Twenty Eight

Twenty Eight

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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The Battle of Woodedge begins

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28.

 

All warfare is based on deception.”

-- Sun Tzu

 

Three hours before dawn, what would become known as ‘The Battle of Woodedge’ began.    Pushed forward toward the village surrounding the garrison fort, Earl Cetiline’s men were finally organized by the determined nobleman, only a half-mile from the new stone wall surrounding the village.   With great effort, including threats, pleading and bribes, he managed to convince the majority of the panicked men to stop, don any armor that they might have and instead of running like scared deer, advance upon the village as the superior force that they were.

Of course the men were terrified of the ‘wall of darkness’ that kept pushing them toward Woodedge, but to their surprise, when Earl Cetiline finally convinced them to stop running, the advancement of the magic wall of blackness stopped with them.   It still blocked the road southward, but it did not move against them and gave them time to prepare for battle.    The Earl was relieved at that, but could not escape the feeling that this was the Woodedge defenders’ plan all along.

None-the-less, they had no other options available to them, so the forces of Earl Cetiline and Baron Dellye did the best they could to assemble as an army ready to do battle for the fort.   Three-fourths of the men had fled the camp with their armor and weapons, for they were not a king’s army but a force gathered from the henchmen of nobles, so most wore simple mail tunics, helmets, and gambesons and carried a sword, shield and spear.    Most of the remaining soldiers had at least some of their equipment, usually a gambeson and a sword or spear, depending on what they first groped for in the utter darkness.    Not quite one tenth of the Earl’s forces had fled with nothing other than the clothes on their backs and yet they were provided for to some degree from the supplies of their fellows.  

There was no siege equipment, rations or any camp equipment, and all but fifty of the horses had run off, leaving the Earl with a very small cavalry.   About sixty men had been killed by objects dropped from above while still in camp, and roughly another sixty were injured and left unattended in camp when the others fled.   Though they were not able to get exact numbers, the earl’s men estimated that about four thousand of their men had disappeared and were probably desperately trying to find their way back to their homes.

This left, by the Earl’s estimate, 9,880 men - give or take a few score- to wage war against the damned rebels and Elves of Woodedge.   It was approximately the size of his first army, but this time they were near the rough, make-shift walls of the village and it seemed from the actions of the wizards controlling the hovering platforms, that they were eager for battle.

It had been after midnight before Earl Cetiline and Baron Dellye (who had fled earlier than most in his camp, but had quickly rejoined Cetiline when he learned that he was still alive) got their forces assembled in a long battle line a half mile west of the village, with the arcane wall of blackness hovering only a few hundred feet from the end of their forces like a somber black curtain.   Yet it did not advance and nothing else was dropped from the platforms far above.   Instead, they just held their formation, maintaining the darkness.   A few craven cowards bolted away from the line and darted into the darkness, apparently believing the risk was better than to stand like men with the rest of the army.

Some thought that soon after these men ran into the wall of darkness they heard muffled screams as if from far away and behind a thick wall, but none were certain and Cetiline suspected the sounds, if they were real, could simply be illusions by the wizards on the platforms high in the air, to demoralize those standing with the him.

 

After finding Reginald and learning that he had indeed thought to take his master’s expensive suit of plate armor before fleeing the darkness, his squire helped him dress into it as Baron Dellye tried his best to fire up their troops for a night battle.  

Then Earl Cetiline addressed the men, his speech lit by only a few torches and the nearly full moon above them.    He spoke passionately about the suspected murder of his son, Lord Phane, by the ‘evil creatures’ dwelling in the village.   He told them of his noble dream of a unified, powerful Greidour, its borders much wider than before and far more secure.   Finally, he admonished them to not be fooled by Elven illusions and some careful theatrics meant to convince them that their foes were immensely powerful in the arcane arts.

“They are using all of their tricks tonight; I can assure you of that!   Yes, they have rattled us and they hover far above on platforms blanketing our route home with darkness.   But it is the act of desperate people!   Do not be deceived!   Our numbers are greater!   We are seasoned fighting men; they are fat merchants, willowy Elves and scared children!   Will the greatest warriors of Greidour cower before parlor tricks and slight of hand?!”

The response was only mildly enthusiastic, so he continued to rally them, promising them the glory of their bravery and hinting strongly that he would reward every one of them who fought for him with land.

“They think we will not fight them in the dark!   They think we are afraid of them!   They think they have scattered us, deprived us of our weapons, armor and tools, and demoralized us!   They think we will be fooled by phantasms and smoke!   The time for talk is over!   They have pushed us to them, let us show these half-breeds, rebels and faeries what real men of Greidour are made of!    Men of Greidour!   Form your ranks and prepare to march for the glory of your nation and duty to your king!”   He screamed the last part at the top of his lungs, hoping it would carry to those wizards above on the platforms.   Though he had not been proclaimed king or crowned, it would be inevitable when they were victorious.   He wanted everyone to know who he was, what he intended to be, and just how courage overcomes trickery.

The men roared with somewhat more enthusiasm this time and Dellye and his captains barked orders to get the host into a marching line, prepared, even at night, to take on their foes.

 

***

 

Through the night they marched the short distance until the path opened up and they stopped abruptly as they beheld Woodedge.

A supernatural bluish glow highlighted the garrison fort and a crudely made wall of field stones with wooden archery platforms placed at strategic positions against the wall.   The parapets of the garrison fort were thickly lined with figures wearing silvery plate armor that glowed in the arcane light, hinting that they were Elves.    All of them held long bows and peered down banefully as Earl Cetiline’s army formed a long line across from the fort and village wall.    Each of the archers platforms were manned by twenty Elves adorned like those on the parapets.    In front of the rough walls and garrison fort, forming a grim line were a shockingly large number of troops, probably five thousand in number, all armed like their fellows on the walls, though they carried pole arms instead of bows.    Behind them, hulking ten feet tall was two dozen grey golems covered with thick black steel plates and carrying long spiked clubs in each hand.   The golems’ eyes glowed a hellish orange color and they stood as if eager for battle.   In front of this large force sat, astride warhorses, two figures in plate armor.   The larger figure’s armor was jet black in color, while the smaller figure’s armor seemed a pure white.     The black armored one surveyed the uneasy army massing across from them and waited until they had fully assembled, then, spying Earl Cetiline and Baron Dellye in the middle of the line, surrounded by the fifty members of their cavalry that had managed to retrieve their horses, he rode purposely toward them, without drawing his weapon.

“Hold your fire; let’s see what parley he offers,”  Cetiline ordered, trying to sound confident of their superiority, but more than a bit uneasy with the unexpected size of their foes’ forces.    An illusion, he told himself, but he wanted to be certain before he struck, so he would let the knight approach.

“Who rides against the king of Greidour?”  Cetiline called out boldly.   The black knight brought his horse up short of the line by ten feet and raised his helm, revealing a familiar face.

“I see no king, only he that murdered the true king of Greidour and a band of armed outlaws that dare to enter Albsidhe,” Gevin turned away from the Earl and loudly addressed his army, “We were lenient with you worthless dogs the last time, this time nothing less than the heads of Earl Cetiline, Baron Dellye and any traitorous nobleman that dares ride with them will be acceptable payment for your lives.   For this night this army will either be destroyed or disbanded, by Yesh I vow that!”

Cetiline paled but sat up stiffly on his horse, his hand tightly clutching his sword hilt, “Half-breed b*****d, you are a base coward; where was the King’s Champion when I struck his master down?   You fled to the fairies and now try to bluff your way out of certain destruction.   You fooled us once, Sir Gevin, but we are not afraid of your deviltry.”

“Look around, men of Greidour, surely you see you are evenly matched!   You know we possess magic and have demonstrated that we shall use it.   Hand over your leaders and throw down your weapons and the blackness will lift and you can return home, but never with your murderous leaders.   Refuse our demands and all of you will perish.”

“You will speak directly to me, b*****d!”  Cetiline threatened.

“I have nothing to say to a base-born murderer, for your sentence has been announced and your execution is nigh.”

Enraged, Cetiline turned to his cavalry, “Surround him and dismember him before my eyes!”

Gevin backed his horse away, lowering his visor as he did, but as he reached for his sword, Cetiline’s knights rushed forward on their mounts from both sides, encircling Gevin.

“KILL HIM!”  Cetiline screamed at the top of his lungs and his words set everything in motion.    From the line of Cetiline’s men came a war cry and they rushed forward to meet the dreaded Elven defenders lined across from them.   But as they closed, their opponents did not move and abruptly faded, leaving only four of the golems standing next to the smaller knight in white armor.  On the parapets and archery platforms, the forms shifted too, revealing a much smaller mixed force of men, Halflings and Elves (lacking the plate armor) most of them armed with long and short bows.   

As the army of Cetiline realized that there was no army standing before the wall to oppose them, for a moment they paused, confused what they should do, as the crude wall was too high for them to breech and they had no battering rams to punch a hole in it, so they glanced around for a gate to assault.   They found it near the Garrison Fort, but before they could reach it, the defenders began sending volleys of arrows upon them.

Those with little armor fell first and the archers were surprisingly skilled for peasants and Halflings, though of course there were Elves scattered among them.

But Cetiline’s forces were too great for the archers to easily stop and they all now rushed toward the crude wall’s gateway, hoping their numbers would win the day.   

The arcane bluish glow had faded from the walls, leaving only dim orange torchlight and the moon to see by.  

As Cetiline’s cavalry attacked Gevin, he led some of his fully armed troops against the four golems that flanked the white armored knight.

 “Move forward toward the golems!” he yelled to these men, “The wizards won’t move the hovering platforms against us if their own people are intertwined with us in battle!”

 

***

 

As Cetiline moved against the golems and the mass of his forces rushed toward the village gate, Gevin was hard pressed by armored horsemen slashing and stabbing at him from all sides.   He could not ride out of their encirclement and he cursed himself for letting himself be pulled into the trap.   His black armor easily turned aside all of their blows, though he felt them at a somewhat cushioned level.    But it was his warhorse, Thallow, which worried him most, for he had no armor and his vile foes, seeing that they were having no luck penetrating Gevin’s armor, were now beginning to stab and slash at the mildly armored horse.   Thallow was well trained and strong and did not rear up or flinch, but Gevin knew that the horse armor would not protect him for long.

His enchanted sword glowed brightly like the sun as he cut through one of Cetiline’s knights’ breastplate as if it was a melon.    The knight fell from his saddle, but was immediately replaced by one of two dozen of his fellows that were bent on bringing the Half-Elf down.   

“The horse!  Attack his horse!” One of the knights yelled a moment before Gevin’s sword sent his head flying from his shoulders.

But the men heard the fallen knight’s words and very unchivalrously began aiming blows at Thallow.    Enraged, Gevin swung furiously at all sides, sending two more men to their deaths.   But he knew Thallow couldn’t sustain much more, so without any hesitation, he made a decision.   Chopping through one last foe to give him room for a moment to act, he slid off his warhorse, fighting to keep his footing amongst the hooves of his opponents’ horses.   Thallow turned his head to look at him, but Gevin yelled the command for him to flee and the injured horse obeyed immediately, ramming his way past two horses and sending one rider tumbling from his steed as the horse broke free.

For a few moments, Gevin was left alone, as the startled horsemen realized what he’d done.   Their horses’ legs were exposed to him and he could have probably chopped his way out of their encirclement, but unlike his foes, he honored horses and would not debase himself by such a cowardly move.

Instead, he tried to follow Thallow through the opening he’d made, jumping over the fallen horse and rider successfully, but crashing into another horse, which made him stumble and lose his footing, falling to the ground.

In that moment, Gevin felt as if his whole life hung in the balance.    Years of inner turmoil and review, long hours of shame and regret, mixed with the recent brief brilliant light of purpose, friendship, redemption and even love.    He’d not had time to build the church that he’d told Applemint that he wanted to build in the village, for he’d had to focus on defenses for this very night.    But calmness came over him as he saw the horsemen prepare to have their horses trample over him.   He doubted that even the magic black armor would prevent him from being crushed to death, no doubt to Earl Cetiline’s amusement.

Gevin curled into a ball to protect his head and found his only thoughts to be of beautiful Applemint, whom he so dearly loved, filled with grief over his loss.

“Lord Yesh, forgive me for all I’ve done and please comfort Apple and keep Albsidhe together; don’t let this dream perish with me.”

He closed his eyes, prepared for the crushing weight of the iron shod hooves of Cetiline’s horses, but a brilliant white light filled his eyes, even though they were tightly closed and from all around came the startled whinnies of horses and terrified cries of alarm from men.

 

***

 

Applemint Pondertort had tried to monitor the entire battlefield, afraid to breathe as if the act of breathing would dispel the illusions of a great force that Zaeya, Troem and the apprentices had cast around the village earlier that evening.

But try as she might, she could not stop anxiously watching Gevin as he so bravely - or foolhardily, depending on how you looked at it- rode out to try to intimidate Earl Cetiline’s men into abandoning him and Baron Dellye.    It was a risky move, but Cetiline had called his bluff and at once all hell broke loose.

The illusions faded as Cetiline’s men rushed forward and most alarmingly, the twenty to thirty horsemen surrounding Cetiline moved and encircled Gevin so quickly that he wasn’t able to escape.

Suddenly he was lost to her and she fought against an urge to go to him, for he’d told her to stand her ground near the golems.    The Earl’s men were now charging toward the golems and the village gate, to which they were standing adjacent.    They’d feared this, for there would be a big battle to break into the city.   Zaeya and Troem would have to be careful assisting them, for any non-precision spell could kill some of the defenders or damage the simple stone wall they’d so hurriedly constructed.

She was supposed to stand in the middle of the golems and defend the gate, but when Applemint saw Thallow, bleeding and riderless, rush through the thong of horsemen and their steeds and run toward the village gate, her desperation overcame any prior commitments.

She had to save the man she so fiercely loved.

With a loud shout she cried out in Elven for her armor to shine as brightly as the sun and immediately it lit up everything around them like a flash of lightning, but sustained in intensity.    Holding up her right hand, she summoned her sword and it appeared in the palm of her hand, filling the night with more brilliant white light.

Nudging Harn’s sides with her spurs, the horse rushed forward, responding to her commands easily after several months of training.   As he bolted forward she held the sword aloft and screamed at the top of her lungs, “ALBSIDHE!!”

The magic of the white queen’s armor made her voice boom across the night air like violent thunder, the very ground beneath her trembling from the sound.   Forward Harn charged toward the horsemen surrounding Gevin.    They froze in terror as she descended upon them like an avenging angel, their horses rearing and bucking and finally most of them bolting at her approach.

One knight raised a spear against her and she swiped at it, cutting through the spear and then the man’s arm.   As the sword touched him, there was a clap of thunder; a flash of lightning and the horsemen was gone, replaced with gray ash falling to the ground.    Another horseman raised his shield up and her sword cut through it with another loud ‘boom!’ and he too was turned to ash.    A third rider appeared and as Applemint swiped at him, she recognized his terrified face.   Wearing only common cavalier’s armor, Baron Dellye tried to slash at her with his sword, yet was forced to turn his movement into a parry.    But Applemint’s blade shattered the nobleman’s steel as if it was glass and cut through his plate armor, with a clap of thunder.   A cloud of thick dust and ash was all that remained of Baron Dellye a moment later.

Madness crashed over the remaining men and horses and they fled in every direction, dropping their shields and weapons in desperation to escape her.

Cetiline’s forces were in confusion; they were ahead of her by then, just engaging the four golems which stood in front of the village gate, but they sensed something powerful was behind them.  

For a moment they did not know what to do and glanced all about in confusion.   But Applemint wasn’t concerned about the battle or even protecting the village at that moment, for she leaped off her horse and rushed to where Gevin lay motionless on the ground.    All around him were hoof prints in the dirt and though his armor was still intact and seemingly undamaged, she noticed a pool of blood under his torso.

“No!” She screamed, running to him.   As she neared, her fears were realized, for apparently a horse had stepped on his chest.    The enchanted breast plate had absorbed most of it and flexed back out perfectly, but the crushing forces had been too much for it to protect him completely.

Wailing like a banshee (which so filled the night air with such a mournful sound that half of Cetiline’s men turned and fled at the cry), she took his limp head in her lap, his visor swinging open as she did and revealing dilated pupils.   

“You can’t die!   You can’t die!   I won’t allow it!”  Applemint cried, and though she wore the helmet, she saw everything as if her head was exposed.    Her hands were tingling as if ants were crawling all over them and she felt a surging power swimming around her fingers.   She had no doubt what it was and she said a desperate, fleeting prayer to Yesh as she laid both of her hands on his breastplate.

“In Yesh’s name, LIVE!”  She screamed in utter anguish and desperation and power flashed out of her engulfing the Half-Elf’s form.   His body lifted up a few inches from the ground, trembling and jerking as if it was a feather in the wind.   Everything around her froze as painfully radiant white light encased it.   All fighting stopped, all sound stopped and the night was bright as a sunny day following a blanketing snowstorm.   Energy danced around her, around Gevin and tickled the ground as well.   She felt a drain of energy leave her which caused her to sag forward.   Gevin suddenly took a deep ragged breath and then sleepily opened his eyes as if coming out of a relaxing slumber.

Before he could say anything, she was trying to kiss him, but she had forgotten that she was still wearing her helm, as he was as well (though he had his visor open), so she just gave him a loving head bump instead.

“Oh, I thought I’d lost you!” She cried, cradling him in her arms.

“Never” he shook his head, smiling brightly at her, “Never.”

 

Their happy reunion did not go unnoticed, however, for a brave captain of the slain Baron Dellye had managed to keep about a hundred of the barony’s best soldiers from fleeing at Applemint’s display of power and he now sought to move against Gevin and her while she was preoccupied with healing him, seeking revenge for the death of their lord.

They were upon them before Gevin could get to his feet, though he called out a warning to Applemint as they neared.   Her sword flashed bright again as she met their assault, giving Gevin time to stand and ready his weapon.

Seeing the limited success of Cetiline’s horsemen’s tactic of surrounding them from all sides, they tried this same strategy, forcing the couple to stand back to back in order to battle them.   They rushed in all at once, but fear of both of their magic swords kept them from fully pressing their attack.   Gevin cut one down quickly and Applemint dispatched another who attempted to impale her on the end of a pole arm.

Meanwhile, those of Cetiline’s men who remained had grouped together into a wedge formation and were trying to slip past the four golems who had animated as they approached.   The automations swung their large clubs right and left, sending soldiers sailing into the air, but they couldn’t stop all of Cetiline’s men.    The gate to the loose stone wall was made of stout wood and was firmly locked, but those who managed to slip past the golems began chopping and hacking at the wood while Halfling and Elven archers on the platforms flanking the gate on each side riddled them with arrows.

The garrison guards on the fort tower also began firing at Cetiline’s men and the crossfire stalled out the Earl’s work on destroying the gate, though they did not retreat.

Applemint and Gevin were struggling though, for though their armor gave them resistance, their foes were trying to press in close enough to overwhelm them and subdue them by pinning their arms and legs after knocking them to the ground.   They each cut down men right and left, but it would only be a matter of time until one of them tired or fell and then they’d be in trouble.

Suddenly half a dozen bolts of green energy streaked out of the skies to the west and as if intelligently controlled, slammed into six of Dellye’s men squarely in the chest of each man.   Four of them died at once and Applemint and Gevin killed the other two with their swords.    Then without warning the couple began rising quickly up into the air, catching Dellye’s men by surprise.    Up they went at such a fast rate that they were out of range of the spears and pole arms before anyone thought to react.    As they rose, they were pushed backwards toward the garrison keep and village until they were hovering just inside of the village gate.

“Zaeya?”  Applemint asked as they felt themselves lowered.

“I imagine so, or perhaps Troem, but either way, it got us both out of a jam and put us where we are most needed now.”

 

A group of about fifty villagers awaited them, armed with their bows and flanked by the other four golems, watched for any sign that the wooden gate was compromised and about to burst open.

“We’re ready for them!”  One of the men called to Gevin and Applemint as they joined them.

But before they could respond, a series of shrill whistles from one of the wooden platforms drew their attention to some of their fellows waving and gesturing toward a long stretch of wall between that make-shift platform and the next one.

As they were trying to hear what they were yelling, Nevon, Mangle and a group of forty men of the three races defending the village ran by them, heading to that area.

Nevon stopped to explain, “They’re using their shields to try to push the wall down!    Probably close to five hundred of them, all along the wall between the two tower platforms.   Some are holding shields over them to protect them from arrows.   We’re taking out a few of them, but they’re too many and their combined pushing power with their shields acting as a sort of battering ram, just might topple it over.   We could see it swaying from the garrison parapet.”

Gevin turned to his fiancée, “Stay here and defend the gate; I’m going to take two of the golems and try to protect the wall.   Hopefully the four golems on the other side of this gate will keep Cetiline and his men back for a while.   But don’t hesitate to put those other two golems into use if the gate is compromised.”

Applemint nodded, “Be careful, don’t get yourself surrounded!”

“I’ll do my best!”  He smiled at her then called for two of the apprentices that were each controlling a golem and ordered them to follow them.

Applemint watched them hurry off with more than a bit of trepidation, but from the sounds of fighting and the golems outside of the gate swinging their huge clubs, they would have plenty to worry about soon enough.

 

***

 

“It’s too dark, I can’t see anything,”  Troem grumbled as he peered over the edge of the platform while Zaeya slowly lowered it.   The others were still in place, blocking the retreat southward of Cetiline’s men, but Troem was desperate to know what was happening in the village and the altitude of the platform at night was keeping them from seeing much. 

“I’ll have to move it closer to the village; we’re about twenty five feet above them, so be careful; arrows could reach us now.”

As they descended, it grew clear that the Earl’s men were beginning to gain the upper hand.   The wooden gate into the village still stood fast and three golems were keeping a large group of soldiers from even reaching it.   A fourth golem had been disabled by his foes and was slumped up against the gates, his large body even serving as a barrier now.

In the middle of a long straight section of the hurriedly constructed stone wall, a mass of soldiers were pressing against it, those with their shields using the flat front of them to push against the loose stones.   

“They’ve found the weak spot,”  Troem told Zaeya, for there had been a lot of discussion and fretting about that part of the wall, as it was the only section where the archery platform towers were that far apart.    The wall was definitely starting to buckle under the pressure of hundreds of men pushing, and while the defenders on the platforms were trying furiously to vex them with volley after volley of arrows, they were only hitting those nearest to the platforms at each end.   The very middle part of the section was the weakest point and Troem could dimly see that a much smaller group of defenders and two of the golems were getting in position for the wall to be breeched.    As they’d planned, a half dozen old wagons that had been positioned there just in case of such an emergency were turned on their sides in a line, giving the archers some cover to fire behind when the men began pouring over the collapsed wall.

“Once they get into the village, we’ll not be able to tell friend from foe,”  Troem told the Drow lady.

“Are any of them intermingled now?”

“No, I don’t think so, but that should change soon.   Do you have an idea?”

“Yes; come here and take control of the platform once again.   Just hold it in position; I have a spell that might offer some help.”

He complied, chanting the piloting words to assume control of the levitating platform.   Zaeya hurried over to the edge and glanced down for only a moment, before chanting something in her native Drow tongue.   It wasn’t a long spell and as she neared completion, she pointed her finger and traced a line in mid-air, looking down closely at the scene of battle as she did.   

“Done!” She said with satisfaction, her red eyes glowing bright in the dark.   He’d been a bit frightened of their glow at first, but now the brilliance of their glow conveyed her mood to him.    She was pleased with the result of her spell.

“Stay there for a moment and let me see what happens.   I cast a marking spell on them - it’s similar to Faerie Fire, but in the Underdark, wizards will cast it on their opponents and sometimes warring armies will both be covered by them.    The spell makes your opponents glow a color of the caster’s choosing.   I picked red.   All of Cetiline’s men will have a red glow of the intensity of a hot ember, and it will last an hour.”

“That’s brilliant, Zaeya!   Were you able to get all of them?”

“Yep; anyone I consider my foe, as long as they are within a few miles radius of me.   It won’t harm them in any way, but already some of them are panicking as they don’t know what it is.    A number of them are just running away, yet not nearly enough.    But we will be able to see where our enemies are from up here, and our people down there will find their targets much easier in the dark.”

“I’ve got to learn that spell!”

“I’ll show you it later; sadly, I didn’t think of teaching it to you and the apprentices before now.    So let’s see what we can do to turn things back to our favor.”

 

***

 

They were waiting for the wall to buckle inward when Gevin and his men heard the enemy outside the gate cry out in surprise, alarm and in some cases, terror.   Those on the ground could not see any of them, but noticed a slight red glow radiating from the other side of the wall.   Their companions on the archery platforms also vocalized alarm and surprise and for a few moments hesitated to fire, but then quickly resumed.

In front of them, the wall stopped buckling for a very short period of time, then resumed with such determination that a section about fifteen feet wide finally collapsed inward.   As they prepared to fight Cetiline’s men, they noticed the source of the red glow as soon as the first few soldiers appeared, climbing up the shifting pile of debris.

They were all glowing, a supernatural glow as if their bodies were a dim candle.   It surprised the archers inside the wall only for a moment, then they released a volley of arrows, their targets easy to see due to the glow.   Ten men were rushing over the top when the arrows were fired, and four fell dead within seconds, another three injured. 

“Attack all that glow red,”  One of Zaeya’s apprentices, a young Elven woman, commanded her golem, and her fellow apprentice, an older human man, gave the same order to his golem, sending both arcane constructions directly into the path of the remaining three uninjured foes of the first wave rushing through the breech.   They tried to get out of their way, but the ten foot tall clay golems swung their huge clubs, knocking all three of them flying.

Of course that was just the beginning, as before their bodies had hardly hit the ground, ten more men charged over the rubble, and a mass of hundreds of their fellows were behind them, pushing forward in a thick hoard.

“Here they come!   Archers, aim for the unarmored parts and zero in on any not wearing mail; the golems and I will take care of any you miss, but aim carefully!”  Gevin called out.

With those words of instruction, everyone focused on their tasks at hand with such desperation that they were not aware of what was happening on other parts of the battlefield.

 

***

 

Earl Cetiline had pulled his men back from the gate as the strange red glow covered them, only to then notice the breech in the wall to the north of their position.  

Seeing his best chance to penetrate the walls of the village, he ordered those with him to rush down to join with the mass of soldiers trying to push through the opening under fire from archers.    He ran with them, his identity concealed by the mass of bodies and soon they were at the rear left flank of those fighting their way into Woodedge.

 

Their sudden shift did not go unnoticed by Applemint and those assembled on the inside of the gate, and she led them, along with the two golems to join Gevin’s group at the breech, the three golems on the outside of the gate (and their handlers on a close archery platform) left to protect it.   Some of those on the garrison fort parapet - about twenty in number-- also rushed down through the side gate into the village to join those defending the breech.

The defenders needed their assistance, for despite the glow provided by Zaeya’s spell, they were hard pressed to keep the mass of soldiers from pouring through the hole in the wall.

Applemint’s group joined them just in time, the additional two golems driving the enemy off the crumbled wall.   While they regrouped for a new assault, this gave the defenders a moment’s breath.

“We’ve got to take out Cetiline,”  Gevin told Applemint, Nevon and the others around him, “I think their determination will fade when he’s eliminated.    Apple has killed Dellye and some of his men have already fled, but most don’t know he’s dead yet.”

“We need the levitation platforms to assist,”  Applemint added, “Can we get word to Zaeya and Troem to have their apprentices come forward and join the battle?”

“The golem handlers have a contact spell; I’ll go have Lyllian contact them,”  Nevon answered.

“Lyllian?”  Applemint smiled, arching her eyebrows.

“She’s just a friend of mine,” Nevon shrugged, blushing slightly, “She has found a new calling in life as an apprentice under Zaeya.”

“Go ahead, Nevon,”  Gevin said, “Tell them to pull all the platforms toward us and attack the troops now in reserve; we’ll handle those massed at the wall.”

“Okay; I’ll be back in a moment,”  Nevon turned and sprinted off, just as a shout went up from outside the wall, where Cetiline’s men had regrouped.

“Get ready, I’ll wager Cetiline is rallying his men into another assault.”

“Will Earl Cetiline be leading them?”  Applemint asked as they peered past the golems along with the anxious archers. 

“I doubt it; he’d know we’d target him.   But if he thinks victory is at hand, he’ll show up,” Gevin answered as a second, louder roar came from outside the gate.

“He’s firing them up.”

“Yeah, and our archers are not well armored, so we’ve got to fill in the gaps that the golems miss when they come through, while staying out of range of our own people’s arrows.   Your armor seems to be impervious to everything, but don’t assume that you’re invulnerable.   Just hack at anything that has a red glow to it and we’ll sort out the details later.   And remember; I love you and the future of Albsidhe depends on your well-being, so play it safe.”  Gevin took her hand for a moment and squeezed it, though with her gauntlets on she wouldn’t feel it.

“I love you too, the same goes for you too, you know - so once again, be careful!”

“Here they come!”  Someone yelled and a moment later six large men, their shields out in front of them, charged up the pile of rubble from the collapsed wall and bravely plunged through the breech.    But now instead of two golems defending the wall, there were four and the automations struck savagely as soon as they were in range.   All six men were thrown about like ragdolls, but their sacrifices kept the golems busy so that twenty men behind them could attempt to run past them.

Arrows cut down three of them before they even passed the golems and Gevin and Applemint moved to intercept the paths of several of them.

Gevin avoided the first man’s wild swing with his sword and tripped him, then cut deep into his arm as the man stumbled.   Then he ducked down and swung quickly at a second man, aiming his slash just beneath his shield.   His enchanted sword gutted him easily and he fell at his feet, dying.   Behind him were two men with long pole-axes and they came at him as a team, one swinging his weapon like an axe, aiming for Gevin’s head, while the other thrust out his as a lance to impale him or at least keep him from dodging out of the way of his companion’s chop.

The Half-Elf was experienced at battlefield tactics and instead of moving away from the swung weapon, he ducked his head down low and let his shoulder armor take the blow while swinging wildly at the other man using his weapon lance-like.

His armor absorbed the blow, but it knocked him down on the loose rubble and both opponents stumbled over him.     They kept their balance, however, and quickly brought their pole-axes around to assault him while he was on the ground.

Gevin had kept a hold on his sword, so he swung at the legs of the nearest of the two, biting deep in the gap between the greaves and foot armor.    The man howled in agony and fell on top of him and they frantically pushed and pulled to free themselves from each other.

The other man used the opportunity and swung the wicked pick end of the pole-axe squarely in Gevin’s face savagely four or five times.    His helmet absorbed the blows and protected him, though the force of the impact stunned him long enough for his attacker to hit him numerous times.   If his armor had not been magical, his face would have been a seeping puddle of bloody mush, for not even a well-made steel helmet could have absorbed so much damage as his helm had.

It gave Gevin the inspiration to throw the injured man off of him and roll to the side, away from the blows.   He leaped to his feet, but his attacker was still swinging at his face and his helmet rang from a shot that would have impaled his left ear if he had not had the sturdy helm protecting his head.

The man swung another blow, but Gevin dove at him, the pole-axe swishing just past his head.  His move surprised his foe and the impact sent him backwards, dropping the weapon to try to keep from falling.    It didn’t work though and he crashed down, jarring his helmet off.    Yet they both tumbled together, Gevin now on top of the determined enemy.   The man squirmed and stretched, trying to free himself from Gevin and as he did, the Half-Elf caught a glimpse of his face.   He wore a coif of mail that protected his head underneath his helmet, yet the facial features were quite distinctive.

It was none-other than Earl Cetiline, wearing not his expected richly decorated armor but a plain (yet well-made) suit of plate that was no different than any mediocre knight at the royal court.

Their eyes locked, both men glaring furiously at each other, though neither one said a word.   He wasn’t going to kill him like a trapped rat, even if he had just tried the same with him.  

Not taking his eyes off of him, Gevin slid off of Earl Cetiline, kicking the pole-axe out of his reach.    At that moment, the rest of the battle around him seemed to fade into the background.   It was just the two of them and Cetiline knew what he expected from him.    The Earl leaped to his feet and drew his own sword and stood there for a terribly long moment, his chest heaving, his eyes sunken in and frighteningly wild, with sweat dripping down off the tip of his nose as he stared like a hungry vulture at Gevin.

The Half-Elf was posed, ready for single combat and the eternal moment felt like it would never end.   But something broke Cetiline’s hesitance and he seemed to be suddenly once again aware that a band of four of his men had slipped past the golems and were coming up behind him.   He pointed the tip of his sword at Gevin and with a shrill screeching voice screamed to his men, “KILL HIM!!! KILL HIM!!!”

His cowardice infuriated the knight.   Before Cetiline’s men could react, he was in action, swinging his sword quickly at the Earl, who managed to get his weapon up in time to deflect a blow aimed at his head.   But in his haste to parry the attack, his sword was turned so that the edge of it deflected the blow rather than the flat part and Gevin’s fury broke Earl Cetiline’s blade.

He howled with fury and his men finally moved to intercept Gevin, but it was too late to stop him.   His sword chopped deep into the nobleman’s shoulder, between his breastplate and pauldron and continuing downward, severed arteries, veins, muscle and bone until it completely cut through.   Blood spurted and the Earl sank to the ground with a gasp from the mortal wound, but Gevin had to turn his attention to the Earl’s servants at that moment.    They attacked with swords and poleaxes, one thrusting the end of his weapon at Gevin’s side, hoping to impale him, but his armor slid it to the side.    Another foe tried a decapitation approach, but his aim was poor and the sword hit the thickest part of his right shoulder’s pauldron, deflecting it.

A third attacker came in from the side, swinging his pole-axe hard.    His breast plate absorbed it, but the force of the blow knocked him sideways, into the path of the fourth soldier, who was chopping at his arms with his sword.    His blow glanced off Gevin’s gauntlet, momentarily numbing his fingers.

Suddenly there was a brilliant light near him and the four men immediately turned their attention that way.    One swung his pole-axe, but it impacted with something metal behind Gevin and the shaft broke, which caused the man to quickly back away.   One of the four charged forward swinging his sword powerfully but a moment later was impaled on a sword and then Applemint moved to Gevin’s side.    A third man tried to chop at her arms, but Gevin kicked him back, then thrust his blade into his belly, killing him.  

The remaining two backed away, their courage faltering, but one got too near the golems and was crushed by a blind backswing as the automations fought to keep most of the soldiers from coming through the breech.   The other man just turned and ran, weaving around the golems, but didn’t make it to the top of the rubble before one of them clipped him with his club, sending him down on the rubble.

Gevin was turning to speak to Applemint when abruptly all the rubble in front of them suddenly trembled then shot straight upward, knocking two of their enemies off the pile and sending one of the golems on the edge of the pile falling backwards onto his butt.

“What in Yesh’s name?”  Gevin exclaimed as the huge pile of stones rose up into the air.    Both the defenders and the attackers stopped in surprise and watched the debris go higher and higher.

“Zaeya!”  Applemint spoke, and the amplification effect of the white queen’s armor made the Drow lady’s name sound like some sort of powerful arcane command.

But it also broke the surprise and the younger and more foolhardy of Cetiline’s men, seeing now a flat open space of fifteen feet in front of them, with one golem temporarily out of commission as he struggled to get to his feet like a tortoise righting himself, charged forward with a roar.   The older men, suspecting a magician’s trick, backed away, as did Gevin and Applemint.

But Zaeya and Troem, their hands joined as they cast the levitation spell in unison, had a surprise for the Earl’s men.   Instead of dropping the debris straight down as the wiser men suspected, they spun the release of the spell, fanning the debris outward toward where the remaining bulk of Cetiline’s army was massed, slightly back from the village wall.

The rocks rained down, spreading out thanks to the spin placed by the spell casters, pelting mostly the soldiers that had not yet seen any battle, still standing in a loose battle formation about a hundred yards back from the breech in the village wall.

Only the foolhardy young men who had charged forward through the gap left by the debris were free from being hit by stones, for Zaeya and Troem did not want to harm any of their own forces.

Forty young men rushed through the fifteen foot section of the breech and the golem clubbed down a dozen of them, but the others got past them.    Gevin and Applemint intercepted them, swinging and hacking with their swords, as the twenty guards that had joined the defenders from the garrison fort rushed forward to assist them.

It was a fair fight, and the archers stationed behind the overturned wagons took out a handful of Cetiline’s men when they had clear shots.

The battle was going in Woodedge’s favor, but after Gevin ran out of opponents, he decided to end the carnage.    The other levitation platforms had moved forward and joined Zaeya and Troem’s and were dropping rocks and debris onto the Greidour attackers.    Zaeya flung a fireball and lightning bolts at them, and with each assault, more and more men turned and fled, sensing that they could not defeat their magic.   The invading army was eroding.  

But Gevin was very weary of blood and killing and so he rushed forward and found Cetiline’s corpse, a pale white color after he’d bled to death from the wound Gevin afflicted.   Though it was repulsive to him to do such a thing, he needed something that would push through the battle fury that still raged in some of Cetiline’s army.   So he chopped the Earl’s head off with his sword, flung off the mail coif from it and held his head up high, by the older man’s thin hair.

“HERE IS THE HEAD OF THE EARL YOU WERE FIGHTING FOR!” He yelled several times as loud as he could, moving around so his men could see a bit better in the darkness.    Even in death, Cetiline’s head was outlined in a red glow, but it was not bright enough for those further away than a few yards to clearly see who he was.

But something about Gevin’s voice, combined with the dread of the power and mystery of the magic users hovering above them, seemed to register in those who could hear his voice.

They kept fighting, but began a ‘strategic retreat’ out of the village through the breech in the wall, turning and running when they neared the golems, for they would not simply let them casually pass through.    This movement was seen by their fellows outside the walls who were harassed by the wizards and it was all that was needed for a desperate panic to consume them all.   Seeing the path southward open again and free of platforms hovering over it, the exhausted and terrified army of Earl Cetiline dropped their heavy shields and spears and ran as fast as they could away from Woodedge.

“Shall I have Lyllian contact Zaeya and have them harass their escape?”  Nevon, who had rejoined them not long before, asked Gevin as they watched the army crumble and flee.

“They’re like a snake with its head chopped off - not very dangerous with Cetiline and Dellye dead.”   Gevin replied, feeling suddenly very weary and somber.

“They could regroup,”  Nevon suggested.

“I suspect that most of them had little heart for this battle.   Cetiline just bribed or threatened them.    They saw what we can do, magically, and they can’t counter that, so I doubt anyone is brave enough to challenge us for a while.    I guess we’ve won, but look at all their bodies and no doubt even some of our own people as well, and you’ll understand how I don’t feel too thrilled about our victory.    We’ve done the difficult part, but the most important part is restoring a peaceful Albsidhe once again, where everyone can forget the cost of achieving victory.”

Applemint said the Elven words to dismiss her armor and when it had disappeared, leaving her in her arming doublet, she hugged Gevin tightly and sensing his melancholy, just smiled sympathetically and stayed silent.


 



© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on December 7, 2020
Last Updated on December 7, 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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