The Third Battle For The East Ridge
Before The Center Gate
The Do’s Series: Segment 29
© Grandpa Jim
“I can see the East Ridge.” LoveJoy holds a hand to her forehead.
“The fog leaves us.” Minnesinger HitBolt twists in his saddle and surveys the line of battle.
Mounted on tall warhorses, who snort and paw the dirt, the Knights of Schwangau extend to the right and left. Beyond the Knights, on their battlespiders, who twist and click their mandibles, the SpiderRiders of DropKells extend the allied ranks toward the Low Hills on one side and the Vales of LongSea on the other. The formations are deep, but the Allied ranks do not reach to the edges of the reclaimed lands. Room remains to maneuver between the hills and vales.
Satisfied with his appraisal, HitBolt settles back into the saddle of his charger.
“The greenfields lie before us.” The FarWay maiden strokes the neck of her white stallion.
“They do, M’Lady. These are the Count’s reclaimed lands, his great project for good. We stand at their very edge. Behind us, behind our horses and spiders, lie the empty dry sands of the East Desert.”
“’His great project for good.’” LoveJoy echoes the Minnesinger’s words. “Greenlife to the dry and parched brownlands. ’A way, in the wasteland,’” she quotes the ancient book of Isaiah. “The results do appear to be good.”
“’In bad, there is a thing only good can see’, dear Lady. An old saying from an old man. You find in what you see, LoveJoy KickStart, what few can see or find.”
“And what do I see beyond these greenfields, dear Teacher? What are those brown squares at the base of the ridge?”
“Those are Sir Richard’s servants. The BrownOne BentOnes from beyond the GreatWaste and OpenWild.”
“They wait for us?”
“While Sir Richard watches.”
“While he watches.”
“Where does the Count stand?”
“Look there.” The Minnesinger points. “The wide opening above the Center Gate is the Count’s caveroom, his throneroom, the place from which he directs his domains. I think he stands there now, at that balcony.”
As HitBolt speaks, the sun breaks from behind them. Through the rising vapors, shafts of clear white light illuminate the reclaimed lands, the massed brown ranks waiting before the gates, the gray rock lifting to the top of the East Ridge, and the dark openings in the face of the steep hillside.
A narrow beam of reflected light bounces back to them.
“Sir Richard waits to find and see us.” HitBolt stretches upright and extends his right arm high into the air. He stops and inclines his head to the fair huntress of the FarWay heights, where she sits in her white battledress on her prancing white mount. “Are you ready, M’Lady?”
LoveJoy glances to DawnRunner and TidBit, and back to HitBolt. “We are ready, Minnesinger.”
HitBolt lowers his hand partway.
Horses and spiders step slowly forward, increasing their pace, the horses to an easy gait, the spiders to a shifting scuttle.
HitBolt drops his hand.
The Bugles of Schwangau blare across the reclaimed lands.
WarHorses launch into a full pounding gallop over the greenfields. BattleSpiders leap forward in a clipping fastpace that rattles the soil and rock beneath the manymoving arachnid feet.
From the throats of men and dwarves, piercing battle cries lift and soar over the morning calm and ride the cool breezes to the East Ridge and the dark figure who stands there.
– – –
“They come, M’Lord.” FawlFittle is at full attention.
“They do.” The Count shields his eyes with a long thin hand. Blue veins bulge under pale skin. “Out of the cover of the fog and hidden beneath the blinding sun. Your predictions come true, Commander.”
Sir Richard bends forward. “Their battleline does not extend past ours. At either end. And they ride to break our middle.”
“If any survive the cannon blasts and flights of arrow, we can sweep around that line. We can pinch and crush them in our grasp!”
“This is good, FawlFittle, very good. I enjoy an uneven contest.” The Dark Count licks his lips. “Will the guns fire soon?”
“Yes, Sir. Soon, Sir.”
– – –
Leaping a ditch, LoveJoy glimpses a flash of light from an opening near the Count’s balcony.
Her ears register a distant muffled report.
More flashes and dull cracks follow on the heels of the first.
Ahead, the earth shakes and explodes upward in a fountain of grass and dirt. A horse flies into the air. Armor spins past her. A quick jerk of her head pictures a rider knocked from his steed.
Her white stallion clears a fresh brown hole in the green ground.
She senses more explosions and more animals and soldiers propelled into the air.
“Keep riding! Keep Riding!” She wonders that the yelled commands seem to come from inside her ear.
I must stay locked in place, she thinks to herself.
In her own isolated universe, LoveJoy grips the reins more tightly and fixes her eyes directly forward.
– – –
The explosion knocks Sir Richard back. He shakes his head, steadies himself and lunges to grasp the balcony top, only to be thrown back again, this time to the cave floor.
More explosions sound.
Small gray rocks float past him in slow motion.
“What is going . . . on?” He garbles the words, trying to hear himself through the ringing in his ears. Someone grabs his arm and pulls him erect. “FawlFittle, is that you?” His eyes blur and then clear.
“Can you see me?” The voice is even, in charge.
“I can.” Sir Richard takes a step and breaks free from the hands supporting him. “Report!” he commands.
“Sir, there are flying things out there.” FawlFittle points to the sky. “They have explosives, Sir.”
“Explosives?” Sir Richard slowly speaks the word, walks to the balcony and bends over the balustrade.
Dark shapes in long capes riding shepherd’s staffs zip and spin in the air. One flier raises a smoking globe, tosses the object into a gun port and banks away.
A loud blast is followed by fire and smoke erupting from the opening. A second explosion inside the portal catapults the charred barrel of the cannon with its fractured supports out and over the troops below. Heavy metal drops on a square of BrownOne archers who scatter and dive to avoid the hot pieces falling from the sky.
“Raiks!” Sir Richard spits the word.
“Waptilian Raiks. “Sir Richard calms himself. “And their science experiments. Meddlesome chemists. They will pay for taking sides against me. Commander, order your archers to shoot these traitorous creatures out of the air.”
“Yes, Sir.” FawlFittle swing about and shouts to the dazed technicians in the control room.
“What is the damage?”
FawlFittle stops in the middle of an order and aboutfaces back to the Count. “We’ve lost the cannon, Sir. The ‘Raiks,’ as you call them, curtailed our aerial bombardments.”
Well, Sir, these flying creatures firebombed our formations, especially those of our archers. The bowpersons were not able to get off the volleys that were planned. And, I am sorry to say, these Raiks are now higher than arrows can reach. The creatures are apparently out of munitions and are circling beyond our range.”
“And?” Impatience shows in Sir Richard’s voice.
“The main strength of the enemy will reach and strike our lines soon.” FawlFittle pauses. “Any second now.”
Sir Richard wheels around, grabs the chipped top of the balcony, and squeezes his hands and shoulders together as the two armies meet.
– – –
The crash and din is deafening.
LoveJoy’s steed leaps the front line of lancers. The battle mount lands and races onward, knocking BrownOnes to the ground with hoof and body. The FarWay huntress twirls her brightblade, sweeping the sharp edge from side to side, severing robe and spear. The BrownRobes push away from the fury of the White Lady, only to meet DawnRunner’s spinning staff, the StealthMouse’s keen striking point and the long reach of the gray magician’s dreadsword.
In their combined assault, the Knights of Schwangau and SpiderRiders of DropKells ride over and through the squares of BrownOne lancers. The forward momentum of the Allied charge is so great that it propels horses and spiders deep into the ranks of BentOne swordfighters. Under the relentless onslaught of men and dwarves, the BrownRobes are thrown back and forced to cede ground. The middle of Sir Richard’s battleline bends and caves inward toward the Center Gate.
– – –
“Your center sags, Lord FawlFittle.” The Count stifles a yawn.
“It does, M’Lord.”
“But their flanks are exposed, my loyal BentOne Commander.”
“They are, M’Lord.”
“Now is the time to close the trap.”
“It is, M’Lord.”
“Pity. I think our two young ladies are in the middle of the mess below. See the white and tan riders. I do think those are the ones we’ve heard so much about. The ones, I will note, WardBoss, who have avoided your grasp for so long.” Sir Richard plays with the nails of one hand. “Now they shall feel the strength of my hand.”
“They will, M’Lord.”
“Squeeze them, FawlFittle. And the troublesome crew that accompanies the ladies.” The Dark Count snaps shut the fingers of his hand, forming a fist. “Squeeze them all. NOW!”
“Yes, M’Lord.” FawlFittle signals the technicians. “Our forces are moving, M’Lord.” The Commander steps to the consoles and directs the realignment of the BrownRobe squares.
“Maybe the girls will survive,” Sir Richard says quietly to himself. “Then they can join me here, in my throneroom, to share in my successes and reminisce over their failures. That would be nice.” He laughs softly and leans farther out, over the railing, to enjoy the action unfolding across the reclaimed lands below.
– – –
HitBolt stretches up to see over the battle that rages before the East Ridge.
Far off, to both the left and right, SpiderRiders continue to punch holes in the BrownOne formations. The Minnesinger’s farsight follows the movements of unengaged BrownOne squares. The formations swing out and around the SpiderRiders to flank and encircle the Allied thrust through the middle of Sir Richard’s troops.
HitBolt swings his longsword and shatters the helm of a BrownOne who is distracting his thoughts and observations.
So far, his minds tells him, our plan is working. Our main force is almost to the East Ridge. Both flanks are exposed. The enemy sees this and is about to trap us from behind.
HitBolt swings his mount around in a circle and knocks BrownOne archers to the ground, where they roll to avoid the hoofs and swords of the advancing Knights.
So far. . . . So good.
He cracks the head of a BrownOne who is looking the other way.
Why am I so worried?
He spurs his horse to LoveJoy’s side, scattering BrownOnes who lean back, tripping, to avoid the swing of his longblade.
The dwarves know what to do. . . . I hope.
– – –
Fresh BrownRobe lancers rush at the sides of exposed BattleSpiders. Before their SpiderRiders can respond to this new threat, some spidermounts are pinned on the ends of the long pointed poles of the BentOnes. Spider legs collapse. BrownOne swordfighters slip under the lances and attack. Sharp blades slice at the sagging spider bodies. Dwarfriders jump free of their struggling mounts, set their feet and swing their axes. Other SpiderRiders rear back and spin to counter the surprise assault to the Allied flanks. Schwangau Knights recognize the danger, rein about and gallop to the aide of the dwarves. SpiderRiders, unseated dwarves and Schwangau Knights batter, slice and slow the flanking BrownRobe squares, but the Allied fighters cannot stop the pinching movement of Sir Richard’s forces. The defensive efforts of the dwarves and knights sap the energy of their forward movement and slacken the momentum of the Allied thrust.
– – –
“Well done, FawlFittle.” Sir Richard allows his Commander a slight bow of the head. “The flanking maneuvers have been well executed.”
“As you directed, M’Lord.”
“Yes, it was a masterful idea. And it is good to see my enemy languish in the midst of our fighters and be diminished in my view. Now it is only a matter of time.” Sir Richard stretches his arms and rests his chin on a shoulder. “Perhaps I should take a nap. . . . before you bring me their prisoners of high repute to fall and grovel at my feet. Don’t forget the FarWay girl and her SandRunner friend. You can do that, can you not, Lord Commander?”
“As you direct, M’Lord.”
“I think I will do just that, take a nap. . . .” Sir Richard cocks his head to the side. “What are those new sounds?”
– – –
Drums in the Deep pound and shake the surface of the reclaimed lands. Column after column of mountaindwarves burst from cave openings in the near folds of the Low Hills behind the flanking BrownOne squares. With a fearsome roar, the helmeted dwarves lift heavy mallets and wide sweepswords and thunder at the backs of the startled BentOnes.
To the far side of the field of battle, the longhorns of the forestdwarves, in high fast notes, answer the deep low beats of their cousins’ drums. Wave after wave of greenjerkined dwarves break from the cover of the near Vales of the LongSea. Circleflashing their long thin sharp rapiers in the air, the forestdwarves shake their greenpainted leather shields. With a piercing yell that carries over the blaring notes of the horns, the greendwarves sprint toward the turning BrownOnes, who stop and stare.
A loud cheer goes up from the SpiderRiders of DropKells and the Knights of Schwangau. With renewed energy, the mounted fighters redouble their efforts at the now flagging ranks of the BrownOne fighters, who nervously glance to the sides and give ground, uncertain of their direction.
With a resounding clap, mountaindwarves and forestdwarves crush the backs of the encircling squares and smash through the disoriented BrownOnes to stand beside the SpiderRiders of DropKells and the Knights of Schwangau. Together, the combined forces of men and dwarves, cavalry and infantry, swing and surge toward the East Ridge and its waiting gates.
– – –
“Sir Richard, the enemy’s front advances.” Lord FawlFittle steps back from the broken railing and salutes his master. “Our flanking action has failed, M’Lord. The enemy forces will soon reach the gates. Sir, I must warn you, they may force their way into the East Ridge.”
“’It’s always gonna be something with you.’” Sir Richard shakes his head. “’Isn’t it, Joe?”
“Sir? . . . Joe?”
“Don’t worry, my BrownRobe changeling. It’s a quote from an old movie.”
“It means you worry too much.”
“But, Sir. . . .”
“How are things at the West Gate?”
“The SandRunners and FreeFighters work to dismantle the gate. . . .”
“But it still holds?”
“Yes, Sir, it does, but shouldn’t we move the reserves to. . . .”
“Any news from our pirate?”
“No new information. I have no reports from the deepdock or the vathold.”
“That is good.” Sir Richard drums his fingers on the cracked top of the balcony. “The status quo maintains itself at those locations. At least, to the extent we know. Our only real problem, then, is the army that is about to defeat your BrownRobes, burst through our front doors, and enter, if they dare, my very throneroom. To do me no good, I expect. Do you think, Lord Commander FawlFittle, that my words present an accurate summarization of our current situation?”
FawlFittle stands to attention. “Yes, Sir. They do, Sir.”
“So. . . . I guess this means I should do now what I haven’t really wanted to do and was hoping I wouldn’t have to do. Yes, there may be risks, but as Patricia noted so well, ‘It’s always gonna be something.’’’
“Release the SCRUMPs.”
“What? . . . Sir?”
“You heard me. Those So Cleverly Remade Under My Powers are waiting in their holdtanks.” Sir Richard rubs his chin with an index finger. “I took the liberty of programming them myself for just such a contingency. Open the SCRUMP chutes. My beautiful dark clouds of nanoparticles will know where to go and what to do to those who so brazenly dare to enter my home uninvited. Release the SCRUMPs, FawlFittle. Release them now.”
“Yes . . . , Sir Richard.” The BrownRobe Commander pirouettes, shouting orders to the console technicians.
– – –
Minnesinger HitBolt swings his sword and slaps the flat of the blade against the side of the head of a BrownOne. As the BrownRobe collapses, the Minnesinger draws the longsword back. As he does, his eyes catch movement above.
Doors slide open in the rock face to the sides of the Count’s balcony, revealing wide black holes into the ridge.
Round dark shapes slide through the openings and gather around the holes. Some of the darkclouds flash in blurred gray streaks toward the fighting to the left and right. Others hover for some seconds and then move quickly at groups of fighters close to where HitBolt sits on his mount and watches.
Two large masses flicker with internal sparks. Colors rise to the surface of the globes, break and fade away. Wavering to and fro, the two shapes seem to be searching for something . . . or someone. As the Minnesinger gazes intently, the darkclouds gyrate, as if agitated or excited, and begin to settle toward a group of Knights engaged in the battle before the Center Gate.
“SCRUMPS!” HitBolt shouts the warning to the Knights and SpiderRiders within earshot. “Spread the word! SCRUMPS!”
In the sky overhead, the Raiks circle lower.
Reining his battlehorse up and about, the Minnesinger twists his head and catches sight of LoveJoy, where she twirls on her white charger, in the thick of the fighting before the Center Gate, chestnut hair streaming to the fluid movements of her bright flashing longblade.
HitBolt glances at the two darkclouds, the girl on her horse, and knows the distance is too great for him to reach her before the shapes lower to where she rides.
Leaning forward, HitBolt directs his steed at a gallop toward LoveJoy. The charging stallion knocks and scatters BrownOnes from their path. To send a warning, HitBolt lifts his sword and aims the tip directly at the FarWay maiden. A flash of white sentient light jumps from the point, crosses between them and touches the swirling chestnut hair.
LoveJoy KickStart rocks back, settles her prancing mount and raises her head to the two dark shapes descending toward her. . . .