Adventures in The Life of Roberta(Preface)“Ha! Life has changed so much in the past year. It’s been so strange and weird journey that has happened,” Roberta said, hooves clomping along the dirt path leading up to the trail head.
“What do you mean?” asked Kyle, walking side by side to Roberta; nearly a foot and half shorter than her.
“Well, who would have thought that a year ago the world would have changed as it did. I’m a walking myth. I’ve just have to deal as best as possible. Money has been really tight. That’s why I do this on the side. Sure it was a little demeaning at first to allow people to ride on my back as if I was a regular horse but it helps with the bills,” responded Roberta.
“I imagine. Times can be tough for everyone. I’m just grateful that I’m in a position to give my family a leg up in the world,” said Kyle.
“Daddy, Daddy!’ said a little gir
Two Way's of the Mind Part 2Breathing heavily through both of her noses, surrealness took over the feeling; things still felt like they weren’t real, that she was still in some kind of dream state. Still, Amanda looked at her brother with two pairs of eyes as if nothing had happened. His facial features were just so vivid and clear to her that it was almost too whimsical and capricious for her to take. Waiting for his reaction to her new-found head that all she could do was stare at him, taking it all in one breath at a time.
Ryan stood there, mouth agape, too stunned to even move a muscle. His twin sister, who he has known for 16 years, had two heads. To him this was not normal but abnormal. He wanted to scream and run but he couldn’t. Something held him there; looking at his sister without speaking a word. He just stated to process what he saw in front of him.
“Say something,’ said Amanda from both mouths. ‘Anything Ryan.
Fall of Mirthonia
It was a cold and bitter wind that blew down the valleys and dales of Mirthonia. It shivered limbs and froze leaves, and made the inhabitants of that strange land shiver and pull their cloaks tighter around them. They glanced at the mountain that birthed it, perhaps a trifle unhappily, before continuing on their businesses.
The markets of Mirthonia were very grand, and despite the chill wind they were full to overflowing with shoppers and hawkers, merchants and goodwives, and other sorts. Here could be found any sort of strange and wonderful devices, the freshest foods, and the finest wines. It was the wonder of the world, just ask any Mirthonian and he would gladly tell you. No other city could match its splendor, nor meet its coffers.
The city was ruled over by a kindly king. Marthong was his name. He was a centaur, one of the people of the plains. His features were fair, his shining gold coat kept brushed and clean, and his white tail and hair combed and straight. He ruled wisely and generously, sending aid to one town or another in plight, and making many friends. His people loved him, and they sang song and toasted his praises, wherever he went.
There was no doubt that the city was rich, for it had the great advantage of being near the coast, and on the main trade routes through the heart of the continent, and lands beyond. Mirthonian ships were a common sight in many ports, and were hired often for their speed and agility, as well as their ability to carry tremendously heavy loads.
Such wealth created many enemies, however. Envious eyes had turned to the city and its king, weighing the risks and benefits. The Mirthonians were fierce fighters, jealously guarding their hoards of gold and silver and Mircon, the rarest and most precious of metals. Their ranks were made of all the races, from dwarves and centaurs, to elves and drow, and even the Purs, the strange cat-folk found nowhere else in the world.
It was on this cold and bitter day, however, that the peace and prosperity of Mirthonia was rudely interrupted. A lowly sentry on the sea wall gave the first cry of alarm. He had been walking the wall on his route, anxiously awaiting the end of his shift. It was Fires day, and he was eagerly anticipating the half-priced beer at Mols, his favorite tavern. He was about to make the circuit towards the landward side of the city when he happened to glance back the way he had come. He was astonished to see hundreds of great rectangular sails on the horizon. They were making very great speed towards the city, and so swift was their coming that even as he watched the ships were becoming clearer. Far from the wallowing drafts of the merchant ships that plied the waters, these ships were sleek and long, tapered both fore and aft around great posts that had been carved with dragon’s heads.
Sea Robbers! Vikors! The guard was nearly paralyzed with fear. The Vikors were the fiercest warriors on sea or land, and they rarely gave any quarter to their foes. That they would be coming here and in such numbers was a surprise, but it was obvious what they were after.
Blessing his hooves that he was fast, the guard streaked along the wall, heading for the alarm bell. It was set nearly halfway between watchposts set in the wall, though with the coming of winter and the foul storms that were brewing they were unmanned.
Breathing heavily, he grabbed the long rod that lay in its holder, and struck the great golden bell. Its note echoed throughout the city, making the markets still and people look up in surprise! The guard hit the bell again and again as fast as he could in desperation. He could already make out warriors arming themselves in the boats, and hear distant shouts coming from them. They did not have much time left, he knew. He was amazed at the speed of the fleet, he knew of no other ship, warship or merchant, which could move half as fast. They seem to fly over the water instead of sail on it, and he wondered briefly if some foul magic was at work.
He heard hooves and the tramp of iron-shod boots, and he was relieved to see warriors hurrying along the wall and towards the defenses. There were a great many men and dwarves and elves with long bows stringing themselves along the sea wall. But the numbers were so few! The guard prayed under his breath that the king would think of something, or that those still coming would move faster. The first boats had landed, the men inside splashing out onto the shore.
“This is not going to go well for us at all,” he whispered. The boats rowed back out to see after depositing their burdens, to make way for others waiting to offload. He could see no end to the tide of ships. And in his heart, he began to fear that he would not live out the day.
Very well. If that is the case, then let me die with honor. I’ll take out one or two of those sea robbers with me, I’ll warrant. He rang all the harder, sweat running down his brow as he hit with grim determination.
A similar determination was felt by Marthong as he surveyed the enemy fleet from his palace balcony. He had been in a meeting with several of the chief merchants of the city when the alarm bell had rang. Now the entire city was filled with the sound of bells and the hurried tread of his warriors as they rushed to man the wall. From his vantage point he could already see the Vikors attacking the far end, where the guard was still light and they might push through. The clash of arms could not be heard by him, only seen. Sunlight glinted off their armor and flashed off their swords as men, dwarves and Purs fought desperately.
We are going to need a plan if we are going to hold the city, if it is possible to hold the city. Marthong was disheartened. He could see the fleet still stretched to the horizon, and only the first wave had landed on the beach. They could very well take the city with that wave, if they moved fast enough. If they did not, then they had enough men, theoretically, to take the city by force.
“Move the women and children, old and infirm, to the palace.” He instructed one of his guards. The spotted Pur quickly saluted and left. Marthong turned back to the scene.
Behind him he heard quick mutters from the Merchants. His mouth tightened in annoyance. He wished he could send them away, but they were not like to go now, during a battle. He had no doubt they would stay right here with him, so long as he was in the palace, and be in relative safety. The fools.
Marthong knew it would not be long before he went for his armor and sword. He would take to the walls if necessary, and hearten the men. It was not in him to leave them to fight alone. However, the balcony offered an excellent view of the city and the disposition of forces, and he would use it to plan a strategy.
“Get me maps of the city.” He barked at the merchants. They glanced at one another in astonishment.
“Us, your majesty?” asked a porcine man in astonishment. “That’s servants work!”
“Well, you don’t see any about right now, do you?” Marthong snapped. “They’re all out getting into armor to fight! I don’t see you doing so, so you might as well make yourself useful, and get me maps to plan our defense!”
The merchants looked at each other, and then one or two scurried off. Marthong returned to his study, the fools already forgotten. They would no doubt attempt to regain some dignity later, and make him pay dearly for future services, but that was a future worry. For now, he had to concentrate on defending the city.
The merchants returned carrying several tightly wound scrolls in their hands. Marthong took the scrolls and unrolled them on the table. He poured over them, looking for places to arrange his defenses if the invaders breached the walls. He thought it very likely they would, given such numbers. His biggest fear was that they would surround the city on all sides with their men. It would be what he would do in the enemy’s position, and make a supreme effort at either sapping or otherwise destroying a section or sections of wall and forcing entry. At that point, he knew, the ball would be up in the air. His men knew the city well, and the invaders didn’t, or only by maps. There were some secrets that weren’t covered in the maps, however, and he planned to use them to his advantage.
The sound of horns made him look up from the map of the city’s sewer ways and head for the balcony. There he could see scaling ladders already against the wall and men upon them, trying to get force their way onto the walls. The defenders were putting up a grim fight however, and most of the ladders were being pushed over. In minutes the last of the ladders was down.
Marthong breathed a sigh of relief. He had not counted on them getting ladders made so quickly! He supposed that those could have been brought with the ships in the hopes of getting them up onto the walls before the defenders were ready for them. It was a risky gamble, trading valuable space on ships for such things, but it could have worked if they had tried it sooner.
He could not underestimate this enemy, that much was certain. With such tricks as this, he would be hard at it to withstand the assault. Still, all was not lost. He needed help, and he knew where to get it.
He looked at the merchants again. “Do any of you still have any pigeons left in your pigeon cotes?” he asked.
A few of the merchants frowned but nodded.
“Excellent.” Marthong felt a great deal of relief and hope. “I’ve already sent my fastest centaurs of the Centaur Express, but it will be days before they can get to anyone in position to help. I would like you to bring these messages to your contacts in the other cities, and see if they can convince anyone to help. Bid them to come with all speed, or we shall be lost.”
Most simply muttered about “Not safe out there, we could get trampled.” And; “Don’t know any merchants in Calso that could reach the ear of their king.” However one merchant stood apart.
He was a human, Malcolm by name, Marthong thought. His dark eyes met Marthong’s levelly and nodded.
“I can get a pigeon into the air in half-an hour, though my coop is nearest to the wall on the far side. If you have a message that will insure it gets taken seriously by their king, I will leave at once.” He said seriously.
“Half a moment, and I shall write it out.” Marthong told him. He hurriedly scrawled on a small scrap of parchment, such as he thought a bird might be able to carry. Imploring the reader to hurry, he wrapped it tightly with a string, and gave it to Malcolm. The dark-haired man nodded grimly and hurried out, the sound of his boots ringing loudly in the silent halls. Marthong watched him go, and wished him greater speed, before putting him firmly out of his thoughts.
“I have seen enough here to make up my mind.” He announced to the startled merchants. “You can stay here if you like, but I am going to the walls.”
“Your Majesty, is that wise?” one of them gasped. “You could be killed by an arrow, or stabbed by some black-coated Sea Robber!”
“Then so be it.” Marthong snarled angrily. “I will not cower here like some rat in a cave. Nor will I allow my soldiers to die in my stead. I will stand with them, for as long as I am able.” And with that parting shot, he went to don his armor.
Out on the walls, he found only chaos and confusion. The sea robbers had come in such numbers as to entirely cover the small plain that surrounded their great city. There was no passage in or out now, and Marthong rather thought they were like a rock in the middle of a black pond. It was not a cheerful thought.
“Your Majesty!” It was Tory, one of his generals. He was dressed in armor that appeared to have been put on hurriedly over feast day clothes, and they were already torn and covered in blood. He sported a slight scratch over one eye. “What are you doing here sir!” he gasped.
“What does it look like?” Marthong said irritably. “I am fighting to defend my city from this rabble. The day has not yet come when I can no longer carry a sword, and I dare any Sea Robber to take my city away from me!” he roared the last words at the top of his voice, and around him he could hear the cheers of his men.
Heartened at his arrival, they pushed stubbornly back at the Sea Robbers. The Vikors were surprised at the sudden onslaught, but grudgingly gave ground until they were back down their ladders. Before they could pull them away, oil was thrown on them, and the warriors below, and torches were applied and flung. In seconds the ladders and their bearers were engulfed. The stench was horrible, and Marthong gagged, but he kept his face stern and forbidding.
Across the wall, he could see the sea robbers pulling back. They retreated out of bowshot range of most of his men, but not the elvish archers. Arrows still killed them where they stood, but they raised shields and held their ground. It was clear they were rethinking their plan of attack. Marthong was glad of it, as it gave his troops time to rest and recover. Any delay was a blessing now, and good time to make use of it.
“Tory, gather the rest of my Generals. I intend to make use of this time that our enemies have so generously given us.”
“Yes, my liege.” Tory saluted with fist over heart and raced off to deliver his message. Not a bad speed for a satyr, Marthong thought. He would certainly do well in the next set of foot races, if he lived.
In minutes, the rest of his generals arrived. There were, in order of importance, Melthos the centaur, Tory, the satyr, Markop, the Pur, Grizbeard the dwarf, and Sean the human. They were the best and brightest minds his city had to offer, but they looked at him now with varying degrees of despair.
“Milord.” They murmured as they greeted him.
“How are we doing?” he asked them bluntly.
They shuffled and shifted uneasily, except for blunt Grizbeard. The dwarf spat angrily and growled in his usual gruff manner.
“It ain’t pretty, yer Majesty. We’ve got the laddies up and a’boot, but the accursed robbers have got us outnumbered, and they’ve made it up to the wall twice in the past hour. That ain’t good.”
“Well, for a moment I thought we were in serious trouble.” Marthong said dryly. To their obvious surprise, the generals chuckled slightly. Happy to lighten the mood, Marthong continued on. “We have been able to hold the walls despite two of their assaults, and our men will know that, and be feeling better. As for their numbers, they have to come to us, and that is too our advantage. Has any sally come against the main gate?”
“I can answer that.” Said Sean. “My company holds the main gate, and there has actually been two sallys, but they were half-hearted efforts, and we beat them back easily.”
Marthong frowned. That certainly did not sound right. Usually, the main gate suffered the heaviest attacks during sieges, as besiegers used any sort of nasty devices to batter down the doors and sweep inside. “It may be a feint.” He said at last. “Keep the gate fully manned until we are sure.”
“Yes, my liege.” Sean bowed.
“That be all well and good.” Grizbeard growled. “Unless we canna hold the walls.”
Marthong regarded him levelly. “The walls appear to be fully manned, and the actual incursions have been few. What ill news do you possess that makes our efforts irrelevant?”
“The fact that they made it to the wall at all, for one.” Grizbeard growled. “And for another…How did the Vikors assemble such a fleet and bring it all the way here without us knowing about it?”
Marthong was grim. “I don’t know,” he admitted, “Though I would give a pretty pile of gold indeed to learn that. However, that is neither here nor there, as we must look to the defense of the city before we lose it all.”
“Well, if that be true; I have to wonder what other surprises they may have in store for us bef’re the sun has set.”
Marthong thought about Grizbeard’s words. He forced a grin. “Well, whatever it is, we shall have to deal with it as it comes, I’m afraid.”
The dwarf harrumphed. “I guess we havn’a choice.” He agreed.
“Surely they have shot their bolt.” Melthos broke in.
Marthong looked at him. “Explain.” He demanded.
The appaloosa centaur looked as if he were collecting his thoughts. “Well,” said he, “It must have required a great deal of magic to shield their fleet from our eyes. Also, they used speed and agility rather than other sorceries in their initial assaults, indicating that their ability to use such power has been severely reduced. Further, they brought an enormous number of ships, and the men to crew them. It is my belief that they would not have brought such a massive army if they had sufficient sorcerers to overwhelm us.”
He looked levelly at the assembled. “My forces include the greatest number of our own magicians,” he continued, “And they have told me that actual clashes of the Power are very small, almost sparing. That also supports my theory. They mean to sit out on the gate and wait for us to starve; or, more likely, wear us down in assaults and push us to the center of the city to destroy us.”
Marthong could not doubt the logic, but he still felt it was wrong in some way that he could not quite put his finger on. “Perhaps you are right.” He said after letting the silence stretch. “I certainly hope so, it would make it far easier to hold our walls until help arrives if there is no sorcerer battle. Still, bid our mages to keep a tight watch, for we may yet be wrong.”
“As you command.” Melthos bowed.
Melthong cocked his head as he considered the possibility of a lengthy siege. While it was certainly the most desirable outcome, he wondered about their food stocks. He hadn’t checked to see their levels before he came down. He was about to ask when a horn blew. Everyone shivered as that foul note hovered in the air.
“To the walls.” Melthong said. They hurried up to see what was going to happen.
When Melthong got to the top of the stairs he stared dumbfounded. Amongst the ranks of the Sea Robbers were huge beasts with great spikes sticking out of their mouths! Their noses reached nearly to the dirt, and their huge leathery ears flapped and swayed in the breeze. What in the name of the immortal soul are those things??! Around him he could hear soldiers shouting in terror at the mere sight of them, and Marthong could not blame them, they were nearly as big enough to look over the wall! On the shore he could easily make out the huge vessel that had brought them settled firmly in the sand.
“Steady!” Marthong shouted. “They are nothing to be frightened of.” Frightened? Try terrified. It was all Marthong could do to keep the fear from his voice. He had to bolster his troops before they broke. “Archers! Prickle those creatures.”
Bowstring twanged and arrows whistled high. His elvish archers proved their reputation again; every beast suddenly sprouted a forest of arrows in their faces, the shafts clustered so closely together a fly could walk across them without any trouble. The beasts trumpeted in rage and fear, a horrifying sound. It made the air tremble and the ground shake, and his men cower behind the parapets as if the rough stone were any refuge against the sound.
“Aim for the eyes!” he bellowed. Others took up the call. “The eyes! The eyes!” rang from the battlements. Again came the slap of bowstrings and the whistling sound of arrows flying through the air.
The strange beasts gave a second trumpet as shafts slammed into their vulnerable eyes. One or two remained standing, though it was clear they were blind by the way the shuffled their feet and slammed into each other. The others fell heavily to the ground with mighty crashes that shook the earth under the defenders feet.
Marthong gave a quiet sigh as a groan from the enemy forces came up to him. It was clear that they had anticipated the beasts making a hole in his walls, or at the very least frightening his forces away so the Sea Robbers could get a toehold. The loss of that hope had made the enemy pause, it seemed. The Sea Robbers did not advance into bow range, though that forced them back against the mountains and cleared the beach, except for the unloading of still more men.
Once, Marthong had seen two anthills go to war. The invader ants had come in wave upon wave against the beleaguered defenders. Slowly, the invaders had pushed through the ring and forced their way into the anthill, only to emerge carrying eggs and food away. Seeing the great ships still disgorging troops made him remember that fight, and he felt a chill. He prayed silently that help would come.
|A new style of writing I'm working on. A try piece, if you will. Let me know what you think!|
If only Marthong could have seen what was happening in the mighty capital of Calso, he might have cheered. The human king had received his message and was bellowing for his generals to make haste for the planning room.
The King of Calso was a blazing red-bearded giant with shoulders as big as an ox and a temper to match the color of his hair. It had been said that as a youth, the King had ripped the head of an orc off with his bare hands and hurled it more than a hundred yards to strike down the fabled Orc King Marzrog. Few would dare cross him, or do anything that might incur his wrath. So, as he strode down the halls towards the planning room, servants practically ran out of sight or dodged behind the nearest column or plastered themselves against the wall in the hopes that he did not see them.
Thorson, for that was his name, ignored them. He was kind and fair to his servants, and rarely walked past without a jest or compliment about their labor. The fact that he did so now, and was in that mood, frightened the servants more than anything.
He swirled into the Planning Room without announcement, making the generals inside hurriedly turn and salute him. He scowled at them so fiercely that several quailed and the few servants in evidence did their best to fade into the walls.
“Would any here like to tell me how such a large fleet was able to beset our closest neighbor without us having an inkling?” he roared.
No one spoke for many long seconds, until a voice spoke from the far side of the room. “I know not, Your Majesty. I suspect that it may have been a powerful spell to hoodwink so many.”
Thorson’s eyes narrowed as he looked to the speaker. It was Pricilla, that rarest of oddities in the world, a female general. None could match her stratagems, however, and Thorson respected her advice. Now he tilted his head and gestured for her to continue.
Generals melted away from his gaze to reveal her, clad in her gold-plated armor that glinted in the torchlight, revealing high cheekbones and raven hair. She was unimpressed by his stare, however, and continued.
“We were completely caught by surprise when that messenger bird came. I myself only received warning a few minutes ago of what had happened from one of our agents in Mirthonia. He did not go into specifics, but he indicated their fleet was huge and well-stocked with more men than we thought the Vikors could possibly field, which points to some interesting assumptions.” She began ticking points off on her fingers; “One: that their fleet, which we suspected numbered some scores of vessels, is in fact larger than any we had ever seen or fielded before. Two; they must have conquered lands far across the sea to support and recruit so many warriors. Surely that ice-covered land they call home in the North Sea could not allow so many, or and this is most likely, Three: They have managed to create alliances with several kingdoms to provide men while they created ships to take Mirthonia.”
She looked levelly at the King. “In either case, they have enough men to be able to strike and burn any city on the coast, and even push as far East as the Dar’Kor Mountains and the Dwarf and Dark Elf cities there.” Her eyes held a death sentence. “We cannot afford to weaken our defenses in the slightest to go to Mirthonia’s aid. We can only pray that the bounty they find there will be enough to sate them and make most of them go back to their homes before they come here.”
“If that is to be some sort of joke, Pricilla Goldensword, I find it in very poor taste.” Thorson growled.
“It is no joke, Your Majesty. I speak the truth. If we send our army to Mirthonia’s aid, we risk losing it and leaving ourselves open for any manner of assault. I seriously doubt that the Vikors will be satisfied with their raid on Mirthonia and will ride their inevitable victory as far as possible. We must sacrifice Mirthonia to buy us time to unite the other cities and create an army that will be capable of meeting the Vikors in the field.”
“That may not be possible either.” Another of the generals rumbled. “I just received a message,” he held a scrap of parchment that a servant had brought him. “from one of my agents. He tells of strange beasts that have been employed against Marthong. They were able to defeat them before they got prepared to use them, but such creatures are most likely not the only thing in the enemy’s train, and they are still unloading. Marthong may not be able to hold long enough for the cities to band together.”
“We might be able to hasten the efforts if we―” another began.
“ENOUGH.” Larson roared. The chandeliers seemed to shake with the power of his voice. Everyone fell silent and several shrank back from the heat of his glare as he swept the assembled. “How dare you.” He said slowly and forcefully. “Marthong has ever been our friend and ally, and now you would abandon him and his people to these wolves of the sea?” His fury settled on Pricilla and he was rewarded by the beads of sweat on her brow, though her face remained placid. “We are NOT cowards, and we will NOT abandon our friends.” He declared. His eyes challenged anyone to contradict him. None spoke.
“General Goldensword, General Archer, you will take as large a force as can be assembled in the next fifteen hours and you will march to Mirthonia’s aid. If you feel that your force cannot assist in battle, you will send a pigeon to me and to Marthong informing him of your plight. Then you will take to the nearest defensible location and await further instructions. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The two murmured and bowed. They hastily made their exit, practically running by the time they reached the doors. Several of the others looked like they wished to have gone with them, rather than face their sovereign’s ire.
“Now,” All eyes jerked back to his face. “You will begin making preparations for us to join the others in pushing back this foul army, and I will not hear of any talk of abandoning ANYONE to this foe.” His face was a mask of rage, and his hands moved restlessly before he could get them under control. Several men licked their lips nervously and slowly began to speak. Soon a babble of voices came as plans were created and rejected for the defense of their homes. All the while Thorson watched and stroked his great warhammer that hung at his side. And in his heart, he urged Pricilla and Archer to move ever faster.
Marthong groaned in despair as the great ram made it to the front gate. On the battlements archers sent their last arrows down on it trying to strike the oxen that pulled the contraption, but it was hopeless. The roof of the machine extended over the oxen, protecting them from the arrows. Now, he could hear the great trunk slamming into the door with a teeth-chattering THUD!
“Who all is left to man the gate?” he asked.
“No one, Your Majesty.” Tory said quietly. The last of the generals of Mirthonia, his armor was black with soot and his eyes betrayed his exhaustion. “We sent the last of the troops to the break in the wall to hold back the flood of Vikors. I have not heard from them in some hours at least.”
Marthong felt his shoulders slump in despair. Six days! Six long days of endless fighting, of assault and counter-assault. They hadn’t even breached the walls until the fourth day, and had been held in the outer ring until now. Marthong realized that further defense here was useless. There was no way to hold the outer rings of the city, it was time to retreat to the inner keep.
“Give the order.” He whispered. Tory reached down to his side and brought his ox-horn to his lips and blew the signal. Around the city Marthong could dimly hear answering horns. So few, so few. It was a disaster beyond reckoning. On the walls above he could see the last of the elves and men running for the stairs and up the streets. The gate splintered as the jagged ends of the battering ram hit it again. Another blow and the gate would fall.
“Fall back!” he shouted. “Retreat to the keep! To the keep!” soldiers rushed faster, spurred on by his words.
The gate gave way with a thunderous crack, the doors slamming into the stone walls of the tunnel. The iron portcullis was a twisted rack of metal that speared several of the Vikors before it was pushed over. Black-armored men rushed through the fallen gate, spreading out like the sea into an inlet. Marthong stood in horror at the sight until he realized Tory was pulling on his arm.
“Come on! We’ve lost sire, we need to go!”
It was like a bad dream, Marthong thought numbly as he turned to run. Tory gave him a push to get him started. Shaking his head Marthong forced the tide of despair back. He could mourn later, for right now he had to plan the last stand of his city.
“We must get to the Keep. Climb on.”
Tory stumbled and looked at him wide eyed. “Sire?” He squeaked. He looked so comical that Marthong wanted to laugh, if the ability had not been beyond him now.
“We do not have the time for you to run. They are nearly here now. Climb on.” As if to add emphasis to his words a pair of arrows streaked past them.
Tory grimaced and swung up on Marthong’s back. The added weight of the satyr and armor was shocking to Marthong, who had not had to carry anyone in his life, but he quickly adjusted and ran for all he was worth.
Houses blurred past and the shouts and curses of the Vikors lessened as they fell behind. In minutes they were at the great walls and gate of the keep. Anxious guards surrounded them and helped pull Tory off Marthong’s back. He started to see the black arrow jutting out of Tory’s shoulder. He had apparently been hit while they had run and had not mentioned it.
Nurses were already coming to pull the arrow and heal the wound, the haggardness in their eyes a mute testament to what they had already endured. Malthong desperately wanted to give his people the rest they so badly deserved, but that would only happen when the Vikors were defeated or pushed back, and Marthong held no hope of that.
He pushed past the milling throng of people, on his way to the upper walls of the keep. It would not take more than a few minutes before the Vikors surrounded the keep on all sides and fought to make it in. He would last maybe a day before they broke in. Plans to delay or hold them swirled in his brain, but were rejected as soon as they came in. He did not have the resources to mount any kind of attack or defense. He did not even know how many soldiers he had left.
He came into the tower that overlooked the city and stood on the balcony. From there he could see the Vikors looting his fair city, pulling treasure and valuables from homes and shops. Here and there they pulled struggling figures from the buildings, herding them away towards the fleet. Slaves, he realized. His heart yearned to go and free them and bring them back to the safety of the keep, but he couldn’t. So, he stood and wept silently as he watched the people that had been left behind were rounded up and driven out of the city.
“I have nothing left.” He whispered quietly. It was true, he realized. The city was lost, his army gone.
A soft sound behind him made him turn around. A young Pur stood silently with her head bowed and her hand outstretched.
“This message just came for you, Sire.” The child squeaked nervously.
Marthong took the message from her gently. “Thank you.” He said seriously. “You have done well.” The child swelled with pride, but continued to look down. Marthong admired her aplomb. It was rather remarkable for one so young. He realized that he hadn’t lost everything. He still had his duty, and his people to look after, and that would always be more than enough.
The note in his hand crinkled slightly as he unrolled it. The words on it made him stand in shock. He read it aloud to himself.
“Greetings on behalf of Thorson, King of Calso from his servant General Pricilla Goldensword. I have brought four thousand men of Calso to the mountains above your city, but cannot break through the host. Do you have an escape plan? Pls Respond!”
The writing was so spidery and tiny it was hard to make out, but the words were clear. No help would come this day. Four thousand men made for a poor reinforcement against a hundred thousand. However…
Marthong raced to his desk, leaving the flabbergasted girl where she stood. Rummaging through his drawer, he found the secret button and pressed it. A hidden panel fell away with a click, revealing several tightly rolled scrolls. He quickly pulled the one he was looking for from the cache and unrolled it.
It was a secret plan of the city, and as his eyes hungrily roamed it he found what he was looking for. A secret passageway was marked from the bottom of his cellars out the side of the castle and all the way to the mountains. It was a long route, and narrow. It would take several hours to move the thousands of people through it.
Well, then it sounds like I had best get started. First thing is first, and that is to get the people moving to the cellars.
He looked up at the servant girl still standing there. He found himself wondering what her age was; seven, eight? Very young in any case. “What is your name, my child?” he asked.
“Murrrsa, my lord.” The child said cautiously.
“Murrrsa. I have a task for you.” Marthong told her seriously. The girl looked up. “You must take this map to General Tory and tell him to lead the people through the passageway marked on the map and into the mountains. There he will find additional reinforcements that will take them to Calso.”
“What about you, sire?” the girl whispered. Marthong smiled. A remarkable child indeed!
“I will follow as soon as I am able. I must distract the enemy, after all. Now, hurry! Before all is lost.”
The child turned and scampered away. Martong watched her go before going to his desk and penning a message to Pricilla Goldensword and her army. He hoped it would reach her before it was too late and she marched away. He also added a little note to the end before sealing it tightly in a small tube and passing it off to a servant in the hallway. As the human hurried off, dressed in rusted armor, Marthong swept towards the courtyard. His calm face was in stark contrast to the panicked motions of the people as they raced by him, heading for the cellars. Above him, the sky was black with the smoke of thousands of torches. Yet, like a miracle from Mira herself, a ray of light broke through and illuminated the courtyard. It was a sign, he thought to himself.
In the courtyard he found soldiers setting fire to stores and coming off the walls. “What are you all doing.” He bellowed. All motion ceased as they stared in amazement.
“Someone said we were retreating.” A voice came nervously. “The king and generals are dead, but there was a way out of the castle.” Several voices sounded in agreement.
Marthong nodded. “It is true that there is a way out. The people are taking it now, led by General Tory. It will take them as far as the mountains.”
“Then why hold?” the voice asked. “Why don’t we take it and get out of here before those Mira-cursed Vikors break-in?”
“A valid question.” Marthong answered. “The passage is narrow, too narrow for anyone to make much headway. They are slowed by the ill and very young. Those tunnels will become a charnel house if do not stop the Sea Robbers from finding it.” His gaze swept the assembled. “You know what it is that I ask of you. If any of you want to throw aside his weapons and run with the people, they may. However, I beg of you to reconsider. The longer we hold the Vikors here, on us, the longer our families have to escape. The better chance they have for freedom instead of slavery, and life instead of death.”
He jabbed a finger at the quivering door. “There are the scum that have defiled our cities, dragged our friends off to their boats in chains. Now they seek to do the same to our children and our wives. They will take from us everything we hold dear and spit on our corpses. WILL WE ALLOW IT?!”
A roar echoed off the walls. Men shook their heads and gripped their spears, centaurs stamped their hooves and elves gripped their bows with grim fervor.
“We will not!” Marthong said determinedly. He was in his element. This is when everything made sense, the veil of deceit was lifted. “We WILL hold them, and our families WILL escape. Songs and stories will tell of this day, the day when the free people of Mirthonia stood against the hordes and HELD THEM BACK!”
Cheers shook the walls anew, and elf and man raced to man the walls while in the courtyard centaurs and dwarves raced to smother the flames on the stores and rearm. Malthong accepted a lance and walked to the front of the remaining chargers. Soot-stained, bloody and bandaged, their faces set and their lances sharp, they were a frightening sight to behold.
Above they could see men and elves falling here and there into the courtyard as the enemy archers found their mark, but Malthong had no doubt at all that the streets outside were piled with Sea Robber corpses. The gates shook as they brought their siege weapons to bear.
“Get ready!” he shouted. A pair of dwarves nodded and stood by the barred door. They waited. Another thud as the tree hit the door.
The dwarves took hold of the bar and waited. Malthong counted under his breath.
The dwarves pulled the bar out and yanked the door open. The ram shot in and paused at the height of its swing, before going backwards. Cries of pain and shock came from the surprised besiegers as the log smashed into their ranks.
“FOR MIRTHONIA!” Malthong screamed as he rushed forward. Behind him he could hear the shouts of the others as they followed.
His mere hundred followed on his heels as he crashed into the Sea Robbers that were running over their wounded comrades to get in. Warriors went down under his lance and were trampled by his hooves. He roared as his lance shattered and he drew his sword. A stroke, and the Sea Robber in front of him lost his head. A back swing sent the arm of another flying. Those he did not cut down he ran down, and those that faced him screamed in fright.
The sheer mass of bodies in front of the gate slowed his charge to a stop, and the main avenue that led to the keep became a slaughterhouse as centaurs and men hacked at one another. Here and there a centaur went down, and arrows continued to rain around them from the keep as the bowmen struck down the Vikors. Bodies littered the ground like leaves in autumn, and the air stank of blood, sweat and decay.
Malthong fought as hard as he could against the foe. His blade cut through their armor like it wasn’t there, his mind’s eye drawing pictures of his wife and daughter in chains to urge him on past endurance. Beside him a score of brave centaurs fought stubbornly to protect him, striking down any that made it past his spinning blade.
Malthong did not know where the blow came from. All he knew was that at one moment he was fighting a young soldier in black, his sword sinking into his chest, and then a blinding pain in his side. He looked and saw an arrow had pierced his armor and had punched into his heart. Even as he stared another came and joined the first. He went to his knees, head spinning and the sky starting to go dark.
I’m dying. He realized calmly. He felt a strange detachment as he watched his lifeblood pour out onto the street.
In front of him, the Sea Robbers attempted to push past him, confident that he would soon be dead. He’d show them how wrong they were. Regaining his feet, he pulled his sword out from the body while grasping the dead man’s blade in the other hand. With a heave, he sent it spinning into the chest of another Sea Robber with such strength, the blade punched through the man’s back and stabbed the soldier behind him. Both went down in a tangle of twitching limbs. Thrusting his sword forward, he cut the head off another before turning the blade down and cutting into the side of another. The man screamed and fell, and Malthong drew his blade free.
Another arrow punched into him, this time on his human chest. His lungs were burning and his ears were roaring loud enough to drown out the sounds of the battle. He ignored it and swung his blade up to block a blow that was aiming to remove his head. Batting the blade aside with what strength he had left, he stabbed forward and took the man through his eye. Yanking his blade free, he realized that a ring had formed around him, the Sea Robbers not daring to close with him.
“Come on!” he roared. “I can still take you.” He swayed drunkenly as his glare darted around the ring. It was then he realized all the others had fallen, and no arrows fell from the heights. He raised his eyes upwards and saw the last of the elves and men fighting on the battlements against ten times their number of Vikors. In moments, that battle was over as the elves and men were cut down. Not a single one surrendered.
The sound of clapping reached Malthong’s ears, and he pulled his eyes down and saw a single large Vikor had stepped into the ring. It was the leader, he realized dimly.
“I am impressed, Your Majesty.” The man said loudly. His black beard and massive shoulders, not unlike a bear, quivered as he moved. “Your people fought to the last, and you yourself have stood far longer than any I have seen. You have gained much honor this day.” He sneered.
Malthong cursed him.
“Now now,” the man said chidingly. “What have I done to deserve that? We have not met before just now.”
Malthong glared at him, but why did he have to look up? It was then he realized his legs had collapsed, unable to support his weight. He grasped his sword desperately.
A shadow fell over him, and he realized the other man had come up to him and leaned over. Now was his chance! He tried to drive his sword forward, but it barely twitched. The man glanced at it and kicked it out of his hands. Malthong slumped over backwards, blood burbling from his lips. The sky was growing dim.
A voice whispered into his ears. “You have fought long and honorably, O king. So, I will grant you this boon. My army will rest here for three days before chasing down the rest of your people and making slaves of them.”
Malthong’s eyelids flickered in surprise. What a generous gift! He should do something to repay such generosity. Marha would kill him if he did not. Where was she anyway? She…should…be…here― The thought trailed off as the last light of the sky turned to night.