The squire lifted his chin and spoke in a language Jispin didn’t understand. He shook his head. The squire tried a different language, or at least it sounded very different to Jispin. Guessing his question, he replied “I am Jispin… Jispin,” as he pointed to himself and resumed cleaning the gore off his blade on the fallen man’s shirt before returning it to his scabbard. He looked up at the squire, then around. They both noted there was only one other man remaining on horseback, the unarmored knight. The two Argentain horses and the other squire’s mount were standing, stamping nervously, blowing noisily, and steaming like a boiling cauldron in the suddenly quiet drizzle of rain.
The squire wheeled his horse about and kicked it over toward its companion, reaching it about the same time as the knight’s stallion. The second squire lay on the ground with a spear buried deeply in his side. It looked like he’d been leaning over to the right to swing his sword, and it opened up a gap below the breastplate. A skilled or lucky spearman had plunged his weapon well past the head, nearly to the end of the ferrule.
All three men looked at the fallen squire; the knight’s face was sad, the other squire looked ashen as if the thought of dying in battle finally hit home. Jispin looked at the design, strengths, and weaknesses of the armor that had failed its owner so badly; in his haste to get to battle he’d not worn a belt and tassets like the other was. A fatal mistake.
The two mounted men exchanged a few words, among which Jispin heard his name, or something much like it. After the hurried conversation the knight asked him in his accented but pleasant Argentain tongue “My squire says your name is Jispin, yes?”
The boy nodded.
“Thank you greatly for your timely assistance. Were you he who sneezed?”
Jispin replied with another nod of his head.
“Whose side do you favor?”
Jispin spit to the side. “Neither. I am Kurgan. I hate them both. They both hate me.”
“Hoped for this. A good way to pay them back for what they have done to my tribe. There are two more dead Argentain back there,” he pointed toward the willow he’d hidden in.
“Ah, that’s what the horses must have heard,” replied Andronikos. “Are there any more in the area? How far from the Argentain border or nearest encampment are we?”
Jispin shrugged. “You crossed the border a day’s ride east. The camp is…” he pointed generally westward, “that way. Half a day’s fast walk on the path, I reckon. But I wouldn’t go that way. I’ve seen five scouts posted, and another Argentain company like this one yesterday. Three smaller groups of Crimean as well.”
Andronikos spoke rapidly with his squire, who dismounted and started recovering armor and gear from their fallen companion. The knight peered closely at the remarkably calm-looking stranger looking up at him. “How old are you?”
“Fourteen summers.” Jispin looked around at the field covered in the dead and dying. “How do you plan to split it up?”
“It seems that the situation I was sent to address has been resolved for war with my lance not being welcome in Argentain. Help us bury Stígandr, then take what you wish… Do you have a horse?”
Jispin grinned. “I do now.” He looked back towards the trail where the Argentains had come from. “Back soon,” he called out as he took off at a trot for it.
The squire, Hávarðr, looked to his knight questioningly. “Let him go. I think I know what he seeks.”
Jispin had barely entered the wood-line when the signs of dropped equipment were seen. He continued past the stream of items until he came to three large pack mules and two spare cavalry mounts tied to trees beside the trail awaiting their owners return. He left them tied up while he rapidly gathered the dropped packs and supplies, quickly securing them to the animals. It was a heavy load for them, but now was not the time to sort through it all. Tying one to the next, he led the oldest mule as first in the pack train back to the field, picking up the remaining discarded equipment as he went.
Sir Andronikos nodded understanding and approval when noting his return. The Kilpan knight and squire were done preparing the fallen squire for a simple burial, and were going about the grim and grisly work of looting the bodies their harsh harvest had yielded. The two were methodically stripping the fallen of everything of value: armor, weapons, pouches, clothing in reasonable shape, food, nearly everything down to the underwear.
After asking his master’s opinion, Hávarðr unloaded the animals and removed the horse’s bits so they could all graze on in the field while the men continued their own hard work. The animals would have their own labors with a great deal to haul later that day.
Partway through, Jispin asked “Leave them where they lie, or take them into the wood?”
Sir Andronikos stood and thought a moment. “I had thought to line the path with them. Crimean on one side, Argentain on the other. Why do you ask?”
“Leave battle obvious, make each think the other must have won because they had not heard of victory. But they might wonder why both sides looted, not buried. Or we throw them off the trail, make the companies just disappear without a trace. Spirited away in the night by demons. Confuse both sides.”
“Hmmm. I see. Yes. But if we lay them both out it will appear as a third side has joined the war.”
“That good or bad? Might be harder to sell this,” Jispin waved to the growing pile of equipment they were gathering.
“Possibly. Maybe easier, though. A good point.” They continued to strip the bodies in silence, systematically working their way through the two small armies of men in the rain. Most of the Argentain soldiers had the good armor and quality weapons they expected from a relatively wealthy kingdom, and there were many pouches and bits of jewelry as well. The lightly-armored men from their less well-off neighbor, Crimea, had much less of value, intrinsic or resale. Hávarðr laughed at all the superstitious signs and magic amulets they’d found, gewgaws to ward off death on the field. After translation, Jispin replied they must work, because Jispin was still alive to take them. He added another of them to his own pocket. It was as least worth the metal and ivory it was made from, if nothing else.