Atlas Rules Resources Adventures Stories FAQ Search Links
The Fall of Ardelphiaby Jesper Andersen
The Fall of Ardelphia - Part I
From the window in the castle's tower Gwirwinn could see the peaks of the Broken Lands far to the northwest. Above them the skies were black with smoke. Ardelphia, City of Song, jewel of the northern heartlands, was burning. No more would its famous minstrels let out their voice in joyous praise of the hardworking people or their fair duke. No more would poetry and laughter sound in the night as they feasted in the splendid gardens of the palace.
Gwirwinn's grip on his sword hilt tightened in anger. How many had died, he wondered. How many lives lost to the murderous orc hordes, who at this very moment was tearing down walls and monuments that had taken generations to erect?
He sighed and walked to the door. In the halls below him the counsel of King Ceolfed of Daelbar was convening. As the king's trusted friend and brother-in-arms his place was there. He walked to the throne room, where he saw that Aegandort, Berwen and Orris had already arrived. Travie, he knew, was underway. They all sat close to the east wall and watched and listened, as General Phillias and emissaries of the Duchies of Ardelphia and Corunglain were presenting the situation to the king.
'It is a disaster unlike any we could imagine, your majesty', General Phillias explained. 'An army of more than 10.000 orcs stormed the city and took it in less than two days. They are now slaughtering the population and as far as we know no one of the Ducal family made it out of the city. The massacre is even worse than at the fall of Corunglain during the reign of Corwyn XIII'.
The emissary from Corunglain visibly twitched at that remark. 'Your Majesty', the Ardelphian emissary begged, 'you must come to our aid, we beg you! Our fair city is doomed without aid!'
'General Phillias, what is the status of our forces?' the king asked.
'Right now we have less than 2.000 men-at-arms and only 300 knights. If we put out a call-to-arms we can raise an additional 4.000 soldiers in three weeks. But even if we raise them, the odds are against us if we march on Ardelphia, and leaving the kingdom to be defended by peasant militia only, would leave it extremely vulnerable'.
The king sat in silence for a moment. 'Lord Elburl', he finally said, 'how soon before we can expect the force promised us by our cousin, the Duke of Corunglain?'
'Your Majesty', the Corunglain emissary began. He was visibly uncomfortable. 'I regret to inform you that His Grace the duke cannot send any assistance until the spring...'
'What??', king Ceolfed bellowed. 'That is five months from now!!'
'I am aware of that, Your Majesty', the emissary continued. 'But our city is closer to the Broken Lands and would be left vulnerable to attack unless we first call up all available soldiers and mercenaries from our southern holds. We cannot raise an army and march on Ardelphia before the middle of winter. Your Majesty, we have to wait for the spring!'
'General Phillias, what say you?' the king asked.
'I am afraid Lord Elburl is right, Your Majesty. Right now, every town and village in the kingdom is begging for assistance and if the horde decides to march south, I doubt that we could even stop them at the border. To send any sort of force against Ardelphia would be more than folly. It would be suicide'.
The king rose from his throne and walked to a window, staring out at the bleak autumn sky.
'Then let us pray for an early winter'.
The Fall of Ardelphia - Part II
ORDERS ARE GIVEN
'It doesn't look good' King Ceolfed said.
Gwirwinn was standing next to the king in his personal study, looking at maps of the Kingdom of Daelbar. The city of Ardelphia was a mere 24 miles from the border, which ran where the foothills of the Silver Sierras gave way to the more fertile heartlands on the west side of the Streel River.
'Early reports indicate no less than eight orc tribes participating in the campaign', Ceolfed continued. 'Right now they are sacking the city and plundering the countryside for miles around it, draggin their captives and loot back to Ardelphia'.
'But sooner or later they are going to march south towards Daelbar', Gwirwinn said quietly.
He had lived in this region his entire life. As a squire in the service of Ceolfed's father, the old king, he had seen nearly every village in the kingdom. And he had friends in most of them. As he thought of the fate that awaited them when the horde came south he nearly wept inside.
'I am sending you out to the outer reaches of the realm to help organise defences', the king said. 'Rally the peasants, select local commanders and start training as many men as you can find'.
'With all respect, Your Majesty', Gwirwinn began, 'a few weeks of training will not make soldiers of these people. They would be better off abandoning their farms and heading south for safety'.
'I am not about to give up an inch of this kingdom, Gwirwinn. Do you hear me?' King Ceolfed demanded. 'Ardelphia may have fallen, but Daelbar has not. And by the Immortals it shall not as long as I reign!'
'As you command, Your Majesty' Gwirwinn said, bowed and left.
He walked to his personal chambers where he found Aegandort, Orris and Berwen. Aegandort was reading, as usual, and Orris was playing a harp, eyes closed, by the window. The melodious tunes filled the air with memories of happier times.
Berwen was eating again. Lamb and potatoes. Somehow the druid always found room for more, Gwirwinn smiled to himself. It was less than four hours since they had had breakfast. As he entered the room they all stopped for a moment to look at him.
'We have our orders' he said. Actually, the king had only ordered him to go, but Gwirwinn knew his companions would not abandon him now. They had travelled together for too many years now to even consider it, no matter how grave the danger.
'We leave for the northern border as soon as Travie gets here. We are to organise village defences and rally the militia. Eread will meet us there'.
'You're kidding me?' Orris said astonished. 'The King wants you to lead peasants into battle against trained orc warriors?' The elf's surprise was clear to all. 'They'll be lambs for the slaughter!'
'Better to pack up and head south' Berwen grumbled.
'I tried to tell him that' Gwirwinn sighed. 'But he wouldn't listen to me'.
'Well, I'd better get ready to leave then', Orris said. They all rose and went to their chambers to make the necessary preparations and when Travie arrived the next morning they were ready to leave.
The Fall of Ardelphia - Part III
OLD FRIENDS MEET
It had been raining for three days straight and the village streets quickly turned into deep mud, stranding both horses and wagons. Gwirwinn and his companions had found a damp shelter in a leaky barn, much to the disapproval of Travie.
'I cannot believe I let you drag me away from my fair Ivaloe to sleep in this filthy pigsty!' he growled. His fine clothes were already beginning to smell mouldy and his hair was full of bits of straw.
'Relax' Orris said, looking out a window in the hay loft. 'The orcs don't care how pretty you are. They'll take your head clean off no matter what if they get the chance'.
Outside peasants were struggling to free a wagonload of supplies, mostly weapons and quilted armour, from the mud.
'One good thing about the rain', Berwen said. 'It slows the orc advance as much as it hinders us. Warg riders may move quickly around the countryside, but the bulk of their army needs supply trains and warmachines, just as we do'.
Gwirwinn was not really paying attention to what his friends were saying. He was reading bloodstained dispatches from the front. In the weeks since the fall of Ardelphia, large warbands of orcs had crossed into Daelbar and sacked three small towns. Slaves and loot had been dragged back to the now ruined Ardelphia. So far the main orc army had not moved but mere rain was not going to prevent that. In time, they would come. And the onset of winter was still nearly six weeks away.
The door to the barn went up and in stepped a thoroughly soaked figure clad in a modest traveller's cloak. When she pulled back her hood, she revealed a beautiful face surrounded by a mass of blonde curls and a beaming smile.
'Eread!' Travie exclaimed as he got on his feet. 'At last, you have come to rescue me from this dull conversation. Really, you would think that people here had been raised on an Amsorak fishing barge!' he winked.
'Travie, my dear. I can hear that the Baron Neir has not yet cut out your tongue for wooing his daughter. I trust that your other bodily parts are also intact?' Eread laughed.
'Yes', Travie said, giving an embarrassed cough. 'I must admit that he still hasn't taken to my charms the same way as fair maiden Ivaloe. My being here should hopefully give him the time to see that I am a worthy husband to his daughter after all'.
'And heir to his throne and lands?' Aegandort mumbled quietly from a relatively dry corner where he was studying his spellbooks.
'Money has no say in this matter!' Travie answered quickly. 'I love fair Ivaloe and would live with her even if I had not a copper to my name!'
'And you would probably live in a place like this' Berwen remarked.
'Eh? Yes... well, opportunities always arise for men such as myself', Travie said looking around at the pigs, goats and chickens sharing their humble housing.
'I am sure we could find something less... rustic'.
The Fall of Ardelphia - Part IV
'The raiders have returned with the prisoners you ordered, Great Bathabal'.
The chieftain got up from his bed - it had belonged to a wealthy merchant - and walked to a window and looked into the court yard below. Several miserable figures were tied to a series of wooden crosses. It was obvious that their captors had already had their cruel fun cutting off fingers or ears off some of them and they just hung there in the rain, having accepted their fate and praying for a quick death they knew probably wouldn't come.
'We have started to question them' the orc lieutenant continued. 'From what they say the Kingdom of Daelbar lies open to us. They have only a small army and most villagers are too terrified to fight us'. A smile widened across his face.
Good Chieftain Bathabal thought to himself. They had already delayed too long in this city. The warriors of the Fire Knives tribe had pillaged and looted and destroyed, as had the warriors of the other tribes. It was time to move on. The way to Daelbar lay open and once they broke out into the heartlands, other duchies and kingdoms would fall as well.
'Give the orders to assembly the horde. We move out in two days'.
'What about the prisoners?'
'Our raiders have deserved a feast. Feed them to the wolves'.
Meanwhile, Gwirwinn and his companions were crossing the border into the Duchy of Ardelphia. They travelled light, using two horses each in case they had to outride any orc wolfriders they came across.
15 miles south of the city where the orc army was still encamped they crossed a small river and rode into a forest.
'This is where we part ways', Gwirwinn said, looking at the burly druid.
'I will take your case to the Circle', Berwen said quietly. 'I will make them listen. If this orc army gets into the heartlands, the consequences for Nature will be severe. They will understand that'.
'Good', Gwirwinn said. 'Take care of yourself. We are counting on you!'
'Don't worry', Berwen said with a sly smile. 'It will take more than orc rabble to capture me'.
With those final words he spoke a word of power and shapeshifted into a giant eagle. He quickly soared into the skies and headed southeast towards the forest of Antiriath, home of the still-powerful ancient druidic Circle of Ladrus.
Their eyes followed him until they lost him in the clouds.
'All right', Gwirwinn said. 'Let's go'.
'It must be mighty practical', Travie mumbled, 'to be able to sprout wings at will. I hope none of us will have a need for that, although I have a feeling we might where we're going'.
'We'll find out soon enough', Gwirwinn replied. 'Either way, we don't have a choice'.
'The King could charge us all with treason for this', Aegandort pointed out.
'I know', Gwirwinn said and headed off into the forest.
The others followed him in silence. None of them liked what they were about to do. But like Gwirwinn said:
They had no choice.
(To be continued...)