Siege of the New Castle Part 3
Dawn brings the full force of a blizzard, which slams into the keep like a siege weapon. From the parapets of the New Castle a sombre crowd gathered including Achilleus, Baron Umfraville of Prudhoe alongside his son and daughter, Richard and Matilda, Decius, Cole, Manzio and Heraclief. In the distance they see the Norwegian army including the unmistakable, gargantuan metallic standard bearer. Manzio and Heraclief share a glance of fear as their memories of the last engagement with an Invictus Infernus return like living nightmares. Neither has to mention that this time, they have no Tuan to protect them.
Throughout the day and next the defenders wait nervously for the attack but instead see intermittent movement on the horizon through the occasional lull in the storm. The trebuchet described by Heraclief nears completion with the giant Construct attaching vast planks of wood supported by a hive of gnomes busily bolting wood to metal, all suspended on vast wheels. In total, three of the contraptions are assembled before dusk of the second day.
Achilleus favours a direct and very much a unilateral approach to the defence of the keep with no war council convened. The Holy Protector invites Manzio and Heraclief to join him as he visits the various facets of his plan. Centurion Valkauras, like Achilleus lacks a beard and has a magnificent physique. Armed with a gladius clearly of magical power, Manzio is not surprised to find out that Valkauras is the brother of Achilleus.
The survivors of the Wall Spiders, led by the fearless Valkauras are given the tough job of manning the western walls, with the expected barrage to come from the three trebuchet. On the periphery of these aerial defences, Achilleus invites Manzio and Heraclief to support the defeneders. Some of Baron Umfraville’s archers are also included, although the Baron looks apoplectic when the wiry, sinewy Matilda steps forward offering her own services.
‘Father, you know as well as I that my bow is much needed here.’
With the Baron still spitting feathers, Achilleus thanks Matilda for her offer and continues on his way flanked by the Fellowship pair. The likely fighting beyond is inevitably to be commanded by the Holy Protector himself, with two centuries at his disposal. All veterans, some of two recent battles including both Netherby and Vindolanda. This includes the 30 survivors from The Iron Relief, battle scarred warriors from the division trained and loyal to Achilleus. Personally. The numbers are increased by the Danagrim of the Western and Eastern Vindolanda Rangers. 70 in total and led by the stoic, no-nonsense Paulinas. Finally, the Griffin Century, still a remarkable 80 Danagrim in total and second only to The Iron Relief in respect and strength. As a primarily scouting and flanking unit, most of the century is still in good condition with only minimal losses in the battles to date. Led by Cole, the Griffins represent the core strength of the army ready to defend the New Castle but find themselves in unfamiliar territory employed as infantry in close formation.
Back in the Keep, the Baron, his knights and men at arms are situated within the courtyards prepared for mounted cavalry in heavy armour including the horses. This small fighting force is bolstered by the commanding officer of the New Castle garrison, Gerald de Bois. All told, the Baron and de Bois command an additional eighty between them although less than twenty knights. A handful of these are Templars including Richard, his father and de Bois.
Last, quite possibly the most important fighting unit of all. The final line of defence. The Pons Aelius commanded by the legendary Decius Augustus Pius. Danagrim sworn to protect the bridge and with it the open roads to the south. Additional vellums run from the wall in front of the western wall and along the southern edge between the outer fort walls and the bridge itself. The river, remarkably remains sluggish but not entirely frozen with Heraclief suggesting to Manzio that perhaps some underground hot spring has been used to stop the water from freezing and hence make the passage treacherous for any would be attackers.
‘This will be our final line of defence,’ confirms Achilleus, ‘as secret passages link the keep with the bridge. If the Keep falls, then the remaining defenders will fall back to support Decius and his century behind the final vellum.’
The siege begins as dark falls. Great chunks of rock pummel into the wall from the mighty trebuchet, each creating vibrations, which carry to Manzio and Heraclief positioned a considerable distance behind the protective barrier
During the night, various missiles are used. Some which ignite with fire though the blizzard is quick to extinguish the flames and others filled with corpses of Danagrim and knights to have fallen at Vindolanda. Little by little, the projectiles begin to create some serious indentations in the castle walls, though a serious breach does not come that night.
It is nearly midday the following day when the walls at last begin to give way. A massive avalanche of masonry from the vast, crumbling crenellations atop the damaged western portion of the wall smash a huge hole in the base. Suddenly a considerable gap is opened in the aftermath of the collapse, with undead advancing menacingly. However, many of the zombies walk straight into the unforgiving clutches of a vicious vellum and the advance is quickly halted.
Later in the afternoon, ladders are brought forward and slowly, the undead begin to cross the vellum, although immediately enter into space within range of the walls. Javelins are hurled from the defenders and some arrows from archers supplied by the Baron. Manzio notes that the Baron’s daughter in particular is both accurate and fast, loading her arrows at great pace and felling many undead.
Nevertheless, the undead horde loses less than a tenth of their number as they reach the breach. Gallons of boiling oil and tar is used although the aerial advantage of the defenders is lessened as only those undead forcing their way through the gaps at the edges of the gap are destroyed. The heat is so extreme that several more of their brethren ignite and finally lay still in the mounting snow.
As the wights advance over the rubble they are met by the first century of the Danagrim under the command of Paulinas. Fighting in close formation with shields interlocked the undead can find no way through. Wave after wave of those able to bypass the horrors inflicted by the ruthless Wall Spiders under the command of Valkauras are cut down by the uniform and stout defence of the Danagrim legionaries beyond.
The situation looks under control with few casualties to the defending force until suddenly, the Spiders on the wall give warning of a more serious incursion through the breach. The huge Construct is able to run down the central gap, arrows bouncing harmlessly from its metallic carapace before leaping over the rubble and simultaneously crushing several of the undead underfoot. The giant metal monster immediately enters the fray smashing into the front ranks of Danagrim, wielding a massive trident weapon emblazoned with the white queen sigil of Morganna. The weapon crackles with an eerie midnight blue light, a single blow crushing shields and knocking several from their feet.
The Construct is followed by the same circle of undead spotted as part of Manzio’s scouting mission. From his vantage point, the Vesuvian spots that the cordon protects a tall leader carrying a longsword in one hand and a shard of what appears to be dark glass in his other hand. Manzio and Heraclief sense a throbbing, sickly energy emanating from the glass shard and for a moment it feels as though a lull has fallen over the battle as the creature and his undead retinue enter the courtyard area just inside the breach.
The tall imposing figure is dressed in magnificent although archaic armour. A cold white energy emanates like frozen ice from the warlord, as he raises the shard, his honour guard parting either side. Seeing an opportunity to advance, the front rows of the Danagrim phalanx surge forward.
Time stands still.
From his aerial position Manzio is momentarily blinded by a light as bright as anything he has ever experienced, crying out in shock and pain. In the split second that it takes to register the tableaux below, as the impression is registered in his subconscious behind tightly clenched eyes, he sees an explosion of sunlight intense heat burn a vast hole through the ranks of Danagrim. As he turns his head to once again face the battle, light still impairing his vision, he sees the central ranks of Danagrim disintegrated, some shards still burn although the flames quickly flicker and die in the intense blizzard.
Exploiting the space created and shock still palpable in the ranks of Danagrim, the Construct follows up by surging into the vacated ranks. The huge trident in the left hand of the metallic Titan pummels into the shields desperately protecting the tough veterans. First one, then a second followed by a third buckle, break and then implode under the barrage of blows. Whilst one defender scores with a gladius strike, the Construct seems little concerned and crushes his opponents under huge metallic boots before the Danagrim can close ranks.
Elsewhere the undead, led by the ten bodyguards of their warlord leader now press hard into the exposed flanks.
From the battlements Matilda Umfraville briefly turns her attention away from the breach and instead peppers arrows into the undead below, several falling to her deadly accuracy. As she reaches for a fresh quarrel she is suddenly caught herself with a black arrow, which incredibly penetrates through her plate armour punching through metal and knocking her to the ground.
Manzio and Heraclief search the ranks below to find the archer and are both chilled to see a hooded figure, unmistakable below at the entrance to the breach. Standing from his kneeling position and surrounded by tall, heavily clad Norwegian warriors stands Ross Quilhaven. With a barely discernible nod, he acknowledges the stunned glances of his former allies above, as the Fellowship pair close ranks, protecting the stricken Umfraville.
‘Wall spiders…turn and face!’
Manzio’s attention is wrenched away from the battle below by the bellowing order of Valkauras. Turning to once again face the wall, Manzio is stunned to see giant spiders scaling the heights. Having used the distraction of the events below, the spiders are able to quickly engage with the defenders. Valkauras rushes across to attack the first spider scuttling over the parapet, stabbing upwards with a superbly timed blow with his gladius. A flash of lightning erupts from his blade blasting the spider into the ranks below, although the creature is replaced by several more of its kin.
Meanwhile, the largest spider of all reaches the parapet from closer to the breach and Manzio is chilled to see a familiar demonic face appear, not more than twenty yards from his position. The grotesque creature has a hideous, almost human face but stretched with a demonic, dagger like chin and iron like stubble.
‘Karaback,’ gasps Manzio.
Heraclief nods having remembered the tale of Uther’s rescue of Manzio many months earlier in the forests of northwestern England. Karaback has the body of a giant spider like the kin he commands but far larger with powerful, hairy legs and a muscular body. His abdomen looks unnatural, as though made from adamantine.
Manzio as ever is quickest to react, closing the gap in the blink of an eye before using the wall to acrobatically vault upward into the air. His druidic daggers appear in either hand and flash outward, both narrowly missing the dodging face of Karaback. However, the Vesuvian is too close and has perhaps forgotten the danger represented by the demon! Karaback’s head ducks backward and then lunges forward, biting a chunk from Manzio’s shoulder even as the assassin tumbles to the side. The familiar sleep poison courses through his veins and despite his efforts to fight through the pain, Manzio collapses onto the stone wall.
Seeing his friend slip into a poisoned sleep, Heraclief summons his emerald flames, blasting a fireball outward. Once again, the demonic spider is too fast, jumping to the side and thereby avoiding the main detonation.
Ignoring Manzio, the demon advances menacingly but is momentarily distracted by the twang of an arrow. Having crawled into a sitting position, blood fast staining her black and white tabard Matilda lets fly from her bow, the silver headed arrow punching into the abdomen of the creature. Karaback thrashes in pain and lunges forward toward Heraclief in an attempt to reach Matilda beyond. The sorcerer is slow to react, slipping on the bloody residue staining the stone underfoot and can only shield himself with his left hand as the giant jaw of the demonic spider bites home, injecting venom through the back of Heraclief’s unprotected hand. Fighting the pain, his knees giving way spectacularly beneath him, the sorcerer stumbles backward, his body falling like a shield over Matilda, the Baron’s daughter breaking Heraclief’s fall.
Manzio slowly comes back to consciousness, an overwhelming nausea causing him to retch a vile black substance from the pit of his stomach. As the spinning world accosting his senses finally comes back into focus he sees the face of an old priest, his face etched with concern speaking to him.
‘You’ve got to move. I cannot carry you.’
Behind the priest, Manzio is relieved to see Heraclief on his feet, although his arm outstretched against the wall for support and a pool of black vomit at his feet.
Manzio stands with caution, his legs wobbly, his magical boots keeping him upright. As he scans the scene around him he sees dead bodies all around. The Wall Spiders have been massacred and both Valkauras and Karaback are unmoving, the gladius of the Danagrim still impaled within the body of the great spider whilst the pincer of the demon has clearly punched through the commander’s skull. Elsewhere, two of the Baron’s men have the unconscious body of Matilda Umfraville, having already reached the stairwell ahead.
‘Please, we have to go or you will be taken by the enemy.’
Manzio nods and even Heraclief is able to walk though his face is ashen.
‘I am Brother Paul. Follow me.’
Manzio and Heraclief are unable to talk and can barely move faster than a trot but navigate the dead bodies of the spiders to descend from the crumbling protection of the wall. Two Danagrim guards scale the wall running in the opposite direction and grab the body of Valkauras, whilst the horns sound retreat from the Keep. Brother Paul joins with more of the Baron’s men, all in retreat before the Baron himself appears, charging through the melee on a magnificent black stallion, his sword flashing left and right cutting a swathe before him.
With the welcome relief of the Baron and his men, young Richard Umfraville at the fore, his plate mail streaked in the blood of his enemy, it is not long before the defenders reach the staircase and head for the bridges leading to the freshly built moat…an extension to the castle protections circling the entire castle structure including the massive gatehouse to the north of the inner perimeter.
A stream of battered survivors both from the main Danagrim centuries and the remaining Wall Spiders reach the drawbridges; one to the south of the main keep, whilst Manzio, Heraclief, Brother Paul and the men supporting Matilda Umfraville all accompanied by a shield of Wall Spiders reach the bridge leading to the Gatehouse.
Manzio has no sooner reached the safety of the gatehouse when a series of coordinated explosions occur, one close at hand and deafening.
The Danagrim protecting the gatehouse cheer and as the Vesuvian follows Heraclief onto the rooftop, full feeling beginning to return to his legs, they see that the bridges have been destroyed and that the undead have halted on the far side of the frozen moat as though unable to penetrate further into the interior of the fort and onwards toward the castle itself.
Nevertheless, the threat is far from over. In the distance the main bulk of the Norwegian army is now surging across the city splitting into several groups preparing to attack the castle from multiple directions.
The Spiders are supported by the castle garrison and Prudhoe contingent. The courtyards are filling up with heavily armoured horses, both the Baron and Gerald de Bois resplendent at the heart of the cavalry. Richard Prudhoe dismounts from his horse rushing to Manzio and Heraclief before helping his sister, aided by several other Prudhoe Knights to the castle infirmary.