”Any sight or word of them?”
“No, governor,” the chief scout said.
Governor Erin de Vin had recently shorn her red hair to prepare herself for the fight to come. They needed every edge they could get. There wouldn’t be room for mistakes. She was annoyed she kept thinking of how her mother used to braid it. That was a long time ago now. And in a distant land.
She was standing in the new gate tower looking towards the forest fully armored. It smelled of fresh sap. A yellow piece of cloth was blowing gently in the breeze from the sea from a branch at the edge of the forest. There was noise of chopping and digging from the work parties.
“And the elves?”
“I sent ambassador Faenar to parlay with them, but they aren’t telling him much. He is only half elf,” Oaktender said. His eyes narrowed.
“You don’t trust them?”
The halfling, long worn by weather and sorrow, shrugged.
“I think we can trust that the hobgoblins are their mortal enemies. But even I can’t sneak very close to the elves, and I only understand a bit of their hand signals anyway. They are weary of us, for sure. Like we are of them,” he said.
The governor sighed.
“Wouldn’t you be?” she then said.
Then she was silent a while, looking at the Royal Engineers and settlers working hard on their defenses. Thinking. Planning.
“Still camped. But growing stronger.” The halfling spat with a practiced show of disdain. The glob of phlegm sailed over the edge of the tower.
“Whitefeather counted two ettins and at least four dozen goblins, who were new arrivals, some of them riding giant spiders. But we can’t see what their sorcerers are doing. They have obscured their camp with some kind of magical fog.”
“How do you view our chances?” The governor looked the halfling straight in the eye – don’t sugarcoat it.
“Our morale is low after the troll attack. Most have recovered physically, but many are brittle beneath. Tulh and his men will give them pause, but he will run out spells long before our enemies run out hot bodies to throw at us, and he will be an obvious target – and hard to protect. Bakhta the Bearded is a good fighter, I think, beneath his bravado, and he is cunning, but his team is too small and too inexperienced. Without Jarn and his crew, we lack striking power, and we will at a minimum face crippling casualties. It is likely we would have to abandon the settlement, if any of us survive. Even if they return in time, the odds aren’t great,” the halfling said, reporting like he used to do with his superiors in the military, and not to someone who had come to be a friend and comrade over the past three years.
They could both hear measured footsteps from below the tower and then the sound of someone climbing. The thin face of Tulh Dweomereye came through the hatch, and he proceeded to climb deftly up next to them, retaining most of his dignity. He wore his dark blue robes today. The ones with the embroidered fire elementals on the sleeves.
“You have news?” the governor said. Her words came out a little too quickly.
“Indeed,” said the wizard with a thin smile.
“Did they succeed? Are they on their way?”
“It appears that they have succeeded, yes, yet again. I wonder when their luck runs out? In any case, they are bringing back our people and will be here in a few days. It sounds like they will have quite a story to tell. Let’s hope we will get to hear it, at some point.”
“Thank the Mother!” The governor gripped the battlement hard with both hands and smiled fiercely.
“But there have been losses, I understand,” Dweomereye said. “It appears Claire didn’t make it.”
Oaktender sighed deeply and looked down, mumbling a prayer. Then he took a deep breath and drew himself up.
“I shall go spread the word. This will bring back some spirit.” He forced a thin smile. “Then I will go give the bad news to Whitefeather,” the halfling said.
“At least, now we have a fighting chance,” Erin de Vin said and looked to the vast forest beyond the clearing again. What kind of strength would the enemy assail her with? What did the elves come to offer? She cast her doubts aside, grinning inwardly. Whatever else happened, the hobgoblins and their damned giant allies would get a big kick in the teeth.