The Grief of Ziemach

War is brewing, the fates of four great kingdoms teeter on the edge of destruction. Zeitun the majestic mountain fortresses of the Dwarves, Lithae the beautiful forest home of the Elves, Morok the home of the once mighty Horse lords, and Bracocia the home of the Orcs and a terrible, slumbering evil. The fragile peace seems destined to fail, for the past few years Orcs have been raiding the borders of Zietun burning and pillaging.
There is perhaps one who can stave of this mighty evil, in the most unexpected of places. Fjolin a young dwarvish warrior is about to be thrown on a deadly adventure through barren wastelands, towering cities and dangerous plots

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10. Chapter Nine The War Begins

The march was long and the sun beat down upon the dry, hard earth that was the wasteland of Bracocia. The terrain was largely flat with a distant outline of mountains and small hillocks dotting the landscape. There was no water and Fjolins throat was parched as he put one weary foot in front of the other, the heat sapping his strength.

It was a few hours later when a break was called and the march ground slowly to a halt. Taking a sip from his water skin he swilled it around his mouth before swallowing.  The respite however was short lived and soon the army was marching again moving slowly, the great column resembling a great river on the land from above.

 A day later the fort was sighted and the army moved swiftly to encircle it before any news of their coming reached the Orcs. Then setting guards to watch the enemy, they began to pitch camp, pitching tents and lighting fires to combat the fast darkening sky. 

An hour or two later the siege equipment arrived moving slowly, as one might expect from such lumbering machines. Making their way to the front the great catapults and ballistae entrenched themselves behind hastily erected fortifications within the range of the wall.

The attack began in darkness; shots were loaded into the catapults and set alight. The counterweights plummeted and the great arms swung forward creaking, to begin their fiery rain. Then the ballistae were strung and the loading arms were cranked back, exploding bolts being loaded into the smooth groove in the middle and fitted to the rope.

Then the catches were released and with a great twang the bolts leapt forwards like wolves on a hunt, to whisper through the air before crashing in to the stone walls and exploding against them.  The walls stood strong but the inner citadel was aflame from the hail of fiery missiles.

There was no let up, all night the engines of war fired and the city burned with a fierce heat, lighting up the night sky and sending a great plume of smoke heavenwards. There was no sleep that night for the dwarves as mighty thuds came from the direction of the city and the Orcs screamed their defiance.

Dawn broke the horizon lighting up the land, great plumes and trails of smoke drifted upwards from the smouldering ruins of buildings. The Orcs stood on the walls their silhouette framed against the sunlight. The battering ram was then ordered forward and the men on either side of those pushing it sheltered them with their shields.

The Orcs loosed arrows at the dwarves sheltering behind their shields, asides from the occasional scream as arrows found chinks in the wall and thudded into flesh or armour the great tortoise resembling party moved slowly forwards until the ram was up against the gates.

Fjolin watched with a sense of pride as his kin managed to get the battering ram to the gates under such heavy arrow fire, that by the end of it they resembled a porcupine more than a tortoise. There were loud sounds of splintering timbers as the ram swung forward to butt against the gate. 

This went on for quite some time as missiles rained down upon them from the walls; after a brief while there seemed to be a silence before at last the battering ram swung forward to crash into the gates. It splintered and swung inwards slamming into the stone walls of the gatehouse. With a great roar Dwuli swung his axe in an arc and all the horns and drums were sounded.

The dwarves rushed into the city like a great wave crushing all in its path. Fjolin and his company however, separated from the main body of forces and rushed down a side alley in search of foes.  There was a big group of about forty Orcs hiding at the end of one of the alleys waiting to surprise any dwarves who left the main force. They leapt out at Fjolins party axes swinging to come thumping down.

Three dwarves were lost in that first moment to the jagged edges of the axes. The rest of the dwarves were then on roughly equal footing and retaliated, swords and axes rising and falling as they hacked at the Orcs. Blood sprayed everywhere, coating Fjolin in gore and gumming his hand to his sword hilt, dodging a swing, he turned and stabbed his sword up under the beast’s ribs, straight into his heart.

He withdrew the blade with a savage tug, twisting as he pulled. The sword came free, ripping a gash into the Orcs chest. Fjolin snarled savagely as he grinned wolfishly, a fire burning in his eyes.  Blocking another stab with his shield he slammed his sword down on the blade, breaking it in half, then covering his body with his shield he threw himself forward at the Orc, his shield winding him. But Fjolin stumbled and fell over a corpse that was sprawled on the path.

The Orc came in for the killing blow and as it fell, Fjolin rolled out of the way and the Orcs sword hit the ground, embedding itself in the earth. Snatching up his blade before jumping up and kicking the Orc hard in the ribs, slashing at him as he fell, the sword hit sinew and tugged at his arm as it hit home, refusing to move for a brief second.

The remaining Orcs turned and fled as more of their number fell to the harsh steel, as cold and unforgiving as winter. Fjolin rallied his few remaining men and charged, screaming an incoherent war cry after the few remaining Orcs. It was then that they reached the inner wall and were forced to retreat as the archers fired indiscriminately. Caring not if they hit friend or foe, the arrows continued to hiss, striking like snakes.  The ram was brought through the ruins of the ancient city and again after a short while the gates burst like a dam and the dwarves flooded in, massacring all in their path.

The fort had fallen to the dwarves and before long they had a great pyre burning to destroy the dead Orcs, before the disease spread and burying the dwarves deep within the ground where no more harm could become them, marking their graves with spare banners. The banners however seemed to grieve with the dwarves and hung limp and lifeless, for there was no wind to stir them, even on this vast and open plain.

Soon the camp was relocated in to the now cleared ruins for greater security, but they could not all fit in and the encampment still spilled out a fair ways on to the plain. Fjolin however was summoned quickly to an impromptu meeting with the king. He knelt before the king in the ruins of what had been the inner fort as he sat around a fire smoking and drinking with his commanders. Gesturing to a small trestle he said

“Sit lad, and celebrate with us a while.”

So he did and he enjoyed a flagon of mead and a good long smoke as battle stories were told around the fire, when it came to Fjolin they all looked on expectantly waiting for him to speak. So he did and he told them of his first kill on that raid just a week or so ago.

Then he told of how he and his troop had cut their way out of Orcish ambush, perhaps taking a little more credit than he was due. Needless to say the other dwarves were all happy to hear a new story and applauded loudly at the end, falling silent when the king rose from his seat.

“Fjolin.” He said. “Perhaps you would walk with me for a while.” The king began to stride quickly off and Fjolin had to jog to catch up.

“My Lord?” He said questioningly. Then Dwuli turned to him a troubled frown upon his face, he contemplated, ignoring Fjolins question for a moment before speaking.

“I need you to do something lad.” He said quietly sounding troubled.  “I’m not too sure you will like it either.”

“Anything my lord.” He replied earnestly.

“I’m sending you and your company on a patrol lad. Back towards Ziemach to escort and protect our supply wagons”

“Of course my lord.” He said bowing humbly. “I will get Zharon and we shall....”

“Zharon won’t be joining you for this one lad. I’m sorry but he can’t be spared here, you can see him before you go, but I must insist you leave before dusk.” He said pointing to the streaks of darkness beginning to appear in the sky.  Fjolins face fell.

“In that case my lord I will take my leave to make sure my company is ready.” He said, bowing.

“Of course lad.” Said Dwuli patting him on the back and leading him back towards the others and the fire.

Taking his leave of the King, Fjolin made his way through the camp, twisting and turning through the warren of paths. Upon reaching his company he commanded them to be ready to march in half an hour, his voice stern and his face set. Then he went and made his way to Zharon’s quarters as quickly as he could.

He eventually found them and going inside he saw Zharon standing with Fjolins pack in hand. Handing it to him he said gruffly his voice thick with emotion. 
“There you are son, thought you could use the help.”

Fjolin took it gladly and slung it on over his shoulder. Then pulling Zharon into a tight hug Fjolin stood for a moment about to embark on his first lone command.  

“I love you dad.” He said tears beginning to well in his eyes. “I wanted you to know that before I go, just in case.”
“I love you too son.” He said wiping tears from Fjolins eyes. “Now less of that lad.” He whispered “I’ll see you when you get back.” Turning out of the embrace Fjolin turned to him one last time and seeing Zharon smile and nod reassuringly he then swept out of the tent, fighting the sobs that threatened to break free. Calming himself, he walked to his company and without a backwards glance led them out onto the plains.

He was in charge and yet he was also alone.

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