This is the first draft of part 1 of the Story of William (working title). I inadvertently left Detrius out, which I'll have to go back and add in, as well as clean up some description and dialogue. Anyway, I'd like to hear feedback on the style and such so far.
"William!" came a voice, shouting in a panic. "Lord William! We have an urgent missive! One of the mages received a message!"
William looked up from his cramped writing desk where he had been studying a map of the surrounding area. His tent was lit by the light of the sun, low in its morning rise, and by a lantern sitting in the corner of the small desk. He bent, almost reflexively, to pick up his gauntlets and bracers from the floor, careful to bend at the waist thanks to the heavy breastplate he wore every waking moment since marching south. Next to him, Leaf stirred, his eyes looking first to William and then to the young lad still sleeping on a hastily constructed pallet in one corner of the tent. "Milord?" he asked hesitantly.
"No, I don't think there's anything coming at us, Leaf," William said quietly. "Otherwise the horns would have sounded." The sentries had their orders to sound off if the reports had enemies approaching, so as to have the men roused and ready, regardless of the message reaching him or not. "I think we've been sitting here long enough. For Guide's sake, Leaf, you'd think that heavy assault infantry would be on the move and not holed up on a mountainside."
"I understand. Though, I do apologize again for not learning the magics. I could relay messages to you immediately if I had." Leaf didn't shift nervously, didn't wring his hands, he just stood there, cool and calm. This was not the first alert they'd had, and it wasn't even Leaf's first full campaign. He was older than William by twenty or more years, and had served with William's father.
"Please, Leaf, not this again. If I could learn it, I would've done it, but we have good men that do this."
A man burst into the tent, breathing hard, with a missve in-hand and a heavily armored man behind him. Adovan loomed over the messenger, his blue eyes intent and sunken into a face just beginning to recover from gauntness. "A magic message came from the general's camp, sir! There are goblins preparing to assault!"
William heard Leaf suck in a breath through his teeth, and the cot creaked as the youth sat up. "Orders?"
"Yes, sir, we're ordered to hit the goblins as soon as possible. The general's camp is fortifying and all nearby units are being called in. We're the closest." The man's breathlessness hadn't lessened, and his eyes were wide.
"We march," William said, beginning to buckle the bracers onto his arms. Leaf stepped in and deftly swatted his hands away to do up the buckles himself. "Have Bannerman Torval form the men. Camphands and retainers stay. If we're successful, we'll be back by nightfall, and if we're not, they are to scatter and head back to the nearest group in the army."
"Milord," Leaf began, before William cut him off.
"No, Leaf. You and Adovan are to go with them. Get back to the family estate and tell Mother what happened. Anton will go with you. He has my approval to stay at the estate. And she will want to know what happened to me if I can't tell her myself."
The messenger had already run back through the tentflaps, but Adovan remained behind. His face was carefully blank, but his eyes almost burned in their deep sockets. "Adovan," William said, "I know you want to strike back at the greenskins, but listen to me. You have to protect Leaf and Anton if things go badly, keep them from those prison camps. I need a man I can trust here. Are you that man?" Adovan's face fell slightly, but he nodded all the same. "Good man."
With the last buckle done up on his armor, William slipped the chainmail coif over his head, picked up his shield and slid his heavy-bladed longsword into its sheath. He ducked as he exited the tent, as he did anything in that tent but sit or lie down. The men were already forming up into marching order, speaking quietly to each other as he approached. They quieted when he stepped to the head of the formation.
"Men," he called out, "we have little time. Goblins are attacking General Korgan's camp. They are fortified, but we are the nearest force. Our orders are to do what we do best, hit the enemy from the side and try to break their resolve. This is what we are for, and we will succeed!" Short as it was, the men shouted their agreement and began to march. William strode at the head of their lines with Bannerman Torval.
"Milord," Torval greeted him formally.
"Torval. There isn't much time. Do you think we can manage a forced march?"
"With the rest we've had since the last assaut, sir, I believe we could almost run the whole way."
William gave him a half-smile. "Force march will be fine. I want their strength at the fight, not getting to it."
Torval returned the smile and called out for the men to begin the forced march of long strides to cover the land. They marched down the hillside along a recently-made roadway, cut in their ascent to the camp's current position. Korgan had stated that the purpose of the heavy assault unit William led was to have men that were between heavy infantry and light that could bring enough force to strike at openings in enemy formations and move quickly enough to do so. While this wasn't a standard practice, Korgan's unorthodox approach had liberated Compa, Glaris and Eumoyn and pushed the goblins further and further back as the allied forces of human and faykin advanced. And so, William's men moved as quickly as he allowed, ranging through the untamed wilds deep in the goblin lands towards the general's camp.
The camp had been backed to a pair of high, steep mountains so as to limit approaches, and as William's men crested the ridge, he could see that it was working. Barely. The forces of the general's guard were in a tight arc, just at the edge of the camp, and being pressed upon by a writhing green mass of goblins that outnumbered them at least two to one. William's own force numbered just shy of eighty thanks to recent losses, but they were trained for this. He raised his sword high and the men behind him drew their weaponry and as he lowered the blade, the group of them broke into a charge. They didn't cheer, yell or shout as they ran. The creak of leather and clatter of armor was their cadence, blending into the noisy cacophony of the battle before them.
William ran with the frontline of his men. He couldn't fathom sending these men he was charged with into a fight without being in it himself.