Back on board the Varis Lodd, I reflected on the five days since I’d set out on my mission. Thanks to Garulus Borg, the new High Professor of Flight, everything has finally come good. Not only did he pledge support for the Farrow Lake settlers, but he kept to his word and dispatched a force of forty Freeglade Lancers to help defend the Farrow Lake militia against the enemy forces.
I say forty. In fact there were thirty-nine. The fortieth was yours truly, clad in a green topcoat, armed with a lance and twin phraxpistols and seated astride a great skewbald prowlgrin by the name of Benefix. Together with the rest of the cavalry, I waited on the lower deck of the Varis Lodd, which had been set aside for the purpose of transporting us from Great Glade to Farrow Lake.
I confess I was anxious. Having fought at the Midwood Marshes, I knew the horrors of warfare. But that wasn’t all. You see, I’d never ridden a prowlgrin before and, although my fellow lancers assured me that there was nothing to it – that the prowlgrins themselves did all the work – I remained uncertain. Then again, I would not shirk my duty. I didn’t know if we would win or lose the battle, but whatever happened, I would play my part.
It was late afternoon when we got our first sighting of the Farrow Lake. From afar, it gleamed like a flawless opal in a setting of green. As we approached, however, the devastation wreaked upon my beloved home became clear for all to see. Great swathes of the Western Woods had been flattened by phraxcannon, leaving felled trunks and jagged treestumps. The landing-platform at the Needles had been destroyed; the levels were pockmarked and strewn with the bodies of the fallen.
I put my spyglass to my eye and surveyed the terrible scene. The Farrow Lake militia must have taken a terrible pounding. I saw no more than a handful of valiant souls, holed up in the trenches on the eastern lakeshore and clearly exhausted. By contrast, Felvis Yellowman’s troops – phraxmusketeers holding positions to the south, and cannoneers dug in near the phraxcannons on the far side of the lake – looked poised for the final assault.
The battle seemed all but over, yet our commander, Leb Whiteraven, a grizzled fourthling and veteran of many a successful battle, had other ideas. As the captain of the Varis Lodd steered a course round Farrow Lake and brought us down to the forest above High Farrow, the commander walked among us, issuing commands. Half of us were to advance from the north. The rest would take out the cannoneers and seize control of the phraxcannon. Then the hull of the sky tavern grazed the tops of the trees, and the order to disembark went up.
‘By Earth and Sky,’ Whiteraven shouted out across the deck, ‘and the honour of Great Glade! Troops… attack!‘
The prowlgrins kicked off on powerful back legs, leaping from the deck and down to the trees below. I watched the other lancers, thinking how effortless they made it look, when Benefix suddenly kicked off and joined the rest. My stomach lurched and I’m ashamed to say I cried out as I found myself plummeting down through the air. I needn’t have worried. Just as I’d been promised, Benefix took control, leaping from branch to branch of the forest, then boulder to boulder as we descended from High Farrow to Midridge, and down to the battlefield below. All I had to do was hold on.
We split up close to the forest floor. I was part of the force that was to take the phraxcannon. We were advancing stealthily through the trees when a loud cry went up. We’d been spotted! The next moment, the air exploded with flashing and crashing as phraxcannon and phraxmuskets were aimed at us, and fired. There were casualties. A lancer to my left was struck, knocked from his mount and fell to the forest floor below; ahead of me, a prowlgrin roared with pain as its belly was torn apart…
Yet the lancers pressed on undeterred, agile, fleet of foot, as they leaped through the forest branches. Up ahead, the phraxcannon came into view. One of them had been destroyed, but the other two were armed and ready for action. I was relieved to see that there were no more than half a dozen cloddertrog gunners operating them. We outnumbered them three to one. From far behind us, I heard bloodcurdling cries and, as the sound of phraxfire faded, I knew the well-disciplined and expertly trained troopers of the Freeglade Lancers were routing the enemy. My heart soaring, I gripped my lance in one hand and Benefix’s reins in the other as the noble creature crashed down through the branches towards the phraxcannon.
The cloddertrogs never stood a chance. One after the other, they were killed by the lancers, who sprang this way and that, picking them off with expert lunges of their lethal blackwood lances. Within minutes, the phraxcannon were ours. Benefix landed on the ground, and I was about to dismount when something caught my eye – the flash of black and silver of an enemy soldier fleeing into the trees.
I tugged the reins and Benefix and I galloped after him. He soon realized that he couldn’t outrun us, and he turned and drew a brutal looking scimitar. I looked at the scarred face of my adversary, with his broad shoulders and long yellow hair. This, I realized, was none other than Felvis Yellowmane himself.
‘Give yourself up!’ I told him.
The long-haired goblin sneered, roared and barrelled towards me, his scimitar raised. Shocked, I froze. The scimitar whistled down through the air. I was about to be sliced in two, when Benefix leaped vertically from the ground, avoiding the flashing blade, and soaring high in the air over Yellowman’s head. The long-hair turned and levelled a phraxpistol at us.
As Benefix landed, I gripped my lance with both hands and, with all my force, thrust it into Yellowman’s treacherous heart. With a throaty gurgle, the leader of the mire-pearlers sank to his knees, then toppled forward and lay still.
Felvis Yellowmane was dead! And our settlement was saved! I was about to return to my fellow lancers when I heard a soft groaning sound. I dismounted and followed the noise – and saw a dead prowlgrin, its rider lying next to it.
It was my friend, Forden Drew, the right side of his topcoat covered in blood. He must have heard me as I crouched down next to him, for he looked up, the expression on his face changing from fear to relief as he recognized me.
‘Don’t try to speak, Forden,’ I said. ‘The war is over!’ I smiled. ‘And we’ve won…’