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The smith took a moment to examine the fine long blade. It was well made, one of the best he’d seen, and unadorned. A fine, practical weapon. He discarded the goblin blade he’d scavenged, and his shield. It still had arrows sticking out of it, and probably wouldn’t have survived another battle anway. “Shall we?” asked Roderick, and Brandt nodded. He bent down to unbelt the baldric that held Jurgen’s scabbard, trying to do so with as much care as possible. Brandt told himself it was a matter of respect, and not because the bloated throat and the pink-red spiderweb of burst blood vessels made his stomach lurch. He strapped the wide leather belt on and took point at the front of the column, assuming Jurgen’s place as the best armed.

Lord Waldo followed behind and Priska afterwards, and Brandt heard sniffling and the occasional choked off sob, though he wasn’t sure from whom. Roderick and Maria walked behind them, and Brandt drew courage from their presence. They would miss Maria’s crossbow, and if it were up to Brandt they’d keep it just in case… though in case of what, he wasn’t sure. He lead them east, as Maria suggested, and as they walked Brandt felt a determination to see the five of them out of the forest. That determination fueled his stride, and despite the pain in his arm from the still throbbing wound, he set a brisk pace.

They spent that night huddled together in a hollow created by the roots of a fallen tree, with Roderick, Brandt and Maria taking turns on watch. None of the five of them slept well that night, though they were undisturbed, and in the morning they set out again with Brandt in the lead, after Roderick saw to his arm. According to the priest, it was starting to heal. None of them spoke much, eyes and ears alert for goblins or some other threat from the Drakwald.

“Do you think we’ve lost them?” Brandt asked later in the day.

“Everything I’ve heard says the goblins are cowards,” replied Maria. “Maybe we beat them and scared them off.”

“You’re right,” spoke Waldo, startling them. “My father's armsman taught me about greenskins. They always follow the biggest and toughest one, and when you fight them it’s best to try to kill that one, as they’ll often run away. Then they fight amongst themselves until there’s a new leader.”

They group paused, considering it. Priska sniffed; she’d developed a runny nose.

“Well good,” Brandt said at last. “Thank you, uh, m’lord.”

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but that is good news,” added Roderick, trying a smile to Maria and Brandt.
Brandt sighed, rolling Maria’s question through his mind, taking up his position at the end of their little column. As much as Waldo Seidl was at best an embarrassment to the nobility and at worst a liability, though he had managed to hold his own against the goblins and wounded a couple, if not resulted in their death. It had been hard to tell from what was left of the little green corpses, most of which had been tossed about and dismembered by Jurgen’s massive sword. Lord or not, Waldo was little more than a child and as much as he wouldn’t miss the boy if they survived the Drakwald, he couldn’t bring himself to leave him in the woods for wolves, greenskins or worse. Besides, their chances of survival were much improved with the might of the only professional soldier amongst them.

The apprentice-cum-warrior had carefully unstrapped his shield from his wounded arm and slung it behind him. He busied himself trying to rebind the crude handle of wood that had been fastened to the sharpened steel that was little more than a large knife; the weapon they’d salvaged from the dead goblins. After the third attempt, he gave up on any true measure of success, resigning himself to the fact that another weapon might fail him in combat if it came to that once more. Brandt tried to imagine a way he could repair the handle and frustratingly came up with a half dozen options that would be easy enough, but were completely impossible with the items they had.

At the front of their little troup, Jurgen stumbled, one leg dragging awkwardly behind him. He took a few more dogged steps, shaking his head as if to clear it. As he put weight on the leg again, it buckled, and his arms went wide as he toppled sideways into the brush. Waldo and Priska behind him both stared, slack-jawed, whereas Brandt leaned over to get a better look. Roderick and then Maria pressed past, the priest going to his knees beside the fallen Greatsword. As Roderick rolled the man onto his back to assess him, Maria spotted something.

“Roderick, hold him there,” she said as she reached down to the back of his legs, between plates. There she found a sharpened wooden dart with a small tuft of red fluff. There was another on the ground beside him. As the Sigmarite caught on he, scoured the man's body and found two more darts. Sniffing them he put voice to what they were all thinking. “Poison.”

“They must have targeted him because he looked the strongest,” Brandt said.

“He was the strongest!” snapped Priska, going to one knee at the warriors other side.

“How bad is it, Roderick?” asked the smith, looking guiltily away from the noblewoman.

The priest checked Jurgen’s throat, wrists and breath, then peered into the fallen man’s eyes. “I’m not sure. We can’t leave him here though, we’ll need to find a place to camp. Brandt, can you make us a sledge to drag him?”

“Aye, I should be able to sort something out.”
There was a time when Priska was a girl when her family went to the provincial capital of Hergig. A traveling carnival had been passing through the area at the same time and taken up residence outside the city for a fortnight. Her father, Lord Dolf Steiber of Tussenhof, had no time for such people and refused to set foot anywhere near. As the days wore on however, and Lord Steiber became frustrated both with the tedious business that had taken him to the city - what that was, Priska couldn’t remember - and the constant requests by Priska and her older brother Dolf II. Eventually he relented, and took his progeny on a tour of the circus accompanied by a pair of his liveried footmen.

Neither Priska nor her brother were permitted to participate in any of the carnival games or activities, however they were able to take a wide sampling of the strange sweet foods. The rich, ironically enough, rarely have to pay for things they could easily afford and this was no exception as the carnival leader, or Ringmaster as Priska learned, caught wind of the Steiber’s visiting and assigned an underling to fawn over them and cater to their whims. A kind mention from a man of Lord Dolf’s stature could do wonders for the legitimacy of such an enterprise, after all. They were able to watch acrobats who flung themselves about on swings and ropes, a strong man who wrestled a bear and a beautiful Tilean lady dressed in silver and gold ride a dazzling array of strange creatures while singing a beautiful song from her homeland.

That singing woman, so much like a fairy tale, was Priska’s favourite part of the day. Her brother however enjoyed the menagerie, where animals both fierce and exotic were kept on display. In one cage, at the back, was a greenskin. Though not a hulking orc beast, the goblin was easily the size Priska was then and it’s over large head and dagger-nose made it seem extremely intimidating. It had dark red eyes that seemed to glow with hate in the light of the torches and followed Priska where ever she went. Despite its activity and the fact that children would throw pebbles at it, the creature delighted in any mischief it could cause, chief of which was frightening those same children. It’s most joy came from when a peasant boy, having found a stick somewhere, moved to poke at the beast, knowing himself to be safe outside the bars.

The goblin, clever and cruel as it was, made a show of being hurt and abused by the boy, cowering away from the stick in its little cage. Priska never stopped watching its eyes, however, as the goblin never took its gaze from the boy, despite how violently he prodded it with his stick. Buoyed with the confidence of a bully and the cheers of his peers, the boy got closer to the cage to really stick the goblin. As he did, the goblin snatched the stick and pulled, the boys hand going between the bars of the cage. It wasn’t the scream of the boy or the blood that poured from where the goblin had bit off two and a half of his fingers, but the look in the goblins eyes. It was a look so full of malice and hate, but also a horrible manic glee at having causing pain and the chaos that followed. That was what Priska remembered most of the day as the memory of the boys screams, her brothers laughter and her father’s derisive snort faded away. The look in the goblins eyes.

That look was no longer hidden in her nightmares anymore, and the horrible spider mounted greenskin that tried ineptly to gut her now had the same burning red eyes. Priska screamed again, and kept screaming as she kicked its mount i the face, feeling it crunch through her soft shoes. Even as Jurgen split both greenskin and mount in two, she kept screaming, surrounded by those hateful red eyes.
“Goblins, on spiders…”

Brandt saw the mist and heard Priska’s shrill scream before he saw the goblins and their mounts. He slid his heater shield off his back and onto his left arm with a wince of pain, bringing it up just in time for a small arrow to thunk into it. He glanced down and saw the rough fletching in the short arrow, and painted rings of dark green and red along its length. He hefted his hammer in his good hand, the weight already feeling tired and sluggish. As the swift greenskins came upon them, Brandt stepped forward to meet them, bashing one off its mount with his shield and stabbing with the top-spike of his hammer into the thorax of the spider it rode. The creature made a squirting sound, curling its legs underneath it stiffly. He couldn’t see it’s rider, either knocked into the bushes or fled. Another scream bounced through the woods and Brandt looked for the source.

Priska was being menaced by a goblin wielding what it probably considered a sword. The weapon was made of scavenged steel bound to a bone handle and was so short that the creature couldn’t quite get to her as she kicked at the face of the spider it rode. Before he could move to aid her, Jurgen took a slight step to his right and bifurcated both the goblin and it’s mount in one backswing - a move that looked like a mere afterthought to the warrior. Priska stared at the gorey mess in horror, but Brandt lost sight of her as the battle moved around him. The goblins avoided the whirlwind of death that was Jurgen’s great blade, which meant they swarmed around the others.

Roderick seemed content to bash at them as they came and Brandt thought he heard the young priest muttering prayers - or curses - amidst the laboured ragged breathing of combat. Lord Waldo was, surprisingly, holding his own as well. He stabbed at goblins and hacked away spider limbs with a gilt-handled shortsword. The lordlings noble training kept him an even match with the goblins and he kept near his bodyguard who never allowed him to be overwhelmed. Maria stood between them, methodically cranking her crossbow and loosing bolts at a steady pace. The goblins seemed to catch on to this, however, and their own mounted archers began firing back at her, though their aim was especially poor due to the fact their spiders were only nominally under the control of the riders.

With a huff, Brandt rushed towards the archers, keeping his shield up to cover as much of his body as possible. A few more painted arrows thunked into the wood or bounced off, scratching what was left of the quartered Hochland green and red. He swung his hammer wide, smashing a goblin off its mount and into a tree, bringing it around in a wide arc, trying to smash another on the ground but only clipping a few legs from its mount, who skittered away. The archers did scatter however, and so Brandt considered it a small victory. The smiths apprentice began backing away back to the group, when movement from the corner of his eye caused him to turn. If it weren’t for his oft-repaired helmet, he might have been dead there as a mounted goblin slashed at the back of his head with a curve-bladed sword. Disoriented, Brandt swung wildly at the source of the attack, which was quite high for a goblin he realised. His hammer smacked heavily into a tree and he heard wood splinter. He caught sight of the goblin, its hairy legged mount clambering back up the tree. The greenskin wore a great crest of bird feathers, and had a necklace of finger bones hanging down over its paint-daubed chest.

Brand returned to the group and glanced at his hammer, which felt strange in his hand. His hit against the tree had splintered the handle, and he doubted the head of the weapon would stay on for more than a few more strikes, and that if he was lucky.

“Shit,” he cursed, and brought his shield up in defense. “I think I’ve seen their leader! He’s in the trees, and wearing a bunch of feathers! Maria, can you bring him down?”
That first night was cold and for most, rather sleepless. Jurgen had made a sort of lean-to for Lord Waldo without any help from the Lady Priska, then after some heated whispering from the woman made one for her as well. By then Brandt, Roderick and Maria had returned with water and what semi-dry wood they could find. It took a bit of effort to get it going, but eventually they had a small blaze going in a ring of rocks. It had been too dark to find any sort of food, and so after copious, and not entirely authentic apologies to Lord Waldo and some guilty looks from Jurgen towards Priska, they settled in for the night.

Lord Waldo, though he’d been trained for combat as all Imperial lordlings are, was young and was unable to keep up with the excitement and effort of the day and so fell asleep first. Brandt, despite an obvious effort to stay awake soon followed, his wound and the exhaustion of battle taking him. Roderick, Maria and Jurgen arranged a watch schedule amongst them, while Priska turned over in her small shelter. She made a show of sleeping easily, but her over-tense movements searching for comfort gave it away. Nobody mentioned it.

Jurgen offered to take the middle watch, and they agreed that Maria would take the first and Roderick the last, unless Brandt woke up. Before they settled in, the Greatsword glanced at the smiths bandaged left arm, then at the priest.

“Is that your handiwork, priest?” he asked genuinely.

“It is, sir,” responded Roderick, unsure how to address the soldier but proud of his efforts.

“I’ve seen many firebrands amongst the Warrior Priests of Sigmar,” Jurgen said, making the sign of the hammer across his chest. “Not many healers, though.”

“Father Gerwig, the old priest of Lorch taught me,” explained Roderick as he turned, trying to dry off parts of his robe on the fire. “He said that Sigmar’s faithful trust in the divine to heal their bodies… but that it didn’t hurt to give their healing a bit of earthly help as well.”

The big greatsword smiled broadly at that and gave a nod of approval that touched Roderick more then he thought it would. The warrior then hunkered himself down with a clatter of armour, keeping his massive flamberge across his chest as he closed his eyes. Maria placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and gave a smile of her own, then moved to sit with her back to the fire, that she might see a bit in the dark of the wood.

That night was filled with unease for all, for even the exhausted and injured Brandt woke with a start on more then one occasion. Once, the quiet sounds of sobbing caused them to glance around, though in the smouldering light of the glowing coals, none could quite tell if it were Lord Waldo or Lady Priska who was the source. Still, there was a sense of dread that only the Drakwald could muster, and a distinct feeling amongst them all that they were being observed clandestinely.

The next morning, however, Brandt had regained some colour and his wound was looking clean, by gentle decree of Roderick. Jurgen destroyed the two makeshift shelters and scattered the remains of the fire so that any casual inspection might not notice their passing, though any skilled tracker would see past the ruse. Lord Waldo was quieter that day, and miserable. Jurgen took point again and they all kept an eye out for anything to eat, with Maria keeping a bolt ready in her crossbow in case of game. They wouldn’t last well if they couldn’t find some form of sustenance. They continued north, and as the sun rose past noon, the sky clouded over and a light drizzle came down upon them. It was going to be another dark night.
The only sounds were the guttering of the two torches and the discordant slap of their feet on the cold dry stone of the floor. The darkness and quiet of the tunnel gave Brandt a chance to calm his pounding heart and think. They’d failed to hold the keep, which ruined the heroic image Brandt hadn’t realized he’d had for himself. What was he going to do, stand above the gatehouse, waving Hochland’s banner like some balladeer in a play? Unlikely. It was only chance that he hadn’t been butchered with the rest of the men, and a Sigmar-given miracle he’d gotten off the wall unharmed. Well, not completely unharmed.

Held tight by his shield, his arm had started to throb in time with his heartbeat. Untreated, he worried about infection. He muttered a prayer - uncharacteristic for his only moderately pious self - and wondered if Roderick had any skill in healing. There wasn’t time to worry about it now, anyway. They proceeded through the tunnel, Brandt unable to see past the torchlight, but taking regular glances backwards for any sign of pursuit. None came. By the time they’d traversed the underground way and Jurgen pressed open the door on the other end, the battle fire had left Brandt’s blood and the dull pain of his shallow wound had taken its toll. He was exhausted.

They took time to survey their surroundings, and Lord Waldo exchanged a few words that Brandt couldn’t hear. Maria glanced back at him and nudged Roderick. They shared a concerned look and the priest was about to speak to him when Lord Waldo turned back towards the group.

“I have conferred with Jurgen,” the boy said as if they hadn’t been standing right there, “and he agrees that it’s too dangerous to simply hail a passing riverboat - who knows what allegiance they have. We’ll head north north-east towards Hergig. A town or village might be in our enemies hands, but the provincial capitol will still be in my families control. Excellent, let’s go.”

As soon as the river was clear of traffic, Jurgen took point and lead them away from the riverbank. Once above the water, he looked about and quickly determined the direction. Brandt found a newfound respect for a man he had thought was a dullard, but it seemed he was elevated to the ranks of the Greatswords due to some skill at soldiery. They moved away from the river, and into the Drakwald.
Lord Waldo and his entourage of soldiers left the bedchambers in a hurry after taunting the attacking Lord. Priska basked in their superiority for a moment, then the words that had been hastily exchanged between the young Lord and Jurgen settled in. She immediately left the room of wailing women and servants too old or young to have butchered in the courtyard below. Priska caught up with Waldo, the two men covered in blood and soaked in rain and mud who were talking to that merchant's daughter and Jurgen, who marched dutifully behind Waldo. They passed the main door, which sounded like a dance floor the way they were banging on it. The reality of what sometimes happens to noble Ladies when a keep is taken dawned on her, and she pushed past the warriors to the front of the group. Huffing to keep pace with the long-legged Jurgen, she grabbed him by the elbow, pushing her long nails into the inside of his elbow between the steel plates of his armour.

“Jurgen! You have to take me with you,” she hissed, cutting him off as he was about to protest. “You will not leave me here to be raped and ransomed! I’m coming with you and that’s final.”

The dull brute looked back and forth from her and his liege, eventually nodding. “Just keep close and stay quiet, Prisk--- Lady Steiber.” Priska slowed her pace, falling in behind the fighting men and the Fosdick woman. The hammer-wielding warriors gave her curious looks, but otherwise didn’t say anything and Priska refused to engage the merchant’s daughter with even a look.

They wound their way through a spiral staircase into the cellars. Lord Waldo lead the group, but every so often Jurgen would point him in the right direction. Priska suppressed a grin. The two of them had found a few quiet corners down here over the last few months, and made sure they didn’t stay quiet. They passed the keeps well, that had kept them in clean if unpleasant water throughout the siege, and came to a room full of now-empty cider barrels. Around the back of one huge puncheon barrel, was an old iron bound door. Lord Waldo produced a set of iron keys with a self important flourish and what he surely thought was a charming grin aimed at the merchant’s daughter. Any charm he may have mustered was ruined as he had to try several keys to open the old door.

“My Lord, I must insist I take the lead,” Jurgen said, surprising both Priska and Lord Waldo with his forthrightness. “Nobody from Lorch has been in this tunnel in years, and it’s possible the Talabecmen have found the other entrance.”

“A fine idea, soldier! You should take the lead, one of you others watch our rear,” commanded the Lordling, handing the keys to Roderick. It occurred to Priska that he might not even know Jurgen’s name, despite having been guarded by the Greatsword and his deceased comrade for months. The large man grabbed a torch from the wall, plunging the cellar into darkness and handed it to his Lord before entering the tunnel. Waldo followed, holding the flame high. Priska immediately went after, not bothering to wait for the other three.

Behind her, Brandt looked at Maria and Roderick, then pulled his wounded arm through the remains of his heater shield with a wince. “I’ll take the rear, if one of you wants to grab another torch for us.”
Brandt stared as the gate was pulled away in a great screeching lurch. Sergeant Hoefler didn’t give an order so much as a bloody-minded yell, surging forward with his men loyally at his back. Brandt’s hesitation gave him a wide field of vision of the event, as only two Talabecmen surged into the hole between the wrecked gate. The smiths apprentice could see the two men, each a head taller then most of the defenders, and wielding huge straight zweihanders, in contrast to the Hochland Greatswords’ wave-bladed flamberges. The first swing of the man on the right took the head off a green and red clad spearmen before smashing through the collarbone of the man beside him. The warrior on the left swung lower, clipping several of the Hochlanders along the arms and chest, whirling his blade around his head and following through with a second swing.

Just as he began to move forward, Brandt saw Sergeant Hoefler back out of the melee and look over his shoulder towards the smith and the mudstained priest. "Brandt! Tell his lordship the gate is lost, get him to safety!" He nodded dumbly and spared the priest a look before they both turned tail and ran for the large double door that was the keeps main entrance. Their flight was unmolested, and a voice called for their surrender just as they made the doors. Brandt slammed into one of them hard, then remembered which of the had been left unlocked and pushed through that one, pulling the panting clergyman in behind him. Together they pushed the door closed, then hefted the large beam up and down into its catch, barring the door.

They stood together, heaving in ragged breaths after their sprinting retreat. Brandt leaned is head against the door, his helmed clunking dully against the wood. He’d hesitated. When the moment to defend the gate came, Brandt Dittmar had stopped dead and stared while his comrades had rushed forward. He tossed his bloodied warhammer aside and and slammed his fist against the door angrily. Beside him, Roderick gave a start at the noise.

“Brandt, your arm,” the young man said, pointing. The smith looked at his left arm, still clutching at the cut-up ruins of his heater shield. A crossbow bolt had hit him and pierced through. Closer inspection revealed the head of the broken off bolt had gone clean through the shield and into the makeshift clamshell gauntlets the smith had cobbled together for himself.

“I’m all right,” he replied, trying not to think about it. He hadn’t noticed, truth be told, but his arm had immediately started throbbing. “We need to find Lord Waldo and tell him we’ve lost the courtyard. If he doesn’t already know.

- - - - - -

The women and those few who were too young or infirm to fight had gathered in the well appointed bedquarters at the top of the keep, usually reserved for the ruling lord or his guests. They’d done this each time the Talabecland forces had attacked, watching as the soldiers and those men who’d formed the town of Lorch’s small militia fought off the attackers. Priska Steiber was amongst them, tactfully in a different bedchamber then that of Lord Waldo and more importantly Jurgen, who was back to being the loyal bodyguard.

They women with her watched in silence, for the most part. There were a few muttered comments, both good and bad, as that merchant's daughter Miss Fosdick left the wall. For her part, Priska had nothing to say. That woman who played at being a soldier was below her station, and certainly impertinent. She probably rolls about with the men in the storeroom, she thought, completely missing the irony of her musings. They watched as the ladders were lifted and the fighting began. They watched as the Hochlanders fell back from the wall and the gate was pulled down. There were gasps of horror as their men were cut down by the two Greatswords and despairing moans as the surviving soldiers and militiamen threw their battered weapons into the mud.

One man didn’t surrender, however. Jurgen’s comrade, the second Greatsword stood firm, his bloodied sword at the ready. The Talabecmen surrounded him with spears, until a ripple of movement went through them and they pulled back. The pair of enemy Greatswords in their muddied red and yellow uniforms approached the stubborn warrior, blades raised in challenge. Priska saw the lone man nod, then set his feet in a combat stance.

The Talabecmen rushed him as one, and there was a swift clash of blades. The defender held his sword by the haft with one hand and at the leather wrap with the other, giving him the control needed to fend off the two swordsmen who assailed him, for a time. In the end, a probing swipe at clipped his calve and caused him to stumble, and he ended up with a blade plunged deep into his armpit from the other side. It looked to the onlookers that some words were exchanged between the warriors as the defender fell to his needs, but soon enough the man had topled forwards into the mud. The surrendered men looked on sullenly as their victorious counterparts cheered.

There was talk among the women of what a brave man he had been, how he’d be remembered. Priska thought he had been an idiot for fighting when the battle had already been lost. The onlookers watched with worry as their captured men were marched out, and a panicked chatter rose amongst the room until a man walked forward to the base of the small bluff on which the keep sat. He had the bright heraldry and dyed plume of a Noble and was recognised at once as Lord Gerard Wendl, commander of the besieging forces.

“Waldo!” called out Lord Gerard, the insult of not using the boys proper rank echoed in the man's tone. “Get out here, Waldo! It's time for you to surrender, my boy!”
Brandt desperately needed to piss. Sure, he’d already taken the time to crouch at the inner edge of the wall and let fly whatever nervous half-hearted stream he could manage twice already since the bombardment had began, but that didn’t seem to have any bearing on his suddenly tightening bladder. It’d happened the same way during the last assaults. The nerves would come, he’d relieve himself thoroughly before things really kicked off, but the moment the time was upon them the only thing his body seemed to care about was letting loose, though he knew he was empty.

“Ladders!” someone shouted, and Brandt joined in the chorus of curses and prayers. For an insane moment he couldn’t remember if he’d prayed or swore, and he laughed a bit. Nobody seemed to mind, each of them seemed to handle the fear in their own ways, and so long as a man stood strong on the parapet nobody judged. There was a ragged crackle as their handgunners fired their first volley, and Brandt peaked up over the wall to see the results. One of the ladder teams had fallen over in the mud as several of them had taken wounds from the spinning bullets. Then the rest were at the walls.

The ladders were hoisted against the walls and everything was a flurry of action. Men armed with spears who’d lashed crosspieces to their poles had the job of shifting the ladders off the wall, either backwards or more usually to one side. They managed to toss two of them down, but by then men had reached the top of others. Panic threatened to grip Brandt Dittmar, but he pushed it away. He was angry at himself for being afraid, and he forced that anger towards the enemy. One of the ladders that had been shoved away was raised again nearby, and Brandt brought his heater shield up under his eyes with a snarl, hefting his warhammer at the ready.

Earlier in the day, the smiths apprentice had imagined himself as some bold hero with a memorable battle cry that would elevate him amongst his fellows as a warrior of renowned. He imagined himself standing shoulder to shoulder with the famed Greatswords, perhaps with his own bold chinless beard. As the first Talabecman reached over the crenulations towards him, Brandt met him with instinct instead of intellect, spitting and shouting.

“Fuck!” he bellowed thoughtlessly, and obliterated the mans face with his hammer. The man went limp and fell back from the wall, but the next man managed to hop over from another ladder. Then the battle began for real, a desperate ugly fight at the top of the wall. There was a rhythm to it, and the BOOM-CRACK of the cannon acted as metronome.

The defenders did well and the attackers never managed to get a hold on the wall.

“Sergeant Hoefler!” came a shout from the Gatehouse, a deep bellow that carried over the noise of battle. It was the Greatsword who’d been almost single-handedly keeping his stretch of the fall free of the enemy with great battlement-clearing sweeps of his flamberge. “Sergeant, they’re massing!”

The old fighters stepped towards each other to speak together and Brandt wasn’t able to hear their conversation. Horns were sounding from the other side of the wall and Brandt raised his now-battered shield, ready for the next man to come in range of his bloodied hammer. That man never came, and as doubts and questions started to push against his raging heartbeat, Sergeant Hoefler began hoarsely barking out orders.

“Down from the walls, lads!” he pointed towards the keep. “That cannon’s done its work, we’re falling back! Handgunners, give us cover as long as you can.” The four surviving handgunners answered with a ragged cheer as the rest of the men reluctantly pulled themselves from their hard-defended parapet. Brandt joined them, keeping close to the Sergeant as they hustled down the stone steps to the mud below. He tried not to look at the corpses that had tumbled to their side of the wall; a few of their own men, and a handful of the enemy that had been shoved over to keep the space cleared for the warriors feet. Brandt saw the gate as they went past. Jagged metal from the outer portcullis reached inward through the mostly shattered oak of the inner gate, and bent cannon balls littered the ground nearby.

There was shouting, and the sounds of horses. Brandt heard a clang and turned to see grapples flight into the wreckage of the gate. There was a barked order he couldn’t quite hear, and the ropes were pulled taught. A great groan went up as the wreckage began to twist away.

“The gate…” Brandt muttered, until the reality of the situation set in. “The gate! Sergeant Hoefler, the gate!”
“Oh, Jurgen! Oh Jurgen, yes! Jurgen!” Priska thought she was very convincing. Certainly Jurgen was enjoying himself, and so he should. It was unlikely a bland man like Jurgen Wolter could talk his way into an ugly milkmaid, let alone a lady of her standing in an regular situation. However, as the siege wore on and the tediousness of it all had nearly driven Priska to who-knows-what, her standards had to be adjusted. He was a fine enough lover, and though his face was as dull as his personality, his body was firm and strong in all the right places. It was to be expected in a Greatsword and one of Lord Waldo’s bodyguards. Jurgen had other uses as well, she mused. Before this afternoon’s tryst, he’d brought her a small package of delicious dried apple strips. Lord Waldo didn’t like apple, he had said, but Priska Steiber was smarter than some simpering lordling. She’d hungrily eaten a few strips, then wrapped the rest up. A treasure like that could buy all sorts of favours, or at the least be enjoyed alone. She’d had to share some of her initial taste with Jurgen as a half-hearted form of foreplay.

She could feel in his hastening efforts from behind her that he would reach the top of his end soon, and so she reached down to make sure she did as well. Moments later, however, he faltered. She turned to look over her shoulder to see if he’d already climaxed when she heard the tolling of the chapel bell. Jurgen extricated himself quickly and awkwardly with a grunt and Priska gasped. “What…?”

“What are you doing?” she demanded, rolling to a sitting position on the straw filled bed.

“The bell is ringing,” replied the dull soldier stupidly as pulled his trousers on.

“What?” sputtered Priska. “So?”

“It’s an attack,” answered Jurgen, though his voice was muffled as he pulled his undertunic and smelly arming coat over his head.


He’d pulled his boots on and turned to look back at her with a blank expression on his face. The fool probably thought he looked romantic or dashing or something, but he just looked sweaty. He pulled open the door and left without saying anything, which was probably in his favour.

“Jurgen!” repeated Priska in equal parts surprise and afrontment. “But what about me?”

- - - - -

The Blackbird loosed a few more bolts at the Talabecmen, but the enemy were more wary after her first and kept out of range and behind cover. Brandt, along with most of the other men on the walls watched with interest, admiration and in the case of some, undisguised lust. Brandt was admiring how a cold breeze had lifted Miss Fostick’s dark hair when a distant booming caught his attention. By the time he realized the source of the urgent angry whistle that followed, it was too late to do anything about it. The crenellations on the other side of the gatehouse from Brandt exploded into shards of stone, several men being thrown to the ground below. The rest of them took cover, screaming curses or prayers or just screaming. Only a moment passed and the roof of the chapel exploded, scattering flaming timbers amongst the grounds inside the wall. Most guttered out in the cold and the mud.

There was a shocking moment of quiet, the only sound being the ragged breath of angry and frightened men and the groans of the wounded. Sergeant Hoeffler, a half dozen feet down from Brandt, was the first to move. He stood, looked up and down either end of the wall then stood up with a grunt between two still intact crenellations.

“You missed me, you cross-eyed cunts!” hollered the old soldier, punctuating his declaration with a gob of phlegm spat towards the enemy. The Hochland troops inside the wall stood up as one, cheering and jeering in equal measure. The Sergeant hopped back down and started shouting orders to his men, all about his business.

“Schmitt, Bachmann! You two are on lookout. They’ll be sending more at us with that artillery and I don’t want my head taken off by the next one, so you watch the crews and give us as much notice as you can. Handgunners! Spread out and keep your heads down until they’re in range, we’ll let you know when your guns can bark.”

There were a few more shots aimed at the top of the wall, but it seemed as though the first had been lucky for the gunners, as the next few either hit the wall or went high, impacting the hill that the small keep sat upon. The cannoneers readjusted their aim to the gate, smashing balls into the iron-sheathed oak and the rusty iron portcullis beyond. The mortar, however, was what gave the men worry as they hunkered down under the slow bombardment. Over the span of half an hour, it blasted apart two more buildings and set several others on fire. It seemed as though each shell landed closer to their position on the wall. This one to their left, this one to their right, but nearer every time.

Brandt stayed where he was and kept his head down. He couldn’t help but wonder what had saved most of them so far: The love of Sigmar, inexperienced gunners, or something as mundane as strong winds fouling the mortars trajectory. The other men had begun to mutter, however, that the Talabecmen were moving forward. Hoeffler ordered the Handgunners to stay where they were. The enemy were using the artillery as cover to bring forward improvised mantlets, and the six Handgunners couldn’t afford to waste a single bullet.
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