Authors: Terry Mancour
Book Five Of The Spellmonger Series
By Terry Mancour
My eternal constant in this universe full of tangents,
I dedicate this book to
My beautiful wife,
This book would not be possible without the incredible assistance
of my editor, Emily Burch Harris, and my proofreader, Tim Faherty.
I’d also like to thank Lance Sawyers for inspiration and art supplies
and my wife for her patience and indulgence.
Table Of Contents
[MAP GOES HERE]
Gavard Crossing, Northern Gilmora
Year Of King Rard I’s Reign
The waters of the Poros River were swollen with the spring thaw as we gingerly walked over the long plank that was the last functional remnant of Gavard Bridge. The river was wide and deep, but with the weight of the melting snows from the far-away Minden Range, the Poros was surging just a few fee shy of the bank. The plank under my boots was a comfortable two feet wide, but the rush of the water below, the sound of it angrily splashing against the bridge’s footings, reminded me that one incautious step off of the plank and it would all be over. With as much armor as I was wearing, I don’t think even magic would have saved me from a watery doom. One misstep, and it was over. That summed up this whole situation.
I make a point of paying attention to when the gods send me these little metaphors.
The grand bridge itself wasn’t destroyed, it was just inoperable. The wide section that used to be raised and lowered to permit barge traffic through had been allowed to fall into the river below. That wouldn’t necessarily stop the massive column of goblins, trolls, siege worms, and assorted turncloak humans who had joined the Dead God’s armies. A hundred and fifty thousand of them, by Sir Festaran’s estimate. The column was packed with siege equipment, the goblins’ version of catapults, trebuchets, scorpions and the like. There was a lot of heavy equipment there. But goblins don’t like water. They had to take the bridge. And getting across one little bridge wouldn’t be that difficult, even for the goblins’ inept engineers.
Trying to do that while two thousand human and Alka Alon archers were pouring arrows down on you like a heavy rain might prove challenging, however. That was the plan. The banks and townlands on the south side of the river had been heavily fortified in the last two weeks. Hastily-constructed redoubts concealed vantage points that would allow hundreds of men to fire at the attackers from relative safety. Just behind them a dozen catapults and other artillery were ready to lob rocks and spears at the foe. And amongst them all were scattered nearly a hundred High Magi, who had built a formidable defensive spellwork that would confound any attempt to cross the bridge.
I was really hoping it would be enough. Goblins – gurvani, the short, nocturnal humanoids who had gathered an army and invaded human lands – were strangers to the littoral arts. Humans love boats, and the Riverlands allows relatively speedy travel and trade across three Duchies. But goblins saw rivers as a place to drink. They didn’t use boats, they didn’t swim, and so far in our battles they had rarely tried to cross a river they couldn’t wade comfortably. Goblins were land creatures exclusively.
That gave us an advantage. As the column that had burst forth from the Umbra a few weeks ago wound its way south, down the Timber Road until it became the Cotton Road, it had avoided any large rivers along the way. They acted as convenient walls for the advancing army, funneling them toward a small number of possible destinations. We’d used that information to craft our defense.
Gavard was strategically important – because of that bridge. We’d destroyed nearly every other bridge crossing the Poros, save three, to limit their options. The goblins had chosen Gavard to cross the Poros, so that’s where we set the thickest defense against them. And if our stout defenses at the bridge gave way, there were over ten thousand professional fighting men in the castle behind me, looming over us like a great circular wedding cake.
As dusk fell and the vanguard of the column approached the village on the other side of the river – unimaginably named Northbridge – a flag of truce and parley had been spotted by our scouts. After consideration I had the responding ensign flown. I didn’t know why Shereul’s minions wanted to talk, but I was willing to satisfy my curiosity.
I had chosen a special party to meet them, too. Rondal and Tyndal accompanied me as bodyguards, of course, their new mageblades and battle staves in hand and a dangerous look in their young eyes. Lorcus insisted on coming, and I wasn’t about to stop him. . The Remeran warmage had become a valuable lieutenant and troubleshooter for me in the last few months, and I appreciated his insight
Commander Terleman was with us too. My old army buddy from the Farisian campaign had matured perfectly into his role as commander of the Royal Magical Corps. He’d done a remarkable job getting things organized in advance of this battle, working with the Warlord, Count Salgo and the other mundane commanders.
Acting as Herald for our side was the indomitable Sire Cei, looking powerful in his new armor. Like mine, it had a breastplate made from the hide of the dragon he’d slain at Castle Cambrian. Unlike mine, the hide had been also been used to protect his arms, legs, and groin. As the hide was not just ridiculously tough but also fiendishly difficult to hook a spell into, it provided as much magical protection as mundane. In his hand he bore the Royal Standard. At his belt was the new warhammer I’d given him a few nights past, when Master Cormoran had finally delivered it to me.
That warhammer was special. Cormoran and I had discussed its design and construction for nearly a year. The head was made from meteoric iron and other alloys, and the handle was specially designed, fabricated and enchanted to be able to not just withstand the energy from Sire Cei’s magical talent, but channel and amplify it without destroying the weapon or knocking Sire Cei off his feet. He had tested it all day yesterday, pulverizing boulders with a flick of his wrist. He had dubbed the weapon Thunderhead. Cormoran had even crafted a dragon’s head on each side of the head. Sire Cei looked every inch the Dragonslayer.
Near the end of the makeshift bridge my foot slipped, ever-so-slightly. My warstaff automatically flew up to balance me. I was never in any real danger, but the jolt of adrenaline surged through me like a lightning bolt. The chaotic waters of the spring flood beckoned below. I took a deep breath, and made the last few steps without incident, finally standing on solid stone, not ephemeral wood.
Captain Arborn was there to greet me on the other side. The tall, serious-looking Kasari ranger had his bow out and strung, but no arrow nocked. The signature green mottled cloak of his people was thrown back over his shoulder, exposing his business-like longsword and the raptor embroidered on his breast. Hundreds of his rangers had scoured the country north of the river in the days leading up to this one. Now they had mostly pulled back to positions south, or had settled into blinds in Northbridge to await the arrival of the enemy.
“Our guests have arrived, Spellmonger,” he said in a low, husky voice. His eyes flashed left and right as he checked on hidden signals his men had put into place. “A party of twenty, on horse. And hound. Fell hound,” he added, a curl to his lip. The Kasari hated the giant mongrel dogs the Dead God’s priests had bred to his service as carnivorous cavalry. They had hunted the canine scouts relentlessly. The dogs were fearsome enemies, in addition to the damage their riders could do.
“How far back are their reinforcements?” I asked as the others crossed behind me.
“There is a unit of six hundred, a quarter mile back. A half mile up the road is another two thousand. Light cavalry and light infantry. The vanguard,” he explained. “There are still miles of goblins behind it.”
I nodded. I knew that. Better than he did. The column of angry gurvani and brutal trolls stretched out for twenty miles as it made its way south. On either side roving bands of light infantry scoured the countryside for forage, loot, and to spy any resistance to their approach. At its center was a huge line of siege beasts, massive six-legged creatures like giant armored worms with fifteen foot spikes protruding from their noses. The goblins were using them as portable redoubts and draft animals. I hadn’t seen them in battle yet, but they promised to be highly effective. Long trains of wagons and carts were towed behind each one.
And they were all headed for this very spot.
“And the flag of truce is still being displayed?” I asked.
“Aye, Spellmonger,” the ranger captain agreed. “I have thirty men with arrows nocked, ready to draw and loose at the first sign of trouble. A hundred more can be summoned with a horn call.”
“The gurvani are not in the habit of breaking truces,” I pointed out. “At least thus far. I hope they will not be needed. Yet.” Arborn grinned and stepped in place behind me as we walked across the rest of the bridge toward our parley in Northbridge. The goblins native notions of warfare were fairly primitive, before the Dead God united their tribes in the purpose of slaying every human being on Callidore. But as they had fought against us, they had begun fighting more like us. Part of that was the influence of their human confederates, voluntary and not. Part of it was the gurvani genius for adaptation.
Their party waiting for us in what had once been Northbridge’s market square. It was smaller than the one we had passed through in Southbridge, more of a farmer’s market for local produce than a full-fledged town market. It had once been prosperous. Now the hard-beaten dirt hosted a small pack of very large, bloodthirsty hounds.
It was the first time I had seen the animals my apprentices had dubbed Fell Hounds, but I found their description apt. They were thrice the size of ordinary dogs, as large as a donkey or pony. But these beasts had a far wider stance than graceful equines. Their paws were as big as pie plates, with blackened claws stained with the dust of the countryside and . . . other things. Their fur ranged from brown to gray to inky black, and their lolling tongues and wild eyes seemed to reach everywhere in their vicinity.
Upon their backs clung riders, mostly smaller gurvani scouts bearing javelins, short bows, bucklers and long curved swords. They rode those beasts masterfully, if entirely unlike how a man would ride a horse. There seemed to be genuine affection for the goblins by the dogs, affection shared with a marked belligerence toward us humans.