The Story of S6.com 08-09: Entry #5 (DINO-R)

And finally, here’s the story of Dino-R as told by Raspberry. They played an important support role in the MFD Meta at the end of the game, but it’s interesting reading how they got that far:

I see all these posts about the histories of metas, but nothing about the history of individual alliances that joined metas halfway through the server. Maybe it’s because the alliances that were independent for that long tended to be too small for the metas to bother with…who knows.

Anyways, I’m here to tell you the tale of the formative events of a small collection of first-time players, the Red Raiders, that ultimately propelled them into contributing to the end-game as part of the best support alliance of s6 (according to Sarah and Gira anyways!). We are now Dino-R and not really a “small” alliance any more, but if it had not been for the series of attacks back in June and July, primarily from LoD*NUT, we’d probably have been eaten by FUN or MYTH by now instead of helping clear out the riffraff around one of their wonders and shifting troops and crops back and forth between Brush Monkey and Code!

Keep in mind that these are written from the perspective of a player from <1000 pop to ~2500 pop before you judge the numbers themselves too harshly =p

The Defense of RazzleDazzle

Crimson light illuminated the sentries standing along the walls of RazzleDazzle, as the sun crept above the horizon. For days, scouts and spies had reported the movement of a large force approaching the fortified town, although only rough estimates of its size were available. Fearing the worst, the leader of the small state of RaspberryBlu had ordered the conscription of every available man into the defense force, which had doubled in size over the past days. She also sent word to the various leaders of other village in the alliance of the Red Raiders, asking for any aid that could be given. And they had come. Legionnaires and praetorians from the lands of Tweetsi, Green Hazel and Sirktown; an army of the same from Cold Weapon and led by their hero, Equinox; a veritable Teutonic Horde from the twin castles controlled by Black Tiger, who had come himself to the aid of his friend; a battalion of phalanxes led by the hero of Matrix, who was accompanied by his bodyguard, a lone swordsman; and finally, two hundred mysterious druid riders from Binar’s distant villages of Na-Tu and Arnor. Hundreds of troops flooded into RazzleDazzle over the course of days, even as the artisans worked to strengthen the walls of the town. If only it would be enough. The marching feet of thousands of as-yet-invisible soldiers indicated that there was no more time for preparation.

Almost as if they were marching in time with the rising of the sun, the first ranks of the invading army came into view as they crested a slight rise in the land. Marching toward the main gate from the south, the army nearly filled the half-kilometer-wide field leading up to the city walls themselves. Bracketed on both sides by forest, it was a fearsome sight indeed, almost as if a river of death approached the walls and the soldiers atop them. Alarms sounded throughout the town as sleepy soldiers rushed to form up into their assigned units and man the defenses. One praetorian, newly recruited and barely trained, wailed in fear, threw down his sword and rushed toward the stairs leading down from the wall. His path was blocked by a mountain of a man wielding a club. Black Tiger lifted the terrified praetorian with one massive hand around his throat and swung him out over the wall.

Pointing toward the approaching army, he growled, “You can die right now, or you can pick up your sword RIGHT NOW and do your best to make sure THEY do the dying.”

Quailing, the soldier timidly picked up his sword and reluctantly returned to his post. Black Tiger, smiling to himself, looked out at the forced assembled upon the walls. Legionnaires, praetorians, axemen, and even a few imperians, looking distinctly out of place in their role as defenders manned the battlements. Arianna, the hero of RaspberryBlu’s army and overall general of the defense had placed him in charge of the forces on the walls, and he would not let her down in the coming fight. He eagerly awaited it. Below, he knew BLMC commanded the soldiers defending the gates, more legionnaires, as well as phalanxes and his own spearmen. Curiously, not a single cavalryman was to be seen within the city…nor was Arianna anywhere to be found. He grinned evilly.

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The enemy forces had fully arrayed their battle lines by this point. At least a thousand imperians filled the field below the walls, and the catapults arranged in a line behind them were slowly being loaded. Ten battering rams charged the walls, but barely made a dent before the defenders quickly killed them off. Seeing the failure of their rams, the mass of imperians surged forward.

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Arianna listened as the sounds of battle carried through the forest to the east of the field.. Unable to actually see the combat, the noise was quite eerie and haunting. She glanced behind her, checking to see if her cavalry squadron was ready. Of course they were. She had once been one of them, before being selected for extensive training in preparation for leading all the forces of RaspberryBlu. It was quite an honor, but she had never forgotten her roots. Nor had her men. Nearly two hundred equites imperatoris prepared to follow their imperator in a cunning ambush, and they would be followed by forty-five of the much more heavily armed and armored equites caesaris. “Men, it is our time! The walls of our beloved city are besieged by these craven cowards! Let us see how they like it when they too are attacked by surprise! FORWARD RED RAIDERS! CHAAAARRRGE!”

At that, she urged her mount forward, knowing her troopers would not hesitate even a moment. Clearing the treeline, she raced toward the rear of the enemy imperians. From the forest on the other side of the field, she saw Equinox leading his hodgepodge force of Teutonic Knights, who were clearly in a berserker frenzy, paladins, and druidriders toward the enemy as well. The trap was fully sprung.
Barely even stopping to destroy the catapults in their way, the combined cavalry force slammed into the rear of the enemy. Trapped between the high walls of the town and the cavalry charge, the force was smashed like soft iron between a hammer and an anvil. It was a slaughter. Within minutes not a single enemy imperian was alive, although the battle had not been without casualties among the Red Raiders. Hundreds had seen their final morning, and Equinox had been stabbed through his leg. It was a clean slice, however, and he would soon recover. Not in time for the next wave though. Withdrawing her sword from the chest of her last foe, Arianna straightened in her saddle and turned around. More enemy troops were cresting the slight rise that marked the boundary of land controlled by RazzleDazzle. At the site of the massacred first wave, these fresh troops, a combination of two small groups of legionnaires and imperians, stopped in horror. Arianna did not hesitate.

“Red Raiders! About face! Charge!” At her order, the surviving cavalry quickly turned from licking their wounds to meeting this next threat head on. They fell upon the stunned enemies without mercy. A second slaughter greeted the rising sun. However, theirs were not the only hoofbeats audible now. The final wave of the invaders had arrived; hundreds of equites caesaris were about to crash into the Red Raiders outside the protection of their walls. For once though, the heavy armor of the equites caesaris worked against them. They simply could not keep up with the much lighter cavalry of the Red Raiders. The last of them raced through the gates of RazzleDazzle as the gate slammed shut; the nearest enemy cavalryman was still a hundred meters away.

Enduring much battering, the tired gates finally gave in, collapsing and opening the city to attack. A pitched battle ensued as the enemy cavalry tried and failed to take the gateway while the spearmen and phalanxes within harassed them. BLMC and her bodyguard were in the heart of the battle, but fighting in perfect harmony and watching each other’s back, neither seemed in any danger of falling prey to the enemies’ weapons. Arianna was not so lucky, as the slices across both her arms revealed. Still, she had given much better than she had gotten; the enemy cavalry commander lay dead beneath several of his men, all felled by her sword.

After what seemed like hours, the last enemy equites caesaris fell to the blows of Black Tiger’s gigantic club. No prisoners were taken and no enemies survived to carry the tail of the staggering defeat to their masters. The army’s disappearance would be its own testimony to that fact. Removing her helmet, Arianna finally let herself relax. There might be a few more minor attacks as stragglers assaulted the walls, but the city was no longer in any danger. However, the day was not a complete victory. Two pillars of smoke rose into the early morning air. The one to the east came from the direction of Raspberry Earth. The hamlet had been left lightly defended because she had assumed the main assault would hit RazzleDazzle. Although this assumption had been correct, it seemed that the enemy had sent more troops to Raspberry Earth than anticipated. The death of those 50 legionnaires would weigh heavily on her conscience. The second pillar, coming from the northeast, could only be the capital of RaspberryBlu, The Garden. She hoped that the glorious fields were not the source of the smoke. There would be much sorrow and much rebuilding in the days to come, but for now, she would simply rejoice in the joy of being alive. Joining BLMC, Black Tiger, and the limping Equinox, she headed for the bar to share a few drinks with her friends and allies before returning to the tasks ahead…

The Defense of RazzleDazzle II: Death of a Chief (Disclaimer: at this point, the risk of chiefing was a huge threat to all members of R-R)

Protection?! Is that what the cowards call this? For this ‘protection,’ they tax your income and conscript your sons! And what do you have to show for it? Why, at the slightest appearance of an enemy, they turn tail and flee for the hills, leaving you defenseless! How can such treatment earn your loyalty?”

The Gaul chieftain’s rhetoric continued in the same vein for close to an hour, as the swordsmen and haeduans that comprised his army looted the few stores—mostly crops and a few clay bricks—that remained unprotected by the town’s crannies. Unfortunately for him, his chosen argument fell mostly on deaf ears. The battle just three days prior had proven to most of RazzleDazzle’s inhabitants that its leaders meant to defend them to the last man. He swayed a few ill-contents and opponents of the draft, but the vast majority of the citizens ignored him.

“How can he call our protectors cowards?” one citizen inquired. “The marks of their devotion to our safety yet remain in the fields and on the walls!”

However, the chieftain’s mistake was understandable. His army had arrived in the early morning, and fog settled heavily over the broad valley in which RazzleDazzle nestled. In the broad light of day, he would be able to see just how wrong he truly was. Three days after the massive attack on its walls, RazzleDazzle remained a grim sight indeed. Although the bodies had been gathered and burned, red pools still dotted the fields below the walls, which themselves bore burgundy stains of varying shapes and sizes. It had been hastily patched up, but the gate would barely hold up to the slightest assault. More recently, a quick attack by the same tribe now looting the village had destroyed the main building and governor’s residence. The land where both of these buildings had stood was littered with charred rubble and shattered wood.

Just over a mile away, Arianna observed the proceedings. Her ever-alert scouts had provided advance notice of the impending attack, and she had quickly gathered the battered army of RazzleDazzle. Hidden by the fog and dark of night, they had escaped the walls of the village and taken refuge in the mountainous terrain of the nearby iron “oasis.” She now stood on a rocky outcropping, her long, brown hair blowing in the highland breeze, and looked unhappily down at the town. The fog and dim light obscured the details, but the chieftain stood next to a roaring bonfire, which both illuminated him and drove off the fog immediately around him. Watching him exhort her fellow citizens to abandon their way of life and embrace the way of the barbarian, she could only grit her teeth in frustration. It seemed like she could feel the loyalty of the people drifting away.

As the barbarian horde, short on stores and eager to return to their own homes, formed up into their tribal clans and trekked back to wherever they had come from, she let out a long sigh. She’d expected there to be plenty of combat when she accepted command of RaspberryBlu’s army, but certainly not so much of it in such a short period of time. Not counting the numerous raids she had led to secure resources needed to fund her city’s defense, her city had seen three major battles in a week’s time and it seemed another would soon be on its way. She narrowed her dark blue eyes in unhappiness. Her city would be safe, whatever the cost to her.

Turning to her lieutenants standing back at a respectful distance, she summoned them to her with a quick gesture. “What can you tell me about who we face, Faryk?” she asked.

The commander of RazzleDazzle’s Raspberry Praetorian Guard saluted and relayed the information his scouts had just reported to him moments ago. “Ma’am, it was tough, but our scouts were able to get close enough to the enemy to read their insignia without being spotted themselves.” He stroked his chin, covered in its habitual layer of stubble, as if hesitant to continue. “They are members of Strangelove’s tribe.”

“Then it is as we had feared,” Arianna’s voice carried determination tempered by traces of resignation. “We have attracted the attention of larger enemies in the area. As soon as these attackers are out of the valley, we must light the emergency signals”

The Red Raider Military planners, Barrius and the man known only as ColdWeapon, following the first major attack against RazzleDazzle, had devised the emergency signals. They were large braziers constructed in a large tower at the center of each town of the Red Raiders. The tower ensured that the glow of the signal fires were visible from all other nearby towns. Thus, within minutes of lighting a signal fire, the towns immediately around RazzleDazzle—or any other city—would know that trouble was approaching. They could send reinforcements to the beleaguered town and light their own emergency signal. As the growing chain of fires reached other towns, they would do the same. When troops from other towns arrived at those simply forwarding the call for help, the intermediate towns could then send the soldiers on to the city they had received the signal from. In this fashion, the entire alliance could be alerted to an impending attack within a day at the most, and soldiers could be sent wherever they were needed within the alliance. It was an ingenious system that allowed for faster communication than any messenger on horseback could match.

Arianna had foreseen the possibility of a situation in which she might need to send a message while not being able to access the tower in the middle of her town, and she had ordered the construction of a second tower in the oasis where her army currently was sheltered. As soon as the barbarian horde descended from the rise marking the entrance to the valley, this alternate emergency signal was lit. Then, she ordered her army to return to the shelter of the city’s walls and prepare for the impending attack. No one would conquer the city on her watch. No one.

************************************************

The next day was a haze of preparations and organization. Soldiers and resources arrived from across the region controlled by the Red Raiders, many of them from cities Arianna hadn’t even known existed, such as King Boots and his army from Hazel Green. Even Barrius himself came, along with most of his army. Many familiar faces arrived as well, including Equinox at the head of ColdWeapon’s army; Otello, the Black Tiger, leading a large contingent of spearmen, paladins, and Teutonic nights; BLMC, without her swordsman bodyguard this time, and her troop of phalanxes as well as nearby Tweetsi’s battalion of praetorians; legionnaires and praetorians, this time led by their own general, from Sirktown; and the enigmatic druidrider’s of Na-Tu sent by Binar. Compared to the rushed preparations before the previous battle, easily half again as many troops were packed within the walls of RazzleDazzle this day.

Arianna again assumed overall command of the army; despite his seniority in terms of military affairs, Barrius had deferred command to her as the local general. The main entrance to the city faced the south, the same direction the other attacks had all come from, and she concentrated her soldiers there. She placed Faryk and Otello in charge of the defenses of the walls. The former commanded the western half, and the latter oversaw the eastern section. BLMC she placed in command of the spearmen and phalanxes positioned immediately behind the gate. As shattered as it was, it would not stand up to a committed attack against it, and she hoped the long spears of those troops would hold off the enemy cavalry that would surely attempt to sweep into the city. Then she, Sirk, Barrius, King Boots, and Equinox all assumed command of a squadron of cavalry, which would be used as a rapid response force in case the enemy broke through her outer defenses.

All was in place….now where was the enemy? He should have returned by now, and yet her scouts had not reported any troop movement. Had the reinforcement of RazzleDazzle been observed and Strangelove had decided to call off his attack? She had no way to know. Nevertheless, all was going according to plan, besides the enemy’s inexplicable tardiness. Feeling that RazzleDazzle was in good hands and eager to escape the walls, even for only a few hours, Arianna decided to personally lead a raid on a nearby city. At the head of a small force of imperians, she marched north to Ogledna Stanica, a Teutonic city that had provided many resources of late…resources that had been crucial to the development of RazzleDazzle’s defenses. A few more iron bars or wooden logs would allow her to equip more soldiers, and the large force within the city’s walls needed immense quantities of food. They reached the low palisade of Ogledna Stanica and moved into the town unopposed. No one had defended the city the last few times they had attacked, so no one was surprised by the lack of opposition.

Lulled into a false sense of security as they picked through the town’s stores, Arianna didn’t realize her raiders were under attack until an entire platoon had been wiped out to the last man. She quickly rallied the remaining soldiers, fewer than fifty, and they retreated quickly toward the exits of the city, as praetorians and legionnaires poured out of the buildings of the Teutonic city. Ogledna Stanica had been secretly reinforced by someone, although she could not guess who it might have been. At the moment, it didn’t matter. Her small force was greatly outnumbered and losing men faster than they were getting out of the city. She blocked the sword of one legionnaire with her shield while stabbing a second through the gut. She never saw the praetorian who approached unnoticed from behind and stabbed her in the back with his short sword. Seeing their commander fall from her horse, the remaining imperians fell into an intense battle fury, rushing to her body and killing all the enemy soldiers in the immediate area. They escaped from the deadly trap, bearing the grievously wounded Arianna into the woods outside the town.

The losses had been staggering. Of the ninety imperians who had boldly marched into the town less than an hour before, only nine remained. Worse—much worse—Arianna was unconscious and losing blood fast. Transporting her back to RazzleDazzle was out of the question. She would die long before she reached the safety of its walls. Luckily, Matrix, the town of BLMC was less than an hour away. The highest ranking surviving imperian, a sergeant, made the call. After staunching the bleeding as best they could, they carried her as rapidly as they dared to Matrix. Leaving their much-loved leader there under the care of the Gallic druids was the last thing any of them wanted to do, but the sergeant realized that the forces within RazzleDazzle needed to know what had happened. He gathered his men, and they somberly marched back to their home, a home that many of their former comrades-at-arms would never again see.

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“This is a disaster!” shouted Equinox, who had himself been badly wounded during the first defense of RazzleDazzle. “Who will lead the army now? Will you take the mantle of leadership now, Barrius?”

“I will defer again for the same reason I did before,” replied the weathered cavalry commander. “Someone local should command the troops. I believe the men would respond better to their orders than those given by some trumped up foreigner. Even if he is the supreme commander of all Red Raider military forces.” A slight twinkle in his eyes betrayed the hint of a smile that never quite made it to his mouth. “I think Faryk here should take Arianna’s spot.”

Faryk could feel his jaw drop, but it was a full minute before he could do anything. Trying to regain his composure, he stammered, “I-I— B-but— How will—“

Barrius placed a reassuring hand on Faryk’s shoulder and told the much younger junior officer, “Relax, lad. You didn’t get to be commander of the Raspberry Praetorian Guard by being incompetent. If she were here and in any shape to give advice—well if she were here and well we wouldn’t be having this conversation—but anyways, I believe she would want you to take her place as the overall commander of the defenses. You can still do so from atop the western walls, so the overall battle plan can go unchanged. I believe you have great potential. Just have a little faith in yourself.”

Not trusting himself to speak, Faryk merely nodded. And with that, the meeting returned to planning the last minute details of the defense. They were discussing possible ways to reinforce the gate when a scout rushed in. The man was completely out of breath, and they had to wait several minutes before he was calm enough to report. When he did, Faryk immediately paled. The enemy was on the move, and Strangelove’s army would be even larger than the one that had assaulted RazzleDazzle the previous day. Over eleven hundred swordsman and close to four hundred and fifty haeduans had been spotted. Leading them were the same chieftain, apparently one of Strangelove’s sub-lieutenants, and the champion of Strangelove’s army. They would reach the city’s walls in a matter of hours.

The meeting broke up quickly as the generals left to ensure that their individual charges were prepared for the coming battle. Bugles and horns sounded throughout the city and intermingled with the loud voices of unit commanders, marshalling battalions of infantry and squadrons of cavalry. Through this barely controlled chaos, Faryk marched to his position on the western section of the wall. Following the attack by the still-unidentified invaders, the walls had been upgraded, and these upgrades had included the construction of large bastions at the corners of the wall. These bastions were fitted with large ballistae, giant crossbows whose bolts could skewer several men if they were standing close enough together.

Faryk perched atop the battlements of the western bastion and gazed out over the city. Everyone seemed to be where they were supposed to be. He then turned his gaze out to the field beyond the city. With the additional height from the bastion, he was able to see beyond the rise at the end of the valley, and the sight was not reassuring. Banners and battalion signals jutted up from a sea of barbarians. The army marched in an odd formation, with two large units of swordsmen on the flanks and the force of mounted haeduans in the center. Most armies placed their cavalry on the flanks to guard the less maneuverable infantry from attacks from the side or rear. It was just such an attack that had utterly destroyed the imperian army, unaccompanied by cavalry, only a few days prior—was it really only a few days? It seemed like an eternity. Unfortunately, this army seemed to have a much more competent commander, although Faryk could not immediately see the purpose of the unorthodox arrangement of the cavalry and infantry.

After studying the enemy army and his own position for several minutes, he finally understood. The infantry carried large siege ladders; they meant to climb the tall walls of RazzleDazzle and bring the fight to the defenders. Meanwhile, a small group of the haeduans carried huge warhammers in addition to their other weapons. These warhammers would be enough to smash the already damaged gate and allow the cavalry, who could not possibly climb the walls, an opening into the city. Why did this commander have to be competent?

The approaching Gauls had just crested the rise and come into full view of the defenders of the city, but they were still at least thirty minutes away from the maximum range of the city’s ballistae. Faryk decided that rather than sit here and fret and allow the men relying on him to do the same, he needed to address them before the battle. Due to the ambush central to her strategy in the previous battle, Arianna had not been able to give a speech to the defenders, but Faryk instinctively knew that she would have wanted him to give one on this day. He descended from the bastion and quickly walked to the center of the wall, immediately above the gate. Eyes from all over focused on him. He thought he saw Barrius grinning in the distance. He cleared his throat and projected his voice.

“Men, defenders of RazzleDazzle! I will not lie to you on this day. We face a much more dangerous foe than the last one. The battle before us will be tough indeed. However, I know that we will prevail! How do I know such things? Perhaps I consulted our friends, the druids, for an augury of today’s events. Perhaps a deity spoke to me in my dreams. Or perhaps I simply know that we have no other choice…if we fail to defend the city today, Arianna will certainly kill every last one of us when she recovers!” Chuckles sounded across the ranks of soldiers below him. “I am just the commander of the Raspberry Praetorian Guard. Making speeches is well above my pay grade”—more chuckles—“so I will keep this simple. Mind your mate to each side. Guard him, and he will do the same for you. Keep your eyes on the enemy. He is battle-hardened and deadly. But also remember that so are you! The forces of Strangelove come today to take our glorious city from us. We did not fight and die for it mere days ago simply to give it away. It is our job today to ensure that not a single one of them survives to threaten our city and our people ever again. That is a direct order! No survivors. Do your duty men. To your positions!”

And with that, he turned and strode off to the western side of the wall. He couldn’t quite ignore the cheers that erupted from all around him, and his cheeks flushed. What was he, a simple commander of the guard, doing leading an army of thousands? Before he could continue along this dangerous train of thought, the enemy reached the range of the ballistae, and with a series of twangs, the sky filled with meter-long bolts arcing toward the enemy. Screams filled the air as the bolts sliced through the unarmored swordsmen, often killing three or four at a time before burying their heads in the ground. In response, the Gallic catapults launched their own volley of rocks toward the town. These crashed into the partially reconstructed governor’s residence and the soldiers standing immediately around it. The second defense of RazzleDazzle had begun.

The Gallic champion led his cavalry in a mad charge against the gate, within moments the fierce battering of warhammers had sundered the gate, and the cavalry poured through the opening, only to be stopped cold by the wall of spears that greeted them immediately inside. Though heavily armed and armored, the haeduans could not press forward through the thicket of spearheads, and BLMC’s troops had no intention of giving them any opening. The cavalry assault had stalled, and dead horsemen quickly filled the ground within the gate.

The battle on the walls was another story altogether. Almost at the same time as the bursting of the gate, dozens of siege ladders had slammed against the walls, and angry, screaming swordsmen streamed up them like monkeys. The defenders were ready for them though, and in the first minute a half dozen siege ladders were pushed back down to slam into the soldiers awaiting their turn to climb and kill. One ladder had slammed into the wall just in front of Faryk, and his attention was focused solely on the soldiers climbing toward him, death in their eyes. His whole world became stab, block, parry. In a brief lull, he glanced to his left and watched in amazement as Otello slammed his huge club down onto the top of one siege ladder. The ladder split right down the middle, carrying those on it to a painful—and often fatal—drop. He smiled and returned his attention to stab, block, parry, block.

The battle was going well for the defenders, casualties had been relatively light for them, especially among the spearmen and phalanxes, whereas the enemy had lost at least a third of its infantry and cavalry, and the ballistae had destroyed all of the enemy catapults. Suddenly, two groups of swordsmen managed to secure footholds atop the walls and fought to link up. Caught between this vise of swordsmen, the unlucky praetorians standing in their way were slaughtered. In the blink of an eye almost two hundred praetorians were lost. Worse, these swordsmen had captured one of several stairways leading from the walls down into the city, and they began to swarm down these steps. They reached BLMC’s spearmen and waded into them from behind. The spearmen could not turn around quickly enough, and they suffered horrific casualties in those first few minutes. The haeduans, unable to withdraw back through the gate, took advantage of this opening and pressed forward, adding their own might to the swordsmen’s attack. Casualties mounted, and the entire spear wall threatened to collapse as panic mounted.

Seeing this impending disaster, Barrius and Equinox spurred their mounts and led their cavalry contingents forward into the fray. Equinox was closer, and his equites imperatoris slammed into the swordsmen from behind, returning the favor for the rear attack the swordsmen had just unleashed upon the spearmen. Meanwhile, the druidriders with them remained back from the melee and began chanting. Roots sprang up through the cobblestone streets of RazzleDazzle, grasping at the feet of the Gallic warriors and trapping them in place. The equites imperatoris granted no mercy to these ensnared enemies, slaughtering them as they struggled to release their feet. Strangelove’s champion realized what was happening to the infantry and sensed that his opportunity was about to be lost. He urged on his remaining haeduans to engage the druidriders…and was abruptly met head-on by Barrius’ equites caesaris joining the fray. Although the haeduans were heavy cavalry, the equites caesaris were heavier. Again, the haeduans could not move forward. For the second time that day, their assault had been halted. BLMC noted the shift in momentum and moved her last reserve of phalanxes to cut off the retreat of the enemy cavalry, trusting in Equinox to protect her from the surviving swordsmen.

As cavalry dueled one another, Barrius faced off with the enemy champion. They circled one another, neither one eager to make the first move. The impasse ended quickly however, when Barrius’ horse slipped on the blood pooling in the cobblestone streets. He fell and rolled as his horse collapsed from under him. He heard a sickening sound as his steed’s leg snapped, but before he could begin to regret the loss of a fine mount, his opponent closed on him. Holding his sword and shield before him, he braced himself for a quick death at the hands of the horseman, when movement above him caught his eye. At first he couldn’t believe what he saw, and that amazement nearly cost him his life as he failed to completely block his opponents jab at his shoulder. He jumped aside just in time to avoid a fatal blow, as salvation arrived, literally from above. The sight that had caught his eye was that of a massive man bearing a club launching himself directly toward Barrius from the top of the wall. Otello slammed into the champion’s horse, which absorbed most of the impact of his insane leap. Otello then slammed his club horizontally, knocking the rider from his horse. Barrius took full advantage of his opponent’s momentary weakness and lunged forward. His sword caught the man through the heart, and he died instantly.

Upon seeing their commander’s death and the obvious insanity of the defenders, the enemy cavalry lost all will to fight and attempted to retreat. Instead, they ran straight into BLMC’s phalanxes. Caught between the spear wall and the equites caesaris, they did not last more than a minute. Soon, only defenders remained alive on the streets of RazzleDazzle.

Atop the wall, the battle still raged. Faryk had organized a battalion of praetorians to push into the group of swordsmen that had just slaughtered his own men before pressing down the stairs into the city. Although they had taken casualties, and he had been moderately wounded in his sword arm, they had managed to temporarily clear the wall of enemy warriors. After calling several axemen from the eastern section of the wall to help hold the retaken center, Faryk returned to the west. Here the battle was the fiercest, and he immediately realized that without the full use of his sword arm, he was in trouble. He was about to move back and let an uninjured soldier take his place at the top of the ladder he was guarding, when the biggest man he had ever seen—bigger than Otello even—clambered onto the wall. With a single sweep of a gigantic battleaxe, he cleaved a swath through the praetorians around him. His weapon cut through their metal armor and tower shields like a knife through warm butter.

“I’m in trouble,” Faryk muttered to himself, as two legionnaires attacked the giant chieftain…and were killed immediately.

The chieftain turned to Faryk, and recognition glimmered in his eyes as he realized that he was staring at one of the commanders of the city’s defense. “Hah!” he barked out a quick, vicious laugh. “They follow the order of mere pups! I am surprised your city hasn’t fallen already, child. If not for Arianna’s strategy, your city would already be so much rubble or a prized new addition to Strangelove’s growing empire. Throw down your sword and order your men to do the same or you will not live another day.”

“I don’t think so. Take a look below us. Your cavalry are slaughtered, your champion dead, and my own cavalry are about to exit the gates and bring the fight to your swordsmen on the ground. You have already lost this battle. Your army is about to be destroyed. And you will not live to raise another one.”

With that he charged forward, ducking under a huge blow from the chieftain’s battleaxe. The wizened old chieftain couldn’t match the speed of this “mere pup,” and Faryk’s sword bit into his flesh. The wound, while painful, was not fatal, and they backed away from one another.

“Pup’s got teeth!” the chieftain grunted out through teeth gritted in pain. “Too bad he isn’t fully grown yet. He has potential, but that ends here!” As he said that, he slung his axe at Faryk. The axe didn’t hit Faryk directly—that would have killed him outright—but it did slam into his already injured arm, knocking his sword from his hand and carving a deep gash into his bicep. The chieftain rushed forward and grasped Faryk by the neck, intent on strangling the life out of him. As his vision began to go black from lack of air, Faryk desperately slammed his shield into the chieftain’s head. The blow caught the chieftain completely by surprise, and releasing Faryk, he staggered backward…completely off the wall. With a meaty THUD, he hit the cobblestones below, flattening an unlucky druidrider who had been riding out to attack the swordsmen beyond the gate.

His dramatic death sucked all the enthusiasm for battle from his troops, and at first in ones and twos, but soon after in droves, the swordsmen not yet on the wall began to run for the forests or the end of the valley. Equinox and Sirk and their equites imperatoris ensured they did not get far. Those swordmen on the walls fought fiercely, but their morale was almost nonexistent. They simply chose death in battle rather than surrender. Before long, the slaughter was over. No Gaul had escaped. No Gaul had surrendered.

Faryk cradled his injured arm as he made his way down from the walls and into the city. Otello was helping Barrius bind his own wounds, and Barrius motioned for Faryk to join them. Slapping Faryk on the back, Barrius grinned broadly and congratulated him on a successful defense. “Young pup indeed! Arianna would be so proud of you. You just missed the messenger from Matrix too. They said she should fully recover from her wounds, although it may be some time before she is fit to travel. But now we know that even without her, we have a true hero in you, Faryk. You are a credit to your people, and we—“

Before he could finish, he was interrupted by the clatter of hooves on cobblestone. A horseman—Faryk vaguely recognized him as one of the spies he employed to watch the distant southern approaches—raced toward them.

“Sirs! They are coming again!”

“Who is coming, Valin?” Faryk asked.
“The— The Serbs, sir! That is what they call themselves. The attackers who hit you before the Gauls. They will be here in just a few days. You need to prepare yourselves. They were not happy after their embarrassing defeat.” Valin visibly trembled.

“Well, lad. It looks like the fun isn’t over just yet,” Barrius growled. “In fact, it seems it is just beginning. Best get the cavalry back into the walls and try to repair this damned gate again. We’re gonna need it…”

 
And if you are still reading on (thanks if you are!), here is the final attack for which we have a story:

The Defense of Blue Castle

Prologue

Fires roared throughout the dining hall of Tweetsi, the largest city of the Cinnamon County, as the drunken revelry continued into the night. Shadows cast by the flames danced across the wall even as the last few stragglers danced—or rather lurched—across the floor. Arianna set down her own goblet of wine and gazed around the room, her own sight bleary with alcohol. Soldiers had collapsed in heaps, even passing out on top of one another.

“What a messh! Looksh like a battlefield…” she slurred.

“Hah! Not nearly as bad as the battlefield we left tonight!” roared Otello, war chief of the Black Tiger clan, from across the table. Though he had easily drunk four times as much liquor as her, he barely seemed intoxicated at all. Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising, seeing as how the muscled behemoth of a man towered over her. Combined with his size, his black leather armor and tigerskin helm were sure to intimidate all but his close friends. She would be willing to bet that she and her two other drinking partners could easily take cover behind him. To her right, Kix, the hero of BLMC, occupied herself by playing a drinking game with her swordsman bodyguard. To her left, Morgaine, the overall commander of all Cinnamon forces, slept soundly, face flat against the table. Arianna could understand the immense relief Morgaine felt now that her city was safe; she too had felt that way about a month ago when RazzleDazzle had been successfully defended.

The four leaders and their armies represented the majority of the Red Raiders’ eastern battlegroup, which had been called into action to defend Cinnamon County from a marauding band of Roman imperians led by an aggressive, but not-too-bright bandit named Epil. Epil used no tactics besides pointing his army at the walls of his target and ordering them to charge just before dusk. He had not even fielded any cavalry of his own. Due to his incompetence, the battle had been a massacre. His main force was stuck against the walls of Tweetsi, guarded by a joint force of the Raspberry Praetorian Guard and phalanxes from Matrix, all under Kix’s command. With the enemy’s attention occupied by the wall’s defenders, it had been child’s play for Arianna and her cavalry to circle around behind the marauders in the dark. The imperians had then been ridden down beneath the hooves of Arianna’s equites imperatoris. A similar story had played out at Gyrfalcon, where Otello and Morgaine had destroyed Epil’s smaller force led by a lieutenant just as inept as his commander. Their leaders may have been fools, but the imperians had been well-trained and fought bravely to the last man. Many Red Raiders had fought their last battle tonight as well.

Those that survived now celebrated life and security; tomorrow they would mourn the dead—and probably their hangovers too. Their celebrations were about to be cut short though…

A now-familiar face raced into the dining hall. Arianna jerked upright, instantly sober.

“Lady Arianna,” began Valin, the spy from the south whose reports on the movement of both the Serbs and Strangelove’s Gallic tribe had been crucial to the Red Raiders’ earlier victories, “I am afraid I bear dire news from the south. Strangelove has raised another army, much larger than his first. He marches north now. I managed to sneak up to his command tent and overheard him discussing possibilities with his champion. They mean to make an example of the Red Raiders to the world but have not yet decided their target. I heard only two cities named before I had no choice but to leave and warn you. Strangelove will attack either your own RazzleDazzle or Otello’s Blue Castle.”

************************************************

 
Two Days Later

Sweat glistened on Arianna’s forehead, as the harsh desert sun beat down upon her and the small army of cavalry behind her. To the south, she spied yet another sandstorm brewing. Though it was only mid-morning, the heat was intense, and the storm promised to add one more degree of unpleasantness to the day. Absently brushing away the moisture before it could stream into her eyes, she found herself longing again for the temperate climate of her home, RazzleDazzle, which lay several days’ hard march to the east. These desert plains were as different from the cool, wooded valley as anything she could imagine. Hell itself couldn’t be more disagreeable.

She sat astride her dappled warhorse, Fairsong, who nickered unhappily in the sweltering heat. Fairsong tossed her head and longingly eyed the slowly flowing waters of the nearby Nimr River. The river, which flowed out of the mountainous north, was the only reason life in this inhospitable region was possible at all. Aside from providing a much-needed source of freshwater in the dry desert, the Nimr River carried silt down from the mountains and deposited it along the riverbanks north of the two citadels, creating a fertile oasis of cultivation in an otherwise infertile land. The Black Tiger clan had long ago claimed this area as its home. That they survived and even thrived here was a testament to their hardiness.

A few cavalrymen—the lucky Teutonic Knights on the east of her battle line—found slight relief in the shadow of the tall walls to their left. The walls, made of the blue stone found only on this side of the Nimr, sparkled in the sunlight, in stark contrast with the matte black stone walls of the castle across the river to the west. The aptly named Black Castle and Blue Castle defended both sides of the only bridge across the broad Nimr for miles and miles. Unlike RazzleDazzle, which was merely a fortified, walled town, both castles were true fortresses. Square and with high walls surrounding an inner keep, they seemed nearly impregnable. Their gates were reinforced with iron and could withstand all assaults short of a concentrated catapult barrage, and yet Otello believed in his heart that Strangelove would choose to make his attack here.

They had discussed their options that night following Valin’s report. Arianna ached to return to RazzleDazzle and defend her home, and the planning session had nearly reached a heated argument about which city to defend. Otello’s gut was telling him that his own city would be attacked, but she believed Strangelove was returning to finish the job he had begun a month ago at RazzleDazzle. In the end, she realized her own judgment was clouded, and she relented. Otello’s hunches had rarely proven wrong in the past, and both Morgaine and Kix clearly believed him this night as well. Morgaine could not make the journey herself, but she had already ordered the majority of her remaining defenders to travel with Otello and Kix. Arianna did the only thing she could. She pledged her remaining Raspberry Praetorian Guard to the defense of Blue Castle.

Before leading her soldiers to the west, however, she had returned briefly to RazzleDazzle. Arianna briefed Faryk on the possibility of attack and had the emergency beacon lit in the tower at the center of the village to call reinforcements from the Red Raiders. They would have to be enough if Otello was wrong. She left Faryk in charge of the defense and marched west at the head of an army of legionnaires and praetorians. Her cavalry remained in RazzleDazzle; they did not have the training needed to ride through treacherous desert sands. A false step could prove fatal in combat. She would learn the necessary techniques when she arrived at Blue Castle, but there would not be enough time to train all of her equites imperatoris. She hoped she would not need them.

And yet, peering into the distance, she feared she might. What she had first taken to be a distant sandstorm blowing towards them from the south was definitely something far more dangerous. A sandstorm would appear as a broad front of blowing sand; what approached her now was a long, thin cloud of dust that simply blew up and seemed to hang in the air as it slowly settled. Dust kicked up by a marching column of cavalry and infantry. A storm of an entirely different type was about to descend upon Blue Castle and its defenders. Otello’s hunch had been right. Strangelove was coming.

She could barely make out the front rank of approaching haeduans, led by a figure that could only be the new champion of Strangelove, eager to prove himself after his predecessor’s demise within the walls of RazzleDazzle. Clad in polished silver plate and atop a mighty warhorse also protected by silver armor, he presented a fearsome image of martial might, and the size of the army behind him reinforced that image. Arianna estimated that nearly a thousand heavy cavalry approached the castle and behind them appeared to be at least twice that number of swordsmen.

She turned to face her own soldiers. Otello had taken overall command of the defense of his homeland, and would coordinate the battle from the walls of Blue Castle. Cavalry would be worthless in a fight for the walls, and his strategy hinged on the enemy never breaching the gate. Thus, he had placed his own cavalry outside the walls to meet the enemy’s cavalry head-on. A strip of land, barely a quarter mile wide separated Blue Castle from the Nimr River to the west of the fortress, and it was here that Otello had placed his Teutonic Knights and paladins. They were also joined by druidriders from Matrix, whose mystical connection with nature allowed them to ride on the shifting sands as easily as if it was packed clay. Standing three rows deep, the cavalry nearly filled the strip of land from wall to river. All told, Arianna commanded about a thousand cavalry herself, but only the Teutonic Knights could match the heavy armor of the incoming haeduans. Should she remain here, the Red Raider cavalry would be slaughtered. Raising her sword above her head and shouting with all her might, she cried out, “Red Raiders! RETREAT!”

Seeing that his foes were about to break and run, the Gallic general spurred his own force faster and urged his men on. The fleeing cavalry of the defenders kicked up a heavy cloud of dust and sand, but his haeduans didn’t even pause as they crashed through it…right into a wall of spears!

Horses and men screamed in terror as their own momentum drove them into the terrible, unrelenting spears that shouldn’t be there. His horse had impaled itself on at least three separate shafts before dying almost instantly, and he had been thrown from it to land in a heap of armor. His right arm hung uselessly from his side as he cast about desperately for some means to stop the carnage. In the dust-choked chaos, he couldn’t stop his own men from charging to their death.

After “retreating” far enough to bait Otello’s trap, Arianna halted momentarily to view the bloodbath behind her—at least as much of it as she could see through the sand filling the air. It seemed to have worked perfectly. Obscured by the solid rows of cavalry, Otello’s spearmen had arrayed themselves in square formations with wide lanes between them for the cavalry to escape through. As soon as most of the cavalry had passed through those lanes, the spearmen squares spread out into rectangular formations to close the spaces in their ranks. Rather than fleeing to the rear, immediately after passing the spearmen, the heavily armored Teutonic Knights had rushed to the flanks of the line to prevent any Gallic cavalry from sneaking around the spearmen and attacking them from behind. Few haeduans even attempted such a maneuver, so shocked had they been to find steady spears filling an area that should have contained only routing foes. Confident that this battle was under control, Arianna led the paladins and druidriders north along the wall, intending to ride around the castle and attack the unsuspecting swordmen from the side. The ride would take several minutes to complete, even at a full gallop, and she hoped that Otello and Kix would be able to hold the walls.

************************************************

 
THUD!

Otello’s mighty club slammed into another swordman, knocking him clear off the wall. Otello roared in delight as he charged at yet another swordman just now reaching the top of a siege ladder. Not even bothering with his weapon, Otello punched the man in the head, cracking his helmet and sending him to crash into the man below him on the ladder. Then, just for good measure, Otello shoved the ladder from the wall and allowed it to plummet back to earth under the weight of those climbing it.

All around him, defenders fought in twos and threes, barely holding off the Gallic assault. Three battalions of swordmen had approached the southern wall of Blue Castle. One battalion had raised large siege ladders and anchored them against the western side of the South Gate; another had done the same on the eastern side of the gate. The final battalion remained in reserve, able to assist the assault on the wall or the stalled cavalry charge. Its commander seemed indecisive and had not committed his men to either battle for now.

On both sides of the southern wall, at least half a battalion of swordmen had reached the top of the walls and engaged the defenders in hand-to-hand combat. The enemy soldiers on the wall were outnumbered, but they fought with a savage fury to hold off the defenders long enough for their fellow warriors to crest the walls. Several hundred swordmen lay dead along the battlements, but over a thousand remained on the ground below, waiting for their chance to join the fray. Otello admired the technique of the Raspberry Praetorian Guard, who had become very proficient in fighting atop walls against infantry assault, but it was time to show them just why he was called the Black Tiger.

A small knot of swordmen, no more than a couple dozen, had established a foothold and were defending the ladder that was steadily supplying them with reinforcements. None of the defenders’ counterattacks had been successful in driving them back. Beyond and below the swordsmen, he saw Arianna leading his paladins around the southeast corner of the castle and preparing to charge into the flank of the enemies on the ground. However, even if the charge successfully broke the swordmen, it would all be for naught if they were able to take the walls, and that nightmare scenario could happen at any moment if he did nothing. With the fate of his people at stake, Otello knew just what to do.

Launching himself in a headlong charge at the swordmen, he held his club before him like a lance. His intent was not to pierce his enemy, but to simply batter them off the wall, and it worked. His mass and momentum smashed into the surprised swordmen and scattered them like a herd of gazelle with a tiger in their midst. Seeing their hero charge the enemy singlehandedly galvanized the defenders into making another counterattack, and the faces of the swordmen reflected the change from determination to desperation among the attackers. Otello pounced on the back of one swordman before he could stab a phalanx rushing to assist the master of the castle, and with a quick, efficient twist of his arms, he snapped the man’s neck. Suddenly the wall was clear of all but the surviving defenders.

Turning back to face the ladder that had fed this mess, Otello rested his bulk against the top and shoved. Some swordmen on the ladder simply clung to it for dear life, but the one at the top and closest to the wall started climbing faster. Just as he reached the top of the ladder, Otello managed to gain enough leverage to push the ladder out into space. It quivered for a moment, as if it could fall either back toward the castle or toward the ground below, just hanging in the air. Then a swordman shifted, and it slowly toppled backward. Otello spun back to face the defenders, thrusting out his club-wielding hand in victory. At the same time, the desperate swordman on the final rung of the ladder leapt for the walls. He misjudged the distance and clawed desperately for anything to save himself from the fatal drop. His right hand caught hold of the thick end of Otello’s club, which the Black Tiger still held tightly, and the sudden increase in weight caught the giant flatfooted. Jerked backward, Otello lost his balance, and gravity took over. The swordman, Otello’s club, and Otello plunged toward the desert below.

************************************************

THUD!

Arianna briefly shifted her attention from the swordman as she blocked his blow with the automatic reflexes of a soldier who had seen more than her fair share of battle. The last ladder had fallen from the walls, kicking up a huge cloud of dust and further reducing the visibility of the already hazy battlefield. That had not been enough to distract her though; it was the fourth or fifth ladder to fall in the past minute. So what had drawn her attention?

Ah, there it was. Three barely discernable objects tumbled down from the walls of Blue Castle. A man she didn’t know, the lowest of the three, screamed as he dropped to his doom. The second fell silently. It looked like a piece of wood, perhaps broken off of the top of the ladder? It seemed too thick for that though. The third object was instantly recognizable though. She knew no other man of that size, and her heart fell as she watched Otello land with a bone-shattering crash. Not even Otello could have survived that fall. A tigerskin helm caught a slight breeze and slowly fluttered to the ground.

“No… NO!” she screamed, her voice ragged with grief. “Red Raiders! NO MERCY!”

Choking back the sob that threatened to escape from her throat, she madly stabbed at the closest swordman. After he fell, she bashed the next with her shield and cut his throat. The paladins behind her could barely catch up as she cut a bloody swath through the Gallic horde. Her rage knew no bounds, and Gauls tripped over each other in the shifting sands as they desperately tried to escape her avenging sword. Few succeeded. Almost as if her battle fury were contagious, the defenders surged forward aggressively. The momentum of the battle had completely reversed.

Although they had inflicted heavy casualties on the stubborn spearmen, now haeduans scampered away in every direction, many of their mounts tripping in the sandy dunes and throwing their riders face-first into the gritty earth. Their champion was among the first to retreat. Closer to the castle, swordmen everywhere dropped their weapons and fled. Strangelove’s army had routed, and Arianna intended to ride down every last one of them if it took her a week. The castle gates had opened to allow the praetorians and phalanxes within to join the pursuit when Arianna saw a new cloud on the horizon that froze her battle fury instantly. No other friendly reinforcements were expected. Strangelove had brought a second army out to play…

************************************************

Back at the castle, Kix stared out at the scene below her in disbelief. Over half of Strangelove’s massive army lay dead around the walls of the fortress and yet another army approached. How many men followed this Strangelove? Would their reduced and weary army be enough to hold off this fresh one? Stifling these thoughts before panic could set in, she left the walls and dashed outside the castle.

Kix and her druidriders had remained serene during the rout, seemingly immune to the battle fury that spread through the rest of the defenders, and she immediately began organizing them to defend the gates while the rest of the defenders hurried back to the safety of the walls. Injured spearmen hobbled through the gateway as their uninjured comrades rushed past them. Several men carried the body of Otello into the city. Miraculously, he was still breathing, although for how long she could not begin to guess. She ordered several druids to tend to him, and if they felt they could do nothing to save him, she asked them to make his passing as painless as possible. Turning back to the approaching enemy reinforcements, she wondered what insanity had taken Arianna now. Arianna and the cavalry made no move to return to the castle yet, although they had reformed into their units once more. “Well,” Kix thought to herself, “I guess I’ll just have to wait here until she comes to her senses. She’ll need an open gate to get back into the city.”

************************************************

 
In fact, Arianna was not insane. Intense yes, but not insane. She had counted over a hundred trebuchets accompanying this army before she stopped. The exact number did not matter; there were more than enough to demolish Blue Castle without a Gaul ever setting foot within the citadel. They would have to be destroyed or no one would be safe within the walls. This army lacked the heavy cavalry of the first army, traveling only with a small complement of light cavalry. For the first time against Strangelove, the Red Raiders would have the upper hand in a cavalry battle, and Arianna intended to take full advantage of it. Gathering the paladins and Teutonic Knights that had followed her in her berserker fury, she addressed them.

“Men, these catapults cannot be allowed within range of Blue Castle. They will wreak havoc on the civilians within. Attacking them now, unsupported by infantry may be foolish, even suicide, but I cannot allow innocents to die for my own safety. Any man of you that wishes to return to the castle, know that you lose no honor in returning to defend rather than joining me. You have only one chance to return and that is now.”

Not a cavalryman stirred. Not a horse shifted. All was still and deadly quiet.

“Very well! We may go to our doom, but it is one that shall be remembered for ages to come. Forward Red Raiders! ATTACK!”

Spurring Fairsong forward, Arianna drew her sword and suited action to words. The Red Raider cavalry descended upon the unprepared column of Theutates Thunder and the catapults they protected like wolves upon a herd of sheep. The Gallic light cavalry was instantly swept away and the Teutonic Knights set about hacking through the thick ropes of the trebuchets. One after another of the siege weapons were rendered useless.

However, the Gallic commander reacted quickly and directed his swordmen to attack the now-stationary cavalry. Unable to use their greater mobility while they concentrated on destroying the trebuchets, the cavalry—outnumbered two to one—were quickly surrounded. Paladins held the line but were being forced back. Arianna realized they would not be able to finish the job before they were all killed. Eyes saddened with regret at her failure, she raised the Red Banner, taken from a slain flagbearer, and charged at the mass of swordmen between her men and Blue Castle. Paladins and Teutonic Knights followed hot on her heels.

************************************************

From the walls of Blue Castle, Kix observed the Red Raiders’ desperate charge. She was now able to see the reason for Arianna’s apparently insanity and was glad that most of the trebuchets had been damaged beyond use. She just didn’t know if it was worth the cost. Tears filled her eyes as she watched horseman after horseman fall.

At the head of the charge, she recognized Fairsong’s dappled coat. Arianna’s helmet had fallen off at some point during the charge and her long hair flew loose behind her. She was the very image of a warrior maiden, as she struck down foe after foe. They had nearly hacked their way through the massed Gauls and secured an opening through which to escape. For just a moment Arianna and Fairsong disappeared from view behind a cluster of swordmen, but when Fairsong reappeared, her saddle was empty.

“Oh no…it can’t be. It just can’t be!” whispered Kix in horror. “She must have just fallen off. She’ll be okay. She has to be. We can’t lose both Otello and Arianna in one day!”

But now the cavalry had escaped the death trap and dashed toward the safety of Blue Castle’s walls. Neither Fairsong nor Arianna accompanied them.

Realization slowly dawned on Kix. The defense of Blue Castle was now in her hands alone as the army of at least a thousand swordmen regrouped and resumed their march on the citadel. At least with most of their siege weapons destroyed they could not sit back and bombard the castle from afar. They would have to take the city the old-fashioned way: through blood, sweat, and tears.

And if Kix had anything to say about it, most of the blood and tears would be Gallic.

************************************************

The next hour was one of barely controlled chaos and lingering despair as Kix tried to forge some semblance of order over the disorganized, tired, and demoralized Red Raider defenders. Losing two of their leaders within an hour of each other had had a very negative effect on their will to continue fighting. The arrival of the second Gallic army outside the walls and its steady barrage of trebuchet-hurled rocks only worsened their dejection.

And then the Gauls began taunting them. Remark after disparaging remark was made about the defenders’ parentage, courage, fighting ability, and even ability to brew a decent beer. The spirits of the Red Raiders were so low that most of these jeers had no effect. However, the Gallic commander made a severe tactical flaw. When the taunting seemed to fail, he determined that the reason for its failure was the subject matter. He decided on a new topic and led the second round of taunting himself.

“Aye, she died well, your Arianna did! Cowering behind her shield and whimpering for her mama! I stabbed her myself, and did she take it with honor, with dignity? NO! She screamed like an infant! Your commander”—he almost spat the word—“was a spineless coward and deserves to be the feast of crows and worms that she is now.”

Of course he was lying through his teeth. He didn’t know which of his men had done the deed, but it had not been him to run her through. A pity. He would have done the job right and collected her head, that’s for sure. No matter, these dogs hiding behind their walls would not know the truth.

His words, and the subsequent mockery from his men had the opposite effect from what he had intended. Instead of further sapping the will of the Red Raiders, it incensed the battle fury their arrival had quenched. Normally calm, Kix herself seethed with rage. Grabbing a javelin from a nearby legionnaire, she hurled it with all her wrath-fueled might at the enemy commander. Too shocked to dodge, he stood transfixed by his impending death until the javelin pierced his body and pinned him to the ground beneath.

Defenders along the lengths of the walls took their cue from their remaining hero and let loose a volley of javelins. Only a few javelins actually reached the swordmen, but they had a tremendous effect on the morale of the defenders. Now, rather than simply awaiting death, they were once more eager to destroy their foes. The Gauls did not keep them waiting long.

Raising the same siege ladders used earlier by the first army, Strangelove’s Gauls assaulted the walls of Blue Castle for the second time that day. The battle raged through most of the afternoon and into the early evening, as the two almost equally matched forces fought back and forth along the battlements. Kix seemed to be everywhere at once: whirling through the fray above the gatehouse with her spear jabbing and thrusting in almost every direction, standing firm in the tower on the southwest corner as she and a battalion of phalanxes held out against twice as many swordmen until praetorians could arrive to reinforce them, in the streets of Blue Castle after the enemy had taken the walls.

The Red Raiders held at the keep, and finally the long day of fighting against the relentless defenders broke the will of the Gauls. They just could not take it any longer. At first individually or in small groups, but soon as whole squads and battalions they fled. At this point, the paladins and Teutonic Knights sallied forth from the keep where they had been recovering from their earlier battles. They rode down the routing swordmen, but capturing prisoners was not their intent. After this day, only death would be granted any member of Strangelove’s tribe. None of this second army escaped.

After the last group of swordmen had been massacred, Kix ordered the survivors to regroup. Although they had won a massive battle, there would be no celebrations this night. The Red Raiders would lick their wounds and mourn their fallen. She herself would spend the night alone. Neither of her friends was there to comfort her. Otello lay in the hospital, possibly on his deathbed, and Arianna’s body had not even been recovered. Burying her head in her arms to hide her tears from the army, she silently wondered if they could recover from this “victory.”

************************************************

That night

Many miles from Blue Castle, Fairsong limped into the shelter of a copse of palm trees in the middle of the desert. She collapsed next to the spring at the center of this oasis and slowly drank from its waters. She was simply too exhausted to move after having dragged her burden these many miles despite her own wounded leg.

Moonlight shone down on the still and bloody body of Arianna. Having been towed through miles of desert, her long brown hair was crusty with sand and grit. Her blue eyes were closed and her features seemed peaceful despite the dreadful wounds she had sustained to her arms and chest.

Humming, sibilant and eerie, filled the air. Lacking a discernable melody, the music was not beautiful or pleasing so much as…powerful. The humming stopped as a shadowy figured knelt beside the body of Arianna.

Speaking in hushed tones, the figure whispered, “Arise my child. It is not yet your time to cross over into the other realm. You are still needed here. Arise Arianna…and awaken!”

Arianna’s eyes fluttered and slowly opened.

 
And yea, that is it.

There were other important attacks afterwards, but a combination of loss of inspiration and heavy workload from classes this semester kept me from finishing the tale. What other attacks happened and what was Arianna’s purpose? About a month after the attack on Blue Castle, FUN*TL decided to zero-pop one of our members as an exercise in military coordination. Instead they received a lesson in humility as they lost three major armies. Around that time, we were first establishing our ties with the Dinosaur meta, and those attacks were important for R-R to prove that we were worthy of participating on a quad-wide level, even as the smallest kid on the block.

We had a short tangle with a couple of CWL WW hammers. Necrolyte’s hammer would have been about 20k stronger had it not been used inappropriately. I’m not sure if Rin used a hammer at all during the WW season, but if he did, it was short about 800 or so catapults from sniping.

And finally, we got to absorb presumably all of ARMOR’s hammers in an ill-advised attack on my capital. Thanks for a fun weekend there, ARMOR. You gave as good as you got and hurt some of my other villages pretty badly!

The last attack would not have been held off without a lot of help from the wonderful Dinosaurs, so I cannot thank them enough for opening their doors to us where no one else would have us. I hope we’ve proven our worth to you and to the quad!

Oh, but what about Arianna? She perished leading an attack against the walls of Shakal’s WW: http://travian-reports.net/uk/raport.php?id=334917f316c

Small in the grand scheme of things, but even small parts can be important, and I think that’s an important message to leave the big metas with!

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