Night was upon the Keep. Lady Rivanon d’Uzec summoned what remained of the Baron’s senior leadership and invited the party as guests. Standing around a stone table was Lady d’Uzec, Sir Etienne of Calder Keep, Sir Brann of Uzec, Lord Chardin of Yvoire, Lord Arrisey, Sir Maurice Le Marin, Magus Elemix, Lady de Cerisey, Brother Bertrand (an acolyte), and Mssr. Caval of Branmarc the designated leader of the refugees huddled in the courtyard and hallways of the Keep.
Outside, the fires of the goblin camps and the sound of wood being felled could be discerned in the darkness, no longer muffled by the storms.
Upon the table, Rivanon spread a large parchment which sketched out a detailed drawing of the Keep and the nearby approaches. “My friends, we have a problem. Despite the valiant efforts everyone here and that of our fallen, the goblins refuse to give up their attack. We expect another one no later than noon, possibly as early as dawn. I have an idea, but I wish to invite discussion first. Please lend me your thoughts.”
Sir Maurice spoke up, “By your leave m’lady, I believe we should find a way to hold off until the remaining Uzec garrison arrives. Hold the walls no matter what.”
Mssr Caval said, “Yet we have over fifteen hundred elders, woman and children here and hundreds and hundreds of goblins and their ilk are on their way. Scouts even suggest they have an ettin.”
Brother Bertrand added, “Many of them are wounded. We sent as many down to Uzec as possible, but even there is getting full. This latest batch cannot easily move at night down the stair.”
Sir Brann remarked, “We should attack. At dawn with everything we have. Use the magus and the witch with pave the way and I would humbly request to lead the vanguard charge. We cannot fully man the walls and we cannot simply let ourselves be picked off one-by-one.”
Lord Chardin dismissed this saying, “We’ve done this, multiple times. Even m’lady led an attack earlier this afternoon, and the wizards did so at dusk. The goblins, despite their losses, still come on. All we have achieved is the death of our leaders and the death or wounding of the majority of our men.”
Sir Etienne angrily interjected, “We saved several thousand people. The sacrifice was needed – and in all these incidents we took out many of their leaders and best troops.”
Lord Chardin countered, “Worth it if we survive perhaps, else they are still equally dead. Something is keeping them here, and I don’t think it is loyalty. It is fear, greed, or magic.”
Lord Arrisey said, “My village suffered from the attack of but a few dozen of these things. They are full of hate.”
Rivanon listened intently.
Elemix spoke next. “I cannot recommend we lead another attack outside of these walls. We have done as much as time and opportunity allowed on that front, and though we have taken out many of them our enemy is simply too numerous. Their ability to encircle and overpower even our strongest is simply too great outside these walls.
That being said, I do think we have a chance.” Elemix pointed to the walls on the map. “These walls provide needed protection against their numbers, even if they are not fully manned. That can buy us some time to pick off as many as possible before ever engaging in direct hand to hand conflict. And even when such melee fighting begins, those on the walls can continue attacking from the high ground as long as is possible.”
“We broke Winter,” Emmeline said. “Don’t forget. Now all we need to is survive and wait. Reinforcements will come. Meanwhile, we have some ability to go among them and destroy their supplies and investigate why they are here. Their leaders are nearly all dead and their ability to do magic curtailed. We don’t need to risk this garrison, the people here, or the castle on risky or desperate schemes.”
It might have seemed odd for Emmeline to say this, given goblinoid murder was on her mind and made her ignore her personal safety for revenge. The truth was she had no intention of risking that she would be take from the Baron or his body damaged or stolen. That meant she had to come up with every reason she could think of not to risk that or the castle. That was her priority now.
“It is true we defeated some of their leaders and cancelled the magics they were employing to enhance the cold weather. However, I don’t think we know their leaders are all defeated or that their ability to do magic has been eliminated entirely. I would be willing to bet we have not yet seen their true leaders. As such we should be cautious yet forceful. Another reason I think to stay within these walls while fighting.”
After listening intently, Rivanon spoke. “I appreciate all of your opinons. I believe we must be bold, but not in a valiant way charging into the fray. I believe the goblins will expect a charge or that nature. I also believe they are willing to risk a siege. And I believe after last night, their leaders will be more cautious and it will be hard to find them. I think we can agree that we cannot cover the whole wall in an effective manner. Eventually, regardless of magics or might, they will one by one erode our defenses.”
“I propose something radical. Earlier this evening the goblins received a taste of a wizard’s fire and witch’s eldrich spells courtesy of the Magus and Lady de Cerisey. They have fallen by the swords and arrows of my lords gathered as well. History tells us magics do not make a battle, but their judicious use can turn the tide of one. What I wish to do in give the perception that each and every one of our arrows might explode, and do so in a controlled space where we can use their numbers against them.”
“In the open, a fireball may kill a half-dozen goblins. I proposed we put up a false gate, drawing the true one up and holding it and the portcullis at the ready. The goblins will charge it and with effort breech it. We let in some hundreds of their number, splitting them in half. At the signal, Lady de Cerisey will use her abilities to cause the very plants to rise up in from of the gate, slowing down the remaining goblins, then the portcullis will drop, cutting them into two groups. Designated archers shall have at this time shot fiery arrows into the crowd, killing some goblins and others hitting bare ground. At the appointed time, the Magus will, using dweamors and stealth ‘light off’ one of the arrows into a huge fireball, then another, and yet another, driving the goblins back towards the gate where the last fire ball will strike. Meanwhile we have older veterans from the villages using the remaining crossbows to pick off stragglers in the crowd. We will have their sons act as their loaders and should the elder be injured, they pick up the crossbow and continue the fire. The garrison will hold the two stone stairs, one of you leading one and the justicar Typhon Né the other, just in case some get through. And they will.”
“Any subsequent fiery arrows should allow us to herd the enemy. When they begin to rout, we open the portcullis and the the cavalry will charge into the fray, sewing more fear and confusion, allowing us to drive the enemy out and then hopefully back to regroup. It is dangerous, and there are many things that could go wrong, but it should buy us the time we need.”
“Your thoughts?” she asked.
“I spoke with my Lady about this plan earlier and I agree with it. It is dangerous but our options are severely limited. I believe it is our best option, but I too am open to other ideas if there be any.” Elemix waited.
Emmeline looked at Lady Rivanon. “I think the plan will work at a terrible cost, my Lady. Burning, panicked goblins will rush the unprotected doors of every smithy, chapel, keep and tower facing the courtyard as they flee the certain death of conflagration. Count on some doors being broken, perhaps some buildings burned to the ground while your fighters on the walls are protected. Many of our people will die, the bodies of our dead defiled, if armed goblins, mad with panic, run wild among them. Our enemy will be in our home. This victory will be Pyrrhic, but glorious, as in the old songs.
“Yet I am comforted. If death finds me, I will be by your father’s side, in the chapel.”
“No,” she said while pointing at the map. “It is not the town that will be affected. It will be the citadel gate to the north. The inner gate should be doubly reinforced, so that the situations you describe are kept to a minimum. But yes, there is a potential cost.” She paused, “I do have another idea, but it is far from foolproof. We could talk to them.”
“I like this idea…” Emmeline said looking a little more hopeful.
“Well I don’t.” said Sir Bronn. “It will be a waste of time.”
“That is the point,” said Rivanon. “Time is our real enemy. The enemy out there know this. If we could get them to talk I may be able to discern a weakness or identify a leader.
“Indeed,” she continued, “we could employ a version of the very fear tactics I had hoped to employ in the other strategy. Or,” she added, “we could perhaps stop this war.”
Elemix responded, “Does anyone here really think the enemy is honorable enough even to attempt a diplomatic discussion? If so I agree we should at least be willing to make the attempt. If we do, we must be prepared that all those who make the attempt may be slaughtered outright.”
“The point,” Emmeline said, “is not to expect the talks to work, but to identify the leaders.” She looked at Rivanon. “If I follow?”
“Correct in part Lady de Cerisey. Sir Bronn and the others have a point that the enemy attacking in such force is odd. Each of the attacks have been pushed back like a wave against a seawall. But, yet they still come. Their priestess and the magical focus that gave them an edge is destroyed, but yet they redouble their efforts. Gaining clues on who or what that is would be helpful. Opening negotiations also may delay them long enough for the remaining garrison to arrive from Uzec. We can always fall back to the other plan.”
Emmeline nodded and then looked around the council chamber, “Who will negotiate, my Lady, while others prepare the other plan?”
“I feel must be that person. I will take one guard only. You my friend I have a mission for. As do I for all of you.” She said.
The council erupted into arguments, volunteers, and begging for Rivanon not to risk herself. She said nothing and listened.
Emmeline ignored the chaos, sinking back into her own thoughts again. Idly, she began cutting away the bandages with her dagger and tossing them one by one into the fire. She sent a single message to Rivanan via a single message cantrip. “Mara is gone from me,” she sent.
Rivanon looked surprised for a moment. “Excuse me gentlemen, please continue discussing, but note the negotiating must be me. Please focus on how to prepare our defenses and how to get the civilians to safety.”
Returning the message to Emmeline. /Excuse yourself for a moment and join me./
Rivanon stepped outside the room.
Emmeline chucked another bandage into the fire, then murmured an apology and bowed out of the room. She then went to find Rivanon.
“Em, I know today is very hard for you. I’m here for you – anything you need, simply ask. But I need to understand what you mean about Mara.”
“I don’t know. Giving Elemix all his spells back had a heavy and very lasting cost for me. Please don’t tell him. But I can’t feel Mara — I haven’t since before we went out last night to hit the goblins.” Emmeline said in a hushed tone. “That’s not the only cost I will pay for it, but the important thing to know right now is that the last time this happened I had no magic at all. For some reason, I still have it this time, but I don’t know why or for how long.”
Rivanon hugged her friend then said, “perhaps it took more out of her precisely because she knew you needed your magic? I’m no expert on the arcane, but I do know that if Mara was truly gone, you would not have power. You do, so she is with you.”
“I hope you are right,” Emmeline said, somewhat glad Rivanon hadn’t asked what other cost she had meant. “What I really wish I could do is take the Baron and fly away to Derrien to get him the help he needs.”
For a second Rivanon’s composure was shaken and her eyes showed her underlying despair. “I…know.” She wiped a tear away, regained her composure and said, “But, Father would not forgive us if we didn’t complete his task of defending this place. You have bought us the time we need.”
Em nodded. Rivanon was right. “Are you sure you don’t want to send me in your place to talk to those goblins?” she asked. “I’ve done this sort of thing before…”
“I strongly considered it, but I need you and Elemix at the ready. The fact you snuck into their camp unseen is a weapon we can use. They have been bruised, and I intend to bluff and buy the time. Meanwhile I need you to find out what is holding them together and if the negotiations fail, eliminate it or them. Elemix speaks their language and I can give you an hour of their language through my spellsongs. We need one day. Just one day.” she replied.
Emmeline nodded. “I thought you might say something like that, but I wanted to make the offer anyway. I’ll be ready when the time comes.”
She then said, “The council’s arguing is quieting down. We need to get their buy-in and then you and Elemix need to talk strategy. Tonight, rest. I will after visiting the wounded. I can help their healing and hopefully give them hope. I need you Em. I need you and El – and possibly Tiffanie, to do this.”
Em nodded again. “After we break this siege and that army — then may I take your father to be raised?”
“All arrangements have been made. You must get him back to us whole,” she said. “The stories the civilians tell of his valor and that of the Castelian must be remembered in song. A thousand villagers saved.”
“Let us go back in” she added.
Rivanon and Emmeline returned to the room, gone but ten minutes. Elemix had heard the bickering about methods of defense, attitudes toward attack, and a back and forth on the wisdom of having the Lady go. “M’lady,” Lord Arrisey said, “we believe it is unwise to allow yourself to go forth alone. It is brave, but with all due respect they are animals.”
“I must do this my lords.” Just then a guard entered and gave a message to Rivanon. “Thank you. My lords and magi. I have just received a note confirming that the Justicar Typhon Né is on her way along with three score men and the elven scout Silverleaf. They will be here shortly after dawn. It has also been confirmed that Captain du Triel along with a high priest and a hundred men from Derrien follow them and will be here in two days. This changes things. While the number of men arriving tomorrow is not enough to withstand an assault, it is enough to make the emergency plan more effective, should it come to that.”
“This is what I propose. We send a rider to offer to discuss terms of settlement. I will need the note written in both goblin and common calling for two representatives to meet us out of arrow range of both sides. Magus can you write the note for this? I will give you precise wording.”
“Of course my Lady,” answered Elemix.
“If they accept, myself and Sir Etienne will go forth to negotiate. I can, as demonstrated earlier today, easily escape, but Sir Etienne will be there if that should fail. Meanwhile, the magi will use their abilities to determine the answer to Lord Chardin’s question: who or what is keeping them united after such losses, and take action if necessary. I will also need Sister Typhon Né at the ready as an ace in the hole. My lords, I will need you to rest and be ready. Prepare the defenses, and be ready on a moment’s notice to sally forth if opportunity presents itself, or if necessary be prepared to hold fast. This discussion is over and those are my orders. I trust to your experience to handle the details. Thank you.”
The council bowed, and she nodded and left. The lords broke into individual conversations on preparations. Lord Arrisey in particular walked up to Emmeline and Elemix. “She sounds confident. Where did she get the men? No matter. I personally am confident in her and more so in the two of you. My wife told me of your valor and that of your friends when the goblins attacked my town.”
Elemix nodded. “She has been well trained to lead, and she is honoring her father with each action she takes. It is inspiring. Thank you sir for your kind words. We only did what we could. I am glad we were able to achieve what we did. I think the plan we have all devised is a good one. Now that we have defined the direction, we need to prepare. I for one will soon need to rest if I am to be of any use tomorrow.”
Elemix could tell there was something wrong with Emmeline, but he didn’t want to broach the subject in present company. Instead he asked. “What are your thoughts Emmeline?”
“I truly fear what will happen if we let the goblins through the gates,” Emmeline said. “I am no military tactician, but if there is one thing I have learned very well it’s that no plan survives the first meeting with the enemy. A plan is a guide, only, one we must have, but we have to count on things going wrong. We have no contingency because we haven’t the manpower for reserves or a backup of any sort. So, allowing them in and depending on El and I to panic, break, and destroy them before they murder our people and set fire to our town is a terrible risk. As I said before, I think it will work. Lady Rivanon is very, very capable. But we risk not only our soldiers and sworn defenders — we also directly risk the people.”
Before she had left for their journey to the Hatani Gates, the Baron had asked Emmeline to be the kind face to his people, the one who could show gentleness where he could not. He counted on her to think of his people first and that’s exactly what she tried to do. “Therefore, we must identify the leaders with this parlay and they must be dealt with if we are to keep the people safe that the Baron worked so hard and sacrificed so much to bring here.”
Only now did Elemix, and then Emmeline noticed Renée lurking behind them.
Emmeline looked toward Renée. She didn’t say anything, but wanted to see how the girl was taking all this.
“The goblins are not being goblinly,” she said when Emmeline looked at her.
Emmeline nodded. “Yes. That’s the general feeling. How do you feel about the situation?”
She looked confused, “Do my feelings matter?”
Emmeline looked a little surprised. “They matter to me.”
“The Lady’s first plan is the same one my father used in a frontier fort. Use the fort itself as a corral for the enemy, hoping they are stupid and rush in. If the goblins were goblinly, this might work. I don’t think they will fall for it. They’d rather take the losses on the approach, scale the walls and take the place from the top down. The Lady’s second option is actually insightful, because if they were goblinly they would just try to kill her, but I think that maybe they will talk to learn as much about you and she does about them. I don’t know how good of a talker the Lady is, but maybe she can bluff them long enough.”
“She’s good; she’s trained as a bard and has handled several matters for me that involved delicate… situations. But I agree with you. I have a terrible feeling that these goblins will run amok in the town and even the castle if we let them in those gates,” Em said. “I’ve never seen goblins so determined to kill me as last night. I expected to draw their attention from you and Elemix, but it went farther than I expected. I wasn’t thinking clearly then, and maybe I’m still not, but I see now that they showed exceptional tenacity. I was very nearly dead out there.”
“Goblins usually attack in hordes, not in organized ranks or wave attacks, or so mother says. Even their larger cousins suffer from this. Orcs can organize to a degree, but goblin tactics are skirmish-based, raider-based, and being sneaky. These goblins are…soldiers.” Renée said.
Emmeline nodded. “Yes. So who could make them into soldiers? Hobgoblins? Sorcerers? Anyone with power, or do they require some other sort of motivation?”
Renée said, “Usually the strongest. They are like herding cats. Could be magic? But…they could have some kind of motivation of riches, spoils, revenge to make the motivation easier to accomplish.” she added.
“Today, I just want to see them hurt, frightened, annihilated and their spirit crushed, just as they have done to others, but I can’t do that,” Emmeline said. “Mara isn’t with me, but she may still learn what I do here and I don’t want to teach her the hate and rage and pain I feel right now.”
Renée looked confused. “Mara came with us? She’s the tree or the spirit of the tree, right? Why would she be here?” Renée clearly did not understand.
“I’m a witch, Renée,” Emmeline said gently. “She is the source of my power. Normally, I can feel her with me at all times, save for twice. Once she needed to divert her attention to do a favor for Sisters Jocelyn and Typhon Né, which left me without any magic at all until it was done. The other time is now, though I still have magic for the time being.”
“Hmm. Okay. Sorry to hear about that.” she replied. “Tomorrow, what do you all wish me to do? How can I help?” asked Renée.
“That’s a good question. I don’t know what I will do, myself. Aside having a bit of a soft step, I’m not sneaky and the only magic I have that can make me hard to see will be obvious in the light of day. I specialize in being the center of attention, not avoiding attention. I suppose I could turn someone into a mouse to go look for the goblin’s leaders for about an hour?”
“Wouldn’t we be as smart as a mouse?” Renée asked clearly noting she didn’t want to be a mouse.
“Yes,” Emmeline said with a smile. “So you might not get anything at all. El has invisibility spells, though with this snow… you saw what happened we’d need to fly… Actually that might be the key. No one can concentrate on invisibility and flying at the same time. I can concentrate enough to allow two people to fly at once. If Elemix casts invisibility on them, then someone can scout — but for only ten minutes. Hm. Not good enough I think. Fly never lasts longer than ten minutes…
“Well. I can turn someone into a giant eagle as you noticed, Renée, and that will last far longer — up to an hour. Then if Elemix casts invisibility we can have an invisible giant eagle scouring the goblin camps for their leaders for an hour.”
Emmeline thought about that some more. If somehow the giant eagle was detected, then Renée or Elemix might be extremely vulnerable. But she still had options and more — if the person lost track of time, they’d revert from eagle form very suddenly and likely with deadly consequences. There was little chance that would happen to the spellcaster herself.
“It has to be me,” Emmeline said. “That would leave you and Elemix available to cover Lady Rivanon at range.”
“She didn’t see to want us to cover. She seemed to want you and Elemix to spy.” Renée replied. “I can cover her from an extreme distance. I can hit a silver piece at 200 yards.” she said proudly.
“It would still be a team effort,” Emmeline said. “I’ll need Elemix for the invisibility spell and that requires concentration, but he doesn’t have to risk himself directly. There would be no gain in my carrying him since we can’t attack without revealing ourselves to the entire army. There would only be the risk of him being discovered, too, and killed,” Emmeline pointed out. “Then we’d have no mages at all left to bolster the forces here. Do you agree, El?”
Elemix said, “We are not the best at spying in general, though you flying around invisibly as a giant eagle is a pretty good idea. I doubt they would see you. Once you have what we need, you could message one of us to let us know in case a hasty retreat is needed. I have a feeling we are going to need every bit of magic we can muster tomorrow.”
“Can I be invisible on the eagle?” Renée asked. “Can you see thru the eyes of the eagle? Oh, wait, could you have your dragon on the eagle and see that way? Oh, wait, wait, could you have your dragon be invisible with your fairy riding it and both of them are invisible with one spell and the both of your see thru their eyes?” Renée kept thinking of permutations.
“I could make you and Emmeline both invisible but it would come at the cost of fewer fireballs if they are needed tomorrow. And yes I can see through Sang’s eyes but only up to 120 ft so I don’t know how useful that would be in this situation. If it were dark Emmiline could turn into a raven or owl and have little fear of being spotted without having to use any invisibility.”
“I’m flattered that you enjoy mounting me, Renée,” Emmeline said. “And yes of course when I turn myself into a giant eagle, I really am an eagle; it’s not an illusion or mere changing of shape. And El’s right; he can cast Invisibility on both of us only at the cost of his more powerful magics. But… there may be a loophole in the magic we can use.
”Elemix, I know that if you are wearing or carrying something then that thing is also invisible when you cast the spell. What if I was carrying Renée as a giant eagle when you cast the spell? Would that not mean that, so long as she is mounted, she will remain invisible?”
“Sadly no. As she is a living creature she would not become invisible also, unless I increased the power of the spell to include her as previously mentioned.”
“Then it must be decided whether an extra pair of eyes with me is worth the cost of a fireball. Do you want to make that call,” Emmeline asked, “or would you rather ask Lady Rivanon?”
“No offense to Renee, but I think you’re eyes as an eagle would be just fine,” returned Elemix.
“Renee with her excellent bow skills should stealthily position herself at a safe range to begin taking out the enemy if any attempt to attack Lady Rivanon.”
Emmeline nodded. “I’m good with that. Renée?”
“Hmm. Okay. So you two will look for their leaders, I cover the Lady, right?” asked Renée.
“I think I will look alone,” Emmeline said. “This will save Elemix’s spells and he can prepare to aid should Lady Rivanon need it. He only needs to maintain concentration on the invisibility spell.
“I think this is the smart way to go about it since I’m more expendable to the barony right now than Elemix and especially Lady Rivanon.”
Elemix huffed. “Emmiline, please. No one here is expendable. Please stop talking like that. The world is a hard enough place without us making it harder on ourselves. I think the plan is a good one. Lets make it happen.”
The sound of construction was getting louder. Something was happening in the courtyard below.
Emmeline looked around at it, wondering if they’d begun work on the false gate or if it was something else.
Several of the men were moving stone and wood to create what looked like a corral on the courtyard inside the north gate.