Sunday, 13 January 2013
Opening for Mordhiem
This is the opening chapter to my forthcoming Medieval series called "From Mordhiem to Marienberg." Which is running at 21,000+ words, with about the same if not more to still get written.
The Medieval town of Mordhiem was in flames. Sigmars’ comet had caused masses of fires.
In the background there lurked evil, the Skaven, huge rat like creatures with elongated claws. Mutations of rats that had fed upon human waste for centuries. With the fires raging, their gene pool had fully mutated to bring forth these terrible creatures, the size of a man but with rat features.
“Where’s the town guard when we need them?"yelled Helena Jacks,the barmaid from the Mordhiem arms as she stood and watched the looters.
"They got called to the troubles on the other side of town."Phillip Johnson, fireman replied.As he desperately fought to contain a small fire. The only thing he had was one small pail,when he saw the blaze spreading, he yelled,"Can we have more help please? Forget the houses on Armour street, they’re too much for us now, all we can do is try to stop new fires from flaring up."
Bill Jones the smithy called to Phillip."We can’t get the horses across from Trench Road; without the horses we’re not even containing the smaller fires. Is there some way we could divert the river, so we can use that water?"
"Not in the time we have with the shortage of manpower."
"I see the sisters haven't wasted time claiming that Sigmar saved them from his wrath, when it missed their convent," Bill yelled.
"Yes. To me it was more damned luck than a sign of good faith, I saw the tail go right through the bell tower without even scorching it." Phillip said scornfully.
"I wish those bloody Flagellants would stop whipping and blaming themselves and help us poor folk fight these blazes." Bill called out.
"If they did that, it would give us at least twenty more." Phillip replied
Bill sighed as he looked around. "Not many, but every extra hand means a little less to worry about."
"I bet those rats are going to feed well tonight!" Bill said looking at the Skaven skulking in the shadows, with teeth drooling as they looked at the human and animal carnage. Flesh was flesh to those scavengers, burnt or not it made no difference. It was food to those horrible things.
"I just saw James Morrtor and his gang heading out to the hills, Phil, we know what they’re up to now." Phillip said as he looked up the road at the back of the horses.
"If Morrtor is involved, you can bet it involves gangs and stealing, his late dad John, was one of the most feared bandits around for many years."
"How did he die? There were so many tales of that day and every one different."
Trying to remember what he had seen Bill said "Like many of his type, the more they did, the more invincible they thought they became. He lived to the limit. That day he took on far more than his band could handle.The Guard heard that he was planning a raid on the Kerranmore road, their man had told them when and where. When Morrtor and his men attacked the wagons, they were in an ambush from the start. The real target had been rerouted.The train they attacked was full of men of the town. As they struggled to hold ground, the guard leader ,picked his time and came charging in, just as the bandits were turning to run away. Hardly any of them got out alive, those that did were taken to Kerranmore and flogged."
Phillip breathed a sigh of relief and then said "Do you think the road is clear to Kerranmore?"
"It was but I fear that is where Morrtor is heading now. To amass his bandits and storm Mordhiem, once we contain the fires."
Heat from the fires was turning water to steam almost as quickly as they could get it out of the buckets. Men were falling like flies in the winter’s cold, they were so exhausted and had not eaten. The bakery had been one of the first things to burn down when the comet hit.
"We’re losing the battle,we can’t hold the flames. Everyone take to the roads and get out of here!" Bill yelled.
As people left, carrying only what they could in a bundle. They became a train of desperation; their faces blackened by fire, and streaming with tears of sorrows and exhaustion.
Phillip sighed, as he looked back at the blackened town, which had been home for so long. "We gave it our best but Sigmar’s comet was far too much to contend with."
Heading out on the road to Kerranmore, what was left of the town guard was riding wide and well ahead of the train. The ground was so open and flat it was ideal for a small bandit group to go to ground and await innocent travellers. Most of the guard were former soldiers, they knew silence was the word. Actions meant more and kept the enemy unaware of your intentions
until the last minute.
Jimmy Pookly, riding on the eastern side, spotted a movement. Raising a clenched fist, the well known halt signal. He circled slowly around to the back of where he thought he saw movements in the gully. Below him, he saw ten men gathered ready to ride out as the train was going past. The leaders were Morrtor, and his friend Patraig Connor, both known as vagabonds and ruffians, no respect for law other than what they could enforce by fear. With a swift circling motion of his left hand, pointing to the back of the gully, Jimmy gave the guard a quick and efficient signal. Half of you circle to the back, the rest with me. Flush them out and charge the gully. With the train of people well out of sight and the vagabonds none the wiser. Jimmy yelled, "To me, guard!"
Startled by the shout, the vagabonds tried to turn tail. Seeing the guardsmen from both directions, the gully from which they were going to spring an attack had now become a death trap as swords, mace, and spears clashed. Clothes of the ordinary men were no protection from the vicious slashing of the blades and barbs of the guard. Morrtor and a few got out of the fray suffering cuts and bleeding heavily, but the majority of the group had been left for dead.
Going around the dead, Jimmy and his men picked the group clean of weapons and clothing. "They won’t be needing it." he said. One young girl looked sadly at what he was doing. "The dead have no need of clothing, with the rains due soon you will be glad of some footwear. From a dead man or not." Jimmy told the young girl.
"Looks like you have a new friend there, Jimmy!"said his longtime friend Josef Plumbly.
"Certainly does, Joe. What’s yer name, little one?"
"Polly Marring, sir."
"Well, Polly, I am Jimmy Pookly, and you can call me, Jimmy."
"Where are you going, Jimmy?" Polly asked sheepishly.
"The nearest city is Marienberg but there is a garrison fort at Farrowborne. Depending if we go by road or across the hills, there is a little village we can stop at just before Farrowborne, called Elfenmere."
Looking back at what had been Mordhiem,all they saw was a blazing ruined city. "What happened? " Polly asked.
Looking at the blakened and smouldering city, Jimmy said "The most common view, held by the sisters and the people who whipped themselves for our sins is that Sigmar thought Mordhiem was so wickedly corrupt that he sent his comet to rid the world of us, so we might learn to be better people for next time."
"What’s your view then?"
"I’m as God-fearing a man as any. I just put it down to our bad luck, nought else, young Polly."
The train of tired folks trudged along the road to Elfenmere, when they came to a crossing, Polly stopped and looked at the road to the right, leading down a dark, tree covered lane.
"You don’t want to being going there young girl." A gentle voice came from behind Polly.
"That road leads to Kerranmore, only vagabonds go there."
"What's in Kerranmore?"
"Was there, you mean."
"Can you explain to me please?"
"Years ago, it used to be a small port. It didn’t have much trade but it was on the route from Marienberg to Mordhiem. Then people decided it was quicker to go over the hills after that people stopped going through the port. Now it’s just a den for vagabonds with a small dock area." The voice replied.
As Polly turned to see from where the kindly voice had come, all she caught was a glance of green as the person disappeared on the crowded road.
The group of lost souls slowly dragged their tired, aching bodies up the hill to Elfenmere. Each weary step taking more effort than they could afford, but what else was there to do? Their homes were ablaze and Mordhiem was their only hope now.
"Okay men, I want guards out on the roads, we should expect an attack sometime soon," Jimmy said to the group of men on horseback.
"How do you know that, Jimmy?" Polly asked.
"Since the crossroads, we’ve been followed,” Jimmy replied.
Polly looked around, and said "Are you sure, I see nobody?"
"I'm as sure as you are standing there. He is on the far side of the hills, just out of sight."
"One of Morttors' men? Do you think."
"No.This is a regular soldier probably from one of the garrisons."
"Why is he following? Is he going to attack then?"
"He could, for any of a number of reasons, from money to the urge to kill. Some of the men that fought in the last wars, got really excited at the killing. They just didn’t care about who was winning and went on a rage war."
"Daddy did tell me about that, I thought it was just a story."
"No, I saw them myself. Men caught in the frenzy of killing"
"I thought as soldiers, you would love to have them on your side."
"No, Polly, they were as much a threat to us, as to an enemy."
"They’re so badly run that any element of surprise we might need is gone.They would charge in with swords slashing and what could have been a victory; is lucky not end as as a massacre. What is the point of having a unit that powerful but uncontrollable like a rolling rock? The rock gets diverted by a bump, and so were they. They often went off on a rampage, that had no effect on the fight."
Darkness crept up on the tired, begotten train. Women and children tried to sleep, men stood guard. Men not on guard, kept watch on the families. Owls hooted and wolves prowled, keeping the families on edge.
"Everyone stay in the ring and near the fires. They won’t come closer."Jimmy Pookly called out.
"Jimmy, over by the old cross."Josef whispered.
"Aye, Joe, he thinks we haven’t noticed him yet. I have been keeping my eye on him for some minutes. There is another to our right, just past the stand of beech trees. I'm trying to work out an attack plan. Get Bill to take a couple of the men out to the left. You take a couple to the back, while Phil and I take a group over there." he said pointing to a small hillock close by.
"What’s the plan?"
"Your men charge them from the sides and turn them our way."
”Will it work, Jimmy?"
"I have no idea, I'm just thinking as we go now. We don’t have time for a battle plan. They have obviously been watching us for a while but they are few in number."
"How do you know that?" Joe asked.
"If they had the numbers, they would have tried sooner. This sort of attack is relying on a small group picking off stragglers."
"Easy to see why you were guard commander, Jimmy."
"It wasn’t just that, Joe. My men know and trust me. Even though we might lose a fight, they know I would never lead them into a death trap or a suicide mission."
The two groups gathered together as instructed, and slowly crept off with hardly a sound, until a signal from Jimmy came. All he did was shout one word "Estonhalls!" Immediately the charge came from both sides, the few who had hoped for a surprise were victims. They had no idea what to expect. Turning first to the left then to the right, men were slashing at the air. No sooner had the sword struck, than the man disappeared and attacked from behind. The ex-soldiers were losing and decided to make a run for the hillock, to try and gain a higher defensive position. As they tried to turn, they were met by a stream of arrows. Most finding their marks, many killing instantly, others just halting the rush. Swords from behind, cut through like a knife cuts an apple.
"Pick what you can for now,"Phil said. "We can do a good job in first light and see where they came from."
"Do you think we should put guards out for the night, Jimmy?"Bill asked.
"No, these were all that I saw following us. If there had been more, they would have joined the fight. I think we are as safe as we can be for now, in the daylight we can see whose uniform they wear."
Night closed quickly, wolves called, owls hooted but the only sounds were natural, the only guard mounted was a two man team, in case the fire died out and the wolves came in. Dawn broke over the bedraggled collection of lost, lonely and soot grimed gathering. What food they had managed to bring with them was shared out as the pitiful group slowly awakened. They were so tired from fighting the fire and the enforced walk. Foot sore, thirsty and hungry, they hardly had energy to rise.
First to the scene of last night's fight was Joe,"Well I be knocked down, Jimmy come look at these uniforms."
"What's wrong, Joe?"
"The best thing is to come and see, just so you know."
"Can’t you just tell me, Joe?"
"Yes, but you won't believe me if I do, you have to see it, Jimmy."
"Okay, I'm coming then."
Hardly able to stand, Jimmy Pookly got up and made his way over to the hillock. The bodies still lay in the piles where they fell.
"Right, Joe, what's the fuss over?"
"Take a look, Jimmy, just to make sure I am not having a nightmare after the fight, last night."
Jimmy wiped the sleep from his eyes and looked at the uniforms laying before him Although ravaged by wolves and carrion, it was easy to make out the markings. "Oh Lord, NO! That is all we need."
"So, I wasn't dreaming then."
"No, Joe, but I wish you were, you know what they are?”
"Plamindar second guard, they track you everywhere."
"Right. What we fought was a scouting party, as they didn’t get back to their unit, the others are sure to be on the way here."
"How long to Elfenmere, do you reckon?"
Jimmy sighed as he looked at the small, helpless group and thought about what was heading their way, not just any troops but the most ruthless and brutal guards of Plamindar. They took no prisoners and feared failure worse than death. They had been known to fight, when barely able to walk. "At a good pace no more than three or four hours; in our condition we will be lucky to make it in five."
"What about Morrtor, Jimmy?"
"Forget him, Joe, our best hope is he comes for us and meets the guard. Giving us a few minutes more to get to Elfenmere."
"No chance of joining forces to fight a common enemy then?"
"I would rather fight the guards, in an open field, than trust Morrtor to defend our flank. He would run as soon as he could."
"We need everybody on the road, as soon as we can. You get that started, whilst I get the riders sent ahead to see what we can find."
"Do you think we can make a stand at Elfenmere?"Bill asked.
"It isn’t a case of can we, it’s our only hope."
"Porrowlock, fell to the third Regiment, just before Drachanweld made their stand. Hopefully we can repeat history."
Jimmy, who had become the unofficial leader of the few remaining survivors from the blazing horrors at Mordhiem, set to organising guards. He knew the Plamindar second Guard troop would soon be upon this tiny band of stragglers, having noted the non-return of the scouting party they sent out. The only hope for the group lay in getting to Elfenmere and making a stand against a far superior force of better armed soldiers, with only one thing on their mind. Killing as many as possible. The only thing Elfemere had in its favour was the south boundary was under the shadows of the hills behind. To the front and sides lay an open killing ground. If they made it, they could hold for a day or two. After that their only hope would be a quick death, as relief could not get to them.
“I want pairs of riders sent to garrisons at Farrowborne, Mirrerdon and Caddlebury” Jimmy yelled.
The guards immediately mounted their steeds and headed out.
Looking at the tired, hungry face of his new charge Polly Marring, her tiny hand still clutching his gloved mitt. He said to her “The only real hope is Farrowborne. If they can’t make it, it’s a long battle to the death for us.”
Holding his hand even tighter, she cried as she said “Jimmy do you think they will get here in time?”
“Polly, I'm counting on Morrtor and his band of thieves to hold the enemy for at least an hour, then we might just have a chance.”
“But, Jimmy, from what you told me of these men and from what I saw as the thieves left, there would be little hope of it.”
“ I'm counting on the fact that even faced with death a rat like Morrtor will fight to save his worthless skin. My worry is getting these poor people to Elfenmere, there isn’t much there, but if we can make a stand, we could hold out long enough for Farrowborne to send a few men to us.”
Standing up in the stirrups Jimmy called out “Elfenmere is over the hills, it's our only hope. I know we are tired but we have make some ground before the army gets here. Once we top the Marienberg ranges it will be easier for us.”
Slowly, tired and aching bodies moved up the inline, everybody looking back and wondering what was behind them. Usually the walk would be beautiful, with all the trees in colour and the smells of the forest but when you are tired, thirsty and running for your life, you miss the beauty around you.
The group of tired, hungry and foot sore stragglers crossed the Marienberg range.
At the top of the rising hills Jimmy halted the group, “This is the last we will see of Mordhiem,” Jimmy said to the group, ”you can see the fires still raging, gasses from the sewers are causing the explosions and feeding the fires. By the time it’s over, Mordhiem will be no more. Sigmar will have had his revenge.”
“What about the convent?” Polly asked.
“The nuns are safe, their convent is on a hard rock base and the convent stands high above the town, no matter what happened in the town, they will be secure.”
As Polly and Jimmy walked over the hills, wondering what lay ahead, heads bowed. A rider approached Jimmy. “Jimmy we couldn’t get to Mirrerdon, the horses were too tired to climb the rise.”
“That’s okay, at least you tried.” Jimmy said looking disheartened.
“We did see a rider in the distance though, heading into Farrowborne.”
“No, this man came from over the hills, ours would have had to go around to get there. They are still far out. What I do know is that a moment after we saw the man, our men were just in sight but a good way behind.”
“You say, he came over the hills to Farrowborne, he must have come from Marienberg. But who was he?”
“From our angle, all we could tell is he was slight of figure and riding as though his life depended on getting to Farrowborne.”
“All we can hope is that the garrison commander sees our plight as worse than theirs. From my view, we must be his first priority. We’re a small group of town folk with little protection and no fighting experience.”
“It depends on who the other man said is going to attack them,”the rider said.
As the talk stopped for a short while, all thought turned to Elfenmere and possibly holding for a while, in the distance there was a noise that jolted Jimmy back to now. “Right, men, it’s now or never. I can just hear the fight, this gives us about thirty minutes to get as close as we can to Elfenmere. What guardsmen are here we need as scouts, do not engage in a battle. Be like a fly on the dung heap, try to distract them, then ride as the wind back here.”
Slowly riding in a wide circle, Jimmy led what men were capable of riding out as far as possible into the hills. With little more than a few bows, they were no match for the vast amount of troops on the way to Elfenmere. All they could hope for was to kill one or two stragglers, so they needed to spread out to catch the enemy. As the last of the riders returned to where Jimmy sat he said “I know this is a desperate act, no man is honour bound to join us. What I plan is one last lunge from the hills to the west, I know it is a one way journey, from which few will return. It is the only hope for the others to get to Elfenmere. This day you have all earned your honour, so none shall be shamed for not going into battle. Any who feel they cannot fight any more can, with honour join the rest. I'm sure, every able-bodied man will be needed to defend the village.”
Jimmy sat on his horse, looking around at the bedraggled men, he was moved to see not one chose to leave.
Pat Sarmkin asked a question, many wanted to but were afraid to hear the answer “Jimmy,, is there any chance for relief?”
“Pat, ”Jimmy said. “I have never told a lie, you know me of old. Never have I led you in battle when I did not think of returning. We have many scars, close calls and wounds, some will never close. This day, I lead you into battle, not knowing if we will return to our loved ones. If the relief arrives it will be to help the town, we are as good as dead. Which is why I ask again, any who feel they want to defend the village, go now with full honours.”
Looking around Jimmy could tell the steel in the hearts, was as strong as the steel of their blades, no man moved an inch. Whether to die out here in the charge and give hopes to the rest, or die defending them, it mattered not. “We 'll walk the horses to the crest, to save as much energy as we can,” Jimmy explained. Trying to sound in control, “once the pikes have gone, we can charge, the maces are not easy against good horsemen. What we have to think of, is splitting the foot soldiers from the archers. If we do that we might get somewhere.”
The walk was not a long one but no man said a word, each saying their own litany of prayer and hoping that at least they can allow the villagers to get to safety. Looking down at the approaching troops, Jimmy crossed himself. Then he looked at what he was going to lead into the fray. It did not seem fair that these brave men should have to fight again, having just left Mordhiem in flames, with only minimal food and sleep. He knew in his heart, his reputation would be enough. for his men to follow him into battle. Jimmy was a respected soldier of many battles and had never led a group to fight, without a hope of winning. This was different though. Watching from the hilltop Jimmy yelled to his men “Take them lads and see you on the other side!”
The small band of fearless men charged at the rear of the advancing column, although at least ten times as large, they were taken by surprise. With Jimmy and Pat riding lead, the band hit the corner of the column hard. The foot soldiers turning to see where the attack came from only caught a fleeting glance of horses racing off up the hill. The charge did little damage but achieved its main
purpose, the column now took its time, splitting men off to ride as guards. Where they once thought they were invincible, now they were in a different war.
The larger force, though greater in strength of numbers, was heading into the low hills around Elfenmere. Heavy siege cannons were slowing them down, the troop was now elongating into a thin worm as it wound through the hills. Jimmy could see his men were eager for more blood but knew though the column was now longer. It was still just as big a threat as before, and even though he wanted his men to feel proud in battle; they had a greater need now so he called “Fall back to the village, men.”
Peeling off, the riders tailed back to the village. With all hopes dying the saddened and tired group prepared themselves for the inevitable to happen. It was now just a matter of time before they were all killed.
When Jimmy and the men returned to the village, he called out “We don’t have much time now, so I want as many digging ditches anywhere you can, it might just hold them a bit. I want some of you men to dig a big one, just over there,” he said pointing to a large open area. “That's where the main charge will come through, and we have to at least halt them for a few minutes. Every second counts now.” The men set about digging as fast as their tired bodies would allow. “Women and children gather all the twigs and branches you can, throw them in the ditch, it doesn’t matter what sizes any will do,”
Tired arms and legs piled up the wood in the ditch, hard as they tried Jimmy could see all energies were gone now. There was one thing left to do. “Everyone, find what cover you can and stay low,” he shouted over the furore. Hiding behind broken walls, with nothing more than a few bows, spears and whatever they could pick up. The town folk awaited the ensuing battle. “This time we’ll need more than just the luck of Sigmar’s revenge.” Jimmy thought as he looked around him and thought of what was on its way.