Elf Boy's Friends - VI

by George Gauthier

Chapter 7

Rangers

Lord Madden Sexton, the leader of the five forest rangers who had helped defend the Sign of the Bow, the mountain resort attacked by orcs and now taken over by the Army, stepped cautiously, wary of running into another war party as their patrol hiked back to their base at Elysion on the eastern side of the mountain range. He and the rangers proceeded slowly and deliberately, stopping periodically on ridge lines to peer through a far-viewer tube to check the route ahead, and took care not to leave a trail by which they might be tracked.

What they were trying to avoid was a confrontation with a band of orcs and have to fight them at close quarters, hand to hand. Archers typically do not engage in hand to hand combat. They wear no armor and cannot carry a shield. Besides the bow is all offense and offers no defense, no way to parry a mace or a sword.

Sexton's rangers had acquitted themselves well during the defense of the resort, loosing shaft after shaft from their long bows at the attacking orcs from their "shooting gallery" on the balcony. His gift of Unerring Direction made Dylan's archery particularly effective.

Sexton himself had wielded a giant bow which was really the arc of a dismounted naval catapult without the mechanism normally used to draw and cock the string. Later Sexton had engaged in hand to hand combat, with a buckler to fend off orc maces and a morning star in his grip, as he joined the reaction force on the ground floor to repel attackers who had pushed their way into the main building via a rear entryway. But then unlike Dylan who was a full elf or his lover the elf-human hybrid Brandon or the latter's fully human cousins, the brothers Garret and Lorn, Sexton was a shapeshifter, a wir wolverine with a magically enhanced physique that made him as strong as a Frost Giant, which was why he could draw that powerful bow in the first place.

Effective fighters though they were, forest rangers were not soldiers. They were civilian peace officers whose job was to protect the New Forest from interlopers like miners and settlers and charcoal makers not war bands of orcs. Like the vacationers and staff at the resort the rangers had been caught up by events over which they had had no control.

Now that the Army was on the scene, it was up to the military to keep the orcs out of the New Forest which was already magically self-aware but still new and too weak in its powers to defend itself, unlike the ancient Great Southern Forest far across the continent which would have made short work of any invading army.

The rangers hoped that all was well at Elysion which, as the single largest settlement in the mountains, was a likely target for the orcs. Aside from their sizable and well-trained militia, the folk of Elysion could count on the powers of the Klarendes family for protection. Count Taitos Klarendes and his two sons Artor and Eborn were powerful firecasters, as fire wizards were commonly called. All three could hurl streams of flame or great clinging balls of fire farther than a bowshot.

Both the count and his older son Artor could also stream white fire [subatomic plasma] which nothing could withstand not even armor, stone walls, or earthworks. In the battle at the resort the white fire called by the young war wizard Liam had scythed hundreds of attacking orcs in the first all-out assault though that effort had drained him badly. He had needed a day to recharge before again hurling white fire. By contrast the Klarendes, father and son, were among the very few who could wield white fire again and again.

The only known counter to white fire was a space portal. The druid Lord Dahlderon or Dahl, as the elf-boy was called by his friends, had once defended himself in a duel against white fire with a portal which directed the irresistible plasma stream to the top of the atmosphere where it could do no harm. Only druids and some war wizards could create such portals.

Once over the crest of the mountains and past the hawthorne hedge that marked the boundary of the New Forest, Sexton relaxed a little. As a wir he had a psychic link to the forest which would warn him of the presence of hostiles.

Elysion was a bowl shaped valley eight miles across. When they rangers reached the rim they unlimbered the far-viewer tube and scanned the village and manor. Everything seemed normal except for activity around the usually deserted military barracks on the far side, built years ago as a redoubt against invaders in case the Army of the Plains had to retreat to Elysion. It now housed a battalion of Frost Giants normally stationed at the garrison town of Dalnot but shifted to Elysion as soon as the Army heliograph brought news of the orc uprising. Good. Five hundred Frost Giants would go a long way in deterring attack.

The rangers were spotted working their way down the slope and were recognized as friendlies and welcomed by Count Klarendes and his family, the village council, and the commander of the giants, Major Siggurdsen.

"We all recognize the major's authority." the count explained to Sexton. "He is in overall command as well as in immediate command of his battalion while I retain command of the militia of Elysion."

"Good. I am all for unity of command. So I am placing myself and my rangers under his command as well. We would prefer to fight together as a unit of long bowmen rather than form up with your shield wall."

Sigurdsen nodded. "That is acceptable. Your longbows can outrange the crossbows of the orcs and those of the militia. Anyway archers have no business mixing it up close."

True Sexton had taken charge at the resort of a bunch of civilians when there was no one else with command experience. At Elysion, the leadership of the defense rightly fell to the highest ranking military officer.

"And even though I am a Hand of the Commonwealth" Artor explained, "I am not invoking my authority to take charge of the defense. That's your job Major. I know my limitations. I have seen combat, that's true, but I have never commanded any large body of troops. You have."

The Hands were the chief trouble-shooters for the Commonwealth. As plenipotentiary agents of the state, their authority could override that of any civil official or military officer.

The Klarendes sons Artor and Eborn would support the defense with their fire magic. Other magical support would come from villagers who had useful gifts. A blacksmith could throw lightning bolts strong enough to stop hearts or numb limbs, a tavern keeper and a farmer could snap handfuls of electrum sparks, and three men could englobe heads by Calling Light. They would wield their magics at foes at the very moment the enemy closed with other militiamen, giving the defenders an inestimable advantage.

Aodh too would direct his so-called killer screech at the orcs. Incapacitating rather than fatal in itself the screech was 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. Those it was directed against simply could not put up a fight against their enemies and could be cut down easily.

"Klarendes was just explaining about how his slinger boys fling their incendiaries right over their own shield wall. My giants also have fire globes and slings, but this time we will leave the pyrotechnics to you and yours. My men will meet the enemy with just spear and sword and shield."

Klarendes nodded.

"As an enemy approaches our militiamen engage with repeating crossbows. In close action they wield axes rather than swords. We keep forty men back as a reserve. I also have a small squadron of mounted retainers armed with lance and sword. All of them once served in the army. Now eleven cavalry is not much, but working with the reserves they could be useful as a reaction force or in pursuit of a retreating enemy."

"Pursuit, eh? Now there is an optimistic thought. We still have no idea about the numbers of the enemy. I do like the way your village is sited though. Very defensible."

The village was situated atop a knoll around which a waist deep creek split in two and flowed entirely around it only to rejoin as a single channel below. The houses were closely spaced, the windows equipped with stout shutters with loop holes for crossbows.

"It does look rather like a fortress on a hill on an island behind a moat. Of course it is not a fortress at all, but the houses are sturdy enough, all stone or timber construction with tile roofs, hence very hard to set on fire. If we were overwhelmed in open battle we could fort up behind barred doors and shuttered windows. Both men and women are armed with repeating crossbows to shoot through loopholes and embrasures on the roofs."

"If they are too many to face in open battle, we giants will retreat to the fortified gatehouse you call the Stone Castle. The precinct around the barracks is too large to be held by only five hundred and anyway the barracks are not fortified."

"That would divide our forces." Klarendes pointed out.

"Yes, but it would also place our enemies between two fires. And it lets your folk protect their village and lets my battalion keep control of the exit from the valley. Sorry, but we came here to protect Elysion, not to get overrun out by an overwhelming force."

"As an Army veteran I understand about military necessity. You are saying that you might have to retreat so you could fight another day."

"One more thing," Sexton began. "If it comes down to a siege, two of us are powerful wirs with abilities that would let us operate at night to terrorize an enemy encampment. As a black panther Aodh could sneak in to slash a dozen sleeping orcs with his poison claws before bounding away in the dark. His poison is as potent as that in the spines of the dreaded stone fish. Even a nick with a claw will induce the worst pain a living being can endure without dropping dead from shock. A full dose will kill. Either way, one scratch and a foe is out of the fight."

"Now in my wolverine form I am not quite so stealthy as a panther, but I can see into the infrared in total darkness. not just in dim light like he can. I could sneak up on sentries and take them out. Since I would be operating outside their lines, it would be easy to get away in the dark to return later or the next night."

"Good. Let us hope it does not come down to a siege," Klarendes added. "Our village does have emergency reserves to tide us over a crop failure. I would hate to see invaders trampling the grain which is ripening in our fields. It pains the gentleman farmer in me to think of crops ruined that way."

Talk about this story on our forum
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily. Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]