Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Berserker Part 31

Marhault and his men had done well in training the militia, while their fighting skills were as basic as trying to put the pointed weapon in the other person, their archery was better than he had expected. The city’s mandate that all men of fighting age must own, maintain, and practice with a bow once a week had paid off. While none could match Marhault’s skill, some of them had matched his own men, not an easy feat. During drills, he had spotted the man who’d tried to lay him out on the floor, he was training alongside his men with no qualms. That was good, it showed the exercises they went thru which were designed to insure they followed the chain of command and kept their heads in combat had worked.

Then there had been a meeting held in the town square, the mayor had gotten up and made a speach that didn’t say anything but fooled everyone into thinking that their lives would go on as normal. Must be a knack Marhault mused to himself. Then he had gotten up and told everybody what would happen. Autumn was coming thankfully closer, so most of the crops had been harvested and stored. That just meant that they needed to fill every container they could find with fresh water. Many’s the time a siege was won from thirst or hunger. The only other precaution they could take was to build extra fortifications; lines of spiked pits before the walls, traps in the high grass, and maybe catapults for counterttack if there’s time.

With the men in training, they had been moved to the barracks at the outskirts of town and were currently sleeping after a rigourous day. Leaving a mercenary skeleton crew to watch the walls. Marhault stalked the walls too, trying to get a feel for the place. He had been surprised when he saw the wall’s specifications, it was three feet thick and fifteen feet high, comprised of alternating layers of brick and iron for added hardiness.

Yawning, he was just about to turn in when movement caught his eye on the west wall. Quickly running over he peered into the gloom of the night, his sharp elven eyes could just barely make out movement. He called for his men, sending runners to rouse the militia. At Marhault’s behest they each set an arrow afire and let fly...yes... with the added light of the arrows he could definately make out wagons of some kind. Having made contact, a rider came forth to speak.

“We are a caravan from Pelse, and beg entrance!”, the old man said, sitting imovably atop his nag.

“A scout of ours died bringing news of an approaching army”, Marhault responded. “Could it be that you have something to do with this army?”

“Yes!”, the old man replied. Something in the man’s voice reached down into Marhault’s brain and awakened his curiosity. Hearing this created both tensening nerves and bowstrings of those in earshot. Professing to belonging to an advancing army of hostiles was not conducive to a long life. But if it were an army, why would they sacrifice any chance at surprise and openly admit intentions of laying seige to Halfway

“Yes?”, Marhault asked with interest. “You intend to attack our city?” He was becoming increasingly aware of the rhythmic thumping of the ground behind him, suggesting a large number of men approaching. Militia maybe? It would be about the right time for them to have cleared their bunks and marched wallward.

“No”, the aged one said. “But I know who would most likely be coming to take this city, and have fought them before and thus am affiliated with them. They are gnolls.”

“Gnolls?”, Marhault smirked, “The last gnoll army was defeated and scattered to the winds over a century ago during the last insurrection of the Cursed. No gnoll has been seen in decades”. Inwardly Marhault trembled, knowing only too well what horrors the deep places that still belonged to the inhuman and feral old world held. As an elf, albeight an outcast half-breed, he was privy to certain knowledge. The insurrection which he refferred to had been instigated and carried out by the humans, and that in Marhault’s opinion, was in itself one step away from failure and defeat. Carolinus, the prophet of Aureliana, the Hunter of The Slain, had preached to the multitudes of a vision inspired by the Goddess. He called with froth on his lips and a belly full of fire for a cleansing of the world, that all “subhuman” creatures be systematically exterminated so that the ill humors they cast upon the land may be destroyed.

He led an army of volunteers across the landscape in random search of the “Cursed”, as they are called in the Book of Aureliana, subsequently robbing anyone they came across for the Glory of Aureliana. The campaign against the gnolls had been the army’s only success. The gnolls were scattered and ran, but very little of either side left the battle field that bloody day.

“Only if that twere so”, replied the old man, suddenly looking very tired. “Could it be that no gnoll has been seen because no man has lived long enough to tell the tale?” With that he waved to the caravan, another horsed figure detached from the shadows with a chained person in tow.

As the chained figure came closer it ceased to be a person, now a short, furry creature. Definitely a gnoll. The woman keeping it looked at the men on the wall with a toothy malicious grin. Better to look at her than the insane red eyes of the rabid sepulchral beast.

“Believe him now?!”, she crowed up to the flabbergasted group.

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