Wind and weather side with the Druidbarian of Eagle Form; Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn flies back to North Point in just under an hour. Øskur quickly informs his friends of the Orc encampment, the missing barbarians, and Gold Mountain’s forces hiding in a canyon. Magnus calls on Jonas and Captains Martin and Cregg to ready their forces to march. Fifteen archers and ten footmen will remain in North Point to secure the town. Three-hundred and twenty mercenaries, including forty cavalrymen, will follow the party against the Orcs.
The mercenaries pack light: just two days’ rations per man, plus tents and bedrolls. Along the way they will collect sticks and branches, sharpening them into stakes for the archers’ defense. Nerves are clearly roused – anticipation shivers the men and women of the lower ranks, all the way up to Magnus, Armst, Eberk, and the others of the leadership. Elroy Wick strikes up a memorable (Perform : Sing = 27) and extraordinary (Perform : Stringed = 36) song about how Fharlanghn will show them the road to victory.
An hour after leaving North Point, the sun past its low zenith, Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn (WIS check = 18) notices a subtle resonance in the stone “finger” he wears on a cord around his neck. Some enchantment has awakened in the strange artifact taken from the dwarf-king’s riverside tomb. He is pondering this when one of Cregg’s mounted scouts emerges from the forest, bearing news.
Magnus orders the mercenary company to halt. The rider reports that he saw human barbarians in heavily wooded country about a mile from here. They moved as if in reconnaissance. Neither he nor they attempted to communicate.
Unexpectedly, another scout returns from patrol. She reports two barbarians coming this way, with no sign of hostile intent. As expected two hardy warriors appear from the forest ahead. To Cleric John they are grizzled, hulking savages; they seem familiar to rest of the party; but Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn recognizes them. They are ULF and TRISTAN; unfriendly, thick-headed goons of the sort to naturally fall in with Chief Samuel.
No diplomacy graces these two barbarians. The dull-witted emissaries bully the party for information, trying to impose their authority. Instead, the clever and calculating Druidbarian commands the discussion. The party learns that Chief Samuel and his war-band of a hundred men hold ground about three miles away. They await the opportunity to strike at the Orcs. If the mercenaries have come to do that, Samuel’s horde will join them.
Øskur wants further negotiations, directly with their Chief. The Druidbarian of Many Forms sends Ulf and Tristan back to their camp with a war pact and invitation for Samuel and his clan to meet them closer to the Orc army.
The party is relieved to have those two gone. Cleric-Bard Elroy Wick and dwarf Eberk have reservations about the barbarian horde’s reliability. Armst is unsure. Neither Øskur nor Fighter Magnus have any doubt – obnoxious as they are, Chief Samuel’s men will be an asset.
The mercenary army resumes travel. Riders scout ahead, and lookouts keep watch for spies or ambush. An hour later an unruly mob of barbarians approaches from the south, led by Chief Samuel.
The burly, fearsome barbarian overlord eyes the party but greets only Fighter Magnus and the Druidbarian of Many Forms, Øskur. Chief Samuel is impressed by the army that Magnus has assembled, and is most taken by the cavalry component. For several long minutes the warlord rambles boastfully about how this is “the day we get rid of the Orcs” and otherwise strokes his ego with his own voice.
Øskur’s attention returns to his stone artifact. Its resonance has grown stronger. At that moment, Røgnvaldurarsøn is certain that Chief Samuel possesses a stone artifact, one somehow linked to his own. The Druidbarian keeps this a secret.
Eberk gets a word in edgewise, about the enemy’s likely tactics. Samuel expects the Orcs to use crude but reliable tactics – infantry out front, archers to the sides, spellcasters guarded, and goblin-riders on Worgs to flank or harass weak points. He knows there are hundreds of enemies, but is unconcerned.
Magnus negotiates a battle-plan about as well as a civilized Fighter could, with a headstrong barbarian war-chief ten years his senior and ill-disposed to ceding power or authority. Chief Samuel will not merge his barbarians with the slower, more conventional mercenary soldiers. Instead, he wants the cavalry. Magnus assigns Cregg and his full mounted force to support the barbarian horde as a fast-attack second division, capable of forcing the Orcs back towards the trap in the canyon.
Captain Cregg’s scouts ride one last recon. Ten minutes away is the edge of a forest, a narrow band of woods a half-mile deep. On the far side is open plain and the encampment seen by Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn on his overflight this morning. The Orcs prepare for war; the humans’ advantage is slowly slipping away.
The mounted units depart with the barbarians, disappearing behind hills to the south. Magnus has Jonas find the six best archers – they will form two three-man squads, dedicated to targeting enemy spellcasters when they are spotted.
Captain Martin knows the words fighting forces need to hear; he circulates among the ranks, directing fighters to their places, arranging a marching order. Mercenaries check their armor and that of their companions; weapons are drawn and quiet words raised to deities asking private favors. Armst and his friends cast expectant looks at the peaceful winter forest before them.
* * *
Once set in motion, the events of this fateful day unfold as the mammoth inertial juggernaut that exists beyond planning and expectation and hope or fear. There are thousands, countless thousands of small moments and brief instants that weave into a narrative too complex for any one participant to ever grasp as a true picture of what actually happened between the last moment of relative calm and the first sober awareness that the carnage and mass of confusion had come to something of an end.
No one single action started the great battle; nor was there a time when the battle was not begun – as if it was an inevitability, at first near-silent and lost under crunching snow and rattling chain-mail, growing in quiet intensity until it consumed all senses, all awareness, all being of its participants. And when the roars and screams and clash and thunder diminished and ceased – even then the battle was not ended. It would echo forever, outward emanation of sound and fury apparently silenced, but whispered ever after in the wind, the trees that bore witness, the scars both physical and spiritual of those that survived, and sung in the flesh and bone committed to earth and the decay of Death.
In between there was the Thing Itself; a story still incomplete when told completely. Scenes of heroism that link into sequences of disarray, that build to acts of both triumph and catastrophe. In broad strokes the events may be recounted, though in exacting detail the specifics are tainted by the elusive devils of perspective and perception.
* * *
As they led the mercenaries through the sheltering forest, toward the open field and hollering Orcs, the party thought to prepare. Elroy Wick began an extraordinary song (Perform : Sing = 30) to Inspire Courage and Inspirationally Boost all allies who can hear him. He fell into step with the archers leading the column, his crossbow at their service. Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn coated himself with a Barkskin spell, unable yet to see the enemy’s arrangement but already decided on his course of action. Armst casts Flame Arrow, adding magical fire damage to fifty of the nearby archers’ arrows. Cleric John includes many warriors on Mass Shield of Faith and Mass Aid. Magnus drinks a Potion of Cat’s Grace. He activates the Mirror Image spell from his Ring of Spell Storing. Eberk psyches himself up for war.
A few hundred yards separate the two sides as the mercenaries march out of the forest. Orc warriors with axes and shields seethe with fury on their front lines. Towering Ogres loom over a sea of helmets and mail. A second division of Orcs, Goblins, and Ogres stands in reserve at the rear, near to the steep cliffs and hills cleft by the carefully-guarded canyon. Out to the left and right, columns of Orc archers cautiously make a slow advance, closing the gap.
Jonas leads his archers ahead of the soldiers. The bowmen angle their rough-carved stakes into the ground and step back, exposing a formidable garden of spears that will deter charging enemies. The mercenary soldiers weave through this, and assume the front lines. There is no sign of the barbarians and cavalry.
Immediately, volleys of arrows are exchanged. The battle grows quickly in intensity. Spells launch from the human side. Druidbarian of Many Forms Øskur casts Cloud Burst over a cluster of Orcs. He would have followed up with Call Lightning, but was hit by an enemy’s Lightning Bolt and lost his spell when he failed a Concentration check. Armst opens with Pyrotechnics – the fireworks temporarily blinding dozens of Orcs before the smoke-screen effect blots out visibility for others. Then the Warmage launches three separate, devastating Fireballs at the Orcs’ front ranks. The Orc side responds with a series of Lightning Bolts that wound mercenaries and party members alike.
Cleric John and Elroy Wick fire their crossbows in unison with their archer allies, trying desperately to predict and avoid the return fire from banks of Orc bowmen on the left and right extremes of the battlefield. Mounted Magnus fires his bow at the onrush of Orc warriors as the front lines finally clash. Armst and Cleric John are the only party members to notice a curious flash of white light in the open space over on the left. John can just barely see a human in grey robes who was not there a moment ago.
The Orc archers are a menace quickly addressed. After what seemed like an unreasonable delay, the barbarians and cavalry finally make their appearance on the left, charging together at the Orc bowmen on that side. Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn puts his game plan into motion. He casts Bull’s Strength and ducks back into the treeline, heading toward the enemy archers to the right.
Listen checks; only Øskur (Listen = 32) hears something fast moving through the woods well behind the mercenary archers’ position. Elroy Wick, Cleric John, and Armst are distracted by the figure in the grey robes, who has cast a spell raising noxious vapor clouds, then Hail Storm, among the Orcs and Ogres on the left side. A few combatants become aware of someone flying around overhead in the pre-twilight sky, dropping area-effect spells on the Orcs.
Commotion grows in the forest behind the human archers. The bowmen, Wick and Cleric John included, are too focused on shelling Orcs to pay any mind. When the crashing gets too loud to ignore, Cleric John turns to look. With horror he and the mercenaries discover that a dozen, perhaps fifteen Worgs and riders have crashed their rear ranks, forcing many archers into melee combat.
Armst turns his attention to this crisis, raising a Mirror Image spell in his defense and rolling out a Flaming Sphere and Hail of Stone to blunt the Worgs’ impact. Magnus cannot spare himself, Eberk, or the front lines to assist, so he presses the attack at the fore. In the crowd of Orcs, the Fighter spots an Orc in full-plate, with heavy shield and gleaming battle axe – a worthy foe for some one-on-one time.
In no time the cavalry and barbarians have over-run and slain the entire Orc-archer contingent on the left. On the right-hand side, Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn is finally in position, sheltered behind a tree a dozen yards from yet-unchallenged Orc bowmen. The Druidbarian of Many Forms shifts into the form of a Troll, casts Spikes on his trusty Greatclub, and then goes into a barbarian rage.
When he crashes out of the forest towards the Orc archers, they at first assume the towering green creature is an ally. Only when the impossibly-strong Druidbarian starts to absolutely obliterate Orcs with every swing of his massive, massive Greatclub, do the bowmen suspect that the murder-machine of a Troll might not be on their team.
The grey-robed spellcaster devastating the Orcs’ main force is Corun Dum’man’s wizard mentor, Alfred. After blasting the enemy ranks with several area-effect spells, the seasoned wizard sees value in retreat, and uses Dimensional Door to vanish the way he arrived. Arcane destruction continues from Alexandra, flying overhead, and from a new arrival – another spellcaster out near the Trollbarian of Instant Death.
The Worgs at the rear chew their way two ranks deep into the archers before spells, swordsmen spared from the forward ranks, and concentrated missile fire force them back and finally scare off the few remaining beasts into retreat. Over on the left, the cavalry and barbarians hit the flank of the rear-guard Orc forces. Though the battle rages chaotically everywhere anyone looks, there is a noticeable advance being made by the mercenaries. Slowly the Orcs are being edged toward the canyon, though no Gold Mountain soldiers have yet appeared.
Magnus gets his wish for single combat. Through the rage and tangle of Orc and human, open ground is deferred by both sides to the Heavy Pick-wielding mounted Fighter and his full-plate Orc opponent. Both are well-matched, too much a challenge for the lowly ranks of enemy around them. They are drawn to each other’s challenge.
The Fighter spurs Lady into a charge; Magnus and his horse strike the steel-clad Orc. The surprisingly adept Orc warrior proves his mettle – both combatants are quickly bloodied and worn down. Magnus dismounts and sends his badly-hurt horse out of harm’s way. The armored Orc is tough, but the human Fighter tougher. It is Magnus who strikes the killing blow as the frenzy of close combat swirls around the space afforded this clash. Almost crippled, Magnus recovers the armored Orc’s shiny axe as a prize before escaping to safety behind his own lines to drink potions.
Trollbarian Øskur has slaughtered the Orcs’ entire right-side archery regiment with relative ease. But his victory comes at a terrible price; even in his rage Øskur is acutely aware that he is dead on his feet from all the arrows he has taken. A familiar face is nearby; the spellcaster Boris. Røgnvaldurarsøn asks help in the Giant language, and Boris, suspecting the shape-shifted identity of the destroyer, saves Øskur’s life with a healing spell. Troll-Øskur lopes back into the woods, reverts to human form, ends his rage, and uses a Lesser Restoration to wipe out his fatigue.
The Worgs are driven off, the Orcs are under threat by the barbarians and ride-by attacks of the cavalry, and now the Ogres surge to attack. The Ogres held back until the humans were weakened and worn down by the Orcs, then was their chance to inflict greater casualties. Dwarf Eberk turns his attention their way, as does Armst. A Sudden-Empowered Fireball, Melf’s Acid Arrow, Orb of Acid, another Flaming Sphere, and Blade of Fire and Whirling Blade on his short-short are the Warmage’s many assaults against the wall of Ogres.
A great shock-wave shrugs the earth. Everyone on both sides is distracted by powerful rumbling beneath their feet. Then the entire cliff-face beside the canyon entrance suddenly crumbles. The massive landslide plows into the rear of the Orc army, in seconds churning half their numbers under tons of rock and dirt. Tremendous shouts issue from the canyon – the forces of Gold Mountain storm into battle, following Arch-Druid Ilva’s earth-rending spell.
Magnus and Lady have healed sufficiently. The Fighter fast-mounts and charges back into the front lines. Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn has his second wind. Sighting a cluster of Ogres, the Druidbarian of Many Forms becomes a polar bear, and goes into a rage again. Barreling into the enemy lines, Øskur sets out to kill as many of everything as he can lay paws on.
Victory is within sight. All Orc archers are dead. The forward Orc battalion has merged with those survivors of the rear-guard. Threats press them on all sides: fresh troops of Gold Mountain; cavalry isolating and over-running lone Orc warriors; barbarians reveling in the slaughter; archers concentrating fire on the Ogres; mercenary swordsmen bearing down on the front lines.
Cleric John is lost amid the fray, healing allies wherever he finds them. Elroy Wick’s crossbow broke on a Critical Miss, so the Cleric-Bard fights with his short-sword ‘Homestead Avenger’ and hurls dagger ‘Good Silverwear’. Somewhere else, Eberk is sheeted in blood and mud and wet snow, mindless in pursuit of kills. Armst empties his mind of spells, drawing forth arcane fury in calculated bursts when clusters of Orcs or weakened Ogres present.
So on and on rolls the great battle, minutes or hours in duration – calm snow fields and organized ranks ripped and knit and pulled apart again, turmoil and strife, spell clouds burning and corroding those close by, dead trampled under foot, wounded hustled to temporary spots of refuge. Noise and clamor, whistle of arrows seeking unsuspecting targets, blades sunk deep, shields saving limbs, shafts snapped, armor rent asunder, lives lost in terrible waves.
Then as if it hadn’t started, the tumultuous battle was apparently ended. The momentum and singular fixation of the humans on the destruction of the Orcs found itself without common cause or purpose any more. Between the closing curtains of Gold Mountain soldiers, barbarians, and mercenaries lay now only dead Orcs and slain Ogres. Some foes fled, others like the Worgs are long gone.
While predators eager to finish the job made after the scattered enemy in retreat, the rest of the victors looked around in wonderment at the carnage that seemed to appear around them. There was initial confusion, perhaps the letdown as the adrenaline rush took its leave; or simply bewilderment on an animal, instinctual level as men and women of reason awoke from a terrible sleepwalk of violence and fury and chaos – cold and tired and surrounded by unspeakable slaughter, a dream only half-remembered.
Knots of mercenaries and other fighters look blankly on deeds they accomplished and committed. Everyone is too exhausted to mourn or celebrate. Magnus rallies the Captains and Jonas to show leadership; the commanders rise to the occasion. The cavalry dismounts and attends its horses. Details form to separate the wounded and the dead; collect potions, gear, and valuables from the enemy; and bring a sense of order to a darkening day.
Most of the Orc force was killed; the rest melted away during the fight or flew in retreat at the end. Perhaps one-hundred and fifty escaped. The mercenary company lost nearly a third; one hundred slain in battle, now carried aside to clean earth and arranged for interment. Gold Mountain’s forces had its losses, the barbarians theirs as well.
Night-time draws near. The day is ending, a new day begins tomorrow. Uncertainty seeps in with the cold. Blood-soaked Chief Samuel eyes the forests with a steely gaze, predicting that the Orcs are done for now, but will inevitably return in the springtime. This war is not yet won.
Pine Cove will be the destination for many people, others will go to North Point and rebuild. Some prefer the shelter of Gold Mountain. The mercenaries, job finished and payment collected in coin and spoils of war, will overwinter here. It is likely they will be needed when the thaw comes, to aid in the settlement’s ongoing defense. But for tonight it is temporary shelter on the edge of the unhallowed battle ground.
Magnus, Armst, Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn, Cleric John, Elroy Wick, dwarf Eberk, and their other friends of the party, tend to their wounds and raise tents and warm fires. One part of their story is over; another chapter begins.
(end of the session)
(1) Image isolated from D&D Monster Manual, illustration on page 257.
(2) Image isolated from D&D Monster Manual, illustration on page 248.
(3) Image isolated from D&D Monster Manual, illustration on page 199.