A Battle before Breakfast

Chapter Eight of Under the Goblin Trees

Campaign adaptation by Thomas Kelly

Before first light, Cirilli and I conducted our devotions and invoked the power of our lady. Moreover, Cirilli said, “We should turn our prayers to Ehlonna in whose woods we wander and who has summoned us hither.” I shrugged off the suggestion. Cirilli raised her invocation to the fey Lady of the Wood. I left her to her reverie.

As the morning light filtered through the boughs, Ivan pointed out a path of prints in the snow circling around our camp. “Last night’s werewolf came from the tower and returned to it,” he said. Now we were perplexed. As yet, we had no better plan for assault. Ivan suggested, “If perhaps we can draw them out to pursue us …”

Myron drew our attention to something that none of us had previously noticed. Outside the tower, not more than fifty feet from its stone walls stood one lone Roan, swaying slightly as if in the wind.

“That tree was not there when we arrived yesterday,” Belvenore said. “That tree was not there even a few moments ago.”

“An illusion,” I suggested, but Myron insisted that our eyes were seeing the truth.

“If you observe, you can see that the tree is moving,” Cirilli stated. “The trees are laying siege for us.”

So it was. As we watched, we discerned the distance between the Roanwood and the tower closing. The tree slowly advanced, leaving a trail of freshly turned earth behind it. The goblins took note of the approaching Roanwood too, and they launched flaming arrows from the tower top, trying to set the menacing besieger ablaze.

Sir Belvenore exclaimed, “By Cuthbert and Heironeous! The gods are fighting for us! Now woodcutter, take your axe and drop that tree on yonder tower and let it serve us as our siege ramp.”

Cirilli objected and called it a sacrilege, but Ivan, who also revered Ehlonna, saw no moral difficulty in dropping a Roanwood tree, whether it moved about or not. We had not yet even eaten breakfast and the warriors were donning arms, armor, helm, and gear. Ivan set to the task of felling the tree while Sir Belvenore and Sir Merciful shielded him from the goblin’s darts. Ivan’s axe unbalanced its immense weight. The Roanwood began to lean and groan. A few more blows and it tottered, staggered, then made a crashing fall broken by the tower’s battlements. It crushed goblins as it struck and tossed others to the ground. There it remained, leaning up against the tower, as neat a siege ramp as you could ask. The blow caused some collapse to the structure. Dislodged stones rained to the ground.

Sir Belvenore, Merciful, and Bruin immediately began to ascend the trunk, threading their way around the boughs and branches. Ivan assisted with his axe, cutting a path for their ascent. They made slow progress in their cumbersome armor, and at one point, Sir Merciful slipped to the ground. Uninjured by the fall, he clambered back on the leaning trunk, crawling on hands and knees, scrambling behind his colleagues in arms. I followed more cautiously. It took me a few tries to get up onto the great trunk, and, even after I had done so, I made only small progress up the tree not without losing my footing once. No broken bones. Cirilli helped me up, and we made the ascent together. Myron followed last and slowest.

The crown of the Roanwood rested on the battlements, making for a tangled confusion of branch, leaf, and broken stone. The fighting men pushed through the thick mass of foliage, emerging into a volley of goblin darts. Less than a dozen goblin guards remained atop to defend the battlements. They wore the sort of leather and chain armor favored by the goblinfolk, and they carried long knives, short swords, and bows.

Bruin thrust his spear into the first in the midst of the leafy obstruction. Arrows bounced off his armor and shield, but more than one punctured their way to find flesh and draw blood. By then we were all caught up in combat, swinging madly and blindly, netted in the crown of the Roanwood tree. Belvenore found one with the end of his sword. I came behind with my sickle and finished the wounded guard.

“More coming,” Bruin shouted. Free of the entangling brush, he ran his spear through another defender. The force of the thrust sent the goblin flailing over the edge of the tower, Bruin’s spear still impaling him. Sir Merciful clambered out of the tangle and rushed the last defender on the ring of the tower, thrusting him backwards and into the open center of the tower. I peered down to the ground at the center of the tower ring. I saw his broken body lying in a courtyard below. At the center of the court stood Nyssa’s oak, rising up the height of the tower, it’s crown spreading out above our heads. Even as I peered down, two great trolls with axes shamble out into the courtyard.

“Trolls below!” I shouted.

We made our way down the tower’s stone stairs and met a dozen reinforcements coming up to engage us. They set on us with short swords while another half dozen took up a station across from us and loosed a barrage of arrows. Bruin led the charge down the stairs, pushing past the rats coming up as he did. He landed on the second floor in the midst of the pack. A blade thrust through his armor and buried in his abdomen. I could see the hilt still visible at his side. Blood seeped through the joints in his armor. Four defenders swarmed about the wounded man, attacking him from every side. While Bruin fumbled with his great sword, raising it to strike a blow, they stabbed at him, thrusting their quick short swords into him wherever they might. He took such blows as should have killed an ordinary man.

Ivan hastened to his rescue, but eight or so of the bastards now pressed their way up the stairs, cutting us off from our companion. Ivan’s axe took the head off the first and the second as well. Sir Belvenore’s flashing sword and Merciful’s merciless blade cut down more as we advanced down the stairs. Bruin stumbled beneath the thrusts of their blades. A goblin blade slashed across my shoulder too. A few inches over and the same might have opened my throat. Belvenore and Ivan fought down two more. Even I played a role in the battle for the stairs as I used my sickle to harvest one of the dark-blooded devils. All this while, Myron worked what spells he had at his disposal to stun and discomfit the archers across the way.

Ivan suffered heavy blows, but they fell back before his swinging axe. I took advantage of their cowering, slipped through the press, and heedless of the danger, threw myself upon Bruin to pray over his wounds. I invoked the name of Merikka, all the gods of good, and whatever ancestors or spirits the Rhennee honor, I pulled two blades free and also two arrows which remained lodged in his body. The spray of blood might have been the end of a lesser man, but with the help of the gods, Bruin’s wounds closed, and he pulled himself to his feet. I called upon Merikka to bestow healing upon all of our wounds, for by this time, we were all shedding blood upon those stones. Our Lady of Changing Seasons was not deaf to my prayers.

Now Sir Belvenore and Merciful made good work with his sword, and the goblins fell back as Bruin staggered toward them. He shoved at one of the blithers and sent him tumbling down the open center to the court below. I turned my attention to the archers across the way, and called upon my lady to arm me with a weapon that might smite them at a distance. At once the sickle of Merikka appeared to my eyes, swinging in the midst of those bowmen. Yet still their bowstrings sang and their darts rained against us. Another arrow stuck big Bruin, and he shouted from the pain. He tottered at the edge of the tower’s inner ring, scuffling with a yelping goblin as a man might tussle with a child. He recovered himself and, turning his eyes upon the archers that had wounded him, he brandished his sword and charged about the ramp. To our great surprise, we beheld a great elven warrior, with flashing mail and a gleaming sword, suddenly leap to action with the man, and together, Bruin and the mysterious warrior gave chase to the vermin. Those bowmen dropped their bows and fled along with the rest of the pack, squealing in terror before the great man and the fearsome elf. We later learned that this warrior was not but a phantasm, a trickery of Myron’s magic, by which he can cause an biting illusion to the eyes of those who behold it, but which has no real substance. 

Then all the goblins did turn their backs toward us and flee, clambering down a hole in the floor, like water draining from a sink, until the second to the last one closed a trap door behind him, leaving the last fellow trapped to face his foes alone. He cowered before us, but before he could even plead for mercy or quarter, Ivan’s axe relieved him of his head. With a second swing, Ivan brought his axe down upon the heavy wooden trap door, splintering it well.

At that moment, from the courtyard below, we heard the sound of another axe at work. The two great trolls commenced their labor, chopping at the great trunk of the dryad’s tree. One troll stood on each side of the tree; each blow fell in quick succession, one swinging forward as the other swung back.  

Cirilli beheld the danger and paused but a moment before leaping onto a limb of the Nyssa’s oak. Speaking in the way of those pagan Geoffmen that call upon the Green Man and old mother Beory, she gave instruction to the very tree, calling upon it to send up its roots to entangle its besiegers. The roots of the tree rose from the soil like coiling serpents and wrapped themselves about the trolls, legs and arms, holding them fast. How they did bellow and moan, fighting with those coiling roots, but ever as they did twist and jerk, the tree did hold them all the faster.

Bruin kicked open the splintered trap door open, and Myron sent his illusory knight pursuing prey down the stairs. We heard the sound of many squeals and arrows clattering against stone as the goblins made their last stand and launched a volley against the illusion.

Now Bruin made to leap down that dark hole, but Myron held him back. “Let us wrap you first in what charms and protections we may,” he said. I blessed the wounded warrior, and Cirilli touched him for healing good, but Myron cast a charm upon him which made him pass invisible to all eyes, mine as well. His body, clothing, armor, and weapons all vanished from our sight. So wrapped in blessings and spells, Bruin dropped down the open portal and made war on the goblins that cowered below.

Merciful and Belvenore followed after him, and Ivan followed too. We peered down the hole, listening to the sound of the battle and the bellowing of the trolls. “We need light in this darkness,” Sir Merciful called out to us over the clash of steel and the screams of victims. Myron and I dropped down the portal to join our heroes. Myron spoke a charm to create a magical light which could illuminate the grisly work of our fighting men. We saw the last of the brood fleeing away into the shadows, and for a moment we thought we had won the tower. As the shadows melted away before the magical light, tall, handsome man stepped forward with shield and long sword, draped in the colors of the noblemen of the March, but Sir Bartimaeus of Witch Tree Tower showed himself to be no gentleman or knight of the Watch.

Bruin launched himself at the warrior. The man was quick. He ducked and parried. Belvenore and Merciful moved in to flank the warrior while he locked blows with Bruin’s heavy crashing sword. Our swords did cut and gash at him, yet those wounds did the fighting man little or no hurt. He grinned as he met our blows, and oft enough he returned them, drawing blood. Even as the warrior fought, his form began to shift to that of a wolf.

“No blade but one of silver or magic can wound a wolfling!” I shouted.

Bruin discarded his weapon and grabbed at the monster, seeking to grapple him and tear him asunder. Whilst he held him, the man’s form continued to morph into that of a great toothy wolf. Bruin cried out, “Quick, Myron, with your magical dagger while I hold him fast.”

Myron hurried forward, but in haste and fear he fumbled the knife. The wolf broke out of Bruin’s grapple, now fully wolf-man, snarling, and free. Myron plunged his enchanted blade into the wolfman’s back and pulled it free to strike again. The beast twisted about to swipe at the illusionist, just on time to catch the stroke in the chest. Myron’s enchanted blade punctured the wolf’s evil heart, and the creature fell dead at our feet.

The goblins watched this battle from their hiding places. They hid beneath bedrolls, cowered in the larder cabinet and oatmeal box, crouched behind the barrels, and wriggled into a dozen other fraidy holes. Whence they saw their captain fall, they squealed and fled in every direction, abandoning the tower, leaping over walls, out windows, and down trap doors, and many goblinesses went with them as well.

Our warriors caught their breath and nursed their wounds only a moment before Cirilli descended to us from the portal above, warning, “My spell is losing its strength. It will longer binds the trolls and they will lay their axes to Nyssa’s tree again.”

Don’t miss chapter nine of Under the Goblin Trees. Subscribe to Greyhawkstories.

Image: Goblins

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