Challenge Story #5: The Fall Of The Witch-King
Here it is folks, the latest of my short stories. I am currently writing another tale about Fendreg Of Senagra, but this was the first of the warrior's stories. Lovers of Conan the Barbarian may enjoy The Fall Of The Witch-King.
The Fall Of The Witch-King
Copyright © 2012 Shaun Kilgore
Published By Founders House Publishing, LLC
All Rights Reserved.
The Craven-born attacked the walls with their hands of fire, battering the stones, searing them, and melting them down. They came by the thousands to the walls of Hanbare, city of the East, driven there by the will of their master. The acrid stench of molten stone burned Fendreg’s eyes, but he rallied the Hanbari archers. The roar of his commands launched volley after volley down onto the seething mass of the Craven-born. Scores died, their arrow-riddled flesh bubbling and blackening as they screamed. Still, they came at the wall, the eerie glow of their hands lit up the waning night like a thousand flames. Fendreg drew back his long bow, took aim at the slack faces of the Craven-born, and searched their fierce, bestial gazes for even a spark of humanity. There was nothing.
Fendreg screamed his anger to the gods, let loose his iron-tipped arrow. His aim was true. Two of the creatures were pierced. He drew more arrows from the pile at his feet. The twang of the arrow string was echoed a hundredfold by the Hanbari.
A rumble pierced the din of men’s screams, an ominous sound. Fendreg ran along the top of the wall, rushing past the archers continuing their methodical work. The clatter of his armor plate pounded in counterpoint to his hurried steps. He still had the longbow gripped in his hand; a half-used quiver dangled at his hip beside his short sword. Again, there was a deep rumble followed by a tremor in the stone beneath his feet. Fendreg doubled his pace. Ahead Hanbari gathered in a tight knot, their attention fixed below at the outer gate.
"Move! Move you curs, let me through!" Fendreg growled. "I swear to the Two Mothers, I’ll skin you alive!"
The Hanbari gave way. Fendreg climbed onto the stone of the rampart, leaning over so he could see. At that moment, another rumble issued from directly below. The tremors were stronger. Loose flecks of stone dropped off into another force -- mere men this time -- below as they maneuvered an enormous battering ram made of oak topped with the iron face of a dragon.
Fendreg cursed. He searched the writhing heap looking for Argrell himself, the Lord of Devenar. The sorcerer-king was nowhere in sight. Fendreg pulled free an arrow, readying his bow to shoot. In moments, he had launched several shafts at those who labored with the ram, striking legs as often as heads. No sizzling or bubbling this time, just the flow of red blood pouring out on the flagstones, only to be smeared by the feet of the other soldiers. As he watched, others took up the places at the ram, paying their fallen comrades no mind whatsoever. This time Fendreg could hear the creak of the wood as it started to give way. The groan reverberated through the stones. The Hanbari who had been watching looked at Fendreg. They waited.
"Archers, I need more archers now!"
Thirty Hanbari archers rushed forward at his command, their bows poised and ready. They crowded along the ramparts and took their positions with practiced precision. Fendreg firmed his grip on the wall just as ram pounded against the thick gates. The shuddering of the stone was a deep, groaning sound.
Drawing his bow, Fendreg bellowed, "On my command, put every arrow into those men on that ram, then hit those positioned directly around. I want that blasted thing stopped before they breech the city."
Below, those running the battering ram prepared for another charge. Fendreg counted the steps to their approach. "Ready...ready...fire!"
The hum of arrows in the air was a sweet sound. The twang of bows strings continued. On the ground the aggressive attack destabilized the patrol manning the battering ram. As the Hanbari kept up the barrage Fendreg watched the soldiers scatter, leaving the ram on the ground. The men cheered at the routing. Meanwhile Fendreg watched the milling mass, wondering how long it would take for the Craven-born to come at the gate. It was a desperate attempt at delay. He needed to keep moving if he wanted to save Hanbare.
Fendreg raced back to the portion of the wall where the Craven-born concentrated their efforts. The fighting was hot and enemy archers had joined in, sending down their own rain of arrows on the Hanbari. Those wearing the precious gaden-armor were protected from the barbed tips; the others made due with shields, cobbled armor plating or just chain mail. As he arrived, several of the Craven-born had made it to the top, their fiery fingers sinking in to the stone itself. Several of the Hanbari had abandoned bows to strike out with swords and axes, hacking away whole arms or beheading the abominations where they hung on the walls.
Fendreg rushed in, bearing his own short sword just as a Craven-born clambered over. He struck hard and fast. As steel met molten hands, white sparks flew. He kept the blade moving not wanting the Craven-born to get a firm grip. The steel would be reduced to slag. For a tense moment, the creature evaded his strikes. The Craven-born lashed out like a viper, leaving jagged score marks on Fendreg’s armor plating. Redoubling his efforts, Fendreg maneuvered the Craven-born closer to the wall. The creature reacted like a mountain cat, bearing its teeth and hissing. Fendreg watched it. Only a glassy, emotionless stare reflected back.
"Die you pathetic wretch, may the Two Mothers forgive you! Raaa!"
With all of his strength, Fendreg swung the short sword. His cry was lost in the roar of the battle. The Craven-born leaped forward straight into his attack. The blade was buried to the hilt in the creature’s chest. The putrid stench made Fendreg gag. The Craven-born’s blackened blood boiled and the skin blistered. Its howl was terrible. Fendreg struggled to avoid its hands. Still, as he shoved the body over the wall, he saw that his cloak was burning in places and the interlocking links of his mail coat were melted together.
There was a momentary lull, the kind that came when armies regrouped in order to launch another attack. It was unexpected. The Craven-born were like blunt instruments, flung about with little regard for subtlety or finesse. He’s down there. Argrell is directing them. Fendreg wiped his blade clean and recovered his bow. He rushed to the wall. In the pre-dawn light, he looked out at the lands beyond Hanbare’s walls. The armies had trampled them. Black smoke drifted up from the remains of the settlements that had cropped up around the city proper over the years.
Fendreg tracked the movements, watched as the Craven-born were drawn away as though by unseen leashes. The low moans of horns directed Argrell's forces. The regular soldiers that made up the armies of Devenar formed into ranks and withdrew and gathered amid the charred settlements. Ragged cheers went up among the Hanbari on the wall. Some were convinced they were retreating. Fendreg knew better. The lord of Devenar was a canny leader. Many of the eastern kingdoms learned that dreadful lesson as their fortifications crumbled, their cities burned, and their people were killed or enslaved. No, Argrell was preparing for a new assault.
As he watched those below, a Hanbari officer approached. He saluted Fendreg. "My lord, my compliments to you. You’ve done well with the battlements. The demon-spawn have been repelled. I see they regroup in the Vallange. I’ve brought surgeons up to tend those suffering minor injuries. We will also carry down the more seriously wounded."
Fendreg nodded. "That will do, Captain Alvelan. We have to be ready for their next attack."
"Yes, my lord, but that is not all. My messengers have brought word that Lord Mallar wishes to see you."
Fendreg frowned at that. The fool was always making such requests at the least appropriate times. "Now, when we may be facing a fresh assault? I am needed here among the archers, at the walls."
"Lord Fendreg, it is not my place to inquire into the governor’s reasons. He wishes you to appear before him in the high chambers. I have been instructed to take your place here until you return. That is all."
Fendreg bit his tongue. There was no reason to shout at the Hanbari. Alvelan was a capable leader. He also knew his place and where his loyalties rested. Fendreg saluted again and headed for the steps. Fendreg knew he would have to move fast to get Mallar's quarters.
He entered the damp corridor at a jog, rushing past the torches, dodging stray servants who had remained behind to attend the surgeons and the needs of the wounded. Taking the steps two at a time, Fendreg winced as the heavy plating dug into his shoulders. In another corridor he paused as servants bore a stretcher carrying a bloodied soldier into one of the chambers designated a field hospital. The moans of the wounded and the dying mingled with the raw scent of death. The smells of blood, vomit, and worse flooded the halls. Fendreg steeled himself and pressed on.
After a time, the sounds of fighting grew dimmer and the moans of the dying faded. Fendreg knew his destination well. Mallar kept apartments in the central part of the fortress, insulated from much of the unpleasantness of the city. He had come to consider the man with deep contempt, the worse sort of noble. Calling him away from the battle now would earn the petulant man a white-hot rebuke. This stoked Fendreg's frustration, lending speed to his gait, propelling him through the hallways.
The rustling of his armor announced his passage to the guards that started appearing at points along the way. Some knuckled their steel-gloved hands to the outlander, acknowledging their respect for the warrior. Fendreg ignored them now. He was gritting his teeth when he arrived in front of the apartment doors. Two soldiers in burnished steel and the colors of Mallar's house were situated on either side of the heavy double doors.
Fendreg simply stared at them, his hand trailing down to the scabbard at his hip. The guards noticed and responded accordingly, moving in a herky-jerky motion to pull open the doors. As the space opened, he bolted through not giving the guards time to announce his arrival.
The room behind was spacious, the walls draped in rich upholsteries and fine gossamer fabrics. Floral patterns and rugged stone carvings mingled in Lord Mallar's inner sanctum. An assortment of plush chaises and broader couches were set nearer to the great stone fireplace. The sitting room table was bedecked with all manner of fruits and the remains of a roasted piglet. A feast was sitting there going to waste while others throughout the city were starving. Fendreg growled.
Reclined in one of the chaises nearest to the fire, Lord Amius Mallar sipped from a golden goblet, the precious stones on his be-ringed hands glistened in the firelight. Other lamps illuminated the shape of a pleasantly plump woman, garbed in scarlet gowns and jewel-encrusted bracelets. Her hair was so light that Fendreg could believe it was white. At present, the woman was kneeling beside Mallar, her head lying upon the noble's lap.
"Hush now, Ilaya, our good friend Master Fendreg will soon put an end to all of this inconvenience." Mallar was brushing the woman's hair like he was petting a cat.
"By Damnation's foot, Mallar, do you think I can sweep the Craven-borne like your servants clear your table!" Fendreg vented his frustrations at the petty little man. He deserved it, by the gods!
Mallar's sweet façade slipped at Fendreg's tone. "I do not think there is any call for that, outlander. I shall not be spoken to in such a manner."
Fendreg glanced at the woman, noting her widened gaze. Her lips trembled and he half expected her to mewl like a kitten craving milk.
"You, my lord, called me to Hanbare to aid you against Argrell's machinations. I have taken command of this city's armies and I have beaten them back time and again, but today that foul beast has called upon darker powers. We fight Craven-born for you, young lordling! This is much more than a simple inconvenience I assure you. Good men spill their blood and you lounge here with that little whore nestled on your crotch! I'll be damned if I let that stand."
Shoving the woman's head away, Mallar jumped, his face contorted with indignation. "You will not speak to me that way! I will have you sent to the depths of this fortress to rot in muck. Guards! Come here at once and seize this man!"