Rudric gripped the shaft of his hayfork more tightly, and swallowed with a dry mouth. He could see the dust raised by the horsemen ahead, and a few of the lead horses, manes flying in a full gallop. No telling how many more rode behind in the dust, but there would be many. All battle-trained and armed with real weapons.
He glanced to his left and to his right. The village and all the nearby farms had turned out, armed with whatever they could find, mostly farming tools, nearly three hundred strong. His hayfork was one of the better weapons. One of the two Jakes had organized the villagers, and had nodded when he’d seen the hayfork and asked others to bring as many as they could find. There were an even two dozen hayfork wielders, packed tightly in two rows in the center of the line, with the Jakes astride their horses on the slope right behind them. Drop low, plant the butt of the fork in the hillside, and keep the tines high and pointed directly at the horse. Let the horse do all the work.
Not that any of them would likely survive. A thousand pounds of racing muscle and bone was not something you could fend off with a pointed stick. Their job wasn’t to survive. It was to protect the Jakes for the few critical moments they needed.
None of them would survive if they didn’t fight. These weren’t annual raiders, come for food and women. They were part of a terrible army from Washimore, on their way to fight the equally terrible armies of the Linahs, and they slaughtered people and burned the fields as they went; should they lose the battle, their enemies would need to cross a dead zone to strike back.
Rudric’s work-callused hands began to tremble. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and recalled the Prayer of Saint Jake to mind.
He thought of Saint Jake’s campaign against the Dragonlords, standing alone in the Arena of Fate, the fate of his people riding on his victory against impossible odds, and his hands steadied.
I can do this, he thought. Saint Jake, give me strength of spirit and mellowness of soul, and should I die here today, receive me into your company of the blessed.
He opened his eyes, and watched the lead horsemen race toward him.