The sun climbed lazily into the sky on a foggy September morning, bringing light to a hillside situated amidst a soft plain in France. The hot, sticky weather from earlier in the week began to simmer down, giving away a gentle breeze the air became unseasonably cool. If you stayed in the shade you could remain sweat-free in the morning. Edrick Caster, Duke of Ford and third son of King Martin V, sat astride his horse and looked upon his army. A gray beard lined his jaw and the light breeze whipped his long dark hair around. His dull brown eyes stared down at his personal army. They were nine-thousand strong with a pride of banner men and knights, free riders, mercenaries and soldiers sworn to the sword. All were camped out in the lower valley by his feet; a mixture of humans, Elves, Dwarves and Orcs ready to battle the Dark Lord of Erill.
He had spent the morning looking over plans with the dwarf Commander Barr and the captain of the Orc legion known as "Stump". They were to out-flank the Dark Lord's army. Sources said he was last known to be over the hill near the forest. He didn’t have much more information than that on the enemy’s whereabouts, but it wasn’t a big concern for him at the moment. He had ordered some scouts ahead by the forest and some of the troops from the light cavalry were going to meet up with the scouts soon enough. They had been pushing the evil forces back all the way to their country and now he was on their doorstep in Normandy. He watched with glee as his men slowly but surely spread over the Dark Lord's ground.
He walked back into his tent with a smile on his face. Several officers and his personal bodyguards were clustered about, getting ready for the morning.
“Let’s see those bastards recover from that disaster in Vern!” he overheard one of his bodyguards say while laughing. “Their doom!” he heard another chime in. The duke’s smile widened.
It was the year 1424. John was here with his men in military service to the Kingdom of Narval in their war against the Dark Lord and his army of goblins. The Dark Lord was known only as Gaiman. It had all started over a dispute of monarchic control that the two kingdoms had been settling with force of arms for a generation. Recently the Elves had scored a legendary victory at Agin, a credit to the effectiveness of their massed levies of trained long bowmen. Many a frank had been send to the land of the dead by the strong bows of yew.
Another bloody day lay ahead for the goblins and their allied mages. At the battle of Vern, the goblins met the military of Narval with a force exceeding eight-thousand troops. They were joined by an expeditionary force of six-thousand mages led by the one-eyed, one testicle wizard named Douglas. His army allied with Gaiman and he was a survivor of many a bloodletting. He would not be so lucky this time. By the end of the day, over seven-thousand foes of Narval were dead.
With his deadly forces spread out around him, John breathed in the cool mist, his spirit alight with pride.
Commander Barr was back in his tent, sipping on a jug of water that was handed to him as John headed in his direction. As the duke walked he noticed the riders were on the far right gearing up their armor, ready to venture forth to meet with the scouts in the field. Meanwhile some of the men in the center of the camp were doing some light training to prepare for the next battle.
“Are there any orders, sir?” He heard Stump ask.
“No, Stump, not at the moment.”
The orc grunted and scratched his scar covering the side of his shaved head. Edrick turned his attention back towards Barr, who stood up from his seat. His enormous hazel beard breezed from the wind. The duke had never seen a dwarf quite as large or gallant as Commander Barr. He almost stood a foot taller than the rest of his men. In a way Barr was Edrick’s personal battering ram. The duke had personally seen Barr take out several men in battle with his bare hands. Along with his impressive strength Barr was a natural tactician and a clever man to boot. That was probably why the duke liked the commander so much. He had brains and brawn. It also helped that Barr was with Edrick through several battles in the war. There were very few who Edrick could rely on, but Barr was one of them.
“We have the advantage for now. All we can do now is wait for our scouts to report back to us,” John said.
“Very good, sir” Barr replied, “If you don’t mind, I was going to check on the horses.”
The duke nodded. “You don’t need my permission, Barr. By all means, go.” Barr saluted the duke walked towards the stables. When Barr turned towards the stables, Edrick lowered his salute and peeled off his gloves. “Come forth, Stump, let’s go down and meet the men. It’ll help morale.”
“Who said our morale needs any help, human?” Stump asked as he cracked his knuckles.
Edrick chuckled. “Fair enough. Let’s head down the hill anyway. After all, it’s a marvelous day outside, although it is a tad windy.”
“Stump agrees, sir,” Stump responded with amusement. Always blunt and firm this one. Edrick began to wonder. If I had more men like him we would’ve taken The Dark Lord's tower by now.
Suddenly they heard loud noises off in the distance. It echoed in a cracking sound that was so loud the captain had to cover his ears. “What in god’s name was that?”
The smile quickly
withdrew from the Edrick's face, “I’m not sure, Stump.” Looking back down at
the men in the camps he could see that they were alert and tense. Barr immediately
came back to Edrick with great haste. “Should we sound the horns, sir?"
“Aye. We need to know what that was,” Edrick replied. He peered towards Stump, who only nodded without answering back and blew on his horn as he was racing down the hill. Shortly after blowing his horn the commander noticed that some of the men from the light cavalry division were already at his feet.
“Damn these goblins,” he muttered to himself in frustration. “What are they up to?”
He raced back towards his camp and began to gear up. Edrick swore under his breath and mumbled briefly as he reached for his helm. More horns blasted from the camps down the hill. Edrick knew everyone was getting into formation at this point. He quickly got on his horse and raced down the hill towards Stump. He reached him just as the riders were heading out.
Barr saw his leader heading in his direction and was about to speak to him when Stump rode up from out of nowhere and addressed the two of them, “We need to send the whole army over that valley soon.”
Edrick sat on his horse, stunned from the response while Barr’s mouth hung open as if appalled from the Orc’s orders, “Are you sure, Stump?” Edrick asked. “We don’t know what’s over the valley let alone how long it’ll take for everyone to move out.”
“The smell is off,” Stump added without hesitating. “These aren't goblins we’re dealing with, sir." His gigantic nostrils flared as he sniffed the air, his eyes casting a worried gleam. "I can't grasp the smell on the enemy, sir. It's almost too toxic for me nose. More to the point, our camp is nearby and our scouts are most likely in trouble. I will not have Narval men die like cattle.”
Edrick yelled out to his bodyguards and several soldiers that were nearby. With a thunderous cry the duke roared, “To battle, men! I want all of Gaiman's forces to know exactly who they are dealing with.”