[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault part 85
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COkane8116 at aol.com
Thu Jan 17 02:42:01 CST 2002
Yet, both the times he could remember them and those times he wished to
relive them were few and far between. The reality he had known for so long
was the struggle to throw Nasoj's forces, specifically Baron Calephas, out of
Arabarb and push them back over the Dragon mountains and into the Giantdowns.
After that they could care less what the Baron or Nasoj did, for their home
would be safe once again. But now that he had seen what Nasoj had done to
the obstinate folk of Metamor for resisting them he knew that such a dream
was a farce, that even if they did retake Arabarb and defeat the Lutin hordes
that had come to find life on the western side of the Dragon mountains
appealing, then they would face a similar punishment from the wizardry at
Nasoj's beck and call.
A tap on the shoulder broke his reverie and, turning around, he saw the
cervid face of Alldis, the infantry commander along this side of the gully.
His dapper expression bore no indication of what he thought of them, at least
not to Andrig's eyes. The powder that had been used on his nose and muzzle
had begun to disperse, revealing the dark bark brown of his fur and the pearl
black of his nose. His mobile scalloped ears twitched as he glanced from
side to side between the two Northerners.
"There has been a slight change in plans," he said, loud enough for all those
near him to hear. They would quickly pass the word along, so there was no
need to make a general announcement. "But thankfully this is in our favour.
Burris and the other birds have spotted a force of Keepers riding in behind
the contingent of Lutins. They estimate that they will catch up with their
quarry just before they reach the gully."
"So we are going to meet them?" Gaerwog asked, massaging his injured leg
beneath the layered furs with one thick hand for a moment.
"No, the Lutins should still continue to run even after they are met by the
riders. We are just going to focus all of our forces at the head of this
ravine to keep them from escaping it. So we are heading to the other end of
the ravine. No delays now, they will nearly be upon us by the time we reach
the other side."
Alldis then turned, and with a flick of his short tail, started back up
through the thick trees alongside the icy rock walls of the gully. Andrig
gave Gaerwog a passing look of relief mixed with annoyance before they both
fell in behind the deer. He hadn't come merely to move the infantry, but
only to insure that the two Northerners would be at the front of the battle.
Loosening the straps on his axe, he fingered the freshly leathered pommel and
smiled. At the very least they would have plenty of opportunity to gain
vengeance upon the Lutins for what they had done to his childhood.
He did not have much time for reflection upon this before they had tramped
through the snow and woods to the other side of the gully. Alldis bade them
stop and turned to face them. Even before he spoke they could hear distant
cries as the riders met the Lutins a short way up the road. "In a minute we
will be rounding this bend and meet them head on. However, we are to wait
here for the other side to charge first. Angus is waiting across the gully,
and he will give the signal to attack. We wait until then. Ready your
weapons, we should see them soon."
And almost before Alldis had stopped speaking Andrig heard the tightening of
bows and the unfastening of swords, axes, and spears. Leaning against the
rock, he looked back the way they had come up along the road. Before his
eyes he saw the green-monsters that had come to haunt his nightmares pour
over top of the rise, running as fast as their little legs could carry them.
Row upon row of them fled, rushing with the wind, filling the gully without
any worry but to plunge forward. Then bestial cries filled their ears as
they saw the riders from Metamor peak the rise, slashing at the rear of the
mob with swords and huge axes that appeared more suited to felling trees than
men, or even the diminutive Lutins.
Then, before he realized just what had happened, he heard cries much closer
to himself and saw two figures in black leap from the other side of the
gully, one bearing a gleaming, silvery staff in his hands. At that signal
Andrig found himself running around the ice encrusted rock, raising his axe
over his shoulder and letting out a war cry, ignoring the scores of Keepers
at his back also giving lent to that cry. The faces of the Lutins he saw
bore an expression of terror, yet they pushed towards them, brandishing their
own weapons; swords, spears, diminutive hand axes or whet ever they had not
already dropped in their hell bent flight from Metamor.
The two men in black met them first, though it was the one with the staff
that caught most of Andrig's attention in those few moments before he joined
the fray and caved in the skull of a Lutin with the butt of his axe. The man
twirled the staff in his hands and waded through the Lutins, smashing their
heads open, and sometimes knocking them completely off as he spun the silver
shaft around himself. Lutins fell before him in a wide circle all around,
their attacks blunted as if useless, while he danced, his black robe flashing
like a shadow about him.
Then any thoughts of others fled Andrig's mind as he came crashing into the
body of the Lutin mob, their grunts and cries for blood answered with their
own deaths. He swung his axe about his chest and middle like one long used to
tangling with bears. Lutin after Lutin fell before him, even as the arrows
rained down from above, striking only the Lutins who were in the centre of
the gully and not near any of their own forces.
With a squishy smack he slammed the blade of his Axe into the side of one
Lutin's head and yanked it back out again with a meaty crunch, hauling the
smaller humanoid off its feet for a moment before it fell. Andrig scanned
about for any other Lutins nearby, but they were all several ells away
engaged with another comrade. Glancing up at the carnage, he could see
several Lutins trying to scale the icy rock walls of the gully. Yet they
would fall back down, either because the walls were too slick, or because
there was an arrow imbedded in them. In fact, in short order the number of
Lutins left alive had been cut in half.
A cry of rage rose above the din of the battle close at hand and brought him
swinging about, the red braids of his beard flashing by his eyes. A short,
broad shouldered lutin was charging him with a long spear point aimed at his
middle. Andrig twisted to the side and brought his axe head sailing across,
through the slender shaft, hewing it in two. He then reversed the stroke and
brought it back up, cleaving into the Lutin's chest beneath his ribs.
Stunned, the figure dropped the broken spear and tried to push at the axe
blade futilely with dead limbs. He then slumped over, his hands slipping as
his legs gave out from beneath him. Andrig kicked at his middle and the body
rolled off the blade, which was completely soaked in blood. He could feel it
running through his fingers as he tightly held the leather.
Rolling the axe about in his palm, he squished the blood deep into the
leather, trying not to think of its awful stench. Spinning on his heels, he
charged headlong into the fracas only a short distance away, where Gaerwog
was removing arms and ears with finely timed swipes of his own longer axe.
With a quick, ravenous grin, they stood back to back, pushing further into
the expanse of dying Lutins, helping them along the way by crushing in their
skulls and chests, only further drenching their furs in the dark blood.
He had worried for a bit whether Gaerwog's injury would deter him in the
fight but, as he pressed his back up against his friend's, he knew that such
speculation was foolish. His friend stove in the bony frames of Lutins just
as effortlessly as did the rest enjoined in the battle, and with an even more
ferocious aspect, for he had pain to beckon him on. Pain was without peer
among the many reasons to that Andrig knew of to fight, for it gave strength
beyond the measure of simple anger. Pain was closer to the flesh than any
other feeling, beckoning lost instincts from man's past.
As he slammed the blade through a Lutin's back as it tried to scramble away
and past them, he knew that it was over. Andrig surveyed the gully about
them, and could only see a few Lutins still alive, but they did not last long
as the riders slashed through those at one end and the man in black danced
the others to ribbons. With a heavy breath, he knew that the fight had been
won, and the blood that lay on his hands was not his own, not even a drop of
it. He did see a few of the animal folk being carried back, stabbed or
slashed by a Lutin blade, but not a single Lutin remained to cart off their
Turning about, he saw Gaerwog facing him, relief plastered across his own
visage. With a great sigh, they embraced each other in a burly hug, patting
each other on the back with the flat of their axes, and laughing in delight.
"We won!" Gaerwog said, as if amazed of that fact.
Andrig nodded and glanced back about the gully, as if the sight of so many
dead Lutins was something he could not believe unless he was looking at it.
The riders from Metamor approached from the head of the gully, the hooves of
their horses crushing bones with each heavy hoofed step. Suddenly, just as
he was turning his back on them, a familiar voice called out, "Andrig! By
all that is Holy, is that you?" His blood froze as he heard it, for it was
almost the voice of his father, but there edge of bitterness had been taken
Turning back to face the riders he saw two of them divert towards them, both
on huge Clydesdale stallions. The first was one of the strangest creatures
he'd ever seen, an animal of some kind with huge feet, a long thick tail, and
a narrow upper torso with donkey-like ears. The second, however, was the one
who caught his attention more fully, for the human was a broad-shouldered,
red bearded Northerner who looked like his father must have twenty years ago.
Dismounting, the two approached them, the Northerner grinning uncontrollably
as he bellowed again, "Is that you, Andrig?"
"My name is Andrig," he said finally, uncertain, gripping his axe a bit more
closely. He did not know why he was suddenly afraid of this man, but the
familiarity was too close for him to be sure what to make of the man. He had
heard tales of Nasoj using familiar faces to fool his enemies.
The man was nearly crying in delight, while the odd amalgamation standing
next to him looked simply delighted. "I know you don't recognize me, but I'm
your sister, turned into a man by the curse of the Keep."
"Lhindesaeg?" Andrig asked suddenly, nearly dropping his axe in surprise at
this revelation. His knees quivered as he gazed at the older man, knowing
that had his sister been born a man, this was what he would have looked like.
And then he remembered the letters that she had sent soon after the last
attack against Metamor, telling them that she had become a man. Andrig had
at the time been working with the Arabarb underground and so had not paid
much attention to such wild claims, but here the truth stood before him,
The man whom had once been his older sister nodded, laughing a throaty
chuckle. "The same, though I use the name Lindsey now, it is easier for the
Southerners to pronounce."
Gaerwog stood befuddled at Andrig's side, scowling in confusion as he looked
between the two, until Andrig joined his sister-now-brother in the laugh,
and threw his arms about his tree-trunk-like neck. "Lhindesaeg! I never
would have thought to see you again!"
Lindsey hugged his younger brother back, pulling him tight against his chest
like a bear. "Nor I you! Mother wrote me telling me that you'd died!"
"Ah, a terrible deception that I had to make, I will tell you about it over
some ale sometime."
Lindsey nodded and smiled then, his face bright and full of colour. "You do
remember Habakkuk do you not?" he said then, indicating the strange creature
at his side.
Habakkuk hopped forward, disturbing the blood covered snow as he did so. "It
is good to see you alive again Andrig. It has been so many years since last
I visited the house of your parents."
Andrig nodded, even as he peered at Zhypar, the memory of his older sister
following after the strange merchant coming back to him clearly. "I had
wondered what had become of you. What exactly are you?"
"I'm a kangaroo, and I'm sure that does not help you much. You would have to
cross the entire length of the world to see another."
"At least I have a name for it now, " Andrig said, pursing his lips as he
looked between the kangaroo and his older sister - brother. "Are you two still
…?" He let the question trail off, finding the situation awkward.
"No," Lindsey shook his head then, but patted Habakkuk on the shoulder with
one thick hand, curling his fingers around it completely. "We are simply best
of friends now."
"Ah, I'm sorry," Andrig said suddenly. "But it certainly is good to see you
both again, I had not expected I ever would." He looked with delight upon
their strange new faces, but noticed that the kangaroo was looking past them
at something else. Turning curiously, he saw the two men draped in black
cloaks talking with Lord Avery, and then turning to leave. One of them, the
black-haired one, glanced back, almost right at them. He could not help but
shudder, as if thrown out naked into the arctic winds; for in a single moment
that stranger's face turned into a visage of pure malevolence before being
replaced by the serenity that he had glimpsed upon it all other times.
Dimly, he heard the kangaroo mutter, "Before this year has seen its last day,
somebody is going to die from a shadow without a shadow."
"What was that?" Lindsey asked, turning to the kangaroo, in confusion.
Habakkuk appeared to snap out of whatever trance he had slipped into and
shook his head. "Oh, nothing, a bit of nonsense I heard somewhere before."
Yet his eyes continued to watch those black clad men. Andrig turned about to
look at them again, but saw that they were departing by themselves into the
Before he could add anything new two more figures came to their sides. One
was a tall moose much like those that he was used to seeing in the hills
around Arabarb, save for the fact that this one walked on two hooves instead
of four. The second figure, however, made the kangaroo appear completely
normal, for it was some large rodent of some kind, whose fur was a plaid
pattern of red and black. "Ho, Lindsey, Habakkuk, who are your friends?" the
beaver called as he trundled over, his shirt tight over thick muscles.
"Ho, Michael!" Lindsey called, smiling to his fellow Metamorian. "This here
is my younger brother Andrig."
The beaver stopped a few feet short and peered at the man who clearly was
Lindsey's brother. His eyes had gone wide, the whites bright against his
cream coloured flesh. "But I thought you said he was dead?"
"Happily, I was mistaken," Lindsey said, before laughing and hugging his
younger brother again. "By the gods, Andrig, you are the greatest sight I've
seen in a week."
"Perhaps," Habakkuk ventured. "One could view him as a symbol of our victory,
they thought we were dead, but no, were came back and proved otherwise!"
Both Andrig and Gaerwog stared oddly at the kangaroo, but the other three
with him laughed. The moose then said, "You must forgive Zhypar here, he is
a writer. They tend to get a bit melodramatic at times."
Zhypar turned on the moose and favoured him a lop-sided grin. "And I must
confess I'm amazed you know a word like melodramatic!"
Lindsey then interfered, motioning the moose and beaver towards his brother.
"Forgive me for being so rude, Andrig, this is Michael and Lance, two good
friend so of mine."
"It is a pleasure to meet a friend of my brother's," Andrig said, while
Gaerwog smiled and shook their paws. "We definitely must share a drink
together sometime soon. The stories we will have to tell are too numerous to
"Then perhaps we shall have them tonight," a new voiced chimed in. They
turned to see Lord Avery, accompanied by a large bull dressed in the same
manner as the Metamorans. "I've already sent riders back to the Glen to
inform them of our victory. Chief Tathom here tells me that the Lutins have
been routed at Metamor. Now they are just chasing them down through the
"That's right," the bull said in a gruff voice. "All that is left to do is to
mop the remainder up. I've heard that Misha Brightleaf himself is organizing
a force to assail their flanks all the way into the Giantdowns, to make sure
this never happens again." He rubbed at a scar on one side of his bovine
muzzle, and they could all tell that it was recent. "There were many
casualties, but we won."
"And the city itself?" Andrig asked suddenly.
"We'll be rebuilding for quite sometime. I imagine we'll be up in the forest
chopping trees almost everyday for the next five or six months at least."
Behind him, he heard the beaver groan at that. Tathom narrowed his glassy
eyes at the beaver, but then shrugged. "Right now though it is time to
celebrate our victory and to mourn the dead."
They all nodded in agreement before Habakkuk interjected, his face curious.
"Excuse me, Lord Avery? What were those two black clad men saying to you
before they left?"
Lord Avery blinked, his long bushy tail flitting behind him. "Oh, just that
they had to depart before the curse took them. They were friends of Charles,
and damn good fighters, more than that I'm afraid I cannot say because I do
"Ah, I thought so," Zhypar nodded, gazing back at Lindsey and then Andrig.
"Now, I think we ought to reacquaint ourselves better, perhaps over some ale
at the Keep? I assure you that we will not be the only ones drinking
"At my place," Lindsey said determinedly, embracing his brother with one arm
again. "Assuming it still stands of course!"
"I'm sure we shall find it in good order," Habakkuk said, and then laughed
along with the rest of them. Andrig just smiled and joined in the joy. The
battle was over, Metamor had won, and here stood his sister, now his older
brother indeed. For the first time in almost ten years, he felt free.
It was only an hour since they had stopped at the watchtower, but Calephas
wanted to be sure of his plans before he pressed on. All the powerful mages
among the Lutins and Nasoj's human servants had been sent to aid in the
attack on the Keep, so he had to rely on his eyes to know anything about the
conditions to the South. So he and Captain Skolem had climbed up into the
trees and were sharing the farseeing device. Neither of them liked what they
"I see too many Keepers walking about Metamor, sir," Skolem said as he passed
the magically enhanced telescope back to the Baron. "I'd say that they
somehow beat our forces."
Calephas bore a scowl that could have curdled milk. "Yes, it does appear that
way." Through the lenses he could see Keepers gathering the strewn bodies of
Lutins and depositing them in huge heaps just outside one of the gates.
Several crews were working nearby with huge, mostly unburnt timbers making
sledges, most likely to haul the corpses away from the keep for disposal.
"Nasoj will not be pleased. It will be another seven years I fear before we
could even hope to attempt another attack. One of his generals is probably
going to die."
"Are you afraid it is you, sir?"
Lowering the telescope, the Baron considered the question. It was quite
likely he could be killed for this failure, even though he was not at Metamor
for any of it. Finally, he shook his head. "My orders were to maintain the
fortifications at the Dike, and that is what I shall do. Order the troops to
turn around. We are going back to the Dike. If they try to strike at the
Giantdowns now when we are in retreat, they shall have a very unpleasant
surprise. I will make any more deaths cost them severely."
Skolem nodded and began to scramble down the tree. "That you shall, sir, that
Calephas lingered in the tree branches a moment longer, glaring at the Keep.
He had visited it once in his youth, long before the curse had struck. They
had failed to take it twice now, and that fact stung even more bitterly than
their first loss had. He would stride the halls of Metamor, even if it took
another seven years to accomplish. He would win this valley for Nasoj, no
matter the cost.
Finally, unable to bear the sight of those bright, sparkling spires, he spat
and began to climb back down the tree, eager to return to the Dike and to
lands more familiar. Already, plans were circling his head on how to make
life even more miserable for the Northerners living near Arabarb.
End part 85
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