(Battle Plans and Bedbugs.)
Garr and his party of thirteen companions rode out of the Voldsom Mountains, crossed the low hills between Fam Moor and the southeastern end of Valley Heldahl. As they sat their horses gazing north they could see the notch that was Dunderman Pass. There was a gray haze of what they now new to be many trull campfires. It had been almost three weeks since Gunderbad.
“Come, time is of the essence,” said Briar.
“Ja,” said Garr turning Baldur southwest. “So, we are almost full circle.”
Riding up next to Garr, Dolf said. “I prefer to think of ‘full circle’ as when this whole awful business is over and we can get on with our lives.”
Garr sighed deeply, “You’re right. I too want this over as soon as possible. Dolf, I have not said this often enough, but I thank you for your friendship and loyalty. You are the best friend a man could ask for and I appreciate it more tha…”
Dolf leaned in and whispered, “Alright don’t go getting all sappy on me, Your Highness, now of all times. For what it’s worth…feeling’s mutual. Enough said.”
Garr grinned, nodding. “Enough said.”
They rode steadily and through the night not stopping to camp. They were too close and an anxious anticipation tugged at them. As they topped a broad tableland that pitched downward into the low hills of the Mouth, they could see in the far distance, the glow of campfires between the hills. “Gentlemen,” said Arnaald, “I believe we gaze upon our destination.”
Plodding onward, the nearer they got the more impatient they became until they found themselves cantering. “Halt. Who approaches?” came a voice out of the night. They were so startled, a few of their horses reared and circled nervously. “Whoa boy,” said Garr, patting Baldur calm.
Garr dismounted and announced, “We are an out-riding party from Fjellhiem.” He didn’t want to give too much information until he knew whom he was addressing. “We have been afield for weeks now and we come to join the war effort.”
The warrior was one of the captains that taught archery at Fam moor and he recognized Garr’s voice immediately. “Garr, is that you? I’m Agillar.”
They closed the distance until the moonlight showed their features in shimmering silvery relief. Garr smiled and gripped him by the shoulders. “By the Gods, well, met my friend. Take us home.”
“There are quarters all prepared for you.” He said. “I think some of the council may still be in the main pavilion. They haven’t been getting much more sleep than the rest of us. There’s been no shortage of things to do.”
“Then take us to the main pavilion. We have much to discuss.”
The whole council convened in the dead of night when it was announced that Garr’s party had returned. They received warm greetings from all. Gronn, who waited until everyone else had said their piece, strode boldly up, thumbs in his broad belt and roared, “So, the vacationers finally straggle in from holiday after all the work of gathering armies and setting up camp is accomplished.” Garr was mentally running through ways to set this little blusterer straight, when the dwarf pulled him close in a mighty bear-hug and said, “You’ve had us worried, lad. No more of that, you hear me?”
Garr smiled. “You have bargain, sir Dwarf.”
At the head of the table Arnaald tapped his staff. “Gentlemen, let us come to order. We’ve news to impart. I’m pleased to announce that despite the tragic loss of two of our comrades, our mission was a qualified success.” Garr removed the Torque and held it aloft.
Briar amused the throng with the account of their trek up the slopes of Mount Gunderbad and Garr’s slaying of the wyvern. “I’ve never seen such poise under duress. The la…ahem…man drew Nothong and in two mighty swipes, split the lizard’s underbelly like gutting a herring. No offense intened,” he said noticing Faracayne had joined them.
At the end of the pavilion, the flaps had been drawn up to allow Faracayne access to the proceedings and he laughed. “ None taken, I assure you. You have my congratulations. I too have some news. Most are already well aware that Krawholde was breached weeks ago but for those of you who didn’t know…now you do. I’ve no idea about the fates of Blothe or the host that occupied the stronghold, but I can certainly testify that the trulls and goblins are crawling all over the place. All I know for sure is that one day it was a defended bastion under siege as it has been for months, and the next day it was overrun. However, it would seem some powerful malady is decimating their ranks. There are nightly pyres of bodies. They’re not men. Mostly trulls, I believe. The heaps are pretty high sometimes.”
Anaald smiled, but decided to tell the tale of the industrious Nissarmy for tomorrows gathering.
Allunn needed to be brought up to speed. “So, logistically, what does this mean to us and, what’s the plan now?”
Ganzul spoke, “ It changes things considerably and I daresay not for the better. It obviously means that now we are not only up against a host of trulls and goblins but we are now up against the most secure bastion in the Earthlands. We’ve our task laid out, it’s sure. It’s held fast for centuries and its full construct is known by few that I know of. Probably a few within Blothe’s trusted inner circle but, alas, it would seem those souls share mead with the valkyries now. I’d give my throne for plans of the layout.”
Faracayne thought about this for a moment and thought about how to tell his friends what he’d seen and decided just to blurt it out. “I’ve dined on a few of their numbers.” Hogni of Haarm visibly shuddered. “I’m sorry if that’s unseemly but it’s true, but here’s my meaning; I take them off the walls where the picking is like fruit in a bowl to you folks. To land among their numbers on flat ground would simply be too risky, especially with the goblins. On the walls I can select and pounce. For them to escape they would need to leap to their deaths and the width of the wall keeps them from defending against such as myself in sufficient numbers.” He grinned at the silence and continued. “But my point is this; I have seen the bailey in fine detail. There are, lining the perimeters, wide iron grates. They must lead somewhere. My guess is they carry away runoff to some sort of seep sewer. Some may lead to cisterns but I’d bet anything at least some of those tunnels carry waste away from the keep. If that’s the case, they must lead somewhere. If we could locate these and if they’re large enough, it won’t be a pleasant trek but… Anyway, you catch my drift.” He could see that he’d set the wheels turning. Everyone was considering what this might have meant. “It’s something to think about anyway.”
“Indeed it is, indeed it is.” Said Arnaald. “ I will try something. It will require some quietude and I’ll have to do some scrying. I say let us get what rest we can. We should be ready to depart by dawn two days hence.”
Garr held up his hand. “I’d beg to differ on that,” he said. “I’ve been giving it some thought and I think it makes more sense to leave in the early afternoon.” He paused and looked around the table. There were about seventy individuals in the pavilion, maybe a third of them seated. Arnaald nodded and indicated with a raise of his hand that Garr should continue, so he did.
“Think about it. If we leave at dawn it will take us maybe two days hard march to arrive within striking distance of the force camped south of Krawnholde. Figure another eight hours to camp. That will put us within sight of the trull army at roughly late afternoon. The trulls will see us arrive and have plenty of time through the night to mobilize resistance. We will lose the element of surprise. The moon is now in its final quarter, an advantage for us. I don’t want to give the enemy any chance at all. I want to catch them with their knickers down and slam into their arse-end at first light. I want to do them as much damage as possible right off. If we wait until afternoon we’ll arrive at night and the advantage will be all ours. We may even get a bit of rest. Once it starts, only Odin knows how much time we’ll get to rest and replenish.” He stopped and looked around the room. He was pleased to see all these men that he’d come to love and respect, with smiles, raised brows and nods of assent. He felt pride in their respect. Soon a murmur built among them and many at the table began pounding their tankards.
“Well, I’d say you’ve given it considerable thought, indeed.” Said Arnaald. “Unless there’s any more business that can’t wait for the morrow, I suggest we all get some much needed rest.” They all agreed and as they were heading toward their quarters, Arnaald pulled Briar aside. “Briar, I would speak with you.” They walked slowly to their quarters and the mage said, “Were you as impressed as I?”
“I’d say I am. Very impressed indeed. Not surprised, however. He’s learned his lessons well, but it’s more than that. He’s a natural. Not since I taught his father have I seen the like. What you saw in him with your instincts, I saw from his example.”
Arnaald stopped, put his hand on Briar’s forearm. The swordsman stopped and turned. “Briar, I know you are the master of Fjellhiem, but I’d like you to consider letting Garr lead those forces. It will be a very important consideration when it comes time to for him to take the crown.”
Briar laughed out loud and shook his head. “You old fool. You never give up the pitch do you?” Arnlaald leaned on his staff with both hands and raised his eyebrows, amused. “Really, you should have been a snake oil salesman the way you go on. I gave my fealty to Garr some time ago. You know that. Of course he will lead. That’s what this is all about, right?” He put his hand on Arnaald’s shoulder and gave a small shove and chuckled. “Go to bed, gaffer. I might begin you think you senile.” He turned and walked of into the night heading for bed. Arnaald did not.
Arnaald took his valise into the dark night, found a sheltered spot and began his scrying. Soon he found the one he sought. “Skruff, all goes well I trust.”
Skruff sat bolt upright on his pallet startled out of a deep sleep. “What? Who dat?”
Arnaald sensed his surprised and smiled. Relax, little fellow. It is I, Arnalld. All goes well?
“Oh ja, goin’ great. Trulls not so good though.”
Anaald smiled. “Yes, I daresay you’ve outshone all my expectations. I know you’ve been busy.”
“Bob died. Very, very sad.” Skruff blurted.
Arnaald wracked his brain and realized that Bob was not someone he knew. He’d not met many nissas in his long years. “That is indeed sad. I’m sorry for your loss. Who was Bob?”
“A hero,” said Skruff.
Arnaald could sense Skruff’s grief and assumed Bob was a casualty of their efforts. “I don’t mean to overburden you but we really have need of your unique abilities once again.”
Skruff perked up. “Oh ja? Whatcha want? We’re bored as bedbugs, anyway.”
“Something very very special. Now listen carefully…”