FROM THE BATTLE OF WOOTEN FOSSLEY
With the rising sun, the Trolls advanced across the Wooten Fossley Plain, in a solid line of brown that stretched farther than the several hundred men looking wide eyed down from the city's makeshift defensive walls could see. The invaders' trudging feet thundered across the dry earth, raising a column of dust as they marched. From somewhere within the ranks, the sound of sing song chanting in an alien tongue drifted upward and seemed to tickle the ears of the defenders. Along the city's wall at regular intervals and over the city gates, older women and boys too young to fight but too old to hide stood next to firepots full of hot oil and pitch. Below in the courtyard, other women and old men rolled bandages. The drawbridge over the shallow moat below the wall was shut and across the river behind the newly fortified city waited the hastily built barges, guarded by a company of armed men.
“What I wouldn't give for some tactical training and a cannon or two, “ Will muttered to himself. “Steady on," he called up to the row of archers thinly spread along the top of the walls encircling the city. “Don't fire until they are securely in range, Raf. We haven't arrows to spare.”
“Aye, sir,” the archer's captain agreed. “We'll wait for your signal.”
“We're as ready as we'll ever be,” Tim commented. “And in the nick of time too, it seems.”
Will nodded. “Ragnar's dwarves are already by the side gate and my men are ready as well. Let the trolls come.”
“From the sound of things, they are,” Tim replied. “I will go aloft in a moment.”
“Good luck to you today, Tim.”
“And to you as well, lad,” Tim answered.
“Have you seen Miranda?” Will asked. “I wanted to tell her something but I couldn't find her this morning.”
Tim coughed and looked over Will's head before answering.“She's gone off to a safe place. Don't worry.”
“Good. I just hope she stays there.”
“I do, too,” said Tim, flapping his wings.
“If anything happens to me, Tim, make sure she stays safe,” Will shouted, shielding his face from the wind generated by the force of dragon's wings.
“I will, lad," Tim promised as he caught an air current and ascended high above Wooten on The Foss. “Never fear.”
Tim circled the massed invaders on a reconnaissance flight, eyes narrowing at the sight of a purplish black cloud which hovered over the center of the marching column. “That's a wizard cloud,” he said to himself. He shook his head.“That's not good. Not good at all.” His nose wrinkled at the sour smell that reached him even as high as he was above the marchers. “Dragon memory tells me that it is the signature of a dark wizard from Altarr. Zendan, I believe. Humph.” As the rhythm of chanting reached his keen ears, he listed slightly to one side. “Sound makes me feel sleepy,” he said blinking his ruby eyes.” He flew higher above the cloud, swiveling his ears tightly to his skull and dropping his second eyelid against the sun's glare. “That's definitely not good. That's magic of a high sort. If I was on the ground below that cloud instead of above it, I might drop where I stood and fall into a trance.” He quickly banked and reversed direction back to the city.
A mist began to form, curling tendrils across the ground between the advancing trolls and the city as the chanting continued. The sun's glare began to dim. Men in the courtyard shivered despite the warmth of the day. On the walls above them, men began to look over the ramparts in fear. “It's hopeless,” said one townsman to his fellow beside him. “There are too many for us to fight. We don't really know what we're doing. We are all going to die.”
“I'm never going to see my little son again,” replied the man, wiping his eye.
“Are you crying, Mick?” asked the first. “For, I feel as if I would like to cry myself.”
“No!” declared the second defender. “A man doesn't cry! I've just got dust in my eye or something.”
“No shame in it, if ye are crying, lad. I'm scared, too. I'd cry if I could. Cry for my bairns and my beautiful Molly, for I can't save them this day. I'm no soldier. I'm just a tailor.”
“And I am a farmer, or I was,” said Mick.
“What's the point of trying to hold this position?” asked a third man. “We're all townsmen, not soldiers. We're done for.”
“We should just open the gates and surrender,” said a fourth man. “Beg mercy.”
“From trolls,” snorted an archer. “Whats' the matter with you fussbudgets? Are ye daft? Trolls would just eat you.”
“We should open the back gate and run for the river, “ said Mick. “Even a farmer might outrun a troll.”
“I'm getting out of here,” declared a fifth defender, throwing down his bow. “Let the dragon and the prince save the town themselves, if they're stupid enough to try. I'll swim across the Foss if I have to. Maybe trolls can't swim. Who's with me?” he turned his head and slumped to the floor as the men around him dropped like stones.
The archers on the walls dropped their bows and slumped down as if asleep.
“What is happening up here?” frowned Will from the top of the wooden staircase that led to the battlements.
“It's black magic,” called Tim, landing in the courtyard. “ Cover your nose and mouth and hold on, I can fix that.” He began to chant in ancient dragon. A moment or two later, the purple/black tendrils withdrew back towards the invaders and the men blinked their eyes as if awakening from a bad dream.
“What was I saying?” asked Mick to his friend.
“I think I must have dozed off,” said the tailor, standing up. “How did I do that?”
“They're almost at the earthworks,” cried Will, peering over the wall.“They're in range,” he yelled, swinging his silver sword over his head. “Fire!” He scrambled down the steps and raced to where one of his men was waiting with the reins of a large white horse arrayed for battle, wearing the Von Hollenstine colours.
As the dwarven company and Will's men slipped from the side gate, the archers launched a flight of arrows skyward which fell upon the invaders like stinging silver rain. A few trolls fell and were trampled into the dust by their fellows. “Again,” shouted the archer's captain. Another volley dropped more trolls, but not enough. The archers launched a third volley. The trolls kept coming.They beat their chests and ran forward roaring open mouthed, showing rows of gleaming yellow teeth sharpened like knives. “Sholto, Sholto,” they chanted as they ran. They threw themselves without outward fear against the sharpened pikes that protruded from the earthworks in front of the town.
Men wielding whatever weapons they had learned to use under Will and Ragnar and Groof's tutelage leaped up from the other side of the earthen works as more trolls launched themselves upon the first line of defense. Those trolls fell upon the sharp pikes, but the press of more trolls behind them carried the invaders over the earthen walls. The men retreated and regrouped. Howling, Ragnar's company of dwarves raced past them to engage the enemy in hand to hand combat. Groof's company quickly formed a shield wall behind the dwarves in front of the city, sending trolls who survived the pikes and the axe men's reckless charge to their deaths.
Groof' skewered a troll on his sword and braced to meet the the charge of another. A second troll knocked both shield and sword from his hands, hitting him hard enough to split his skull, had he not ducked aside in time. The man next to him knifed the troll in the gut but not before taking a fatal blow to his own. He fell writhing to the ground as the troll ran past, shoving Groof to the side. Groof stood over the fallen body of his still living comrade, teeth bared and snarling, to rip at an advancing troll warrior with his formidable were -claws. The troll snarled a challenge and swung his heavy club, bristling with rusty iron nails at Groof.
“For Dwarvenhelm,” shrieked Ragnar from behind the troll, swinging his axe in an arc. Groof ducked and dodged as the troll toppled and fell forward, nearly sliced in half in the exact spot where the were bear had been standing a moment before.
“Thanks, mate,” he said to Ragnar, who was already turning to engage another troll. Groof picked up his dented shield and sword and fell back in the shield wall beside another defender. By now, the fighting was hand to hand or claw to claw and blood of defender and invader alike arced and spattered all around the field. The ground shook with the force of falling bodies, screams, and running feet. The sound of sword striking sword and axe splitting bone was everywhere.
A trumpet blared from another part of the field and Groof peered over the shield wall to see a line of pikemen advance in from the east side of the city to come in behind another company of trolls, who turned to meet the new foe. Behind the pikemen, Will's small force waited atop battle chargers for their chance at the enemy.
Tim flew above the battlefield. As far as he could tell, the battle in front of the main gates was not going well for the defenders despite their determined defense. The trolls threw themselves against the shield wall without regard to the death that awaited. Those that fell where quickly replaced by those behind.Tim soared over the plain spewing bolts of fire downward upon the advancing trolls where ever he could but he could not do much for the men massed between the earthen works and the city gates since the press of bodies was too close. He could not risk burning his own men. Finally, the shield wall broke completely apart and trolls raced towards the main gates. The few shield wall defenders left alive regrouped with the fighting dwarves or ran for their lives in whatever direction they could. He threw several more fire bolts and returned to the city.
The city walls shook as wave after wave of trolls battered against the heavy gates. Some screamed as boiling oil poured down on them from above. A few maddened by the pain of their crisping hides broke and ran. Arrows whistled down from the walls. Trolls fell but others crawled over the bodies of their fallen comrades to throw their shoulders against the wooden gates.
“The gates are not going to hold much longer,” once of the defenders called from the wall to Tim who was taking a water break in the courtyard. Tim swallowed one last gulp of water and sprang back into the air.
“I'll give you a clear field as long as I can,” Tim said. He spewed rivers of fire over the heads of the trolls massing in front of the gate. Shrieking, they fell back for a few moments until other trolls took their place. Town folk poured more boiling oil over the walls upon the heads of the trolls who pounded upon the gates.
Although the trolls were tall as trees, the smaller but burly dwarves darted in and out of the crowd slashing massive thighs and torsos. More trolls fell in bloody piles before the gates. Gnomes bearing sharp knives followed the dwarves and joined the chaos in front of the city. On the other side of the earthen works, trolls threw themselves upon Will's small calvary as they engaged them from behind. Archers fired volley after volley from the walls. Arrows now struck friend or foe alike. It became a melee of hand to hand combat. Dwarves, gnomes, and men fell, slashing and skewering troll after troll. But still the trolls kept coming. There were just too many.
Tim swept back and forth over the battle hurling fireballs at the trolls. From the center of the invading force lightning bolts went skyward, popping all around Tim as he zigged and zagged. He avoided most but not all. Blood dripped from emerald scales and he could smell burning flesh beneath.One of his wings was smoking. He ignored the pain and continued to spit fireballs, sweeping over the battle. Below him, he saw Will unhorsed and alone with a group of trolls advancing to his position. “No!” he bellowed spewing fire in front of him as he swept over the field. The trolls drew back and Tim landed heavily in front of Will. “Get up on my back,” he said, hunkering down. He snapped his teeth and snarled at the trolls running towards them and the trolls stopped in their tracks. The knight grabbed his harness and swung himself on Tim's back. “You've got to call a retreat,” Tim yelled. “Now, or we're going to lose everyone.
Will nodded. “Retreat!” he shouted again and again as the dragon swept over the field back towards the city. “Retreat! To me!”
Men began to retreat with the fierce dwarves and the shield wall veterans in the front of the defenders, giving them as much cover as they could. Tim dropped Will on the wall and swept back over their hard pressed forces. “Hurry up,” he called, spewing more flames earthward at the trolls who broke and ran from him, “I am almost out of fire.” The archers, Tim, and the town folk dropping boiling oil were able to clear the way long enough for the defenders to reenter the city. As soon as everyone was inside, Tim landed panting in the courtyard. “I'm spent,” he said to Will who clambered down from the wall to his side. “I hope you have some brilliant thing up your sleeve or we are lost.”
“Are you badly hurt?” Will asked, frowning “You're bleeding and your scales are smoking here and there.”
Tim shook his head. “I'm okay but I need to recharge my fire.” he looked up and frowned. His neck stretched out an his eyes seemed to spin like crimson tops. “Wizard cloud drifting over the walls.” he screamed. “Everybody seek cover.”
With surprising speed. for there was no breeze, the large purplish cloud oozed over the walls. Men guarding the walls dropped to the ground. Two men in the gatehouse walked to the gates as if in a trance and pushed the bars away before falling over. The gates swung open. “Close the gates,” Tim shouted in vain as everywhere the damp cloud touched them, defenders dropped to their knees and fell over in a stupor. Trolls poured through the gates into the undefended city. Tim coughed and roared and moved forward to stand between the trolls and the now helpless folk of Wooten On The Foss.
Unaffected by the magical smoke, Ragnar, and Groof rushed to his side. “I can hardly see anything through this cursed purple fog,” Ragnar groused.
“Will's passed out just like most everyone else,” Groof growled. “Do something quick, dragon, or the battle is lost.” Tim shook his head and his eyes cleared. He began to chant loudly in ancient dragon. The wizard cloud began to dissipate and men regained their feet, grabbing whatever weapons were at hand and howling desperate defiance at the trolls. Hand to hand combat resumed in the fortified part of the city. Somewhere in the city proper, women screamed. Tim tried not to think about what the screams might mean.There was no time for thought. Battle was now raging in multiple places inside Wooten on The Foss.
“I'm here,” Will said suddenly at Tim's left. He swung his sword, stabbing a troll with as Tim stretched out his neck and bit another troll in half. Ragnar cut off a trolls leg at the knee and it came crashing to the ground where a gnome in a chef's smock ran up out of the thinning fog and stabbed it efficiently through the heart with a butcher knife before running on. Groof ripped the arm off another troll and clubbed it to death with its own weapon.
“Get out of my way everyone,” Tim commanded, as his tail lashed to the side, knocking three big trolls to the ground. Ragnar cut off the head of one and as Groof ripped another almost in half. A troll tried to jump on Tim's head but was skewered by Will's sword in mid leap. “Get the people who can't fight into the guild hall and bar the doors,” Tim ordered a townsman in a scholar's robe, carrying a rake and running up to join the defense.