The Siege of Gordul Nor, Part 2

Hello, internet!

I hope you all enjoyed Tuesday’s instalment of my ongoing story, The Siege of Gordul Nor.  Without any further ado, I present part two – and I hope that you’ll come back on Sunday for the finale!


 

Crimea Barricade Corpse

“I wouldn’t advise that, sir,” Bournclough managed to articulate, after several moments of stunned silence.

“Nonsense!” said the nob. He was still inspecting the parapet of the trench with a glint of zeal in his eyes. “I shall only be making a quick inspection. I can’t imagine that I’ll come to any great harm.”

Bournclough shared a look with Corporal Mogget. There wasn’t much that could distract Mogget from his rollups for more than five seconds, but this nob was managing it.

“Well,” Bournclough began, in the gentle voice used to explain things to officers. “Not to tell you your own business, sir, but wouldn’t it answer better to take a look during the day? Safe and sound behind our lines, like? With a spyglass?”

“Oh I’ve already done that, Colour Sergeant,” the nob laughed. “But I need to get a close look at the enemy cannon, and I should hardly think that they’ll be keen to let me do that in broad daylight. I must approach their lines under the cover of darkness.”

Bournclough fell dumb again. He returned his pipe to his mouth, but it had gone out. If this nob was mad enough to want to visit the enemy positions at night then he would be better off going west to the Gavilonian lines and finding one of their all-elf companies, the somnambules who could cross the mud without leaving a footprint or making a sound. But the nob seemed to have every intention of going by himself. Bournclough watched wordlessly as the engineering officer retrieved a fur-lined cloak from a sort of satchel that hung at his waist, shook the cloak out to its full length, and swept it over his shoulders. Once it was tied, he peered away down the trench.

“I believe the approach line is that way, isn’t it?”

Bournclough could think of two answers to the nob’s question. The first was “yes sir, and are there any valuables you’d like to leave with us for safekeeping so we can flog them on the sly for drinking money when you don’t come back?” It was the question that Mogget wanted him to ask. But when he looked at this bright-eyed, cheery, innocent nob, he didn’t quite have the heart to ask it.

It was a funny thing. He’d always assumed that his conscience was something that he’d misplace after he spent long enough in the army. But he’d been in the army a long time, and his conscience had stuck with him like a stubborn case of gout.

He steeled himself, wondered what he was doing, and asked the other question.

“Yes, sir. Would you like company, sir? Can’t let you go off by yourself, now. Might lose your way.”

Just for a moment, the nob looked surprised. Then he looked cheery again. “How thoughtful of you to offer, Colour Sergeant. Let’s not waste a moment. The night won’t last forever!”

The nob started off towards the approach line, careful not to step on any more of Bournclough’s men. The men watched him go, and then Bournclough felt their eyes turn on him.

“Stay warm, boys,” he said, because he couldn’t think of anything else to say in the circumstances. He fastened his cloak around his shoulders and swung his pack onto his back, bearing the weight as well as any man despite the fact that the pack was almost as large as him. He emptied his pipe and tucked it into his belt. Then he picked up his musketoon and checked the flint.

Dry as a bone.

He’d been hoping that he might have to replace it, because that would have given him one more thing to do before he had to set off after the nob. But he’d exhausted his options. He wriggled his moustache, sniffed, and set off down the trench.

He’d only managed to take two steps before someone said “Sarge.”

Bournclough stopped, and turned around. It was Mogget. The skinny corporal rose to his feet and sighed, casting the glowing dog-end of his rollup down into a puddle. “If you’re going then I suppose I’m going too, aren’t I?”

Bournclough snorted with humourless laughter. “Not if you don’t fancy it.”

The corporal shrugged. “Well I’ve just thrown my light in a puddle, haven’t I? Might as well come with you now.”

Bournclough smiled. “Truer words, Pat…”

“Oh sod off. Let’s get after him before I come to my senses.”


 

They crossed the valley as quietly as they could, listening for each other’s movements to avoid losing each other, and trusting Bournclough’s sense that they were heading in the right direction. It was hard to get lost as long as they kept going uphill. The land rose unevenly towards the hill where the defenders of Gordul Nor built their great redoubt, and the ground underfoot was strewn with loose rock, blasted clods of soil, and the hundreds of cannonballs fired by both sides almost every day for the past three months. There were bodies too. Bournclough saw grey hands emerging from the soil, a lone boot still containing a substance that had once been a foot. He had to grab hold of the webbing on Mogget’s back to stop him from sticking his boot through the gaping chest of a dead elf. The elf lay there in his powder blue Gavilonian tailcoat, looking pale and forlorn in the way that only a dead elf could. Elves always looked like they were in a painting, even when they’d been festering on a frozen hillside for three weeks. Bournclough felt oddly jealous.

“Must have copped it in that last assault,” Bournclough muttered.

“Yeah,” Mogget muttered back, “him and half the 34th.”

Bournclough hoped it wouldn’t be his regiment that was picked to lose half its men in the next attack. As far as he knew, the concordium had landed in Myrmogosh with the plan of marching straight into Gordul Nor and sending a polite note to the Malign Emperor, suggesting that he could have the city back without a fuss if he agreed to give up some of his favourite hobbies, such as slaughtering the penitent and sending back the limbs of ambassadors enclosed in rusty hunting traps. Bournclough didn’t know whether the Malign Emperor would be quick to accept that arrangement, but the plan hadn’t got that far yet. Gordul Nor still stood. The city fell away to the north, protected by heavy batteries that stopped the concordium’s ships from sailing into the harbour, which meant it was the infantry’s job to attack by land. So far they hadn’t had much luck. The old High Elf ruins had been turned into a fortress, with guns that overlooked the valley, defended by legions of orcs and a good few regiments of Pyromanian riflemen. Bournclough didn’t want to see another attack go as badly as the last one. If this engineer nob took a good look at the enemy cannon, maybe it would help to make the next attack go better. That was why he was out here risking his hide. That was what he told himself as they neared the orc lines.

He knew that they were getting close when the stone head of an old elf king appeared out of the gloom, one cheek submerged in dirt, his free eye pleading for some good soul to set him to rights again. Stone heads meant they’d reached the ruins. And sure enough, a little way uphill of them, Bournclough saw the first of the enemy batteries. Stones steps rose to the lowest tier of the old elf temple, where mounds of rock, earth, and straw had been thrown up as a barricade among the fallen columns. Bournclough could hear nasal voices from the other side. Hideous faces flickered in the dim light of a hanging lantern, but they weren’t the faces of men or orcs. Bournclough had been fighting orcs for long enough to know that all of their cannon were cast with dragon’s teeth or demon’s eyes, grinning as they belched fire and rained down shot upon their enemies. These were the cannon that the nob wanted to see.

The nob was crouching next to Bournclough, peering over the ear of the fallen king. He hadn’t spoken once since they crept out into the valley, but now he took an intake of breath, and whispered, “How close can we get?”

Bournclough glanced at Mogget, then back at the nob.

“How close would you like to get, sir?”

Preparing for War Part Four: First Light

Alright, this is the next installment of the Preparing for War series that I’ve been writing for fun. Honestly, I’m not really sure how good these are at all. I’m writing them mostly because I don’t have much time to write fiction at the moment, and these keep me writing something. However, I enjoy the world of Avnul, and I enjoy this particular story, which is a prologue to a tale that’s been bouncing around in my head for a few years. Maybe, at some point, I’ll actually write it.

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The massive Famhairean smashed into the palisades, manned by skeletal warriors, as the first light of dawn peaked over the eastern horizon. The giant Baeg’dithi warriors towered over their enemies, and wood and bone flew every which way as the Famhairean swung massive clubs and stone mauls. A few hundred yards behind them Bregda’s army stood in their loose formations. The Fada, the most martial of all the Baeg’dithi clans, had the tightest formations, stood silently awaiting the charge, while the fire and earth born arrayed to each side beat their shields, screamed insults across the field, and spat upon the ground to show their disgust at the thought of how the meat of their foes might taste. The invaders would not find themselves an honorable feast, as fallen Baeg’dithi warriors might, but instead would rot in the field and forests.

Bregda watched from a low crest where she stood with three of the fastest Sgaithi flyers, who would act as her messengers as she directed the assault, and the elders of her clan. Few of the ghosts, Baeg’dithi would could render themselves nearly invisible at will, had returned from their initial foray to scout the enemies lines, and those who had brought back stories of horrible wraiths that were immune to their abilities. These immaterial spirits rose from the ground, or sometimes simply appeared from thin air, and fell upon them. Those Baeg’dithi who were caught by these creatures let loose with horrendous cries as they withered, the very blood and spark of the divine drawn from them by tendrils of ephemeral mist. By the time Bregda’s army had reached the enemy camp they found defensive palisades manned by numerous living skeletons armed and armored with a mix of bronze and some gleaming metal the likes of which her warriors had never seen.

Bregda called to one of the Sgaithi, and the warrior launched himself into the air, winging back towards where his brethren had perched to await their own assault. Hrogar, just behind her, gazed at the destruction wrought by the enraged Famhairean, the defensive palisades falling like shed scales beneath their wrath. Then, as the messenger returned, the sky darkened for a moment as Sgaithi warriors passed overhead in their dozens, flitting across the coastal plain, to rain arrows and stones upon the enemy where their formations still held. “To think that we’ve been waiting for this, preparing for this, fearing this,” Shelaich scorned, “this enemy is no more fearsome than a myrcat.”

“Don’t be hasty, Shelaich,” Hrogar warned, “the mystics did not give us dire warnings for nothing.”

Shelaich seemed about to respond, but then a black wave of arrows flew up to meet the Sgaithi and several fell from the sky as the rest veered off to the right. Small forms darted in and out among the Famhairean, and one by one the great Baeg’dithi toppled, crushing even more skeletons underneath their bulk. “How many of them, can you tell?” Bregda asked of the group as more of the Famhairean dropped to the ground.

“I don’t know,” replied Hrogar. The earth still shook with the pounding of their clubs and mauls, but the Famhairean seemed to grow less enraged and more desperate as the elders watched their numbers dwindle.

Bregda waved all three of the messengers to her and sent them off with orders to advance. Soon the army surged forward, but as the elders watched them march across the field, the Sgaithi circling over them to move in for a second assault, the last of the Famhairean fell. In the center of the field, surrounded by the corpses of some fifty of the giant Baeg’dithi, a small clump of figures gathered. Bregda guessed that there might be ten of them, fifteen at most, though it was difficult to count the moving figures at such a distance. Then ranks of skeletons began to form around them as again stones and arrows fell from the sky. The invaders remaining soldiers formed thick lines amid the massive corpses and the ruins of the palisade wall, and another black wave of arrows lifted from the rear of their lines to meet the Sgaithi once again.

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Okay, that’s enough for today. I’ll have more for you on Sunday! Have a wonderful weekend!

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

Well, Alayna is definitely recovering faster than I am. I feel a little better than death warmed over and she’s ready to work a 12 hour shift. So, today’s question comes mostly from her, though I’m supplying some of the academic details. There is, in western philosophy, a branch of military ethics known as Just War Theory. There are a fairly wide range of versions of this theory, but the broad ideas remain generally the same: a nation is justified in going to war if 1) the cause is just and realistic (i.e. defense of self or others, the overthrow of an abhorrent tyrant, not starting a war you can’t win, etc), 2) the means are just (i.e. military targets are attacked, civilian casualties are avoided, responses are proportional, etc), and 3) the war ends justly (i.e. the enemy is allowed to surrender, steps are taken to promote cultural recovery for both sides, etc). One of the major problems in modern just war theories has been the issue of civilian casualties. Before the advent of explosives civilian casualties were must more easily avoided, though it still wasn’t perfect. However, with the advent of explosives, air-power, missile warfare, etc along with the fact that most military bases are near or in significant urban centers it has become more and more difficult to avoid large numbers of civilian casualties. Now, while civilian casualties probably saw their height in World War 2, and they certainly did in recorded history, this is still a regular problem.
So, here is your challenge today. Write me a 1000 word story presenting and defending your answer to the following question: how do we determine ‘acceptable’ civilian casualties in war?

Remember to do your best to be realistic in your response. Simply saying: ‘it’s never okay for civilians to die’ is essentially the same as saying ‘war is bad, let’s stop doing that.’ It’s a nice sentiment, but its just not going to happen while man rules the earth.

Philosophical Story Challenge

human_nature_by_molicious-d4x4992Hey everyone! Time for another philosophical story challenge. I’ve really enjoyed reading the responses to the last few that I posted, so keep up the good work everyone! For this week’s challenge I want to look at the idea of human nature. In the world today we chalk a lot of things up to “human nature” but if you’ve ever sat down and tried to pin-point characteristics of human nature it can be difficult, to say the least. Sure, it’s easy to say things like love and friendship are part of human nature–and they certainly are–but then we have to confront the elephant in the room: hatred. It seems hatred is as much a part of human nature as love and the desire for societal connection. I mean, if we just look at the history of the world it is filled with violence, and perhaps even more intriguing to me is the fact that most of this violence is justified by love of different things. In fact, I think it can honestly be said that sometimes both parties in a conflict can desire the same thing, but because of differences in religion or culture this common goal is never achieved. It’s tragic, really. So for your challenge this week I want you to write a story where there is some form of conflict and both sides ultimately want the same thing, but due to fear and hatred or discrimination it cannot be attained.

Sunday Picture Post

Welcome to the end of the week, everyone! Or the beginning of the new week, depending on the culture you happen to descend from. Anyway, you all know that we take Sundays off here (at least off from blogging). However, I found you an awesome picture from a pretty impressive young artist today. Make sure you check out his deviant art page for other great pieces!

This was done by Wes Talbott. You should check out the rest of his work!
This was done by Wes Talbott. You should check out the rest of his work!

Sunday Picture Post

Well, today is the day of rest, so I hope that all of you are taking some time to relax and heal up. Here’s your picture for the day, and you know the rules. Write a story, create a character, or use it as the impetus of a world. Just don’t steal it without giving credit where credit is due. This is someone’s work.

First of all, let me say that this is a gorgeous piece of art. I'm very glad that the background was included. This was done by MeganeRid, who's work can be found here.
First of all, let me say that this is a gorgeous piece of art. I’m very glad that the background was included. This was done by MeganeRid, who’s work can be found here.

The Longmingjong Part 2: The Art of War

A scene from House of Flying Daggers to set the mood!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Longminjong are a very martial people.  The average Longminjong citizen spends his or her childhood learning one of the hundreds of martial styles that have arisen in the small nation.  Although most Longminjong have more than slight experience in martial arts, few master an art, and even fewer master more than one art. The art of war among the Longminjong is a strange thing, though the Five Cities are united under the God-King Abin-Thul they exist in a near constant state of war.

Though the eastern district of Dongjong suffers intermittent attacks from the Saru and maintains a series of forts along the border, it also maintains the largest standing army – often taking recruits from the other districts.  Dongjong manages this by offering any convicted criminal the chance to commute his sentence by spending five years in the military.  This leads to a large, dangerous, and often undisciplined fighting force.  Dongjong is also home to some of the most infamous mercenary companies in all of the Five Cities including the Woodsman’s Brigade, a large and loosely organized group of loggers, bandits, frontiersman, and retired soldiers who band together to fend off Saru attacks that manage to bypass the border forts.  The Woodsman’s Brigade commands a high price both for its size and for the experience of its members.

The southern district of Nanfang is currently the smallest of the five districts, having recently lost territory to both Dongjong to the east and Jongyang to the north.  While the military of Nanfang are currently relatively weak, their mastery of river warfare protects what remains of the district because none of the other districts are willing to attempt a crossing of the Yitiao Hehuoyan.  Nanfang’s standing military is supplemented by a few small mercenary companies such as the Seven Carp Daughters, a group of merchant soldiers that will provide nearly any service – for a price.

A view of the mountains over the capital city of Beifang District.

The western district of Shifang produces the best weapons and armor in the entirety of the Five Cities.  The forges of Huo are manned by a great many skilled smiths and several fallen stars have been found in the foothills and mountains near Huo, giving Shifang the ability to field an elite force of Honjyu armed with iron weapons instead of bronze.  The Lord of Huo is the only great lord to generally eschew mercenary units in his armed forces.  The few mercenary units, such as the Tieshou, that have been employed are above reproach in regard to honor, courage, and their treatment of the populace.

The northern district of Beifang splits its moderate forces between mountain patrols and military forces.  Though it has recently lost territory to Jongyang in a series of small skirmishes, Beifang still retains the majority of its land and people.  However, many of the mountain bandits that are taken alive find their place in the military of Dongjong, and because of this many in Beifang resent the larger territory.

The central district of Jongyang currently holds a position of strength.  Recent wars with both Beifang and Nanfang have gone well and yielded a large amount of land and populace.  The Jongyang military also contains the largest number of masters in any of the five districts.  These martial artists bring both renown and strength to their units and so Jongyang lauds its heroes frequently.  The lord of Jongyang also attracts some of the most skilled mercenary units among the five cities, including the Longxue Masters – a group of martial artists who have mastered the Longshi martial style taught by the God-King himself.

Nothing quite like a fight between Jackie Chan and Jet Li to finish out a post.

War between the districts is a very civilized thing.  Though Dongjong and Beifang both must deal with marauding barbarian forces, the Saru and the bandits common in the northern mountains respectively, all of the districts obey the rules of war set down by Abin-Thul when engaging one another.  These wars are fought by soldiers only, villages are off-limits and any soldier who cuts down a civilian will find that his life is forfeit.  Though fortifications are found throughout the five cities, battles are generally fought in the field and special permission must be obtained to use a fortified position in battle.

Similarly, war between the districts is strictly controlled by Abin-Thul.  Permission must be obtained for one district to attack another, and both districts are notified of the God-King’s decision.  Abin-Thul has been known to personally destroy armies sent out without his permission.  The controls placed on war by Abin-Thul serve to force each district to maintain an experienced military, while keeping anarchy at bay.