Elf Boy's Friends - V

by George Gauthier

Chapter 8

Battle on the Plains

While the soldiers set the fort back in order, the mages stood on a ledge to watch the action on the plains below. Sir Willet peered through a far-viewer tube which Axel had handed him. He seemed to be looking for something in particular.

The barbarian infantry had deployed from column to line to face the approaching cavalry which was clearly inferior in number. That gave the barbarians confidence that their numbers would carry the day.

Unfortunately for them they were utterly unaware that Owain had opened a portal for the Commonwealth infantry and positioned the Frost Giants a little behind them and out of sight on the reverse slope of a low ridge. The Army of the Plains was using classic hammer and anvil tactics.

Meanwhile, back at the fort, a soldier on the parapet yelled "Ambush!" pointing at a dozen barbarians who had broken from concealment and charged the magic wielders, hoping to take them from behind.

Stepping between the attackers and the others Aodh directed his so-called killer screech at them. Though not fatal in itself it incapacitated any foe with an intolerable sound something like that of fingernails scraping on a slate only far worse. It was powerful enough to rupture eardrums and induce pain, dizziness, and temporary deafness. The screech was highly directional, strong in a conical zone in front but negligible to the sides or behind.

One of the attackers happened to be outside that conical zone, but Axel took him out by Calling Light and englobing his head, scrambling the electrical circuits of his brain. He was dead before he hit the ground. Thanks to frequent practice against the pestiferous pigeons which infested the Institute, Axel had no trouble hitting a moving target.

Before anyone else could reach the bushwhackers, Aodh changed into his panther form, his clothes sloughing off his body, then attacked the barbarians, slashing them with his poison claws. They dropped to the ground, writhing in agony, weapons fallen from their hands. Switching back to his human form, Aodh gestured for the soldiers to give the barbarians the coup de grace.

Captain Fallon looked over at Aodh with newfound respect. "And here I had thought the pretty boy was merely decorative."

That brought a predatory grin to the face of the wir as he climbed back into his clothes. Klarendes gave him a broad wink.

"I'll hold a Missile Shield over us in case archers are lurking in the woods." Sir Willet told the others. "The barbarians have always been treacherous."

The Army Air Corps drew first blood as two squadrons of aviators (36 aviators) flew in support of the ground attack. The flyers flew the new yokes modified with wings like those of bats. Unlike the rigid wings of naval flyers, these were little more than cloth stretched over a framework which caught part of the slip stream generated by the flyer's forward motion and converted it into lift. That made it easier to take off with a full load of bombs.

Approaching unseen from out of the sun, the six flights of flyers swooped down low and dropped fire globes on the barbarian shield wall. A shower of glowing embers from the trailing flight of six flyers touched off a firestorm which killed hundreds.

Unfortunately the aviators took losses themselves. As they angled upward to gain altitude after their bombing runs, they were targeted by magic wielders among the barbarians. One mage cast lightning bolts at the flyers killing three of them. Dodge as they might up in the sky the flyers had nowhere to hide. Another hurled spreads of fist-sized fireballs that brought down three flyers. A fetcher used flashing steel spheres to swat two more flyers from the sky. The score was eight flyers downed out of only thirty-six.

"Why haven't our own mages countered those magical attacks?" Axel asked.

"The corps of mages is still moving into position, working their way toward that hillock on the right from where they will have a clear field of fire for their own attacks. Meanwhile the fetchers at least have been successful in their defense of the cavalry regiments by blunting the fire of the enemy's field artillery, making the heavy iron balls flung by their catapults fall short and forcing the six foot arrows fired by their ballistas to bury themselves harmlessly in the ground."

Actually iron balls were of more use against infantry. The cavalry had no shield wall to disrupt.

"Anyway help is on the way. Unless I miss my guess, Sir Rikkard is about to unleash his powers on them."

Unnoticed by the barbarians, the blue sky behind the barbarians had turned dark and angry. Sir Rikkard had called up a monster thunderstorm.

"Sir Rikkard is our most powerful weather wizard." Sir Willet explained to the others.

The only warning the barbarians got was the gust front which blew through their lines just before a clap of thunder announced the arrival of the storm. They turned and looked up, surprised and dismayed at the dark roiling clouds overhead. Rain fell in torrents wetting and loosening the strings of their crossbows, which decreased their range and their punch. Then lightning began to flash down from the clouds to the ground killing dozens. Upraised spears and brandished swords made good conductors of electricity.

"That knot of men in the center in the fancy uniforms with all the silver braid. Those are their magic wielders." Sir Willet told Sir Rikkard.

"Fools! All bunched up and in distinctive garb."

Thunderbolts struck where the mages stood again and again. A enemy weather wizard tried to wrest control of the storm from Sir Rikkard, but failed, gaining nothing for his efforts but a quick death as Sir Rikkard channeled a bolt back at him though his connection with the storm. Finally Sir Rikkard let the storm dissipate.

Sir Willet then took a hand, targeting the enemy cavalry, really just a company of scouts, far too few to face the Commonwealth cavalry, which was why they had taken a position behind their own infantry. The wizard lifted the trees Klarendes had felled and hurled them one by one at the riders. They were within range because he was throwing from a height of two thousand feet above the plains.

Even though they saw the trees hurtling down on them they could not get clear in time. The spreading limbs swept scouts from their saddles while the heavy trunks crushed both rider and mount. The handful of survivors galloped away to the east, abandoning the battlefield entirely.

"Why target those few riders, sir, instead of the shield wall?" Captain Fallon asked.

"Because only they might otherwise get away." Sir Willet said coldly.

Sir Rikkard explained. "Sir Willet has his own scores to settle with the barbarians. Ask him sometime about those three wound stripes on his sleeve."

Now it was largely up to soldiers and to cold steel. Three regiments of cavalry, six thousand men, attacked more than twice their number of barbarian infantry. From each regiment, a battalion of some five hundred horse archers armed with recurved bows kept up a steady fire at the enemy shield wall as their battalions of lancers formed a wedge and charged.

The barbarians had thrown caltrops on the ground between them to disrupt just such a charge but three cavalrymen in front invoked their control of magnetism, visible to the onlookers as a grey nimbus which engulfed them and their mounts, to sweep the obstacles from the field. Nothing could stop the charge now, and nothing did.

As they neared the enemy line, the riders leveled their lances at the barbarians, couching them under their arms and braced themselves in their stirrups. The wedge smashed its way through the disordered center of the enemy line where the mages had stood. Once thought the shield wall the column wheeled left to engulf the enemy's right wing. With their lances broken off or stuck in dead barbarians, lancers drew sabers and slashed at their foes. The mounted archers kept up their fire. Pressed from front and back the enemy formation crumbled.

Then the corps of mages on the hillock unleashed their magics. A war wizard directed a stream of white fire at the enemy's horse drawn field artillery, ballistas and catapults mounted atop carts for mobility. The weapons and their crews disintegrated into clouds of superheated fragments which exploded outwards with great force killing dozens more. Two mages threw lightning bolts which jumped from sword to sword to sword to sword electrocuting those who brandished them. Three mages cast great clinging balls of fire which cooked those they fell upon like lobsters in a pot and sent those around them fleeing in horror. Two fetchers sent their deadly steel spheres whirling at anyone who was trying to rally enemy soldiers or just looked important.

A pretty blond youth who looked rather too young to be in the army invoked an uncommon gift: ball lightning — electricity in the shape of a pair of spheres over three feet across and too bright to look at for long and fatal to the touch both from heat and a strong electric charge. The spheres hummed and crackled menacingly as they zigzagged back and forth under the control of the tow headed youngster, an expert rider who held the reins in his teeth and guided his mount with his knees. Emphatic hand gestures directed the motions of the lightning balls. In some spots, just their approach broke the enemy line as soldiers fled from their fatal touch.

All magic wielders gestured, though strictly speaking that was not really necessary. The exercise of magical powers was an act of will. But gestures were a very real aid to concentration. Which was why Drew Altair's trademark shadow boxing, pile driving, and shield techniques had been adopted nearly universally by military fetchers.

The hitherto unengaged left wing of the barbarian army saw that their cause was lost and started to withdraw in good order but found its way barred by two regiments of Frost Giants who seemingly rose out of the ground though all they really did was march up the reverse slope of the low ridge which had kept them hidden before then.

No way six thousand humans could prevail against four thousand Frost Giants armed with twelve foot spears and what for humans amounted to two-handed swords. The attack of the giants routed the last cohesive force of the barbarians. Their formation lost all order and was quickly reduced to knots of fighters pressed on all sides by their foes.

But in this battle the Commonwealth preferred not to slaughter the barbarians to the last man. With victory assured it made was no sense losing their own men to no real purpose. Besides they wanted to take prisoners and question them. So when the enemy general had a bugle sound their surrender, his men cried out for quarter. The Commonwealth forces granted it and drew back as the barbarians cast their weapons to the ground. Just as well. Everyone was exhausted. Hand to hand combat is hard work.

Nearly eight thousand barbarians surrendered themselves and marched without protest to a holding area under the shade of the nearby trees. At least they were alive and out of the sun and supplied with water and food from their own supply train. Some were put to work burying the dead including a contingent sent to retrieve the three hundred bodies in the tunnel.

Actually all that the prisoners had to do was collect the bodies and strip them of weapons and valuables before throwing the corpses into mass graves, which were deep trenches the druids opened up in the soft earth of the plains. Afterwards druidical magic made the earth heave once again and cover the bodies too deep for scavengers to disturb.

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