La Cour Grand du Roi de Lune au Caillou du Ley
The Grand Court of the Moon King was abuzz with gossip about the imprisonment of the Grand Duke of Najat, but went absolutely silent when the herald tapped his baton on the travertine floor and announced, “Sir Marrack Larron, Knight Captain of the Knights of Onn, Knight Champion of Drambor, Victor of the Crown Jousting Tournament of Alsace, Ambassador of King Combard Tarrant of Drambor.”
Courtiers pressed back to make way for the scruffy bearded knight in a dusty, road weary cloak. Larron strode confidently forward, as if he owned the place. If his clothing was less than spectacular, particularly amongst the garishly decadent outfits of the courtiers, his arms and armor were immaculate. His meticulously crafted sword was honed to a razor’s edge. His well worn shield though scratched and dented was still stout and sturdy. His well oiled chain mail clinked slightly as he walked.
He scanned the crowd of courtiers with his eyes as he passed. The Ladies of Alsace were certainly fair to look upon, with their smooth pale skin and dark hair. And, scented with perfumes and floral fragrances, they smelled much better than their Dramborean counterparts, whom didn’t have the luxury and consequently had a more natural aroma. But most of the bitches didn’t have a brain the size of a pea, and those that did gave new meaning to the word `shrew.’
He continued forward, from tier to tier until he stood a mere five feet before the final set of steps up to the throne of Alsace. There he paused, making note of the wizards flanking the king. One he knew only by reputation; Guillame the Red Wizard of Antil. The other, he knew intimately well; Wormal Grenhalt, the Earl of Ciad.
He gave no sign that he even noticed their presence, nor the twenty Royal Guards flanking him on either side, though it was obvious that his reputation preceded him and that the Lestat was taking no chances. Larron was after all Combard’s Champion. He was the one knight trusted enough to train Combard’s three sons in the art of war. And he had bested the best Alsacean chevaliers in the last six Crown Jousting Tournaments of Alsace.
Sir Marrack bowed, deeply enough to be passable, but shallow enough to still be recognized as an insult to everyone in the court, “Greetings to the Moon King from his cousin Drambor,” he said in Dramborean. Another insult, Lestat knew full well that Sir Marrack spoke perfect Alsacean.
Philippe Lestat glared at Marrack, fuming. “Alsace welcomes our cousin’s messenger,” returning the insult. “What news do you bring us from our cousin in the east?”
“His majesty has instructed me to offer terms, your highness.”
“I see. He has finally come to his senses, then?”
“No, your highness, his terms are the same as before; you shall remove your troops from Vitruvia and Drambor shall not make war upon Alsace.”
Lestat shot forward in his chair, “What! Why does he waste my time? Two-thirds of western Drambor has fallen to my armies. Koln is under siege and will fall any day now. Then all of southern Drambor will follow.”
“The King has faith that the Crown Prince will not allow that to happen.”
“Crown Prince?” Lestat responded. Which one would that be now? You do seem to be running out of them these days. Sandur is dead. Crasmor has disappeared, vanished without a trace. Ahh, the young Eardrik? He’s but a boy, and his army is but a band of grandfathers and farm-boys with pitchforks.”
“And you wouldn’t have had anything to do with Crasmor’s disappearance would you? No, I think not.”
“So sure of yourself? So sure that the prince hasn’t made a deal with his old cousin?”
Marrack studied the king, making note of every nuance, every gesture, and the inflection of his voice. “The Crown Prince is true. He would never betray his king and country!” He turned and gazed piercingly at Grenhalt.
“Ah, well, it is no matter,” said Lestat. “Whether loyal or not, he is nowhere to be found.” Changing the subject, “And so, the matter of terms.”
“You have our terms, leave Vitruvia.”
“Leave Vitruvia, leave Vitruvia,” Philippe said, “You Dramboreans are such single-minded simpletons. Alas, you are forgetting the twenty thousand veteran soldiers that I have stationed there, not to mention Pharaoh and the Vangorean mercenaries.”
“And you are forgetting that your most able general rots in a tower, his army brought to ruin. Combard will smash Pharaoh’s army as if it was made of straw and twine. Then we will see how your twenty thousand constables fair against a real army. I hear that they are barely capable of keeping the locals under their thumb as it is. How well do you think they’ll fare with the Dramborean army outside the gate?”
“Najat was a fool!” snapped Philippe. “He didn’t follow my orders and he will pay dearly for that. But now my other vassals see my resolve. They know the price of failure, and thus they dare not fail.”
“We shall see their resolve Your Highness. The seeds of discontent are strong amongst the people of Alsace. As Najat’s defeat reveals, the common man has lost the will to fight.”
“The common man?” asked Lestat mockingly, “What cares a King about the common man?”
“A great deal, I should hope,” replied Sir Marrack, “It is the burden of the nobility to care for the people under his charge.”
Philippe sighed and spoke as if talking to an ignorant child, “Ahhh, so naïve. You would not last a day in the Court of Alsace, Larron. Commoners are chattel. One need not concern oneself with peasants. Peasants are here for our pleasure, to serve us, the chosen people, the nobility, the blessed of Onn, whom by divine right were created superior. The only people a nobleman needs concern himself with are his peers.”
“That is abundantly clear,” Sir Marrack said with disdain as he looked around at the opulence of the court and thought about all of the starving peasants and commoners of Alsace, all of the Alsacean soldiers that fought and died so that the privileged few of Alsace could look down on them from on high with contempt. “But alas, it is not only the commoners that lack resolve. Many of your vassals desire nothing more than an end of hostilities, to return home to their manors and their wives and their mistresses. How much longer can you keep them in line? How much longer before they realize that it’s a better idea to band together and topple a king than to fall one by one by one like Najat?”
Philippe jumped to his feet, roaring with anger, “How dare you come into my court and attempt to sow the seeds of rebellion! Any man that stands against me shall forefeet his title, his lands, his head! And they all know that with dread certainty. None shall fall prey to your foolish games.” He sat back down on the throne. “Alsace grows weary of this childish banter. These are our terms. You will take them back to our cousin and he will assent or we will drive him into the outlands to live amongst the goatmen! Firstly, Vitruvia shall remain under the protectorship of Alsace. Secondly, in reparation for the grievous losses that Drambor has wrongfully inflicted upon us Drambor shall cede sovereignty of the Earldom of Ciad unto Alsace. Lastly, as a gesture of good will, we shall yield unto our cousin Drambor all of the lands of eastern Drambor conquered during the recent hostilities less any lands within one hundred miles of the Protectorship of Vitruvia.”
“Alsace wants Ciad? I see,” said Marrack. He turned to face the wizard to Lestat’s left. It has been some time old friend, hasn’t it? I wasn’t expecting to see you here, considering you were supposed to be cut off at Castle Ciad while Bonecrusher ravaged the south. But, of course, we now know that Bonecrusher was your apprentice. Tell me, how is it that the apprentice of the Earl of Ciad ends up leading an orc horde against his own king?”
“Combard never appreciated my talents,” Grenhalt replied. “I decided to teach him a lesson. At the last moment, I would have broken free of my confinement at Ciad and slain Bonecrusher and in the process become the savior of Drambor and been granted the respect that I deserve. And if that fool hadn’t allowed himself to be killed by Lyssaer it would have worked.”
Marrack’s eyes turned to slits. Things were suddenly crashing into place. “Ahh, I see now. You were to come to the King’s aid, to save the day,” his voice raising, “the same way that you did when the Combard was poisoned?”
“Ah yes, that,” said Grenhalt. “So sorry to use you old boy, but I needed that poison and that damned dwarf out bid me for the black fruit.”
“Yes, which you used on the King!”
“A fool I was not to suspect you, of course, by the time I’d returned to Drambor, the King was cured and you were his savior. What I didn’t know was that you already had the white fruit, the only thing that could save the Kings life. All you had to do was sit back and wait while the Priests of Onn failed and failed again in their attempts to save Combard’s life. Then once they had all given up hope, you miraculously came up with an antidote.”
“Yes!” growled Grenhalt, “But he still wouldn’t give me my due. And for that he will pay!”
“No,” Marrack said, drawing his sword, “You shall!”
As soon as Marrack reached for his blade, the royal guard rushed forward with their halberds to surround the king.
Meanwhile Grenhalt unleashed a meteor swarm at Marrack and a conflagration erupted around the Dramborean champion.
The royal guards trembled as Marrack casually strode from the inferno, unharmed but for a bright glow from his now pearly white luminescent skin. “Parlour tricks? You’ll have to do better than that old man”
Grenhalt’s eyes were wide with terror.
“Kill him!” cried the King as he fled in panic, followed by the magus.
Marrack laughed as he began to slaughter the guardsman, “So much for diplomacy.”
A camp on the Ulga River, 25 miles from Vitruvia
Aelwold paced back and forth during his watch. Why had he come back to Drambor? He knew that he’d end up getting conscripted. And so, here he was, back in the army. Oh well. At least it was safer than traveling with that lizard man and his half-demon brother.
A lone figure approached.
“Who goes there,” challenged Aelwold.
“I bring orders for your commander. Where is your lieutenant?” the man responded.
“What is the password?” Aelwold asked, his pike ready.
“Providence,” replied the man. “Good to see that your lieutenant keeps up discipline.”
“As you say, Lord,” Aelwold replied. He could tell that this man was a nobleman by his speech and by the way he carried himself with unshakable confidence, “this way.”
The nobleman followed Aelwold. He was old, older even than Aelwold by a few years, which somehow made the grizzled veteran feel better about his own plight. Even this old nobleman could not avoid the king’s call to arms. Yep, they were all in the same boat together.
They stopped outside the lieutenant’s tent. Aelwold held his torch near to the canvas so that its light would shine through, then cleared his throat, “Lieutenant Ewein, there is a dispatch here from command, Sir.”
The lieutenant stirred, “I’ll be right out, carry on sergeant.”
“Yes sir!” he snapped then went back to his watch, leaving the old nobleman standing in the darkness.
When Aelwold next passed, the lieutenant and the nobleman were talking outside the tent. Aelwold paused near the fire to warm himself and strained to overhear what they were saying. They spoke a mixture of Dramborean and battle-tongue;
“They are but a few miles ahead of us. We will engage them on the morrow.”
“Excellent, the men have been itching for a good stand-up fight. All of this hiding in the forest and hit and run business has grown wearisome.”
“Quite,” said the nobleman, “but necessary. Until now we dared not a full engagement. And they will expect the same tomorrow, but we will surprise them by meeting them head-on.”
“How is the ground?” asked the lieutenant.
“The ground is good. The river covers our left flank and our battle line should be able to spread to the right far enough to hold the hilltop here.” He pointed at a map before them. “But, we will still be outnumbered more than six-to-one. And among their host are many battle-hardened veterans and half-men berserks.”
Berserks! Aelwold thought, Just great! The half-men berserks of Vangor were feared and renowned all across Onland. It was rumored that the half-men had no fear, that they’d been used against demonbrand and that though the berserks went into certain death (or worse) against the demon army, that they did so unflinchingly, and fought to the last man. Aelwold didn’t know how much of these rumors were true, but he did know that during his 20-plus years of service in the Dramborean army he’d never known a man that’d been up against berserks and lived to tell of it.
La Cour Grand du Roi de Lune au Caillou du Ley
Marrack breathed heavily, “these guys are pretty good,” he thought as he prepared for their next rush, “If they had another company here, I might even be in trouble.”
“Who is this guy!” said one of the guards incredulously, “the great great grandson of Garrand Du Grun?”
“Silence!” snapped the captain, “stay focused. We can take him!” He sounded more as if he was trying to convince himself than rally his men.
“Du Grun was a fraud,” Marrack said.
An Alsacean courtier walked forward, apparently unconcerned by the ring of royal guards or Marrack’s blood dripping blade. He bowed politely before the Dramborean, “Garrand Du Grun was the savior of Alsace! He is our greatest hero.”
“He killed a few goblins, Minister Thalos,” replied Marrack. “That hardly makes one a hero.”
Minister Thalos was dressed impeccably, in a crimson doublet with black hose, “Whether goblins or not, he single-handedly defeated an entire invading army, and for this He is the beloved of our people.”
“The Alsacean people? Or their overlords? Alsace is decadent and corrupt and its people are little more than slaves. Such is the legacy of Garrand Du Grun. How does this make him a hero?
Thalos stroked his jet black goatee, He sighed as if talking to an ignorant child, “Alsace is the future of Onland. Garrand Du Grun is a hero because we say so. Because we will make the history.”
“And to hell with the facts?”
“To hell? How quaint,” said Thalos, grinning mischievously, “Du Grun is the blessed of Onn. How could he possibly go to hell?”
Marrack glowered. “In life, Onn sometimes smiles on the fool. But you are mistaken Minister, the hag waits for all those whom are unworthy to join the Wise Lord in heaven; the fool… and his progeny alike.”
“Yes, well we shall see,” said Thalos, “but in the mean time we live in the real world. And in the real world one must be pragmatic. Our good cousins from Drambor should be less concerned with the next life and worry more about this one.”
“I desire less to debate you, Minister Thalos, than you desire to cross swords with me, so unless you wish to test out your theory along with your kinsman here,” Marrack said gesturing to score of fallen guardsmen, “I suggest you stand aside and let me pass.”
The minister cleared his throat and bowed before stepping aside. “Perhaps another time.”
The Dramborean Camp
After his watch Aelwold passed back by the lieutenant and the old nobleman on his way to bed.
“Once you are heavily engaged with the half-men a unit of chariots will loop behind the lines and attempt to flank you. He will be with them. It is our only chance.”
“Are you sure he will be there? How do you know?”
“He will be there. It is Onn’s will. I have seen it.”
“I understand,” the lieutenant said.
“Do not fail Sir Ewein. All our hopes rest with you and your men.”
“We will not fail, Your Majesty.”
Aelwold stopped dead in his tracks. ‘Your Majesty.’ The King!
“I trust that you won’t,” said the old man as he rose. He strode back toward the center of camp pausing to slap Aelwold on the shoulder along the way. “Get some sleep sergeant. Tomorrow’s your big day.”
25 miles from Vitruvia, 6 hours before the Battle of Pascolo Del Vino
The army was almost ready to move when Bodo arrived.
Aelwold watched as the Earl cantered up to the lieutenant followed by his son and two squires. Behind them rode six common soldiers. They were all gristled veterans. All had oddly shaped items wrapped in burlap sticking out of their saddlebags. Aelwold pondered what might be hidden within.
“Good tidings Sir Ewein,” said Bodo.
“Good morning you grace,” replied the lieutenant.
“I hope you’re ready for a good fight, Sir, our scouts have spotted the Vangoreans moving our direction. They are several miles closer than the King anticipated. We may not be able to reach high ground before them if their scouts have also spotted us,” Bodo said, sounding concerned.”
“I understand Earl Bodo.”
“We will have to march double-time if there is any hope of beating them to the field of battle. I hope your men are well rested.”
“They are, your grace.”
“Good. The plan remains the same. You will be the right flank. Do you understand Ewein? You are the end of the line.”
“I understand. We will deny the enemy. They shall not be allowed to flank us, your Grace.”
“Very well, here are the crossbowmen that the King told you of. Keep them safe until the appointed time.”
“I should like to see one of these marvelous devices,” said Ewein.
“Perhaps after the battle, Sir,” replied the Earl. “They should be kept well hidden until the chariots come close. It isn’t likely the Vangoreans will know what they are, but it is imperative that the Vangoreans think that your unit has no ranged attack capabilities. Otherwise Pharaoh will not pass close enough to get a good shot.”
“Of course, your grace, I understand.”
“May Onn’s blessing be upon you today,” said the earl, then turned his mount and cantered back toward command. His squires followed, leading the six horses from which the soldiers had dismounted and removed their oddly shaped burlap packages.
“Uther! Wilford! Cuthric! Aelwold! Gwydd! Aethelbald!” the lieutenant shouted. “Front and center!”
Aelwold and the others formed a line before the lieutenant.
“Today is the day we either win the war or lose it,” the lieutenant shouted. “If we lose it, it’s because you six screwed up!”
The six veterans all stood at attention as the lieutenant continued, now addressing the entire company. “We’re gonna get dirty today boys, really filthy bloody dirty. We’re going to be outnumbered; six of their men for every one of ours. We’re going to be tired from humping it double-time it up-hill all morning. And then, to top it all off, we’re going to be up against the biggest, meanest, toughest bastards in the entire Vangorean army. That’s right; we’re gonna be knee deep in half-men berserks!”
“I’m not gonna lie to you. Most of you boys won’t survive. But none of you have wives or families anyway. That’s why you were re-assigned to this unit last month. But you’re gonna go in there and show those mutant juggernaut freaks that you’re just as mean and just as tough and just as stark raving crazy as they are!”
“And do you want to know why? You’re gonna do it because its your job. And you’re gonna do it because its your duty. And you’re gonna do it because your King and country commands it. And you’re gonna do it because if you don’t; we lose the war!”
He looked at Aelwold and the other five veterans he’d called out. “You lugs,” he said, and then pointed at the six newcomers with burlap sacks. “You see those fellows there? Those fellows are your responsibility. Anything happens to them and you better pray to the Wise Lord that you don’t make it through the day, because I’ll see to it personally that the rest of your days are a torment worse than death. Those guys got a job to do; a job appointed by Onn himself! And its your job to see to it they live long enough to do their job. Understand?”
“Yes Sir!” Aelwold replied in unison.
“Good. Take those six around to the rear and form up. It’s time to move out.”
Meanwhile, Outside Vitruvia
The fields outside the city were covered with a blanket of shallow pits. Once covered and camouflaged, these pits would conceal more than 100,000 half-men. The Dramboreans would have to pass this way to engage the main force. Not that directly engaging the Vangorean army made any sort of tactical sense, but Pharaoh’s seers had told him that the Dramborean King would do just that.
So, based on their fore-knowledge, a plan was devised. When the Dramboreans arrived, First Corps would pull back, seemingly in order to regroup. The Dramboreans, seeing an advantage would press forward, intent on engaging First Corps before they could regroup. In so doing, they would unknowingly pass by the berserks. Once the Dramboreans and First Corps were heavily engaged, a signal would be given and the half-men would spring from their hiding places and hit the Dramboreans from the rear. Simultaneously, Second and Third Corps would be closing in to deal with anything that the berserks left behind. First Corps would be decimated, but that was a small price to pay for the ability to crush the entire western army in one devastating blow.
It would utterly destroy any hope for Drambor to resolve the Vitruvean conflict through military action. They would be forced to negotiate. And Vangor, who had already stuffed its coffers with Alsacean gold, being on the winning side of the war and having been the instrument of Drambor’s destruction, would stand to profit further still. They could demand practically anything in the treaty agreement and neither Drambor nor Alsace would be in any position to refuse.
8 miles from Vitruvia, 4 hours before the Battle of Pascolo Del Vino
The sky was clear blue. Pharaoh ordered a slave to remove the canopy from his palanquin so that he could gaze up at the wispy clouds that were beginning to blow in from the south. He was supposed to inspect Third Corps, stationed ten miles east today, but had decided to stop here to relax on a hillside overlooking the Ulga to the north, maybe have a swim before lunch, then drink some wine and read the dispatches that had arrived just before he’d left First Corps this morning.
Such a beautiful day. Shame to waste it with some boring inspection. Everything was in order anyway. It always was. That’s what mamluk generals were for. Besides, the reports said that the Dramborean army wouldn’t be able to reach Vitruvia for another week. Plenty of time to prepare his trap. It was almost done now. Fools, they wouldn’t know what hit them.
19 miles from Vitruvia, 4 hours before the Battle of Pascolo Del Vino
The riders pulled up before the King’s retinue. Their horses were frothy with sweat and snorted as they sucked in air through flared nostrils.
Gasping for breath himself, Wallacht addressed the Knight Commander of the Royal Rangers, “They’ve spotted us Sir! We’ve been trailing a Vangorean scouting party for the past three days. They picked up the scent early this morning and about an hour ago took off like rampaging centaurs straight towards Vitruvia. We tried to cut them off, but they outran us. They’ll report in within the hour.”
Combard had ridden forward as the ranger reported in and stood beside the Knight Commander. “Thank you. Wallacht, isn’t it?”
“Yes, you highness,” Wallacht replied brightly.
“Well done Wallacht. “Have yourself a drink and cool off a bit before you switch out horses and head back out.” He tossed the ranger a silver flask full of fine Alsacean wine. “I have a special job for you Wallacht. Report back to me personally when you’re ready to head out”
The King turned to his herald. “I was hoping for another hour before they spotted us. Signal double-quick-time. It’s going to be closer than two gnats humping, but we have to beat them to the punch.”
Signalmen started flashing flags.
Thirty seconds later the army lunged forward.
10 miles from Vitruvia, 3 hours before the Battle of Pascolo Del Vino
Pharaoh was supposed to inspect Third Corps today, but he was nowhere to be seen. Commander Rag Zax pondered what to do. The rider had just delivered news that the Dramboreans were on their doorstep. Thus their trap was ruined. Most of the pits had been dug, but there was no time to cover them and adequately camouflage them. Thus, at best, they were only useful to delay a charge through that portion of the battlefield. But they were located in such a position that no one in his right mind would want to attack the Vangoreans from that direction anyway; utterly useless.
Vangor would have to take the battle to the Dramboreans. He thought about the ground around Vitruvia. Where would be the best place to meet the enemy? He remembered their early discussions. Ten Rax, the mamluk general of 1st corps had suggested the highlands a few miles south of their current position. The highlands now seemed like their best option.
He commanded the rider to return to 1st corps and tell Ten Rax that 3rd Corps was mobilizing and would be moving to the highlands.
He also sent scouts out to scour the countryside for Pharaoh.
10 miles from Vitruvia, 2 1/2 hours before the Battle of Pascolo Del Vino
3rd Corps was just about ready to move out when Pharaoh arrived.
The commander explained the situation to Pharaoh, whom seemed none too pleased. Then he explained his plan, at which point Pharaoh flew into a rage. Pharaoh insisted that they stick to the original plan. It was a good plan, he said. They would still catch the Dramboreans with their pants down. They would still crush them with one mighty blow.
Pharaoh ordered 1st Corps to move into their assigned attack position and no further. Against his wishes, the commander complied with Pharaoh’s orders.
Outside Vitruvia, 1 hour before the Battle of Pascolo Del Vino
Third Corps arrived in their attack position, only to find that 1st Corps had pulled out. General Rag Zax waited for Pharaoh to calm down, then asked what Pharaoh wished to do, as politely as possible, so as not to become the object of Pharaoh’s ire.
3 1/2 miles from Vitruvia, 1 hour before the Battle of Pascolo Del Vino
The scouts reported spotting the enemy approximately one mile ahead of the army. That meant that they were closer to the battlefield than the Dramboreans. Combard knew that he had to get to the high ground first. But that was not possible unless the Vangoreans could be stalled.
If he sent his cavalry out ahead of the infantry, they could get to the hills ahead of Vangor. But they would be fatigued by the hard ride. His hope would be that upon seeing the Dramboreans on the high ground, the Vangorean general would hesitate, giving Combard’s infantry time to arrive on the scene.
If the Vangorean general ordered an immediate assault on the hills, Combard would lose his cavalry, would lose the high ground, and would lose the war. But there was no other choice. He had to gamble.
The signal was sent out and within minutes, Drambor’s cavalry was surging forward at a full gallop, leaving the jogging infantrymen in their dust.
3 miles from Vitruvia, 1/2 hour before the Battle of Pascolo Del Vino
1st Corps moved steadily forward. Ten Rax expected to see 3rd Corps ahead of him, atop the hills of Pascolo Del Vino. He squinted. Yes, indeed, he could see troops on the rise, spread out from the riverbanks up to one of the larger hilltops. “General Rag Zax was good,” he thought to himself. “Just how I’d have arrayed my troops.”
He looked again. Something didn’t seem quite right. He didn’t see any chariots. “Perhaps they are deployed beyond the crest of the hill? But that’s odd. Why would the chariots be in front of the infantry?” Then he realized that he wasn’t looking at infantry.
“Those are mounted Dramborean knights!”
Atop Butchery Hill, 1/2 hour before the Battle of Pascolo Del Vino
Strom, Duke of Koln looked down from the hilltop as 1st Corps column began forming for battle. “What do you think, boys?” he asked, turning to the three brothers.
“I wish Blasmar was here,” said Sir Quartz, breathing heavily.
“Yea,” said Sir Feldspar, “Jellybean would have a field day with these guys. Wonder what He’s up to?”
“I think I need a drink,” chimed in Sir Topaz, fumbling for his flask.
“Hey, give me a hit of that, Tope!” said Feldspar.
Topaz took three or four large swigs from the flask then tossed it to his brother, “Here, you can finish it off, there’s only a swallow or two left.”
Quartz shot Feldspar a disgusted look, “You’re getting to be as bad as him!”
“What!” Feldspar countered, we’re probably all going to die today anyway. Might as well go out feeling a little toasty.”
Quartz wheeled his horse and pulled up next to the Duke. “They seem to be waiting for something.”
“Indeed,” replied Strom, “But for what? And for how long?
The Vangorean lines, Opening Engagement: the Battle of Pascolo Del Vino
“Where in hell was Rag Zax?” thought Ten Rax. “He should have arrived before us. We should hold the high ground; make the Dramboreans attack our position, not the other way around.”
He studied the ground, looking for the best approach to assault the Dramboreans. It worried him that he saw no infantry on the ridge line. “Where were they hiding?”
Third Corps was missing and 2nd Corp wouldn’t be able to make it here for another six to eight hours. Rax commanded but a single corps. That meant that he outnumbered the Dramboreans, but they had the ground in their favor. The ground could turn a battle against you, even when outnumbering your opponent. And the threat of being flanked made him cautious.
He’d sent out scouts, and they’d not returned. And that made him double cautious.
“Send a company of chariots to loop around behind the hill,” he ordered. “I need to know if their infantry is back there or waiting somewhere to spring a trap!”
The orders were passed along and a company of chariots moved out.
Atop Butchery Hill
“Well, it looks like they’re up to something now,” Strom said. He watched as the chariots moved out.
After a few moments, “It looks like they’re trying to get around behind us,” said Topaz.
Strom grunted, “Indeed. Any sign of the footmen yet?
“Not yet, my liege,” replied Quartz.
“Heel draggers!” exclaimed Feldspar. “I bet they decided to call it quits, go back home for wine and women and song.”
“Huh!” said Topaz, “I dinna know that was an option. What in the Lano’s name are we doing here?”
“We’re about to get bloody,” replied Feldspar, “If those war-buckets get behind us and see there’s nobody there, we’ll be finished faster than Topaz in a whorehouse.”
“Indeed,” agreed Strom. “Mount up. As soon as their lead buggies pass that boulder,” he pointed at a large outcropping down below, “I want you to signal a charge for first and second company. But befor that order every third man from the remaining companies to pull out of the line and come around behind the lines, out of sight, to fill in our position as soon as we move out.”
Teg Lax’s Coffin
Captain Teg Lax lead his company of chariots up a broad ravine west of the hilltop. A few hundred yards further he’d be at the top of the ravine and able to see the back side of the hill. So far he’d seen no sign of the enemy infantry. But he’d know soon enough.
As they passed a large outcropping, he looked up and saw the end of the Dramborean lines on the hilltop. It would be a very steep ascent from here. There’d be a bloody price to pay charging up that hill. He was glad that he no longer served in the infantry. Chariots were typically only used on open ground; to harass the enemy, or occasionally to split their lines with a charge. They were never used to attack up-hill. This suited Teg Lax just fine.
A shout caught him off guard. He turned to see two full companies of heavy infantry charging down on his command. He’d heard no signal from the Dramborean lines, and cursed himself for forgetting that he’d heard that the Dramboreans often used some sort of secret battle language to silently pass orders to their troops. “Turn around!” shouted the captain.
His herald began blowing his horn.
But it was too late. In fact, the order to turn only made things worse for the Vangoreans. As the chariots tried to maneuver in the tight quarters of the ravine, the Dramboreans crashed through them, splitting their column in twain then wheeled around and hit them again.
The first charge had taken out a third of Teg Lax’s command. The second was worse. If the tight quarters of the ravine weren’t bad enough, the log jam created by those chariots overturned in the first charge made any sort of maneuvering at all completely impossible.
Teg Lax had survived the first charge, but his herald hadn’t. He shouted meaningless orders as the Dramboreans came crashing in again.
The Vangorean lines
“Damn fool!” cursed Ten Rax. “What sort of idiot takes his chariots up that ravine? It was suicide!” But, on the positive side of things; now the hilltop was empty. It might just be his best chance to seize the high ground before the Dramboreans could mop up the chariots and re-form.
“Order four companies of berserks to hit them along the riverbanks. Keep the rest in reserve.” The berserks began to move forward through the Vangorean lines.
“As soon as they’re through the lines, send the regular infantry to assault the high ground and bring up the archers behind them to Harry their middle and prevent them from reinforcing the hilltop. Keep the remaining chariots in reserve. No need throwing them away just yet.”
“On my signal!”
La Cour Grand du Roi de Lune au Caillou du Ley
Javonis bowed before King Phillepe of Alsace, “I bring with me tidings from Artibia, your majesty. The Church requests that Alsace cease its hostilities with Drambor and Vrad and take up its arms instead in a common cause, for the glory of Onn.” He held out a scroll. “The Barons of Vrad have already agreed to such terms and I bear with me an identical dispatch to be delivered unto Combard, King of Drambor.”
The King nodded to his herald whom took the scroll, returned to the dais, clearing his throat as he broke the canonical seal and unrolled the parchment;
Guy Du Ronde, cantor, servant of the servants of Onn, to all who are willing to defend the Onnic faith, greeting and apostolic benediction.
We hereby inform you that the bearer of this letter, on his recent return from across the sea [from Silvercrest], came to Artibia to visit us. He repeated what we had heard from many others, that a cult of the Dark One had overcome the Onnish monestary at Ha’th and with horrible cruelty had devastated everything there with hellfire from the sky, and were now governing the conquered lands with tyrannical violence, and that they had slain many thousands of Onnish men and Rakasta as if they were but sheep.
If we love Onn and wish to be recognized as Onnish, we should be filled with grief at the misfortune of this great bastion of faith and learning and the murder of so many Onnish faithful. But simply to grieve is not our whole duty. The example of the Prophet and the bond of fraternal love demand that we should lay down our lives to liberate them. “Because he has laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren,” [1 Prophecies 3:16]. Know, therefore, that we are trusting in the mercy of Onn and in the power of his might and that we are striving in all possible ways and making preparations to render aid to the Onnic peoples of Ha’th as quickly as possible.
Therefore we beseech you by the faith in which you are united through Lano the Prophet in the adoption of the crusade of Onn, and by the authority of Sacropietas, prince of the Eternal Goodness, and his earthly avatar; the holy cannon, we admonish you that you be moved to proper compassion by the wounds and blood of your brethren and the danger of the aforesaid lands and that, for the sake of Lano, you undertake the difficult task of bearing aid to your brethren.
Send messengers to us at once inform us of what Onn may inspire you to do in this matter.
Phillepe smiled broadly, he hardly could believe his ears, “Alsace never desired war with her brothers. Should Drambor agree to concord,” which he knew absolutely they would, under the circumstances, “Alsace shall heartily agree to armistice.”
“It must be the will of Onn,” thought Phillepe. Just when the tides seemed to be turning against Alsace, the Church of Onn had delivered unto him victory.
The Vangorean lines
Ten Rax watched the battle. The initial Dramborean charge had inflicted heavy losses on the Vangorean center, but now Vangor’s superior numbers were starting to push the Dramboreans back. The half-men were engaged along the riverbank at the right flank and the signal to berserk had just been sounded. They would make quick work of the enemy there and once finished, would turn on one another until no one was left standing on the riverbank. Then the way would be clear for a flanking move. On the left, the Dramborean knights that had charged Teg Lax’s command were finishing up and beginning to reform. They would either loop around behind the Dramborean lines into a supporting position or hit the flank of the Vangorean’s assaulting the hilltop. Most likely, the latter, thought Ten Rax. He ordered archers forward to harry their charge and brought up infantry to the left of the center, forming a dog-leg line of battle, thus denying the Dramboreans the possibility of flanking the assault force. Everything seemed to be going well.
Vangorean 2nd Corps Camp, 12 miles from Vitruvia
It hadn’t taken long to catch up with the patrol. Wallacht slipped into the empty position at the rear of the half-man formation. His heart raced.
The half-man next to him looked over.
Wallacht wore nothing but a loincloth and carried nothing but the dead half-man’s khopesh. He felt extremely vulnerable as the half man looked him up and down.
The half-man frowned and Wallacht’s heart skipped a beat. But then the sergeant called out for the patrol to halt and the half-man snapped to attention, completely forgetting about Wallacht.
“All right you dirtbags!” shouted the sergeant, “Time to take a dump! You know the drill; I want both number one and number two. Be finished and back here in five minutes. Fall out!”
Wallacht followed the pack of half-men into a thicket. One half-man pulled out a spade and quickly dug a stout hole. Then the half-men went about their business, one-by-one. Wallacht followed suit. Then, the hole was filled in and the half-men went back to the sergeant.
Wallacht took a position near the middle of the formation this time. Soon, he was marching straight into the center of the Vangorean camp, escorted by a dozen half-men.
“So, what was brilliant the plan, Bugman? We’re getting our asses handed to us by these buggers,” shouted Kerowynn over the sound of battle. The half-men were grinding them down with their superior numbers, incredible strength and tireless fortitude. While Bugman’s men were laboring heavily as they tried to hold off the half-men, the half-men, seemed unaffected by the exertion of combat. They swung their khopeshes so effortlessly and with such nonchalance that they might as well have been taking a stroll through a garden on a warm summer day.
“Well, I dunno for sure, Kerowynn, but I’m hoping that their training didn’t include swimming. When the time is right, we’re going to fall back into the river.”
“What! You don’t know? You’ve gone soft in the head! This plan is kind of a gamble, isn’t it?”
“Well, I figure; dead is dead, Kerowynn. We don’t stand a chance against these beasts head-to-head. Especially if they berserk on us, So anything’s worth a shot.”
“Bugman, you’re a crazy bastard. Do you know that?”
`Yep, that’s what my dear old mum used to tell me anyway.”
At that point, a trumpet was heard blasting out as a chariot raced by behind the Vangorean line. The half-men stopped fighting momentarily. Some fell to the ground and began rolling around. Others stood still, staring, wide-eyed, at nothing. Others began beating their chests and bellowing or tearing their hair and biting themselves.
The Dramboreans looked on aghast. “It’s just about time,” called out Bugman.
“Gee, do you think so?” eked out Kerowynn.
“On my signal, every man disengages and heads for the river. Swim out as far as you can and don’t come back until the banks are clear!”
Then the half-men were on them.
The Dramborean lines broke within twenty seconds. Half-men, wild with rage and bloodlust were all around them, clawing and biting and ripping men apart with their bare hands.
Bugman gave the signal, though it was hardly necessary as all but the most fearless men were already fleeing in abject terror. “Into the water! Now! For the love of Onn!” then plunged head-first into the icy cold water.
Teg Lax’s Coffin
“Lano protect us!” said Duke Strom as he watched the berserks engulf the Dramborean forces at the riverbank.
“Your grace, the men are ready,” said Sir Feldspar.
“Yes, of course,” the Duke said with a shudder. He turned his attention back to the hilltop and the advancing Vangorean infantry. “All right, let’s break up that rabble and give your drunken brother some relief.”
“Aye, you grace,” said Sir Quartz, “Herald! Sound the charge.”
The Vangorean lines
Why did they strip off their armor, Ten Rax wondered. Not that it would make any real difference; only prolong the agony. Nothing could stand up to a unit of half-men berserks.
Then he realized his mistake. As he watched, the Dramboreans broke contact and dove into the river and began to be carried away by the swift current. They didn’t have to stand up to the berserks.
Under normal circumstances, Half-men, with their incredible strength and fortitude, are very good swimmers and those under his command were no exception. But, when a berserk enters a fit of rage, his only concern is bloody murder! Swimming is not an option. Drowning is not even a consideration; the water filling his lungs only registering as a minor annoyance. Thus, the berserks plunged into the river following after the Dramboreans, and unable to focus on anything but driving their swords into the soft innards of the enemy, they began to drown.
“Those slippery bastards!” Ten Rax cursed, “That was a third of my compliment of berserks!”
“Shall I bring up the reserves commander?” asked his aide.
“No Zug, I want regular infantry into that hole as quickly as possible, though. Before they can reinforce their line. Then we can wheel and hit them from the flank.”
“At once commander.”
Commander Ten Rax couldn’t help admiring the Dramboreans. That was sheer genius. But he made a mental note never to allow half-men to berserk anywhere near water ever again.
Strom’s knights met the Vangoreans one-hundred yards the down hill from where Topaz was already engaged. But this time, the Vangoreans were ready. They set their spears against the mounted cavalry charge and proved their valiance as the huge warhorses crashed into their lines. The Vangoreans kept formation and thus in that first deadly charge dealt out ruin almost as well as they received.
A wild melee broke out as the Dramborean horsemen mixed with the Vangorean foot-soldiers. The Dramboreans used the size and speed and strength of their heavy warhorses to advantage, as well as their height advantage as they wheeled and slashed and trampled, guiding their mounts with their knees. The Vangoreans used their sheer numbers to swarm the Dramboreans, in an attempt to separate, surround and overwhelm individual knights and drag them kicking from their mounts where they could be dealt with.
Thus the carnage there was on par with the slaughter already ensuing above them.
The Riverbank, One and One-Half Miles Down River
Kerowynn dragged himself up onto the muddy riverbank, struggling to pull Bugman up beside him, “Don’t you die on me!”
“Oh relax, I’ve had much worse,” Bugman replied, though his grimace betrayed his falsehood, “I survived the Citadel, you’ll remember.”
Kerowyn looked at the blood coming from the gut wound. It didn’t look good to him. “If you say so, but let’s tend to that all the same. I think I still have some Chateau St.Garche in my pack. That’ll at least clean out the wound so that it won’t go septic.”
“Alsacean brandy, ay? That’s contraband, you know.”
“Em, yes, well all men have their vices.” Kerowynn pulled a skin out of his waterlogged pack. “Only a bit left anyhow.”
“Yea, well give me a nip of that before you waste it all cleaning out this scratch.”
“Hmm, I could use a wee snort myself,” Kerowynn said as he untied the stopper. “But the look of that `scratch’ makes me want to down the whole bladder.”
Aelwold grunted as the unit lumbered up the hill. He could hear the sound of fighting up ahead. They couldn’t be far now. “Thank the wise lord; at least all this running was just about at an end!”
As he crested the hill, he saw a shallow valley and then rising up, an even larger hill beyond. Atop the hill, he saw Dramborean pennons flying. “Uh! More blasted hills!” he groaned, “Why couldn’t the Wise Lord see fit to make the world flat?
A horse passed him close by. “You’ll be glad for that hill before this day is out, you old goat,” Sir Ewein chided.
“Aye captain, I reckon I will. Provided I don’t collapse before I reach the summit!” Aelwold retorted.
Ewein laughed, “You’d better not collapse, sergeant. And that’s an order. Don’t you forget that you have some pups to look after.” He gestured to the crossbowmen trudging along behind him.
“Of course, Captain. But while you’re at it, why don’t you just order up an earthquake to swallow up all those Vangoreans over yonder hill?”
“Ha ha!” Ewein laughed, “Just make it up the hill, all right.”
Aelwold stopped; leaned on his spear, “Yes Sir. Just give me a minute to catch my wind.”
Sergeant Uther plodded past him. “Stop for a spot of tea, ay Aelwold?”
“Bollocks!” Aelwold spat as he started forward again, “I’ll be waiting for you at the top Uther.”
The Vangorean lines
“It’s no good Zug, damn it!” cursed Ten Rax, “With those reinforcements we’re not going to push them off that hill, not with our regulars, anyway.”
“I believe you are right, commander,” replied Zug.
Ten Rax sighed, “So be it. First bring the reserves forward. Then call for a withdrawal of all engaged units. Have them reform behind the fresh units. Then bring forward all remaining Berserk units for a full assault!”
“Yes Commander, right away!”
“They’re withdrawing your Majesty.”
“Yes,” Combard said, “Press the attack until we come under missile fire then pull back to the hilltop. They’re reorganizing; going to hit us with their shock troops. But before they do, we will make them pay.”
Vangorean 2nd Corps Camp, 12 miles from Vitruvia
By the time Wallacht had found his man, 2nd corps was well underway with their effort to break camp. “Follow me,” he said.
The half-man looked at him then stopped what he was doing and followed after Wallacht.
They marched through the camp. Wallacht tried to look as if he was on official business.
No one paid them any special notice, even as they left the camp and started working their way in the direction of Wallacht’s horse.
Morning had turned to afternoon.
As the Vangoreans shuffled their troops back and forth below, Combard raced back and forth before the Dramborean lines. The soldiers cheered and shouted with esprit de corps as the King passed. Horns blasted, drums beat, and men pounded their swords against their shields and stamped their feet.
The King raced past Aelwold’s unit once again. Aelwold heard the rising roar of voices before the King’s charger came into view and reared on hind legs turning around. Aelwold felt as if something were stuck in his throat as he watched the King, sword held aloft; skillfully guide the horse with his knees. He seemed much more kingly now, than when Aelwold had seen him at the camp the previous night. In fact, he seemed more like a god than a king. His polished armor shone in the sun like a jewel. And for a moment, Aelwold could almost swear that there was a halo about the king’s head!
The Vangorean lines
“Stop staring and get to work, damn it Zug!” snapped Ten Rax,
“Um, yes commander,” Zug said. He turned and bellowed orders to an underling, but just as he did so, Combard made another pass and the roar of the Dramboreans drown out Zug’s order.
“By Drax!” spat Ten Rax acknowledging the Dramborean King, “He certainly knows how to rouse his troops. One wonders whether they might actually believe that they stand a chance of winning.”
Zug was staring again, “No commander, I think they’re certain of it.”
“Where are those damn half-men?” Ten Rax barked, “What is taking so long?”
“It’s all the noise commander. I have to issue the same orders two and three times over before our captains get it right.”
The Village of Fervio Garum
The smell of Fervio Garum’s only export, a spicy fish-sauce that was a renowned delicacy in Vitruvia assaulted Javonis’ nostrils. Its pungent aroma reminded Javonis of home, and he longed to walk the streets of Vitruvia again. Unfortunately that would have to wait for a few days as the shallow hulled dhow had stopped several miles short of Vitruvia because the captain said that the port was closed.
Friar Javonis was plenty happy to off of the ship, having barely completed a long ocean voyage to Silvercrest when sent by Cantor Du Ronde to the court of Alsace and then on to meet up with the Dramborean army as the Canon’s emissary. He hopped over the gunwale and splashed the last two dozen feet up to the riverbank.
The latest news was that the Dramborean army was headed this way, having recently defeated the Alsaceans in the forest outside of Caillou Du Ley. But, Javonis had also heard that the Vangorean army had been hired as mercenaries by Alsace and waited outside Vangor to intercept the Dramboreans.
Hopefully, Javonis thought, he would be able to get to Combard before fighting broke out and thus save a few thousand lives. He walked up the riverbank toward the town square. He’d need a mount of some sort and could probably get a mule or donkey somewhere in the village.
The Vangorean lines
Though evenly matched in terms of numbers, the Dramborean army was vastly outclassed by the strength and fortitude of the half-men berserks. Half-men could fight for hours without even becoming winded. And they could wield their weapons with great strength, well beyond the point when an ordinary human being would have had difficulty even lifting a blade. And berserks fought with an unmatched ferocity; a cravenness for bloodletting that shocked and terrified normal men.
To their advantage, the Dramboreans had the high ground. Though it would not tire the half-men charging up the steep hillside, the tactic of holding the high ground against the Vangorean assault was still to their advantage. Also, the Dramboreans were much better armed and armored. As the half-men charged, the Dramborean longbowmen would thin their numbers. Though tough, half-men were slow, so many would fall before reaching the enemy. Once there, they would face the shield wall and spears of a well disciplined army. And once the shield wall was broken, they’d still face armored men with long swords, helms and shields while the half-men carried shorter khopesh swords and wore naught but loincloths.
Ten Rax had faced well disciplined, well armed and armored armies many times in the past, though. No matter how stout a force was before him, though, they all broke before the onslaught of half-men berserks. Ten Rax knew that today would be no different. It was a foregone conclusion.
The carnage was like nothing he had ever seen. Every man around him was covered in blood and gore and bodies were piled so deep that they almost formed a wall against the attackers. Aelwold had never faced such fearless and ferocious warriors as the half-men. They just kept coming. No matter how many times the Dramboreans pushed them back, they just came back again. Aelwold could sense that the men were failing. Though he still had some pluck in him, Aelwold could tell that the morning’s run had taken its toll. Many of the men were barely able to stand.
The berserks charged again. To his left, the line was pushed back and started to break. Aelwold called to his men to reinforce the faltering area, but it was too late. The half-men were pushing through the shield wall and into the ranks!
Then the sound of beating hooves came from behind and Aelwold saw the white horse and the King atop it, towering like a giant and heard the King’s voice ringing out over the din of battle. And Aelwold felt a well of untapped strength arising from the men around him.
The Vangorean lines
As the afternoon passed into evening, Ten Rax began to have his doubts. He had to give the Dramboreans credit. Never, in his nearly thirty years of military service had he ever seen any force stand up to berserks without panicking and running in fear. Sometimes they did so without ever swinging a single blow. But these Dramboreans had the courage of lions. They would not break.
For hours they had fought toe-to-toe with the half-men. Their king seemed to always be right where he needed to be, just in the nick of time. Again and again, Ten Rax had seen the Dramborean shield wall begin to falter, almost break, and then there would be Combard atop his snow white stallion to stir the resolve of his men and drive the half-men back. It was as if he was everywhere. And Combard not only seemed to have the instinct to be where he needed to be at the critical moment, he also had tactical cunning and prowess as well. Every one of Ten Rax’s feints was recognized as a feint. Every assault was stopped by opposing force and every retreat was taken advantage of by an advance.
Ten Rax, trained two decades ago as a mamluk and in all the years since then, had never lost a battle. He now was the commander of 1st Corps, Vangor’s most prestigious and elite military post, short of Pharaoh. He had climbed as high as he could possibly climb, as no slave could ever become Pharaoh. He was the best of the best. Yet, Ten Rax now begrudgingly admitted to himself that the Dramborean was better. It was almost as if Combard had seen the battle ahead of time and thus knew exactly where to be and when and what must be done that he might turn the tides against the Vangorean offensive. For every move that Ten Rax made, Combard was one move, or two ahead. And thus the battle ground on towards dusk.
But then, in the distance, he heard the sound of trumpets. He turned and looked. There in the distance was 2nd Corps, and at its van was Pharaoh. Combard may have stalemated him thus far, but now the Vangorean numbers were doubled!
With the addition of 3rd Corps to the Vangorean host, the Dramboreans were outnumbered almost six to one, but the arrival of Pharaoh, if anything, strengthened the resolve of the Dramborean soldiers. They continued fighting as Pharaoh and a regiment of chariots rode out towards Ten Rax’s command post.
Combard watched. 3rd Corps was an over-sized corps, numbering nearly 45,000 Vangoreans. But, comprised of two divisions of chariots and only one of infantry, thus nearly half of 3rd corps number was practically useless on the broken and hilly terrain.
Combard smiled. Pharaoh would not let all of those men sit idly by doing nothing, especially after Wallacht’s work was finished. And that would be his undoing.
The Vangorean Command Post
Pharaoh was in no hurry. The sun had set by the time he had made it to the command post, so it was hard for anyone to say what, exactly, was happening on the battlefield. But once the order had been given to berserk, there was no calling back the half-men already engaged, so there wasn’t much choice but to wait and see.
They’d keep the conflict manageable until morning, by which time, 2nd Corps would also have arrived. “Send just enough troops throughout the night to keep the Dramboreans from being able to get any sleep or to dig in any further,” thought Pharaoh. “In the morning we will crush them!”
Vangorean 2nd Corps
Wallacht and the half-man had been trailing 2nd Corps for hours and he was very tired. It was just past midnight when 2nd Corp arrived at Pascolo Del Vino.
He talked to the half-man for a few minutes, explaining the orders, demonstrated the signal, then sent him into the camp.
Once the half-man was in the Vangorean camp, Wallacht took a deep breath and blew long and hard into the horn.
“That was the signal,” thought the half-man, “Time to execute the orders.” He pulled out his trumpet and began to blow.”
The Vangorean Command Post
Ten Rax bolted upright in his hammock. “I must be dreaming!” Then he heard it again. The trumpet blasted out a general order to all berserker units; “BERSERK! BERSERK! BERSERK!”
“Oh hell,” thought Ten Rax as he scrambled for his armor and sword!
The sun was just coming up over the horizon. From the hilltop, Aelwold could see Vitruvia in the distance; the duomo of the Cathedral of Onn, the Imperial Palaces, the two rings of massive impregnable stone walls.
Ewein grimaced. “How do things look, Aelwold?”
Aelwold looked back down at the Vangorean camp. It was in ruins. Tens of thousands of dead lay scattered in the valley below. What was left of the army had pulled back. Most actually had fled when the half-men berserked. But now, they were being rallied by Pharaoh and re-grouping about a half mile away.
This gave the Dramboreans a much needed break from the near constant fighting of the last sixteen hours. Not that they had any chance to rest, as they were immediately put to work assisting the wounded men still on the battlefield.
Ewein had lost a leg in the fighting, or at least, it was so badly mangled, that amputation would be the only way to save the knight’s life. Aelwold signaled again for the surgeon who was busy with another patient some distance away.
“Ahh, it looks good sir,” said Aelwold as he made a rough estimate of the strength of the