"This way, hurry up now!" whispered Algair. His men had drawn their weapons and were now racing across towards the wall of Ashdown that backed the woods. Six scouts awaited the company at the small, hidden side gate to the village. They held it open for the soldiers and then fell into file behind the rest of the unit.
Seikfreid drew out his sword and readied his bow; he wasn't sure which he would need first. As the company wound its way up the little dirt path that led through the town, Seikfreid noticed that he had not seen a single villager or even a cow or a chicken since they had arrived. It was absurdly quiet in the village. No crickets chirped, no birds sang, nothing made a sound except for the boots of the soldiers-thump, thump, thump-and the metal of their armor-clank, clank, clank.
After a minute of running, Seikfreid began to hear sounds coming from the part of the village ahead of him. The houses were packed in more tightly here, and Seikfreid knew that they were heading towards the town's main gate. The gate was the only part of the town's wall that was made of stone. Attached to the gate on one side was a stone battlement and on the other sat the guard barracks and a bell tower. With much renovation, these stone fortifications were the only part of Ashdown that had survived since the building of the city a thousand years ago.
The din of the fighting ahead had turned into a roar. Seikfreid could distinguish the clash of weapons, the shouts of men, and the roar of trolls as they battled for control of the village. The villagers were gone or were fighting alongside the town's defenders. If the gate defenses fell, Ashdown would be looted and then burned by the trolls. For another matter, if the enemy was allowed to take Ashdown, there would be no more Crown outposts to stand in the way of the trolls' invasion of the Crown Empire.
The company rounded a bend and came clear of the houses. Just forty yards away across an open field, trolls and skeletal undead warriors swarmed the battlements and the open ground just inside the gate. The trolls must have clambered over the walls on ladders because the gate was still intact, but nevertheless they had troops inside the village. The town's defenders stood bravely against their enemies' onslaught, but the creatures were too many and the Crown soldiers were being overrun.
"Hold up, form your lines here!" ordered Algair. "Archers, crossbowmen! Release volley on my mark. Aim for the archers and the larger trolls! Ready... FIRE!"
A swarm of arrows hissed through the air, then plunged down into the midst of the enemy. Most of the projectiles found their marks, and a large number of undead archers and trolls fell dead.
"Infantry, prepare to charge! Archers, second volley...FIRE!" cried Algair.
Another hissing cloud of arrows slammed into a wave of trolls just climbing over the battlements. They fell into a confused and disorganized mess of an attack.
"Archers, fire at will! Infantry, ready... CHAAAAAARGEE!!!"
With a deafening yell, the Crown soldiers rushed forward at full speed. Seikfreid was amazed that the company kept its formation during the charge. Domrund and Gromund, who could not keep the pace, had fallen behind. Seikfreid kept charging with the men. One of the troll commanders on the ground tried to hastily organize a formation to slow Algair's assault, but it was his final mistake. The captain's highly trained soldiers cut down their enemies and kept running without even breaking formation.
Once they reached the barracks, Algair's troops split. One group fought off the trolls on the ground and secured the gate while the other turned left and stemmed the tide of trolls coming onto the top of the barracks. Seikfreid got swept up in this group and was eventually forced onto the walkway above the gate. Here he was pushed into a group of Crown soldiers fighting back to back against trolls on both sides. As more trolls clambered onto the barracks roof, Seikfreid was trapped in this little group of soldiers, surrounded by enemies.
The rest of the group that had attacked with Seikfreid was now fighting for control of the barracks roof, and it would be a while before they could help him. Seikfreid was attacked by a large troll. Strangely calm, he slew the thing easily and struck at another. He saw an escape route from the roof. Then all hell broke loose below.
The mighty oaken gate was smashed to bits, sending Crown knights flying and killing some. In the gateway stood a huge hulking giant troll. The thing was horribly ugly and huge, and it wielded a club that was bigger than Seikfreid. The troll smashed aside a dozen warriors before it was finally slowed by some brave soldiers. Seikfreid saw Domrund kill a troll, then the troll fell onto the dwarf's boot. A plate of armor on the troll lodged itself in the bround, trapping Domrund's foot underneath it. Even with his great strength, the dwarf could not budge.
Algair saw this and screamed for the archers to bring down the thing, but the arrows did little to stop it. Algair fought furiously on his way to help, but he was not going to make it. Gromund was entangled with five undead. The troll raised its club to strike down Domrund. Without thinking, Seikfreid charged across the wall and leaped into the air, sword up. He gave a terrible yell and plunged the blade into the massive thing's back. It bellowed in agony and soldiers tried to cover their ears at the sound. It thrashed violently and smashed its back into the wall, trying to throw Seikfreid. But the boy hung on grimly. At last, the huge thing gave a gasp and collapsed in a heap to the ground.
At the sight of their fallen champion, the invading horde turned and fled. The hundreds of trolls and undead on the attack ran from the village and disappeared into the countryside. Seikfreid tried to stand, but the troll's huge arm had fallen across him and he couldn't budge. Suddenly, the arm was lifted by some great force, and a hand extended to help Seikfreid up.
"Welcome home, Seikfreid," said Anselfer.
Failure is not an option.