The knight turned to face the sounds that he apparently noted as well. He left his shield slung where it was, and flipped his spear around gently to make sure the small pennon attached near the head was hanging free and visible.
Jispin watched and listened closely. He suddenly realized that he also heard sounds from behind him, deeper in the woods. Subtle, soft sounds, not the hard sounds of armor. But no wild animal sounds were to be heard, save the caw of a raven.
The marching feet neared the clearing, then a pair of horsemen leading a column broke into view. Argentain light cavalry. Seeing the knight in the clearing they bawled an order to those behind them, then charged forward while lowering their lances and getting their shields hastily unslung from their backs. Behind them a score of medium infantry in a column three wide ran into view showing signs of having quickly dumped packs, adjusting armor into place, and drawing weapons. Once they were all out into the open they spread out into a skirmish line at a trot while the two cavalrymen slowed their charge on final approach. The lone knight sat unmoving and impassive in the face of the wild attack careening his way.
The two riders flew past the knight with lances passing far closer than polite greetings would dictate, but Jispin had to admire the steel nerve the man showed. He must know his business, or else be a complete fool… and the knight didn’t strike him as foolish.
After passing the stranger the two light cavalry rapidly halted and spun their steeds around, leveling their lances to aim at his back. “Your name and fealty!” demanded one with a sergeant’s plume on his helm.
“Sir Andronikos Math-Martin, of Kilpa, sworn to King Sven-Dejan IV,” was the calm and oddly accented reply, clear and unflinching. So, a man from the west. Why’s he here? wondered Jispin. Kilpa was one – or was it two?- kingdoms removed. Geography beyond the borders of Kurgen’s neighbors was fuzzy at best to Jispin. Survival left little time for academic study.
“Well, aren’t you the lost one! I guess you must not have heard. Bad luck for you,” the sergeant said with a gloating of dark humor. “But good luck for us!”
“Where’s your retinue?” the other demanded. “How many?”
Below him, Jispin heard movement clearly. Peering intently downward through the gloom, he saw motion, then another, the furtive actions of a line of men sneaking through the trees. Crimean colors could be seen amidst them. Lightly armored infantry, some with bows. One was moving at an angle carefully toward his tree, and slid out of view under the tarp. The commotion that seemed loud to his ears died down, unheard by those in the clearing who were busily making a great racket of their own as they dealt with their own immediate affairs.
The knight didn’t respond instantly, nor did he make any sudden moves that might give reason for the pair of opponents at his back to skewer him. He turned his head to look over his shoulder slightly and asked politely, as if he’d not heard either the rudeness nor the question, “Didn’t hear what? I’ve been on the road for many days in unfamiliar country.”
The Argentain infantry caught up with the horsemen and surrounded them at a cautious distance, spears, swords, and other weapons drawn, shields up. It was a ragged line of scruffy but solid-looking men, well-prepared for whatever action might happen.
Jispin smiled as an apprehensive silence fell on the field. The Argentains were intently focused on the knight. The Crimeans were intently focused on the Argentains. The knight was intently focused on the weapons pointed at him. Jispin sneezed, a loud, lusty, deliberate vocal explosion which lasted long enough to be clearly heard and recognized as human but short enough to not be focused on to identify direction or specific location. The knight’s head jerked to look towards the treeline where Jispin hid. Some of the Argentain infantry in the glade swung about, raised their shields and fell into a crouch, others stood upright and looked around in confusion (not the sharpest blades in the scabbard, are they?), one of the light cavalry backed his horse and wheeled around to point with his spear while calling out orders. One man started to advance cautiously in Jispin’s general direction, nothing but his eye-slit exposed above his shield. All but one of the handful of archers moved to put a shieldman between themselves and the trees, with the remaining one had to move to keep the knight covered from six or seven paces away – couldn’t-miss range even for most Argentine archers, bad as they were compared to the hunters of Kurgen who depended on the ability to hit a running rabbit or flying bird to eat.
From the treeline arrows burst forth in an uneven volley. Most found shields or were near misses, only one found its mark on the side of the soldier advancing to investigate. It wasn’t a solid hit, coming in at an angle and having to penetrate armor, but the three that embedded themselves in his shield had distracted him enough he’d not seen it coming from his sword side. He’d likely live, but it would certainly hurt, and the protruding shaft would get in the way of his sword swing tremendously. All but two of the Argentain men swung to face the new and unclear threat, with the remainders still covering the unarmored knight, one with spear and shield, the other hiding behind him with partially drawn arrow ready to be loosed with but a moment’s notice.
Seeing the general failure of the archery attack, the leader of the Crimean unit blew a loud horn blast. Three dozen Crimean soldiers–scouts and light infantry in leather armor–burst forth from their cover, racing to form up into something like an organized group to carry out the attack. Their weapons were similar to the Argentain troop, but the armor was nearly all leather and the shields smaller. In a flash, the distance was closed and the melee was on.