An Orc for All Seasons; Chapter 18

Romillia has two long, and proud military traditions. The Grenadiers are dwarven heavy infantry that are armed with axes, blunderbuss, and grapefruit-sized, hand-tossed explosive devices. Hussars are human heavy cavalry armed with sabers, lances, and single-shot musket-style pistols. Many Hussars are also paladins, holy warriors ordained by the Church to fight in the crusades of the Romillian king. Both Grenadiers and Hussars wear exquisite plate armor, and both are professional soldiers, not conscripted from the peasantry.

 Chapter 18

Everyone had been correct about how the Romillians were going to start this fight. The ground rumbled slightly as the dwarves cast their spell. They were turning the muddy ground into solid rock. The new road was wider than the original, and it was creepy watching the ribbon of stone work its’ way to where the Slothjemians were at. As it got closer, the men in the path of the stone transmutation stepped aside to prevent themselves being locked in place. The stone path ended though right before it reached the Slothjemians. The darkness spell was preventing the Romillians spellcasters from seeing far enough to extend the road.

The Slothjemians kept their eyes on the Romillian line. There was a loud trumpet blast, and a tremendous shout from the dwarves and humans. The Romillians were attacking.

The hussars charged down the stone road with lances aimed and sabers rattling. Flanking them came the grenadiers, strong and covered in plate armor. Behind this first wave nothing could be seen. Grundoon waited for the hussars to reach the ruins of the inn, then looked over at Kozzurd, who had orders not to be far from the general so as to not miss his cue to action. Grundoon gave him a nod, and the urd took flight into the stormy sky. So heavy was the rain becoming that the small flying wizard was hardly visible. Grundoon looked behind him to where Hemlock was standing, stooped over in the rain, and surrounded by heavily armed soldiers to provide cover to the most powerful mage in their army. Grundoon then looked over to where the bombard was, and at the small team that had loaded and prepared the weapon. They all nodded at the general. Grundoon held his hand out and dropped it slowly so that the men around the bombard knew to take cover. There was no guarantee the bombard wouldn’t just explode into a million pieces.

The general looked back at Hemlock. He nodded, and the lizardman began his incantation. It was not a long spell, but it was fairly potent. Grundoon raised his hand again and with his other hand passed his axe to Jandle and took from him his trusty shortbow, and the bombard team tensed up. Hemlock let the spell go, and Grundoon dropped his hand fast. The spell zipped silently out to the juggernaut. Nobody could tell if it had worked. But the bombard went off at just that moment. The roar of the explosion was deafening, and the flaming sphere packed with explosives hurtled through the rainstorm directly at the juggernaut, just barely sailing over the heads of the attacking Romillians who looked up in surprise at the great burning missile. It hit with the force of a dozen thunderclaps, and while the Slothjemians couldn’t see what exactly happened, they knew it must have been effective. Somewhere in the clouds over the juggernaut they could see that Kozzurd had cast his spell to finish off whatever threat the Juggernaut could have posed. The unmistakable streak of a fireball could be seen flashing down to the juggernaut, and then a fiery blast. The bombard must have been successful, since the fireball flashed inside the juggernaut and flames blew out of the firing slits. Smoke billowed out, and spread over the battlefield, pushed down in the rain.

Hemlock jumped forward and placed his scaly hand on the stone. He looked over at Grundoon, who held up his bow and looked down the new pathway. The first group of crossbows took their aim and hoped the heavy rains would not ruin their shots. All eyes were once more on the general. He drew the bowstring back and released the arrow into the advancing army.

Hemlock let the spell go, and the ripple effect shot out like a tidal wave, turning the stone back into mud. The hussars splashed into the muck headlong, and many horses broke their legs in that shocking turn of events. Men were thrown from their mounts, and those that were not, wrestled to control their mounts. The dwarves fared somewhat better, but still floundered in the quagmire. And then, almost as quickly as it was made mud, the roadway turned back into stone. The Romillians were caught, and terror replaced the spirited victory yells just moments earlier. The grenadiers and hussars that were not caught in the stone trap continued to push forward and called for the rest of their men to follow. Over their heads, the Slothjemian crossbow bolts flew with deadly force to slam into the unseen Romillians behind the assault force. More screams could be heard, as the chaos of the bombard’s attack, and the unexpected ripple spell, were compounded by the furious armor-piercing bolts that rained into the unprepared ranks.

Hemlock stepped back, surrounded by soldiers who held large, heavy shields, and would do whatever was needed to keep him alive. He would have to prepare for a series of offensive spells now and needed some time to collect his thoughts. The Slothjemian infantry, meanwhile, locked up tight forming a barrier bristling with long spears and buttressed with shields and armor. The first elements of the Romillian assault force regrouped and charged towards the army carefully hidden in the shadowy darkness of Krillia’s magical curtain. They were expecting a broken force of injured men from yesterday’s battle. And as shocking as the bombard had been, as stunned as they were by the stone turning to mud and then back to stone, nothing prepared them for the horrifying revelation that these were fresh troops; angry, and hungry for battle.

Several hundred grenadiers and dismounted hussars, along with a handful of hussars who had avoided the stone trap by being in the mud alongside the road the entire time, reached the Slothjemian defenses with a shout and unmistakably bewildered reaction. The first row of long spears was set in the ground by the smaller members of the unit, but the next two were capable of being thrusted by larger elements such as the orogs, bugbears, and ogres. As soon as the axe wielding dwarves hit the solid wall of shields, they realized they had made a terrible mistake. Those that avoided the set spears were picked off with the stabbing spears behind them. Grundoon himself was just behind the second line along with the rest of his axe unit, firing arrows at point-blank range, and with incredible strength, with Jandle holding his axe at the ready should the Romillians break through either with some sort of artillery, explosive device, or spellcraft. The crossbows continued their rotating assault, loosing bolt after bolt into the dreary storm filled sky. So powerful were the heavy crossbows that their bolts were hardly deterred by the rain and wind. These weapons were designed for firing from the heights of Vorkelburg, after all, they had to have great range and pack a punch. By keeping the rotation going, Grundoon had hoped to keep the Romillians to the rear of the melee fight off their guard and out of the battle. Just a few feet to the orc general’s right was the bard named Twitch, also armed with a shortbow. To Grundoon’s left and about the same distance away were the jorish huntsmen that had joined the patrol down in the swamps. They also were firing their arrows into the enemy with wicked accuracy.

The hardy Romillian grenadiers put up a spirited attack on the Slothjemian line, but the dwarves were just outmatched and overwhelmed by the battle’s early turn of events. It was obvious that they had expected to just smash an already defeated foe and roll right over them and down the road to the south. Instead they were faced by several thousand refreshed soldiers that were more than up for a good day of brawling.

The hussars posed a new and bigger threat. Even without their horses they were formidable warriors, trained paladins with a passion for their country, and their God. Just their mere presence on the battlefield was tearing at Krillia’s obscuring spell. Holding their sabers aloft, and calling out their prayers of war, the fierce warriors in the gilded plate armor inspired the dwarven grenadiers to redouble their efforts against the goblinoid wall of iron and steel. Supernatural light emitted from the hussars, dispelling the magically created darkness, and even seeming to calm the rain and the wind. Most of the hussars were limping as they began their assault, having been thrown from their mounts. The few that were still mounted called for the forces behind them to surge forward and tried to gauge how best to circumvent the long spears that held them at bay.

There was a push as the momentum of the heavily armored Romillians crushed against the Slothjemian shields. Then, with a mighty roar, Grundoon switched weapons, held his axe aloft, and bellowed out “FORWARD! KEEP TOGETHER, STAY TIGHT, PUSH THEM BACK!” The junior and noncommissioned officers repeated the yell, and with a heaving growl the entire Slothjemian line began to move against the grenadiers and hussars. In order to silence the still mounted hussars, Hemlock and some of the other mages cast a variety of spells. Hemlock’s chosen incantation shot a blast of greenish yellow lightning that jumped from one horseman to the next, knocking seven of the paladins off of their mounts and into the churning mud. Other mages unleashed a bewildering array of magicks, and by the end of the barrage only a couple of hussars remained in the saddle, and they were grievously wounded.

The strength of the goblinoids was on its own up to the task of pushing back the Romillians, but the Slothjemian chaplain clerics were actively tapping into their own supernatural powers to give the army more muscle. Leaning into their shields, the spearmen began to drive the attackers back. There was resistance, but almost immediately the Romillians began to lose ground. The soldiers coming up from the rear were not as well trained as the grenadiers or hussars, but they were certainly energetic. Grundoon could see that also coming up were a large number of dwarven crossbowmen. With not a minute to spare he barked out “INCOMING MISSLES!” The chaplains changed their focus and began to channel their energies into providing protection from the bolts that soon would be incoming. The third line of spearmen hoisted their shields higher, to keep the forthcoming attack from penetrating into the ranks.

Grundoon was aware of an unfamiliar presence next to him. He glanced over and saw that it was the shadow elven bard. He was readying his bow and nodded at Grundoon. The orc nodded back and motioned with his head towards the Romillians. Taking aim Twitch began to shoot arrows at the enemy crossbowmen, picking them off with ease as they drew up. Grundoon bellowed out again. “CROSSBOWS FIRE TO THE REAR! KEEP IT UP!” The Slothjemians kept releasing bolt after bolt into the rear echelon of the Romillians. Some were falling short of their mark but found targets in the soldiers rushing up to assault the goblinoids.

The threat of enemy missiles caused the Slothjemian sorcerers to seek cover. Colonel Oosterbrig and his skirmishers began their swing across the left flank of the goblinoid line. They began to harass the flank of the Romillian attackers, causing them to pause their attack to defend themselves from this new threat. On the right flank of the Slothjemians Colonel Rachtenbort’s cavalry fidgeted behind the slowly moving infantry, waiting for the chance to lurch forward and dive into the heart of the enemy. Grundoon continued to roar out encouragements, and the line continued to move, like a gigantic push broom trying to sweep away caked-on mud on the floor.

The Romillians began to fire their own crossbows, and they thudded into the Slothjemian shields with a dull thunking sound. Grundoon put his left hand back behind him and Jandle quickly passed him a round shield. Grundoon held it up over his head just in time to block the second round of bolts. Two of them pierced the shield and drove deep into the general’s forearm. He let out a howl and barred his fangs. He motioned with his axe for his men to push harder. He could feel his arm was injured, but he had yet to begin feeling the pain. Right now he was just very angry.

The Slothjemians were now pushing right over the Romillian attackers. As the larger soldiers passed over the wounded enemy, smaller troops began exacting their revenge on the dwarves and humans that had invaded their country. Kobolds and goblins stabbed out eyes and slashed the throats of those overwhelmed by the goblinoid counter-attack. Every now and then the line would pass over a terrified Romillian trapped in the stone roadway. Having their legs or arms locked in solid rock made the hapless men vulnerable to any attack even the slowest soldier wished to deal out. Some of them had freed themselves by smashing at the stone with warhammers, shields, or anything else they could find. Most, however, were sitting targets.

The horrified screams of these men had a devastating effect on the Romillians. Their momentum began to give and soon the Slothjemians were moving almost at normal marching speed. Grundoon could see that his men now had the upper hand in this battle. He roared at the top of his lungs “SPREAD OUT AND ATTACK! TROLLS FORWARD!” The trolls sprang forth like gangly grasshoppers, whooping and yelling and waving their weapons about in the most terrifying fashion they could muster. They had gone over their plan so much that they knew what to do. They ran through the Romillians towards the rear of the enemy army. There was not much attack to their rapid, darting endeavor, but they managed to kill quite a number of surprised soldiers that found themselves in their way. They ran whooping and hollering right up to where the beleaguered Romillian forces had begun the day’s attack. They were right at the newly aflame juggernaut, when somewhere up in the storm clouds Kozzurd cast his spell.

Kozzurd had assured Grundoon that he could cast faerie fire at the exact same hue as the spell used by the black dragonriders to mark their ground targets. It wasn’t exactly the same. Honestly it was not even close. But it was yellow enough. The trolls, upon seeing the targeted Romillians painted with bright glowing yellow faerie fire, did exactly as they had been told to do. They screamed in fear and ran like demons back to the Slothjemian battle line. They didn’t attack, or defend, they just ran back to the goblinoid army and fell into rank back where they belonged.

It took a minute or two for the Romillians to realize what had happened. The officers, clerics, and others that had been painted with Kozzurd’s spell looked at themselves, and at each other, with confusion. They looked at the hastily retreating trolls. What was happening? Nobody knew who first realized that trolls are terrified of acid and connected that with the acid breath attack of the black dragons, but it came to them quickly, and Grundoon was right about what effect that would have on those who were tagged by the faerie fire spell and everyone around them. Numerous shrieks of “DRAGONS! DRAGONS ATTACKING!” rang out and sheer pandemonium spread throughout the Romillian reservists and all of the men in the rear echelon. Those not already incapacitated by the constant deluge of crossbow bolts panicked and began running towards the easternmost access out of the valley leading back to Romillian territory. Dwarven crossbowmen aimed their weapons blindly into the sky and fired their bolts into the storm before turning and fleeing. In their headlong flight those who were coated in the yellow faerie fire spell were pushed aside by their comrades. Nobody wanted to be anywhere near someone about to be the focus of a heavy-duty acid bath from the unseen dragons about to dive and attack.

While the rear of the Romillian attack was falling into chaos, the front was still trying to slow the Slothjemian counter-attack. Grundoon worked his way further forward, shouting commands for his men to push and keep pushing. Enough space had opened up that Grundoon could swing his axe freely and was cutting a swath through the enemy ranks. Side to side, the Romillians were being hacked down. If anyone dodged, or wasn’t slain on the first swipe, he would haul the axe back and swing it down with terrible force, severing limbs and cleaving enemy soldiers. Bodies began to pile up in front of him, and to push forward Grundoon had to climb them, like meaty stairs. He ascended several corpses and stopped to catch his breath. He took a good look in front of him. There, in the middle of the stone roadway, the orcish general spied the same arrogant hussar that led the delegation earlier in the morning. He was trying to free his left calf and foot from where it was encased in the rock. It looked as though he was making progress. The hussar looked up and locked eyes with Grundoon. He snarled and held aloft his saber. It was clear that the paladin was going to cast a spell directed at Grundoon.

Grundoon turned so that his right side was facing the hussar trapped in the roadway. With an evil grin, he raised his axe, and pointed it straight at the paladin. The rain was washing down over everyone, and time seemed to slow, like the beading waters finding their way patiently, but inexorably downward. Grundoon caressed with his thumb the gemstone on the pommel of his axe. He pressed it. There was an inaudible click as the enchanted mechanism released the top spike from the axe tethered by a thin metal chain, sending it flying out at the hussar. The spike embedded itself right in the man’s face, piercing all the way through his skull and into the back of his helmet. The saber dropped from his hand and his shield slid off of his arm. The hussar collapsed on to his side. The soldiers of the 6th Army that were near enough to witness it shrieked in delight, their howling victory whoops causing everyone in the area to take a look at what had just happened. Grundoon let out a terrifying laugh, and with all of his strength he yanked the axe back causing the chain to recoil back into the weapon. The spike came loose of the hussar but brought with it most of his shattered skull. Gore and debris splashed across Grundoon and the men closest to him. He took a moment to look around. His forces were doing well. He saw some lizardmen here and there on the battlefield, and in a booming voice he yelled at them “LIZARDS! FEAST!” He laughed again, and once more slashed his way into the fray.

The lizardmen had, up to this point, done well to contain their innate bloodlust. But freed from that restraint, they cheerfully pounced up the dead and dying Romillians in their path and began to devour their flesh with gusto. The feeding frenzy was a sickening thing to behold. Grundoon knew this would not be something any enemy would want to have happen to them. The effect was predictable. The Romillians began to falter even more, and panic began to settle in among the attackers.

There were still clerics fighting for Romillia though, and they did their best to try and stop the Slothjemians. By using the power of the storm itself, they started to call down lightning, striking those they perceived to be leaders in the goblinoid army. Visual conditions were not good, though, and the lightning strikes tumbled from the heavens upon officers and enlisted men alike. There weren’t many of the lethal strikes, but it was enough to motivate the skirmishers to the north to drive their attack even harder. The clerics were finally silenced with javelins and other thrown weaponry, either driven from the battlefield to the east, or killed outright. The panic surrounding a potential dragon attack had led most of the Romillian crossbowmen to fire their bolts almost harmlessly into the dark clouds that seemed to be closing in on them. The Slothjemian counter-attack was now at the point that their own crossbow bolts were falling just in front of them. Grundoon signaled for his men to stop firing, and then gave the go-ahead for Rachtenbort’s cavalry to sweep through and begin their attack.

The Slothjemian infantry broke into smaller groups, centered on one or two large humanoids, and forming up lethal killing groups. The ogres, bugbears, and orogs smashed at everything within reach. Smaller soldiers made sure that they were defended and took their own turns at finishing off injured enemy troops. The cavalry swept through and began slaying Romillians indiscriminately. The enemy had begun to throw aside weapons, and even armor, to lighten their load and allow them to flee faster. The battle had become a full-blown rout.

As the Slothjemians moved across Garvin’s Gap and closed the available exit routes, the Romillians were forced to move back down the road towards their own homeland. Grundoon motioned for his senior officers to come to him, and he yelled out more orders for them to pass along. “Gather up all enemy wounded, and either finish them off or impale them there on their own polearms.” He was pointing to the eastern entrance to Garvin’s Gap. “Collect all of the Romillian heads you can find and pile them up right there, on either side of the road.” He gestured with sweeping motions, his left arm bleeding profoundly from where the bolts had fastened his shield to him. “Let’s remind them to never come down this road again, boys!”

Pushed by the Slothjemian cavalry, the enemy forces were caught in the bottleneck of the eastern valley. Broken and damaged wagons helped make the situation even worse, and men were cut down trying to desperately flee the area. Hemlock and the other wizards made their way forward and began blanketing the fleeing Romillians with spell after spell, from flaming attacks to acidic arrows and everything in between. Grundoon could see the two volunteer jorish huntsmen slashing away, with a longsword in one hand, and a shortsword in the other. They looked like flailing cooks hacking up meat in a kitchen. The sheer carnage and number of dead piled up kept the Slothjemians from pursuing those that had run headlong down the road and away from the battle.

Grundoon stopped and turned to Jandle. “Get this damned shield off of me.” He grunted. His adrenalin was waning, and suddenly Grundoon felt terribly, horribly old.

Behind him the stone roadway was littered with entombed dead and maimed Romillians. There were still a large number of them alive, begging for mercy and shrieking in agony. They were met with the anger and fury of a nation invaded. Here a troll laughed at a trapped dwarf and twisted off his head. There an ogre took a mighty hammer and smashed the already broken body of a human that had been trampled by his comrades. Everywhere was the horror that war brought. The area at the back of the Romillian army was littered with dead men and horses, their bodies stuck with thousands of crossbow bolts. It looked as though the same spellcasters that had turned the mud to stone had been among the first to die. Bolts were simply everywhere. The enemy artillery, rendered useless in the rain, had been hitched up to oxen to be pulled down to Summit Village, but the oxen and the artillerists had all been killed by Slothjemian crossbows.

Almost as if the rain knew the battle was over, the storm began to lighten. The clouds were still swirling overhead, but more sunlight was making its way down to Garvin’s Gap. Grundoon and the other goblinoids winced and squinted as the sun tried to push through the clouds, the way the Slothjemians had pushed through the Romillians. Grundoon managed to get Blackcowl’s attention and waved him over with his axe.

“General, secure the eastern valley entrance. Long spears and shields, behind them I want our crossbows. Everyone else needs to make sure all of the enemy in this valley are dead. We’ll loot later, for now let’s get this place secured.”

Blackcowl nodded. “Anything else, sir?”

Grundoon thought for a moment. “Yes. Make sure that when Rachtenbort and his boys get done chasing the Romillians down that road that they are able to get back into Garvin’s Gap.” The orcish general smiled. “Kill everyone else that comes down that road.”

Blackcowl saluted and began barking orders to his men and the officers of the other units as he encountered them. Grundoon now turned his attention back to his injured arm. Jandle was working on removing the bolts from his master’s forearm, and the general took a long look back towards the destroyed settlement. Between him and it was the burning juggernaut. Some of the judicial troops, and the volunteer dwarves from Kernschloss, had been poking around the huge metal creation. One of the dwarves had made it inside the shattered exterior and exited quite excitedly. He looked around, and spotting Grundoon he started to run through the mud towards the orc general. He waved his hand, and Grundoon could see he was smiling, almost grinning.

“Lord General!” the dwarf called out. “Quickly, lord, come see what I’ve found in the wreckage of this war machine.” He motioned for the orc to follow him, seemingly resisting the urge to grab the general’s hand and drag him to the ruined juggernaut. Grundoon was intrigued and he followed the dwarf at a brisk pace, sloshing through the muck and carnage that had been strewn about the roadway.

When they reached the juggernaut, the dwarf stopped, and pointed into the massive hole the bombard had blown in the front corner of the machine. The hole was a good fifteen feet across, and the edges were jagged like huge knives, pushed in and curled over with extreme force and heat. Smoke was billowing out of the top of the juggernaut, and the decreasing rain allowed it to flow up and into the sky. The smoke would be visible for miles in any direction once the clouds cleared out enough.

Grundoon peered into the darkness of the crippled war machine. There were a number of smaller fires burning here and there, and several bodies charred and smoking. Any normal man would have found the smell of cooking flesh sickening, but Grundoon was no stranger to this odor. His keen vision adapted to the darkness, and his orcish ears picked up the faint moaning of a survivor inside the juggernaut.

The dwarf climbed in through the hole and motioned for Grundoon to follow. He pointed at a pile of mostly melted armor on the floor. “Here my lord, here!” Grundoon could resist his curiosity no longer and he quickly climbed into the juggernaut. Jandle scrambled in right behind him. Grundoon studied the pile of armor the dwarf was pointing to. He wasn’t sure he was seeing what was really there. Was that…. Was that a survivor?

“What in God’s name is this?” Grundoon knelt down next to the pile. He could feel the heat radiating from the juggernaut and into his own armor. He stared at what appeared to be remains of a dwarf, melted inside his armor and onto the metal floor of the juggernaut. The skin and hair of the creature was completely burned away, leaving raw muscle and charred flesh. The dwarf was miraculously still alive, somehow. It gasped for breath in raspy sporadic fits. Its’ eyes darted about apparently trying to focus through what must have been unbearable pain to discern who was in the juggernaut with him. Grundoon guessed it to have been a male dwarf but there was really no telling at this point.

The dwarf who had led Grundoon to this grisly scene pointed excitedly at the mostly melted armor the near-dead Romillian dwarf was in. “Look! His crest! Look who this is!” The Kernschloss native almost laughed the words instead of speaking them. “This is Prince Holburt!”

“Great merciful…. You’re right!” Grundoon stood up and clapped his hand on the dwarf’s shoulder. The pain of his forearm reminded him that while not in as bad a shape as the hapless prince here, Grundoon had not escaped the battle unscathed. “Quickly, go over to the enemy baggage train. Find me some spirits, some strong liquor. Not ale, mind you. Spirits.” He looked down at the melted prince. “And better make it quick.” The dwarf laughed and climbed out through the hole in the wall.

“Yes sir!” he called over his shoulder as he ran off.

“Jandle, go find some soldiers and bring them here to stand guard over this machine. I don’t want anyone else crawling in here looking for trophies. Also find me some little fellows not afraid of fire to make sure there are no other survivors in here.” Jandle saluted smartly and leapt out of the juggernaut.

Grundoon was left alone in the belly of the juggernaut with what was left of Prince Holburt, Archduke of Linkristle, Supreme Marshal of Romillia, and an heir to the throne of the dwarven king. He pulled a metal chest over next to the melted pile of moaning, critically injured dwarf and sat down. He smiled in the darkness, what dim light there was coming from the smoldering debris within the machine and the sunlight trying to make its’ way through the waning rainstorm barely sufficient to reveal his face. He removed his helmet and ran his bloody, dirty left hand through his closely cropped white hair. He set his axe down across his lap.

“Let’s you and I have a chat, eh?” He chuckled in a way that would have alarmed somebody casually overhearing him. Prince Holburt just gurgled, his eyes twitching back and forth trying to see Grundoon. Grundoon chuckled again and let his laughter echo inside the shattered juggernaut.

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