By Brian Flood
Chapter 13 - Orc Raid
The Sword Coast Backlands
Early Morning, 10th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
A little more than four days after they arrived, the small band of travelers is ready to depart Drawn Swords. After four days of rest, all of the adventurers except Rashid are fully recovered from their wounds. For his part, the Bedine warrior still has some minor pains but is otherwise fit for travel and battle.
After settling their bill with the inn, the adventurers prepare their mounts for the final leg of their journey. Bags and packs are secured, weapons are slung over saddle pommels, and finally the travelers themselves pull themselves up onto their animals and head down the slope, leaving the hilltop settlement – and its enchanted portal – behind them.
* * * * *
Twelve Leagues South of Drawn Swords
The Sword Coast Backlands
Early Morning, 11th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The first day of travel and most of the second have passed with little incident. Then, as the sun rises on the second day of travel and the small band prepares to break camp and continue their travels, the faint sounds of clashing steel are heard. The travelers judge the noises to be between one quarter and one half of a mile to the south. A slight rise in the road blocks any view of the source of the noises.
Rashid throws the rest of his things into his saddlebags and quickly attaches this to his camel. “I will go ahead to see what is going on,” he tells the others as his camel rises from its seated position and begins to ride up the road. “Follow as quickly as you can.”
The elven siblings briefly shout concurrence as Yassir grabs the reigns of Rashid’s pack camel. Without further ado, the Bedine warrior rides off toward the crest of the rise that blocks his view.
Stopping just short of the crest, Rashid dismounts and creeps slowly forward on his hands and knees. What he sees is astonishing.
A wild melee is ensuing on the open plain in front of him. It would seem that a raiding band of fifty or so orcs is meeting with stiff resistance from about two score of hearty caravan guards. Orcish scimitars clash against the steel shields of the obviously professional mercenaries that form a protective ring around a half-dozen merchant wagons and carts.
Riddled with short crossbow quarrels, a line of orcish bodies marks the axis of attack that the tusked raiders took to the caravan. As well, black arrow shafts protrude from motionless, mail-clad men that lie at the feet of the defending mercenaries.
Rashid carefully assesses the situation unfolding below him. He estimates that the nearest orcs are about two hundred yards away – a long shot for Aranor’s bow and out of range for the Bedine’s own weapon. He further discerns some more burly types in the back ranks of the orcs, pushing the troops forward. He can detect no visible spellcasters in the group.
Determining the two sides to be evenly matched, the Bedine warrior heads back to his camel quickly, mounting and preparing his bow and a quiver of arrows. Whilst waiting for his companions to join him, he moves forward so that he can just see over the brow of the hill on the camel, and then checks his aziir.
A few soft footfalls and a muted thump announce the arrival of the elven siblings to Rashid’s side. From the defilade position that the trio occupies, Aranor cranes his neck to see down into the field below.
“Loka,” the elven warrior hisses. His knuckles go white as he tightens his grip on his longbow.
Not looking at his companions, Rashid points at the rear of the orc lines. “There seem to be the leaders of the tusked ones. Adding so few to the defending forces will, I think, make less of a difference than cutting off the head of the beast. What do you feel?”
Aranor nods grimly. “Yes, taking their leaders would hurt them. But what of those archers?”
The elf directs Rashid’s attention to a ten-squad of orcs that stands some distance behind the hand to hand melee. This small group sends volley after volley of black shafted arrows into the mass of men and orcs. While some of the archers’ arrows strike their fellows, many more are finding their mark among the human infantry and the merchants. Surely only the orcs’ desire for plunder is preventing them from using flaming missiles against the wagons.
“That is a problem,” the Bedine warrior replies. “They are well placed, and will be difficult to get to. They are also probably a better target than the leaders, as we will be unable to get to the leaders without coming under heavy fire from the archers. However, if we approach from here, they will have considerable time to target us before we reach them. We also risk being intercepted by some of the other orcs crowding in the second rank.”
Rashid quickly gives the matter some thought, surveying the terrain. “I think that our best line of attack would probably be to move back down the hill a short way, heading out to the right and approaching quickly from their rear flank. If we are lucky, we may close the distance almost entirely before they can reform to face us. That will also put us as far from the other orcs as possible.”
Turning to his companions, he asks, “What do you think? If we do nothing, the caravan is certain to be overwhelmed.”
Again, Aranor nods at the Bedine’s words. “I agree, the safest way to aid the caravan would be to attack the archers.” He glances out to the west at the expanse of rolling meadows. “Once we break over this rise, we will be exposed, as you said. Should we attack on horseback? It will limit my ability to use my bow, but once we get close in, we will have the height advantage on the archers.”
“I think that we will be better mounted so as to close the distance more quickly,” Rashid replies. “And as you say, it will give us the advantage once we have closed with them.” Looking once more over the field of conflict, he adds, “Thou I can use my bow whilst riding, I think that a charge into their midst would be the most effective under the circumstances.” Looking to his companions, he asks, “Are you ready to go?”
Aranor grunts an affirmative reply. Aris, however, objects. “Unlike the two of you,” she points out, “I am not equipped – in arms, armor, or skills – to charge directly into the fray. If Yassir is better at this sort of thing, I will volunteer to stay here and watch your pack camel.” The elven minstrel nods toward the rear of the watching trio, where Yassir waits rather impatiently while holding the reigns of three camels and two horses.
Moving back to their mounts, Rashid replies, “My apologies, Aris. I had not taken that into account. Yassir, did you hear what has been proposed?”
The D’tarig shakes his head, indicating he did not.
Whilst mounting his camel, ensuring he is hidden behind the rise, Rashid quickly summarizes the position to his friend. “There is a caravan with a fairly sizeable force of guards over the rise, being attacked by a slightly larger group of orcs. There is a group of about ten archers about 200 yards over there,” he says, indicating the approximate location of the group.
“They are behind their main force, and are taking their toll on the guards. We are going to attack them from the rear flank, and with luck we should be able to close most of that distance before they see us. Aris is not armed or armored for such an attack, and has suggested that we three ride whilst she stays with the extra mount. What do you think?”
“If you think this course will profit us, I will follow you,” Yassir replies. The rather mercenary rogue climbs up into his saddle. He pats his clothing in several places, confirming the placement of some of his poisoned weapons. “The orcs will not agree with my gift to them,” the D’tarig grunts.
Beside the two desert warriors, Aranor unstrings his bow and drops it into a leather sheath on his saddle. He mounts his own warhorse and loosens his longsword in its scabbard. He wordlessly nods his readiness to Rashid.
Without further ado, Rashid moves his camel westwards, remaining below the brow of the hill.
The trio of riders gallops for almost a quarter mile before turning southward. They crest the hill and find themselves to the rear-left flank of their target – the orc archers. Urging their mounts to go even faster, they charge the formation of bowmen. Glancing eastward, Rashid sees that the infantry forces – both orc and mercenary – have taken more losses. As a result, the humans have pulled in their flankers to reinforce their line and the orcish commanders have committed their reserve squad to reinforce their own line.
Luck is on the riders’ side. The smash into the unsuspecting orc archers just as the squad is stringing arrows to set for another volley. Orcish squeals rent the air as horse, camel, and steel strike.
Rashid’s enchanted scimitar twinkles in the morning sunlight as he brings it down on an orc. By a quirk of fate, the blade misses the archer and instead imbeds itself in the orc’s bow. The orc spins around in terror, yanking Rashid’s arm. The Bedine, in danger of being dismounted by this frantic act, has no choice but to let go of his scimitar. A curse escapes Rashid’s lips as he watches his valuable weapon hit the ground as the orc drops the bow.
To Rashid’s right, Aranor strikes with his longsword. A grim smile of satisfaction creases the elven warrior’s face as his blade slices open the back of an orcish archer’s throat. The tusked soldier drops to the earth as blood fountains from the horrific wound.
Yassir, riding to Rashid’s left, also slays an orc. The D’tarig rogue spins his camel in a small circle, snapping his wrist as he hurls poisoned blades into the archer squad. One of the venomous weapons finds its mark in an orc’s arm. Squealing from pain, the archer goes down in convulsions, the skin around the wound already swelling and turning black.
The archers shout out to their leaders as they drop their bows and draw hand-axes to defend themselves. Taking advantage of his opponents’ predicament, Rashid takes the opportunity to draw his second scimitar from its scabbard. Steel rings against steel as his target raises his axe just in time to deflect the Bedine’s blow.
Aranor continues to find success, however. The elven warrior grunts as his blade strikes the upraised handle of an orcish hand-axe. Quickly recovering from the parry, the elf brings his sword in a full circle and splits the skull of the archer before it can react. Yanking his gore-smeared weapon free, the elf deflects blows from orcish axes as the archers counter attack.
To Rashid’s left, Yassir manages to once again bring down an archer with one of his poisoned blades. But as the orc drops to the ground, frothing from the mouth, the D’tarig’s luck runs out.
Taking a cue from Yassir’s own methods, an archer hurls a hand-axe at the D’tarig. The weapon strikes Yassir in the chest with a meaty thunk. The D’tarig’s eyes roll back in his head as he falls from his camel into the orcish ranks.
To the east, the infantry battle rages on. Human screams and orcish squeals punctuate the fight as the mercenaries strive desperately to protect their caravan in the face of mounting losses.
Keeping an eye on the infantry forces, Rashid continues to attack the archers. He tries to move his camel to guard Yassir’s prone form.
He does not move quick enough, however. Two of the archers chop down viciously at the defenseless D’tarig. Rashid’s frustrated scream distracts one of them enough for him to miss the easy mark. The other’s axe bites into the prone Yassir. The leather armor worn by the D’tarig stops some of the force of the blow, but a thin line of blood begins to well up from the new gash in the rogue’s aba.
Rashid is also directly attacked. The Bedine manages to block one of the incoming attacks with his scimitar. Even as the ring of steel on steel denotes the successful parry, another hand axe comes in from Rashid’s other side. The Bedine grunts in pain as he feels the dirty head of the axe strike a glancing blow across his abdomen. Immediately thereafter, a red stain begins to spread on his own aba.
Aranor manages to successfully dodge or block his opponents’ weapons and then prepares an attack of his own. He feints an overhead attack with his longsword, causing his foe to throw his axe over his head to block the blow. Too late, the orc realizes his mistake. Aranor’s longsword thrusts straight out, impaling the orc in the soft of his throat. A gurgled squeal erupts from the archer’s blood filled mouth as the elven warrior withdraws the blade and watches his mortally wounded foe fall to the blood-and-gore-stained earth.
A few horse lengths away, Rashid exacts revenge for his own wounds. With a meaty thunk, his scimitar severs the head of an orc archer, sending the grisly object spinning through the air over the other archer’s heads.
The Bedine then spins his camel and urges the mount into the fray. The beast heehaws with anger, his aggression fueled by the smell of freshly spilled blood. His teeth clack together as his head lunges forward in a missed attempt to bite an archer.
The archer dodges the camel’s mount only to find Rashid’s blood-smeared scimitar arching in. An instant later, in drops to its knees, its hand-axe falling to the earth as it uses both hands in a futile attempt to stop the flow of blood from the newly severed arteries in its throat.
The three surviving orcs quickly decide that they want nothing more to do with these new, deadly arrivals and their mounts. Turning to the south, they begin a panicked rout.
The one nearest to Aranor has taken no more than a few frightened steps when hit plunges face first to the churned earth, its spine severed cleanly by the elven warrior’s vengeful and remorseless blade. Rashid lets the two nearest to him escape as he instead dismounts his camel and goes to Yassir’s side.
As the two surviving archers flee southward in terror, Aranor returns to stand guard over Rashid as the Bedine checks on his fallen friend. Yassir grimaces and grits his teeth in pain. “I will live,” the D’tarig gasps between coughing spasms.
Sounds of human cheers interrupt anything the Rashid planned to say in response. Looking behind them, the three warriors see the orc infantry is now in full retreat as well, headed to the south. The orcs’ leaders are well out in front of their routing troops, leading the retreat.
Slightly more than a dozen human mercenaries form a ragged battle line in front of the wagons, still standing sentinel over the merchants. As Rashid and his two companions watch, a few of the chainmail-clad warriors pick up crossbows and aim them at the three adventures who still stand amongst the shattered remains of the orcish archer unit.
Glancing at the caravan, the Bedine warrior shouts, “Tend to your wounded! Do you not recognize allies when you see them?”
Taking no further notice of the mercenaries, Rashid reaches to his camel to pull out a waterskin and a wineskin. Seeing that Aranor appears uninjured, he then kneels next to Yassir, handing him the wineskin. “Here, drink this. It will help speed your recovery.” He then reaches to clean his friend’s wounds with the water.
Most of the mercenaries tend do indeed begin to see to their fallen comrades, as Rashid suggested. Three of them, however, slowly approach the Bedine as he works on Yassir’s injuries. Two of the soldiers stand back a few steps, and to either side of, the third soldier. All have their hands resting loosely on their scabbarded broad swords.
“I am Sergeant Mathius of the Silver Goblet Company. Identify yourself!” the foremost of the mercenaries demands.
Glancing up at the mercenary, the Bedine replies, “My name is Rashid, and these are my companions Yassir and Aranor.”
Having washed Yassir’s wounds, Rashid then turns to his own “That was quite a little war that you had there, Sergeant!” he tells the mercenary leader.
“Indeed,” Mathius replies. “Our captain lies among the fallen. From where do you hail, Rashid? I do not recognize this style of clothing,” he says, indicating the Bedine’s robes.
“I come from the desert sands of Anauroch,” replies the Bedine, standing up and moving to retrieve his enchanted scimitar where it fell during the combat. He cleans the blade on some cloth from one of the orc bodies, resheaths the shining blade and turns back to the mercenary.
“From where do you travel, and what is your destination?” Rashid asks.
“We are coming from Hill’s Edge and bound for places north,” Mathius answers. Then the mercenary adds, “You may take what you will from the bodies of these archers – they died by your blades and thus their possessions are yours. My men and I lay claim to the others, however. If these tuskers carried coinage, we will need it to replenish our ranks before the next campaign season. When you are done, you may go. May Tempus guide your swordhand.”
“And may N’asr’s children not seek you for many years,” replies the Bedine.
As the mercenary moves away, Rashid inspects the orc bodies for weapons and any valuables that they may have. In doing so, he discovers a total of 23 gold coins.
Turning to Yassir and Aranor, the Bedine warrior grins. “Well, not much for our trouble, but here are twenty three gold pieces. That should keep us in food and accommodation for a little while. I am glad that they broke when they did. If any from the main group had come over to assist the archers, we may have had more trouble.”
Looking to Yassir, Rashid continues, “How are you my friend? I trust not too badly injured.”
The D’tarig winces. “I will live,” he says through gritted teeth. “First the snake, then the goblins, and now this. I hope this secret summoning to this outlander city has a truly great reward in store for us!” he exclaims.
Beside the two desert nomads, Aranor sheaths his sword with a grunt. “We are finished here. Shall we return to Aris?” the elven warrior inquires.
Scanning the area for anything further that may warrant investigation, Rashid moves to remount his camel. “Yes, I think that we should push on. We will need to be careful, as many of the orcs fled and may consider a smaller group as a useful target on which to seek revenge.”
The small group proceeds to follow the Bedine’s instructions. They find Aris where they left her. The minstrel is visibly relieved to see that all three of the men have returned safely. After relating the details of the fight, the group remounts their horses or camels and continues on southward toward Hill’s Edge and the mysterious summoning that has brought Rashid to this outlander region.
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