Elf Boy's Friends - VI

by George Gauthier

Chapter 5

Battle is Joined

As the horde of orcs emerged from the woods and deployed into a line of battle, Drew focused his gift on the southern corrals. Lifting the top two bars from the enclosing fences on the far side he let the draft horses and mounts escape from the advancing Trackers and Slashers. The escape of the horses would deprive the enemy of both cavalry mounts and a food supply for their monsters.

Though the demonic animals started after the equines, their masters called them back. Their job that day was to terrorize and fight, not to hunt. The animals obeyed snarling their displeasure at the escape of their prey. Well there was plenty of meat on the bones of humans and elves and dwarves forted up in the buildings in front of them. For now the beasts had to content themselves with two laggards caught while returning from a call of nature between the staff latrines and the main house. A slasher disemboweled one man with a swipe of his massive paw while trackers literally tore a man limb from limb.

The orcs themselves were not cannibals but their thoughts too were bloodthirsty. How dare a bunch of human and elven holiday makers defy them! They would pay for their effrontery. The orcs had historic rights to the eastern mountains. It was long past time for the orcs to reclaim their stolen lands.

The orcs were all infantry armed mostly with lethal looking long hafted maces with spiked or flanged heads and large round shields though they also had a corps of crossbowmen and slingers. For magical support they had half a dozen mages. Two of the orc mages were firecasters, one threw lightning bolts, one could control magnetism and two could snap electrum sparks. As a race orcs were magically weaker than humans or elves. It was probably a renegade human wizard who created their monsters.

Individual orcs might have a strong gift though only a single gift — not multiple gifts like the Commonwealth's own war wizards. Orcs were ever shape shifters or druids either. So magically they were outclassed by the defenders as they soon found out.

Having shaken themselves out into a battle line, the orcs sent their monsters forward both to terrify their foes and to clear their flanks of any enemy bowmen lurking in ambush in the outbuildings or gardens. As luck would have it fully one-third of the fifteen slashers and a half-dozen trackers fell into camouflaged bear pits. Sharpened stakes at the bottom their points coated with silver penetrated their vitals bringing horrid howls from the stricken beasts. Those losses still left a half-score slashers and half again that many trackers.

Then the big archer on the upper balcony got to work with his recurved bow which propelled arrows far beyond normal range. The crossbows of the orcs could not reach his position on the balcony, so he could shoot at them with impunity.

Moreover Sexton's arrows were coated with silver which drew more howls from the demonic beasts, reducing the numbers of both species by a third. Their masters set the remaining monsters to patrolling a wide perimeter around the resort to make sure none of the humans and elves could escape though the twins managed to sink shafts into several who misjudged their range and got too close. Aside from that, the monsters' part in the battle was over.

A firecaster tried lofting a ball of fire at the distant balcony but Karel called a jet of air to divert it to the drained pond. The bolt of the orcs' lightning thrower fell short by a good margin. So much for orc magic, at least at that distance.

Meanwhile Eike had been watching for leaders among the orcs and realized that their commanders wore distinctive green sashes to indicate their rank. He told Sexton who shifted his aim to the enemy commanders who were too proud to carry shields like an ordinary soldier. After three commanders fell to his arrows, the enemy withdrew temporarily into the tree line. When they re-emerged, no one sported a green sash, and everyone in front held a shield.

"Good work spotting their leaders, Eike. Too bad I could not pick off more than those three before they realized the threat I presented to them with this powerful bow."

"Anyway now Goodman Bullock will have a true story to tell about how a mighty hero wielded this signature bow against the orcs."

Eike nodded and grinned, proud to have been a part of the first strike at their enemies. Meanwhile Drew was busy sketching the scene. These quick sketches were to refresh his memory when he produced finished sketches for his news-paper and a possible book, should they all live so long.

The only sour note was that with the enemy force out in the open, Sexton could see that they numbered closer to eight hundred than the six hundred of his first estimate. Their infantry advanced in three lines behind a line of skirmishers who probed with long poles for further bear traps. Bypassing the pitfalls, they advanced over open ground toward the main entrance of the resort, hoping for force their way inside.

Karel's air guns proved to be a disappointment. The wooden plugs gave way a little too soon so the force behind the "grapeshot" they hurled at the orcs was weak, hitting only hard enough to wound some orcs in the front ranks.

"I still think the concept is sound, but the technique obviously needs work." Karel admitted to Eike.

Now Madden Sexton had walked the lower balcony earlier, assuring his own archers that they had nothing to fear from enemy crossbowmen. The air wizard Sir Karel would raise a shield of hardened air over them or rather just above and slanting back to the rear of the enemy spearmen. That way, the archers on the balcony could shoot under the shield while the arrows launched by the orc archers would bounce off the top. There weren't enough crossbows for everyone, but women who could call light or fling electrum sparks were glad to be able to invoke their powers in the defense of their menfolk fighting on the lower level.

The women and kids did not target the enemy archers, only the close-packed infantry bucked up below whose heavy wooden shields could not protect them simultaneously from spears and swords stabbing at their front and quarrels shot from above. One way or another they would get picked off.

Sexton admitted that the defenders were outnumbered overall, but not by the orcs at the line of contact. There was room for only so many fighters in the limited spaces at the window and door openings.

Which was why the attempt by the orcs to rush the main entrance failed. Their archers started to fire as soon as they came in range but the dust and gravel thrown about by Karel's dust devils and whirlwinds made it impossible to aim straight. The winds fell away as the archers moved up behind their own infantry. Karel set an impenetrable shield of hardened air just above the massed orc infantry, blocking the flight of their arrows. The orc archers were thus completely neutralized. Not so the defending archers, women and teens, on the lower balcony who rained death on the close packed infantry below while their menfolk fought them with spears at ground level.

Young Steen came into his own then, helping the defenders by yanking orc eyeballs out of their sockets, making the attackers easy to kill. Father and son came through the battle unscathed, their clothes splashed with blood but none of it their own, much to the relief of not only the mother but also Drew who had endorsed the boy's desire to fight beside his father.

Goodman Bullock snapped electrum sparks at the orcs with similar results. Bullock's friend Edmond, the textile magnate, gave orcs heart attacks with his weak lightning bolts or made their arms go numb at just the worst moment for them while engaged in close combat with those standing next to Edmond. Axel and the others with his gift scrambled orc brains by Calling Light and englobing their heads.

With his mastery of magnetism, an orc disarmed a pair of defenders by yanking their blades out of their hands. Raising their shields to fend off his mace, they fell back. Axel stepped into the breach, his ensorcelled amulet nullifying the orc's control of magnetism, allowing Axel to thrust his blade into the orc's belly and slash downward, spilling his guts. The orc died with a puzzled look on his face, not understanding why his magic had suddenly failed him against the small and red-headed human.

Axel continued fighting with his kukri stabbing, and slashing, and thrusting, relying on his speed and reflexes to keep him safe though he did take a nasty cut on his left shoulder, a salutary reminder that his amulet shielded him from direct attack by magic but offered no protection at all against conventional weapons.

Having come into range the single orc who could throw lightning bolts targeted the weapons of the defenders knowing that steel was an excellent conductor of electricity. The orc felt safe from crossbow quarrels and arrows behind a heavy wooden shield, but Sexton had prepared a few special arrows for just such an eventuality coating the points of the arrows with a bit of Aodh's poison. His arrow penetrated the orc's shield deep to scratch his arm, a negligible wound in other circumstances, but the poison was deadly. The stricken orc rolled on the ground howling, begging for a quick death from his comrades.

Orc firecasters directed streams of flames at the wooden walls of the resort, but Old Baldur, as Drew would dub him in his reporting, diverted them into the ground or even better into the mass of orc infantry. At one point he drained the heat out of a pair of giant fireballs passing over the infantry and aimed at window openings. Had the fireballs made it inside, they would have set off a conflagration. Instead Old Badlur snuffed them out and directed the heat energy into the bodies of a clutch of orc fighters, flash boiling their bodily fluids and making then explode messily. At the limit of his strength he was escorted away to a couch to rest and recoup for later.

Sensing the morale of the attackers was failing, Liam cut loose with a stream of white fire. Giving it everything he had, he swept it from right to left cutting two hundred orcs in half, leaving their grisly corpses smoking evilly.

That did it. The orcs panicked and ran from the field and into the woods though late arriving reinforcements brought their flight to a halt before they had gone very far. Their officers rallied the orcs for a second try. This time the focus would be the blind spot in the rear, but the orcs would also launch a simultaneous attack on the front to keep the pressure on and weaken the defense of the main thrust.

"Are my eyes playing tricks on me," Drew asked a while later, "or are there now more orcs than before we killed over three hundred of them."

"Reinforcements." Sexton said shaking his head. "Bad news. It looks like the orcs are not going to settle down for a siege, as I had counted on them doing once we broke their initial attempt to storm our position. And here we have shot off most of our quarrels."

He gave orders for nimble boys to run outside and retrieve quarrels stuck in the walls or even in the bodies of the fallen, which refilled their quivers twice over.

Meanwhile their single magical healer concentrated her powers on the less seriously wounded who might return to the fighting line rather than expend her strength on the most seriously wounded, which was one of the cruel choices war forced on good people. Two patients died before the magical healer could tend to them.

A chirurgeon and an herbalist plus Axel did what they could for the rest with their skills in natural medicine. Though Axel was an experienced combat medic he had left his medic's pack at home so he had to improvise with bandages torn from pillowcases, splints from dowels, and poultices made from herbs. The butcher's bill was heavy for so small a force as the defenders had mustered: eight dead and twice that many wounded though most of them including Axel and Goodman Bullock were able to return to the fight.

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