Battle of Dagger Hill [Part Five]
Light passed through the trees and onto the hillside, beckoning the new day come. Kesarakk rose from his bedroll, coughing away the morning cobwebs. When his eyes focused, he scanned their campsite. It was quiet, aside from the loud snores coming from Thren. Kesarakk frowned as he approached the unconscious dwarf. He had been given the third watch and should already be up. The mage knelt down to shake the dwarf awake, then he saw it. The pouch that had contained his poppy powder laid next to Thren, the contents missing. Kesarakk looked to his sleeping companions again, now noticing that one was missing… Chaka.
The mage woke the others, his alert tone bringing them to consciousness. The realization one of their own had deserted them in the cover of night sank into their faces. Kesarakk saw only one thing in the eyes of his companions, defeat. Miller, ever the anchor-man, spoke words of encouragement to his friends as he prepared a cooking fire. The bard sang as he worked, tossing various ingredients into the small pot that he kept on person. The companions ate a quiet meal as the sun rose over the trees. Thren joined them an hour later, the effects of the poppy powder wearing off. He too fell into a somber mood once told of Chaka’s disappearance. Kesarakk put the missing orc out of his mind. There was no going after her, he only hoped she would be safe in this now dangerous reality for which they lived.
The mage set to work preparing his spells, testing various barriers that might be useful in the coming siege. Anastacia created another gateway and brought forth a brown bear, its amber eyes showing an intelligence beyond that of pure instinct. Thren picked up a medium-sized branch, removed its dead leaves and twigs, and melded it to a small boulder creating a makeshift hammer. Makinoji, their newest and unforeseen companion, spoke to her tree-staff, producing seeds and sap for healing. A lute played a lament over their work, Miller being a bard after all. The melody echoed off the stone and into the forest below. Despite their plight and the sadness of the song, Kesarakk couldn’t help but smile. Come what may, this would not be their last day on this earth.
A horn answered the lament with its angry blare. Kesarakk walked over to the stone wall, created by one of Anastacia’s creatures, and peered down. The men of Brekfuntle were gathered around one man who stood on a rotted tree stump. His voice bounced off the stones, giving him an ominous presence. The men cheered as their leader reached the climax of his speech, each raising their weapons in the air. The mage noticed that the most common weapon was a bow, a concerning sight. The horn sounded again, leading the march of the men.
Kesarakk backed away from the wall and rejoined his companions. They stood in a small circle, waiting for direction.
“It’s not my wish to fight.” The mage said to his companions. “However, these men walk a simple life. Deeds are worth more than words. We’ll find no quarter here. Our survival depends on their resolve. Should we shatter that resolve, they’ll leave and we live to fight another day. Should we fail, I say to you I would wish for no finer company to spend my last moments with. Few are as privileged as I to know such honorable and admirable friends.”
Each of the companions smiled at the praise, nodding their heads to convey their similar thoughts. Miller, however, burst into a fit of laughter. “You speak too morbidly, my bearded friend!” said the Bard. “Songs will be sung of the five companions on a rocky hill. What glory will we know when our children and their children hear of the Battle of Dagger Hill. I shall write it myself and know we’ll be forever immortal- martyrs of justice!”
A volley of arrows landed behind Kesarakk, ending the conversation. The mage raised his hands calling his magic to take shape. Arcs of blue light shot from the tips of his fingers and circled about them. Hexagonal shapes formed and stacked on one another until the final one lifted into place, creating a dome around the companions. Thren grasped the wooden handle of his makeshift hammer, igniting the stone head in flame. Anastacia’s bear roared in warning as the shouts of men came from the stone wall.
Arrows filled the sky before them, crashing into Kesarakk’s dome. Cracks formed where the volley was heaviest, but the spell held. The companions could see hands reaching over the stone wall. Seconds later a half dozen men were over it and drawing their weapons. A final volley fell on them. Several arrows broke through the magic, biting into the ground where they stood. Makinoji cried out and went to the ground, an arrow piercing her leg. Anastacia’s summoned bear roared again, leading the charge. Two tons of primal anger bound into the men of Brekfuntle, clawing and biting.
Miller and Thren followed the bear, choosing instead to pick off anyone unfortunate to be caught out of position. Dagger and fiery hammer sang their respective songs as the weapons found their marks. To their credit, the men of Brekfuntle held their ground denying easy victory. One of the men shouted to the archers below. Seconds later the sky filled with another hale of arrows. The wooden shafts buried themselves into the massive bear. The planar creature roared in primal anger as it swatted another man, sending him ten feet into the air and over the stone wall. Miller winced as he heard the man’s body collide with the sharp stones below.
“By blade or by claw, the men still fell, seeking vengeance upon death’s bell!” said the bard to himself.
A fireball lifted into the sky with a whoosh, signaling Kesarakk’s entry into the battle. The mage sent the fiery orb of destruction over the wall and into the men below. A small explosion sounded followed by the fearful screams. Satisfied with the momentary reprieve, he lifted his hands again. Orbs of light surrounded his fingers. They spiraled in the air then shot forward to hit a man in the chest, forcing him to stagger back. Thren, who had been standing mere inches away from the man, brought his hammer up connecting with his groin. The combined attacks brought the man to his knees. The pain was unlike any the man had experienced in his life. He fell to the ground, rocking back and forth wishing for nothing more than the void of unconsciousness to take him.
“Kesarakk!” Anastacia shouted in alarm. Another dozen men hopped the stone wall, drew their weapons, and charged into the bear and his two companions. The mage sent another fireball into their ranks, not as effective as his first, landing a single target. The man dropped to the ground, screaming at the relentless flames, and rolled around trying to stop the magical fire from spreading. A moment later the man stopped moving altogether, life leaving his body. The smell of burnt flesh and blood entered Kesarakk’s nose as he watched the remaining men advance on the trio holding their front line.
“Flames bar not the men of vengeance’s wrath. Stab’n’Jab hold them fast! None shall pass we marry lads!” sang Miller. He readied himself as the next wave approached, dodging to the side in time to miss a strike that would have gutted him. In one swift motion, Miller grabbed the head of the man who had tried to stab him and brought it down, bringing his own blade up to meet the man’s skull halfway. A sickening crack entered the bard’s ears as he buried his dagger, hilt deep, into the man’s head.
Thren brought his makeshift hammer down, sending reverberations through the earth. Spikes formed in a line, cutting through the men of Brekfuntle as an ax would a bundle of fags. Three men fell bleeding from various wounds while a fourth, who did not move fast enough, was impaled on a single spike. His body hung there on the spike, motionless and suspended in air. The remaining men continued their charge. Thren brought his hammer up in time to parry one strike that would have severed his head, but there were too many. One blade cut deep lines into his face, rending flesh and beard from bone. The dwarf let go of his hammer, grabbed that man by the arm, and pulled him forward. The man’s eye met Thren’s forehead. The dwarf could feel rather than hear the wound he had just inflicted. The man fell to the ground. Thren coughed up blood and spat on the man. He would not fall so easily.
Electricity danced over Kesarakk’s two outstretched fingers as he prepared his next spell. A horn sounded in the distance, breaking the mage’s concentration, ending the spell. This horn was not like before. Where the first horn was angry and full of alarm, this new horn was lyrical and shrill. Creatures roared beyond the stone wall followed by the screams of men. Several of these creatures, land drakes, passed over the erect wall as though it wasn’t even there. Atop these massive lizards sat elegant forms in weather-stained armor of greens and browns. The Py’rai had come. The elves continued their ride until they surrounded the combatants, lances at the ready.
Both Kesarakk’s group and the men of Brekfuntle dropped their weapons. One man, who allowed his emotions to cloud his judgment, gave a battle cry and charged forward. The drake before him, to which he charged, opened its maw and breathed a spout of orange flames, engulfing the man. There was no cry of pain, nor protest, only the ominous thud his body made against the cold stone.
“Heart was strong and full of wrath, but fires roar ended at last.” Said Miller, finishing his song.
Another score of drakes came over the wall. One elf, more decorated than his companions, stepped from his mount and removed his helm. Hair, the color of summer bark, flew in the wind as the man’s green eyes surveyed the scene. “Seems we have come just in time.” He said to the captured. “I’m Captain Sinis of the Py’rai Ranger Protectorate. I know of the men of Brekfuntle, but not their quarry. Name yourselves.”
“Kesarakk is my name, and these are my companions.” Said Kesarakk, naming his friends in turn. Sinis smiled to them, the way a parent might after scolding a child caught in a foolish act.
“And what business would the brave men of Brekfuntle have in passing our borders?” asked the Captain, turning from Kesarakk.
“We been chasing these criminals since they fled our village. They killed a score or more of our people and destroyed part of our walls with magic.” Said a man with a swollen eye. Blood traces a line from his cheek to chin where Thren had spat on him not minutes before.
Captain Sinis eyes grew wide, keeping his incredulous grin. He turned back to Kesarakk. “You’ve my respect, Sir Mage. Did you bring their wall down yourself?” The elf’s gaze turned from Kesarakk to the others, trying to uncover the puzzle set before him.
“There were others…” was all Kesarakk could say, remembering the friends he had lost only days before.
Sinis nodded to the mage. “I’m sorry for your loss- all of your losses, but now we have a dilemma. You’ve crossed into Py’raian territory without proper leave. What’s more, you’ve spilled blood on our soil. Until this is sorted, you and your companions remain with the Ranger Protectorate.” The captain turned to the group of men. “As for you, sons of Kaelar, my men will escort you back to your own lands with your dead so you may deal with them as you see fit.”
“We want the criminals!” shouted the first man. “By rights, they’re ours to deal with.”
“By rights, you should not be here.” Retorted Sinis. “Your criminals will remain behind. If your wish is to seek justice, not vengeance, you may send a representative to one of our patrols. We’ll hear your request then.”
“We’ll not leave till their heads are on spikes.” Said the man, anger building in his raspy voice.
Captain Sinis sighed as he raised his arm in a sweeping motion. “Take a look, friend. You’re out numbers, outclassed, and I doubt you would last a minute in a fight with your wounds. We do this as a courtesy to your people and your dead. Do not dishonor them by throwing away your lives so rashly. Go home. Embrace your families. Deal with your grief. When the time comes any crimes will be met with justice. You have my word on this, Champion of Brekfuntle.”
Deflated by the elf’s words, the man bowed his head, accepting his fate. Captain Sinis nodded to one of his scouts and the woman, a mage by Kesarakk’s guess, snapped her fingers. The stone wall came down and the elves herded the men and their dead out of the encampment.
Captain Sinis turned to the bear that sat next to Anastacia, nursing its wounds. “You don’t belong in this world, my friend. Return him to his kind. May he know no other conflicts outside his nature.”
Anastacia smiled to the Captain, then turned to the planar bear. “Thank you.” The elven woman said and planted a kiss on the bloody nose of the bear. The summoner opened another rift and the bear passed through it, returning home.
Satisfied loose ends were tied, the captain to his remaining scouts and returned to his drake. The elf pulled on the reins and brought the creature back to the companions. “While I have been cordial up till now, that can change pending your actions. Come with us free of will and no harm will come to you. Fight or flee and you will be cut down.”
“We accept your conditions, Captain. What will happen now?” asked Kesarakk.
“A day’s march from here is our hold. We will journey there and you’ll meet with the Commander. He will decide your fate.” Said Sinis.
The companions followed their elven captors through the hidden passages of the forest. Thanks to Makinoki’s healing saps, their wounds did not hinder their march. The song of the forest played out in the background, careless of the placid intruders. This forest seemed to be in an eternal spring, neither hot nor cold. A constant breeze swept through the trees, disturbing the leaves and creating a white noise that was almost soothing. Had this been any other day, Kesarakk imagined he would have set up camp, ate a hearty meal, and listened to the life around him.
Sinis brought a horn to his lips and blew a single, sweet note. It rang through the forest as though the trees themselves feasted on the music produced by the wooden instrument. Somewhere up ahead the horn was answered by another. The companions passed the tree line some ten minutes later. A clearing, roughly three hundred feet wide and double that in length, stood before them. Wildflowers and tall grass grew in a chaotic display of color and depth. At the end of the clearing stood twenty-foot walls with stone towers. Elves paced the walls, bows at the ready. The ground shuttered as a crank system opened the gateways to this hidden fortress.
Once inside the companions were instructed to sit as Captain Sinis entered a stone keep. Afternoon meals were brought to Kesarakk and his friends then taken away before the good Captain reappeared. Another man walked with him, highly decorated and held an aura of authority. The Py’rai guards, who remained with the companions, bowed in respect. Kesarakk’s group returned the gesture, not wanting to offend their judicial host. The elven man returned the bow, his silver hair waving in the wend. He waved the guards away, who left without a sound.
“Ah, so this is the answer to all the riddles. You, my friends, have caused more trouble than I fear you’re worth. I’m Commander Turgon. Welcome, enemies of the Abbey.” Said the elf.