The First Battle: Part 2
Night fell with surprising speed, drawing its dark curtains
over the village. Peasants put their gardening tools in the shed and entered
their homes to retire for the night. Perfect calm and stillness reigned over
their homes. But Jeran and his crew were on high-alert.
There were about a score of inexperienced warriors,
a dozen knights and a single pack-mule Whinny gathered in the woods just outside
Hope River Village and wishing that they wouldn't run into any trouble. Hardly
a match for the great armies of Kass. "They're coming," Jeran said softly, his
head now clear. "I know they are. With the exception of us, this village is
undefended." He turned to look Danner in the eye. "Completely undefended. We're
only a handful of knights, and Kass has got… oh flaming faeries, Kass has got
a lot of troops."
"We've figured that out already," said the cheeky
Kyrii, Chuck Foxpaw. Being Jeran's brother, he was the only person in the troop
allowed to be sarcastic to the Captain. "But what can we do about it?"
"Not much," Jeran said grimly, ignoring his
brother's impudence. "We can't fight them. Out best bet would be to get the
villagers out of here. Make sure that they're safe. Then let those purple pigs
devour the crops and livestock."
Danner nodded with that same grim expression
on his face. His paws were preoccupied counting arrows. "Only a dozen quivers
Jeran cringed. "Just wonderful," he said sarcastically,
more disgusted at the arrows than he was at Danner. "Well Danner, keep watch
in those trees. Let me know if you see or hear anything."
The young Wocky saluted and scampered off. Not
five minutes went by before his call rang across the woods. "Captain Jeran!
A distant rumbling, like thunder on the horizon.
Jeran looked up and saw the most fearsome sight he had seen in his life…
Tanks made of logs and metal, with wheels of
solid stone. About a half-dozen of them. And they were enormous. Like mountains.
Words could not describe how big they were. They were manned by Darigan-colored
pets and drawn by a huge, purple, boar-like animal each. They'd have no trouble
leveling the village with their might, crushing peasants like ants beneath those
great stone wheels.
Jeran was completely awe-struck. He had never
expected this, not in a million years. The situation didn't look good for the
Meridellians. There was only one thing to do to help their case. Plead to a
higher power. "May the fortunes be merciful." He whispered.
The storm had broken.
It took him a full three seconds to snap into
commander mode. Raising his sword, he started hollering orders. "First Squad!
Get those villagers out of here! Second Squad! Move to those trees! Maybe we
can get a flanking position on them!"
Troops scurried like petpets from Balthazar.
They were scared. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. The frantic
frenzy of their movements, the hushed whispers and dark looks they exchanged…
They knew that this battle, this entire war was doomed to failure. They had
no support from their wise and grumpy king. Instead, he was fraternizing with
the enemy! Jeran was their only guidance, and he seemed as despairingly lost
as they. "Get back!" he shouted over the panic of villagers and warriors alike.
"Behind the buildings! Hide yourselves in the shadows! Get back!" They did.
Danner and Jeran hid together, behind a turret of an old nobleman's manor.
"Captain, why are we waiting?" Danner asked,
fear shining in his red eyes. Poor boy, Jeran thought. He thinks we've already
lost this battle. He thinks I'm asking for an out-and-out retreat. Not today.
"We're waiting for them to go by us," Jeran
said, struggling to keep his voice level. If he showed any sign of despair,
his troops would despair in turn. He needed to be their strength. An entire
troop's victory or defeat rested on his shoulders. It was a heavy weight on
his chest, and all he could do was bear it silently. "A frontal assault is useless."
Seeing that his Captain and hero was worried,
Danner felt his heart become heavy with sorrow. What a burden he had to carry!
And no one to help him on this long and difficult road. A brother, a right-hand
Wocky, and a score and a half of admiring warriors, and not a friend among them.
"I'd follow you right down to Jhudora's front door …sir," Danner said, almost
afraid to refer to his Captain without using a term of respect. Not afraid of
what his Captain might do, for Jeran was normally a gentle commander. He was
afraid of what he might think.
Jeran gave a humorless chuckle. "Well Danner,
let's hope that isn't…"
"SIR! SIR!" Both warriors turned to see Johann
the yellow Kougra knight, fleeing for his life from a bunch of… pitchforking
peasants. Their eyes were blurred, but they chased Johann with a passion and
wrath that couldn't possibly come from such simple, good-hearted people. "What
do we do? Captain Jeran!" he called, paws flying over the earth in terror.
"Fall back! Fall back to the woods!" Jeran replied,
his booming voice still as calm as the summer seas. But seeing so many bloodthirsty
farm workers spooked poor Danner out of his wits. Abandoning all thoughts of
comforting Jeran, he turned to voice his own despair. "We're lost!" He cried.
"The King won't help us, the farmers have turned against us…"
Jeran flinched visibly. Hearing his king's disloyalty
out loud seemed to have solidified the reality of it to him. He had been replaced,
and his father, the only father he had ever known, had abandoned him. It was
like he had left him in the pound without even saying goodbye. But Jeran wouldn't
be a quivering pound pup. Never. "STOP IT!" he shouted to Danner, snapping the
Wocky out of his despair. "Help them! They've got to get to the forest!" Terrified,
Danner let out a squeak of obedience and scampered off.
Jeran surveyed the scene. The villagers seemed
not to know what they were doing. Some lumbered around pointlessly, doing nothing
to stop the chaos. Others chased Meridell soldiers, armed with gardening tools
and determined to kill. The soldiers fled, not daring to attack the peasants
lest they hurt them. The knights in particular wanted to keep their distance.
Hurting an innocent peasant was against their code of chivalry. Other peasants
took torches and burned down their own homes and the homes of their neighbors.
Fields and crops went up in flame. Petpets darted around in alarm. Peasants
who hadn't been hypnotized sat helplessly, wailing and crying. Warriors from
the first squad grabbed these villagers and tried to herd them all into the
woods. Some went willingly. Others didn't. "I want my mommy!" a young Gelert
child wailed to Johann, pointing to a Gelert farm mistress who was in the process
of raiding her own home. "You can't make me leave without my mommy!" "Mommy"
heard her child's wailing and turned her wrathful, un-motherly gaze on Johann.
She was armed with a pitchfork. Johann got the sense to scoop up the child,
(who kicked and screamed the whole way) and run.
Meanwhile, a redhead Aisha in gypsy's clothes
stood in the trees, watching the turmoil and laughing. Laughing. A farmer Elephante
saw the Lupe-knight and, with pure hatred in his blurred eyes, chased after
him with a shovel. The Aisha found this thoroughly entertaining. Meridell's
champion running from a peasant! "Run far and run fast, Jeran," the Aisha said,
grinning evilly. "No matter where you go… my Lord Kass will find you."
* * *
An hour later, the warriors and peasants lay in a clearing in the forest, feeling
depressed, weary, and thoroughly beaten. Many were sporting bruises, scrapes,
and jagged cuts, but thankfully most of the injuries were minor. Wesley Goldmane
the Tonu page had been knocked unconscious and beaten with a shovel. His right
foreleg in particular was a mess. He'd probably never pick up a sword again.
The Hope River ran through the clearing, supplying them with fresh water. The
musky aroma of smoke spread through the clearing, reminding the warriors of
their humiliating defeat. Beaten by a bunch of farmers. The sounds of rumbling
thunder sounded in the distance. The tanks, cleaning up whatever was left of
the village. Some of the warriors, including Jeran, Greg Pinion, Johann and
Danner formed a circle at the edge of the clearing where they could speak without
the peasants overhearing them. "How could this have happened?" Greg asked rhetorically.
"The peasants… What did we do to them to merit that?"
"Probably some sort of mind control. They had
that look in their eyes," said Danner, whose mother was a mage. He knew a thing
or two about magic.
"I never want to see another pitchfork or shovel
again," Johann wailed, pulling himself into an upright position and sitting
with his legs crossed.
Jeran was silent. The night's events had made
him feel ill, like he had eaten one too many Woo woo grubs. Danner summarized
his feelings in one sentence.
"It seems like the entire world has turned against
The Gelert child crept over to the circle, resting
his head on Johann's lap. He had calmed down considerably, but he was still
crying silently. "I still want my mommy."
The Kougra wiped a tear off of the child's cheek.
"Mommy might not be back for a while, kid. In the meantime, why don't you go
play with that Kyrii, Chuck Foxpaw. He seems to be having a lot of fun." And
indeed he was. In order to keep the children's minds off of their lost parents,
Chuck had started a lively game of tag. It seemed to be working, though the
laughter wasn't nearly enough to lighten the gloomy mood, nor dispel the odor
of smoke. The Gelert reluctantly agreed and ambled off.
Then, a Uni came to the circle. She was a younger
woman, with a long, wavy mane, a pink floral dress and a tattered gray apron.
"Thanks for saving us… but my brother is still out there." The poor woman burst
into tears. "Oh my goodness, Sir Jeran! My brother… I've never seen him so violent!
Standing there amidst the smoke and terror, never saying a word. I jumped up
and down in front of him, trying to get his attention, trying to tell him that
we should get out of here, that it was too dangerous to stay…"
She hiccupped and started drying her tears on
her ratty old apron. "But it was like he didn't even recognize me. Like I was
nothing special to him. Finally, he turned on me, with this fiery look of hate…
He came after me with the shovel… This young Tonu boy grabbed my hoof and told
me to follow him. Terrified, I obeyed. Then my husband turned his shovel on
the boy. That poor little boy…" It was all too much for this poor Uni. Her distress
was so great that she couldn't even speak anymore.
"It's okay, madam," said Greg, patting her on
the back in a futile attempt to comfort her. "Wes got out in one piece. And
we'll get your husband back."
The woman hiccupped again, regained her composure
and spoke. "It must be soon! Please oh faeries and fortunes let it be soon!
For most of us… our family is the only thing we have. We own no land, little
money, few possessions… We cannot even call our homes our own! They're owned
by the landlord. The people we know and love… they're all we have. Our lives
revolve around them. They are our lives."
"There, there madam," Greg said softly. "We
feel your pain and are doing all we can. Now why don't you go talk to one of
your fellow villagers while we make a plan."
"Thank you, valiant soldiers!" she cried, wrapping
Greg in a grateful hug. "Know that my village and I owe you far more than our
lives." With that, she left.
"So, now we're making a plan?" Danner asked
dryly. Then, he bolted upright as if struck by a thunderbolt of thought. "Hey!
I've got a plan!"
"What's that?" Johann asked excitedly.
"We continue sitting around here like daft ducks!"
Jeran gently thwacked Danner on the back of his
head and spoke for the first time in many minutes. "That's not funny, Danner."
"Well the kid has a point," Johann said to Jeran.
"We can't sit on our tails and do nothing."
"But we can't march in there and do something
either!" Jeran exclaimed, mentally cursing his poor luck. "Not without being
slice-and-diced by the wheat farmers, and then ground into a fine powder by
the Babaa herders!"
And it was there, on the banks of the Hope River,
that Jeran and his troops lost all of their hope.