The Horde, Part Three
Part Three: The Easy Way
by Thomas K. Martin
So it was that the next turn, Minghis, Cashcarry and Ornella saw Khan off on his journey of exploration. The newly promoted knights looked resplendent in the superior armor, riding boots and wolf fur cloaks which had replaced their lesser stabber gear upon their promotion. The six new warlords, Minghis’ original tribe members, had experienced a similar upgrade. Each day, one of the new warlords would now lead a patrol of the six hexes around the city. Ornella envied Khan his mission, but was not at all sorry to be relieved from patrolling
Instead, she was drilling with the archers, picking out which eight among them were the most qualified to be promoted to knights. It pleased her that her father trusted her with this responsibility, but she longed to travel. Although, if her father did not change his mind, she would be getting her fill of travel soon enough, she feared.
Once Kherlen had left with his mixed stack to begin his patrol, father and his remaining new warlords left to drill with the stabbers. Cashcarry left to begin his management of the city leaving Ornella to her duties with the archers. Ornella waited until her father was out of sight and then hurried after Cascharry.
“Brother!” she called once she had almost caught up to him. He stopped and turned to face her.
“Ornella?” he said. “Aren’t you supposed to be drilling with the archers?”
“I wanted to speak with you, first,” she explained. “May I walk with you?”
“Of course,” her brother replied with a smile. “What is it?”
Ornella looked around to make certain no one was within earshot before continuing.
“Do you think…father has gone…mad?” she asked, quietly. The question stopped her brother in his tracks.
“Ornella!” he whispered. “Are you mad? Just saying something like that…”
“I am loyal!” Ornella stage whispered back at him. “But I am also concerned, and my Duty compels me to ask this. What do you think of this…plan of his? Should we attempt to…dissuade him?”
Cashcarry began walking again as he thought. Ornella could clearly see that her question had not been the first time he had thought of this. If she knew her older brother, he had already spent a great deal of time, as had she, worrying over this revelation.
“I don’t believe he is mad,” Cashcarry finally said, albeit very softly. “This plan would not be possible were it not for me, but he has clearly been thinking of this since even before I popped. My first turn, he asked me if I could have helped him raze a city while he was still a barbarian. He has apparently been thinking of this for some time.”
“What think you?” Ornella asked.
“It could actually be a…brilliant strategy,” Cashcarry said.
“Are you serious?” Ornella asked in disbelief.
“Hear me out,” Cashcarry insisted. “If we were to do as he plans, the tribe could survive his death, and even our deaths. So long as a single warlord survives, the tribe would continue. If we raid and raze cities, we could support the tribe indefinitely.”
“We would die of attrition,” Ornella objected. “We would almost certainly lose units in each battle and would have no cities with which to pop new units.”
“Nothing would prevent us from holding captured cities for a few turns to pop replacements before razing them for shmuckers,” Cashcarry pointed out. “We would actually be able to field an army larger than most sides have ever dreamed since we would have no cities to defend. Also, as barbarians, our turn would always be first.”
“So, you believe this to be a good plan?”
“I…believe it to be a…bold strategy,” he said. “Whether or not it is a good one, I cannot say. I have been trying to find out more about barbarian tribes in the library. So far, the only thing I have learned is that father was the luckiest barbarian on Erf. Most feral tribes only last a few turns. And, as far as I can tell, no one has ever abandoned an entire side to become barbarians.”
It was Ornella’s turn to think in silence as they walked. Like herself, her brother obviously had reservations about their father’s proposed course of action. Apparently he had, thus far, been unable to find fault with it.
“I had best go and drill with the archers before father wonders what I am about,” Ornella finally said. “You have given me much to think about, brother. I can only hope you are correct.”
“That is all any of us can do,” Cashcarry agreed.
* * *
It was midmorning of the next turn when it happened. Minghis was drilling with the stabbers when he felt it – the addition of a new city to his side.
“Hold!” he commanded and all of the mock combat around him ceased. He closed his eyes and concentrated – he could almost see the new city, Minghis’ Glory, with its wooden palisade and rampart, cobblestone streets and small fountain. In addition to the road from the north, another road left the city to the northeast. Like Mango City, it had popped with four stacks each of stabbers and archers. He was pleased that his son had attempted to honor him with its naming, but he had a different name in mind.
With a silent command, he ordered the upgrade of the city to level two, renaming it to Khanate. The new city would produce a warlord to manage and defend the city. Until then…
“I hereby assign Khan Mango as the city manager of Khanate,” he spoke aloud. Silently, he sent orders to Khan to remain as the city manager until a warlord popped to take his place.
“He found one?” Sonja asked, excitedly.
“Yes,” Minghis replied. “Khan will return once Khanate has popped a new warlord to take his place.”
“What do we do now?” Sonja asked.
“Resume!” Minghis ordered the stabbers.
* * *
Ornella climbed to the top of the tower with her two stacks of archers in the predawn darkness. Last turn, she had presented her selections to her father in the court room and he had ordered her to bring them to the top of the tower an hour before dawn. She reached the top of the tower to find that father had not yet arrived. She ordered her stack into formation and looked around at the top floor of the tower.
She had not been up here since the tower had been upgraded. Rows of stalls filled the room, like the hobby horse stalls, only larger. Empty food bins lined the outer wall. Empty troughs, and troughs full of water were in each stall. One side of each stall was formed of iron bars, almost like the cells in the dungeon below the city. That entire side of each stall was a massive, barred gate. What would they be keeping in here?
Ornella walked out onto the east side of the balcony surrounding the tower. From up here she could see several hexes in all directions. Father should really station some lookouts up here. She would suggest it to him once he arrived. Fearlessly, she walked right up to the edge of the balcony and looked down at the city. Everything seemed so small from up here. Was that father approaching the tower? With two twolls? It was difficult to tell by only the light of the powerballs, but she believed it was.
She turned and walked back into the stables to rejoin her archers as they waited. Soon her father came up the stairs accompanied by the twolls she had seen him with in the city. He must have given them silent orders, because they departed to opposite corners of the stable as he approached. She commanded the two stacks to attention and placed her fist over her heart in salute.
“Hail Minghis Mango!” she called out. “Light of the Dawn and Master of Horses.”
Her father returned her salute as he approached.
“At rest,” he commanded and the archers relaxed their posture but remained alert. “Good morrow, daughter. These are your knights?”
“Yes, father,” she said, indicating the stack to her right. “These are the best of our archers. I would be proud to lead these troops in battle.”
“Good, because this turn you will,” he assured her. Her heart quickened at that. Perhaps this was going to be a good surprise after all. The light of dawn was beginning to filter into the stables, overpowering the light of the powerballs. As they waited in silence, Ornella opened her mouth to ask her father what they were doing up here.
There was a huge pop of displaced air and a massive hawk appeared right in front of Ornella. The angry beast screeched its rage and defiance at the world and Ornella stepped back, involuntarily reaching for the bow on her back.
But these were Mangolian units! Four enormous warhawks, saddled and ready to ride. Her father reached out and grabbed one of the hawks by the bit attached to its beak. The creature folded its wings and settled down onto its belly. Ornella stepped forward and did the same to the one in front of her as the twolls took command of the other two.
The creatures were magnificent. Ornella had only seen one before in her short life and that had been high above the city to the east. She had thought the bird looked drab, but that was only its gray belly. The great hawk was covered in golden feathers that shone in the light of the sun. Its amber colored eye regarded her with interest as she held it still with one hand and stroked its feathers with the other. She looked up at her father who had handed off the hawk he had calmed to one of the twolls.
“Is this…” she asked quietly, “is this…mine?”
Her father nodded to her with a smile.
“Your brother shall have command over my knights,” Minghis told her. “But you, my daughter – you shall be the leader of my hawkmen.”
Speechless, she turned back to the hawk. A large saddle, with two distinct seats, was strapped to the mighty bird’s back. Straps would hold the riders in place. The front stirrups were connected to the leads which led to the bird’s beak, leaving the rider’s hands free. Ornella now understood her father’s plan. A knight or warlord in the front saddle and an archer as her passenger. Form here, they could rain fire on an enemy, not to mention the attack capability of the bird itself. She was certain these four birds could rip even a dwagon to pieces.
“You will be the Lord of the Skies,” Ornella breathed. The hawk screeched its agreement and she laughed.
“And you I will call ‘Warcry’,” she told the animal.
* * *
Ornella shrieked in delight as the wind tore at her hair. Beneath her the massive hawk answered with a shriek of its own. Beside her, three of her knights rode warhawks of their own, another male like her own and two females. Unlike the golden males, the females had rich brown feathers. Let Khan have his smelly horses – Ornella would own the skies!
Father had sent them out along the northwest road to see if they could find another city site. The road had gone northwest for five hexes before turning southwest. After another ten hexes the road had once again turned northwest.
Her hawk caught sight of movement on the ground below. Beneath them, a herd of antelope had been spooked into a stampede at the sight of the massive birds.
“Capture!” Ornella shouted. Her words were lost on the wind, but all four hawks dove at the antelope. As the birds stooped, the wind in her face went from a gale to a hurricane. She had to close her eyes against the wind, but the hawk knew what it was doing. She felt the impact and knew her mount had captured one of the antelope in its mighty claws. As the bird climbed triumphantly back to the sky, the force of the wind lessened on her face.
When she got back to Mango City, she was going to have to talk to Gomar. It would not do for her knights and archers to have to squint against the wind. If they were going to be an effective force, they needed something to protect their eyes…
The antelope bleated and struggled in the hawk’s grasp, threatening her flight. She gave a silent order to the hawk and a single strike from the massive beak put an end to the animal’s struggles. They would eat well tonight, and so would their mounts. It should save father a few shmuckers.
She looked around at her knights. Only three knights rode with her, since only four hawks had popped, but each hawk also carried an archer. In her mind’s eye, she could see dozens of other hawks carrying knights and archers alongside her, raining death upon all the enemies beneath her. Nothing would stand before them.
Perhaps father was not as mad as she had feared…
* * *
Minghis rolled over onto his back when he felt the addition of the new city to his side. He closed his eyes and concentrated.
“Ornella,” he said in exasperation.
“Is she all right?” Sonja asked, suddenly concerned.
“Yes,” he said. “She just claimed a city.”
“So, what’s wrong?”
“She’s named it ‘More Disbanded Grass’,” Minghis replied. Sonja laughed as Minghis continued to examine what he could determine of Ornella’s city. Like Khanate, it began with a wooden rampart and palisade and had popped with four stacks each of stabbers and archers. Unlike Khanate, this city had two fountains and a surprisingly large aerie at the top of the level one tower. Also, the road from Mango City was the only road that led out of Ornella’s city.
Minghis silently ordered the upgrade of the city. He would not change the foundation of the design, but he did rename it.
“I hereby assign Ornella Mango as the city manager of Ornate,” he said aloud. He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling of his chambers. He was now the ruler of a three city side and there was yet one more road which led out of Mango City.
For the first time, he felt a twinge of doubt about his plan. With four cities, they could be very comfortable here – and that was the trap. No sooner had his doubts surfaced than they were beaten back down. The Titan’s tempted him with a life of ease and comfort. Then, once he had grown fat and lazy, someone would come to take it from him. The Mango Tribe would vanish into history, a forgotten footnote somewhere in a dusty library.
He would not allow that to happen. They would leave this place and carve their names into the histories of all the sides around them. Ease and comfort were not the future of his tribe.
“Now,” Sonja whispered to him. “Where were we?”
Well, perhaps a little comfort wasn’t a bad thing…
* * *
Minghis studied the map table in the warroom. Most of the hexagonal wooden tiles on the table were blank. In the center of the table was the tile representing Mango City. It was surrounded three hexes deep by grassy plain, unbroken only by the roads that led to the southeast, northeast and northwest.
Khan had returned this afternoon, three turns after Ornella had founded her city. Minghis had questioned him extensively about the terrain he had crossed on his way there. The southeast road crossed a total of ten hexes before turning due south. Thirteen hexes further south lay the city of Khanate. The road had been so badly eroded in four of the hexes, that it afforded no movement bonus at all. All of this was carefully represented by the small tiles Gomar had made and painted for him.
The six hexes surrounding the city were nothing but grass, just like Mango City. Another road left Khanate to the northeast. To yet another city site, perhaps?
A new tile marked the location of the city of Ornate, but Minghis knew nothing about the surrounding terrain. The road must have wound back and forth on the way there, because the city was due west of Mango City. A thirty hex trip as Minghis counted.
Another trail of hexes was marked by painted tiles to the southwest. It began six hexes down the southeast road. Minghis followed the trail with his eyes all the way back to the last four mountain hexes shown on the map. That was where it had all begun, back at those ruins in the mountains.
He returned his gaze back to the blank tiles and his current predicament. He knew almost nothing about the terrain around his cities. That was going to have to change. He would need horses, knights and warlords to venture further out from the cities, but his cities could only pop so many units at a time. He would also need more twolls to fabricate yurts and bedrolls for the men, which also meant he would need wool from which to craft those things.
He had more important things for his cities to pop, at the moment. Tomorrow he would promote another stack of stabbers to knight and send Douglas out to make a four hex circuit of the city. That would take three turns to complete. Then he would send Douglas to Khanate to begin exploring the terrain there. It would be slow progress, but it was the best he could do for now.
Minghis sighed as he rubbed his eyes and temples. There had to be a better way.
* * *
The overlord was waiting for her in the aerie when she arrived back at Mango City a day ahead of schedule. He did not look pleased at her arrival.
“Your city does not pop its first warlord until tomorrow,” he said once she had dismounted. “Why have you left early?”
“I performed my management duties, before I left, father,” Ornella assured him. “I needed time for Gomar to make something for my stack before I head out in the morning. The new warlord can manage the city tomorrow.”
“What if we do not pop a warlord?” Minghis asked. “What if it is another caster? What if Ornate is attacked when we end turn with no warlord?”
“I…I am…sorry, my lord,” Ornella said. “I did not think…”
“No, you did not,” Minghis agreed. “I should throw you in the dungeon for abandoning your post.”
“If…that is your command, my lord,” Ornella replied meekly.
“No,” Minghis said. “Go and speak to Gomar about whatever it is that you need the twolls to make for your people. Then meet me in the warroom.”
“Yes, my lord,” Ornella agreed. “It will not happen again.”
* * *
Once again, Ornella felt the wind in her hair, but the goggles built into the new antelope hide helmet liners the twolls had made them protected her eyes. Now her knights and archers would be able to see during battle. Father had been a little less upset with her when he had seen what she had needed. A little. Thank the Titans that Ornate had popped a warlord as expected or she might have found herself in that cell, after all.
The twolls had not been able to craft enough of the helmets for the rest of her knights, so Khan had to wait until tomorrow to fly out. Ornella smiled at that thought – Khan had not seemed very eager to take to the skies. Just looking down from the balcony at the city had given him a green tinge.
The road slipped by beneath her as the hawk soared across the hexes. Riding Warcry was the most amazing thing she had ever experienced – that anyone could ever experience. Up here, she did not feel trapped or bored. She felt free! Even though every hex she flew over was nothing but grass, it still seemed fresh and exciting.
Far to the north, however, was something that did not look like grass. She could not tell what it was, but it lined the horizon like a green mountain range. Hills, perhaps. She longed to explore, but her orders were clear and, after last turn, she had absolutely no desire to antagonize her father. So, she followed the road. Up here she could see where the breaks in the road continued on after a hex or two, but now she came upon something different.
In the hex ahead, the road clearly forked, continuing to the north and to the southeast. She ordered her stack to halt as she pondered her next move. They were almost out of move – the slowest hawk in her stack had only two move left.
Silently, she issued her commands. Amelia would scout the northeast hex and return, Aida would take the hex to the north and Willa the hex to the southeast. Ornella banked Warcry and headed to the northwest hex.
She discovered nothing but more grass. That strange line of green hills seemed no closer in this hex. Warcry still had five move left, so Ornella continued on for another hex before turning back. Nothing but grass. She turned back to rejoin her stack. Once they were barbarians, she would not be able to split her stack like this. Entire stacks would have to be used for scouting.
Her fliers were waiting for her at the fork. None of them had anything of interest to report, either. Her hawk settled down into the grass of the fork and she dismounted.
“We will camp here for the night,” Ornella told them. “Aida, you will wait in this hex next turn and tell Khan that we took the north fork when he arrives. After that, you will attempt to rejoin us while he explores the southeast fork.”
“Yes, warlady,” Aida replied.
“Aida, take the first watch,” Ornella ordered. “Then Willa, then Amelia. Let’s get some rest.”
Ornella walked back to where Warcry rested on the ground. She could tell that the great bird did not enjoy sitting on the ground like a veepquail, but they had no choice. As she approached, he raised his wings. She and her archer unrolled their bedrolls and snuggled in against the warm sides of the bird as he dropped a protective wing over each of them. She fell asleep wondering what she would find to the north.
* * *
Ornella’s excitement grew with each hex northward. After four hexes the north fork of the road had turned back the northwest. By then it had become apparent that the green hills to the north had not been hills at all, but the tops of massive trees. Each beat of the massive hawk’s wings brought her closer to the forest hexes ahead of her. It was glorious.
After six more hexes they entered the forest and they found the city site in the seventh hex. A single, massive tree grew in the center of the city site. It had to be thousands of turns old. Ornella’s first instinct was to land on its branches, but she would need to be on the ground to claim the city for Mangolia. The three hawks settled onto the ground at the base of the tree and Ornella surveyed the site. What could she build here?
The tower would replace the tree in the center of the site. That seemed such a shame. Its branches had shielded this city from discovery for so long that it seemed wrong to tear it down. With a smile, Ornella claimed the site.
The sparkles cleared and her city was laid out before her. The outer wall and rampart were much the same as Ornate had been, but the similarities ended there. A single fountain sat to the south of the courtyard walls in the form of a stone tree with water dripping from its leaves and branches into the basin below. But it was the tower that she looked to.
The tower had not replaced the giant tree. Rather the tree had become the tower. A huge double door led into the interior of the trunk and large, wooden platforms in the branches would serve as the landing points for the warhawks. The branches of the tree spread out over the entire courtyard, shading it from the sun. Archers in those branches would be able to rain death down on anyone who tried to breach the courtyard. Even as a level one, it was the most glorious city in Mangolia.
“Don’t change it,” she whispered. “Don’t change it. Don’t change it…”
There was another blast of trumpets as her father back in the capital ordered the upgrade of the city. When the sparkles had cleared again, her city had not changed except to become even grander. Ornella laughed in joy.
Arboria was now the greatest city in Mangolia.
* * *
Khan clung to the edge of the saddle as the hawk flew south. Why did these saddles not have any place to hold on? True, the straps held him securely to the seat, but it did not feel secure.
Ahead of him, the plains rose up into hills, a tall mound three hexes across in the middle of the sea of grass. The hawk climbed to follow the road up into the hills and Khan saw the city site, sitting atop the tallest part of the isolated cluster of hills. Khan guided his stack to a landing in the center of the empty site.
Ornella’s knights leaped down from their mounts as Khan climbed out of the saddle. He silently thanked the Titan’s as soon as his feet touched the ground. After a moment to gather his composure he straightened up and walked away from the hawk.
Even on foot, he could see at least two hexes in every direction from the height of this city. Once he claimed the city, a warlord on the tower should be able to see four hexes in every direction. The tower would practically touch the clouds. Truly, this would be Mangolia’s greatest city…
* * *
“I hereby assign Khan Mango as the city manager of Sky City,” Minghis intoned. Two new cities in two turns. One in a forest hex and this one in hills. Upgrading both of them immediately after upgrading Mango City to level four had practically emptied the treasury, but he needed them popping warlords so that he could bring Ornella and Khan back home. Ornella would be able to explore more terrain than anyone else to help him fill in the war map.
Minghis looked back at the map table. Douglas had returned from his circuit four hexes out from the city last turn. During that trip he had claimed two farm sites for Mangolia. Minghis had promptly dispatched a twoll to each farm. That left him with only three twolls in the city, counting Gomar. If Douglas found any more farms around Khanate, Minghis was going to have to pop more twolls to manage them. At least now they had a source of wool. One of the farms was popping sheep and the other pigs. Mangolia was becoming wealthy.
Minghis wondered how long it would be before someone noticed.
A traditional side, with fliers, and 4 cities in basically a +, with the capitol in the center, would be incredibly easy to secure, but I can't say Minghis is entirely wrong in his fears. A static side will eventually find a strong enemy. Safer probably so keep the core, leave an heir managing the home front, and to use the place for reliable reinforcements, and otherwise go with his plan, since there is no guarantee he'll be able to get his preferred unit types elsewhere, plus as barbarians they would have very little shared intel unless they had scheduled meetups, but that's the opinion of someone who lives comfortably in a city, far from conflict, who's an armchair tactician and strategist. The only drawback is if the heir gets popped he might lose some of his warlords if the horde isn't together, but I'm not sure how they'd actually be able to split as barbarians anyway (barring, say, designating each warlord an heir and having them go barbarian, one at a time)
Loving the direction the story is going, looking forward to seeing more