The First Battles For The East Ridge
The Do’s Series: Segment 27
© Grandpa Jim
“The storm is strong tonight, Lord Commander.” The Captain of the WestWatch gazes into the wet night.
Lord Commander FawlFittle touches the rock wall at his waist. The stone barricade guards the rim of the upper turnabout. FawlFittle swings about and narrows his eyes to see across the open wagonyard to the wood and metal of the West Gate. In the rain, the gate is barely discernible. Rain drips off the Commander’s warhelm and from his battlecape. FawlFittle leans out and over the wall. “I see only sections of the north and south circle roads, Captain. Nothing of the flatpave below is visible.”
“The main force of our soldiers is grouped there, Commander, on the wide flat staging area before the West Desert. That flatpave is part of the NorthSouth Tradeway. Supplies arrive, are sorted, loaded onto wagons and brought up here to the West Gate.” The Captain reaches under his cape and hands a waxed sheet to his superior officer.
“As you can see, Sir, the flatpave offers us the greatest maneuverability to turn back any attack from sands.”
“Yes, Captain.” FawlFittle hands the sheet back. “I know the situation here, and I know the terrain.” He runs a finger along the rough stone of the wall top. “Where are your reserves stationed?”
“If reinforcements are needed, some reserves wait here on the upper turnabout. In greater numbers, they wait inside, behind the West Gate.”
“They are the lucky ones. It is dry inside.” FawlFittle turns to his field officer. “Keep your reserves in this wagonyard and behind the gate, Captain. Do not let them leave. If necessary, move everyone inside.”
“Now, what of these circle roads? Who do you have on them?”
“Some fighters are stationed on the roadways. They are mainly there as observers.”
“There is little to observe tonight.” The Lord Commander stomps his booted feet to keep the blood moving. “Have your field scouts returned from their reconnaissance routes?”
“Do those report any movements?”
“No, Sir. They could see or hear nothing unusual.”
FawlFittle stretches a hand into the misting rain. “Who of the scouts is still out there?”
“Two deepscouts have not returned.” The Captains eyes search through the rain and dark. “They went far into the sands. To listen and watch. They should be back. Those two are brave BrownRobes.”
“You use our old name, Captain. ‘BrownRobes.’ We were the ‘BrownRobe Fighters of the OpenWild.’’’
“We were, Sir.” The Captain pauses. “The ones out there are two of our best.”
“Both fought at the battles for Glue Days and New Bread. They were on the WildSands when the monsters appeared.”
“Were you there, Captain?”
“One of your lieutenants, Sir.”
“And . . . were you on the sands?”
“Yes, Lord Commander. I was one of the few who reached the rock ledge where you waited.”
FawlFittle stands straight. A crack of lightning silhouettes his figure. “Field Captain, draw your men to full attention and battle alert. Expect the enemy soon, very soon, before daybreak. Keep the FreeOnes of the BlindDesert from taking this gate. If you must, fall back from the flatpave below and up the roads, but hold the West Gate. Do not let the enemy enter the East Ridge.”
“Yes, Sir.” The Captain hesitates. “Sir. . . .”
“Our fighters fear these SandRunner FreeOnes of the BlindDesert.”
“Captain, tell your troops we fight for our freedom. I do not know how, and I know we serve Sir Richard, but we have hope. There is always hope. Tell your BrownRobe Fighters of the OpenWild that in some way, in what they are doing, they fight for their own freedom. In this, we are the equals of the FreeOnes of the BlindDesert. Tell your fighters this.”
“Yes.” The Captain snaps to attention. “I will, Sir. And thank you, Sir.”
“I leave you, Captain, to your command. I go to mine. May we meet again.” FawlFittle salutes the young field officer.
The Captain returns the salute and adds in a strong, even voice, “As the Mother wills.”
A slight smile cracks the corners of Lord FawlFittle’s mouth. “As the Mother wills,” he answers and turns to the gate.
_ _ _
“Wait . . . not yet . . . not yet.”
AdmiralCaptain Jean LaFitte SquatBean stares through the bow window of his fastslide deepboat. The command boat lies hidden inside the last spoke channel across from Hook Point. With a clear view upstream to the waters between BarterBend Island and the other spokes on the rim of Doris Cavern, the Pirate Captain watches the approaching column of DownTown troop carriers.
“There are fewer boats than I expected.” SquatBean glances to his right at his Navigator who sits on the other swivel chair of the command bridge. “Not as many troop transports and almost no deepboats in escort. This will be easier than I had thought. We outnumber them.”
Admiral Captain LaFitte lifts a hand and holds it steady.
“Just a little longer. I want to trap their entire fleet.”
The Navigator reaches and touches a raised button on the console.
“At my command, issue the sonar alert.”
The pirate leader gauges the distance.
“They are almost to us.” SquatBean smiles. “The fools. They have no idea.”
He raises his hand higher.
“Ready. . . .”
LaFitte drops the hand.
“Now! Signal the attack! Now!”
The Navigator depresses the button.
A deep pinging reverberates through the underwaters of Doris Cavern and into the Spoke Channels of Smugglers Den.
_ _ _
“Are they ready?” LongLeap StarBreak bends closer to the other SandRunner. The FreeOne Commander pulls his rainbreaker up to shield the two from the rain and mute their conversation from any nearby.
After some minutes, the two SandRunners stand. LongLeap lifts a hand in parting as the other FreeOne disappears into the mist.
WhiteHands BakeMuch approaches his friend. “You plan?”
“I do.” LongLeap looks up and lets the rain wash his face. “It is time. . . . The weather favors us.”
“Or the Lady?”
The SandRunner Commander nods his head. “Are the freefighters of Glue Days and New Bread in position?”
“They are. To the north of the flatpave near the tradeway. Low and on the sand.”
“Good. My SandRunners wait to the south of the flatpave.”
“Does no one take the center? There are many BrownOne BentOne fighters at the base of this hill.”
“Something will be there . . . at the center.” LongLeap makes eye contact with his friend. “When you hear the sounds of the BrownOnes, take all your fighters and slice through their ranks to the entrance of the North Circle Road. Hold that road and do not let the BentOnes ascend. Let them have the NorthSouth TradeWay. When you can, move your fighters quickly up the road. My SandRunners will take and hold the entrance to the South Circle Road and ascend that side.”
“Will the BentOnes from the flatpave not follow and trap us on the roads?”
“I think not.”
“Where will they go?”
“Leave the tradeway open for them. We will do the same on our side.”
WhiteHands is silent for some seconds. “We will do as you command, LongLeap StarBreak.”
“As we command, WhiteHands BakeMuch.” LongLeap pauses. “Keep the BrownOnes from the circle road, Great Baker. Then, lead your fighters with speed to the upper turnabout. I will do the same. Together, we must take the wagonyard and be before the West Gate. We must do this by daybreak.”
“The wagonyard and gate will be well defended.”
“SandRunners climb the rocks beside the roads. You may not see or hear them, but they will be moving up with you. Those FreeOne climbers go to the rocks above to help us break through to the turnabout.”
“This will not be an easy thing.”
“It will not.” LongLeap gazes up into the wet night. “I send my best SandRunner Scout to stay at your side. The rains will stop. We need to be before the West Gate at daybreak.”
WhiteHands lifts his right hand and grasps LongLeap’s left shoulder. The SandRunner extends his right hand and grasps the Baker’s left shoulder.
“So be it.” BakeMuch shakes his friend’s shoulder.
“We meet at the wagonyard,” StarBreak agrees and releases his friend’s shoulder.
_ _ _
Ramsleds streak from the Spokes of Smugglers Den. Wakes bubble and churn behind the pointed missiles. White lines on the surface of the water draw the course of the torpedo boats to their targets. The aim is directly at the sides of the DownTown troop carriers and their escorts.
Behind the sleds, pirate deepboats with reinforced hulls slide from the spoked channels. Loaded with renegade Guppie fighters, the BumbleBee BuzzSwarm Squadron closes with practiced precision.
SquatBean reaches from his command chair to open the bow window. His black captain hat tips back as he stretches to see and hear. . . .
The first ramsled pierces the side of a troop carrier. A deafening CRASH is followed by a loud CRACKING and the sounds of SPLINTERING wood and CREAKING metal. The large DownTowner transport vessel falters and tilts in the water.
With a booming THUD, a pirate deepboat broadsides the listing carrier. The attacking vessel bounces back, launches forward and strikes the side of the carrier with a second dull THUD. Maintaining contact, the BumbleBee boat of the BuzzSwarm Squadron with its swarm of yellow dots painted to the side of the hatch pushes at the captive transport.
Together, the pirate ramsled and deepboat drive the DownTowner vessel toward BarterBend Island.
In close succession, a chorus of CRASH, CRACK, SPLINTER, CREAK, THUD and THUD carry across the waters of Smugglers Den and echo in the open spaces of Doris Cavern. Pirate boats batter, punch and bunch the DownTowner fleet, forcing Queen Mary’s boats against the rocks of BarterBend Island.
AdmiralCaptain Jean Lafitte SquatBean lifts and shakes his hat in the air as he yells “Yes! Yes! Yes!” to the cheers of his Navigator and the marine contingent squeezed along the hallway and to the rear in the cargo bay.
LaFitte inflates his chest and settles into the command chair. “Navigator, it is time. Send the blinklight command to the BlackFeathers in TownStore Cave. Signal them to launch the land attack. We will crush these pampered DownTowners.”
The Navigator leans forward and studies the scene enfolding on the shores of the island. “But, Sir, shouldn’t we wait until we see their fighters? If you look, the carrier doors have not opened. And, we have our gillfighters in the water, but it does not appear there are any enemy swimmers.”
“The cowards. I have always said these bigcity Guppies have no stomach for a real fight.”
“Right, Sir, but as a precaution, shouldn’t we hold the BlackFeathers in hiding? Just in case?”
“Nonsense. This is our chance to finish the enemy. Sometimes, the most important naval battles are fought and won on land. Order the BlackFeathers out. Now!”
“Yes, Sir.” The Navigator pulls a lever to raise the blinklight and then repeatedly taps the code key. “The message is sent, Captain.”
“Good.” SquatBean lifts his longglass, bends to the window and squints through the telescope. “Yes. I see movement on the bridge. Good.”
“You orders, AdmiralCaptain?” The Navigator’s tone is business-like.
SquatBean touches the cutlass hanging at his side and fixes his gaze on the trapped DownTowner fleet across the channel. “Take us to Hook Point, my able Navigator. We cross to BarterBend Island.” The pirate leader points a finger out the window. “I would join my fighters in their glorious victory. To Hook Point!” At the shout of their leader, the Guppie marines raise another cheer.
The Navigator touches the controls, turns the wheel and nudges the deepboat into the open water of the channel.
To their right, a deepboat with yellow dots painted to the side of the hatch moves toward them.
“Oh . . . very good.” LaFitte spies the boat. “One of our reserves.” He leans back and rubs his chin. “Navigator, ping that boat. Tell them to make fastspeed to the deepdocks of the East Ridge with the news that the DownTowner fleet is trapped and we are finishing the enemy.”
“Sir, maybe we should wait. . . .”
“It is important,” SquatBean interrupts, “that the Count knows immediately of our success. For his planning. You know. Now ping that boat with my orders.”
The Navigator throttles their speed back, reaches and runs a hand over the controls to align the beepsend. He enters and transmits the directive to the other boat. “It is sent, Captain.” He looks at his board. “They confirm receipt.”
“Excellent. Hold us here, Navigator. I would let them pass with the good news for Sir Richard.”
As the deepboat crosses at their front, the bow window slides open. A large hand at the end of a muscled forearm extends out the window and waves acknowledgment to the command ship. Partially covering the huge forearm, a neatly pressed sailor suit is visible.
“One of my better dressed captains.” SquatBean smiles and waves back. “Now, Navigator, quickly to Hook Point. I will lead my men in ‘The Battle of BarterBend Island.’ Long will this day be remembered as a pirate victory over the tyranny of DownTown and its fawning administrators.”
In the passing vessel, the tall Guppie Captain in the sailor suit increases the boat’s speed and glances at the giant of a man with close-cut orange hair sitting in the other swivel chair. “Nice that he should ask us to do what we had planned to do.”
_ _ _
On the edge of the flatpave, the Lieutenant pushes wet sand with the toe of his boot. He notices the noncommissioned officer’s hand tapping the side of his robe. “What is it that concerns you, Sergeant?”
“The men are nervous, Sir.”
“That’s understandable, Sergeant. The night is wet and dark.”
“Yes, Sir, there are those. And, Sir, our deepscouts have not returned.”
A low scraping sliding sound draws their attention to the desert.
“Do you hear that, Sergeant?”
“Yes, Sir. I do.”
The sounds increase in frequency and intensity.
SCRAPE SLIDE SCRAPE SLIDE SCRAPE SLIDE SCRAPE SLIDE
“Something is out there, Sir.”
“Signal the men to fighting positions.”
“Stand Forward! Up Lances!” The Sergeant shouts the order over his shoulder.
“Relay the command to all our fighters. Every soldier on the flatpave.”
“Down the line and in the back! Every rank! Stand Forward! Up Lances! Convey the order!”
The commands are repeated to their sides and behind the Lieutenant and his aide.
SCRAPE SLIDE SCRAPE SLIDE
The sounds stop.
The Lieutenant steps forward onto the West Desert.
A shrill staccato whistling drifts from the sands and rises into the wet air.
“SandRunners! Sergeant, order the. . . .” He stops in mid-command and stares up.
A huge yellow mass hangs over the BrownOne officer. Twenty feet in the air, the wide toothless mouth forms a long thin smile. Swirls of bright color rise and flow across the milky white surface of two sparkling eyes. The head of the worm turns. One eye focuses intently on the BrownRobe. Lifting its mass higher into the night, the monstrous body slides and scrapes from the desert and propels the great head forward. The eye blinks twice at the frozen figure of the entranced BrownOne.
The Lieutenant shakes himself out of his paralysis. The body of the greatworm is almost upon him. “Run!” The BrownRobe officer shouts the command and rolls to his side as the yellowworm slides and scrapes past him and onto the flatpave. The Lieutenant stands, pulls his sword and spins around to his cowering soldiers. “To the roads! Don’t look at the eyes! To the roads!”
More greatworms scrape and slide out of the desert and onto the flatpave.
Shouts and screams rise from the BrownOne troops who, at their officer’s commands, back from the monstrous forms.
The greatworms swing their long yellow bodies, pushing the troops along the flatpave toward the north and south entrances to the tradeways.
“Now!” WhiteHands BakeMuch pushes up from the sand. “Now! On your feet! To the North Circle Road!”
A roar rises from the freefighters of Glue Days and New Bread as they race out of the desert, across the tradeway and toward the North Circle Road.
WhiteHands swings his rolling pin and knocks two BrownOnes dazed to the ground.
With staff and short sword, the fighters of Glue Days and New Bread smash and slash a way through the milling BentOne ranks and reach the entrance to the circle roadway.
“Let none ascend!” the Great Baker shouts as he sweeps the feet from a confused BrownRobe. “Form ranks! With staff and sword, throw them back!”
As WhiteHands directs his men into a defensive alignment at the base of the road, the SandRunner Scout touches his elbow. The Baker glances over and follows the FreeOne’s finger to where it points on the flatpave.
Among the running BrowOnes, a large long yellow shape slides and scrapes. As WhiteHands watches, the behemoth lifts its mighty head, the mouth opens and one eye flashes a rainbow beam in his direction.
“What is that?” the Baker whispers.
“Look above the eye.” The SandRunner Scout touches the top of his head. “Not at the eye. Above.”
WhiteHands BakeMuch leans forward. “Someone is up there!” WhiteHands scans the flatpave and finds more of the creatures with mounted figures on the heads of the greatworms herding the BrownRobes to the tradeways. “Who does this?”
“SandRiders of the DangerSands. They, and only they, are allowed to ride the yellowskin greatworms.”
“These are not nightcrawls of the WildSands?”
The Scout shakes his head. “Who would ride those foul creatures? These are the yellowskin greatworms of the deepsands. They are the fathers who guard the starshine of seedstone, the true gem of the desert.”
“And these worms work for us?”
“They work for no thing or person. We have asked for their help and they have given it. Freely, of their own power. There is no debt. What they do will not be forgotten and will remain in the memory of our people.”
Before them, the flatpave is free of BrownOnes. Greatworms slide and scrape along the tradeways and back over the flatpave toward the sand. At the edge of the West Desert, a worm of enormous length and width, the largest of the yellowskins, rears up with its rider, turns its great head, and blinks to where the baker and scout stand.
The Great Baker shakes himself to awareness. “Up!” he shouts to the freefighters. “Up! To the wagonyard! Up! We fight to the top!”
Freefighters race ahead swinging their staffs and knocking the few BrownOne observers who were stationed on the North Circle Road itself over the side to clamber and roll down the ridge and flee from the greatworms.
WhiteHands glances back to the flatpave below. He can sight no BrownOnes returning to the staging area.
“They will not return.” The SandRunner shouts into the Baker’s ear. “The greatworms will keep them away.” The Scout glances up the ridge above the circle road. “Our climbers are in the rocks above us. If any BrownOnes are there, our climbers will find them.”
WhiteHands nods acknowledgement to the Scout’s words. He turns and gestures to his fighters. “Faster! The turnabout is close!” As he yells and waves, an arrow zips past his head. “Cover! Take cover!” He throws himself against the ridge-side of the road.
A few more arrows strike the rocks. There are shuffling sounds above. A scream lifts into the clearing skies followed by a shrill broken whistle.
“It is clear.” The Scout rises up with his sword drawn.
“Take the wagonyard!” The Baker shakes his roller and runs with his freefighters.
Barrels and overturned carts block the entrance to the turnabout. A slurry of arrows lifts from behind the barricade.
Freefighters fall and are pulled by their comrades to cover and care.
“Don’t stop!” The Great Baker’s voice booms above the noise of battle. “Over the top!” With that, the hefty baker makes a prodigious leap, clears the top of the barrier and lands with his mighty roller spinning, leveling BrownOnes in a wide circle and daring others to approach his massive swing.
“To the Baker!” The cry breaks from the mouths of a hundred fighters who clamber over the barricade and jump to the Baker’s sides. Staffs swing. Blades flash.
SandRunners leap from the rocks above into the midst of the reeling BrownRobes. Staffs swirl. Bright swords slash and stab.
“To the Gate!” The Captain of the WestWatch shouts. “Secure the Gate!” The BrownOne field officer steps forward and swings his sword back and forth to clear a path for his soldiers to pass.
In ordered ranks, BrowRobes back away, fighting their way as they move to the West Gate.
With a core of seasoned veterans, lances extended, the Captain organizes a defensive perimeter before the Gate. The tactic slows the pursuing freefighters and SandRunners long enough to allow the last BrownRobe fighters to pass through the guard and into the security of the East Ridge.
“Inside!” the Captain commands the last contingent. “All Inside!”
With a loud crash and metallic clank, the gate pulls shut and the latch drops from the inside.
WhiteHands BakeMuch raises his rolling pin and strikes the gate with a mighty whack. The laugh beside him spins the Baker, a scowl on his face.
“I’m a friend.” LongLeap StarBreak raises both hands into the hair. “See. No sword. You know me.” The SandRunner’s voice is calm, assuring.
The Baker nods, his eyes focusing. WhiteHands lowers the roller to his side.
“You do fight like a berserker, Great Baker. I believe you might smash that door open. But, please, don’t break your mighty roller. We may have need for that baking instrument.” LongLeap extends an index finger and then rubs the fingertip and thumb together. “The rain has stopped.” He glances up. “Early light creeps to the sky. Soon the sun will break on the East Ridge.”
“We should be there.” The Baker takes a deep breath.
“We have done our work for this night, WhiteHands BakeMuch.”
“Now we work to dismantle this door. And make as much noise as possible in the doing.”
“Can it be breached?”
“Should the graces grant, it will be opened.” A small serious smile crosses the SandRunner’s face. The FreeOne lowers his dark blue eyes and speaks softly. “In the doing of this, time will do the telling.” LongLeap shakes himself. His eyes brighten. “Forgive me for being cryptic. It has been a long night. What say you to breakfast?” He looks around at fighters leaning against overturned wagons and resting on the debris-strewn grounds of the turnabout. “Someone needs to start the chow line so we can feed these troopers and get them back to work.”
The Baker smiles a great smile. “I agree and say ‘Yes’ to breakfast. Now where is this food of yours?”
LongLeap waves a hand across the wagonyard. “Why, it’s right here for the pickings. Will you join me? I’m sure we can find something in this mess the last tenants left behind.”
The Baker surveys the yard. “They seem to have left in a rush?”
“Indeed.” LongLeap concurs. “I believe they were hurried along.”
WhiteHands bows. “You first. You helped to set this table.”
“And you arranged the chairs, if any have been left unbroken.”
They both laugh heartily and move to breakfast, motioning for their fellow fighters to join in the hunt.