Chapter 11

The ships creaked into the harbor slowly with no motion in the rigging. Everyone waited in their positions as the first ship's hull scraped across the timbers of the dock and slowly rubbed down the side into the shore line. Miles ran down the tower stairs to get closer to the ship. Soon the other two ships rammed into the first and everything was still. Miles made his way out to the dock to see what these curious vessels were, and he was shocked as he came into view of the bound and chained prisoners. They were all women and children, many malnourished and pale from the lack of sunlight, probably slaves taken from other places this armada had raided. Miles gave Oscar the all clear sign and turned to go back into the protection of the walls.

"What'd ya see on tha boat, Miles?" Oscar asked in a grave tone.

Miles shook his head and said "Prisoners. Get some men over there to remove their chains and get them fed." His eyes were hard and cold as he walked past the impromptu defensive barrier and he never even looked up as he marched towards the center of town.

Oscar scratched his head and looked around at the men staring at him on all sides. Then he bellowed at the men in frustration to get those prisoners free and fed. He knew they were in for a long night. It had been many years since he had been in a siege, and he knew most of these men were not going to survive the fight once it got here. Once the men got onto the boats and the women and children began filing off onto the docks, Oscar turned and followed his friend into town. Miles was going to need all the support he could muster to prepare for the days to come.

Miles beat on the door to the Magistrate's building where the Council of Elders were quartered for the coming attacks. Oscar appeared on the low steps as the door was opened and they both walked into the room.

"Good day, Miles!" said the Magistrate. "How goes the barrier?"

"Poorly I'm afraid Magistrate. Three ships have arrived in the harbor this morning bearing prisoners of war," Miles said flatly. "They are sick and need medical attention and food."

"Of course!" said the magistrate as he buttered a piece of bread on his desk. "How many are there in total?"

Miles paused for a moment before he replied, "Somewhere between eighty and a hundred and fifty. They should be arriving in town any moment."The Magistrate finished chewing the bite of bread in his mouth as he studied the young bards face.

"This is not what concerns you though?" the Magistrate asked as he plucked another piece of bread. "Tell me what troubles you other than the armada at our doorstep."

"I cannot figure out why he has sent these prisoners ahead. He is either trying to test our artillery, hoping we would show our hand and obliterate the ships before they could reach the harbor, as a probing action, or he wants to burden us with their presence, hoping to starve us out in a siege battle. Either one is concerning to me."

"Why so?" the Magistrate asked around a mouth full of bread. Miles looked this time to Oscar for a little assistance with the Magistrate's cavalier attitude. Oscar cleared his throat and straightened his tunic before he made is reply.

"Are ye daft?" Oscar bellowed. "Them're trained soldiers! They're usin' tactics an' trickery to get tha edge over us ya bloody moron. Orcs ain't known fer fightin' like that. They'd jus' run in here an' grab what they want an' kill everthin' else!" Oscar sighed and then looked to Miles. "Dumb as a post, that'n is," he stated before walking back to lean against the wall by the door.

The magistrate's eyes bulged from his head as the sudden outburst from the man who had said next to nothing the entire time they had been here. He looked back to Miles as if he needed a translator for the gruff bartenders tirade.

"What he is trying to say Magistrate," Miles began. "Is that orcs are not know to ever use tactics in a battle and were one standing here now he would most likely slit your throat just to get to that piece of bread you're eating. That is why we are concerned about this odd tactic of probing the beach before attack and would like to know why this orc general would be so concerned with this town."

The Magistrate looked nervously from one man to the next as he placed the piece of bread in his hands back into the basket on his desk. Miles looked back to Oscar and they both approached the Magistrate's desk and leaned in close. The Magistrate swallowed hard and composed himself and began to tell the two everything he knew about the town and its history.

. . .

Hornklaw stood at the bow of his ship watching the prisoners file off of the ships onto the docks. So someone is in command he thought to himself. He had hoped that the weary towns people would have lashed out at the ships sailing into the harbor and become distraught at the destruction of the innocent and helpless prisoners so that he might have the upper hand in the invasion. The restraint shown to him by the rabble told him many things about his adversary. This would be a hard won battle, the town knew he was coming and had nearly as many men as he had soldiers. The previous battles had cost him much. The ship pursuing him had fallen out of sight after the Darkspire pass but that didn't mean it wasn't lurking just over the horizon waiting to strike at his rear when the opportunity presented itself. He hoped the six ships he left at his rear could get the job done and catch up before he was forced to launch his first attack on the town. His stores were running low and his hand may be forced in a matter of days.

This will be a test of his leadership and he would have to take it slow, his father had gotten him this far and the holders of oak created a large dent in his army, and that infernal kingdom ship had done its fair share to sink his precious soldiers to a briny death as well. If he could not get what he needed here then the ritual will have to go on without him. His country needs a king and many will attempt to usurp his rightful place if he does not return home soon.

Hornklaw shook his head as he walked past Jessykah, into the captain's quarters. He moved across the room to a shelf, more of a hole really, and removed a ball shaped object wrapped in a satin cloth. He gently unfolded the satin to reveal a human skull covered in runes etched into the bone.

"Soon father you will walk again, with or without your body," Hornklaw said with a smile on his face as he traced his fingers along the etchings. "The royal blood will be more than powerful enough to bring you back to the land of the living." Hornklaw's face became stern as he wrapped the skull and placed it back where he found it and walked toward the door.

"More than enough!" he whispered to himself as he pushed the door open and exited the room.

. . .

"Hard to starboard!" Braydin shouted as they came into firing distance of the six ships. The two kingdom ships had split from each other and circled far to the outside of the enemy vessels. Four of the enemy ships split off toward Braydin's ship and the other two moved to intercept The Rancor. Braydin had just turned to charge straight into the four enemy ships when the cannons fired on the two enemy ships flanking Rakjaw's former ship. Braydin grimaced hoping for the surprise to be unleashed on the four attacking ships first but he was still amazed at the power of the cannons. The steel balls ripped through the enemy ship's hulls and tore massive holes as they exited the other side. The surprised ships were sinking in a matter of minutes. Braydin's bow turned to face the first of the four incoming ships when another shot rang out from The Rancor. The shot from its bow cannon took the farthest ship from Braydin in the mast, breaking it in half and dropping the sails into the ocean, leaving it dead in the water.

"Ready the cannons!" Braydin shouted to his crew even though he knew the cannons were already loaded and his men eagerly awaited his call to fire them. "Bow cannon, fire!" he shouted as the horse's head came level with the bow of the lead ship. The crewman lit the cannon and a loud blast emanated from the cannon firing a cannonball straight through the enemy ships masthead splintering wood and destroying the bow of the ship. The second shot he fired glanced off of the mast, dropping half of the main sail, and slammed into the tiller, breaking it in two and skewering the captain of the enemy ship through the stomach killing him instantly.

Braydin took note of the wheel as the other three ships continued toward him. He heard more cannon fire from The Rancor as hegave orders to his men to bring the ship around to port. The aft of one of the enemy ships exploded into shards of timber as two of the three cannonballs crashed into the stern. The rear of the enemy ship dove into the ocean taking on water as the crew began sliding down the deck caused by the extreme list.

"Prepare starboard cannons!" Braydin shouted as one of the two remaining ships rammed into the bow of the Mare. The attacking ship splintered it masthead on the side of the steel clad ship and came to sit along side the Mare's starboard side. "Fire!" came the call and the three cannons annihilated the enemy vessel, and soon the crew of the sinking ship was more concerned with bailing water than boarding their enemies ship.

Braydin pulled the tiller hard to port using the cannon blasts momentum to top the heavy ship around as he gave orders to prepare the port cannons. The ship finally topped all the way around so that the Mare's stern was directly in front of the vessel they had just sank into the ocean. The final ship was running at full sail from The Rancor as cannon fire was dropping into the water behind it. Braydin quickly manipulated the bow of the ship to a point just in front of the enemy ship and gave the sign to fire at will. The shot flew through the air taking the enemy directly in the center of the starboard side. The enemy continued on unhindered for a short while before the mast of the ship slowly toppled forward causing the water the boat had taken on to shift to the bow in and extreme list. The Rancor took advantage of the situation, firing a final cannonball into the exposed hull of the ships stern.

Braydin stood and stared at the ship as it filled with water and sank to the bottom of the ocean with its crew free floating in the middle of the ocean. Cheers went up from his crew as The Rancor joined back up and celebratory back slapping and congratulations were exchanged between ships. Soon Braydin took his place behind the tiller and blew his signal whistle to gain attention.

"Full sails men!" He shouted over the screams of the dying orcs in the water. "We make sail for Port Ugal with all haste. Soon the enemy will taste our steel through the holes in their throats!" Braydin finished his orders with a low whistle from his silvery signal and a smile spread across his face as The Braying Mare jumped forward towards its destination.

. . .

Archy walked back through the door of the castle with a large mug of ale in his tiny hand. He once again takes his seat in the foyer to enjoy his mug of ale. Many people pass him as he sits sipping his ale from the tankard he swiped from the kitchen next door. Soon the ale is finished and the little gnome rubs his belly freshly full from the meal he had just eaten before returning. He began patting down his robe searching for his pipe. He always enjoyed a good after dinner smoke and as relaxed as he was now he knew he would probably be fast asleep in this very chair after a few pulls on the soothing wooden pipe. Suddenly he remembered that he had thrown the pipe on the floor in frustration before he had left. He stood and searched the ground in the foyer to no avail and decided to bend over and check under the chair.

"Nope," he grumble to himself. "Only a crumbled piece of parchment," he said as he picked it out from under the chair. The gnomes eyes grew wide as he unfolded the piece of parchment he had discarded earlier. Braydin had written in his log book and of his destination. Archy forgot all about his pipe as he ran up the plush carpeting of the castle and into the kings personal quarters.

"Your Majesty!" Archy shouted in the middle of his low bow. "We have word of your grandsons and we should assemble the leaders of the brotherhood at once. Braydin makes sail for Port Ugal!"

"What!" the king exclaimed. "How could he know?"

"I don't think he does, your Majesty," Archy said scanning the parchment. "But if Hornklaw is there then we should not waste any time getting there."

"I agree Archy." the king replied in a worried tone. "Gather the others. This is worse than we could have ever imagined. It's time for us to come out of retirement its seems, my good friend."

"I will make the arrangements, your majesty," Archy said with a bow, as the gnome turned to leave the king cleared his throat causing Archy to pause. Archy turned back to the king with a puzzled look on his face.

"From now on, Archy, until this business is finished," The king, now holding a shining longsword up in the sunlight, paused. "Yes, I believe you would be better off referring to me by my given name."

Archy nodded and said, "As you wish, sire. From now on I shall only refer to you as Simon of Gailland. Is there anything else you need before I go and gather the others, Simon."

"No my old friend," The king replied, not looking away from the sword. "I'm afraid I have asked much of you this day already." Archy nodded once more and disappeared through the door. The king stared after Archy for a long time after the door was closed thinking to himself. Finally he sheathed his blade and sat heavily down in his chair.

"I hope we can stop him now, or else more than the kingdom is at risk," the king whispered to his sword before he stood and belted it onto his hip, something he hadn't done in nearly twenty years. The king walked to the door, glancing back at his desk before opening it.

"If Port Ugal falls, then we all fall," The king said before stepping out the door and walking alone down the long silent hallway to once again face a long buried secret he thought he would never hear of again.