An Ancient Geas

For two years, the war had been raging, and todays battle would decide upon the future of the kingdoms. The southeners had brought their heavy cavalry, a clear signal that they, too, considered this the decisive battle. "Good", Artrox Icehammer said, "at last we will have a real fight."

He and his men had been deployed at the east flank, on the hillside in front of the forest. For most of the two years, Artrox had been chasing southeners from his lands, which he intended to give to his sons, not some weaklings with their wine and dance who didn't know which side of an axe was up.

"Send word to the Jarl.", he turned to his aide, "The enemy is deploying near the marsh, he needs to move the skirmishers into the plains."

The men of the north had made a simple battle plan at the Jarl's tent yesterday night. So far, it had worked out. They had woken early and taken the hills, forcing the southeners to deploy in the valley, which unbeknown to them was part marshland, frozen and snowed over but only with a thin sheet of ice that would break if an army went onto it.

Artrox sent a few warming thoughts towards his wife, which had stayed behind, of course, and was awaiting his return. He planned to bring her spoils of war, some fine cloth if he could find it, and other items of the south. While he was lost in thought, soldiers, scouts and messengers were preparing for battle.
Many of those mortals would die today, but it was their fate anyway, so Artrox was not worried. As for himself, as a true man of the north, he would not show his worries, even less than the mortals did. After all, they did share a culture, even if they were of different kinds. He was closer to his mortal subordinates than to his First Ones kin from the south, who had weakened in the warm weather and forgiving climate. He laughed as he remembered their first expedition into the north, where many of them froze to death as winter fell upon them.

Jarl Eldrich was moving the skirmishers out of the forest on the west flank now. Artrox glanced behind him and sent a messenger towards the main force hidden in the forest. Drums began to sound in the distance, as the enemy turned to face the new threat, leaving their eastern flank exposed.

Then, arrows rained upon them, as the archers began to fire, baiting them to attack. And attack they did, their cavalry shock troops charging across the plains.
From here on the hill, details were hard to make out, but as the first armored horses crashed through the ice and broke their legs in the marsh, Artrox gave the signal to attack.

The north men marched down the hill, putting pressure on the east flank so the enemy had no time to react to the precarious situation his cavalry had found itself in. As he rode down the hillside, Artrox could see the skirmishers moving light-footed into the marsh to finish off the now immobilized cavalry. His own attack was intended to bind the enemy forces while their cavalry got slaughtered. Then, the hill ended and he found himself in the plains, and with the battle cry of his people, ordered the charge.

Spears and swords and shields clashed upon the icy fields, and soon the cries of battle mixed with the cries of the dying. Pools of blood made the surface even more slippery, but northern shoes were made for ice and snow. They broke through the first shield wall, and his horse trampled two pikemen while he slashed his sword across the face of a third. More pikes were thrust in his direction, but his shield and the armor of his horse deflected them. To his left and to his right, his men rushed into the enemy, impaling them on their spears, even as their guts were cut open by the enemy swords.

Three ranks into the enemy, Artrox signaled the retreat, so they would draw the enemy up the hill, into the trap. Turning around his horse, he suddenly spotted a red and gold shield, adorned by a rampant lion. The crest of Duke Hershwin, one of the leaders of the southern alliance. Atop his mighty warhorse he blocked the way, and raised his sword. Common soldiers made way as the First Ones clashed, knowing they had no part in this fight. Out of the corner of his eyes Artrox noted that his men retreated, while he was locked in duel. But he had no time to consider the consequences, as the duke was known for his swordmanship and attacked him aggressively. Two, three blows glanced of the shield, while he stabbed at his enemy, equally to no avail.

Northern fury met southern swordsmanship on the plains filled with snow and blood, and while the battle moved up the hill around them, Artrox and the duke battled. Hershwin parried and blocked blow after blow, though the sheer power of impact made him grow weaker. Artrox, meanwhile, had trouble defending against a series of moves he had never seen before. A long swing from the right that turned in a sharp arc just before impact almost got his leg, while a quick jab followed by a downward thrust barely missed his chest. Several blows were stopped by armor, and while the horses danced around each other, the two nobles each struggled to find a weakness in the other.

Artrox had the upper hand now, and blow after blow he drove the duke into defense. With a final scream as he noticed the parries weaking and slowing, he drove his sword into his enemies thigh. Blood spread across the enemy armor as he withdrew the blade for the next blow, but it put him off balance momentarily and even with the pain in his eyes, Hershwin slashed the sword across his chest. Armor stopped most of the force, but the blow had been true, and a warm wetness mixed itself into the sweat on his body. He stabbed towards his enemies face, which the duke blocked with his shield, and at the same time rammed the sword into Artrox's belly. The pain dropped him for a second, crumbling on top of his horse, and a blow to the back cut open more of his armor and skin, and sent him tumbling to the ground. Artrox hit the frozen grass with a numbing sound. Instinctively, he rolled to his side, and the strike that was intended to finish him off missed its mark.

As he grabbed for his sword, the northern lord noticed that the battle had long moved away from him and he was surrounded by enemy forces, with a wounded but still combat-worthy Duke Hershwin moving around him, looking for an opening in his defense.

"mahaur tuome laryphir morak", he began the traditional invocation in the forgotten language of his people.
"sairalya", the duke responsed, as tradition required.
"kotyelma yanailda ohtilussee ~ lausa vestaly nuqerie whatreo ~ qmare ruunay tlingra moraki tyalho", Artrox concluded the ritual formula, while he dropped his sword and used the blood flowing from his wounds to draw the sign into the snow.

The geas complete, Artrox surrendered his weapon and horse to the enemy. The ancient magic of his people would now bind him to the duke, until such time as it was broken by death or release. It was the only surrender a First One would accept on the battlefield, as it alone ensured the captive would not escape or slash the throat of his captor in his sleep. The ritual prevented hostility and in return it allowed the captive to retain his dignity as he would not need to be thrown into chains. If his troops survived the battle, he would have to explain to them that they were to follow him even if the march led into enemy lands. After all, he did not intend to make the way back home alone.

He was now bound to the duke, but at least his sons would not inherit his lands before their time. After the battle, Hershwin and Artrox would discuss the terms of his captivity or, so he hoped, of his release. He had an estate near the southern border that he could trade, he thought, as some of the enemy soldiers led him back to the southeners camp. "Mortals", he thought. Their caution was so misplaced, and the chains of magic were much stronger than chains of iron or swords of steel.

It also bound Duke Hershwin, though in different ways. Accepting a surrender meant accepting the ancient customs, such as providing the captive with food and water and the ability to communicate with his family and peers. Customs created out of the understanding that any First One might find himself on either side one time or the other.