28

Apr

by thefourpartland

But the blow failed to materialize, and he glanced up again through the heaves to see his foe standing there with a dazed, stupefied expression on its face, swaying slightly in the nighttime breeze. And then down to the courtyard below, where Dregnon was staring at him with a concentrated effort upon his face. What followed was a sudden cessation of the nausea, followed by Dregnon doubling over and collapsing to the ground, wretching all the while.

Somewhat uncertain of what had just passed between them, Yenque was entirely willing to leave such introspection to a later date, and in the very process of rising swung his electrically charged flail in a sweeping uppercut, the spiked ball crashing into the chin of his dazed opponent, shattering it in a shower of sparks, and no doubt snapping the neck that held such a foul mind in place.

The spray of sparks did as it often did, leaping to another foe, setting the poor creature on fire, the javelin that was held cocked in its hand falling away unused as the electricity leapt through its system, frying what little senses remained to one as depraved as it was.

The noise of the strike caused one of the helfarchs to spin about, glancing backwards to see what had caused it. Between it and Yenque stood only one or two more foul creatures, the rest otherwise occupied or dead. Seeing that the attack had in all likelihood failed, and that the commander was most certainly deceased, it barked a short order to the other helfarch, and leapt over the battlements, landing with a solid thud on all four bony limbs but otherwise unharmed.

Within moments there was a general exodus for the ladders, the attackers fleeing as best they could manage, the second helfarch outdistancing them all with its leap.

***

Ngaphasi watched as the helfarchs leapt off the battlements, their large forms visible even at such distance. His forces had crept to within spear range of the southern gate once the fearsome warrior had sprinted away, taking some half of the forces with him. But enough had remained as to put doubt into Ngaphasi’s mind, and so he had waited, waited for a clear sign the battle was turning in the raiders’ favour.

Given that the next signal he had spotted was the flight of some of his forces strongest troops, he knew to what end the battle had gone.

Turning to his goblin troops, he gave the orders they had all been waiting for. “Mark yourselves like you’ve been in battle. We’re going home.”

And with that, the only unit that could have forced the capitulation of Cynlyaa and its determined Warleader turned tail and fled.

 

The End

25

Apr

by thefourpartland

Whatever the reason, the creature was quite skilled at combat, regardless of the distractions constantly assaulting it. It was able to catch the chain of the electrical flail, preventing the head from causing anything more than a deep bruise, and duck under the other strike, while at the same time retaliating with a deep claw gouge across the stomach, a blow that no doubt would have been fatal to almost all of the human soldiers. But Yenque twisted, letting the thickest part of his armour take the blow, and it scratched off, sparks flying from the claws as they struck the armour.

A jerk on the flail freed it, no doubt in part because of the creature’s surprise at its fight ending strike doing nothing of the sort. This time, when Yenque came in with both flails, he was more circumspect in how he did so, and the creature took a bash across one arm, but only glancingly so.

With the helfarchs fighting shoulder to shoulder at the other end of the embattled area, his men were having a great deal of difficulty in creating any form of headway. If it wasn’t for the tight confines of the area, he’d have had no doubt that the helfarchs would have pushed his men back, despite their training. Those bloody abominations were bred warriors, skilled at combat in ways that it took humans decades of training to master, and they were showing it. As Yenque fought, he saw one of his men disembowelled, the intestines then cut through by a sweep from the second blade and flicked forward to create a spot of uncertain footing right in front of the helfarchs.

If I don’t break through and smash them from behind, we’re dead and gone. And the fact that Iaprem hasn’t charged over here with that claymore of his means he’s doing his damndest just to keep the north gate closed. So, all on me. Joy.

Sending both flails arcing in on overhand tracks, Yenque watched as the creature did exactly the right thing to defend against that, namely, step into the blows and come across with a strike at Yenque’s face. What the creature hadn’t anticipated was the arrival of Yenque’s booted foot in its midriff, knocking the wind from its lungs. At that moment, it was dead. The following strike that sent it tumbling over the crenellations to fall outside the wall was entirely preordained.

As another of his men was sent tumbling by the helfarchs, Yenque bashed aside the next creature to stand in his way. This one had better luck than the previous, and with a raking blow had left bloody grooves where a gap in the armour did not protect him. The next did even better, the thunder club that it wielded so large and heavy as to be almost unstoppable when swung first. Certainly, with flails, which were a poor defensive weapon at the best of times, Yenque could do nothing aside from attempt to dodge as the massive head swept in from his right.

The dodge was partially successful, in as much as he was hit by the upper part of the shaft rather than the head square, but such was the force of the blow that he was driven fully across the walkway and slammed into the crenellations, leaving bruises and likely worse up and down both sides of his ribcage. It also stopped all the momentum that had gone into the flails, and they hung limply, the one still furiously blinking and howling from its enchantment.

In the end, it was likely that enchantment that saved Yenque’s life, for the following blow was a slightly misaimed overhead from the thunder club, this smashing into the ground and splitting the stone of the walkway as Yenque dived out from under the heavy strike. Thankfully, the thunder club was, if anything, an even worse defensive weapon than the pair of flails, and so now that it was safely out of the picture and lodged into the stonework of the battlements, it was possible for a hefty kick followed by a circling mace head to dispose of the foe wielding it, sending the rather startled orc over the battlements and to the courtyard below.

Whether the foe had died was rather immaterial, for at that moment Yenque found himself facing down the imperious leader of the raiders, the tall muscular creature bending slightly at the waist and spreading his claws in response to the opportunity presented. Accepting the challenge, Yenque swept the flails into motion, their heads spinning back and forth in front of him, their whirling heads too dangerous for his foe to challenge directly.

At which point, his foe grinned, stood tall, and flicked something concealed in a claw at Yenque. Whatever the small object was, it took Yenque directly in the chest and exploded in a spray of red mist, coating him in a foul, nauseating, substance that had him all but on his knees in moments.

When next he was able to see, he looked up to find the creature standing above him, a gloating smile on its face, claws raised to end the engagement almost before it had started.

I have failed. Both myself and my people. I guess I really well end up as a goblin turd. What a noble end that is going to be.

24

Apr

by thefourpartland

Yenque had had, up until this moment at least, a rather dull battle. Given command of the southern gate, he had found the enemy singularly reluctant to attack his position, and so had been forced to watch the frantic signalling from the tower on high, conveying some status of the attack on the northern gate. There was almost nothing he could truly determine from such dim and distant signals, other than that there was attack underway, but one thing for certain was that he had not been called in as reinforcements. Which meant the battle for the northern gate couldn’t be going too badly. Most likely thanks to Iaprem and his great claymore.

Indeed, his battle was so dull that he had affected a pose of complete disinterest, and taken to napping leaning up against one of the crenellations. Because if he wasn’t going to be involved in the fighting, he certainly wasn’t going to miss a good night’s sleep in the bargain as well. Which meant he was snoring quite loudly when one of his soldiers gave him a shake hard enough to send him tumbling to the ground, his armour clattering upon the stone.

“What is it?!” Yenque leapt to his feet, looking at the messenger.

“That.” A pointing finger picked out the helfarchs slamming into the back of soldiers already hard pressed by an assault over the walls.

“Half of you stay here. The other half, WITH ME!” Grabbing his flails from where they were hooked into his belt, Yenque sprinted along the battlements, calling up what magics remained to his weapons.

By no means as impressive as those within the great blade of the Warleader, his own flails were still highly useful weapons upon the field of battle. One, when he got a good clean blow in, would spit a field of sparks across those nearby. Sometimes including himself, if he wasn’t careful. The other blinked and flashed in a pattern entirely random and incredibly frequent. Mixed with the occasional noises the weapon would make, which were of deafening volume, it was an amazing distraction on the field of battle to those who had never experienced it before.

Sadly, it was something that applied to his own soldiers just as much as any other, and he was charging in to the rescue of men who could barely be called soldiers. Certainly, he wouldn’t do so. But they fought and died for their country and their friends, and at the moment that was all that mattered.

When Yenque and the charge from the southern gate finally arrived on the scene, more than half of the recruits who had held his portion of the wall were down, and in their place stood a motley assortment of vicious humanoid raiders. The leader of the mob appeared to be an overly muscled and slightly elongated creature, possessed of claws on both hands. It gave off an aura of inherent command, gesturing hither and yon at the orcs and others of its race that surrounded it. Even the helfarchs seemed to obey, now that they had broken through to the assault coming over the walls.

With a section of the walls in possession of the raiders, there could be seen others of their kind climbing over the battlements and into the fight, although the rate was not that great. Clearly, the commander of the raiders had not yet realized the success of his attack, or if he had, was having trouble marshalling his troops and sending them to the right location.

Taking no more than a moment for a breather, Yenque charged along the narrow stone battlements. Wide enough for two normal soldiers, with his flails Yenque took up a space much greater than the average man-at-arms, and so had directed those following him to charge down the stairs and attempt to come at the besiegers from the other end of the conquered territory, albeit with a few giving him support.

While those whom he had ordered set off, Yenque activated the beacon in his flail, letting the light and sound play across his foes. So bright and rapid was the light that the world seemed to resolve itself into a series of frozen images, each one at some remove from the last. In reality, that was merely a trick of the mind, and Yenque was able to send his maces spiralling inwards, one coming across high, the other low, and smiling to himself as the brightly flashing one distracted his first opponent, a scrawny, spear-wielding orc with a snaggletooth, from the second, which burst into glowing electrical life when it crunch into the hip of his foe.

The spray of sparks set the creature immediately behind the orc on fire, the hide armour it wore catching alight. Rather than slow his assault, Yenque brought the weapons around again, stepping over the crumbled corpse of his foe and launching into another blistering assault, the first strike of which sent the flaming orc stumbling to the side, his foot coming down on nothing but air and tumbling off the walkway to the ground beneath, where he was quickly stabbed to death by a spear thrust from one of the Cynlyaa soldiers.

The next opponent to come within range of his flails was one of the taller, muscular creatures, the type of which he did not recognize. And yet, since one of them was directing matters, they were clearly amongst the leaders of this band of rabble. Curious. Perhaps they feel the need to fight only when absolutely forced to do so.

23

Apr

by thefourpartland

Glancing backwards, he saw that the line of his soldiers had stretched out to the right, the man on that edge of battle attempting to hedge his unprotected side away from the foes who assailed him, with those placed near him unconsciously following. It was a natural outcome of fighting, and one which the sergeants and junior officers should have corrected. But his was the supreme responsibility, and so he paused in his individual combat to yell at the men, for in places their line was growing thin, either where wounds had taken place, or where soldiers had found the needs of their own survival to overtake their reluctance to appear cowardly in the sight of their friends.

What scant amount of reserves had been able to him were already in the line of battle, doing their utmost to keep the ring about the gate’s mouth closed. It was a ring that was all but broken, however, the numbers on the small keep overtop of the gate having mostly been overwhelmed, now fighting back to back against assailants from both the walls outside and the steps in. Granted, the attackers were being forced in the same perilous manner, their backs exposed to assault from further along the wall, but at the moment the greater physical abilities and natural ferocity of the humanoid raiders was doing the greater damage.

But it was to the next of the helfarchs that Iaprem’s attention was drawn, for the creature spared no time in slamming into the back of him as he was shouting the last of his orders. Immediately after the bulk of the creature struck him, he felt the thin trickle of blood, as one of its bladed hands sliced into a vulnerable gap in the armour, leaving his off arm much weakened and bleeding. There was also the foul stench of its breath as its teeth closed upon that same arm, but his armour being of a much higher quality than his poor subordinate saved him, and they found little purchase on the metal skin.

Swinging wildly, the sword overly heavy in but one hand, Iaprem spun about, blade flashing, but it was an attack well anticipated by the helfarch, and the large creature leapt backwards, settling easy onto its four limbs as it looked down upon its now wounded prey. Iaprem circled to his left for a moment, regaining feeling in his left arm and placing it once more upon the grip of his sword, the tip held out towards the helfarch in a challenge. The beast snorted, doing nothing more than looking with stern derision upon its smaller, weaker, foe.

Which drew quite a smile from Iaprem. A smile followed a mere second later by a great burst of flame, leaping from the tip of his sword in a solid line towards his surprised enemy, all too unable to manoeuvre its great bulk out of the way. The liquid fire splattered against the helfarch, engulfing the creature in a blaze which rivalled that from the massive bonfire at the back of the courtyard.

What followed was the screams of the helfarch, piercing, loud, and altogether unsettling, leading even Iaprem to step back in sudden horror as the flesh of the creature began to melt under the magical assault, slow drips sizzling and falling to the ground, there to smoke and fill the air with a putrid stench.

Shuddering despite having seen that effect of his sword in times past, Iaprem turned aside, looking to find the next of the helfarchs, but the last pairing had placed themselves in spots barely reachable, both visibly chewing upon limbs dangling from their mouths, one having been sliced clean, another torn free by the action of the jaws. Neither was unmarked, but the Cynlyaa soldiers around them were already the merest moments from flight, and did so as Iaprem watched, leaving a gaping hole in the left edge of the line.

Rather than seek to turn the line, as Iaprem expected them to do, they both cantered away, heading for a spot on the walls equidistant from both of the gates. And when his eyes were able to see past the blaze of heat and smoke from the twin bonfires in the courtyard, Iaprem could see the soldiers on the battlements there already struggling with their attackers, the helfarchs from inside the wall, and some humanoids from without.

The fresh recruits were doing far better than expected, in as much as they as yet held their posts and fought with intelligence, but with the northern gate as pressed as it was, there was little he could do aside from hold the entrance, and pray Yenque was able to assist.

22

Apr

by thefourpartland

The soldiers of Cynddeir gave even better than they got, however, and despite the rust and the age of the weapons they wielded, there was no give when blade found opening and piercing flesh. Indeed, after the first heady moments of the clash, the front line of the battle could be seen more as butchery than as combat, as undisciplined barbarians left openings that skilled fighters could take advantage of, thinking only of the person in front of them and never watching to their flanks or the flanks of their allies. In such a way, ferocity bled itself out upon the wall of steadfast courage.

All that changed when the helfarchs entered the fray. There were four of them, the latter pair having been hidden behind the former when first Iaprem had spotted them, and they entered battle with a howling charge, thundering through the gate four abreast and slamming into the line. Three bowled over their targets immediately, the fourth being unable to do so, its arm hanging limp and bloody from the javelin that had pierced it through. The wound made the creature all the more vicious, however, and it bit down on the armour of the nearest soldier, sawing back and forth with its teeth as it sought to drive them through the old padded cloth and leather. Within moments, the teeth found their purchase, and the deadly bite could be seen to go to work, blood pumping from the wound and into the helfarch’s mouth, its tongue visible as it lapped at the viscous fluid.

Unable to stand the sight, Iaprem leapt at the foul beast, only to find his attack blocked by the bony blades of another of the creatures. This one smiled down upon him with all the menace its bulk and hideous visage could provide, slavering jaws gnashing at his head in a lightning fast strike. Only a sudden shift to the side saved Iaprem’s face from an intimate encounter of a kind he most certainly did not want, and even then he could feel the hot breath upon his cheek.

Lashing his blade upwards, he sought to have the flaming claymore cut through the extended next of his foe, but the helfarch was more than ready for the attack, and kicked the Warleader in the thigh as his strike began. It was a thudding, bludgeoning blow, made somewhat awkwardly, but with enough strength behind it to send Iaprem stumbling backwards, all the strength fleeing from his strike.

His weapon waved in one hand for a moment, doing little more than vaguely attempting to keep the helfarch away, before he was able to set his feet beneath him once more. This time, the helfarch came on with arms spread wide, the blades extending from its hands held low and to the side. On a normal creature, this would be all but inviting a thrust down the middle, but against one with such a vicious bite and sturdy kicks, it merely meant the creature was expanding the options available to it.

Rather than take the invitation so offered, Iaprem waited, letting the helfarch make the first move. Normally, with a weapon as large and as cumbersome as a claymore, that would be a foolish thing to do, but he was no mere soldier in his first year under arms. He was the Warleader of Cynlyaa, and that title had to do with a great deal more than just administrative duties.

A lunge from the left hand of the helfarch was batted away, while a thrust from the right was countered by stepping inside the arc of the blade. This left him perilously close to the distended lower jaw, which took its moment to lance outwards. Only to be meet in a thunderous collision by the heavy steel ball that formed the counterweight upon the hilt of his weapon. The resounding blow sent a crack rippling out over the battlefield, and even those who were engaged in desperate struggles turned their heads to see what could have caused such a fearsome noise.

For the helfarch itself, it reared back, its jaw shattered, its front legs and arms all flailing into the space that Iaprem occupied. But these attacks were the disorganized actions of a stunned and wounded beast, and he was able to slip beyond their reach with ease, his claymore up and in the ready position so that as the beast landed back on the ground, weight now firmly on its front legs, he was able to sweep his weapon across in a great swing, the magically sharpened edge slicing through first one of the limbs and then the other, leaving flame-blackened flesh around the edges. The smoking ruins of the limbs fell to the ground, as did the sickened and stunned face of the helfarch, now flopping about on its side, unable to understand what had happened to it.

What followed was merely an execution, for although the helfarch would no doubt eventually die of the blood pumping from the severed stumps where its limbs had once rested, it was still possessed of those fearsome jaws and edge bone blades, and thus a danger to any man who came near to it. Thus, when Iaprem severed the head of the mortally wounded creature, he felt no remorse about having to do so. Battlefield necessity trumped all else.

21

Apr

by thefourpartland

It was now midnight in the courtyard of the old palace at Cynlyaa, and all was still, silent, and, mostly, dark. Torches lay scattered here and there along the battlements, and occasionally one would rain down before the gate, illuminating the ruined roadway there, but otherwise little in the way of movement from either of the factions involved could be seen.

That all changed as the moon swept out from behind the clouds that had obscured it, bathing the scene below in a dim and dusky light, barely enough for those of a human persuasion to navigate by. Certainly not enough for them to fight, or to see projectiles fly out of the night. But fly they did, in the barest number, but enough of an indication that the raiders assault was underway. And a sign to Iaprem that, no matter how ferocious the beasts that made up their shock troops, the forces of the raiders were little more than undisciplined rabble. Most certainly not soldiers.

He stood, waiting, as did the elite soldiers he had been able to cobble together from the various units, in the courtyard behind the gate, assuming that the main thrust would break the rotted would in short order. Of course, such a positioning meant that he was unable to see the first phases of the battle, and so it was only the shouts of the men on the battlements, and the whoosh of their slings and javelins, that told him the raiders had approached the gates themselves.

Soon there came the sounds of strain and then thumps, some wet and some not, the audible signals of stones being levered over the crenellations and onto those creatures below. But even as the first wave of impacts drifted away into the night, there came the heavy thud of something striking the gate, no doubt driven by arms more than human. Indeed, the way the gate groaned from but the second of the strikes suggested that whatever was wielding the battering ram was a great deal stronger than a human, or that the gates were weaker than anticipated.

As it was, it took a mere four strikes for the gates to fall open, their rotted wood snapped backwards over the barricade of stones that had buttressed their lower half. And to the top of that buttress leapt the attackers, gnolls, goblins, orcs, and all other manner of humanoid detritus. But most frightening of all were those creatures only just putting aside the logs they had wielded as battering rams: helfarchs. Several times the size of an adult human, they were quadrupedal in nature and possessed of a vicious lower jaw, while bone blades extended from the hands of the helfarch, replacing the last two fingers. Muscles rippled under the scaly skin, the arms attached lower upon the torso, while their feet were little more than bone stumps. If they were able to get past him and amongst his men, almost nothing would stop their rampage.

Knowing that the outcome of the battle rested upon the his ability to break through and rout the helfarchs, Iaprem leapt forward, his claymore sweeping from left to right in a simple attack at waist height. And as it did so, it burst into dazzling, stunning, light, fire roaring along the length of the blade and searing through the flesh of those unfortunates who had made themselves the front line of the humanoid charge. They fell to the side, mewling in pain, what fur they possessed releasing a foul stench as it slowly burnt away.

Behind him, the bonfire blazed into glorious light, and all along the ramparts torches that had lain dormant gave forth a warm and welcome glow, illuminating all the battlements and courtyard with light to see by. The attackers growled in frustration, their eyes forced to suddenly adjust to the blazing light they faced.

Despite the impressive actions of his first strike, around him there was no reluctance from the raiders to press forward, and although they generally attempted to stay out of his range, they had no qualms crashing into the front rank of his men, some even leaping straight onto the crumbling rock walls of the castle and climbing to get at the slingers and archers who made up the guards upon the top of the gate.

A bellow from below was able to warn those of their approaching danger, but soon they were hard pressed, apparently beset not only by climbers from this end of the gate, but also from without. Whatever happened there, though, was going to be beyond his powers to affect, for Iaprem soon found himself pressed in close about, his great sword proving somewhat less than effective when forced into a fighting line by the discipline of the soldiers behind him and the constant assaults of the raiders.

Flails, spears, swords, and all manner of weapons crashed into his men, most to be deflected away by shields, armour, or upturned arm, but there were always some that got through, and staggering away from the fighting line could be seen the wounded, heading towards the blaze at the back of the courtyard where stood those few men who were able to be spared and who had some knowledge of herbs and the like. Amongst those, of course, was Dregnon, although his eyes were often turned upwards, watching the boys in the tower above, waiting for the signal that the other gate had been assaulted. As of yet, the signal had not yet flowered, and the battle was merely being fought on the one front.

18

Mar

by thefourpartland

“You mean, attempt to draw the strike in? It’s a valid tactic, but I don’t think we have the kind of reserves that would let us achieve something like that. Unless you’ve got another pile of troops hiding in that pouch of yours.”

There was a murmur from another corner of the room. “What happens if we replace the soldiers on the gate we’re not expecting to be attacked with twice the number of recruits? It’ll look stronger, even if it isn’t.”

That comment left Iaprem pondering matters for a moment. Finally, he sat up straight and began to speak. “Well, first off, why wouldn’t they come through the gates? Can we really defend them heavily enough to force the raiders to head over the walls? Especially in the poor shape they’re in at the moment?”

It was Dregnon who answered, appropriate since he had been the one in charge of maintenance and the like on the old palace. “Sadly, a decent battering will send the wood flying. They look impressive, but at least some of the support structure is rotten or falling apart, and we don’t have the tools to repair them. I’ve got peasants doing their best to just block up the entrances with rubble, but depending on how fast they attack, it’ll provide little more than a minor barrier.”

“How long do you need to get the rubble high enough the gates can’t be opened?”

“Until sunset, at least. Maybe longer.” Dregnon began counting on his fingers, a habit he had picked up from his father, rest his soul. “More like the witching hour, sadly.”

Iaprem turned his eyes across the whole of the group that sat before him. “I need information on the enemy. How likely are they to attack at night?”

One of the lieutenants piped up from the back of the room. He was a young fellow, but already scarred by life, as was everyone in the room. Cheeks thin and almost sunken, with a burn mark scorched down one arm. “If you’re asking how many of them can see at night, sadly the answer seems to be most. The humans with them can’t, but that’s honestly a small minority.  I’d say two thirds of their forces could hit us tonight.”

“Then that’s what they’re going to do. Swarm us once the evening sun has gone down. That means we’re going to have to defend furiously at that point, and have plenty of torches at the ready. I’m sure there’s enough dry timber in this rotten hulk of a fortress to provide thousands of those. Make sure to set up bonfires that can’t be easily scattered at the most important points, especially in the courtyards.  And see if we can set up any kind of obstacles that will channel them towards the narrow points.”

“I’ll work on that, and see if I can get people to safety in the old storerooms below the palace. There’s enough room down there to hide the elderly and the children, at least.” Dregnon departed, his threadbare robes of office flapping behind him.

“And you and I best get to the walls, watch our enemy. And the men will need a symbol too.” Yenque was smiling as he said this, envisioning the great battle that was to come. Much as he had long ago tried to shed his desires for glory, there was something inherently noble in the last stand against a foe greater than oneself. Perhaps there was a little bit of the fabled order of the Knights Paladin in his soul after all.

His commander, however, showed no such higher ideals. “Get rocks and sling stones up on the walls. We’re going to have to kill as many of them before they hit the walls and we’re actually vulnerable. I’m guessing they didn’t bring much in the way of archery?”

“Not that we saw, sir.” It was the same lieutenant as before.

“Good, that gives us something in the way of an advantage, but there’s only so much we can rely on.” Iaprem rose, dismissing the others with a wave of his hand. “If you need me, I’ll be in the armoury, wedging myself into that old metal casket. And then I’ll see you on the walls.” At last, he permitted himself a small smile, one that echoed around the room as much as possible, although in most cases it was little more than a grim rictus, a spectre of the death that waited for them all this night.

***

The afternoon and twilight hours, busy though they were, did little to either tire or calm Iaprem, so electric were his nerves. His body shook and twitched, little spasms running along one limb to another, the thrill of the upcoming battle overcoming his normally stoic demeanour.

As the last of the sun’s light swept over the old palace of Cynlyaa, its Warleader let his eyes roam across the preparations. They had managed to stack a five foot high pile of rubble against the base of the gate at this end of the old palace, but only three feet at the other, and were hoping that this was the point of concentration. To that end, he had reinforced the gate guards upon the southern entrance with twice their number in recruits, a show of force that Iaprem hoped would drive the enemy commander, whomever he might be, into charging straight at this gate in a simple frontal assault.

About him on the wall lay plenty of debris and old timber, to be used for levering those crumbled stones down onto the attackers below. Likewise, most of the men who were talented with slings were gathered here, in the hopes his ruse worked. If he could force the enemy to fight in the narrow confines of the gate house, with his blade to the forefront they should be able to hold the raiders at bay. It was a faint hope, but a hope nevertheless.

Of course, his enemy would be able to see far better than he, or his soldiers, and they almost certainly had characteristics that he had not foreseen. Indeed, even one petty hedge mage could turn the course of the battle with a few cheap glamours. But there was nothing for it, and so he waited at his post above the gate, a statue riddled with nervous energy, twitching and shaking back and forth.

***

At the other end of the palace, Yenque was going through a similar series of feelings, although in his case, the energy was not nerves, but the feeling of a higher calling sweeping over him. Here he was, no doubt at the end of days, preparing to defend the last citadel of civilization against the dreadful assaults of a barbarian horde. In his mind, he knew that more often than not, civilization had indeed fallen to the barbarians. His very people’s history was based upon that fact, for they had once been a horde sweeping out of the plains to conquer those around them. But in his heart, he knew that he was on the side of right, and thus there had to be a god from up above looking down upon him.

The feeling that knowledge gave him inspired his weapon arms, letting them flow fast and free as he warmed them, spinning through the training forms in a lazy yet skilful way that drew the eyes not only of the soldiers standing beside him on the battlements, but also that force that had gathered amongst the ruins outside of the south gate. Their leader, a petty chieftain called Ngaphasi, watched as the fading sunlight sparkled off this warrior atop the battlements, and felt his courage, his surety, drain away.

Before, whenever he had raided these people, they had offered him their goods almost at the first hint of a threat, and taking them captive had been so easy even his children had done so. But now they appeared determined, ready, and armed in greater numbers than he had ever seen before. He was unsure where they had discovered such numbers of trained soldiers, but discovered them they clearly had.

While Ngaphasi was no coward, and was prepared to go through with the attacks, those of his tribe around him were less solid of heart, and he could see those on the fringes slipping away into the night, no doubt to mark themselves with wounds and the detritus of battle, and wander into the main camp as the night turned to dawn, claiming to have been fighting, while they had done no such thing.

He turned and cursed at them, telling them to hold, to wait, and such was their fear of him, and of the wrath that he could bring down upon him, almost all held their ground, although their feet stamped about and they shifted with quick, furtive, actions, always wondering if they could indeed slip away.

But perhaps, he mused, it would be better if I waited until the other attack was well joined before I commit my tribe to the attack. After all, we are merely the surety for the great force attacking the north gate. Those thoughts safely ensconced within his head, Ngaphasi settled down to wait, and watch the battle unfold.

17

Mar

by thefourpartland

“What do we do to stop this from happening again?” Iaprem was furious, storming from one side to another of the small room he called an office.

“Stop the raiders? Nothing. We haven’t been able to stop them for years. Why should we suddenly be able to do so now? We’re always spread too thin. Sure, if we concentrate our forces and they’re foolish enough to go straight at them, then we’re more than a match. But we can’t force them to that point.”

Iaprem muttered, his face deep in thought, wondering about possibilities.

“What if we could force them to that point? How many soldiers would you be able to bring to bear?”

“Right now, perhaps three hundred. The rest of those we’ve forcibly enrolled into the army are still the craven peasants they were before their training began. Sure, some of the men and women show signs of being useful, but it’s only signs. It will take an age of training before they don’t flee when battle joins.”

“And what are our best estimates on the raiders?”

“The maximum we’ve ever guessed as a total is five hundred, but that doesn’t take into account things like camp followers or the strengths of the various species that are thieving from us. Honestly though, we barely have a clue, since we’ve never pushed out and attacked their base. We’ve always been too scared.”

“Don’t I know it. I’ve been watching Cynlyaa decline and crumble all around me since I took my first steps on her cobbled streets, and unless we make these lands secure, we’re never going to have enough. With what we have now, I’ll be surprised if the crop harvest doesn’t fail in a year, and we watch our friends starving to death.”

“So you propose a last ditch gamble, throwing everything into a single strike and praying for the right outcome. Death or glory, is that it?”

“We’ve walked our current path for a long, long time, you and I. We know what lies at its end. So we step off the path, leap as far away from it as we can. What better way to do that than charge into the teeth of those who have harassed us all these years?”

Yenque smiled. “I agree, but we’re going to need numbers on our side, and that means time. How long do I have?”

“It’s spring now which means the peasants are busy planting what crops they can manage all about us. Call it late summer. That’s when we strike.”

There was a deeply shared smile, a giddy smile, that flashed back and forth between the two friends. Perhaps it was a foolish plan, but at last they had a plan that could result in the saving of their people, and a time frame within which to act. Digging through the broken cupboard at the back of the office, Iaprem pulled forth a dirty glass bottle, liquid sloshing in it when held up to the light.

Toasts were exchanged, a great many of them, to bravery and honour, Fasnachu and Hannhangnefedd, Lady Luck and War. It was a revelry that dream strange looks from the men who passed by the door to the room, and when at last Dregnon was summoned to see what had happened to his comrades, he found them dead drunk, slumped against walls and floors, but at last with smiles on their faces.

Whatever it was that had caused those smiles to come to be was surely something they would inform him of when next they regained consciousness, and so he directed a few of the men nearby to carry Iaprem and Yenque to their cots, and leave them there until such time as the ringing in their heads ceased.

***

What came next was not of Iaprem’s making, or of Yenque’s. Rather than being left to sleep in the peace which their plans had earned, they found themselves roughly shaken awake, dragged from their cots with heads ringing, making the voices that shouted at them all the more unintelligible and painful.

Holding up a hand, Iaprem bellowed at those around him. “Quiet! Now, you…” He pointed, then spun about. “Or maybe you… Bah! One of you three senior people tell me what the hell is going on? And stop swaying!”

The one in the middle stepped forward. Of course, so did those on either side of him. Forsaking dignity, Iaprem slumped back down onto his cot and waved a hand, gesturing for the lieutenant to begin.

“We’ve been invested.”

“By what? Termites? We already knew that.”

“The raiders. Although at this point, calling them that seems a bit wrong. They’ve surrounded the old palace.”

Iaprem shot bolt upright, nearly collapsing as his head struggled to deal with the sudden reorientation. “Surrounded us. Here? Where are the citizens who were outside the walls?”

“All but a few made it through the old tunnels before they were spotted. We had to collapse the one they used, however.”

“And the few?”

“We’re not sure.”

“Blast. That’s going to break our morale, if the opposing commander has any sense in him. What the hell is going on here, anyway? Why are the raiders trying to siege us out?”

“They think we’re weak, most likely.”

“They’ve known we’re weak for years! Why now?” Iaprem shuddered at his own shouting. “Where’s Yenque? He needs to hear this.”

“Already in the briefing room sir, looking at the maps.”

Iaprem set off in hot pursuit.

***

When they arrived, it turned out that “looking at the maps” meant gently dozing atop them, slumped in an old and broken wooden chair. A quick jab to the ribs woke Yenque, and he was soon coherent enough to participate in the discussion they were having.

“The largest collections of enemy forces are here and here, opposite the gates into the old palace. Given the doors there are not of the sturdiest construction, there’s a good chance they’re try and force a breach in a simple charge.”

The gates, as were many things in this city, were laid out along the north south axis, and so were the points in the old palace furthest from one another, which would make reinforcing either difficult. It would even make knowing what was going on at both difficult.

“First step is I want a soldier or two up in the highest tower that can see both gates. There has to be one atop this damn old edifice that’s still useful. Given him a bunch of boys as well, and tell them to shout down anything they can see. Or wave or dance or do whatever it takes to get our attention. Now, where are the men?”

“Most of them are at either gate, but with a flying force of about fifty men in the middle. We’ve put recruits along the walls between the gates. It’s mostly a show of numbers, but it should help.”

Iaprem pondered that for a moment. “It might, but they’ll also collapse entirely if they get tested. Not that we can leave the walls unmanned entirely…”

“What if we leave a gap on the walls? An obvious place to strike where we don’t have enough men to cover it?” That was Yenque, his first useful contribution since waking from the alcohol induced slumber.

16

Mar

by thefourpartland

This is the next installment of a new novella in an old setting, called Arhosa. I’ll be posting a thousand words a day of Work-in-Progress, with the end goal being five chapters of 10,000 words each, roughly.

It was a panicked and upset messenger who burst in upon the three leaders in council.

“They’re back! Southern approach!” was all he was able to gasp out before collapsing on the floor.

One glance between the three men and they were off, Iaprem and Yenque streaming for the armoury, Dregnon to his place amongst the civilian population. All the while, they shouted the news down the corridors as they ran, sending men scurrying hither and yon, although with the speed with which the raiders came, there was little that could be done to react in time.

The armoury, when they arrived at it, was a madhouse of men pulling on rusty old chainmail shirts, and grabbing the iron swords from their racks upon the walls. Shields made of wood lay stacked upon the stone near the doors, and were the last thing grasped as the soldiers sprinted towards the exits.

Yet above all, what Iaprem noticed as he came into the room was the sour taste of fear, spreading far and wide. Clearly, the soldiers could sense it too, for they were nervous, shaky, and those who were new recruits were all but wetting themselves in nervous anticipation. One even attempted to flee, his sword clattering to the ground in a noise that grasped everyone’s attention and spun them about.

Too far away for Iaprem to grab, his shouts of “Stop! Coward!” did little more than make the nervousness even more widespread. Only when he had turned his powerful gaze on the men around him did the murmurs and the whispers quiet back down, but even then only barely.

He sighed. Others were surely slipping away when they should be going to the walls, although likely none quite so blatantly. Whatever hope Dregnon had placed in the experiment of turning citizens into soldiers was being sorely put to the test on this day.

At last, he was able to have an armourer help him with his gear, which was, unlike the boiled leather and chainmail given to the soldiers who served under him, full plate mail, a suit handed down from father to son in his family for some age. It was heavy, and constricting, being not built for his precise form of body, but even with the ill fit the protection it offered was nothing short of exemplary, so sturdy was the craftsmanship that had gone into its creation. And with it came the claymore of his ancestors, one of the very few magical weapons still remaining within the walls of Cynlyaa.

Grasped with two hands at the hilt, the blade lit into sparkling blue flame, a glowing torch that served as his personal banner in battle.

Beside him, Yenque finished climbing into one of the few other pieces of plate mail that remained, his, like Iaprem’s, a gift from the nobility that had once made up his lineage. Being closer in size to the man for whom the armour was originally intended, Yenque was able to move a touch more freely on the battlefield, necessary given his odd choice of weapon.

Most of the soldiers who served in the cohorts of Cynlyaa were either equipped with the remaining swords they had been able to keep in service, or failing that, spears and flails made from whatever lay to hand. There were also some few bows and javelins kept in served, although mostly any need for ranged weaponry was met by slings and sling staves filled with crumbled stone. But Yenque, whose choices had often been a tad unusual, wielded not one but two morningstars, each imbued with some minor form of magic, although neither to the level of Iaprem’s claymore.

Together, the two leaders of Cynlyaa’s army charged out to meet the threat of battle.

***

“How are we doing?” Iaprem and Yenque had just arrived on the walls overlooking the southern approaches to the old palace, to see before them a heated scuffle, mostly obscured by collapsed buildings and hasty barricades.

The sergeant on the walls was the man to respond. “Not well, I think. They picked the homes of those living outside the walls, and were able to grab much of what little lay within.”

“So why are they fighting now?”

“They aren’t, really. They’re skirmishing in retreat, taking the measure of our new soldiers without really risking themselves much.”

“Damn! So any surprise we might have had is long gone, along with whatever belonged to those who lived outside the walls. How many people do you think were affected?”

The sergeant shrugged. “Raiders had a hundred, maybe two hundred. So, a third of those outside the walls?”

“Any casualty reports as of yet?”

“None, and I wouldn’t expect any for the next bit, either. They’re still skirmishing, after all, and some of our folks ain’t too happy about what’s happened either.”

Cursing and muttering to himself, Iaprem silenced the flame that wound along his blade before sitting on the edge of the ramparts, legs dangling over the drop.

Beside him, Yenque leant onto one of the few crenellations still in proper repair.

“Well, this was a kick in the teeth. All those new men under arms, and the raiders still come and go with impunity.”

“Do you think they kidnapped people this time?”

“I’m sure of it.” Iaprem sighed. In times past, the raiders had taken women and children to be their servants, and had no doubt done so again with those they had been able to get their hands on. Of course, given the raiders had a variety of monstrous and semi-monstrous creatures amongst them… some of the captives had likely only made it as far as the stewpot.

“We knew this was going to keep happening, Iaprem. They weren’t going to stop coming because we put spears in the hands of peasants.”

“Allow a man his false hopes, would you? Even after they’ve been torn down. Because without hope, why the hell are we still here, fighting?”

“For love of family, and life?”

All that received in answer was a glance from Iaprem, a glance that said everything. Iaprem’s wife and child had been amongst those lost to the raids some years ago, and while there had never been any word about them since, both men knew they were almost certainly dead.

“Okay, perhaps not. But there must be some reason to keep carrying on, even if it is but a faint one.”

“You’re going to have to invent one for me, Yenque, because otherwise I am going to die a man old before his time, swinging his sword against some foul troglodyte while a goblin stabs me in the back.”

“For glory, then.”

“What glory is there being overrun by bandits? There will be no bards to tell my tale, no scribes to write it, no artists to paint it. No, if I’m lucky I’ll be in an unmarked grave by the side of some ruined building in Cynlyaa. If I’m unlucky, my corpse will become a turd shat out by the beast that ate me.”

Yenque laughed. “You do have quite a way with words, Iaprem. And there you have what we’re fighting for – not becoming goblin turds.”

Even Iaprem had to smile at that. “Oh, what inspirational words you speak. I can feel my heart rising to meet them.”

“Yes, well, your backside should be rising too, since it looks like one of the lieutenants is coming to speak with us.”

With that, the two men levered themselves up from the positions in which they reposed, and trundled down the stairs, taking them carefully in their plate armour.

The report was, more or less, as expected. A few men dead, a few wounded, some women and children taken, and a modicum of goods stolen. The only thing of worth was that there were so few goods left to those residing outside the walls that the theft of what there was would be mostly inconsequential. Except, there would be those families that had lost their last heirlooms, and they would be inconsolable, and angry. And without being able to turn their anger on the raiders, they would turn it on Yenque, and Dregnon, and him, for being unable to do their sole duty, and protect those of Cynlyaa. It was a charge he had failed far too often.

15

Mar

by thefourpartland

This is the next installment of a new novella in an old setting, called Arhosa. I’ll be posting a thousand words a day of Work-in-Progress, with the end goal being five chapters of 10,000 words each, roughly.

Gathered around Yenque were the soldiers and recruits of the first of the four units he was forming. Currently, there was almost two hundred and fifty soldiers in the old palace courtyard, although for most of them, the term soldiers was being more than excesivley generous. Most had trained for but a few days, and many, despite the actions suggested by Iaprem, still cowered when threatened.

But they were the clay he had, and so he shaped them as he could. In this case, with words, rather than with deeds. Although not his words, but the words of Dregnon and his long forgotten scribes, for today was the first of the readings.

“Today, we are going to read to you from the history of Cynddeir. The actions you hear were accomplished by your ancestors, back when they transformed this country into the land it became at the height of its power. They are called the War Lands, soldiers, and we will hear why we have earned the right to name ourselves that!”

Yenque bowed to the lightest smattering of applause, and then stepped out of the way to allow Dregnon to take the podium. It’s all rather tragic, really, thought Yenque. Dregnon is standing atop the broken base of a pillar, speaking of things that are little more than myths and legends to the men listening to them. And whatever glory we once possessed is so clearly gone we have to lie to ourselves to believe it ever existed.

But what was there was the great oratory of Dregnon, his voice rolling out over the audience, sonourous, slow, yet melodic. He had honed his talents under a descendant of the last court bard, and while there was certainly no true comparison between his talents and those of a trained minstrel, his were still far above those heard in the daily life of Cynlyaa.

Today’s reading had been picked specially by the council of leaders, with Iaprem making the final judgement on which sounded most appropriate. What he chose, in the end, was the origin story of Cynddeir itself, the nearly legendary past when the great king Antiklon charged across the fertile plains, bringing one tribe after another under his control, until at the end there were no more lands inside the plains of Cynddeir to conquer. So instead he turned his sights outwards, and smashed all those who surrounded him, bringing them into the fold much as he had the tribes.

But unlike all too many of his contemporaries, he had understood the concept of continued rule after his death, and trained and built a government that could do so, while free of corruption. The wealth that began amassing under his rule would, in centuries much later than his own, be used to build the great cities of Cynddeir, such as Cynlyaa, and would in the end be the downfall of a kingdom once known for its warriors.

The story today, though, was only about that first ride, the triumphant sweep across history that saw one and all fall beneath the feet of his footsoldiers. Other races had stood in their path, but none of them had possessed the ferocity or endurance of the Cynddeir warriors, and had crumbled and been washed away before the tirdes of history.

Now, of course, they were getting their own back, having charged into Cynddeir from the surrounding lands as the empire of Arhosa collapsed, and the rich places within it were left vulnerable. The vast and varied racial makeup of that empire had hardly helped, for it had kept antagonisms long suppressed, ones that flared into a new and vicious light with the crumble and collapse.

Another eye turned towards the crowd that gather on the old palace courtyard saw more and more civilians drifting in from outside, as well as those soldiers and trainees who were off duty, each of them listening to Dregnon’s voice as it echoed and rolled from the collapsed stone walls. They stood amidst the death of a civilization it was true, but it was a majestic, monumental mausoleum, a mausoleum that spoke of great wonders and supreme power.

Perhaps, if Iaprem’s wildest dreams came true and the Cynddeir were albe to return to their glorious past, cities like Cynlyaa should be left as they are, glorious ruins that would serve of reminders of the age gone by. But Yenque knew that vigilance always fades during an age of plenty, and that given enough time, even reminders such as this of days gone by would be broken down and removed to make way for another palace, or perhaps a summer retreat for the wealthy nobility.

When at last Dregnon came to the end of his speech, there was little in the way of outright applause, but rather rapt wonder as thoughts that had never before occurred to the soldiers wormed their way into their heads. Equally, Yenque could see there were others unaffected by such majestic visions, their hearts too wrapped in the failings of the here and now to be elevated beyond the sad station they currently occupied.

Those who had heard the message and believed in it stayed, asking questions of Dregnon, pestering him with ideas and renewed vigour, while those from whom it had rebounded slipped away back to their hovels and holes, disappearing into the structure like so many vermin. Perhaps they were no higher than those creatures.

But still, that meant there were more warriors this afternoon than there had this morning, an improvement that could never be discounted. And there were still more tellings of this tale to be made, for Dregnon had only spoken to one of the four cohorts. The others would receive readings from the same time, but of different actions, different campaigns, and each one overcoming an insurmountable hardship. Much as they might have grown in the passage of time, each of these tales was still true at its core, and all the more inspirational as a result.

Perhaps Yenque would deliver an army unto Iaprem after all.