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The Charge
by Janneker Lawrence (Contest Entry) | Published On: 01-Dec-2014

Based on The Charge of the Light Brigade By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

II

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”

Was there a man dismayed?

Not though the soldier knew

Someone had blundered.

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

III

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of hell

Rode the six hundred.

IV

Flashed all their sabres bare,

Flashed as they turned in air

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army, while

All the world wondered.

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right through the line they broke;

Cossack and Russian

Reeled from the sabre stroke

Shattered and sundered.

Then they rode back, but not

Not the six hundred.

V

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

While horse and hero fell.

They that had fought so well

Came through the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.

VI

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wondered.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!

It was still dark. The mist of the early morning descended slow but sure on the small wing of men waiting in the gloom. They were garbed for battle, short swords strapped to their sides. The full faced helms that were carved in the front to enable visibility gave the mounted warriors a menacing look. The horses they sat on were the finest of the imported horses shining ghostly white… almost ethereal. Not one horse moved out of line or snorted… an example of the impeccable Royal Training. The soldiers were the personal bodyguards of the king.

Charisma looked at his men, grim looking and determined … men he could count on to ride into hell with. They were handpicked warriors from the realm known for their deadly skills with either sword or spear. After being taken into service, they were rigorously trained in all the weapons of warfare for three years. Horseback riding was part of the intense training regimen. Charisma knew that this group… of just six hundred men was a match for any larger fighting force in the world. But now, Charisma pitied his men and loathed himself. His men wore shame like a cloak around themselves. “It is my fault” mumbled Charisma.  

His horse turned sharply at his voice and pricked its ears. “You too accept this Viceroy? You know it right? It’s my fault. I am responsible for this outrageous deed… but by the gods, I tell you… I will make amends… I will” muttered Charisma to his horse, patting its neck gently.

Charisma burned with indignation as the bitter memory of what had transpired two days back seared his mind. The king had been on a hunt in the forest with his nobles… all of them his relatives. Repeated pleas from Charisma for a section of the bodyguards to accompany him had been spurned by the king, who at last agreed to let Charisma accompany him. Charisma had fought wildly to put aside his fear and trepidation that threatened to engulf him. His consternation was about the king and his safety. The hunt had been a success with the king spearing a couple of elks. Roast meat had been passed around in the night and wine had flowed. His apprehension had increased as the monarch drank more than usual, the entire royal tent flowing with meaningless laughter. Charisma had refused drink initially, but the king asked his servants to hand a goblet to him, the head of the king’s personal bodyguards. Charisma had finished a goblet and could still remember the liquid scorching its way down to his intestine. How he wished now he had abstained from consuming the ale!

Charisma had woken up with a splitting headache after many hours to find the camp quiet… too quiet to be normal. His tent had fallen down on him, the tent pegs having been pulled from the earth. He had staggered from beneath the tent to find the noblemen butchered in their couches. He had searched high and low, but the king was nowhere to be found, much to his discomfiture and alarm. He had rushed to the city and sent scouts who came back with the report of an army amassed a day’s ride away.

Charisma could feel the bile rise in his throat at the thought of the king being held captive. The captain of the army had refused to let Charisma and the personal bodyguards join the attack to rescue the king. The abduction of the king was seen as a breach of security, a lasting shame that was etched firmly in the Hall of Shame… and he, Charisma, was looked upon suspiciously since he was the lone survivor of the attack.

The bodyguards vowed to rescue the king at all costs. The scouts reported three divisions gathered before them. The infantry division was to the front. The path to the infantry division was long and narrow, with the sides bordered with hills lined with cannons and bowmen. Charisma and his men waited with bated breath for the moment that they could ride to the infantry rabble. The ride would be rife with death. Should the cannons thunder when they rode, not one might reach the infantry alive. The men knew this. They had gathered here to rescue the king and erase their shame and reproach. But above all, they were here out of the undying love for their commander Charisma. They knew it was not his fault. But they could not face him for fear of embarrassing him.

Charisma beckoned to two young men who stood some distance away from the grouped men.

“Raleigh, bring your hundred men to my right, and you Erin, assemble your men to my left.”

The centurions bowed and went back to the men. Soon Charisma’s flanks were lined with hundred warriors each, lightly armored, with bright red cloaks billowing in the rustling wind. Charisma cleared his throat and said “Men, it is for the sake of honor that we stand here. If there be any here who lacks of courage, he may leave so at once without any loss of his face, for I would be failing in my duty were I not to tell you that none of us might leave this valley alive. While the four hundred men with me ride down this valley of destruction, you on either side would have to ransack and lay waste to the death machines mounted on your side of the hills. Do so with courage and think of our king… for his fate rests with us. I give a minute’s time for those with a mind to leave.”

Not a man stirred. Pride for his men swelled up in him. He knew that they were riding to their death. His men understood that clearer. For they faced two thousand infantry headed by a man who had had the audacity to kill the nobles and spirit the king away from his own realm. His men were no suckling babes either. All were battle hardened and had what warriors called ‘the look of eagles’… every one of them. They could face death with the ease of a normal man brushing his teeth. “May the good Lord shine His grace upon you” blessed Charisma as the two companies left for the hills. He then called Wisely, his page, and said “The horses of those two companies are to be at the foot of the hills by the time I engage the infantry. It is vital. After the destruction of the cannons, the men have to mount this and come to my assistance.”

 “It will be as you say my Lord” replied Wisely. The commander smiled, patted his young page and moved to the remaining four hundred who were waiting for his command. “Be not dismayed my men, for we ride today not for ourselves, but for our king and our honor. Are you with me?” asked Charisma. The men banged the reverse side of the lances into the ground for affirmation.  

Charisma waited expectantly. Soon there could be heard screams emanating from the hills. He raised his sword and bellowed “For the king” and thundered forward, with his men galloping after him. Though the assault of the men of Erin and Raleigh had taken the enemies by surprise on the hills, the fighting became tougher as enemies regrouped. This meant that many of the cannons were ready to spit fire and hell into the men of Charisma on the valley below. And thunder did the cannons! Facing the charging men stood the infantry of the enemy, their shields locked and swords drawn, baleful eyes devouring the cavalry bearing down on them. There was a distant boom, the echo of which was not audible as cannons thundered to the right, left and the front of the horsemen successively. Ball after ball tore into the line of men as huge chunks of sand blew up with huge sections of men disappearing from view.

Raleigh found himself facing a tall, burly man whose sword had already claimed the lives of many men. The giant’s bulk belied the skill of the man’s swordsmanship, which was lightning - quick. Raleigh found himself tiring as all his thrusts were blocked easily and a riposte almost cut through him. The savage speed of the swordsman forced Raleigh to move backwards step by step. All around him his men were engaged in severe hand to hand fighting accompanied by screams of anguish and pain. A hidden root jutting out of the ground caused Raleigh to stumble and fall. Before he could gain his balance the giant was upon him in a flash, grinning devilishly his sword lancing down. Raleigh brought his sword up at the last moment and blocked the cut. The downward force of the cut was so strong that the shock of the blades meeting together jarred the bones in his body. Before he could react, the man kicked the sword out of Raleigh’s hand and raised his sword for the final plunge. Raleigh closed his eyes and waited grimly for his death when a cannon ball carried the giant through the air into the valley. Raleigh could not believe his eyes. He thanked God, gave a sigh of relief, gathered his sword and ran to help the others.

Erin meanwhile moved forward expertly mowing down the cannons with his men. His expertise in jungle warfare helped him lead his men effectively against the rebels hidden in the mountains. It was but a matter of time before all the bowmen were killed. In fact most of them were massacred as they slept; their throats slit open by Erin’s men. The cannons were smashed to pieces and cannoneers dragged, stabbed and thrown from the hillside. Erin and his men moved down, gathered their horses and rode like devil incarnates towards the infantry and the cannons behind them that were spewing death to Charisma and his men.

Charisma had reached the infantry. His leveled lance dealt destruction and death into the foot soldiers battling to meet the oncoming cavalry. Cannons still thundered, killing men by groups on the verge of the outer limit. At close quarters, the lances being of no use, were discarded and out came the swords. The charge took the horsemen past the first three rows of soldiers on foot, the horses trampling over the bodies. But the infantry gave a tough fight swearing terribly and fighting with a demonic force, with not a give in them. The cannons and the bowmen behind the infantry still rained death on the horsemen. Charisma knew then that his men would be doomed unless the cannons were silenced. The line of infantry that had stood as a straight line was now in the form of a semi circle, steadily bending inside by the force of the cavalry charge.

Suddenly a horn sounded. The infantry turned back in time to see another section of horsemen who had crept behind their ranks silently. Charisma and Erin were energized to see Raleigh and his remaining men silencing the smoking cannons. The soldiers on foot panicked, the line formation turning into a retreat which in turn became a rout with the cavalry cutting down the fleeing men. The king was found gagged and tied to a tree. The men went wild with joy seeing the monarch safe. Charisma got down from his horse and limped to the king, lifting him up and seating him gently on his horse. He blew his horn thrice. The pursuing brigade stopped harassing the retreating soldiers and rode out again, weak… wounded… but full of glory and pride… led by the king. Of the six hundred that had ridden into the valley of death, only a few returned, the cannons having annihilated them. But the people remembered forever the noble six hundred and their charge into the valley of death.  

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Author
Janneker Lawrence

Janneker Lawrence

Written: 3 Stories

Member Since: 01-Dec-2014

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