The Horde, Part Five

Part 5 of 15 in The Horde

 

Part Five: The High Way

by Thomas K. Martin

 

Chief Warlord Benjamin Gordon rode his quarter horse at the head of the column.  Stacked with him were eight knights on nickel horses.  Behind him marched the rest of the army.  Their destination was a new city, a level three, that Dixieland’s scouts had discovered fifteen turns ago on an extended patrol ordered by Chief Predictamancer Barkoff.  Someone was building up on their western border and was doing it fast.

 

Gordon looked up at the dwagons overhead, unconsciously adjusting the gray, broad brimmed sending hat as he did so.   A brass pin of Dixieland’s insignia, crossed bugles, adorned the front of the hat.  The dwagons were a recent addition to Dixieland’s forces and he still wasn’t certain how he felt about them.  He couldn’t argue, however, that this army would have been insufficient without them.

 

Dixieland had never been an air power, but they had gained the ability to produce these when they had retaken the city of Azalea from Earl Land, a mountain kingdom to the north, forty three turns ago.  Instead of razing and rebuilding the city, King Condon had left it intact so that it would continue to produce dwagons, upgrading it to level five.  Since then, Azalea had produced nothing but dwagons.

 

Earl Land had overextended itself into Dixieland’s territory, but the battle for Azalea had not been easy.  Their only defense against Earl Land’s dwagons had been a cunning dollamancy creation which were basically ballistae on wheels.  Dixieland had ridden into battle with a full five stacks of the devices.  Only a single stack had survived the battle, but they had knocked all sixteen of Earl Land’s dwagons from the skies.

 

That battle had cost Dixieland its heir and Chief Warlord, Prince Willie.  King Condon had spent a small fortune to hire a thinkamancer to promote Gordon in the field.  He had avenged his prince, his king and his side by taking the city and killing Earl Land’s chief warlord, the Duke of Earl, himself.

 

The battle had been costly to both sides and a sixty turn truce had been reached – long enough for Dixieland to pop a new heir and recover from its losses.  Now, only seventeen turns remained on that truce and this mysterious new side had appeared on their western border.  King Condon suspected that this might be a proxy side, funded by Earl Land to attack before Dixieland could pop a new heir.  It would certainly explain how they had upgraded a city to level three so quickly.

 

Gordon’s mission was to contact this new side and determine whether or not this was the case.  In either event, he was to either secure a truce with the new side, or take this city and send out scouts to determine the strength of the rest of the side.

 

If it came to that, taking this city would be problematic and not only because of the size of his force.  After upgrading Azalea to level five, Dixieland was pushing up against the point of diminishing returns with the nine cities already in its possession.  Adding a level three city would actually reduce their income.  However, with Barkoff’s prediction that their doom would come from the west, they had no choice.

 

* * *

 

“All right, pull back a little and pan over the rest of the column,” Minghis ordered.  His examination of the enemy warlord had not given him any concrete information, but at least now he knew who they were facing.

 

The foolamancy image zoomed out and began to pan slowly over the rest of the column.  This image was much clearer than the image Klytus had shown him of Sky City.  Cashcarry had been studying foolamancy in the Magic Kingdom for the last dozen turns or so and had shown an unexpected aptitude for it.  With Klytus feeding him information from Kala, Cashcarry could provide them with an image which almost seemed as if they were hovering over the column itself.

 

The enemy warlord and the knights rode at the head of the column.  They were followed by half of the stabbers and then by the siege towers which were being pulled by teams of horses.  Behind the siege towers followed the archers and then the rest of the stabbers.  It was a sensible formation, designed to protect both the siege towers and the archers.

 

Over all of this watched the dwagons.  The beasts were enormous.  It was amazing that something so large could fly.  Only one, the red, was mounted – presumably by the warlord in charge of them.  That would be their target once the battle had been joined, both to remove the leadership and to eliminate the beast’s fire breath.  The remaining dwagons, three blues, two purples and two greens, could not set Arboria on fire.

 

“They are still not due to arrive for three more turns?” Minghis asked.

 

“That is correct, Sire,” Klytus said.  “Unless they split their column.”

 

“This warlord will not do that,” Minghis said.  “He is too protective of those siege towers to put them at risk.  What of the scouts?”

 

 “They have slowed their approach,” Kala said.  “They moved only three hexes closer to us this turn.”

 

“Even so, I want the hawks kept in the tree, out of sight,” Minghis ordered.

 

“Yes, father,” Ornella agreed.

 

“And Khan?” Minghis asked.

 

“Your son will arrive with his knights late next turn,” Kala said.  “The knights from Sky City will arrive early the turn after that.”

 

Minghis nodded.  Arboria’s four stacks of knights would be joined by the four stacks led by Khan and the two stacks from Sky City.  He would have eighty knights to this army’s forty.  By the time the enemy arrived, he would have more than twice as many archers.  And, on top of that, he had twenty four hawks of which the enemy was hopefully unaware.  Hopefully they would prove to be a match for those dwagons.

 

“Why is their force so small?” Minghis asked.  “Kala, have you seen any activity around the other cities?”

 

“Nothing, lord,” Kala assured him.

 

“I don’t think it’s that small,” Ornella said.  “If Kala had not spotted them four turns out, we would not have had time to pull our forces here.  They could have taken Arboria easily.”

 

“Those dwagons make it a lot larger,” Cashcarry added.  He was not wrong.  Minghis found that he was more concerned about the dwagons than any other part of this army.

 

“My hawks will rip them apart,” Ornella assured them with pride.

 

“Not without cost,” Minghis said.  “Perhaps great cost.  We shall retire for the evening.  Casters, use the rest of your juice this turn to reinforce the tower.  I want everyone in the war room at dawn.  We must devise our strategy.”

 

* * *

 

Chief Gordon was surprised when he rode up to the gates of the city.  Not by the massive tree which formed its tower – their scouts had advised them of the unusual nature of the city.  Rather he was surprised by the fact that there was not a defender to be seen on the outer walls.  It was as if the city were abandoned.  They could knock down the gate and walk in unopposed.

 

Gordon silently ordered the dwagons to land behind the rest of the column.  He rode back to meet the Viscount Hardy, the warlord in command of the dwagons.

 

“What are your orders, sir?” Hardy asked when Gordon got there.  From outward appearances, the two men could not be more different.  Where Gordon was tall and lean, Hardy was short and squat.  The Viscount was as dark-haired as Gordon was fair and had deep brown eyes compared to Gordon’s blue.  The only feature they had in common was the handlebar moustache worn by both men.  Still, when he had been tasked to choose a commander for the dwagon wing, Gordon had not hesitated to pick the stalwart Viscount.  The two of them had seen many campaigns together, including the siege to retake Azalea.

 

“Take your dwagons and scout around the city,” Gordon commanded.  “Take care not to cross the hex boundary of the city, but I need to know where the defenders are.”

 

“Yes, sir!” Hardy replied.  Gordon rode back to the front of the column as the dragons lifted into the air.

 

* * *

 

Khan, Sonja, Dalia and Douglas waited in the storehouse opposite Arboria’s only gate with five stacks of knights.  Another four stacks were hidden in another nearby storehouse with the warlords Lawrence, Moe and Kherlen.  Khan did not like hiding from the enemy, but his father’s commands were not to be ignored.  Minghis was a brilliant leader according to the six warlords who had served with him since the beginning.

 

Remain hidden, came Minghis’ silent order.  Remain silent.

 

The enemy must be scouting.  There would be no other reason for the great Minghis to repeat his orders.  Khan unconsciously held his breath in anticipation – it would not be long now.

 

* * *

 

Gordon rode back to the back of the column as Hardy returned with the dwagons.  This time, only Hardy’s red landed behind the column.

 

“Report,” Gordon ordered.

 

“There are no defenders visible on the outer wall or in the outer city,” Hardy said.  “I counted ten stacks of archers on the courtyard walls and ten stacks of stabbers in the courtyard as well as a single stack of knights.”

 

“Did you see anything in that blasted tree?”

 

“Not from outside the hex boundary,” Hardy replied, shaking his head.  “They could hide a hundred stacks of archers in that thing and I wouldn’t be able to see them.”

 

“What does your gut tell you?”

 

“To keep an eye on that tree,” Hardy said.  “But I think we’ve seen the bulk of their forces.  This city is practically undefended.”

 

Gordon nodded.  This explained the lack of defenders on the outer wall.  They simply did not have the forces to hold the outer city, and they knew it.  Better to bring them in to the courtyard where his forces would have to cross through the city under fire from the tower before losing any of their defenders.  The low number of defenders also fit with his majesty’s theory of this being nothing more than a proxy side.  They had enough funds from Earl Land to upgrade their cities, but had not yet had time to pop enough troops to defend them.

 

“Rejoin your wing,” Gordon commanded.  He turned and rode back to the front of the column as Hardy joined the rest of his dwagons.  He joined the knights at the front of the column.

 

“Hand me the flag,” Gordon ordered.  The knight to his right handed Gordon the double-bugle flag of Dixieland.  Gordon raised the flag high over his head and waved it back and forth to signal for parley.

 

* * *

 

“Their commander is signaling for parley, my lord,” Kala informed him.

 

“Very well,” Minghis replied.  “As we discussed, Ornella.  Klytus?”

 

* * *

 

Gordon felt the incoming thinkagram almost as soon as he began signaling for parely.  So, now they knew that this side had a thinkamancer.  Or they had hired one, which would almost certainly prove they had backing from somewhere.  Gordon accepted the call and the blue and white image of a beautiful woman seemed to appear in front of him.  She wore full battle armor and appeared to be standing at some sort of map table.  Behind her he could see a few stabbers standing at attention.

 

“Identify yourself and state your intentions!” she commanded.  Gordon smiled.  Straight to the point.

 

“I am Count Gordon, Chief Warlord of Dixieland,” Gordon replied.  “To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”

 

“Ornella Mango,” the woman replied.  “Daughter of Minghis Mango, Light of the Dawn and Master of Horses.  Chief Warlady of Mangolia.  Why have you brought an army to my city?”

 

Now Gordon also knew that this was not a royal side.  So far all signs were still pointing to this being a proxy side of some type.

 

“Lady Ornella,” Gordon said, “that is going to be a long conversation.  If you are within the city, I would prefer to speak in person.  If you would come out to parley with me, I guarantee your safety and that you will be allowed to return to your city before any hostilities begin.  It is my sincere hope that combat can be avoided.”

 

“Somehow I doubt that you brought an army into my lands to avoid a battle,” Ornella said with a sneer.  “I will meet you alone, in the open at the gate.  You will not enter the city and I will not leave.”

 

“Agreed.”

 

* * *

 

Gordon waited at the gate with a single stack of knights a respectful distance behind him.  As the gates slowly swung open he saw that the Lady Ornella had done the same.  Other than her and her knights, there was no sign that a single soul inhabited this city.  He could not even see any troops on the courtyard wall in the distance.

 

He was more than a little surprised to see that all of them were mounted on hobby horses.  He had never before heard of any side using the strange ponies as mounts.  They barely had more move than a man.  He was also surprised to see that Mangolia’s chief warlady was an archery warlady.  That was a strange choice.  He was not surprised that she was only level one.  More proof that this was a sham of a side.

 

Gordon dismounted to approach the gate and the Lady Ornella did the same.  She was stunningly beautiful.  The grainy image of the thinkagram had not done her justice.  Gordon found himself hoping that he would not have to croak her this turn.  He quickly pushed such thoughts out of his mind.

 

When he reached the hex boundary, Gordon stopped, clicked his heels together sharply and bowed, before standing at attention.  The Lady Ornella looked him over for a moment, before nodding to him.

 

“State your business,” she commanded.

 

“Lady Ornella,” Gordon began, “I have been sent by King Condon to determine the intentions of your side and to negotiate a truce with you if such is possible.”

 

Ornella looked past him at the army waiting halfway across the hex.

 

“Your side has an odd way of declaring peace,” she quipped.  “What are the terms of this…so-called truce?”

 

“I have been authorized to offer your side a probationary truce for thirty turns,” Gordon explained.  “During that time, neither our side, nor any other, will be allowed to cross your eastern border, defined to be within six hexes of this city, to within six hexes of your southernmost city.  In exchange, you will pledge that no units of your side, or any other, will be allowed to cross the border.”

 

“And how are we to enforce the behavior of other sides?” Ornella asked.

 

“With force if necessary,” Gordon replied.  “Forfeiture by either side would result in an automagically enforced penalty of fifty thousand shmuckers.  In addition, your side will provide one thousand shmuckers per turn of the truce to Dixieland.”

 

“So, by truce you actually mean extortion,” the Lady Ornella said.  Her tone had become level and dangerous.

 

“Here are my terms,” she continued.  “You will immediately remove your forces from our lands, twelve hexes east of this city.  Any future incursion by your forces will be considered an act of war.  Failure to withdraw will be considered an act of war.  This negotiation is over.”

 

“Lady Ornella,” Gordon called as she turned to leave.  “Is your side allied with Earl Land?”

 

Ornella turned back to face him.

 

“I have never heard of this ‘Earl Land’ of which you speak,” she said.

 

“We believe that your side has been created by Earl Land as a proxy by which to violate their truce with us,” he added.  “In any event, you should know that you cannot defeat us.  Dixieland is a large side, with many cities.  In fact, I highly doubt you can defeat this expeditionary force.  You would do well to reconsider…”

 

“How dare you!” she shouted, interrupting him.  “Mangolia is no one’s puppet side!  My father founded this side after travelling through the wilderness for six turns with a single stack of stabbers after popping in a ruin.  No one, not even the Titans, has given him any aid.  Withdraw from our lands, or we will crush your pitiful army.”

 

As she spoke, the gates closed in front of him.  Once closed, Gordon was certain he could hear the hoofbeats of horses galloping away, no doubt headed for the courtyard gates to rejoin her forces.

 

A side founded by a wandering feral warlord?  Preposterous.  Yet, after seeing the fire in her eyes at his accusation, part of him believed her.

 

“We won’t need the siege towers,” he said once he had ridden back to the column.  “I need two stacks of stabbers with battering rams!”

 

* * *

 

Ornella ran up the stairs of the tower as fast as she could.  This warlord Gordon would not waste any time beginning the attack.  The gall of that man!  She was looking forward to putting an arrow in that smug face of his.

 

She was out of breath by the time she reached the landing platforms atop the tower, but she ignored the fire in her lungs and kept running until she reached her father.  In the distance, she could hear the enemy battering at the gates to her city.

 

“Father, I am…sorry,” she panted.  “I should…not have…”

 

“Later,” her father commanded.  “Join your forces.”

 

 “Link up,” he ordered as Ornella ran off.  Inside the tower, in response to his command, Klytus took Kala’s hand, mentally linked with her and then took control of the tower’s defenses.  Caschcarry had been opposed to this tactic, maintaining that thinkamancy links were dangerous, especially with a novice thinkamancer.  However, at Klytus’ insistence that the tower’s shockmancy would be at least twice as effective under their combined control, Minghis  had been left with no choice.  They needed every advantage in this battle.

 

Once that had been done, Minghis placed the Helm of Conquest back on his head.  This battle was not going to go as easily as this warlord Gordon anticipated.  Immediately, Minghis’ combat bonus was added to every unit in the city.  Combined with the bonus his daughter provided as chief warlord, every unit now had a leadership bonus of four – easily a match for the Dixieland warlord.

 

With a smile, Minghis silently ordered the main gates of the city to open.

 

* * *

 

The main gate was only just beginning to show signs of giving way to Gordon’s rammers when it simply began to swing open.  The stabbers carrying the rams stopped and looked back at him.  For some reason, Gordon felt a chill at the sight of the silently opening gate.

 

Perhaps the Lady Ornella had reconsidered once her temper had cooled.  Gordon was certainly not above offering an apology for his accusations if it saved his troops from battle.  He held out his hand for the flag and again waved it to request parley.  This time there was no response.

 

“Dwagons forward!” Gordon ordered.  He would let the great beasts bear the brunt of the tower’s shockmancy.  As he watched, the dwagons sailed over the wall like great winged ships, with the red at the rear.  There was no blast from the tower when the first dwagon crossed the hex boundary.  That thinkamancer, or another caster, must actually be in the city controlling the tower.

 

As soon as Viscount Hardy crossed the hex boundary on the back of his red, there was a loud crack and a blinding flash as the tower fired.  However, instead of striking one of the dwagons in the lead, the bolt of shockmancy flew past all of them, squarely striking the red.  Even if there were a caster directing the fire, that should have been nearly impossible.

 

Gordon could tell that the dwagons still had Hardy’s leadership bonus.  He watched as the other dwagons moved to screen the red even as they flew toward the courtyard.  Hardy should have done that in the first place.  Of course, this was their first battle using the dwagons.  Gordon ordered his troops forward, stabbers flanking the archers, knights in the back prepared to move to either flank if necessary.

 

Once the dwagons were halfway to the courtyard, another blast fired from the tower.  This one snaked its way through the screening dwagons to strike the purple directly in front of Hardy.  No sooner had the blast faded, then scores of archers suddenly appeared on the courtyard wall.  There had to be at least twenty stacks on that wall, twice as many as Gordon had.

 

“Clear the walls!” Gordon ordered.  Even though they could not hear him, Gordon watched as the dwagons descended toward the courtyard walls, the injured purple falling back with Viscount Henry.  That tower should only have one more blast in it.  A caster could divide those up, but the blasts had been far too powerful for that.  Soon the dwagons would be close enough to the walls to use their breath weapons and this battle would be over.

 

A third blast fired from the tower, snaking toward the red, only to be intercepted by one of the greens.  The red dwagon blocked Gordon’s view of Hardy’s points, but the dwagons still had Hardy’s leadership bonus.

 

Motion in the giant tree which formed the tower caught his eye.  Gordon felt his stomach knot up at the sight of winged units falling from the tree toward the dwagons.

 

* * *

 

Ornella sat on the back of Warcry watching as the dwagons approached.

 

“Launch!” she ordered silently once the tower had fired its third blast.

 

Hold! her father immediately countermanded.  Disband it, this was supposed to be her battle!

 

Hawkmen, wait for my command, came his silent orders.  Those dwagons were going to reach the wall and the archers would pay the price.  Time seemed to crawl as the dwagons slowly came in range.  If father didn’t do something soon…

 

LAUNCH!

 

She screamed in ecstasy with her hawk as they hurled themselves from the branches of the tower.  Leaves briefly whipped her face before they cleared the tower.  Most of the hawks simply allowed themselves to fall, almost straight down toward the dwagons below them, but her stack had a more distant target.

 

Warcry flew straight for the red carrying the warlord leading the dwagons.  Now that she was in the air, the distance between them closed quickly.  Ornella drew back on the bow and took sight along the shaft.  She had practiced this on antelope around Mango City, but now her heart pounded in her chest.  She found her target and aimed above his head before loosing the arrow.  Beside her the knights and archers of her stack also let fly.

 

They were too close for her to have the luxury of watching her shot.  Ornella shouldered her bow and leaned forward to grab the edge of the saddle.  She felt herself level as her arrow found its mark.  The dwagons were no longer led.  She banked her hawk to the left as Warcry extended his talons for the attack.

 

A column of fire shot past her as the red dwagon breathed at them, close enough to singe Warcry’s belly.  She felt her stack bonus drop by two as one of her hawks proved less fortunate.  Amelia and her rider were lost.

 

And then, the impact as Warcry’s talons dug into the thick flesh of the dwagon’s wing, incapacitating the heavily wounded beast.  As Warcry spread his wings, lifting her up and away, the dwagon plummeted toward the ground.  She felt herself level yet again when the giant beast crashed into the ground just before the courtyard gates.

 

As all of her hawkmen cleared away from their first pass at the dwagons, the tower fired its final blast.  Rather than a single bolt, this was a crackling, hissing web of shockmancy, seeking out each dwagon in the sky.  The injured purple and green were immediately croaked by the blast.  Two of the remaining five were now heavily wounded and easy prey for her hawkmen.  The three blues, largely immune to shockmancy, had only been lightly wounded by the archers on the walls.  Her heart raced with the thrill of battle.  However, as she turned back toward the dwagons, she caught sight of several warhawks, lying singed and broken on the ground.  Gordon would pay for this!

 

* * *

 

Three of his dwagons had already been croaked by the tower and the warhawks and the rest were sorely injured.  The disbanded scouts had said nothing of warhawks!  And they had certainly said nothing to indicate this city was defended by such a large force of archers.

 

Gordon was about to order his men and dwagons to withdraw when he heard the thundering of hooves.  From the west side of the courtyard wall came five full stacks of knights on those ridiculous hobby horses.  He looked to the east where another five stacks of knights had just appeared.

 

“Knights to the east!” Gordon commanded.  “Stabbers screen the archers to the west.  Archers, fire to the west!”

 

Gordon looked down the road to the southeast and saw that the gates of the city had closed behind them.  Trapped by his own overconfidence.  Gordon wheeled his quarter horse to face the enemy.

 

“In Dixieland, where I was popped!” Gordon shouted over the din of battle, rallying his stabbers into a dance fight.  “Early, Titans, one turn that dropped.”

 

“Look away!” the stabbers shouted back to him.  “Look away, look away, Dixieland.”

 

* * *

 

Dwagon, it turned out, did not taste very good.  That wasn’t going to stop Ornella from eating every last bite of the slab of tough meat that had been set before her.  It had been cut from the body of the red that had croaked Amelia.  Throughout the great hall, were the sounds of celebration, but their victory had come at a great cost.  Nine hawks and seventeen hawkmen had been lost.  Khan’s knights had lost fully half their number.  They had lost only a few stabbers in the cleanup and three stacks of archers had been lost to the dwagons.  It would take many turns to replace the forces they had lost here today.

 

After the feast, Ornella stood in the branches of the tree, stroking Warhawk’s feathers.  The great bird knew her mood and cried out quietly, almost whimpering as she leaned against him.  She did not understand how anything could hurt worse than the loss of Amelia, but she knew that if she had lost Warcry, she would have known pain even greater than this.

 

And her father had agreed to send this man Gordon back to his ruler in safety.  She understood that the truce they had forged here today was good for the side, but she still felt betrayed.  Through Klytus, Minghis and King Condon had agreed to a forty turn truce and a payment of thirty thousand shmuckers in reparations to Mangolia.  In return, all of their prisoners would be set free outside the city at dawn next turn to return home.  In addition, Dixieland was forbidden to tell any side anything about Mangolia for the duration of the truce.

 

Ornella screamed aloud in frustration and rage.  First Warcry, then all of the surviving hawks, joined her cry.  She wanted blood and they knew that hunger well.

 

* * *

 

Her father was still in the dungeons talking with Gordon when she returned.  The roots of the great tree formed the cells in which all of their prisoners were being held.  Her father spoke with the enemy warlord through the barred door of the cell.

 

“You have not seen the last of me, barbarian,” she heard Gordon say to her father.  Her heart pounded in her chest at his insolence.  The great Minghis only laughed.

 

“You are very brash, Gordon,” her father said.  “But you are right.  We have not seen the last of each other.”

 

Her father must have heard the sound of her armor as she approached, because he turned to face her.  His surprise at her presence was obvious.

 

“Ornella?” he said as she walked toward him.  “What are you doing here?”

 

“I have come to claim my spoils,” she said, flatly.

 

“Ornella, we have reached a truce,” her father said.  “We must return all of the surviving troops in the morning.  You cannot…”

 

“You can free him in the morning,” Ornella interrupted, sparking a flash of anger in the eyes of the great Minghis.  “Until then, he is mine.”

 

Slowly the anger faded from Minghis’ eyes and he began to laugh.  He looked back at Gordon.

 

“I would not be you for all the shmuckers of your side,” he said to the warlord.  Then he turned and walked from the dungeon.

 

“Lady Ornella,” Gordon began.

 

“Chains!” Ornella commanded.  Manacles appeared around Gordon’s wrists and ankles.  The chains pulled him onto the floor, spread-eagled.  The cell door swung open and Ornella stepped inside and stood straddle over him, glaring down at the prisoner.

 

“We have a truce!” he objected.  “You cannot torture me…”

 

Ornella dropped to her knees over him and slapped him across the face.

 

“Silence, coward,” she commanded.  “You are my prisoner until dawn.”

 

She reached down and took the front of his prisoner’s tunic in her hands, leaning forward until her face was only inches from his.  Gordon was not an easy man to frighten, but the rage and bloodlust in her eyes could not be ignored.

 

“And until then, I have use for you,” she hissed, ripping the tunic open.

 

* * *

 

Gordon waited as the gates of Arboria swung silently open.  All along the main road through the city, the bodies of his fallen comrades silently condemned his failure.  Then his eyes fell upon a golden hawk sitting on the road before him and the chief warlord who sat upon it.  She seemed so much more impressive now than when he had first encountered her outside this gate.  For a moment he could not tear his eyes from hers as they bored into his, as unblinking as the hawk on which she rode.

 

Around him, the remnants of his force waited for the dawn.  Half a dozen knights, a stack and a half of stabbers and three full stacks of archers were all that had survived this debacle.  Of all of this, it was the loss of the eight dwagons that would be the most difficult to recover.  The sky was only just beginning to lighten over the tops of the trees.  He turned back to Ornella and opened his mouth to speak.

 

“I release you,” she said, interrupting him before he could speak.  At once his armor and livery returned to him.  All of his men stacked with him and were repatriated.  Then they formed up into more regular stacks and prepared for the march.

 

As their turn began with the dawn, Gordon felt the numerous bites and scratches on his neck and chest heal.  He led his men out of the gate onto the road.  He glanced back just in time to see Ornella take to the air and head back to the tower as the gates began to close behind them.

 

After last night, he had no doubts that these Mangolians had been spawned by a feral warlord.  His eyes continued to follow the hawk back toward the tower.  Gordon sighed, not fully understanding the myriad emotions that weighed on him.

 

There was no way he was going to be able to hide this from Dateamancer Ardent.

 

* * *

 

Her father was waiting on the platform when she brought her stack in for a landing.  He stood there patiently as she dismounted and handed Warcry off to Willa.  She glanced back toward the gate.  Gordon and his men were already out of sight in the forest.

 

“Father,” she said.  Her greeting sounded cold and formal even to her.

 

“We need to assess our forces here and then Khan and I will leave with Klytus and Cashcarry,” Minghis told her.  “Kala will remain here to continue mapping the lands around Arboria.”

 

“Yes, father,” Ornella agreed.

 

“Ornella, what is wrong with you?” he asked.  For a moment she just looked at him.

 

“Why?” she finally asked.

 

“We cannot fight Dixieland,” Minghis explained.  “They are too large and we are too weak.  This battle alone cost us more than a third our hawkmen, as you are painfully aware.  The army they sent here was what they could spare from one city.  Plus their dwagons.  Gordon boasted as much to me in the dungeons.”

 

“I see.”

 

“If they had taken the time to truly marshal their forces we would have been facing three times as many men, and some of them would have been pikers.  It was sheer luckamancy that Kala spotted them as far away as she did.  We had to make peace – for now.”

 

“For now?”

 

“You know my plans, daughter,” Minghis said.  “Now, we have a deadline – and our first target.”

 

Part 5 of 15 in The Horde

Comments

  • falcore51

    Great story so far, keep it up.

  • Bandaid

    I really enjoy your story so far. Two minor nitpicks: To the best of my knowledge, the stack bonus is maximized at 8 units on foot or up to 16 units (half of them mounts which do not count for stack bonus purposes). "Stacked with him were eight knights on nickel horses." therefore sounds sub optimal.

    Also if a city is attacked archery units within can shoot across the hex border, no matter if it is their turn or not. It is mentioned in one of parsons klogs, book 2 page 91.

    Please keep it up, I am looking forward to your next installment.

  • ArkenSaw

    @Bandaid

    Well, boop.  ", or as defense when your city is attacked."  I totally skimmed or misremembered that.  Thanks for catching that, I'll make the necessary adjustment.  In this case, Minghis would have still used that tactic because he wanted to bring his knights and warhawks into play as well, but I'll have to make that clear and change Gordon's assessment of the situation.

     

    @ all my readers

    I am really glad that everyone is enjoying the story.  It's been a lot of fun to write so far and I really appreciate all the kind comments and support I've gotten.  It's been a great experience so far!

  • ArkenSaw

    @ Bandaid

    Okay, that's a really good question on the stack bonus.  It was said that the stack bonus maximizes at eight, so does a two-man stack have a bonus of 1 or 2?  A one-man "stack" doesn't have a bonus of 1, after all.  I was presuming a warlord with a stack of eight under him gained a bonus of 8, but I'm not really sure.  Maybe I should start a discussion on that in the forums...?

  • Salvage

    I enjoy your story.

  • ArkenSaw

    Okay, I've corrected the piece about defenders firing across the hex boundary and added a little bit.  I think it makes the chapter a lot better, so thanks for pointing that out.  If anyone wants to take the time to re-read it, the new material begins with Gordon's arrival at the city and ends with him calling for parley.

     

    This is why the publishing industry has editors, although I doubt they have the extreme devotion of Erfworld addicts like us :)  Thanks again, Bandaid!

  • dsollen

    @ArkenSaw

    First, great story and keep going!

     

    Having said that, to answer your question to bandaid the stack bonus is at it's maximum with 8 (or 16 in cases of mounts) units.  Any units after that lower the stack bonus back down to 0.  This was Word of God in response to a comic making a joke about stacks, see more here: https://wiki.erfworld.com/Stack

    So I think he is right, a stack of 8 knights with a warlord is sub optimal compared to a stack of 7 + warlord.  There are some exceptions if the warlord is high enough level that his leadership bonus being spread to more can be more useful, but in any case were talking about a level 1 knight so that probably doesn't apply here.

    As to what bonus one gets for having a partial stack...don't ask.  I was playing around with some others to work out the likely mechanics for stack & leadership bonuses based off of various numbers in cannon and the conclusion we came up with is that no easy mathamancy seemed to fit all the numbers in cannon.  The best explanation I was able to come up with is that stack bonus gives a bonus different then leadership which is multiplicative with leadership bonuses (likely stack bonus only boosts defense while leadership boosts both defense and offense?), and leadership bonuses depend on unit type.  In other words, we can't really say how the math really works out but it doesn't seem to be constant across the bored, the amount of bonus a leader/stack bonus gave seems to vary too much in various situations.

     

    In fact while I missed it before now that I'm thinking of it I noticed another detail to nitpick.  The stack bonus does not decrease when a member of the stack dies during an engagement.  Every fanfic I ever read gets this wrong, but you keep the full 8 person stack bonus for the encounter even as stack members die, it only drops down after the current battle to whatever the new, decreased, stack bonus would be, again this was explained in response to the fan-comic I mentioned previously, so not in the main comic but still cannon.

    Having said that I didn't even really notice either until pointed out.  I can nitpick details, but it doesn't drop the overall quality of the  work, keep it up :)

  • ArkenSaw

    @dsollen

     

    Thanks for the link to the wiki! That pretty much settles that question. Interesting how the stack bonus remains constant as units are lost during a battle.  Going back to an old tabletop game called Squad Commander (probably before EVERYBODY's time here) as your stack was cut down you lost stack bonus, but not in Erfworld apparently.  I'm glad you're enjoying the story!