Fall of Mirthonia
It was a cold and bitter wind that blew down the valleys and dales of Mirthonia. It shivered limbs and froze leaves, and made the inhabitants of that strange land shiver and pull their cloaks tighter around them. They glanced at the mountain that birthed it, perhaps a trifle unhappily, before continuing on their businesses.
The markets of Mirthonia were very grand, and despite the chill wind they were full to overflowing with shoppers and hawkers, merchants and goodwives, and other sorts. Here could be found any sort of strange and wonderful devices, the freshest foods, and the finest wines. It was the wonder of the world, just ask any Mirthonian and he would gladly tell you. No other city could match its splendor, nor meet its coffers.
The city was ruled over by a kindly king. Marthong was his name. He was a centaur, one of the people of the plains. His features were fair, his shining gold coat kept brushed and clean, and his white tail and hair combed and straight. He ruled wisely and generously, sending aid to one town or another in plight, and making many friends. His people loved him, and they sang song and toasted his praises, wherever he went.
There was no doubt that the city was rich, for it had the great advantage of being near the coast, and on the main trade routes through the heart of the continent, and lands beyond. Mirthonian ships were a common sight in many ports, and were hired often for their speed and agility, as well as their ability to carry tremendously heavy loads.
Such wealth created many enemies, however. Envious eyes had turned to the city and its king, weighing the risks and benefits. The Mirthonians were fierce fighters, jealously guarding their hoards of gold and silver and Mircon, the rarest and most precious of metals. Their ranks were made of all the races, from dwarves and centaurs, to elves and drow, and even the Purs, the strange cat-folk found nowhere else in the world.
It was on this cold and bitter day, however, that the peace and prosperity of Mirthonia was rudely interrupted. A lowly sentry on the sea wall gave the first cry of alarm. He had been walking the wall on his route, anxiously awaiting the end of his shift. It was Fires day, and he was eagerly anticipating the half-priced beer at Mols, his favorite tavern. He was about to make the circuit towards the landward side of the city when he happened to glance back the way he had come. He was astonished to see hundreds of great rectangular sails on the horizon. They were making very great speed towards the city, and so swift was their coming that even as he watched the ships were becoming clearer. Far from the wallowing drafts of the merchant ships that plied the waters, these ships were sleek and long, tapered both fore and aft around great posts that had been carved with dragon’s heads.
Sea Robbers! Vikors! The guard was nearly paralyzed with fear. The Vikors were the fiercest warriors on sea or land, and they rarely gave any quarter to their foes. That they would be coming here and in such numbers was a surprise, but it was obvious what they were after.
Blessing his hooves that he was fast, the guard streaked along the wall, heading for the alarm bell. It was set nearly halfway between watchposts set in the wall, though with the coming of winter and the foul storms that were brewing they were unmanned.
Breathing heavily, he grabbed the long rod that lay in its holder, and struck the great golden bell. Its note echoed throughout the city, making the markets still and people look up in surprise! The guard hit the bell again and again as fast as he could in desperation. He could already make out warriors arming themselves in the boats, and hear distant shouts coming from them. They did not have much time left, he knew. He was amazed at the speed of the fleet, he knew of no other ship, warship or merchant, which could move half as fast. They seem to fly over the water instead of sail on it, and he wondered briefly if some foul magic was at work.
He heard hooves and the tramp of iron-shod boots, and he was relieved to see warriors hurrying along the wall and towards the defenses. There were a great many men and dwarves and elves with long bows stringing themselves along the sea wall. But the numbers were so few! The guard prayed under his breath that the king would think of something, or that those still coming would move faster. The first boats had landed, the men inside splashing out onto the shore.
“This is not going to go well for us at all,” he whispered. The boats rowed back out to see after depositing their burdens, to make way for others waiting to offload. He could see no end to the tide of ships. And in his heart, he began to fear that he would not live out the day.
Very well. If that is the case, then let me die with honor. I’ll take out one or two of those sea robbers with me, I’ll warrant. He rang all the harder, sweat running down his brow as he hit with grim determination.
A similar determination was felt by Marthong as he surveyed the enemy fleet from his palace balcony. He had been in a meeting with several of the chief merchants of the city when the alarm bell had rang. Now the entire city was filled with the sound of bells and the hurried tread of his warriors as they rushed to man the wall. From his vantage point he could already see the Vikors attacking the far end, where the guard was still light and they might push through. The clash of arms could not be heard by him, only seen. Sunlight glinted off their armor and flashed off their swords as men, dwarves and Purs fought desperately.
We are going to need a plan if we are going to hold the city, if it is possible to hold the city. Marthong was disheartened. He could see the fleet still stretched to the horizon, and only the first wave had landed on the beach. They could very well take the city with that wave, if they moved fast enough. If they did not, then they had enough men, theoretically, to take the city by force.
“Move the women and children, old and infirm, to the palace.” He instructed one of his guards. The spotted Pur quickly saluted and left. Marthong turned back to the scene.
Behind him he heard quick mutters from the Merchants. His mouth tightened in annoyance. He wished he could send them away, but they were not like to go now, during a battle. He had no doubt they would stay right here with him, so long as he was in the palace, and be in relative safety. The fools.
Marthong knew it would not be long before he went for his armor and sword. He would take to the walls if necessary, and hearten the men. It was not in him to leave them to fight alone. However, the balcony offered an excellent view of the city and the disposition of forces, and he would use it to plan a strategy.
“Get me maps of the city.” He barked at the merchants. They glanced at one another in astonishment.
“Us, your majesty?” asked a porcine man in astonishment. “That’s servants work!”
“Well, you don’t see any about right now, do you?” Marthong snapped. “They’re all out getting into armor to fight! I don’t see you doing so, so you might as well make yourself useful, and get me maps to plan our defense!”
The merchants looked at each other, and then one or two scurried off. Marthong returned to his study, the fools already forgotten. They would no doubt attempt to regain some dignity later, and make him pay dearly for future services, but that was a future worry. For now, he had to concentrate on defending the city.
The merchants returned carrying several tightly wound scrolls in their hands. Marthong took the scrolls and unrolled them on the table. He poured over them, looking for places to arrange his defenses if the invaders breached the walls. He thought it very likely they would, given such numbers. His biggest fear was that they would surround the city on all sides with their men. It would be what he would do in the enemy’s position, and make a supreme effort at either sapping or otherwise destroying a section or sections of wall and forcing entry. At that point, he knew, the ball would be up in the air. His men knew the city well, and the invaders didn’t, or only by maps. There were some secrets that weren’t covered in the maps, however, and he planned to use them to his advantage.
The sound of horns made him look up from the map of the city’s sewer ways and head for the balcony. There he could see scaling ladders already against the wall and men upon them, trying to get force their way onto the walls. The defenders were putting up a grim fight however, and most of the ladders were being pushed over. In minutes the last of the ladders was down.
Marthong breathed a sigh of relief. He had not counted on them getting ladders made so quickly! He supposed that those could have been brought with the ships in the hopes of getting them up onto the walls before the defenders were ready for them. It was a risky gamble, trading valuable space on ships for such things, but it could have worked if they had tried it sooner.
He could not underestimate this enemy, that much was certain. With such tricks as this, he would be hard at it to withstand the assault. Still, all was not lost. He needed help, and he knew where to get it.
He looked at the merchants again. “Do any of you still have any pigeons left in your pigeon cotes?” he asked.
A few of the merchants frowned but nodded.
“Excellent.” Marthong felt a great deal of relief and hope. “I’ve already sent my fastest centaurs of the Centaur Express, but it will be days before they can get to anyone in position to help. I would like you to bring these messages to your contacts in the other cities, and see if they can convince anyone to help. Bid them to come with all speed, or we shall be lost.”
Most simply muttered about “Not safe out there, we could get trampled.” And; “Don’t know any merchants in Calso that could reach the ear of their king.” However one merchant stood apart.
He was a human, Malcolm by name, Marthong thought. His dark eyes met Marthong’s levelly and nodded.
“I can get a pigeon into the air in half-an hour, though my coop is nearest to the wall on the far side. If you have a message that will insure it gets taken seriously by their king, I will leave at once.” He said seriously.
“Half a moment, and I shall write it out.” Marthong told him. He hurriedly scrawled on a small scrap of parchment, such as he thought a bird might be able to carry. Imploring the reader to hurry, he wrapped it tightly with a string, and gave it to Malcolm. The dark-haired man nodded grimly and hurried out, the sound of his boots ringing loudly in the silent halls. Marthong watched him go, and wished him greater speed, before putting him firmly out of his thoughts.
“I have seen enough here to make up my mind.” He announced to the startled merchants. “You can stay here if you like, but I am going to the walls.”
“Your Majesty, is that wise?” one of them gasped. “You could be killed by an arrow, or stabbed by some black-coated Sea Robber!”
“Then so be it.” Marthong snarled angrily. “I will not cower here like some rat in a cave. Nor will I allow my soldiers to die in my stead. I will stand with them, for as long as I am able.” And with that parting shot, he went to don his armor.
Out on the walls, he found only chaos and confusion. The sea robbers had come in such numbers as to entirely cover the small plain that surrounded their great city. There was no passage in or out now, and Marthong rather thought they were like a rock in the middle of a black pond. It was not a cheerful thought.
“Your Majesty!” It was Tory, one of his generals. He was dressed in armor that appeared to have been put on hurriedly over feast day clothes, and they were already torn and covered in blood. He sported a slight scratch over one eye. “What are you doing here sir!” he gasped.
“What does it look like?” Marthong said irritably. “I am fighting to defend my city from this rabble. The day has not yet come when I can no longer carry a sword, and I dare any Sea Robber to take my city away from me!” he roared the last words at the top of his voice, and around him he could hear the cheers of his men.
Heartened at his arrival, they pushed stubbornly back at the Sea Robbers. The Vikors were surprised at the sudden onslaught, but grudgingly gave ground until they were back down their ladders. Before they could pull them away, oil was thrown on them, and the warriors below, and torches were applied and flung. In seconds the ladders and their bearers were engulfed. The stench was horrible, and Marthong gagged, but he kept his face stern and forbidding.
Across the wall, he could see the sea robbers pulling back. They retreated out of bowshot range of most of his men, but not the elvish archers. Arrows still killed them where they stood, but they raised shields and held their ground. It was clear they were rethinking their plan of attack. Marthong was glad of it, as it gave his troops time to rest and recover. Any delay was a blessing now, and good time to make use of it.
“Tory, gather the rest of my Generals. I intend to make use of this time that our enemies have so generously given us.”
“Yes, my liege.” Tory saluted with fist over heart and raced off to deliver his message. Not a bad speed for a satyr, Marthong thought. He would certainly do well in the next set of foot races, if he lived.
In minutes, the rest of his generals arrived. There were, in order of importance, Melthos the centaur, Tory, the satyr, Markop, the Pur, Grizbeard the dwarf, and Sean the human. They were the best and brightest minds his city had to offer, but they looked at him now with varying degrees of despair.
“Milord.” They murmured as they greeted him.
“How are we doing?” he asked them bluntly.
They shuffled and shifted uneasily, except for blunt Grizbeard. The dwarf spat angrily and growled in his usual gruff manner.
“It ain’t pretty, yer Majesty. We’ve got the laddies up and a’boot, but the accursed robbers have got us outnumbered, and they’ve made it up to the wall twice in the past hour. That ain’t good.”
“Well, for a moment I thought we were in serious trouble.” Marthong said dryly. To their obvious surprise, the generals chuckled slightly. Happy to lighten the mood, Marthong continued on. “We have been able to hold the walls despite two of their assaults, and our men will know that, and be feeling better. As for their numbers, they have to come to us, and that is too our advantage. Has any sally come against the main gate?”
“I can answer that.” Said Sean. “My company holds the main gate, and there has actually been two sallys, but they were half-hearted efforts, and we beat them back easily.”
Marthong frowned. That certainly did not sound right. Usually, the main gate suffered the heaviest attacks during sieges, as besiegers used any sort of nasty devices to batter down the doors and sweep inside. “It may be a feint.” He said at last. “Keep the gate fully manned until we are sure.”
“Yes, my liege.” Sean bowed.
“That be all well and good.” Grizbeard growled. “Unless we canna hold the walls.”
Marthong regarded him levelly. “The walls appear to be fully manned, and the actual incursions have been few. What ill news do you possess that makes our efforts irrelevant?”
“The fact that they made it to the wall at all, for one.” Grizbeard growled. “And for another…How did the Vikors assemble such a fleet and bring it all the way here without us knowing about it?”
Marthong was grim. “I don’t know,” he admitted, “Though I would give a pretty pile of gold indeed to learn that. However, that is neither here nor there, as we must look to the defense of the city before we lose it all.”
“Well, if that be true; I have to wonder what other surprises they may have in store for us bef’re the sun has set.”
Marthong thought about Grizbeard’s words. He forced a grin. “Well, whatever it is, we shall have to deal with it as it comes, I’m afraid.”
The dwarf harrumphed. “I guess we havn’a choice.” He agreed.
“Surely they have shot their bolt.” Melthos broke in.
Marthong looked at him. “Explain.” He demanded.
The appaloosa centaur looked as if he were collecting his thoughts. “Well,” said he, “It must have required a great deal of magic to shield their fleet from our eyes. Also, they used speed and agility rather than other sorceries in their initial assaults, indicating that their ability to use such power has been severely reduced. Further, they brought an enormous number of ships, and the men to crew them. It is my belief that they would not have brought such a massive army if they had sufficient sorcerers to overwhelm us.”
He looked levelly at the assembled. “My forces include the greatest number of our own magicians,” he continued, “And they have told me that actual clashes of the Power are very small, almost sparing. That also supports my theory. They mean to sit out on the gate and wait for us to starve; or, more likely, wear us down in assaults and push us to the center of the city to destroy us.”
Marthong could not doubt the logic, but he still felt it was wrong in some way that he could not quite put his finger on. “Perhaps you are right.” He said after letting the silence stretch. “I certainly hope so, it would make it far easier to hold our walls until help arrives if there is no sorcerer battle. Still, bid our mages to keep a tight watch, for we may yet be wrong.”
“As you command.” Melthos bowed.
Melthong cocked his head as he considered the possibility of a lengthy siege. While it was certainly the most desirable outcome, he wondered about their food stocks. He hadn’t checked to see their levels before he came down. He was about to ask when a horn blew. Everyone shivered as that foul note hovered in the air.
“To the walls.” Melthong said. They hurried up to see what was going to happen.
When Melthong got to the top of the stairs he stared dumbfounded. Amongst the ranks of the Sea Robbers were huge beasts with great spikes sticking out of their mouths! Their noses reached nearly to the dirt, and their huge leathery ears flapped and swayed in the breeze. What in the name of the immortal soul are those things??! Around him he could hear soldiers shouting in terror at the mere sight of them, and Marthong could not blame them, they were nearly as big enough to look over the wall! On the shore he could easily make out the huge vessel that had brought them settled firmly in the sand.
“Steady!” Marthong shouted. “They are nothing to be frightened of.” Frightened? Try terrified. It was all Marthong could do to keep the fear from his voice. He had to bolster his troops before they broke. “Archers! Prickle those creatures.”
Bowstring twanged and arrows whistled high. His elvish archers proved their reputation again; every beast suddenly sprouted a forest of arrows in their faces, the shafts clustered so closely together a fly could walk across them without any trouble. The beasts trumpeted in rage and fear, a horrifying sound. It made the air tremble and the ground shake, and his men cower behind the parapets as if the rough stone were any refuge against the sound.
“Aim for the eyes!” he bellowed. Others took up the call. “The eyes! The eyes!” rang from the battlements. Again came the slap of bowstrings and the whistling sound of arrows flying through the air.
The strange beasts gave a second trumpet as shafts slammed into their vulnerable eyes. One or two remained standing, though it was clear they were blind by the way the shuffled their feet and slammed into each other. The others fell heavily to the ground with mighty crashes that shook the earth under the defenders feet.
Marthong gave a quiet sigh as a groan from the enemy forces came up to him. It was clear that they had anticipated the beasts making a hole in his walls, or at the very least frightening his forces away so the Sea Robbers could get a toehold. The loss of that hope had made the enemy pause, it seemed. The Sea Robbers did not advance into bow range, though that forced them back against the mountains and cleared the beach, except for the unloading of still more men.
Once, Marthong had seen two anthills go to war. The invader ants had come in wave upon wave against the beleaguered defenders. Slowly, the invaders had pushed through the ring and forced their way into the anthill, only to emerge carrying eggs and food away. Seeing the great ships still disgorging troops made him remember that fight, and he felt a chill. He prayed silently that help would come.