Monthly Archives: March 2009

Besieged!

Hasan, feeling horrible about his impulsiveness, yelled to the dwarf. “Make your way out of the forest and into the clearing! We may get some support from the tower there. I may be able to use some magic there to reverse the trap.”

Feldard heard Hasan’s advice—knew it was sound—yet still grimaced at the notion of retreating from goblins. He backed his way towards the clearing as goblins charged.

The dwarf greeted the first of the four with a full out axe swing. Then the others were on him. Feldard continued to back his way towards the clearing as he fended off the goblin attacks, ensuring none got in behind him. There were too many and too close to use his axe effectively but the dwarf kept them engaged as he drew them out into the open; taunting them all the while in their own tongue. “You call that a spear? I’d call it a sliver the way you use it. And you, you sure you ain’t part elf? You’re delicate enough for one. Be careful you don’t bend over your buddy there is looking frisky.”

The taunts got more raunchy as dwarf got on a roll with it as he attempted to block rage fueled attacks. One of the goblins poked him with its short sword—the dwarf retaliated with his great axe, killing the beastie. Feldard didn’t have the time to concern himself with minor wounds. He needed to get them out into the open. Almost there. Feldard hoped the tower hadn’t been taken and that support would be available.

Then Hasan was there at his side and together they were fending off 6 or more… it was hard to count, one goblin would fall only to have another take its place. The dwarf dropped another as they finally breached the treeline into the clearing. Hasan was not nearly as well armored as the dwarf, and thus he had taken greater damage. The two converged in the clearing as a group of goblins followed them, blades clashing against blades. It would be much harder to keep the goblins from surrounding them out in the open, but hopefully their allies in the tower would turn the tide in their favor.

* * * * *

As the first goblin stepped into the hall, Stephan uttered his battle cry.

“Haaaaaaallaaaaaavvaaaa!”, he yelled while bringing his blade straight down cleaving the pate of the first of the unfortunate goblins to step into the hall. The goblin dropped dead. His brethren stepped over him, shouting gutteral warcries.

“Ahh…” Maruc lost his footing as the table slewed over him. This saved him from Stefan’s deflected blade, and the hastily following goblin war cudgel. He shuffled his way backward and rolled onto his feet, his shield raised. “Well my goblin friends.” he said brightly, “This is going to hurt you lot more than its going to hurt me!”

Kicking the table out of the way he strode purposely into the melee. Checking a few ill aimed thrusts with his shield he swung his flail overarm at the snarling goblin in front of him. The goblin was a good head shorter and brought its shield up the chain caught on the rim sending the studded weight whipping behind with a satisfying crunch. He yanked the handle back pulling the shield with it and he jabbed the stock into the now dazed goblins face. Feeling the rush of wind and the proximity of a second blow Maruc sidestepped a fraction and brought his own shield to bear. A deflection of his midriff brought his attention to the third goblin forcing his way in but an arrow sprouted from its shoulder and it backed out with a cry of pain. Maruc risked a glance sideways at the battling warriors and saw a murderous thrust coming in unnoticed toward Pyrtor. Maruc over extended and parried the blow but it left him wide open…

Miklos paled as the goblins rushed the door. “Pyotr! To the hall! You two keep shooting. Don’t rush, its not time to panic yet!” He danced back to the other side of the tower and scanned the treeline.

Five against two—so far. The odds were not yet against them.

“For Sukiskyn!”, he shouted as his mace connected with the neck of another unfortunate gob.

direwolfPyotr joined the fray, taking the side of his brother. The goblins seemed just about to flee, when in through the door charged a dire wolf—the beast that had lost its rider charged into the room.

Upstairs, Miklos was trying to shut out the clamour of battle below as time seemed to slow down. “Come on,” he urged his companions lost in the wood. He started to prepare his sleep spell in readiness as he saw Feldard backing out of the forest edge. Hasan suddenly appeared at his side obviously alarmed. It was impossible to tell from the tower what expression crossed the face of the dwarf. Miklos could guess though. Blistering from the darkness, goblins seemed to come from everywhere. “One, two….eight!” Miklos swiftly came to the conclusion that even the mighty Feldard might succumb to such numbers. He dismissed the idea of finding out, and cast his shroud of sleep over the advancing foes.

The goblins attacking Feldard and Hasan all collapsed in mid-battle. The two demi-humans looked up and saw a dozen or more goblins standing back behind the treeline. Faced with magic and arrows, they stayed back in the woods, concealed by brush, smoke and darkness. Sheathing their short swords, they grabbed their slings, determined to kill the elf and dwarf before they could reach the safety of the tower.

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A Trap!

Stephan clutched his side, not too eager to assess the damage. As the fight drew closer, he drew his sword. The motion caused him great pain but he was able to wield the blade.

Miklos dashed back to the other side. Good the others had made the treeline. He squinted back though the arrowsilt facing the courtyard whilst Taras reloaded his bow. He pulled back out of the way as a stone bounced off the stonework around the slit. “Well done.” he said encouragingly. “Keep it up. Pick your targets, that’s the ticket!”

He didn’t know if he was coming across as a commanding general or an upstart desk clerk. But he hoped it was the former.

Maruc did his best to rebrace the table as the goblins charged. He glanced down at the bleeding welt on Stephan’s torso. “Nice run, at little slow at the end but you are mostly in one piece. I liked the dangly jewelry bit. I suspect after the first volley they realized we were cheating. I wonder how the rescue team are doing?” He grinned wildly, not trying to think too much on their own plight.

* * * * *

Silent, hidden travel was their only hope now, Hasan thought, feeling the fool for having led the dwarf on this errand into the wilderness and beyond the safety of the tower walls. He led Feldard further into the forest, away from the screams, hoping that somehow they could slip beyond the trap’s net. Maybe then they could reverse the trap.

Feldard was baffled as the elf began trekking into the forest away from the screaming. “Hasan, she’s back that way, ” the dwarf pointed out.
He heard the pitch of battle and he glanced back to towards the towers. “We must hurry. They will not be engaged long and we will lose our diversion.”

The dwarf turned away from the elf’s lead and began to head towards the woman’s screams.

A group of four goblins emerged from the bushes in front of the dwarf, where they had lain in wait for the dwarf. Another four ran from their places behind trees, charging toward the elf. More goblinoid shapes in the distance, further in the forest, arose out of the bushes, silhouetted by flames. They had been waiting there all along, hopeful that they could lure their opponents out of the protection of the stone tower.

* * * * *

On one side of the table, Maruc braced the heavy wood against the doorway. On the other, a group of goblins were throwing all their weight against it, all the while trying to dodge the arrows raining down on them from the tower. They lost two more of their number before they were finally able to push the table back far enough to be able to enter the hall.

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Decoy!

“Maybe there be only a few of these devils left,” Stephan exclaimed in a hushed voice. “Maybe they’ve set plenty of fires to give the illusion of many.” He peered out at the goblins. “Or maybe,” he said in more sober tone, “we need to go out there and parlay…” Stephan grabbed a few gold coins from his purse. He looked at Darya, “Please, may I borrow that bracelet, yes, that one that glitters so.”

Taking the proffered jewels and his coins, Stephan climbed on a stool to the windhole. Opening it, he let the goblins see the white apron and himself since the gob had already had a good look at him.

Seeing the goblins’ measured advance, Stephan slowly walked backwards, apron held high—in the perhaps vain hope that the bright white would draw more fire than his body would. He backed slowly towards the tower door. If the plan was to work, he’d have to get the gobs to go in. He readied himself, however, to dive for cover and draw his weapon if necessary.

The piercing scream of the “woman” penetrated the crackling of many fires, filling the audio void left by the cessation of goblin chanting. He wondered how Hasan and Feldard were getting on. “I must give them time,” he thought to himself.

His backward pace matched that of the goblins. He kept a silent prayer to Havlav running through his mind to calm his nerves. Striving to make no sudden movements, it was a cruel fate that a fallen, burned timber slipped his vision and caught his boot in its backward gait. He stumbled and fell full on his arse. But managed to keep his tongue.

The goblins halted issuing sudden, gurgling grunts. Slings and spears were raised. They were clearly on edge.

“Blessed Halav,” Stephan muttered to himself. He slowly raised again the apron and somehow managed to again gain his feet. He gave a slow nod and chose to keep his face flaccid. No emotions would be best, he thought. He resumed his steady “retreat”, never turning his back on the goblins…

It was tense waiting at the base of the tower. Maruc stood with the door ajar shielding him as much as possible. “Hurry up Stephan.” he mumbled under his breath more to keep himself company that any real fear for the capable warriors life.

Maruc was pretty convinced that they could walk out of this situation with a determined push if they weren’t responsible for the more infirm members of the Sukiskyn clan. Hoisted up by his own morals! He grinned to himself. But maybe that was a thought to share with the others, perhaps there could be a way of breaking out with the children and the old. A cart? The horses were gone though. And would they want to abandon the place? Probably not.

“I might be a comforting face to them,” quipped Stephan. Calling out in the common tongue, “Our treasure is piled inside. We are prepared to destroy it if our terms are not met!”

And he dangled the bejeweled bracelet such that the moon and torchlight burst upon the crystals. He also jangled the purse of coins and threw a few gold to the ground some distance between the goblins and the tower. “Like leading ducks with bread crumbs.”

Miklos knew he had to hold their attention. Arrayed about him with handfulls of arrows the better archers of the household. “Let them come closer.” he said. A long minute ticked by, the tension in the room was palpable. “Closer.” He stretched the word….

The lead wolfrider could probably smell them from where he sat barking his ugly commands. “Don’t rush. Pick your targets.” Miklos advised. “Gather closer together you Sons of Sows! Or this will be a waste of time. Just one more round the corner…”

Stephan almost backed into Maruc. The priest grabbed him and pulled him through the doorway and grabbed the table to once again use as a makeshift door. As they rushed into the building, the goblins launched spears at the pair of defenders. Stephan grunted loudly in pain as his side was pierced.

“Let ‘em have it Miklos!”

“NOW!” shouted the mage.

Miklos was loathe to use his last spell in case it was required for his returning friends. He bit his lip, as Pyotr, Taras and Darya peppered the cursing goblins with arrows. Pyotr dropped one of the wolfriders, as the other ordered the foot soldiers to attack. They charged forward. The Red Blade fired their slings, but the protection of the towers battlements shielded the archers from them for the moment.

Miklos sped across to the other side of the Tower to see if he could see where the Dwarf & Elf had got to. He saw the two were just reaching the treeline.

“Come on, Feldard, no time for sneaking,” urged Hasan. He pulled the dwarf to his feet and jogged southeast into the woods.

The dwarf silently cursed the full moon above and made sure his cloak still covered his armour as he lowered himself to the ground and began crawling forward, with any luck the goblins would be looking to the tower and not to the rolling, grass covered ground. He scanned the woods ahead. He was still too far to make out heat signatures, especially with the fires—he hoped the same was true for the goblins—that the fires impeded their night vision.

Feldard glanced to Hasan, making sure that the elf wasn’t getting too far ahead him.

As they reached the edge of the forest, the elf’s advanced hearing detected something was not quite right. Though Hasan had limited contact with humans, too his ears, the pitch of the screams were not quite right. They were a bit too…gutteral. His eyes opened wide. It was a decoy!

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Rescue Mission

The different pitch of the screams woke the dwarf and he soon joined Maruc on the roof.

“It coming from over there!” pointed the priest squinting into the gloom. “I thought I saw a woman, I can’t be sure though.”

“It would seem our neighbors may be dealing with troubles of their own,” Feldard commented dryly. “We cannot rely on them to come to our aid now.”

Feldard looked round as Hasan joined them. “How near must you be to finish her swiftly with your arrows?”

At the incredulous looks of the others Feldard shot back, “Would you rather she suffer at their hands for days? A swift death would be a mercy.”

“Dwarf mercy maybe.” replied Hasan darkly.
The priest struggled to keep the edge from his voice “Feldard. Not while I draw breath will I allow the death of an innocent. Lets face it, they are only Goblins, I say let us bring Halav’s justice upon them!”

A slow hand-clap coming from the mage interrupted his flow, Miklos had reached the battlement. “And how do you propose to do that?” he glanced momentarily over the parapet. “I can make nothing out over the glare of the fires and it seems the goblins have learned not to gather together in convenient groups for me to enchant.”

“Yes, I know its a ploy to get us to attack.” Feldard continued ignoring Maruc’s tone, “But as long as we are aware that its a ploy, half the surprise is lost. Its either that small mercy or we offer to surrender to them in exchange for the life of the woman. They might fall for that,” suggested the dwarf as the other clan members joined them. “Make up your minds quick. We have no time left”

“‘Tis surely a trap,” agreed Pyotr. “They mean to lure us out to slaughter!”

“Pyotr!”, Stephan hissed to his brother as they scanned the woods. “Do you know the woman?” He looked around at the others of the household. “Can any of you make out who this woman is? Might she be from the ferry landing or some neighbor holding?”

Darya, sobbing and upset, interjected. “Katarina has a yellow dress! What if they’ve attacked the Cherkass ‘stead as well? We have to do something!”

Pyotr returned and tried to comfort his wife. “Darya, we cannot risk it. I do not believe that is Kat out there.”

“But you can’t be sure!” she said, still shaken.

Stephan fitted his helm back on his head and adjusted his scabbard. “Aye, they seek to lure us out. But it beggars the questions, was the pause them planning the deceit? Or perhaps some new Gob clan has arrived? Or perhaps whatever hand is bringing these wretches together has arrived to take command?”

“I agree, Feldard, it’s no surprise anymore,” added Hasan, who was becoming more animated with each spoken word. He spun for the stairwell and had already drawn his sword. “Come now, let’s go. We must get her. I was a prisoner myself, not long ago. We cannot let her fall to the same fate!” urged the nearly stricken elf. He vanished into the darkness with sword still bared and eyes blazing with zeal.

The dwarf seized him with a grip of iron. Feldard had also felt a similar burning zeal to slaughter the goblins as the elf but reason won. “Hasan, hold your steel for but a moment!” the barked. “Listen a moment. You are the stealthiest of us. Could you shimmy down our escape rope unseen if we provided a diversion – such as offering to surrender? Then you could sneak around, retrieve the girl, whilst we set up an ambush for those coming to take over the hall and tower?”

“So spake the dwarf advising against the laying of false trails!” whispered Miklos well out of earshot.

“Yes, yes, let’s do that. But Feldard, you cannot stay here. From what I know of Goblins and there hatred of Dwarvenkind, your mere presence will enrage them to attack, even over the flag of truce. Come with me,” said Hasan. “Maruc, can your Halav aid us?”

“My Halav?” the priest said somewhat taken aback, but he overlooked the comment. “Mighty Halav, Re-Incarnate on His Ducal Throne might deign to aid us! With his blessing I can enshroud you in a aura of silence, or an item in your possession.”

Cast that power on this arrow here,” Hasan proffered one, “that our way may be speedy. After we are a bit closer, I think I could could introduce some confusion among the goblins if I shot this in their midst.”

Miklos came over. “Once you are free of the woodland I can enchant any Goblins on your tail and,” he turned to the other householders, “we can put up a reasonable missile defense as well. But are we going to pursue the idea of a diversion based on their trap? I assume thats what you meant?”

“Now listen before you descend. You cannot all hope to swiftly climb the rope under a rain of sling stones when you return. You must run around to the Hall door where Maruc can let you in. I can watch your backs from the tower.”

As Hasan alighted at the base of the tower, Stephan seemed to have an epiphany. “We didn’t get a very good look at that woman. And we agreed they’re trying to lure us out. That pause in the drumming and chanting just before the ‘woman’ appeared just had to be them putting together their little plan. It may be they’ve dressed up one of their own who can scream like a human.”

“A cold feeling is washing over me. I fear we’re falling for it.” He wasn’t sure if either Feldard or Hasan, already on the ground, could hear his words but he dare not speak too loudly.

“Alright!” Without warning, Stephan rushed down the tower to exit with a white apron, he he’d liberated from the kitchen held it up as a crude flag and tried to go out the barricaded door. He met Maruc at the door.

“Nail it shut after me. If need be, I’ll run back to that windhole and leap to make the distance up to it.”

He secretly hoped that helping hands would be ready in case he couldn’t make the scramble easily back through the windhole.

With a final nod and genuflect to Halav. The fighter stepped through the opening and raised the flag.

“Acklak!” He called out in the only word he knew of goblinese. “Enough! We are done and will give you all the treasure inside if you but let us pass!”

As he called out, he held the apron high over his head between his arms. And he walked resolutely toward the burned out ruins of the barn.

Once again, Red Blades emerged from the forest with their slingshots at the ready. Their eyes darting up toward the tower, weary of arrows. Half of them aimed toward the tower and the others kept Stephan in their sights.

The two wounded Wolfskull riders again led a crew of footsoldiers toward the yard. It was playing out just like their previous foray, only they moved much more slowly.

Because of the goblins’ caution, Hasan and Feldard had ample time to make their way down the side of the tower. Under the bright moonlight, they felt completely exposed. With every movement, they feared getting pelted by a storm of slingstones. At least they didn’t have to worry about the clanking of the dwarf’s armor, thanks to Maruc’s blessing.

They made it to the base of the tower just as the Red Blades had taken up their positions near the barn. The screaming continued in the forest in front of them. If they took the right trajectory, the tower should block them from being spotted by the slingshot-wielding goblins in the northern clearing. Yet, to any observers in the eastern forest, they were completely visible.

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Screams at Midnight

Having satisfied himself that Kuzma, Stellios and Matvey remained attentive to their watches, Hasan returned to the main hall. There, he found Miklos engaged in a rambling lecture on goblin psychology and the merits of an elaborate trap. “Miklos, that knock on the head may be a bit worse than it looks. The door is open. We need not hold ourselves out as bait to trap them at this point. We’ll be lucky if we can hold them out. We cannot leave the tower now, at nighttime we’ll be cut to pieces. ‘Til then,” he handed the mage a wet rag and a generous slice of dark bread, “I suggest you find some rest.”

Though his stomach ached for food, Stephan found himself compelled to search for a solution. But he hungrily devoured an apple and pull of bread someone handed him.

“Pyotr, in the seller, is there not a second, deeper cavity for the tubers and such? Could it not serve as a hiding place? At least for some of the women and children?”

“To be sure, Stephan. But we risk entombing them. I’ve no doubt that these goblins will seek the very depths of this place and with their ability to smell…..I don’t think we can hide. If we could hide someone, it would have to be behind much earth and stone. And that’s why I fear entombing someone. Even if the gobs leave, they may not be able to free themselves.”

Stephan’s lips pressed hard together. “What of a sturdy line? We could arrow it from the tower and slide to safety in the river or near the boats.”

Pyotr shook his head. “It’s good to think out loud, brother, but again, I don’t think we could get everyone safely down such a line even if we could secure it in place.”

He turned to look out at the black night, gloomily lit by moon and goblin fire. Smoke wafted through the windhole. “The burning here has been large. It must be visible for leagues. Surely my good neighbors, the VanKyn or Thominsin will rally to our rescue. I’d do as much for them.”

“Noble Hasan,” Miklos called after the elf, “I’d take more than a stone to adle my brains I hope. But I fear you have misinterpreted my idea. I was going to suggest that the most capable of us lay a trail to mislead the goblins into believing we have left whilst they were unattentive. They assume they can walk in unopposed. We entrap them and we’ll suggest they surrender or butcher the lot of them.”

“Whether or not they all come in, dividing their numbers is to our advantage as well. The best form of defense is attack is it not Feldard?”

Feldard glanced over to the mage considering. “Have you a means to hide the unfortunate person you’d have make this false trail? If you didn’t notice… our leaving the hall was met with a hail of stones.. The goblins have have us surrounded, and with the barn and palisade burnt down can easily spot us when we leave the building. Unless you have learned of some magic to hide one of us or know of another with the skills our departed Nicolai possessed, then I would say your plan is less than well thought out. But yes, the best defense is an unexpected attack.”

Maruc nodded to Feldard. He was feeling sore and tired so he took the time to pray to his deity for healing them clambered up to the battlements and tried to enjoy the fresh air filled with Goblin voices…

“Miklos, I have every confidence in your plan,” replied the elf. “And I expect we will execute it just as you say. But I don’t think we need an elaborate feint, be it a trail, or treasure, or fallen warriors. Let us just fight the best we are able, knowing that when they penetrate our now thin barrier, the fight will continue. Because I agree with your main point. We will fight better inside the main hall than simply shooting arrows from above. And until that fight is joined, I will watch from above. My main fear is that, if we all fight in this Hall, we will lose vision of what happens beyond it. So I will stay above, even if the melee begins. I will try to let Feldard know if I see others coming, and what archers we have will try to slow them down.”

With that, Hasan went to the armoury and pulled out two full quivers of arrows and brought them up to the battlements above. As he looked around he saw various equipment in addition to the bows. 2 short bows, 2 longbows, a battle axe, a couple small shields, a longsword, numerous spears, a mace and a dwarf-sized suit of plate mail.

He then went down the bedroom below, and tried to read his spellbook once again. He hoped to memorize web.

Feldard took the opportunity to grab a bite to eat himself and then let Maruc know that he was going to rest for a couple of hours. “Wake me to relieve your watch if the goblins haven’t attempted an attack by then.” Soon enough the resonating snore competed with the goblins chanting.

Maruc attended to his wounds, as the most injured member of the party, and then took up watch from the battlements.

His helmet on his knee. Head bowed. Hands massaging his temples, Stephan executed an arresting sigh. “You are right, Miklos. We must act. Your plan is all we have for the moment. But I would see the innocents off to Halav’s glory by my own hand rather than fall yet living into the hands of Gobs!”

Standing, his helm clanging to the flagstones, “Can you smell them out there! By Hav’ they stink. They must be shatting and pissing in the flames! I would see all their heads cleaved to the ground! The foul beasts!”

Clearly, Stephan had succumbed to fatigue and worry. He showed the classic signs of a warrior about to face his doom. But then he settled himself, stooping to retrieve his helm and tucking it in the crook of his arm against his armor. A strange calm washed over his countenance.

“We shall stand under the guiding hand of Halav! These fell creatures shall pay a dear price for their venture.”

The minutes passed slowly, except for the slumbering dwarf. At an hour before midnight, the goblins once again halted their tribal noises, but after a few minutes of ominous silence passed, they resumed. Perhaps, it was just a feint to see what the defenders would do, or just a move to keep them on edge. Or something else, there was no way of knowing. It was very unnerving.

As the time approached midnight, the sound of screaming came from the woods east of the clearing. The spotters turned their eyes to the woods, and they caught a glimpse of a human-sized figure in a yellow dress being dragged through the woods by goblins.

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What Drives a Goblin?

sukiskyn_forest

Raising his shield, Stephan stepped to help shield Miklos and Feldard from the stones. It was his instinct. Three of the shots loudly impacted the round, wooden shield denting some of the metal-cladding, but a couple of the stones did strik the unarmored Miklos.

Miklos shuffled gratefully behind the proferred shield. Not used to coming under direct attack, the mage’s adrenaline temporarily subdued the pain, and he spoke even more quickly than normal. “Let’s back to the tower! Hasan is right though! I wish we had another means of defending.”

As they made a defensive retreat in the moonlight, Stephan voiced an idea.

“What say we find suitable cover to snipe them when they come? There are many places to hide. There,” he pointed to part of the ruined barn, “Feldard, you could crouch. And there Miklos, and I over there. But are we seen? If they’ve not seen us, we can attack from behind when they are focused on the door. What say you?”

“Secrecy seems to be out of the question,” said the mage. “These goblins have gone up in my estimation! Not only is it night time but that has got to be over 30 yards to the treeline through the cover of the ruin.” They went back behind the ruined doorway a moment later. With only a few pieces of the oak door clinging to metal hinges, there was no barrier to stop any invading goblins. “It is clear they can see well in darkness.” he continued, “It seems the retreat was some sort of feint.”

Hasan raced up to the top of the tower, hoping to get a better look at the positions and numbers of the goblins. He saw nothing new, however, just the pitch black of night forest. He slowly surveyed the area around the encampment and strained to sense anything beyond the ordinary. Nothing seemed amiss.

Miklos thought for a moment. “I wonder…. a trap. I at first thought perhaps that the warriors could pretend a sortie, cover themselves in blood and dust and ‘collapse’ in the hail of sling stones only to spring up in surprise when we have lured them out.”

“The point being to lure them out en mass, and that plan would not work because they wouldn’t be sure of the kills. It is plain that they do not wish to burn the homestead down, they would have done so already, so they are after the contents. I am thinking we could try and make them think we have fled. They come in and provided they all come in—being greedy—we have several advantages. One, we know their numbers, two, we know where they are, three we will have a better idea what they are after. Four, we can attack them where their numbers are of little advantage. If we could lure them into the main hall and hide on the balcony we would have the advantage of height as well. I could block the exit with my web spell. All we need is a nice pile of treasure to lure the in with and a woodland trail to make them think we have fled.”

“Well, thats what I say anyway.” added the mage.

Maruc listened carefully to the mage trying to keep the grin off his face. “Oh Hasan!” he called after the retreating elf. “Miklos has a job for you. I don’t think you’ll like it though.”

The priest thumbed the handle of his flail. “Its a high risk strategy. There could be a hundred of them out there.”

“If there were a hundred of them out there, there would be eighty of them in here right now,” replied the mage larconically.

“Fair enough. It’s high risk, there’s a great danger of death, we are exposing the women and children and we are giving up our only defensive advantage,” he grinned brightly. “Sounds like a plan! Lets do it!”

Miklos turned to Feldard. “Exactly what drives a goblin? I can see by their tactics they are cunning, but are they intelligent? I am rather assuming they are greedy. What I am attempting to do here is use their weaknesses against them and I have a rather unsophisticated view of goblinoids. Being a Dwarf and a traditional enemy your insights could prove vital. Unless of course dwarven-goblinoid enmity is unsophisticated too.”

“The whole plan rather leans certain assumptions about goblinoid psychology. And some of those assumptions, like the clans joining up, are proving shaky.”

“Would fear wield them together?” the mage added.

Feldard considered the plan as suggested so far.. then looked to the mage. “These goblins are not acting like most that I have ever battled. Normally it is greed and natural enmity that lures them to battle. But is almost unheard of to have goblin clans work together. There is more to this raid than mere greed. I suspect a guiding hand in their efforts.”

The dwarf shook his head at the mage suggestion. “Normally fear would only further drive the clans to bickering and fighting amongst themselves to get away… but now … can’t be sure how they’d react.”

“Well then. Shall we be brave souls and bring this to a head?” offered the Mage.

“Aye,” Stephan agreed with the dwarf. “Some hand guides these beasts. And,”nodding to Miklos, “they fear that hand.

“And, I fear….that hand is on the way. That they have not burned more or pressed the attack relentlessly suggests they may be waiting for someone or something to arrive. Perhaps they are here to soften us up only.

“But why?” Turning to Pyotr, “What is it Pyotr? Why do the goblins work together to take Sukiskyn? Should we ask everyone in the household?”

“‘Tis a mystery to me, brother. You are of course welcome to question everyone and even search the grounds to find out if there’s something we may be missing.”

Stephan drank deeply of the water someone handed him. The cool liquid was wonderful but made his head pound for a moment as his blood flow raced to the knot on his head from the slingstone.

“This plan,” Miklos, “would be better if we had a better idea of their numbers. To allow them in like that without knowing…..well, sure, we’d then know but it could be an overwhelming number. Very risky. It’s like grabbing a pot off the fire before first checking to see how hot it be.”

“Well we could ask them, Stephan. But I doubt they can count!” replied Miklos. “Sorry that was foolish of me. No. We don’t know how many of them there are, but we have the advantage. They wouldn’t expect it.”

It was two hours until midnight, and the goblin drums and chanting again emanated from the forest.

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Look Out!

Having finished putting the flames out, Stephan looked to see that Alfana was in good hands. As he did he assessed the damage. “We’ve caught the fire before it did too much damage to the walls, but the door is burnt and hacked up.

“Matvey, keep an eye out for the goblins as we work. Kuzma, go tell Masha all is safe and then please keep an eye out from above. Call if you see anything move. Stellios, please also go to the tower to keep watch.”

“Next time they come, they’ll expect us to take the same defensive approach,” said Hasan. “We’ll need to change our tactics, lest they change their’s first. I see two options. One, we can charge them. The sortie from the South Yard. Ahh, would that Saeth were here, she would appreciate that has a ring to it! Second, it it might be even more effective, we could plan an ambush. If we could sneak a small force into the ruins of the barn, we can let the goblins come. And when they finally reach the door, we fall on them from behind!”

Maruc re-entered the tower and joined the group. “Well fought! Well fought!” he shook everyone’s hands. “My brave friends the blessings of Halav are on this house!” He leant over to look at the pale Alfana, then smiled at Irina. “Good work my dear.” He returned his attention to the patient and inspected the welt on her head. “Nasty, but you’ll live. There might be a little scarring though. Now lets see, no complaints, I wish to check you all over. We don’t want any unnecessary heroics!”

Maruc carefully assessed everyone. “Well we have been fortunate not to have had more fatalities with such an attack. It is a testament to the work gone into building this fine house and the brave souls that defended it. I say again well done.” A grave light entered his eyes. “We cannot assume we have beaten them off. Even now, they may be calling for reinforcements. We must attempt to do the same, or flee. We cannot stay here forever enduring wave after wave of assaults. We have have at least cast doubt into their hearts and they will think twice before openly attacking us again. We also need to be a full strength so I shall ask Halav’s blessing for Alfana again least should the need arise she can defend herself or flee unaided. But I am at a loss gentlemen. Why after such casualties did they not press their attack? And why did they leave their dead? I have no experience of these foe. But I cannot see what loyalties hold them together if they treat each other so.”

For that matter the smell of smoldering thatch and horse dung brought back unpleasant memories of the raid on the cloister. How he’d struggled for days, starving and thirsty from the wreckage. Who had attacked the peaceful church in its outlying community? Now he thought about it. It wasn’t that far from here. Could it have been goblins? He hadn’t stayed to find out, or for that matter gathered any clues. To be honest, Maruc wasn’t out for vengance. He was out for a cause.

The pale face of Alfana brought him out of his revelry. He meditated a moment and feeling the freshness of the spirit of Halav pass though him he blessed the woman and the light brought colour to her cheeks and a smile touched her lips. “Thank you, bless you.” she breathed.

“Thank not me my dear, I am but the instrument of Blessed Halav.”

Miklos sat on the side of the bed and bit into an apple. He didn’t know how the others seem to survive on fresh air. He was ravenous.

“Nice plan Hasan, but if we are going to launch a sortie. We launch a sortie. An all out attack, and do it before they have a chance to regroup.” He took another bite. “Not that I’m in favour for such an action. We seem to be doing OK here. I count eleven dead in the yard. A handful on the other side of the bridge as we entered. And we have lost two in the initial raid because of surprise. We are well armed and armoured. We have a defensible position and they will loose dozens more in another attack. Soon their weak alliance will show its cracks and the infighting will start. All we need is stoicism and patience.”

He took took a further bite. “That and a good book full of spells!”

“Very well, then,” Hasan looked at the dozen souls surrounding him. “We live and die tonight together in Susikyn. Still, I wish I knew this enemy better. So far, they have been most direct. But why not just burn us out?”

“Aye. We are best off staying here and defending,” Stephan agreed. “There could be many more goblins in the woods. Which means….”, he lowered his voice, “I’ve seen sieges go for years. They all end the same way unless reinforcements arrive. We must get word out for help. That or we will need to escape for surely, this enemy will show no mercy.”

Turning to Pyotr, “Are there any horses left?”

“Nay, brother. All the horses are dead to run off.” Pyotr kept his voice low so as not to disturb his family. “We can not hold out for years, Stephan.”

“No. The sieges I’ve seen that last so long are of large towns and castles. How much food supply do we have?”

“Maybe three weeks if they haven’t raided the outer cellar. We have about a week’s supply here in the tower,” Pyotr looked troubled.

“We have to send for help. And plan some sort of escape. Just to be sure. If it comes to it, we may need to disperse and agree to meet somewhere some days hence. I only say now that we should keep it in mind.”

“Perhaps, if we can just make it to daybreak…” Pyotr’s voice trailed off.

“Come, does anyone want to join me in searching the dead in the courtyard for clues as to why they have chosen us as raid practice? Pyotr you’re not hiding anything they would gladly spend their lives to get hold of?”

“The horses, of course,” replied the clanhead. “But the Viper goblins made off with those hours ago.” Pyotr was clearly puzzled. Like the others, he had expected the goblins to launch another fire attack.

Miklos produced the claw hammer he had previously used to nail the entrance descended to the door of the Hall. He spent a few minutes prying the nails out and knocked some of the remains of the solid oak door from its frame, until there was enough of an opening to venture out. He gingerly listened to the pile of smoking bodies and poked it with the end of his staff hoping that none where still alive.

Feldard grabbed at him and he almost jumped out of his skin. “What are you doing!” he stormed, “Idiot human, you’ll get us all killed! They could be alive! Tricky damn goblins!” he spat. “Are you brainless? They could be all over us any second and you want to go for a stroll? You deserve everything you get halfwit.”

Miklos said nothing. There was nothing he could say. The dwarf was right of course, but he was damned if he was going to admit it to him. Secretly, he was quite pleased to have him there while he finished the job. Satisfied they where dead, he crossed the yard to approach the five corpses pinned to the floor with arrows—they had been victims of his first sleep incantation and a deadly volley.

While Miklos scavenged the bodies, Feldard kept pace with the mage, his crossbow loaded and at the ready keeping watch over the courtyard and beyond. He avoided Feldard’s gaze. Which to be frank was quiet easy, Miklos being a good foot & an half taller. Miklos did not notice the dwarf retrieving what few bolts and arrows were salvagable from the goblin bodies.

Sheathing his sword, Stephan examined the entrance to consider how best to block the entrance for the next goblin attack. He kept an eye on the surroundings to ensure no goblins attempted pot shots.

“Feldard,” said Stephan, noticing the dwarf’s scavenging. “We may not have bolts for your crossbow, but we have some spare shortbows and arrows in the armoury.”

“Look out!” cried the boy, his high-pitched voice carrying loudly on the still night air.

From the northern edge of the forest, slingstones arced through the air toward the three defenders in the yard.

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