tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Solitary Arrow Ch. 20

The Solitary Arrow Ch. 20

bymack_the_knife©

The battle had commenced.

Powerful spells were loosed by the combat wizards on both sides, throwing both magical attacks and defenses. Great shimmering shields interposed themselves between ranks of troops and incoming arrow volleys. Powerful explosions rent into massed ranks and shredded the palisade wall in places by turns. Through the ensuing smoking roil ran screaming footmen, their spears glinting in the newborn firelight.

Harlen ducked back as a fireball screamed skyward from below the command platform. It trailed blue and white sparks behind it as it accelerated into the air overhead. It reached its zenith and exploded, a great orange-yellow ball of roiling flame. A half a heartbeat later an impressive thud reached the ground.

Scattered folk all over the field of battle glanced up, wondering what this might be. Soon, it was obvious that it had no effect on one side or the other, and eyes turned back to the urgent task of killing one's opponents.

The bowmen upon the left palisade were a touch confused, however. Their opposites on the traitor side did not charge forward to bring themselves into range to fire upon the wall. They paused a short moment before their captain ordered them to turn and fire at the main mass of Isolationist troops.

It was a few moments later that Cendiolor noted the lack of movement to his right and cast his sight that way. "What are those idiots waiting for?" He yelled to his lieutenant.

Just then, suddenly, there were three great muffled whumps from the ranks of the unmoving archers. Three white columns of fire lanced into the heavens over the battle. As eyes tracked the movement upward, again wondering what was afoot, the three columns stopped and were replaced by a trio of suns.

Two seconds later, Cendiolor yelled at his lieutenant. "Find out what those fools are doing!" There was no answer. He turned to see arrows raining down on his massed troops from their right. His lieutenant was pierced several times and lay dying upon the earth.

Screaming a curse, he wheeled his horse about as the second volley of arrow fire fell amid the massed formation and around the wall-like force barriers the wizards had constructed.

"Turn about!" He screamed to his captains. "We are flanked!"

The elven forces were quick-witted compared to human troops, but they still wheeled slowly. Cendiolor winced as he watched the foremost ranks of the right-side company detach themselves from the main body and charge into the flank of his main mass. Swords appeared in the hands of the archers, who rightly would only carry hyandai, typically. As the foremost of these attackers smashed into the side of the formation, he noted a disparity of size that caused his heart to quail.

The rightmost company was not elven! Light gray cloaks were being ripped aside now, and revealed humans in green tabards and silver mail. Rangers! How had the Windy Islanders sent so many so far?

The commands of the leaders of the rangers could now be heard; they were speaking Westron, not the dialect of Syrisian spoken on the Windy Isles. Cendiolor's forces were now turned about and facing their attackers, but the humans had already decimated them badly, cutting a huge notch into their ranks. Arrows still rained down upon them from the walls, as well.

He prepared to call down the archers from the left flank, turning to see their situation. Just as the massed cavalry of the village smashed into them at some phenomenal speed. The cavalrymen were not even bothering to attack; they simply plowed through the ranks on magically accelerated mounts. Elven archers were crushed, trampled, and flung about like rag dolls.

The attack was beginning to route. Some of the rearmost were already fleeing into the woods. He turned to a trio of wizards nearby, who were busily shielding the command section from incoming arrows.

"Give me fog!" He screamed. "Give me a LOT of fog!"

The leader of the wizards nodded and they changed their incantation. Soon, roiling up from the ground came a dense fog, spreading quickly.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Harlen watched with pride as the huntsmen of Morrovale turned upon the attackers. The nobles with stunned, gaping mouths, and Hyandai with obvious and open glee. Even Harlen was startled when she whooped loudly as the first ranks of the huntsmen plowed into the flank of the elven forces, tearing aside their cloaks of concealment.

"Release the cavalry!" She screamed to her aides. "Take down their archers." Two aides took off south at a sprint.

Turning she yelled at the captain of the left wall. "Get your spearmen to the gate, sally forth and assist the humans!" The captain nodded, and relayed the yell, spearmen began leaping from the wall and running toward the gates.

"What, what is happening?" Lord Ircandann asked, his eyes wide. "Where did those rangers come from?"

Harlen smiled broadly. "My lands." He said. "They are my colleagues, other huntsmen. From the look of it, damn near all of them." He appraised the number. "Perhaps even some others from my homelands."

"We sent not for aid from the human lands." Lady Melewen said, dismayed. "How did they know to come?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Tammer looked over the field as the charge commenced. "Come on boy, give us a sign." He muttered.

As the spells started flying and elves started dying, a fireball shot up from behind the fortifications of the village. It screamed to height, then detonated.

"Good enough!" Tammer hissed, then turned toward the apprentices manning the mortars. "Fire those damn things!"

The report from the launch of the flares was deafening. A moment later, the dark field was lit brightly by the flying alchemical flares. "Take down their wizards!" Tammer yelled, lifting his bow and firing. The sound of arrows flying overhead was like the whistling winds.

The first volley hardly was noticed in the confusion, but upon the second, the elven army began to wheel about, realizing they had foes upon their own field.

"First and second rank. Engage!" Tammer screamed. The first two rows of huntsmen dropped their bows and drew sword, charging forward.

The shock alone counted for much. As the stolen cloaks were cast aside, the elves were dismayed, then overborne by the massive human warriors, wielding heavy-bladed broadswords.

For sixty years, Tammer had kept the arsenal and the uniforms in his cellar. He also kept the oath.

All those whom the original forty had trained, and their apprentice's apprentices had taken the oath, though they thought it just idle speech, a relic of bygone days.

'To defend the lands of Morrovale and uphold the ways of the Windirii.' Most simply thought it was just an homage to the elven philosophy on game management and conservation. They were reminded of that oath, and a few shirked it, most did not.

Perhaps more for Harlen, one of their own, than for the elves, they had come. They marched into this foreign land and they were doing battle for people they did not know. This was the legacy that the elves had wrought so many years before. Morrovale enjoyed prosperity in part from that legacy, and now Morrovale was repaying the debt.

He pulled his own gray cloak off, and those about him were doing the same. They had acquired these fine garments from that wayward company of traitorous elves. It had been sheer luck that Tammer and the huntsmen had stumbled upon the slumbering encampment in broad daylight. The elves had been resting up for this night's sortie.

There had not even been many deaths. They had so surprised the elves in their forest fastness that they were taken alive, for the most part. He had to leave fifty men behind to guard them. This was much debated, and thought was given to putting the traitors to the sword and moving on with all forces.

The three elder rangers had vetoed that very idea. They could hardly be upholding the ways of the Windiri and then commit such a heinous crime.

He looked on with pride as his daughter ducked under an elven spearman's thrust and skewered the traitorous scum with her own sword. He had tried to talk her out of coming, but once she knew that Harlen and Hyandai were in dire straights, she not only insisted, but half her company had come with them as well. The females that Wendy was grouped with were quickly earning the title of the 'Three Banshees,' as they screamed like hellions as they attacked and sent men to their deaths.

"Let's do this, I'm weary of the battle already." Tammer yelled out. Bows were dropped and swords drawn by the remaining ranks of the huntsmen. "Charge!" Tammer screamed.

The second hundred humans threw their weight behind the first and the elven lines began to waver dangerously.

Then the fog descended.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Harlen watched the fog billow from the earth. "What sorcery is this?" He asked.

Hyandai looked down at the wizards below. "Put a stop to this!" She yelled, waving a hand at the fog.

"We will try Warleader." One of the wizards replied, already he was invisible in the roiling gray mist.

Somehow, hearing men die invisibly was even more horrible than when it was witnessed. Screams were heard out in the distance, but how far? And who had it been, friend or foe? Was the victor of that skirmish now running onward with murderous intent?

Shapes moved in the fog and emerged. Things were now utterly confused, which had been the intent, Harlen was sure. He watched as a figure in a gray cloak emerged from the fog and was cut down by an arrow from Hyandai's bow.

"They are among us, but it is no longer an organized assault." She said. "Go find Tammer, get the rangers into the village."

Harlen nodded and ran for the gates. He drew forth his broadsword and was glad that he had. A cloaked shape rushed out of the fog with a long spear aimed at Harlen's chest. He parried the point and turned as the elf tried to cancel his momentum. Harlen aimed a blow and felt it land upon the elven footman's back, the shock of the blow shot up his arm, and he heard the sound of ribs being rent asunder.

Harlen did not even wait to be certain of his opponent's death, he turned and continued running, hearing the screams of elves, men, and the deadly whistle of arrows loosed blindly.

At the gate was carnage; bodies of both Loyalist and Isolationist elves littered the ground here. He stepped through the treacherous footing and started hearing words of Westron. Aiming for that he moved forward cautiously. Three men ran up to him. He recognized them, fellow huntsmen.

"Harlen!" One shouted. "We've gotten separated."

Harlen pointed toward the open gate, though it was obscured in the mists. "Go into the village, find elves not cloaked, aid them!"

They all nodded and headed toward the village gates.

"You lot, turn about, find that damn leader!" A voice screamed, one Harlen recalled screaming at him many times in his apprenticeship.

That's Tammer, Harlen thought, else I'm a wood nymph.

Harlen moved forward, and saw his old mentor materialize out of the fog, commanding a small knot of huntsmen. "Tammer!" Harlen yelled. "The duke will have your balls for breakfast when he hears of this!"

Tammer turned about. "No he won't." He smiled back at Harlen. "There's a clause in the agreement, long forgotten, I'm sure, but it is there. 'The Agreement' was the charter under which the huntsmen operated. It was oft referred to but seldom actually looked upon. Tammer somehow looked younger, or so Harlen perceived. He knew the old man to be at least eighty, perhaps even ninety. Yet, now he looked no older than fifty or so summers.

"Hyandai says your swords would serve better in this devil's murk inside the walls." Harlen said, watching for cloaked shapes.

Tammer nodded. "You lot!" He yelled. "Find others and come to the wall, go into the village!"

Trevir emerged from the mist. "I thought I heard you two bickering like old ladies." He said, smiling. He had his bow in hand and an arrow knocked.

Another flare fired into the air, illuminating the fog eerily as it sparked in the sky to sun-brightness.

"You brought the apprentices?" Harlen asked, as a handful of youths and one young girl emerged behind Trevir, from the dense fog.

Tammer chuckled. "Trevir wouldn't accept no. And when he came, the others came, too." He replied. "They're huntsmen, Harlen, don't expect them to bow out because they're young."

"I took the oath, same as you." Trevir said indignantly. "And my bow will kill just as readily, though my arm isn't quite so fat. Master Harlen."

This brought a round of chuckles from the other apprentices and caused Harlen to smile, as well.

"To the wall, you brats." Tammer yelled. "We've elven women to liberate!"

The solitary female apprentice looked at him with scathing reproach. "And lads, too, I'm sure, Nadia." Tammer added, waving his hand toward the wall as she smiled and sprinted after the boys. He smiled after them. "Really, Harlen, did you think these lot would abandon their mentors to a battle?" Tammer looked at him knowingly. "Would you have stayed when you were that age?"

Harlen shook his head. "No, I wouldn't have." He agreed. "I would have snuck behind you even if ordered to stay."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ceriandel heard the battle start and chafed at being placed so far from the action. He paced back and forth as the sky lit up with flares. "What happens there?" He asked rhetorically.

The footmen simply shrugged in response.

A young elf, one of Hyandai's aides, came running by them.

"What passes, aide?" Ceriandel asked.

The aide stopped for a brief moment, panting. "The rangers have arrived, we're saved!" He said excitedly. "I must not tarry, the cavalry is ordered to attack their archers." The youth took off at a sprint again.

"Rangers?" Ceriandel asked no one in particular. "What rangers?"

One of the footmen said. "There were rumors that a company of rangers was coming to help. They must have arrived."

The blade dancer looked at him oddly. "That was just a rumor, soldier." He said. "Hyandai started it to trick the enemy into sparing more of their number scouting in all directions."

A human ran past them, being pursued by three cloaked elves. It was not Harlen. The blade dancer spun into action, cutting the leading elf down in an instant, then spinning his blade through the spear shafts of the other two. They both fled into the fog that followed them. The human turned, realizing he was no longer pursued.

He was wearing the green tabard of a ranger.

"Rumor, ehladrim?" Asked one of the footmen. "A damn convincing one, in my eyes."

"Ranger, whence came you?" Ceriandel asked in Syrisian.

The man walked back toward them, smiling broadly. "I don't speak that tongue, blade dancer." He said, in Westron. "But I thank you. Those bastards ganged up on me."

The fog now engulfed them and there were screams and sounds of the fight all about.

"Westron rangers?" Ceriandel asked.

The man looked into the fog. "If you would have it so, sure." He said. "Tammer seems to think so, crazy old coot."

Ceriandel shrugged. "Why not?" He asked. "I would rather have Westron rangers than traitors in Embalis."

The man nodded. "That's the spirit, always look for the cloud behind the silver lining." He said. "If you'll excuse me, I need to find my squad." The man tromped off into the fog.

Ceriandel blinked. "Enough of this." He said. "Let us move, there are enemy in the village, and we are going to kill a few." The spearmen murmured agreement and picked up their weapons.

Just then a dozen cloaked figures ran out of the fog toward them, spears leveled.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

As Harlen disappeared into the fog, Hyandai turned about and ran for the throne chamber. The Ehladrel needed to be protected.

As she entered the chamber, she saw Cendiolor strike down Lord Ircandann. "Now, he would not tell me. Perhaps you will, bitch." He yelled at Lady Melewen, who also had just entered the room. "Where is the Ehladrel?"

Lady Melewen drew her sword. "You traitorous bastard son of a orc." She said, her eyes flashing with rage. She advanced toward the former captain.

Cendiolor chuckled. "A warrior clan you may be of, Melewen." He said. "But you are no match for me in combat." He lifted his warsword and faced her. "Shall we commence?"

They joined combat with one another, and despite his braggadocio, she was not nearly as incompetent as he had thought. Hyandai used the moment to slip behind one of the curtains inside the columns and grab up the Ehladrel. She slung it onto her back and emerged from the alcove.

Cendiolor had wounded the lady, and was approaching her with a murderous glint in his silvern eyes. "Well, I shall search at leisure after dispatching you." He said. "I warned you that you were not match, stupid cur."

"Excuse me for interrupting, Captain Cendiolor." Hyandai said, drawing out the Ehladrel. "Was this what you sought?"

His eyes widened as she pulled forth the weapon. Hyandai charged toward him, the blade humming in the misty air as she whirled it in rapid, deadly arcs.

The Captain fled the chamber, and ran into the fog. She let him go, kneeling beside Ircandann. He still lived, but barely. "Lady Melewen, please attend your husband." Hyandai said, needlessly, as Melewen was already running forward as best she could on a wounded leg.

Hyandai rose from the fallen lord and scanned the fog. An aide ran up out of the mist. "Warleader!" He exclaimed. "The Lady Melewen's aide, Rannalath, has betrayed us, he has slain Centhan and stolen the Ehladrel from your chamber." Her voice slowed as she spoke, eyeing the weapon in Hyandai's hands. "Lady Hyandai?" She asked.

"He stole only a copy." Hyandai said. "And showed his treason for it." She turned toward the gate. A small group of huntsmen turned rangers emerged from the fog, forming from blurry outlines.

"Lady Hyandai." One said. "You are well, I see." She vaguely recognized him from Morrovale.

"Please protect the lord and lady." Hyandai said tersely, then ran into the fog, headed for the front gate.

The huntsmen shrugged at each other and murmured a moment. Lady Melewen lifted her eyes from her tending to her husband and regarded the massive men.

"Thank you." She said, her eyes grateful and her lips smiling.

The huntsmen nodded. "Happy to do it." Said the leader.

The men spread out into a loose circle around the two elves as she went back to tending Ircandann. It was not for long moments that she realized the irony of the moment.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Tammer and Harlen moved through the fog quickly, seeking for enemies and allies alike. The apprentices had disappeared, but could be heard from time to time shouting at one another. Harlen heard a whistle past his ear, and turned to see an elven spearman, wearing the gray robes of the Isolationists, take an arrow to his shoulder. He dropped his spear as Tammer ran the elf through with his sword.

Harlen looked back over his shoulder to see a grinning Trevir stringing another arrow into his bow. "You could have hit me, you twerp." Harlen said.

"But I didn't, I'll aim better next time." Trevir said, giggling and disappearing back into the roiling mist. He would excuse Trevir's tongue this night, Harlen decided, he was a soldier for now, and should be given all the latitude a man who risks life and limb deserved.

The two of them walked down the path and finally came upon the throne chamber, and upon the surreal scene of humans guarding elven nobility.

Tammer shook his head. "This night proves to grow odder by the moment." He said.

Harlen walked over to the huntsmen and asked about Hyandai.

"Miss Hyandai went that direction." One huntsman said, pointing toward the stair into the Turaorn.

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