Mericc watched in dismay as his father left the room. “I’m coming as well,” He said, grabbing his dagger and running to catch up. But his father whirled on his heels fiercely and stopped him short with a glance.
“NO! Mericc. You stay here,” Merigal exclaimed. Mericc felt a rising tide of panic and frustration well up. To not take part in his home’s defense reeked to him of something cowardly and dishonorable.
“But I can fight. I want to fight!” He protested, but Merigal cut him off and seemed to fill the room with his presence as he looked down at his son.
“Stay here Mericc, that is an order,” The Lord Protector proclaimed sternly, glancing over at the Lady Aniwen standing pale and frightened at the window. “I need to you to protect the Lady Aniwen and the rest of this household. Can you do that for me?”
Mericc started to protest, a part of him relishing the idea of testing his skills in an actual battle. However the mention of Aniwen’s name pulled him in another direction entirely and he was torn between two points. Before he could resolve this internal conflict his father made it for him by disappearing down the hall. Mericc rushed to the window, a column of smoke rapidly approached the city gates from the distance. Aniwen buried her head in Mericc’s chest and he did his best to comfort her, wrapping her up in his arms and stroking her hair gently. He did not look her in the face though, worried that she would see the fear on her face reflected in his own. He must be strong.
The column of smoke soon resolved itself into the dark forms of the Goblin Outriders and their Warg mounts, followed quickly behind by heavy orcish infantry. The rapid clamp of many iron boots was drowned out by the guttural battle cries and fierce howling challenges of the red eyed fiends as they approached the city gate. The spearmen of the Riverwatch garrison braced themselves behind the wooden gate while archers manned the towers and walls on either side, waiting for the order to unleash their first volleys.
Rufius stood upon the wall, awaiting the enemy, his right arm raised as a signal to the archers to hold their fire. He was haphazardly dressed now in a suit of chain mail and cured leather, the suddenness of the attack not allowing him to outfit himself more properly. The goblin warg riders were close enough now that Rufius could see the blood lust in their eyes and the malevolence in their open mouthed toothy grins. They came looking for death and Rufius was more than glad to give it to them. Beads of sweat might be falling down the foreheads of the archers on the wall, but Rufius was ready. He had done this dance before.
“Fire!” He shouted and the archers released their arrows, downing a half score of the goblins in the front. Another volley and more goblin’s fell, some struck by arrows and others fallen beneath the paws of their warg mounts as arrows pierced their thick fur hides. The third volley struck little as the line of goblin riders split in two and wheeled to either side of the walls and turned back returning fire with their crude short bows. A couple of Riverwatch’s archers fell, clutching dirty orc arrows in their chests, the Gods only knew what cruel poisons coating their tips.
By now the main column of orcs smashed against the wooden gate and walls as the bowman exchanged volleys on both sides. The gate shivered but held and the men on the other side hoped that it would be enough to stem the tide. Many of the lighter orcs began using their claws to find what purchase they could and Rufius was dismayed to find them climbing the walls and gate. He ordered his archers to clear the walls, but only those in the two towers buttressing the gate had the angle to fire straight down. But now his archers were split in purpose, having to both shoot at the orcs climbing the walls and deal with the goblins who were picking them off one by one. Rufius lopped off the head of an orc that managed the top of the wall and prepared himself for more to arrive soon. He shouted for the archers to prepare to defend the top of the wall and those that were left dropped their bows and unsheathed their swords.
Suddenly Rufius heard a loud crack and the ground shook beneath him. He managed a quick look over the walls before a volley of arrows forced him back, but not before he saw what he had feared. While he and his men had been occupied with the goblin archers and climbing orcs, the orc horde had brought up a half dozen massive looking orcs wielding a wicked looking battering ram which they were using with frightening effect on the wooden gate. A swarm of light skirmishers came over the wall and Rufius and his archers were far too involved with the fight up top to deal with the Rammers at the gate. And where was Merigal in all this?
The fight waxed furious on the battlements, man contending with orc in deadly confrontation. The men of Riverwatch were valiant and many orcs fell beneath their blades, but unfortunately there are always more orcs and more orcs came. All of this was lost on Rufius though, who felt the thrill of battle rise in his heart and the joy of the fight wash over him. With long practiced skill the aging warrior slew orc after orc, bellowing in joyous triumph with each victory.
“Fight on men of Riverwatch!” the large red-head shouted, almost laughing out loud even as the gate fell with a crash and the heavy orc infantry swarmed in. The line of Riverwatch spearmen and orcs clashed in a cacophony of wood, steel, and blood, each vying for the mastery. At first the brave men of the town held the tide back, but soon the weight of the massive rammers pushed them apart, creating a breach into the open town.
And then he was there.
Merigal arrived, fully armed as the biggest and vilest of the orc’s pushed through the gap. The large orc was the heaviest armored of the enemy force, towering even over the biggest and strongest of his troops. In his hand he carried a sinister looking 2-handed sword that he wielded easily with only one, it’s blade breaking at the top into a vicious looking spike. The orc drew himself up to his full height as he looked across to the Lord Protector of Riverwatch, black tongue hanging down, saliva dripping from his fangs.
“If it isn’t the famous Merigal Quickblade,” The orc snarled confidently with a deep guttural accent. “Let us see if the man equals the legend. For I am Azgash, mightiest among orcs and I will see you dead before this day is out.” With that he raised a battle shout as the conflict raged behind him.
The famed adventurer looked unconcerned as he walked towards his foe purposefully, his hawk-eyes glinting hard in the sun. In his one hand he held his trusty blade and in the other his curious shield of star-shaped design. Ten yards from the giant orc he stopped and stood defiantly as if setting a line in the sand that said this was as far as the fight was going to go. He answered the orc leader’s threat casually as if he had told him the weather or the latest news from Dale.
“It may be that one day someone will come along who’s good enough to best me and can say with pride that they were better than Merigal Quickblade,” the Lord Protector said as he resumed walking towards the orc leader as if he were taking a walk in the park. “But that someone isn’t you. And I’ll still be alive long after your food for the worms, just another tally in a long line of pretenders.” With that the giant orc growled angrily and charged, raising his weapon high, madness in his face.
It was over in the blink of an eye, the speed and precision of Merigal’s blade ending the orc before he could even begin to bring his weapon down. His arms dropped ineffectually as his head rolled off of his shoulders and the large body hit the ground hard as Merigal passed it by without even looking back. The men of Riverwatch cheered and the orc host gnashed their teeth in dismay and fear at the death of their greatest. But Merigal was not done. He came down on the remaining orcs like a thunderbolt, closing the gap with a furiousness of action that broke the orc line and sent them fleeing before him. It was said later that no foe that saw Merigal’s blade lived to tell about it and the soldiers of Riverwatch rallied behind their leader, turning the battle into a route.
Mericc watched the whole thing from Aniwen’s window with a mixture of pride and regret. Aniwen had turned her head away, unable to view the bloodshed below, but Mericc could not pull himself away and his heart soared when he watched the fight between his father and the leader of the orcs. He wished that he could have been down there sharing in the victory and triumph instead of being cordoned off, far away from the action. Aniwen began to cry and Mericc comforted her absently, telling her that it was all over now.
Night descended upon the town of Riverwatch. In the aftermath of the battle, the garrison and able members of the town did their best to affect quick repairs to the wooden gate and palisades. Merigal as Lord Protector, worked long into the evening supervising the work and it was with a weary body that he began his final evening patrol before heading home. The night was beautiful but that did little to assuage the troubled thoughts of the Lord Protector, who’s brow sat heavy with worry as he walked the cobbled streets.
The foolishness of the attack was what troubled Merigal the most. There were several gates into the city, but the one the orcs attacked tended to be the heaviest defended and fortified, being the one closest to the inner fort and garrison. Another thing that Merigal found peculiar was a report that the orcs had left the outlying farms and town lands completely untouched. Since when did orcs forgo looting and pillaging? These thoughts and more went through Merigal’s mind as he completed his circuit and headed back towards the fort where his office resided. The Lord Protector passed several people on the street exchanging polite greetings and accepting praise for the day’s victory. Perhaps his old companion would have some thoughts on the matter Merigal mused as a form in the shadows lurked unknown to even his piercing eyes.
The Shadow-form watched cautiously as the armed warrior walked towards the place he was hiding. Fingers wrapped themselves around a crossbow held confidently down at his side. It had taken much to afford the night-enshrouded figure this opportunity and he would not have that effort wasted. His employers would not like that, no, not like that at all. He watched with interest as various citizens of Riverwatch passed up and down the street, right hand slowly bringing a bolt from his quiver. The hidden figure’s movements were slow, his chosen spot well concealed, but it did not do to take unnecessary chances. As the bolt slid into the notch the silent assassin studied his potential targets.
The first to catch his eye is a pretty young lady in a green and gold dress. The shadow-form smiled as he carefully pulled back the crossbow string into it’s catch. Wouldn’t that be a nasty little surprise for the little miss? There she’d be, all dressed up for a ball and instead a bolt in her chest for her troubles. But the serious looking old warrior stops by the girl, blocking the concealed man’s view as they exchanged words that he cannot hear.
“It is late for you to be out Lady Aniwen,” Merigal said, looking down at the young woman who had so captivated his son.
“I am aware,” Aniwen replied with a forced smile. “But the day’s events have quite shaken me and I thought to take a nice walk in the cool night air to clear my thoughts.”
Merigal nodded as he looked to the stars. “Aye, I find that walks like this do much to ease a worried mind. But the night grows long and I think it’s best if you make your way home Lady.” With that Merigal gave a slight bow which Aniwen returned with a small curtsey before resuming her walk.
‘Finally’ the dark figure thought as the warrior and lady parted, giving him a clean line of sight. But the soldier was too close still and the time wasn’t right yet. The shadow form moved on to the next potential target, his gaze resting on a fat merchant turning the corner onto the street. The coin purse at the merchant’s side jangled obscenely and the assassin’s mind jangled along with it at all the things he could do with that money. He lifted his crossbow with careful deliberation and took aim, biding his time. Unfortunately the bothersome grey-haired soldier chose that moment to pass close by his hiding spot. Their positions were such that any shot would be right in sight of the warrior, revealing the crossbowman’s position.
Merigal concealed his annoyance as one of the town’s richest merchants came into view. Being confident in Riverwatch’s security was one thing, flaunting your wealth for all to see was just asking for trouble. But Merigal was in no mood for a lecture this evening and let the matter rest…for now. Besides, he wished to get to the fort as soon as possible and explain his earlier decision to Mericc. He knew very well how much his son had wanted to be a part of the battle but Merigal had had his reasons. The merchant passed with some extravagant greeting that Merigal gave little attention to, offering only a perfunctory nod in return.
The wait began to weigh heavily on the man of shadows and he twitched with impatience. But finally the warrior moved away down the street, his back turned. The assassin’s eye returned to the merchant and then the girl, or maybe that couple walking down the way, arm’s entwined would do? He laughed inside. So many choices, but he knew that in the end there was only one. His finger edged to the trigger, one delicate weight between life and death.
The long breath before the release had always been his favorite part.
The crossbow string twanged, the bolt carving it’s deadly path through the air.
A woman’s scream pierced the night.
This story and others can also be found at the Cottage of Pen and Play