Elf Boy's Friends - III
The Battle for Flensborg
"First let's all agree that the town and this fort are indefensible." asserted Harald Sigurdsen, the war chief of the Frost Giants and commander of the Fyrd, their militia.
The members of the council of war nodded. Everyone knew that the wooden palisades of fort and town had been erected as protection against raiders or remnants of the centaurs who had originally lived in that country. The town itself had long ago spread beyond its walls. As for the fort, it served well enough as a headquarters and armory. The council met in a chamber there, but the fort no longer had any military significance.
"We have to take the fight to the trolls and meet them in open battle. Outnumbered as we are, we must bring the trolls to battle on ground of our own choosing, a place where we have the advantage of position."
"Fine," said Oddr Bjarnson, the civic leader of the Frost Giants and elected governor of New Varangia, "but where would that be exactly."
"We'll need maneuver room for our mobile archers in their wagons." the leader of the human contingent, Ranald Drayk reminded them.
"Room for your wagons, yes, but we must otherwise hem the trolls in so they cannot spread out and overlap our flanks." Bjarnson replied.
At Oddr Bjornson's side sat Finn Ragnarson, his protege for intergovernmental relations and his own personal lucky charm. Harald Sigurdsen was flanked by Old Arn, the senior non-commissioned officer in the Fyrd who could speak for the rank and file.
Also in the room was the human journalist, Drew Altair: war correspondent, reporter for the Capital Intelligencer, veteran of the Second Centaur War, and a Giant-Friend.
Ragnar Svenson, an influential shipper in Flensborg, spoke up.
"We must force them to land south of town, just downstream from the slipways of the shipyards. The ground is spongy there and turns to marshland south of there. That will hem them in and slow down their deployment. Our own forces will take a position on the firm level ground back from the riverbank."
"That would be perfect for our wagons to operate," Drayk agreed, "but why should the trolls land there instead of rowing upstream all the way to the docks at Flensborg?"
"We block the river so they can't. I happen to know that are three ships under construction on the ways right now, big ships built for service on the the Great Inland Freshwater Sea. The river there is just deep enough to float their empty hulls. We can launch them just before the trolls arrive. The ships won't stay afloat for long, incomplete as the work on them now is, especially if we smash a few holes in them. They will sink fast and block the river."
"The trolls will have to land at the slipways or go back downstream and look for a landing place beyond the marsh. The first suitable place is two miles downstream. No, they will land right where we want them."
All members of the council nodded their agreement. It was a good plan.
"This steady south wind which the weather wizards have called up for us is a godsend, Liam, even though keeping it going for days on end has exhausted them."
"Actually sir restoring equilibrium to the weather systems behind us is what has really drained their energies. The wizards had to turn the wind systems right around, replacing the normal off-shore wind which blows out to sea with a steady south wind blowing northwards. That kind of manipulation is exhausting. I am afraid they won't have anything left for when we confront the trolls."
"Maybe not but we will have two war wizards with us, you and what's his name on the flagship."
"Warrant Officer Braeden."
"We are so lucky to have had you on the foredeck like this these past three nights, Liam. Thanks to your night vision, we have not had to heave to at night but could continue sailing upstream. You must have the eyes of a cat to see just by the light of the stars and the smaller moon."
"It's not just my wizardly night vision sir. I use the same tricks as anyoneto get the most out of my night vision: don't stare, shift your gaze, don't look at lights like the lanterns or fires ashore, or if you do, close one eye to preserve its adaptation to low light."
"Another thing that has helped up get up the river so handily Liam, is that the river runs fairly straight with a deep channel within well-defined banks. I hate rivers that meander all over the landscape. They are all shallows and sandbars."
"The only thing worse is trying to sail up a braided river. I was once ordered to do that by an armchair admiral who referred to a map rather than a proper chart. Maps show rivers as squiggly lines with no information about them other than length — nothing about width, depth, volume of flow, or obstacles to navigation like weirs, rapids and cataracts."
"Why did the admiral use a map and not a naval chart?"
"It was all the man had to work with. The Navy does not chart river channels and depths in foreign lands."
"I take it then there was not enough water under the keel?"
"Enough to float a child's toy boat but not a frigate."
"The good news is that we are now hard on the heels of the troll horde, Liam. It looks like we will get there in time."
"How far is it to Flensborg now, Captain Dekker?"
"Only a few miles. We should arrive by noon. Thanks to your infrasound dispatches we know that the trolls are indeed landing just where the Frost Giants want them to. We ourselves will land south of the marshy area. The naval infantry and the sailors in our landing parties will form up and march overland the few miles to the battlefield. With any luck we can fall on their rear just as the trolls engage the Frost Giants."
As it turned out, part of the troll horde had picked the same landing spot south of the marshes, perhaps two thousand of them to judge from the number of longships drawn up on the bank. The trolls had split their forces hoping to catch the Frost Giants in a pincer move when their columns converged.
But two could play that game. The naval force made its own landing and set off in pursuit of the trolls. Dekker was disappointed he had to remain in command of the squadron and the skeleton crews of the ships.
"I am relying on you Dekker to pull these ships out of here if things go badly for us on land." Commodore Van Zant told him. "If we don't get back, take the squadron down river and rendezvous with the fleet.
"But sir, you are our commodore. Isn't your place aboard your flagship?"
"In a sea action, certainly. Not in a land battle. Besides, I can expect that if we succeed the Admiralty will promote me. As an admiral I will never again get a chance to lead a landing party. And I will have you know, Captain Dekker, that I can still swing a pretty mean cutlass. No, my friend, I am going ashore. You covered yourself in glory in the sea battle. Now it is my turn for some fun!"
"Good luck, sir."
An hour later, the Frost Giants and the main body of the trolls were locked in combat near the slipways.
Frustrated in their hopes of rowing all the way to the docks at Flensborg, the trolls had landed only to find that the ground was spongy which hampered their ability to deploy and form their shield wall.
The worst part of the landing was the way the pesky humans took advantage of the disorder in their ranks, swooping down on them in those fast wagons of theirs all the while firing arrows and crossbow quarrels at them.
Unfortunately, once the trolls pushed forward to firm ground they dressed their lines and presented an unbroken shield wall to the archers. Behind their shield wall, the trolls' own archers engaged the humans, firing right over their lines, sending plunging fire into the attacking humans.
At first the trolls aimed at their human enemies. but their arrows could not penetrate the shields fixed to the sides of the wagons. Then the trolls got smart and shifted their aim to the horses drawing the wagons. Their greater strength let the trolls draw bows more powerful than those of the humans. That let them outrange even the long bows of the human archers not to mention their crossbows, a shorter range weapon in any event.
Troll arrows hit a few of the closer teams of horses, causing the humans to abandon those wagons and scramble aboard others. In one case, a teamster cut a wounded horse out of the traces and drove his wagon out of danger. Faced with an unanswerable threat to the mobility that protected them, the humans were forced to withdraw.
Still they had given a good account of themselves and had gotten the better of the exchange. The Frost Giants raised a cheer as the humans withdrew safely to their lines.
In close quarters it was the Frost Giants who had the advantage of reach and not from their size alone. The trolls wielded axes against twelve foot spears and longswords. Also the giants were a trained militia, able to execute the difficult maneuver called a passage of lines where their front line fighters stepped back as the second line stepped forward between them and took their places. That pitted fresh giants against tired trolls.
There were over four thousand trolls against fewer than fourteen hundred giants but each giant was worth two trolls. Clouds of arrows flew between the armies. The trolls deployed more bowmen but the humans had a much larger supply of arrows. They kept firing even after the trolls ran dry. Their round shields could stop an arrow but could not shelter every part of them all the time. The arrows of the humans took their toll.
The battle surged back and forth, neither side gaining any clear advantage. The giants took heart. A stalemate would amount to a victory, since the trolls would have to withdraw, leaving the giants in possession of the field and the town. The Fyrd could draw reinforcements from a population of fifty thousand. The trolls had to win this key battle for the capital or lose the war.
Then the troll reinforcements arrived. The second column was two thousand strong and threatened to roll up the giants' line. The giants disengaged, pulling back as both armies paused to reassess the situation before maneuvering for a final confrontation.
At that critical moment a tremendous clap of thunder shook the battlefield as a giant eight feet tall stepped forward all alone, armed not with a spear nor a sword or but with a war hammer, and protected by only light armor: a buckler, breastplate, vambraces, and leather gauntlets their backs covered with overlapping steel scales. Those close by recognized the giant as Finn Raganarson, but to most he was a mystery man. And why was he armed with such a weapon with such little reach as a hammer?
Proportioned for a Frost Giant, the hammer's hardwood haft was a yard long and thicker than a human could get a hand around. It was made of resilient ash which was wrapped with straps for greater strength. The head was as heavy as that of a sledge but with cheeks that tapered to small faces front and back to concentrate the force of the blow.
The giant raised the hammer to the sky drawing lightning bolts to himself which crackled all over his body, but doing him no harm. Instead the Electricity fortified him doubling his already prodigious strength. Hammer in hand he directed lighting strikes at the van of the reinforcements, killing dozens and delaying their rendevous with their own main body.
The troll general ordered his archers to concentrate their fire on the armored giant but though hundreds of arrows flew at him they all fell short, plunging into the earth thirty paces in front of him. Finn had used the magnetic field of the planet to influence the trajectories of the steel arrowheads and make them miss.
The champion of the giants cocked his arm and threw his war hammer at the general in charge of the main body of the invaders. The hammer flew across the intervening space while small lightnings playing across its steel head. When it struck, the general's body exploded in a cloud of blood and gore and bits of leather and metal.
The general was not the only troll to fall to that hammer throw. The weapon blasted a swath through both ranks of the enemy host standing behind him before slamming into a tree.
As the trolls let out a collective moan, the giant called out the name he had given to his war hammer, a name long celebrated in song and story.
Then all watched with mouths agape as Mjolnir the Mountain Crusher, the war hammer of the legendary Thunder God broke free and flashed back into his hand. He held it high in triumph as lightnings played all around him, then directed further bolts from the sky down at the trolls, killing anyone who looked important. Between lightning bolts and further hammer throws he killed two hundred trolls.
The trolls did not know what to make of it all, but the Frost Giants certainly did. They could see with their own eyes that in their hour of need a great hero had arisen among them, a mythic figure from the days before the old galactic empire. Harald Sigurdsen, the war chief of the Frost Giants, lead the cheers.
"Thor! Thor! Thor!"
The giants felt like they were in the presence of an avatar, as he seemed to be, of their thunder god of yore, though many now recognized him as none other than their own Finn Ragnarson. His magical gift had finally manifested itself conferring on him powers shaped by his memories of the old tales he had heard as a youngling. That was often how magic worked on Haven.
Taking heart from this providential sign, the Frost Giants reengaged the enemy, not only with edged weapons but now with fire globes just then brought up, which wreaked havoc among the trolls. The flaming oil clung to their clothes and armor as it burned, literally cooking them alive. The stench of burning hair and flesh joined the miasma that arose from the unwashed bodies of the trolls.
The troll reinforcements tried to take the giants in the flank but they had delayed too long to make their move. Instead of attacking they found themselves under attack as the Navy fell on them from behind.
The naval infantry and landing parties of sailors had maneuvered into an advantageous position behind a Concealment raised by the two war wizards. It wasn't that difficult even with troops untrained in marching under concealment since the attention of the trolls had been on the battle between the giants and the main body of the trolls. No one was even looking their way.
Commodore Van Zant sensibly stationed himself with his reserves behind the forward edge of the battle line as he orchestrated the attacks of the naval infantry and the contingents from the various ships in his squadron. At one point the trolls rallied and pressed hard against the naval forces. Van Zant showed then that he really did swing a mean cutlass, personally cutting down four trolls and saving three of his men.
The battle grew disordered from that point on, with no one really in control. Clusters of fighters surged back and forth. One powerful cluster formed around Thor, that is Finn. Fighting now at close quarters with trolls in front and giants to either side, Finn had no room either for lightning bolts nor hammer throws, though his body and armor still crackled with electricity making it perilous for any foe to grapple with him for the charge might numb when it did not kill outright.
Finn wielded his hammer with his right hand, maneuvering a buckler in his left to fend off blades. Mjolnir took a fearsome toll of the trolls, shattering the blades of their axes and smashing through the shields of the trolls to crush their chests or break their shoulders or take their heads clean off.
Another cluster of fighters formed around the commodore and his two war wizards, Braeden the firecaster from the flagship, and Liam of the Petrel. Braeden directed streams of flame at the enemy or cast great clinging balls of fire at compact groups. Liam either yanked the eyeballs out of the trolls' heads or flashed his steel spheres back and forth to smash through the heads and bodies of the trolls. At one point the commodore saw an opportunity and had the wizards cut loose with white fire to scythe a swath through dozens of the enemy opening the way for an attack by the naval infantry.
And yet a third cluster formed around a diminutive red-headed human who 'shadow boxed' his way through the ranks of his enemies, scything them down with flashing steel spheres, his back and flanks protected by a bodyguard of Frost Giants led by by his good friend Old Arn.
The trolls finally disengaged, then regrouped still nearly three thousand strong and formed up on high ground back from the river. By then the number of effectives among the allies was only about twenty-four hundred. Still the allies had done better than the trolls had. Giants could take more punishment than trolls, so they lost three combatants to wounds for every one killed outright, whereas almost all of the fallen trolls were dead.
It looked like more grim work ahead with a heavy butcher's bill still to pay, but then a long line of riders appeared through the mists, rising out of the swale of low ground beyond the shield wall of the trolls. With hardly a sound the cavalry of the Commonwealth of the Long River shook themselves out into a line of battle then started forward at a walk. Halfway there they picked up the pace to a canter. As they cavalry closed with the trolls bugles sounded the charge.
The he giants and the naval forces watched as three battalions of lancers, more than 1200 men, rode the trolls down from behind, driving their couched lances through their bodies or trampling them under the hooves of their mounts or just bowling them over. No sooner had the riders cut their way through the trolls than they wheeled for a second pass, though this time most riders had to resort to swords. They formed up again where their charge had started, blocking any retreat by the trolls in that direction.
The cavalry charge has broken the shield wall of the trolls, destroyed unit cohesion, and shattered what morale they had left. The trolls had to face the fact that once again the hated users of magic had bested them and in a battle mostly fought with cold steel.
That was when the Frost Giants closed for the kill. It was a massacre. The cavalry pursued the few who tried to flee. None got away. The defeat of the invaders was total, as was the victory of the defenders.
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