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There Will Be Dragons: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Friday, July 11, 2003 01:03 EDT



    Herzer’s mount shifted under him…



    ...restlessly dancing a crow-hop to the side; clearly it was readier for the battle than he. Herzer tapped it on the mane with his rein hand, shifting his lance in the other. “Ho, Calaban,” he said absently. The north wind blew the smell of wood smoke and less savory scents from the orc encampment on the ridge above and he scanned its defenses from the cover of the woodline. It was an even bet that they had spotted him, but they weren’t pouring out to attack. That meant either that there were few of them or that they were unusually well led, for orcs. The first of course would be wonderful, but the latter was much more likely. The force that had descended on the local towns was not small, there had been at least twenty in the group that descended on Shawton. Figuring a quarter of that for guards on the camp, that meant at least twenty-five up there. And they hadn’t left on a raid, not by day. That meant they were holing up.

    The main entrance was a narrow defile on the south side with a guarded gate at the top. On the west there was another gate, this one up a steep, tortuous switchback. That was quite impossible on a lone-hand raid. As was climbing to the cliffs above the emcampment; he didn’t have the gear and if he got into a fight in the camp he’d need his armor to survive. The battle was both real and unreal. The area was “real”, an unhabited area of eastern Norau not far from his house. The camp and palisades, as well as the cleared areas around it, had been constructed for him as part of the “enhanced reality” game that he was running. The horse, orcs and other defenders, if any, were constructs of nannites and powerfields. The horse that he sat was almost fully “real” but didn’t have the individuality of real horses. It was as close to “reality” as he could get, though, given his limited power budget. It would have been much “cheaper” to build a palace on top of a mountain than to create this battlefield. But everyone had their priorities.

    He kept the primary objective, rescue the hostage, in mind, but the question was how. Realistically, if he could keep them moving around, he was a match for twenty orcs. They were strong and fast but relatively clumsy and poor fighters. Even in plate and mail he should be able to out-maneuver them. And his armor was proof against most of their weapons.

    He fingered the lance for a moment then put it in its boot, reaching behind him to unlash his pack. If the orcs killed him it would leave most of his worldly possessions for them to loot. But it the orcs killed him he wouldn’t need any of them anyway. Climbing rope and lanterns were not turning out to be useful on this particular quest.

    Without the weight it represented, Calaban could carry him with relative ease, despite the weight of his armor, weapons and not inconsiderable body. He weighed weapons for a moment then kept his lance, axe and sword, dropping the bow with the pack. He had need for all three, cumbersome as it was to carry them. The sword and axe went onto his saddle as he lifted the lance back out of the boot.

    “All right, Calaban, let’s give them what for,” he said, nudging the horse with his knee as he hefted his kite shield. He trotted out into the meadow below the encampment and stopped just short of the shallow brook. Most of it was high banked and relatively deep, at least thigh deep. Not easy to cross on foot and impossible for the horse. But opposite the entrance the bank had been broken down at a narrow ford. The slopes to either side were still impossible, and movement would be one at a time. But it was where he had to cross.

    Now he could see orc heads popping up over the gate, but still none of them stepped forward. Very well.

    “Orcs! Orcs of the encampment! I have come to deliver your souls to hell!”

    “Go away! We have nothing you want and live in peace with humans!” a high voice screeched back.

    “You have raided the towns of Evard, Korln and Shawton, I know for I have tracked you back to your lair! And you have taken the daughter of the Earl of Shawton for ransom! Deliver her to me unharmed and I will spare you your lives!”

    There was derisive hooting from the far side of the wall but he was just as glad. That meant they might come out and fight him on the flats.

    “Go away horse-rider! You cannot defeat us for we are the Tribe of the Bloody Hand and we have never been defeated!”

    “Well, there’s a first time for everything you misbegotten goblins. Is it true that you were made by mixing pigs and apes?”

    The screeching redoubled on the other side of the fence but they still didn’t come out.

    “The orcs were the first peoples!” the voice screeched back. “They were before the elves and the humans! It is you who were begotten of pigs and apes you…you…”

    “No, tell me true? Is it true that your mother was a water-front whore who couldn’t get anyone to pay for her for she was too ugly? So she did it with the creature from the black lagoon when he was drunk? And thus you were begotten, a black, dripping monstrosity that even your friends among the orcs, the only people who will have you, run shrieking from in horror?”

    “I… I… aaaaaaaarrrrr!”

    The gate at the top of the defile opened outward and a swarm of orcs poured through, at their head a broad and tall troll.

    “Oh, shit,” Herzer muttered, timing the moment to start his charge. The troll, fortunately, was outdistancing the orcs rapidly. Finally he leaned forward and kicked the horse into movement. “Hi, Calaban! Forward!”

    He couched the lance and balanced the weight of it, aiming it to strike the troll broad on the chest. The fearsome creature seemed to pay no attention and seemed uninterested in blocking, intent on coming to grips with his tormentor. Thus Herzer was able to lean into the weapon at the last moment and drive it home fully. The impact drove him back onto the high rear cantle of his saddle and nearly stopped Calaban, but the troll was mortally wounded. The creature roared as the spear jutted out of his back in a welter of red blood and grasped the shaft, swinging it from side to side as he thrashed. Herzer started to draw his sword but was struck, hard, on the upper arm just as it cleared the scabbard; the weapon clattered to ground as he was nearly unseated.

    After a moment he pulled his axe out instead and kneed Calaban in closer to the creature, which was maddened with pain. The horse stood a scoring across the flank as he maneuvered into position then in a double hand blow Herzer cut the head from the troll. The horse stepped back daintily as the giant beast fell to the ground.

    The orcs, who were just approaching the scene of the battle, let out a cry of fear at that but they didn’t stop, charging forward in a mass. There were far more than twenty but Herzer felt sure he could prevail. He backed Calaban around to avoid the first rush of orcs, swinging the axe to strike down a few on the fringes as he did so. He really needed his sword or lance for this work; the axe was a short-hafted ground-fighting weapon.

    A group of orcs was trying to get around behind him, possibly to try to hamstring Calaban, but he didn’t need to worry about that. As one of them rushed in, swinging its short-sword, the horse lashed backwards with both feet, killing the creature and tossing it into its fellows so as to bowl several of them to the ground.

    However, that short pause had been enough for others to gather around, swinging their black crusted swords and axes and trying to grab at reins or drag Herzer from the saddle. Herzer kicked the horse in the side again, swinging downward on either side to try to clear a path. Finally the team broke out of the mass of orcs, headed up along the streambed. He kicked Calaban again but felt her falter as a flight of crossbow bolts flew down from the hilltop. Realizing the horse could never face the battle in her wounded condition he rolled off to the side and slapped her on the flank. More bolts flew down towards him but he was able to deflect them with his shield as he trotted back towards the reduced mass of orcs.

    Again they charged him but there were a few low trees, willows and a few scrubby poplars, along the riverbank and he darted into them to break up the charge. It was a wild time for a moment in among the bushes as orcs charged in from either side and he hew and slew with abandon. They got in a few licks of their own and he felt a distinct catch in his side where an orc champion had landed a telling blow with a battle-hammer. But the champion was at his feet in a welter of gore and not the other way around. So all was well.

    He finally broke contact across the brook, which he could negotiate better than the orcs since it was only thigh deep on him here, and swung to the east, moving back to the original ford. The orcs paralleled him on the far bank and then tried to dart ahead to the ford, but he made it there first.

    In the narrow slot to the ford on “his” side of the river there was no way that more than one, or at most two, orcs could attack him. There he stood his ground, hammering on orc shields as they hammered right back. A few more of them had poured out of the encampment but he was killing them faster than they could be reinforced, his relatively light axe crashing through their guards and shattering shoulders, arms and heads.

    The narrow ford soon became clogged with bodies and the following orcs had to clamber over the piles of the dead. Occasionally they fell towards him and he had to step backwards to avoid being pushed over so he had slowly been backed towards the top of the bank. However, there were less then ten orcs left in the attacking force and, apparently realizing they could not defeat him in the meadow, they suddenly gave out a cry and ran back to the defile then up through their gates, closing them firmly behind them.

    With the retreat of the foe the battle fury came off of him and the pain from his wounds flooded in to replace it. Besides the catch in his side, which felt very much like a broken rib, he now noticed a rather nasty gash on the back of his right leg. A few inches deeper and he would have lost all use of the leg. As it was, he didn’t even recall getting it.

    He whistled for Calaban and stumbled across the body choked ford to the far side. There were probably some things worth looting on the bodies, but that could wait.

    His lance was done for, until he could either give the head of it back to a good armorer or find an appropriate hickory sapling. He’d really rather let someone else fix it; he was for a town and a good rest as soon as this battle was done.

    The horse walked up from wherever it had disappeared to as he found his sword under a body. He retrieved rags from one of his remaining saddle bags and wiped the blood off of it and his axe then loaded both onto the horse along with his shield, which was starting to get heavy.

    He worked on Calaban’s wounds next. First he numbed the wounds with an odd gray poultice then worked the barbed heads out of the flesh. The latter was difficult because the horse, despite the successful local anesthesia, danced around from the odd pulling sensation. When he finally had the bolts removed he packed the punctures with another salve which would speed the healing. After that he worked on his own problems. He was tired and sore but except for the gash on his leg there wasn’t much he could do. He had some bruises and the rib, but they would require more work than he could do in the field. Finally he put a bandage, liberally laced with salve, onto the slash on his leg and laboriously repaired the mail over it. The cut had been an attempted coup de poing but it had not been quite powerful enough to cut through the well wrought Alladon mail. At least not enough to do any real damage.

    His wounds tended to he took out a small vial and regarded it cautiously. The material in it was unpleasant to drink, over sweet but with a bitter undertaste, and it had limited effect. But it would invigorate him for a short period of time, enough to defeat the rest of the orcs. And if it ran out he could take another. But each successive use gave less time invigorated. He’d need some real rest soon.

    Finally he loaded his weapons back up and strode towards the gates of the encampment. No bow fire greeted him so he headed to base of the defile and yelled up at the wooden palisade on the hilltop.

    “I call upon you to let the daughter of the Earl of Shawton free. If you do so I will spare your lives. If you do not I will kill all the fighters and burn your village, turning your women and children out into the winter. Heed me!”

    “Go away!” came the reply, not so loud or fearsome as before. “We have never been to this Shawton.”

    “This is your last chance!” Herzer yelled, pulling out a vial of the herbal stimulant.

    “Go away!”

    “Stupid bastards,” he muttered, draining the vial in a single draught and tossing it over his shoulder. He drew his axe and raised it over his head. “For Mithras and Alladale!” he bellowed. Over his shoulder, out of the clear sky, a boom of thunder rolled.


    He charged up the defile, holding his shield over his head against the anticipated rain of stones. Sure enough, every orc in the encampment seemed to be pelting him with rocks, chunks of wood, dead cats and whatever else could be found. With the exception of a couple of what must have been fair sized boulders none of it was a hindrance and he quickly made it up the slot to the gate.

    There were apparently stands/// behind the gate, but unlike in the defile only a few could look down at him here and he swung his shield to the rear to give himself room for two handed swinging. The gate was made of thick logs held up with ropes and hinges but there were narrow gaps between them and he swung through the gaps at the bar on the far side. Some judicious chops at the logs opened up the gaps to where he could get at the bar better and he fell to a steady swinging rhythm, quickly chopping through the thick barrier.

    As soon as the bar parted he dropped the axe and swung the gates open, ripping out his sword as the remaining defenders charged him at the gate.

    He could see the earl’s daughter now. The girl was no more than sixteen with fair skin and red hair, unbound and flowing to her waist. She was tied to a post in the center of the encampment and a spit and fire had been erected nearby. It was clear that the orcs had been intending to have her for supper when Herzer arrived and interrupted. An orc shaman capered in front of the fire, casting in foul smelling herbs and gesturing maniacally.

    Now it was another fearsome melee but with nearly an arm’s length of good Narland steel in his hands, the orcs didn’t stand a chance. He pushed forward into their mass, striking from side to side and parrying their blows with his much battered shield.

    But just as he neared the end of the defenders the shaman gave a last great cry and a fearsome apparition, a man-sized demon, arose from the flames. It was covered in spikes and had a vague resemblance to the orcs but that was all the description that Herzer could make as the thing leapt through the air and slammed into his shield.

    He swung at it and connected on the shoulder. But for all the good the Narland steel had made it might have struck stone. It bounced from the shoulder with a jolt in his hand as the demon’s fist struck him in the chest.

    The blow threw him backwards to slam into he palisade and he shook his head trying to clear it of the ringing as the demon pounced once again. Suddenly, horny fingers closed around his mail protected throat and started to squeeze. He flailed with his sword at the demon’s side but it was to no avail.

    Slowly the world around him went black…

    “Fisk,” Herzer muttered, sitting up from the ground and looking around at the training field. His throat still had a psychosomatic tight feeling to it, but VR always did that. “I hate losing.”

    “You should have more fully scouted the encampment,” his instructor said, handing him a flagon.

    Herzer took the water and drank gratefully then got to his feet. “I know that. Now. The demon was a bit unfair.”

    “Life is unfair,” the avatar replied. It was a very high end program, not fully AI but smarter than most standard systems and it had a mass of proverbs and quips to draw upon. “You have to be more unfair. What should you have done?”

    “As it was, I’m not sure,” Herzer replied. “I couldn’t take the demon. Not by myself.”

    “What about the shaman?” the trainer asked.

    “Hmmm…” Herzer called up the schematic of the recent battle and nodded. “I couldn’t have made it through the orcs to kill him before he completed the enchantment. So…take off most of the armor, climb the cliffs, reconnoiter. Wait for a good time and kill the shaman with the bow. That way I’d know about the troll, too. Maybe try to kill both from long range, some of the orcs. They would have eventually come out, but I would have been fighting them from the top of the slope, not the bottom. But I’d have to get the shaman first, or else he’d summon the demon and I’d have to fight it anyway.”

    “It was the shaman who was the primary threat, but it seemed, at first, to be just a bunch of orcs,” the trainer said. “Your failure to properly reconnoiter the objective was your undoing. You’re enemy will attempt to deceive you. He will attempt to appear less capable than he is. Remember that. Know your enemy and know thyself. All else will become clear if you know both.”

    “Herzer, playing wargames?” Dionys’ head had popped into existence over the shoulder of the avatar. The avatar did not seem to notice.

    “Just finished,” Herzer replied, finishing the water. “We’re having a bit of a party over at Sean’s, something fun,” the older man said. “Why don’t you come along.” It was a statement, not a question.

    Herzer was mentally drained if not physically, but he didn’t want to lose Dionys good grace. “Just let me clean up a bit,” he said. “I’ll be over in a few minutes.”

    “Great,” McCanoch said with a toothy smile. “We’ll be waiting.”

    “Gotta go,” Herzer said, tossing the cup to the trainer.

    “Remember, young Herzer, know thyself,” the avatar said as he left.




    Edmund hammered the glowing sword blade and turned it over on the anvil, trying to determine how much more work it would take. He looked up with a nod as Myron Raeburn walked in ///into/// the forge.

    “I need you to beat a couple of those into plow-shares,” Myron said with a grin.

    “Very funny,” Talbot growled in reply. “What can I do for you, Myron?”

    “You don’t seem particularly happy this morning,” the farmer said, cocking his head to the side.

    “Even paradise has its thorns,” Edmund replied obliquely. “What sort of plow-shares do you need?”

    “Dionys still giving you trouble?” Myron pursued, taking a seat on a smaller anvil. The weather computers had allowed a late season cold front through to the east coast and the warmth of the forge was pleasant after the cold walk from his fields.

    “No, Dionys hasn’t tried any tricks since our little discussion,” the smith admitted. “That is part of it. Other things as well. I don’t particularly want to talk about it.”

    “Gotcha,” the farmer replied. “Well the reason I came down is that I managed to secure a vintage water-powered/// threshing machine,” he continued with a grin.

    “Going to install it by the mill?” Edmund frowned. “It’s not period; the period Nazis are going to go ape.” He thought about that for a moment then grinned.

    “Need help?”

    “I can get it set up myself,” Raeburn replied with a matching grin. “But the millennia have not been kind to it, for all it was well kept. A couple of the spave arms need serious work…”

    “You can replicate those,” Edmund argued shaking his head. “It makes no sense for me to just beat them out.”

    “Edmund,” the farmer replied, spreading his hands, “I know that but…I mean I use a horse drawn plow for Ghu’s sake. I’m willing to replicate the building, there’s no other way short of waiting for Faire and hoping I can get some people to help me erect it. But…”

    “I’ll do it,” Edmund sighed then chuckled. “Chisto I’m glad we don’t really live in the thirteenth century.”

    “Me too. Indoor plumbing.”

    “Medical nannites.”


    “Dwarves!” said a gravelly, accented voice from the door.

    The visitor was short, just below five feet, and nearly as broad as he was tall. He wore furs against the weather over chain-mail and leather. He had a broad double-headed axe over his shoulder and a round half helm on his head. And he was wearing a broad, toothy grin surrounded by a beard that hung nearly to the floor.

    “Angus!” Talbot said, striding over and grabbing the dwarf around his broad shoulders. “You could have sent a rider ahead!”

    “No dwarf would ride a horse if their own legs, or a wagon, will carry them,” the dwarf said, leaning his axe on the wall. “Bloody cold weather to travel, though. Glad I am for the warmth of thy forge.”

    Two centuries before Angus Peterka had gotten so enraptured by the traditional image of dwarves that he had Changed and started his own dwarf colony in the Steel Hills of Sylva. The hills had been mined out millennia before, but in the last half a millennia most of the materials had been reimplanted under a long-term ecological rebuilding program or through dumping into the hollowed out mines. He had added materials that were not original to the mountains, streams of silver, various jewels, gold and, deep, deep in the mountain a nanotech based material that he had decided met the conditions for adamantine. All of the material was put in with a semi-random generator and for the last two centuries he’d been trying to find it all. He referred to it as “proper mining”, his friends referred to it as “the world’s largest scavenger hunt.”

    Other “dwarves” came and went, but Angus stayed on, propping shafts, finding veins and quaffing beer.

    As a hobby, Edmund thought that it ran to obsession. On the other hand, his own obsessions had driven away more lady friends than he cared to count including the only one he had ever truly loved. He wasn’t one to cast stones.

    “I’ve your steel load,” Angus said, walking over to the forge to warm his hands. “And I’ve finally found a vein of bloody adamantine. I’d be happy for your opinion.” He held out a hand-sized bar of a dull grey material.

    “Doesn’t look like much,” Edmund replied, tossing it in the air. Strangely, when he threw it it seemed to have almost no weight but when it smacked into his palm the impact was palpable. “Nannite enhanced?”

    “Enhanced, yes, but they aren’t in it, ya see,” Angus said. “It was developed in…hmmm… the 23rd century or so as a reactive material for powered body armor. So it’s legal for non-powered unlimited armor tourneys!”

    “Ah,” Myron said. “Doesn’t matter, nobody else will like it as ugly as it is.”

    “It changes appearance when you final treat it,” Angus said, taking the bar and tossing it in the forge. “You can’t just heat it; no fire you can make in a forge, even a multi-stage one, will effect it. It’s rated to stay intact in a photosphere; you have to use nannites and electromagnetic fields to form it. But, oh, when you do work it!” He drew his belt knife and flourished the blade.

    “Behold! Adamantine!”

    The knife-blade was bright silver with a rainbow shimmer running through it. Edmund took the knife and ran his finger against it, drawing back a cut callous. Then he took up the sword blade he had been working on and scratched the knife blade against it. Instead of leaving a streak or a small cut it sliced deeply into the metal.

    “Bloody hell,” Myron said.

    “Did I mention it will form a monomolecular edge?” Angus said with another beard-shrouded grin.

    “Strange feel,” Talbot said thoughtfully, tossing the knife up and down. After a couple of tosses he threw it to stick in the door. The knife sank up to its hilt. “Non-period metals, the Council won’t permit it for tourney.”

    “Not regular tourneys, no,” Angus said with a shrug. “But unlimited non-powered, yes.”

    “Yah,” Edmund said. “How did you say you form it?” he asked, plucking the material out of the fire. He tested it with a wetted finger but as he half expected it was not even warm. “Strange stuff.”

    “Molecularly it’s even stranger. Basically for the first run you set up a molecular lattice using nannites. After it’s formed the first time, it’s easier to work with. But on subsequent formings you have to convince it it’s ready to be worked.”

    “Explains a lot,” Edward grinned. “I can look it up you know.”

    “Go ahead then,” Angus replied with a broad smile through his beard. “One of the things they original researchers missed is that there’s a way to make it from other ores. Naturally occurring ones.”

    “It’s still not useable in tourney,” Talbot said. “And it’s not the best material available for unlimited combats. So it’s cute, but that’s about it.”

    “Not quite,” he replied, pointing at his mail. “Genie, disengage personal protection field. Now, Edmund, take a whack at me.”

    “No way,” Edmund said, glancing around the forge. “I don’t have a finished blade.”

    “Use my axe,” Angus argued. “Go ahead. It won’t hurt.”

    “The axe will cut through the bloody armor, you idiot!”

    “Nah, try it.”

    “It looks like steel,” Talbot temporized, picking up the axe.

    “You can make it look that way,” Peterka said. “Strike!”

    “Shit,” Edmund said, drawing back the blade. “You asked for it.” He swung hard, aiming though the dwarf. Even in chain, even if the alloy held which, in all honesty it probably would, the impact was bound to at least crack a rib. At the very least, it would be painful as hell. But any damage he would do the nannites would fix quickly enough. The axe struck the mail and rebounded back as if it had hit a wall of steel. He dropped it with a grimace at he ///the/// harmonics.

    “Bloody hell!”

    Angus had been knocked backwards by the blow but he grinned nonetheless.

    “When two pieces of the material in contact are subjected to lateral motion, basically when they experience friction, they form temporary carbon to carbon covalent bonds. I said it was designed as reactive armor. When you hit it, it turns into plate. Diamond plate.”

    “Now that’s interesting,” Edmund said, poking at the now supple mail. One of the buggers about using plate was that it didn’t flex. A person wearing it was locked into the form of the mail, sometimes uncomfortably. “What about when you’re moving, bending arms, stuff like that?”

    “The energy isn’t high enough to matter. It’s a tad less flexible than standard mail, but not much.”

    “Interesting,” Talbot muttered. “How do you work it?”

    “It’s a proprietary program,” Peterka said. “But since you’re such a good friend…” he added with a grin.

    “You’re going to go off playing with this and not work on my thresher, aren’t you?” Myron said.

    “Nah, I can do both. Bring me over the pieces you need repaired and the specs and I’ll do them for you.”

    “Right, that’s settled,” Angus said. “Now let’s go get us a drink and celebrate my finding the first vein.”

    “How much of this is there?” Myron asked.

    “Not that much in the first vein, but there’s more,” the dwarf replied. “We’ll find the rest. It’s bloody deep, though. We’re at a depth that period pumps don’t handle well.”

    “There’s period and there’s period,” Edmund said. “Buy me a drink, and what’s more important get me some of this stuff to play with, and I’ll fill you in on some aspects you might not have considered.”


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