’s hands.  But the distance between them was too great, and the Sassanach kept his grip and his seat.  
The horses danced closer and Eadwulf raised his axe again.  Again Seumas prepared to meet his stroke.  This time, he wasn’t certain he could keep his grip.  Fear finally captured his attention, and as the axe fell, he admitted he was a fool, and outmatched.

Hope you enjoyed.  Please let me know what you think!

6 thoughts on “Tuesday Critique: The Battle Joined”

  1. I really enjoy your style of writing. I felt like I was in the battle. I don’t typically read this type of work (it was a bit violent for my delicate sensibilities-lol), but this was engaging and interesting! Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed the pictures as well.

  2. Interesting scene! A couple things–for what it’s worth getting comments from a complete stranger on your writing choices–based entirely on the scene in front of me, and having no idea as to your writing experience and what have you (I write commercial fiction as well)–since this is a battle scene, he’s likely to be very focused on what’s physically happening. Also, he’s a guy. So anywhere in here he’s thinking? See if you can replace that with action. Secondly, consider where in the story you can maintain the setting in straightforward English–of course using Gaelic words and spelling is important for setting, but the more a reader has to think about how to pronounce something, the less they are into the story itself. Also you have two spellings of “Sassenach” in here….(the other is Sassenaich).

    That’s all. Although I’m hoping he doesn’t actually die there…

    1. Thanks Lorena – I will take another look from a guy’s perspective. (Maybe get my husband to read it 🙂 )

      As for the Gaelic, it’s been a dilemma, but my publisher likes it with Gaelic in and I’m keeping with the same flavour as the first 4 instalments. Also, Sassanach = singular, Sassanaich = plural.

      Thanks again for the helpful critique 🙂

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