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


20. Chapter Nineteen: The Great Battle For Ziemach

The fighting started all the way along the wall, crossbowmen firing quarrels into the packed ranks of the Orcs below. The pile of Orcs at the bottom of the wall was swelling with the dead. Swordsmen from the walls threw down rocks upon the enemy, crushing skulls and splintering the bones of their enemies. Ladders were brought up and the Orcs tried to swarm over the wall, sending the biggest and foulest Orcs up first to wreak havoc in the defending ranks.  Big black brutes armed with jagged battle axes that required the strength of two men to use, hulking and reeking they struck down upon the defenders, splattering brains upon the walls and soaking the ground with blood.

Fjolin swung at one of them, slicing a jagged gash in his muscle causing it to gape and hang flapping off of the bone as it swirled around for the kill bringing its axe round. Fjolin dived under the axe rolling between its legs and slashing out at its hamstrings and legs with his swords and dagger, causing it to topple to the ground roaring in blind rage. Fjolin swung his blade down upon the back of the beast’s neck, feeling a slight bit of resistance as it thudded through the spine and muscle before hitting the stone floor in a shower of sparks. Lifting his head up Fjolin saw another smaller Orc running towards him so flicking his wrist he threw his dagger at it. The creature fell clutching at its neck, trying desperately to dislodge the dagger in its throat.

The rain of bolts and stones continued causing the wall to shake as bits of it shattered and fell crushing some Orcs below their pitiful screams echoing around the mountain. Suddenly out of nowhere there was a great rumbling in the earth, like a dam had been broken and the power of the ocean set free. Oddly enough that’s almost exactly what it was. The screams multiplied and a great burning went up at the tunnel entrance. It ran through the grass and a fair way down the hill consuming thousands of Orcs within its blazing inferno. An acrid smoke filled with the scent of burning and charred flesh rose upon the wind washing over the defenders and into the city behind them.

Fjolin and his warriors battled grimly on to defend the crossbowmen who still fired bolt after bolt into the never ending sea of enemies whose only fear was the fire that still burnt fiercely singing all who got too close to it as it ate all the flesh off of the corpses leaving nothing but blackened bones. On the walls Fjolin was still fighting hard despite the smoke in his eyes, his face blackened by soot and his beard stained rain with blood and sweat. All the while the dwarves around him fought around him, fighting hard and dying harder as they stabbed and slashed at all orcs who made it to the walls. Suddenly a blindingly obvious idea came to him and he ran to the walls shouting to all those who could hear him above the chaos and noise of battle. 

“The ladders boys, push them from the walls. It will slow them, quickly.” Mentally cursing himself for not thinking of it sooner he shoved at the ladder nearest to it dislodging it from the wall and causing it to fall down, Orcs falling from it like hail stones to the ground below. Sighing in relief he watched as other dwarves rushed to the walls and slammed against them or hacking at them to force them to fall before the enemy could get more men onto the wall. The idea spread and before they knew it the ladders had all fallen and the remaining enemies were isolated, easy pickings for the dwarves on the ramparts. But there victory was short lived as they saw siege towers approaching the walls. Towering wooden constructions some metal ones too, each carrying in it well over a hundred Orcs to rush onto the walls and slaughter the defenders.

Calling out to the catapult crews he ordered them to fire the oil pots at the catapults. Turning he noticed a gigantic Orc barrelling towards him from across the other side of the wall, knocking aside all dwarves in his way and shrugging of the crossbow bolts that flew at him from defenders.. For a moment he stood paralyzed in fear before dashing round behind him and leaping onto one of the ballista stations, its previous crew in hacked pieces at the base of it. Sending up a quick prayer to the heavens for their souls, he cranked the ballista arm and let lose sending a bolt straight into the chest of the Orc. It went right through him, sending shards of ribs and armour flying out as it pierced its chest cavity killing it instantly. It fell to the ground with a heavy thump.

Cheers went up but were short lived as they realised how close the towers were to the wall, they were slicked with oil though as he had requested and Fjolin snapped at his troops to set fire to their quarrels. And so, wrapping the end of the bolt in oil soaked cloth they lit the arrows from a torch that had been blazing on the rampart but was now being run up and down the line by a dwarf for the archers to set fire to their arrows with. Standing thus they waited as slightly longer bolts crackled with flame close to the crossbow. They waited for a moment letting the lumbering contraption draw closer, and closer. 

“Fire.” Bellowed Fjolin and as one the crossbowmen fired, their bolts arching into the siege towers like fiery messengers of death and destruction. The siege towers went up in flame quickly, the fire running along the oil and beginning to eat away at the wood devouring the tower hungrily as it approached the walls.

The Orcs and goblins began to shriek loudly and the trolls’ bellows of pain could be heard as flaming fragments of the tower fell onto them burning at their hides and eyes as they pushed at the wheels of the burning siege tower, before dying as the great construction fell outwards like meteors of fire raining down onto the army below crushing all beneath them, Trolls, Orcs and Giants alike, causing death and destruction. Up and down the line the same thing was happening as the siege towers went up like flaming pillars, causing plumes of smoke to billow into the night sky as on the ground, yet more Orcs fell to the steel bolts of the dwarves and the rocks that were being hurled down upon them.

There was a massive eruption that knocked everyone back a step, even sending some dwarves off the ramparts, their bodies smashing on the streets below with a sickening thud. The bubble had exploded and now there was a single column of red light rising into the sky where it had been focused on the figure with the blood red eyes. From it swooped demonic vulture like creatures with giant leathery wings and the faces of fierce birds. The archers turned their attention to them now but no matter how many fell to the quarrels and arrows of the dwarves, more and more kept coming swooping in at the walls and carrying many dwarves away to drop down the slopes of the mountains. The fight continued in this way for many minutes, the dwarves constantly fighting off these flying creatures before they disappeared and a great roaring sound could be heard from the great column of magic before with a terrific noise, from the column sprung a mighty dragon that ravaged the walls with an ice cold flame that killed all it touched.

This beast terrified even the Orcs who cowered beneath its mighty wings as it flew destroying all in its path. Fjolin couldn’t believe his eyes. The dragons were thought extinct and now there was one at the walls of his city, killing his friends and his brothers in arms with a terrifying ease. He had no choice he knew that now, he had been hoping to  hold the walls but he knew now they had no chance. They would have to hold in the tunnels instead 
“Fall back, fall back. We cannot hope to best it.” He bellowed and all his men sprinted for the tunnel’s entrance and diving inside the gateway, not a moment too soon for the dragons fire seared the wall top in a great blaze and flew off to torment the other defences.

Rushing to a pile of logs by the gate the remaining dwarves shored it up with the planks and logs to keep the enemy from entering anytime soon. The planks were heavy and they quickly had the already tired dwarves puffing and gasping for air. They worked on despite this knowing there was little time. Once the barrier had been reinforced as well as it could be, the dwarves rushed off down the corridor to the prepared stone barriers further down the hall spreading the remaining oil as best they could along the floor till the corridor was slick with it and taking up defensive positions they waited.

Why was there always so much waiting? Fjolin hated it. He wanted it to be over and done with either way. But still he was grateful for the rest they had been fighting for several hours on the ramparts and had gotten little sleep before that. He was exhausted and it showed by the way he was leant up against the wall his shoulders sagging and his breath was ragged. He was so tired.

Taking a moment to think, he wondered how the others had gotten on, had the main gate fallen yet, where was Zurton he should have been with him but wasn’t probably dead thought Fjolin. Dispatching a runner to Zarian he set about loading the crossbows and ballista and checking their firing mechanisms for something to do. The kept waiting in silence nothing but the click of empty crossbows and the creaking of the string as it was loaded.

Then from further down the corridor came a thud that echoed all around them. There was silence and then another, louder, thud came rushing down the corridor. 
“Prepare yourselves lads, that’s a battering ram or I’ll eat my trousers.” He said grimly causing a few chuckles and breaking the tension of the moment. The thudding continued for several silent minutes until there was an ear shattering crash and they knew the barricade had been broken.

The jeers and screams of the Orcs echoed down the corridor as they charged their feet pounding heavily upon the ground. They rounded the corner as the dwarves let loose with their crossbows causing havoc as the Orcs fell, stumbling over their dead comrades. It was in this confusion that Fjolin and the other dwarves grabbed a couple of exploding bolts, loaded their weapons and fired at the floor between the Orcs feet.

As it exploded the sparks hit oil and, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, fire sprung up and ignited all the way along the corridor trapping the Orcs devouring them easily as scorching the walls forcing any Orc who may have wanted to enter from outside to stay put as the dwarves retreated to the next set of barriers and barred the gate knowing that this time they would have to fight one on one, the most deadly type of combat in which both Orcs and Dwarves excel: This would be a tough fight and they all knew it, they loaded their crossbows and prepared for the assault. They formed two strong battle lines so that after the first volley the first line could fight at the barricade defending the archers behind them as they fired in to the ranks of the enemy.

The Orcs came swarming down the hallway noisily slamming into the doorway with axes, splintering and shattering it, Fjolin turned nodding to the men around him respectfully before the door flew inwards. The Orcs charged and the dwarves, knowing that to retreat was to die, prepared their crossbows.
“Front rank, make ready, aim, fire.” Roared Fjolin as loud as any sergeant major would have been, the orcs fell in a heap, blocking the others that tried to charge over them but slipped and fell. 
“First rank reload, second rank, make ready, aim fire.”
“Second rank reload....” and thus it went on. Until the Orcs pushed their way through the dead on the ground and reached the barricades, the first rank hastily dropped their crossbows and pulled out swords and axes that were honed to a razor sharp edge and already stained with blood.

The fight raged, Fjolin did not have time to think as he fought.  He just had to keep killing them, there was no retreat now. Enemy after enemy fell to his blade and he felt his sword begin to stick to his hand, gummed there by the gore of his fallen foes as they bled before him. Behind him the crossbowmen still fired their bolts, smashing ribcages and piercing throats and armour, such was their power at close range. However the bolts in their pouchs were dwindling and soon they would have little left to shoot at all.

They needed the fight to end so that they could reclaim bolts before they had to go hand to hand, but an end was nowhere in sight. One of the crossbowmen reached into his pack for his emergency bolt, all dwarves were given one for battles. It was an exploding arrow containing enough powder to destroy even the hardiest of beasts with the subsequent explosion. Bringing it to his lips he kissed it and offering up a prayer to the heavens he shot it past the barricade into the centre of the enemy.

Upon impact the explosion was massive, deafening. The noise was like the roar of a lion, followed by a hissing sound as the flames flickering on the rags of the dwarves stole the oxygen from the room. Fjolin looked up and swore for a moment and then reaching over he hugged the dwarf who had shot and shouted to the rest of them.

“Let’s get out of here boys, this numpty just provided us with our opportunity to escape. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” The dwarves stampeded quickly down the corridor towards the hidden gate. Reaching it they knocked five times, one slow knocked followed by two fast knocks, and then a fast and a long knock. The password given, they waited for a second begin to worry as the sounds of yet more Orcs echoed down the corridor.

The gate swung open and they were ushered inside by the royal guard before the great door thudded shut again leaving no evidence on either side of the wall that it existed at all. On the other side of it Fjolin could hear them beginning to argue, the calls of anger at being robbed of prey and even some screams of pain as they began to fight it out over who was to blame.
Fjolin chuckled. “Stupid brutes eh, bet they haven’t got one brain between the lot of them.” 

His amusement however was short lived as he saw that everyone had fallen back to the inner city. Zarian, his guard and the remaining forces from the gate, looking tired and ill as their wounded groaned on in their pitiful state. By the other door stood Zurton with the few defenders of the other flank, Fjolin was angry that Zurton had abandoned him but when he saw the scarce few men standing huddled around him he understood why he had done it and was afraid.

Here was the finest army in the land, at its capital and it was being brought to its knees. Countless generations of development and revolutionary new weapons that had advanced the beyond even the elves and yet here they were. Precious few warriors that could still fight and a horde of dead and dying men lying scattered upon the filthy ground.

They were done for, there was nothing the remaining fighters could do to save them. What medicine there had been was gone, used on the countless number of maimed men that had streamed in during the battle. The medics were exhausted, you could tell from the way they were shuffling from wounded dwarf to wounded dwarf their eyes red with the strain of the huge task that they had undertaken.

Zarian walked slowly over to Fjolin and patting him on the back he said
“Good job back there lad, you fought a good defence. Alas the city cannot be held, we have to run.” By this point his voice had gained a loud sense of urgency, mastering his tone he almost whispered in Fjolins ear. “We have to leave the wounded; there is no way we can save the ones that can’t march with us now.”
Fjolin looked at him in shock and then whilst surveying the room he said. “But that will be slaughter, they can’t defend themselves.”
“I know kid, but there isn’t anything either of us can do but die with them. We have to go and soon. Also we will have to burn the dead.”
“What? Why?” Said Fjolin startled. 
We can’t let the Orcs hack them to pieces now can we, plus it’s the war burial of the dwarves. Who knows, a fire might delay the Orcs long enough to get away. I say we send the entire room up in flames.”

Fjolin nodded “I don’t like it but if it must be done, it will be done.” Shouting to his men he cried “gather the dead and the wounded now lads.” As they began the operation Fjolin heard Zarian talking to one of his men and saying. “kill any wounded who can’t march with us, better we give them an honourable death than they die by the hands of the Orcs.

Nodding the member of the white lions went about his business, his face sad and grim. All the dead were then dragged into a huge pile in the centre of the room and oil was slicked everywhere on them and the floor. Then the survivors and what little was left of the wounded Fjolin left the room and went up the stairs to the balcony and being the last man he destroyed the last several stairs to ensure no Orcs could follow on.

Zarian was there waiting, as was Fjolin, except he was ushering men along down the hidden evacuation passage and into the deep roads beneath the city. When it was just the two of them left they waited a second for the Orcs to arrive. This time there was no battering, the door was just broken by the ash demons sword and as it fell from its hinges Zarian threw a single torch in a fiery arc, right into the centre of the bodies. It seemed to Fjolin that the torch fell into the slowly lingering as it left its fiery trail in the air.

Just before it reached them Fjolin and Zarian dived through the door and not a moment too soon for the blast sent fire through the room and incinerated everything such was its heat. Taking a moment to dust down their armour, Fjolin and Zarian ran down the tunnels and entered into the deep roads. Following the torches of the group that had gone before them and entering into the depths of the city that had not been touched for a thousand years. Who knew what had made its home there in that time, one thing was certain they may have made it away from the Orcs but they were certainly not safe by any stretch of the imagination.

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