Author Topic: Wood, Rock and Steel  (Read 1027 times)


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Wood, Rock and Steel
« on: November 25, 2004, 03:44:07 PM »
A WHFB Tale by Justin Tabone “Captain”

The morning sun shone brightly on the messenger knight’s armour as he spurred his brown horse towards the captain’s tent. Other soldiers paid no heed, as they were accustomed to Heinrik’s sudden intrusions into the Empire outpost camp. But Heinrik bore grave news this time. Such was the haste with which he rode that it took five men to restrain the warhorse. Once the horse had calmed down, Heinrik dismounted, took off his cap and stepped cautiously into the captain’s tent. Troops swarmed discreetly to the tent entrance and listened for any unusual events.

After a few moments’ silence, Captain Reikan of Heldenburg, with Heinrik at his side, strode out, appearing in his glorious Red Cape, which he had taken from the dead body of a formidable Vampire necromancer foe during his battle with the menacing force of Kastor Van Stelming, the infamous Vampire Count responsible for the many burnt bodies that amounted up to half the population of the Wissenland province. Reikan raised his hand, demanding silence (although there was no need to), and lowered it again, at the same time starting his explanation of Heinrik’s message.

“Fellow soldiers! To you who have guarded the Wissenland province for many years, I ask for a confession of your true faith: Who is the sole patron god of the Empire?” A thousand fists shot up in the air, together with the roar of “Sigmar!” The captain smiled, then continued, “Then, in this dark hour, will you join me to conquer all those who dare reveal themselves to be a serious blasphemy against Sigmar?” The men showed their approval by shouting “Reikan!” over and over again, until the captain raised his hand once more. The shouts faded away.

“What is your objective today?” Reikan questioned the soldiers under his command, as he stepped back to shift the importance onto Heinrik, who stepped forward and obligingly stated the mission: “Men of the Empire, you know full well that the foul hordes of Orcs and Goblins have been a constant threat to our glorious land. This time, their threat has succeeded. A Goblin party has sneaked into the adjacent province of Averland and has managed to thieve former Elector Count Marius Leitdorf’s Runefang from Averland’s armoury. Our mission is to pursue that party near the borders of the sacred forest of Loren, and reclaim the sword at all costs. In this way we will also be strengthening our allegiance with Averland’s commanders. Will you join us on this mission?”

The Empire outpost camp erupted with roars of approval, and a vast army with Captain Reikan in its command was immediately assembled: two infantry blocks of Swordsmen and Halberdiers, both having two detachments of novice handgunners, engineer Heingart Von Heidstahl, equipped with his trusty Hochland long rifle, which he had named Black Darkness, a handful of Wissenland’s finest Greatswords, and finally, considering that the battle was to take place near the forest of Loren, Reikan thought it wise to enlist the aid of a Huntsmen party, excellent scouts and trackers. Heinrik, herald knight and sub-captain, rode out with his eight-man unit of the renowned Knights of the Steel Horse, while Captain Reikan mounted his loyal Pegasus, White Arrow, after having spent a few seconds stroking its silvery mane.

As soon as the army had marched out, the gatekeepers locked the gate and summoned an archer to the top of the wooden palisade’s platform. The archer took his position behind a brazier and sat down slowly. His purpose was to alert the army with a flaming arrow fired into the sky if, in any case, the outpost fell under attack.

For two miles the army toiled, and as soon as the borders of Loren were within a stone’s throw away, the men halted to a stop and rested for a bit. Heinrik dismounted his horse and went over to Von Heidstahl. “Tell the cannon crew to load the cannon and wait for orders. You stay on alert.” Von Heidstahl nodded obligingly, and signalled the cannon crew by lifting his hand into the air, then closing it into a fist. That was the sign for ‘cannon ball’. But one impudent crewman remained stationary, much to the irritation of Von Heidstahl, who had taught the crew all the signals and orders that had to do with artillery or war machines, and much hated to see someone defying them. He strode over to the insolent crewman and broke into an angry shout. “When I give out orders, I will have them obeyed! Any more insolence and you will be henceforth disbanded from crewman. Is that clear?” “No”, came the response.  “How in the name of Sigmar do you intend to waste your whole army just to retrieve a bloody magic sword? I never asked to be involved in similar acts of folly.”

Suddenly the engineer swelled with anger and his eyes flared up. “You were trained to follow orders, not to disobey them! This is not just a magic sword; it is the sword, with which Leitdorf kept most of our enemies at bay! It is invaluable! That’s why it must be reclaimed, and at all costs! We have been dispatched in such a large force because of the bloody fact that NO SINGLE GOBLIN THIEF PARTY HAS EVER BEEN SENT TO STEAL A RELIC WITHOUT HAVING REINFORCEMENTS NEARBY!” he bellowed. “All right, all right, I understand. Just risking our lives for a weapon that’s all”, the crewman muttered. Von Heidstahl gave him a mean look, then turned away and spat onto the ground.

Meanwhile, Reikan was assessing the surroundings as to be able to deploy his army as strategically powerful as possible. Little did he know that he was staring at the wrong battlefield. At last he flew his Pegasus down to the ground and was instantaneously joined by Von Heidstahl, who was indicating a strange-looking figure not more than two hundred paces away. “That’s … that’s a bloody goblin, that is!” he exclaimed. Reikan was not too sure of it, but he did try to stop Von Heidstahl from shooting the goblin with his Hochland rifle. He was just a bit late, though, as he had forgotten that Heingart Von Heidstahl was the fastest shooter with a blackpowder long-ranged weapon in the entire Empire realm. The Hochland’s lead bullet travelled the two hundred paces and buried itself in the goblin’s forehead. The greenskin crumpled to the ground silently, but Von Heidstahl’s shot echoed around for several seconds.

The engineer barely had time to lower his rifle, when unexpectedly, a hail of arrows began raining down on the Empire army. A greenskin ambush was not one to get out of effortlessly. The soldiers learned this at once, as one after another, many of them began dropping to the ground like dead flies. Reikan took control of the situation immediately, ushering his men into the forest for cover. Little did he know that he was making a big mistake. As soon as the remains of the army had got inside, the arrows stopped. You could have seen the men’s fear from a mile away, as their white eyes flitted around in the darkness. And they had reason to be afraid. The forest was the sacred forest of Loren, home to all the Wood Elves of the Old World, and protected from all intruders by the wood elves themselves. The Empire were no exception.

Gandir leapt from his hideout ledge to an overhanging tree branch. He observed the Empire battalion making its way through the dark forest, their path only lit by the torch that lighted the cannon fuse, held by Von Heidstahl. Gandir drew an arrow from his quiver and set it against the longbow string, which he stretched back, as he took aim on the swordsmen’s champion. The arrow clashed against his breastplate, which offered feeble protection against the skills of Gandir, the legendary Waywatcher who could pin a flying insect to a tree from five hundred paces away.

The duelist’s scream rang across the wooden columns like a cannon shot, causing the whole regiment to halt and try to make out what had happened, but they didn’t need to wait for the answer. The duelist was lying dead on the ground, the arrow showing through both sides of his ribcage. Meanwhile, Gandir was readying another arrow; this time destined for the engineer. He always worked from the easiest prey upwards: this put in more satisfaction in hunting the big ones when they are more alert. But something caught Von Heidstahl’s eye as he turned away from the corpse, and instantaneously he raised his rifle and fired, missing Gandir by just an inch as he dodged the shot, rolling onto a wooden platform and at the same time firing his next arrow, which hit Von Heidstahl’s hat and continued towards a tree, pinning the hat against the tree bark.

Angry shouts erupted from the Empire battalion, as everyone readied his weapon for battle. Von Heidstahl ran breathlessly to brief Captain Reikan: “…it was a cursed waywatcher… saw it with my own eyes… he is an excellent marksman… we’ve no chance against these wood elves… they know the forest and we don’t.” Reikan didn’t care. He knew they could still win the battle if they kept a sharp eye and were always on maximum alert. He mounted his Pegasus, now on the ground behaving like a normal warhorse because of the lack of space for flight, and galloped, taking the lives of a few Elven warriors along the way, towards Heinrik, meaning to give him orders to prepare for battle, but there was no need to. Heinrik’s men, who were located in an area where no Elven warrior was beyond reach, were already trotting around the forest, being defenceless against the Elven archers’ missile fire, except for the full plate armour which they were encased in. Ranks of handgunners were peppering the tree ledges with lead bullets, occasionally felling a wood archer or two, but this was nothing to what the rest of the Wood Elf Waywatchers were wreaking on the Empire battleline.

Captain Reikan dismounted suddenly at the sight of a gigantic Treeman heading his way. Readying his two-handed sword, he said a final prayer to Sigmar, summoned the ten-man remains of the Greatsword unit, and launched into combat. The sound of the impact made by steel on wood was going to be terrible; it would be like hearing a thousand bones being cracked apart all together. The Treeman swung his arms: big, wooden clubs, in the direction of the Empire captain, but Reikan was too fast for it, although fear constantly raged inside him, battling the enchanted power of the Icon of Magnus, which banishes the very thought of fear from the wearer’s mind. Eventually Reikan, bloodied and exhausted, managed to greatly weaken the Treeman, with help from a perfect cannonball hit, a pot shot from Von Heidstahl’s Black Darkness, the later Greatsword charge and continuous fire from the handgunners, then finally brought his own greatsword to the Treeman’s body with tremendous force; enough to defeat the wooden giant. The battle, however, was not over.

As soon as Reikan detached his weapon from the fallen Treeman’s wooden torso, the whole world seemed to grind to a halt right in front of his eyes. Handgunners had stopped firing, swordsmen had lowered their weapons, and the four huntsmen left withdrew their arrows and stopped to stare at the noble elf who dropped silently to the ground from the topmost tree branch. He landed right in front of the Empire captain, and as he rose Reikan met his eyes – cold, piercing grey ones. The two persons stood there for a few moments in the quietness that befell the forest, one immaculately dressed in ancient green leather robes, the other encased in dirty, tarnished armour, now spattered with blood.

“What is your business here, human?” the elf demanded. Reikan hesitated for a moment before speaking. “I am Captain Reikan of Wissenland,” he replied breathlessly. My battalion is searching for an Elector Count’s Runefang, stolen by a party of goblins who were last seen heading for this forest --“ His words were cut short as the elf raised a pale hand. “Did you say ‘this forest’?” the elf asked. “Know, human, that this place is not just any forest – it is the forest of Loren, home to all beings of my kin and witness of more than a thousand battles, all of them failing to taint the sacredness of the forest. You dare add a battle more? No army ever enters here and lives to tell the tale. Why should yours be any different?” Reikan was confused. His army had never lost a battle but for the one against a Beastmen party, in which his ‘trusty’ colleague and former chief engineer Von Heidrich purposely shot Reikan’s warhorse after Reikan had refused to give up the fight, even though he was outnumbered at least three to one, so Von Heidrich thought he could make the army retire by inducing a loss on the army’s general. Afterwards he had been captured by the enemy, decapitated and incinerated. Horrible memories.

He finally answered, “My intention was not to foul the sanctity of this place, it was merely to take cover from a greenskin missile ambush.” The elf grinned. “And who do you think I am to believe this folly? I am Galarond, protector of the Wood Elf race and of this forest, and you, human, have actually fouled the sanctity of the forest. You have defeated a Treeman, and started a battle with my troops. As soon as Gandir’s news reached my ears, I wanted to make sure that the battle stopped – with your loss.” Reikan’s eyes flared up at the thought. “I have the right to protect my people from the greenskins, and in doing so I was forced to enter here! For all I know the blasted goblins could be surrounding us with enough reinforcements to annihilate half the Empire!” And no sooner had he finished the sentence than a bolt thrower was heard firing a shot, and a second later the bolt had skewered two elven warriors and was on its way towards Galarond, but Reikan’s exceptional reflexes saved the day. Galarond felt his body being pinned to the ground by Reikan and was about to retaliate, stopping only when he saw the blood-stained bolt embedded in a tree trunk and both warriors with a hole the size of a fist in their body.

Both the good sides’ generals were the first to recover. “Greenskin ambush! Prepare for battle!” But there was no need to give orders: every single human and elf was engaged in combat with a randomly chosen Orc unit, while the elven archers, together with the handgunners, were whittling down a forty-strong Goblin unit. Gandir seemed to be having the time of his life, hopping from tree to tree like a bird foraging for food, and letting off a relentless chain of arrows, every shot killing one Orc, and occasionally even two. Reikan was about to mount his Pegasus when Galarond’s hand closed around his arm. “You have saved my life. I owe you my allegiance. Together, we shall banish these foul creatures back to whatever wretched land they came from!” said Galarond. “Thanks for the help, but we cannot offer our maximum resistance, as your army has decreased our numbers remarkably,” Reikan replied, a grin spreading across his face. Galarond returned the smile, and then he whistled for his steed, a giant eagle named Mirandir. Both generals flew up on their flying steeds, and sped towards the heat of the battle.

The scales seemed to be tipping in favour of the good side, with more than half the greenskin army annihilated and the majority of the Empire and Wood Elf elite troops still active, including the cannon, which Von Heidstahl himself had taken control of. But when both man and elf were performing their best, their attacks ceased, as a monstrous Orc warboss opened himself a path through his own army ranks, striding towards the Empire captain who, despite the fact that he was airborne, he was on the same level with the warboss’ eyes. All attention was focused on the two generals and the fighting had stopped. The warboss wanted to say, or bellow something.
“Listen up, humie. I am Galak Ironclaw, da greatest warboss dat has ever existed since Vorgaz Ironjaw. You ‘ave no chance here, neither yer humies nor da other pointy-ears! If I ain’t mistaken, yur very Emperor ‘ad sumhow killed ‘im. But ‘e took de life of one ‘o yer counts wit ‘im, and da relic I ‘ave is no less dan ‘is sword. It’s no more dan a toothpick to me, so if it counts to you as sumtin’ special, I wun’t let you ‘ave it just da same. Stand and fight, humie!” Reikan beckoned Galarond near him and whispered something in his pointed ear. The whole of the Wood Elf army recognized their lord’s uncanny smile and braced themselves for what was to come. They knew that Galarond always carried the revered Spirit Sword, which diminishes the victim’s resistance remarkably. It would be a valuable asset against this toughened Orc warboss.

Just as Galak heaved his great axe upwards for a designated massive chop on Reikan, the two generals parted suddenly, and flew towards the gigantic greenskin’s weapon arm, Galarond flying slightly higher than Reikan. The warboss was taken by surprise as each of the flying leaders hewed twice at a location just below his shoulder, Reikan striking from inside Galak’s armpit, which was big enough to house both steed and rider, and Galarond mustering all his available strength and calculating the exact momentum needed and at what time to deal the biggest blow ever possible in the Wood Elf history. The sound of the blades ripping through the leathery green skin was unbearable; like a big piece of cloth being ripped apart. Galak’s sinewy arm was reduced to bare bone in the area where Galarond and Reikan had struck a clean blow, enough for Mirandir to swoop once more to crunch Galak’s arm bone, two inches thick, to fragments. Galak was not happy. Not happy at all. He prised a reddish sword from a slot in his huge iron helm and held it like a blade of grass between his stubby green fingers.

“The Runefang!” Reikan exclaimed, bringing his Pegasus round in mid-air to face the wounded Orc warboss, who was wearing a mean look on his smug face. Seizing his axe from his severed, former right arm which lay on the ground like a fallen tree trunk, he slotted it in a small leather holster and tossed the Runefang like a throwing knife at the currently airborne Galarond, who turned in the nick of time to see the Dwarven-crafted sword come hurtling towards him with the speed of a crossbow bolt. Galarond performed an acrobatic, backward somersault from his mount, and gravity did the rest, causing Galarond to miss the blade of the Runefang by inches. Mirandir swooped low and managed to resume its rider’s sitting position, whilst the Runefang buried half its blade in a tree. Galak grunted in despair, then grasped his axe and swung it in a large arc towards Galarond. But Reikan, at the same time, was trying to free the Runefang from its wooden clutches, and the back of the warboss’ axe caught Reikan on the back of his full plate armour, dislodging him from his mount and slamming him to the ground, with a sickening speed that was unsurpassable even for the Pegasus to perform the same manoeuvre of Mirandir. Reikan crashed to the ground in a clang of steel and a crack of the backbone.

The Empire regiment was horrified. The halberdiers fled, slaying a few Orcs on the way, but not many reached the forest edges. This ignited the battle once again. The Orc battleline slammed into the flanks of the swordsmen, which held their ground long enough for Heinrik’s Steel Guard to execute a counter-charge upon the Orc units, causing two units to panic due to the numerous casualties. Galarond’s eyes flared up with a tamed fire, and launched a one-on-one attack on Galak, flaying him to within an inch of his life, but suffering a few hits himself. Their combat was similar to a fly flitting around a human and landing on his face occasionally, but in Galarond’s case, he only landed to clobber Galak’s head. A further blow from Galarond combined with a shot from Von Heidstahl, which hit Galak’s helmet just next to his ear, sending a piercing, shrill, ringing sound to his brain, managed to stun the already worn out warboss long enough for Galarond to swoop down to the ground and pouring a red healing potion down Reikan’s throat, enough to revive him and magically heal his broken backbone. Then something clicked in Von Heidstahl’s mind. The last cannon ball. For Galak.

The engineer turned his attention to the cannon crew while Galarond was helping Reikan to his feet and onto his Pegasus again. “Get moving! Load the cannon! Full power on the greenskin warboss! The powder keg was placed into the barrel and rammed inside as far as it could go. The cannon ball rolled into place. The fuse – why was the crewman, who had insulted Von Heidstahl earlier that day, not cooperating? As soon as Von Heidstahl’s eyes met his, he tossed the fuse igniter as far as he could and fled from the battlefield, but he didn’t get far. An Orc spear skewered him like a sausage on a metal poker. Von Heidstahl uttered an angry grunt and ran to retrieve the fuse igniter. Lighting it, he ran back towards the cannon at the same time that Reikan held up his greatsword to parry Galak’s blow, but at the same time he was unsheathing the Runefang to pass it to Galarond for better keeping. The warboss’ blow continued towards the edge of the Runefang and fired it like a catapult in the direction of Von Heidstahl.

The cannon crew stared on in dismay as their master was slain by the Runefang. All hope was lost. They were total cowards to go and retrieve the fuse igniter, and so the cannon was powerless to fire. Their reaction: FLEE. They ended up with the same fate as their fellow crewman.
Just as Galak was regaining consciousness, Gandir the waywatcher leapt up onto a branch near the cannon and fired a flaming arrow at the cannon. The arrow landed right in the fuse hole, igniting it in the process. A huge boom was heard throughout the forest, and the cannonball travelled the distance between the cannon and Galak Ironclaw, colliding with his forehead with a sickening crack just as he was about to land another blow on Galarond. Galak swayed about on the spot for a moment, and then fell backwards to the ground. The impact shook the very roots of the forest’s sacred trees and even caused the whole greenskin army to flee in panic.

Reikan and Galarond were once again the centre of attention, now that the greenskin threat was over, but the Wood Elves suddenly resorted to their proud, protective selves. Galarond looked at Reikan, still exhausted, trying to scramble onto his Pegasus. He strode over to the Empire captain, with whom he had fought so bravely and strategically, and declared;” The greenskin threat is over. You have recovered your lost relic “—he handed him the Runefang, detached from Von Heidstahl’s back—“and the Forest is once again rid of its violators, except you. Go now, in peace, and remember this – you are the first human being that has led his army in here and still manage to come out victorious and alive. Let that not be a repeated event. You are forthwith evicted from Loren Forest on account of your solemn promise, which you will make, unless you want to return home in one piece.” Reikan made the promise, but there was a hint of hesitation in his voice, which changed Galarond’s mind about which races were to pass safely or not. “On second thoughts,” he said, “no race, human, Orc or undead, shall ever attempt to come near this forest. The borders of Loren are now closed to all but the Wood elves. It is our rightful privilege to protect our own home from enemies and allies, as they will still have desecrated the laws by their mere presence. Go now, and remember this glorious battle by means of this token.” Galarond handed Reikan a perfectly round green sphere, hanging from a lace fashioned from thin strip of tree bark. “The Heart of Loren”, Galarond explained. “It purifies the mind, spirit and body, which you surely need.”

The derelict remains of the Empire army were ushered out of the forest so fast that Reikan only remembered having mounted his Pegasus and instantaneously meeting the red hue of the late afternoon sun. He had learnt of Von Heidstahl’s loss, having been given his Hochland rifle, Black Darkness, by Gandir himself. It would make a fine addition to the Wissenland armoury, he thought. As he looked back to the massive wooden pillars topped with green leaves, painful memories rushed through his mind, but no sooner had he tightened his grip around the Heart of Loren, due to the emotional stress, than he felt his mind being cleared of all thoughts unworthy of remembrance. But the battle was another thing. It had proven once and for all the greatness of Reikan’s Wissenland contingent, and to think that one would go searching for one relic and come back with three, that’s not bad. “Not bad at all”, said Reikan, as he flew down to hurry his army on their way back to camp.

Back in the Forest of Loren, Von Heidstahl was being treated with Elven healing powers, and after he had managed to recover some of his strength, Gandir began questioning him. He succeeded in finding out that Von Heidstahl had tricked the whole of the Empire army. He had shot the lone goblin as a signal for the arrow ambush to begin. He only pretended to be helping in the battle, firing at the Treeman only because it was also his enemy. His shot at Galarond went astray, by instead hitting Galak’s steel helm. After that, he had resorted to drastic measures. Von Heidstahl intended to fire the cannon at Galarond, and if the Runefang hadn’t ripped through him, he would have succeeded in doing so. Gandir had then fired the cannon himself with his flaming arrow, just as the cannon was aiming at Galak, but Gandir only did that because he did sense Von Heidstahl’s treachery. Time to warn the Empire captain.

Gandir readied his best longbow, adept at reaching great distances, fixed a note to the arrow and fired it. Reikan, at the moment, was giving his Pegasus a rest by flying down to the ground and treating the steed like a normal warhorse. The arrow whizzed past his ears and stuck in the soft earth at his feet. Reikan flipped open the note and read:

Your engineer is a foul traitor. Check your “updated”’ army conscriptions for further details, the scum is in contact with greenskins. Family honour, he said.

Reikan could only stare in horror, transfixed. “Heinrik! Meet me at base camp! I’ve got an important matter to attend to!” he yelled at his second-in-command, as he took flight once again, soaring towards the Wissenland outpost. On arrival, Reikan leaped down from his Pegasus and sprinted towards the library. The conscription chronicles were supposed to be updated daily by the librarian, so how could he have skipped Von Heidstahl’s conscription, or ignored it? The answer was yet to be found. The library doors burst open and Reikan ran straight to the conscription tome. On opening it, he flicked the pages to ‘V’ and found Von Heidstahl’s name and relations. The latter was the most important component, for it showed the meaning of Gandir’s mentioning of ‘family honour’.

Von Heidstahl was the son of Von Heidrich, the traitor who had shot Reikan’s warhorse. The two had been through generations of scheming against the Empire, with the claim that the human race was weak, and that they had set out to regain the human race’s pride, but they had only worsened it. As Reikan set down the parchment, he felt a pistol cocking against his head. The librarian was holding a custom-made pistol, trembling with fear. He was about to fire when Heinrik burst through the doors and yelled, “The Heart of Loren! It’s a bomb!” The librarian turned round and shot Heinrik in the head, only to have his own head sliced off by Reikan’s sword. The Empire captain seized the dark green sphere and tossed it as far as he could. After three minutes, however, nothing happened, except for the small boom of an explosion in the Wood Elf forest.

Von Heidstahl had been tricked by his own plan, which was to substitute Gandir’s Heart of Loren for a similarly shaped bomb. His latest invention. But Gandir was too cunning to be tricked by a traitor. He had switched the spheres back before he gave the true amulet to Reikan, but it was all in vain, for Von Heidstahl had thrown himself onto Gandir while igniting the bomb, taking both lives with one explosion. Suicidal madness was the worse a true traitor could go…