Joined: 05 Sep 2005
|Posted: Wed Aug 09, 2006 11:29 pm Post subject:
| Chapter 2. Ambush.
“You are right Tarall,” Byrold said. He turned to face Hark. “If I am late for the coronation, then all will be lost. Should Eldra mount a successful challenge to the throne she will waste no time in removing me, to prevent any future challenge. We must drive ahead at all speed.”
Hark nodded. “Very well Prince, your command shall be carried out. Still, it would be foolish to charge in blind. Allow the scouts time to reconnoiter further, if you would.”
Byrold nodded. “That is sensible. Proceed, but do not tarry!”
Hark bowed in his saddle and turned away to give instructions to his soldiers.
“In the meantime, I shall retreat slightly, and consult my spell book,” said Byrold to Tarall. “I may not have much, but there are a few useful cantrips at my disposal.”
So saying the Prince swung around a low hillock and dismounted, followed by his aide and bodyguard.
He had just finished preparing his spell when Hark returned. “It is I feared Prince Byrold. There is a small, but no doubt competent, band somewhere within the forest. I fear they plan ambush. We were unable to tally their numbers.”
“Very well Hark. We know they are there. No doubt you can speculate as to their likely method of attack. With your experience, my brave men here, and a little trickery, I am confident we will find a way to get through.”
Hark bowed. “I await your orders Sire.”
The royal party entered the shade of the trees shortly after mid-day. A small advance group, lightly armored scouts, took the lead. A little way behind were heavier cavalry, grim faced knights all. In the center the prince and his retinue, followed by more heavy horse, their mail glinting in the afternoon sun.
For a time it all seemed well, and they made their way unimpeded along the narrow lane. A little way in though, there came a sharp turn in the trail, and here the tranquility was shattered.
The scouts had passed by, and the cavalry were approaching the bend when arrows, black fletched, streaked out of the trees from carefully calculated positions. The knights reacted immediately, forming defensive positions around the center of the group. The shafts that had struck home had limited effect due to their heavy armor. Only one had fallen, a lucky shot penetrating his helmet visor.
Arrows continued to fly, but the defenders raised shields, interlocking them and creating a metal wall, which provided almost total protection from the ranged attack. A few commands and the group began to retreat back down the path in good order, arrows bouncing off their shields all the while.
Another cry, this time from the trees, and dark clad figures swarmed forth from the dense foliage.
The knights, now with clear targets, lowered their shields and formed a wall, meeting the attackers with cold steel. The ambush had been carefully planned though, and the cavalry had little room to maneuver. After taking some initial loses, the attackers in black leather slipped through, pulling the mingling knights from their mounts and slitting throats with a cold professionalism.
The defenders, seeing the situation deteriorate, blew retreat. They turned, with some difficulty, and started back down the path at best speed. The maneuver had been anticipated. Only a short distance and arrows sang out again, this time concentrating on the prince.
The knights were out of formation and being harried by the pursuing foot soldiers. Though they tried, they were unable to close ranks and raise shields in time. Once arrow struck true, and the prince slid off his horse, to be trampled by those following.
Unable to stop, the remainder of the party left the mangled body lying on the trail.
Panting, one of the attackers sheathed his sword and stopped by the corpse. He knelt down and removed the helmet, only to swear and throw the headgear away in frustration. The 'prince' was no more than the royal armor, filled with straw.
The group of scouts, separated from the party by the ambush, proceeded through the woods. With their light armor and sturdy horses they made good speed, and it was several hours later when one of them held his hand up. They came to a halt, and Prince Byrold tugged off his bandanna.
“We need to rest the horses a while I think. It should be far enough away by now in any case.”
Hark nodded. “You are right, but, if I may use an appropriate phrase, we are not out of the woods yet.”
Tarall half fell from his mount. “Ah! I am not used to a life in the field! Only for a mission of such import would I subject my tender behind to such abuse.”
Byrold grinned for a moment, but his face soon sobered. “I hope we didn't lose too many back there.”
Hark put a hand on his shoulder. “You did what you had to do, and better than many would have.”
The prince nodded, and turned to tend to his horse.
“Do you think there will be any more of them?” he asked a short while later, once they were mounted and riding again.
Hark shook his head. “I hope not. Eldra, if indeed it was her behind the ambush, would likely not have time to arrange another. Still, we need to be alert.”
“My main concern is a magical attack,” said Tarall.
Byrold felt for his spellbook. “There are restrictions placed on any who use magic.”
“Even so, there are always those who dare to circumvent such,” replied Tarall. “I have seen as much with my own eyes.”
Byrold pulled a face. His training left no doubt in his mind, but the world was wide, and held many who were not restrained by local laws. He put such thoughts aside. If one such sorcerer had been found, there was little he could do to counter it here. He kicked the horse into a faster pace.
The city of Uskk stood gleaming white in the sun, the mountains providing a spectacular backdrop to the bustling metropolis. One of the first known settlements in the Fractured lands, it was originally built by the Drusk, an race of dark skinned people, according to the few remaining artifacts, whose origins were the source of much speculation. Their style of dwelling was simple yet effective. Large square towers thrust skywards, made of strange white stone which still shone as if new, thousands of years after the passing of their creators.
What had befallen the Drusk remained a mystery, though there were theories, none had yet to satisfy the historians. Whatever the case, humankind had arrived to find the city abandoned. They proceeded to make good use of the structures, and within a few hundred years the central towers were surrounded by more down to earth dwellings.
Throughout the ages Uskk had absorbed invaders and travelers alike, and boasted a colorful history. In modern times it swarmed with people from as far away as Atlantis and Ys, and the newcomer would often be overwhelmed at such diversity, found in few other places in the world.
Byrold's line had ruled for more than thirty generations. An early ancestor, Grevor the Great, had waged a successful expansionist campaign, so the city was now the capital of the large and prosperous Kingdom of Yroth.
Byrold approached the North Gate, his remaining companions close around him. They were all dusty and tired from hard travel, and therefore they were in no mood for light banter when a city guard stepped out in front of them, hand held high.
“Travelers hold!” The guard stood his ground as the group pulled up in a cloud of dust.
“Let us pass man, you are impeding the crown prince,” snapped Hark.
The guard bristled. “Indeed, and I am the imp Gorgontua, straight from the fifth level of the Dark Star. I have heard it all now.”
“Step aside at once,” commanded Tarall, “you are addressing Lord Tarall, General Hark and his most royal highness, Prince Byrold himself.” He gestured at the prince.
The guard leaned on his pike and spit in the dirt, unimpressed. “Just the other day I had the Wizard Merlot pass by on a chariot pulled by invisible horses. The Queen herself used this gate not long since, in a carriage as black as the night with a retinue of a hundred bold knights. I once was on duty when the Chancellor of the Elven Kingdom of Etherial came though. He rode on a unicorn of silver. Yet here I am supposed to believe this person before me, dressed in huntsman leathers, is the Crown Prince? I think not sir.”
“Damn you man! I will have you flogged for your impudence!” Hark put his hand on his sword. “Stand aside and let us pass, or I will ride you down where you stand.”
The guards demeanor darkened, and he clutched at his weapon tightly, making a signal with his other hand. “See there?” he said, nodding backwards at the city wall. “Back there are the Border Guards. Maybe we are not as glamorous as the elite who campaign bravely in heathen lands, but we are no cowards. Try us. Come on. We will see who is standing at the end of it.”
Hark was about to speak again, when Byrold moved up. “Hold!” He commanded. “The man is simply doing his job. And we hardly look the part, dressed as we are.” He turned to the guard. “What is your name soldier?”
The guard looked at him through slitted eyes. “Not that it is any of your business, but I go by the moniker of Handel the Younger.”
“Well, Handel, you must excuse my friends, they are tired from a long and hard trip. We wish to enter your fair city.”
Handel nodded. “So much is evident. However, I cannot, in all good faith, let a bunch of hard bitten types such as yourselves in without as much as a by-your-leave.” He waited.
Hark sidled over to Byrold. “He is waiting for a payoff your Highness,” he hissed.
“Unthinkable!” Declared Tarall. “I say we ride him into the dirt.”
Byrold raised a calming hand and turned back to the guard. “Perhaps an entry fee is in order. Please kind sir, what is the rate of the day?”
Handel looked them over before answering. “Let me see, six men, horses, armor and weapons. That would be 12 Crowns to you.”
“Outrageous!” Cried Tarall. “You are trying to rob us blind!”
Once more Byrold calmed him. “How much do we have? I own, I brought no money with me.”
The others were similarly bereft, and a brief consultation with the guards added only a few silver pieces . “Lost mine gambling,” shrugged one of the men.
Byrold addressed Handel again. “Ah, it seems you have caught us at an unfortunate time. Still, should you let us pass, I vow I will personally see to it you would receive double your due.”
The guard spit again. “No fee, no entrance,” he said.
Hark growled and turned red. Tarall muttered an oath under his breath, and the scouts shifted in their saddles.
Byrold frowned. “I think I see a way around this...”
Customs eh? Always when you are in a hurry.
So, bit of a lame DP it is, sorry for that. However, so it goes.
What to do then? Bear in mind it is a big city, and most citizens would not recognize the royal family, before anyone says anything.
Nothing but a few silver pieces between them (the Court doesn't usually need money), and the wall guards are more than enough to take them on. They could go around to another gate of course, but it may not be any easier there.