13th Kuthona, “Moonday” of the year 4711
The Battlements, Roderick’s Cove, dawn
By the grace of Shelyn, we won! We actually won! The city stands, the armies of the Orcs are retreating. I can scarcely believe it. The siege is broken.
I heard shouts on the wall, and ran out of the guard tower to see the vast army approaching. In a few moments the field was full – legions of orcs screamed and hollered, and brass instruments shook the walls from across the plain. There were more than orcs though – siege engines, vast machines of war, creaked into view. Far off down the road, wheeling inexorably closer, was a battling ram, and up by the river a command group of worgs watched and waited. The Eastern gate was surrounded, and the forces were closing in. They numbered more than five thousand; with militia and our Ulfen comrades all-told, we were scarecely four hundred.
I remember only patches of the battle, for a kind of divine madness came over me. I uttered the words Shelyn had taught me, and a lance of light appeared once more in my hand. I stood on the gate tower and held it high into the air to encourage the men on the walls, and a bright beam shot up into the sky. As I held my arms aloft the light seemed to split the night in two, penetrating the darkness with the splendour of Shelyn for a hundred miles around. I heard a scream, and realised a second later that it was my own multiphonic tones, yelling:
“This is Truth! This is Light. This is the Bastion of Shelyn”.
There may have been a cheer from the men, but little could be heard above the noise of Orc battle horns.
The archers were quick on Arietta’s command to fire on the advancing troops. Some fell, but their uncaring brothers merely walked over their remains, unflinching. I remember thinking that, as long as we could keep the ladders from the walls, we might be in with a chance. Then a wheeled tower appeared suddenly in view – it must have been masked by an enchantment of some kind: it would allow the orcs to walk straight onto the battlements. Our plans – the moat, the pikes against siege ladders – did not account for such a device. Were we lost so soon?
The battering ram was still a real threat, but it was slow moving and, as yet, far off. I yelled for the Ulfen and Shield Maidens to defend the wall. They raced up to follow my orders. Perhaps that would be enough, but the casualties would be vast – if even a single Orc slipped through, they could wreak havoc on the town – all the able fighters were on the walls, there was no one left to defend the town. I launched myself into the air, wheeling over the battlefield, searching for an advantage I had not yet seen. So much evil advancing on my new home moved me to tears, and I called out on the might of Shelyn, on her love of beauty and light, to smite these creatures so determined to destroy the stronghold of peace and civilisation.
She heard my call. I felt a power, Her power, swell like a volcano inside me until I could hold it no longer. It burst forth in one movement, a shock wave spreading out around me, and the battle cries beneath my wings turned into screams of terror. There was madness and confusion, as the Orcs turned and thrashed out at one another, breaking ranks in their hurry to flee. All at once I understood – they had been blinded and burnt by Shelyn’s holy fire. As Morden had told me to, I had broken their morale.
The whole Northern wing of the Orc’s attack force had begun to rout now. The Orcs in the tower were trying to flee, but the Ulfen ripped open the door, and began to descend. I could make out distant screams, mainly Orc, and occasionally the whole structure would rock precariously. To the south, three legions prepared to set their ladders to the wall as the militia rained arrows down on them; it was at that moment that Arietta must have ignited the moat, for the walls began to burn merrily. Faced with unexpected trouble, and afraid of the cloying flames, the Orcs turned tail and ran.
I heard other cries, foreign to me, and to my great shock glanced beneath me to see two formations of Shoanti countering the routing orcs. It fleeted through my mind that they could have been the Hawk clan, or perhaps the Wind clan if we were unlucky, but they seemed to be on our side for now, and this was not the time to be picky about allies.
The volleys from the trebuchets had stopped seconds before, but the battering ram still moved unfalteringly forwards towards the city gate, housed in its wooden protection. As I swooped closer, I realised that it was enclosed within a slowly-moving barn, born aloft by thick-sinewed orcs. I landed upon the front of the battering ram, tipped with a mammoth’s skull – I gave them fair chance to flee, and when they did not I took a deep breath and bathed the barn in fire. Then they fled, screaming in panic and pain, dropping the barn which fell three feet into thick mud. One creature remained, though; a martial, I supposed, who had ordered them to stand fast. It threw itself towards me now, its bald head painted red with blood, its thick neck clattering with skulls.
By the grace of Shelyn I defeated him at last, though his wounds closed incrementally wherever I laid into him, and several of his hits penetrated my armour. As he fell to the ground, I looked quickly about me and saw a dragon – an actual dragon – flying away from the battlefield up near the river. My dear Nilluvian was grounded, wings shorn away, and as I approached I saw “Torag’s Fist” surrounding him, all in a bad way, whilst his beloved head bore a bleeding stump where his horn should be. I laid my hands upon him, calling down on Shelyn’s grace to heal his wounds, but though the skin has closed and he ceases to be in pain, he remains disfigured. I felt sure that Shelyn’s grace could restore him, She who is the defender of beauty and wonder. If She cannot help him, I do not know what can be done. I must find a way to restore him. I must.
Dawn has broken now, and the last Orc troops have fled. The sun finds us surrounded by churned mud and blood-soaked snow where once farmland lay. The walls of the city are scorched, and the air is heavy with death, smoke and the cries of pain. But, by the goddess, the siege is broken. By the goddess, we are alive.