18 Calistril – 16 Gozran
It takes about a week to extract all of the siege equipment from the vault. Two engineering companies of Volkov’s soldiers arrive to help and take ownership. During the week, Baron Giles arrives and meets the rest of the party before taking command of the engineers. He’s accompanied by Carries Under Northern Tunnels, a goblin from the clan local to his manor who has been helping rebuild.
After the siege equipment is un-mothballed, the force sets off to the South. The going is extremely slow for the first week, but then Snot asks the local clans for help and sizable contingent of goblins appear after sunset every night to conduct repairs on the equipment and the force begins to move considerably faster.
Two weeks later the force meets up with the rest of Volkov’s army on the North Road and proceed to Westergarde. Before too much longer, they begin to encounter farms that have been stripped. Tyr’s forces had razed fields and taken livestock in order to deprive the army of supplies.
Six weeks after liberating the watchtower, the Emperor’s Army, ten-thousand strong, march on Westergarde. The village that had built up outside the city walls had been razed, leaving a clear killing field around the city. During a planning session Smoot notes that Volkov has made sure that Westergarde can’t be resupplied form the sea. When asked if they had a navy, Smoot replied with a “sorta”.
While the army is deploying, the party meets with Volkov, Smoot, Giles, Vladimir, Diego, and a number of other officers at a pavilion overlooking the castle. Giles is pressuring Volkov to take the wall down with the artillery and Smoot disagrees. Kagdir points out the physics of the Imperial Dwarven walls and notes that they could make a hole in the wall, but it would take nearly all of their powder and virtually eliminate Volkov’s numerical advantage.
The session ends with a cutscene:
A small sally door has opened in the gates of Westergarde, and out it has walked a small woman carrying a bundle in her arms.
The command staff breaks into a murmur, speculating.
And then Matten’s eyes widen. “Ohhhhh shit.”
The woman is of far east descent. She’s simply clothed. In her arms she’s carrying a small basket veritably stuffed with yarn. A small folding chair is hooked over her arm.
And strapped across her back is an Etu’Sauri sword.
You recognize both immediately. Her name is Hajira ap’Salim. The blade is Le’Tu’Fiara: The Weeping Blade. She’s a fourth generation sword-bearer. Her great grandfather having made the choice to keep the Blade in his family. She has been raised, since birth, to dance with that sword, and she is very likely, considering her relatively young age, the most skilled living blademaster.
She walks about fifty yards out in front of the gates before setting down her chair. She arranges the knitting basket beside her, the Blade across her lap, and begins working on what appears to be a winter shawl. She shoots a glance straight at you. She knows you’re here.
It’s not entirely unexpected that Tyr would hire an Etu’Sauri. Since she’s presented herself outside the walls, her contract is likely solely to ensure that no other Etu’Sauri take the field. At least that’s what you hope. She’d likely kill three hundred men before Smoot managed to drop a rock on her.
She’s here to stop…you. She won’t get out of the army’s way until you confront her. And she is going to kill you.
Without turning to Volkov, you say, “General, my master is a good and honorable man. You’d do well to remember that. When the time comes.“
Volkov raises his eyebrow, but nods.
You take a deep and cleansing breath. As you lift your foot to step forward, long, slender fingers grip your shoulder like iron and hold you fast. You turn and look up at a woman, an Elf. The first you’ve ever seen in the flesh.
She’s young, as Elves go. She’s dressed for travel. Dirty, unkempt. There’s a strip of cloth wrapped around her head, covering her eyes. Above and below it are what appear to be scars from fingernails, as if she’d attempted to gouge her eyes out. It’s impossible to tell if she was successful.
Her Etu’Sauri sword, Rii’Tu Delail, The Mad Blade, hangs unsheathed, held limply by the guard in the fingers of one hand, the tip dragging in the dirt.
Her voice is barely a whisper.
“It’s not your time. Lucas needs you.”
She then turns and walks out onto the field.
The look of haughty indifference on Hajira ap’Salim fades quickly when she realizes who is coming for her. She sets down her knitting, stands, and draws her blade. Immediately, dark clouds start to form in the sky above, and a cold rain begins to fall.
The Elf approaches, rain-soaked hair plastered to her cheeks, shoulders slumped, the tip of her blade dragging in the mud. They speak some words to each other, but they are lost in the wind. Eventually, Hajira raises her blade into a guard pose. The Elf simply waits.
And then they move.
History will remember the moment as the last time an Elven Bladedancer took to the field of battle. To most, they were simply a blur of motion, but to the trained eye, it was breathtaking. Without a doubt the most stunning display of martial prowess that most will ever see in their lives.
It lasts nine and a half seconds.
Etu’Ssauri Moriel Celebhen lowers Etu’Sauri Hajira ap’Salim to the ground. She helps the human woman maintain her grip her Blade as she dies. She kisses her gently on the forehead. There is no sound but the rain.
Kneeling, the elven woman meticulously cleans the blood and dirt from The Weeping Blade before placing it in its scabbard. Like the flip of a switch, the rain stops and the clouds begin to break apart in the trade winds from the sea.
She rises and walks slowly back to the lines of the army. She’s bleeding from a dozen wounds. The Weeping Blade is held reverently in the crook of her arm while the tip of The Mad Blade leaves a bloody rut in the mud. When she reaches Volkov she pauses.
“Look what you made me destroy.”
She pushes through the crowd and is gone, and as one, two armies start breathing again.
At least we took the tower. Not the way I would have wanted it, but, well, it got us in. I have to admit, most men are easily distracted if you show them some bare skin. Well, it works for me, anyway. It is as if when they see a woman they find attractive, they stop thinking with anything remotely near their heads. The ones on the top, I mean. Never mind.
Anyway, having taken the tower, we settled down to do what soldiers do best: Wait. Eventually, Smoot arrives with a large group of men. He reveals what we werer there for: Siege engines. It took us, or rather them, about a week just to load it onto their wagons.
During that week, baron Giles arrived as well, together with another goblin. It seems he has come to some sort of agreement with the local clan, and they were helping him rebuild his manor. Also, it seems there’s a friendship building between the baron and Starry Night. Lucky for us; I think the baron was less than pleased with the rest of us being ready to leave him behind.
After all the equipment was loaded up, we headed south, with the ultimate goal being Westergarde. It was slow, extremely so, at the beginning. Wagons broke down, wheels had to be replaced, all that stuff. Then it seems Starry Night made some agreement with local clans of goblins, and they started repairing stuff for us while we camped.
It did not go entirely without problems, but those were mostly minor issues. One thing we noticed was that from time to time, things disappeared. But rarely anything important, and our travel speed increased significantly.
After a couple of weeks of travel, we met up with Volkov’s remaining forces, and now we were heading for Westergarde. It is obvious that the enemy was expecting us. Scorched earth was what met us when we got close to Westergarde. I think that is what I hate the most about war. What it does to the civilians. I suppose it has a lot to do with what happened…before. Before everything.
Burned fields, no livestock at all, all to prevent us from getting access to supplies. Sometimes, I feel like two people at once; one part of me sees why it is necessary, the tactical sense in it. The other part of me sees what I would have seen as a child: Ruined crops, livestock taken by soldiers, sometimes farmers and their families being killed, because they resisted, or, well, just because.
Most regular people do not really care whose lord’s land they live on. They care about how much they have to pay in taxes, and how much crap they have to put up with from the lord’s men, and sometimes even the lord himself. Borders mean little; it meant nothing to me when I was a child.
But I know what was done here was necessary. It makes it harder for us to progress. It means that we need to take Westergarde quickly; we do not have the resources we need for a prolonged siege.
The city itself is ready for us. We might be able to punch through the wall, but then our artillery will be pretty much useful, at least that is my impression from the officers’ discussions.
And then, something happens.
A door opens, and out comes a woman. She is small, smaller than me, most likely, though it is hard to judge at this distance. She carries a basket, and has a sword strapped to her back.
She walks away from the gates, then settles down on the folding chair she also carried with her. She pulls out something from the basket; it seems to be an unfinished shawl that she starts knitting on. She glances up at us, or rather at Matten.
Something is going on here, clearly. He seems to know her, or at least know who she is. He keeps looking at her, but speaks to general Volkov. “General, my master is a good and honourable man. You’d do well to remember that. When the time comes.” There is so much in that sentence that I want to grab hold of, dig into, but now is clearly not the time. It is obvious that Matten intends to confront her.
Only later did I learn her name. Etu’Sari Hajira ap’Salim. There to stop Matten.
And then _she_ is there. She grabs his shoulder and holds him back. An elf. She’s dirty, and has a dirty strip of cloth tied around her head, to cover her eyes. And there are scars visible around that piece of cloth, as if she tried to claw out her own eyes.
She has a sword in the other hand, treated nothing like I would ever treat a blade. And this is not just a sword, it is an etu’sari blade. It drags after her, drawing a line in the dust. She whispers something to Matten, and then she walks down towards the other woman. There is a story there, and, I suppose, proof that ‘happily ever after’ often does not last long. The elven woman is also an Etu’Sari. Moriel Celebwen.
Hajira puts down the shawl she was working on, then stands and pulls her own weapon. The sky darkens, and it starts raining, a cold rain, though I am not entirely certain how much is real cold, and how much is the scene playing out between us and the city.
Moriel looks almost defeated, sword dragging behind her. The two women speak for a few moments, but we are too far away to hear anything. Then the human woman raises her sword, preparing herself for the fight. The elven woman just stands there, sword still trailing in the mud, as if she has forgotten it is there.
The fight itself was short. Then Moriel lowered the human to the ground, carefully. A bard would be able to make something out of this scene; it is as if she says goodbye to someone she loves. It seems like more than one adversary honouring another.
Then she cleans and sheets The Weeping Blade, the blade Hajira was carrying. And just like that, the rain stops, and the clouds disperse. And Moriel, she stands and walks back towards us. She is bleeding, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She carries the Weeping Blade carefully, gently, treating it with a lot more respect that she does her own blade; it still is dragging behind her.
She stops in front of general Volkov. Looks at him.
“Look what you made me destroy.” There is something in her voice, sorrow, pain, I am not sure. But I do wonder why she stepped in, why did she interfere? There is a history between her and Volkov, I wonder if that history is why she came in the first place.
Then she left.
You might one day hear songs about this day. Theories and speculations about what their final words to each other were. What I will remember best, though, is that the woman who returned to us and then walked away did not seem to consider it a victory.