The Battle of Durham, Part One - The Shadows Fall
Having bathed and had their wounds tended to, the companions took some time to reflect on the events of the last few weeks and consider what they had learned. Storm finally perfected a variant of his storm sorcery, a thunderclap that would not only injure a foe but also leave them reeling momentarily. Tector’s new-found faith and Templar devotions gave him greater insight into God’s martial power, and he was able to evoke holy radiance to blaze from his greataxe. Sophia, meanwhile, continued to practice her enchantments, developing a charm to assail an enemy with phantom images, which would tear at its mind and so overwhelm its senses that it would be unable to see her and her friends for a short time.
Thus invigorated, the three companions assembled in York castle’s Great Hall. Despite having lived there all her life, Lady Sophia had never seen it so busy. Hundreds of men were crammed shoulder to shoulder along benches running the length of the Hall, and dozens of servants were hurrying about with platters of sliced meat, steaming vegetables, and huge pigeon pies.
Dodging through the good-natured chaos, the three friends took their places at the high table, facing down upon the assembled Templars, captains and sergeants. Baron Henry sat to one side of the centre, with de Glanvill and Gabriel of Canterbury, together with a range of nobles and senior Templars to his right. Sophia sat at his left hand, with Tector next to her and Storm on the end of the high table.
As the feast progressed, Sophia listened to her father, who was deep in conversation with de Glanvill. She caught snippets of discussion about supply trains, the likely distance the army could travel in a day, whether they would reach Durham in time and what enemy forces they would face. After an hour or so, a servant approached and whispered in Baron Henry’s ear. “Excuse me,” he said, “there are matters that require my attention. There is a great deal to do by the morrow if our army is to march as we wish.”
As the Baron left, de Glanvill stood and moved across to the Lord’s seat, greeting Sophia and her companions. “I wanted to ask you about something,” he said. “I have been in York only a few days, but I have sensed there is something of great power here, something ancient buried beneath the streets of the city.”
“Is it good or evil, my Lord,” asked Sophia.
“A good question,” the Chief Justiciar replied. “I cannot ascertain its exact nature, but I sense this ancient power emanating from an area beneath the city I was discussing this with your father, and he mentioned that you had recently ventured into the Catacombs. What did you find?”
Storm leaned forward, speaking in a low voice. “We found a circular door, with five odd-shaped keyholes. We, and the Archbishop, believe that it is the tomb of Septimus Severus, the Roman Emperor. There is a prophecy that he sleeps until England is threatened.”
“I see,” said the older man. “What is the basis for your conclusion?”
“A necromancer was trying to open the door,” replied Storm. “He was planning to stir Severus from his slumber and use him against the Lords of England, twisting him to believe that we are the threat to the realm, rather than the Witches.”
“What do you know of the keys to this door?” de Glanvill asked.
“We have found two of them,” Storm replied. “One was hidden in a crucifix, that agents of the Witches had tried to steal from the Minster. The other was found in the necromancer’s possession. His notes spoke of another key, hidden in a pillar in the Catacombs, but we have not found it. We do not know about the other two keys.”
“Where are the keys now?” asked de Glanvill, a little sharply.
“I don’t know, my Lord,” answered Storm. “Perhaps in the Archbishop’s study?”
De Glanvill stood, grasping his silver-runed walking stick. “I must secure those keys. The fate of the Kingdom may depend on it. They cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy.” With that, he strode quickly away and left the Great Hall, leaving the friends to finish their meal and retire for the night.
Having had a good night’s sleep, the companions rose before dawn and left York at the head of an army. They rode with the commanders, including de Glanvill, Baron Henry, and Gabriel of Canterbury. Behind them a force of 40 Templars, around a hundred knights, and 4000 men-at-arms moved through the frozen landscape.
With teams of men clearing drifts to allow the supply wagons to pass more easily through the snow, they made reasonably good time, given the conditions. As night fell, the army made camp, perhaps a quarter of the way to Durham.
The tents of the command group were arrayed around a large bonfire, on which meat was being roasted. As they ate, Sophia noticed de Glanvill staring, trance-like, into the flames. “He’s using the gift of farsight,” she breathed.
Suddenly, the Chief Justiciar started. “We are too late,” he exclaimed. “The attack has already begun!” He turned to a servant. “Fetch Gabriel, now!” he snapped. He called for the Sultan’s Carpet and strode over to Baron Henry.
“My Lord, the attack on Durham has already begun. I need to be there. By your leave, I will take Gabriel, together with your daughter and her companions, as my bodyguards.” The Baron nodded his assent and within minutes the friends were flying through the air atop Bisath Sihr ad Sultan for the second time.
As they flew north, they marvelled at de Glanvill’s control of the carpet. It reached speeds that forced them to cling to its sides for fear of being thrown off, and within an hour they were approaching the besieged city. In the distance, the night sky was filled with the glow of burning, reflecting from gouts of billowing smoke above the city. As they closed, the lights of the Cathedral, the Castle and the city walls could be seen, and they landed atop the Castle Keep, startling the soldiers stationed there.
De Glanvill immediately took charge, barking orders at the solders to fetch the Bishop, a map of the city, a table, and food and drink, and do it fast! As they scrambled to do his bidding, the newcomers surveyed the scene. The suburbs to the north and west of the city were all ablaze, but there was no sign of attack on the city walls, which were lined with defenders. Within the walls, Cathedral Green was packed with refugees, every square inch clogged with pitiful humanity.
The table and map arrived, and de Glanvill began to take stock, asking about the defences of the various gates. A hulking figure emerged on the Castle roof, a soot-stained FitzDolfin striding over to the group with a grin. Clasping Tector by the arm and calling him brother, and bowing deeply to Lady Sophia, he greeted them warmly. Looking out from the castle, he gestured toward the burning suburbs. “We had to fire the buildings,” he explained.. “It was the only way to slow the undead. We have bought ourselves some time, but no more than a few hours.”
Moments later, the Bishop of Durham arrived, arrayed in episcopal finery and carrying his golden crozius, accompanied by Mary of Stamford. She quickly greeted the companions as well, asking God to smile upon their meeting, while de Glanvill and de Puiset pored over the map and conferred, sending soldiers running with orders for the defenders on the walls.
Suddenly, the air was rent by screams from the east. The companions wheeled round, to see shadowy shapes, like concentrated trails of thick black smoke, swooping down upon the walls. As they watched, one dove at speed into a group of soldiers on the wall close to the keep, flying into and through them without stopping. One was knocked from the wall, slamming into the flagstones thirty feet below, another collapsed with blood pumping from the ruin of his throat, while a third fell back against the wall, all life drained from his body.
Mary acted instantly. With a Latin prayer on her lips, she raised the Spear of St Peter and tracked the flight of the shadowy murderer as it rose into the sky, unleashing a beam of sliver light that seemed to pierce it to the core. It let out a terrible screech and, diminished dramatically in size, soared away into the dark sky.
Similar attacks were taking place at half a dozen points around the walls, particularly near the various gates. The defenders were beginning to panic, some throwing down their weapons and running from the walls! De Glanvill called out “Shadowraiths! We must bolster the defences on the walls and repel these demons!” Bellowing orders, he sent each of the commanders to a different city gate, and the three companions were soon shoving their way through the crowds of refugees on Cathedral Green, making their way to the King’s Gate. They observed that anyone able bodied had been given a weapon of some kind and was manning the walls, so the refugees on the Green were women, children and the infirm.
Arriving at the gate, they quickly climbed to the roof. Looking back toward the Castle they saw a Shadowraith swoop down upon de Glanvill and de Puiset, only for the Chief Justiciar to raise his hand, his diamond ring unleashing a dome of silvery light which repelled it, screeching, into the sky. Another dove toward the pair, but the Bishop’s crozius glowed with blinding golden light which engulfed the Shadowraith, obliterating it completely!
The companions whirled round in response to suddent screams on the wall to their south, and saw a Shadowraith swoop along the wall, killing three men before angling its flight up at them on the crenelated roof of the gatehouse. Sophia reacted fastest, trying to blind it with phantom images, but then it was upon them, stabbing Storm with a necrotic shard which punctured deep into his chest. Simultaneously, the dragonborn unleashed draconic lightning into the side of his foe. With blood flowing freely from the wound, and the deathly aura of the Shadowraith overwhelming him, Storm collapsed as the wraith flew on.
Tector bent over his friend and, with a prayer, healed Storm with God’s golden light. Sophia, tracking the flight of the wraith as it swooped into another group of solders, attempted to use her Dispelling magic to destroy the wraith, but her power went awry and succeeded only in disabling her Solstice Amulet for a few hours!
As more soldiers died, Storm attacked the Shadowraith with a Thunderbolt while Tector fired his crossbow. But the wraith was incredibly fast and dodged both attacks with ease. Sophia took careful aim with her bow and fired an arrow which struck the wraith full in the head. [28 damage in one shot!] It let out a whistle of pain and streaked back toward them, its blazing red eyes burning into Storm’s and attacking his mind, but to no avail.
Before it could reach the companions, Storm conjured Ice Javelins and sent them arrowing into the wraith. With its keening wail tearing at his ears, Tector charged in the wake of the Javelins, a prayer on his lips. Golden radiance seared the cutting edges of his greataxe, and the wraith twisted away from his swing, desperate to avoid the holy light. Tector adjusted his blow and connected, cleaving clean through the midriff of the Shadowraith. (31 damage in one shot!] As its bottom half dissolved, the top half rocketed, screeching, into the night sky and away.
Taking stock, the companions could not see any further wraith attacks taking place. But they did notice zombies and skeletons wading through the river at the ford beneath the King’s Gate. The soldiers around them sprang into action, tipping boiling pitch to burn the zombies and large stones to smash the bones of the skeletons. Unable to climb well, the undead were easy targets.
A runner arrived from de Glanvill, summoning them to the Castle. Arriving back on the Castle roof, they found the Chief Justiciar in a trance. “Ah,” remarked Sophia. “He’s using his gift of far-sight.”
After a few seconds, he came back to himself, noticed their presence and, to their confusion, scolded them for not coming back immediately after defeating the wraith. “Was I not clear! I want you here, in reserve! When you finish a task, you must return here to me as soon as possible.”
A little bemused by this ticking-off, the three friends acknowledged the instructions before looking out across the market place below. Beyond the walls, they saw that the fires had died down. Undead were assaulting the walls, but as at the King’s Gate, they were not able to climb them or penetrate the gates. Pleased to see that the defences were holding, the companions took a few moments to catch their breath.