Here is their story:
The Final Thirty
“I’m telling you that if those green skinned bags of horse shit make it out of here they’ll just be back within a week.” Kralt Broman hunched his shoulders, slapping his thigh with the wide part of his palm in an effort to drive his point home.
The air was thick with smoke and ash, cloying and heavy in the early afternoon heat. The whistling rain of arrows filled the grey sky as scores of elven archers let fly their cloth yard shafts over the reinforced walls of Shakun. Their horns blew clear and sweet, in direct opposition to the brassine cacophony that made up the goblin trumpeters.
For five days the liberating army from Duke Argos, composed of an eclectic mix of elven and human warriors of all types battered their way closer and closer to the long subjugated city of Shakun. The goblins were bereft of the military genius of the now dead demonic commander, The Leech, but his subalterns were still capable of slowing the advances and forcing each yard of ground yielded to cost the approaching army in both blood and lives.
Today Duke Argos’ forces finally achieved a close enough holding to allow them harry the wall defenders themselves. Elven archers hit the goblins early after sunrise, dropping most of the sentries within minutes before turning their attention to the merlons and crenels along the eastern battlements. Twice the goblins opened the gates and attempted to rush the archers but were repelled the first time by thundering knights astride barded destriers; and shattered the second time when they were hit by the addition of leather armored spearmen along their flank.
The goblins that escaped the field returned scarred and demoralized. The stink of fear was wroth and angry, and it swept across the barracks and streets until it was obvious the greenskins were going to pull out of Shakun for the first time in over a decade.
But they were not just going to leave.
They set fire to the temple grounds, dumping the oil stores upon the altars and shrines with fearful abandon. The flames grew and spread, filling the sky with plumes of ash and embers. Then they dragged burning sheaves of reed beds along Fletcher’s Road, and Town Square, setting anything they could ablaze. This cloaked their movements from the assaulting army and gave the greenskins some time to regroup.
There was a continuous reverberous thrumming noise from the reinforced timbers of the closed and barred Northgate. The forces of Duke Argos were plying battering rams to the thick oaken portal, attempting to breach the gate and bring their fight directly into the city and upon the goblins’ backs.
As for the citizenry of Shakun, to the greenskins there was as usual no concern. The people who still lived under the goblin yoke were nothing to them. A broken herd long gelded. Slaves who had for years been as worrisome to them as fungus. To the goblins they were a non-entity and if any number of them were to be hurt, burned, or killed in the process, it did not matter.
To the people of Shakun, their back was now against the proverbial wall. And it was on fire.
“It’s no secret they’re massing up near the Tannery,” said Mertok Trader.
“Why in Zeus’ boil ridden backside am I not surprised?” Kralt spat. “Fucking place is cursed.”
A woman of middling years placed her hand on Kralt’s forearm and squeezed, the corner of her mouth turning down. “Enough with that,” she hissed.
He stared at her for a moment, but uttered no apology. There were over fifty of them gathered in the basement of Castle Canastal; the collapsed ruin along the northern wall. Old ash and soot marred most of the visible stonework; the Leech had long ago scoured the interior of Castle Canastal with spell and fire. The citizenry had gathered here at the request of Ceril Taugis, one of the last distantly related members of Shakun’s long slaughtered nobility.
Ceril gave Kralt a nod, his long knotty hair heavy and unwashed. “People, Kralt’s right,” he said grimly. “The greenskin can be scattered from here, but they will regroup and smash the forces of Argos in a week’s time.”
A voice from the crowd coughed and spat. “Then let’s just do what we’ve come to do and get it done.”
Ceril gripped his bicep with his left hand. “I’m not asking for miracles, and no one need feel they have to help.” He swallowed noisily. “But if we can slow their escape by even a few minutes, bottle them within the walls of Shakun, Argos’ forces will smash them.”
“Like rotten fruit.” Someone chuckled grimly, the laugh echoed here and there.
For a few heartbeats there was only the sound of breathing and shuffling feet before Kralt answered, “Then let’s do it.” He grabbed a spear from the wall and held it aloft. “For Shakun.”
Ceril Taugis nodded, lifting his own spear. “For Shakun.”
“For Shakun.” “For Shakun.” “For Shakun.”
Like a rippling wave longtime beaten men and women felt steel in their spine and added their voice to the pledge. Spears went up and faces were made hard and stern.
Ceril waited a moment longer, his eyes finding each pair in the crowd. With a toothy grimace he turned and marched up the broken stairs to the smoke filled street level above, the resolute march of ready men and women behind him.
The whistling crack of elven arrows still punctuated the ashen sky, but there were fewer cries of pain filled goblins heard. The ground shook as the besieging forces battered the weakening timbers of North Gate. The solid echoes let them know it was still not giving way. Taugis tightened his grip on his spear shaft and led his followers across the mud choked streets.
Back against the hard wood wall. Looking left and right. Nothing visible beyond a dozen paces. Voices strange and warbling in the gloom. A touch to his elbow. Kralt lifted his eyes and pointed his chin left. Ceril nodded in understanding and the group moved.
There was a gap between two leaning homes, barely three feet wide. It was choked with ivy and brambles, broken wooden trash barrels and moldering refuse. They moved on to the corner and glanced south. The air was clearer here, the fires much further away. A few larger homes were on both sides of the street and in the distance were the barricades and stone fortifications of Westgate.
A few goblins were loitering in the street, bundling up bags of loot and plunder on low carts and travois poles. More were closer to the gate, carefully watching through the closed portal to verify there was still an avenue of escape for the greenskins. Swords and spears were visible, shields as well. A few of the snaggle-toothed goblins even had crossbows nearby but none at the ready.
Ceril turned back. “Twelve between here and the gate. Fifteen at the gate I can see. Most likely another ten we can’t.” His men and women pressed their lips together and renewed their grips on their weapons. “Last chance,” he offered. “You don’t have to do this.”
After a dozen slow heartbeats the woman to Kralt’s left pulled her shirt sleeve over her elbow and took a closer look at her spear point. Grunting in satisfaction she answered, “Let’s do it.” Her sentiment was picked up by the rest of the crowd.
Taugis smiled, turning back he took three deep breaths, and slunk around the corner with a throaty growl, spear point leading the way. He moved faster, worn soles of his boots slamming into the mud. His eyes fixed on the back of the nearest goblin. Six paces, three, one.
The spear point punched through the goblin’s back, forced through its lung, burst out the front of its chest. Taugis’ weight drove the creature forward on rubbery legs. It stumbled and fell, arms weakly slowing its fall as it struck the ground with a squelching thud. Something snapped under the goblin and Taugis stomped his foot on the creature’s back as he tore his ragged spear end out of the ebon stained rent in its body.
He looked up. Already the citizens of Shakun were streaming past. Falling on the goblins closest in groups of three and four while others ran further to engage the next ones.
Spanir had his arms wrapped around one of the goblin’s heads, lifting the villain up and spinning his wildly about in an effort to break its neck. Lynaria traded blows with a sword wielding goblin, her wild red hair flailing chaotically as she thrust her spear forward repeatedly, driving the goblin back. Even when it snarled and clove its blade into her right side, she folded left and swept the spear shaft sideways, knocking its feet out from under it. Unterik landed on the prone greenskin with his heavy feet and set his own spear into the goblin’s throat.
Ceril shoved and pushed his way forward, using the momentum of the furious crowd to bring him to the forefront of the battle line. From behind the barricade the goblins at Westgate finally noticed the wave of swelling humanity charging them. A crossbow fired, ripping into Yanneli’s chest and dropping the mother of two.
“Back! Back Slaves!” The goblin lieutenant called, his voice sounding like broken glass falling down a metal slide. He took up his horn and brought the brass instrument to his lips.
“Fuck no!” Fanis Broman, Kralt’s eldest son, arced his body back and snapped forward, hurling his spear across the battlefield. It struck the trumpet’s bell dead on, driving the other end through the lieutenant’s open mouth, busting a handful of his pointed teeth, and sending him to fall back against his soldiers.
Spears slammed out. Swords rose and fell. Shields flashed and bent. The battle line hit the barricade and flowed over it. Goblins on the other side made to run but had nowhere to go as Westgate was still closed. Cries and yells turned into screams and whimpers as Taugis and his people took their fury and hatred out on the closest goblins they could find.
“My lord!” Ceril turned about, his body flush with battle lust, his limbs quivering.
“What is it?!” he asked, his eyes taking in the battlefield quickly. The wood and stone barricade had been dumped over, goblin bodies were everywhere. None of them were moving. In addition at least seven…no eight of his own citizens were dead in the street. Lynaria had been wounded worse than it appeared. Salis had his guts laid open. Mertok his head stove in. Opori was actually missing his left arm.
“My lord!” He focused, taking in Kralt’s large and steadying form. “My lord, Taugis. A couple of the greenskins were seen running east. Past Exotic Transportation. They’re going to get the main bulk.”
Taugis looked at his citizens. Others had come out of their homes, adding their weight to the others who had joined him at Castle Canastal earlier. Their numbers were now closer to eighty and they looked at him with grim determination.
“You there,” he called, motioning to a group of four men and women nearest the broken stablery doors of Exotic Transportation, “I want you on the roof as look out. Tell us when the goblins come.” He paused, ears straining to hear something in the distance. “And tell us when Northgate finally falls.”
“I need this barricade fixed and fixed now.” He slapped the tumbled stonework abutting from the closest manor house. “It doesn’t need to be fancy, just standing up and functional.” Over a dozen citizens jumped at his request, shoving rocks and braces forward and piling them quickly on top of one another.
He bent down and took one of the goblin’s shields, slipping his hand through the rough handle and hefting its weight with a grunt. “For those of you without weapons, take what you can from the greenskins. Swords, hammers, shields, knives. I don’t care if you have to use cobblestones and rubble; if you’re standing here I want you armed. If not, then get yourself hidden.”
“What about the bodies?”
Ceril frowned. “Stick them once, make sure they’re dead, and then forget about them for now.”
His people worked fast and with determined efficiency. Within scant moments they had done as requested and most of them were now situated behind the low wall of the barricade. The crackle of flames echoed through the wide streets as the unchecked fires ate their way along the thatched roofs of Shakun’s northern avenues.
In the distance something groaned. And then a moment of silence rang out.
“My lord!” one of the lookouts called. “The gate! The gate! Northgate is breached!”
Ceril licked his upper lip. “The greenskins? Do they hold? Are they coming?”
“They are holding now, my lord. But I can see many of them running southward towards Tanner’s Way!”
“What now?” Kralt asked, his jerkin splattered with black goblin blood.
Taugis’ brows rose and fell. “We wait. We hold.” He raised his voice. “Do you hear me? We hold!”
A scattered reply of “ayes” answered him.
“This spot. Right here. The goblins must NOT be allowed to pass through that gate,” his finger stabbed out behind him to the stoic portals of Westgate.
More grunts and cheers rung out this time.
“If they get past us…if they get out…they WILL return. And when they do, it will not just be to occupy Shakun anymore. But to destroy it. Destroy us, our families, our children!”
“No!” “By Hades they shall not!” “Never!”
“So what are we going to do?!”
“Hold this ground!”
“My lord!” the lookouts called. “The goblins! The goblins come!”
The chanting cries of the greenskins sounded out; shard and pointed, grating on the ears and felt under the scalp. The wet slap of their feet as they ran away from Argos’ army resounded over the “thwpp”-ing sound of raining arrows. From down the road in the direction of Town Square they came like a roiling carpet.
“Steady!” Ceril called out. He brandished his spear upward, point stabbing the sky. To his left and right others followed suit, holding the spears, swords, and hammers aloft.
The goblins ran hurriedly, stolen trinkets and bits of treasure slung across their backs or gripped in their talonned grasp. They flowed into Westgate Road, bottlenecking as they pushed and shoved their way onward towards Taugis, his people, and the gate out.
“Hold!” He called again. The front rank of his citizens were down on one knee, the butt end of their spears braced against the torn up roadbed around the gate, pointed end held at chest height. Behind them stood others with swords and spears held tight against each other, set to stop the greenskin charge. A few stood behind them, backs against the gate itself, feet balanced on piles of brick and stone. Five of the goblin crossbows that they had taken still worked, quarrels loaded and hands caressing the trigger stocks.
The goblins in the front ranks slowed briefly as they beheld the defending forces blocking the gate. However they were borne forward as those behind continued onward, fearful of the invading army of men and elves. “What in blazes?!” one of them cried, his shredded voice raising in disbelief at the show of resistance arraigned against them.
One of the crossbowmen fired. The sharpened bolt tore across the intervening space, driving deeply into the surprised greenskin. It clutched its belly with shock before screaming loudly and falling to its knees. Another bolt was shot, puncturing a goblin’s shoulder. Another flew, striking one in the knee. One was struck in the chest. A last hit in the throat.
A horn cried out from across the town, followed by a rising roar of warriors. The noise frightened the goblins more and they pushed harder towards Westgate, trampling those in the front.
“What’s the problem?!” one of the larger ones called out, pointing ahead to Ceril and the rest of Shakun’s citizens. “That?! That is what’s stopping you?!” It grabbed one of the shaking greenskins by the neck and whirled it around. “They’re sheep! Sheep!” It’s hand swung, knuckles cracked against cheek and lips. Tossing the cowering goblin to the ground it pulled its own sword free. “To the gates! NOW! We will NOT be stopped by sh-URGGGH!”
Two crossbow bolts flashed out, one ripping the large goblin’s chin open before tearing into his bicep, the second hit it along the left its chest and knocking it off its wide flapping feet.
No one moved for a heartbeat.
And then another.
From the rear ranks of the goblin horde came a fear filled wail, their glassine voices screaming, “Ahhh! Move! Ye gods, no!” followed by the victorious battle cries of Duke Argos’ forces.
Taugis gaped as the goblins surged towards them, eyes wide with terror. “Men and women of Shakun!” he roared out, his voice in danger of being overrun by the broken mass of greenskin cries coming at them. “We will hold this ground!” He felt the quivering of his own limbs as he locked eyes with the closest goblin a scant brace of strides away.
The lead goblins hit the spear wall like an oxen. Their screams were shrill and terrible. Shafts bent and in some places broke. Blood burst in an arcing spray. The second rank thrust forward and pulled back. Some of the greenskins were dragged into the barricade before dislodging from the points. Fatirik was struggling with a goblin, his broken spear shaft clubbing the menace alongside its shoulder. The goblin gripped him by the throat and pulled, tearing his neck open.
More crossbow bolts filled the air as the Shakun defenders fired into the living wall of goblin flesh. Kralt swung a length of metal piping like a scythe, smashing the closest goblin’s outstretched limb, shattering its forearm. The stone barricade held briefly but began to crumble as the growing press of goblins on one side forced the bricks to slide away.
The first rank of defenders had fallen back, driven away from the terrified assault of goblins striving to make the gate. The second rank hacked and hewed, swords threshing the closest goblins like wheat. Someone yelled from the crowd as their guts were laid open, the stink of blood and gore blossoming over the battlefield.
Ceril struggled to keep his footing, the muddy cobbles growing slick with blood and offal. A short goblin snarled in his face, pulling his shield arm down as it tried to rip his hair out. Feeling the pain in his elbow swell he twisted his spear around. With a curse, he plunged it down. The shaft stabbed deep into the “V” of the goblin’s collarbone. His shield arm free again he smashed the greenskin in the face with the metal bossing on the shield and pulled his spear out. “HOLD!!” he roared again, his fighters taking his call and returning it.
The citizens of Shakun could see the pennants and flags of Argos’ army through the smog of smoke and battle haze. They squared their shoulders and drew back closer to Westgate, filling the holes in the defensive lines as their friends, brothers, and sisters fell about them.
The goblins redoubled their efforts. Talons tore and teeth gnashed. Swords cut. Spears thrust. Gustavo the miller had his hammer snatched from his weakened grip, the greenskin that took it smashed him across the jaw sending teeth flying. Two goblins had tackled Beld to the ground while a third perched upon his chest, slamming a broken chunk of cobble repeatedly against his head.
The citizens of Shakun gave even more ground, leaving their dead and wounded to be trampled under the now frantic goblins before them. Their back was on the gate, the enemy was all about them. The greenskin’s flesh had the combined reek of overripe bananas and soiled hose; cloying and sickening to the remaining men and women still standing.
A goblin warrior went down with a quarrel in his eye.
A blond woman fell backwards, staring blindly at her severed wrist.
Two greenskins grabbed at Ilian and his crossbow, dragging him into the melee.
Rohar’s spear ripped a goblin’s inner thigh open, the arterial blood fountaining high.
With a final surge, the goblins hit the dwindling knot of Shakun fighters. Taugis felt himself shoved to the left, his feet tangling with the other warriors. He tried to hold his ground but lost sight of Kralt who was on his right, seeing only green tinged goblin flesh. His spear long gone, he used his belt knife with grim purpose, wrapping his arm around the goblin’s face and slicing its neck wide open.
Another took its place, fingers scrabbling on the wooden portal, trying to lift the bracing pole free. Ceril hit it with his shoulder, blade flashing against its forearm. It hissed and stepped back. Just in time for Kralt to brain the greenskin with his metal pipe.
“HOLD!!” came the cry once more, a bastion yell against the tide of darkness. For a brief moment the Shakun line was renewed with Kralt Broman and Ceril Taugis at its center.
And then it ended. Ceril was hit from three different foes: on his chest, his left leg, and the side of his head. He felt his ribs crack from a goblin’s tackle. His breath whistled out of his lungs as vision greyed. As he fell to the side he watched as Kralt Broman was stabbed in the stomach by a goblin spear. He cried out, clutching the shaft with wide eyed horror. Another lanced out, piercing his side. He watched as his friend and supporter fell over before the nearest goblins actually picked up flung him away from the door like garbage.
It was an agony to even breath and he heard nothing but the roar of his blood pulsing through his veins. His vision had shrunk down to a tunnel of light. He felt himself fading.
But before he passed out, before he fell unconscious, he did hear the cheering roar of the Argos army as they finally reached Westgate and hold the mighty portal closed.
Closed to the goblins.
Offering them no escape.
Ending the long enslavement of Shakun.
With a smile on his lips, Ceril Taugis took a shallow breath and let it out, whispering into the blood soaked mud he was lying in simply the word, “Hold.”