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Reaping (July) the 9th Cont.
"Guys! There's a large group of riders coming in from the east!"
Moans and curses erupted from the group as they scrambled to prepare for this new threat. Phalan wearily drew his two-handed sword and addressed the group.
"Steady now, we were afraid something like this might happen. Roland, see what you can do about Adara's burns. Elonan get the prisoners out of the yard. Rhiannon, get yer bow fixed to help Noctem with arrow cover, that web wont hold em away long."
Too quickly the sound of approaching horses could be heard by those within the stockade. Noctem called out in warning and fired a quick shot as riders erupted into the clearing from the eastern road. With precision the riders fanned out in front of the stockade, weapons at the ready. Phalan called up to Noctem.
"How many are they? What colors are they wearing!?"
"Thirty riders! Twenty in chain, ten in leather! They wear the flaming hammer of Tempus!"
Just then a powerful voice rang out from the riders,
"Throw down your weapons and surrender or you will all be put to the sword!"
There was a brief pause, then Phalan breathed a sigh of relief, and called out.
"Alkamar! I'd know that voice anywhere! This is Phalan of the Knights of the Horn! We've already secured this stockade from the enemy!"
The voice outside shouted again,
"Show yourselves, so we know this is no trick!"
At a signal from Phalan, Elonan gestured and released the magic of the web spell blocking the gate. As soon as the way was clear, three Tempus Knights rode into the yard looked about and then called all clear to the remainder of their band. The party could see that all the riders were worn from the road, and had been in battle that day. Many bore wounds and wore hastily donned bandages. Alkamar, the leader of the Tempus Knights rode in and with a glance at the members of Thorn, he looked to Phalan.
"Phalan, good to see your "knights" have things in hand here. We're in pursuit of a fire mage that headed this way, have you seen him?"
This brought a fresh string of curses from Elonan, which made Alkamar raise an eyebrow his direction. Phalan waved Elonan to silence and replied.
"Aye, just moments ago he flew in, burned one of my guards and escaped on a fresh horse."
Now it was Alkamar who was cursing.
"I knew his fly spell was running out."
He spat on the ground.
"Well, no use chasing him now, our horses are all done in. We chewed up the raider band he was leading, but we're tired from the fight and the chase. Can we make use of your fort to rest?"
There is no love between the Tempus Knights and the Knights of the Horn, but when in battle against a common enemy the two sects, like all the other battle priests of the Danrae, work together. The Tempus Knights dismounted and started caring for their animals while Phalan and Alkamar discussed what needed to be done. Soon a messenger was dispatched to the eastern forces and scouts were selected to watch the roads. After setting watches and preparing meals for the troops, the Eradain forces bedded down for the night. Members of Thorn, having had more rest then the Tempus Knights were to take the last watches. Early that morning well before first light Elonan woke the other members of the group.
"Come, up to the archer platform, you all should see this..."
The party joined the other sentries with Phalan and Alkamar on the deck above the inner stockade building. Flashes of light could be seen in the west, followed by soft thumps. After a little discussion, they came to the conclusion that those were fireballs in the vicinity of Sagamon.... The two Knight leaders conferred briefly and decided to hold their position and continue to block enemy messengers and send scouts west in the morning.
At first light two riders were sent west to try and determine what had occurred that night. A scant two hours later they returned with five weary riders in tow. One Knight of the Horn and four soldiers, worn from a night fighting and in the saddle were escorted through the gates. Members of Thorn arrived in time to hear part of the report the Knight of the Horn was giving to Phalan.
"We'd been following the diversion plan for days now, but someone forgot to give us contingency orders for what to do if the enemy actually made an assault against us.... While we were making one of our diversionary maneuvers, our forces were out of position and they struck. They had to have inside information to our plans, because they hit key places along our lines. I'm certain that some of our command tents were struck by multiple fireballs. I think many of our units have been split up. When I tried to get the men in my area back to Sagamon we ran into Haradan regulars between us and the ford. In the confusion and fighting I only managed to round up these men. We decided to head east and try cross the Anne north of here...."
After more meetings and plans, Phalan approached the members of Thorn.
"I'm sorry Roland, with all that's occurred, I can no longer continue on with you to Gealand. I need head to Sagamon as soon as possible, especially if any of the commanders have been killed.
Phalan is one of the Knights of the Horn most experienced commanders.
"I'll be taking the civilians and the soldiers that came in this morning and I'm going to have to leave you nominally under the command of Alkamar as long as you remain here. I suggest you make your move toward Gealand tonight. Hopefully the Haradan forces from the eastern ford to Greensward will still be in disarray."
While allowing a few hours of rest for the men from Sagamon, Phalan and Roland discussed ideas for Thorn's push to Gealand. Later the members of Thorn said their goodbyes to Phalan and they made plans to try and gather together again in Sagamon or Tilith.
Not long after Phalan rides out, Alkamar approaches Roland.
"I'll be needing your group to do some scouting this afternoon. I want you to scout the perimeter of the woods to the south, keeping an eye out for enemy activity. I know yer wantin to leave tonight, so wrap up your patrol a couple of hours before dark so you can get some rest."
The members of Thorn headed out of the stockade on foot about noon, making a zig zag patrol and trying to observe enemy troop movement on the Easter Road each time they hit the southern limit of the wood. They settled into their regular march order without comment. Noctem took the lead a good thirty yards ahead of the rest of the party, followed by Adara, then Roland and Elonan and finally Rhiannon bringing up the rear.
The patrol passed uneventfully for several hours when suddenly Elonan seemed to take a leaping fall into some nearby bushes. Roland moved over to see what he was up to and discovered Elonan had been hit by a massive crossbow bolt! Seeing the severity of the wound, he yelled out a quick warning and began casting a heal spell. Noctem raced back to join the rest of the group and they all drew weapons and began scanning for the source of the danger. Noctem fired in the direction she thought the foe might be, hoping to make the enemy reveal themselves.
Before Roland could complete his healing magic another massive bolt ripped through the undergrowth from the north-west and struck him in the back interrupting his healing magic. Cursing, he changed tactics and started dragging Elonan deeper into cover. Noctem was able to narrow down the position of the foe and shouted directions to the others in the group while launching her second arrow. With Noctem's directions Adara and Rhiannon began moving to face the danger, Rhiannon swinging wide to the left and Adara to the right.
As Adara charged around a tree closer to her target, movement in the bushes resolved itself into a crouched Minotaur covered in camouflage pointing a huge crossbow directly at her. She checked her movement and got back behind the tree just in time as the bolt buried itself deeply into wood right where her head had just been. Now finally seeing the Minotaur fully Adara realized it must be a Hurloon mercenary. This was one of the most fearsome opponents this group had yet faced. Noctem dropped her bow and began incanting a spell to call upon the plants of the forest to entangle the beast. Roland successfully cast the healing magic of Heimdal and withdrew the massive bolt from Elonan's back.
Adara sprang forward as the Minotaur attempted to reload its great crossbow, almost simultaneously the bushes and trees began waving about from Noctem's magic, entwining the Minotaur. Adara's slash bounced harmlessly off the signature gray scale mail these mercenary Minotaur wore. With a bellow the Minotaur discarded its fouled crossbow and drew out its axe, ripping and tearing the plants around it as it stood to its full 8' height. Roland, now sure that Elonan was recovering started scanning all about the rear of the party for any additional foes lurking in the wood. Rhiannon continued to circle to the left also seeking any other enemies.
Even hampered as it was, Adara had trouble doing any damage to the Minotaur, its scale armor protecting its already tough hide. The beast struck, severely renting Adara's mail and staggering her. Noctem fired her bow, aiming high so as not to hit Adara and scored a shot to the Minotaur's thick neck. Elonan, now shakily getting to his feet waved Roland back to the battle saying he would watch the rear. Roland moved back around the bush to where he could see the battle more clearly.
After the last blow Adara took the Minotaur had the upper hand and again severely wounded her. This time she was able to get in a minor slash and follow through with her morning star, these blows preventing it from breaking any further free of the entangling shrubs. Noctem was able to score another shot, embedding an arrow at the joint of head and horn. Elonan, now fully recovered and sure that no enemies were going to fall on the party from behind moved out of cover toward the battle. Rhiannon also had found no additional foes and tried to come upon the Minotaur's flank, only to be blocked by the still wildly whipping and twining undergrowth.
Adara now becoming weak from fatigue and blood loss was unable to parry the Minotaur's next blow completely and was struck in the head, causing her to collapse in a heap at its feet. Roland, seeing Adara dropped and the Minotaur breaking free of the entangling plants stopped casting mid-spell and charged the Minotaur. Elonan incanted and cast a magic missile, purple bolts of force scoring burning holes in the beasts hide. Noctem fired two more shot, both missing in the confusion of battle. Rhiannon continued to circle wide around the effects of Noctem's entangle spell back toward the battle. Like a bull himself, Roland charged the Minotaur ducking his head down to hit it in the stomach at full speed with all the weight of his plate mail armor behind him. The Minotaur even though fully enraged and becoming desperate to escape was totally taken off guard by this and was knocked back into the entangling plants.
Roland, because of his magic ring was unhampered by the entangling plants and drew his two handed sword. Elonan once again cast a magic missile spell and Noctem scored another shot to the Minotaur's chest. The Minotaur made one last attempt to break free, but to no avail as Roland's two handed sword slash ripped through the beasts armor mortally wounding it.
After tending Adara's wounds the party put together a makeshift stretcher for her and headed back to the palisade, cutting short the rest of their patrol. They reported their findings to Alkamar and rested until the mid of night then set out on their intended path for Gealand despite Adara still not being totally recovered from the fight with the Minotaur. She had recovered enough to be able to ride and it was decided that should they encounter an enemy force that they would flee instead of seeking battle.
Thorn struck south out of the woods and into low rolling hills and grassland, turning more easterly after about five miles. Riding with only starlight to see by and straining to keep quite lest they run into a Haradan patrol severely reduced their speed, but they needed to cross the eastern road and take cover in the hills before daylight. As they neared the eastern road, the party dismounted and slowly walked their horses taking what cover was available. The road was busy, forces were on the move even at this hour as could be seen by the torches weaving along the road in the darkness. Thorn settled in to wait for an opportunity to cross, waiting for Luna to set, but worried they may get caught by sunrise on the wrong side of the road. Luck was with them and not long after the larger moon set the road cleared of enemy soldiers. Hastily they made their way across the road, the approaching dawn no longer allowing them the luxury of a stealthy pace. All went well and the members of Thorn were able to make it into the cover of the hills as first light began to gray the skies. The whole party was worn from the patrol yesterday afternoon and the stress of moving silently for so many miles in darkness.
Detail Map of Battle ZoneBlow-Up of Map Detail 3-2-3
Once the group was deep enough into the hills, Rhiannon and Noctem split up to look for a suitable campsite. They soon settled on a location, there was no water, but it was uphill and screened by trees from the path they had followed into the hills. They dared not risk a fire to attract any attention so they broke their morning fast on biscuits and jerked beef then discussed plans before bedding down for some rest.