Three of my books are currently free to read at Amazon. The free promotion runs until Monday, July 18, 2022, 11:59 PM PDT.
Simply click on the cover images below.
Holiday with the Orcs will be free on Kindle until Saturday, 13th June. This is likely to be the last free promo I run for this title – so get it now!
Prince Hardlee has arranged a holiday in the Orkranian highlands. The mountains are supposed to be lovely at this time of year. But there is the added attraction of his favourite actress, half-elven Maegana Vulpon, who is vacationing at the temple of eternal youth in Nstaad. But the King, Hardlee’s father, does not approve of the relationship choices of his only son and heir, forcing the Prince to travel in disguise. There are also traitors about—an uncle who with eyes on the throne has learnt of the Prince’s destination and dispatched a band of cutthroats. Other dangers lurk in the Orkranian highlands. Orc raiders covet the wealth of the village of Nstaad. The Dwarf miners who work there have uncovered deposits of gold, and the Orc chief Grim Bearit wants that gold. Can a mixed band of princely retainers, halfling inn-keepers, dwarven miners, elven priests and actors resist the Orc raid?
For lovers of old-style fantasy and Oldhammer everywhere.
My new short story Mars Incorporated is out now and will be free on Amazon until Saturday!!
Earth’s colonization of the red planet, Mars, was supposed to be the crowning glory of human civilization. Instead the small colony on Mars is in trouble. After the death of one of the colonists CJ Douglas, hero of the Moon and founder of Lunar Alpha Base is sent to investigate.
Mars incorporated is a 4,000-word science fiction short story.
Available as an eBook from:
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk – and other Amazon stores!
Following on from my posts about Time’s Arrow and the cover reveal, here’s a free excerpt from my new short story.
I hope you enjoy the read and if you do stay tuned for details about how you can buy a copy of the story.
William Chan punched the number 1415 into the time machine. And followed it with the month of October and the day was 25. St. Crispin’s Day, 1415. The Battle of Agincourt. He breathed deeply, feeling the blood pump through his veins. He looked down at what he wore. A leather jerkin with a white badge and a red cross sown above his heart, green legged-hose, leather boots, a buckler shield, arrows stuffed into his belt and held together by a piece of rope on his right hip and a sword in a scabbard on his left. He stepped forward onto the central plate in the chamber of the machine. He adjusted the helmet strap under his chin and pealed back the woolen sleeve covering his wrist. He kept his finger pressed on a small button on the small black device strapped there and waited until the L.E.D. showed the time he wanted. Nine o’clock. Just half an hour, he hoped, before the first French attack. That should give him enough time to get a good vantage of the battle from the cover of the woods.
A green light flashed on the device, waiting for him. He pressed another button and held it down until the green light stopped flashing and was a solid green.
The G.P.S. should have placed him perfectly into the woods where he could watch undisturbed. But it didn’t. He was standing in a ploughed field behind a large mass of men. They were archers like him, like he was pretending to be. They were all facing away from him and most were busy with large stakes of wood, driving them with mallets or pushing them, getting their whole weight behind them so that they sank into the earth. They were building an impenetrable fence between themselves and the French mounted knights. A single line of stakes, William noted, not stakes in front of each man reaching in every ranks. That was one question answered.
“Archer! Where’s your bow? Find it and get into the ranks.”
William turned. Behind him was a grey-bearded man-at-arms riding a huge horse. He waved a rod at William and pointed towards the archers in front of them.
“Deserters will be hung.” The man nudged the flanks of his horse with his plate armored heals and the beast moved threateningly towards William. Just then there was a blast of a trumpet and the man looked towards his right, towards the centre of the English army.
William looked too. There he could see what he knew was a pitifully small number of dismounted men-at-arms. He couldn’t make them out properly across the flat field, but he knew that arrayed in the centre of the English army there would be three units, or battles, of men-at-arms; a mix of belted knights, squires and common soldiers, anyone with enough money to afford proper armor and the horses that were required. But the English men-at-arms hardly ever fought on horseback these days. Their usual strategy was to dismount and wait for their French enemies to attack. The English archers positioned on the flanks would pepper the approaching French hordes with arrows, breaking up their formations and then the English, hopefully fighting with the advantage of a hill or from behind some prepared defenses would break the enemy with their pole-axes, their cut-down lances and their swords. And here, near the small chateau of Agincourt, would occur the epitome of the English victory against the odds. Only a thousand English men-at-arms, with perhaps four thousand archers arrayed in support on the flanks, all hungry and tired from a desperate march across northern France and many suffering from the rigors of dysentery, their bowels opening without any self-control. This rag-tag of an army against the pride of French chivalry, over ten thousand men-at-arms on foot, drawn up in three great lines of attack with a thousand mounted men-at-arms on the flanks ready to disperse the English archers. But what should have been forlorn hope for the English was to be their greatest victory, with only 112 dead they would leave seven thousand French dead on the field and within five years Henry V, the English King, would have forced them into a peace that would hand him the crown of France upon the death of King Charles VI of France.
William licked his lips. It was an amazing prospect, and no-one from the 22nd century had ever seen it before.
The trumpet blared again and the man on horseback turned his horse to watch. William looked across at the banners. He could see one massive banner of cloth bearing Henry’s arms, the leopards of England quartered with the fleur-de-lis of France. He watched as the banner was raised up in the air and pointed forward. Battlefield signaling in action. Something else to add to his research paper. Another first for him.
“For flip’s sake,” growled the horseman. “We’ve only just got the bloomin’ stakes in.” William’s universal translator earpiece not only parsed Middle English, Old French and Latin into modern English, but it also, annoyingly, took most of the fun out of the swearing.
William was no longer important to the man on the horse. William watched him ride away, taking another mental note of the man’s arms that he could now more clearly on the back of his surcoat as he rode away from him towards the unit of archers. A green shield with a number of white blobs inside it –probably representing birds. Most likely, this was Sir Thomas Erpingham, charged with commanding both wings of archers. He would be a busy man that day.
William had nearly been caught out. But now he could make his way towards the woods and a safe place to watch the action. It had never been his intention to stand with either of the armies (especially not the French)—much too dangerous! And besides, from in the middle of the melee, would he really see much of what was going on? But a soldier’s disguise would help him get near enough. Even if he was to pose as an archer in the ranks (perhaps the least dangerous role on the English side), he would soon be shown up—there were no yew trees left in the 22nd century and his upper body muscles were certainly not strong enough to use one of the great English war-bows.
In front of him the archers were pulling their stakes out of the ground. They would march forward several hundred yards until they were in bow range of the French and plant their stakes again and then goad the French into attacking. And the rest would be history. William walked towards the woods on the western side of the field directly to the left of the formation of archers which faced the French army in the north. He didn’t run to get his position. There was too much to take in. It was not a simple task for the archers to pull-up the stakes they had just hammered into the ground and he noticed that many were giving up. He watched one man slip in the mud as the stake he was pulling came free. The archer landed on his backside. The men around him laughed and William couldn’t help but smile.
But the man didn’t seem to notice his comrades laughing. As he regained his feet he was staring straight at William.
“Oi! What are you looking at?”
William looked away and started walking quickly towards the woods.
“You, come here!”
TO BE CONTINUED
The concluding part of my Oldhammer fiction novella – Holiday in Orkrania! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. If you don’t know what I’m on about – go back to Part 1 to read more about the story and Part 1!
I’m planning to turn this into an eBook – just need to edit it and find a suitable cover image, but for now here’s the concluding section of the story:
“Let them in?” spluttered Drew. “Are you mad?”
One of the dwarves standing behind Gundrun nodded violently.
“Not mad—experienced. They’ll hack down the doors sooner than later. But if we time it right and surprise them—we’ll have the upper hand.”
Drew nodded. He could see the wisdom in the old dwarf’s words. “OK—let’s do it.”
The dwarf archers that had been picking off goblins and orcs from the upper windows came down to the courtyard again. The halflings stayed where there were and tried to pick off enemies whenever they could—no sense giving them a respite or cause for suspicion.
There were eight of them. They all loaded their crossbows and stood waiting just inside the gate. On either side the rest of the miners—forty in all stood ready with axe, pick and hammer.
Thud, thud went the axes of the orcs. The door was strong and the progress of the orcs was slows, but they would get there in the end—they’d already stopped sending their boyz over the wall—each time they were simply fodder for the dwarves axes as the clambered over.
Gundrun nodded to the two dwarves who held the heavy wooden bolt in place behind the gate. They heaved on it, pushing it up from below and then leapt back as the gate sprung open. Two large orcs, stripped to the waist stood looking surprised with axes raised high above their heads as the doors opened. Their green skin was slick with sweat.
Behind them stood a mob of heavily armed orcs—dressed in chainmail and carrying shields. But they didn’t expect to be hit by a volley of crossbows. The dwarves let fly. Both of the semi-naked axe orcs went down and at least four behind them sank to the ground as the bolts went home. Helpers passed the dwarves each another loaded crossbow and a second volley hit the orcs—barely giving them any time to get over their shock and raise their shields. Another six went down. The dwarf miners shouted their war-cry and rushed out of the gates attacking the decimated ranks of the orcs. The fight was brutal, and a number of dwarves died, but after a few short minutes it was brutal. The orcs were fleeing, leaving at least thirty—half their number on the field dead. Their long limbs carried them further and quicker than their pursuers and some discarded their armour to make their flight swifter.
A huddle of goblins on foot and a scattering of wolf-riders gave the dwarves pause, but Gundrun ordered them to close ranks and brought up his crossbows again. Two swift volleys broke the goblins as well and the wolf-riders covered their rout.
“That’s enough,” said Gundrun. “They won’t come back in a hurry, and besides we’d never catch them.”
“Well done,” said the tall aristocratic human. Two large dogs were at his side.
Gundrun’s lip curled—they were those shapeshifters—the cause of part of the dwarves trouble. He had no idea who this man was, and didn’t care to know.
Gundrun turned away. “Time to bury our dead,” he muttered and strode away to look at the bodies of his fellows—hoping to find some of the fallen still alive.
“Hmm, a bit rude wasn’t he,” said Hardlee to the large Doberman at his side. “I think it would be time to leave though—never know—they might come back. Where’s Shilby anway—he was the man you bit on the leg. Not like him, running off.”
The Doberman shook her head, but then the ears pricked alert. It looked back towards the inn and growled low. Hardlee turned to look. A large orc, helmeted and bearing a huge axe was striding towards them. In the distance on a rocky crag above the inn a man and a female figure stood embracing next to the body of a large winged creature. Hardlee wondered who they were—that thing, the wyvern had been clutching Meagana in its claws, and then Shilby had run off hadn’t he. Was it them?
But there were more pressing concerns. The large orc was closing on them, and at his back a mob of goblins scurried to keep up with him. The dwarves were reforming their ranks and marching back to the inn. There would be a final engagement—the orcs and goblins were not done yet.
“We should go, fast, don’t you think,” said Hardlee. “Never mind Shilby.”
The orc broke into a run. The Doberman and the pitbull barked at him as he came. Hardlee trembled. There were no dwarves nearby—they were about to close with the goblins. The sword was still at his side. He drew it—it flashed even though the sunlight was dimmed now by the clouds. It was an old sword-magical they said and always worn by the heir of Hyperia ever since the orcs were driven from the kingdom.
For a moment the orc chief paused. He pointed at the sword and shouted—“that’ll be mine,” and charged now down the hill at Hardlee, his axe raised above his head.
Hardlee held out the sword—hoping that it would protect him. He raised it to parry as the orc swung down at him. He actually closed his eyes at that moment. There was a barking and growling, and swearing in orcish and then a whimpering of canine pain. Hardlee opened his eyes to see the orc with the one dog biting at each leg. He hacked at the pit-bull with his axe, snapping its spine, and then produced a cruel, serrated dagger and lashed at the Doberman, cutting her deeply on the shoulder. She let go her jaws’ grip and wimpered away.
The orc turned on the dog and raised his axe. The dog was too injured to move fast out of the way. But then there was a noisy yapping and from the forest a dirty haired poodle ran onto the field. It flung itself at the orc’s mid-riff and caused him to stumble and let go his axe as he swung it—it flew about twenty paces away. The orc batted the poodle away from him. The dog scampered over to the Doberman and the two animals made their way to the woods. Hardlee held out his sword. He wanted to run as well.
Grim Bearit looked at the man holding the ancient sword of Shinee, something that he had dreamed of owning since ?? and looked at his own dagger. “Not a fair fight is it. Let me get my axe.”
But then there was a blast of a horn. And up the road came marching a unit of royal guard all in shining mail with halberds shouldered and a banner flying.
“What’s this?” shouted the orc. He turned back to the inn to see how his gobboes were doing. The answer was that they were done. The dwarves had killed a few with no loss and now the goblins were running to the hills—joining the rest of Grim’s army.
He roared into the sky. “A wyvern, a wyvern, my kingdom for a wyvern.” But nothing answered his call.
The penultimate part of my Oldhammer fiction novella – hope you have been enjoying it! Go back to Part 1 if you haven’t read any before.
Hardlee took a step back as the fierce Doberman growled. “Shilby, I need you. There’s two of them. I’m sure you can finish them. Look one of them hasn’t even got any clothes on. Shilby?”
Arfur Shilby was staring up into the sky.
“Shilby!” shouted Hardlee. The naked man sprang towards him and waved his knives at him. Hardlee stumbled backwards and fell over a bench that had been left out in the courtyard. Dazed for a moment he heard the screeching of bones and flesh and the whimpering of a dog. He opened his eyes and lifted himself to a crouch. The naked thug pushed him hard and he fell to the floor. The man stood over him. Hardlee for some reason couldn’t get his eyes off what was dangling over him. He gulped, not sure if he was more afraid of being killed or the man’s well-developed appendage.
A tall long-haired woman joined the man. Hardlee with relief turned his full attention to her. She also had no problem with nudity and her form was lithe and muscular and very attractive.
“I can pay, pay you,” he stammered.
“We know,” said the woman. “How much?”
“What?” Hardlee replied. Surprised that his offer might work. “Anything. Well within reason. I am sure my father will pay. And I have my own estates. Jewels. Name your price.”
“Hmm, yes all of that. An estate would be good—we like our privacy. But also money. Jewels are an efficient way to carry wealth so we’ll have those. In return, we’ll make sure you get out of here alive.” She looked around. “There seems to be a few complications with this job.”
She offered her hand to Hardlee, and after a moment’s hesitation he took it and she pulled him to his feet—her grasp was powerful and strong—he felt himself pulled towards her as he stood and for a moment his clothed body toucher her naked one. He sprung back quickly, but she kept a tight grip on his hand.
“We have an agreement?” she said. Her strong brown eyes fixed his. She was nearly as tall as him.
He nodded. “Yes. Absolutely.” He grinned. “That’s a relief, Shilby, eh? Shilby where are you?”
But Shilby was not paying his prince the least bit of attention. He was staring up at the wyvern. He shaded his eyes and he could see more clearly than the others that the wyvern clutched a figure of a woman in its claws. It was the prince’s girlfriend, Meagana.
Hardlee came over to him and looked up as well. “By the gods, has that creature got Meagana?”
“Hmm, well that’s sad. A shame, a real shame. She was a lovely girl, elf-girl, whatever. But all good things come to an end. Not much we can do, eh? Mama didn’t approve after all, she’d much rather I settle down with a homely duchess—and maybe she’s right. Much too much excitement just recently.”
“Now, these dogs/people, whatever they are. They’re not going to kill me. In face I think they may even protect me and help us escape. So how about you and they work out a way to get me to the safety of the woods or the road, and we can get out of here?”
But Shilby ignored his prince. Nearby there was a dwarven crossbow, dropped by a miner who’d been skewered by a goblin archer. Shilby picked it up and loaded it and made for the stables.
“Hey, Shilby. What are you doing?” called Hardlee. But Shilby ignored him.
He stood on a trough and clambered onto the roof of the stables. On that side of the inn there weren’t any orcs or goblins—yet anyway. A few wolf-riders stood in the distance forming a cordon—to stop anyone escaping, he assumed. He looked up. Still the wyvern circled. He could hear Meagana’s voice crying for help. He raised the crossbow and shot high at the wyvern. He saw the rider dodge out of the way as the bolt fizzed past. The wyvern stuttered in its flight as the rider pulled hard on the reins. Even though the wyvern was several hundred feet away, at that moment the orc rider and Shilby locked eyes. Shilby could see the rider’s rage. It was only matched by his own, and the sense of outrage he felt at Hardlee’s abandonment of his lover. She didn’t deserve that.
The wyvern descended in tight arcs and came to land on a small crag of rock a hundred yards to the north of the inn up the slope of the valley. Shilby had already jumped from the stable roof over the wall of the inn and was striding purposefully up the hill through soft springy tufts of grass.
The orc-rider jumped from the back of his beast and the thing released Meagana fro its clutches. She looked fairly unharmed. Shilby couldn’t see any blood. But as she scrambled to get away, the creature hissed at her and waved a huge claw at her. She shrank behind a boulder to avoid the attack.
But the orc, a large figure, with huge muscles and thick plate armour and a wicked helmet with cruel spikes adorning it was coming at a jog to meet Shilby. Shilby dodged the first attack from the orc’s two-handed axe. He jabbed with his sword, but it glanced harmlessly off the orc’s breastplate. The orc raised his axe again and brought it down hard. Shilby managed to dodge again, but this time he slipped and he was on the ground. The orc smiled a slavering evil smile and raised his axe again, confident that the human could not slip from his grasp again.
A rock slammed into his helmet from behind. He turned and roared towards where Meagana was standing behind a boulder. Another rock was in her hand—she threw it and it hit the orc on his nose, he stumbled and fell to his knees, there was blood. Shilby dashed away and towards Meagana. Next to her the wyvern lay on the ground, it’s head curled back next to its tummy.
“You killed?” he said, incredulous.
“An old Elvish charm,” she replied. “It sleeps only.”
“Let’s go,” said Shilby, “before it wakes.”
“Not yet,” she said. And she took his arm and pulled him towards her and kissed him.
And here’s part 10 – go to Part 1 for the start of the story.
Drew slapped the dwarf on the shoulder. “Just move. We can sort this out later. We need to tidy up. Misunderstanding wasn’t it?”
The dwarf glared at him. He held a beer towel to his head trying to staunch the blood from a nasty looking head wound. His fellows has already exited the bar-room and were milling around in the courtyard—halflings rushed around with trays of ale cups to keep them distracted. But there were a few stubborn remainers, who simply didn’t know when to call a fight over.
“We were the aggrieved party,” muttered the dwarf. “Things need to be put right.”
Drew shrugged. “Get some air, have a pint and we’ll all talk in a minute or two once we’ve had a chance to clear up inside. We were all attacked—by those dog things and their naturist human friends.” Drew shook his head. A weird sight that had been. He shuddered to think what was going on upstairs—that’s where the intruders had gone, leaving a trail of carnage after themselves. Something to do with that nobleman and his retinue—had to be. But he’d not dared go up to see what had happened. Perhaps best to see what came out first?
The dwarf shrugged and limped out into to the courtyard. “We dwarves bear a grudge a long time—don’t you forget that—we’ll have our reckoning.”
Drew sighed. He knew that only too well. With the tourist appeal of the Orkranian mountains only stuttering into life, he was reliant on the surly custom of the dwarf miners. But every interaction with them seemed to lead to some argument or other. And Gundrun, their de facto leader, was the worst.
He looked round at the tap-room. It was a mess. There’d been fights in here before—mostly to do with dwarves. But never before had every item of furniture been smashed or shattered—some of it could be repaired, but most of it was only good for firewood. There would be a reckoning all right. And he knew just who was going to pay. He glanced out of the door at the crowd of bruised and battered dwarf miners. They had gold after all didn’t they. He waited a moment watching. Egbert and Lily both returned with their empty trays. Good. It was safe.
Drew slammed the door of the inn shut. Remarkably it had survived too much damage. It was a fine strong door. Reinforced with iron. Drew didn’t mind that it drew the attention of the dwarves.
“Hey! What’s going on?” shouted the stubborn one with a beer towel wrapped around his head.
Drew smiled and shrugged. “Drink your beer,” he shouted through the window. Most of them were, grumbling together in small groups—comparing bruises and cuts and stories of the fight. Most of them ignored the fact that a lot of the fighting had been dwarf on dwarf. Why let the truth get in the way of a good boast after all.
Drew beckoned Lily over. “Get more ale ready—should keep them calm a bit longer.”
“Yes, Drew,” she said. “I’ll get some barrels out of the cellar. But do you have the key?”
Drew glanced at the stairs. He’d left the key upstairs that morning. He didn’t fancy going up there at the moment, until he knew what was coming down. “Let’s see how it goes—we have some bottles of spirits and wine in the bar—they can have that—might knock them all out quicker!”
“Why are they drawing their weapons again?” quailed Lily. She pointed at the courtyard through the window. Drew looked. The dwarves were grasping axe and hammer handles and drawing swords in readiness for something. Two of them had climbed onto the narrow wooden walkway above the gate. They were moving in a weird way, Drew noticed as they looked over the wall, almost as if they were dancing. And then one of them stopped suddenly and fell backwards into the yard with a thud—an arrow was embedded in his shoulder. They had been trying to dodge arrows. But who? How?
Drew hesitated. Should he open the inn door and find out what was going on out there. Was it a ruse. The other dwarf on the walkway above the gate was crouched down—and peering over the wall—he was shouting at the other dwarves in the yard. To his disbelief, Drew saw that the dwarves were opening the gate—was that really such a good idea—let in whoever was shooting at you, so they could shoot at you some more?
In poured a group of dwarven miners—many holding shields to protect their heads and backs as they scurried inside—the shields were prickled with black-feathered arrows. They all rushed in and the gates were shut hurriedly again. Drew stood on a broken table to get a better view and could see that there were others outside the gate—not dwarves but armed humanoids with green skin and large teeth—orcs! And goblins Drew noticed—riding wolves—they were the ones shooting the arrows. He grabbed his blunderbuss and the bag of shot and powder, and rushed for the door.
Gundrun was standing before him when he came out into the courtyard. He wiped some black blood off his axe head as he looked up at Drew.
“What the hell are you doing now, Gundrun—your lot have caused enough damage to my establishment and now you bring a horde of goblins and orcs to finish the job?”
Gundrun spat an answer. “How dare you—we’ll save your runty hide for you and you should be grateful—or should we open the gate again and let the greenskin scum in—tell them you’ve invited them to a high tea of roast halfing?”
A black-fletched arrow thudded into the door frame above Drew’s head. The heat of his blood ran suddenly cold. He shook his head. He hated to do this, but he’d best make peace with the cantankerous old dwarf.
“No. No, of course not. It’s just been a hard day. Come, let’s talk. How many are out there? Where did they come from? You’ve stirred up a right hornet’s nest.”
“Us?” Gundrun huffed. “They came out of the trees—from the mountain. No idea what they want. Not supposed to be any orcs much in this hills anymore—they all went to ground. But I fancy this is different—must be the start of a full invasion, by my reckoning.”
Drew shook his head. “And we’re in the way. What can we do?”
Gundrun looked at the walls of the courtyard—they were high—over ten foot and built of solid wood logs, but there was no walkway or battlement that they could guard. “Not much we can do, but wait for them to try to get over the wall and then hack ‘em down as they come. That tower over the gate is too dangerous—there’s no cover, although it’s good for seeing what’s going on. We have some crossbows and you must have some short bows? Never known a clan of Halfling to be without half a dozen bows at least. We can put some of my lads and some of your keen-eyed youngsters upstairs to fire back at the gobboes.
Drew cast an apprehensive look at the first floor windows of the inn. “I’m not sure about that. There’s been some trouble up there.”
“Trouble?” asked Gundrun.
“Same trouble that caused the bar-room brawl—well some of it went upstairs—those dogs, naked men and women—something to do with one of my guests I think. I heard some fighting going on up there. Not sure if it’s safe.”
“Hmm, and I thought it was because you’d refused some of my hard-workings boys a drink. We need to go and take a look up there though—we need to see what’s going on.”
There was a shatter of glass in the window above the inn’s main door. A second later the figure of the aristocrat fell through, a bright, shining sword falling to the ground under him. He was clutching at the window sill. Drew and Gundrun heard shouting and the man let go and dropped to the floor only a few feet below. He stumbled away looking about him in a dazed way. He saw the sword and picked it up hurriedly. There was the barking of a dog and growling and then another man tumbled out of the window and crashed to the ground. Drew recognized him as one of the aristocrat’s men. He clutched a sword and was bleeding from a wound in his leg.
There was a roar from the gate—and Drew turned to see two vicious looking orcs clamber over the top and jump to the ground inside the inn’s courtyard. Each wielded a wicked curved sword in one hand and a dagger in the other.
“For Durin!” came the war-cry of the dwarf miners and a line of axe and hammer armed dwarves charged at the orcs. More were coming over the wall and the bolts of crossbows flew to knock them back.
There was a screech in the sky above, and Drew looked up. A huge winged beast circled above them. There was a rider on its back. He grabbed Gundrun’s arm. “They’re coming at us from all sides.”
“Get your lads upstairs now!”
“But what’s still up there?”
As they spoke, the large Doberman and a naked man burst out of the tavern door. The dog looked around the courtyard and stood pawing the ground and growling when it spotted the aristocrat and his man.
“I’m guessing it might be safe now,” said Gundrun. “Harald, Oglin, gather any of the boys with crossbows and get upstairs—make more arrowslits in the walls if you have to.”
“My walls!” exclaimed Drew. “No, you’re right,” he said as Gundrun’s brows beetled, “Tolly, Lily and Sam, get your boys and go with the dwarves upstairs—shoot anything with a greenskin!”
Part 9 of my Oldhammer Fiction novella – if you’ve not read any yet, head back to Part 1 for a synopsis and the opening part.
At last they were all upstairs on the trial of the Prince. Lola sniffed. Yes his scent was here definitely. She could smell it on the carpeted stairs and on the landing. Prince Hardlee had been here and it smelled like he was still here. But where?
They were on a landing with the stair well behind them, defended by Oscar in hunting hound form. To the left was a single door, and then a corridor stretching from this end of the inn to the other, with several door coming off it. But right in front of them looked like the best place to start. A large double door in fine wood. And there was even a painted sign above the door that read “The Prince’s Suite”.
Where else should they start?
Lola barked orders to the others. Poppy and Bella would check The Prince’s Suite first, while Lola and Alfie hung back to provide support. If Hardlee wasn’t there they would check the other rooms in the same pairs. Each pair would comprise one in human form and the other in dog form, that way they could maximise their senses of smell and other dog attributes, with the ability to open doors and handle deadly human weapons. Lola would stay in her Doberman form, while Alfie remained as a human. Poppy would transform back into a ??, while Bella kept the human form she had already assumed.
Bella tried the door handle of the Suite. It opened without resistance and Poppy scampered in to see what was inside. Bella followed—knife in hand, peering around the doorway, her buttocks wobbled slightly as she leaned forward. She turned and shook her head. Nothing there. Poppy scampered out sniffing the ground and looked up at Lola and then glanced down the corridor. The scent of the prince was in that direction.
Lola stepped lightly across the landing murmuring quietly to the others in a low growl. She and Alfie would start at the end of the corridor and work down. Poppy and Bella would come from this end and meet in the middle. There was a door right at the end of the corridor, which Lola and Alfie would check first. But first she padded into The Prince’s Suite. The bed was unmade, and there were items strewn about—men’s clothes of a fine quality. Some books and bottles of wine and cups were littered haphazardly on the table. The Prince was an aspiring poet and a prodigious wine drinker. This looked like his room. Lola dug her nose into the bedsheets and the discarded clothes that littered the floor. She had his scent.
Lola left the room and met Alfie on the landing. They walked quietly down the corridor and approached the door at the end. Poppy and Bella went to the closest door on the corridor—a normal enough looking door on the left side and tried it. It was locked. Poppy began wedging her knife down the side of the door to see if she could locate. She’d try to open it quietly at first, but if need be they could break the door down.
They heard Oscar barking at the top of the stairs. And shouts from drunken dwarves. Oscar would have to keep them at bay while they searched. He was a vicious hunting dog in animal form, and was well equipped to do that.
But what none of them expected was for Oscar to be attacked. They had not checked the other door that opened onto the landing. A big mistake, for in there Shilby and three guardsman had lain hidden readying their swords for action. Now Shilby, having heard the dogs and people go past, opened the door quietly and saw Oscar in front of him facing away growling at the top of the stairs that lead down to the bar. Shilby wore iron-toed boots and used the right one to kick Oscar full in the flank, knocking the hound into the air for a moment and deposited him against the wall with a thud. There was a cheer or a jeer form the dwarves at the foot of the stairs. One of them started to climb the stairs, but stopped suddenly as Oscar the dog started to become Oscar the man. His body expanded suddenly, limbs and spine bending in strange ways. Oscar grunted and growled in pain as the transformation happened. Oscar slashed at him with his sword. The blade of it hacking a gash out of the shapeshifter’s neck. Oscar died with a dog-like whimper, half-way between man and dog. A short furred tale dropped from his back between his legs. The body of Oscar hunched over, blood gushing from the wound in the skin that was recognisably human but covered in a patchy fur. His nose and jaw extended oddly and large canine teeth poked out as blood and drool spat from his mouth.
Shilby turned to his three soldiers. “Get them—down the corridor. Protect the prince!
The three men didn’t pause and dashed around the corner. Poppy and Bella were trying to open a locked door—shaking the handle and hadn’t heard the death of Oscar. There was still a lot of noise coming from the brawl downstairs.
The three soldiers were surprised to see a naked woman holding a dagger trying to open the door of the prince’s room—not really his room, but the one where they had put him for his own safe keeping. Well surprised might be a bit too strong for it, as often there would be nothing unusual about seeing a naked or near-naked young woman coming and going from the prince’s chamber—if you were a household guard you got used to that kind of thing. But today in the middle of what Shilby had told them was an assassination attempt, with a fight going on downstairs it didn’t quite seem to be the time or place. Plus one of their mates was probably stuck somewhere in it—they assumed he was downstairs somewhere in the bar seeing as he hadn’t returned. And this young lady was carrying a dagger and had a busy looking dog—a terrier—at her feet. That wasn’t usual for the kind of young women that normally visited the prince.
Shilby had checked that Oscar was really dead and then turned to warn the dwarves off—“Nothing for you to see up here, get stuck into your own business or a beer—they’re on me.” He then went to check on how his men were getting on with the other assassins and turned the corner of the corridor to find his men ogling the naked behind of a young woman, who had a dog sniffing at the bottom of the door. At the end of the corridor he could see that the door to the halflings’ private rooms was open and there was a what sounded like a turning over in progress.
He shoved two of the men in the back. “Come on then get stuck in.” And there was no choice then because the naked woman and the dog heard them. The dog snarled and dived at one of the men’s ankles, trying to bite into it. The man was forced to strike at the dog with his sword. But at that moment the dog leapt away and the man’s sword bit into his own leather boot. He yelped in pain. The sword hadn’t cut through the leather, but he’d given himself a mighty good whack nevertheless.
The guard was distracted by his own pain. “Get your guard up,” Shilby roared. He swung his own sword between the two guards to deflect the blow, but the naked woman’s long knife thrust faster and quicker than he could manage. The guard grunted as the knife flashed back, red with blood, and he slumped to the floor. Shilby hacked again, pushing the falling body of the guard aside. The woman raised her knife in defence from the high blow. But she was not strong enough to stop Shilby’s sword knocking her to the ground. She slipped on the wooden floorboards of the corridor, now slick with the guard’s blood. Shilby drew back his blade quickly and hacked at the woman’s bare neck. She dodged quickly and would have avoided the worst of the blow against a slower man than Shilby. But Shilby could see what she going to do and directed his blow to where he thought she would move. Instead of her neck, the sword smashed with a crack like plates being smashed into her skull. The sword came back with a chunk of bone and hair, matted in blood. The naked woman was dead.
Meanwhile the other two guards who still lived had corned the ferocious dog, using their swords to prevent it from dodging past them they had scored hits on it as well and now the mangled body of the animal lay slumped and twisted by the wall of the corridor.
“Look alive lads, don’t get cocky,” hissed Shilby. “There’s more of them through that door at the end I reckon.
Shilby’s prediction was proved right. A bulky well muscled man with cropped hair and the face of a pit-fighter burst through the door, naked apart from the long serrated knife he held in front of him.
“Don’t these tossers ever where clothes,” muttered Shilby.
“You bastards,” he shouted as he saw the dead bodies on the ground.
A Doberman emerged growling at his heals and they both ran headlong down the corridor.
There was a moan from the door to the prince’s room, halfway between them and the onrushing man and dog. It was the prince’s voice calling for help.
Shilby pushed the guards in the back. “Hold the corridor, I’ll get the prince.”
But instead of running towards their enemies down the corridor, he turned and ran back to the guard’s room. He rushed in and raised his sword hacking at the thin wood and plaster wall that divided the guard room from the bedroom they had moved the prince to.
Shilby was through the wall in a matter of seconds, knocking a table over as he stepped through the mess of the destroyed wall. The prince was in the corner of the room, a sheet pulled over him, pretending he wasn’t there.
Shilby thought a moment about whether to leave him. Hardlee wasn’t much of a prince in truth. He had all the good looks and the posh bearing in public of a prince, but in reality as Shilby was finding out he was no more than a spoilt and a coward to boot. Hardly deserving of loyalty. Hmm, hardly. How appropriate.
But his training and his code took over. The prince was in his charge. He had served the royal family all his grown life. He would do his duty.
He ran to the corner of the room and whipped the sheet from Hardlee. The prince smiled a petrified smile at him when he realized he wasn’t going to be killed. He was curled in a little ball. Shilby grabbed him by the crook of an elbow and hauled him upright, unbending him like a wood louse. “Come with me now. We’ve got to get outta here.”
He pulled the prince through the hole in the wall and scrambled into the guard’s room. But as they emerged onto the landing, Shilby could tell something was wrong.
It was too quiet. He turned and saw the naked man, practically his whole body covered in blood. His serrated knife dripped. He thought he could see a chunk of flesh hanging from it. He glared at Shilby and Hardlee, hatred in his eyes. From behind him there was a low growling and the Doberman stepped forward—it’s jaws bright with blood.
Hardlee tugged at the sword at his side and with a clatter he drew his sword. It flashed with light even in the dimness of the landing. It was a special sword, just a shame that it was Hardlee using it.
“Break that window,” shouted Shilby, pushing his prince towards the window on the landing furthest away from the man and dog.
“Come on then!” he screamed at them, and slashing wildly with his sword he charged.
No matter how psychotic his enemies were, they didn’t want to come up against a strong man wielding a long sword with fury and skill and they retreated to the narrowness of the corridor, the man waving his dagger and the dog growling. That was all he needed. To give them pause so they could get away.
He turned. The prince had smashed the window.
With his lungs and legs bursting he sprinted at the window, knocking the prince off his feet and through the window. Even so the dog was fast. He felt sharp teeth sink into the leather of his boot and strong jaws clamp down—he was stuck on the window sill. The prince was dangling on the other side, holding on by one hand.
“Jump, it’s only one floor,” Shilby shouted.
He jammed his sword into the dogs maw and levered the mouth open. It squealed with pain and let go and he tumbled out of the window, rolling into a ball to break his fall. He bounced off the roof of the porch of the inn and down onto the muddy courtyard. Safe for a few moments at least.
Part 8 of my Oldhammer Fiction novella – go to Part 1 if you’ve not read any yet!
So far so good, mused Grim as he circled the valley of Nstaad on the wyvern. The Hard Core boyz had chased the dwarves away from the exchange—they hadn’t even put up a fight. Now if his own servants could get in there and find the gold even better.
The air was cold at this height above the mountains and the wyvern had to swoop in tight circles and flap its wings hard to keep in the air—Grim had once heard something about an elvish practice called Pisicks that claimed the flight of creatures such as dragons and wyverns was impossible and against nature, but one thing he did know what that to keep airborne the creature he rode had to flap its wings bloody hard. So the air stream rushed past his ears and the cold burnt the green skin of his face. He loved it. He exulted in his pain and superiority—from here he could see everything like a king—like a god!
But what was this? What were those flippin’ mercenaries doing—the whole unit of gobboes was driving fast down the slope of the valley in a large loop aimed at the road south of the inn. He’d said to Shur Burt that they were to send some wolf riders not the whole bloody lot of them. Where was his reserve now! Every good general should have a reserve—he’d heard that somewhere.
Was it too late to recall them? Maybe not. He could dive down and land in front of them—that would scare the shit out of them and no mistake. Send some of them back to the woods at least—perhaps just split them in two now—seize the road south to prevent any escapes and attack the inn from that side too. And hold the others back—under his command—waiting on the slope to see where they were needed. It looked like the dwarves were retreating to the inn, so they’d have to attack that place to get them all—maybe put a light to it, or smash it down. Shame his wyvern wasn’t a fire-breathing dragon—that would be well handy.
A wisp of cloud obscured his view for a moment. He pulled on the iron chains that were the wyvern’s reins and kicked her side with his spiked spurs.
“Down fell beast,” he grunted—the old orc who had bred this wyvern told him that she obeyed certain commands, but Grim wasn’t sure he believed that—it seemed pain and pushing and pulling were the main things that the beast understood.
The wyvern lost height as Grim had wished, but now he was further east over the valley, towards the glade of trees where rumour had it an elf witch dwelt. He looked down. The leaves of the trees below were a lighter green—elven trees perhaps when compared to the dour dark pines that covered much of the mountains. And something glinted down there. There was a small lake, a pool of glistening water. Grim bent over the neck of the wyvern to get a closer look. A pink figure was in the shining water. Grim took the wyvern down to get a closer look. Maybe this was a prize finer than gold.
Tears came to Grim’s eyes as the wyvern plunged through the clouds. A ray of sunshine though illuminated the lake in the glade once the wyvern was clear of the cloud. Grim pulled up on the chains and the wyvern levelled off and turned in a slow arc over the trees—perhaps a hundred paces above the lake. A female lay floating in the water—dark hair streaming like a fan from her head. And she was naked.
The Broken Hand orcs counted it a special right of their royalty to mix with other races—humans usually. They counted the mixture of bloods and pollution of the so called “good” races with their own a privilege above any other. De facto therefore Grim had probably some half-orc blood in him somewhere—it was difficult to find willing human females though—for some reason they were put off coupling with orcs. But here floated an elf ready to be taken. To be his mate perhaps and to enhance the next bloodline of the Broken Hand.
Grim spoke to the wyvern, hoping the creature would understand, “Pick up the floating elf, don’t kill it.” He thought about adding the word “gentle” but very much doubted the wyvern would understand. To his disbelief the winged creature began a shallow dive over the lake, skimming low over the trees. At the far end of the lake, Grim glimpsed a white domed building. A figure clothed in white stepped from the doorway and held up her hands towards the wyvern and Grim. Somehow Grim decided it best to duck at that moment. It was a wise choice as then he missed a bolt of blue light that screamed over his head.
The woman in white began running and shouting.
Grim looked over the neck of the wyvern. The female elf in the water was still floating. Well you couldn’t hear that well if your ears were submerged could you, but as they came closer she must have realised that something was wrong. There was a splash and suddenly the naked elf was flailing around with her arms trying to swim away. She glanced over her shoulder, just as the wyvern stuck out its claws to pick her up. Grim smiled as she looked at him. She was more beautiful than anything he had seen (although admittedly she didn’t have much competition, given the company Grim kept).
The elf now dived suddenly, her slender pale legs tipping into the air as she tried to push herself down into the water. But the wyvern was fine with that. She grabbed the elf’s ankles in her claws and plucked her out of the water like an osprey takes a fish from the sea.
Battle is joined in the foothills of Orkrania! If you’re new here go back to Part 1 for the start of the novella and to find out what it’s all about.
So the battle of Nstaad began. What had started as a tavern brawl, would now become a battle fought with steel, claw and blood. Grim Bearit’s Broken Hand orcs emerged from the wooded slopes of the mountain above Nstaad with the Hard Core Boyz to the fore—hungry for blood and loot. Grim himself had his wyvern harnessed and his war lances and javelins prepared. He took to the air to survey the battlefield leaving orders to Shur Burt the shaman and his personal orcish servants to give instructions to the hobgoblin mercenaries to hold back the goblin slave-warriors until needed. Much was lost in the rush to ready for combat. And perhaps all of Grim’s intentions to use the force as a strategic reserve were not quite passed on properly. There was something about sending a force to cut off the road south of the inn for instance. The fact that Grim meant just some of the wolf-rider scouts might have been lost.
The Hard Core Boyz poured from the woods in no particular order, blinking in the sunshine that they counted as their enemy, and pretty soon the doughty band of dwarven miners under the command of Gundrun Rocksplitter heard the whooping battle cries and excited grunts of the orcs as they jogged towards the gold exchange. The dwarves paused, dressed their ranks and about turned to march steadily back up the hill intent on engaging their arch enemies, but the sharp-eyed youngster of a dwarf, who had brought the message from the inn, also saw that a veritable horde of goblins and wolf-riders were also streaming out of the woods further to the east. He stopped Gundrun to tell him and the old dwarf leader surmised that the orc and goblin army was playing one of their damned tricks and using greater numbers to envelop his own force. The death of him and all of his fellows was not going to help to either preserve the honour of dwarves in their dispute with the halflings at the inn, or preserve the gold at the exchance, which besides consisted of just a few nuggets on the counters and tables inside the exchange—pickings not being that good recently. The largest consignment that Gundrun had at the exchange was well hidden and protected inside a safe protected by runes that Gundrun was confident that no orc could open.
So Gundrun’s greater experience won over the hotheads in the party and the dwarves turned again and rushed headlong towards the inn, not even having time to destroy the bridge over the rushing stream as they did so. Not a retreat, but a tactical withdraw, Gundrun thought in his own mind.
And what of events at the inn?
You may remember that the whole cause of the barroom brawl that had developed at the inn was because of the shapeshifting dogs that burst into the tap room looking for Prince Hardlee. Well those shapeshifters had now left the dwarves behind to brawl amongst themselves and a few unlucky haflings. They’d made it to the first floor where a long uneven corridor that went the length of the inn provided access to private chambers for those guests who could afford to pay. That meant Prince Hardlee, Arfur and the retinue of four men-at-arms, all in disguise, they had taken three of the rooms between them—Hardlee and Arfur having their own rooms and the four men-at-arms (now three after the death of one in the stables courtyard) sharing another room. Their were eight rooms in total though, so the shapeshifters had to search for their prey first, sniffing at the doors to see if any human was inside. Even in human form they had a well developed sense of smell.
Prince Hardlee was enjoying a slumber after the excitement of seeing his beloved that morning. But Arfur had already heard the disturbance and was sitting with the men-at-arms waiting with weapons ready. But more of that soon.
Gundrun’s miners and the orcs of the Hard Core Boyz exchanged some arrows and crossbow bolts—across the stream as they approached the inn—the dwarves with crossbows turning to fire once they had loaded and running ahead to load again, their friends covering them with shields as they went – there were just a few so armed, but they were good shots and took down some orcs—enough to make them wary about a pursuit that was too close. But Gundrun could see the unit of goblins marching resoulely on their left flank, driven on by hobgoblins with whips, and he feared being caught in the open between the orcs and goblins. He like most dwarves felt far more comfortable with a good stone wall between him and the enemy. So he told the lads to stop their skimrishing fire and march double quick to the inn. Once there they bared the gates and set about working out how to defend the place.