Elf Boy's Friends - VI
"This time, with their larger numbers, the orcs will hit us from all sides at once: in front, in the blind spot, and maybe even work a column around the pond and past that cliff, though the gardens the mazes partly block that approach. Three attacks at once. I am not sure we can hold out till the army gets here. Liam what can you tell us on that score?"
"Good news. The army did not send cavalry but mounted infantry."
"How is that good news? Horses are still horses whether for mere transport or for shock effect in a charge. You can push them only so hard before they founder. So they won't reach us till tomorrow morning or midnight if they push on after dark."
"Ah, but these soldiers are mounted on bicycles. Unlike horses their mounts do not have to stop and graze or move at a trot [the gait horses used to cover long distances]. With the infantry is a contingent from the army air corps riding tandem bikes and pulling trailers bearing their yokes and ammunition. They should reach us just about the time the enemy launches their second attempt to storm our defenses."
"So they can fall on the enemy from behind. Excellent! You see Eike, your wire wheels have made this possible, something I am sure Drew Altair will not fail to mention in his coverage of our battle."
"Good for you, Eike," the others avowed. Sexton continued with:
"I don't mind admitting now that I wasn't sure we could hold out long enough. Now I am hopeful that we can. For the next couple of hours we must exert our magical powers to the utmost. Jemsen, get ready to bring that shale cliff down on their third column. Liam, what can you do for us besides whirling steel balls and white fire?"
"As you know I won't be able to throw white fire again till tomorrow, but I am also a powerful weather wizard. Their attack will come late in the afternoon, the perfect time for me to whistle up a monster of a thunderstorm, which will be most effective in the open area to our front."
"Good. Karel, this time protect those with crossbows on our blind side with your shield of hardened air. We'll have reposition some of our archers from the front. Drew I want you stationed at ground level, to back up Corwin and his reaction force. Those with lesser gifts like sparks and globes of light are doing a fine job right where they are."
"Oh, and what about you, Baldur. You were looking pretty wrung out earlier."
"I'm still tired but recovered enough to torch the outbuildings in our blind spot. Just tell me when."
"Good man! Gentlemen, to your posts."
Liam stopped the attack at the front of the resort with his monster thunderstorm. He pummeled the orcs with hail the size of hen's eggs. Torrential rains wetted and loosened their bow strings, while volleys of lightning bolts flashed from the sky to strike the orcs dead, all of which was accompanied by the crash of thunder suggestive of the wrath of the gods to their superstitious minds.
Liam couldn't help thinking they could really have used Finn Ragnarson's help. In his capacity as an avatar of Thor, thunder god of the Norse, Finn was the personification of shock and awe.
For a finale Liam had a whirling funnel drop from the dark clouds to form a tornado forty paces wide at the base which churned through the orc formation, drawing scores of warriors into the sky only to spit them out to fall back to the ground.
Afterwards Liam slumped back, drained by his repeated efforts.
Taking up the slack, Jemsen invoked his earth magic, tapping the water table to turn the final open stretch into a quagmire. It wasn't impassable but none of the orcs cared to fight with feet planted in slippery and clinging mud where any kind of footwork was impossible. So the attack on the front faltered and the remaining orcs withdrew in confusion about what to do next.
Jemen destroyed the column that was threading the narrow stretch of solid ground on the far side of the now drained pond and the base of the shale cliff. His minor earthquake shook the shale loose and sent the slope crashing down onto the hapless orc warriors, killing over two hundred. So much for the second attack.
In the blind spot, Old Baldur torched the outbuildings the orcs were trying to use for cover and threw a couple of clinging balls of fire into the mass of attackers for good measure. Since the outbuildings had been rigged with incendiaries, they burned merrily. Though the fires caught relatively few of the enemy, the flames drove them into the open and backlit them for the defending archers who included Sexton and his four rangers with their long bows. Karel helped by sending whirlwinds to fling burning embers at the enemy force.
Three of the rangers fired their long bows from behind room doors propped against the railing. Thanks to daily practice and his gift of Unerring Direction, Dylan's archery was incredibly accurate and effective. Garret and Lorn sheltered behind a a large shield Eike had knocked together from floor planks, a shield wide enough to protect all three of them. Thanks to his doubled strength he could shift the shield to wherever Garret and Lorn needed it.
By this time the enemy had drawn so close that Karel's air shield could not provide total coverage. An unlucky shot slipped under the bottom of Eike's shield and struck his left calf. Lorn pulled the shaft all the way through his flesh and Garret summoned Axel to patch him up.
Pressing their attack the enemy column did reach the walls and forced their way into a rear corridor and adjoining rooms only to be met by Corwin and his reaction force, eight or nine staff members who had the advantage of knowing the complex layout of the rambling structure. They ducked into servant runs and through concealed doors to adjoining rooms only to pop up on the flanks of the enemy column. The orcs never knew where attackers would come from.
But it was Corwin's ball lightning and Drew's deadly steel spheres that broke the resolve of the orcs to press their attack. How could an orc armed with a sword cope with a ball of lighting three feet wide, which hummed and crackled menacingly till it zipped forward to touch the metal head of a mace and deliver a fatal jolt to a warrior or engulf him and burn him to a crisp?
Nor could the orcs deal with steel spheres the size of peaches which whirled about and crashed through shields and armor and bodies and especially heads. Drew also happily yanked eyeballs left and right, a crazed grin plastered to his face, a psychological trick he had learned from Sexton to disconcert opponents. Some orcs hurled throwing knives at the diminutive redhead which were returned to sender thanks to the young fetcher's Missile Shield, a tactic that utterly dismayed the orc fighters.
The fight at the rear of the resort went back and forth till when Madden Sexton himself intervened and brought reinforcements, fifteen fighters taken from the now quiet sector out front, to back up Drew and the reaction force under Corwin. that made fifty fighters battling the orcs out back counting Sexton's fifteen and Corwin's ten man reaction force plus those originally stationed there. That was very few compared to several hundred attackers but the enemy could get only so many of their fighters through the rear doorway and window openings they had forced.
Fighting in his human form Sexton flung half a dozen throwing stars then waded into the fight armed with an ironwood buckler with a steel boss in the middle to smash with and quite an unusual weapon, a morning star. A variant of a flail only with a spiked steel ball attached by a chain to a wooden handle the morning star could inflict blunt-force trauma as well as nasty puncture wounds and lacerations.
Sexton's attack fell upon the intruders like a whirlwind of death. Swung by a man with the strength of a Frost Giant, the morning star could take an orc's head off or splash his brains all over his comrades, a tactic Sexton relished for its demoralizing effect. Equally demoralizing was when a flip of his wrist wrapped the chain of his weapon around the haft of an orc mace, letting Sexton yank it right out of the hapless fighter's grip.
After a while there came an unintended pause in the furious struggle, the result of the tempo of fighting falling off everywhere from sheer fatigue. Hand to hand combat is exhausting. Standing only a few paces apart breathing heavily the two sides confronted each other, the orcs suddenly uncertain, the defenders filled with hope at the news Liam shouted that the army about to fall on the orcs. Some orcs thought that a trick but most were only too ready to believe him on a day when nothing seemed to be going right for the orc cause.
With the other fighters flanking them, Corwin positioned his globes up front as shields, Drew twirled his steel spheres in mid air, while Sexton planted himself in the middle looking like a demigod of death, his muscular form covered in blood and brains and gore casually swinging his morning star. Glaring at the orcs he asked:
"Well? Are you going to wait around for the Army to get here and finish you off? It's no disgrace to retreat intending to fight another day."
The demoralized orcs answered with actions rather than words as they pushed and shoved to get back out through the window openings and door they had entered by. That put them in the open, perfect targets for aerial attack. With Karel's thunderstorm dispersed the skies were clear for a flight of six air corps flyers to drop fire globes on the orcs facing the blind spot. The fliers veered off only to return moments later with another load of bombs and another after that.
Meanwhile five hundred Commonwealth dismounted infantry, refreshed from a brief rest after their long ride, fell upon the bedraggled orc warriors milling around out front. With fresh troops pitted against exhausted fighters, the result was a slaughter.
The Army eventually rounded up about two hundred prisoners, all that was left of an orc force that must have originally totaled more than a thousand. They were put to work dragging the bodies on the far side of the property and dropping them in mass graves which Jemsen opened with earth magic. Once the holes were filled, the earth surged once again to cover them with ten feet of soil.
The Army officer in command of the rescue force met Sexton and the others leaders in a conference room.
"So tell us Colonel Danzig what stirred the orcs up that they would attack peaceable neighbors they had done business with for years?" Bullock wanted to know.
Colonel Danzig shrugged. "From early interrogations I can only tell you that the orcs thought this was the right moment to assert their historic rights to the lands unjustly taken from them during the Formation Wars by mass armies of humans, giants, elves, and dwarves, the main races in today's Commonwealth."
"Well, I suppose I can understand their grievance, but why attack us now?. Why couldn't they see how pointless it was to try to change the verdict of history at this late date." Bullock said.
"They don't read our news—papers, but had heard from traders about how the Commonwealth is overstretched, with a field army stationed in the Far West and two more mustering for the invasion of Amazonia plus sizable garrisons in New Varangia and the Western Plains, deployments which have diminished the field armies left in the Commonwealth proper. Also they know that even at full strength our field armies these days are much smaller than those which overwhelmed them during the Formation Wars. They were sure that this time their terrain advantage would defeat our much smaller armies."
The guest who was an Army major snorted.
"Our armies today may be fewer in number but are actually more powerful than any we mustered in the old days. We have better weapons now like fire globes which turn slingers into junior firecasters, swords and sabers made from superior steel, and repeating crossbows. We also have officers trained at military academies and mid-career professional schools and a solid corps of long-serving non-commissioned officers. Our cavalry hits much harder today thanks to stirrups and better saddles. We have strategic mobility with space portals and tactical mobility with these new bicycles."
"And then there is magic. We now have more than just an occasional war wizard for magical support. We have a dedicated corps of firecasters and lightning throwers, and fetchers and masters of magnetism, and weather wizards. The orcs' own mages were few and weak and no match for even a chance collection of wizards on vacation much less those assigned one of our field armies. And then there is our air corps which let the relief force send aerial scouts before their attack while the orcs had no aerial reconnaissance aloft to spot the approach of the army column."
"Instead of their expected victory they found defeat at the hands of a mix of vacationers, resort staff, forest rangers, and wizards who happened to be here on vacation who held out for hours against a thousand of their warriors. Nor do these orcs have any concept of the power of a state that covers the middle of the continent of Valentia, dominates the the Great Inland Freshwater Sea, and numbers one hundred-twenty millions against perhaps a hundred thousand orcs in the Eastern Mountains."
"The orcs will learn to their regret that Commonwealth does not start trouble, but always ends it on our terms. This time, unlike during the Formation Wars, we will totally expunge this colony of orcs. An infestation is a better name for it."
"You contemplate genocide?" Axel asked.
"I hope not. I'd prefer that the orcs go into exile among their kinfolk who live in the lands of the eastern barbarians far from our borders, not for mercy's sake but to spare the lives of our own soldiers who would fall in a fight to the finish."
"What shall we do about the monsters still on the loose?" Bullock asked, explaining to the colonel about the Slashers and Trackers.
"Don't worry about them. I'll kill the monsters myself." Sexton offered. "Without their handlers they are scattered, disorganized, and confused. I can confront them one or a few at a time using myself as bait."
"How can that work?" Colonel Danzig asked.
"Simple, I am a shapeshifter — a wir wolverine easily as strong as a Frost Giant. I once killed a white bear of the polar isles and that was before the Great Forest enhanced my physical powers. Besides, for this job I will coat my claws with a deadly poison. One scratch on a Slasher's snout will take a his mind off attack. He will be able to think only of pain in the short time he has left before I blind him and tear out his throat."
That evening and for the next three nights after that, Sexton morphed into his wolverine form. Axel brushed his claws with the fluid extracted from the poison glands in the paws of Aodh his fellow wir and forest ranger, careful to keep any of it from touching his skin. As a wir himself Sexton was immune.
Despite the fact that both moons were down and there were only stars in the sky for illumination, Sexton's four nightly hunts were successful thanks in part to his superior night vision. He couldn't just see in dim light like a cat, he could see into the infrared and detect the body heat of foes even when concealed by a screen of shrubbery.
Most of his fights were one on one, but twice Sexton battled small packs of trackers and once a pair of slashers. All told he killed eight Slashers and a dozen Trackers. His transformative magic healed the hurts he took in his fights. After two fruitless hunts, Sexton concluded that the threat had passed though perhaps a monster or two lurked in the woods.
Eventually Madden Sexton and his four rangers, Dylan the elf, Brandon the half-elf, and his two fully human cousins, the brothers Garret and Lorn, returned to the New Forest, keeping an eye peeled for orcs. This war was just getting started.
For their own safety the vacationers and staff were evacuated to the town of Bled. From there they could find passage home. Before they left Drew cautioned the youth Steen not to try flying till his powers were full developed and only then under the guidance of a experienced flyer. Steen's dad said he would make sure of it.
For the time being, the army would use the resort as an army base as they maneuvered to counter the orcs. Bullock was unhappy with shutting his business during the emergency but he consoled himself with the thought that the Army would lease his premises rather than just requisition the property. That wouldn't entirely cover the damage or the loss of business, but at least Bullock did not have to give refunds to his customers, citing the long standing legal rule about unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances.
As for the eight vacationers, it was time for them to return to the capital. Drew had articles to write and sketches to finish for the Capital Intelligencer. Later he might start on that book about the mighty deeds Madden Sexton had always hinted at. If this battle was a fair example of his deeds Drew suspected the man had some great stories to tell. As for the rest of them, Nathan and Liam were about due to travel to Alster. Axel would resume his duties as Sir Willet's aide. And so forth.
"Next time Drew complains about the heat in the capital," Karel began, "let's just lock him in an ice-house till he comes to his senses. We shall entertain no more of his notions of trips to the cool air in the mountains."
"Amen" Jemsen affirmed.
"It so happens that I will soon join the expedition to Amazonia." the auburn-haired journalist retorted. "I understand the climate there is cooler since the Amazon basin is farther from the Equator. Anyway I expect you all will join me there sooner or later, except our journeyman naval architect whose duties and career will keep him in the capital.
"Gosh, after this adventure, that's going to make me feel totally left out." Eike said. "I envy you your powerful gifts which make you an asset in a fight.
"Don't fret." Nathan assured him. "Your own gift will manifest in time and likely fairly soon. Remember you are much the youngest of us except for Corwin. Either way, gift or not, together or apart, you will always be a member of this circle of friends."
Eike nodded and smiled, warmed by the presence and support of his friends and lovers.
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