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  1. #1
    Birthright Developer Raesene Andu's Avatar
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    Chapter 1 (The Battle of Friedlund)

    The horns sounded the retreat as the Prince watched from the hill above. His forces had been successful in yet another battle and the weaker armies of King Alaric were now fleeing before him. Soon all of Friedlund would be his, and with the capture of the province he would be in a position to move on the southern capital of Kiedel itself.
    Below him he could see the bodies of hundreds of soldiers, both his own and the enemy. This battle had been costly, but hopefully the war would soon be over and the rest of Rohrmarch his. Fifteen years of warfare were nearly at an end, and finally he would claim what was his by right of birth, the throne of Rohrmarch. Pieter Oden almost laughed as he watched the enemy forces fleeing like rabbits towards the forests to the south. With a wave of his hand he motioned towards the battle field and spurred his horse towards the lower ground.
    The Royal Mounted Guards followed him, their purple cloaks flapping in the light breeze as they rode down the hillside towards the battlefield. Once they drew closer the where the fighting had raged the Prince's party could see the true damage the battle had caused. All around them now were the twisted bodies of men, both theirs and the enemy. Over three hundred soldiers now lay dead in the fields of Friedlund and an even larger number were wounded and would be out of the war until they were healed or recovered without the aid of the priests of Kirche. Already Kurt Warkinde's priests were among the men using their powers to close the wounds of those who would recover, and ease the suffering of the dying. The prince could see that there were too few priests and too many wounded though.
    The prince rode past these men towards the stream that crossed the field. There at the ford the fighting had been most intense, and Alder the Prince's oldest son had lead the cavalry against the kings main infantry units. Spotting the familiar banner just across the stream the prince rode to greet his son.
    "Alder," he called out.
    His son turned around and waved to his father, motioning him to come over to where Alder and the other generals where gathered around a small group of prisoners. Riding up the Prince could see that three prisoners had been tied to one of the few remaining trees on this side of the stream.
    The prisoners were a motley looking bunch, obviously not members of the nobility. Each was dressed similarly, in the uniform of King Alaric's Infantry. Standing in front of the prisoners was a small group of men, including Prince Alder, General Otto Osternord, and the priest of Kirche, Kurt Warkinde. It was to the priest that the prisoners were talking, treating him more like a lost friend, than their enemies chief religious advisor. The Prince smiled grimly, obviously Kurt's magics was being put to good use.
    "Greeting father," said Alder. "It is good that you are here, it seems these prisoners may have information that you might find interested."
    Prince Oden dismounted from his horse and walked over the where his generals and the priest were interrogating the prisoners.
    "And the King said that we would soon be getting reinforcements," the enemy soldier was saying. "We were supposed to leave from here and go to Edel where we were to combine the armies for a strike on Werthangen."
    "What do you think father," ask Alder.
    "He could be telling the truth, it sounds just like something Alaric would do moving against a lightly defended province while our main army were attempting to take the rest of Friedlund."
    "Or he could be a spy planted to make us think that way," said General Osternord with a frown. "That is something that Alaric has tried before. You remember the battle of Faustgaan three years ago, he planted that noble, Luther Strient, who told us that Alaric was about to attack Rohrgaard. So we moved all our troops into the capital only to have King Alaric turn his forces around and take back Edel. We still haven't recovered from that loss."
    "Nonsense," said the Prince. "Our forces have never been better, you saw how they crushed the enemy today. I say we strike against the enemy capital now while our armies are still fresh and his are injured and on the run. With any luck our forces can be camped around the capital before the week is out. Losing Werthangen is not important if we take Nunkappel and the fortress at Keidel. With his capital in our clutches Alaric will have no choice but to surrender and the victory will be ours."
    "But my lord what if Alaric and his entire army is in Keidel, instead of Edel, then we would be up against a force equal to our own, and they would have the protection of the walls of the city and the castle itself."
    "Hah, how many soldiers can he have left. He lost at least two hundred here today and close to a hundred at the battle last week when we first moved into this province. Even if he combined all his forces in Kiedel we would still out number him by maybe three hundred."
    "More if we bring in the troops from Rohrgaard father," spoke up Alder. "If we stripped Rohrgaard of the armies protecting it and bought them south then we would have a force capable of destroying anything Alaric could throw against up. Also we could bring in the artillery from Osternord and use them in the battle."
    "It will take time though my lord," said the General as he climbed down back up onto the saddle of his horse. "If we wait for all these troops we will be vulnerable if Alaric decides to move his entire army north, back into Friedlund. I might remind you that Alaric still has over one and a half thousand soldiers left at the very least, while we have but a thousand here and another thousand in the north. If we wait here and Alaric attacks with all his forces we will lose the gains we have made this day. I suggest moving into Edel, just in case Alaric is there, while moving the Rohrgaard army into this province in case Alaric tries to take it back. They could fortify the city and then Alaric would never retake the province."
    Prince Oden looked around at his advisors for a minute, then turn to the priest. "And what says you Kurt, have you no words of wisdom to offer us".
    "My Prince, I am but a humble servant of Kirche not a skilled warrior like your son or the general here."
    "That rubbish Kurt, you have been fighting as long as Otto here, and much longer than either me or my son. Come now what ideas to you have to assist us."
    Kurt Warkinde smiled at that, and slowly got to his feet and left the side to the prisoners to stand next to his prince. "I agree with you my lord, if at all possible we must strike against Alaric now, crush his armies before he has a chance to regroup. My sources in the capital say that he has far too few soldiers left to successful defend it and if we strike we may take it quickly before he can muster and train new troops in Kiedel. But we must move quickly if we are to do this. For if we wait the we will fail."
    "Then it is decided," the Prince said with a grin. "Alder you will go to Rohrgaard and gather as many soldiers as you can and then come back here to Friedlund. Next you will bring the infantry and Artillery from Osternord south as well in case they are needed. While you are doing this the rest of the army will head south and take Kiedel from that fool Alaric. With any luck the war will be over by winter and we can spend the Eve of the Dead in the Kiedel fortress. Now let us be off before the enemy has time to stop running and start picking up their swords again. Kurt, Otto, you are with me."
    With that final remark Pieter Oden leapt into the saddle of his horse and spurred it towards the camp where the rest of the men were based. Otto von Osternord and Kurt Warkinde followed suit, but not before the priest stopped and said a few words to one of the guards standing near this prisoners. The guard nodded and as the trio rode off he pulled out his dagger and slit the throats of the three prisoners. Alder Oden watched the now dead prisoners slowly slide to the ground before he too mounted his horse and rode off towards the camp, his five personal guards in tow. As he rode he could see the army being gathered up by their commanders and being prepared to march south. Men were groaning at the thought of a long march after a hard battle and he hoped his father had the sense to give them some rest before fighting Alaric's army or they would fail because the men would be too tired to hold their weapons. But Alder knew that his father was no fool and he would ensure that his army was ready before attacking Keidel.
    As Alder passed the camp the shadows of the coming night drew ever closer and he could almost see the spirits of the dead walking the battle field that he was now riding through. A faint mist also was spreading across the field. Although common enough in Rohrmarch this night it brought a feeling of dread to the young prince and the soldiers in the camp. It was on night like this the legends said that the dead walked the earth and the creatures of shadow crept out from the other world to claim the souls of the living. Alder didn't believe all of the stories, but he still drew his cloak tighter around him as he rode on into the night.

    As darkness fell across Cerilia something was stirring. It may not have been a creature of the Shadow world but this monster was even more feared and deadly than a skeleton, or ghost. Price Raesene, known to others as the Gorgon watched the sun slowly dipping towards the western horizon. To the west the Gorgon could see the fires of one of the twin volcanos that stood on either side of Kal-Saitharak, the fortress known as Battlewaite by the Anuireans. As the sun set he watch the fires grow brighter until the reddish light they cast lit up the fortress.
    It was said that Kal-Saitharak was never truly in darkness and this night that statement was certainly correct. The western volcano was erupting again with rivers of fire slowly snaking their way down the side of the mountain. The Gorgon noted this and more as he watched from the throne room of his fortress. But where others might be worried he was only concerned that the lava may damage the roads leading away from Kal-Saitharak to the south. He knew that the fires could never damage the fortress, although it might be amusing to watch his subjects burning in the flame. Soon he grew tired of watching the lava and returned to his throne, a massive iron structure crafted to support his eight foot tall stony skinned body. Lowering himself onto the throne he sat and watch his latest generals fighting amongst themselves over who was to have the honour of meeting with him first.
    "Pathetic fools the lot of them," he thought. "Still at least this bunch were better than the last lot. I wonder if they will make as amusing sounds when I finally get tired of their petty squabbling and throw them out the window of the throne room."
    As he watched the two massive doors leading into the throne room slowly opened and a young woman dressed in a long black robe entered. Clutched in her hands were a large number of scrolls and books. She moved quickly to the Gorgon's throne she knelt before him and prostrated herself on the floor. The Gorgon turned a looked at her with a bored indifference, noting the papers she was clutching in her hands. With a sigh he motioned for her to rise. "It is not that time of year again is it Hand."
    "Yes my Prince, the latest figures have been sent in from the outer provinces. All we need is your decisions."
    The Gorgon took the scroll from her hands and slowly looked over the long lines of figures written tiny, neat script. "These look rather high this year."
    "Yes lord Raesene the Goblins have been bored and a bored Goblin always seems to breed much faster than a busy Goblin."
    "So we have a rather large increase in the Goblin and Orog population this year, can we still feed them all."
    "No my lord, even with the fishing fleet in Kiergard adding to our resources we can not feed the increasing population in Markazor or even the Crown itself. I would suggest a culling may be called for."
    The Gorgon smiled. "Yes it has been some time since we sent the rabble out to fight, perhaps it is now that time again. I must admit that even I have grown bored here in Kal-Saitharak with nothing to do but watch my generals fight each other. I think it is time that they began fighting someone else instead. The only question who shall it be this time."
    "Perhaps we should let the generals decide this time Raesene, it would make them appear more important in their eyes and perhaps make them fight all the harder."
    "Not too hard though Hand, we are trying to kill off as many troops as possible, not create more problems by taking even more territory. Until we have finished the northern expansion we can not afford to take more worthless land under my banner."
    "Of course not my Lord, shall I summon the generals?"
    "Very well, tell them to come to the war room, I will meet with them there."
    With that the Gorgon rose from his throne and tossed aside the parchment he had been reading before striding out of the chamber towards the lower floors and the massive war room of Kal-Saitharak.
    It took almost an hour to round up all the Generals, Lieutenants, and Chieftains that served as the Gorgon's advisory council but eventually they were all seated around the central table in the War Room. The table was in fact a giant replica of Cerilia showing the mountains, deserts, rivers and cities of the continent. It was at this map the Gorgon and his servants were looking.
    "I suggest an attack on the Elves of Tuarhievel my Lord." one of the Orog chief was saying. "With a quick strike into the heart of their forests we can all be roasting Elf ears over the fire before winter is on us."
    "No, No, I disagree we should attack Mhoried and crush the Anuireans. They can not hope to stand against our combined armies."
    The comments of the Goblin chief Jarn the Mighty soon led to a fight between the Orogs and Goblins over which suggestion was the better and shortly after both sides had drawn weapons and a battle had begun.
    The Gorgon ignored all of this watching instead his three top advisors sitting together on the far side of the table. All three seemed to be pointing towards the south, far away from either Mhoried or Tuarhievel. As soon as the discussions were complete the Dwarven General Kiras Earthcore picked up a pile of papers and walked with the others to the Gorgon's side.
    "I believe that we have come up with a suitable target Lord Raesene." said Kiras pointing on the map to a point south of Kiergard. "The humans there are busy fighting each other at the moment, and if we strike when they are most vulnerable we will soon take control of much of their kingdom."
    "I also have a suggest to offer Lord," spoke up Baruk One-Eye the new head of the Elite Guard. "Forge a treaty with the new head of the Chimaeron, or the Iron Hills as it is called now. I sure you will have no difficulty convincing that money grabbing little fool to allow your troops onto his lands. Then when we attack we can move all the way south to this province here, I believe it is called Mhowe and take all of the lands from the Crown to the southern seas."
    "Thus we would soon have a fleet at the gates of Anuire itself, good thinking Baruk."
    With that the Gorgon had made his decision and rose to his feet. At once the fights still going on between his general ceased as they waited for their master to speak.
    "I have made my decision, in a months time we march for Rohrmarch, may all who stand before us perish in fire. Generals you are all to return to your tribes and gather together as many warriors as you can find. I want half of my entire army gathered at the Fellport in by the end of this month."
    The Generals quickly gathered up their weapons, shields, and dead comrades and left the war room. After they had gone the Gorgon turned to the Hand of Azari, the most loyal of his servants.
    "I want you, Hand to send a message south to the Chimaeron. Invite this fool el-Hadid north to visit us. Offer him what ever you think will make him come, maybe control over all the guilds in my realm. That should be enough to entice him out of his tower. Kiras I want you to gather together a force of loyal soldiers who are to travel to the Iron Hills and be ready for the signal to attack. Make sure you only select the most loyal of your Dwarves. I don't want my army deserting to the enemy like last time."
    "Yes great Prince." shouted Kiras and the Hand together before marching out of the War Room together. The Gorgon turned to the last of his advisors still in the room.
    "Baruk I have a special job for you."
    "Anything my lord."
    "Good, I want you to go to Kiergard ahead of the others. I have arranged for you to take command of a new army I have been working on for some time."
    "A new army my Lord, what kind of new army."
    "You will see," the Gorgon said with a savage grin. "Now go, I have much to think about."
    Baruk bowed deeply and spun around, marching out of the room.
    With all of his servants now gone the Gorgon sat once more in his massive chair and slowly examined the edge of his mighty sword, Lifender.
    "Soon old friend, soon once more you will taste the blood of the petty fools who think they rule these lands. Yes soon, very soon now."
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  2. #2
    Birthright Developer Raesene Andu's Avatar
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    Chapter 2 (On the road to Kiedel)

    Winter had not yet arrived, but already Pieter Oden and his men felt the cold as they travelled south as fast as they could towards the southern Rohrmarch capital of Kiedel. Behind the prince a long line of tired soldiers marched, carrying their heavy packs and weapons as they walked. A storm had blown in off the Suidemiere two nights ago and the soldiers had been forced to seek what shelter was available in the scattered woodlands of southern Friedlund. Fortunately for the army though the storm only lasted the one night, unlike many of the early winter storms that could rage over Rohrmarch for several days.
    Finally just inside the border of Nunkappel province the prince called a halt to the hurried march. Men in the convoy sighed in relief as they lowered their heavy packs and weapons to the ground. For the next several hours the deserted farmland was a hive of activity as tents were raised and patrols organized. Prince Oden rode a little ahead of his men towards a small hill that rose out of the fields. It was the only land in the area that was higher than the scattered farmhouses that dotted the landscape so it provided the best view over the lands further south.
    Kurt Warkinde and General Osternord were already positioned on the top of the hill speaking with a captain of the Prince Army.
    "What occurs General," shouted the prince.
    The general turned a shouted back to Pieter. "Our scouts have spotted an enemy army camped south of us my lord."
    "Wait there I'll come up and have a look."
    The prince then dismounted and strode up the hill, a small group of royal guards following his every move as usual.
    "So, where are these Alaric scum hiding then." said Pieter after quickly reaching the summit of the small hill.
    General Osternord pointed southward towards a a dark patch on the horizon. "There my lord, they have made camp for the night outside the village of Biedenkoft. Captain Darold here reports that there may be as many as six or seven hundred soldiers, mainly lightly armoured cavalry. We have yet to discover who is leading them but Darold believes that these could be the men that Prince Siegfried was leading at the battle of Wendel Bridge last month. We defeated the prince there but he only had three hundred cavalry with him then, these are likely the remnant of that army plus new reinforcements from Alklund, or Edel."
    "Does this mean that Alaric has moved his troops south from Edel like Alder said." queried Pieter.
    "Not necessarily, it may simply mean that Alaric had more forces than we originally thought. We should still be able to crush both this army and any other he has waiting at Keidel though. It looks as though they are waiting for us on the fields outside the village, an open challenge. Perhaps they wish to test the strength of our armies or maybe they are waiting to spring some sort of trap on us. None of our scouts have managed to spot any other troops in the area though and apart from a few strands of trees outside the village the countryside is clear. Even the villages have fled, probably making for Kiedel, I hear that Alaric has offered safe haven in the city for anyone who wishes to seek refuge there."
    "Just one question, Alaric doesn't have any mages working for him does he?"
    "Not that I know of my lord, why do you ask?"
    "Well you mentioned trees, I have heard of a trick employed in Anuire by a mage once. He cast a spell that made his troops appear to be little more than a strand of trees. The enemy soldiers even walked through the woods without noticing that they were actually transformed soldiers. Then once they had past the wizard cancelled the spell and had his soldiers attack from behind killing many of the enemy. But as Alaric doesn't have a mage capable of casting that sort of powerful spell working for him I think we can discount that possibility. Captain Darold did your men check out the woods."
    "Yes my prince, there is nothing hiding in those woods, I would stake my life on it."
    "Good because at the battle tomorrow I want your men stationed in the trees, take the few archers we have with you. Before the sun has risen tomorrow I want your men well hidden. Sleep in the trees if you have to, but you must not be seen. Go now get started. By the time I get back to camp I want you and your men gone. Wait until dark before moving south to the woods though."
    "Yes noble prince, I will leave immediately."
    The young captain turned back to camp and ran towards the tents where his men were camped. Pieter Oden and his two chief advisors watched the hurried preparation below as the scouts and archers packed up their tents and prepared to move off the road towards the small woodlands to the south. Finally as the last of the captain's small force was leaving General Osternord turned to the prince and said, "Ok, I give up what do you want our only archers in the forests for."
    The prince smiled. "You will see Otto, you will see. I only hope the young captain doesn't give away his position to early. Come let us dine in my tent and discuss your plans for the battle tomorrow."
    "You think Siegfried will stay and fight then."
    "Yes, I think he will. I suspect his troops are here to slow us down or wound us so badly that we will be forced to turn back before we can attack Kiedel. Alaric must be worried about losing the city to risk his son falling in battle."
    "I agree my prince," spoke up Kurt Warkinde who until that moment had stood quietly watching the sun setting in the distance. "It is likely that King Alaric is attempting to slow us down here long enough to bring in his main army which is stuck in Edel province. He must know that if we break through and move against Kiedel before he can reinforce his positions we stand a good chance of taking the capital and with Alder bringing the Rohrgaard army south into Friedlund his only remaining army will be virtually trapped in Edel."
    "Which is the reason we embarked on this campaign in the first place if you remember." said the general. "If we win the battle tomorrow the war will be over and we will have won. Alaric will have no choice but to surrender his realm to you, my prince."
    "Then we will have to see that we win tomorrow, won't we." the prince said with a smile. "Anyway let us be off this cold and damp hill. I have a fine bottle of Sendoure wine in my tent, let us discuss tactics over a glass of good wine and a meal than out here where we are exposed to any enemy spies that might happen by."
    "Good Idea my lord, Kirche knows that a fine wine is good for the soul." said Kurt.
    "Well then let us go, sergeant to the command tent." Pieter called to the head of the royal guard who stood a respectable distance away.

    Much later that night Captain Darold found himself perched in the branches of a large Coulladaraight Oak trying desperately to manoeuvre his body into a position where he could at least get some sleep before morning. In the other trees around him and under some thick bushes near the edge of the small woods the rest of his men rested, either asleep or on guard. Darold looked around. It seemed that he was the only one who was not already asleep.
    "Typical, " he thought. "If only I had become a minstrel like my father, then I wouldn't have to be stuck up this tree with some sort of furry animal scratching the bark and keeping me awake."
    He pulled out his short sword and banged the branch above him a second time. "Be quiet you dammed creature."
    "Don't worry Darold, it only a squirrel. You're lucky it could have been an Elf, then you would really be in trouble." called out one of his men from a nearby tree, the captain could not see which from here.
    "Captain Darold, Captain Darold." a voice called from the ground below.
    "Be quiet you fool, I'm on my way down. Just stay where you are." whispered back the captain.
    Darold then swung his feet over the branch and dropped lightly to the ground next to the startled soldier. The man handed him a sheet of paper and stood waiting for the Captain to read it.
    "I am supposed to read this am I," the captain asked. "I don't think a light would be a good idea at the moment.
    "Sorry captain the prince asked me to pass this on to you. He said that it is your orders from tomorrow's battle. You are to read them as soon as it is light enough."
    "Which will be in two hours, meaning no sleep for me tonight then. Tell the prince I stand ready to carry out his orders, as do my men."
    "Yes captain."
    With that the soldier hurried off thought the night, nearly bumping into several trees on the way out of the woods.
    "Fool," thought Darold. "Well at least he isn't in my unit."
    "What's up captain," whispered a voice close to his ear.
    Darold glanced around and saw Sergeant Kiel and several of his men gather around his tree.
    "I have just received our orders. Pass the word as quietly as possible, I want all the men ready for battle in two hours time. It will be light then and I will read what the prince has planned then. With any luck it will be something that keeps us out of the fighting as long as possible."
    The sergeant and the men slipped off into the night to find the rest of the small force gathered nearby. Darold was left alone holding the message from the prince.
    Less than four hours later both armies met in the fields outside Biedenkoft. Prince Siegfried himself was leading the southern cavalry, while Prince Pieter Oden and his generals led their own cavalry from the centre of the rest of their army. Around him was gathered over a thousand infantry and mounted troops.
    As his army marched towards Biedenkoft, Pieter leaned over to General Osternord.
    "Remember what we discussed last night. I want your men to move around on the enemy from the west. With any luck they should be driven east towards the forest. Then they will be trapped and our archers can have some fun."
    "Yes my lord, I won't fail you."
    It was only two hours after sun rise when the armies finally came to blows. With a scream to their god Haelyn, the southern army charged the massed northern infantry. The ground shook and over five hundred horses galloped at full stride towards the steady line of infantry. As they neared their targets the men on the backs of the horses slowly lowered the long spears that served as lances in the Rohrmarch armies. Some in the front rows of Prince Oden's army shook as they watched the enemy approaching, a line of steal spikes pointed towards them.
    Pieter Oden wasn't about to let his armies be slaughtered so easily though and ordered his own mounted troops forward into the fray. In an almost perfect manoeuvre the northern cavalry rode easily through the infantry and rode out to meet the enemy, there own lances lowered to meet the charge. After the horses had passed the infantry began moving to the right out of the line of the charging horses.
    The two armies met with a crash as loud as thunder. Men, horses and weapons were tossed into the air as the cavalry tore into each other. Over half the men on both sides were dismounted in the first few seconds of the clash, and nearly a hundred of them were dead or wounded. Those still able to stand quickly drew their swords and began slashing at the enemy soldier, horses or any thing else that looked like it was dangerous. Those still on horseback also discarded their lances and drew their swords before moving to attack any enemy still standing.
    Pieter Oden could see that his cavalry would not last long against the superior enemy numbers, but that was not important, all they had to do was hold out for a few minutes while Osternord moved his infantry into position. The Prince looked to the west and saw the infantry were nearly ready to attack. All he was waiting for now was the signal from the General.
    While the prince waited the fighting in front of his continued. Most of the men were now on foot, having lost their horses or been tossed from their saddles in the initial clash. Prince Siegfried however still had his horse, the yellow plumes on his helm a banner to the rest of his men. The young prince swung his sword like a seasoned veteran, mowing down any of Oden's men who dared to match skills with him. Several other of his men near him also were still on horseback, and protected the southern prince from any who tried to strike him from behind or his side.
    Prince Oden felt someone tugging on his shirt. It was one of his guards who was frantically pointed to the west. The prince looked in that direction and saw the General's standard flying high above the infantry gathered there. Quickly Pieter pulled out his hunting horn and blew two long, loud notes that carried over the noise of the battle. Those cavalry still mounted spun around on their horses and fled the battle. The rest also pulled back, slowly retreating while still attempting to hold off the enemy cavalry. General Osternord lowered his standard and his infantry started running as fast as they could towards the enemy cavalry still engaged in battle.
    Prince Siegfried's men soon saw the infantry rushing towards them and realised that they stood little or no chance against six hundred infantry without their horses. Those still able attempted to flee south. It was then that all of Pieter's trap became apparent as another two hundred soldiers under Kurt Warkinde's control emerged from behind the village where they had moved early that morning, just before the battle was to begin. With no where to run the southern army now had no choice but to flee east, towards a small woodland area.
    Very few of the southern soldiers survived the slaughter that followed, as Oden's archers and scouts opened fire with their bows. Perhaps as many as a hundred and fifty fled the fields and down the road towards Kiedel. Others had been captured, but still over three hundred lay dead on the fields. The prince and his generals, walking the fields in the hours after the battle were however dismayed to hear the King Alaric's son had escaped with the surviving southerners. Prince Oden did not waste any time worrying about the escape of his enemies son however, and set about preparing his soldiers for the march on Kiedel city.

    Far from this battle in the fiery hills of Kal-Saitharak, the Gorgon was receiving a visit from el-Hadid, the new ruler of the Chimaeron. Once a powerful guilder in Anuire el-Hadid had been deceived by the words of a priest of Rournil and was now cursed by the foul taint of Azari's blood. This had twisted his features and forced him to flee his holdings in Anuire to make a new home in the Iron Peaks. After a battle with the Chimaera herself el-Hadid now claimed rulership of her lands which he renamed the Iron Hills. So it was on the Gorgon's invitation that the cloaked figure of el-Hadid, found himself climbing the narrow road that led to the edifice known as Kal-Saitharak.
    Inside the imposing fortress the Gorgon watched as his guards led his visitor towards the castle gates. "The fool came," he though. "I guess he is more greedy than frightened. Good, the greedy ones are always easy to trick."
    It was more than an hour before el-Hadid was bought into the throne room. Also present were the Gorgon's chief advisors, including the priestess known as the Hand of Azari. The Iron Hills ruler was alone, no guards or any others had made the journey with him.
    The Gorgon watched with interest as he was led into the chamber. Word had reached his ears of this man a few years back when he attacked and captured the free city of Endier. He had managed to remain in control of the city for many years, until the truth about his tainted blood was finally exposed to the other rulers. As one they had invaded Endier and were still squabbling over who should take el-Hadid's treasury while the guilder himself was fleeing east by boat, with much of that treasury. The Gorgon had been worried that he may not be as easy to fool as the others had been in the past, but once word of el-Hadid clothing first reached him he knew it would be easy. The guilder was dressed in the finest robes. Laced with gold and gems, they were the clothing of a man who valued his personal appearance above all others.
    As the guilder entered the room even the Gorgon was a little surprised. He had expected a creature, twisted by the blood of Azari, much as he had been over the centuries. The man that stood before him looked perfectly normal however, not even a trace of any changes in his appearance from that of a normal human. The Gorgon glanced to his left toward the Hand of Azari. As his gaze meet her she pointed once towards one of her fingers.
    The Gorgon frowned. "What is she trying to say."
    Turning back towards el-Hadid he looked over the guilders body again. It was then he noticed a ring on one of the guilder's fingers was glowing slightly. He looked again and thought, "where have I seen that ring before."
    Then he remembered, the ring was very similar to one he had seen on the hand of an Elven assassin who disguised as an Orog warrior, attempted to break into Kal-Saitharak and kill him. A ring of shape change, it enabled the wearer to hide his true appearance.
    The Gorgon smiled as it looked as though this guilder was going to be even easier to fool than he thought. The man was obviously only concerned in his appearance. All I need to do is offer him what he wants, and he will take it, then both him and his realm will soon be mine.
    El-Hadid walked to the throne and bowed lowed before the Gorgon before straightening and boldly meeting the ancient Awshegh's eyes.
    "Greetings mighty Gorgon, I am here at your request."
    The Gorgon nearly drew his sword and killed him there. He was not used to being called the Gorgon to his face. If one of his servants had called him thus he would have dispatched the servant and most likely the servant's family as a warning that he prefer the title of Prince Raesene.
    "Please sit, noble guilder we have much to discuss." The Gorgon said instead. "I have need of your services. It seems that a recent accident has left me without a guildmaster to run my economy. As I have heard so much of your skills in this area I thought I would invite you here to discuss you taking over the guilds and merchants here in the Crown, and Mur-Kilad. I don't ask much in return for such an honour, just that you allow me to station a few Dwarven troops in your kingdom to protect against invaders and the like."
    The Gorgon watch el-Hadid closely while he talked, keeping a close eye on the guilder as he listened. The guilder seemed very interested when he spoke of the guilds, and a little worried when he mention the Dwarves.
    "Do not worry my friend, the Dwarves I speak of will be under your command, not mine. I mealy want to ensure that nothing happens to my new guildmaster."
    "And what may I ask, mighty Gorgon, is the price for all this assistance." asked el-Hadid.
    This question caught the Gorgon by surprise, he hadn't thought of asking el-Hadid for a price. Thinking quickly replied.
    "Nothing major, I will require that you turn over half of the money that you make in my lands to me, and that should I require your assistance you will help to the best of your abilities."
    "Then we have a deal." said el-Hadid.
    The Gorgon frowned slightly, this was too easy. Even he though the guilder would take a little more convincing that this. The frown didn't remain on his face long however as he rose and offered the guilder his hand in friendship. El-Hadid also stood and shook the Gorgon's hand. Then the two new allies walked towards a table by the windows looking out from the upper levels of the castle. On the table was a treaty paper which the Gorgon had his priestess create the previous week. After signing the treaty the Gorgon offer el-Hadid a tour of the fortress, surprisingly el-Hadid declined.
    "I apologize my lord, but I must really be on my way. I would like to get back to my kingdom as soon as possible before my lieutenant makes a total mess of my affairs."
    "I understand completely my friend, but before you go perhaps their is one small favour I might ask. Nothing major, just a small problem I need removing before my current plans can proceed. I am sure someone with your abilities would have no trouble completing the task I ask. And when you succeed I will consider our alliance complete."
    Two hours later el-Hadid left the castle clutching a large rolled up map under one arm, and wearing a pouch at his belt that he did not arrive with. As before he was led down the road by an entire unit of the Gorgon's best soldiers. In the throne room the Gorgon and the Hand of Azari, watched him riding down the road, surrounded by the Orog soldiers.
    "What was on the map you gave him my Lord," the Hand asked. "You did not mention it, or any favour that el-Hadid would perform for you before."
    "Something I want taken care of. If he succeeds then it will make our invasion all the easier. If he fails, well it will make taking his kingdom all the easier. I wonder why he was in such a hurry."
    "Perhaps my lord it had something to do with that ring of his, I have heard that magic like that can only be used for a limited period of time a day. I would say that the guilder is in a hurry to get out of the castle before the spell fails and exposes his true appearance."
    "Perhaps, who knows. I am glad he didn't stick around, he might have spotted our plan. I'm not sure I trust that one. Most human merchants are easy to read, they are only after one thing and that is money. This one though seems more interested in acquiring territory. I only hope that Kiras's Dwarves do their job when it is time, has he left for Mur-Kilad yet?"
    "Two days ago my lord. He is preparing a suitable force to send south with the merchant now. The last message from Mur-Kilad yesterday mentioned that he had arrived and was moving some of the miners there into several new divisions of the army."
    "Good, then everything is ready. All we have to wait for is to see if our merchant friend succeeds in the task I have set him or if he fails. Then we can begin our little war. It will be good to leave the castle again, it has been too many years since I went to war and now looks like as good a time as any."
    "Indeed Lord Raesene. The enemy armies will soon be crushed and their heads in a pile at your feet, and with any luck we will kill off enough of your own troops that we won't have to feed them over winter."
    The Gorgon almost laughed at that comment, turning to sit and watch the volcanos out the throne room window. The eruption of the western volcano seemed almost joyous, a match for his own mood. The eruption soon died down however and the Gorgon and his high priestess moved once more to the war room to plan the final preparation for the coming war. Outside and to the south, as night fell once more on the landscape the guilder and Awnshegh known as el-Hadid stepped into the shadows of a particularly leafy tree and vanished. His escort spent the next five hours looking for him, but no trace could be found. Resigned to their fate the turned and headed back down the path to Kal-Saitharak to face the Gorgon's wrath at lossing their charge.
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    Chapter 3 (The Destruction of Osternord Castle)

    Osternord Castle was a mighty edifice that rose out of the forests of the province of the same name. For the past three hundred years it had stood against invaders from Kiergard, Massenmarch or any other of Rohrmarch's northern neighbours. Combined with the citadel in Oden city the castle ensured the protection of the people of Rohrgaard from the Orog and Goblin hordes that were now said to roam the land in Kiergard. Home to the Osternord family, third in line for the throne it was also important in the politics of Rohrmarch.
    Surrounding the fortress was the town of Osternord. It was only small compared to the twin capitals of Keidel and Oden, but it was the largest settlement in the province and home to many of the carpenters and carvers that worked the timbers harvested from the great forests of the province. With the castle itself on a hill overlooking the town it provided the best view of the northern border available, unless one were to set up camp in the monster infested Vicissitude Mountains to the east.
    In the past this castle had supported a large garrison, numbering maybe a thousand soldiers, all ready to protect the kingdom. But now with the civil war waging throughout the Rohrmarch, Osternord's army had been stripped from the castle and sent to fight in the battles even now being fought in Nunkappel and other southern provinces. This left the castle and the town relatively unprotected, with maybe as many as two or three hundred soldiers left to fight off any invasion from Kiergard to the north or the Vampire's Hold to the east. The people of Osternord did not appear worried though, obviously thinking that reputation alone would be enough to protect them.

    So it was the very same night that the Gorgon had made his deal with the new ruler of the Chimaeron and Prince Oden was marching on the southern city of Kiedel that a strange cloaked figure walked into the town. Covered from head to toe in a dark purple, hooded cloak not even the slightest glimpse of his face or features could be seen. Strapped to this beings back was a large sword, crafted it seemed from a single shard of blue crystal. As the creature passed the town's graveyard the sword glowed slightly with a pale blue light. The figure stopped and looked towards the graveyard for a moment and noting the dark figures moving between the trees there continued on its journey towards town. Old Karn the gravedigger did not see the figure moving along the road, or note its interest in his home. He was too busy drinking to notice the shadows creeping towards him through the darkness, fingers reaching for his bony body. His corpse was found the next day, the life drained from it leaving little more than a dry husk. The next night another shadow would join the others in the graveyard.
    None of this was of importance to the cloaked figure though as it was in Osternord on a very important mission, in fact the very same one given to the guilder el-Hadid that very night, only a few hours ago. For this creature was el-Hadid, although this time he was not using his shape changing ring, for its power was limited. Instead he was relying on more mundane means to keep his appearance a secret. The cloak he wore was one crafted especially for him by the three mage who inhabited his realm in return for their freedom from his dungeons. When worn with the hood over the head it hid the wearers face in a dark shadow that was impossible to penetrate at night, and even difficult to see through during the day.
    Not that the cloak was really needed, as it was a dark night and few people walked the streets of cities in Rohrmarch after nightfall. Even the Castle guards stayed in doors on a night like this one, and el-Hadid could see the light from their guardrooms from where he was, on the outskirts of Osternord town. Unlike many of the other Brecht cities and towns Osternord did not have lanterns to light the streets after darks. As a result the night's gloom settled over the town like a blanket, with only a few shards of brightness indicating an open door to a tavern or similar building.

    El-Hadid was passing the first such building when he encountered trouble. A pair of drunken locals, farmers by their garb, staggered out of the tavern straight into the cloaked figure of the Awnshegh. Down they all went in a tangled heap, the farmers still laughing over a joke told by their friends in the Tavern. El-Hadid was not laughing however as the hood of his cloak had fallen from his face in the fall, exposing his twisted features to all. Thinking quickly climbed to his feet and drew his blade, his cloak falling down around his body to hide his features once more. With a quick thrust one farmer was dead, his heart pierced by the crystal blade of the Awnshegh's sword. The second farmer opened his mouth to scream for help but found his throat slit by an extremely sharp dagger el-Hadid had drawn in his second hand. His eyes still open in pure terror at the glimpse of the Awnshegh's features he had seen, the farmer dropped to the ground his blood pooling on the cobblestones.
    All of this occurred in the space of a few seconds, before any of the other patrons of the tavern had even heard anything. El-Hadid thought quickly. He wiped the two blades on the farmers clothes and sheathed them quickly. With a strength that defied his small frame he leant down and grabbed hold of the two farmer's belts dragging their bodies around the corner of the building into a small alley. In the alley were several empty barrels, stored there by the tavern until they could be collected. With incredible ease he tossed the dead bodies into two of the large barrels, then turned and fled the alley, not wanted to be stopped and questioned now, in case his mission was discovered.
    Peering around the corner he saw that the street was again quiet and no-one else had left the tavern to investigate the noise outside. As he passed the tavern door he risked a glance inside, and saw the reason no-one else had left the tavern. They were all engrossed in watching a drinking contest between a Baruk-Azik Dwarf and the tavern champion. El-Hadid quickly turned away and continued along the main street towards the road leading up the hillside to the castle.

    As he walked he wondered just why he was doing this. Certainly if he succeeded he would gain the Gorgon's gratitude, but did the ancient Awnshegh have something else in mind for him, or was his offer of an alliance nothing more than a ploy to distract him. El-Hadid smiled when he though of the plans he himself was already preparing. With any luck by the time he returned from this trip his lieutenant Nekrul would have prepared his army for what was to come and then when the Gorgon struck he would be ready with a powerful force of his own.
    So lost in his plans and plots el-Hadid did not notice that he had arrived at the outer gates of the fortress, and he was standing in the light of the two enchanted lanterns that cast light onto the street below. The guards of the castle however did notice his arrival and with their swords drawn were already approaching his position.
    The captain of the gate guards had seen the figure of el-Hadid walking slowly up the road several minutes before and wondered just who would be out after dark. Waking the other guards he had moved to a position directly in front of the approaching figure. Lost in his thoughts el-Hadid did not notice him until his line of sight came into line with the Captains steels capped boots. Quickly his hooded head came up and he saw in front of his a small collection of sleepy guards and their captain. He almost laughed then when he thought how easy this would be.
    "Now just who might you be then," the captain asked.
    "Just a simple traveller seeking a place to stay the night noble lord," a soft voice replied. "I have walked a long way from the south with news of the war and are looking for a place to rest before I continue on to Rohrgaard."
    "News of the war you say, do you know then if the Prince has finally crushed that dog Alaric?"
    "When I left the southern lands Alaric's forces where falling before the prince. I believe that soon he will be inside the city of Keidel itself."
    "Then that is indeed good news, come we will let you rest for the night here in our barracks, as long as you do not mind us prying you the latest news."
    "Not at all my friend let us go, I have much to tell and a short time to tell it."
    The Captain and the Awnshegh turned and walked with the rest of the guards towards the gatehouse of the castle. One of the guards however stood there looking confused, trying to shake off the fog of sleep that still enveloped him. He thought about what he had just heard and something did not make sense, something was very wrong with this visitors story. For several minutes he stood there thinking over what he had just heard while the cool night air slowly cleared his head. Then it hit him the stranger was on foot. He turned and ran towards the gatehouse shouting to his companions.
    "Look out he is an enemy, the Royal messengers ride on horse back and this man is on foot. We should have received news from them before any traveller who has walked the whole way."
    Running into the gatehouse he was just in time to see el-Hadid dispatch the last of his fellow guards. Blood was everywhere as were the bodies of his companions yet the stranger did not ever seem to be injured. In a rage the guard drew his sword and rush the man from behind. El-Hadid was not so easily taken though and had heard the guard shouting as he ran towards the gatehouse. Turning towards the rushing guard he concentrated his thoughts and sent a wave of mental energy towards the running man. The guard felt as though his mind had exploded as waves of painful thoughts washed through him. The force of the attack was so great he was flung back against the stone wall of the gatehouse. Confused and dazed he was only able to feebly raise his sword in defence before el-Hadid had pierced his heart with his crystal sword. The Awnshegh calmly withdrew the weapon and pulling a blanket from a nearby bed wiped the blood covered blade clean.
    Then he left the gatehouse and walked through the open castle gates and into the castle proper.

    Inside the walls el-Hadid slowly crept along the wall, always keeping to the shadows. He knew that he had only an hour at the most before the dead guards would be found so he had to move fast. He spotted a side entrance into the keep and quickly moved through the darkness towards it. Fortunately his abilities gave him almost perfect sight in darkness and therefore a tremendous advantage over the humans in the castle.
    Reaching the door he quickly check to see if it was locked, which of course it was. Cursing under his breath he reached into a pouch tied to his belt and pulled out a small bundle. Untying it he rolled out his set of thieves tools, the finest gold could buy. Selecting two small picks he knelt next to the door and slowly inserted them into the door locks. A few quick twists and the lock sprung with a load click. El-Hadid quickly repackaged his tools and opened the door and enter the keep proper.
    The door led into the castle's kitchen, which fortunately was empty at this time of night. After a quick look around he slipped across the room toward the next door, through which a stream of bright light poured. Hiding behind the door frame he glanced around the corner into the next room.
    Two soldiers were asleep at their post in the room beyond, their booted feet sitting on the table in front of them. Damm he though, this is just what I didn't want, more guards. Carefully he crept into the room and stepping as lightly as possible he crossed the room. For several moments he though he would not make it as one of the guards stirred in his sleep. El-Hadid froze, his hand on his dagger just in case the guards woke. But the uncooperative guard soon slipped back into a deep slumber and he was able to make it all the way across the room without waking them.
    After a quick check to make sure no-one else waited in the hallway beyond he left the room and entered a narrow hallway running north-south. El-Hadid looked both ways, unsure which to take, then finally unable to make a choice he had to consult his map. First walking a short distance down the passage away from the guards he pulled the folded paper from a pocket of the robes he wore beneath his cloak. Unfolding it he placed it against the wall, using the light from a nearby lantern to read it. The map he had been given by the Gorgon soon showed his position, just south of the main dining room. After studying it for several minutes to make sure he had memorized everything on it and was sure of his position he folded it up once more and put it away.
    It was then he heard voices coming from further down the passage. The seemed to be getting closer so el-Hadid quickly looked around for somewhere to hide. The only possible place seemed to be between two darkened pillars where none of the light from the nearby lanterns fell and he moved quickly to this area, pressing himself against the wall to ensure nothing was showing. The owners of the two voices soon came into view walking down the passage from the stairs to the south. Turning the corner they came to the door leading to he kitchens and halted only a few metres from the hidden el-Hadid.

    The first man was a young warrior wearing a heavy breastplate inscribed with the crest of the Osternord family, a soaring dragon with a crown above its head. At his belt swung a heavy looking broadsword. Unlike El-Hadid's graceful weapon this sword had only one purpose, to slice parts of an enemies body off. The second man however was totally different. To start with he was about forty years older that the young man in armour, and he was dressed in thick robes to ward off the cold and not the chain or plate armour favoured by the soldiers of Rohrmarch. He also had at his belt a large number of pouches and small bags, while in his calloused hands he held a large book in which he was making notes as he walked. It was the young man who seemed to be doing most of the talking while the older man continued to write in his book.
    "And this tapestry here must also be replaced, remind me to tell father when he returns from the war," the young man was saying.
    "Yes my lord," was the older man's reply.
    "And also remind me to replace the kitchen guards tomorrow these two seem to be asleep again."
    The young lord then walked into the room and picking up a pot sitting on the table banged it with his sword. The two guards in the room beyond both fell of their chairs as the were jolted awake by the load noise. Struggling to focus the opened their eyes to see the angry face of their lord, and quickly closed them again.
    "I trust you two have been having a good time?" Lord Branm Osternord asked.
    "Sorry my lord, but we have been very busy lately with the rest of the castle guard off fighting with the prince and we just needed some sleep." spoke up one of the guards.
    "Well then perhaps a bit of night air will do you some good. I want both of you walking post outside the main gates and if I catch you asleep again then I will assign you to guarding the town graveyard and I am sure neither of you wants that."
    "No my lord," said the guards in unison as they both struggled into the armour while trying to fasten their sword belts at the same time. Legends of the horrible creatures that haunted the graveyard after dark were told throughout the town and the guards did not wish to be sent off to that dark place. They moved out the door so quickly the did not even notice that it was already unlocked and ran out into the courtyard beyond.
    "I really think that we must have been left with the worst of the castle guard when Prince Alder selected troops to go with him to Friedlund, what do you think Wilheim."
    "Yes my lord, I agree totally. Shall I make a note to reprimand the guardsmen Calder and Kort?"
    "No I will let them off this time. After all I do not wish to appear a tyrant before the troops do I now. The two fellows were only catching up on some lost sleep."
    As he finished saying this a shout came from the direction of the gate house. The young lord frowned and went to the kitchen door wondering what his guards were up to now. Looking outside he saw one of the guardsmen he had just sent to the gate running back across the courtyard waving his hands and shouting.
    "I think something may be happening out there Wilheim, perhaps we had best go check it out."
    "Yes my lord."
    The two nobles then left through the kitchen door to see what the frantic guardsman Kort has discovered. In the passage behind them el-Hadid stepped out of the shadows where he had been hiding and quickly sprinted off to the south, knowing that he now had only a few minutes before the alarm was raised.

    Outside in the courtyard Kort quickly told the Lord of the castle and his advisor what he and Calder has discovered.
    "They are all dead lord, someone seems to have broken into the gatehouse and slain them. There is blood everywhere."
    "What!"
    "Its true my lord, all the gate guards are dead. Me and Calder found them that way."
    "Then someone must have broken into the castle. Wilheim you go and raise the alarm and see if you can get my mother out of harms way. I will go with the guardsman here and see if I can find out what has happened. I want the whole castle searched from end to end, someone may be after the treasury."
    "Yes my lord," said Lord Wilheim.
    "Then get going man, I don't want my father to return to find mother dead and the treasury empty. Alaric must have sent a raiding party to attack the castle. Now get going."
    Wilheim bowed once and then turned and ran as fast as his old legs could carry him towards the main guardhouse on the other side of the courtyard. Lord Branm grabbed Kort and headed in the direction of the gatehouse.
    Once he arrived he could see that nothing could be done for the men here, they had been slaughtered. Who ever had done this must have hit them while they were on a break as most of the corpses faces seemed shocked at what had happened to them.
    "Doesn't look like we can do much for them Lord Branm," said Calder. "Someone must have caught them with their pants down, so to speak."
    "Or perhaps they were sleeping like you two," retorted Branm angrily. "Not that it matters now already Alaric's men must be inside the castle. You two go to the town and see if you can get father Dane and his priests to assist us and hurry, we may not have much time left.
    Once the two guards had left lord Branm ran back to the courtyard, just in time to meet up with Wilheim and the rest of the castle guard. Looking over the collected soldiers he quickly reached a decision.
    "Wilheim, you take half the troops and go around the keep, checking all the buildings on the way. Then I want you search the keep. Start at the ground floor and work your way up. The rest of you with me."
    There was a moment of confusion as the soldiers sorted themselves out into two equal groups but they quickly worked it out and the half with Lord Branm ran towards the main entrance to the keep. Wilheim quickly followed suit and his troops spread out to search the castle grounds.

    Meanwhile el-Hadid was running down the stairs leading to the lowest level of the castle. Reaching the cellar he quickly looked around for his objective and soon found it. Along one wall of the cellar was a large pile of large barrels, stacked on top of each other until they reached the ceiling. Quickly consulting his map he saw he was on the correct level, so these must be the barrels the Gorgon mention. Moving over to them he knelt and carefully removed a large bag that had been hanging from his belt. Placing it on the stone floor he started removing the cloth that had been stuffed into the bag to prevent the object inside from breaking. Once this was done he pulled the object out and looked carefully at it.
    In his hands he now held a delicate looking crystal ball, with a glowing ball of fire burning in the centre of the globe. El-Hadid quickly turned away from the bright light as it burned at his eyes after they had become used to the darkness of the stairs and the cellar. After several glances he found he could look at the globe and pushing the pile of cloth scattered on the floor behind one of the barrels he placed the crystal globe on top of it. He then pulled out a small piece of paper that had been given to him by the gorgon. Using the light from the globe to see he carefully read the strange words that were written on it. After he had done so the paper seemed to flare and catch alight. El-Hadid threw the burning scrap of paper into the darkness behind him, well away from the barrels and then turned to look once more at the globe.
    The flame seemed to become much brighter and the light seemed to pulse slightly as he watched. El-Hadid knew better however than to spend too much time in the cellar. The Gorgon had been most insistent that once the paper had been read he should leave as quickly as he could if he wanted to live. Picking himself up off the floor he sprinted back towards the stairs and began the climb back to the upper levels.
    He had just reached the ground floor when Lord Branm and his men arrived at the stairs. Seeing the cloaked figure running up the stairs he ordered his men to attack. With a yell the large group of guards charged el-Hadid who once he heard them coming turned and headed back to the stairs, this time going upwards instead of down. Branm was at the head of his troops as they reached the stairs.
    With a wave of his hand he yelled to his men, "some of you check below there may be more of them."
    About half of the soldiers with him, headed down the stairs towards the cellars while the rest followed their Lord in pursuit of the invader. Reaching the first floor Branm quickly glanced around and not seeing any sign of the invader assumed that he must be heading towards the door leading to the castle walls and started running up the stairs to the second floor.
    Having just reached the second floor el-Hadid glanced frantically around. He knew that he only had a few minutes before whatever the Gorgon had given him did its job. Then he remembered the map he had been given. Somewhere on the second floor there was a door leading to a bridge to the castle walls. Thinking quickly he found the right passage and ran down it as fast as he could. At the end of the passage was a solid oak door door, which to el-Hadid's amazement was unlocked. Flinging it open he ran out over the bridge to the castle walls.
    Hot on his heals however came Lord Branm and his troops. Glancing backwards el-Hadid saw the young lord chasing him and cursed loudly. He had by now reached the walls and turning right he started running along the wall towards the west tower. It turned out to be the wrong decision however as another group of guards had just left the tower and were running along the wall towards him. Drawing his sword in one hand and his dagger in his other he prepared for a fight.
    Lord Branm seeing the invader trapped let out a yell of triumph and pulled out his own heavy weapon. Motioning for his men to stand back he approached the Awnshegh who watched him carefully from beneath the deep hood of his cloak.
    "Well my friend it seems that you plan has failed and now you will die," gloated Branm.
    El-Hadid responded by raising his weapons are readying to strike.
    "So it is fight that you is it. I must warn you that I have been the champion swordsman in the spring festival four years running. Any duel can only end in your death."
    Without a word el-Hadid moved to attack, his blue crystal sword swinging towards the lords legs while he held his dagger to defend against any attacks. Branm hopped lightly over the sword and brought his own weapon down in a swinging arch that should have cut his opponent in half. This was no ordinary human though and what he lacked in skill el-Hadid made up for with strength. Raising his dagger above his head he deflected Darnm's thrust using the strength given to him by his tainted bloodline. Branm stepped back looking in shock at the figure in front of him. What the invader had just done was impossible. His sword should have smashed through the dagger with ease, never before had he met anyone able to deflect a sword with a mere dagger. Worried now he motioned for his guards behind him and on the other side of the invader to attack.
    El-Hadid saw the Lord's hand movements and quickly positioned himself against on the far edge of the wall so he did not have to fight off attacks from all sides. The guards came in a wave attempting to overpower the invader by rushing him. This was a more experienced opponent than they were used to however and el-Hadid simply swung his sword in a wide arc. The guards were moving to fast to avoid the blade and three of them fell as the sword point slashed across their throats or faces. Leaping into the space now vacated by the fallen guards el-Hadid avoided the others coming from the right. Stabbing out with his right hand he struck one of these in the chest with his dagger. The guard fell, grabbing at one of the other guards for support and ending up tripping him instead. The other guards moved back slightly wary now at approaching such a skilful swordsman. They looked at each other for support but saw none there as they slowly backed away from the Awnshegh.

    Meanwhile the guards who had gone down the stairs instead of up had finally reached the bottom cellar. One of the quickly noticed a bright pulsing glow on the far side of the room next to the oil barrels. He moved to investigate fearing that the invader may have lit a fire in the cellars hoping to burn down the fortress. He never made it across because at that moment the cellar erupted in fire as the Gorgon's powerful spell was released. The massive oil barrels kept in the cellar for use in a siege fuelled the explosion of flame as it swept across the room. The guard could only watch in horror for the spilt second it took for the wall of flames to make it across the room and reduce his body to a charred corpse. None of the other soldiers were any luckier as they were also swept away in the explosion of magical fire.

    Outside on the wall the guards were warily circling el-Hadid looking for an opening so they could strike when they heard a strange noise behind them. It sounded as though a powerful wind was rushing towards them at high speed. Spinning around the were just in time to see the flames rush out up the stairs from the cellar and pour out of the open windows and doors of the keep. It looked as the thought the keep itself had changed into a horrible monster spewing fire from every opening.
    El-hadid took the chance offer to make his exit and jumped over the edge of the wall. Concentrating as hard as he could he slowed his fall and floated lightly to the ground rushing off into the night, away from the castle. None of the guards ever saw his exit however as they were to busy watching the keep burning to the ground.
    The fire had swept away all in its path including the ancient timbers that supported the walls. When these burnt away the keep could not support its own weight and collapsed inwards tumbling to the ground like a stack of cards.
    Lord Branm could only watch in horror as his home was destroyed in front of his very eyes. The destruction did not stop there however as the fire next spread to the wooden buildings that lined the inner walls of the castle. The smithy, the guardhouse and the stable all caught alight and still the fire was spreading. His body shaking Dranm could only watch as the east wall started to buckle and fall as the flames destroyed the supports that had stood for centuries. His sword slipped from his numb fingers and dropped with a clatter to the stones below, but the young Lord did not even notice. His home, his whole life was being destroyed around him and there was nothing he could do about it. He dropped to his knees and began to sob as the flames spread to the gatehouse. He knew that there was nothing he could do and soon it would all be gone.

    By morning el-Hadid was far from the castle, but looking back he could still see the pillars of smoke rising from the direction of Osternord. With a smile on his face and a spring in his step he turned away and walked off down the road towards the border of the province. It was a long walk, but soon he would be back in the Iron Hills and on his way back to Mhowe and his own castle. Still maybe he could find someone with a horse and convince them to part with their ride, for a fair price of course.
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    Birthright Developer Raesene Andu's Avatar
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    Chapter 4 (Defeat at Kiedel)

    Prince Oden looked across the plain towards the city. In the distance he could see the last of the enemy soldiers fleeing into the protection of Kiedel. After the last of these troops had entered the city gates were closed with a loud bang shutting off all entrance into the city. The prince watched all this impassively, knowing that soon his own troops would soon be trying to breach those very gates in an attempt to capture the city. At either side of the prince sat his advisors and generals while behind him were his main army, well over a thousand strong.
    Pieter motioned to his general as they dismounted walking with him to a nearby building, an inn by the look of the sign swaying in the breeze outside the structure. The men walked inside and joined the priest Kurt Warkinde at a table, on which he had laid out a rough map of the city.
    "Well men you have now seen what we are up against, what are your opinions," asked the prince.
    "We must attack now, my prince," spoke up General Friendel, head of the cavalry. "If we wait then the enemy has a chance to set up defences against our attacks."
    "He has known we were coming for some time, I would think that he already has his defences ready for us now," responded the prince. "Any other suggestions."
    "I have one Lord," came a voice from the back of the room.
    All eyes turn to look at the speaker. It was the young head of the royal scouts, Captain Darold.
    "If we besiege the city and wait in a couple of weeks we will have the artillery from Osternord with us and then we can use them to bombard the city, destroying the wall so that we might just walk through them."
    "But that will take time," responded Friendel. "If we don't strike now the King will bring in extra troops from Edel and crush us."
    "Assuming that there are even troops in Edel," said General Osternord. "Our intelligence in that province has yet to confirm this story. If we invade now it is my infantry that will bear the brunt of any attack. Without archers we are vulnerable at the moment. It has been said to me that Alaric has over four hundred archers in his army, and if a large portion of these are in the city at the moment then we will be slaughtered as we charge the wall. I suggest staying then we can destroy their walls with the artillery and use the General Friendel's cavalry and those your son commands in Rohrgaard to ride through the breaches in the wall and attack."
    "What about the armies in Edel," the head of the cavalry insisted. "We must prevent any attack from that direction.
    "Then we should position the men around the city to prepare for an attack from both directions," said Osternord. "That way we can stop the King and his troops leaving the city and hold off any relief troops at the same time. We could use some of the buildings outside the city as a base, and perhaps even fortify the town of Hollfeld with some of my infantry in case troops from Edel or Alklund attempt to enter the province. A third of our forces here should prove sufficient."
    "Good thinking, both of you," said the Prince. "I want you Otto to take charge of stopping any reinforcements from getting here. Captain Darold, I want you to head north and contact my son. Tell him he is to leave Friedlund and come south to Nunkappel, and make sure he is bringing the artillery with him. We are going to need them. Friendel, I want you and everyone else here to work on preparations for an attack. Start chopping down what trees you can find. I want the men busy building ladders, and battering rams in case we need them before the artillery arrive. Also gather all the large stones you can find. The catapults will need something to fire when they get here."
    "Yes sir," the Prince's soldiers replied.

    Captain Darold went back to his men latter that afternoon. Pleased as he was to be invited to the meeting of the generals he still preferred the company of his own soldiers. The sound of axes rang through the woods outside Kiedel as his scouts were busy chopping down the trees needed for the coming attack. Sergeant Keil was in charge of the lumber gathering operation and the captain could see that already a small pile of large logs was being gathered. Seeing the captain arriving the sergeant walked over to greet him.
    "Greetings captain," said the sergeant. "Do you know what we are meant to be doing here?"
    "You are to continue gathering as much wood as possible, then get started on building ladders, I have other duties. I will be placing you in charge until I get back sergeant."
    "Yes Sir, I will get right on it, and Sir if you don't mind me asking what are your duties to be."
    "I am afraid I can not tell you that yet, but you will see soon enough. Lets just say that it is of vital importance to the war effort and leave it at that. Keep an eye on things here for me, I will be back as soon as I can. Get one one of the men to saddle my horse will you."
    "Yes Sir."
    With that Sergeant Keil strode off towards their camp to get the Captain's horse ready. Neither of the two men noticed the hidden trapdoor in the ground near them, or the two eyes that peaked over the rim of the hole. Silently the figure lowered the trapdoor back into place and dropped into the mud at the bottom of the shaft. Hissing out a quick whisper to the other two men in the hole the spy quickly ran down a darkened tunnel towards the city. Alaric's men had been busy for months preparing this network of tunnels so they could spy on the enemy while they themselves were safe inside the city.
    Half an hour latter, and still covered with mud Captain Selman stood before his king reporting on what he had heard in the enemy camp.
    "It appears my lord that the enemy Captain will be travelling by horse. I believe that he is the same one we saw before talking with the traitors in their camp. If our intelligence is correct then he will be going to call on the support of Prince Alder in Friedlund. Our spies have already reported on the presence of a large enemy force in Friedlund. If we can prevent this messenger from making it out of Nunkappel and we will have the enemy where we want them."
    "Very well, I want you captain to lead the mission, and don't fail me. If Oden's northern armies reach Nunkappel we are going to have a hard time stopping them this time. Even with our extra troops we will still be hard pressed."
    "Yes my lord, I will leave at once by the north tunnel."
    "Good, now go."
    With a quick bow the captain left the throne room, heading towards the barracks.

    Much latter that night Captain Darold was riding along the road towards the north. Although it was already begun to get dark he was carrying a magical torch given to him by Kurt Warkinde himself, a torch that would enable him to see as though it was still daylight. He was still a little awed that the prince had chosen him for such an important mission, and he aimed to see that his trust would not be wasted. With him rode three other soldiers, all from the Prince's personal guard. They also carried similar torches to the Captain, but unlike him did not seem as excited about the mission as he did. They rode in silence, hardly making any noise as they rode quickly into the night. Already the armies camp had fallen behind them and the men were now riding into the deserted farmland that marked the route of the armies march south over the past few days.
    Darold glanced quickly around, noting the crumbling stonework of an old manor as the horse swept past. His own house was very similar, and for a moment he wished he was back home in Osternord with his family, but that would not be possible until this war was over. He was still lost in thought when suddenly one of the guards toppled off his horse, a crossbow bolt lodged in his throat. The dying guard grabbed at his horses reins as he fell, dragging it down with him. The horse lashed out under such duress and caught the legs of Darold's horse bring him to the ground as well. Although he didn't know it then but that probably saved his life as two crossbow bolt sped past where his head had been moment before.
    With a thud the Darold hit the ground, sending a cloud of dust from the dry road into the air, and throwing his torch into the darkness on the side of the road. It bounced several times before landing in a water filled ditch beside the road. Surprisingly Darold was quickly able to gather his thoughts after such a fall, and rolled quickly into the same ditch where his torch lay picking it up and hiding under his thick cloak, blocking its light. He could hear the noise of fighting just over the edge of the ditch so he drew his sword and leapt into the fight.
    On the road the two remaining guards were fighting a large force of at least ten men. One of the guards he could see had a bolt sticking out of his shoulder, but the other seemed uninjured at the moment. What had happened to their horses he could not determine at the moment. Darold heard a noise beside him an whipped up his blade, just in time to deflect the blow of a swordsman running towards him from the side. He leapt back and bought up his sword in defence, again just in time to stop another blow from the furious looking soldier. Calmly he examined his opponent, noting the man stance and swing as he again bought his sword down on Darold's head. This time the Captain was ready and he slipped to one side dragging his sharp blade along the mans midriff. The soldier gave a short cry and fell to the ground clutching his stomach. There was no rest for Darold however as two more soldiers came at him, both holding wicked looking short swords. Gripping his sword in one hand he held off both soldiers as he reached for his dagger. With a feint at one of the men he grabbed his chance and threw the dagger accurately at the second man, logging it in his eye, felling him. The last soldier he was facing he made short work of, killing him quickly with a blow to the heart.
    Resting for a moment Darold looked around him. The other two guards appeared to have disappeared, as had the rest of the enemy soldiers. Several lay dead on the ground, but there was no sign of the rest of his escort or Alaric's men. Then he heard a cry from the other side of the stone wall that bordered the road. Running quickly he was saw the leader of Alaric's men dispatching his last guard. Swearing to himself he leapt over the fence to face the soldier. The man heard him coming and spun round, his bloody sword ready. Darold readied his own sword and prepared to face his enemy. The enemy soldier smiled as he watched the young captain approach, slowly flipping his own weapon from hand to hand. Then the enemy captain held his sword firmly and thrust, slicing along Darold's leg. Darold felt a flash of fiery pain from his left leg as the sword opened a large gash. He thrust his own sword but the enemy was easily able to deflect it with a small dagger he held in his other hand. Darold knew now that he was in trouble, outclassed by a superior foe. He did not stop however and launched into a furious volley of blows that forced his opponent backward towards the wall of the manor behind him. The enemy captain recovered quickly and soon had Darold on the back foot once more, forcing the injured captain further and further backward with each blow. Darold was sure he was dead this time, he knew he could not hold of the enemy soldier for much longer.
    Then the enemy suddenly stopped fighting, clutching his back and doubling over in pain. Darold watched in amazement as the soldier fell to the ground dead. He look amazed at the body for a moment, then starting as he heard a groan off in the shadows of the manor. Looking up he saw one of his escorts leaning against the wall a heavy crossbow slipping from his fingers. Darold ran to his side only to watch the soldier's life slip away. Lowering the dead man to the ground he looked around, noting that none of the other soldiers were still alive. Then he turned his attention to his own wound, binding the bloody gash with strips of cloth from one of the dead soldiers vests. Once its was covered he limped over towards the road looking for his horse. For a moment he thought about returning to camp to have his wound mended, but that would lose at least six hours as he rode back and then the prince sent another in his place. This mission was too important for that so he resolved to ride on into the night to find young prince Alder and his troops. Finding his mount chewing on some roadside grass he dragged himself up into the saddle, grimacing in pain as he did so. With a flick of reins the horse quickly picked up pace again and Darold rode once more off into the night, heading north. But this time he was without an escort. No doubt Prince Oden's men would find the battle site soon enough as they would probably send another in case he did not make it, but Darold could not take that chance.

    Two days later in a camp in southern Friedlund the sentries of Prince Alder's small force noticed a tired looking horse slowly trotting down the road towards them. The animal look half dead and its rider not much better. Noting the uniform the young rider wore they lowered his gently down from his seat and led the animal away towards the fields. Alder was soon informed and sent for a priest to look at the wounded man. It took two hours, and a lot of praying from the priest of Kirche but Darold was soon sitting up in Alder's tent relating the message from Alder's father. Two hours after that the army was being packed up ready to leave. Massive catapults were being hitched to horses and Darold was sitting on the back of a small wagon with two priests, who were busy lecturing him on the glories of Kirche and how battle was the truest form of worship of their god. He smiled to himself as he though that Kirche was sure to be happy soon as the two armies clashed at Kiedel. It would take the catapults at least ten days to make it to the city, a journey that had taken him only two, and he had been wounded.
    At the head of the slowly forming column Alder rode on his pure white stallion. The horse was his personal favourite, it was the one he had received as a gift from the Duchess of Coeranys only two years ago and his prized possession. A magnificent beast it stood quietly even as the catapults started to roll, their massive wheels rolling noisily along the rough road to Keidel. The prince waited until most of the column had passed before riding up the wagon carrying captain Darold.
    "Well captain how are you feeling now."
    "Much better now my lord, these priest certainly know what they are doing."
    "Ahh but we are simply the vessel of Kirche's will good captain," spoke up one of two priests. "You are a good soldier so your wounds have been healed and your heart made strong again by your faith. A warrior blessed by Kirche will never fall in battle."
    "Well I hope that is so chaplain, as we will soon be finding out," said Alder with a smile. "For soon we ride to battle, and may Kirche protect us then."

    With a loud twang the catapult offloaded its stone into the air. A load crash sounded it destination as the stone smashed into the city walls just next to the gate. It fell harmlessly into the ground, another miss. Prince Oden watched with annoyance as his artillery again failed to hit the city gates. The wooden doors, although too strong to allow him to batter them down, would easily fall to a few stones from his Catapults but so far his men had missed each shot. Still they were getting closer.
    Stretched out on either side of the Prince's position was a line of ten or twelve catapults and behind them was gathered his cavalry and infantry, the latter holding massive wooden shields that had been crafted from the timber felled over the past week or so. He could see Alaric's archers gathered along the wall, fortunately out of range at the moment, but he knew as soon as the charge was order they would be downing his men with their wicked arrows.
    The Catapults fired again and the Prince turned to watch, more misses. Only four had hit the wall this time and none were anywhere near the gates. Hopefully this wasn't going to take too long or he would have to call off the attack because it would be getting dark. Prince Oden had begun the attack shortly after first light with a volley of stones being flung at the enemy walls in the distance. This had continued for the next two hours, and he was still no closer to gaining entrance into the castle. Worse still it looked as though dark clouds were beginning to gather, perhaps another of the storms common in Rohrmarch. Hopefully it too would hold off long enough for him to win this battle, but things did not look promising. Flicking the reins of his horse he rode along the front lines toward his son and the rest of the command staff.
    Prince Alder was sitting on his white stallion as usually, with him was the High Priest, Kurt Warkinde. The priest was now dressed for war though, in heavy looking chain armour with a large flail resting at his belt. Prince Oden could not see General Osternord, but it was likely that he was back with the infantry preparing them for battle. Pieter Oden slowed his horse and dismounted leading his stead up to the two commanders.
    "Are your catapults every going to hit anything Alder," asked the Prince with a grimace as once more the catapult stones went wide of the mark.
    "Don't worry father they will get there eventually, as long as we don't run out of stones."
    "I wouldn't worry about that I have had the troops busy for a week now gathering what we need."
    The Price and his son turned to watch the next flight of stones. This time it looked good as the stone from one of the catapults flew through the air towards the gate. It missed though and the Catapult stone smashed into the lower wall and with a crack a large chunk of stonework broke off crashing to the ground below. A cheer went up from Oden's troops as they heard the noise. A chain reaction of collapses followed and soon there was a large hole in the east wall, opening a way into the city.
    Prince Oden held back his men though and ordered the catapults to concentrate on that area of the wall for another half an hour before he was satisfied. The left gate and much of the nearby wall as now gone, scattered in the grass outside the city. Although it looked rough his troops should be able to make it through the wall. He glanced to the left towards Kurt and Alder. They both nodded so the Prince signalled his flag man to get to work. The soldier waved two green flags towards either end of Oden's lines signalling the attack.
    Then as the catapults fired a final attack before being pulled away from the battle as the infantry charged forward, holding their shields in front of them. Almost immediately the archers on the walls fired. A wall of arrows leapt from the parapet, quickly crossing the short distance between them and the charging soldiers and embedding themselves in the shields. Several men fell with arrows through their legs or arms but most of the soldiers charged onwards. Three more times the archers fired and each time more men fell, but the shields worked and most of Oden's soldiers survived to make it to the fallen walls. There the pulled out the heavy ladders that many had carried between them and laid them against the wall, reaching up to the top of the broken wall. Quickly the infantry swarmed up the ladders and into onto the wall.
    The enemy were waiting for them though and Alaric's own infantry held the jagged gap into the city. Though much smaller in number the had the protection of what remained of the wall. Oden's men dropped their shields with a clatter and as one drew their weapons closing with the enemy. The archers were no longer any use as the two armies were now locked together, but a few still took the occasional shot when a opportunity presented itself. By now also Oden's own archers had gathered on the field. Led by Captain Darold, who had now recovered from his wounds they hid behind wooden shields while they fired at any of Alaric's men who showed their heads of the top of the wall. Several of the defenders fell before they learned of Darold's scouts who had moved quickly into position behind the infantry. Both divisions of archers now traded arrows over the walls, but neither seemed to be winning the battle.
    Down at the gap in the wall however General Osternord's men were doing a lot better. Led by the General himself, decked out in his families ancient armour and weapons, they were slowly pushing back Alaric's soldiers. Both sides had already taken heavy casualties in the short, brutal fight but the General's men were winning. They were now over the wall and pushing the enemy back into the city beyond. General Osternord signalled to several of his men as soon as they had breached the wall and those men rushed to open the gate for Prince Oden and his cavalry which now waited on the hill top ready to charge through the gates.
    The men quickly forced the entrance, struggling with the buckled gate which had been damaged in the catapult attack. Despite this difficulty they soon had the gate open and the path was now open into the city. On the hill top the Prince waited with the rest of his troops, the cavalry. Nearly three hundred of his best soldiers now awaited the order to charge. The Prince raised his hand and then thrust it forwards towards the city. The Cavalry leapt forward as one and shook the ground as they thundered towards the open gate, the Prince and his commanders leading the way.
    Prince Oden rode through the gap in the walls with the rest of his cavalry in pursuit, his shield held high to stop any arrows launched at him. The street beyond was empty, nothing stood in his way. The Prince pulled out his horn and blew it ordering his men deeper into the city. Glancing back he saw the infantry had reached the top of the city walls and fighting was now going on above him. The enemy archers seemed to be losing and were now pulling back towards the castle to the south. The prince waved his army to the west and the cavalry speed down the street towards the markets.
    Oden tugged out his sword as he noticed the streets ahead exploding into action. Alaric's own cavalry hiding in the sides streets came rushing out towards the Prince and his men. With a load clash the two sides met men falling from the horses to land heavily on the dirt streets below. The Prince saw a glint out of the corner of his eye and raised his shield in time to deflect the blow, then striking back with his own thrust hearing a scream of pain in response. Tugging his sword free he risked a glance in that direction. The man he had just hit was sliding off his horse to the ground. He was still alive by the Prince knew he would not be for long as the horses of his force rode over the top of the fallen soldier.
    Suddenly his force rode into the city markets skidding to a stop when he saw what confronted him. A large force of militia had been gathered, all carrying long spears designed to stop horsemen. Quickly calling a halt the Prince and his men milled around the entrance to the central market while the militia slowly walked towards them, spears outstretched. Looking behind him he saw a similar force had emerged from another street blocking their escape. They south was still free though, blocked only by a few scattered mounted soldiers, all that was left after their initial charge into the city. Ordering his men forward the Prince led the charge down the southern street, aptly named Sword Street.
    Once again the two armies of mounted soldiers clashed, Oden's men quickly overwhelming their few defenders. Now free of the trap Alaric tried to set the Prince and his men raced through the streets attacking any soldiers that they came across. They soon found themselves near the west gate and the bridge leading over the Khurinbyrn River towards the Chimaeron, or the Iron Hills as its new ruler now called it.
    Well away from the main battle by now the Prince was surprised to run into a large force of soldiers marching through the west gate into the city. The cavalry charged round a corner in the road near the gate and suddenly found themselves in the middle of a group of infantry. Prince Oden quickly grasped the meaning, these were the troops supposed to be in Edel province, the King must have moved them here by boat from Alklund, risking the dangers of the Harrowmarsh to make the trip. As he laid about with his heavy, bloodstained sword he could see the masts of two large ships in the harbour beyond the gate. The King troops must have just been unloaded and were coming to join in the fight.
    Thing were not looking too good for his army now. His cavalry were surrounded by at least twice their number of infantry and there will still the militia to deal with. Still a mounted unit was always a match for any infantry he thought as he sliced off the arm of a soldier attempting a strike on him. Behind him he heard a voice raised in prayer and glanced around just in time to see a column of fire erupt in the middle of the battle bringing the lives of at least five of the enemy infantry to an end. It seems that Kurt Warkinde was busy as was the Prince himself.
    Suddenly he felt a stinging blow to the side of his face and reaching up felt the wetness of blood on the side of his face. He looked up towards the west wall and saw a small group of archers running along the wall firing as they come. Others in the cavalry unit had also felt the sting of the enemies arrows and at least four of his soldiers had already fallen. Pulling out his horn once again the prince blew the retreat and led his men off down a side street leaving the road behind them littered with the bodies of the dead. Prince Oden noticed Alder working his way along beside his father and leaned over on his horse to see what his son wanted.
    "Father where are we heading now."
    "Back to the east gates. We will have to see how the rest of our soldiers are doing before deciding our next move. It looks like we have hurt them here, but unless we withdraw we may lose. It seems Alaric has a few more troops than I counted on."
    With that the Prince spurred his horse onward down the empty streets of Keidel towards the fallen east gate. They reached it only two minutes later only to find it blocked by the militia that where in the market earlier. King Alaric always thinking ahead had moved his reserves to the gates to trap Oden's Cavalry within the city. Once again the Prince called a halt as they looked around for a way out. On the walls above the city he could see the fighting still going on. It looked as though his soldiers were winning that battle, but control of the walls would be no good against the number of fresh soldiers Alaric would be moving into this battle soon. Although many now lay dead inside the west gate he had seen many more rushing along the road from the wharves. They would soon be pushed into the battle and then Prince Oden's men would be in real trouble. Once again he pulled out his horn and blew it several times in the direction of the east walls.
    On top of the wall General Osternord was leading his men against what remained of Alaric's archers. The walls were now slick with the blood of the dead and more than one man had fallen to his death after losing his footing. Above the clash of steel he heard the sharp sound of a hunting horn and glancing back he saw the Prince and his men trapped near the gate. For a moment he wondered what Prince Oden was doing, but then he was the movement of troops in the west of the city. Quickly gathering his remaining soldiers around him he slowly backed along the wall towards the ladders. Captain Darold's archers outside the city had the remaining enemy pinned down on the walls near the castle, so his men had little trouble making their way back to the gates.
    Inside the city Prince Oden could see the movement of his troops along the wall towards the ladders near the gate and ordered his remaining cavalry to gather into a small wedge. When he saw General Osternord's soldiers climbing down their ladders he ordered the cavalry forward. The militia ahead of him were relatively untrained and no match for the infantry that fell on them from behind, though the open gates. Their lines soon collapsed and the Prince and his men were able to ride through the gates and out onto the plains outside the city. With General Osternord's infantry behind him the Prince began an orderly retreat towards the hilltop where the catapults were based. Behind him the battered gates were pushed shut by the remaining militia. The attack on Keidel had failed.

    The storm had broken latter that night as the wounded were being tended by Kurt Warkinde and his priests. Strangely the priest himself had not been injured in the wild battle through the city, but many other had been, including the Price himself. A young priest of Kirche had tended his wound soon after the battle, so neatly not even a trace remained. It was about the only good result from this battle thought Pieter Oden as he looked over his remaining soldiers. Nearly half his cavalry and infantry had been lost, or were wounded. The wounded cavalry were likely prisoners of Alaric now as most of them had been trapped inside the city after they had lost their horses.
    All told perhaps three hundred soldiers had died today, nearly a third of his force. The King had lost more he knew, with reporting putting his losses as high as five hundred. The militia were especially damaged, losing maybe three quarters of their total number in the final battle near the gates. General Osternord and his infantry had made short work of the untrained troops when they were attacked from behind in the final battle.
    Things did not look good for the Prince though. He had maybe seven hundred men while reports from his spies spoke of a thousand fresh soldiers entering the city from the west, less the fifty or so he and his men had slaughtered near the west gate. Worse still this number included four hundred archers, while he was left with maybe only a hundred or so scouts, who although good soldiers where not a match for the specially trained archers.
    As the Prince sat in his tent listening to the heavy rain wash down the sides of the thick material of his shelter he wondered what was his next move. This weather was not a good thing either. While Alaric the city to shelter under the Prince and his men had little or no protection against the heavy rain. Sooner or later they would all freeze to death if disease did not get them first.
    The flap at the entrance to his tent was suddenly pushed aside and Kurt Warkinde walked in his arms covered with blood from tending to wounded troops.
    "Well Prince we have given them a beating, but things don't look good now."
    "I was just thinking the same thing Kurt. The question is what should we do now."
    "There is only really one thing we can do, and that is withdraw. I think this storm is Kirche's way of saying that we must go. Alaric's force is too strong for us now we must go back to Friedlund, or perhaps even Rohrgaard and make our stand there. Then we will have the advantage with the addition of our northern army. With any luck we will be able to drive Alaric south again, but this battle is over."
    "I guessed as much, but it is a pity to come so close only to fail now at the final hurdle. If only we could have attacked earlier."
    "Had we done that we would have lost. Alaric was ready for us and without the Catapults we would have been unable to get into the city without heavy loses."
    "I had better begin organizing the withdrawal then. The Catapults will have to go first. I don't think it likely that Alaric will come after us just yet, but if he does we don't want to lose our artillery do we."
    "No my lord, I believe that Alder has already begun to organize the catapults. The question is do we withdraw to night or wait until morning."
    "We had better leave now, the longer we wait the more organized Alaric will be. His troops are just fresh off the boat at the moment and they are not prepared to pursue us, but soon they will be and unless we go now they could harass us all the way to the north."
    "Yes Lord, I will pass on your orders at once. I will also see if I can't get Kirche to ease off on the weather for a while. A clear sky will be much more helpful that this storm."
    With that the priest left the tent and walked towards the command tent a short distance away. As he walked he could hear the groans of injured men. Many would not make it though the march he knew this, but most would survive, thanks mainly to the spells of his priests.

    King Alaric watched quietly as the remaining enemy soldiers broke camp and began to pack up their tents and weapons. The clouds were already beginning to clear from the darkened skies above the city and as the moon shone down on the plains to the east he could see a long line of flickering torches snaking their way to the north. A rumbling sound from that direction signalled the position of the enemy catapults as they slowly moved towards the border. He frowned at the thought of the massive enemy war machines. He had nothing like that in his army and would have to order some built if he was to march on Rohrgaard. That province was heavily protected by the citadel in Oden, a fortress that had never fallen to an invader in its long history.
    From the east gates came the sound of hammering as workmen laboured through the night to erect a barrier where the wall had collapsed. It would not be needed anymore now that Oden was retreating, but it was better that the work started now. The repairs would be expensive, but the church of Haelyn had promised to help out with that. At least Oden was defeated now and once his army was ready the King would sweep north and drive the upstart Prince all the way back to his city and bring its walls down around him. He had won a great victory here today he though, despite the losses and soon all of Rohrmarch would be back under his control.
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    Chapter 5 (The Retreat from Friedlund)
    Chapter 6 (Rumours and Threats)
    Chapter 7 (The enemy approaches)
    Chapter 8 (The Gorgon Strikes)
    Chapter 9 (The Fall of Osternord)
    Chapter 10 (Counter Attack at Osternord)
    Chapter 11 (Retreat to the Citadel)
    Chapter 12 (The Fall of Oden)
    Chapter 13 (Defeat?)
    Let me claim your Birthright!!

  6. #6
    Moo! Are you happy now? Arjan's Avatar
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    oh, just found some parts through google:
    Last edited by Arjan; 07-26-2009 at 10:22 PM.
    Te audire non possum. Musa sapientum fixa est in aure.

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    Moo! Are you happy now? Arjan's Avatar
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    Chapter 5 (Rumours and Threats)

    Perhaps it was just the cool autumn winds that blew through the open shutters of the warm window, but he was sure he could feel something cold and evil in the air this night. It may just have been a reflection on the lost battles of the past few months, or it may have been something more. The Prince did not really want to find out and closed the wooden shutters returning to the warm fireside table where he had placed the map of Rohrmarch. On the map were marked the current positions of his troops in Rohrgaard and Osternord, and the suspected positions of King Alaric's armies. It looked bleak, but not as bad as it had two winters ago when Alaric had nearly taken Oden city itself. With winter already stretching its cold, icy fingers across the land no armies would be marching and Prince Pieter Oden could reinforce his own positions. Come spring when the snows melted his armies would be ready to strike once more. Another cold chill ran through his body, despite his location right next to a roaring fire. The Prince looked around, sure that something was wrong, but then the chill withdrew and he returned to his maps, marking the location of the new troops he hoped to muster in time for the war next spring. Slowly as he wrote the warmth again returned to the room and he was filled with the heat from the fire.

    ----------
    Far from the Citadel of Oden city a creature sat in his own war room, watching the prince through a large scrying crystal. The Gorgon smiled as he watched the Prince jot down the location of the northern Rohrmarch forces. Unlike Oden he had no intention on waiting until spring for battle, he needed to strike now or risk losing large numbers of slaves to hunger. Soon his armies would have to attack, driving down into Rohrmarch, and plundering the Human lands to feed the hordes of Goblins in the Gorgon's Crown.

    After watching for several more minutes the Gorgon withdrew his thoughts from the south, back to the fiery peaks of Kal-Saitharak. Gently he lifted the valuable crystal ball from its holder on the table and placed it in a box, lined with the finest furs so that it would not be scratched. Closing the box he passed it to a waiting aide who carried it off towards main throne room. The Gorgon himself followed soon after thinking carefully on what he had seen. The Rohrmarch armies looked vulnerable, but if things were left too long then they would be strengthened and powerful enough to hold off his initial attack. Then he stopped and thought for a moment, a solution had suddenly presented itself, it was time to call on a favour from his new ally in the Chimaeron, or the Iron Hills as it was called now.

    ----------
    In the southern port of Mhowe the Awnshegh known only as the Flayer of Minds was enjoying his favorite pastime, counting his gold. He was once a powerful merchant, and had ruled a vast mercantile empire, but that was before his cursed blood became known and he was driven from his fortress in Endier and forced to live in this back water realm. However he still had his gold, and a growing city to rule. Unlike many Awnshegh the Flayer of Minds was not a particularly evil creature, he was however extremely greedy and should anyone cheat him then they would be sure to lose their lives. For the moment though he was happy counting the vast piles of coins and jewels in the treasury, making a precise record of what remained of his wealth that he had been able to save from the fall of Endier.

    A knock at the door interrupted him, and looking up he saw his Lieutenant Nekrul Adaere standing in the doorway. The tall knight knelt before his master and spoke.

    "My Lord, I ask your pardon for the interruption of your important work, but a visitor has come to see you."

    "Who is important enough to interrupt my pleasure," said the Awnshegh in a low whisper. The Flayer's voice had been severely effected by the changes his cursed bloodline had done to his body, and he no longer could speak, except in a whisper. He did however have the power to speak in the minds of those he engaged in conversation and this more than made up for the changes to his voice.

    "A Dwarven warrior sent by Prince Raesene, he asks that you meet with him to discuss something of importance."

    "Very well, let us go see what old Stone Face wants."

    The Flayer stood and drew the hood of his robe over his face, hiding his entire body in its shadowy folds. Carefully he activated the wards that protected his treasury from thieves and assassins. Although he had little in the way of magical powers several of those who served him could cast true magic, especially the wizards known as the Three Brother Mages. Their help had been instrumental in protecting his realm, even if some of their demands were a little strange at times. The Flayer of Minds discarded these thoughts though and strode off to meet with his visitor.

    The Dwarf who stood waiting in the small throne room of the Mhowe citadel was typical of his race. He wore a suit of dull metal armour, the same colour as his dull grey skin, and at his side was slung a wicked looking War Hammer, covered with sharp spikes. His neatly trimmed black beard was set in the latest Dwarven style however and it gave him a courtly grace that did not really match his military clothing. When the Awnshegh ruler of the Iron Hills entered through a side door at the back of the throne room he knelt in the human style, rising only after the ruler of the Iron Hills was firmly seated on his cushioned throne. Lord Nekrul who also served as the Awnshegh chamberlain, as well as treasurer, administrator, and general head kicker, spoke first.

    "The court recognises Kern Earthcore, leader of the 5th and 6th regiments of Mur-Kilad infantry and gives him leave to speak."

    The Dwarf drew himself up to all of his four and half feet of height and spoke in a deep rolling voice that immediately remind the few who remained in the throne room of the tall mountains that lay north of the city of Mhowe.

    "My Lord, and Noble King. I have been sent by my master to ask for your assistance in an important matter. Great Prince Raesene seeks to expand his influence and following the terms of the agreement between the Iron Hills and Kal-Saitharak he would like permission to station several units of soldiers in your lands for the purpose of expansion in Coeranys to the west."

    With that the Dwarf stood silently and watched as the Awnshegh and his servant whisper quickly to each other.

    "I don't remember that being in the agreement." said the Flayer, his voice only a whisper, but its message rebounded inside Nekrul's head.

    "I think it was on the last page, right under the rights of each party in case of a border dispute over Baruk-Azhik. It was in very small writing though my lord."

    The Flayer of Minds, not known for his good vision frowned, or at least attempted to, the mutations his cursed blood had forced on him long ago taking his vision as well as his voice. Obviously he had not read the treaty document well enough, but when in the presence of the most powerful being on the planet and with a massive army surrounding you it was probably best to sign whatever was placed in front of you. He looked towards Lord Nekrul who waited expectantly.

    "So what do we do now then, allow them in, or refuse them entry and break our treaty with the Gorgon."

    "Well my Lord, I would suggest allowing them entry for now, let them think that we are allied with them and then slowly turn them against their ruler, and should he move against us then crush them with our own forces."

    "Our own forces being your small group of cavalry and the knights still loyal to me that are longing around in the courtyard."

    "My lord, they are a crack regiment, did we not capture this entire realm with just those few men?"

    "A few rangers and city watch were no threat to us, especially since most of them changed sides when we arrived. Then all we had to do was kill the Chimaera and the realm was mine. Can your men stand up to fighting a well trained Dwarven army like that which may be based here."

    "I do not know lord, but either way we will be facing them, and I would prefer to at least have time to prepare for an attack as one will surely come if we refuse the Gorgon's request."

    "Very well I agree, I will let them stay, but I want them watched by as many men as you can spare."

    With the decision made the cloaked Awnshegh looked back to the Dwarf who stood awaiting an answer.

    "Well General Earthcore please return to your master and tell him that we would be delighted to welcome his soldiers to stay on our lands. We offer the province of Salviene for the stationing of your soldiers."

    "Thank you noble lord, I shall return at once with the news. My master expected you would agree however and the troops shall be arriving here within the next day or so."

    "So soon, I though it would at least take a month of travel from your master's realm to mine."

    "My master has other methods of transporting soldiers, I know little of these, except to say that if he says it will only take a day then I believe him."

    "I see, well I look forward to welcoming them then."

    General Kern Earthcore nodded sharply and with a stamp of his armoured feet spun around and exited the throne room. The Flayer of Minds turned back to his servant and spoke again.

    "Well I hadn't expected them so soon, I wonder what the Gorgon is using to transport his soldiers?"

    "Do you want me to look into it my lord? I can get those idiot mages to keep an eye on the Dwarf if you like."

    "If you think they can be trusted, I am not too sure on their loyalty myself, certainly they aided us in capturing this realm, but they haven't been very friendly since. If you do use them send some men to keep an eye on them at the same time, I don't want them destroying my plans for revenge against that bastard da Enlien."

    "Of course my lord, we would not want that to happen. I shall personally supervise their work."

    "Very good, well go then and do your work. I have other things to take care of."

    Lord Nekrul Adaere bowed deeply and left the room, a faint smile on his lips. As he walked towards the courtyard to gather his troops he though on the recent events. Certainly his life had taken a turn for the better since he had met Adu el-Hadid, the merchant who was now known as the Flayer of Minds.

    He had once been a knight in the nation of Medoere, a noble with lands and title. It had all been stripped from him though by the priest Lenviath da Enlien, the now ruler of Medoere. He had been exiled from his own land for breaking the laws of Ruornil as they were seen by the high priest, and his lands taken by the church. When he left Medoere he was a broken man, his life and reputation ruined. For a long time he considered what to do with his life, even considering throwing his life away on a foolish quest against the Spider or some other Awnshegh.

    The then guilder el-Hadid has saved him though, signing him up as the head of a private mercenary army the guilder was gathering under the nose of Count Aglondier of Ilien. Following the fall of Ilien to the guilder he had served as it's general guiding it through several wars against Medoere, something he had enjoyed no end. Medoere however proved to be too strong for the small Ilien army and they had been defeated, and both Nekrul and el-Hadid had been driven from the city.

    That defeat however was not to last, as with the assistance of the Baron of Diemed the merchant city of Endier fell to the surviving mercenaries and Nekrul became the general of an even larger army. That too was not to last, his master el-Hadid was soon revealed as a being cursed with the blood of Azrai, the ancient god of darkness and an alliance of nations led by Medoere was gathered against them. Defeat and certain death looked likely.

    However the newly emerged Awnshegh, who now called himself El-Hadid, the Flayer of Minds hatched a brilliant plan and the Awnshegh and the most trusted, and blood-thirsty soldiers in the Endier garrison fled the city with its huge treasury while leaving those who defended it to face the enemy swords.

    A month later and Nekrul found himself in the Chimaeron, and a month after that with the Chimaera dead at the hands of his master he was again a general, this time watching over several mountainous provinces, and his master had given him the castle in Lyssan province as his own. As long as this problem with the Gorgon could be solved then he would soon be rich once more, with an entire province as his lands, instead of the small manor that had been his home in Medoere.

    ----------
    North of the port city of Mhowe where even now the Flayer of Minds and his servant were plotting to betray their ally, was the mountain Dwarven realm of Baruk-Azhik. A beautiful land of towering peaks and deep mountain valley where crystal clear streams flowed it gave the appearance of being unoccupied by any like creature, save a few animals. Beneath they land however dwelt possibly the largest Dwarven nation in all of Cerilia. The same mountain range that made up the new nation of the Iron Hills to the south also made up Baruk-Azhik, although here the mountains were called the Iron Peaks. Something however must have been lost in the translation for the new ruler of the Chimaeron insisted on them being called the Iron Hills, even changing the maps to reflect his desires. This was of little importance to the Dwarven people of Baruk-Azhik however as they cared little for the human lands in the mountains to the south, only in defending their current lands from attack by Orogs and other menaces.

    A small party of Dwarven adventurers was attempting to assist in that very task. They were climbing slowly up the mountain side of the highest peak in the Promontory, searching for an old tower that was said to hold the treasures of the now dead Chimaera. They would not have attempted this had the feared Awnshegh been alive, but now with reports of her death, and a new ruler in the Chimaeron the Dwarves had set out under the command of Thane Wulfram Wainier to enter the tower and claim whatever lay there for the province.

    So far travel had been slow as the ancient tower sat high a top the peak that gave the Promontory its name, however the Thane and his party hoped to reach the summit soon, for there on the flat top of the mountain they hoped to discover the treasures of the Chimaera.

    They were moving as fast as possible though, as there was also word of a company of soldiers having set out from the capital Rivenrock three days ago and both parties wanted the legendary treasures of the Chimaera first to press their claims on the position of Overthane. Thane Wainier had no intention of letting Overthane Greybeard's foolish son claim all the credit. He intended on make the journey first and hopefully using the treasure to increase his own claims for power within Baruk-Azhik. This would all be a waste however if Merkul Greybeard reached the tower first.

    ----------
    Back in Mhowe the ruler and his general were standing on the balcony of the fortified tower that served as the current home of the Iron Hills government, what little there was of it. Below they could see Kern Earthcore busy reading a small book, and at the same time holding a small cloth covered object in his right hand. Even from the top of the tower Lord Adaere could see a faint glow from beneath the dark cloth wrapped around the object. General Earthcore soon finished his reading and unwrapped the object fully, exposing a glowing circular rock that he placed in the centre of the courtyard. He then stood back and began to recite word for word the passages he had just read from the book.

    El-Hadid and his servant watched closely, noting that the language the Dwarf spoke in was one neither had ever heard before. What ever it was however an effect was soon noticeable. Directly above the glowing stone and blue portal of light began to form and it quickly opened fully allowing a view to another location, a barren, cold looking landscape. Through the portal El-Hadid could also see the smart lines of Dwarven and Human troops readying for the march. It was not long before the first soldier began stepping through the portal into the courtyard. Fortunately the courtyard had been cleared of commoners and only the most loyal guards were able to view what was happening.

    The Gorgon's soldiers moved quickly through the portal and less than six hours later the entire division was in Mhowe, most already marching on their way toward the province put aside for their use. With them also came large wagon's of food and supplies. A small group of battle priests as well as an entire unit of mounted human soldiers, all marching through the portal as if they were walking down a road instead of through a glowing magical doorway.

    Most of the Gorgon's troops were Dwarven, almost fifteen units in total, but there were also four units of Human mercenaries, one mounted, the others infantry. All wore a dull yellow and black uniform, with no markings as so to keep their identity hidden from those who may be watching. El-Hadid and his general were watching with growing alarm. Neither had expected the Gorgon to send so many soldiers and so quickly. El-Hadid had thought maybe two or three units of troops may sneak into the Iron Hills from Kiergard, he had not expected such a large number, and certainly had not expected the use of magic to transport the soldiers. He wondered what exactly the stone that General Earthcore was carefully wrapping in its dark cloth covering exactly was. Perhaps it would be worth stealing. He quickly dismissed that idea however, looking at the number of troops still gathered in the courtyard below.

    Lord Adaere turn to his master and said softly, "This doesn't look good my lord. I hadn't expected so many."

    "Nor I Nekrul. I don't think that your soldiers, no matter how good they are, will be able to stand against them. I think we shall have to move to plan B."

    "Plan B my Lord?"

    "Yes, I will just have to convince them to work for me instead."

    "Are you sure that will work though my lord? Dwarves are supposed to be almost immune to magic."

    "But I will not be using magic though will I. All I have to do is talk to them, they will soon see that working for me is better than working for the Gorgon. With any luck we might even be able to convince the entire Dwarven army to switch sides, as well as those mercenaries. It is the mercenaries that bother me though. They, unlike the Dwarves, serve the Gorgon for gold and power, it will be difficult to convince them to switch sides. The Dwarves will be easier to convert, they already wish to be free of the Gorgon's influence. I shall simply provide them with an opportunity."

    "If you say so my lord, I still don't see how you can convince them though."

    "Leave that to me Nekrul, you stay here and watch the troops. I will take care of the details." With that final word the powerful Awnshegh turned around and walked quietly down inside the tower, his cloak raising barely a whisper as it brushed across the rough stone floor.

    "As you wish my lord." said Nekrul with a bow. He waited for a short while watching the retreating figure of his master. Deep in the back of his mind there was a faint feeling that something very wrong was going on here. He could pin down what the feeling was though, it was almost as though he felt that he was doing something wrong, and yet he didn't even know what it could be. Rubbing his temples to ward off a headache felt the feeling reside. He knew now that he was doing the right thing, and that he had work to do. With sudden determination he shoved his plumed helm back on his head and marched with determination toward the stair leading to the lower levels of the tower.

    As soon as he passed El-Hadid stepped from behind the curtains that adorned the walls of the throne room and smiled to himself. The mind control was working much better now. Nekrul was now totally devoted to him, and despite the knights generally good nature he would not betray his master. El-Hadid remembered the first time his powers has shown themselves. He had been worried at first, but now he reveled in his new found power and strength. This body may not be perfect, but his mind was so much more powerful than before. No-one could resist his charms, and soon he would have his army. The Gorgon had been nice enough to deliver two thousand skilled Dwarven warriors and no amount of magical resistance would prevent him from controlling the minds of their leaders. Then with his new army in place he could finally have revenge on that bastard Lenviath da Enlien, after all it was all the priests fault that he was stuck out here in some tiny little kingdom, instead of ruling a great city like Ilien of Endier as he had been destined to do.

    Still as he looked out the over the small coastal port he could see possibilities. Perhaps in a few years this place could become something to be proud of, a great port city. Looking across the tiny hovels that crowded together around the docks he could see in his mind a row of casinos and tavern's all bringing in vast amounts of wealth for his kingdom. He saw a port full of Galleons, Dhouras, and other trading vessels. Actually the harbour was already full of Galleons, with the four ships that made up his fleet still sitting at anchor out in the bay. The sailors had fled to Coeranys soon after arriving here, but a few had remained, perhaps enough to crew one vessel certainly not any more. El-Hadid looked at his idle fleet and wondered if it wasn't time to send them out again, and bring in some trade income for his city.

    Another thought soon dismissed this idea however as he felt the beginning of a hunger in his body. He smiled evilly and headed down the stairs to the cellars where his captives were kept. Soon one more corpse would join the others that had been fished out of the bay, their skulls caved in and their brains torn out by some horrible beast. The people of the town below the tower tried not to think of what went on inside the dungeons below the tower, and none were in too much of a hurry to find out, especially after those who did become curious usually ended up dead.

    ----------
    Running north from Daum, the capital of the devastated nation of Kiergard, was a road. Not a spectacular road, nothing more than a dirt track really. It was the destination of this road however that was important for if it was followed long enough, out of Daubreisch province, and through Gaurgonsbaet, it would arrive at the dark city of Fellport.

    Build at the mouth of the Esden river, Fellport was a foul, evil port that seemed to have a permanent stench of death hanging above it. The port normally would have drawn little notice, as few wished to visit it. Now however the city teemed with the Gorgon's troops as they prepared for the coming war. Gnoll legions gathered in the south of the city, with the Orog regiments marshaled near the docks, and the Goblins seemed to be everywhere. Even trolls, and the occasional Fhoimorien Giant could be seen towering over the others as all awaited the word for the march to the south. In the middle of this gathering of evil soldiers strode the current head of the army, General Baruk One-Eye.

    The General had left Kal-Saitharak several months ago think that he had been demoted, stripped of his rank and sent off to command some goblin unit in the war. Instead he had found himself in charge of the newly created Orog Lizard Riders, a small force of maybe a hundred of the best warriors the Orog tribes had to offer. Mounted of powerful lizards his new soldiers were almost unstoppable. Baruk smiled as he thought of the conflict to come. Soon he would take he place at the head of the army, and the plundering would begin. Right now however he had to attend the latest meeting of the other Generals, a tiresome task as most of the other generals were little more that thugs, with no understanding of a how to fight a battle. They had gained their position simply through their strength and skill at assassination, while he had fought his way to the top using his strength and intelligence, two attributes that were a very dangerous combination in an Orog. The other creatures of Fellport had certainly learned to respect the dangerous Orog general. Even the powerful trolls avoided him as he strode towards the meeting hall.

    The meeting hall was the largest building in the city, a massive domed structure made of a dark, red veined marble common to the region. It was to this building that Baruk and the other generals had been summoned to finally meet with their master, the Gorgon. The Awnshegh had arrived in the city last night, after first coming from Kiergard where he had used an ancient Elven artifact to transport troops into the Iron Hills. Baruk smiled as he thought of the surprise the enemy in Rohrmarch would receive when they were suddenly attacked from both sides. He smiled mostly however at the surprise the Gorgon's ally in the Iron Hills would have when his realm was snatched from him by the Dwarven armies. Not that Baruk thought much of the Dwarves, but the Gorgon had decreed that the Orog tribes work with the Dwarves, and despite their ancient differences all had agreed. It was either that be exterminated. Even now though the old hatreds still survived and most Orogs had little to do with the Dwarves of Mur-Kilad.

    At last Baruk made it to the great doors of the meeting hall. Most of the minor tribal chiefs, their lieutenants and captains had already arrived, but as was tradition in the Gorgon's armies the most powerful always arrived last. Despite the slow pace Baruk had set he was still unfashionably early and some of the lesser Generals had yet to arrive. Baruk sighed and waited in a shadowy nearby ally until his lesser rivals had arrived. Then when it was his time he strode purposely towards the open doors, arriving just before Kiras Earthcore, the Gorgon's current lieutenant. Both leaders stared at each other with barely hidden bile as they stood and awaited their master, Prince Raesene, otherwise known as the Gorgon, among other less tasteful titles.

    Down the main street of Fellport walked the creature of many nightmares. The Gorgon, his diamond-hard hooves shattering the stones of the road beneath him walked past his generals with barely a nod of recognition and entered the hall. The guards and top generals who awaited his arrival filed into the cavernous room beyond walking to the end of the hall before taking their position around their leader.

    Inside the hall had been gather nearly two thousand Orogs, Goblins, Humans, and member of other races. All were either tribal chiefs, important army figures, or priests, and all were here for a purpose. They were here to hear the words of their ruler and master who had called the assembly to announce his battle plans. Normally such a meeting would take place in one of the throne rooms in Kal-Saitharak, but this time the city of Fellport had been chosen. Baruk One-Eye from his position could see the fat merchant who ran Fellport for the Gorgon gloating to other leaders from other cities and provinces. All round the hall in the assembled masses there was an air of anticipation about what this meeting was about. Some though it was to announce an attack on Mhoried, while others thought one of the rich Brecht kingdoms to the west. Baruk and the other generals knew better though. Baruk already knew the target was Rohrmarch, and soon all of the Gorgon's armies would know, and then probably all of Cerilia, for several nations had spies hiding out somewhere in either Kiergard or the Crown. Baruk knew though that it matter little what who would find out, they would all be too late to stop the attack. Next to him he heard Kiras Earthcore call for silence among those assembled, it was time for the Gorgon to speak, to inspire his troops into battle and death.

    Prince Raesene came to his feet, his stony face watching the crowd carefully. There was a hush in the hall, and from the whole city itself, even the Goblin hordes gathered in the city held there breath. A speech by the Gorgon to his followers was not something that occurred everyday. Then in deep rumbling tones the mightiest of Awnshegh began to lay down his plans for the conquest of Rohrmarch.

    "Followers of Azrai," he began. "We are about to begin a war to bring both wealth and food to our people. The nation of Rohrmarch is ripe for the plundering, for too long they have looked as us and see only rabble. Before winter fall across Cerilia we shall prove them to be wrong. Their cities shall be destroyed and their children killed and eaten. We shall ravage through their forests and tear their farms from the ground. Their soldiers are no match for us, always too busy fighting each other, not protecting their nation. Many of you may have worried about food for the coming winter and wondered how you would survives. We shall take from Rohrmarch that which we need and destroy the rest. By the time we have finished with them nothing but ashes shall cover their lands."

    Baruk watched the reaction of the troops as the Gorgon continued his speech for another half hour. He went on about the poor goblin farmers and their hungry children and how the people of Rohrmarch kept their wealth and food for themselves, not wanting to share. Baruk however knew the truth. The Gorgon's land could not support the current number of warriors and the Goblin tribes especially had grown large over the past couple of years. As Raesene himself had put it Baruk not too long ago, it was time to cull the herds. Attacking Rohrmarch would accomplish little more than the deaths of thousands and thousands of Goblin soldiers. This was why much of the army was comprised on Goblin troops. Certainly there would be plunder to be taken, and food supplies as well, but the main aim was to reduce the Goblin population of Kiergard and the Kal-Saitharak. The slave farms of Kiergard could only support a certain population and with no trade with other realms the Gorgon had no choice. It was either a war here or risk conflict among his own troops.

    By the time Prince Raesene was ending his speech his powerful voice call almost not be heard above the cheering and cries of his soldiers in the hall. Baruk looked in disgust at the mindless masses as they cheered the Gorgon at the tops of their voices, each falling over themselves to attract the Awnshegh's attention and hopefully special notice. He watched as the Gorgon selected a couple of his soldiers for such special attention, a glance perhaps or if they were very lucky a mention. Baruk knew that most of those in the hall today would never amount to much in the Gorgon's army. Mindless adulation only went so far and Raesene usually rewarded only those who showed true skill or intelligence. Baruk had been selected as a general simply because he was the best in his legion, the toughest fighter and veteran of over one hundred victories, both as a young warrior, and later as its unit leader. Now he was to lead the largest army of his life, nearly a third of all the Gorgon's forces were readying to match south the Rohrmarch and Baruk would ride at his masters side. His new legions of lizard riding cavalry had were already on the way to the southern Brecht kingdom, snaking their way along the underground passages that twisted beneath the plains and hills of Kiergard. Baruk wished he was travelling with them for a moment, out of sight of the blinding sunlight, but the honour of being the second in command of the Gorgon's horde was too much to pass up. Further thoughts washed from his mind though as even he opened his mouth in a cheer to mark the end of the Gorgon's speech. The noise from the hall was now deafening, and it echoed in his head for several minutes after he had turned and followed the Gorgon to the exit.

    In Fellport news of the war announcement had already spread among the troops and many were already celebrating the march to war, after such a long time of peace. Outside the hall the guards held horses for the leaders, including the Gorgon's current steed, the jet black horse known and Black Thunder. Where the monstrous beast had come from Baruk did not know, but it was certainly the largest horse he had seen, yet even Black Thunder buckled a little when carrying the huge Awnshegh.

    As the Gorgon and his generals rode off to plan the coming battles throughout the city the Goblin host gathered, eager for the slaughter planned for the innocents of Rohrmarch to begin. Before a week was out most would be gone, marching south along the old roads as fast as they could travel. Baruk took one look around him before mounting his own horse, and riding off after his master, as eager for the battle as the others in Fellport that night.

    ----------
    Early the next morning near the peak that gave the Promontory a small party of Dwarves sat around the remains of a large fire. Thane Wulfram Wainier and his party had camped for the night in a small cave hidden in the side of the mountain. Outside thick snow already covered the ground, as it did for most of the year in certain highland areas of Baruk-Azhik. A wild and cold wind was blowing from the south, the last remnants of a storm that had driven the Dwarves into the cave last night. The Storm had punished the lands further south, especially the Iron Hills town of Mhowe where powerful waves had sunk a galleon and flooded much of the town's lower lying areas.

    After another hour had passed though the storm began to ease, and shortly after the sun rose to the east, shining through the open entrance to the cave, the Dwarves awoke. Thane Wainier was the first up and despite his high rank busied himself organising food for the rest of the party. Loaves of dark bread were handed around, along with piles of berries that had been picked two days ago. By the time the Dwarven leader unwrapped the smoked fish and pulled out the flasks of ale the rest of his company had also arisen, all hungry after a long, and fast march over the previous two days. Once they had eaten, in silence as usual, the Dwarves packed up the remaining food and their other goods and were on their once more.

    The cave was a common sleeping area for Dwarven scouts and so had been well stocked with wood, a rarity in Baruk-Azhik where the most common fuel was dried fungus, dung or occasionally, charcoal. Little was left now however as the Dwarves had burned most the previous night to ward off the cold that came with the storm. This morning however was an entirely different kind of day. The cold of the previous day and night had vanished and the rays of sunlight that filtered down through the broken clouds warmed the wet earth cloaking the valley below in think fog. Near the peak however where the Dwarves where there was no fog, and the rain from the previous night had already sunk into the ground leaving it firm and dry for their continued march.

    Thane Wainier after consulting with the sergeant of the small group of soldiers realised that before the sun had traveled half way across the sky they would reach the tower. So far they had seen no sign of Merkul Greybeard and with any luck they would be there before the other group of Dwarves. Wulfram hoped they were still further down the mountain, for the treasures of the Chimaera's tower were rightly his, at least in his mind, and he had no intention of sharing with the Overthane what was his. With a gruff wave of his hand the Thane set off once more along the narrow mountain trail, his men falling in single file behind him.

    After another two hours of marching the Thane called a halt beside a tiny mountain stream that trickled down from the mountain top above them. As the Thane looked upward, and could see the mountain top only a short way above him. Another hour of walking and they would be standing on the flat mountain top where the Chimaera's tower stood. Wulfram looked around him and noticed that the fog below had lifted. He could now see all the way down to the Khurinlach below. The mountain that he now stood on, the Promontory, jutted out into the lake itself, and was surrounded on three sides by the dark waters of the Khurinlach. The mountain was the southern most in Baruk-Azhik and marked the border between the lands that had once belonged to the Chimaera and Baruk-Azhik itself. Thane Wulfram soon tired of looking at the lake below, despite its great beauty and order the march to continue. They would soon reach the home of the now dead Awnshegh and with any luck would be the first to plunder its treasures.

    The Thane's thoughts of gold and other valuables were soon broken by a cry from one of his men. He looked behind him and noticed several of the Dwarves gathered around a lump in the snow. Quickly he jogged back to join them, in time to see the sergeant brush the snow from the body of a dead Dwarf. Beneath the fresh snow that had fallen during the night the older snow was stained with the dead Dwarfs blood, and it looked to Wulfram that some sort of wild animal had killed the Dwarf. Long jagged claw marks ran down the front of the body, with the thick furs having been ripped from the Dwarf chest, also it looked as though some one had stabbed him with a thin blade of some kind.

    Merner, a priest of Moradin who had consented to join the Thane wiped the dark blood away from the Dwarf's body with the remains of his torn furs. The priest knelt in the snow, ignoring the black stains on his clothing from the blood and examined the body. After a few minutes he rose and spoke to the party.

    "It looks to me as though he died after someone drove a knife or similar weapon through his left heart. I don't know who he was, but he looked like a tough old bastard, that nasty clawing he got didn't kill him, he must have stumbled here before being killed by someone else. Who he is I do not know, but I found this on him."

    Merner passed a small leather patch over to the Thane. It was a guild patch, marking the Dwarf as a member of the Points East Trading Guild, a human company, which although it was based in Elinie did a lot of trade with Baruk-Azhik. The thane rubbed the patch between his thick, leather covered fingers, wiping the bloody stains off its surface, thinking on the matter.

    "Hmmm, a guild member. A little way off course I should think, the nearest I thought the Points East Trading came to here was Cliff's Lament."

    "I have heard that young Merkul Greybeard employed some merchants from that company Thane," spoke up sergeant Rommel. "Perhaps this is one of his party."

    "Perhaps," mused the Thane. "Why was he abandoned here then, I hardly think even Merkul is capable of killing one of his own men, and especially not abandoning him out here in the snow. That sort of thing just isn't done to another of our kind."

    "Unless this chap the last one of the party alive." said Merner dryly, scratching his dark red beard. "He looks like he was running from something."

    "True, if they were all dead then no-one would be left to return them to the stone. That of course raises the question, who or what killed them."

    "It could of been the Chimaera," said one of the soldier nervously. "No-one has ever seen her body."

    "I doubt it," said the Thane. "That creature who runs the lands south here would not rule if the Chimaera was still alive. Besides I have heard that her head is on display in one of the human towns somewhere, Mhowe I think it is called. Perhaps a large mountain cat, or even pack of them. We shall have to keep out eyes open."

    "My Thane, this Dwarf was killed by a blade though, not the beast that slashed his chest," Merner reminded Wulfram.

    "A trained beast led by a human master then. Probably a group of Human thieves from the Iron Hills or Coeranys after the treasure. I only hope that Merkul is still alive or the Overthane will be most upset with me. Come let us return him to the stone and then get on to this blasted tower before the thieves strip the place bare."

    With that the Dwarven party pulled out their picks and began to cut a small grave out of the solid rock to place the body in. Merner, the priest quickly arranged his holy implements, which consisted of a vial of holy ale and a round coin of a dull silver metal. The burial was conducted quickly, and in under half an hour the dead Dwarf had vanished beneath a pile of broken stone and the Thane's party was heading up the mountain once more, this time though with their weapons readied for conflict.

    ----------
    The fortified city of Oden was in a festive mood. The southern armies of King Alaric had finally been turned back at the northern border of Friedlund province, and now with both sides settled in for the coming winter it looked as though the conflict may be over for another year. For nearly twenty years now the north and south of the nation of Rohrmarch had been at war, neither side strong enough to defeat the other. Currently Prince Oden held the northern provinces of Rohrgaard, Osternord, and Werthangen, while the other five southern provinces lay in the hands of the King.

    Prince Pieter Oden himself stood on the balcony of the Citadel watching his soldiers march down the main street of the city, to the cheers of the crowd. Once long ago the people may not have cared if he won or lost, but now after such a long period of warfare both halves of the kingdom were even more divided than ever before. As soon as most of his soldiers had marched past the Prince turned from the balcony and returned to the war room behind him, closing the large windows to shut out the autumn chill. It was now growing colder every day, and with the land in many places already covered in snow it would be impossible to conduct further warfare for the year.

    The people of the city had gathered mainly for the Eve of the Dead festival that was to occur in two days time. The festival, held each years to ward off the influence of the Shadow World in the coming year was popular with the hardy citizens of northern Rohrmarch and this year the city seemed even brighter and more vibrant than ever before. As was the Rohrmarch custom the festival would be a day of grand celebration, when the whole city was lit up by lights, so that the undead of the Shadow World would find no way into the citizen's homes for another year. Prince Oden cared little for the festival however, his only concerns at the moment were his soldiers, and the plans for the next years war.

    In the large open room that he had just stepped into were gathered his current advisors, with only his son Alder was not present, being currently off leading the parade for the people below. The rest had all gathered around the enormous open fireplace, sipping his brandy, and mulling over the plans for the next year among them. As the prince entered they all moved to the large oak table that sat in the centre of the room and took their places in the high-backed, heavily cushioned seats that surrounded it.

    "Well gentlemen," said the Prince as soon as he also had taken his own seat. "What is our current situation."

    The largest man in the room, the heavily armoured General Otto Osternord came to his feat and spoke first. "We stand well my Prince. Alaric took heavy loses in Friedlund, especially among his infantry. He won't in a position to replace that many loses for a least another six months. Assuming we don't have too long a winter this year we should be able to reclaim Friedlund, and perhaps even take Edel within the first couple of months of spring."

    "The King also faces trouble in the south with raiders from the Iron Hills," said Kurt Warkinde, the High Priest of Kirche, and long time friend of the General. "I can not be sure of this for certain, but we have heard rumours of a large army being assembled in the port town of Mhowe. Perhaps this Flayer of Minds creature plans to invade."

    "He can not invade us can he?," asked the Prince anxiously.

    "I do not think so my lord, not unless he goes though Alaric's entire army in Friedlund first," answer Kurt, "Even if the Awnshegh gathered all the people of the Iron Hills into an army he would not have enough men to beat Alaric."

    "Good," said the Prince. "Are there any other threats I need to know about at this time? Darold, any word from your scouts."

    "All is quiet my Prince," answer Captain Darold, the young commander of the Prince's scouts. "We have not seen any movement of troops in either Kiergard or the Vampire's realm. There are rumours that the Gorgon is planning to invade Mhoried or maybe even one of the Elven kingdoms, but no word of an attack here. My men had not spotted any Kiergard troops for some time, and we believe that they may have bedded down for the winter as well."

    "Keep your men there for now though," the Prince said. "We must be informed in case of any threat from Kiergard, and send some more men to watch the western border, just in case these rumours about the Iron Hills prove to be true. I don't want any surprises this time."

    "Yes my Lord, said Darold with a nod of his head.

    "Anything else we need to discuss right now then," asked the Prince, looking around at his advisors. Most muttered to themselves, unable to think of important matters with the parade going on outside. "Very well then, off you go. I want to see everyone back here tomorrow morning though, we have to discuss the rebuilding of Osternord castle."

    General Osternord looked a little pained at the mention of his now destroyed family home, which had been burned down several weeks back. He stood with the rest and bowed though, before leaving the room. Prince Pieter Oden, now on his own, stood near the fireplace, watching the flames and feeling the warmth of the large fire filling his whole body. "Soon," he muttered. "Soon I will have my throne, Alaric can not live forever."

    ----------
    Kern Earthcore, brother of the Gorgon's lieutenant moaned as he twisted in his chains in the Mhowe dungeon. Across the room from him Lord Nekrul grinned at the Dwarven general as he heated several pokers in a brazier set aside just for that purpose. The human lord crossed to stand beside the shackled Dwarf and looked down at him.

    "You know it would be a lot easier for you if you just told us what he had planned," said Nekrul. "There would be no need then for this unpleasantness, and you could be at peace once more."

    The Dwarf looked back at the human with a steady gaze. "You will never learn anything from me you fool, and when my men find out I am missing they will tear this place apart."

    "But they will not find out you are missing, will they," said Nekrul with a smile. "My master is doing a good job of convincing them that you are still alive even as we speak."

    "They will not be fooled by his magic trick. My kind is not taken in by such thing."

    "Hmm well they have so far, they seem firmly convinced that he is you, and soon they will join us against your master. They don't seem to be taking much convincing, perhaps they are not as loyal as you think."

    "My men would die for me, and they will not betray me," said Kern firmly.

    Nekrul laughed at this comment, and after making sure the Dwarven general was firmly chained up left the room, left the Dwarf to the torturers. He knew they would get little out of him, but at least he would amuse them for some time. In truth nothing the Dwarf could have told them was of any use, as his masters plans were already well in place. Soon the entire Dwarven army would join the Iron Hills and the Gorgon's plans to conquer this land would fail.

    His master was at the time heading back to the tower, after spending most of day in the form of Kern Earthcore, spreading the word about the offer for the Dwarven troops to join the Iron Hills. Nekrul had spoken the truth when he said that the Mur-Kilad troops would join willingly, as many already had. The thought of living free of the Gorgon's influence over their lives and families appealed to the Dwarven soldiers and most had already switched sides, prefer the opportunity provide for a free life here in the Iron Hills to a continued life of slavery in Mur-Kilad. While it was true many did not wish to leave their ancestral home, few could resist the idea of peace.

    El-Hadid walked through the streets at the side of Ruarch Rockhammer, the high priest of Moradin's Forge, a temple from the Dwarven nation of Baruk-Azhik to the north. He had summoned the Dwarven priest to Mhowe when he had first thought up this plan and between them they had managed to convince the Mur-Kilad troops to switch sides and join the Iron Hills. Gaining the assistance of the High Priest had also not taken much convincing, as Rockhammer's priests had for many years been sent to Mur-Kilad to put forward the idea of freedom from the Gorgon. Both he and the Mur-Kilad dwarves however had realised that freedom would never come for those living in the Gorgon's shadow. But the Iron Hills was far from the Gorgon, and still relatively empty. The Dwarven cities would need to rebuilt though, and El-Hadid has already promised the central province of Lyssan as the site of a new fortress city for the Mur-Kilad Dwarves.

    Sidestepping the pools of water left over from the recent flooding the two discussed the plans for the evacuation of Mur-Kilad, for the Gorgon was sure to crush anyone who betrayed him.

    "So will Greybeard allow them through the passes do you think?," asked El-Hadid.

    "Well he does not need to know. I can arrange for safe passage to Lyssan. I am sure that over time he will come to accept this, he is a stubborn Dwarf but not a stupid one."

    "Good, I am pleased to see that most have already agreed to my proposal, we must still worry however about those who have yet to agree. I do not wish to kill any, but they may be a threat if they warn the Gorgon and his allies of our plans."

    "Then we must act quickly good king. We should send those who do not agree with our ideas west, away from the pass to Rohrmarch so it will be difficult for them to find their way east before we can move against the leader. I understand that you already have General Earthcore under arrest."

    "Yes we have placed him in the prison and are questioning him about the Gorgon's plans even as we speak. So far he has given up little, and I think perhaps he know little. The troops do not know of his disappearance yet, and I think it best that they do not until they have signed up with the Iron Hills and no longer serve the Gorgon."

    "Yes, I agree on this of course. I shall return at once to the barracks and continue my work. With any luck the entire army will side with us before the week is out. It is a good thing that you are doing your majesty. The Dwarven people will thank you greatly for this great service. To think that our brothers may finally be returned to us after these long centuries. It will be a day of great celebration in my homeland, and one that we will have you to thank for."

    "I am glad I can assist good priest, now go, there is much work to do and we must be careful not to alert our enemies."

    Ruarch Rockhammer bowed slightly and turned toward the barracks for the Dwarven troops in northern Mhowe. El-Hadid returned to the central tower where Kern Earthcore's command staff were awaiting him. His disguise was perfect, and as he used no magic to achieve it, for with only the power of his mind he could fool the magic resistant Dwarves fully, as well as the leaders of the Human Mercenaries. already he had learned that the plan was to await the signal from the Gorgon for that attack and then to quickly capture all of the Iron Hills. Thanks to his own powers he was now prepared and when the Gorgon's signal came the troops would side with him, instead of against him and his home would be safe, and would have a friendly Dwarven army to protect it.

    El-Hadid smiled as he mounted the stairs leading to the throne room. Even the sight of the mast from the sunken galleon in the harbour no longer upset him, it truly had been an interesting week.

    ----------
    Pain filled her every thought, but still the young Half-elf tried to get up from where she had fallen on the floor the night before. The Dwarves had injured her greatly, while she had still been recovering from the wounds that evil El-Hadid creature had given her. Danita Kusor knew she was still weak, and the loss of her lands and control over the sources of the Iron Peaks had weakened her even further. She smiled inwardly though, for she knew that no one could kill her, although the recent battle with the Dwarves had injured her and she had been reduced to her human form to recover.

    As Danita lay there she wondered what had awoken her before she had healed fully, and it was then she heard the noise of louc footsteps on the stone floor of the level below her. Painfully pulling herself to her feet she grabbed a handful of torn cloth and wrapped it around her wound in an vain attempt to assist some of the injuries in healing. She knew that she would heal in time, but if more Dwarves where here she may not have much time. She tried walking, but found that she was still too weak, and slumped back to the floor. This was not good.

    Below on the ground floor of the dark tower Thane Wainier and his party of soldiers had discovered the bodies of the other Dwarves, including Merkul Greybeard, the son of the Overthane. All seemed to have been savaged by some wild beast and the Dwarves were looking around nervously in case the creature should appear.

    "It looks like who ever was here cleaned out the place," observed sergeant Rommel. He had been looking around the room and it seemed that what ever had once resided here was long gone. The room was a shambles with broken glass and torn books scattered across the stone floor.

    "Yes, they probably killed poor Merkul here and then ransacked the tower, taking everything of value with them," said the Thane.

    "Yes, although much of this damage looks fairly old, it may have occurred months ago." said Rommel. "That crack in the stonework there is at least twenty years old."

    "Then someone must have cleaned the tower out long ago, this whole journey was a waste of time," said the Thane with a frown. He moved across the entry hall, and noticed some sort of broken vat in the room beyond. "Come let us check the rest of the tower before we leave. And be careful with Merkul's body we have to take him back with us. Half of you come with me, while the rest prepare those bodies. We can not leave them here for the scavengers to pick at."

    The rest of the Dwarves look appalled at the very thought and quickly set about their task, half working with the priest Merner to prepare the bodies of the fallen Dwarves for burial, while the rest followed Thane Wainier as he entered the room beyond. The second chamber was much larger than the entry hall and seemed to have been some sort of laboratory. Piles of broken glassware and several burned books lay scattered about the room, while in its centre was large broken vat or bath of some kind. The floor was pitted and stained by some unknown liquid and everything in the room seemed smashed or broken in some manner. Another Dwarven body lay at the foot of the stairs leading up to the next level of the tower. Wulfram was just bending over to examine the body when he heard the sounds of movement above.

    The Thane quickly looked back at his troops, motioning for silence, and at the same time unslinging his war hammer from his position across his shoulder. Holding the mighty weapon in one had he motioned his troops forward up the stairs. Sergeant Rommel led the soldiers, carefully taking one step at a time, ever mindful of the bodies they had seen scattered around the previous rooms, torn apart as though they were nothing but rag dolls. He slowly pushed open the door on the second floor, exposing a darkened room. Accustomed to the darkness of the underground mines Rommel could see clearly the room beyond with his heat vision.

    A whimper from one corner alerted him to the presence of another creature in the room, and looking left he saw the warm form of another being hiding in one corner, behind what looked like a large canopied bed. He motioned to one of the men behind him and was handed a lantern, that had as its light source a rock, magically enchanted by the priests of Moradin. The lantern lit the room with the brightness of daylight, showing it to be a ruined bedroom, with the large bed filling much of the room, and dark curtains blocking the sunlight from outside from enter the darkened chamber. Slowly and ever so carefully Rommel edged himself around the blood-stained bed, looking for the creature he had spotted earlier.

    The creature, a young looking, and skinny half-elf woman gathered the blanket she was wrapped in closely around her and tried to shield herself from the light. She look very frightened and shied away from the sergeant as he came closer. As he nearly the woman he could see the bloody wounds that covered her body, and looked in surprise, amazed that she was not already dead. Looking back towards the door he called out. "Get the priest up here, I have found someone. She needs a healer though, and quick by the look of it."

    One of the other Dwarves quickly ran back down the stairs to get the priest. Thane Wainier entered the room and crossed the chamber to examine the woman they had found. She was young, although the age of Elves and other beings had always been difficult for the Dwarves to determine. Long dark hair hung around her head, matted with thickened blood. She had a blanket drawn around her, but he could see a pair of beautiful, large, purple coloured eyes looking back at him. It was then he noticed the wounds, several long slashes from what looked like blades of various kinds ran down her arm, and across her exposed neck.

    The Thane leaned forward and slowly pulled the blanket away to expose the rest of her body, the woman drawing back in fear as he did so. She wore a tattered gown, that may once had been beautiful, now though it was torn and blood soaked, and the Thane could see more cuts covering the rest of her body. Slinging his war hammer over his shoulder he reached down and gathered the slight girl in his strong arms, carrying her gently over to the bed and laying her down so the priest could better tend to her. The woman tensed in his grip, but did not resist, and as he laid her down on the bed he noticed a thin dagger gripped in her right hand. He gently pried open the woman's hands and took the dagger from her, noting the slight magical glow around it as he did so.

    Merner, the priest of Moradin then arrived at the top of the stair, puffing slightly from the dash up the stairs. He quickly knelt at the edge of the bed and began to examine the woman's wounds. The Thane motioned everyone else out of the room and quickly spoke to the sergeant. "I want the rest of the tower checked out carefully, just in case there is something lurking around here. I will be standing guard here, so if you see anything come and warn me."

    "Yes Thane," replied Rommel. "Come on men we have work to do yet.

    Back in the bedroom the priest had laid out the contents of his bag, and was readying his spells to heal the woman's wounds. Merner picked up a large earthenware jar and after opening it spread a pale white ointment across the wounds, noting in please that it was already having an effect. The ointment, made of rare fungus from deep beneath the earth, was expensive to produce, but very effective. Only the spells granted by Moradin could do a quicker job, and he was saving his priestly powers for the moment in case of battle when his the healing spells granted by Moradin would be needed.

    The woman seemed to be healing very quickly, almost as though some other agent was assisting her recovery in some way. As she lay there he looked more closely at her. She seemed oddly familiar to him, as long he knew her in some way. He dismissed this recognition, thinking that perhaps he had seen her before, as many traders from the Human lands visited Baruk-Azhik these days. The first dead Dwarf had carried a guild patch, so she also was likely a member of the same guild. He could see no patch on her at the moment though, but a magical dagger was certainly a sign of wealth, for few could afford such a wonderous item.

    The woman's wounds soon healed, although she was still weak. Merner reached into his backpack and hand her a small flask that she eyed cautiously, as though she was not sure of its contents. Merner smiled at her and said, "do not fear my child, it is only brandy. It will give you warmth and strength."

    She didn't look as convinced but took a sip anyway, wincing at the strength of the Dwarven liqueur. Merner was right though and Danita felt a warm feeling fill her body, making her forget about her wounds and the other hurts. She smiled for the first time and handed the flask back to Merner who put it back in his pack and drew out instead a large loaf of Dwarven bread, made of dark grain, and thick with raisins and honey. He broke her off a piece and she wolfed it down hungrily, almost as though she had not eaten in some time.

    At the door Thane Wainier watched, pleased that she was recovering, soon she may be strong enough to speak on what she had seen. He had to know what had happened to Merkul Greybeard and his men, for there would be questions to be asked once he returned home. On the bed the young woman was motioning to Merner to pass her more bread. Merner was just doing so when one of his guards called from the floor above. "My lord, you had best get up here."

    Quickly he climbed the steep steps arriving on the next floor where his men were gathered around a large chest. He was walking forward when he noticed that the chest was filled with coins and precious gems. He turned to one of his soldiers and asked, "Was this just sitting here? You didn't find it hidden anywhere?"

    "No Thane, this chest and the other three over there were sitting as you see them now, we have not moved them yet. We also found this large book" said the soldier, pointing toward a large leather bound volume sitting on a nearby table.

    "Interesting, I wonder why the thieves did not find them? These certainly looks like a fair stash of valuables."

    In the bedroom below Danita motioned toward the Dwarven priest for more food. Merner shook his head saying, "I think you have had enough child, you do not want to eat too much recovering from such nasty wounds. Here why don't you just lie back there and get some rest."

    Danita shook here head and motioned for more bread again, a slight scowl on here face this time. She could not believe that this foolish Dwarf would refuse her, she could never understand why these lesser creatures always tried to prevent her from having what she wanted. She motioned once more for bread, at the same time creeping closer to the Dwarven priest.

    On the floor above the Thane and his men suddenly heard a scream, followed by the horrible choking and crunching sound from below them. There were several thumps as though something heavy was being thrown around and then there came a deep growling sound, like a large cat or some other dangerous beast. By the time heavy footsteps began to mount the stairs from the floor below the Thane was very worried, and once more had his war hammer in his hand. The rest of his soldiers quickly moved to close the door leading into the room and barricade it with the chests of gold, as they thought little would be able to move such a heavy object.

    Inside the room the Thane and his men could hear something very large pacing outside the door, and there can a loud scratching on the wood along with heavy breathing. None of them looked too keen on finding out exactly what it was that was on the other side of the door. Suddenly however the noise vanished and then the heavy footsteps could be heard ascending the tower to the upper levels where they had yet to venture. The Dwarves wiped their brows and looked at each other, wondering what they would do now.

    From the floor above came another crashing sound, as though something wooden had just been torn apart. Then there came a fearsome roar, a bestial noise from some powerful monster. The Thane's hand tightened around his war hammer, hoping that the creature would go away before it found a way into the room. He thought of the dead priest and girl in the room below and made a quick prayer to Moradin his own survival, seeing that his soldiers were already doing the same.

    The noise from above stopped abruptly and then the heavy footsteps started down the stairs once more, pausing outside the door of the room they were hidden in. The footsteps seemed to recede for a little and then with another horrible roar the creature charged the door. The room shook with the power of the blow and the stonework around the doorway began to crumble. To the surprise of the soldiers the heavy chest of gold moved a good foot away from the door. They were just rushing to move it back up against the door when the creature struck it with another charge.

    This time the old stonework did not stand up to the power of the creatures charge and the soldiers were tossed across the room along with the door and the heavy chest. The chest struck first, sending a pile of gold spilling out across the floor. As the dazed soldiers gathered their wits about them and tried to get back to their feet the monstered enter the room.

    It was a horrible beast, covered in thick purple, reptilian like skin. It was at least three metres long and had a largest bestial head like that of a cat, surrounded by reddish fur. Two large bat like wings sat folded across the monster back, and it had four powerful legs that ending in dangerous looking claws. But worst of all were the two human like arms that grew from the body behind the head and the first set of reptilian arms. Wulfram Wainier knew what he was looking at, for it was the Chimaera that stood before him, one of the powerful Awnsheghlien that threatened all of Cerilia.

    The other Dwarves also knew what they faced, for stories of the Chimaera were common in The Promontory, usually told to young children to warn them away from the mountain. Two of the Dwarves tried to flee but the Chimaera lashed out, catching one around the neck with her fearsome bite, with the other was driven up against the wall by her bulk and had the breath knocked out of his body. The Dwarf caught in her fearsome mouth did not last long as she simply broke his neck and then with a twist of her head tossed his lifeless body across the room toward the surviving Dwarves.

    The Thane readied his War Hammer. He knew he faced a dangerous foe, but he was not an unskilled warrior, and despite his age stood a good chance at survival. The Chimaera merely turned her head towards him and smiled, not a pretty sight on a three metre long monster such as she. As Wulfram was watching her body for any signs of a charge he did not see her human hand coming around toward him until it was almost too late.

    A lord crack resonated throughout the room as Wulfram threw himself toward the other side of the room, rolling beneath the Chimaera's body. The wand in her hand had blasted much of the room with a powerful bolt of lightning and the surviving soldiers were now lying on the floor, some dead, the others twitching as their bodies fought to overcome the effects of the wand. The Chimaera let out another roar, this one of triumph and started to move toward the fallen soldiers, obviously intent on ending their lives. Wulfram would have none of that though and swung his War Hammer with all the strength he could muster, striking the Chimaera on one of her hind legs.

    There was a shattering crunch of bone and the Chimaera roar of triumph changes to one of pain as the hammer smashed the large bone in her leg. She fell over on her side and Wulfram watched in horror as her form began to twist and shake in pain, her powerful claws lashing out in all directions. The three Dwarves who has survived the lightning wand were quickly pushed to their feet and out of the room by Wulfram. He then looked back at the creature writhing in pain and thought about attempting another attack. He soon changed his mind however when the Chimaera again hobbled to her feet, clutching at the wand in her human hand. He dived toward the stairs and tucked himself up into a ball as the struck the first stair just as a second bolt of lightning rushed past him, blowing stonework off the wall.

    Like a Dwarven bowling ball Wulfram charged down the stair, eventually crashing into the other Dwarves who had also reach the bottom. They quickly got to their feet when they heard another roar from the Chimaera and rushed toward the exit and the other soldiers who remained there. Sergeant Rommel, who was one of the three who had survived the attack in the treasure room gathered the soldiers around him and began unbuckling his crossbow. The Thane stopped him with a shake of his head saying, "that will do no good against her, she is too strong, and that wand will make short work of you. It is best that we run, at least then some of us may have a chance."

    The rest of the Dwarves nodded and took off towards the path down the mountain, and away from the monster that lived in the tower. As he ran the Thane thought what a fool he had been to trust the word of this other Awnshegh that the Chimaera was really dead, he should have known better. His thoughts then turn to more immediate matters, such as how to survive and escape the monster that was even now coming after them. A roar from behind him gave him reason to look back, and what he saw caused his eyes to open wide in fear and his legs to start pumping even faster.

    One the top of the tower behind him he had seen the Chimaera, with her bat like wings spread wide. She may have a broken leg, but it was not needed for her to fly, which was what she did best. She leapt into the air and began to swoop down toward the fleeing Dwarves, her large wings catching the air currents and bringing her ever closer to her prey.

    Thane Wainier felt a breeze pass by his head and heard another load scream. Looking back again he saw a scene that filled his heart with horror. The Chimaera had grabbed on of his men in her claws and was disemboweling him, the thick plate armour the soldier wore, little protection against such powerful claws.

    The Chimaera soon tired of her sport and turned once again to those who were fleeing. Another bolt of lightning flew out from the wand, and suddenly only the Thane and the Sergeant still stood, the rest of their party lying dead or twitching on the snow covered ground. As the Thane ran on Sergeant Rommel spun around and bought his heavy crossbow up and level with the Chimaera's head. He fired, but the bolt went wide embedding itself in one of her legs instead. The Chimaera bellowed in pain again and pawed at the bolt with one of her remaining limbs. Rommel sank to one knee and quickly began to reload the crossbow.

    The Chimaera soon gave up on trying to pull out the crossbow bolt and instead turned her attention back to the cause of her pain. Sergeant Rommel was just standing to take another shot when something hit him in the chest and he found himself flying across the frozen, rocky landscape. His life had already left him when he came crashing down to the ground again, just in front of a running Thane.

    Wulfram looked downward, and saw the lifeless eyes of his sergeant, a huge smoking hole in his chest and began to run even faster. He was now close to the edge where the track went back down the mountain. It was then he felt hot breath behind him and knew he would not be fast enough. Already knowing what he found find he turned around staring straight into the purple eyes of the Chimaera as she hovered in the air just above him. She let out another bestial roar and pointed her smoking wand toward him. The Thane jumped backward as fast as he could and the blast from the wand struck the ground in front of him, throwing up a cloud of steam as the snow melted. He quickly got to his feet and began to run hoping that the steam would hide his presence.

    A massive claw swiped him across his back, and although it did not get through his tough armour it threw him across the slick surface and he suddenly found himself sliding, his breastplate finding little grip on the snow. As he spun around and around he saw the Chimaera again, crouched in the snow next to the dead body of his sergeant and wondered for a moment why she was not coming after him still. He soon found out though as the ground beneath him suddenly disappeared and he found himself falling. A scream echoed across the mountains as Thane Wulfram Wainier began his plunge from the top of the Promontory to the dark, icy waters of the Khurinlach far, far below.

    ----------
    Thoughts about the Dwarves of Baruk-Azhik were far from the mind of the Orog General, Baruk One-Eye. He sat on the back of his warhorse as the armies of the Gorgon's Crown marched across the blasted foothills of Coullibaird in southern Kiergard. Next to him rode the Gorgon himself, with the other generals of the army trailing slightly behind. Further back behind him were stretched the vast army of Goblins, Orogs, and Human Mercenaries that were prepared for the assault. Soon he would sit at the Gorgon's side as they marched in the Rohrmarch province of Osternord, killing as they went. His eyes lit up at the thoughts of the slaughter to come.
    Te audire non possum. Musa sapientum fixa est in aure.

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