For the first installment of the second episode visit here
The gatehouse to Dothen was not as fortified as Red Spire. The kingdom had moved slowly apparently to fortify itself, while it looked like they had called upon Orcs for help though. Orcs stood at the gate and asked the same questions that the two of them had been asked by the pikemen near Dothen’s frontier. After a minute or two they were escorted to Dothen’s keep. Dothen’s castle was larger than Red Spire’s citadel in some ways, but painfully generic compared to Red Spire’s citadel’s octagonal shape.
Concentric? Not quite. Is that keep leaning to the right a bit? Not important right now. We’d better get in.
A sergeant opened the gate to the castle’s curtain wall. Once inside the fortress’s perimeter they could see a chapel without a steeple, a stable with many horses, and the keep of the castle which was wider and taller than the keep at Red Spire’s perimeter. The keep was in fact not leaning, but the little mound of earth it rested on was cockeyed. Making the keep’s donjon tower appear to be skewed to the right slightly. A human soldier who appeared to be a squire from his hauberk approached them.
“Greetings, Sirs. I am the officer of the day. May I ask your business here?”
“We’re here to seek an audience with the king we bear a diplomatic message from the aldermen of Red Spire.”
“Understood. What is that message?”
“An invitation to an alliance.”
Let us in.
The squire led them into the keep’s entrance hall and then to the great hall. This interior was more ornate than Red Spire’s own castle. This structure was leaning yes, but on the inside wooden bas reliefs covered the walls instead of tapestries and the great hall had marble tables and benches. The throne positioned up high on a dias platform was carved from cedars that were inlaid with gold. To say this room was merely pretty was an understatement. Upon their arrival in the great hall, the major domo advised them that the king was on his way from a higher level of the tower. Paul kept the diplomatic message underneath his shoulder in five minutes, the king appeared and the major domo announced his arrival.
“His majesty, King Harold IV of Dothen, Lord High General, Lord High Admiral, and Custodian of the Grand Center of the Western Jard Coast: Dothen City.”
He would have asked us to stand, but we already were. Also, the Lord High Admiral title is a joke. Dothen only has four ships in it’s navy and they’re all old vessels with skeleton crews. Dothen is not as grand of a power as it plays itself to be. That’s why they hire Orcish mercenaries to protect their land, as they are incapable of doing it themselves and too proud to admit it. They likely won’t enter this alliance. I should have been a diplomat, hah. Wait, I am now. Even better.
Paul coughed trying to contain his laughter at the thought. Harold replied to that at an instant.
“Bless you. I ask you are not ill and you are not bringing in sickness to my kingdom.”
“No, Your Majesty. Speck of dust.”
“Are you to say, my castle is a dustbin?”
“No, Majesty. My companion and I rode the trail on unpaved roads and in dusty conditions. We just arrived here, your majesty.”
The king’s voice was apparently locked in a constant tone of anger. Would history know him as Henry the Irate? He merely nodded at the reply.
“State your business please. I understand you have a message for me.”
A bailiff approached, dressed in his tabbard and received the diplomatic message and approached King Henry. Henry noticed that Rilles was still underneath his cloak.
“Stranger, remove that hood. You are in the presence of a king.”
Rilles did so.
“A monstrosity!” The bailiff gasped.
Henry turned to his bailiff and struck him with the back of his left hand. His knuckles left a red bloody track. The king turned to the Houndsman. “Sir, this man will apologize to you now. I am sorry for his misconduct.”
“No offense taken, Sir. That’s why I keep my cloak on.”
The king nodded at Rilles’s reply. “You may put it back on if you would like, Sir. I am sorry I exposed you to insults.” King Henry turned to the bailiff. “Apologize, you imbecile.”
The bailiff spoke in a way that suggested his teeth were loosened by the king’s blow. “Sorry.”
After Rilles accepted the apology the king reviewed the scroll. He laughed at times reading it and finally after ten or twelve minutes he rolled the scroll up and handed it back to Paul by the hand of the injured bailiff.
I was right. I knew it was going to be a no.
“No. I will not enter an alliance with Red Spire. We’ve steeled our resolve and we will make sure that we will have no strong resistance from this potential invader. Three Orcish regiments are at my disposal along with my city guard. I even have more ships coming which are full of more Orcish soldiers. Marines from Kinselladore; proud warriors each of them, Sir. The invader will be met with a swift counterattack and these foes will regret attempting to spread their faith here violently. I’ll make sure they had never been born.”
“I understand, Sir. So there’s no way I could persuade you to side with Red Spire?”
“There is no way.”
“Understood. Thank you.”
“You are dismissed, Sirs. My major domo will provide you with some coin to spend at our tavern. You travelled far. I do not want either of you to be thirsty.”
The two of them were given coins by the major domo, it was an equivalent of a hundred of the King’s Passe. The two of them walked towards the first tavern that they had seen on a crest of a hill adjacent to the city’s castle. This tavern had a lovely view of the wealthier part of Red Spire, and bits of the harbor could be seen as well. Tall ships and more compact vessels could be observed moored to the harbors’s many quays down the hill’s slope. If Paul had not had heard Rilles’s next words, he would have stayed to admire the view and continue his train of thought’s leanings toward the invasion.
“If they come by sea will they seize the ships and use them for their own or will they sink them two along with the two meagre warships they have moored directly in front of them, Rilles.”
“Hard to say, Paul. You are forgetting that they hired some privateers it appears. See their flags over to the north on the quay?”
“Yes. I recognize one of them. Captain Alaric is the commander of The Sanguine. Alaric is from Pinningdale, and we grew up together. He’s a privateer of sorts and he was like a brother to me then. He chose the life of a mercenary like I initially to that of farming. A point came where I yearned for a less dangerous life. He chose the life of a privateer. I chose the life of a merchant. I’ve not seen him in years.”
Speak of the devil.
The privateer cut a dashing figure. He wore high boots, a sleeveless tunic with bulging biceps and fiery red hair that was shoulder length contrasted his green eyes. The men shook hands and embraced. They hadn’t seen each other in…
“How go you, friend?”
“Well, Alaric? How’s your ship and crew?”
“Fine, we’re here to intercept some small flotilla I’ve two companies of Orcish Marines on board to assist me in the fight. Dothen is a mercenary’s blue chip client. I’m not sure about the numbers of our opposition but I’m eager to combat them. If we fight well and repel the invaders we’ll win. And I know what you will say, Paul. I shouldn’t underestimate myself. Well, I’ve brought a small squadron with me I have five ships along with my own: all triremes like the Sanguine. One thousand sailors, Paul and four companies of Orcish Marines. That’s eight-hundred men-at-arms which will board these vessels and quash these fanatics. We’ll be the heroes of the city, Paul. Are you here to fight?”
He was likely lied to about the size of this armada.
“No.” Paul gestured at Rilles. “My colleague and I are here to solicit for an alliance with the Free City of Red Spire. The force that threatens Dothen threatens them as well. Alderman Roghus was hoping to aid each other during this period where the need for mutual defense is great.”
Alaric shook his head.
“A fine cause. I am sorry it was to no avail.”
“It is fine, Alaric. The Dothenians are just not interested in it. This is Rilles, by the way.”
Alaric extended his hand and Rilles met it, but covered it with his cloak.
“Houndsman?” He said this in a low voice.
“A pleasure. You’re right to keep your head and body covered here. These locals tolerate Orcs for some reason, but to my knowledge they are fearful of Beastfolk. You don’t want to know what they did to some of the Lizardfolk in a raid two years ago.”
“Good to know.” Rilles said.
Alaric rested his hands on both of the men’s shoulders. “Follow me into the tavern. I’ll buy you victuals for the road. I imagine you don’t want to be in town for the big battle.”
“You’re still kind to me, Alaric. What do I owe you?”
“Nothing. I believe in the cup and purse of friendship. Life is too short and family and friends mitigate the suffering one endures. Come.”
The three of them entered the unremarkable tavern. Alaric bought them dried fruits in large sacks, herbs, water in jugs, and lastly a pint of ale for each of them.
“Here’s to greater successes in future ventures cross the realms.”
They clinked and took a sip each.
Rilles lifted his cup. “Here’s to beating these foes.”
Their glasses clinked again. Paul raised his own.
The ringing of a bell outside interrupted the toast. A voice called out to arms and a sergeant came into the tavern and bellowed out a simple command. “TO ARMS.”
Alaric raised his glass and downed the ale.
“Lads, Godspeed to you.”
“Same to you.” As Rilles said this Paul said the same as Alaric stormed out of the tavern and ran towards the harbor.
Paul and Rilles exited the tavern and watched the harbor several ships were visible leaving the harbor. That was expected.
Rilles pulled a spyglass out of his belt pouch and observed the situation. “Damn! Have a look, Paul.”
Paul took the spyglass and had a look at the warships in the distance.
“Twelve against fifty of the enemy’s, Rilles?”
“What are those diamond shapes on the ship’s hull?
Paul lowered the spyglass and looked his friend in the eyes. “We need to go, Rilles.”
The Houndsman pointed at the sea ahead of them. “Not yet. Let’s observe this battle. We will be able to inform Red Spire about this threat. We won’t stay long, but I at least want to see what these evil foes are capable of doing.”
He has a point.
I hope we won’t be too late to return to Red Spire.
Dothen’s tiny flotilla of twelve vessels were poorly coordinated. Paul could pick out the five triremes under Alaric’s command. These five were advancing to the left edge of the enemy armada. Out of the wide mouth of the city’s low cliffs that formed the harbor’s natural breakwater.
“At least Alaric’s lads are pulling their weight, they’ve left the harbor and they’re going to strike the enemy’s exposed flank. They don’t have any escort ships?”
“How do you know so much about naval warfare?” Rilles growled.
“I sailed once with Alaric. A single cruise, just before I learned about the technologies we use and sell. I avoid telling the tale though. Alaric and I found the treasure we were hunting. But unfortunately we were kidnapped by pirates. Kind pirates though.” Paul laughed at that notion. “They took our treasure and let us off at the first sight of land. I think they knew we had done them a good turn.”
“Glad they were kind.” Rilles said this with a tone of aggravation as he watched the Theocracy’s launched missiles: arrows, and unknown blobs of gray, red, and brown in the distance strike the slow moving oar-powered ships the city of Dothen fielded.”
If this city took its defense seriously maybe this would not have happened. Dothen’s desire to no longer have to pay for an army has cost it dearly. Why leave defense only in the hands of sellswords. It is foolish to think they will be more committed to your cause than your own standing armies and navies.
Another volley of missiles struck the advancing battlegroup of ships. Of course it could barely be called a battlegroup. There was no unified direction. Each of the mercenary captains appeared to be going their own separate course and had no concept of how to formulate a strong resistance towards the Theocracy.
“They’ve just lost four ships, Paul.”
A minute later, Rilles changed his tone instantly. “Paul, Alaric and his squadron have just launched a volley of missiles at the enemy armada! One of their ships is going down it looks like; they’ve set it ablaze!”
Good. Damn the Theocracy. Death to them all.
“Let me see, Rilles.” Rilles handed him the spyglass and Paul could see that there was roughly a three hundred yards distance between the squadron led by Alaric and the enemy’s Armada. The sinking ship was now completely missing from the surface. Paul could make out the catapult and ballistae crews readying their weapons with the next bolt or volley of fiery stones they were about to lose upon their enemies.
Each of these crews are disciplined and the Orcish marines are nocking their arrows to supplement’s the ship’s siege engines.
As Paul thought that he could observe the onagers, ballistae, and Orcish marines loose their missiles, they all crashed with a terrific thunder into the next enemy ship they targeted. “They’re sinking another, Rilles!” The Houndsman bared his teeth at Paul’s announcement of another of the enemy’s vessels crashing down beneath the waves just outside the breakwater in Red Spire’s harbor.
“He’s smart, Paul! Your friend Alaric is right to concentrate his fire on the ships one by one. As it is clear that they are more focused on landing in the harbor and making sure their troops reach landfall. So far they aren’t targeting him that’s good.”
“Whoa!” Rilles exclaimed this as the last of the city’s ships deployed out of the harbor could be seen destroyed by a hail of missiles from the enemy’s forward ships. “That’s the last of the seven other than the one’s Alaric is commanding, Paul. Hopefully, they’re prepared.”
Soldiers running behind them were advancing upon the harbor’s docks to attempt to quell the invasion there. These were militiamen. Behind them followed a company of the King’s Guard. They wore full plate like the Orcish Regiments. Lastly Orcish Pikemen followed.
This brigade they’re deploying to halt the invasion will only buy them time. I hope they have a stronger plan than this.
Rilles took a turn with the spyglass again. “Alaric’s squadron has sunk three ships now, Paul. But you’re not going to like what’s next.”
The Houndsman handed his human counterpart the spyglass. Paul lifted it up and behind this first wave that was fifty ships and was now forty-seven ships now was a massive formation of smaller galleys. These were ships with siege engines and rams.
“Galleys! Rilles, I count over a hundred, maybe. This first wave must be the spearhead, and this next wave is likely the invasion force. Wonder where they’re coming from if they’re sailing in such small galleys? You’d be a fool to go too far in the sea with those away from the coast.”
“I know, Paul. Hopefully one of Alaric’s look outs have observed this and are maneuvering to get their ships to a better position. If they could do it, they could withdraw, right?”
Paul’s sentence was interrupted with a surprising set of events.
“Rilles, he’s boarding them. What in the twenty hells is he thinking? Has his brain been replaced by eels? He’s moving his ships into ramming speed, one to one.”
“Let me see, Paul.”
Rilles took the spyglass and told Paul what he observed. “I’m seeing the ramming. With every ship rammed it appears a squad or two of Orcish marines are boarding these ships and are attempting to disrupt these ship’s voyages into the harbor. This is good, but it is desperate. I believe Alaric knows the kind of risks he is running now facing these tall ships. Especially if these are the troop transports.”
“Those galleys behind them have just increased their speed.”
“Most of the galleys are at least two miles away from them, right?”
“At least, Paul. Yes. And this forward formation along with Alaric’s squadron is nearing the harbor. This fight is about to reach it’s end one way another I fear.”
Rilles pointed two a galley that had just ignited into a tall pyre of orange flame and black-gray smoke. It was nearing one of Alaric’s ship’s it was not the sanguine.
“By, the Great Guardian! Paul, it is a fire ship!”
The ship collided with one of Alaric’s vessels and exploded with a great force. Wooden splinters and large chunks of both vessels damaged one of Alaric’s other ships to the point of where it’s oars were cut to where they could not reach the water. And two of the enemy’s own ships were now no more. Dead sailors could be seen floating at the top of the water.
“MADNESS!” Paul cried out as more galleys neared Alaric’s squadron. Rilles pointed to Alaric’s flagship, The Sanguine. “She’s going to be rammed, Paul.”
Paul seized the spyglass from the Houndsman’s hand and could see the Orcish Marines being seized with fear as they’re vessel’s port side was struck by a dense bronze jacketed ram. Blazing blackened swords cut them down as boarders crossed over and began attacking Alaric’s sailors and marines.
Disciplined Orcish pikes and sailor’s cutlasses were no match for the fanaticism and motivation of this enemy it seemed at first glance. In reality it was this.
Their pikes are wooden up until the blade. These enemy troops have been told this and they know to attack the pike, not the blade.
Paul could see Alaric slashing back with a sword and buckler. He still had the sabre he carried from their first voyage together. His buckler had a spike coming out of its center. He killed four of the enemy’s number but in time another galley approached the other side of the ship.
“They’re not boarding, Rilles. They aren’t boarding why aren’t they boarding, Rilles?”
“What do you want me to tell you at a time like this, Paul.” Rilles replied. The galley ignited and killed Alaric, the boarders, and everything within a hundred feet of the ship.
The first of the enemy vessels had dropped anchor in front of the docks at the harbor and began using it’s onagers on the deployed troops near the docks. The soldiers of the Theocracy were getting closer in smaller boats launched from these remaining forty ships. Their fleet had been hurt, but the naval defense of Dothen had been ill-prepared, ill-executed, and shameful. Yet some fought and were led valiantly. Thanks to Alaric of Pinningdale.
Paul turned around and saw a troop of Orcish Cavalry pass by, he heard similar sounds from other streets nearby. The Orcs carried swords on their hips and lances in their arms. Off of their saddles scabbards bearing javelins were visible. The Orcish captain shouted to his men behind him.
“No mercy. We must buy time for the evacuation of the king and his family.”
Where is the king going? And what about the civillians?
Rilles tapped him on his shoulder.
“This is our cue to leave, my friend. I’m sorry about the loss of your comrade, Alaric. We’ve seen what they’re capable of, and who knows where those siege engines are at…”
The tavern beside them was smashed by a Trebuchet’s boulder. Dust, rock, wood and stone fragments fell around them as they both took cover while they were flat with the dirt.
Shit! There were people still inside there.
Rilles stood back up and lifted Paul upright. “We need to get out of here now. Our presence is not healthy here anymore.” Paul nodded. “You’re right. The question is how do we get out?”
More buildings just a block away crashed down and screams could be barely heard above the devastating clamor and damage inflicted by these engines of siege.
They found their siege engines.
“Let’s go.” The two of them darted back towards the castle. Along the way they met a family of four. And then another. Rilles took off his hood from his cloak and called out to them at each encounter.
“I KNOW I AM A HOUNDSMAN, BUT I’M NO ENEMY OF YOURS. FOLLOW MY FRIEND AND I. WE SHALL ESCAPE THE CITY.”
Soon they had two dozen households following them: forty people total. They soon crossed through the open gate of the city’s citadel. King Henry II and his royal family were boarding a coach pulled by a team of twenty steers. Surrounding the coach were three troops of Orcish Cavalry and One Troop of Royal Bodyguard Cavalry: The King’s Guard. A mounted sergeant called out to Rilles and Paul.
“Stand back, Dogman. Or I’ll run you through.” Rilles began growling slightly in a low tone. Paul shut him up with a tap on the shoulder. Then he addressed the sergeant. “My comrade and I are diplomats from Red Spire. We are seeking to leave the city. These civilians wish to leave the city and we figured since you are leaving and there is strength and numbers we’d leave together.”
The door to the coach opened. Henry II departed the coach and walked towards Paul and the two dozen people.
“I am the King of Dothen, and this is the royal party, Pinningdale. You have had your time here as a diplomat. I am going to my allies north of here, there we shall plan the counterattack. Dothen does not stand alone but it has no need of Red Spire. You will not travel our way. We shall not face these armies, but we shall go our own way.”
The king turned his back on them and cried out to his sergeant. “Sergeant, form a rear guard and watch them. They shan’t go with us. Form up. Bodyguard with us, and Orcish Lancers to the front and rear. Understood?”
The king’s entire company called out to him: “YES, SIR.” The king’s party disappeared through a northern gate that Paul and his company had not seen beforehand. When he was with Rilles he had only counted three gates to the castle compound. This was a fourth heading north. Then it had hit him.
It was obstructed by hedges. They’re trimmed now. This is to some kind of hidden route. Paul turned to Rilles and the civilian families. “Follow me and we’ll follow them. Keep close. Prepare to run.” He started trotting and they followed suit. “If you’re children cannot run tell them that they are running to be free to play.”
Rilles, Paul, and the two dozen ran out of the castle compound towards the northern side of the city of Dothen. Yards away the battle waged. The sounds of the devastation were still audible, but no fighting had taken place yet here. The Orcish Lancers led the way from the castle to a burial mound close to the city’s northern wall. Paul and Rilles halted their company as the royal party with it’s escort dismounted from their horses and the coachmen assisting the king and his family outside of the coach and into the now open door of a burial mound ahead of them.
That’s the way out. With the dead.