46. The Dead Lancer

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Nov.15, 2009

Having set a poultice to draw the bullets from Forden’s wounds, sealed the whole lot in a clay cast and laid him in a hammock above a smouldering fire of thunderroot, I left the hive hut. There was nothing more I could do for him. He would sleep for at least three days. Time would be his healer now.

Part of the roof of my hive hut had been blown away in a phraxcannon bombardment, and there was also a gaping hole in the wall to the right of the doorway. I decided to start on the repairs immediately, relishing the thought of having something to do.

I worked all through the afternoon and into the night, cutting lengths of waterwillow to the right length and plaiting them slowly and methodically into place. The sun set and the moon rose, full and round and so bright it cast my beloved Farrow Ridges in eerie silver shadow.

It was close to midnight by the time my dwellings were patched up. Yet, even though I’d been up since daybreak, I was not tired.

I checked on Forden. He was out for the count. At least now, with the roof and wall repaired, he would not be chilled by the cold wind that was getting up outside. I heard it whistle and howl round my hive hut and I answered its call, stepping back outside and setting off on a walk.

I gave no thought to where I might head. I simply set off. Being outside, clearing my head; that was all I had in mind. It was only when I found myself in the Western Woods that I realized I’d walked right round the Farrow Lake and across the Levels. I stopped and looked about me…

Can there be any place more desperate than a battlefield at the end of a might battle? I strode through the decimated forest, picking my way over splintered tree-stumps, flattened rock-mounds and churned mud that was stained with blood and steaming with unspent phraxbullets, feeling sick to stomach. There were dead bodies on the ground, still to be cleared away, with shattered limps and gaping wounds. Our fighters and theirs. Enemies, united in death.

The horror of it all brought back flashbacks of the carnage wreaked at the terrible Battle of the Midwood Marshes. Back then, I’d lost many friends; grey goblins I’d grown up with, neighbours, comrades. The losses were soured by the fact that we all knew we were fighting on the wrong side of an unjust war. No-one dragooned into fighting for Hive by Kulltuft Warhammer and his cronies agreed with our battle with Great Glade.

Of course, we lost that war. And thank Earth and Sky we did! It meant that Kulltuft Warhammer was deposed, and a democratic council restored. Now, as I stared round me, I was more glad than ever that Great Glade had won. After all, if they had not, they could not have sent the Freeglade Lancers to come to our aid, and the Farrow Ridges would surely have fallen to our enemies.

What courageous fighters those Freeglade Lancers had proven to be! With their prowlgrins and their lances, theyhad routed the enemy, cutting them down like scythed blue-barley. I felt honoured to have ridden beside them into battle and humbled by the sacrifice they had made – a sentiment made all the more poignant by the body of the lancer I came across, lying on the ground.

 weirdnewworlds-small-064

‘Thank you, dear, brave comrade,’ I told him, tears welling in my eyes.

I noticed a piece of barkscroll protruding from his clenched fist. I prised his hand open. As the fingers unfolded, the barkscroll fell into my hand. I opened it and read the scrawled note written there.

To you, who has found this note, I would ask that the ring it encloses be delivered to my beloved, Laria Chillax, of the Reaches, Ambristown, Great Glade. Tell her I am hers until the end of time. Tell her, one day we shall be together again in Open Sky. Tell her, I love her. Tell her

The message stopped. My tears were flowing freely now. I looked at the ring – a simple gold band inscribed with two names; Parvis on one side, Laria on the other.

‘I promise you,’ I whispered, ‘I shall visit your Laria and…’

Just then, there was a noise behind me, and I turned to see a piebald prowlgrin pawing at the ground. It was snorting and growling and from the way it kept running off, then stopping and looking back at me, I knew it wanted me to go with it.

I wrapped up the ring, slipped it into my back pocket and followed the prowlgrin into the trees. We hadn’t gone more than a score or so strides, when I heard a strange noise. It was a plaintive mewling, like the cry of a snowbird, or the whimpering of a wood kitten, or…

As I rounded a vast lullabee tree, my jaw dropped. For there, amid the death and destruction of the aftermath of war, was the most incongruous sight I could imagine.

It was a newborn baby…

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Nov 15th 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Weird New Worlds Home Page

The Map

The Edge Chronicles

Profile The Quint Trilogy
Curse of the Gloamglozer
The Winter Knights
Clash of the Sky Galleons

The Twig Trilogy
Beyond the Deepwoods
Stormchaser
Midnight Over Sanctaphrax

The Rook Trilogy
The Last of the Sky Pirates
Vox
Freeglader


The Lost Barkscrolls
The Immortals
www.edgechronicles.co.uk

45. The Old Ways

Posted by Forden Drew on Nov.08, 2009

There were five leadwood bullets embedded in me – leastways, that’s what Hedgethorne told me. He asked me if he could keep one as a souvenir and said he could have all five for all I cared.

I had been well and truly peppered with the accursed things as I charged the enemy’s phraxcannon, and I can remember very little about it. Poor Lemquinx was mortally wounded and Hedgethorn found me lying next to my faithful prowlgrin’s lifeless corpse. The militia’s surgeon wanted me taken to the Water Caverns, where a makeshift hospital had been set up, but Hedgethorn would have none of it.

‘No sawbones is going to carve up my friend, I told him, Forden,’ Hedgethorn growled. ‘I’ll tend his wounds the old way.’

My old friend was as good as his word, though at the time I was running a high fever and was oblivious to everything.

I came to three days later to find myself in a hammock above a fire of aromatic thunderroot in Hedgethorn’s hive tower. I couldn’t move. My right hand side was encased in a heavy cast of baked lake mud from neck to ankle, and I was strapped to my hammock. The pungent sepia smoke rising from the fire numbed my senses and made me drowsy, and I slipped in and out of consciousness for most of that long afternoon. It was sometime after dark when I awoke to find Hedgethorn standing over me. He held a rock hammer and chisel in his hands.

‘The healing poultice will have done its work by now,’ he informed me. ‘Time to come out of your shell, Forden, old friend.’

As gently as he was able, Hedgethorn chipped away the mud cast on my right hand side. Beneath the grey crust, a brittle poultice of lake herbs and cavern moss was revealed. As Hedgethorn pulled this away, the leadwood bullets fell, one by one, into his hands. The old grey goblin smiled at me as he bathed and dressed my bullet wounds with crisp white bandages.

‘The old ways worked for arrowheads and spear-barbs,’ he said simply, ‘drawing them slowly from the wound without the surgeon’s knife. Seems they work equally well on leadwood bullets.’

I wanted to thank my friend, but drugged by the thuderroot smoke, I drifted off to sleep.

When I awoke, the fire had burned itself out and a bright shaft of sunlight was beaming down on the hammock from the tower windows above. Hedgethorn was in his galley beside the central fire, steaming lakefish and frying meadow turnip fritters. The smell was as intoxicating as thunderroot smoke, and I sat up. My side ached, but I was delighted to find that I could get to my feet without too much difficulty.

‘Looks like you’re on the mend,’ laughed Hedgethorn, ushering me over to his long table, which groaned under the weight of good things to eat. ‘Tuck in,’ he encouraged. ‘You need to build your strength up, Forden, lad.’

I needed no second invitation and ate hungrily, devouring the lakefish, meadow turnip fritters, tilder sausages and sticklehog bacon. Slumping back in my chair at last, I looked at my old friend.

‘I can’t begin to thank you, Hedgethorn,’ I began, ‘for looking after me, tending my wounds… But tell me, what has become of our militia? and Alcestia?’

The old grey goblin’s eyes filled with tears. ‘We lost many good people at the Battle of Farrow Lake, Forden,’ he said quietly. ‘And Alcestia was one of them…’

weirdnewworlds-small-063

Posted by Forden Drew on Nov 8th 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

44. The Battle of Farrow Lake : The Final Day

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Oct.31, 2009

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.

weirdnewworlds-small-061

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…’

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Oct 31st 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

43. The Battle of Farrow Lake : Day Two

Posted by Forden Drew on Oct.23, 2009

The fires caused by the phraxcannon raged along High Farrow for most of the night until, just before dawn, a heavy rain began to fall. When it cleared, a heavy mist enveloped the Eastern Woods and lay across the Farrow Lake like a tilderdown blanket.

Fennith and his webfoot companions had taken Alcestia on board the phraxmarine the night before and transported her, along with our worst casualties, to the stalactite forest in the Water Caverns. When he returned, he tried to put on a brave face, but his crest glowed a mournful blue as he reassured me that Alcestia was receiving the best care the white trogs could provide.

‘We must force ourselves to concentrate on the fight that lies ahead,’ said the Roost Marshal when I joined him in the trench just as dawn was breaking. ‘Take what is left of Alcestia’s troop and combine it with yours, Forden,’ he instructed, ‘and then set off round the lake to the north around the enemy’s flank, and hunt down those phraxcannon of theirs.’

‘They’ll be well defended,’ I cautioned.

The Roost Marshall nodded. ‘Do what you can, Forden, lad, and I’ll try to hold the line here for as long as I can. Fog or no fog, I fear they’ll launch a full-frontal assault before midday.’

Promising to do my utmost, I left the trench and gathered the prowlgrin cavalry in the woods to the north. My troop numbered twelve, Alcestia’s a mere six, and the travails of yesterday’s fight sat heavily upon us all. But we were determined not to give up. We would sell our lives dearly for the cause of Farrow Lake freedom.

‘It’s down to us, lads,’ I announced as our ragged formation took to the trees. ‘We can’t expect any help from elsewhere.’

As I spoke, the first deadly volleys from the phraxcannon started up and, to the south of us, we could hear the phraxshells landing in our positions.

By mid morning we’d scouted round the enemy’s flank and picked off a party of fourthlings carrying supplies back to their positons. It was a brief fight, my prowlgrins leaping over the treetops and firing down into the midst of the enemy, who threw down their weapons and fled to their camp.

Unfortunately, that meant that Felvis Yellowman’s forces were now alerted to our presence and, as we regrouped and pressed on, we were suddenly confronted by a hail of phraxmusket fire coming up from the forest floor.

Five of our brave troopers and their prowlgrin fell, before we were able to find safety in a tall ironwood stand deep in the Eastern Woods, behind the enemy lines. We sheltered here until mid afternoon, licking our wounds and preparing for what we knew would be our last attack. Our ammunition was all but gone, our prowlgrins exhausted, and the enemy was alerted and waiting for us. It was then that Twill, an old treegoblin from Alcestia’s troop and a veteran of the Hive Militia, had an idea.

‘Since we’re almost out of ammunition, Captain,’ he said to me, as the thirteen of us stood beside our prowlgrins on the massive branch of an ironwood pine, ‘why don’t we avail ourselves of nature’s natural destructiveness – namely the pine-cones all around us. If we take ‘em, one between two troopers, and set ‘em alight, we can bowl them down at the enemy as we charge. What d’ya say, Captain?’

I clapped the old tree goblin on the back. It was an inspired idea. The resin in the pine-cones would burn fiercely, and who knows what damage they might cause if they landed on a fully-loaded phraxcannon?

We set to work immediately, making makeshift slings to carry the massive pine-cones between pairs of prowlgrins. The troopers each broke switches from the branches and dipped them in the pine resin that oozed from the bark of the ironwood pine, making ready-made torches. Then we set off towards the thunderous sound of the phraxcannon.

weirdnewworlds-small-060

An hour later, we found them in a clearing on Midridge, their muzzles pointed down at our positions in front of Farrow Lake. It only took a glance to tell me that the Roost Marshal and our militia had taken a terrible pounding. I signalled to my troopers to light their torches and then to charge the phraxcannon.

As we surged down from the treetops and bounded across the clearing, a phalanx of enemy infantry guarding the cannon turned their phraxmuskets on us and fired. In the hail of bullets, I saw four pairs of troopers go down, the pine-cones they carried thudding uselessly to the ground. That left two pairs, and me. In the hopes of distracting the enemy, I lit the torch I carried and urged Lemquinx to leap out in front, yelling at the top of my lungs as I did so.

Behind me, the two pairs of troopers lit their pine-cones and leaped high into the air. As they released their flaming missiles, the air around me buzzed with flying bullets, and I felt an excruciating pain in my side.

Moments later I was falling to earth, as a brilliant explosion enveloped the clearing. Then I hit the ground, and everything went black…

Posted by Forden Drew on Oct 23rd 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

42. The Barkscroll

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Oct.15, 2009

It was with a heavy heart that I headed for the debating chamber of the Great Glade Academy the following day. My mission looked doomed to failure. Luggins, my loyal friend, was dead, murdered by a waif assassin, and I knew from Threnodesse’s edgy demeanour over breakfast that more treachery lay in store. Despite my questions, though, she was giving nothing away.

All at once she pushed back her bowl of honeybroth and jumped to her feet. ‘I have an important matter to attend to, Hedgethorn,’ she told me. ‘I will see you there.’ And with that, she was gone.

So it was that, later that morning, I approached the palatial building alone – and also unarmed, since weapons were strictly forbidden inside the chamber. I was climbing the marble steps of the academy, my head full of what I would tell the assembled council, when all at once a great paw of a hand reached out from behind a pillar, seized my arm and dragged me back into the shadows.

‘Forgive me, friend,’ came a voice, close to my ear. ‘I mean you no harm.’

I looked round to find myself confronted by a hefty-looking cloddertrog in the robes of high office. ‘What can I do for you, friend?’ I asked. ‘Only I’m in rather a hurry…’

‘Sssh!’ he hissed, glancing round anxiously. ‘I know who you are. And I know why you’re here,’ he added, his voice a low whisper. ‘Your waif companion, Threnodess, has explained everything to me. I am here to help.’

‘Threnodesse?’ I whispered back. ‘But… Who are you?’

‘My name is Garulus Borg,’ he told me. ‘I am the Deputy High Professor of Flight.’ He reached inside the folds of his voluminous gown and produced a barkscroll. ‘I thought that this might be of interest,’ he said.

I unrolled the scroll and scanned its contents. It was a business letter, but my heart quickened when I saw who it was addressed to. I looked up, intending to ask what it signified, only to find that Garulus Borg had slipped away. I was on my own again.

The High Council meeting was in session by the time I finally entered the chamber. Quove Lentis himself was at the podium, holding forth, a look of insufferable smugness on his fleshy face.

‘Sadly, details of the incursion at the Farrow Ridges are scant,’ he was saying. ‘One of their emissaries was meant to be at this meeting to explain all. It seems he has decided not to grace us with his presence, which, given the enormity of the situation, I find difficult to comprehend…’

And then he saw me. His jaw dropped and the colour drained from his face. Sweat beaded his brow. He looked as though he’d seen a ghost. Then, realizing that everyone was beginning to stare, he gathered himself and continued.

‘Of course, the smaller towns of the Edge shall grow independently. We all agree that there shall be no interference from outside. Their inhabitants shall be free. We in the Academyof Flight hold these truths to be self-evident…’

I had heard enough. ‘Then why,’ I shouted, leaping to my feet and branding the barkscroll, ‘would Commander Felvis Yellowmane of the so-called Farrow Lake Company write a letter to his boss confirming the receipt of three phraxcannon, and predicting healthy profits from dredging the Farrow Lake and annexing the Water Caverns?’

A gasp echoed round the chamber and all eyes fell on me. Quove Lentis turned a deep shade of red. ‘You… I…’ he blustered. ‘Guards, arrest this intruder!’

There was sudden uproad. Council members were shouting. Guards came running. But I was not done. I raised my hand.

‘The letter is addressed to…’ I paused and looked down at the barkscroll in my hand. A hush fell. ‘To Quove Lentis,’ I announced, ‘High Professor of Flight!’

Seeing the game was up, the professor gathered up his robes and tried to make a run for it. He didn’t get far. The guards seized him roughly as Garulus Borg strode forward and took the podium.

‘I understand your dismay,’ he told the assembled gathering, ‘but I promise you, Quove Lentis will face trial and will pay for bringing dishonour to the Great Glade Council. Guards, take him to the cells.’ As the clamour subsided, he turned to me. ‘Hedgethorn Lammergyre,’ he said, ‘on behalf of the Great Glade Council, I pledge unequivocal support for the settlers at the outpost of the Farrow Ridges.’

‘Talk is cheap,’ I said, looking at him levelly. ‘What the Farrow Lake Militia needs right now is help.’ I turned to the upturned faces of the council members all around. ‘If it isn’t already too late.’

weirdnewworlds-small-059

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Oct 15th 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

41. The Battle of Farrow Lake : Day One

Posted by Forden Drew on Oct.11, 2009

weirdnewworlds-small-057

The phraxcannon opened up at dawn, firing a deadly hail of phraxshells at the infantry of the Farrow Lake Militia in the centre of our lines. They were well dug in near the treeline that fringed the lakeshore, but even so, the carnage was terrible to behold.

I had positioned my troop of prowlgrin cavalry on the left in high copperwood trees that afforded us a fine view of the battlefield. The Roost Marshal had given me orders to defend the infantry’s flank from an attack he believed would come from the enemies’ forces to the north of the lake. But as I sat on Lemquinx, my faithful prowlgrin, and looked down at the lakeshore, I felt a sense of helplessness as the explosions threw up great clouds of steam and clods of lake mud.

By mid morning, the phraxcannon had fallen silent, and as the steam began to clear, I saw the full extent of the havoc those terrible weapons had wrought on the brave Farrow Lake Militia. The white trogs of the caverns had thrown up impressive earthworks – deep trenches and mud embankments, but these had taken a fearful pounding.

As Lemquinx shuddered and snorted with unease beneath me, I trained my spyglass on our centre. Twenty or so brave hammerhead goblins of the militia lay by the lakeshore like discarded dolls of young’uns, the pale lake mud stained vivid red with their blood. The main trench was still intact, but the embankments on either side had collapsed, laying the infantry sheltering in the earthworks open to a flank attack.

My worst fears were realized as, at around midday, with fearful cries and warlike whoops, the mass of Felvis Yellowmane’s forces emerged from the forest and charged for the ruined embankment to the left of the trenches. Despite my orders to keep my position guarding the left flank, I realized that I had to act, or the courageous Farrow Lake Infantry would be massacred in their trenches. I signalled to my troop to prepare to charge on my order, and drew my phraxpistols from their holsters.

The enemy – a screaming horde of the worst tavern brawlers, assassins and thieves Great Glade had to offer – reached the embankment and started scrambling into our trenches. Our infantry, already stunned and demoralized from the fire of the phraxcannon, began to fall back in confusion.

‘Charge!’

The order left my lips seconds before Lemquinx hurled us both forwards on those powerful legs of his, and pitched us into the seething, broiling heart of the fight. Behind me, the air filled with the battle cry of the Farrow Lake Cavalry.

‘Death or glory!’ ‘Death of glory!’ ‘Death or glory!’

As Lemquinx landed on top of the ruined embankment, I trained my phraxpistols on the backs of the attacking enemy and fired. Around me, the twenty troopers of my command did the same. Five massive cloddertrogs bedecked in glowing lamps, with evil looking scimitars clutched in their massive fists, fell at our feet as our prowlgrins leaped once again high into the steam-filled air. As we landed in the trench we fired another volley and a phalanx of begrimed fourthlings in muddy topcoats crumpled to the ground, crimson blooms erupting on their chests.

Now it was the enemies’ turn to break and run, our murderous hail of phraxbullets scything them down by the score. The Farrow Lake Infantry rallied and returned to the trenches as the enemy fled, and I was confronted by the concerned face of the Roost Marshall.

‘I fear they were just testing us out, Forden,’ he gasped, deathly pale as his eyes turned to the south. ‘It seems the main blow is to fall on our right flank.’

Already the air was filled with phraxcannon blasts, but now the shells no longer fell on our positions in the centre, but instead exploded with whistling shrieks among the treeline to the south of the Farrow Lake.

‘Alcestia,’ I breathed.

All that long afternoon, the phraxcannon kept up their deadly work, the enemy seemingly content to keep their distance, while the phraxshells pulverized our positions. As night fell over our beautiful Farrow Lake, three of the cavern entrances of the Five Falls had been battered and stoppered up with rubble, while the woods to the south crackled and flared with forest fires.

A full moon rose and I saw Alcestia’s troop creep into our positions from the burning woods. Two troopers carried dear brave Alcestia between them, cradling her poor broken body tenderly. The phraxcannon had ceased, and the sounds of jeering and hollered taunts from the cowardly enemy floated across to us. As the troopers laid Alcestia down, I sank to my knees and took her hand in mine. She had a nasty headwoound and her topcoat was covered in blood.

‘The Farrow Lake Militia took one hell of a beating, Alcestia,’ I said, my eyes misting over, ‘but we’ll whip ‘em tomorrow…’

weirdnewworlds-small-058

Posted by Forden Drew on Oct 11th 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

40. Midnight in the Cloud Quarter

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Oct.03, 2009

I have never been anywhere as beautiful as the Cloud Quarter of Great Glade. It is the city’s seat of learning, and its academies and schools are beyond compare.

My private audience with Quove Lentis – the High Professor of Flight – went well. Corpulent and expensively dressed in academic robes of the finest spidersilk, his chins wobbled as he expressed shock at the news of the impending battle at the Farrow Ridges, and was mortified that someone had sent the mire-pearlers the extra phraxcannon. He suggested calling a full high council meeting, where my concerns could be raised, his voice querulous with concern and outrage.

However, I left his palatial rooms to find Luggins and Threnodesse – who had been waiting for me outside in the lobby – staring at me in absolute horror.

‘W… what’s wrong?’ I asked, my stomach knotting with misgiving.

‘The professor is not all he seems,’ said Threnodesse softly. ‘I listened in to his thoughts – and what terrible thoughts they were. Despite his apparent horror at the settlers’ plight, the news you brought filled him with glee.’

‘I… I don’t understand,’ I told her.

‘I read his mind. He is the main investor in something called the Farrow Lake Company,’ the waif explain. ‘It has been set up to take the sacred pearl of the great blueshell clam, and to annexe the caverns of the Five Falls and exploit them for profit. It was he, Quove Lentis, who ordered the extra phraxcannon to be sent to the mire-pearlers against all the rules his office is meant to uphold. The high council must be informed of this…’

My jaw dropped in surprise. ‘Why then, has he agreed to call a High Council meeting for me to raise these very issues?’ I asked.

Threnodesse reached out and took my hand. ‘He is assuming that you will not attend this meeting,’ she said darkly, but although I urged her to tell me more, she would not give any further details.

For the duration of our stay, we were given lodgings in the east wing of the School of Earth Studies, a beautiful cloistered building with walls of pearl-white Edgecliff stone. We each had a cabin, which was small but adequate to our needs, with a hammock and storage chest and a door out onto a balcony of carved blackwood that extended the length of the magnificent building. I’d slept well the first night of our stay, but with Threnodesse’s words ringing in my head, I could not get to sleep that second night. In the end, I arose and stepped onto the balcony to take the air.

With its twinkling lamps and gleaming spires, the sleeping city was a wonder to behold, and made all the more beautiful by the silvery full moon above. I heard a banderbear yodelling softly to its mate from the distant Deepwoods, and was wondering when I, too, would return to my beloved forest home, when I caught sight of a movement at the far end of the balcony.

It was a waif, and for a moment I thought it must be Threnodesse, also unable to sleep. Only when I noticed the long blowpipe glint in the moonlight as he put it to his mouth, did I realize my mistake. This was not my travel companion. This was a waif assassin – a waif assassin with murder on his mind. And I was to be his victim.

I heard a soft puff of air as the waif fired, and cried out in alarm as the dart whistled past my ear. It struck the balustrade behind me, and I turned to see it embedded in the wood, hissing and steaming. Poison! I turned back. The assassin was loading a second dart…

What happened next, happened so fast I could scarcely take it in. Before I could even throw myself to the ground, I heard a loud roar, followed by a heavy thud, and Luggins my brogtroll bodyguard was standing before me. He had jumped down from the balcony above – at the very moment the evil assassin loosed his second poison dart, which embedded itself in the back of his neck. A look of anguished pain passed over his noble features as the poison took effect, then his eyes went dim and he crashed to the balcony boards, dead.

Behind him, the waif assassin let out a wailing shriek and dropped his blowpipe. As he crumpled to the floor I saw that Threnodesse was standing behind him, a knife in her hand. It glistened in the moonlight with dark waif blood. Dropping the knife, she rushed over and knelt beside Luggins, and tenderly closed our faithful brogtroll companion’s eyes.

‘He has paid the ultimate price to protect our beloved Farrow Lake,’ her thoughts echoed in my head. ‘Tomorrow will be our test.’

weirdnewworlds-small-056

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Oct 3rd 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

39. The Eve of Battle

Posted by Forden Drew on Sep.25, 2009

This must have been the way my father felt before the Battle of the Midwood Marshes so long ago. He was a lowly private in the Second High Town Regiment, while I find myself commanding a troop of prowlgrin cavalry, but he would surely have felt an empty hollow in the pit of his stomach and found it impossible to sleep, just as I do now.

We have been skirmishing in the forests to the east of the Farrow Lake for several weeks, but the enemy seems to be getting stronger by the day. Their leader, Commander Felvis Yellowmane, has powerful friends in Great Glade, and they have sent him two more phraxcannon to add to the one he already possesses. His army of mire-pearlers have used them to devastating effect, destroying the landing deck to the east of the Farrow Ridges to make it impossible for the sky taverns to dock, and thus cutting us off from the outside world. They then turned the cannon on our forward camps and have pushed our Farrow Lake militia back towards the trees fringing the lake shore. Retreat is not an option. Here, by the clear waters of our beautiful Farrow Lake, we stand and fight.

My prowlgrin troop protects our southern flank; Alcentia’s troop guards the north. In the centre, the Roost Marshal has gathered our infantry, the First Farrow Lake Militia, which he has transformed from a disorganized band of hammerhead goblins and Deepwoods trappers, into a formidable fighting force. But we are hopelessly outnumbered – at least three to one – and since the sky taverns can no longer dock, our supplies of ammunition are running short.

There was been no word from my friend, Hedgethorn Lammergyre, and I fear his mission to bring help from the authorities in Great Glade must have come to nothing. Tomorrow, there is to be a great battle – the Battle of Farrow Lake – and I fear that, like my dear father, I shall not live to tell my children of it…

weirdnewworlds-small-055

Posted by Forden Drew on Sep 25th 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

38. The Flight Thieves

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Aug.20, 2009

You’d think I would know better. After all, I’m no greenhorn, fresh from some Deepwoods thicket. I was brought up in the hovels of Hive, where I needed eyes in the back of my head, and later in the Hive Militia, I fought alongside some of the roughest cut-throats and brigands you could wish to meet. Which makes it all the more painful to confess what happened to me on board the sky tavern, Varis Lodd.

I suppose it’s what comes of spending so long in a peaceful backwater like the Farrow Lake. Life there is tough, but we settlers look out for one another, and cheats and scoundrels are soon unmasked. It’s why I love it there. And it’s why I’m heading for Great Glade now, seeking military help against the mire-prealers, so our idyllic haven might be preserved.

But the years spent among good honest folk meant that I dropped my guard, and now the whole venture might fail. If it does, how can I face the Roost Marshal, or Alcestia, or Forden, or any of the others who put their trust in me again?

I’m fairly moderate by nature. I like a tot of woodgrog, but I hold it well, and I’m not a brawler… My one weakness is gambling. And in particular, carrillon.

Carillon’s a bit like splinters. You collect pairs or runs of numbered chips. The difference is that betted money is placed on one side of a set of scales against a stakeweight. When the coins outbalance the weight, the scales tip and a bell rings. Then the game stops and the players have to show their hands. It’s a game of skill and judgement, and the excitement that builds up as the stake increases, getting closer and closer to tipping point. I love this game, and lost many a week’s wages in the gambling dens of Hive in the old days…

Anyway, for the first three days of our trip, I kept away from the gambling tavern. Then, to my shame, on the fourth day, when we were within spitting distance of Great Glade, the temptation proved too much. While Luggins and Threnodesse went for their evening meal, I snuck off to the tavern in the depths of the mighty skyship.

From the moment I took my seat at the carrillon table, everything went my way. I’d never had such luck. I doubled my initial stake, then doubled it again. By the time I left, I had more than ten times the amount I’d started out with. My new found wealth made me walk tall. It also made me a target for the flight thieves.

Every sky tavern has them. Ruffians and cut-throats they are, who sneak aboard, and rob and fleece hapless gamblers who win big at the tables and attract their attention. And I must admit, heady with my success, I let down my guard.

Walking along the lower deck back to our small cabin, I paused to take in the moonlit view. We’d passed over Hive the previous day, and I knew we must be close to the Midwood Marshes. My head was spinning with memories of the battle I had fought in, down there so long ago, when all at once there was an arm round my neck, a blade at my throat, and a gruff voice growling in my ear.

‘Hand it over. All of it. And don’t try nuffin’ stupid.’ I felt the rail press into my back. ‘One false move and there could be a nasty accident. Understand?’

Oh, I understood all right. This brigand was about to cut my throat, and if that happened, the delegation to the Great Glade council would fail. That’s why, despite the flathead’s warning, I did try something…

I elbowed him hard in the gut, twisting my head away from the blade of the knife as I did so. I spun round and, raising one bunched fist protectively, punched him hard in the face with the other. It was then that I saw he was not alone. He had two accomplices – grubby-looking flathead goblins in shabby rain cloaks and battered hats.

The one I’d punched rubbed his cheek and grinned toothlessly. The next moment, all three attacked. Two seized my arms and twisted them behind my back, then the first one thumped me once, twice, three times in the stomach. I’d have collapsed if I wasn’t being held up. Then they grabbed me, hoiked me upside down and began shaking me hard. My winnings jangled down onto the deck, dozens of gold coins. When the jangling stopped, I waited to be dropped. Instead, they hefted me towards the balustrade.

My heart hammered. They’d got my money. Now they aimed to pitch me overboard, and there was nothing I could do to stop them. I’d failed. The mission had failed…

All at once, there was a colossal lurch and I was hurtling across the deck. I hit the boards hard, and looked up to see the massive brogtroll, Luggins, with his meaty hands gripped round the necks of two of my attackers. With a loud grunt, he slammed their heads together. There was a crack and a crunch, and they collapsed in a heap. At the same moment, Threnodesse stepped from the shadows. Her heavy staff came down hard on the third flathead’s skull, and he collapsed on top of the others.

weirdnewworlds-small-054

‘I… I…’ I blustered, climbing to my feet. ‘It…’

You don’t need to explain, Hedgethorn, came Threnodesse’s calm voice inside my head. We’re here to see that you reach Great Glade safely.

‘Let’s get rid of these bodies,’ Luggins grunted, and proceeded to drag two of the unconscious goblins along the deck by their collars. And while the waif collected up my winnings, I dragged the third one after him. We came to the row of viewing-baskets and Luggins chucked the flatheads unceremoniously inside. Then, seizing the rope, he winched the basket down towards the forest below. When the rope came to an end, he drew his knife and cut it, and I heard the basket drop down into the trees. ‘They’re gonna wake up with mighty sore heads!’ Luggins said, and chuckled.

I nodded gravely. Thanks to him and Threnodesse, our mission was still on track. What I didn’t know then, was that Quove Lentis – the shiftless High Professor of Flight – would pose a far greater threat to our success than any sky tavern thief, and I would need to take the biggest gamble of my life…

Posted by Hedgethorn Lammergyre on Aug 20th 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

37. Skirmish

Posted by Forden Drew on Aug.11, 2009

The dawn light was dappling the forest floor and from our vantage point, high in the branches of a copperwood tree, the enemy was easy to spot. Twenty or so mire-pearlers from the roughest districts of Great Glade – five lumpen cloddertrogs armed with cudgels and staves; a motley bunch of fourthlings, dressed in gaudy waistcoats, expensive funnel hats and sporting an array of phraxpistols; a tavern waif or two; and a collection of city goblins, sullen and armed to the teeth.

This was my fourth patrol in as many days and few of us in the Farrow Lake prowlgrin cavalry had had much sleep of late. As the co-commander, with Alcestia, I felt it was my duty to go on as many of these scouting expeditions as I could. It had certainly improved my riding skills, but then the trappers, guides and timber scouts I now commanded were expert prowlgrin riders.

There were fifteen in my troop, though I sorely wished there were more. We now sported handmade topcoats of farrowlake blue and black funnel hats with sprigs of lullabee in their brims which made us feel like real militia, rather than the odd assortment of concerned Farrowlakers that we actually were.

We were spoiling for a fight with these ruffians who’d invaded our woods, and it looked as if, at last, that was what we were going to get.

Steady, boys, I signalled, and sent the message down through the trees for our finest sharpshooters to take out the waifs first, and then the cloddertrogs. And charge on my command.

In the branches around me, the troopers of the Farrow Lake prowlgrin cavalry nodded and drew their sabres. Skut-Tet Mottleskull and Ambron Hix, the sharpshooters, levelled their phraxmuskets and took aim.

Now! I gave the signal, and a volley of shots rang out as Skut-Tet and Ambron fired and reloaded at lightning speed.

Below us, in the small clearing, the mire-pearlers scattered in confusion, four cloddertrogs and both waifs sprawled on the forest floor with fatal wounds.

‘Charge!’ My command was greeted by a whooping, hollering cry from the troopers as we spurred our prowlgrins up into the air and down to the forest floor below.

Around me, sabres flashed as the militia set about the few mire-pearlers who had stayed to fight. I took down a lanky flathead goblin in a greasy bandana who brandished an evil-looking harpoon. As Lemquinx, my prowlgrin, leapt over the flathead, I took his head off with a scything blow from my sabre.

As I reined Lemquinx in, and turned, I admit I was sickened by the carnage I had wrought, and a pang of shame pierced my heart. But only for a moment, for suddenly a cudgel slammed into the tree trunk inches from my head, and I looked up to see an enraged cloddertrog bearing down on me.

Lemquinx leapt for the upper branches of the nearest tree, but not before the cloddertrog knocked me from my saddle with a lunge of his stave. I fell heavily and, for a moment, my head filled with stars.

When it cleared, I found myself staring up into the cloddertrog’s leering face, drool dripping from his protruding green-grey fangs. Suddenly, a vivid crimson stain erupted in the middle of the rough leather jerkin he wore, and the cloddertrog toppled backwards and collapsed against a tree.

‘Are you hurt, Commander Drew?’ asked Ambron Hix, a look of concern on his young fourthling face. ‘I’m afraid I missed this one in the first volley.’

‘I’m fine,’ I reassured him, climbing to my feet and dusting off my skyblue topcoat. ‘That was good shooting…’ I looked at the twelve bodies scattered around the clearing. ‘We’d better saddle up before the mire-pearlers regroup and come after us. This skirmish is our first blooding,’ I told the young trooper, trying to cover the unease and disgust I felt with a show of bravado. ‘But it won’t be our last…’

weirdnewworlds-small-053

Posted by Forden Drew on Aug 11th 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off

« Prev - Next »