Part 8 of 16 in The Horde

Part Eight: The Warrior's Way

by Thomas K. Martin

 

“The city has been upgraded to level three,” Kala announced from her trance.  She was using her lookamancy to scout their route and the terrain around their target.

 

“Show me,” Minghis commanded.  Klytus touched the back of Kala’s head and then Cashcarry’s.  An image of the city appeared on the ground before him.  Kala was right – the tower and the outer walls had become taller since he had last been shown this city.  Summer Fort was formidable – the southern and southeastern hexes were part of a three hex lake southeast of the city.  The other four hexes were all forest.  The only weak spots were the gates in the north, northeast and southwest walls.

 

Minghis did not like that he would be pressed against that lake, but any other route to the city would delay them by one turn.  If he wanted to hit the city this turn, he had to march there directly.

 

“Any forces between us and the city?” he asked.

 

“None, Sire,” Kala replied.

 

“Not even Woodsy Elves?”  So far, out of all of Dixieland’s forces, the Woodsy Elves had given them the most trouble.  Their natural stealth and archery capabilities were proving to be a troublesome combination in these forest hexes.

 

“None that I have found, Sire,” Kala assured him.  Minghis did not feel reassured.  He looked around at the remains of the logging camp.  The twolls had just about finished loading the lumber that had dropped when he razed the camp.  That and the pitiful hundred shmuckers he had received for razing the camp were not worth the trouble it had been to take it.  Having a secure camp for the night had been, however.

 

Minghis looked at the forest to northeast of the camp and smiled.  If he had wanted a false sense of safety, he would have stayed in Mangolia.

 

“We’re going to change our formation today,” he told his warlords.

 

* * *

 

Gordon stared futilely at the map table in the war room, waiting for the enemy to reach Summer Fort.  Minghis had razed the logging camp at dawn which was ridiculous.  That only confirmed that the barbarian was after every shmucker he could get his hands on.

 

This was madness.  Even if the Mangolians took Summer Fort without doing significant damage to the city, razing it would give them roughly twenty thousand shmuckers.  That would only give them four or five turns worth of upkeep at best.  From Summer Fort, they could reach either Gump or Dogwood in three turns by road, or the capital in five.  Gump and Dogwood were each level three.

 

It would make the most sense to head straight for the capital.  His force was large enough to take the capital, especially with the bulk of Dixieland’s army still north of Azalea.  However, nothing this barbarian had done had made sense yet.

 

As it stood now, Prince Murphy could reach the capital two turns after Minghis, once he abandoned the mobile ballistae at Azalea.  That had not been an easy decision.  They would be slightly less effective against the smaller warhawks than they were against dwagons, but Gordon had been loathe to separate them from the main column.  Still, the capital might be able to hold out for two turns and Prince Murphy’s force could be large enough to turn the tide.

 

Azalea’s ten dwagons would arrive in the capital next turn.  Ten dwagons against ninety-one hawks was not an even fight.  But the dwagons would then be able to reach the four inner cities in a single turn.  If Minghis turned for either Gump or Dogwood, they would be there to meet him.

 

Gordon looked over the troop reports from Summer Fort.  They had sent three stacks of Gumps and eight stacks of Woodsy Elves into the forest southeast of the city.  They should now have twelve stacks of Woodsy Elves there, after breeding.  It would be like trying to stop an avalanche with a shield wall.  Still, the elves could do quite a bit of damage before they were wiped out, if they could get off two or three volleys.

 

“What news?” King Condon asked as the strolled into the war room.

 

“Not much,” Gordon replied.  “Minghis razed the logging camp about an hour ago.  I can only assume he is on the march toward Summer Fort.”

 

“Our boys will hold him,” Condon assured Gordon.

 

Gordon glanced back down at the troop reports, even though he now had Summer Fort’s complement memorized.  Eight stacks of pikers, eight of stabbers and sixteen of archers.  Only a single stack of knights and four warlords filled out the complement.  It would take five turns for him to lead reinforcements there.  It was almost impossible for Summer Fort to hold out this turn, let alone five more.

 

“If you say so, your majesty,” Gordon replied.  His eyes strayed back to the hex southwest of the city.

 

* * *

 

Nara Shan hid behind an oak and waited for the enemy.  The eagerness she had felt for her first encounter with the enemy was now gone.  She knew what would be coming through this hex – had seen the Mangolian army with her own eyes.  Their air force alone had more archers than the entire Woods Elf force in this hex.  Fortunately, the trees would protect them from the hawks.

 

She ran her hand down the bark of the oak, thanking it for its shelter.  She, along with her brothers and sisters, would die in this hex today.  But, if they could take enough of the enemy with them, that might make a difference at Summer Fort.  If Dixieland survived, the tribe would survive.  Her own life mattered much less than that.

 

But it had been so short.  This was only her third turn on Erf.  The tribe had marveled at her when she popped.  A Woodsy Elf with the foolamancy special was rare, and to have leadership as well was unheard of.  The tribal leaders had declared it a good omen, but now it would all have been for naught.

 

She thought about last turn’s breeding and smiled.  The camaraderie of her tribemates had softened the sting of the loss of Quickbough and her other tribemates.  If she had to leave Erf after only three turns of life, she was glad to have experienced that warmth.

 

The cry of a hawk in the distance interrupted her thoughts.  The enemy had arrived in the hex.

 

* * *

 

Kala scanned the hex as they army marched to the northeast.  The leadership stack and the treasury stack were surrounded by Khan’s knights.  Ahead of them marched the archers, screened by the stabbers ahead and on each flank.  Behind came the supply train followed by the mounted archers and the twolls bringing up the rear.

 

Every hawk in the army was overhead, searching for targets in the forest below, but Kala Farsighted was the lookamancer.  If they marched into an ambush, there would be no one else to blame.  She had already scanned the entire hex from their current position all the way to the walls of Summer Fort.  Now, she scanned again.

 

As her attention reached the center of the hex, something did not seem quite right.  She could see nothing but trees, but there was still that sense of something not right.

 

Then, one of the trees shifted when a bird landed on its branches.  Gumps!  Now that she knew what to look for, it became obvious.  She scanned the center of the hex, counting three stacks of gumps, twenty-four in all.  Surely, that was not all of the enemy forces in this hex.

 

Now that she knew where to look, she poured more juice into the scan.  Everything suddenly appeared in sharper-than-real focus and she saw them.  Woodsy Elves, using their natural steal to evade detection.

 

“Ambush ahead!” Kala shouted.  Minghis and Klytus brought the column to a sudden halt as Kala’s eyes snapped open.

 

“Report!” Minghis ordered.

 

“Twenty four gumps in the center of the hex,” Kala said.  “There are ninety-eight Woodsy Elves flanking them thirty yards on either side.  One of them is…special.”

 

“How so?”

 

“I’m not certain, Sire,” Kala explained.  “It is a female warlord.  She has three blue stones embedded in the flesh of her neck.  She is…difficult to see.”

 

“How far ahead?” Minghis asked.

 

“Two hundred and thirty yards ahead.”

 

“Klytus, Cashcarry, mark the targets,” Minghis ordered.  “Mounted archers and knights, to the flanks and engage the Woodsy Elves.  Twolls and stabbers engage the gumps – hawkmen take all targets of opportunity!  Archers, defend the supply train.  I want that female warlord alive if possible!”

 

“As you command, Sire!” Klytus replied.

 

“Charge!” Minghis commanded.

 

* * *

 

When the enemy came at them, Nara Shan knew their ambush had failed.  The twolls led the stabbers in a charge against the gumps, while mounted knights and archers charged each of the elven flanks.  Somehow the enemy had seen them long before they had seen the enemy.  It was not possible!  The hawk riders could not possibly have detected the gumps through the forest canopy, let alone the elves!

 

Unless a lookamancer rode with the army.  Nara Shan loosed an arrow which caught a charging knight in the eye, barely even noticing her sudden climb to level two.  That was the only explanation, she realized as she fitted another arrow to her bow.  Dixieland needed this information!  The tribe needed this information!

 

Even as she silently ordered the northern flank to fall back, she also ordered her personal stack to the rear of the flank.  Meanwhile, to the south, the gumps and twolls charged into each other.  Twenty four gumps against forty twolls and hundreds of stabbers would be a short battle.

 

Her flank was able to release one final volley before the knights reached them.  Two more fell from the saddle.  They were not going to do enough damage to the Mangolian army to make a difference at Fort Summer.

 

Just before the knights reached them, a rain of arrows fell on them from above.  Curse that lookamancer!  The trees shielded them from most of the volley, but a few arrows found their mark.  One of Nara’s stackmates fell beside her.  She let one last arrow fly, before ordering her flank to engage the knights hand to hand.

 

As the northern flank screened for her, Nara led her surviving stackmates deeper into the forest.  As they retreated, she reached up and touched the smaller stone on the right side of her neck.

 

“On little cat feet,” she whispered.  A mist rose from the ground, thickening into a fog that blanketed the ground and rose up to hide the trunks of the trees.  This should cover their retreat against the lookamancer.

 

The fog and distance quieted the sounds of battle as Nara Shan abandoned her tribe mates to the enemy.  Tears ran silently down her face as they retreated into the fog and the forest.

 

* * *

 

“Lebowsky, Shelley, Frost!” Cashcarry intoned.  Wind howled through the hex, clearing out the foolamancy fog that had been summoned during the battle.

 

Minghis surveyed the aftermath of the battle.  If Lady Kala had not warned them of this ambush, Dixieland would have done quite a bit of damage to them here.  As it was they had lost over four stacks of stabbers and a full stack of knights.  The five twolls were the greatest loss, however.  Not only were the twolls their only heavy units, but they would be missed the most when the army next made camp after leaving Summer Fort.

 

“Where is she?” Minghis demanded of Kala.

 

“I…I do not know, Sire,” Kala stammered.  “She is…not here.”

 

“Search for her!  Klytus, link with her.” Minghis ordered, before turning to his warlords.  “Strip the bodies!  We march on in ten minutes!  We have to breach Summer Fort before turn’s end!”

 

* * *

 

“They have a thinkamancer and a lookamancer,” Nara Shan whispered to her stackmates as they huddled together inside a small ring of trees.  Her center stone throbbed with the power of her illusion.

 

“I can hide us from the lookamancer,” she assured them.  “But you must hide your thoughts.  You are a thornberry bush.  Think of nothing but your leaves, your branches and thorns, and your precious berries.  Stay still and stay silent and think about your berries.”

 

* * *

 

“We can find no sign of any survivors, Sire,” Klytus informed him.  Minghis unconsciously glanced at the bodies of the slain.  They had found only ninety elves slain here.  Kala had reported ninety-eight.

 

“They cannot have left the hex!” Minghis insisted.  “They are off turn!”

 

“This Woodsy Elf has foolamancy,” Cashcarry interrupted.  “We would have to search the entire hex to find her, and might not succeed even then.”

 

Minghis looked to the sky.  The sun had climbed halfway to noon.  If he wanted to take Summer Fort this turn, they had to march now.  Eight elves could not do much damage to them.

 

“Form up!” Minghis ordered and Klytus relayed his orders to the tribe.

 

“March!”

 

* * *

 

Sir Barringer saw the hawks an instant before the horns sounded to announce the arrival of the enemy.  As they approached, he was able to count ninety.  So, the ambush had not cost the Mangolians any of their hawks, but that had been expected.  The hawks flew close enough to the hex boundary that Barringer could almost make out the features of their riders, but did not cross.  It was time for him to withdraw to the tower.  As the commander of Summer Fort, his place was there.

 

“Send a rider to me with a count of their forces,” Barringer ordered before leaving the wall.

 

“As you command,” Warlord Calhoun replied.  Like Barringer, Calhoun had been promoted to warlord for his distinguished service to the kingdom.  However, where Barringer had been a knight, Calhoun had been a piker.  Hence, Barringer had assigned him to protect this gate and given him every piker in the city.  If any man in the kingdom could hold this gate against the horde that was about to besiege them, it was Calhoun.

 

Barringer had posted the stabbers in the garrison and split the archers between this gate and the tower.  Summer Fort would not fall easily to these savages, no matter their numbers.

 

* * *

 

Gordon’s hat rumbled and he removed it to retrieve the message.  Dale could feel that something was wrong as he read.

 

“What does it say?” the king asked, setting aside his guitar.

 

“The Mangolians have arrived at Summer Fort,” Gordon replied.  “They do not seem to have suffered appreciable losses.”

 

“How is that possible?”

 

“I do not know, majesty,” Gordon said.  “Somehow, our ambush must have failed.”

 

* * *

 

Minghis watched the sun as his forces took their positions in front of the gate.  There were, perhaps, three hours left before noon – probably less.  At noon their turn would end and Dixieland’s would begin.  At this point, time was his enemy as much as the men arrayed against him here.

 

The hawks hovered above the walls, ready to rain death down upon the few pitiful archers stationed there.  Minghis’ own archers were arrayed in front of the gate behind wooden mantlets fashioned by the twolls during their march through the forest.  The rams stood ready, bleating and snorting in their eagerness to crash through the gate before them, pawing the ground with cloven hooves.

 

The defenders watched quietly, powerless to attack across the hex boundary until themselves attacked.  Minghis intended for them to not launch more than a single volley.

 

“Archers and hawkmen – fire!”

 

One hundred and sixty two airborne archers fired down on the wall as another hundred and sixty archers on the ground fired from behind cover at the sixty four enemy archers on the wall.  Scant seconds after his archers fired, a volley rose up from the wall toward the hawks.  Most of the arrows fell short and those that did not failed to penetrate the belly armor of the hawks.

 

“Rammers, charge!” he commanded.  The great rams were able to charge the gate four abreast.  Soon the sound of massive horns slamming into heavy wood echoed through the hex.

 

Another volley from the hawkmen and the archers cleared the remaining enemy archers from the wall.

 

“Hawkmen, probe the tower!” Minghis ordered.

 

Overhead, a single stack of five hawks flew toward the city.  The hawks were spread out with a hundred feet between them.  No sooner had they crossed over the wall when the tower fired – a single bolt of shockmancy snaking out to strike one of the hawks.  The hawk failed to dodge the blast and Minghis watched as the bird and its two riders fell from the sky.  Fortunately, it had not been the warlord.  The four surviving birds turned and fled back across the hex boundary.

 

“Second probe, stand by,” Minghis ordered.  The next four rams struck the gate.

 

“Fly!”

 

This time, the targeted hawk was able to dodge the worst of the blast, only losing about half of its hits.  That one had been the warlord’s hawk.  The five hawks flew back out of the city hex, smoke trailing behind the warlord’s mount.

 

“Twolls to the gate!” Minghis ordered.  “Third probe, stand by!”

 

A single stack of twolls advanced to the gate, chopping at the heavy wood with massive axes while the rams continued their assault.  Minghis glanced at the sun.  It was far too close to noon for his liking.

 

“Fly!”

 

The third, and hopefully final, bolt from the tower forked on its way to the edge of the city, seeking out two hawks, rather than one.  One hawk was able to dodge – the other was not.  Fortunately, the split bolt did less damage and once again all five hawks were able to flee the city, although the one seemed hard pressed to stay airborne.

 

“Fourth probe, stand by!”

 

Minghis waited for the next stack of rams to assault the gate.  Once the sharp sound of horn against wood rang in his ears he ordered the hawks across the boundary.  He watched as the five hawks crossed into the city.  There was no blast from the tower.

 

“Hawkmen to the tower!” he ordered.  “Clear the defenders from that tower!”

 

The hawks flew overhead, darkening the skies as they sailed over the wall unopposed.

 

“Get that disbanded gate down!” Minghis ordered.

 

There was a distinct crack from the wooden gate at the next impact.  Minghis glanced up at the sun once more.  It would not be long now.

 

* * *

 

Ornella’s heart stopped in her chest like a stone at the sight of the plummeting hawk.  She did not like sacrificing her hawks to disarm the tower, but it was better than flying across as a cast and losing even more.

 

Finally, the fourth probe was launched over the wall with no response from the tower.  As soon as it crossed into enemy airspace, her father ordered the hawkmen to attack the tower.  Ornella cried out to her hawkmen to follow and led the charge into the enemy airspace.  Their wings darkened the ground below them like the oncoming storm they were.

 

“Bank right!” Ornella ordered and the column of hawks veered to the right of the approaching tower.

 

“Circle left and fire at will!” she ordered.  The hawks began to circle the tower as the knights and archers they carried rained death down upon the defenders.  The archers below fell beneath the withering rain of steel while most of their own arrows fell short of the mark.

 

But not all.  Ornella suddenly felt a searing pain in her left thigh only to look down and see an enemy arrow protruding from her leg.  Only the leather of the saddle had stopped it from going on through to injure Warcry as well.

 

Oh well, she didn’t need her legs right now, anyway.  She laughed at the pain and continued to fire on the tower.  Better the rider than the hawk.

 

* * *

 

Warlord Calhoun held his pikers at the gate.  He had thought them all dead when the hawks had sailed over the gate, but the great birds ignored the pikers and headed straight for the tower.  Now he waited for the gate to fall.  The great bar holding it closed was almost split and he could hear the sound of axes biting into the wood.

 

There was another loud crash as the enemy rammers once again slammed into the gate.  The great bar cracked further, but did not break.  Calhoun glanced toward the sky where the sun was nearing noon.  If it could only hold a little longer…

 

It did not.  The next crash against the gate broke the bar through.  The momentum of the four giant rams carried the animals through the gate and onto the pikes of Calhoun’s men.  A few men went down beneath the weight of the animals, but quickly regained their feet.

 

“Hold the line!” Calhoun ordered.  A stack of twolls took one look at them and fell back from the gate.

 

That’s right, Calhoun thought.  You’d better fall back.

 

* * *

 

Minghis smiled when the gate finally crashed open.  The smile vanished when the four rams that had finally broken through were impaled by the line of pikers behind the gate.

 

“Get those twolls out of there!” Minghis ordered.  They could not afford to lose any more of the twolls this turn.  “Mounted archers!  To the gate!  Stabbers, fall in behind and prepare to charge!”

 

* * *

 

Calhoun’s stomach knotted when he saw the archery knights ride up to the gate.  Twenty stacks of mounted archers.  They did not charge through the gate.  They sat safely on the other side of the hex boundary and knocked arrows to their bows.

 

“Take cover!” Calhoun shouted as he silently ordered the pikers to split to either side of the gate.  “Form up!  Prepare to charge!”

 

The enemy did not give his men time to comply.  As soon as their line had broken ranks, the archers charged through the gate, firing into their backs.

 

And then, like the hawks, the archers ignored them as they rode on toward the tower.  Calhoun rose to his feet in confusion and began to reform what remained of his pikers.

 

That was when over three hundred stabbers charged through the gates, howling like the demons of Hellabad itself.

 

* * *

 

Sir Barringer watched the fall of Calhoun’s pikers from the tower.  There was still at least an hour until noon.  Twolls, warhawks, mounted archers – this battle had been lost before it had begun.  He had been forced to pull his surviving archers from the roof of the tower.  He had only three stacks left.

 

“All defenders to the dungeons,” he ordered.  He would force the Mangolians to dig him out of the cellars.  At least then it would be man to man, one on one.

 

* * *

 

“Our turn has begun,” Benjamin announced.  Dale couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief.  This had been the longest turn she could remember in quite some time.

 

“And Summer Fort still stands!” King Condon added with glee.

 

“What are our remaining forces there?” Benjamin asked the king.

 

“We have…” the king’s voice trailed off.

 

“What is happening?” Benjamin asked.

 

“There’s still fighting in the city,” King Condon said as he closed his eyes to concentrate.  “We are losing stabbers quickly.  Sir Barringer and the men are all in the dungeons.  Five – no, four stacks of stabbers, two stacks of archers.  Three stacks of stabbers.  The city is going to fall.”

 

“It’s our turn!” Benjamin ordered the king.  “Raze the city while we still can!”

 

“Yes!” King Condon agreed.  “I hereby raze the city of Summer Fort!”

Benjamin breathed out an exhausted sigh and hunched over the map table, resting his weight on his arms.  Dale stepped up and put her hand on his back, between the shoulders.

 

“It didn’t work,” King Condon said softly.

 

“What?” Benjamin said, straightening up at the map table.  Dale felt whatever momentary relief had come to her with the start of their turn vanish.

 

“The city was not razed,” King Condon explained.  “We’ve lost all the stabbers and now the archers are falling.  They’re still fighting.”

 

“The city is contested,” Benjamin said.  “We can’t raze it.”

 

* * *

 

“Our turn has begun,” Nara Shan told her stack as the foolamancy veil lifted.  “Follow me.”

 

“Where are we going?” one of her scouts asked.

 

“One hex north, two hexes northeast,” she said.  “That will place us in the forest hex between the roads.  We need to see which way the enemy heads next turn.  Then we need to find a way to report what we know.”

 

“Is that why we left them?” the scout asked.

 

Nara Shan hung her head in shame.  The memory of this turn would follow her all the way to the hall of the Titans.

 

“Dixieland does not know that the enemy has a lookamancer,” she replied.  “They need to know.  The tribe needs to know.  Now follow me.”

 

“Yes, Nara Shan.”

 

* * *

 

Sir Barringer faced the enemy knights.  His last archer had fallen and now he stood alone before the enemy.  He waited for them to come at him, but they did not.

 

Then the enemy parted and a single warlord stepped to the fore.  He wore a helm with a golden crown and a golden gorget over his lamellar armor.  His open helm revealed a harsh face with a thin, long moustache and narrow, long beard.

 

“You must be Mingjhis,” Barringer said.

 

“I am,” the warlord replied.  “If you will surrender, we will ransom you to your king.”

 

Barringer laughed – a single, short bark of contempt.  The warlord’s eyes narrowed in anger.

 

“Never!” he said.  “I will face all of you before I surrender.”

 

“Not all of us,” Minghis told him, drawing his own sword.  “Just me.”

 

“And then the next, and the next,” Barringer laughed.

 

“No,” the warlord said.  “If you defeat me, you will be captured and escorted from the city.  Those are my orders.”

 

That last statement was directed at the caster in the golden mask behind Minghis.  Barringer stared unbelievingly at the barbarian warlord.  Minghis’ eyes did not look away, but met his own unflinchingly.

 

“Very well,” Barringer said.  The barbarians fell back as their overlord stepped forward.  Even one to one, this was not exactly a fair fight – Minghis still held his full stack bonus.  Barringer leapt forward in a lunge which Minghis easily turned with his shield.  Barringer’s own shield was barely able to block the barbarian’s powerful blow.

 

He staggered back as the barbarian overlord rained blows upon him.  Barringer may not have a chance but at least he would die on his feet making his last stand for Dixie.  And, if he did somehow manage to defeat this mad barbarian, that could be his greatest contribution to the defense of his kingdom.

 

Then Minghis twisted his blade and turned a blocked slash into a thrust under Barringer’s shield.  The blade bit into his side and Minghis ripped his sword free, slashing deep into Barringer’s sword arm in the process.  As Barringer’s sword fell to the ground, the barbarian planted his foot on Barringer’s chest and pinned him to the ground.  Manacles appeared on Barringer’s wrists and ankles as the city was captured.

 

Now we will ransom, you,” Minghis told him.

 

Part 8 of 16 in The Horde

Comments

    • ThousandCats

      Fantastic! but I have ask, if the positive bonus for stacks caps at 8, and each hawk has 2 riders, shouldn't there be 4 hawk pairs per stack, not 5?

      • ArkenSaw

        Glad you're enjoying the story.  The warlord of the stack does not carry a rider on their hawk, so it's the warlord and an eight-stack.

        • Deck of Cards

          Pretty sure warlords count as being in the stack, to the bonus or malus.

          • Salvage

            Another great installment.

            Mounts add to stack bonus but do not detract from it. This means a stack of four hawks with single riders counts as a full eight stack and so does eight hawks with single riders. These hawks have double riders though so four hawks seems rights to me.

            • ubernubie

              so what does Minghis do now?  does he consolidate his gains, pop more troops then move or does he raze the city and keep going?  without a way to replenish his troops he is fighting a battle of attrition.   

              • ArkenSaw

                Yes, the attrition is beginning.  I guess you'll just have to keep reading...lol.  Glad you're enjoying the story.

                • zilfallon

                  The turn mechanics don't work that way, though. Kinda made me disconnected from the erfy feeling, which made me lose interest.