Small communities dot the countryside of Slothjemia, and are both more numerous that in other lands, and more diversely populated. This is due to the fact that in other nations, small towns have to worry about the threat of monsters and goblinoids. In Slothjemia, those elements are the population itself. This allows the nobility to increase their tax base, and utilize more of their resources towards agriculture or industry. When a viable threat is identified, the constabulary, and if need be, adventurous individuals, are relentless in bringing it to heel.
Grundoon was at the very front of his soldiers when they arrived in Garvin’s Gap. The storm clouds were darker here, and everyone could smell the burned magick in the air. The rain was not coming down hard, but it was steady, and showed every sign of getting worse. The sun had already set, and to the eyes of humans there was not much to be seen. The infravision of the goblinoids and demihumans, though, revealed somewhat more. The ruined buildings, scattered Slothjemian soldiers behind hastily thrown together barricades, and from where the gap in the mountains widened into the once active farmlands, they could see what looked like a massive dwarven war machine sitting at an awkward angle, with smoke billowing out of a gaping hole in its’ side to the east alongside the southern edge of the valley. All around the gap the mountains rose steeply from the valley, and in most places, there was no slope but the hill had been cut into by the farmers to increase the size of their workable land. The handful of trees in the gap were now little more than smoldering stumps, cut down by artillery and spellcraft. Craters dotted the visible terrain, and were filling up with rain water.
One of the farm houses on the west side of the three-way road junction was serving as the military headquarters for Slothjemian forces. Grundoon got off of his horse, and headed for the mostly destroyed structure. Three of its’ stone walls were still standing and the roof had partially caved in. Huddled inside were a handful of men and women, all that was left of the 1st Army’s officer staff. Lightning crackled overhead, illuminating the entire valley for just a moment now and again. The rain and cloud darkened night though made visibility extremely difficult. Even with the flashes of lightning, it was impossible to make out much of the Romillian dominated eastern side of the valley. It looked as though they had maneuvered their own carts and wagons into position to provide a defense against a nighttime attack from the goblinoids. Judging from the sorry condition of the remains of the 1st Army, Grundoon knew that they posed no threat to the Romillian invaders.
The orc general pushed aside some rubble and strode confidently into the three-sided farmhouse. A guard snapped to attention and saluted with a bloodied hand. “Attention!” he hollered into the open room, barely audible over the pealing thunder. The soldiers in the room all stood upright, clearly taken by surprise. Grundoon gave them all a quick look over.
There was a captain and a half dozen or so lieutenants with a similar number of sergeants and corporals, huddled around a small pile of papers and a map on a dilapidated old table in the driest corner of the shattered farmhouse. They all saluted Grundoon. He returned their salute. The orc general pointed to the captain. “Are you in command here?”
The captain, a male orog, nodded. “Aye, sir.” The orog stepped forward. “My name is Grokwan. Highest ranking officer in what is left of the 1st Army.” He looked at Grundoon with a mix of thankfulness and incredulity. “And who are you?”
Jandle handed the captain a bundle of papers. Grundoon said “I am General Baron Shr Grundoon von Vorkel of the 6th Army. We’re here to keep the Romillians from breaking through to Summit Village.” The general looked around again at the soldiers in the room. “How many troops do you have left?” With only this number of officers left alive, there couldn’t be many soldiers left to command.
Grokwan replied “About six hundred, sir. We are consolidated here in a line roughly along the north-south road facing the eastern road.” The captain pointed at the map. “We have held them off today, but they keep bringing up more reinforcements from up the road in Romillia.” He looked intently at Grundoon. “They seem to be cramming every soldier they have into this valley.” The orog smiled. “When they renew their attack in the morning we will be wiped out.”
Grundoon nodded, and smiled at the captain. “Yes, that was the plan I reckon. Pity we have to destroy that idea.” He motioned to Jandle. “Go tell the executive staff to gather up in here, Jandle. And have the boys file in behind the lines. I don’t want the Romillians to get wind of our arrival yet. Move slowly, quietly, and keep low. That lightning will reveal us all, so see what the wizards can figure out to keep things dark on this side of the lines.”
One of the lieutenants stepped forward. She was a human, young and had suffered a head injury that was neatly bandaged, but still required attention. “Sir, I am a mage. The last one in this outfit. I cast a field of darkness over our lines about midday. It is still holding, and I can keep it in place for as long as I am drawing breath.” She sighed. “I can’t do much else, but I am a whiz at holding a darkness spell. They won’t be able to see anything but hazy fog, even with their best scrying.”
Grundoon looked at the young mage. “What’s your name, lieutenant?” He was impressed that a sorcerer had cast such a detailed spell and devoted her energies to keeping it active just to keep her fellow soldiers alive. There were undoubtedly more spectacular magicks she could have woven, but she chose to do the one thing to prevent the Slothjemians from being rolled up like a cheap rug. The Romillians had no idea how many soldiers were in this area, and could not be sure that they were winning the battle without venturing into the mystically deepened darkness.
“Krillia, my lord.” She bowed her wounded head slightly. “At your service.” Grundoon motioned for her to have a seat in the rubble of the room.
“Ease yourself, rest. Keep the darkness in place as long as you can.” He looked at all of the troops in the room. “Tomorrow morning the Hussars and Grenadiers will be coming at us again. And that means they will be dispelling our protective spells.” Grundoon pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. “We’ll beat the hell out of them, but let’s not let them know that just yet.” Everyone laughed. There was no unease. The Slothjemians were in a better position than the Romillians could possibly tell, and it gave everyone a sense of relief. “When my officers arrive, we’ll start planning in detail. In the meantime, captain, let’s see what you’ve given us to work with.”
The two men stepped out into the rain and surveyed Garvin’s Gap. Pickets in groups of two or three had stationed themselves in the ruins of the inn, the blacksmithy, and the coach station, as well as the rural constabulary office, and here and there in large craters around what used to be the settlement. They were set to announce any movement forward by the Romillians. They were barely visible when the lightning strikes lit up the valley, and the captain pointed them out each time until the general had a good idea where everyone was. The rest of the soldiers were hunkered up in fairly tight formation along a short battle line. They were dug in pretty well, pikes to keep the enemy cavalry at bay, and some miscellaneous infantry to help close the holes in the line when battle drew in to tight quarters. There were not many archers left, and they were armed with short bows and a shrinking supply of arrows. What there was of the artillery command left alive were thrown in to fight as infantry. All of the field cannon had been destroyed or rendered ineffective by the Romillian artillery which were far better trained and equipped. There was one particularly huge bombard that the Slothjemians had brought in from Jaggerholmschloss. It had suffered a direct hit by enemy fire, and had been knocked off of its’ carriage. It now lay in the mud between the partially ruined command post and the even more devastated farmhouse just to the north of it. There was plenty of magical smoke powder and ammunition, but no workable artillery to take advantage of it. The Slothjemian artillery had been used to effectively knock two of the three Romillian juggernauts out of the battle when they had become mired in the open farmlands. The one that now sat burning just north of the east road had been heading to the north end of the gap, where a volunteer militia force from Jaggerholmschloss had blocked the road and set up their own defenses. There was also the juggernaut that had been disabled trying to cut through the farmlands south of the east road in an attempt to take a shortcut to the road to Summit Village. That left one juggernaut, right in the middle of the Romillian battle line, still operational. It was mired in mud, but otherwise capable of using its’ artillery, and if it was freed from the mud it would be a force to be reckoned with.
It took over an hour for the entire patrol to cram into the pocket held by the 1st Army. There was much happiness at the arrival of fresh troops, fully armed and ready to fight. The officers of the 6th Army made sure that the soldiers stayed as quiet as possible. The first order of business was to find a place to set up defenses against Romillian attack, and then to dig out the uniforms that the men had carried covertly all the way from Vorkelburg. The official unit banners were brought out, and the survivors of the 1st Army got quite a few laughs at the fake ones the patrol had been using in their march across the country. Just for fun they stuck the banners on broken pikes, and stood them up all along the battle line.
Grundoon was very busy making sure his senior officers were informed as to what was expected of them for the next few hours. Each one was given a specific set of orders for their command, and all were told how the various units would be working together. Captain Grokwan passed command of his remaining soldiers to Grundoon, and the injured soldiers were tended to by the chaplains of the 6th Army. Not one of the chaplains of the 1st Army had survived the fight with the Romillian forces. The men in the picket positions were replaced with soldiers from the 6th Army, who although tired from the march were more than ready to keep an eye on those cursed dwarves and humans from Romillia. The smaller races; kobolds, xvarts, and goblins, were sent in for this duty. Harder to spot, and naturally inclined to hide and spy. They set up a little line of communications to convey information quickly from the middle of the battlefield back to the command hut.
General Blackcowl’s men were to be the foundation of the defense. Their long spears were sturdier than pikes, and against the “holy warriors” of the elite Romillian Hussars they would prove very effective. General Grundoon’s axemen were to fill in around the spears to give close support, and lead off in any counter-attack. Colonel Oosterbrig and his skirmishers were going to be located on the north side of the battle line. When battle commenced they were to swing across and down from the muddied fields to the north of the settlement. Being lightly armed, they would be able to move much easier through the muck of the battle and rain churned landscape. Major Deckler’s soldiers, and the dwarven volunteers from Kernschloss under Storg Hammerclaw, were to serve as a moving reserve to jump in as the line moved east in counter-attack. The crossbows of Colonel Yazkoor were ordered to fire long, deep into the ranks of the Romillian force, in rotation of thirds to always keep bolts in the air. Their targets were the Romillian clerics, sorcerers, and whatever officers might be lurking behind the first rank of soldiers in their first line. They had to hold their attack until Grundoon gave them the signal, though, otherwise the element of surprise would be lost. There could be no risk of the Romillians behind the initial assault forces getting their guard up. Grundoon had a plan to deal with whatever Romillians were sent first to assault the Slothjemian position, but nailing down those behind the lines was just as important.
While surveying the muddy morass of the battlefield, Major Hemlock had made his own observation. The Romillians relied on very heavily armored infantry and cavalry to lead and execute their ground assaults. Such troops would have a devil of a time moving in those muddy conditions. That meant spellcasting. Transmute mud to stone would be essential, and if worked as a group spell among several clerics, the Romillians could create a dry, solid path from their side of the valley straight across to the Slothjemian lines for the Hussars and Grenadiers to come storming down, and right into the Slothjemian defenses. And while the effects of that particular spell were permanent, Hemlock had a suggestion. He had been working on his own spell for quite some time, and it had been proven effective in small-scale tests.
“I call it Hemlock’s Ripple” he had told Grundoon. “It causes a permanent transmutation spell to briefly revert, and then go back into effect.” Grundoon had looked at the lizardman with curiosity. Before he could ask why on earth such a spell would ever have been needed Hemlock continued. “You know how our fortress has melded stone foundations in the lowest levels? Where the rock of the mountain has been manipulated and reshaped to contour with the stones quarried and placed on top of it?” Grundoon nodded. “Well, this way I have been able to briefly turn the solid stone back to softer dirt to place metal hangers in the walls. Then, the ripple wears off after a moment or two, and the metal is solidly embedded in the wall. Now I have a place to hang my mold pots.”
Grundoon just stared at the lizardman. “So, when the dwarven clerics turn the mud into stone, and charge across to it us full force, you are going to ripple it….”
“Causing them to fall into deep mud once again. Until the ripple wears off, and then everything in the mud becomes locked in stone.”
The two men couldn’t help the evil grins that they shared. The initial attack would be rendered helpless. And to make sure they stayed helpless, the crossbows would begin firing into the Romillian forces only after the ripple spell was cast, if it was cast at all. It was dangerous to make too many assumptions on how the day would unfold. Regardless, the crossbows were told to hold their fire until commanded to. But if the Romillian clerics did try to transmute the mud into stone, Hemlock would make them regret it. Hemlock was going to need to cast several spells in quick succession, and his timing had to be flawless if the Slothjemians were going to succeed.
Colonel Rachtenbort and his cavalry were not going to be put into battle until any counter-attack was launched, and the Romillians were being engaged by Grundoon’s infantry. Only then would the cavalry be called in to smash up any resistance the Romillians cared to offer up. Of course, they would also be called upon to chase down any enemy troops attempting to flee the scene of battle. While both Grundoon and Rachtenbort were optimistic, it was the half-orc count that was the more upbeat of the two. He knew for certain that the plans being laid were solid, and his men shared his excitement.
Overnight Grundoon got very little rest. His men slept off and on, taking turns to keep watch should the enemy decide to make a move in the night. The goblinoids were certain that the enemy dwarves and humans would not engage in a night battle, because the advantage would clearly be in the favor of the Slothjemians. Grundoon had all of the urds under his command report to him before dawn. They were the only flying soldiers he had, and he was determined to make the most of their abilities to keep an eye on the enemy. Of course, one of those urds was the annoying little sorcerer, Kozzurd. He wasn’t going to be scouting. Instead, he was to work with Hemlock to form a plan to take down that one juggernaut that the Romillians might try to get into battle the next day. Grundoon also had an idea to frighten the Romillians, but it would mean gathering up the trolls under his command and getting them to grasp the concept he had in mind. It also required a small amount of spellcasting, and unfortunately, that meant Kozzurd again. He would be able to cast the spell from the air, and that was a major part of the plan. He had the spell in his arsenal, so that part was easy. While Kozzurd and Hemlock shared ideas on how to take down the juggernaut, Grundoon met with the trolls, and in a frustrating half hour of drawing pictures in mud and repeating himself over and over and over the tall, rubbery monsters finally mastered the idea he was trying to convey. All of them thought it delightful. Grundoon was just glad they got it down before he was about to give up and try something else.
After dealing with the trolls, Grundoon then turned his attention to the ogres. He had an idea and wanted to have them do a little heavy lifting. The huge bombard that was laying on its’ side in the mud had to be wrestled up and turned ever so slightly. Grundoon pointed down the road through the rain towards the Romillian lines. There in the storm they could just make out the shape of a Romillian juggernaut, a huge steel and iron tower on wheels armed with all manner of weaponry. The dwarves used them to crush their enemies in open combat, and Grundoon wanted to make sure this one just sat there and didn’t take part in tomorrow’s combat. The ogres gleefully put their shoulders to the task, and soon the mighty weapon was locked into place, shored up with busted logs and braced with huge rocks. Unlike the Romillian gunpowder, the magical smoke powder used by the Slothjemians would explode even when wet.
All along the line, Grundoon was pleased to see his men back in uniform and ready for war. He rested some in the command center, and was awakened right about dawn by Jandle. The forward pickets had detected an intruder, and word had gone down the line that there was somebody sneaking in from the Romillian lines. Grundoon was awakened by the announcement that some of Blackcowl’s men had caught what might be a spy, and were bringing him to the command center. The rain continued to come down without ceasing, the dark clouds hiding the dawn from the valley. Grundoon rubbed his eyes. So, this is how today would start. Good. He felt like killing somebody.