Moments after my anti-climactic triumph over the forces of evil and chaos Grigori and I were back in the camp as if we had never left. No comment was made by the woman who’s name I misheard, she merely dished up some slop from a kettle for Grigori . I went to sleep on one of the bedrolls she had gotten from somewhere. I assume she used witch powers. It’s probably an accursed bedroll of heart piercing or something, witches being the way they are. As I was drifting off I heard the two of them going at it hard – I was too lazy to peek over at what they were doing but they certainly were enthusiastic about it whatever it was. When a wizard and a witch have a baby is that were warlocks come from? If a war mage is watching is the baby a hexblade then? And where do blood hunters come from? Maybe I don’t want to know.
In the morning we returned to Peacevast, although I’m not sure why Grigori and whatshername didn’t split since returning to the village where you were imprisoned doesn’t seem like a great idea to me. My plan was to get a few supplies and then continue on my way to Graltontown. But we all know how my plans go. Everyone seemed peaceful in Peacevast, we walked right into town without taking notice right away or what was going on.
What was going on was that on the river a score or so of fishing boats were on fire and listing this way and that. You’d think that kind of thing would attract attention right away but it took me a moment before I noticed the flaming ships. They appeared to be unmanned and drifting, although who knows if that’s because the crews were dead or if they were cut free and set aflame from the dock. There were a couple early rising fisherman dead on the docks, riddled with arrows. One of them had a Gods damned ballista bolt through him – looked like a kebab.
Once my attention was firmly fixed on the river I noticed the not on fire boats. I’m no boat expert (boatwright?) but I would guess that they were Ulpine boats, mostly because the people on them were Ulpinese. I would further label these people as “raiders” rather than soldiers because of their lack of uniforms, although it’s a pretty thin distinction probably. Once the axe is in your face it doesn’t matter much what the person who put it there was wearing. At first a thought some of them were wearing helmets with crazy horns on them but after a moment I realized that those were just people that had horns growing out if their heads. And by people I mean women, the horned ones were all female.
They weren’t minotaurs or anything like that, they were just women with horns. Or antlers maybe. Somewhere in between horns and antlers. The horned women appeared to mostly be doing boat stuff (something with ropes?) while the “normal” Ulpiners were attending the boat arson and killing with bows. Once I took in the scene I saw that there were a lot of Ulpine boats – and some really big ones, although they were further down the river to the south. I guess this means Fort Obrinth must have been destroyed, or captured maybe, I don’t see how else they could have gotten their ships up the river.
I heard someone in the village yelling “to arms! To arms!” and bunch of people ran out to see what the hubub was. That was not a good idea, there was a boat hanging out by the docks packed with bowmen who unleashed a volley of arrows on those eager listeners that cut them down like wheat (why is it always wheat? Why not sorghum or corn? Is wheat especially easy to harvest?). I saw a gape-faced man ringing a handbell and shouting that the village was under attack. I knocked the bell out of his hand and gave him a good kick for emphasis.
“Shut up you idiot! You see all those archers?” I jerked my head at Grigori and his lady friend “You two, make with the magic, get rid of those bowmen.” I gave them a shove “Go damn it!” I grabbed the bell-ringer by the coat “You, find that guy yelling and shut him up!” As they ran off I strode into the middle of the village enhancing my voice to titanic proportions. “People of Peacevast your village is under attack, stay indoors until further notice. If you have weapons now is the time.”
A few arrows fell around me but were thwarted by my Greatcoat and various other protective charms. I dashed to the building where I had seen the dwarf witch hunters and nearly got a crossbow bolt to the face was I kicked the door open to reveal the shooter standing guard while the one with the crazy eyebrows was buckling on his fancy armor. They looked a little too rattled for professional murders if you ask me. They should be used to this kind of thing. Makes me wonder about their credentials.
“Watch where you’re shooting that fucking thing! You two get down the docks and start killing anyone who comes ashore.” I could tell they were going to waste time saying something stupid so I grabbed a piece of the armor and hurled it out the door. I cranked up vocal amplification so much it literally shook the walls of their borrowed hut. “NOW GODS DAMN IT! I won’t ask again!”
I ran from building to building giving orders – anyone with a weapon move under cover and get down to the riverbank. Stay behind the dwarfs and support them, protect the spellcasters. Anyone with a boat come with me, everyone else gather on the northeast side of the village and once you’re all together run for your fucking lives. Stay together, head north and then cut over to find the road – head for Ardinit. Stay together. Don’t get separated, in other words, stay together.
With the fisherman trialing me like ducklings we took cover at a building closest to the water. I saw that either the witch or the wizard had summoned a wall of wind that was turning aside the arrows of the attackers. In response another boat was heading for the riverbank packed with marines. I think that’s what they call guys with axes on a boat. The two dwarfs and a handful of villagers were standing by to receive them. I told the fisherman the plan – whatever boats were left set them on fire and get the out in the water. Sadly but predictably they balked.
“Are you kidding me? Sorry buddy but you’re not going to be fishing on that craft ever again, it’s as good as wrecked already. Burning your boats was a fine idea by these dirty Ulpinese dogs, but whoever turned them loose is a moron – they’re blocking their own fleet from advancing. They can’t get close because those floating deathtraps might set their own ships on fire. You ever hear of a fireship? That’s what we’re doing here. Get all of those boats out there in the river and on fire and do it now!”
I grabbed a burning lanterns from my Greatcoat (magic you know) and hurled it into one of the bigger fishing vessels. It went up like a . . . like a . . . something that burns easily. This seemed to spur them to action finally. Although for one of them that action was to try and coldcock me. I clobbered him with the Baron’s Cane and was tempted to throw him into the burning scow as well but I decided there wasn’t time. Also I probably wouldn’t have been able to shift him. That strength belt I had was unsightly but I will admit that it was nice being as strong as a sort of strong man. However, as they say, style over function. I took out my crossbow partially to make sure my orders were followed and partially to start firing at the boarding party heading for the shore.
Once all boats were burning and floating free I directed the fisherman to join their families and flee for their bloody lives. I took a drink from my flask for magic fighting spirit (and just spirits) and got out my Belt-Sword as I dashed over to where the enemy was pointed to land. They certainly were a spirited bunch, looked like they couldn’t wait to jump off that skiff and start the ruckus. There were maybe a dozen and a half men standing behind the dwarves in the general area of Grigori and the woman who’s name I should learn with a ragbag of weapons looking not very excited. I spun my sword about in a jaunty manner that I think I saw in a play one time, I doubt anyone does that in a real battle.
“Cheer up lads! This isn’t the Battle of Bloodmarch Hills, this is just a skirmish. A little something t put some hair on your balls. This isn’t the invasion, they’re just looking for a spot of fun on the way to the main event. You just need to hold them off for a few minutes while your lovely wives and ruddy faced little bairns make for the hills. You can do that can’t you? I’d say you owe them at least that much as recompense for having such a sorry lot as you for their husbands and fathers.”
A scattered laughter came up, largely forced but it will do. The two dwarfs looked at me. I didn’t even see which once asked the question.
“Why are we doing this?”
“We’re here, who else is going to do it?” I turned back in kind to the witch and the wizard “You two got any more tricks to pull out?”
The two lovers clung to at each other and then nodded, whatshername looking back at me “We’ll do our part.”
“Wonderful! Lovely to hear it! Looks like they’re just about here, how about we kill these fuckers eh?”
There’s one advantage I’ve found being a woman on the battlefield. If you’re not afraid that really stiffens the spines of a lot of men purely based on macho bullshit. A man may or may not be able to ignore the judgement of his fellow men on cowardice and so forth, but they sure as Hells are not going to be outdone by a frail and fragile maiden.
Now I’m not much a warrior was you folks well know, but one advantage that I normally have is that I keep my cool. A lot of people lose their head once someone starts trying to stab them in the guts, which is the last thing you need. Say what you want about old Ela, but once the hard words are over and it’s time to spill blood I normally keep a steady hand on the tiller. Is it tiller or rudder? Whatever you know what I mean.
But every now and then things go a different way. I started pacing up and down the riverbank as the boarding party came closer. They were near enough that I could clearly make out their faces but it seemed like it took them forever to actually get there. Boats are slow and stupid if you ask me. With the intensification of the cane and my own natural vocal talents I started cursing at the men in the boat, first generally then specifically. Third from the left, your beard looks like the hairy ass of a goat. Second row in the middle your mouth looks like a puckering asshole. Oh you, first guy from the right, I’m definitely going to kill you and your secret sex lips first. And so on.
And as I was stomping around insulting them I was getting more and more worked up. It started out as a show for the others, give them a little something to bend back the arms of fear from their throats, but after a little while I felt like a rock tumbling down an mountainside in an avalanche. I was out of control. I couldn’t wait for them to get to land, I wanted to get to scrapping right now! I wanted my blade to taste blood. All the frustrations of the last two years, and of my life maybe, were bubbling up and I couldn’t keep a lid on them. Maybe I didn’t want to.
No one knows better than me that heroics are unseemly. Courageous fighters generally end up as courageous corpses. There’s no credit given for being on the front lines, no one is keeping score, play it smart – this isn’t a duel of honor, it’s Gods damned war, you do whatever you have to do to stay alive and hurt the enemy. Berserkers have their place on the battlefield, far away from me and the other reasonable people.
But something had come over me, had taken a hold of me maybe. Before they were ashore they started jumping into the water to wade after us. I was going to go in after them, which is a very stupid thing to do, but one of the casters did something and suddenly I would walk on water. Have you ever tried to fight someone while waist deep in water while the person you were trying to fight could walk on top of it like solid ground? I wouldn’t recommend it. I killed six men as easy as you like. Well, the fifth one may have just lost an eye. Not sure about that. I definitely stabbed him in the head.
There were probably four dozen men vomiting off that boat though so it hardly mattered, they flowed around me and onto shore. Grigori summoned a quartet of hooting carnivorous apes who were led into the fray by his lady love herself, who had sprouted fur and fangs and claws. Is she a werewolf or is that a witch thing? I’ll ask later if I remember. And if she’s still alive. They joined the dwarf duo in hacking away at the attackers while the villagers smartly and cowardlyly stayed back and picked off the injured and the distracted.
I ran into the boat they just came off of. I don’t know is that was a stroke of brilliance or a very stupid thing to do. I’ll have to ask a tactician next time I see one. But in a situation like this do you need a navel tactician or a normal one?