<--Chapter 14


Marilyn sat on a stool behind Artha trying to eat the gruel that had popped for her breakfast. Not oatmeal—gruel. She hated gruel. It was flavorless, it was sticky, it was foul grey snot. And it was tradition for the royal party to eat it on the morning before a big battle. It had been so long since Caer Melyn had been besieged that she hadn’t even served the royal party, much less been with it before a battle.

 

Yesterday, Gwalchmai had explained, was more of a probing attack. They hadn’t meant to take the city except through natural Luckamancy. They were testing the defenses and seeing what the defenders would do on their turn. Today was the real attack.

 

She stabbed into the watery, gray mass in her bowl with her spoon again and just as she lifted it to her lips her hat started buzzing. Yes, a reason to put off eating this mess! She looked at the paper briefly, “Your highness, a message for you.”

 

“Thank you, Marilyn, let’s see what father wants now.” He read it quickly at first, and then again, more slowly. Artha elbowed his tablemate, spilling the bowl of gruel that Gwalchmai was trying to eat. “Good news, those mercenaries and the army are halfway between Swindle and Writing. They’ll be here in time for our turn.”

 

“I don’t understand, I thought they couldn’t move until the afternoon when we get our turn.” Marilyn scratched her head.

 

“It’s relativity. You’ll have to get used to it as an Operator. Time doesn’t move the same way in separate hexes. From their point of view, they’ll be travelling all morning. From our point of view, they won’t move at all until noon, and then they’ll travel from there to here in an instant. Look at this. Kestrel told me about an explanation he learned in the Magic Kingdom a long time ago.” Artha pulled two pieces of string out of his pocket and laid them down next to each other in a straight line.

 

“Let’s assume that these are two units that aren’t moving. The way they experience time is a straight line: they move from one end of the string to the other.” He adjusted one of the strings so that it turned directly away from the other for a little bit and then back in line with it, just further away. “Now this unit has moved. In this example, while it’s moving away from the other time seems to slow down for the one that’s not moving, but that’s not what happens, it just doesn’t experience time.” He twitched the middle of the moving part of the moving unit. “Let’s say you make contact while they’re moving. Time goes back in line for them during the communication, and then back out when it’s over.” He smiled at her, “Understand?”

 

“I think so…”

 

Gwalchmai rejoined them. “Is he showing you the strings? Titan’s toe jam, Artha! When are you going to give up on that?” He turned to Marilyn, “Time flows differently for moving units because the Titans made Erf that way. Anything other explanation is just chatter.” He elbowed the prince, “C’mon, let’s look at what the Titans have given us this morning.”

 

“I’m not done with breakfast.” Artha protested.

 

“That slop?” Gwalchmai picked up Artha’s gruel and hurled it across the room where it hit the wall with a loud splat. “Yes, you are. Here’s a biscuit. Let’s look at the enemy. Coming, Marilyn? Or do you love your gruel too much.”

 

Marilyn got up, grabbed herself a biscuit, and started to follow Gwalchmai out while Artha was still looking at the mess where his breakfast used to be. He was still staring when they reached the doors, so she called to him and did a little hip roll she had practiced that got any male unit moving.

 

The three of them reached the city walls to see much the same scene they had the previous two days. The enemy force was laid out in front of them, the Angles on one side, the Saxmen on the other. The two armies had formed up out of range of their archers, so the garrison units on the wall with them were watching, just as they were.

 

“I don’t see a lot of difference.” Artha said hesitantly. “At least their rhyme-o-mancer isn’t out yet.”

 

“Let me send a couple of ‘hawks over there.” Gwalchmai replied. He put his fingers between his teeth and whistled loudly, then swung his arm in a circle over his head and pointed at the enemy. Two Warhawks flew out over the plains hex toward the enemy. As they approached the massed armies, one of them flew straight up, almost out of sight, while the other flew to the left, over the Saxmen in black and yellow.

 

Gwalchmai’s eyes started glowing and he gripped the city walls tightly as the warhawk flew toward the Saxmen. “Just heavies and stabbers for the Saxmen. Those heavies are carrying hammers and axes though, instead of those ugly swords they had yesterday. No archers or pikers though, they do have an odd kind of stabber with two swords.” Let me see if I can get anything on their warlords.

 

As the warhawk Gwalchmai was actively controlling swooped lower, some of the units started pointing at it. Two heavies looked at it, then together, picked up one of the two-sword stabbers and threw it at the hawk. Gwalchmai was unprepared for this, so he didn’t swerve the hawk out of the way. The stabber grabbed the hawk in mid air, and then fell to the ground. The stabber got up and stumbled back into his place. The warhawk didn’t. Gwalchmai bent over shook his head as the backlash from the suddenly broke Thinkamancy link hit him.

 

“Hellabad. I held that link too long. I should have cut it when the stabber hit. Well let’s see what the other one can see of the Angles.” Gwalchmai looked up and the other warhawk dove down on the other army. They were waiting, however, so arrows went curving up immediately—and then curved right back down as they reached the top of their arches.

 

“Heh, heh, heh. I got a few of them to shoot their own troops. I love it when that trick works. Let’s see…” Gwalchmai’s voice trailed off as the warhawk started circling just above arrow range.

 

“Hmmm, same thing we saw yesterday, archers, shield men, some mounted in the back. No sign of that rhyme-o-mancer though. Wait, there’s the jester leaving a tent with his lute. Now he’s pointing at my ‘hawk… there she is! That’s odd; she’s reaching for something at her waist with both hands, but she’s looking at the ‘hawk. Now she’s pointing at the ‘hawk with her wrists—” Gwalchmai cut off talking suddenly and bent over and grabbed his head as a flash of light sprang up from the ground, striking the warhawk and sending it into a spiral toward the ground.

 

“Disband it! That hurts! Two links lost the hard way in one turn.” Gwalchmai shook his head as he straightened up. “Well, I won’t be doing any more scouting that way this turn. One more and I'll be worthless for the coming battle. That’s what we have facing us, the same as last turn.”

 

“Those heavies have different weapons, Gwalchmai. Hammers and axes. Does that sound like siege equipment to you?” Artha rubbed his chin.

 

“Yep, but with their archers keeping our archers busy and their rhyme-o-mancer keeping them alive there’s nothing we can do but thank the Titans.”

 

“Thank the Titans? Pardon me for interrupting, but what do you mean by that?” Marilyn felt sure this was the sort of thing Artha wanted her to interrupt for.

 

Artha and Gwalchmai turned to Marilyn and as one, quoted the Book of Turns “Oh Titans, for that which we are about to receive, make us truly grateful.”

 

Gwalchmai grinned, “The prayer of those in combat while off turn.”

 

“Oh. Traditions.” She said.

 

“Traditions.” Artha and Gwalchmai were both grinning now.

 

“Wait, look. I think their caster is coming out now.”

 

As had happened two turns earlier, the purple and yellow ranks broke to reveal the rhyme-o-mancer and her musician coming out. They started up and the army moved forward around them again like a wave. This time the enemy was too far away for them to hear what she was singing at the start, but as they approached the walls her voice became louder and clearer.

 

If you're new and you don't know who to run through

Why don't you go join battle’s blitz?

Puttin' on the hits.

Take up sword or spear or axe or club or bow

Your weapon has one use that fits

Puttin' on the hits

 

Armored like a million-shmucker warlord

Tryin' hard to win the war for your lord (short or long sword)

Come, let’s stack up with warlords armed

With spears or sharpened swords in their mitts

Puttin' on the hits

 

Have you seen their heavies fall?

When they hit our shield wall

All across the battlefield

Watch them croak, watch them yield

Spear, axe and dagger chuckers

Raze their city—earn those shmuckers

Spend your every turn

To watch your enemy burn.

 

If you're new and you don't know who to run through

Why don't you go join battle’s blitz?

Puttin' on the hits

Puttin' on the hits

 

She sang the song over and over as the armies approached the city walls, and by the time they were there her entire army had joined her.

 

“Marilyn, send a SALUTE report to the mercenaries. Tell them that the effects of the rhyme-o-mancer’s song today are a bonus on both Hits and Attack. Also tell them to hurry. Thank you.” Artha gave his orders tonelessly without taking his eyes off the enemy lines. Marilyn started writing quickly. She was going to need more paper for her new position than she had originally thought. And a way of writing faster.


The attack this turn came harder and faster than the one the turn before. The enemy wasn’t worried about dodging attacks today, they were just focused on one thing: dealing damage to the gate. The axe and hammer heavies Gwalchmai had gotten a look at earlier were the first ones against the wall. There was no feint, no attempt to draw off arrows, just pure speed and viciousness. The stabbers behind them seemed to only have the job of holding shields to protect the heavies and hauling them away from the gate by their heels when they fell. There were far fewer archers today, but then that was true of both sides.

 

Artha moved off the wall after a short while, leaving only a token force of archers up there. He had more important places to be. The enemy was focusing their attack on one point, so he had to focus his defense. The gate would fall. He would have to be ready when it did, the lancers had to have time to get there. Caer Lundein still had more tricks than high walls and strong gates though.

 

The capital had been build built by the Romaine Empire. “Let us grow” was their motto, and grow they did. Caer Lundein had grown, been burned, been razed, been rebuilt, been fortified, been defended, been attacked, and finally been taken. The one thing it had never been was simple. The streets were laid out in so many complex curves and twists that it was almost as if they were trying to make it impossible to map. Their Hippiemancer had loved its ‘natural’ form, and convinced the king to leave it alone. Artha had reason to thank her this turn.

 

As complex as it was, it could be mapped, and Artha had taken many turns to map it. He had a natural head for maps. A weapon that can be used against you can be used against others too. Artha ordered several of his warlords to take stack and tear down buildings blocking off roads at very precise locations.

 

“Why?” Marilyn had asked.

“I’m turning this city into a maze. The enemy thinks they can just rush through the gates and spread out through the city, burning and croaking everything in their path. They won’t, the path they tread will keep them from torching enough of the city to start an inferno without croaking themselves first.”

“What do you want me to do?”

 

“Take a stack and go to the Western Gatehouse. Bar the doors. Let no-one in until father orders you to. And keep that gate closed.” Artha’s voice changed as he went from orders to Orders. It had to be done. “If that gate opens for any reason, my plan fails. Tell your stack this too in case something happens to you. Now get moving.” He grabbed her by the shoulders, spun her around, and shoved her gently. Marilyn took off running, grabbing stabbers on the way, slowing only long enough to explain the plan. Everyone she touched ran off after her.

 

There was a loud crack, as the edge of an axe finally appeared in a split in the door. “Form up everyone!” Artha shouted. We’ve left this fight to archers for long enough! Time to use what the Titans gave you! Is every unit ready?” The returning shout gave him no doubt that every unit was ready, indeed.

 

And then the gate shattered apart and a full stack of heavies rushed through the gate at him, only to turn into pincushions and fall, croaked, at his feet. Artha may have left the archers, but they had not left him. He smiled and waved to show he was unhurt, then drew his sword and fell to the banquet of stab that the Titans had given him. After a short time Gwalchmai stepped into line next to him, and then the two went to work with a practice from many battles over hundreds of turns.

 

The enemy would focus on Artha and Gwalchmai, ignoring the spearmen at their flanks. These spearmen would croak the units attacking the two until they, themselves, were noticed. Then, with the units’ attention off Artha and Gwalchmai, the two warlords would begin the croaking again. Even with as many as they croaked, they still had to move backwards, there were just too many enemies. And as they moved backward, the real depths of Artha’s plan began to show.

 

The enemy tried to spread out, but Artha could tell from his battle sense that they were being stopped in the blind alleys and blocked roads of the city. They’d need to hire a dirtamancer to fix the city after this—but it was working, the enemy was only advancing along one path. And taking damage doing it. But they were advancing, and Artha was moving backwards. It only remained to be seen if he would run out of city or they would run out of turn first. 


“Well, we had a good, long life, didn’t we, brother?” Gwalchmai spoke cheerlessly.

 

“Indeed we did, indeed we did. You know those northern savages we heard tell of once?” Artha smiled as he swung, he was happier in battle than Gwalchmai was.

 

“Which ones?”

 

“The ones that believed that the City of Heroes was on top of a tall mountain, and that you could only reach it by climbing over the corpses of your enemies?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“You think we made it?”

 

“I think we made it.” Now Gwalchmai was grinning.

 

They had been forced through the narrow streets of Caer Lundein for the last hour. Even with as many stabbers as they were croaking, the mass of the enemy army in front of them had still been forcing them backwards. The plans he had put together were working, the enemy was forced to attack them—and croak. And now there was nowhere left to go. Their backs were hard up against the West Gate—the gate that Artha had given orders to keep closed under all conditions, until the city was no longer contested.

 

At least Marilyn was safe, or as safe as she could be on a battlefield. There was a good chance that the relief force would get here before the enemy could take the western gate tower. And then he heard the bars on the gate behind him grind and felt it quiver and move. They were going backwards again, being pushed out of the city. Who opened the gate? He felt out with his Chief Warlord’s Sense, the gatehouse was uncontested, it hadn’t been taken, who ruined his plan to hold the city? Who could even have countermanded his orders to open the gate?

 

And then he heard it. The song. The song he had heard too many times before. The one song he never wanted to hear, but this time he wanted to hear more than any other:

 

Over hill, over field

We will fight and never yield,

As the Lancers go riding along....

 

The gate was being opened to rescue the city, not destroy the city, but still, who could have ordered it open?


 Chapter 16-->


 

Notes

I personally have stood in as one of the spearmen in the tactic Artha and Gwalchmai are using as the city gate falls and can tell you it works.

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