[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault part 84

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Wed Jan 16 02:10:09 CST 2002

Though he did not know how, he resolved to try anyway. "It was terrible, and 
what Nasoj is doing now is terrible, but our friends will stop him again.  
And I swear he will be stopped once and for all.  I know there will be a day 
when we can walk through the woods without fear of being beset by his agents. 
 And I know that Nasoj will pay eternally for all the lives he's destroyed.  
And we will live to see that day, I promise you that."

Baerle lifted her head from his chest, and looked back at him.  He smiled 
reassuringly to her, a small smile, but a warm one.  She nodded, her muzzle 
splitting into a gentle grin, the tears drying in the fur of her cheeks. "I 
know it too, it is just…  just that we have lost so much already."

"And everything we have lost we will regain."

"Even my father?" she asked, her voice tinged with anger and bitterness, but 
Matthias knew it was not directed at him.

"Yes, your father will regain his dignity and his honour, because you will do 
it for him." He ran one claw along the side of her muzzle, softly. "I know 
you will, I can see it every time I look into your eyes."

Baerle looked away, pulling back from the bedside, giving the rat's chest 
quite a bit of relief. "I'm sorry, it has been a long time since I've let my 
feelings about that show." She favoured him with her more familiar grin, 
quirked at the corners with sadness, "Thank you, Charles.  You have been a 
true friend."

Charles shrugged a bit, though he did smile, even as he shifted about in the 
bed. "I did what any decent being would have done in my place."

"Thank you nevertheless," she insisted, and the rodent nodded.  Baerle smiled 
again, and looked at the door, drawing her composure back.  In a moment 
Charles could see that she was the same opossum that had journeyed with him 
to the bridge, and the same opossum that had stolen a kiss while on that 
ledge.  He still was not sure what to make of that, but he did suspect that 
Lady Kimberly would not find the story of it amusing.

"I just hope that Metamor stands," he muttered. "I know many promenades, some 
of them more precious than stone."

"And I know many here as well.  But no matter what happens we will make Nasoj 
pay for every stone he's toppled."

"Not lying in bed I'm not," Charles remarked sourly, shifting his legs and 
tail about restlessly.  

Baerle laughed at that, and nodded. "You're right, you should get a chance to 
get out of your bed today.  Let's wait until after I've had some breakfast 
though, okay?" But Charles had ignored the opossum's words.  As soon as he 
knew that he'd had her permission, he'd swung his foot paws out from 
underneath the quilts, and began to scoot himself off the mattress, his tail 
dragging along after him.  The cup of milk nearly tumbled from his grip as he 
finally felt the cold floor beneath his toe claws again, and as he looked 
down to check and make sure it had not spilled, he realized that he had 
forgotten one important fact.  Aside from the bandages over his chest, he was 
stark naked.


12/28 - 8am

Dawn was nearly upon them by the time Metamor was in sight.  Jerome peered 
from out of the folds of his tightly drawn cloak and could see the familiar 
spires and towers reaching in the brightening sky.  Clouds still churned to 
the south, the last vestiges of the blizzard that had hammered the area and 
covered Nasoj's approach, leaving the sky over Metamor Keep clear, with only 
a few stars twinkling to remind them of the bitterly cold night.  At the 
thought of the chill, he drew his black cloak even tighter about his neck.

After they had taken the watchtower they had proceeded towards the main road 
through the valley.  It had been a hard trek, with rocky terrain, and copious 
patches where ice underlay all the snow, or exposed in others.  Having been 
bred in the deserts around Sondeshara he was unused to it and so found 
himself, along with Zagrosek, slipping every now and then.  The Glenners 
found their inability to tread upon ice quite amusing, though they always 
showered them with disapproving stares whenever they did miss a step.  

Once they made it to the road the travel became easier, as it had been 
traveled so heavily by the Lutins during the storm that most of the ice was 
cracked and navigable to his warmer upbringing.  It also made them more 
susceptible to the winds racing through the hills, however, and so he felt 
colder here than he had ever been before in his life.  He dreaded to imagine 
the incomparable frosts even farther North where the Lutin tribes roamed 
across the vast tundra of the Giantdowns.  

Yet now that he could see Metamor, shrouded in a pallor of darkness as if to 
reinforce the undeniable fact that it was a castle under siege, he felt as if 
the chill had an end, and it was only a matter of time before he would feel 
the warmth of the air south of the Barrier Range.  Time was another matter 
that was of particular concern to him, as both he and Zagrosek had spent far 
longer in this cursed valley than they had expected to.  The sight of Metamor 
only reminded him of this, that they had barely two days more before the 
curse would claim them and reshape their bodies in some alien fashion.

Glancing to his side he could see that Zagrosek was thinking much the same 
thing, his brow creased in anxious concern.  They were walking amidst the 
infantry columns, surrounded mostly by Lord Barnhardt's troops, they in turn 
flanked by the archers from the Glen.  Whatever uneasiness Lord Avery may 
have alluded to between Lord Barnhardt and himself, the Sondeckis could not 
see it in the faces of the men and women at his side.  Of course, as many of 
those faces were snouts and muzzles, he was not sure he could have seen any 
such animosity, for while he found himself fairly competent at judging 
Charles's mood by his face, that was only because he had known him most of 
his life.

The thought that in another week he, too, could share such a face was rather 
disconcerting.  When Charles had sent him the letter requesting his presence 
at the ceremony to raise Garigan to the green he had assumed that it would 
only be a matter of a few days - a day's walk to Metamor from beyond the 
range of the curse, a day or two spent with Charles and his student, and then 
the walk back; a perfectly safe venture.  Nasoj's invasion had made that 
impossible, for although he did not want to become a woman, a child, or an 
animal, he could not have lived with himself had he abandoned his firmest 

And so he kept marching, watching the topmost spires of Metamor rise above 
the snow-topped trees. Somewhere far above the three avians were flying, 
scouting on ahead in shifts, and reporting back to Lord Avery, who was just a 
few columns behind the Sondeckis.  Whenever news would come to the squirrel 
it would filter up through whispers along the lines.  Whether they were 
official orders or just word the soldiers shared Jerome did not know, but he 
passed it along anyway, knowing it would be appreciated.

Thus, when he saw Burris flying overhead, he did not give it much thought.  
Yet as his feet crunched the hard earth and packed snow he could feel some 
excitement build behind him as the whispered voices were even more boisterous 
and frantic than usual.  The news finally reached him just as he was topping 
a rise, noting the darkened profile of the Keep as it sat alone amidst the 
icy mountain peaks.  A bobcat behind him tapped his shoulder eagerly and 
grinned a sharp toothed feline grin as Jerome turned his head to the side. 
"What is it?" the Sondeckis asked, his heart already beating stronger just 
from the joyous expression on the man's face.

"There is a group of Lutins running down the road from the Keep towards us," 
the cat growled in a delighted, raspy whisper.

"Are they breaking?" Jerome asked, hope that neither he nor Krenek would have 
to suffer this curse filling him.

"They don't know yet, but Lord Avery wants us to keep on marching for now."

"Did he say why?" Even though he asked, Jerome felt he knew why.  Basic 
tactics were required learning at Sondeshara after all.

"Something about making a gauntlet," the bobcat added, shrugging and shifting 
the spear he held from one hand to the other.  Even as he said that Jerome 
saw the badger Angus jog along side the lines, up to the front of the column. 

"I think we will see blood shortly." Jerome muttered, to which he received a 
feral, predatory grin from the feline in return.

"We'll rout those little monsters yet!"

"That we will," Jerome grinned and turned to pass on the message.  He shared 
a quick smile with Zagrosek then gazed at the turrets of Metamor Keep.  For 
some reason, they appeared to be brighter than when he'd first seen them.


12/28 - 8am

Baron Calephas scuffed his boot heel over the stiff remnants of a Lutin's arm 
lying in the snow.  The watchtower stood above him, silent and empty, so 
stricken with arrows that it resembled a pincushion.  Grimacing, he pushed 
the arm aside and found a broken bottle of whiskey beneath it, the drink 
frozen into the ground alongside the streaks of red.  Were it possible he 
would discipline the commanding officer of the regiment for allowing such lax 
behaviour.  Unfortunately that officer's head was lying just a few feet away 
from where the Baron stood, demonstrating the needlessness of such a lesson.

After he had stumbled bitter and frozen back into his camp at the Dike he had 
amassed what forces he could and started on his relentless march Southwards 
to stop the army of Glenners.  Ideally he hoped to pin them against the walls 
of Metamor and slaughter them, but he doubted that he could reach the castle 
in time to catch them at its gates.  So instead he would settle for cutting 
off their escape when they would flee from the forces already occupying 

He kicked the frozen arm in annoyance, then winced and grunted at the sudden 
pain that lanced through his foot and leg.  Though he had survived the 
horrible chill of his run through the snows, he had not come through it 
unscathed.  Three of the toes on his right foot had been frozen so completely 
that they had to be sawed off while his lieutenants organized the troops at 
the Dike.  He could still feel the emptiness in his boots where they had once 
been.  Though he was grateful that it was not worse, as it very easily could 
have been, the loss still grated at him.

As he peered up at the watchtower he saw the sky begin to brighten a bit.  No 
longer was the oppressive dark of night overhead, only the last twinkling of 
a few solitary stars.  To the east the mountains glowed with the reflected 
sunlight from the glaciers even further eastward.  It would not be long 
before they would shine with the first rays of sunlight themselves.

Turning his eyes to the ladder as a single Lutin descended slowly and 
carefully, the bars still slick with ice.  He hated to be surrounded by the 
green-skinned barbarians, but his choice of allies left him little room to 
complain.  The Lutin waddled up to him in the thick furs it had about its 
shoulders, and saluted. "Baron, the light has been destroyed in the 

Calephas nodded thoughtfully. "I thought as much.  Very intelligent of them.  
How long ago do you believe this happened?"

"Two hours at least, sir."

He nodded yet again, having made similar estimate.  The Lutin, Captain 
Skolem, was one of the few that Calephas found useful, for he was both 
deferential and inventive, a combination that the Baron did not find often in 
the green-skinned monsters.  "Organize the men and return to the road.  We 
continue on to Metamor immediately.  With luck we may catch them yet."

"Of course, sir," Skolem nodded, bowing slightly.  From the sceptical tone of 
his voice, Calephas knew that the Lutin doubted very much that this venture 
would gain them anything.    He wondered if there was any way that he could 
incorporate this Captain into his own retinue, for it was clear that he would 
be very useful.

Turning, he took one last look at the abandoned watchtower, then began the 
walk back to the road.  He kicked the severed head of the Lutin officer on 
his way, and grunted as he did so.


12/28 - 9am

12/28 - 9am

The road to Metamor from the North consisted of rolling hills abutted by the 
thick forests and rocky outcroppings that cast wide portions in shaded 
darkness for most of any given day.  It was at the base of one such that 
Angus called the columns to a stop and quickly began giving orders, pointing 
men towards one side or the other.  Jerome and Zagrosek both walked behind a 
thick jut of granite that was surmounted by clusters of aspen and pine.  The 
road between the two hillocks was narrow, but long, leaving little room for 
an army to manoeuvre.

For Jerome the point of the badger's orders was quite clear.  They would lie 
in wait behind the rocks amidst the trees until the Lutin army came through 
the pass, then the infantry would box them in on either side while the 
archers pelted them from above.  It was indeed a gauntlet that no Lutin would 
survive through unless they were able to climb the sides of the walls and 
fight past the archers lining the ridges or their army was far larger than 
the birds had reported.  The three avians had been making regular rounds 
between Lord Avery and the Lutin forces, however, and the estimate clear at a 
good two hundred heading up the road in a ragged mob.  That would surely be a 
force small enough to be easily slaughtered.

Kneeling in the snow, Jerome rubbed a bit between his fingers, his warmth 
melting the white powder in moments.  Turning to his side he saw Zagrosek 
pressing his palm hard upon the cold surface of the rock, indenting the lines 
and contours of his hand into the ice that covered the huge boulders in a 
glossy white sheen.  With his other he held his retracted Sondeshike, 
fingering the release idly.  His dark eyes caught the glance, returning it 

"You know we have been in Metamor Valley for five days now." Jerome said 
softly, so as not to be overheard by the archers who were arraying themselves 
just behind the rocks, occasionally peeking over into the gully to gauge 
their bearings.  

"I know." Zagrosek turned back to consider the road, crouching even lower 
behind the jagged, ice-covered granite.  His lips were chapped and, in 
places, bleeding.  Jerome's own were no better of and he licked them 
constantly to put feeling back into them.  The black-haired man then shuffled 
even lower, nearly burying his legs in the windswept piles of snow against 
the back of the rocks. "I wish that we could have said goodbye to Charles 
after the battle had been won.  It must be trying for him to wait behind, 
never knowing if he will see either of us again, or we him."

Jerome nodded, abashed that he had not given his friend the rat much thought 
on their trek from the Glen because he had been lost in his own personal 
frigid misery.  Numbly, he nodded. "I do hope that this is the all that 
remains of the Lutins.  I would hate to think that Metamor has fallen 
forever.  It would destroy him more than any injury could, I fear."

"Yes, it would," Zagrosek murmured quietly, pressing his lips together, and 
snuffling. "If it has fallen, we cannot abandon him or his friends, you know 

Again Jerome nodded, crouching closer, the snow soaking into his black cloak. 
"I'm willing to risk the curse for that, I always have been.  I'd rather that 
we did not though."

"You and me both, I think," Zagrosek smiled then before turning his gaze back 
to the road.  It was simply a matter of waiting, they both knew.  And when 
the time came they knew what they would have to do.  How long had they been 
awake this day?  It felt like forever.  Jerome leaned against the rock, 
blinking to keep the exhaustion from him.  It would have to come soon, or too 
many of the Glenners would be asleep!

He did not have long to wait before the burly badger passed along by, his 
face covered in so much chalk dust that one could not even see the white 
diamond on his forehead.  In a gruff voice he accosted them both, pointing 
towards the mouth of the gully with one thick claw. "They will be coming over 
the rise in a few minutes.  I want you two to be at the head of the infantry 
by my side.  Don't start out until they are halfway through the gauntlet."

"Of course." Jerome said, offering the badger a fond smile.  In some ways he 
reminded the Sondeckis of one of their trainers from many years ago.  He had 
been a man of some bulk too, but a good sense of humour that tended only to 
show when he was not drilling them.

Zagrosek twirled the Sondeshike between his fingers and favoured him with a 
lopsided grin. "Don't worry, they will not live long enough to know they were 
in a fight."

Angus snorted, but did return the grin as he passed them by to dole out a few 
more orders.  The two Sondeckis looked to each other, then laughed beneath 
their breath.  Jerome had no trouble keeping his eyes open now, the taste of 
battle already filling his mouth.


Gaerwog was not limping as badly as he had the day they had made their run 
across the bridge with Baron Calephas between them while being chased by a 
mob of battle-hungry Lutins.  In fact it felt as if that day had been some 
remote distance in the past, separated from the now by scores of years 
uncounted.  Andrig could almost envision it as a dream of some sort that had 
only been witnessed from the outside, like a phantasm that curdles at the 
back of one's consciousness.  Yet when he saw his burly friend favour that 
injured leg he had to confess to himself that the events were only two days 

Yet as he pressed himself against the snow bank on the ridge overlooking the 
Metamoran side of the gully he could not help but leave their betrayal of 
Calephas in some distant era, a thing for historians to debate and to 
discuss, for bards to embellish and exaggerate.  With a bit of whimsy, the 
young Northerner could imagine what some of those tales might indeed be like, 
where the heroes Andrig and Gaerwog fought bravely with the mighty Calephas; 
a man standing ten feet high who could breathe fire from his mouth, and whose 
manhood was a sword that could slice through the hardest rock.  And then, 
victorious, they carried his body upon their shoulders across a bridge, beset 
upon by thousands of Lutins while the bridge collapsed beneath them.  With a 
mighty throw, they flung the titan's body across the ravine then jumped 
across themselves as the bridge fell with a colossal crash, sending the 
thousand or so Lutins to their deaths.

When he laughed at the images he had conjured, Gaerwog peered at him in 
confusion.  Andrig drew his lips together, silencing the abrasive laugh, even 
as the Glenners and the infantry from Lord Barnhardt's lands peered at him 
strangely and with a bit of annoyance.  They were on the Metamoran side of 
the gully, and so the Lutins would rush past them first.  It was very 
important that the green-skinned monsters not discover them until they were 
already in the depression, being assailed from all four sides.  What was 
worse was that Andrig and Gaerwog were being placed at the very front of the 
assault at the Lutin's back.  They both chalked it up to the idea that the 
Keepers were not entirely certain they could be trusted.

Though Andrig knew he should not blame them, he did anyway, for they had 
risked not only their lives, but the lives of their families as well, to 
deliver Calephas over to them.  Should the unthinkable happen and the Baron 
escape and then return to Arabarb, vengeance upon their parents and siblings 
would be swift and unrelenting.  In Andrig's case this was not as much of a 
concern, as his parents thought him dead and his only sibling was here at 
Metamor, an older sister he had not seen in ten years.  Gaerwog had lived 
just on the outskirts of Arabarb, so his face and relatives would be well 

Life with his family seemed so distant though, even more remote than the 
incident on the bridge.  The old mill alongside the river, amidst the 
sprawling rocks and thick trees, with smoke coming from the chimney, only 
came to him in his dreams anymore.  At times he found flashes of his 
childhood returning, of playing in the stream during summer, helping his 
father and sister tan bear hides in early Autumn, and then, wrapped in those 
hides, capering about in the snow while herds of elk and moose thundered 
past.  They had been happy days, and at times he wished he could return to 

End part 84
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