Circle of Stone (reprieve)

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:21 am

Tain stepped out of the tunnel mouth into the cold breeze of afternoon. It was still raining but it had lessened now to a drizzle. He was on top of the mountain.

To his right even taller peaks rose, marching on west into Domina. To his left the ground fell away in a series of stomach churning cliffs, plummeting to the plain so distant now below. The gorge of the Norath River was little more than a crack from up here but the greyness of the day prevented him seeing far out onto the plain.

Directly before him was the wonder Melladonna had spoken off.

It was a dam, with an immense stone wall built across the north side. In the south side of it, and looking that way Tain realised they were much nearer the mountains southern end, there was a second wall with two immense round sluice gates below the waterline.

The dam was nearly full and the falling rain and a myriad of diverted streams was adding to it by the minute.

“Who built this place?” he said in wonder.

Melladonna emerged from the tunnel and stood in the rain by his side, the hood of the cloak pulled up over her head.

“The first Ironfang did, though I doubt the current Baron has any idea as to its existence,” she explained, leading him to the edge of the northern wall and walking out onto it, “Erwin rediscovered it. It gathers water from the mountains from miles around through specially built channels and ducts. All the streams and falls in the southern end of the mountains are gathered here.”

“Why?” Tain asked, marvelling at the engineering and labour it must have involved but seeing no purpose in it.

“Follow me and I will show you,” she said. She led him along the perimeter of the dam, passing over its northern wall and eventually right around until they were standing opposite where they had come out the tunnel and directly above the great sluice gates.

There were two huge wheels, one for each gate, with spokes sticking from them. As far as Tain could gather they were turned by the means of levers and the spokes were used to prevent them slipping backwards.

“When the first Ironfang slew Skinripper he wanted to do more than kill the beast,” Melladonna said, “The people wanted to wipe him from history. All monuments, images, records of his rule were gathered up and destroyed. A new capital city, Mendelhall, was begun out upon the plain and the old capital, Pelgar, Skinripper's city at the mountains foot, was plundered; her people brutally massacred, you have seen their shades in the marsh, have you not?” she asked then continued, “Ironfang the First constructed this dam so he could flood the city and destroy all trace of it and his family’s links to Skinripper and Astagoth. He wiped Pelgar from the map, as if it had never existed. Year after year, for generations the Ironfang's released the waters upon the lands below, until eventually, where there were once streets and courtyards there was nothing but a creeping marshland,” she said.

“That doesn’t explain why your husband was using it,” Tain pressed.

“At first it was idle curiosity. Both to see if it would still function and what its function was. It had an odd side effect however which delighted him; it disturbed the dead of the city and made them walk again. When Skinripper fell they massacred everyone, women and children alike. Erwin did not want any coming to the mountain and disturbing his excavations so he used their shades to drive the gnomes from the northern marsh.”

The rain finally stopped and a strong breeze whipped at them as they stood at the waters edge. Tain thought about what he just heard. “How did Erwin find the Circle?” he asked curiously.

“He gained that knowledge from Cloewyn. In fact we would never have discovered its location without him,” she replied.

“And your husband was just stupid enough to try and use it for him,” he shook his head and stared up at the cloud filled sky, “So where is this way out you mentioned?”

“Down the mountainside. There are stairs cut into the cliffs that lead all the way down to the marshes edge.”

“I don’t want to go back to the marsh,” Tain fumed memories of wet feet mushrooming in his mind; “I want to go back to the Keep. My,” he nearly said friends but decided that was probably too strong a word for them, “my companions are back there. I should be helping them not admiring ancient architecture.”

He turned to leave but she laid a firm, cold hand on his shoulder. “We will be staying right here,” she said gently but with great force.

Tain felt the hairs prick up on the back of his neck and he took a few steps away from her. Her face had changed subtly, where before she had looked tired and harassed she now looked almost regal. “You cannot help your friends now,” she said smiling at him.

“Why not?” Tain demanded, his hand straying to his sword hilt.

“Do you see the wall opposite?” she asked, pointing across the dam at its solid northern wall, “If that wall were to give way this dam would pore down the mountainside bringing the cliffs down in its wake, the Toll Road would be swallowed up by it, after all that is the natural course for it to flow.”

“That would destroy your own Keep,” Tain pointed out knowing in his gut she did not care.

“What is one Keep? The Toll Road however will be irreparable; the only possible aid to Grande and the other pathetic Barons cut off. The Kingdom will fall to Prince Kell, and to me.”

“And you really think he’ll help you? If you believe that you’re not as bright as I’d given you credit for. You’re too big a threat. You know too much. If I was the Prince I’d have you killed as soon as the kingdom was secured,” Tain argued.

“You are perfectly right, except for one thing. He wants me alive, do you really think that knowing of the Ironfang curse I would risk my own life for my useless husband?” she laughed at him and then sneered, “No, I am afraid my sad tale was one for your benefit only. The child I carry is Prince Kells. That is what will keep me safe. What will make me Queen.”

Tain glanced across at the wall opposite. The water was lapping about three-quarters of the way up it. It was constructed from granite taken from the very mountains around them and looked just as solid and immovable.

“I would be worried,” Tain commented, “except for one thing,” he added smugly.

“And what is that?”

“There’s no way in this world you could knock down that wall.”

“We shall see,” she smiled at him.

Tain drew his sword in a single fluid motion, leaping back from her. She snarled and the air twisted exactly as it did when the Druid transformed. The difference of course was that when the Druid did it the result was usually small and flappy or small and squeaky.

Melladonna on the other hand had favoured some sort of huge bear.

Tain did not get much time for species identification because he had to immediately throw himself sideways to avoid his head being swept off.

He hit the ground, rolled and sprang back up ready to defend himself.

Melladonna reared up before him, well over nine foot tall, her fur was black with streaks of white in it and her teeth and claws sharp. She roared and lunged for him.


Ironfang was loosing control again. He could feel it as he swept along the wall, hacking his way towards the stairs that led down to the gate. His concentration was waning. Desires were rising like a black cloud within him obscuring the light of reason.

He leapt down the stairs, taking them three at a time and charged out into the Toll-Road. There were Goblins fighting with his own men beneath the gate but he could not focus on them. Some instinct, some deep animal desire was taking all thought from him and driving him towards a tunnel entrance in the wall.

Canthiss spotted him and called after him but the Baron broke from his stride into a run and disappeared into the darkness of the passage.

Canthiss immediately sensed something was wrong and as quickly as he could manage he organized his men, sending some on down the Toll-Road to open the gates on the Dominian side and others to summon the Dominian army before going into the tunnel himself in pursuit of his master.

Hasbar watched them go from a window at the Keep.

“They’ve gone to let in the Dominian army,” Margil commented worriedly.

“Good,” Hasbar said firmly, “Let them come, they’ll be drowned and buried with the rest of them.”

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:57 pm


Tain felt warm blood pouring from his shoulder.

The last swipe had knocked him right up to the dam and he was lying precariously close to the edge.

His sword he had lost three swipes ago.

The belief he might actually be able to win, two swipes ago.

She lumbered towards him, gathering pace, her bear mouth open in a snarl, her claws leaving gashes in the rock surface.

“Well,” Tain thought gloomily, “This was it. Again.”

Something fish like and silvery with long purple fins, like small wings, propelled itself up out of the water and straight over his head.

In mid-air, as it hurtled towards Melladonna it contorted and became an eagle, wings wide and talons extended. Tain could not help but notice that one wing seemed limp and one leg twisted, but the space between it and the bear was so small it made no difference.

The eagle crashed into Melladonnas head, talons ripping huge gashes in her fur. She roared and tumbled onto her side and the two of them, eagle and bear, rolled straight passed Tain and off the side.

There was a huge splash of water that sprayed back down upon Tain, soaking him and reviving him somewhat from his wounds if not from his shock.

He rolled over and peered down into the water. A moment later the Druid broke the surface in her usual human form. She struck out for the dam wall where there was a rusted iron ladder set into it and clambered awkwardly out, looking anxiously back down at the surface as she climbed.

Tain's shoulder ached at him as he dragged himself along to meet her. He staggered to his feet just as she dragged herself up onto the walls top.

“Can everyone change their shape except for me?” Tain asked wearily.

“Where is she?” the Druid said, hunting the water with her eyes.

Suddenly something huge and grey breached the surface and blew a spray of water straight up into the air.

“There she blows,” Tain commented dryly.

“That is not possible,” the Druid said shocked.

“I've been thinking that a lot lately,” Tain noted then watched as the huge grey shape turned round towards them.

“That, is a whale,” the Druid said pointing at Melladonna as she swam round in a circle until she was facing the opposite wall.

“Obviously it’s a whale,” Tain replied wide eyed, then added, “What is she doing?”

“She cannot be a whale,” the Druid insisted, “Do you know how big an energy field a living creature such as a whale has?”

“No.”

“Massive. Immense. Almost as big as a tree. Very, very large is what I am trying to say.”

“You’re saying you couldn’t do it? “ Tain asked not letting the chance to poke a bit fun in a crisis slip passed.

“No, I could not do it, and I cannot believe she can. Not on her own. She must be getting power from somewhere, somewhere close, there is no other explanation.”

Melladonna had manoeuvred her huge bulk around so that she was facing the dam wall. She flexed her muscles sending ripples in all directions through the water, flicked her tail and shot forward. This was going to hurt, but it would be worth it.

“She’s going to smash through the dam wall!” Tain shouted, leaping up.
There was a huge crash and an echoing roar that rang all around them. The ground shuddered and water sprayed up and over the far wall, but it did not fall.

“We have to release the water,” the Druid shouted, “before she succeeds.”

Tain pointed to the two wheels, “We have to turn these.”

He hobbled over to it and turning noticed the Druid was also hobbling. He looked at the large wheel and its long spokes, “Look at the state of us. We’ll never turn this thing.”

“We must try,” the Druid insisted, reaching up and grabbing the spoke.

“Can you copy Melladonnas trick? A bear would turn these no problem,” Tain pointed out.

The Druid sighed and closed her eyes. Tain turned away from her and when he turned back there was another bear in front of him. The Druid as a bear though rather lacked the fierceness of Melladonnas version, for a start she was at least two foot shorter.

Nevertheless, and though Tain could clearly see she was in a great deal of pain, she did manage to slowly turn the wheel.

Tain hurried to the dam’s edge and peered down. Below the surface the great round sluice cover was slowly rising. Large air bubbles broke on the surface. He looked further out over the dam, just in time to see Melladonna strike the wall a second time.

Again the roar and this time part of the top of the wall collapsed and fell away. Water poured from it but the breach was not yet fatal and still the main bulk of the wall held.


The Baron charged in a growing fury up the passage. He passed a small cave which smelt as if people had lain there. There was a crevice running along the foot of one wall which he avoided with animal instinct and pressed on moving at a full sprint. He wanted to tear, to bite, to chase, hunt and kill. Nothing more.

There were now no thoughts of the normal human kind left in him.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Feb 12, 2013 3:09 pm

The first of the gates was open. Tain hurried back to beside the Druid and as the bears paws were to indelicate for the task he jammed the wheel with a spoke preventing it from turning backwards. The Druid went down onto all fours and pounded across to the second wheel and began to turn it.

Tain hurried back to the dam edge. The water level was dropping fast, the dam was a third empty already and he could hear the water roaring away down the inside of the mountainside. The ground was trembling beneath his feet.
The gnomes were about to get a significant increase in marsh he thought.

Melladonna struck again and Tain looked across the surface just in time to witness the entire top half of the dam wall collapsing into the water.

If they had not already taken so much of the water out already that would have done it Tain reckoned. But as it was the lower half of the dam stood firm and the water level was just below it. Tain could not help up noticing that the remaining water was turning red.


Ahead of Ironfang was the white light of day. The tunnel was finally drawing to a close. As he approached the entrance the ground shook and there was a roar and crash of stone. Small stones fell from the roof as he ran out from it.

The Baron felt as if he should be on all fours but his body seemed the wrong shape for it. He wanted to bite at someone, tear out a throat but his mouth did not feel up to the job, it was the wrong shape, had the wrong sort of teeth in it.
He looked down at the sword in one hand, stained red. He did not comprehend what it was, but something deep down in the memory of his body still possessed the instinctive knowledge of how to wield it.

The animal in him swung the weapon experimentally then grinned wolfishly and looked around for something to attack.

There were two figures on the far side of the water, he did not like water but there was a broad wall that went all around the wetness and he did like running. Running and chasing and killing. And here was the chance to do all three.

Tain shouted to the Druid, “Hey, look! That’s the Baron isn’t it? He looks like he’s in a hurry.” He noticed a second figure appearing behind Ironfang at the tunnel, “And there’s Canthiss. What’s the rush? I wonder what’s going on.”

Canthiss was shouting out his master’s name and indeed the Baron had stopped and was standing unmoving, sword limply held in hand, as if caught in a dilemma.

Suddenly someone began thrashing around in the water close to the tunnel. A figure, seeming small and helpless; waving her arms in the air as if drowning. The Druid, who reverted to her usual shape, and Tain watched as Canthiss dove in and brought a bedraggled Melladonna to safety.

“She one of your lot then?” Tain asked nodding at Melladonna as they watched from the far side.

“Sort of,” the Druid replied not wanting to take the time to explain it.

“Well we’d better get round there,” Tain commented, “She wants the Baron dead. So no need to rush.”


Ironfang felt confused. The air seemed full of enticing odours that he should be pursuing but then suddenly he snapped out of it and his head was momentarily clear.

He seemed to see Canthiss properly for the first time. He almost did not recognise the Lady Erwin; she was in such a poor state. The cloak Tain had given her was lost, her night robe soaked through and torn, her forehead was bloodied and swollen purple, her long dark hair stained red with her own blood.

Canthiss laid her down and Ironfang noticed she was clasping something small and round firmly in one hand.

The Baron's head swam and Canthiss looked to him with concern. He came over to Ironfang calling his name, but it seemed to the Baron to come from far away and to be muted. For a moment he did not know who this man before him was.

“Feeling poorly Baron?” Melladonna asked, rising up behind Canthiss. She held in her hand the crystal globe and before Ironfang could react she had cracked Canthiss across the back of the head with it and he slumped to the ground.

Tain and the Druid hobbled up as fast as they could. The Lady held the small crystal globe out before herself and the Baron sagged to his knees making a growling noise.

“What is that?” Tain demanded hurrying up, “A weapon?”

The Lady stared at him, her eyes crazed, she laughed, “It is the ultimate joke. I always said you were more beast than man Baron, now I will prove it. This provokes the beast but not the change. You have felt it already Baron, every since you came within range of my power. Slowly I have being building your rage, your blood lust. Soon it will be uncontrollable again.”

Ironfang snarled up at her and tried to stand. Fighting mentally to compose himself and keep control but the rage was outstripping him.

“It is becoming harder and harder to resist is it not? The beast will consume you and you will not know friend from foe. Only the desire to kill. You will tear apart those you care for. Just as my husband did those he loved.”

“Well I should be all right then,” Tain muttered under his breath.

Ironfang was panting heavily, the fight to focus his mind, to concentrate was one he was losing, he just wanted to kill, to taste blood, to hunt. “Then I will kill you also,” he finally managed to snarl at her.

“I think not,” she smiled and threw the crystal at his feet where it shattered all over him.

Instantly, as the Baron roared consumed with an unearthly rage, she transformed becoming an eagle that fell away into the dam and rose up catching the air just above the surface of the remaining water.

The Druid swiftly fired a dart from her pipe and the bird which had turned to triumphantly circle above them fell from the air and landed with a whump by the dam’s edge.

“Paralysis me!” muttered the Druid in a low growl striding over.

She looked down on the eagle as Tain hurried up. Her dart was sticking through one wing; the paralysis poison had not yet reached the other wing which flapped fitfully against the ground.

The Druid raised her boot ready to stomp down on Melladonna before Tain could restrain her, but before her boot fell the flapping motion caused Melladonna to spin round, teeter on the edge and fall with a splash into the water below.

They stared down as the current spun her in its flow and carried her away through one of the sluice gates.

They turned round; the Baron was staring at them. The animal within him found his vocal cords and snarled, taunting them, “Go on then, run.”

The Druid sighed and raising her pipe fired.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Feb 12, 2013 3:17 pm

All three stared down at the slumbering Baron. Eight darts were sticking from him at various points and they were all panting from taking turns at being the bait.

“That was kind of fun,” Tain said between deep inhalations.

“That is easy for you to say,” the Druid interjected, “you do not have a broken leg.”

“Nor do you,” Tain pointed out, then added less certainly, “Do you?”

“Yes,” she replied, “As it happens I do. And a fractured shoulder.”

“You bear it well,” Tain noted.

“I know how to heal properly that is all,” she replied mysteriously.

“How long will he be out for?” Canthiss inquired, prodding the Baron gently with his foot.

“Eight darts?” she mused, “If he was a normal person I would say about a month. But as he is the Baron Ironfang probably only until tomorrow morning.”

“How long until the reinforcements from Domina get through?” Tain asked Canthiss.

“The mountain range is high but the Toll Road crosses where it is narrowest. According to Grande the Dominian army were already prepared to march. I have sent runners through the pass to summon them. They could be here in a day. The vanguard should arrive by morning, but it will take at least until nightfall, if not the following day for the entire army to be assembled on our side.”

“We’ll have to stay here until morning, the Barons to heavy to carry down through that tunnel. Although we could always roll him there,” Tain said, prodding the Baron with his foot.

In the end they dragged him into a hut that was cut out of the cliff face and originally must have been used to house the wheel men.

Tain looked out at the late afternoon sky. The wind had blown holes in the clouds letting ragged patches of blue appear. It was cold up here but refreshing.
The Druid joined him, pipe belching sweet scented smoke. She pointed at the dam and said to Tain, “At least we have solved one mystery. I look forward to being able to tell the gnomes all about it when this is all over.”

“If we didn't just drown them,” Tain said pointing to the now empty dam, “But this will all be over pretty soon, one way or the other, once that army gets here,” he said, “But there’s going to be one hell of a big fight first.”

“Yes. And no doubt we will find ourselves right in the thick of it,” she replied grimly.



End of chapter.

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Post by azriel on Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:31 am

cheers Brilliant reading,as always Petty ! I DO like this Druid, I hope we find out her name ? its gonna be a good name isnt it ? something regal. Nod

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Feb 13, 2013 1:38 am

Thanks Azriel. I refuse to give away if or when the Druids name may be revealed. I will however say that there is a name and I do know what it is. Very Happy


(if this was an annoted edition it may well note at this point that the Druid's lack of name initially came from the lazy arse player. As weeks of playing the game went by and she had still not settled upon a name the other players had got so used to being forced into refering to her simply as her character class, the Druid, that it had stuck. I decided to take the risk of carrying this across to the book version. Along with her pipe smoking at every available opportunity Very Happy )

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Post by azriel on Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:53 am

cool Thumbs Up

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:41 pm

Chapter Eight
On the March

The Toll Road was thick with Dominian soldiers and horses. The men of Domina were, for the most part, tall and dark haired; they carried swords at their sides and held long pikes in their hands. Their horses were larger and longer in the legs than the hill steeds of Northolt and the cavalry rode them proudly by.

Tain, with the Druid beside him was coming down the tunnel, they were deep in conversation. Behind them came Canthiss bearing a torch and beside him the Baron.

“But she was pregnant?” Tain was saying to the Druid with a furrowed brow.

“And if you had been more observant you would have noticed that so too were the bear, whale and eagle,” she replied.

“But how does that work? Eagles lay eggs. Does the foetus change too or does it stay human?” Tain enquired in argumentative mood.

“I do not know,” she replied with a shrug, “I have never been pregnant.”

Tain observed the dark haired Dominians; he had seen plenty of them when he had been in their country; but then they had been ploughing fields, drinking in taverns and competing in the many and varied games they regularly indulged in. Now they looked serious and deadly; an unflinching wall of Dominian flesh ready to crush the Barbarian threat before it came knocking upon their own door.

The steady rhythmic beat of hooves filled the Toll Road as the army filed passed in orderly ranks. Tain noted the varied colours and designs of the banners the cavalry regiments bore, and indeed the clothes they wore which indicated the various clans which made up the patchwork of allegiances that was Domina.

One of Ironfang's men approached them and ignoring Tain and the Druid addressed the Baron, “King Bellas of Domina awaits you beyond the bridge Baron,” he reported standing to attention.

Ironfang stepped forward, “Take word that I will attend upon him,” he replied and the man hurried off to perform the duty.

“So now what?” Tain said enthusiastically, looking with approval at the men filing by on their horses; the odds were suddenly looking good for once.

“We prepare for battle,” Ironfang said with a glint in his eye.



The Dominian King, Bellas, was awaiting them in a pavilion erected on the top of a low hill close to the bridge. His army was assembling below and already snaked off out of sight around the curves of the hillside.

Inside the pavilion was a wooden table and King Bellas stood behind it flanked by two of his senior clan members. He wore no crown but his position as King was in no doubt from his bearing. And there was a lot of him to bear. He was a large man but not fat. He was tall with a huge, thick black beard. His hair was jet black also; he wore it long, bound in pleats, but he was going bald at the crown.

His shoulders were very broad; a cloak of thick rough weave was over a barrel chest and was fastened at his throat with a large golden clasp. His hands, which were on the table before him, were large and stubby and each finger was adorned with several large golden rings. Tain judged him to be in his late forties, if not older.

“I welcome the King of Domina into Futura in the name of her Barons and Dukes,” Ironfang said formally upon entering, “I wish the circumstances were better,” he added.

“This Barbarian uprising is of concern to more than Futura, and we have allegiances and oaths together which for my part I would not break,” Bellas responded.

“Nor I, but Futura will not fall, not now,” Ironfang responded firmly.

“No, not if we have any say in the matter. We will show them how to fight,” Bellas said clapping his hands together with a sound like a crack of lightning, “What are we up against?”

“Our best reports estimate up to ten thousand Barbarians encamped around Mendelhall, Prince Kell leads them and he may have up to a further five thousand men within the city walls, trained soldiers all,” Ironfang reported.

“Then it may come to a siege,” Tain commented.

“No,” Ironfang stated flatly and a little impatiently, “The city was not built for defence but commerce. It would not stand long against a determined foe. No. Once Kell hears that we have an army moving to engage him he will come to meet us upon the plain before the city. The Barbarians fight best in the open.”

“Who fights alongside us?” Bellas asked.

“Duke Grande can march with five thousand. Baron Verence, maybe two. It is to Duke Ela-Gor we look for the decisive blow. His lands will yield an army of at least eight thousand elves. But we have heard no word from them,” Ironfang said, “But then his people are not born of Futura, who knows in these times how Ela-Gor will choose to respond.”

Canthiss looked sideways at his master, the Baron knew as well as any that when need had called Ela-Gor's people had never failed the Kingdom, so why this deceit by implication?

“I find it is wise in matters of battle to count only upon those men you know you have,” Bellas said gruffly, “We will not account for the Duke until his banner is upon the battlefield. Then, if he comes it will be an advantage to us, and if he does not then it is no disadvantage as our plans shall not rely upon him. I ride with eight thousand men; five thousand of cavalry. Enough I deem.”

“Those are better odds,” Ironfang commented seizing up a jug from the table he poured a flagon and gave it to Bellas and then poured another for himself, he raised his flagon in a toast, “To our victory! We will sweep them from the kingdom. We ride to glory!”

“We haven't won yet,” Tain admonished, “‘Do not declare victory until you can count the heads of your enemy,’” he quoted.

“Derwin,” Bellas said promptly, “‘The Path to Conquering your Enemies.’ You are studied in military matters Master Tain?”

“He is unschooled in military tactics,” Ironfang dismissed.

“I served as an Officer in the Stenor Army,” Tain responded with a hard look at Irongfang who raised a doubting eyebrow in response.

“Well I do not waste valuable resources; can you also ride and bear arms?” Bellas asked Tain.

“Of course,” Tain responded firmly, thinking that this at least was true, even if it was over eight years since he had last tried it and then only in sport.

“Then I would be honoured if you would ride in our company to battle, report to Ashklo of the Cruach-fern cavalry division, his flag is a green field on a red background you will find him somewhere upon the road below,” then turning to Ironfang he asked, “You will honour me and ride by my side?”

“No, King Bellas, with your leave my servant and I will return to Northolt to gather my own forces. We will join you in bloody honour upon the field.”

“Very well,” Bellas responded, “you have my leave, I look forward keenly to fighting by your side, as I did by your fathers long ago. And let me tell you, he could have cut his way through a hundred of these Barbarians on his own when the mood of battle was on him. Such vigour for the slaughter! Happy times,” Bellas sighed lost in memory then suddenly he clapped his hands together again, “To Victory, drink and the women afterwards. I will call the muster at nightfall. We ride at dawn.”

Ironfang and Canthiss with the remaining Northolt contingent rode off almost immediately the meeting in the pavilion was over. Tain watched them go, riding north between the low hills.

“Well it’s just you and I again,” he said turning to the Druid, adding, “And eight thousand Dominans of course.”


Hasbar was watching from a window on the top floor of the Keep. He too saw Ironfang riding north and the soldiers, their numbers ever increasing, encamped around the hills beyond the bridge and along the dusty road. Margil stood nervously by his side.

“It’s time, we leave now,” Hasbar said, turning from the window, “It is over.”

“We’re abandoning the Keep?” Margil asked shocked.

“This Keep is worthless now. The Lady has failed and the enemy is upon us. We’ve nothing to remain for.”

“Then we go west t’ the capital?” Margil asked nervously.

“No. We’re not going to the capital,” Hasbar replied firmly, picking up and sheathing his sword which had being lying on a table close by.

“We’re not?” Margil said even more nervously.

“No. Kell’s lost his opportunity to rule; Astagoth shall punish him for it. And I do not reckon the Lords of the South will come, not now, not yet. They can afford to be patient,” he added, “We however do not have that luxury.”

“Then where are we going?” Margil asked anxiously as Hasbar strode out of the room and he hurried to follow.

“We are going to speak with Cloewyn. To tell him it is over. It’s time to call the tribes back home before we are slaughtered.”



“I suppose,” Tain said to the Druid, craning his neck to peer over the ranks of men and horses, looking for the cavalry units’ flag, “that this Ashklo is down here somewhere.”

They had descended down the side of the hill from the Kings pavilion and were now standing at the roads edge. Infantry were marching passed.

“I am not going to Ashklo,” the Druid stated, “You volunteered for war, not me.”

“So what are you going to do?” Tain said, almost having to shout above the marching feet.

“Prepare myself?”

“For what?”

“There are some questions still I want answers too” she answered, arching an eyebrow at Tain.

“Questions?” Tain asked promptly.

“Yes. And I think I know where I can find some answers” she replied, nodding up towards Erwins Keep frowning unmolested still above the Road, “So off you go, play at soldiers and try not to get yourself killed.”

“I’m not planning on going first in line you know. Do I look like arrow-fodder to you?” Tain said emphatically.

“No, but for someone who claims a personal motto of ‘Never volunteer’ you do seem to volunteer remarkably often.”

“It’s only volunteering if you don’t know what it is you’re expected to do, otherwise its being decisive. Completely different thing,” Tain argued haughtily.

“If you insist,” she relented with a grin, “meet me back at the guardhouse this evening,” she walked off down the roadside back towards the bridge.

Tain turned his eye back to the road upon which he could discern no signs of a green banner on a red background. Some qusrter of mile or so ahead smoke was rising above the low hilltops, an army that marched all night would need feeding and so would its horses. He set off towards it, cutting straight across country rather than following the noisy and over-crowded road.

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Post by azriel on Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:03 pm

Very Happy

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:08 pm

The Druid was walking at a swift pace. She had something on her mind. A lot of things in fact. She was missing the key facts which linked everything she had seen to Prince Kell, the Barbarians and most importantly in her mind the pouches.

Who was producing the damned things and for what purpose? Were they linked to Kell? Or were they some forgotten Barbarian device?

And above all else loomed the shadow of the south. Astagoths domain. Why this desire to seize the north? Who was orchestrating it all, far off in that distant southern continent? These were the many questions swirling round her head as she crossed the bridge, hampered by the fact she was going against the flow of traffic. She glanced up at the looming Keep and redoubled her efforts to push her way through the ranks.


Before Tain were four large open air kitchens. Men were sprawled in groups anywhere they could stretch out and rest. But others were feverishly busy.

The Dominians had swiftly constructed several fenced paddocks of impressive size in which five thousand horses were being housed. Prepared bags of feed were being tipped out into long troughs that were made of leather and strung between trees or poles.

There were an array of banners, pendants and flags fluttering all around the perimeter and it took Tain a few minutes of squinting before he found the one he was looking for. He hurried down towards it.


The Druid was soaring on the currents. She had chosen the form of a peregrine falcon because she had earlier noted one flying high above the dam; she considered it would not therefore appear conspicuous and it was a shape she knew.

The series of changes she had undergone since breaking her bones had healed them remarkably well and all that remained now was a dull throb. She stretched her wings, feeling the strength in them and shot upwards, catching her breath at the speed she could now move at. The rock of the mountains lower face swept passed in what should have been a blur, but the peregrines eyesight was phenomenal and she could pick out any detail of what passed beneath.

In an instant the Keep had shot by below and she was hanging on an updraught right above its peaked roof. Gently she let herself glide down in a half spiral and landed on the sloping surface, her talons finding an easy grip on the rough slate.

She made her way awkwardly down to the roofs edge and peered over. There was no one outside the Keep or on the stairs below. All seemed quiet and deserted. She risked swooping down off the roof, intending to land before the Keeps doors, but an unexpected gust of wind caught her off guard and instead she landed on a window ledge two floors above it.

There were wooden shutters on the window but fortunately they were open and the window was not pained. She hopped inside, landing a little ungainly on the wooden floor.

There was no sound from within, her bird eyes were not so good in the dark but she could make out a table and a chair, there was a shelf on the wall and directly opposite a door, slightly ajar. A flickering light came from beyond it and the muffled sound of footfalls.

In the corridor without Hasbar strode along bearing a lantern, the wick within was overlong and the flame tall, yellow and flickering was blackening the inside of the glass. Margil struggled to keep pace behind him.

They passed the door without giving it a glance and went straight on down the corridor followed several moments later by a small mouse who was pondering the percentage of fate contained in sudden gusts of wind.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:34 pm

Tain was examining some horses whose heads were currently stuffed as far as they could manage to get them into the feeding troughs. They were impressive beasts, strong of muscle with large and powerful hindquarters that Tain reckoned would make them incredible sprinters.

A man came up behind him and Tain turned round. The man was tall and broad like the majority of men Tain had seen here and in Domina. His hair was not the usual black but the slightly less common brown.

“You are not Dominian,” the man said rolling his r’s in the way the deep tones of the Dominian accent seemed to relish in.

“No, I’m not,” Tain agreed, “But I’m here at the request of your King.”

“Then you must be Tain, as I presumed. A runner has just this moment brought word of you. I am Ashklo, of the Kings Cavalry and Chief of the Clan of Cruach-fern; I have been instructed that you shall ride with the men of my company.”

“I’d be honoured,” Tain replied, fervently hoping he was not going to be put anywhere near the front.

“We will need to find you a steed,” Ashklo said turning and beckoning over one of his men, “Nothing to strenuous I think.”

“I have a steed, back at the Keep,” Tain informed him.

“Yes, I know. A Northolt horse, a strong and hardy breed, well suited to the shapes of this land and perfect if you wished to draw a cart or haul some goods, but we go to fight upon the open plain and there your horse would fall far behind the least of our own,” Ashklo replied, then turning to the man he had summoned said, “Take his measurements and weight and find a steed to match him,” then turning back to Tain he said, “I have been informed you have some skill in fighting from horseback.”

“Well, I’d not claim to be any great master of it,” Tain protested quite truthfully.

“Modesty is often a trait in the naturally gifted, or the truthful, yet the Kings message spoke highly of you. Nevertheless I am in charge here and these are my clansmen and each life here depends for survival upon the skill of the man beside him, so I will not set you a place that risks other men’s lives till I have seen something of you upon the field, for I will not judge you by the words of any other, not even my King, but only by the proof of my own eyes.”

Tain was led away to be measured, wondering to himself as he went just why he had volunteered for this.


The Druid scurried round the corner. The Barbarians were ahead, the lamplight making their shapes easy to recognize though she could just as easily have followed them by scent alone; they had a strong sweaty unwashed odour with a strong hint of earth in it.

They had reached the end of a corridor which she guessed would be at the rear of the Keep and at its most southerly end. The men went through a door on the right and she followed.

There was a bookshelf against the far wall which the two men heaved aside. Behind it was a smooth rock wall, seemingly the wall of the actual cliff itself against which the Keep was constructed. Hasbar touched several portions of it in similar fashion to others she had witnessed and the wall slide noiselessly back and inwards. The men passed within and she scurried after them.

The stone door slide back in place just as she darted inside, remembering at the last moment that she now had a long tail she whipped it inside just in the nick of time.

The tunnel they were in ran only a short distance before meeting another apparently solid wall which was not so. When they had passed through this wall she found herself inside the tunnel leading up to the dam. It was that way the men turned and she followed.


Tain had been measured, unflatteringly weighed on a scale that he would normally associate with markets and grain sacks and was now being introduced to his new horse.

It was called Fern, plant names apparently being commonly used for horses in Domina, and it was, compared to the other horses around it, a small gelding. It was however still quite big when say compared to the horses of Northolt, which he had grown accustomed to seeing lately.

“He seems pleasant enough,” he managed after a moment.

“Aye,” the man conceded, “If he was but two hands smaller only womenfolk would ride him,” he grinned at Tain, “Meaning no offence, but we don’t have many to spare and you are slighter in stature than our own hardy folk.”

“Well, it’s a shame there’s not one with a bit more power and fire in its belly,” Tain sure now in the knowledge that there was not, “But I’m sure Fern here and I will get along just fine,” he added patting the docile horse’s neck.

“You will be wanting to take him out for a ride no doubt? To get a feel for him, get to know one another,” the man prompted.

That was probably a good idea Tain thought and immediately agreed.


The tunnel was coming to an end. The Barbarians stepped out into the afternoon light, which was faded and heavy from the grey clouds overhead. They made their way around the perimeter of the ruined dam.

The wall Melladonna had struck had finally given way entirely and was no more than rubble. The last of the water had drained from the dam through the sluice gates and now only dead fish lay at its bottom. Some survivors flicked and flopped fitfully in small pools at the bottom. The air was full of birds taking advantage of a free meal.

The men stopped beside the gate wheels and went around behind them. The Druid scurried after them keeping a wary mouse eye on the shapes flitting by overhead.

There was a shallow set of steps cut into the rock behind the sluice gates partly concealed by an out jut of cliff which she had not noticed before. It led down into a second, much shorter tunnel, which led up another set of stairs and out into a chamber cut from the rock.

There was a large window in this chamber which overlooked the river far below and the lands beyond. An oblong mirror hung from the ceiling at an angle, reflecting the sky outside.

There was also a table, covered in parchments and maps. One leg of it was short and supported on books. A barrel sat beside the window its top lying discarded by its side. Several of its contents had spilledabout its base upon the floor. They were small dark stones that glittered deep within.

But what really sent all her senses’ tingling was a large lump of dark rock, some five foot in length, propped against one wall. It was marked with lines that seemed to intersect in such a way as to form a triangle and at the triangles centre a bowl had been carved into it large enough to place a fist in.

The power that radiated from it was enough to distort her senses and she backed hurriedly out of the room and observed from the corridor.

There was a chair, drawn up close to the window. Cloewyn was sitting in it, wearing a white robe.

“You should not be here,” he said without turning round.

“Where should we be then?” Hasbar responded proudly, “Dying futilely for Prince Kell before the city gates?”

“We may prevail yet,” Cloewyn said.

“This fight is over, the battle already lost, but not the war,” Hasbar said striding over to the Cleric and putting his hand on his shoulder spun him round in his chair to face him, “The day will still come. Just not this day.”

“The mistake was mine,” Cloewyn said lowering his gaze, “I put to much trust in the Erwin’s. He was a fool and she, she turned out to be less than I fancied her to be.”

“They all failed. And Astagoth will punish them,” Hasbar said simply and righteously.

“I gave her all the power I had but the stone was too old, too strong,” Cloewyn mused, “It would not crumble.”

“Forget the Erwins. They’re gone, we live. We must call back the tribes,” Hasbar insisted.

“What?” And abandon Prince Kell?” Cloewyn admonished.

“He has failed also,” Hasbar said matter of fact, “He can’t defeat the numbers coming against him. The Dominans have passed into Futura. We must return north and await a new time.”

Cloewyn stood and he seemed tall and strong in the light of the window whilst Hasbar seemed to shrink before him. “If you go back it will mean the end of the unification of the tribes,” he threatened.

“We’ve done it once, it can be done again,” Hasbar argued, he crossed the room and grabbed a handful of the stones in one fist, “We still have these.”

“If I release the Chiefs now they will know of your deceits Hasbar. Do not dream that you will ever fool them again. Stones or no. There will be no long rest for you. You will be torn open as a traitor, the skin of your stomach peeled back whilst you yet live and staked out around you exposing your innards for the birds to peck out. That is yor tribes way, is it not?”

“Astagoth doesn’t, won’t, forget those who remain loyal,” Hasbar responded fiercely, his eyes blazing with religious certainty, “He’s coming and when He comes He will bring His people north with Him. Our brethren. United again. As it was of old,” Hasbar said in a reverential voice that had fallen until it was nearly a whisper.

“Your faith is touching,” Cloewyn replied gently, “but I say we are not lost yet. There are things occurring in the east of which you are ignorant. Not all those who are expected upon the battlefield will come. If the tribes remain strong we may take the day yet. I still have one card yet to play. And would you wish that our Lords send a Watcher to see why we have failed?”

Hasbar’s face noticeably paled at the mention of the Watcher and he stammered in reply, “No, no I would not.”

“Then I will not release any until it seems to me that I have no other choice. That time is not yet here,” he sat back down as if weary, “Leave me. I must meditate. You will find food and water in the chambers below.”

He waved a hand dismissively. Hasbar hesitated as if there was much more he would like to say but after a moments deliberation he turned and left, Margil trailing after him.


It was nightfall. Tain was lounging about on a bench outside the guardhouse watching the tail end of the Domina army pass along the Toll Road. It was now mostly wagons and supplies manned by young boys. Fern was tethered to a post nearby. There was no sign of the Druid.

Tain would be worried except it was not the first time his companion had unexpectedly disappeared, he still did not know where she had gotten herself to back in the tunnels.

Still as evening wore into full night and the wagons eventually all passed, fading away into the dark where he could hear them thudding across the distant bridge, and there was still no sign of her he did begin to be concerned.

He breathed in the cold night air and looked up at the sky; the moon was obscured by cloud. The rain which had threatened earlier in the day had blustered and finally withdrawn, much as Tain hoped the Barbarian army would do. From across the river he could hear the neighing of horses and the occasional shouts and hammering of iron.

He went inside the hut; although the night was dry it was also cold. He took a cloak down from the wall. There were a row of them hanging there, presumably left behind by the guards, it was not as good a cloak as the one he had lost to Lady Erwin but it was better than nothing.

He pressed close to the fire and wrapped it tightly about himself and waited for the Druid to return falling into a half-sleep. Outside the last of the Dominian caravans trundled by and the stars sparkled overhead.

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Post by azriel on Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:05 pm

Very Happy

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:28 pm

Night was turning to dawn.

Cloewyn had not emerged from his room. The Druid periodically turned into a small bat and went to check on him. He seemed to be in a state of complete meditation, which made checking up on him risky, and she had to keep such occasions brief.

She could feel that Sha had risen outside and she basked in the hidden rays. She prayed for a while but was disturbed by the sounds of the Barbarians awaking. She heard them rise and then leave their chamber. Once more she altered to mouse form and went after them.

They led her back to Cloewyn’s high chamber but when they went in he was not there. Instead there was a note on the table under a candlestick. Hasbar snatched at it, causing the candlestick to crash over.

“He’s gone to the capital,” Hasbar reported after reading it.

Margil went over to the window and looked out in that direction. “We should go after him,” he said.

“Impossible, the way he can move, he’ll most likely be there already,” Hasbar glanced again at the parchment, “We’re ordered to report to the battlefield and to fight for our God, if the battle’s over upon or arrival we’re to meet him in the palace for Kell's coronation.”

“And what if the battle’s gone ill?”

“He doesn’t give instruction for that,” Hasbar said casting aside the note and noticing the barrel was missing, “He’s taken the stones with him,” he turned, “and the Sacred Heaven’s Stone,” he added, “He means to make all fight if need be.”

“And will we be going to join them?” Margil enquired nervously.

“If we don’t go and the day goes well we’ll be dubbed traitors and killed. If we do go and the day goes ill, we’ll be dubbed traitors and killed,” Hasbar replied darkly.

“So what d’ we do?”

“We go, fight and hope the day goes well,” Hasbar answered and turning strode out the room oblivious to the fact he had almost trodden on the Druid.

Once they were gone and some distance away she transformed back. She went over to the window and looked out. The moon was almost set and the sky was growing lighter. She could go straight now in pursuit of Cloewyn. But then again, judging by what she had just heard, Cloewyn could get about surprisingly quickly for his age. She wondered how the old man did it. But now was not the time for professional speculation.

She decided to return below first and talk to Tain. Cloewyn would not be leaving the capitol now until the battle was decided. There would be time to deal with him, and time to prepare something special.


A hard shingle beach under his feet.

A grey sky overhead and the cries of dying people, the crackle of flame. His men.

And Gwendolyn.


Tain awoke with a start to find the Druid standing over him holding a flagon and a piece of bread. “I thought you might be hungry,” she said sitting down opposite Tain and poking at the fire to get some life back into it.

“Where’ve you been?” Tain asked sleepily.

“Looking for answers,” came the reply.

“Did you find any?” Tain asked and took a drink from the flagon, it was Dominan ale.

“Some,” she looked at him kindly, “Tain? Do you mind if I ask you something? Something personal?”

Tain hesitated a moment before answering, “Sure, ask away. What is it?”

“You often have trouble sleeping I have noticed, or you wake from sleep like you did just then, as if wrenching yourself from some horror.”

“I thought you said you had a question,” Tain replied not sure he liked the direction this was going in.

“Were you perhaps dreaming of a shingle beach under a grey sky?” she asked.

“How do you know about that?” he asked sharply, “I never talk about that place.”

“Yes you did, once, but you may not remember it. It was on the raft,” she hesitated then decided a lie was simpler than truth right now, “you were talking about a lot of things before you came round.”

“Oh,” Tain responded flatly but excepting it.

“But you never told me why you were there, or what exactly happened to you, if you want to talk about it,” she offered and put her hand on his arm.

“I don't talk about it,” Tain said uncomfortably standing up.

“Maybe that is a good reason why you should then,” she prompted.

He turned his back to her and stood in the doorway of the guard house, staring outwards.

“There were raids,” he said suddenly, “All along Stenor's northern coast, right through winter. They were from a petty little kingdom further along the coast. A little patch of nowhere no one had heard of.”

“What were they after?” she asked, “plunder?”

“Yes, so we were told, they also took some of our women folk,” Tain said grimly, “I was in my final year of becoming an Officer in the Stenor Army, I was following in the family tradition you see. It was expected that after a military career like my brothers I would move into the Senate, as my father had done.”

“So you had it all planned out?”

“No, I had it all planned out for me, by my father,” he replied sourly, “except one bit,” he added brightening up, “or rather one quite wonderful person.”

“Gwendolyn?” she guessed.

“Did I tell you about her too?” Tain queried with a slight frown.

“No, nothing specific, but you have mentioned her,” she replied.

“Her father looked after the family orchards. We own acres of apple trees. Every time I see an apple I can't help but be reminded of her.”

“So that is why you always spend an age sniffing and staring dreamily at one before you bite into it,” she smirked at him devilishly.

“Anyway,” he went on, sitting back down beside her and ignoring that comment, “to cut a long and sad story short she was away whilst I was awaiting my first commission, tending an aunt who was ill. And her luck ran out,” he said simply.

“What do you mean, ran out?” she asked.

“Her aunt lived on the coast. There was another raid, she was among those taken, I lost her, just like that,” Tain said and he drew in a long breath, “the army decided enough was enough, they pushed the Senate to respond. I begged my father to petition every Senator he knew, not just to approve it but for it to be my first commission.”

“Would a more experienced officer not have been more likely?” she asked with an arched brow.

“The Senate would not even have responded. The raids were an inconvenience no more, to be dealt with by increases in patrols along the coast. Expending money and potentially men in taking the fight to another land was not politic for them. And they knew something of the raiders then they had not yet made public, the Senate knew the threat would not persist. In the end they approved a token force, just to appease public pressure.”

“And you volunteered yourself to lead it?”

“Yes. And great things were expected of me and this was my chance to prove it, I believed I had been handed a perfect mission,” he paused, “it was clear who the bad guys were, and I knew why they were bad, they had stolen the woman I loved. My military objectives were equally clear- make an example of them and rescue anyone from Stenor I could find.
The sort of stuff heroes do, rush in, kill the bad guys and save the girl, nice and simple, black and white. And me leading from the front, Chief of the good guys.” he said ruefully.

“So what went wrong?”

“Time for one thing. It was nearly two years after the raid I lost her to before we were approaching the enemy coast line, politics is an old, but not swift moving game, in Stenor.”

“And you ended up on the beach, the one you now dream about every night?” she prompted.

“We landed there yes, a small village, just to pick up supplies, but one of my men recognised one of the women there, she was one of ours. But she ran from us. That should have been my first hint. The bare grain stores and empty pens another- but I was so certain I never even noticed them then. I had found our enemy and that was enough. All my thought now was bent on searching for Gwendolyn and on revenge.”

“So you did what you were ordered to do” she said unemotionally, “you made an example of them.”

“We began to, we pulled their homes apart searching. The inhabitants we dragged out, some were killed there and then, some just beaten and cast aside, some were still in their houses when we put them to the torch.”

“You must have expected this, it was what you signed up for,” she said.

“Yes but what I didn't sign up for was the truth. What the Senate knew and hadn't told us. I found Gwendolyn in one of the huts.”

“Was she dead?”

“No, quite the opposite, she was pregnant. She held a sword point to my throat. Threatened me with my life if I did not stop this and leave her and the others. She had given her compassion to these desperate people, all our women had. Their harvests had failed four seasons in a row, victim to a blight.
They had petitioned Stenor for aid and were refused, because of an old debt of one hundred marks,” Tain shook his head in disgust, “Stenor had good harvests those years, we could have easily spared it.
Then I looked at the people there for the first time, really looked: thin and scrawny, half starved, almost no children among them. And there was me, the hero of the tale, I was finishing with the sword what nature had begun with starvation. And I knew then, knew exactly what I was. I was on the wrong side, had been all along. I was the bad guy. I was the tyrant and butcher. What must I have looked like in my Gwendolyn's eyes that day? What had I become in the eyes of the woman I loved?”

“You could not have known,” the Druid reasoned seeking to give him solace, “you did your duty and followed the orders you were given.”

“No. I can't hide behind that. I could have paid attention. All the signs were there to see but I was so blinded. I wanted to be the hero and I needed them to be the villains. And I never noticed that they weren't until most of them lay dead.”

“So, you made mistakes, but you learned from them, that is all one can do in life,” she reasoned.

“Do you know what I learnt,” he replied with a flash of his eyes that came from a glistening film of tears, “I learnt I can't cut it. I learnt that my father was right about me all along, I don't have what it takes.”

“That is not true,” she responded sternly.

“Do you know how I carried out my responsibilities after that? I didn't. I ran. And, well here I am, still running now. That’s what sort of man I really am Druid. That's why you don't want to be stuck with me, you can't rely on me. And that's why I travel alone, it's better for everyone that way. That way, I can't let anyone else down. Including you.”

He got up and walked out the guard house into the cold morning air.

She came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. He shrugged it off but she spun him round and took his head in her hands and kissed him passionately.

Tain shocked at first tensed up then as realisation struck he relaxed into the moment and the pressure of her lips.

She released him and he stood blinking in the road.

“That is what I have come to think of you Tain,” she said, “but if you really believe all that about yourself. Then you are right, you should be alone. Elhonna is relying upon those in her service to do their parts. I do not ask you to have faith in my Goddess Tain, or in me. But if you do not have faith even in yourself then you are too great a risk, and you are right. I cannot rely on you.”

“And where will you go?”

“To the capital alone. Cloewyn has gone there and I must pursue him. Take care Tain, try not to get youself killed and do not believe everything you tell yourself. You must find your faith.”




It was mid-morning and the sun was fighting to shine among tattered grey clouds.

Well, Tain thought, the moment had come. He was wearing Dominian armour, light chain mail, or as archers such as Tain liked to think of it a series of holes to shoot through. He also had a helmet on; it had a horse head emblem on it, the symbol of the cavalry. At his side were his own sword and the princes, which at least made the weight symmetrical.

He tried not to think of his parting from the Druid, or the kiss or her words. Now when he thought of her it was mixed up with his failure in Stenor, with Gwendolyn, with pain. So he simply put it all to the back of his mind where he hoped, wrongly, it could not harm him.

Ahead of him rode King Bellas and his personal guard of fifty men.

Tain could not in fact see the King through the horses and thicket of pike staffs but he could discern the Kings banner which was green with a line bisecting it horizontally and two lines dissecting it vertically. For the next week it would be the symbol Tain would be following.

A horn rang out from the Kings men at the front and the call was taken up by all the units down the line until the hills were ringing with them. As the echoes faded away the army began to march.



End of chapter.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 12:58 pm

ps meant to say although the next chapter is quite a long one, its also the final one!

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 1:41 pm

Chapter Nine
Battle and Employment


For the first five days of marching the sky was overcast and punctuated with heavy, cold showers of rain. The sun struggled its way across the sky whilst the army passed slowly below between the low hills, turning east and eventually out into a wide valley at the end of which the land opened out onto the edge of the plain.

Rough tussocks of grass dominated its perimeter and the ground was soft from the rain. Their going was slow but it became flatter and harder underfoot as the army moved further north and they soon began to pick up the pace.

Here and there as they rode they passed copses of trees; birch, ash and oak. The land ahead was a faded patchwork of greens and browns until in the east it met the low yellow hills surrounding Mendelhall and Prince Kell.

By mid-afternoon on the fifth day the outriders had begun returning bearing reports. Tain gathered from the men of his company that the banners of Duke Grande had been sighted not twenty miles to the south-east. Of Ela-Gor there was as yet no word.

Of the enemy however there had not been a sight, although Tain reasoned Prince Kell must by now be aware of them. It was then only a matter of time.

In the early afternoon the lead cavalry passed one of the small copses of trees that dotted the plain and so large was their army that it was growing dark by the time Tain and the wagons creaked by the same copse.

Tain was nodding in his saddle as they went, lulled by the motion of his horse. He was just in danger of lapsing completely into sleep when suddenly he was jolted back to alertness by a series of cries in the darkness.

His eyes snapped open and he spun round in his saddle; the shouts were behind him.

Barbarians, daubed in blacks and browns were screaming from the undergrowth around the copse of trees and leaping down from the tree tops in which they had patiently hidden. They slew any in their way, boys and all, and began to set fires in the wagons.

Tain seized his reigns and cried out to alert those around. Ashklo took up the call and the alarm went up and down the lines. Tain turned Fern around but the horse was reluctant so close to the flames but Tain spurred him onwards at the enemy.

He heard the twang of bowstrings and Fern reared and fell backwards with a cry, Tain was thrown to the dirt but he was up in an instant.

He heard Ferns stretched screams of pain as the horse thrashed on the road, pierced by arrows. In the flickering light of the burning wagons Tain sighted the Barbarians and leapt adrenalin pumping.

Around him aid was galloping passed and by the time he reached the Barbarians the rout was already under way. Still, he managed to fell two of them on his own, fighting doggedly in the light of the burning wagons as the horses thundered around him.

When all was done there were twelve Barbarians dead, three wagons destroyed, most of their contents along with them, and six of the boys lay dead upon the road.

One of the men of Ashklo’s company lay dead there also. His steed, which was a massive stallion with bulging musculature and plated body armour was pawing at the ground beside the fallen man's head and nuzzling the dead face pitifully with its nose.

Ashklo took the horses reigns and turned to Tain saying, “Your horse is lost. He is yours now,” he held out the reigns for Tain and then addressed the horse, “He will be your master now.”

Tain stared up at the massive horse and the huge face and he was sure it was sneering at him in contempt. He glanced around the head to its huge back; the saddle began a foot above the top of his head, “He’s a bit, big, is he not?” he said daunted.

“Aye, that he is, but we lost more than your steed. There’s four wagons with nought to draw them and we don’t have cavalry horses to spare. Now we will see what you are made of.”

Tain reluctantly took the reigns; the horse turned its head to look at him disdainfully. He put a foot in the stirrup, which was a stretch in itself. He felt like he had as a small boy, being given his first riding lesson.

He heaved himself up and swung unsteadily a moment in the saddle. He looked around; he was, as far as he could tell, the tallest thing about except for the trees. He felt worryingly conspicuous perched atop this almighty horse. “What’s he called?” he asked Ashklo.

“Thunder.”

“I thought your horses were named after plants?” Tain commented worriedly.

“Not this one. Even if they shoot him dead a hundred feet from the fray his power and speed will still carry you across their line,” Ashklo said grinning.

“That’s nice to know,” Tain replied weakly.

A horseman rode up to them and passed a pole to Tain who took it when proffered without thinking. A banner unfurled from it, a long pendant with the colours of his unit. “What’s this for?” he asked suspiciously.

“The man who fell was our standard bearer. His horse the tallest and easiest to espy upon the field,” Ashklo explained, “the standard is borne by whoever rides this horse. That is now you Master Tain. You will lead the charge.”

“What?” Tain said shocked, looking first up at the banner and then back at Ashklo.

“To the front,” Ashklo repeated, “That is an order.”

And with that he was ushered through towards the front ranks, pendant held in one already aching hand.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 1:47 pm

It took some time for Tain and the reports of the attack to travel up the lines all the way to the King. Tain did not hear what the Kings personal response to this atrocity was but as the full moon rose, and the vanguard approached a second grouping of trees men went ahead to burn them to the ground. It was clear King Bellas was taking no further chances.

Tain filed passed the roaring blaze, the heat even at a few hundred yards bringing him out in a sweat, and continued on into the dark.

The plan as he understood it was to march on until dawn, rest until midday and then press on with the expectation of meeting the enemy sometime the following afternoon.

Thunder, so far, had been surprisingly docile under Tain's reign. Indeed the horse knew well enough how to march in line and what was expected of him. He plodded along with a steady if slightly bored air. The movement of his muscles beneath Tain's thighs however told him that when the time came for this horse to charge it was going to be quite something to see. He wished fervently he could see it from anywhere else but atop it.

The notion that he might fail to control this beast when the time came was a very real one. He had never ridden anything near its size before, let alone fought from such an animal’s back. There was a very real possibility he was going to not only make a fool of himself but get himself killed whilst doing so.

Whenever everyone’s expectations were upon him he failed spectacularly. He buckled under the pressure. At least he felt he had before.

And now here he was again, under pressure to perform. The question was, would he buckle again?

They rode on through the moonlit night, twice Tain saw a fire arrow to their right riding up in a blaze of light, streaking into the night sky before plummeting down and flickering out.

The word going round among the men was that it was Duke Grande and indeed by the time the sun was reappearing over the horizon the head of the Duke’s army was in view.

The plain to the east was open here for many miles uninterrupted by trees or streams, the Duke was riding in from that direction.

To the north, revealed in the light of the rising sun, were the hills which they had drawn much closer to than Tain had imagined they would during the nights march. He could see now that they were densely populated with a mix of bare deciduous and thick evergreen trees on their lower slopes, defensive towers and walls had long ago been built on the bare hill tops.

Of Mendelhall there was still no sign as the hills continued to obscure it from view. He could also see nothing of the enemy but he would be very surprised not to find the hills held strongly against them.

The army was brought to a halt by the blowing of three short horn blasts, which after the Kings company announced it the others took up in turn all the way back along the lines.

Slowly the procession ground to a halt whilst the King and Grande decided how best to arrange their combined forces.

Tain was fortunate in that he had stopped near a stunted gorse bush, faded and browning now but with thick, twisted branches and faded yellow grass growing around its stump. He tethered Thunder to it, patted the horse’s neck feeling the coiled strength in the neck muscles and realized that if the horse wanted to it could probably rip up the bush, roots and all.

“Well,” he reflected patting Thunder which was like slapping warm stone, this was just the sort of thing his father had always dreamt of. A son of his riding headlong into battle, on a suicidal charge to save a Kingdom. But what was it really in aid of? Just what on earth was he doing here, among these strangers? Dressed in their armour? Riding in their army, fighting and maybe dying in another countries war?

He tried to recall exactly how he had ended up in this predicament but decided in the end that it was all down to his old problem, which was this; it was easier to just let things happen than to try to make them happen.

He reflected on the Druids words. Could it all really just come down to needing to find faith in himself? When he thought of the Druid that seemed possible, but the image of his father obscured all else and he felt the weight of an expectation he could never fulfil.

He sighed and looked at the standard beside him. He wondered what the survival rate for standard bearers was and doubted it was very high. Wandering about a battle field under a large, brightly coloured flag did not seem like a very good idea to Tain.

He noticed that Thunder was placidly looking at him, the horse neighed and Tain reached up and ruffled its mane absent-mindedly, deep in thought. Was he really willing to die for this kingdom? He was pretty certain the answer to that was no, yet, he wanted to do this. Needed to even.

The Druid was right, he had to know, when it came right down to it, could he actually see something through until the bitter end? Or had his father been right about him all this time?

He could still remember how it had felt, the decision. Or more accurately the lack of decision. He had thrown his Stenor helmet into the sea and turned and walked away from his life and he had felt not a sense of decisiveness but nothing at all. A blankness of mind.

Today at least he had a chance, not to change the past but to create a new future. Today he was not going to run.

Granted it was however in a war he did not really want be in and with a very good chance of death in a cavalry charge he did not want to lead.

He had not seen that coming he had to admit.

He tried to get some rest but could not settle his nerves sufficiently enough to fall asleep.

A further series of sudden horn blasts from the south-west marked the arrival of Duke Verence at the head of a thousand men. He did not ride a horse but was drawn in a coach, presumably there was no horse with the strength to bear him, or that was willing to try.

Verence went off to join the other nobles in debate and Tain went back to trying to get some sleep, with a little success.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 1:58 pm

The morning when it came was again a cloudy one and rain was falling periodically in slow large droplets. The land around the hills was not as flat as it had first appeared but rather rolled up towards the lower slopes. And there were unexpected dips down which they had to ride and long, low banks they had to climb.

They had scouts ahead, all the way along the plain between themselves and the low hills. Not all had come back.

Two hours later and they were approaching the hills which stood, one either side of the road, on the approach to the city gates. Each hill had a tower, wall and rampart. A thick band of firs clustered their lower slopes on this side.

As they approached the Barbarians appeared along the ramparts. Tain guessed there would be many more hidden amidst the trees.

As far as he could gather from Ashklo the Kings plan was to send his own infantry against the left hand hill. Duke Grande’s men would assault the right.

Two hundred of the cavalry were going to be sent in a charge straight down the road between the hills. Tain would be at the fore front of that assault. A fact which was greatly worrying him.

The road he could see was heavily garrisoned. A wall of Barbarians, several deep held it against them and upturned carts and tree trunks barricaded it. It was obvious too that the hills on either side of it would be filled with archers.

Tain was no fool, he knew as much as anything that surviving to the other side was going to be more a matter of luck than anything else. There would be little he could do but keep his head down and hold on.

The road between the hills would be a killing ground, but the Generals were banking on the speed of the cavalry, hoping that enough men would force a way allowing the mass of the cavalry and remainder of the infantry to pour through behind and assail the hills from the rear.

It was, looking at the distant figures swarming along the hilltops, a daunting proposition.

The Barbarians did not bear any banners but pendants bearing a black standing stone against a red moon fluttered from the tower tops; nor did they chant or jeer but remained in an eerie watchful silence. By far the loudest noise was that of their own army approaching.

A series of horn calls brought them to a halt just out of bow shot of the trees. Ashklo’s company moved out to the left towards the road, Tain with them at the head.

The sun was masked in thick cloud, casting long shadows. A series of horn blasts set the army in motion.

Firstly a third of the infantry came to the fore, Dominan to a man, passing in lines fifty deep until two thousand of them stood ready for the fight. Behind them marched a platoon of Grande’s archers ready to provide them with cover.

Tain watched as the men marched forward their multi coloured flags bobbing before them. He glanced along the plain to Grande’s army who were beginning similar manoeuvres towards the right-hand hill.

The front lines had not gone two hundred yards towards the forest when a rain of arrows erupted from the trees. Immediately the men held their shields up over their heads. Several fell but the rest marched resolutely on.

Thunder was pulling urgently at the reigns; sensing the tension in the men. Tain watched as the infantry reached the line of trees and suddenly hundreds of barbarians tore out to meet them screaming like madmen. They howled and careered into the front line with amazing ferocity, using their small shields to turn aside the pikes of the infantry men and charge between their ranks. A small cavalry contingent rode swiftly round behind the lines of Grande’s men to shore up the defence.

A second horn call went up from Bellas’ men and was taken up by Grande’s men also and the remainder of the infantry began to march forward.

Ashklo turned to Tain, “That is our signal too. Unfurl the standard. Follow my lead,” he cried and urged his horse forward into a swift canter. Tain undid the golden clasp that held the standard bound close and it flapped in the wind. He urged Thunder on after Ashklo and Thunder responded.

They swept wide of the trees for as long as they could to stay out of bow shoot but soon the hard packed earth of the road was pounding by underneath.

Above the roaring of the wind in his ears and the thunder of hooves everything else was vague to Tain but he could discern the clash of iron and the cries of the dying upon the hills either side.

Ashklo blew on a horn, a single short sharp blast and the cavalry broke into the charge.

Tain was awash with adrenalin, fear and excitement in equal measure.

A little ahead and to his left rode Ashklo, behind in a throbbing drum of dust and hooves five hundred horses and riders followed hard. Tain had his sword already drawn.

Suddenly he was aware of a whistling sound in the air and realized a hail of arrows were coming from the tree line on both sides as they rode hard passed. He ducked his head down till it was flat alongside Thunder’s head and the horse responded, shooting ahead, easily outpacing the horse of Ashklo until suddenly he was out in front and alone.

Thunder, despite Tain's strenuous attempts now to slow him, was in no mood to ease off and bouncing in the saddle Tain found that he had no choice but to stand dangerously in the stirrups and lean close to Thunder’s head. Something whistled towards him and struck his thigh.

The force was stupendous and off balance as he was he fell backwards straight out of the saddle. His sword spun from his grasp and clattered away in an instant on the speeding ground.

But somehow Tain did not strike the ground. Looking up he could see one foot was hooked in the pommel of the saddle. Just below his hanging hair the ground was hurtling by in a blur of grey and brown. Small stones hurtled up by Thunders passage pinged and ricochet off his face in a constant stinging hail.

Thunder had not seemed to notice his absence from the saddle and had not slowed a jot; arrows were whistling and cracking from the steeds armour.

Tain's left thigh was throbbing, it had an arrow sticking from it but that was the least of his worries. He glanced ahead and saw, upside down, the row of Barbarian defenders holding the road. They had erected a barrier of upturned carts and felled trees. Thunder was heading straight for it.

More arrows whistled by him and he felt something slap against his arm, it was the reigns. Instinctively he grasped out for them but missed and swung back down dangerously towards the ground, his left hand striking the road briefly and bouncing off, the skin removed along his knuckle.

He cried out and twisted himself up again with the vigour of pain. This time he got a hold of the reigns and with a grunt hauled himself back up and into the saddle.

Blood pounding he drew out the Kings sword in his right hand, grabbed the pendant from his saddle in his left and held it aloft and swept through the Barbarians with a furious roar. Behind him the cavalry followed.

He thought Thunder had been galloping already but as the arrows whistled all around the horse surged anew and with a rush of air leapt over the barricade and crashed straight through the Barbarian line and, without slowing, went thundering on through to the other side.

Tain glanced around and saw that his saddle had two arrows imbedded in it, his sword was red with gore and a heap of Barbarians lay dead in the road behind. Although all he remembered was a tableau of leaping and screaming faces as men went down before Thunders hooves.

As he glanced back the following cavalry swept the remains of the road block away and the remaining defenders were slain or fled up the slopes of the hills. As many as a hundred horsemen had fallen in the charge. Somehow, and in spite of finding himself at the very front, Tain had made it and he was still alive.

He knew he was still alive because his leg was screaming the fact at him in waves of pain that made him involuntarily wince. He ripped his trousers around the arrow head and snapped the shaft three-quarters of the way down, leaving the head in place. Treatment would have to wait. If he took it out now he would lose too much blood, better to leave it in and pray he could get it out later before infection set in.

Barbarians were streaming down the slope now between the trees, swords and axes to hand. Thunder surged to meet them and Tain hacked at the first man he saw and sliced through his enemy’s neck. He hauled at the reigns, swinging Thunder round in a half circle to keep the foe always to his right hand side where he could see and reach them.

The enemy archers were breaking up, their ranks broken as the cavalry plunged through them. The rear shoulder of the eastern hill was bare of trees and a road led up it to its summit and tower. Tain waved the pendant above himself, rallying the men towards him; he could see no sign of Ashklo.

Men were galloping to him and Tain suddenly realized they were looking to him for what to do next. He craned his neck around, trying to get a fix on events.

He could hear Grande’s infantry fighting in the trees on the far side of the eastern hill which was closer to the road than the western; the clash of iron and cries of battle were loud among the trees there. The wall and tower above were providing strong covering fire for the defenders and they, Tain realized, had to be neutralized or the slope would not be taken.

He waved the pendant one more time then spurned Thunder straight up the back of the hill and the steed leapt eagerly forward, neighing proudly. The defenders above saw the horsemen coming, Tain heard the cry going up on the wall and moments later there was a hail of arrows and Thunder, without guidance from Tain, took off and charged forward sweeping him up under the deadly hail.

He met the first of the defenders with a clash of iron and swept onwards but ahead the press was too thick and Thunder shied from it, turning to the right and slowing to a trot.

With a cry the Barbarians leapt towards him and he was forced to fight from the saddle against two of them at once, pulling Thunder first one way and then the other to shield from their attacks.

He heard horns calling close-by and as he despatched the second man the rest of the cavalry swept by up the slope.

Tain was given a moments respite and glancing back the way he had come he saw they had succeed in taking the slope, there were still sporadic patches of fighting were men had been dismounted and forced to foot, but clearly this side of the hill was theirs. All save for the wall and tower overhead.

Looking down to the road he could see that a great portion of the infantry had succeeded in pouring along it. The arrow fire was less down there now, as the charge had dispersed many of the archers. But not half a mile along the road towards the city Prince Kell had placed the main bulk of his forces. They had not moved to engage yet and were waiting at the approach to Mendelhall.

Ironfang had been right about Mendelhall not being built for defence Tain considered, taking in the city for the first time. It had an outer wall of white stone but it was neither high not formidable. Its entrance was large and though closed with two large gates it was far too wide to be strong against a determined use of the ram. From the clusters of varied ornate rooftops and chimneys beyond it was clear this was somewhere people lived, not somewhere they had ever had to defend. The walls were manned lightly, it was clear Kell had put most of his forces outside of them.

Cries from above drew his attention back to the ramparts and tower. They were still heavily defended and the cavalry, leaderless and unsure, were faltering before the archers on the wall. Tain shook the reigns, it was now or never, Thunder sprang up the remainder of the slope.

_________________
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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 2:29 pm

The Druid was perched upon a window ledge upon the Palace of the Kings of Futura; the ledge protruded out high above the streets of Mendelhall.

Cloewyn was in the room beyond the window upon whose ledge she sat. He had been in there for two days as far as she could tell and, infuriatingly, he had not opened the window once in all that time.

She had been forced to rest when in human form upon the palace roof, which was wet and cold. But she did not want to be given the slip a second time. She had found a way down into the palace and indeed a way right up to Cloewyn’s door. But again, maddeningly, it was never unlocked.

From where she was sitting now she could see the battle engaged before the city. A large contingent of the Barbarian army had left the gates that morning to take up positions upon the hills. She guessed the noise of battle she could hear floating over the air was the Barbarians defending their positions. She wondered if Tain were among them, and if so, if he still lived.

There was a sound from the room. The door had finally opened. She tried to peer into the window but it was frosted and unclear. Someone it seemed had finally entered; there were two blurry shapes beyond where before there had only been one. There seemed to be an argument going on. She clearly heard a man say angrily, “You cannot do that!” and Cloewyn responding fiercely, “I can do anything I please.”

The door slammed shut and the second blur was gone from the room. She withdrew along the ledge a little and wondered what this meant. A few moments’ later men began emerging from the palace below, maybe a hundred all told taking a quarter of an hour to depart and each one bore a full sack over his shoulder. A shudder went through her as she took a guess as to what they contained.


Tain indicated the postern door at the towers base to his men and ordered them to follow whilst the remainder he sent in a charge back down the slope where a unit of Barbarians were moving up from the city to slow the oncoming infantry of Grande.

Even as they approached the door it flew open and fresh adversaries leapt out of it. Tain reacted quickly and swept the first of them aside but the ferocity of the second man's attack combined with Tain's weakened leg knocked him backwards from his feet, fortunately his men were close behind and surged protectively around him.

“Don’t let them close that door,” Tain yelled from the ground.

Four of the cavalry men immediately leapt for the doorway whilst Tain got back unsteadily to his feet.

He joined the men at the door and together they pulled it back against the determined efforts to close it by those on the opposite side. Finally it ground outwards and the cavalry men leapt through.

One fell dead immediately but the other took out a defender swiftly and leapt in over the fallen body, others followed and Tain, limping badly, joined them.

Those who had been defending the passage within were fleeing back up the stairs to the walls top but they fought doggedly as they retreated.

Three-quarters of the way up the tower there was a door standing ajar and Tain leapt through it and sprung out onto the rampart. He had expected an immediate attack but it did not come. Half a dozen of his men had made it out before him and most of the Barbarian warriors were already engaged and the fighting was fierce.

Enemy archers were moving away back down the wall, picking off the cavalry men as they could.

The fighting was violent but brief, in skill at arms the archers were no match for Tain, not even wounded, a mood of defiant uncaring had enveloped him. He dispatched the last archer and sent him shrieking over the parapet wall to his death below.

He turned and took in his men, of the fifty he had entered the tower with only half remained standing. He went to the wall and taking up the flag again he waved it from the ramparts giving cheer to the men fighting still below.

He turned his eye then to the top of the still tall tower which stood unassailed and from which archers were freely picking out the infantry upon the road below, many scores already having fallen to their shots.

Tain picked out the least wounded from his men and rallied them to their feet and they returned to the tower door. Even as they entered defenders came rushing down at them from above.

The fight up the towers stairs would stay with Tain the rest of his days. It was dark, narrow and spiralled tightly upwards and it was held against them every step of the way. At the corners it was possible to stand two abreast, just, and at these points the fighting was fiercest. The steps quickly became treacherous with blood and entrails and the walls dripped.

Even clambering over the bodies of those they slew was a trial in the cramped space. Hands and faces soon became coated in gore as often an allies as an enemies as they slipped and stumbled, dragging themselves upwards.

By the time they had hacked three-quarters of the way to the top Tain had lost many of his men and had lost count of the enemy dead, but the stairs behind and down to the towers base was now choked with corpses.

But it was the smell that stayed with Tain, it grew as the numbers of dead grew; the smell of blood mixed with evacuating bowels and released gases. A foul brew that was all the worse for being confined to the dark narrow hell of the tower. The torches on the walls burned green, lighting the interior in a sickly glow.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity Tain saw a shaft of light from above. He could see no further Barbarians silhouetted against it and he wasted no time in surging forward and charging out onto the towers top the strong breeze blowing in his blood spattered face.

He surprised an archer who could do nothing as Tain barged into him, sending the poor man tumbling over the towers rampart and screaming to the ground far below.

There were only seven defenders left, the rest he guessed they had already met upon the stairs. He swept towards them, his pained leg pounding and heard behind him his few remaining men emerging from the stairs.

An arrow fired, it glanced off Tain’s shoulder, slowing him and slicing a gash in his flesh, forcing him to drop the flag he had carried so far.

He yelled, an animal sound that came from somewhere primordial within him, and charged ignoring pain and thrusting with his sword skewered an archer neatly.

He heard the clash of weapons behind and turning quickly was just in time to block a sword thrust. He deflected the blade but was knocked spinning against the towers outer wall where his head cracked off the stonework.

Dazed he expected death but one of his men ran out from the stairwell and slew the Barbarian before the death blow could fall. Tain smiled weakly upwards and was about to thank him when a Barabrian sword wept his saviours head clean from the shoulders.

Tain scrabbled along the wall away from the remaining Barbarian, his hand found his sword and rising he was suddenly filled with a furious rage that misted his vision with red and swinging fiercely he drove at the enemy.

The Barbarian could do little under the onslaught but parry and block as Tain drove him backwards in a frenzy of blows into the doorway.

The Kings sword sung in the air as Tain struck. With a shriek the Barbarian fell backwards down the stairwell his head sundered and disappeared into the bloody darkness.

Tain slumped to the ground, bleeding heavily and breathing in a long sharp whistle. He looked for his men, but they lay dead beside the enemy. He was alone upon the towers top.

Wearily he staggered to his feet and searched among the bodies until he had found where the pendant had fallen. With a grunt of effort he picked it up and staggered to the rampart and looked out.

The infantry were arrayed now on the road below in marching formation and the order was going up for them to advance towards the enemy before the city.

A fluttering sound made him turn his eye upwards. Above him, atop a long pole attached to the rampart a banner had been hung, it was blowing in the evening breeze; it bore a single standing stone on a black background silhouetted by a red moon.

Tain tore the pole from its fitting with a grunt of effort and ripped the standard from it and replaced it with his cavalry pendant.

He looked at the dead cavalry men and then in an odd humour he saluted the dead and returned the pole to its place. The pendant caught in the breeze. From the slope below a cheer went up that was echoed in the infantry mustering below upon the road.

He looked across at the opposite hill. Its tower still held out but a determined force led by King Bellas himself was gaining the upper slopes. As Tain watched fighting broke out upon the wall. He could see Bellas standing like a pillar of stone against the sea as a tide of Barbarians swept up to him and broke against the axe he bore. It would not be long now until it too was taken.

There were footstep on the stairs behind and Tain spun round, gasping, sword at the ready. He need not have feared, it was reinforcements.

Late but better than never Tain considered ruefully and collapsed onto his knees in weariness and pain. His leg ached now.

“You took the tower alone?” the first man to emerge said with amazement to Tain, looking round at the slain.

Tain indicated with his sword the cavalry men dead at the stairs top, “Not alone,” he said.
“Ashklo has fallen, I am Baras, of the Clan Fearnus, the cavalry of Ashklo that remain are scattered on the slope and without direction or Captain, will you lead them?” Baras asked. Tain stared blankly up at him then looked down at his own bleeding arm and the nasty red swell that used to be his thigh.

He saw too the faces of dead men, dead because they had followed him. But he had done what needed to be done, he had led and men had followed. They had not performed their duty in vain. He would not let it be in vain.

“They are my men now, by my pledge,” he managed, easing himself up from the ground, “I will lead them.”

He found Thunder still at the foot of the wall.

He led his cavalry, some two hundred remaining men, back down the slope, weariness and pain were creeping over him and he swayed as he rode. Ahead bowstrings were singing as for a brief period the two armies exchanged arrow fire, to neither sides real cost.

Then Grande ordered the advance. Horns rang out and drums were beaten.

The front lines of pike men began marching, behind them the infantry surged.


The Druid watched from the window-ledge, her bird form affording her excellent vision. The battle had been raging with strike and counter strike for hours now but nno decisive blow.

She looked down at the streets below where the last of the city soldiery were filing out of the gate to reinforce the lines. But worse she could see who was going to follow them out, massing in an eerie silent throng in the streets and squares below. And it was time to do something about it.

As she tried to decide what was the swiftest way to get through the window the sun began to sink beneath the horizon. Opposite where it had set the full moon slowly rose.

She heard a fluttering of wings above her and a sensation she had felt once before overcame her. She glanced up into beady bird eyes.

A massive eagle was hovering right above her in the night sky. It stayed there a moment and then landed gracefully out of sight on the roof above, which at the very top was wide and flat. She heard footsteps approaching the roofs edge and looked up into the face of Lady Melladonna Erwin, who was looking back down at her with a wry smile. “Are you afraid to come up and see me?” Melladonna teased, “Do not be ashamed if your powers seem mild beside mine. My God is more powerful, and perhaps nearer to me, than is yours.”

The Druid flew up onto the roof and landed a safe distance from the Lady. The problem with being a bird was communication so she turned back to her normal form.

“Why are you waiting here?” Melladonna asked almost casually, “I have been watching you. Why have you done nothing? Your colleagues are dying before the gates.”

“I was going to play it fair,” the Druid replied, “let the battle play itself out. Let Fate play Her hand and have Her way. But look at what your master Cloewyn has gone and done now,” she pointed from the roof to the city gate where the civilian population, crudely armed, were being sent out to the fight, each wearing a pouch around their necks.
“They are innocents. He has crossed a line and needs to be stopped. Balance must be restored. That is what you should be striving to achieve, if you have any loyalty left to the Orders.”

“Balance! The Orders have sought balance for as long as any can remember. And have they ever achieved it? Never, and why? Because it is an illusion. It cannot be maintained. Only the dominance of one power over the other is sustainable. Total Light or total Darkness.”

“And you prefer the Darkness do you?” the Druid mocked.

“The Darkness was there before the Light and will be there again when the Light goes out. But I prefer power,” she replied, “Raw and uncompromising. And I have far more than you. Give yourself up to Astagoth. You have seen what I am capable of; you too could share in His power, His gifts, for the only alternative is death. You are no match to me. Save yourself the pain.”

“You do not have the power,” the Druid sneered back at her, “Do you think I do not know your tricks? You had aid before. I doubt you are so formidable alone.”

“Do you think I am alone now?” Melladonna laughed at her, “Do you really believe my master will let you kill me?”

The Druid shrugged “I am going to try anyway,” she replied simply and struck out with her mind.

Melladonna reeled backwards as if physically hit and the Druid stalked menacingly forwards using her willpower to force Melladonna backwards towards the edge of the roof.

But Melladonna ground in her heels and countered. The Druid reeed under the mental strke but held firm, crying out a prayer to Elhonna she focused her will in a concentrated burst and again it was Melladonna’s turn to stagger in shock.

Steadying herself at the very edge of the roof the Lady growled like an animal and then fought a few steps back towards her opponent but the Druid resisted again, still holding her ground.

Again Melladonna pressed forward another step and straining the Druid buckled and gave back, retreating several hurried steps as Melladonna advanced by the same amount. Struggling to move her hand the Druid reached up for a vial at her belt and with a grunt of mental effort seized hold of it and hurled it toward the Lady.

Immediately upon impact it sprouted thorns that thrived up out of the roof beams but Melladonna altered form in an instant and was gone before they could encase her. Her mocking laughter floated over the cool night air.

_________________
Pure Publications, The Tower of Lore and the Former Admin's Office are Reasonably Proud to Present-



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Compiled and annotated by Eldorion.


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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 2:34 pm

The sun was setting, Tain felt it should have gone down in a blood red sky but instead it just slouched away behind the grey clouds. Fortunately the night would be bright, a full moon hung low in the clear sky.

A full moon. A shiver ran through Tain and then suddenly in the distance there was the ringing of horns and as the moon rose so to did a series of blood-curdling howls and bays that came from the darkness off to Tain's left.

Thunder, who up until now had been unfazed by everything battle had thrown at him, reared his head back in a skittish neigh. The horse slowed and checked to a canter, then a trot then to a nervy stillness. His ears were flat back. Tain glanced back and saw horses skidding to a halt and rearing up, uncontrollable to their surprised riders.

Tain heard again the baying of hounds on the wind and then suddenly a horse came into view, galloping round the western corner of the city wall, a horn blowing wildly in the rider’s lips.

It was Canthiss. He let fall the horn and instead held aloft the purple and yellow pendant of the Ironfangs and behind him came a pack of a hundred or more huge Northolt hounds in spiked black armour.

At their head was a hound unlike any other. Immense, black haired and deadly.

Baron Ironfang was coming to the hunt under a full moon and to his delight the world was stuffed full of prey that he was allowed to kill.

He followed Canthiss joyfully into the fray and his pack followed with him. Behind them came the men of Northolt, mostly on horseback and among them on foot, small but doughty were Gnome warriors bearing stout war hammers.

Tain kept his men where they were as he watched the terror spread through the enemy ranks as the Baron and his hounds literally tore through them. There was little they could have done to assist; at any rate no horse would go near the hounds.

There were cries suddenly from among their own side and Tain turned his gaze to the infantry to see what had alarmed them. The city gates were swinging open a second time and a new force was being released. An immense force it seemed.

Unordered, without any seeming leaders or plan, a mass of people were walking steadily out from the gate. They were armed with everything from swords to clubs to kitchen knives and even brooms. Among them were women, children and the old.

Tain looked at them with horror. He guessed rightly that around every neck there would hang a pouch.

Canthiss rode across the field to him and Tain looked stricken at him, “I cannot order my men to kill women and children. I won’t don’t it!” Tain cried, “Not again!”

“If we cannot remove the pouches and we cannot stop them. What else are we do?” Canthiss asked equally stupefied at the sight.

Tain shook his head. He did not know what to do. “Maybe we can find some way to entrap them?” he suggested desperately.

“They will fight to the death,” Canthiss pointed out grimly, “You know that.”

Tain craned his neck to look out over the field of battle, searching for the banner of the King of Domina or that of Grande. “We have to get orders,” he said and spurned Thunder towards the banner of King Bellas.


The Druid backed away along the roof. Where was Melladonna hiding? She sensed something behind her and spun around just as some sort of large snake with a flattened head shot up and spat something unpleasant towards her face. She darted aside just in time, the fluid striking her cloak. She could hear the material hiss as she hit the ground rolling, she cast the cloak aside. When she was back on her feet Melladonna was gone again.

She closed her eyes and reached out with her mind, trying to sense Melladonna. “Behind again! Damn she is good,” the Druid cursed to herself. Something hit her hard across the back of her head and she was knocked aside. She looked up through blood streaks and saw a bear looming over her. She could feel her nose was broken in the fall and her shoulder too possibly.

Melladonna easily swept her up and tossed her backwards where she crashed into a chimney stack, its ancient brickwork crumbled under the impact and the top of it collapsed down onto the street far below.

The Druid lay breathing heavily in its wreckage. Pain was searing through her blurring her vision and eating into her concentration. The bear subsided back into the shape of Lady Erwin.

“That is no way,” the Druid panted spitting blood onto the slates of the roof, “for a Lady to behave,” she managed.

Melladonna smiled down at her, “What would you know about it?” she sneered. She paced around the Druid who began painfully to crawl away from Melladonna, squirming along the palace roof towards its edge and the window.

“I will give you a final request,” Lady Erwin announced magnanimously sneering at the Druids attempts to crawl pitifully away, “I will let you choose your own death. What shall it be? Torn apart by a great bear?” her form for a second shimmered back into bear shape, then reverted to human again, “Savaged by a wild wolf?” and there was a wolf to match anything in Ironfangs kennels, and then again she twisted back, “How about something more exotic, something from my home lands perhaps?” A winged serpent with a multicoloured fan crest appeared before the Druid, it flapped its wings and hissed, then reformed into Melladonna, “Tell me, how would you like to go?”

The Druid had reached the edge of the roof. With a struggle of will she slowly stood up, panting and dripping blood.

“Chose,” the Lady said coldly.

“I already have,” the Druid replied. She flipped over in the air backwards and catching hold of the roofs edge swung down.

She crashed feet first through the window below neatly striking Cloewyn within who was meditating his powers into the Lady.

It knocked him out cold.

She heard Melladonna cry out on the roof above.

_________________
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Compiled and annotated by Eldorion.


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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 2:56 pm

The sun was setting, Tain felt it should have gone down in a blood red sky but instead it just slouched away behind the grey clouds. Fortunately the night would be bright, a full moon hung low in the clear sky.

A full moon. A shiver ran through Tain and then suddenly in the distance there was the ringing of horns and as the moon rose so to did a series of blood-curdling howls and bays that came from the darkness off to Tain's left.

Thunder, who up until now had been unfazed by everything battle had thrown at him, reared his head back in a skittish neigh. The horse slowed and checked to a canter, then a trot then to a nervy stillness. His ears were flat back. Tain glanced back and saw horses skidding to a halt and rearing up, uncontrollable to their surprised riders.

Tain heard again the baying of hounds on the wind and then suddenly a horse came into view, galloping round the western corner of the city wall, a horn blowing wildly in the rider’s lips.

It was Canthiss. He let fall the horn and instead held aloft the purple and yellow pendant of the Ironfangs and behind him came a pack of a hundred or more huge Northolt hounds in spiked black armour.

At their head was a hound unlike any other. Immense, black haired and deadly.

Baron Ironfang was coming to the hunt under a full moon and to his delight the world was stuffed full of prey that he was allowed to kill.

He followed Canthiss joyfully into the fray and his pack followed with him. Behind them came the men of Northolt, mostly on horseback and among them on foot, small but doughty were Gnome warriors bearing stout war hammers.

Tain kept the men where they were as he watched the terror spread through the enemy ranks as the Baron and his hounds literally tore through them. There was little they could have done to assist; at any rate no horse would go near the hounds.

There were cries suddenly from among their own side and Tain turned his gaze to the infantry to see what had alarmed them. The city gates were swinging open a second time and a new force was being released. An immense force it seemed.

Unordered, without any seeming leaders or plan, a mass of people were walking steadily out from the gate. They were armed with everything from swords to clubs to kitchen knives and even brooms. Among them were women, children and the old.

Tain looked at them with horror. He guessed rightly that around every neck there would hang a pouch.

Canthiss rode across the field to him and Tain looked stricken at him, “I cannot order my men to kill women and children. I won’t don’t it!” he cried, “Not again!”

“If we cannot remove the pouches and we cannot stop them. What else are we do?” Canthiss asked equally stupefied at the sight.

Tain shook his head. He did not know what to do. “Maybe we can find some way to entrap them?” he suggested desperately.

“They will fight to the death,” Canthiss pointed out grimly, “You know that.”

Tain craned his neck to look out over the field of battle, searching for the banner of the King of Domina or that of Grande. “We have to get orders,” he said and spurned Thunder towards the banner of King Bellas.


The Druid backed away along the roof. Where was Melladonna hiding? She sensed something behind her and spun around just as some sort of large snake with a flattened head shot up and spat something unpleasant towards her face.

She darted aside just in time, the fluid striking her cloak. She could hear the material hiss as she hit the ground rolling, she cast the cloak aside. When she was back on her feet Melladonna was gone again.

She closed her eyes and reached out with her mind, trying to sense Melladonna.

“Behind again! Damn she is good,” the Druid cursed to herself. Something hit her hard across the back of her head and she was knocked aside. She looked up through blood streaks and saw a bear looming over her. She could feel her nose was broken in the fall and her shoulder too possibly.

Melladonna easily swept her up and tossed her backwards where she crashed into a chimney stack, its ancient brickwork crumbled under the impact and the top of it collapsed down onto the street far below.

The Druid lay breathing heavily in its wreckage. Pain was searing through her blurring her vision and eating into her concentration. The bear subsided back into the shape of Lady Erwin.

“That is no way,” the Druid panted spitting blood onto the slates of the roof, “for a Lady to behave,” she managed.

Melladonna smiled down at her, “What would you know about it?” she sneered. She paced around the Druid who began painfully to crawl away from Melladonna, squirming along the palace roof towards its edge and the window.

“I will give you a final request,” Lady Erwin announced magnanimously sneering at the Druids attempts to crawl pitifully away, “I will let you choose your own death. What shall it be? Torn apart by a great bear?” her form for a second shimmered back into bear shape, then reverted to human again, “Savaged by a wild wolf?” and there was a wolf to match anything in Ironfangs kennels, and then again she twisted back, “How about something more exotic, something from my home lands perhaps?” A winged serpent with a multicoloured fan crest appeared before the Druid, it flapped its wings and hissed, then reformed inti Melladonna, “Tell me, how would you like to go?”

The Druid had reached the edge of the roof. With a struggle of will she slowly stood up, panting and dripping blood.

“Chose,” the Lady said coldly.

“I already have,” the Druid replied. She flipped over in the air backwards and catching hold of the roofs edge swung down.

She crashed feet first through the window below neatly striking Cloewyn within who was meditating his powers into the Lady.

It knocked him out cold.

She heard Melladonna cry out on the roof above.

The Druid glanced down at Cloewyn who was breathing but not moving and then went to the window, she changed back into a bird and fluttered up onto the roof.

Lady Melladonna was lying there, she looked up fearfully as the Druid approached now back in her usual form.

“Just what I thought,” the Druid said, “no other Deity will have you, will they? You have nothing. No power.”

“I have this?” Melladnna snarled and lunged up at the Druid with a dagger in her hand.

In an instant the Druid transformed, a form she had not yet had the chance to try, the water beetle she and Tain had killed in the marsh. She rose up, huge and armoured, her mandibles snapping and spat.

A glob of acidic venom engulfed Melladonna's face and she screamed, dropping the dagger and clutching her hands to her melting flesh. Blinded and in agony she staggered passed the Druid and plummeted from the roof top.

The Druid reverted back to her usual form, “Good riddance too,” she muttered.
But now it was time to deal with Cloewyn.

_________________
Pure Publications, The Tower of Lore and the Former Admin's Office are Reasonably Proud to Present-



A Green And Pleasant Land

Compiled and annotated by Eldorion.


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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 3:06 pm

Tain came in a whirl of hooves and horse sweat up to King Bellas’ position and leapt from Thunder.

“Where did Erwin get an army of such size from??” King Bellas demanded.

“It’s the cities population!” Tain explained panting.

“Are they fleeing?” Bellas asked, looking doubtfully out under the moon at what seemed a large, belligerent opponent, “They do not look like they are.”

“No, they come to fight. To the death. But they are, bewitched, enchanted,” Tain insisted.

At that moment another rider came hurrying up, “Report,” Bellas ordered him.

“It is an army of many thousands, with ever more pouring from the city which seems emptied now. They are civilians my liege, women, old men and even young children walk among them, armed with whatever implements have come to hand it seems,” the man reported.

“There can be no purpose nor sense in slaughtering the cities inhabitants in order to save them,” Bellas growled, “How then do we overcome this sorcery?” he demanded.

“I don’t know,” Tain replied bitterly, “And if we can’t think of a way quickly we may have no choice but to kill them.”


The Druid propped Cloewyn up in the chair and then tied him securely; she slapped him into consciousness and went and stood in the moonlight by the broken window.

She held a small hand crossbow towards him and said calmly, “This dart is treated. If you cry out or do anything stupid I will shoot you with it.”

Cloewyn lifted his head slowly up towards her, “You actually think you can kill me with poison?” he asked without any concern on his face.

“I would rather talk, first,” she replied avoiding the question.

“You cannot figure me out, can you? And you cannot kill me because you cannot decide which side of the scales I come down on,” he smiled at her.

“Actually I think I already know the answer to that. You gave it away yourself when you told us time could not be altered,” she answered holding the crossbow steady, “You already knew Erwin would fail because you were there in the past to see it. Which meant only Erwin thought that it would actually work. So you were never really trying to help him at all. You were not trying to help us stop Astagoth either, were you? Because Astagoth is your God. No, I believe you had another reason for using Erwin, and us.”

“Erwin was hungry for power and vengeance,” Cloewyn commented, “a perfect mix in fact. The promise of power always gets them in the end.”

“He was not really trying to summon Astagoth at all, was he? He thought he was but really he was just reactivating the Circles for you?”

“Erwin was of no use," Cloewyn said with sudden fierceness, "He was no more able to open the Circles than I, he did not have Skinripper's blood afterall but he was still useful. The Circles opened a conduit in the world. It brought His power north to me, enough power to be useful. To manufacture the pouches and reunite the Barbarians as they were once, long ago. And when Erwin became of no further use to me I let you dispose of him.”

“Why did you not just use Skinripper himself? While you had him here?”

“And have that madman back in rule? No, he destroyed the old traditions, the old ways, thought himself a God. I opposed him whilst he lived, I was Cleric to the Knights of Amrod who fought against him; who do you think led the Baron Ironfang's ancestor and his ragtag army to the shores of Scillian that night? I did. But not for their cause. Astagoth is coming. But not for such as Skinripper. Not for a butcher. He needs a wiser ruler of the North than he.”

“And when you take over it will all be sunshine and flowers will it?” she commented sarcastically.

“It will be ordered,” Cloewyn responded curtly, “Everything and everyone in their place, without deviation. We already have the perfect model south across the sea. You must have felt it in your mind. Sensed it in your prayers. The weight of the realm He is building. He is ascending to His greatest height there and now the balance is ready to swing in His favour. All He need do now is come north. To come home. Then the Circle of the World can be can be broken. And He can rule the world manifest.”

“I rather like things the way they are,” she responded firmly.

“Change is always difficult,” Cloewyn replied matter, his tone matter of fact, “But nevertheless, it is coming.”

“What do you mean by that?” she challenged.

“That change is always unexpected,” he stood up unhindered, despite the Druid having tied him to the chair. The ropes fell useless to the floor. She backed off a step or two raising the crossbow threateningly.

“I believe,” Cloewyn said nonchalantly, “that this conversation is over.” He raised his arms and she felt Cloewyn's mind coiling to attack, in the split second she had to react she fired. The bolt struck him in the stomach, he looked down at it, smiled and said, “You cannot poison me, fool!”

“I did not try to,” she responded, smiling back.

Cloewyn hesitated and plucked out the dart and examined it. Suddenly he clutched his stomach which made an obscene series of sounds.

“Poisoning is a tricky thing, as I am sure you are aware,” she commented casually, “All sorts of immunities to poison are possible in our lines of work, magical or otherwise, but I figured, plumbing is plumbing.”

“What?” Cloewyn said confused, sinking down onto the chair clutching his complaining stomach, “What have you done to me?” he demanded.

She casually plucked a vial from one of the belts across her chest, “What I have here,” she said holding it up in the light of the window “Is a nasty little bug. Not a disease as such, nor a poison, just very, very tiny things. Hundreds, maybe thousands living in a single drop of water. You find them in marshes if you know where to look. If they enter the body they goes straight for the bowels and stomach, devouring the lining in a remarkably short amount of time. The most pressing effect of which is to cause a sudden and complete evacuation of the innards, including eventually, the stomach and bowels themselves. At which point of course, you will die. Painfully and possibly of embarrassment.”

She stepped suddenly forward and grabbed Cloewyn violently by the collar of his white robe and stared into his watering eyes, “Or to put it another more blunt way, unless you help me, you are going to shit yourself to death,” she smiled sweetly at him and let him go and strode over to the barrel of stones which was now almost empty.

Replacing the vial to her belt she detached another similar one and held it up, “Now this,” she said with a flourish, “is the antidote.” She took a stone from the barrel in her other hand, “Now, do you want to tell me how these work?”

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 3:14 pm

Duke Grande rode across the battlefield to join King Bellas. He reigned in his horse as he approached shouting, “What’s this I hear? That these are citizens that stand before us?”

The citizens’ army was almost entirely out of the gates now and was slowly but surely advancing towards them in the red glow of their torch lights. The decision on whether to engage or not would have to be taken soon.

“What you hear is true,” Bellas responded darkly, “Women and children!” he spat; “Your Prince Kell is a fine piece of work.”

“His head will be put upon a spike for his treachery!” Grande roared, “But my men will not fight women,” he added.

“Nor mine,” Bellas responded, “But if they press the engagement, as seems likely, then we must fight or retreat.”

“If we had the numbers of Duke Ela-Gor upon the field we could perhaps have hemmed then in against the walls,” Grande complained.

“He has not made the field?” Bellas enquired.

“No, I have not seen his banner raised this day, nor have we had any word of him,” Grande replied in a voice laced with barely concealed contempt.

There was the sound of galloping hooves on the slope above and Canthiss appeared out of the dark. Behind him flames flickered against the trees.

“King Bellas, Duke Grande,” he greeted bowing low and nodded to Tain, “My master, Baron Ironfang, bids you know his men stand ready to assist you.”

“What says he to yonder army?” Bellas responded, nodding towards the citizens.

“That it would be better if they could be avoided,” Canthiss answered carefully, thinking this was true, he shuddered to think what his master might do in his wolf form should he be loosed upon the population.

“Yet we cannot simply retreat,” Grande protested, “And leave the city in Kell's hands.”

Tain looked back at the enemy army. It had advanced more than half of the distance down the road towards the infantry and more were still proceeding in an unhurried swell from the gates, “Whatever we are going to do, we have to decide now,” he said.

“If they engage, we must fight,” Grande insisted, “I see no other way.”

“This is a black decision,” Bellas grumbled, “I will not have my men advance against civilians, what honour is to be found in that? We came to fight a war against Barbarians not to massacre peasants. We will form defensive lines to hold them back as long as may be.”

He gave the order and the runners went out along the lines to pass it on. Grande rode back to his own men to prepare them. Tain watched as the Dominans quickly and efficiently formed lines in the road. Shield men to the front, three deep.

The peasant army was closing. There were women in the front line though mercifully few children. Their faces were blank, inscrutable masks, oddly cold and blue in the glare of the full moon which now dominated the sky.

The Dominan army was equally still so that to Tain the loudest noise seemed to be his own breathing and the beating of his own heart.

The various bits of his body that were wounded were starting to report in and it all felt like bad news.

When this night was over he was going to need some help, he missed the Druids administrations now, and not just her potions. He wondered where she was but there was little time for speculations as suddenly the front line of peasants was running, charging blindly at the defensive lines screaming wildly and nonsensically.

They clashed violently with the shield wall, many were crushed between the shields and those charging behind, soon pikes had to be raised and some were impaled upon them, and the night was rent with cries, many high pitched and feminine. It brought back bad memories for Tain. Images flashed in his mind; burning huts, the cries of women. He shuddered and turned away as the pounding of bodies on shields continued unabated. He drew his sword in miserable mood.

The Druid stared down at the parchment. It was as simple as that. Tear it in two and, she glanced across the room to where the large rock stood in the corner, and smash that infernal thing to pieces.

She picked up the parchment which Cloewyn had finally declared to her and tore it slowly in half before his eyes whilst he wept; claiming, between bouts of stomach pains that his spirit was forfeit now. She could not have cared less.

She picked up the large stone from the corner, being careful not to look directly at it. It was heavy and black, a piece of ancient Circle stone. What was it he had called it, Heavens Stone? She could feel it throbbing beneath her fingers as its power was channelled out to control all those below.

She went to the window with it and lifting it up onto the sill with a grunt she hurled it out and down onto the street below where it shattered into hundreds of pieces upon the cobbles making a sound like a clap of thunder.

Cloewyn screamed behind her.

She turned back to him, “Now I kill you,” she said and drew out a dagger.

There was the sound of footsteps in the corridor outside and the door flew open. The Druid spun round to find a young man standing there.

He had a crown on his head over a floppy fringe of blonde hair, “Who by the Gods are you?” he barked at her, “I demand to know your name?”

“Who are you?” she countered.

“I am Prince Kell,” he said haughtily, “and I demand that you give me your name.”

She stabbed him in the stomach. The Prince stared back at her with a puzzled frown.

“Nothing personal,” she grunted, “but the Balance must be maintained.” She withdrew the blade and Kell gasped. She did not pause but stabbed him a second time and a third and fourth.

The Prince reached out still gulping for breath and seized her by the shoulder, his face still bore a disbelieving confused frown, he hissed into her face, “Who, are you?”

She looked Kell in the eye and then leant in close to his right ear and whispered something.

“What a beautiful and unusual name,” he wheezed.

She stabbed him again and the body went limp in her hand. She let him go and he slumped onto the floor in a pool of blood.

When she turned back around Cloewyn and the antidote were gone.

She went to the broken window and examined the street below but there was no sign of him.

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Compiled and annotated by Eldorion.


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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 3:36 pm

It was immediately apparent to Tain that something had happened. Where a moment before the citizens’ army had been merciless and unrelenting it suddenly erupted into a din of confusion. There were cries and desperate shouts. Children were bawling for their mothers. Mothers were screaming for their children. Men calling for wives and brothers. Fathers for sons. Sons for fathers. All was chaos for a time.

A cry of bells went up from the city towers and the last of the Barbarian army came fleeing out of the gate and hacking their way out fled north into the night.
King Bellas ordered no pursuit but Ironfang and his hounds sprang after them, it was unlikely any Barbarian would be left to return home to the north.

Tain surveyed the carnage in the light of the moon. He had no idea how the spell had been broken though he guessed the Druid had a part in it, but it had come too late for hundreds, whose torn bodies lay in a thick pile upon the road.

There were children, boys and girls, women and men all heaped, limbs mangled together, soaking the grass for many feet either side of the road in a thick red coating and walking in a horrified daze, or in howling groups, the loved ones of the dead, hunting for their lost kin among the fallen.

Tain was asked to join King Bellas and Duke Grande in the grim ride to the palace. Tain was given the honour of riding by Bellas’ side.

As their horses picked their way through the dead the King turned to him, “You proved yourself mighty upon the field this day Tain, the men are full of words of praise for your name. And for those lost, know that to them they died well and sit proudly with their fathers. There is no blame on you, only honour. You led them to good deaths my friend. It shall be known that I have given you the honourary rank of Horse Marshal and such privileges as the post affords are yours whenever you visit my lands.”

Tain thanked the King in halting words, feeling both suddenly overwhelmed and greatly fatigued.

He was not sure what it was he had been seeking all this time, yet here in the satisfaction of this King he had found something. Tain suddenly felt happy, even proud of himself. It occurred to him that it was something he had never felt before.

He was not an inevitable failure after all and that knowledge came as a pleasant surprise and an even greater relief.

They were joined halfway to the gate by Prince Mekhal, who it seemed had made a full recovery since last Tain had seen him.

The Druid was awaiting them also at the city gates, standing in the shadow of the archway.

“Does any know of the whereabouts of my trecherous brother, Prince Kell?” Prince Mekhal asked, “Bring him out to me that he may be judged.”

“He is dead,” the Druid replied stepping forward, “The City and indeed the Kingdom of Futura are yours, King Mekhal.”

Those in the streets around them bent to one knee and led by the Druid a chant went up of, “The King is dead. Long live King Mekhal.”

To the accompaniment of this cry they rode through the city to the palace and the bells rang out to greet them.

Courtiers did not get to be courtiers by being slow to grasp current events. Those who had been smartest had already returned to the palace ahead of the royal party and were gathered in the throne room awaiting their arrival.

As they entered the chant went up, “Hail to the King! Hail to the King!” Mekhal ascend the dais to the throne and turning stood before it. King Bellas stood at its foot with Tain beside him.

Someone had fetched the crown from Erwin's dead head and it was hurriedly brought forward upon a red pillow. Grande took it up and placed it upon Mekhal’s head.

The King sat upon the throne and was cheered by his Court.


It was one week later, the day after the official coronation.

It had been for Tain an excuse to relax, something he had not done for a very long time, and a chance to recover from his wounds.

But today he was wearing some new, rather stylish clothing he had found in the shops of the city and he was feeling good.

His new clothes were rich in quality but not gaudy or bright. He still favoured muted natural colours over the vivid purples and reds that seemed common now in the Palace Court, it seemed that after so long in a state of mourning the courtiers had gone mad for bright colours and there was now a kind of rainbow effect among them when they were gathered together, as they were today as Tain entered the Court.

The doors opposite the throne opened and King Mekhal entered, he was flanked on one side by Duke Grande and on the other by Baron Ironfang and Canthiss.

Tain, the courtiers and assembled dignitaries bowed. Although Tain did so only slightly and stiffly, there was still something in him that rebelled against the notion that all people were not made equal.

The King ascended the steps to his throne and sat to make his address, “You who I have gathered here today I owe more to than any others. Indeed to you I owe my crown and my kingdom.”

“Speaking of owing things,” Tain interrupted boldly and against all protocol, which to his great satisfaction earned him a glowering look from the Baron. He stepped forward and presented Mekhal with the Kings sword, hilt proffered, “I return to you the sword of Kings, as I promised. I have been awaiting an appropriate moment.”

Mekhal stood, approached and took the weapon from him, “I graciously thank you,” he said, “Indeed in my fever I had forgotten and had thought it lost. Great was my mourning for it.”

“It might need a new sheath, that one’s been through rather a lot,” Tain apologized, “Good binding on it though,” he added.

“I have something also for you, if you will accept it,” the King replied, calling over a courtier, who brought upon a red pillow another sword in a deep crimson scabbard. Taking it the King drew out the blade within which was long and fine and had characters engraved along its length in a flowing script.

“This,” the King said, “of old, was borne by the Chief Messenger of the King. A very special messenger who had the total trust of his Monarch, he was feared in any court for when he arrived he embodied the Kings authority, carried with him, under licence as it were, the power of the King. Those who did not hear the Kings word, it was said, felt the sharp edge of his tongue, and so his sword became named, ‘King’s Tongue’,” he held the sword, hilt out towards Tain, “I have a notion to reinstate such a position here in my Court. You, in whose trust my life has already been placed and who were not found wanting, you Tain I would be honoured to have fulfil this ancient post.”

Tain looked at the sword hilt. He saw suddenly two paths ahead of him, as clear as if he stood at a crossroads, one in which he wandered on in search of something he was never quite certain of, the other in which he remained where he was. The choice to stop rolling and put down some roots. What was it he truly wanted after all?

Without further thought he gripped the hilt and accepted the sword.

“I am gladdened,” the King smiled warmly at him.

Tain backed off to his place and whispered to Ironfang, “Well, I guess we are both kind of noble now.”

Ironfang scowled back at him and Tain grinned.

King Mekhal then turned to the Baron, “To you Baron Ironfang I have nothing to give save that which was truly yours from the beginning, the governing of the Toll Road and Keep I return to your family and hence forth it will be known by its name of old, Southolt.”

Ironfang bowed low before the King, “You majesty is most gracious,” he said, “I will endeavour to restore its fortunes to former glories as they were in the days of my fathers before me.” Canthiss looked less pleased.

The King now turned to Grande, “What would you ask of me Duke? For your men no less have spilled their blood in my cause and I owe you no less a debt for that.”

“I would have nothing,” Grande replied proudly, “save that you continue in the manner in which you have begun; honouring our past and our traditions. Leaving the Nobles to serve, carrying out the Kings Justice and Rule, as has been the way for all the long years of our fathers before us.”

“That will I solemnly do for so long as I live to serve. Today we will mourn and celebrate our embalmed dead with equal measure.”


The ceremony for the fallen took place outside the city walls where the whole population it seemed to Tain had come to pay their respects. Later the mourning turned to celebration at victory and for the new King.

Tain however did not feel in the mood for revelry and he slipped out of the Court early and made his way to his quarters within the Palace, the feel of his new sword against his thigh oddly reassuring.

He went straight to the balcony doors which he threw back. He felt the cool breeze on his face and stepped out.

The balcony overlooked a courtyard. Night was drawing in. Below him Baron Verence had arrived complete with musicians and whilst they played a colourful mass of drunken revellers danced the night away around them. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, tomorrow loved ones would still be gone, wounds would still hurt, terrible memories would haunt, but for now there was the sweet bliss of alcohol to take all else away.

The Druid appeared at the balcony doors and coming out sat silently beside him as if she had been not been absent for days.

“Why did you not come to see the Kings coronation? He was in generous mood,” Tain asked her, “You might have gotten a Barony out of it.”

“You did well I hear. Bearer of ‘Kings Tongue’ and the Kings Justice no less,” she smiled.

“Well, it’s a job,” Tain shrugged, “and what about you? What’re your plans?”

She put a gentle hand to his cheek, “Are you asking me if I am going to stick around?” she said looking deep into his eyes.

“Well, I wouldn't complain if you decided to,” he replied and kissed her.

She responded then pulled away from him, “We have not won yet, you do know that? All we have had here is a little victory, a small weight in our favour on the scales of balance. The mass is still against us,” she said, “There is a whole continent across the ocean which is looking eagerly north. They are coming.”

“You never look on the bright side do you? It can't all be about the end of the world you know, we have to live too,” Tain commented dryly.

“I have my duty to Elhonna, before myself,” she said by way of reply, “until my part is done I must put aside all else.”

“So what are you saying?”

“You have your place here now, I know where to find you when I need you. I will go back to the marsh again. See the Gnome Chief in better times and speak with the marsh now the evil of Erwin has been lifted from it. Fresh open space and time to think, that is what I need. But I will come back. If you like?”

“Yes, I would like that,” Tain said takin gher soft hand in his.

“And,” she said moving closer and pressing against him, “I did not say I had to leave right away.”


The next morning Tain watched from the top of the gate house as the Druid departed the city.

She strode out onto the plain and leaving the road almost immediately she cut westwards across the grasslands and disappeared round the foot of the hill.

Tain stared after her for some time and he half fancied that just as he turned to leave he saw a small dark speck, a bird, rising up from behind the hills and flying till it was a dot that dwindled to nothing against the western horizon.

Turning away he drew out the sword that now always hung by his side.

‘Kings Tongue’ the engraving down its length said in some ancient Futurian dialect. He was now the Bearer of the Kings Justice.

It was only now really beginning to sink in.

He left the gate tower and went down into the street, the sun was shining overhead and people he passed bowed or curtseyed as he went by, which he hated, both because it was against his principles and because it gave him a warm glow inside that made him feel like a hypocrite.

A sudden irrational urge to go home bloomed up in him, for the first time since he had left Stenor he wished to return there. Not because he was homesick but because for the first time ever he felt he could look his father in the eye and meet his gaze as an equal.

But he belonged here now; he realized that, more even than that, he felt it in his bones. He was where he was meant to be. He belonged to Futura, had fought for her, risked his life for her. And whatever was yet to come to trouble her borders he felt he was now prepared for it.

He began to whistle a happy tune.

He felt he was ready for anything. But he was wrong.


The End.

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Post by azriel on Fri Feb 15, 2013 12:14 am

affraid Shocked I feel several emotions Petty ! Im so used to reading this every night, & taking it for granted that it was here to read! Im gonna miss that ! It says "The End" but I feel its definatley NOT ! Wev had a "taste" of Tain & the Druid, its been left on a "hint". The action was well played, the excitement built up beautifully. The druid is one strong lady, Tain is the "Beowulf" of his era. Theres deffo chemistry between those two. And you've just got to let them have ONE night of passion. I know it was hinted at above, but this is an Undying type of love, even if they are miles apart, they are still together,
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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Fri Feb 15, 2013 10:10 am

Glad you enjoyed it Azriel- a story is no good without a reader- thank you for being mine. I love you

That was meant to be book 1 of a series, but as of yet there are only roughs of the first 3 chapters of the next one- although I know where the story goes.
I reckoned from the original game its based on there were at least 2 more books to cover the main Astagoth story line.
The next book should cover why the elves never turned up to the battle- and their secret past (as well as hints at to where the Druid might come from) and another bit of time travel via an exploding circle to the time of the sorceror Morwin (who gets a couple of name checks in the story above), the rise and creation of Skinripper and you find out who the Cleric Cloewlyn's people, the Adamanti-li were, what happened to them and how come some of their order are till hanging about.
The 3rd book would cover what exactly Heavens Stone is, where it all comes from, how its tied to Astagoth and our heroes find themselves far from home on the wrong continent in a perfectly ordered society. And go and meet some Gods.

'The druid is one strong lady'- Azriel

Yeah not sure she is a good role model mind you, bit too ruthless! But I dislike females in stories that need rescuing all the time, so she is very proactive and never needs rescuing.
And I equally hate kickass females- the Druid is my answer to modern female action heroes.

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