The Chronicles of Stilicho – Commencement
Honor and Truth
My father taught me many things before he perished. One of those things was the importance of truth, and that story of men’s lives must be told, accurately, so that future generations can learn from those stories. The truth is of absolute importance, because the propagation of lies and misinformation breeds more lies, injustice and evil. The Therans know all about this. They hire storytellers and bards to tell great lies all across Barsaive, designed to cover-up their misdeeds, and in the minds of the ignorant, make Thera into something that it is not. In order to combat the lies that have already been told about my line, and those that may someday be told about my life… I present to you the tale of Stilicho Alaricson, Lord of Konigsberg.
I shall now share with you a little bit about my family. My father Alaric was an Ealdorman (or Thane in the Throalic tongue) to the Kingdom of Throal. He was a grim man, without much humor. Like me, he was a warrior by trade, tall, with a short beard and long hair. He had two wives, my mother Rochelle, was the first. She was said to be tall and beautiful, but I did not know her well, for she died giving birth to my younger brother Whitrick, when I was very young. His second wife, Eudoxia, was a thane’s daughter from Trosk. She never seemed to like any of us boys that much, but the feeling was mutual. She was a pretty woman, but young and arrogant, and she liked things far too neat, tidy and organized for us boys. I often wonder why my father married her, as it did not seem like they liked each other all that much. I also had two brothers, my older brother’s name was Sarus and my younger brother was Whitrick. Sarus was also tall and broad like me, and trained as a warrior. But Whitrick was more like our mother, thinner than Sarus and I, but he possessed a wit that was second to none, and we loved him just the same. We also had a sister named Jenelle. Jenelle was a year younger than Sarus, and a year older than I.
My father had a younger half-brother, Elfric, my uncle, and an older sister named Rochelle, my aunt. Rochelle was married to a wealthy thane in Kratas, and although she was a kind woman who seemed fond of us children, we did not see her often for we rarely travelled to Kratas, as one had to be careful there, and she only came back to Konigsberg a few times. Lastly, I must mention my treacherous uncle, the oath breaker Elfric. Elfric is a pig-nosed, slender bastard, with a sly looking face and a long flowing mustache. He was not a smart man, he would follow my father around like a puppy and could never keep up with my father’s wits. He may have been stupid about the ways of the world, but he was also treacherous and clever. After Sarus died, my uncle swore an oath to my father that he would support me as Thane of Konigsberg. Instead, after my father, Alaric, was slain, he sent assassins to kill me… obviously, they failed. Later I was to learn that it was Elfric who engineered the ambush where my father died. I will get more into that later.
My forefathers deserve mention… but there are so many names in the histories, I will be brief here, for this is my tale. They too were lords of Konigsberg, even long before the Scourge. When they went into their Kaer just before the full onset of the scourge, they took with them and created many things to give to the next generations. Among them was a detailed map of their birthright, Konigsberg, and the surrounding area. Generations later, our ancestors were finally notified by Throalic scouting parties that the Scourge was at an end, and they immediately set out to reclaim and rebuild that which their ancestors once ruled. The map they were left showed the existence of a large marble keep, a city, and several stone brick roads, leading to and from it. The roads led to nearby towns, mills, a quarry, and a mine. There was a small river passing near the town, which fed the great Tylon River. The map also showed the location of the Kaer… not far from the city and keep.
The first order of business was to set out finding the town and the keep. A scouting party was sent to investigate. They were attacked by horrors, and many were lost. Those that returned however, told us that the city was little more than a burnt ruin, but that there were still many stone buildings with intact walls. They also saw that the keep was made of marble, and although in a terrible state of disrepair, it still stood tall and mostly intact. It was in the keep that they were attacked by multiple dark creatures, horrible things created by a horror which dwelled there. At that point, all of the people, under the leadership of my grandfather’s grandfather, the noble Althaulf, set forth with a large force to clear out the old keep from the dark creatures. Many soldiers and several sorcerers were killed, but in the end, the battle was won, the horror squealed like a pig as died on the blade of Althauf, and my ancestral home was reclaimed.
Once the battle was over, the time came to recover the site, repair the buildings and restore the keep. Our people uncovered and repaired the ancient roads, which the centuries had covered with earth and foliage. They rebuilt the interior of the great keep and repaired that damage done to the beautiful marble surfaces. They uncovered the oft collapsed tunnels of the mine, which contained abundant amounts of iron, copper and tin ore, all invaluable metals for any forge. Within the city, there were remains of several forges, which were put to good use by the smiths. They also uncovered the old marble quarry, which provided desperately needed marble for repairs to the magnificent keep. The lands surrounding the city were fertile, and good for growing crops. The nearby forests were plentiful with good trees for wood, fruits, and plentiful game to hunt. For a time, life was better than any of them had imagined it could be. They were out under the sun again, away from the dark confines of the kaer. Times were good, at least they were until the first Crystal Raiders showed up and did what Crystal Raiders do best.
The Crystal Raiders
To the south are the Twilight Peaks, great mountains that reach high into the heavens. There, live a number of huge troll moots, each made up of several clans that live off of the meager land and supplement what the land cannot provide with whatever their raiding and foraging can produce. My father once told me, that the trolls raid not out of need, but out of love of battle. I believed that then, but now that I’ve had intimate experiences with the great race that are the trolls, I know that statement, while sometimes is true, is not always true. Yes, many trolls love the thrill of the fight, but just as many would rather live their lives in peace and love life if they could… but sadly, few of them can in this world. Over the years, our people grew accustom to the presence of the trolls. The roads and rivers mostly wove their way through the forests, the canopy giving good cover against possible raider ships from overhead. The keep itself was well designed to defend against an aerial attack. It was built with great spires of tall, tapered rooftops that would be impossible to land on from above.
In order to prevent successful raids against ore or marble shipments, our miners and stone workers would only transport their bounty back to town at night, and were under heavy guard while working and transporting goods. Still, these precautions were not enough, and at some point my ancestors made mutually beneficial arrangements with the nearby Swiftwind and Stoneclaw moots, where we would trade fine steel goods, grain, and marble crafts to them for goods they could produce only the mountains. It was a mere pittance compared to what we were providing them, but with these arrangements, eventually the raids from those moots stopped entirely. Within just a couple of generations, we even became somewhat friendly with them. Their ships would often dock on the great spire in town, and trolls would often stay at the Quicksilver Inn. Some of the less civilized moots still raided our territories on rare occasions, but we were usually prepared and our people are mostly of a fighter’s cast, so although those raids cost us many good men, we usually gave as good as we ever got. This made any raids of the lands of Konigsberg by the great crystal raiders costly for them, and they eventually learned that there were far easier pickings elsewhere. This is how Konigsberg managed to thrive for so many generations in such close proximity to what many travelers consider to be dangerous territory.
I remember many things from my childhood. My father, Alaric, had Sarus and I training on the warrior path at a very young age. He would have us spar with small wooden swords while his household troops were in training, which happened 6 days per week and always for at least a couple of hours starting at dawn. The captain of the guard, a tall, balding man named Aldhelm, was kind to us, and both of us liked him very much. We were mostly playing, but at the end Alaric (who would usually watch) would take a few minutes when the drills were over to help us learn what we were doing wrong during our sparring. Eventually we got very good at it, although I was always at a disadvantage because Sarus was always bigger than me. I often wonder how much that sparring against a larger opponent helped me later in life.
Whitrick on the other hand, was sickly and much thinner than Sarus and I. My father, seeing that Whitrick would not make a good warrior, sent him away to Travar to learn as an apprentice from a sorcerer that my father knew from his youth. When Whitrick returned after a couple of years, he was able to perform some basic magic, and was learning with one of the household sorcerers. Sarus and I were both proud for him, but we had no time for such things.
During the day, he made sure Sarus and I were busy. We were made to work with Eldwulf, the Dwarf smith who made at least half of the weapons and armor for our household troops. He was not tall, but he was built like an anvil, stocky like a square block with a beard halfway to his knees. We would spend our days helping him at the forge and tending to the charcoal pits. These things put muscle on us and taught us valuable life skills, like how to repair, care for, and forge weapons and armor. How the best charcoal is made, and how metals are blended. It was hard work, but Eldwulf was a cheerful chap. He would always tell us stories about the adventures of our father and his ancestors, which helped pass the time quickly.
In the evening, before supper, we would spend time with my father’s historian, to learn to read and write the Throalic language. It was basic stuff really, but we learned many things at a young age. Our father also educated all of us on the politics of being a Thane. Often times, he would have to explain things that we did not understand, and sometimes we still didn’t comprehend the reasons. Although, I must say that now days I understand those decisions to a much greater extent.
Regardless, upon reaching the age of 14 we were allowed to join the guard and serve under Aldhelm. Being two years older than I, Sarus was allowed to join first, and as an energetic boy of 12, I must admit to being incredibly jealous. Aldhelm treated us just as harshly as he would any other new trainee, but we were different for two reasons. The first being that we had trained alongside the guard at a very early age. So when most boys our age were breaking their fingers and noses while sparring for individual combat, or training on how to hold a shield wall, we knew the basics already and were spared some of the worst pains. Also, we were both tall and strong for our age, which brings its own advantages in battle. The second reason was the fact that we were the Thane’s sons, which also has its advantages. So while most new members of the guard were wearing only leather armor, we were given decent chainmail suits and well made helms. These were cherished prizes that only guard veterans would normally have. I remember vividly the day that Sarus first put his on, he could not have looked prouder. He really looked the part of a warrior, and our father smiled broadly when he first saw Saurs wearing his guard gear. My turn would come soon enough, and it wasn’t long before we were allowed to go out on patrols.
Our sister Jenelle was married at the age of fifteen, just about a year before I was first inducted into the Konigsberg Guard. A lord from Kratas came to our keep with a huge entourage, his name was Harold Hausfeld. My father wanted Jenelle to be married to his son Rollo as a way to further tie Kratas to Konigsberg. Harold and his son Rollo both had good reputations, and I can only assume that such a marriage would further tie powerful men of Kratas, which would help keep the banditry on our trade routes to a minimum. Regardless, I met Rollo and he seemed like a very decent man. He was the same age as Sarus, only a bit shorter and thinner with long blonde hair and a groomed beard. I believe he was 17 at the time. Sarus and him hit it off right away, and it wasn’t long before the three of us were joking around like brothers. I remember that all of the men went on a big hunting trip the day before the wedding and Sarus felled a massive stag. The next day, our sister Janelle was married, and she went to Kratas with her new husband. Sarus and I were glad that he was a man that we liked… for Kratas isn’t known for savory characters.
I will now tell you a little bit about the city of Kratas. It is a huge city to the North of Konigsberg. There, you can buy anything, you just have to keep your wits about while doing so. It is known as the city of thieves, and Kratas does deserve that name, as gangs of thieves are all over the city, each with their own districts that they ‘control’. It is worse than any other city I have been to. However, having been there several times, it is not as bad as you might be lead to believe by bards trying to tell a good story. Yes, gangs of thieves roam the city and bandits and raiders prowl the countryside… but just like any city, most of this is orchestrated by men with power, money and influence. The powerful in the city fund the leaders of the gangs, and use them to further their own ends and disrupt their rivals. Still, not all of the bandits and thieves play by the rules, or have leaders that are properly managed. Those are really the only ones that a man with normal business in Kratas has to worry about, and even then, some common sense and street smarts goes a long way.
Konigsberg is proof that the grand tales of chaos and anarchy in Kratas are untrue. Yes, corruption of the leaders in Kratas is common, but Konigsberg has been trading with Kratas for centuries without major problems. We are their primary supplier for weapons, armor, bronze goods and marble to the city. We are also one of their major suppliers of grain. There are other suppliers of all of these things of course, but none in such close proximity. Granted that caravans from Konigsberg are under heavy guard, but merchants travelling the road between Konigsberg and Kratas are far less likely to be molested by raiders and bandits than on any other trade route. Some would say that our constant patrols and heavy-handed tactics are the cause for that, but this also is not true. It is the influence of the powerful in Kratas who need our marble for their great houses, and who need our weapons, bronze and grain, which keeps the household gangs at bay. The rest of the bandits, raiders and thieves are easily cowed by a decent show of force.
My Time In The Guard
About a week after my 14th birthday, I participated in the annual induction contest for the Konigsberg guard known as the Thoralla. This event was a big deal, which took place during our annual winter festival. Young men and boys from all around the Konigsberg area would come and participate. Being part of the Konigsberg guard, or even better, part of our household troops, was lucrative. My father was a generous gold-giver to those who were loyal to him, and the pay and prestige was more than enough of an incentive to ensure that we never had a shortage of participants.
By this time, my brother Sarus had already proven himself within the guard and had made the rank of sergeant. In just a year and a half, he had already participated in a couple of different actions, including a skirmish with bandits on the road to Kratas, as well as a hard fight against a group of ork raiders that were stealing cattle. That battle is worth mentioning because our forces were outnumbered, but Sarus had surprised the orks and caught them with their forces split. Our troops wiped out half of their group, who were dismounted, before the other half could close with our men. Once they did, they crashed their mounts into our line, with the hopes of breaking our shield wall. They killed and wounded a handful of our men. But our troops were not farmers conscripted into service. They were not half-assed bandits and thieves. These men were all well trained, many of them veterans, and battle was their profession. Our wall held, and their raiders died under the blades of our people. A few managed to stay mounted and escape, but that was the last we saw of those orkish raiders.
Anyway, Sarus was assisting Aldhelm and the rest of the officers in putting on the contests, which involved a number of physical and mental trials, pitting those who volunteered against each other in a number of inventive ways. After the event, there was a big feast with all of the participants invited to sit around the fire in the great hall. That evening, my father, Aldhelm, and the senior officers of our household troops, and the Konigsberg guard, would get together and hand pick who they thought would be the best fit. I was one of the dozen or so men and boys selected, which wasn’t a surprise since I was one of the biggest and fastest, plus I was far and away the best trained of them all. One of my friends, Hothos was also inducted, although he was a bit shorter and less stocky than I, he made up for it in quickness and wit. I was glad to have a friend there… although it was not long, before I considered every man in the guard, and in my father’s household troops, as my brother. We would kill, and be killed if necessary, for one another. Disloyalty was not an option.
The day after the feast, those of us who were chosen were put through brutal training for a few weeks. Aldhelm, Sarus and the other officers of the guard showed no mercy. Many of us new recruits suffered cuts, bruises and in rare cases, more serious injuries. My friend Hothos, for example, suffered a broken nose when he let his head rise too far above his shield while we were practicing our shield wall techniques. Aldhelm was part of the attackers trying to break our wall, and as soon as Hothos stuck his head up, Aldhelm struck him hard with a wooden training blade. When Hothos collapsed, blood spurting from his nose, Alhelm quickly broke through our shield wall. All of us, including myself, were battered and bruised after that encounter, but it was a good lesson. In a shield wall, , you have to rely on the man next to you to do things right, otherwise disaster will strike… and one must always keep their head low when fighting in a shield wall, or lose it.
Once our initial training was over, we were all required to work for the rest of the troops, cleaning their weapons and armor, tending to the horses and beasts, and generally doing the many mundane tasks that is the lot of a soldier to do. After about a month of that, we were all assembled one morning and Aldhelm told us in a commanding voice that us worthless bags of Thundra dung would probably piss ourselves and run away at the first sign of battle, but we were now soldiers of Konigsberg. We were all grinning, and immensely proud. That day, we were divided up and assigned to our squads.
I spent two years serving in the guard under Aldhelm. During that time, I had seen action only a couple of times. The biggest one was only a small fight with some bandits that had us outnumbered, but they were not well trained. We slew them easily enough, with only one man wounded. Another time, I slew a thief in town. He was caught by a shop keeper stealing coins from a shopper in the market. I happened to be patrolling the city that day, and heard the shopkeeper cry out. The thief ran, and tried to hide, but we caught him. Thievery is not tolerated in Konigsberg, it is punishable by death. So although he begged for his life, I killed him. I took no pleasure in it, and I made sure he died swiftly. I have taken far more valuable things than the coins he took that day, but the things I have taken were won in battle, not stolen from some unsuspecting old man, or lifted from someone’s house in the dark of night. There is a big difference, and to be honest, in Konigsberg we had far more respect for the bandits in the countryside and raiders in the forests, than we did of thieves. Most of the bandits and raiders we captured were not put to death, but were allowed to live after losing a sword hand, or some other severe punishment. In a few cases, when one of them would fight bravely enough… they were allowed to join us.
One day, not long after my encounter with the thief, my father had me replace a man who retired from his household troops. He initially offered the job to Sarus, but Sarus asked to stay with the guard. He loved riding horses, and the long rides with the patrols, he was also quite attached to the men under his command. The household troops, of course, were less exciting. They trained twice as much as the guard did, wore fancier armor, and spent most of their time protecting the inner keep. Occasionally we’d mount up and follow my father off on some adventure or errand, but that was the exception, not the rule. I joined the household troops the next day, which ended my experience with the Konigsberg guard. This was both good and bad. The position was extremely prestigious, it paid very well, and all of us looked like lords of war in our shiny armor with the blue tabard adorned with the silver wolf, which was our coat of arms. I could hardly walk into a tavern without the girls locking eyes with me… and I certainly took advantage of that. I also got to spend a lot time with my father, which taught me a lot about dealing with nobility and politics. Still, I envied Sarus for he was out seeing the world (at least our little part of it) and adventuring while I was hanging around town… and none of the education, or women could replace that void in my 16 year old heart. The women certainly helped though.
The Death of Sarus
I was 16 years old when my brother Sarus died. He was then 18 and set to be married just a few months later. It happened when he was out on a patrol and his patrol stumbled upon a merchant who had been robbed by bandits. They had ambushed the caravan, killed most of the merchant’s guards, and chased off the rest. The merchant’s son was killed and they had taken both of his daughters, ages 15 and 13. Sarus was leading the patrol, and he had his scouts track them back to a camp deep in the woods. He then mounted a two pronged attack. The bandits were taken by surprise. The girls were rescued, and all of the bandits were slain, that is, with the exception of a pair of stragglers that managed to elude our scouts and escape into the deepest part of the forest. Those two had been hidden on the outskirts of the camp, and one of them had hit Sarus with a fatal arrow to the throat. We later determined that the hit itself was not fatal, but that the arrow was poisoned. Most everyone at Konigsberg wept for him… especially my father and I. I had always looked up to Sarus, so his death was especially hard for me. Sarus’s funeral was the only time I ever saw either Eldwulf, Alaric or Aldhelm weep. And they all wept, openly. It is noteworthy that my brother died well, having slain two of the bandits single-handedly before the arrow took him. I will see him again someday in the halls of Thystonius.
Several months after Sarus died, it was a cloudy fall morning when there was a messenger that arrived at the gates just before dawn. He came galloping down the street from the direction of the mine. I had rutted a bar maid the night before at the Quicksilver Inn, and I was still in a room upstairs with her as I heard him go rushing by. I could tell by the sound of his armor that he was one of ours. Looking out the window, I saw that he rode right up to the gate of the keep, and by his demeanor, I knew something was going on. So I threw on my armor and gear, kissed the lovely girl goodbye, and rode to my father’s hall.
As I arrived, the messenger was leaving. My father looked at me. “Good, you’re here. Go to the barracks and assemble all who are there. We will be leaving for the mines shortly.” I knew better than to ask, so I turned on my heel and left. As I was leaving, I heard my father say to my uncle. “Nobody can know about this outside of this room. Understand?” I did not hear my uncle’s reply.
Later that morning, we rode out toward the mine with about 50 men, all from my father’s household guard. On the way there, he explained what we were doing. Apparently, the miners had uncovered a tomb of some kind. Our kaer was not far from the mine, but in the other direction, so whatever they had uncovered, was not part of the kaer. Apparently the miners were working to start a new tunnel entrance, and they started digging in at that spot when they came across a wall of masonry. They then excavated around it and found a door. We always had members of the Konigsberg guard protecting the miners as they worked, and one of them was always a sorcerer. They did not realize it was a tomb at the time, so the sorcerer used his magic to break some kind of magical barrier shielding the door. The guard members opened it, and discovered an ancient troll tomb. Inside, they found a number of troll artifacts including ornate armor suits, crystal weapons, a pair of chests, and 4 giant stone sarcophagi. We were riding there to investigate… I do not think my father was sure what he would do once we got there.
The mine itself is on a steep hillside. It is a massive hill, some call it “Ore Mountain” because not only is it huge hill, it is full of various ores that we mine, including iron, tin and copper. The hill is covered with thick large trees, which provide a canopy that protects the site from view from above and provides shade. Our ancestors had mined this hill long before us, although their mining tunnels had mostly long since collapsed. The iron ore in the hill is excellent for steel, and can be combined in layers with tin to make a lighter, more viable steel weapon. The tin can also be blended with the copper to make bronze, which is an extremely valuable metal, almost as pricey as steel.
Once we arrived, we could see that the tomb was just below the surface of a side of the hill, not far up from the base. The miners were still busy working loading carts with ore, for they were paid by the load. The guardsmen were collected near the entrance to what was clearly some kind of ancient temple or tomb, buried in the earth. We rode up to them and dismounted. The sergeant of the guard I recognized as he came forward. His name was Clapa, a very jovial heavy built man with a long flowing beard and a wicked scar across his face. He nodded to me, and then addressed my father.
“Lord, we have not touched anything since opening this thing up. Alastar checked it, and doesn’t believe there are any more magical tricks afoot. He claims that the tomb is pre-scourge. All of the stuff in there is trolls sized.
My father dismounted, as did the rest of us. “Thank you Clapa. Well done. Please disperse your men back to their normal positions protecting the mine. We’ll take it from here.” He then turned to us. “Stilicho, Draiden, Kerick, Alastar… come with me. The rest of you tie up the horses and stay at the entrance. Make sure one of the ore wagons is brought up here.”
At this point the four of us walked up to the entrance. The earth around the entrance was black soil, still not dried out from exposure to the sun. There were tree roots tangled in it, keeping the soft earth from crumbling apart around the masonry. The bricks, where they had been cleaned off, were covered with trollic runes. They were a gray color of stone that we didn’t recognize. Only later would I realize that that stone came from the Twilight Peaks. The door itself was void of any runes, and was smooth from top to bottom. The door was roughly 10 feet in height, maybe 6 feet across, and hanging open. The inside was large and square. The sarcophagi were lined up, on each of the four edges of the room, each covered with ornate carvings. Weapons and armor were mounted in carved out enclaves in the walls. Clearly, the trolls buried here, for whatever reason, had been somebody during their day. The two chests were made of stone also, and were impossible to move. However we were able to slide their tops off, and inside were mounds of ancient gold and silver coins. A fortune.
My father stood for a long time looking at these things in the torch light. He spoke for while with Alistar, the guard’s wizard, and Malikeos, his old friend and the long-time wizard from our household, who was mentoring to Warrick. I was watching them, catching bits of their conversation as we sifted through the artifacts in the tomb. Malikeos read some of the runes lining the walls, and he believed that these trolls were from a moot that ceased to exist during the scourge. I could barely contain my excitement at our discovery. Finally, my father made a decision and addressed us.
“Stilicho, see to it that the coins are loaded along with all of the weapons, armor and whatever else you find, into the wagons for movement. These things are no use for the dead. We will leave the bodies of the trolls here, untouched in their sarcophagi. Once that is done, we will seal the entrance to the tomb. All of you will swear an oath of secrecy that you will not speak of what we found here today. We will keep the money that we found, but the troll artifacts belong elsewhere. We will contact the trolls of the Swiftwind and Stoneclaw moots, and divide these artifacts up among them as gifts. If they ask where they were found, we will tell them that we cannot tell them. Do not give them details of any kind. The last thing we need is all of the trolls of the Twilight Peaks looking for treasure around our mines.”
We loaded up the ore cart as Alaric said. We covered it, just like the other ore carts that were actually filled with ore. We were to head out at dusk, just as the miners always did with the normal ore shipments. This would raise no suspicion once we arrived in town that anything was discovered. Only this shipment would not go as planned.
The Death of Alaric
It was after nightfall and we were on our way back to Konigsberg. The night was quiet, with a slight breeze whisking the trees around. This was a much larger ore convoy than normal. The usual nightly convoy of men heading back to Konigsberg from the mine consisted of 20 Konigsberg Guardsmen, about 40 to 50 weary miners, plus 3 to 4 horses pulling carts filled with various ores. This time, there were 5 carts and 52 of my father’s crack household troops on top of the usual convoy traffic. I was riding near the rear of the group when I heard the first call of alarm. I smirked as I drew my sword, for the human bandits or orkish raiders really were unlucky tonight. Not only were they attacking what normally was a convoy carrying what, to them, was worthless rock that they couldn’t transport, but they were stepping into a hornet’s nest today. Instead of just a few mercenaries protecting a merchant, or at worst, a patrol of 10-20 feared Konigsberg guardsmen, they were stepping into a large force of mounted warriors and a couple of wizards.
I rode to the front and could see that our men were dismounting and forming a shield wall. Ahead of us, to our utter astonishment, was a mob of troll crystal raiders blocking the road and ready for war. Sky raiders could not see our convoys through the tree canopy, especially at night, and so they apparently had dropped down from their air ships ahead of us in order to attack. These weren’t just any crystal raiders either. They were carrying the black and crimson blood banner of the Bloodlore troll clan. Ruthless and cunning, the Bloodlores were hated enemies of Konigsberg and other troll moots alike. They were the one troll clan that flatly refused to deal with other races because they deemed all other races as vastly inferior to trolls. There could be no parlay, or talks with this lot.
Most humans would have run from such a fearsome sight, but men of Konigsberg are not most men. Thystonius would not approve of us backing away from such a fight. They were about the same number as we were, and we weren’t on a ship. This was our turf, our tactics, our lands… and this was going to be a fight, and a bloody one at that.
Almost as soon as we dismounted, we started forming a shield wall. A sergeant put me in the second row. My father took his place among his best warriors, front and center, then he called out to our men. “Stand together men! Keep your heads down! Your shields high! Stab upwards! Grit your teeth and be ready! They’re gonna scream like a bunch of crazy women, and charge us!” I glanced at Kerick, who was to my right, his shield already overlapping mine. Both of us grinned at that statement. I have to admit though, I was scared. These trolls were huge, bigger than any creatures most of us had ever fought against. And they did just like my father said, well, almost. They started walking toward us and then they charged and let out a blood-curdling battle cry that really shook me. But we did like we had been trained to do, just like my father ordered. I gritted my teeth, kept my shield up and overlapping my neighbors, and braced for the impact.
It was an impact like I’d never felt before or since. The trolls crashed into our shield wall and I honestly think they slid us all back a few feet. But we kept our footing, and began doing the work that is war. Their blades were crushing down upon us. Unlike human sized opponents, they could hit our men over the top of the shield wall, so the second row troops (like me) were taking more blows than those in front. Some troll was beating on my shield. I swiped up at his arm with my blade, because he was too far away to hit anywhere else. I missed. One of the men to our front went down, his shield shattered by a blow that would have felled a dragon. The troll that made that fatal blow was a head and a half taller than the rest, and he was wearing bright crimson crystal plate armor, which looked black with a red glow in the moonlight. Like my father, that troll was truly a lord of war.
I had to duck again for the troll that was in front of me was striking at me again. Again I blocked it with my shield, but his massive blade had penetrated deep into my shield and was firmly lodged there. He heaved upwards to try to free the blade, and instead began to pick me up by my shield. He began to pull me higher, and I he was going to hurl me forward, into the mass of trolls in front of us, I was certainly doomed. Suddenly a spurt of troll blood splattered me in the face, and I abruptly dropped back to the ground. Kerick, seeing my plight, had reached up and made the perfect strike with his sword, and taken off the troll’s arm, just below the elbow. Somehow it was still clinging to the giant sword stuck in my shield, but I did not care. About the time I regained my senses, another one of our men dropped, this time to my left, his head half removed by a troll axe, Suddenly, a troll dropped dead in our center. A break was in their rag-tag line, and in this type of combat, we all knew just how to exploit that situation! We surged forward, these trolls were about to die in droves!
Then, the sky collapsed. Or, so it felt. As it turned out, the trolls outnumbered us by at least 4-1. Probably worse. This whole ground fight was just a trap to get the bulk of our forces below a small clearing in the tree canopy. Once we surged forward, and the trolls on the ground were being cut down… trolls began raining from the sky. They had leapt from air ships hovering silently over the treetops, and were dropping through the canopy all around us, howling with bloodlust. Men all around me were falling, dying under troll blades. The miners in the rear were trying to flee, many were cut down. Our phalanx was broken, and we were fighting futilely now in small groups. I was with Kerick, and three other men in a small fighting pocket. I was trying to make my way to my father, who was in among the largest pocket of our men, maybe, 15 total troops, plus Malikeos, his wizard who I saw throw a ball of fire at one troll that engulfed him in flames. We had to regroup with those men to have a chance! But I could not get there… it was futile, and the night was filled with the screams of agony that was our dying.
Just as suddenly as they came, the battle paused. My father’s troops had been doing well in spite of the odds. Many trolls lay on the ground badly wounded or dead around their little group. I saw my father scream something at Malikeos, and Malikeos nodded, then disappeared in a flash of light. And then the crimson beast of a troll crashed headlong into my father, knocking him back and breaking the small pocket of our men apart. The troll screamed again, and the battle just stopped. All men and troll, at least those that could, seemed transfixed at what was happening.
Alaric, my father, lord of Konigsberg, was fighting Chorack Bonecracker, Bloodlore Warlord and leader of the Bonecracker clan.
My father was wounded already with a bloodied shoulder on his shield arm. Chorack charged forward again, and Alaric met the charge head-on with his own shield. In spite of the size advantage of the troll, they crashed into each other with a boom, and neither fell back. Chorack roared, his face inches from my fathers. He then pulled away and swung his massive sword which my father deftly ducked before swinging his blade at Chorack’s sword arm. He hit, solidly, drawing blood, but Choracks armor absorbed much of the blow and even though it was a deep wound, for a creature of a troll’s size, it wasn’t debilitating. Chorack laughed. Then he followed up with a series of less powerful swings that Alaric parried or simply avoided. Alaric then countered with a few quick slashes and a thrust which hit Chorack in the leg. Again, the armor ate most of the blow, and although it was a solid hit, I did not see blood. Then Chorack swung his massive sword is a giant overhand chop, and my father went inside of it and reached up to block it with his shield, the correct move, while he prepared his own counter-thrust. For some reason however, maybe the raw strength of the troll, or maybe magic in his blade, Alaric’s shield shattered under the blow, and his arm was nearly cleaved off of his shoulder. The blow put him to one knee. Chorack ripped his blade out of my father’s flesh, and as my father tried to step back and recover, but he was gravely wounded and his legs would not move fast enough. Chroack thrust his blade forward with a killing blow, directly into my father’s chest.
My father, Alaric, son of Polynikes, fighting against incredible odds, died with a sword in his hand, wet with the blood of his enemies. He died well, and I will see him again one day in the halls of Thystonias.