The "lieutenant" was a typical court functionary, not given to a strictly military career, but rather to the delegated duties of an overseer. And his job had been to punish the retired imperial sword master and eradicate the rebels of his village. A single village!
The village of Kanti had indeed been burned and abandoned. But the viper had escaped and was now grown into a dire worm, attracting more discontented, disloyal elements with each passing week. Now his army was thousands strong and people came to him like flakes of iron to the lodestone.
I must attack and obtain a victory, the "lieutenant" said to himself.
So-resolved, the "lieutenant" (who, up to including now, remains nameless as all who lead from well to the rear are, unless fate smiles on them), gathered in all of his outposts and patrols and mustered them back into their units. He had a formidable array still, despite the depleting effect of recent removal of troops by the higher-ups in the imperial military hierarchy.
In order to bring matters to a head, the lieutenant made a direct attack upon the place where Librohn's army camped at the south edge of the Kanti forest. Scouts returned with a picture of the rebel army standing to receive his army on prepared ground. They were inviting attack. No amount of riding near and taunting elicited the first response. The rebels stood in their ranks half a league before their stoutly fortified camp.
Though of common intelligence, the lieutenant possessed a gift of insightfulness bordering on prodigious. He knew that the "Liberator" was a crafty warlord. Somehow he had managed to hide traps: probably by working swift shifts under the cover of night. Nothing had been positively seen by scouts or spies, but the lieutenant mistrusted the open avenues leading between clumps of woodland to the outclassed rebel army.
As near as the lieutenant could discern, his own army was a quarter larger than the rebel host. And quality was on his side as well. Of horsemen he held a three to one advantage. Bowmen alone lay with the defenders, for they had quite as many yeomen archers, armed man for man the same as the imperial bowmen, but in addition, Librohn had a battalion of allied Kanti forest Elves, the most formidable shooters within the empire. Fully a third of Librohn's troops were raw peasants. Other than his left wing of thugs (with a stiffening of Thugs led by Tubby), all of the lieutenant's troops were well armed.
He placed his feudal cavalry as his right wing and commanded them to seek carefully for hidden traps, perhaps covered trenches or the like. The light serjants were to go before the miles.
Hamartolon was to hold back the Knights of the lord Antania, till the free passage to the rebel right flank should be discovered, then position themselves for a decisive attack.
The imperial center was comprised of the mercenary and militia infantry. Longbowmen in skirmish order were in front of two battalions: of solid pikemen on the left and mixed sword and spear on the right.
This main attack force paused, just outside of extreme bowshot, while Tubby's men moved to the woods in front of them, from which position they were to threaten an attack on the rebel right.
Librohn faced this threat at the head of his personal guard of swordsmen (Serj and his friend Balen were returned to this band of worthies). To their right, Sir Skoluh'r Dehpudzy led the single cavalry battle of men-at-arms and serjants (Crohsyus the simple had been joined to this unit). Dehpudzy kept his men on the move, back and forth, to the rear of the army, trying to cover eventualities that might develop on the flanks.
Meanwhile, the Kantim and yeomen drove in their stakes. Behind them stood a solid body of billmen and other wielders of two-handed weapons (Ahntohnyus with his halberd could be found there).
When it was seen that the imperial horse were riding to come in from the left flank, the archers from the forests moved to occupy the woods out in front on their left.
The lieutenant's feudal horsemen got on the hill at the extreme end of the rebel left, wheeled inward and descended, feeling their way forward at a walk. The Knights under Hamartolon's command walked through the thin woods ahead and rode to join the probing feudal cavalry.
Thugs emerged from the woods on the rebel right. This posed a threat that Dehpudzy could no longer ignore. He began to widen his column into a line even as the loose ranks of thugs ran forward with raised javelins. These had little effect. And the subsequent melee went instantly very badly for the loosely arrayed thugs, who had lost all cohesion in their mad dash.
Back on the rebel left, the Kantim arrived at the west edge of the woods even as the feudal serjants kicked their line into a trot: and fell afoul of Librohn's trench! Nearly half of the five hundred serjants floundered in the ditch, while longbow shafts depleted the rest of their battle line, which had continued on closer to the enstaked archers. Kanti arrows launched toward the serjants as they flogged and dragged their horses out of the treacherous ground.
Had Hamartolon not been on hand to wheel back and make contact with the north end of the Kanti line, their shooting would no doubt have swiftly completed the destruction of the disorganized serjants. But the first Knights to contact the Elvish archers rode down those who turned to face them. The hurried shots did no damage. And true to their crafty nature, the whole unit of Kantim faded swiftly back into the depths of the woods.
The dregs of the light cavalry spurred forward, threw a thin volley of javelins and received far more clothyard shafts in return. Javelins decimated the yeomen, but the serjants ceased to exist as a fighting force. Seeing this reverse, the miles, following closely behind, turned about and fled. Hamartolon was powerless to arrest their flight. And soon the routing miles had crested the hill and ridden down its far slope and away from the field.
The Knights, alone, faced the waiting archers and billmen, and the Kantim, behind which were the masses of peasants. Retreat was the better part of valor!
Hamartolon reversed course around the wood back toward the center. Rounding the trees, he came in sight of the center in full withdraw mode. The archers were far fewer in number than they had been. But the pike block and battalion of sword and spearmen looked little the worse for wear.
No sign of thugs could be discerned, unless a company of rebel men-at-arms in pursuit of a rather larger gaggle of running footmen off to the east were the last of that force. He was right about that. As he rode at the head of his column of Knights, Hamartolon saw no thugs at all. Enquiries soon cleared up ignorance on the matter of the lost battle:
As the thugs had engaged the rebel cavalry, the imperial center had all but closed with the stake line. The shot of their skirmishers routed the rebel archers thinly manning that defense. Behind them, the peasants had also panicked at the sight of routing archers and massed imperial troops about to break through. It was then, that the discovery of yet another trench was made, by the right half of the imperial skirmish line. Longbowmen plunged through the concealing turf cover and struggled to free themselves. Had the Elves been on hand behind the stakes that they had earlier planted, likely the imperial troops would not have escaped. But the denizens of the woods had paused only long enough to shoot a few sword and spearmen, then joined the yeomen facing west against the cavalry threat. By the time the Kantim had taken station back on their original spot of ground, the imperial forces were disengaged.
The imperial center had seen Librohn and his captains rally their archers and the peasants, who, with the billmen, now massed to contest any attack on the stake line. Over half of that frontage was also covered by the ditch! Emerging from behind their stakes down at the east end, the swordsmen under the Liberator's command had already chopped down numbers of archers before they could get clear. The rest had beaten a hasty retreat beyond the pike block and the sword and spearmen. These two battalions had followed up at a sedate pace until well out of range.
Librohn saw that Sir Skoluh'r and his men had dispatched the entire thug/Thug band. Tubby had nearly been caught on the run by the erstwhile marshal himself, but the Thug captain and a few of his fellows had managed to flee into inaccessible terrain and made their escape.
Shortly after this additional reverse in his fortunes, the lieutenant learned of the imminent arrival of the large imperial army that had been mustered by the co-emperors, Ghorkil and Rahkard. The twins were coming in person to deal with this Librohn, styled the "Liberator". Having "shot his bolt" and missed, the lieutenant awaited his fate ...