The Horde, Part Sixteen
Part Sixteen: With Friends Like These
by Thomas K. Martin
Minghis examined the maps carefully. Last turn Khan and Ornella had taken the city of Emerald Coast without a struggle. Like Dogwood before it, the enemy had razed the city and withdrawn their troops ahead of his armies. Mangolia now possessed its first port city and Minghis had no idea what to do with it. The Mangos were no naval tribe. True, Minghis could pop shipwrights and seafarers there, but he would have no use for them when the tribe left these cities behind.
If the tribe left these cities behind. After he and Sonja had…reconciled last night, she had presented him with an alternative. He had healed fully with the dawn of course, but Minghis could still feel the sting from the wounds she had given him last night.
Once he had finally defeated her, and once Cashcarry had healed the bulk of their wounds, she had told him of Klytus’ suggestion to her. Nine cities for Mangolia, the five plains cities for Khan and the six mountain cities of Earl Land and Earl Light for Ornella. Twenty cities, all level two or higher, would make the tribe stronger and more secure than most sides on Erf.
Dixieland had possessed accurate maps of the territories held by the Earls which Minghis now studied. This decision weighed on him more heavily than he had anticipated. He had sworn that his people would be free, but his grand experiment had failed. Two thirds of the tribe had fallen before taking Dixieland’s capital – after taking only two cities.
No matter which course of action he decided on, his next target was clear. Nawlins was now fortified with the garrisons of three cities. Their next target was Gump. From there, the horde would march on Azalea and end Dixieland as a side. No doubt, the Earls would take that opportunity to descend from the mountains and try to scavenge Dixieland’s corpse. Let them – they would find the Mangolians a much more powerful enemy.
Minghis silently ordered Khan and Ornella to withdraw from Nawlins to the capital. Once they arrived he would consult with them and the surviving members of his original tribe before sending them off to Gump – even Gomar.
This was a decision he could not make alone.
* * *
Gordon’s yellow circled the roof of Azalea’s tower prior to landing. Three new dwagons had popped in the city since King Condon had fled River City, bringing Dixieland’s total to nineteen. In three turns, another three stacks of dwagons would arrive from Earl Land and Earl Light. Then they would take the fight to this barbarian and drive him from their lands – indeed from the Erf itself.
Gordon’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of a woman in a blue gown atop the tower. He banked the yellow and dove toward the tower roof. No sooner had the yellow’s claws touched the roof of the tower than he leaped from the saddle. He caught Dale in his arms as she ran up to him and kissed her.
“Thank the Titans he released you!” Gordon said. “I am so sorry I left you there with him. Can you forgive me?”
“You had your Duty,” Dale sobbed. “Can you forgive me?”
“He almost had me,” Dale sobbed. “Their lookamancer, that horrible woman, and that hideous thinkamancer tried to turn me. I resisted for nine turns – I thought I could hold out forever but then…”
“What?” Gordon asked as Dale turned her face away from him in shame. “What happened?”
“Kala has a turnamancy whip,” Dale said. “On the tenth turn, she was ordered to use it on me. She was linked with the thinkamancer. If…if Minghis had not decided to ransom me I…I would have turned. Titans forgive me, I would have!”
Gordon fought against the cold anger that settled into his stomach. Dale did not need to see his anger at what they did to her. She needed something else from him.
“You are not to blame,” he told her as gently as he could. “You were strong and you stayed true to Dixieland.”
“But, I would have…”
“You don’t know that,” Gordon interrupted. “Did you fight them? Did you resist them all the way until the end?”
“Y-yes,” Dale said, uncertainty creeping into her voice.
“Then you did your Duty, as bravely as any hero of Dixie,” Gordon assured her.
* * *
As they had in River City, the portal room at Azalea was now doing double duty as the war room. Gordon carefully examined the map table.
“Twenty six turns?” Gordon exclaimed. King Condon had finally negotiated an alliance with the UFP that kept Dixieland independent from the Federation. The treaty included free Federation use of Dixieland’s port cities in perpetuity and required Dixieland to provide military assistance to the fledgling side the UFP intended to set up in Minghis’ plains cities. The Federation was finally going to get its foothold on the mainland, after all.
“They’ll get here just in time to pick over the ruins!” Gordon continued.
“They are sending a fleet of ten ships of the line,” Condon replied. “Along with four troop ships. Apparently getting that ready takes time.”
“But it should only take them fourteen turns to sail here,” Gordon replied. “They need another twelve turns?”
“Sixteen,” Condon corrected. “We reached this agreement four turns ago.”
“Actually, they’ll get here in time to protect us from our new allies, I suppose,” Gordon said, turning his attention back to the map table. “With the dwagons from King Black and his son, we should be able to prevail against these savages. You say that Minghis’ army is headed back to River City?”
“Last turn,” Condon confirmed. “Master Dey showed me their march. They sent a third of their force back to Emerald Coast, but the bulk is in route to the capital.”
“He’s going to hit Gump,” Gordon said. “Nawlins is too strong for him now. Where is Master Dey?”
“He had business to tend to in the Magic Kingdom. He should be back soon and then we can check on Minghis’ movements.”
Gordon nodded. Except for the hawks, none of Minghis’ forces could reach any of Dixieland’s cities or holdings. There was no urgency to this turn.
“Should we move to reinforce Gump?” Condon asked.
“No,” Gordon said. “Not until Minghis has committed his forces to the march. By then, we’ll have another three stacks of dwagons, courtesy of King Black and his son. I will lead the entire force there once they arrive, along with Dale and Barkoff. Between the dwagons and Barkoff’s command of the tower, we’ll wipe out Minghis’ air forces. For now, have Gump pop nothing but pikers.”
“Should I upgrade the city?”
“To level four?” Gordon asked. “I don’t think so. That would hurt the treasury at this point and not give us much of an advantage.”
“What would hurt the treasury?” Dale asked as she walked into the portal room.
“Upgrading Gump,” Condon replied. Gordon looked up and smiled at the baroness before returning his attention to the map table. Minghis had known better than to hit Nawlins. With the garrisons from Dogwood and Emerald Coast there as well as all five of Dixieland’s coastal defense ships, he would have had no chance.
He was caught completely by surprise by a sudden cry of pain from the king. Gordon looked up just in time to see Dale pull her dagger out of the king’s side. Her expression was completely blank as she raised the weapon for another strike. Condon collapsed to his knees, holding himself up by the edge of the table and was looking up at Dale in horror.
“Dale!” Gordon shouted, but she paid him no heed as if she had not even heard him. Gordon ran around the table but there was no way he was going to be able to reach them before that blade came down and ended the side.
“Hoboken,” intoned a male voice from the direction of the portal and a blast of shockmancy slammed Dale against the wall of the portal room. Dale collapsed to the floor, incapacitated. For an instant Gordon was torn between rushing to the aid of the king or his beloved. Duty won that battle.
“Your Majesty!” Gordon exclaimed.
“I live,” Condon assured him as he attempted to rise to his feet. “What happened? What treachery is this?”
“There is a spell on her,” Master Dey said before Gordon could even think of a reply. “My guess would be thinkamancy.”
Gordon helped the king into the ornate chair which had been moved down here for him. The king was partially incapacitated but would heal at start of turn.
“Those treacherous dogs sent her back to us as a weapon!” Condon gasped. “Gordon, check her!”
Gordon knelt by Dale’s motionless body. Thank the Titan’s she was not croaked, but she was much more severely incapacitated than the king. Without healing she would croak at the next start of turn.
“She is fatally incapacitated, your Majesty,” Gordon told the king.
“Master Dey, can you remove that spell?” King Condon asked.
“No, your majesty,” Dey replied. “That would require a thinkamancer. Perhaps more than one.”
“Take her into the Magic Kingdom,” Condon ordered. “Have the thinkamancers remove this foul compulsion from her and have her healed. Take a thousand shmuckers from the treasury. If you must spend more than that, Dixieland will repay it.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” Master Dey agreed.
“And bring the healomancer back with you to tend to the king,” Gordon added. Dey nodded acknowledgement to him and reached down to touch Dale’s brow.
“You are captured,” he said and shackles and chains appeared on the baroness. Then he lifted her still form in his arms.
“I will return as quickly as possible,” he assured them before vanishing through the portal.
“Your Majesty…” Gordon began.
“No, Chief Gordon,” Condon interrupted. “You need not apologize. We both knew that this enemy has a thinkamancer and we both know they are dishonorable savages.”
“This,” the king continued as he gestured toward the map table, “is the enemy we face. This is why we must prevail.”
* * *
“Captain’s log,” Captain Tiberius dictated to the scribe, “sharedate fifty-two-eighteen point five. The Endeavor has arrived at the mainland by order of Sharefleet Command. Our orders are to scout the coastline south of the Dixieland city of Emerald Coast. The recent discovery of abandoned city sites to the west of Dixieland has led Sharefleet to believe there may be an abandoned port city somewhere along the coast south and west of Dixieland. Our mission is to locate and claim this site if it exists before the arrival of the fleet at the Dixieland city of Nawlins. Having a city of our own on the mainland would…”
His dictation was interrupted by a knock at the door of his cabin.
“Enter,” Tiberius commanded. The cabin door opened and his ship’s caster entered the room.
“Captain, the away team is ready to depart,” commander Simon informed him. Simon was a florist from the principality of Vegan and was also skilled as a signamancer. His presence on board was one of the reasons the Endeavor had been chosen for this mission. Simon’s Flower Power was able to influence the weather and give them fair winds for a speedy voyage to the mainland. Thanks to him Endeavor was the fastest ship of her class in the fleet.
“Thank you, commander,” Tiberius replied, standing from his chair and buttoning his uniform jacket. “Let’s see them off, shall we?”
“Yes, Captain,” he replied. Like all Vegans, Simon was formal and stoic, although Tiberius had caught a few glimpses of his more relaxed side during ship’s dinners. His signamancy, also common to Vegans, was almost elfin. Vegan was the first side to enter into alliance with Tiberius’ own side of Port Land forming the core of the UFP.
With three masts, Endeavor was officially designated as a fast attack cruiser, but she was built more like a corvette. Her hull was long and narrow, which gave her more speed than a traditional cruiser. Twin outriggers aft of amidships were intended to keep the ship from capsizing during a turn, but on a straight course, both remained above the waterline.
Major Piers waited near the bow of the ship with three stacks of marines. Piers was originally from the side of Dorn, the newest member of the Federation. Unlike most islands in the UFP, Dorn had only two port cities. Their other three cities were landlocked in the center of a barren island. As a result, the Dorns focused more on ground combat than any other principality of the alliance.
“Are your men ready, Major?” Tiberius asked.
“Ready and eager, Captain!” Piers replied, snapping to attention and saluting.
“At ease, Major,” Tiberius replied, returning the salute. “You have your orders?”
“Yes, sir. We are to scout the coastline to the south and west for abandoned port city sites, avoid all engagements if possible and report back by hat and start of turn and end of turn each turn.”
“Very good,” Tiberius said. “Our ally’s enemy in this area has both a lookamancer and sizeable air forces. The Endeavor will pace you two hexes out. If you are engaged by hostiles, you are to report by hat and we will close and render aid.”
“Understood, sir!” Piers replied. “Permission to debark?”
“Permission granted,” Tiberius replied. “Good luck.”
“Thank you sir!”
Tiberius watched as the three launches were lowered into the water and the seafarers assigned to them began rowing for the shore in the next hex. The UFP had only been seventeen hundred turns old when Prince Louis had betrayed his mission and founded Dixieland. The Dorns had not even been a part of the Federation at that time. If the Dixielanders betrayed their alliance this time, they would not find the UFP as forgiving.
* * *
Minghis waited impatiently for start of turn. Khan had left on the march for Gump last turn. This turn Ornella would depart as well and overtake him before he reached the city. Soon it would be noon and their turn would begin. It could have begun at dawn, but Minghis had ordered Kala to watch Azalea. By now the enemy would have realized that Minghis intended to march on Gump. He needed to know if they were sending reinforcements.
The turn before, he had held council with his inner circle, excluding Kala and Klytus. All had agreed. Mangolia would hold the cities they had won from Dixieland. Once they had taken all nine cities, Khan would ride west and found the side of Khanate with their original five cities. Then they would rebuild and take the mountain cities of the Earls for Ornella. With a strong, three-side alliance they would then raid and raze at their pleasure.
“My lord!” Kala suddenly exclaimed. “Dwagons from Earl Land have arrived at Azalea!”
“Are they attacking?” Minghis asked.
“No my lord,” Kala told him. “The dwagons have landed outside the southwestern gate of the city. There are no other forces with them.”
“Klytus, Cashcarry - show me!” Minghis ordered. An image of the gate from above appeared over the map table. Three full stacks of dwagons had indeed landed on the ground in front of the southwestern gate of Azalea. As Minghis watched he someone who could only be warlord Gordon walked out of the gate and up to the three riders who had dismounted from the dwagons. After speaking for a time, Gordon and one of the three riders turned and walked back into the city – across the hex boundary – together.
“Dixieland and Earl Land have allied against us,” Minghis said, quietly.
“What do we do?” Sonja asked him. Minghis held up a hand for silence and closed his eyes to concentrate. Only River City, Summer Fort and Arborea had been upgraded – all to level three so they could pop hawks. That would no longer be sufficient. He silently ordered the remaining six cities upgraded to level two.
“Klytus, attend,” he ordered, removing his helmet. With Klytus’ assistance, he promoted all existing units in Ornate and Khanate to field units, promoting several to warlord. Then he ordered them to march to Old Mango City. Then he ordered all of his newly upgraded cities to pop stabbers and archers, one stack of each per turn.
“There is only one thing we can do,” he said as the turn began. “We fight.”