Twenty Five

Twenty Five

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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Earl Cetiline's forces march toward Woodedge fort.

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25.

  “Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
           Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
             Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
            Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

-- Samuel Smiles

 

Seven very busy days went by without any threats from the Elves or Earl Cetiline and Baron Dellye.   The archery training sessions continued and by the third day everyone had their own bow and a quiver of arrows.   Although metal armor was being crafted as quickly as possible, there was a very limited supply of metal, so all the able bodied men in town were issued gambesons that would offer at least some protection, as well as hastily assembled wooden shields.   Swords, maces, pole-axes and spears would be slower to acquire or make, so for the time being most of the men had to settle for a strong wooden club and their own knives or daggers for close combat.

Any woman who wished to join the ranks of the make-shift militia was allowed to do so and was issued the same gambeson, shield and club as the men.   Gevin was amazed at how many women decided to share in the defense of Woodedge.

Zaeya and Troem surprised them on day six of that week with the appearance of their first clay golem, which stood seven feet tall and scared the Halfling children as it lumbered down the street at the command of the two Elves.

“It will sustain quite a bit of damage before the magic is dispelled and it returns to a mass of clay, but I would recommend using it to move stones around for the wall now, before it is damaged in battle.”  Zaeya suggested.

Gevin agreed and the following day the wall building crew, which were still gathering larger field rocks from all around in carts before making the temporary stone wall around the village, were given an incredible helper.   The golem could lift ten times the weight of a man and by evening on that seventh day, all the rocks had been gathered into a series of large piles that marked the perimeter of the village, ready to begin assembling the planned wall the following morning.

The women not training with the men or quilting gambesons or fletching arrows were busy preparing cured meat for any siege that might occur, while others dried out fruits and vegetables for the same purpose.   Most of the residents spent their evening hours getting their homes prepared; fixing any locks, shutters or doors and sharpening pruning sheers and sickles so they could be used as make-shift weapons.   Horses had shoes put on their hooves, linen strips for the injured were rolled up and water, wine and beer was stored.    During all of this, all the residents took turns practicing archery for at least an hour each day at a make-shift archery field across from the Wood Chip.  

Some of the garrison soldiers trained in sword and weapon combat gave basic instructions to any who wanted to learn.   Gevin was extremely busy coordinating multiple things, but took time to show Applemint how to use a short sword and dagger as well as a shield, though she would most likely use the Elven Queen’s wonderful long sword.   Away from the others, he showed her how to use that as well, though it was difficult as the sword emitted so much light that it was hard to see clearly while he trained her.   Applemint stayed equally as busy, but did not show the Elven armor and sword to anyone, content to appear like anyone else.

Things were coming along nicely and Troem and Zaeya had already begun work on a second clay golem when just before sunset on the seventh day, some scouting patrols watching the road out of Greidour rode into the keep reporting the distant approach of what looked like a large army.

Gevin and his companions rode with them to a high hill shortly after sundown to see for themselves.    In the dim light, it was Zaeya who could best make them out.

“They’re quite a distance still, camped around a pond or pool of water,” She told them as she peered into the twilight.

“Probably Merccer’s stock pond - it’s that direction and pretty big,” Nevon told them, “It’s about four, maybe four and a half miles away.”

“There are a lot of them, too,” Zaeya continued, “Mostly horsemen, I think, but it is hard to tell.   I’d say they number in the thousands, maybe as many as ten thousand.”

“Yesh, have mercy!”  Applemint groaned.

“I see campfires, though, so they’re not on the move tonight.”

“But they will be long before sunrise,” Troem spoke what Gevin was thinking.

“What can we do?”  Applemint asked.

“We get everyone ready,”  Gevin replied, “I was afraid of this - Earl Cetiline has learned the fate of his son or at the very least suspects it.   I had hoped we’d have a few more weeks or longer and could perhaps secure the alliance of the Elves, but now we’re going to have to try to make as good of a stand as we can.   Nevon, start passing the news around; everyone should situate themselves where they need to be now and wait.    Those who have agreed to serve as the militia, I want them in their gambesons with their equipment at the garrison fort in two hours.   Everyone should have their bows and quivers with them at all times.    We don’t have a wall yet, but those piles of rocks that the golem set up today will act as obstacles to them and we should position our men between the piles as best as we can.”

 

Everyone scrambled in a hundred different directions to get everything done that Gevin wanted.   In two hours time everyone had heard the news and he addressed the militia and garrison, telling them of the dire situation that they were in.   But he encouraged them and had them get into their assigned positions, to anxiously wait out the rest of the night.

It was midnight now and though things were coming along well, he was very uneasy about it and held a private meeting with Troem, Zaeya, Applemint, Nevon and the elders of the Pondertort family.   They all gathered, unsure what he was going to say to them, but Gevin got right to the point.

“We’re going to be easily overwhelmed tomorrow morning,” he said flatly, a grim look on his face, “I suspect Zaeya was right - eight to ten thousand men are camped out there and they’ll start out before dawn’s light.   We have far less than a thousand here, but half of those are civilians and children or the elderly.    We’ll be vastly outnumbered, and even with the golem assisting, I don’t think this is a battle we can win.  I admit that I am desperate for suggestions now - any strategy we could employ to even up the odds in our favor.    I keep mulling over the idea of a sudden night attack upon their forces - they wouldn’t expect that, especially from such a small force and sometimes the element of surprise might gain the upper hand.   But we don’t have time to assemble all our militia and garrison into a commando strike team and I suspect they aren’t trained to the level of Cetiline’s men.   If we could fool them into thinking a larger force was attacking them and let terror overtake them, perhaps they’d take off in several different directions and we could at least delay tomorrow’s attack to another day when we are more prepared.    So I need a plan that a small team could carry out tonight, in a few hours; that might do the trick.   Zaeya, forgive me, but you seem to be the most devious of all of us and your magic has worked to save us several times before, so I humbly ask you for any ideas you might have.”

He bowed to the Drow lady, who seemed to appreciate her worthiness and his flattering words.   She stood up and smiled, “War in the Underdark involves a lot of deception and dirty tricks.   It is not fought as it is up here by armies neatly lining up against each other on a battlefield.   Most of the magic that I know is best cast in darkness and tonight is a dark, cloudy and moonless night, so I think I can help you.    I will need an hour and about twenty brave souls who are willing to go into the enemy camp when the magic starts.   It will be dangerous, but it could work.     I can do very convincing illusions in darkness and if they are…amplified…by something real that seems to give credibility to what everyone thinks they are seeing with the illusion, it works extremely well.   For example, if I were to cast the illusion of…let’s say a thunderstorm.    Those who saw it would hear the thunderstorm and see the clouds and lightning, but if they just stood there and no rain fell on them or they didn’t see the wind causing their tent flaps to flutter, they might be suspicious.    But if I had someone tossing water over the tent and shaking the flaps to imitate the wind, they’d believe the illusion.   The twenty people I need will help with the convincing effects to help ‘sell’ the illusions I cast.   But I need brave volunteers.”

Immediately most of Applemint’s family stood up and Mangle promised he could get the rest of the number in five minutes’ time.   Zaeya seemed pleased.

“That would be perfect - your little size and sneakiness would be ideal for this job, but as I said it could be deadly if you aren’t careful, so be sure to tell any potential volunteers about the risks.”

Mangle agreed and hurried off to fulfill the quota.   Zaeya turned to Gevin and Applemint, “I know both of you will be there, as will Troem, because I plan to have him take the golem to assist us, but I will need a dozen garrison-trained men to act as support for the Halflings as they aren’t fully sure what they’re getting into.”

Nevon stood up, “Lady Zaeya, I will personally volunteer and I think I can get you twelve trained men.”

“Good, but you personally should stay here, Nevon, in case our little scheme fails.”

“I agree,”  Gevin spoke up, “You’ll be in charge if we fail - if we don’t return by dawn, scrap defending the village and move everyone into the garrison fort - it is the strongest defensive position.”

“I’d rather be helping with this scheme, lord, but I will obey.   Lady Zaeya, do you think this can work?”

The Drow lady shrugged, but grinned brightly, her red eyes glowing in the dim light, “Who knows, but I wouldn’t have suggested it if I didn’t think it could work.   So are we a go then?”

“Yes,” Gevin answered, “Let’s hear your plan, Zaeya.”

 

***

 

Earl Cetiline’s men were confident, but nervous, never-the-less, as they tossed and turned on their mats, anxiously waiting for the pre-dawn trumpet that would call them to arms.   The wind rustled the loose canvas of their many tents, but it was a familiar if less than comforting sound.    In the very deepest part of the night it began.  

The first they knew of it were muffled shouts of alarm from the sentries posted to the west side of the camp.   This was not unusual for a camped army, for sometimes farmers would try to come to sell produce, or s****y village women would hope to pick up some silver for an hour’s worth of ‘sheet work’.   Even soldiers coming back to camp from relieving themselves would sometimes be challenged, so an occasional shout wouldn’t surprise any of them.

But these shouts were frightened, and became screams of alarm.    The entire camp leaped from their beds and rushed to the entrance of their tents with weapons in hand, expecting some feeble, but desperate night attack by the garrison forces at Woodedge.

But as they raced from their tents, they followed the pointing and turned heads to look upward into the thick dark clouds overhead.

Instead of just blackness, the clouds were tinted with glowing red as if they were on fire, but it was what flew just under the level of the clouds that drew their attention.

They were huge and humanoid in appearance, probably twenty feet in height and massively broad, as black as night, but surrounded by a hellish glow that had caused the reflection upon the clouds.    Huge bat wings flapped powerfully as they soared overhead like vultures waiting for an injured animal to die.    There were probably fifty of them, all powerfully muscled and covered with some sort of black scales that the red glow highlighted.    Huge goat horns curled out of the side of their misshapen heads.    Their faces looked like a nightmare mixture of goat and man and cruel sharp teeth jutted everywhere.    Their eyes were a glowing sickly yellow and they carried huge spiked clubs.    Long forked tails whipped from side to side as they swooped over the camp, glaring down at Earl Cetiline’s forces with wicked amusement.

“Demons!” Someone screamed and the air suddenly filled with screeching and howling that seemed to come from every direction.   Then a ball of fire fell out of the heavens and exploded over the top of a tent at the edge of camp, immediately engulfing it in flame.   There was the sounds of multiple missiles whistling through the air and a few one the sentries fell forward dead.  

At the same time there was a booming sound like something huge running toward them from the west and as the terrified men turned to see what it could be, they could only make out a large, grey bloated man-like figure lumbering toward the camp.

Missiles and another fireball exploded onto the top of another tent and still the demons flew overhead as if waiting for just the right moment to attack.

 

No-one knew who panicked first, but all at once there was a hysterical race to flee from the area, to the southeast, for clearly the Elves still held magic and either their remnant or their ghosts could summon up denizens from the pits of Hell to fight for them.

In the darkness, many were trampled to death as it was every man for himself.    They fled wildly, most in their night clothing and without packing their equipment.   Those with horses fled on them, and the animals were happy to flee, for they were as terrified as the men.

As they ran, the grey thing chased them, occasionally clubbing down a straggler with huge lumpy hands.    Most of the missiles stopped flying soon after they left the camp, but the demons paced them overhead and would occasionally drop fireballs or bolts of lightning down at them, killing men here and there as they raced for their lives.

They crossed two rivers by leaping into the water and swimming to the other side except for a few brave souls who decided to cross over the bridge.   The second bridge was engulfed in fire as the men crossed it and the screams of those burning only fuelled their companions to new levels of endurance.

Nobody knew when the demons disappeared, but long before the first morning light Earl Cetiline’s army was scattered to the four winds, most heading alone or more frequently in small groups, back to Greidour, their shaky loyalty to the traitorous earl shattered by the experience.

Earl Cetiline rode behind his aide, his leg broken as he fled with his army from the supernatural attack.   As dawn cleared his head, he began to suspect that they had been fooled, but he knew there was no hope of rallying his forces now.    He had failed to rendezvous with his son and failed to intimidate Woodedge.    Now he suspected that the disappearance of Phane and his horsemen did indeed have something to do with Woodedge.

He would return, as soon as his leg healed and he could gather a grander force, and the next time Elven tricks would not overwhelm them as it had last night.   He had simply lost the battle, but not the war.

***

 

“It worked!”  Zaeya exclaimed as she and Troem watched the golem’s return to the abandoned camp of Earl Cetiline.   Gevin nodded, but a troubled look remained on his face.

“You’re not pleased?”  Troem asked him.

“No, no, it worked flawlessly -  Zaeya and you performed amazingly.   Troem, you seem to be a quick learner, for your fireballs and lightning bolts seemed as well cast as Zaeya’s own, and Zaeya, your illusions were terrifying and quite convincing; I salute both of you for saving the day.    But I know Cetiline and after he has had some time to consider everything and think it through, he will feel that his honor has been slighted and he’ll want to redeem himself and teach us a lesson for deceiving him.”

“We need to sell the reality of what happened to him then, for if some of his men felt that everything was real, it will be hard for him to recruit new soldiers,”  Zaeya answered.

“I think I might have a simple, but effective idea,”  Applemint, who had stayed silent for quite some time spoke up, “I will need two fair actors and my oldest brothers would just do the trick!”

“What do you have in mind?”  Gevin asked his fiancée. 

“Selling reality, like Zaeya suggested,”  Applemint answered, “Come with me and I’ll explain my plan.”

“What do we need to do to assist?” Troem asked.

“Get some of Cetiline’s men that have been captured and put them together in a holding area with the others.   Guard them, but give them room to move around; we’ll do the rest when we get back.”

 

***

 

 

It was perhaps an hour before sunrise when six of Earl Cetiline’s men that had been captured (one by one, over the course of the night) were brought by the garrison guards to a make-shift holding area inside the stock-pen of one of the abandoned farms.   The walls of the pen were about five feet high and the men knew if they tried to climb them, they’d be seen by the guards, so the six of them squatted in the dark and whispered to each other about what they had actually gone through this night.   All of them were beginning to grow very skeptical that there were actually any demons at all and like their lord, far away, they began to suspect that they’d been fooled.

Just as the sky in the east began to show hints of color, they heard the sound of someone pleading and begging feebly to be left alone.   Then the sound of footsteps followed by what seemed to be someone or something being dragged across the ground.   

Not far from their stock pen they heard someone dropped to the ground and the same feeble voice moaned pitifully, but the guards (they guessed) left the man -who sounded either very young or was perhaps a Halfling- alone on the ground.

A minute later the sound of another group approached, and they heard two voices; a man trying to reassure what sounded like a kid who was terrified out of his wits.

“Please; we won’t give you any trouble.   Can’t you see the little guy is scared to death?”

Then the voice of the kid made a loud exclamation and yelled out a name.

“CAL?!  OH, MY GOD, CAL!!   What did you do to him?!  Cal?  Cal, can you hear me?   Cal!”

A new voice, deep and somewhat sinister spoke, “Both of you stay here; the pen is too full of men.    Don’t try to run away or something very bad will happen to you.”

“We won’t!”  The voice of the first man replied, and the guards were heard walking off.   By now all of Cetiline’s men were pressed against the gate of the pen to peer out, trying to see what was going on, but they could only see shadows in the early morning twilight.    A man who looked like he wore mail was kneeling beside a Halfling man in front of a second Halfling that was lying on his back on the ground, moaning and either injured or out of his head.   The kneeling Halfling, who seemed to be a teenager, was almost hysterical as he tried to revive the other one.

“Cal!  You can’t die!   Yesh have mercy!”  He turned to the man in armor, “What happened to him, mister?”

“It doesn’t look good, lad.   I’d say they let one of them feed on him.”

“Oh my God!   Will he die?”

“Not right away, but he’ll suffer when the sun comes up and they’ll feed on him tomorrow night.   Probably us as well.”

“This can’t be happening, mister!   We’re not soldiers!   My caravan was only a few hours behind Cal’s!   This is supposed to be an abandoned place up here!”

“It was until a few weeks ago when they pulled out most of the garrison at the fort.”

“What happened?”

“We don’t really know exactly, lad.   Probably those damned Elves.   One night we heard this terrible rumbling and saw fire up in the mountains, then the smell of brimstone rolled down and made all of us sick.   They came out the next night.”

“Who?”

“You know who,” The man whispered and something about the way he said it made the prisoners' skin crawl.

“What did they do?” The Halfling asked.

“They flew over the keep, scaring the hell out of those of us left.   Then they began picking us off like owls hunting scared rabbits.”

“That’s what they did to our caravan!  We were close to the fort and they came out of nowhere at sunset!   One of them picked up my wagon in his talons and flew off with the horses still hitched up.   I jumped off  and found a hole to hide in.   They were hunting for everyone on the caravan.   My parents…my sister…they didn’t…”  The boy’s voice choked up.

“They were lucky if they died quickly.   I think the Elves opened up a portal to hell and these damned things are streaming out each night.    They seem to be restricted in range - if you can get about five miles south of here, they don’t fly that far.   Probably restricted to a radius around the open portal.”

“Can the portal be closed?”

“Who the hell knows?  Do you know any magicians?   I don’t.”

“Have you seen them?   I mean up close?”

“Not the big ones, but those black skinned women with the red glowing eyes - they are the ones who probably fed on your friend there.   I see bite marks on his neck.”

“What are they?  Demons?  Devils?  Vampires?”

“Maybe all three.    They usually feed just before dawn and then disappear if it is sunny.   If there are clouds, they can stay outside all day.”

“But aren’t those men humans that brought us here?”

“They’re some of my comrades, but they aren’t human anymore.   They’re dead…or undead.     They’re forming an army of them.   They’ll get a lot from that army that they attack tonight.   They’ll make them zombies or vampires or something.”

“Oh…oh my God…”  the Halfling boy groaned, “I’ve got to get Cal and get out of here!”

“He’s beyond help.    The red eyed ones will be here soon.   Kid, my time is just about up; I can’t run with this messed up leg.   But I might be able to help you escape.”

“How?”

“Each demon woman usually select one victim to feed on and then hypnotizes them and takes him off to suck his blood.   They don’t let the zombie guards near when they do this and they only come alone, one after another.    When the first one comes, I’ll do my damndest to resist her.   When she is distracted, get up and slip off and run until you’re miles and miles away from here.   The guards won’t be around, but if she decides to go hunt you down, you’ll be caught.”

“Oh…Oh…Lord…what about those big demons that fly?”

“They will be feeding on some of the corpses and if you are careful and move quickly, they should leave you alone.   Once the sun is up, you should be okay, but get as far as you can out of here.   For God’s sake, don’t head east or north; south is your only safe bet.  Don’t wait around or hesitate; you run like hell, for your life depends on it.”

“What about you?”

“Once one of those red eyed women gets done with me, I’ll be undead too, unless I can goad her into killing me.   Don’t let her capture you.   When they see you’re gone, the women might try to join together and chase you.   They don’t like sunlight, but they can function in it, so keep moving, for God’s sake!”

“I don’t know if I can do this!   I can’t leave Cal!”

“Cal is going to be undead by tomorrow night, lad.    Save yourself and never come back up here!”

“Don’t worry about that!   If I can make it, you’ll never see me again!”

“Shh!  I think I hear one coming now.   Look!   You can see her eyes glowing in the dark!”

The men held captive in the stock pen glanced and to their horror, they could see a pair of red glowing eyes moving toward them.

“Get ready and don’t hesitate!  Remember!”  The man whispered as the red eyed woman neared.

As the captive soldiers watched, the Halfling and the human stood up as a beautiful black skinned woman with silver hair and eyes that glowed like embers walked purposely toward them.   With a  roar, the human man suddenly shot forward, lunging at the glowing-eyed lady.   But she held out her hand and some terrible magic stopped him in mid air.   The man screamed and swung his fists, but could do nothing as the lady made a hissing sound, opened her mouth and came toward him.    The Halfling teen bolted at that moment, running like a scared rabbit and the demon lady ignored him as she zeroed in on her prey.    The man continued to swing at her, but she caught his wrist and he howled in agony, his hand curling up as if it was mangled.  

Then the lady moved close to his neck and with her teeth bared, dropped him at her feet, then swooped down upon him.

The man gave a blood curdling scream and that did it for the men in the stock pen.   Without a word of debate, they all began wildly climbing the walls or the gate of the pen and fell over themselves dropping to the ground on the other side.   They took off, all of them toward the south, running as fast as they could and not daring to look back.

The demon lady didn’t seem to notice and they were thankful of that, though they never did see the Halfling boy that had ran away before they did.

 

***

 

“Are they gone?”  Troem asked, pulling the helmet off of his head.  Zaeya, who was still attached to his neck, only shrugged, but then finally spoke.

“You are going to have one heck of a hickey,” She pulled away and leaned in and kissed him, “You passed for a human very well.”

“It’s all in how they talk and stand, actually,” He returned her kiss, “You, however were quite scary to behold.”

“It was arousing to you, though, wasn’t it?  Admit it!” She purred as they got to their feet.

“Perhaps in a most disturbing way,” He arched his eyebrows.

“They seemed scared.   Cal, you can get up now,”  Zaeya said to Applemint’s brother, who promptly sat up and stretched his arms.

“I didn’t get to do much.”

“You played a perfect victim,” Troem assured him, “Quite convincing.”

They heard some running footsteps and a moment later Applemint’s second older brother, Devin, rejoined them.   He bent over, catching his breath, but in between gulps of air he told them about Cetiline’s men.

“They were running…faster than I’ve ever…seen humans run.    They went…right past me…didn’t even see me.”

“Good,” Troem replied, “You did great, Devin; I think they bought everything.”

“It was Lady Zaeya…her eyes scared them.   How do they do that, anyway?   Are your eyes hot?”

“No, it’s just how my people see in the dark,” She replied, unbothered by the question.

“How’d you catch Troem in mid-air like that?   That surprised me!”

“A simple levitation spell.   He could have actually pushed through it if he’d tried hard enough, but it had the desired effect.”

“I think those men will have a lot to tell their friends when they rejoin them.”

“Hopefully the tales will build and build,”  Zaeya replied, “Well, I guess our work here is done; it will be daylight soon and like a vampire, I don’t really relish looking at the sun, so let’s go tell Gevin and your sister how her sneaky little plan went.”

 




© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on December 4, 2020
Last Updated on December 4, 2020
Tags: Synomenia, Nihility_Gate, fantasy, elf, sword_and_sorcery, magic, knights, Halflings, Drow


Author

Eddie Davis
Eddie Davis

Springfield, MO



About
I'm a fantasy and science-fiction writer that enjoys sharing my tales with everyone. Three trilogies are offered here, all taking place in the same fantasy world of Synomenia. Other books and stor.. more..

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