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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 81: Kondor 27
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Previous chapter: Chapter 80: Hastings 28
Finally Kondor saw the enemy moving forward. The trunk of a large tree had been stripped of branches and topped, and was being carried by two dozen creatures. Behind them were scores of the skeletons, carrying bows. But the castellan was waiting patiently.
As the creatures brought the ram within about thirty yards of the gate, the first order came: fire missiles. A hail of arrows descended from the walls onto the enemy. But at the same moment, arrows sprang from the ranks of the skeletons, and although not many reached the walls and none found a mark, the archers moved back under cover swiftly. Still, enough of the creatures carrying the ram were injured that progress was halted, and additional troops had to come forward.
The second missile assault from the walls was aimed at the skeletons. This was largely ineffective, as many arrows passed between the bones and few did much damage; but a carefully aimed ballista bolt swept through several of them, shattering their bodies to fragments.
And then the ram hit the front gate. The thud was thunderous, and although the wall didn't shake, most of the men on it did. There was a second thud. Then with the third thud, the castellan shouted a command. Men on either side of the gate yanked on ropes through pulleys, leaping from the wall to use their weight. A heavy chain mesh rose from the ground, catching the front end of the ram (and several of its lead operators), hauling it well up into the air. It swung upward, angling precipitously, and then slipped from the ram catcher and fell, crushing many of its operators, dashing them against the ground, and rolling to the side of the road.
More creatures moved forward, and picked up the fallen ram. If it turns into a war of attrition, Kondor thought, we're going to have to kill them faster.
But the castellan was not beaten yet. Once more he poured flaming oil down from the gate. The oil spread across the ram, and splashed onto the bodies of many of its bearers. Again some fled, others continued to attack. A hail of arrows against the ram reduced their numbers, and again the ram fell to the ground, insufficiently manned, while corpse-like bodies stood there burning.
But a return of arrows from the skeletons drove the archers back from the walls again, and more bodies were coming forward to take up the attack.
Suddenly something caught his eye. On the left he saw warm bodies, and something in the air. The bodies clearly were reinforcements. The thing in the air looked like a person; it had the right heat signature, but it was definitely flying. As it passed over the skeletons, a bright spot of heat dropped from it, and burst into a huge ball of flame upon hitting the ground. Many of the skeletons were destroyed instantly; others were retreating, glowing infrared from the burns they received. The archery flank was in disarray.
And even as the enemy archers fell back, the warm-blooded troops on the left charged toward the gate. There weren't many of them, but given the speed and the distance, they would probably reach the ram and destroy its unarmed bearers swiftly enough that they would be able to get inside the gate before a retaliatory force could be sent from the enemy lines. The castellan was already ordering gatekeepers to prepare to open the outer gate to admit the reinforcements into the corral.
But Kondor was watching the airborne body. It clearly turned, rather sharply, and came toward the castle wall. As it happened, it was headed almost directly for him. Obviously it was friend; Kondor wondered only that it was able to fly. And it flew closer, landing only a few feet from him.
It was Sowan, the mage.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #53: Character Battles. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: